Saturday, March 28, 2015

What Needs to Die? - Sermon for Lent 5, Year B, March 22, 2015

In this sermon, based on texts from Jeremiah (the text about how God will write the law on our hearts, and not forgive our iniquity but remember it no more) and Gospel of John, in which Jesus talks about how the seed must be buried and die in order for it to produce fruit, I explore the question, "What needs to die?" What needs to die in ourselves, and also what needs to die in the church - locally and globally - in order for us to again bear great fruit.

What needs to die in your life? What do you see that needs to die in the church? Please comment below.

Note: This did not get recorded, so we only have a written form. I tried to reconstruct it as best as I could from my memory.

“What Needs to Die?”
Sermon, Year B, Lent 5, March 22, 2015
© Rev. David J. Huber

There is, in Jesus’ call to follow – to be a follower of Jesus – a point of death. Maybe multiple points of death. No, no maybe on that. Definitely multiple points of death.

We talk about it in the act of baptism, when we talk about the waters of baptism symbolizing death to our old life and rebirth into new life in Jesus Christ. A giving up of the old ways to take on the new ways, the ways of life, the ways of Jesus.

This is a big transformation. As big as being born!

To die to the self – the old self – and find a much better way of life in the new self as a follower of Jesus. That’s one thing Jesus asks of us. If we’re going to follow him, he asks, please let go of any ways of life that hinder your journey as a follower. Give up the selfishness – in Jesus, we now live to serve others, not ourselves. Let go of tribal or national identity. Give up the needs for riches or comfort. Give up your ego. Give up whatever it is that is holding you back from following Jesus as fully as you could.

What might that be for you?

We are uniquely made, and so surely there is a huge array of ways this question might get answered if we did a survey in this room. What holds you back?

I’m sure we could all name something that holds us back. Maybe you haven’t thought about it much so need some extra time, but given time and honest self-inspection, we could all name something that holds us back. Probably numerous things, though I imagine many of them would relate to fear in one way or another: fear of letting go of something, fear of encountering something new, fear of the change.

But we all have something, because none of us are perfect. So maybe it’s time to let go of a fear of looking weird to your friends if you told them honestly about your path with Jesus. Or a fear of being told you’re wrong by some authority. A fear of not having enough, if one is too generous? A fear of giving up a stereotype to go help in the street ministry or the at the Community Table...

these are all legitimate concerns, very human. I don’t think God will think any of less of you for having them, because God already knows that who we are as human beings. We are imperfect. And following Jesus can be scary. Dying to the old self to take on a new Way of living is scary. Change is rarely without anxiety, even when it’s a really good, welcome, or necessary change.

I focused on fear a lot there, and perhaps fear is not always the motivator, but I think it rules an awful lot. It’s a heck of a motivator, just as love is a great motivator in the other direction. Often, it seems, they go to together, and are practically the same thing.

But generally fear is what keeps us from moving forward.

What did Jesus have to say about this? He said, as we read in today’s passage, that the grain has to die before it can produce fruit, or else it just stays a grain of wheat.

So we can also ask, then, What needs to die in us to be better followers of Jesus?

What needs to die in the church, to find growth?

What needs to die in this congregation, Plymouth, for new life to happen, for fruit to be produced?

We’ve been talking about that the past year or so, and will continue to do so as we grow this congregation and become an even more impressive ministry presence in Eau Claire.

One thing that we’ve learned that needs to die is the idea that churches exist only to serve the needs of the membership. That the ministry of a church is contained within the castle walls, with perhaps occasional excursions outside, but mostly the ministry is confined to the walls of the castle and to the people who are safely ensconced within.

Another grain that needs to due is the idea that people will just show up at a church. That worked in the 1950s, and seems to have worked only in the 1950s, but most churches continue to operate on the idea that people are ready to bust our doors down in eagerness to join us. It just isn’t so. People are waiting to be invited, perhaps; but many aren’t even aware that they are waiting for that. For majority of the people, at least in the United States, there is little to no desire to seek out a church. But who, if they are invited! Ah, then they might very well come and realize that we offer something that they have been seeking. So let die your fear of being invitational, and much fruit will be produced.

