Thursday, October 30, 2014

"I Wasn't Sure if the Church Would be a Safe Space" Sermon for Oct. 26, 2014

The Gospel lesson for this Sunday was the Great Command - Love God and love your neighbor as you love yourself. Part of being loving is being invitational. Another part of loving is providing a safe space. 

Have you had a time when a church was not a safe space for you or someone you knew? How do you provide safe spaces for those around you, whether it be in a church or your home or even in how you interact with strangers? Please comment below.

“I Wasn't Sure if the Church Would be a Safe Space”
Sermon, Year A, Proper 25, October 26, 2014
Plymouth United Church of Christ, Eau Claire, WI
© Rev. David J. Huber

Love God. Love your neighbor as yourself. In that command is also a command to love yourself. Love your neighbor and love God, but also love yourself. That’s something we often miss when we talk about not being prideful, being humble, make sure to put others before yourself, etc. But here is a command that we are to love ourselves as well.

Maybe not be haughty and obnoxious about it, but a command to love ourselves. It’s okay to do that. It’s important to do so. Because then we can love others. If we love ourselves then we can love others. And the starting point of loving yourself is knowing that God loves us. Relying on that. Relying on the truth that God loves us, no matter who we are or what we’ve done. None of that matters to God. Anything that we might think that makes us unlovable, does not matter to God. God loves us anyway. Unconditionally. So embrace that love.

And then – spread that love to our neighbors! Spread that love to our neighbor. Those you work with, those you live by, those around this church in the neighborhood, in Eau Claire, and the entire world. Spread that love to our neighbors.

Think of God’s love as a bag of seeds. A bag that we are told to take and go sow. It is a bag of seeds that never run out. Whenever you take a handful and sow it around, it refills. There is always sufficient love. Think of them as whatever kinds of seeds you like. Violets, marigolds, wheat, or some other vegetable you really like. Perhaps turnips or parsnips. Or acorns. Throwing seeds for trees. Whatever it is. We all have our own kind of seeds, and our own way of doing this, and our own kind of godly love to share with the world. It’s a bag of seeds that never runs out, so there is no need to keep any in reserve. There is no need to be afraid of running out. We can toss it around with reckless generosity. There is always more love. The more you give away, the more you have. That’s the paradox of God’s love, and what God’s love is like.

We have here in this passage the command to love God, love your neighbor, and love yourself. That’s what we’re all about as the Church, as the carriers of Jesus’ message. We’re all about love and sharing it. So we should be inviting people in to share in that love. To be part of it.

More than just inviting people, or asking them to come here to buy stuff at a thrift sale or a pie and ice cream social or holiday bazaar. Those are wonderful and good things. They are a way to bring the community in, and especially for us to work together in fellowship with one another. But we want to go beyond inviting people to come in to just consume our product, to invite them into our community and produce with us. To be part of our fellowship. To be part of us and produce the fruits of God’s love, the Spirit Fruits, beyond being consumers to sharers of what we have. To come produce with us, adding their unique seeds of love and for us all to become stronger because of it.

So I am pushing this invitation idea a lot and the idea of hospitality in our talk of church growth and vitality. A really important part of being a strong church is to be invitational and to show hospitality.

So what does “being the church” look like? It looks like loving our neighbor. It looks like helping one another. Helping in our community. The radical message that we hold here as Jesus’ people, the one that Jesus preached, is the message that it’s not God’s intent that we have to be self-sufficient by ourselves. Not God’s intent that we have to pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps. Not God’s intent that we have to be the self-made man or self-made woman or self-made however you self identify. No, the message is that God’s intent is that we do this in community. To do this with one another. We can’t do any of those things alone. I think it is a fiction to think that we can be self-sufficient, pull ourselves up by our bootstraps, or be self-made. We always rely on other people. We do that in community.

We help each other to be sufficient. We pull each up others’ bootstraps. We help one another make ourselves.

