Matthew 25 – encountering Jesus

All I have for today is Matthew 25:31-46 (NRSV).  When we encounter other people, we encounter Jesus.  No other commentary is needed for this.

‘When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. Then the king will say to those at his right hand, “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.” Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?” And the king will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” Then he will say to those at his left hand, “You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.” Then they also will answer, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?” Then he will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.” And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.’

Repent or perish!

Sounds pretty fire and brimstone doesn’t it?

You may be asking – Where’s the grace?

It’s there.  In a big way.

The best description I heard for repentance is this – radical re-orientation.  It means to turn or be turned back around so that you are facing one another.

Sin can be used as a verb and a noun.  To sin is to do an act that breaks a relationship.  Sin in the sense of a noun is the state of being.  For Lutherans, we believe that someone does an act of sin because they are a sinner.  They don’t become a sinner because they sin.  Do you catch the difference?  It’s slight, but important.

Without getting too deep theologically, we believe in original sin – that we are born in the state of sin.  This is a state of brokenness.  It is not because of anything we did.  And we can’t fix it either.  Only God can.  Which makes sense – how would you know what fixed looks like if you start off broken?  It’s similar to the idea of a color blind person describing what the color red really looks like when they have never seen red as it actually exists.  (And yes, I’m color blind.  Don’t ask me what I see, I have no idea what you see, so how can I accurately describe it to you?  I’ve never seen colors in a normal fashion.)

During Lent, we are called to repent – to turn or be turned back towards God.  To do some self-examination and see the extent of our brokenness and sin.  To see them for what they are.  Not because we are masochistic.  But because in seeing our brokenness and sin, we’ll more fully appreciate the forgiveness that God gives us.  We can more fully appreciate this incredible gift that God gives us – especially since we don’t deserve it.  And when that happens, we are changed.  Or probably more accurate – we are changed by God and this change allows us to appreciate what God has done for us.  God changes our lives.

Repent or perish can be preached as fire and brimstone.  But it doesn’t have to be.  There is plenty of good news to be had and heard.  Repent or perish!

More important than God?

What are the things that are more important than God?  The answer you tell a pastor is “no thing” is more important than God.  Right.  You get a gold star.

But what’s the real answer in your life?  What are the things, people, ideas, or beliefs that you place first above God?  What are those things that you will listen to without a second thought?

Is it your comfort?  Convenience?  Those may sound like easy to answer questions here.  “Of course not!” Really?  Did you stop to help the homeless person with a sign saying they needed some food?  Or was it too inconvenient?  Or did you have some other excuse for not stopping?  “Well, they aren’t really that bad off.”  “Well, they are just trying to get a free handout.”  “They may try to mug me!”  “I Don’t have time – besides, there are agencies that help people like that.  I’m not trained to do what they need.”  etc.

How about your stuff?  Is it more important than God?  Do you have a difficult time giving your stuff away?  Could you give away your favorite article of clothing, book, food?  How about your iPhone?  Could you give that away?

What about people in your life?  Any of them more important than God?  Your family?  Your spouse?  Your kids?  Parents?  Siblings?  Other loved ones?  Could you do what Abraham almost did to Isaac – offer him up as a sacrifice – if God called on you to do that?  Yikes!

How about your money?  “But pastor, I give my money at church and to charity.”  Great!  Could you follow Jesus’ command to sell all you have and give the money to the poor?  Literally give it all away?

How about being in control?  Or being right?  How important are these things to you?

I will tell you that I hope to God I am never tested on many of these things.  I don’t know how I would fair.  It’s tough to say in the moment what I would do.  I’d like to think I would follow God, but I’m sinful and broken.  I assume there would times I would fail this test – possibly on multiple occasions.

Throughout the Bible, we are told by God to let go of it all.  Over and over again, story after story – let it go, it’s all God’s anyway.  That’s true – every last word of it.  And at the same time, it’s not so easy.