It’s also time to let die any fear of opening doors that might be the result of a “breach of rules”. When the rules interfere with doing ministry, then the rules need to go.

When I first started in ordained ministry, as a solo pastor, when I came here, I had a fear around baptism. Well, around many things, but let’s just talk about baptism today. Now, I knew that if someone from the congregation asked for a baptism for a child or themselves, that was an easy request: of course, one says “Yes!” They’re already here, part of the community. But what if someone asked for a baptism, and that person was not involved with or even related to the congregation at all? That’s a little trickier. Baptism is about community, and promises are made about growing in faith and being active in a congregation. Hmmmm.... or what if someone unrelated to the congregation requested a baptism, but asked that it not be at the church at all, but in their home, or some resort, or a park? Now that’s getting even more difficult to answer.

I had a lot of fear around this. Becoming ordained takes a lot of years and a lot of testing and a lot of money. I wasn’t quite sure how the whole system worked. What if I made a mistake? What if I did a baptism when I wasn’t supposed to? There goes a hundred thousand dollars and my future.

My gut and my heart told me that if someone asks for a baptism, you do a baptism. Never deny a sacrament. That’s what I wanted reality to be. And it seemed the only truly faithful option to me. But, I didn’t know if others would see it that way. Especially not those with authority over me. My fear said, “What if you baptize someone, and it annoys someone else? Someone in the congregation?” Or the bigger fear, “What if it violates my standing as an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ?” Could I get in trouble for such a thing?

Th fear won out. The stakes were just too high. After all those years of study and training, how could I go back to my family and friends and say that I wasn’t a minister any more because I baptized someone I wasn’t supposed to? Embarrassing.

So I did turn a few people away. I’m not proud of it. I wouldn’t do so now. But that’s where I was. The fear over-rode what my heart and guy were telling me is right: never deny a sacrament to someone. In fact, never deny someone a chance to be ministered to.

Probably the people I turned away would never have become part of the life of the church anyway; but we’ll never know. And by saying “No” to them, I probably guaranteed it. I didn’t wait for them to close the door on the church, I closed it for them. Not good. My heart and my gut said to go ahead and do the baptisms, but my fear of doing something “theologically improper” over-rode what I saw as real ministry.

I let the fear win.

We get beholden to rules and regulations and policies, and then hide behind them so that we don’t have to take risks; they become the seeds that need to die before we can grow fruit.

I shared this baptism story with the clergy I met with a few weeks ago as part of our Communities of Practice, and many shared their stories as well. We mostly (maybe all, I don’t remember) had similar stories about taking the safe path of fear and not doing the ministry that we were pretty sure we were supposed to be doing. We talked about it. Talked about how read scripture and see Jesus tearing down walls and smashing fences and wanting to do that, but then the fear comes: we think, What might the Trustees say? What about Mr. or Mrs. so-and-so? Or the division on church and ministry? We worry that breaking a rule might cost us too much, and so we to ourselves, “Well, maybe a little fence here. That’s not so bad. This is probably something that ought to have a fence around it.”

So we put a fence around baptism: only in the church, only in worship, only for people related to the church. Even though the biblical witness is contrary to all that. We build a fence around the church, even – “If you can find your way in, we’ll welcome you, so long as you conform!” We put a fence around our traditions, our history, how we operate, how decisions get made. We put a fence around the communion table. Not here at Plymouth – we have an open table, and that’s how it should be. Never deny someone access to the sacraments if they desire it. If someone is seeking the divine, don’t slam a door in their face. Show hospitality. Be invitational. Open the doors.

As I said in last week’s sermon, I’d rather make a mistake on the side of generosity and love, than on the side of fear. If I’m going to get into trouble for doing something, if my Association standing as a minister is going to be put in jeopardy, or my standing with you, or ours with each other, or with other Christians, or even with Jesus: let it be because I was too generous, not because I closed too many doors. At least then my conscience will be clear.

If we’re going to err, let’s err on the side of love.

What needs to die? What do our hearts tell us?