What does “being the church” look like? It looks like loving our neighbors. It looks like inviting the community in, such as to our Halloween party to share in our festivities. Or whatever else we are doing, such as helping with our street ministry. Inviting people in to help us with that. Or inviting your friends to come to Community Table and help us serve there in November (the 22nd). That will expand our circle and expose more people to us.

What does “being the church” look like? It looks like loving our neighbors. Which looks like hospitality. Yesterday (October 25) we opened our doors to the Memorial GSA (Gender and Sexual Awareness group, including LGBTQ teens and their allies and advisors). They had asked if they could have a Halloween party here at Plymouth. I said, “Absolutely!” We said a big “Yes!” to their request to use our space, and then they extended an invitation to the North High School GSA and also to ChiHi. We opened our doors to the community. Especially, we opened our doors to those who aren’t served as well as the rest of the community. So we opened our doors and some things happened. As I talked with Jamie, the advisor from Memorial, she mentioned that when the party had first come up in the group and told the kids they had found a place for the party and said it was going to be at a church, some of the kids weren’t so sure about that. Some weren’t sure they wanted to have it at a church. Not because they worried about church-state separation, but because they weren’t sure they could trust a church because of past abuse they’d experienced or seen. But they went ahead, and did it, and came and we had a wonderful time and they trusted in it. After the meal, we got in a big circle and introduced ourselves and shared some stories. In that sharing, the president of the GSA said that he hoped everyone experienced a safe space here at the church and in the group.

One of the teens, who was wearing a cross-dressing crazy psychotic nurse costume, told the story that he came here with his mom who drove him here. When they arrived, there weren’t many cars here because other kids had been dropped off by parents or came as a group. They had not been here before, so they weren’t sure if they were in the right place. But they pulled in, and as they drove up to the building, he said – and this is in relation to that comment about being in a safe space – that they weren’t sure if they were in the right place, but he saw the rainbow flag that is in my office window and he thought that even if they weren’t in the right space, he at least knew he was in a safe space. If they have a rainbow flag in the window, this should be an okay place for me to be. That he felt safe that he could come in and, if not the right place, could ask directions and not have to worry.
That question, “I wasn’t sure if the church would be a safe space,” no one should ever have to ask that question or to say it. “I’m not sure if the church is a safe space.” But for many, for too many, the church is not a safe space. So we – Plymouth – provided a safe space with something as simple as a rainbow flag in the window to say, “Yes, this is a safe space for you.” A remarkable moment that touched my heart when he shared that story.

We had a wonderful time, and Plymouth provided a safe place for 35 or so teenagers who are gay, transgender, questioning, not sure, and some who are their allies, who were impressed and very grateful that a church opened its doors so that they could have a party. And not just a party, but a Halloween party, which not ever church would allow, either.

They left a note, which I made photocopies of placed on the tables in the fellowship room. After they left the party, I found a thank you note on the table from them. “Thank you for allowing us to hold a party here. (heart). It’s greatly appreciated, North GSA”.

I left copies of it because I thought you all need to see and to know that opening our doors meant a lot to the teenagers that were here, and to their advisors.

After the party, some of the teens weren’t picked up right away. A number of musicians were in the group sitting around, so we came into the sanctuary and they played on the piano, and guitar, and sang. Great musicians. I made some good contacts and have invited a couple of them to come sing in worship. A few of the girls had beautiful voices, and one is a wonderful songwriter.

So we have made some connections by inviting people in.

We show our love for God in the way that we love our neighbors. Through invitation, through hospitality, by meeting their needs, by making a safe place, and by taking some risks in generosity by opening our doors.

Taking risks in generosity. That’s what “being the church” looks like.

And in the months and years to come, we will become more and more that church.


Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Halloween - don't fear it, enjoy it! It's a Holy Day for Christians.

This was printed in the local newspaper, the Leader Telegram, on Saturday, October 25, 2014.

How do you celebrate Halloween, or do you not celebrate at all?

Matter of Faith: Halloween celebrations lead into All Saints Day
By The Rev. David Huber

One of my very favorite holidays is peeking out of the shadows, and it'll soon to be upon us - that wonderful day of dress up and make believe that is Halloween.