I read these stories and am in awe of people like Abram – who God tells to just pack it all up and leave his home and start heading out.  God will let him know when he gets there.  I’ve had a taste of that, but I knew I where I was going to end up at the end of the trip.

Or the story of Joseph and his brothers.  Or the story of Moses and the Israelites wandering in the wilderness for 40 years.  Or Daniel.  Or Esther.

I read the stories of Jesus calling people to follow him – dropping everything in the midst of whatever is going on.  Could I do that?  The story of Acts and the incredible things that happen.  Paul’s story alone is griping.  Could I ever do the same thing if I were in the same situation?

I have read the stories of martyrs and often wonder – would I have the same fortitude as they did knowing that it would cost my life?

There are many stories in the Gospels of Jesus encountering people and calling on them to follow him.  And in many of these situations, they reject Jesus and his offer.  I find those stories to be fascinating.  I sit and think – How could anyone reject Jesus?  And then I think of my own brokenness and when I have rejected Jesus.

But here’s the thing.  We aren’t called to be Abram, or Moses, or Ester, or anyone else from the Bible.  We are called to be us – who we are fully.  None of these people in the Bible were perfect. They struggled with faith.  They were broken also.  And God came to them in a way that could grasp hold of.  And they took a leap of faith in following God.  It’s scary.  It’s uncomfortable.  It’s a bit insane.  But it is how God works.  Here’s what I know – when I have followed God, it’s always been for the better.  And so I hold on to that.  I remember that.  I treasure that in my heart – waiting for the next time I need to remember it – the next time God calls on me to do something.

Our True Religion?

What is our true religion?  What is our true faith?  What is the god that we worship?

I think the answer varies.  For some, the answer is pretty straight-forward: an established, traditional, religion or denomination.

In some cases, the answer is a bit more complex, subtle, and hidden.  Sometimes I think there is an overlap between the two where the true faith is hidden beneath what one can see on the surface.

And of course, there are more than just these two simple answers – it is a range of answers really.

For example, one could argue that one of America’s true religions isn’t Christianity, so much as it is Comfort.  Sometimes the religion of Comfort can take on the outward appearance of Christianity – having all the trappings of the faith.  A passing glance, and sometimes more, would easily confuse the two.  There are worship services, churches, pastors, organizational structure, etc.  Often, the religion of Comfort co-exists and uses the church institution for its form.  You can even hear the words of Christianity that make it hard to discern the difference.  The religion of Comfort has no need to create its own structure – it can just piggyback off an existing structure.  Creating it’s own structure would be too uncomfortable anyway.

But the religion of Comfort is different from Christianity.  The religion of Comfort proclaims a message of status quo – that salvation comes through the maintenance of the status quo.  It proclaims that a person’s life should not change.  The religion of Comfort is happy to talk about Jesus, but only certain aspects of Jesus – the nice Jesus, the friendly Jesus.  Not that Jesus who calls on followers to deny themselves daily, pick up their cross, and follow Jesus.  Not the Jesus who tells the rich to sell their possessions and give to the poor.  Not the Jesus who calls on us to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, welcome the stranger, care for the sick, visit the imprisoned.  Those are not comfortable.

The religion of Comfort has boundaries for God.  Comfort believes that god can have limited access to a person, based on what the person wants and desires.  If the person wants to close god off from their finances, so be it.  Same for relationships, or health, or work, or anything else.  The main practice of the faith of Comfort is to avoid stirring the pot or upsetting the status quo.  Or anything that would require a change in one’s life.  That would be uncomfortable. (And yes, I am using lower-case “g” to refer to the god of Comfort.)

The public practice of the religion of Comfort ultimately looks more like a public duty, rather than a faith-filled life.  One does a duty because it is the “right” thing to do, but there isn’t much attachment to it beyond that for most people.  This is no different than how most people see jury duty or voting – we do it because it’s the right thing to do and you are supposed to do these things to be good citizens.  But in reality, most people don’t really enjoy these things.