Jeremiah the prophet, in the reading we heard, talks of a time when the law will be written on our hearts, no on paper or stone. We will know it, because it will be on our hearts. We get that, at least partly, in Jesus. What did Jesus show us about love and hospitality? About rules? He definitely put a pretty low priority on following rules. At least the ones the religious leaders came up with. He let that seed die on just about day one of his ministry, and he let the fruits of the heart be born out of it.

We can also trust in the power of the Spirit, that informs how our hearts feel, and trust in God’s grace. “I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sins no more.” We are free to break the rules, so to speak, because we have grace.

We don’t have to be afraid of making mistakes. We can tear down the walls, tear down the fences, throw open the doors, send wide the invitations, and let us produce fruit in abundance!


The Power of Love: Who Would Jesus Refuse to Serve? - an Easter article for the local newspaper

This article was written and submitted well before Indiana recently made it legal for people to refuse service to anyone they don't like, or hate, or fear, or wish could be legislated out of the country, etc. But it was published today, a few days after Indiana has opened an incredible can of worms on the pretense of "freedom" and "ending religious discrimination" (which is actually "ending the law that keeps religious folk from discriminating against others", but folks in that camp seem to like to redefine words and phrases, and so they also give us "peacekeeper missiles" and "right to work" laws that actually hinder the right to work and benefit the employers).

So I retitled the article to be a bit more timely, though I have not edited any of the words. If I were writing it now, I would include mention of Indiana's new "Nobody has legal protection from being abused from businesses and ideological zealots any more" law. Because let's be honest - though the law was passed under the rubric that it would allow Christians to not have to serve those terrible LGBT people, it will also allow Muslims to not serve Christians, or allow LGBT-owned business to refuse to serve the governor who passed the law, or allow anyone to refuse to serve anyone else for any reason (too fat, too thin, too black, too white, too brown, too liberal, too conservative, wrong color hair, left-handed, female, single mother, unmarried-but-not-a-virgins, ACLU members, NRA members, and so on and so on and so on).

This law is particularly heinous simply because it was triumphed by self-proclaimed Christians; as a Christian, as a follower of Jesus, this really bothers me because if there was one thing Jesus was about, it was about not discriminating. And it is also heinous because if a business refuses service to gay people, those same gay people - if they are police or firemen/women or doctors, for example - have to serve and protect that business owner. On a much larger scale, that business owner that is allowed to tell gay people to go elsewhere lives under the protection of how many LGBT soldiers, marines, sailors, etc.? Can the gay person working at the municipal water supply shut off the main to that business when they're on duty? Can the transgender person at the power plant? The transvestite emergency room intake person?

Jesus said to love your neighbor, not to keep finding new ways to ensure that they live as second- or third-class citizens, whether of the country or of the Kindom/Realm/Commonwealth of God. Sheesh. Grow up, folks.

I think that in the rush to be "pure" and "holy", too many confused Christians can't look far enough beyond their own piety to realize how dirty they've just made themselves and their community. And to do so under the pretense that this is what Jesus wants is just infuriating and heart-breaking.

Here is the article, and then below it I include a photo of it as it was published in today's Leader-Telegram newspaper in Eau Claire, WI. It is not available online, unfortunately.

The Article

Easter is the premiere Holy Day in the Christian calendar. It celebrates Jesus’ triumph over death and violence by rising from the dead the Sunday after his crucifixion. It is so important that Sunday became the normative day for the Church’s worship gatherings, and other Sundays are considered little Easters.

Easter is special to me for a more geeky reason. It’s our only astronomy-based holy day. Each year the earth makes another circuit around the sun, but Easters are not exactly a year apart. Last Easter wasn’t a year ago, it was 50 weeks ago. What’s up with that? Easter is not a fixed calendar day like Christmas. Nor does it float within the calendar, like Thanksgiving (the fourth Thursday of November). Easter is instead fixed to the celestial roaming of the moon around the earth and the earth around the sun, a holdover from the Jewish lunar calendar. In Western Christianity, Easter’s date is the first Sunday after the first full moon after the vernal equinox. Orthodox Christians use a slightly different system, which is why you may have noticed your wall calendar often having one Sunday labeled Easter and another labeled Orthodox Easter.