That might sound weird coming from a minister, but Halloween has a long Christian history, despite those who preach against celebrating Halloween, such as Pat Robertson recently did, saying it is demonic, Satanic, evil, etc.

Halloween is none of that. Well, okay, some people dress up as demons, devils, witches, zombies, vampires, etc. But we know those things don't exist, so there is no need to fear them. And that's the real beauty of Halloween. It is historically All Hallow's Eve leading into All Saints Day.

The tradition has been, going back even to pre-Christian times in England, that on All Hallow's Eve the veil between the worlds of the living and the dead was at its thinnest, allowing souls to travel back and forth. People would wear costumes to disguise themselves and to scare the dead back to their own world.

As it became a Christian holy day, the costumes became a way of basically ridiculing the powers of fear and death for being impotent against God's grace and love.

We need not fear because those things are not real. Halloween is about Christian hope, not about Satan worship, which is just silly to think about.

Some say the phrase "do not be afraid" appears 365 times in scripture, which is one instance for each day of the year, a daily reminder that we have nothing to fear. Not even those who would have us fear Halloween itself.

For whatever reason, we humans enjoy scary things in pretend or in safe situations. That's why we ride roller coasters, bungee jump, watch horror movies and go to haunted houses.

My Octobers are always filled with revisits of classic horror movies (John Carpenter's "The Thing" is always shown.) and novels. I just read "Dr. Jeckyl and Mr. Hyde," will revisit "Dracula" and likely blow the dust off some tomes of H.P. Lovecraft and Poe.

We celebrate because we know that demons, devils, witches, monsters don't really exist and so have no power. Halloween is a ritualized living out of that Christian hope against fear.
We get so few chances to pretend we're someone else, to dive into the horrific and grotesque, so celebrate and enjoy Halloween! I always do.

So does my congregation of Plymouth. We have an annual Halloween party, so come join us! (See our website - - for information.) We will be in front of our church to hand out candy during trick-or-treating.

Our celebrations then lead into All Saints Day when we remember those who have died in the last year and are comforted with the hope that they are enjoying eternal life with God.

So please enjoy your Halloween celebrations. Be scared in a fun way, enjoy the treats and the spookiness and remember there really is nothing to fear, not even the holy day itself.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

"Everyone At The Table" sermon for Word Communion Sunday 2014

October 5 was World Communion Sunday. Our text was the rather difficult and rough parable of the wicked tenants. Read the parable before you read the sermon. I don't focus much on the difficult parts about killing, as I was taken by the phrase "The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone." Which got me to thinking, "Who are the people (or even possibly, What are the ideas?) that we have rejected, but which God has used a cornerstone in some unexpected way?" Especially on World Communion Sunday, a day of so-called celebration of the sacrament that is shared by all of Jesus' Church but which has in many traditions become to embroiled in specific rituals and beliefs that they cannot find a way to invite others to share their table or to share at the table of others, the question is a good one: who have we rejected because we think they are wrong, but God uses them instead of us? If we close the communion table in our congregation to others, we are excluding God's children from the feast. If we refuse to share at the table of another congregation, we insult our hosts by suggesting that they have not set the table properly and are, therefore, excluding them from God's grace. 

What do you think? Who/what are the cornerstones that we are rejecting?

You may listen to the sermon as well.

NOTE: I was tempted to call this one "We Are the Table", but ultimately chose "Everyone at the Table" instead. But I like the imagery that comes from considering the idea that we, too, are holy (though imperfect) vessels of grace - and if we deny others, we are also denying the power of the Holy Spirit that is within us.

“Everyone At The Table”
Sermon, Year A, Proper 22, October 5, 2014
Plymouth United Church of Christ, Eau Claire, WI
© Rev. David J. Huber
Focus Scripture: Matthew 21:33-46 (Parable of the Wicked Tenants)

“The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone,” Jesus says after this parable.

Who are we rejecting who might be or become a cornerstone? Or who have we rejected in the past who has become a cornerstone? Who are we rejecting? Who do we reject? Who do reject as the Church, as Jesus’ followers, as Jesus’ body around the earth?

