DISCLAIMER: I believe sermons are meant to be heard. They are the word proclaimed in a live exchange between God and the preacher, and the preacher and God, and the preacher and the people, and the people and the preacher, and the people and God, and God and the people. Typically set in the context of worship and always following the reading of scripture, sermons are about listening and speaking and hearing and heeding. At the risk of stepping outside such boundaries, I share sermons here — where the reader will have to wade through a manuscript that was created to be spoken word. Even if you don’t know the sound of my voice, let yourself hear as you read. Let your mind see as you hear. Let your life be opened to whatever response you begin to hear within you.
May the Spirit Speak to you!
“Who Do You Represent?”
29 June 2014 – 3rd Sunday after Pentecost
Have you ever had to hire a lawyer? I don’t mean because you got yourself in trouble, though that can be a good time to do so as well. I mean more like you couldn’t be present for the sale of your home. So you hired a lawyer to sign closing documents for you. You expected her to represent you well. Maybe you’ve been put in the tough spot of having to make end of life decisions for a parent or beloved spouse. As their medical power of attorney; for them, you sign the orders regarding palliative care. They trusted you to act in their name. Hopefully we’ve all voted for a State Representative we intended to send to Washington DC. I know cynicism runs high around such things; but when we cast our votes, we do so believing that person will make decisions for us which will positively impact life in our communities. We want them to decide for our benefit. Or maybe we’ve just gotten behind the efforts of the US Soccer Team this summer. Off to Brazil we’ve sent them. Even if we can’t kick a ball, they go in our stead to represent the sporting pride of our nation. Win or lose, we hope they give it their all for us all.
According to the gospel of Matthew, Jesus closes his charge of discipleship with an important reminder. “Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me” (Mt. 10:40). He might have well just given them a list of summer camp rules. If you’ve ever worked with the youth of the church, then you might know that this frequently is done. We send them off reminding them to be on their best behavior because not only are they representing themselves and their parents and our church; they represent Christ. In essence he says: “It’s me they see when they see you. So, holding your chin high, head out into the world in my name!”
I’m not sure we think about that enough. That it’s Christ we represent in our lives each day. Like the lawyer who signs for us or the team that plays in our name, those who have said yes to the vows of Christian baptism (and confirmation), no longer live for ourselves. Instead, we bear Christ’s name in the world. On days when we feel like it and days when we don’t, we represent Christ. Our words and our actions are speaking for him – every day of the week, every place that we go, not just Sunday mornings here. The question is: what message about Christ do we send?
Recently I read an interesting reflection by a pastor I know. I think she actually was quoting a tweet she read at our General Assembly in Detroit. The quote was: “If I hang out at your church, will I actually meet people who are like Jesus? Or will I just hear about him?” She went on to write: “Imagine walking into a church building and seeing people who remind you of Jesus. What would that look like?” (achurchforstarvingartisits.wordpress.com/author/jledmiston, 18 June 2014). It’s how it’s supposed to be. For each other and for the world, we represent Jesus. What do they see? Do they see in us the kind of compassion, kindness, peace, and care he exuded? Do they witness the clarity, generosity, and joy he was about? When in our presence, is it for others like being in the presence of one so centered in the Spirit of God that he always was ready and able to attune to the one in need before him. To offer the space for the other to become even better than they were before they met him. That’s how Jesus went about his life on this earth. And to those who have vowed to be his followers, he’s now given us that charge so that we know it’s not us that is welcomed along our journey of service in his name, but him: Christ.
If you’re familiar with Saint Benedict, then you might already know and practice this rule. It’s safe to say that Benedict is a giant in monasticism – at least for those covenanted communities that still live according to the rules he established in the Sixth Century. It’s not all things like poverty and servitude. For Benedict, life was to be a celebration. The balance between prayer and work and play; all of it, ways to encounter the Spirit of God living in, among, and beyond God’s marvelous creation. To this day, Benedictine orders have a porter. One author writes, “Quite simply, the porter is the one who opens the door to the monastery when someone knocks” (Journal for Preachers, Pentecost 2014; Martin Copenhaver, p. 22). I’ve experienced the classic warm welcome of Benedictines, but I never knew that such monasteries have a porter with the specific responsibility of sleeping “near the entrance to the monastery so he can hear and respond in a timely way when someone knocks. Then, as soon as anyone knocks . . . the porter is to reply: ‘Thanks be to God!’” (Ibid.). The author explains that: “before he even knows who is on the other side of the door. Before the porter knows who that person is or why he or she is there, he is to praise God for that person’s presence” (Ibid.). You see, it doesn’t really matter who’s on the other side of the door. The porter knows whoever it is, it will be Christ. And the porter knows that whoever it is, he himself represents Christ for them. Thanks be to God! Try muttering that the next time you hear your doorbell! The next time a guest shows up among us for worship, try practicing Thanks be to God – not because we might have a new member to add to our numbers as we suck them dry of their time, talents, and treasures. But thanks to be God! In the guest, we welcome Christ among us! And to the guest we represent Christ.
There’s a story of a little church that fell on hard times. You may have heard this one before. They were down to just four members, who were angry and anxious and not always all that nice. The leader was sent to seek guidance from a wiser one. The wise one told the leader: “I’m not really sure how to turn your little church around. All I know is that Christ is one of you.” The story goes that the message struck a chord in the hearts and minds of those four remaining members. Just in case it was true, they started treating each other better. Welcoming one another with the grace and excitement one might have in welcoming Christ. They went about their worship and their service together with a bit more care; just in case Christ really was one of them. They paid attention to every little detail of their space and their lives together; in the off chance that Christ really was one of them. Because, of course, they wanted to be and do their best for him. Over time, word spread. People stopped in to see if Christ really was there in that little church. They discovered such mutual respect, such genuine affection, such gracious attention that they started to stay. The four became fourteen, then forty, and then four hundred. All of them living with each other as if one of them was Christ.
We do represent Christ. And o for a world full of us! A world of us ready to welcome one another as speedily and as graciously as the Benedictine porter welcomes at the first knock. A world living as patiently and as attentively as four church members who believe one of them is Christ. . . . I know there will be days we do better at it than others. Days when we need a little reminder from one another – like some sort of signal to get us back on track when we slip: “Oops, Pastor Jule! You’re representing Christ to us right now!” Or “Oops, one another: take care for the message we’re sending. For we represent Christ even now to each other!” . . . No longer for ourselves alone, in all we do and say; we represent Christ. May that which is shown be “Thanks be to God” each day!
In the name of the life-giving Father, the life-redeeming Son, and the life-sustaining Spirit, Amen.
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