End of digression. Easter is important because of that rising from the dead thing Jesus did. It is the day of salvation. I like to say “Jesus rose from the dead for us” instead of “Jesus died for me”. It speaks to the universal effect of his resurrection, and reminds us that Easter is about life, not death. Jesus did willingly die, yes; but he rose from the dead a few days later to show us the power of love. To show us that, whatever eagerness we have to fire up the engines of death to kill and hurt and cause fear and divide, this is false power, a weakness completely impotent against the power of love.

That’s the scandalous nature of Jesus! He doesn’t play by our rules. Whoever we dislike, might wish to be barred from heaven or earthly life, or are positive has lost favor with God, Jesus rose from the dead for that person, too. That’s worth remembering. He rose for murderers and for life-bringers. For people of every political persuasion. For illegal immigrants and natives. For Americans and Iranians. For miners deep underground and astronauts in the International Space Station. For ISIS and for nuns. Gamblers, adulterers, addicts, smokers, vegans, hipsters, and goth. Communists and capitalists. Muslims, Jews, Christians, Buddhists, atheists, and every other expression. Children on our borders and our border’s patrollers Whatever one’s gender identity, sexuality, hobbies, or hair color, Jesus rose for you and them. Everyone.

So imagine if we lived according to Easter’s scandalous love. What if we took a moment to remember “Jesus’ resurrection was for this person” the next time we’re tempted to dehumanize someone online, or a waitress, the neighbor who votes differently, the man with a different religion or the woman from another country? Imagine Jesus holding them in arms of love as you hurl viciousness at them. Seems pretty childish and wrong, doesn’t it? Easter’s power is quenching death’s tempting voice and easy ways in favor of life and the power of love to transform people, and thus transform the world we share with one another. And it comes around once an orbit with a full moon every springtime to remind us of who we are supposed to be. Let us be that.

Friday, March 20, 2015

"For God So Loved the World" - sermon on John 3:16 and belief as obedience, not "belief"

I was quite sick on the Sunday I offered this sermon, and that's what the first sentence is about. So a short sermon, distilled down as best I could in a Nyquil haze.

The more I read scripture, the more I strive to follow Jesus, the more I meditate on Jesus' words, the less and less concerned I becomes with "right belief", and the more concerned I become with living in the way that Jesus showed us. Even the beloved verse John 3:16 which is often portrayed as meaning that Jesus just wants us to believe the right things, is really about action: belief for John's writer is about obedience, not an intellectual assent to a set of abstract theological statements. My tradition, the United Church of Christ, has long been non-creedal and non-doctrinal, so I'm not saying anything new with my confession at the beginning of this paragraph. 

Christianity has spent, I think, too much time trying to figure out abstract theological propositions we're supposed to say "yes" to in order to not be eternally punished in hell (and causing schisms, wars, and an awful lot of hurt along the way) instead of focusing on what Jesus' modeled for us as a good way to live: showing compassion, loving our neighbor, taking risks of faith and trusting in God's love (not God's anger). To live the way Jesus wants us to live is to live in eternal life.

What are your thoughts?

“For God So Loved the World”
Sermon, Year B, Lent 4, March 15, 2015
Plymouth United Church of Christ, Eau Claire, WI
© Rev. David J. Huber
Focus Scripture: John 3:14-21 

I kept my sermon short today because of my sickness: I’m not sure how much I’m going to cough, and not sure how coherent it is when written while drinking a lot of Nyquil.

This passage from John, this is a very famous one. Especially the John 3:16 verse. You may remember back in the 80s and 90s it seemed like every sports game there was at least one person in the crowd holding a giant sign that said “John 3:16”. It’s a famous passage. But I think it’s also often misunderstood. It says, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only son so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but have eternal life.”

I think a point of misunderstanding is to take this verse all by itself, which is always problematic when reading the Bible to just take a verse out of context and not talk about how it interacts with the verses around it. I see this one sometimes taken out of context and rewritten, in a sense, so it comes across as saying, “So that those who don’t believe in him will be eternally punished.” That seems to be the flip-side of how this verse is read. I don’t think that it is talking about eternal punishment so much here.