The faith of the religion of Comfort rests on a belief that god is abstract, not personal.  The core of this faith is a belief that this abstract god tells its followers to be good people, whatever that means.  Even this idea remains abstract and gives plenty of wiggle room to excuse behaviors and rationalize away anything that needs to be explained away.  Remember, Comfort is the key.

An abstract god therefore, by definition, has no relationship with its followers and makes minimal requirements from them.  How could such a god have any relationships of value?  And because of this, the abstract god doesn’t mess with people’s lives.  The god of Comfort is distant and barely a real entity – more there in case of an emergency and if nothing else seems to work.  Otherwise, this abstract God is out of sight and out of mind, except for the times of public duty.

The abstract god is more of an acquaintance, rather than a personal God who calls followers to be disciples who are all in.  Such a god is more concerned with making members of a social club rather than making disciples who proclaim a life and world-changing message that they themselves have experienced.

Membership has its privileges.  Members are served and comforted.  The money that comes in to the church of Comfort, stays in the church of Comfort.  Disciples, on the other hand, have a responsibility and are taught how to go and serve – to follow the lead of the Master.  To go where it is messy and uncomfortable.  To go when it is inconvenient.

The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote about this over 50 years ago.  His words were prophetic.  While he didn’t specifically name the religion of Comfort, he sure did describe it.

Things are different now. So often the contemporary church is a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. So often it is an archdefender of the status quo. Far from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church’s silent–and often even vocal–sanction of things as they are.

But the judgment of God is upon the church as never before. If today’s church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century. Every day I meet young people whose disappointment with the church has turned into outright disgust.

(Source: Letter from a Birmingham Jail, MLK, Jr)

Facing Death

Last week there was yet another mass shooting – this time a mosque in New Zealand.  The last I saw 49 people died.

We have a routine down for these things – a shooting happens.  We act shocked.  We mourn and ask the deep question – why?  We try to make sense of it.  We try to offer an explanation that will make sense.  We try to find a scapegoat that we can pin it on – someone who we can put the guilt on, so that they can be driven out and with them the sin of a mass shooting.  And then after all of that…we distract ourselves so we can return to “normal,” – whatever that is.  This is our normal now.

I don’t know about you – but I’m sick of this normal.

I’m tired of the excuses.  I’m tired of the shock.  I’m tired of the trying to make sense of it.  I’m tired of trying to come up with a reasonable explanation.  I’m tired of identifying a scapegoat.  I’m tired of the distraction to go back to some fantasy “normal” that never really existed in the first place.

When a mass shoot happens there are no good explanations.  When people are killed while they worship, there are no good reasons.  It’s not just a mental illness of an individual we are dealing with.  It if was, we could easily fix this.

Instead we are dealing with much more difficult challenges.  We are dealing with evil hatred.  There is nothing else to call it when someone goes into a holy place and guns down people who greet you in peace – who are worshiping God peacefully.

Hatred is evil.  It is anti-Christlike.  Hatred drives men (the overwhelming number of the mass shooters are men) to do this.  Hatred is a sin.  It is brokenness.  The person consumed by hatred is broken beyond repair.  Their relationship with others is certainly broken.  Their relationship with themself is broken.  Their relationship with God is broken.

And they are taught to hate.  They are taught that violence is the solution to their problems – that it is a right that they have to carry out violent acts.  They are taught that peace will come when “others” are eliminated.  They are taught that “others” aren’t even people.  Hatred not only teaches the shooter these things, it changes them from being a human to something else – their very humanity is stripped of them. Violence stems from violence.  Murder stems from murder.  Inhumanity stems from inhumanity.

I think part of the reason we are in the new normal cycle – violence, shock, scapegoating, return to normal – is because we are afraid to face death.  We are afraid to look it in the eye and see it for what it is.  We are afraid.  And we don’t think we know what to do.  We are afraid that God is lying to us.  We are afraid that Jesus didn’t mean it when he promises resurrection.  We are afraid.  But of what?