Who do we reject? Perhaps other traditions within our faith, maybe, such as Lutherans, Catholics, Orthodox. Although we in the United Church of Christ tend to get along with those. Maybe, from our perspective, those we reject might be more the Pentecostals, Charismatics, snake handlers, traditions such as those.

What about other faiths? Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhists, even atheists. What about them?

And who do we reject as a community, who might become a cornerstone? Immigrants, foreigners, our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters, people who live on the streets, women who work on the streets, people with tattoos, bikers, gamblers, people with addictions, people who are mentally ill, men with hair that’s too long or women with hair that’s too short, all people we might reject. The parents of the crying baby on the airplane. The kid at school that’s wearing old and uncool clothing, or that doesn’t have a smart phone, or gets a reduced cost lunch. Or maybe we reject that kid’s parents.

Might any one of them, or more than one, be a cornerstone that is being rejected?

We don’t know.

We don’t always know. Any one of them, many of them, might be used by God. Might be used as a cornerstone. Any one of us could be used as a cornerstone. We don’t know who that’s going to be. And so to reject someone, that’s a pretty big move. You could be rejecting one of God’s cornerstones. Certainly rejecting one of God’s people, even if they aren’t a cornerstone. Especially if, when we say “no” to someone, we add words to the effect of “because God disapproves of you” or “because the Bible says you are not one of God’s people.”

We don’t know. We can’t know. And so we ought to be careful. We never know who God is going to use.

To read through scripture – the full narrative of the Biblical story – we see a constant theme of inclusion. Of including people on the outside. And a constant theme in the stories of time and time again of God using those who are rejected, those who are the least, those on the outside, the younger, the weaker: those are the ones that God uses over and over and over to fulfill God’s plans. Because the ones who thought they were “in” weren’t willing to listen to God’s new ideas, God’s changing plans, God’s changing ways. People like Abraham, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Ruth, Esther, David, Paul, the disciples, all were on the outside in one way or another. Even Jesus was on the outside.

Today is World Communion Sunday, celebrating Communion around the world, as a church that is not always good at working together, unfortunately. United in Jesus, but not always united in mission or in service to the world. But it is a day to remember, or to strive to remember, that we at least share that commonality in Jesus. That we are Jesus’ followers, however imperfectly we do so. And to remember that we share common sacraments, especially Communion, this table that has been set before us. A day to remember that we share Jesus’ table. That the sacrament of Communion is important in the life of the church. And to remember, hopefully, that whatever we think about Communion, we don’t have all the truth. Though we do sometimes fight over it because we think we have all the truth, and get in a situation of thinking that other church doesn’t do it right so they can’t be included in ours, or they won’t include us in theirs. We really don’t have all the truth, so let us not cast out a possible cornerstone of thought or a possible cornerstone of a person by denying them access to the Bread of Life or the Cup of Salvation.

Let us remember that we are a community, and as a church we are called into that community. Not to be insular, but to serve the world. To go into the world to bring healing, hope, health, mercy, love, kindness.

We read the Ten Commandments here, which are also about community. They aren’t just a set of laws of God saying “Don’t do this” and “Do this” from an abstract position of power, but it’s about community. About being in relationship with God. This is what a relationship with God looks like. This is what a good right relationship with one another looks like. Don’t go after other gods and don’t cast out your God. And don’t cast out other people through murder, disrespect, or theft, or bearing false witness, or objectifying them. This is about living in community. These are a people who have just left slavery in Egypt and are in the wilderness on their way to the Promised Land. To a new way of life. God offers them a framework for their new way of life saying “This is what it should look like when you live together.” This is about community.

