Sermon for the Fourth Sunday in Lent

As most of you know, our sermons during Lent are following Rowan Williams’ book Being Christian, which reflects on the four basic practices of Baptism, Bible, Eucharist, and Prayer. We’ve explored Baptism and Bible in recent weeks, and we continue today with the Eucharist.

When I was in seminary, there was a little Thai restaurant that was about a ninety second walk from the front door of my apartment, and I would get take out there about once a week, very often with my roommate and his wife-to-be. The night of the week varied. If it was a Monday, Tuesday, or Thursday, we’d come back to my apartment and watch The Simpsons. If was a Wednesday, we’d watch the West Wing.

Some of the best memories of my life are sitting on that beat up, second-hand couch, in a tiny apartment in a sketchy neighborhood in New Haven, Connecticut eating take out and watching TV with Drew and April. That ritual was a key part of shaping a really important friendship in my life. The person I am today, how I connect to other people, the ways that I strive to create a Christian community as a pastor here, was formed in large part by the ways I was connected to Drew and April.

My life today is unimaginably different from my life between 1999 and 2002. In some ways, 1999 Craig wouldn’t recognize 2016 Craig. But every time I eat Thai food, it’s like all of the time and distance that has come to separate us from that little living room in New Haven collapses, and I’m right back there with them, reconnecting with a love that has formed and sustained me. And, it’s like that reality is being brought forward into my life as it is now, so that who I once was is brought to bear on the circumstances and challenges I now face. Eating take out from a dive Thai restaurant is, to this day, an enormously healing and nourishing ritual for me.

The Eucharist, this thing we do here every week, works exactly like that. It’s the way we remember Jesus’ last supper with his disciples, it’s a way we remember his death and resurrection until he comes again, but more than just recalling past events, but it makes us part of that story, and it brings that story into our lives here and now.

One of the best parts of this chapter in Williams’ book for me is when he writes: “When reading the gospels you sometimes get the impression that if anywhere in ancient Galilee you heard a loud noise and a lot of laughter and talking and singing, you could be reasonably sure that Jesus of Nazareth was somewhere nearby.”[1] Jesus was always in the business of gathering people together to be welcomed and loved.

And here’s the thing: Jesus hasn’t stopped gathering people together to be welcomed and loved. That’s what Jesus is doing with us here this morning. This is the meal that makes all of us, a diverse and varied group of people with largely sepearte lives, into a family; not just with one another, but with all those who have followed Jesus at all times and in all places. Most importantly, the Eucharist makes this the place where we know that we are welcome and loved.

Think for a minute about why you would invite someone to your home for dinner. You do it because you like them, you enjoy being around them, you want to get to know them better and to spend time with them. You do it because you hope it can be a relationship that continues, that will become the kind of sustaining friendship and connection that we all want and need. That’s exactly why God invites us, all of us, to this table. God invites us here because God likes us, wants to spend time with us, get to know us better, and have a relationship that sustains us with love. Just like eating Thai food re-connects me with a friendship that is central to who I am, coming to the Eucharist re-connects us with who we most basically are as baptized people: loved and welcomed by God.

But, if God wants to spend time with you, if God loves and welcomes you, he also wants to spend time with the person sitting next to you, or on the other side of the church, even the person you don’t like or don’t agree with. God wants to spend time with and welcome the people in our workplaces and schools, the person who is sleeping out on the street, the person who is in the nursing home, or in prison, everyone.

That means we don’t receive God’s love and welcome at this table just to have a warm and fuzzy pat on the back, we are welcomed and loved so that we can welcome and love others. Both our epistle and gospel lessons to day drive this point home. In our reading from 2 Corinthians, Paul reminds us that “All this is from God, who reconciled us to hiself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation. . .” God loves and welcomes and forgives us so that we can love and welcome and receive one another and the whole world. Our gospel lesson is Jesus’ story of a father who welcomes back a wayward child with open arms and an extravagant feast. That’s how God loves us. That’s how we’re called to love each other and the world around us.

Welcoming and loving is our most basic business as the church. We receive it so that we can give it. In a world where we increasingly segregate ourselves off inoto our own political and ideological camps, where the fear of terrorism in this country has incubated a disturbing intolerance of anyone who looks or talks or believes differently, the world needs Jesus’ message of welcome and inclusion and love as much as it ever has. It starts with this. It starts with us. You can start just by coming to coffee hour today and talking to someone you don’t know. You can do that in the smallest ways wherever you are in your daily life. That’s how it begins. Let the welcome you receive here, the food that you eat at this table, be the fuel for you to offer that same love and welcome to everyone you meet. Let us take the feast we receive in here into our lives out there, so that when the world hears laughter and singing and joy, they can be certain that we followers of Jesus are somewhere nearby. Amen.

[1] Williams, Rowan. Being Christian. William B. Eerdmans. Grand Rapids: 2014. Pg. 41.

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