I think we are afraid to truly live.  To be all in.  To be vulnerable.  To trust.  Look what it got the people in Christchurch – they died because they were all in worshiping God openly.  They died because they were vulnerable.  They died because they trusted.  So we are afraid.

Can we be honest about this?  I mean really honest about all of this?  Can you admit that you are afraid.  That you are afraid that God is full of it.  Are you afraid that God isn’t real?  Are you afraid that God is asleep?  Are you afraid that Jesus’ promise to be with us is false?

Do we trust our senses and see the reality of death versus what God promises.  What do you trust?

Self-preservation seems like the smart option, doesn’t it?  Except it’s not.  No one who has ever lived has ever been able to preserve themself from death.  No one.  Even Jesus died.  Running scared of death isn’t going to work.  We are all going to die at some point.  The real question is this – have you lived at all?  Or are you too afraid of dying?  While we are all going to die, do we really believe Jesus’ promise of resurrection?

Here’s a reality for you.  In order to experience resurrection, you have to experience death.  There is no way around it.  It’s no different from a baby has to go through birth in order to live in the world.  To stay in the womb would mean death.  Yet, the act of birth an act of death – it is the death of living in the womb.  So that new life can commence.

How do I explain mass shootings to someone?  I don’t.  There are no satisfactory explanations.  And there won’t be as long as we remain in fear.  As long as we are too afraid to actually act and do something to prevent the next shooting.  As long as we remain afraid of death.  Fear is really nothing more than handing power over you to something or someone else.  As long as we fear death, we will remain under its power.  We’ll make decisions and do things or not do things because of the fear of death.  We’ll even put God aside.

The biggest challenge the church faces isn’t a decline in membership or finances.  Those are just symptoms of deeper issues.  The biggest challenge the church faces is this – do we actually believe what we preach?  Are we all in on what we claim to believe?  Do we really believe in life, death, and resurrection?  Do we really believe it?  Do we believe that it applies to us – individually?  as a church?  And if it does, then how are facing death – looking it in the eye, knowing what it is, and yet going forward anyway knowing and embracing Jesus’ promise for our lives, for our churches, and for our world?


Why do we listen?

Why do we listen to false messages and narratives?

As I continue my way through various books of the Bible, I am struck by how many times different authors talk about the same thing – warning about false teachers.  Paul hits on this several times.  It shows up in the universal letters too.  The entire “book” of Jude is about false teachers.  (It’s only one chapter, but still – that’s the entire focus of the “book”.)

The Old Testament has warnings about false teachers – often referred to as false prophets.

Why are these false teachers and false prophets so prominent?  Why do so many people listen to them?  Why are so many drawn to their messages?

Is it as simple an idea as this – that a false teacher tells people a message that they want to hear?  Is it a message that requires nothing from the hearer?  Is it a message that demands no change or forces no change on the hearer?  Is it a message that is satisfactory to the human ears and mind and heart?  Is it a message that rationalizes behaviors that are destructive and lead to death?

Why do we listen to these messages?  Often, when we read the Bible, these false messages sound appealing (supposedly) on the surface and in the short-term.  But all one needs to do is think a little about the long-term consequence to realize the true emptiness of the message.

It’s not just theology either.  The same thing applies to politics and policy.  It applies to schools.  It applies to sports.  It applies to health, nutrition, rest, and more.  It applies to sex.  It applies to relationships.

Yet, these false narratives continue to be popular.  And people follow them.  And end up with the predictable consequence and wonder why.

I’m not innocent of this.  I have fallen for false messages before and most likely will again.  But the question remains – why?  Why do we do this?  Does it get us off the hook?  Does it provide an excuse?

But following these false messages makes about as much sense as Adam and Eve hiding in the Garden of Eden.  It makes as much sense as Jonah trying to run away from God.  It makes as much sense as Peter denying he knows Jesus.  You can’t hide from the truth.  You can’t hide from God.

And yet God is patient.  God waits.  God invites – over and over again.  And waits.  And rejoices when we let go of the false narratives and are turned back to God.