I particularly like that the Commandments include the admonition that even the slaves and the foreigners are included. Not just a select people, but for everyone who is living with them at the time. Even the slaves and the foreigners are part of this community and are protected by God’s covenant. All are covered. All of the earth is the Lord’s and everything in it. Whether citizens or foreigners. Whether you are normal or kind of weird or off to the edges. Whether a Muslim, Jew, Christian, Buddhist, agnostic, atheist, whatever you are All part of God’s umbrella. Whether you are a rock & roll person or a country & western person, or a classical person. Whether you are a professional dancer or you are in a faith that sees dancing as a sin. All covered by God. Farmers, teachers, business owners, slaves, professors, nurses, doctors, stay at home moms and dads, retirees, CEOs and the guys who work the mailroom, all part of God’s world. We are all in it together. All are welcome to this table.

That’s one of the radical things that Jesus did was to provide a table to which all are welcome. All are invited. You don’t have to do anything special or be anyone special. All are invited to the table. We celebrate that today with our Communion.

Think of the rotation of the earth, when the first Sunday morning Communions started on this planet, maybe about 15 or 16 hours ago as the earth spins and the sun first rose over the International Date Line bringing Sunday morning. People first waking up and heading to their churches in the Philippines, New Zealand, and Japan. Then over to Taiwan, Russia, India... Turkey, Sweden, Nigeria, South Africa... England, Morocco, Ivory Coast... Iceland, Newfoundland, Maine, Brazil. A wash of Communion going over the planet. And now in Wisconsin and the Yucatan peninsula. Costa Rica, Peru, California, the Galapagos. I’m not sure if there is a church there, but if there is they will be celebrating Commnion. Then Hawaii, Fiji, Easter Island. I’d like to think that even the workers and scientists at the science stations in Antarctica, more than likely a few receiving Communion. A wash of grace embracing the earth in a cycle of people waking up as the earth rotates and heading to their churches to come to the table to be fed, or are having the bread and wine come to them to be fed. Touching humanity. All of humanity. The woman whose husband has just died, and the one who’s just had a miraculous cure. The depressed and the happy. Those who are alone, and those who are with many. The child who is hungry with food, and the child who is full and healthy enough to play football. The child hungry for attention, and the one who has enough. Those who live in safety, and those being targeted by militaries, terrorists, or their abusers. All the ones around the earth who are being told ,”You’re awesome! You’re wonderful!” and those who are being told, “You aren’t good enough. You don’t measure up.” Those in hospitals and nursing homes, those in yachts and on airplanes. In homes and in churches, God’s grace for all, moving around the earth that we all call home.

Let all be welcome at this table. This Communion table that we share in the church, and also at the tables in our fellowship room to be fed there as well with the food that we make with our hands and with our love. And may this table, this Communion table, be a cornerstone of faith with a willingness to share. The generosity and love shared at this table, let that also be a cornerstone of the faith.

I finish up with a poem that I found this week, written by Jan Richardson, a woman who writes liturgy and poems. This is one she wrote specifically for World Communion Sunday:

[I don't want to print the poem here, as it would probably violate copyright law plus I want to make sure that you, the reader, so Jan's page and she gets the hits; so go to Jan Richardson's page and read it there].


"Bring A +1!" sermon on golden calves and banquet feasts

On October 12, we had two compelling texts that on the surface one might not think relate to one another. Perhaps after reading this sermon, you will think otherwise. Or not. But, anyway, the important thing here is that in the parable of the wedding feast we have some folks who say "no" to the invitation to join in, and others who say "Yes" to the invitation. An invitation to God's great party. An invitation that is always addressed to "You and a +1". Even a "+ everyone else". Meaning that we are invited to God's amazing and uber-feasty banquet - but let us also extend that invitation to those around us, and not keep it to ourselves. Or perhaps another way, let us remind our neighbors that they also have received an invitation already, so maybe they'd like to open it up and respond? And tell them that you'll drive and pick them up. 

What do you think? How do you respond to these texts? Or how do you think they apply to your life, if at all?

Read the sermon below, or listen to it.

“Bring A +1!”
Sermon, Year A, Proper 23, October 12, 2014
Plymouth United Church of Christ, Eau Claire, WI
© Rev. David J. Huber

[NOTE: It would be helpful to read the two scripture passages first; or if you don't want to read, the recording includes a reading of both of the passages]

Golden calves, golden calves, golden calves.... everywhere, golden calves. What are you gonna do?

