As Pastor Mike shared in our announcements, this weekend is the assigned weekend of the year when congregations who have gone through the process of becoming Reconciling in Christ, as we have here at St. James, celebrate and reflect on that status. To reflect on what exactly it means to be Reconciling in Christ… on the work that’s been done under this status… and on the lives that have been touched because of it.
My guess is, there are some who will tune today’s sermon out… Even those who have chosen not to come to church this morning, after learning what our focus for weekend’s services are all about…
While the status of Reconciling in Christ is mostly recognized for the outward welcome of LGBTQIA+ persons… the truth is, and I think the members of our Reconciling in Christ task-force would agree with me, that’s really just the beginning of it…
From Reconciling Works; “We are Lutherans working with the recognition that racism, sexism, ageism, able-ism, heterosexism, homophobia, and all the other artificial distinctions that seek to raise one group into privilege and preference over another, conspire together to diminish our world and church.”
As I see it, being a Reconciling in Christ congregation isn’t simply a statement of welcome to one particular group of people over another… but on what it means for us, as followers of Christ, to extend welcome to all people… A commitment to live into a deeper understanding and practice of Jesus’ greatest commandment; to love one another as God has loved us… To live into a deeper commitment of welcome, regardless of those many earthly distinctions that so often lead to division and exclusion, by centering our lives on our divine oneness in Christ over and against the differences set up by the world.
Here at St. James, this is our focus for this weekend.
As we turn to our gospel for this morning from Matthew, Jesus has just made his way through his 40 days of temptation in the wilderness at the hands of the devil when he hears that John, his friend and cousin, the one who baptized him in the river Jordan and set his public ministry in motion, has been put in prison…
In hearing this news, Jesus leaves Nazareth and goes to the region of Galilee, where he preaches along the sea, calls his first disciples, and goes on to teach in the synagogues, to share the good news of the kingdom, and to heal those overcome by sickness and disease.
But, what does this story from Matthew have to say to us today as we gather for Reconciling in Christ Sunday? What insight and direction does it offer us about welcoming others and providing a place where people feel welcome regardless of differences?
Well, a few things struck me as I prepared for this morning. First, as Jesus preaches throughout the region of Galilee, he calls for repentance. Proclaiming an identical message to what John preached before he landed in prison; “Repent, for the Kingdom of heaven is near.” In the Greek, the original language of our New Testament text, the word for repentance is metanoia (μετανοειτε), meaning, to change one’s mind or purpose… to reflect on our wrongdoings and turn away from them.
As Jesus uses this word metanoia in today’s gospel, he does so in the present form. For those of us who aren’t grammar people, the present form indicates continued action. It isn’t a once and done, “I’m sorry for…”, and that’s it… But rather a continuous acknowledgement of those things we do that draw us away from God’s people and fail to reflect God’s love, and a total reversal of them in our lives.
With this understanding of repentance, we’re left to ask ourselves some difficult questions; As you reflect on your lives, what do you need to repent for? What are those offenses, those wrongs, in your life that you need to turn away from and change? That you have said or done that has made someone else feel unworthy or unwelcome in this place and in your lives? That you have posted on social media, Facebook or elsewhere, that has made people feel the same? That has outcasted and excluded, even, demonized, an entire group of people simply because of differences? What is it that has kept you from following Jesus in the way that he has commanded? From loving another as God has loved you?
The truth is, welcoming others isn’t always an easy task. It’s something that begins within us and extends out of us. It’s thinking about how painful that comment or social media post might be before we open our mouths or hit enter on the keyboard. It’s being aware of those facial expressions we make when someone new walks into church or into our Sunday school room. It’s recognizing that welcome isn’t only something we say… but something we do… And that it’s not only for those new faces, but for people who have been around, that we haven’t given a chance for one reason or another… It’s about seeing the image of God in each and every person we come in contact with… even that one we see when we look in the mirror we too often turn away from and disregard…
As Jesus calls his disciples, he doesn’t call those we would necessarily expect, religious leaders or others in positions of power and authority, but simple fisherman. And to do so, he uses the Greek verb poy-eh-o (ποιησω), “I will make…” I will make…
With this word, Jesus makes it clear that the task of becoming a disciple is not one that we accomplish, but one that Jesus accomplishes for us. By following Jesus, by becoming a disciple, Jesus literally transforms us into something new. Peter, Andrew, James and John, once fishermen, are now fishers of people. Their old self gone; a whole new creation remains. As we are promised at baptism; “by water and the Holy Spirit we are reborn children of God…”
Regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity… regardless of race, culture, ethnicity, or country of origin… of medical or psychological diagnosis… of political affiliation; democrat or republican, conservative or liberal… regardless of age, of marital status, or economic status… regardless religious experience, whether you grew up in the church or if you’re here for the first time… regardless of past… of sin… or any other difference that exists or we can create… in Christ, through his life and his death and his rising from the grave… by the waters of baptismal grace… you are reborn… created anew as a child of God, and made one with all the faithful…
God’s Word, faith, and our response to it, are the gift of an adoring parent given to beloved children, encouraging us to love each other as God loves us. To be understood or used in any other way misses the point entirely.
May you be a sign of God’s welcome and embrace for others in the way that Christ has done for you. And when you feel yourself pushing others aside because of differences, may you, as Pastor Mike calls us to in his newsletter for this month; let go of the illusion that we are all so different from the person next to us. For the call of discipleship, is at its’ core, the call to love God and love one another, bound together as one people through the boundless love of Christ.
So, repent, follow, and proclaim the Good News, for the world is in need of healing.
As it was for the first disciples, the path won’t always be clear, at times leaving us to wonder if Jesus called the right person. As it was for those in the synagogue whom Jesus taught, we are all, even the most faithful of us, at times in need of a lesson from Christ. Yet through it all… fault and failure… God’s love for us goes far beyond our differences… given to each and every one of us in spite of them… So shall our love be for those we meet.
“Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” In Christ you are made a new creation… “by water and the Holy Spirit you are reborn children of God…” Leave your nets behind and preach the Good News. “For those living in darkness have seen a great light.”
Thanks be to God. Amen.
~Pastor Andrew Geib