Do people really want Good News?

I’m not sure that people really want good news.  I’m also becoming convinced that many don’t want the Good News.  The question though is why?  Why would people outright reject, ignore, reason away, twist, and turn Good News into something else?

I go to the gym each week day.  Regardless of what equipment I am using, there are two rows of TVs easily within my view.  This is especially true when I use the treadmill.  I would prefer to not see any TV while I work out – they are a distraction to me.  But because they are right there, I often get sucked in from time to time until I realize that I’m gazing at it.  The gym has the TVs set to eight different channels – ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox, HGTV, ESPN, CNN, and FoxNews.  While I was running yesterday, I started to pay attention to what I was being exposed to for the relatively short period of time I was there.  In about 10 minutes worth of scanning the TVs, here’s what I was exposed to:

  • A scandal involving rich celebrities paying off colleges to let their kids into prestigious schools.
  • The R. Kelly sexual abuse situation
  • A Catholic Cardinal getting prison time for sexual abuse from two decades before.
  • Yet another change in immigration policy designed to keep people out.
  • Commercials telling me that I needed this product or that product to be whole, or better.
  • A story on the rise of road rage in America.
  • Commercials for law firms that are ready to fight for you when you have been wronged.
  • A story lifting up one part of the country and it’s culture in opposition to other parts that happen to have a different political bent.
  • A story about a politician who mishandled a sexual misconduct allegation.

Why do we willingly expose ourselves to this?

We willingly turn our attention to what can only be considered bad news.  We are addicted to it.  Bad news is a type of idol.  It draws our attention.  It demands our attention.  We listen to it and follow what it tell us.  And what is bad news’ gospel – that you should be afraid and angry.  That you shouldn’t trust anyone.  That you need to protect the stuff you have from those other people.  That you earned everything you have and so you are in control.

Every one of the stories that I listed above proclaims at least one of these bad news gospel narratives.

But why are we addicted to these golden calves that we protect?  The simple answer may be sin – but that’s really more of an overarching answer than a specific answer.  Sin is brokenness.  And we live in a broken world.  We are part of a broken culture and society.  We are broken individuals.

I think people like to hear good news from time to time – just enough to distract them from the bad news.  But can you imagine if all that we had to hear was good news?  We would hear people complain that they were bored.  Bad news is entertaining.  Good news is boring.  Good News is for church – don’t mix it into the rest of my life.  Don’t tell me what to do!!!!  That is the narrative.

So what are we to do?

You can’t change what others will do.  You can only have influence over yourself.  Here’s a simple way to start – stop willingly exposing yourself to sources of bad news.  Change what you watch, listen to, and read.  If you claim to be a follower of Jesus, then you have an opportunity to pay attention to what God has to say.  You have the bible to read or listen to.  You have prayer.  You have worship opportunities and service opportunities.  Be the one who shares Good News with people around you – divine Good News.  Not the pithy feel good 30 second clip at the end of the news cast type of thing.  Actual Good News. The Good News that you are not alone.  The Good News that God is willing to go to hell and back for you.  The Good News that frees people who are captive to sin.  The Good News of a love that makes no sense in the world.  The Good News of grace, mercy, and forgiveness.  That’s Good News.

Look for it and share it.  Good News happens all around us – we just happen to dismiss it pretty easily.  But these are God moments.  This is God broadcasting to us Good News.  I’m not talking about driving to the grocery store and you have trouble finding a parking lot and you pray and bam, you get a close spot.

Look for God moments – those times when an opportunity presents itself to live out what you claim to believe – To feed the hungry (and the hungry don’t always have to be the poor, or related to an empty stomach.  There are people who are hungry for so much more than just food).  To clothe the naked (and again, the naked aren’t just those who are literally without clothes, there are plenty of people who need to be clothed with love, care, and concern).  To welcome the stranger (The stranger in our midst, the person we don’t know, the immigrant, the person who serves us food or works in the stores we go to.)  To care for the sick (in our families, our friends, our neighbors, those in the hospital – there are many ways to care for the sick.  And not just when it comes to physical health.  Who is sick of something in their lives?  They need to be cared for too.)  To visit those imprisoned.  (Not just those in literal prisons, but also those imprisoned in addictions, in brokenness, in beliefs, in more.)