What are you gonna do?

Well, we could stop making them. Could stop building them.

They are not of much value. You can’t cook ‘em. Can’t eat ‘em. Can’t milk ‘em. They don’t make babies. You can’t put ‘em in front of a plow, these golden calves. There is no reason on God’s green earth to have them, but oh Lordy, they fill our shopping malls, and our cities, and our churches, our homes, our lives. They clutter our space, our mental and spiritual space, until we can scarcely move around them for fear of knocking one loose or being crushed by one, even as we admire them and adorn them with the hopes of our prayers and a tithe of our spirit, these golden calves.

What, ray tell, are your golden calves? What are the ones that you have made in your life? Maybe some that you’ve let go of. Maybe some that you hide in the closet thinking they are hidden, but you know they’re there. Or the ones that you think were gone, but are still lurking in the shadows.

What are your golden calves?

And what are the golden calves of the church?

And we do have them. We all have our golden calves. You are not evil or a bad person, apostate, irredeemable for having a golden calf. I’m sure we all have one, if not more. Organizations have them. Countries have them.

Especially if we think of our golden calves as a reversion back to comfortable ways. Or an escape from reality, whether those ways worked or not. Or taking an easy path instead of a difficult one, even if the easy path isn’t healthy or good for us and the difficult one is the one that leads to thriving and growth. Or in the face of strangeness or anxiety, to say “No” and go after something else that isn’t good for us. The golden calves are often the place of comfort. The place of avoiding what is really going on.

The Hebrew people are having that kind of experience as they make their golden calf. They have been slaves in Egypt. Everyone who is out there with Moses and Aaron had been a slave. Generations before them had been slaves, hundreds of years. They have a history of slavery, and now God and Moses have led them to freedom from slavery. That is a wonderful and a good thing to be free, but that freedom is new. It’s scary. Plus, their freedom out of slavery has brought them literally into a desert, into the wilderness. It has also brought them metaphorically into a wilderness of anxiety and newness. So they are free, but they are literally in a desert and wilderness. They lack food and water. Their routine has been disrupted. The old systems they could rely on are no longer there. They don’t know what is going on, they are afraid, they are anxious. However bad their slavery might have been, at least as slaves in Egypt they had homes. They had beds to sleep in, they had food, they had a daily routine. They will lament a number of times in the process through the wilderness saying things like, “At least in Egypt we had leeks and onions and meat.” So they are free, but they are afraid. So this need for comfort. Their need to reduce their anxiety is overwhelming their trust in the God that just rescued them, and their trust in Moses. It is overwhelming their trust in the promise that God had made to Abraham their ancestor hundreds of years before. Their fear is overwhelming that faith, that trust. It is understandable. Stress, anxiety, change – these can make us all forget who we are and revert to bad habits or take up new ones, or do other unhelpful things.

So they are calming their anxiety by creating this visible, tangible god: the golden calf. It was something they new. They would have seen these in Egypt. They were around, and would have been part of their life experience to see icons of gods, including statues of calves and bulls. They probably had even prayed to some of the idols and icons in Egypt. It is hard to imagine that in 400 years in Egypt they hadn’t adopted and adapted to some of the Egyptian religious practices. They certainly would have seen them.

So they go to the familiar. We all do it. To find comfort in one way or another. Have a stressful day, so we go home and have a lot of pie or eat a pile of mac and cheese instead of steamed broccoli or something else healthy. We go shopping to fill the emptiness in our lives with trinkets. Or dink or smoke or whatever to hide the pain with the golden calf of a pretend reality, at least for a moment to be someone else, to pretend to be somewhere else. Or a trauma happens and we cast out our reason and fill that space with the golden calf of terror at Ebola, ISIS, or child refugees coming up from Central America, gay marriage, or whatever it is. Whatever might drive us to an irrational fear.

The wilderness is a strange place. It is a place of anxiety. That’s why it’s called wilderness. It’s not tame. It’s not domesticated. We don’t have control over the wilderness. It can be a scary place to be in because it is new and different and anxiety-causing.

