A Sermon preached at the Congregational Christian Church of Somerset UCC, Somerset, MA, on February 6, 2011
Scripture Readings: I Corinthians 2: 1-12; Psalm 112: 1-9; Matthew 5: 13-20
. . . .among the mature we do speak wisdom, though it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to perish. But we speak God’s wisdom, secret and hidden, which God decreed before the ages for our glory.. . .
“You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot.
“You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O God our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.
Paul’s letter to the Corinthians is one of those pieces of Scripture which looks to have depths of meaning — all that talk about the wisdom of God and the foolishness of humanity — tells us there’s more to this being a Christian than is easily apparent, or commonly accepted. And so there is.
God calls us to a life of holy foolishness, to a life of doing things that others consider foolish or odd. Taking your money and giving it to this church — now that’s something many outside our doors would think foolish. And then taking that money and giving a goodly part of it to people in need. Even more people would think us foolish to give away what we could so easily use for ourselves. But we believe God calls us to such foolishness.
Most of my music friends think I’m foolish to get up on Sunday morning and go to church. They think it makes much much more sense to sleep late, read the paper, maybe, maybe go to the local coffee shop, eat brunch with their friends, take the day for themselves alone. If they think of God at all, they figure God will understand how stressful their lives are and how important it is for them to take care of themselves first.
And I think they’re foolish– but they think I am.
The foolishness of God leads us to do things our friends and neighbors think distinctively odd.
Of course, some of us who follow the Christian way do do things that are at least odd. Young people who could be lawyers and make good money hear a call from God to go into a ministry where they’ll be lucky to be able to send their children to their own alma mater — or older folks, hearing the same call, use their retirement fund to pay for their seminary education and contemplate and old age with very limited options.
That can look foolish to not only our friends, but to us, I guess. I’d bet that at least some of the first missionaries to go overseas from here had family members who thought they had made some odd decisions.
Those folks who choose to follow God full time, however, are not the run-of-the mill oddities of the Christian way of life. We do what we do, and it is necessary, but it’s not the core of the faith. If there were no clergy there would still be a faith, and a church community, and it’s in that community that the most foolish actions of our Christian faith take place.
The most radical practioners of the Christian way are ordinary, every day people doing what seems right and proper in their eyes, putting aside their own needs and wants to help others, or offering a hand when its needed. . . . and of all the radical things we do, individually, and as church, none is more radical than the one we are about to do this morning.
in communion, we make visible God’s welcome of everyone: no matter who you are….or where you are on life’s journey, you are welcome here.
It’s not the eating that’s radical. It’s the part where everyone is welcome. This is the real hidden mystery of our faith: everyone one welcome.
Think about it. We all have friends who like us, and welcome us into their presence. And I’d bet we all have people know who don’t much like us (and whom we don’t much like) in whose presence we (and they) would be uncomfortable. Nice enough folks, in their way, but their way isn’t our way. Maybe it’s just that they’re Yankees fans in a Red Sox world, or the only Democrat in a family of Republicans and — in either case — seem to think that it’s needed that everyone agree they’re right in their fixed opinion. No matter, you might invite them to dinner, but you wouldn’t expect to enjoy the experience.
And then there’s the next level — those folks in whose company you’re uncomfortable for a good reason… loud mouths, filthy conversation, convicted thief, mistreats a parent, cheats on a spouse… or those folks around whom we’re uncomfortable, and uncomfortable that we’re uncomfortable — the homeless, those who don’t have clean clothes or opportunities to bathe, maybe someone whose speech is not understandable, or who has what we think of as an communicable disease. And finally there are those folks who for reasons known only to you are not welcome at your dinner table.
But all of them, all of them, are welcome here. You might think that God would only welcome those who show the outward signs of effective faith — those special people we all admire for their love, their generosity, their devotion. But God does not restrict that welcome only to the “deserving” faithful. God welcomes those who know all the answers and those who are sure there are no answers. God welcomes those who trust and those who doubt. God welcomes everyone to this table.
In the old movie “Places in the Heart”, it’s Depression-era cotton country Texas, a land filled with bigotry and the Klan. The first thing that happens in the movie is murder of the white sheriff by a young black man who is then lynched by the citizens of the community. In the last scene, we’re in church on a communion Sunday. The tray of bread is passed from hand to hand. The grieving widow offers the tray to the black hired hand who helped save the farm and he passes it along to the blind guy who rents a room. The betrayed wife offers the bread of heaven to her cheating husband. And, in the back of the room, the dead sheriff offers bread to the man who killed him.
God welcomes everyone to this table.
And that’s the radical core of our faith…. that everyone is welcome.
© 2011 Virginia H. Child