God presents many opportunities for Good News to be present.  Are you paying attention?  Or are you always looking for bad news – expecting it to come?  Be a reporter of Good News.  People may not like to hear it.  But that’s just too bad.  Good News is the only news worth proclaiming.  Good News is the only news worth expecting.  Bad news will happen.  You don’t have to search for it.  It will expose itself to you.  Good News is different.  It’s there – if we just open our eyes and hearts to see it.


Does your work define your identity?  I think this is true for are many Americans, especially men.  There’s a great article in The Atlantic that makes this argument.

Here’s a portion from under the heading:  The Gospel of Work

The decline of traditional faith in America has coincided with an explosion of new atheisms. Some people worship beauty, some worship political identities, and others worship their children. But everybody worships something. And workism is among the most potent of the new religions competing for congregants.

What is workism? It is the belief that work is not only necessary to economic production, but also the centerpiece of one’s identity and life’s purpose; and the belief that any policy to promote human welfare must always encourage more work.

Homo industrious is not new to the American landscape. The American dream—that hoary mythology that hard work always guarantees upward mobility—has for more than a century made the U.S. obsessed with material success and the exhaustive striving required to earn it.

(Source:  Click here)

While I agree with much that is argued here, I would also say that it is nothing new.  In fact, it is quite old.  Workism itself might be a new term and the situations around this may be new, but the idea that work creates your identity is quite old.

The Romans believed this.  The ancient Egyptians did to.  Any empire that has ever existed has proclaimed this same message.  We are no different in that regard.  We are just a different kind of empire.  Not an empire of controlling land and Peoples through government tyranny.  Instead, an economic and cultural empire that hovers over most of the world.  While the British empire once directly controlled about 25% of the world’s landmass, we impact a larger portion of the world’s economies and have a farther reaching cultural impact than the British ever dreamed of.

The ancient Egyptians, under Pharaoh, worshiped workism.  For them it was how things happened.  “Make more bricks.”  They enslaved people to make them work.  The Romans did also.  Economic exploitation was a major component of the Roman system.  The economy needed to benefit the Emperor and the upper crust of society.  And it would do anything it had to ensure that occurred.

We can see this in the Bible too.  When Paul and Silas were in Macedonia, we read the following incident:

One day, as we were going to the place of prayer, we met a slave-girl who had a spirit of divination and brought her owners a great deal of money by fortune-telling. While she followed Paul and us, she would cry out, ‘These men are slaves of the Most High God, who proclaim to you a way of salvation.’ She kept doing this for many days. But Paul, very much annoyed, turned and said to the spirit, ‘I order you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.’ And it came out that very hour.

But when her owners saw that their hope of making money was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the market-place before the authorities. When they had brought them before the magistrates, they said, ‘These men are disturbing our city; they are Jews and are advocating customs that are not lawful for us as Romans to adopt or observe.’ The crowd joined in attacking them, and the magistrates had them stripped of their clothing and ordered them to be beaten with rods. After they had given them a severe flogging, they threw them into prison and ordered the jailer to keep them securely. Following these instructions, he put them in the innermost cell and fastened their feet in the stocks.

(Acts 16:16-24, NRSV)

This isn’t just a story about Paul casting out a spirit.  Paul’s act of casting out the spirit has an economic impact.  The slave girl’s owners get upset because their source of making money was gone.

Money is a powerful idol that is worshiped.  People will go to great lengths to protect their worship of money.  In this story, we hear a crowd beat Paul and Silas because of Paul’s upsetting the status quo and unseating money from its privileged place of worship.