When I think of where the Church is, not just Plymouth or the UCC, but the world over, the Church also is going through a lot of change and is in a kind of wilderness. We are not entirely sure what is going to happen. We are coming into uncharted land, as the whole world itself is going through uncharted land. There have been so many changes in the last few decades, and the last century. The whole world is going through change as though we’ve all been pulled out of Egypt by something and told, “We’re going to some kind of … thing... over there. We’re not sure how we will get there. Not entirely sure where it is, or even what it looks like, or how we will know that we’ve gotten there.” But something has pulled us out and set us in the wilderness. Something is leading us in that direction. I think of the technological changes. What the Internet has done to bring the world together and make it a smaller place. Airline travel has made the world smaller. Business are working globally, and tied together globally. And technological changes, political changes, social changes. The times they are a’changin’. And that change is chaotic and fast. It’s a much faster pace of change than we as a species have ever experienced before. It causes anxiety and fear.

And the church is not immune to that, either.

I’ve talked about that in other sermons before. The Church is changing as the culture changes around it. Trying to figure out how we are to be the church in the 21st century comes with the temptation to go back to the golden calves, or to build new ones. The golden calf of doing what we’ve been doing and expecting the same results. Or the golden calf of expecting the world to conform to be like we are instead of us going out into the world and seeing what the needs are and being the Church for them. Or going into the world and rebuild into God’s vision. Like Jesus’ has shown us in all these parables of what the realm of God looks like. Or the golden calf of the 1950s, or 40s, or 60s, or 1830s, 1620s, early 1500s.... whatever we might see as the Golden Age of the Church.

Or the Golden Calf of also forgetting one thing: that above else, we are the stewards of God’s story. Of remembering the story that we tell here on Sundays. The story of hope for the future and the vision of God’s realm. We are the stewards of God’s story, or at least in part we are stewards. We don’t have the whole story. Even though maybe we don’t know exactly where we are going, we know in part where we are going: the vision of God’s realm! Where we are going is to the great banquet, the wedding feast, God’s Great Party! The path is unclear. We aren’t sure where the path is, and we will probably have to change our clothes before we get there. Maybe need to change them a few times, and do so without knowing what that clothing is going to look like at at the end.

But we have the vision ahead of us that God invites to join in with.

And I would hate to be the one that says “No” to this invitation. I don’t want to be the person who says, “No”, and I don’t want us to be the church that says “No” to that invitation. Whether it be Plymouth or the Church worldwide. I don’t want to be the one that says, “No”. I want to be the one that says “Yes.” That says, “Yes! Take me out of Egypt! Even if I have to be in the wilderness for a while, let’s go. Let’s go to the party!”

God has invited us to join in, so let’s go. Let’s say “Yes!”

And we have said “Yes” here, at least partly. We have set out on the journey and are treading along, however unsurely as we try to figure this out. But we are moving forward, I think. We’ve made some changes. We are trying to new things. Think of our Street Ministry: we didn’t have that two years ago, but that has been very successful. Not only providing relief for people who are living on the streets, but it’s been really successful and important for those of us who have been serving in it and learned from it. It is causing ripples around town. We’ve had articles in the newspaper, and people are talking about homelessness here in Eau Claire. I think partly because we went downtown and started doing this ministry, and have invited others to come with us. We have made changes of me being more active and vocal in public, in organizations and groups. I’ve had to learn new ways of being a minister and of doing things. Being out there meeting people and networking. I didn’t network before. That word scared me. But it’s actually kind of fun, being out there and meeting people. But that’s meant less time for me in the office, and meant a change in my schedule, and me learning new things. That’s a wilderness for me as well. It’s been a good experience that has also provided some fruit. Some people have been invited in because of that.

We’ve made changes to worship.

We have made changes to being more invitational to people and groups using our space. We had the Chippewa Valley LGBT that started their Bingo nights here. We hosted them for a while. They are Pizza Plus now which works better for them. But imagine if we hadn’t said “Yes” to their request to start here, it might not have gotten off the ground. And now it is a good fundraiser for them.