Worship of money and worship of work go hand in hand.  And all too often, these idols have a free range in various empires.  They demand a great deal from those who adhere to them.  They butt out God because they offer a false promise and a false gospel.  The danger lies in their message – that you can save yourself if you just work hard enough.  You can do it.  And when you do, you’ll be in control.

It’s a lie.  Work can’t save you.  Neither can money.

“It’s emptying”

Yesterday was another Flying J evening.  In many ways it was like any other night of ministry at Flying J.  We had many different encounters.  We did laundry (although a bit less than normal).  We ate with people.  We worshiped.

As a pastor, I often end up talking with a variety of people throughout the evening.  One fellow was a bit of a challenge, but we did what we could for him.

During the meal, we worshiped.  We worship in Denny’s.  It is our sanctuary.  It’s a sanctuary in the midst of the rest of the world.  We are called to be a light in the darkness.  It just so happens to be Denny’s.

During worship we share the Eucharist – often composed of hamburger or hot dog buns and some grape juice in a coffee mug.  It’s what I have available. Typically my daughter comes along to help out throughout the night and then to assist with communion.

But tonight I asked if anyone wanted to help.  This time our waitress volunteered – without knowing what to do.  I gave her the cup and instructed her on how intinction works and what to say.  And she followed me around the table as we gave the elements to people.  And then we communed each other.

Afterward she spoke with me and shared what it was like.  She said that when she was going around, offering the cup to people, she felt something change.  “It’s emptying” she said.  She meant that in a meaningful way – a release from the burdens kind of way.  She felt the burdens that were around her empty away.

I thanked her for assisting.  She said she was glad to, even with not knowing what she was doing.  She said she loved waitressing our group.  “You all feel like family.”

These were powerful works spoken by our waitress – a waitress that we love and look forward to seeing twice a month.  A waitress that participates in worship with us – lifting up prayers with us, taking and assisting with communion.  She’s just as much a part of worship as everyone else.  Our definition of community is a bit unique I guess.  It includes church people, the homeless, the poor, a waitress, and random other people who join in, and some who just listen.

And in this community, people have the opportunity to empty – to let go of what they are holding onto.  To let go so that there is more room for God and what God is up to.

Following Jesus can suck

I’ll say it – Following Jesus can suck sometimes.

There are times when I would much rather not follow Jesus – mostly because to follow Jesus is often uncomfortable.  It is often inconvenient.  It flies in the face of the norms of humanity.  It means dying to self.

Following Jesus means doing what he says to do.  Like love enemies.  Like welcome strangers.  Like do something for that person seeking help.  Like altering my schedule when it is really busy.

There are times when I would rather just put Jesus aside and listen to the excuses my mind can come up with for why I don’t have to do something for someone else.  My mind is good at coming up with reason after reason.  “It’s not safe” is the whisper.  “You’re too busy” is another.  “You’ll never see this person again, don’t feel bad” is another one.

There are times when I would rather just completely ignore Jesus – no excuses necessary. Ignorance is bliss supposedly.

Except here’s the thing – I am not ignorant of what Jesus calls on me to do.  I have far too much debt from Seminary to pull off the ignorance argument.  I know what the Bible says – in Greek and Hebrew none the less.

And as for those times when I would rather put Jesus aside, well, it doesn’t last.  Something gets a hold of me.  I can’t just pass by.  I am compelled to go back if I do pass by.  Why?  Because that’s what Jesus would do for me and for you.

I don’t always have much to offer.  But what I have, I give.  Not out of guilt.  But because I know no one else will do it and the person I stop to help doesn’t have the luxury of waiting forever.  They have a name.  They have a life story.  They have family.  They have loved ones.  They are human, just like me.

Following Jesus can suck.  But then again, Jesus never said following him was going to make you smell like roses.  It will involve death and denial.  It will be uncomfortable and inconvenient.  But it will also be worth every moment.  Following Jesus is about changing the world for the better – one relationship, one person, one action at a time.  The world needs Good News.  Following Jesus is a way of living out Good News.