So we have done this, making these changes, with the vision of God’s great party ahead of us. Moving toward it.

We can ask, What does that vision look like? We might not know exactly what it will be, but we certainly can know that the church of the future and the path that we are on is a way of living that is invitational. That is open. That is fun! Let’s have fun in church! There are lots of people out there who think that church is not fun. That’s because they haven’t been here to experience fun and laughter in worship and fellowship. It’s inclusive, oriented toward justice, diverse. It is a way of living that is willing to say, “Yes!” and very hesitant about saying, “No.” Much more willing to say “Yes”. Willing to experiment. Willing to stop doing what doesn’t work and try something else. A way of living that isn’t hidden under a bushel. A way that says, “Here we are. Here is what we are doing. Come join us. Come be part of this.” It’s a way of living, of being out where the people are and mee4ting their needs, being Jesus for them but also letting them be Jesus for us. I think that people who are not in the church have an awful lot to teach us about God. There is much that we can learn from them as well.

And it is not always easy. Wilderness journeys are never easy. But they are doable. Plus, we have God’s promise. God does not call people to do impossible things. God is the God of the possible. God does not ask us to do things that God knows we will fail at. God is the God of the possible, one step at a time.

And one step is the Halloween party we are having in two weeks. That’s a nice easy step. We have a Halloween party to invite people to. So bring yourself, but bring someone with you. It is much less scary to invite someone to a Halloween party (even though it is Halloween...) than to invite them to worship: “Come to the Halloween party, have some food, have fun, play some games, get to know us.” It’s a good safe place for others to get to know us.

We also have this other small step, a challenge that has been offered to us by my coach that I thought was a good one, and that our church growth group that was a good idea, is to have 40 people in worship consistent by the end of the year. That would be a wonderful thing. There is so much more sound and energy once we pass the 35 number. It’s a good number, and a doable number, especially if you invite someone. Bring someone with you. Be invitational.

And if you know someone who you think would appreciate an invitation, who has needs that we could meet or that you think would be wonderful in this congregation but you are timid or unsure about offering that invitation – and trust me, I understand that feeling; I was very timid about offering invitations, and still find it scary – but if you know someone, give me their name and email, Facebook, phone number, whatever contact information, and I will invite them. It is hard for me to believe that I am saying that. A year ago, that scared the heck out of me, to think about inviting someone. Because I didn’t want to be “That Guy”, that evangelist proselytizing guy. That’s way out of my comfort zone. A year ago, that really scared me. Now, I’m only slightly terrified to offer those invitations. But they work, those invitations do. So give me the name and number of someone, and I’ll contact them saying, “So and so from my church offered me your name. They thought you would be a good fit, or find a good home at Plymouth. Let’s have a coffee and talk” and invite them in from there.

Think of the parable that Jesus told here. It has a group of people that I have never heard a sermon about, or that we read about in the commentaries. I think they are the unsung heroes of this parables: the ones who are told to go out and invite people, and who say “yes” to that command and do indeed go out and offer the invitation. Sure, they were being commanded by the king to do that and didn’t really have an option, but still, they agreed to go. And look at this way: how is them being commanded by the king to go invite people any different than Jesus’ command to us to go invite people? Is not Jesus our king, in some sense? Hmmmm......

There is strength in invitation. It is a kind of compliment, too! To be invited to something is to be complimented. It is saying, “I like you enough to invite you to something that I am involved with, and that I find important.”

We who are the Church, we who are the holders of the story and the hosts of God’s great party, we do have a party and a banquet that goes on here. The feast that goes on at Plymouth in the way that we pray for one another, care for each other, the fellowship we have, the meals we share, the ministries that we do together and support each other in. We have a wonderful banquet here that I think many people would love to be a part of. They just have to be invited in. Extending that invitation and going bravely through that wilderness of fear and uncertainty, not falling to the temptations of the golden calves. Eagerly saying, “Yes!” to God’s invitation to join, and as we say “Yes!” to God’s invitation, to also bring a Plus One with us.

It can be done. I know it can be done.