It’s not a heaven and a hell thing that the verse is talking about. For the writer of John’s Gospel, the things that Jesus says are very much in the here and now. They are not future words, about some future rewards or punishment, but something that is right now. And for the writer of John, the way he uses the word “believe” is not simply as an intellectual act, an agreement to a set of propositions. For John, to believe is to obey. Belief is an action. And so for him, the opposite of belief is not unbelief, but inaction or disobeying. To not live the way that Jesus wants us to live. To believe is to live how Jesus would have us live. It is not about agreement to a set of propositions, but a way of life. So for John, the reward and the punishment are in the present moment. Not future, but something that happens right now. So if one believes, that is if one obeys, living the way that Jesus asks us to live, then the reward is right now. The reward is to be living in relationship with God, the way that God would have us live. To disobey is to be condemned already, not to await some future hellish punishment, but to be condemned in the moment simply because it is a life detached and separated from God, which is its own punishment. It is to not live fully into the life that God would like us to enjoy.

To obey Jesus is to live the way of eternal life. Which in John’s Gospel is his way of saying the Kingdom of God, the Realm of God, the Kin-dom of God, some of these words we’ve talked about the past few years. To obey Jesus is to live into eternal life, the way of God’s vision.

When I think of “believing” as a set of propositions, we see it get reduced down to a set of abstract beliefs that must be believed: virgin birth, crucifixion, being raised from the dead, the Trinity. The faith becomes a self-focused way of living in the world. It becomes about whether or not I believe the right things so that I can have my salvation and so that I can go to heaven without any regard to neighbor, other than maybe to get them to believe the same way. But belief has action: to obey Jesus. It is not a self-centered way of living, caring about whether one believes the right doctrine in order to earn salvation, but an outward way of living. About hospitality, love, compassion. To live the way that Jesus lived, on behalf of the other. Belief as action. To obey Jesus is to do what Jesus would have us do.

And to do so in the confidence that, as scripture says, God does not want to condemn the world. God wants to save the world. “God so loved the world.” And therefore loves us. So we can follow in Jesus’ way without worrying about having to be perfect at it, or losing our eternal future if we make a mistake (and especially not if we ‘believe’ the wrong thing, or the right thing the wrong way). We always have God’s grace. God loves us, God picks us up when we fail. Especially if we are failing on the side of love and generosity, on the side of grace.

I had a meeting with some UCC clergy on Friday, part of our Communities of Practice for UCC ministers. We got to talking about this idea of making mistakes and building theological fences to “protect” ourselves, and we thought, if God is going to be upset with us for making mistakes, let it be because we showed too much hospitality, were too generous, erred too much on the side of love, and not the other way. Not that God would condemn for being too loving, but I think you see the point.

To live the way that Jesus would have us live, and trust in God’s grace. Don’t worry about our future salvation, but to offer salvation in the here and now to ourselves and to those who are around us. To live Jesus’ way of love. To go into the brokenness of the world and not be afraid of it. To go into the dark places. Jesus is the light of the world. So go into the dark, and bring Jesus with us. Not to condemn it, but to lift it up, to bring grace and mercy, love and hope. And do so understanding that we are all broken in one way or another. We have broken pottery on our altar table to remind us that we are all broken in some way, all have cracks and dark places, but are all loved, all part of the community of God. We come here to join with one another in that brokenness and help relive some of the suffering from it. Not to judge it or condemn it, but simply to embrace it and bring healing.

God’s love, God’s grace is about life. Jesus is the Lord of Life. God’s love, God’s grace is about life in the here and now. We are loved despite our brokenness, despite our mistakes. No, reverse that: because of them. God knows that is who we are, and God sent Jesus to show us and to say “I love you! I know this is who you are, and I love you. Don’t worry about it. Don’t be afraid.”

We are asked only to be obedient, not to be perfect. To live the way that Jesus would have us live. So the rest of this Lenten season, I ask that you trust in that grace. Trust in God’s grace as we all strive to be obedient and to live in accordance with the way that Jesus would have us live.


Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Human trafficking in Thailand - a personal story

On Sunday, March 8, Plymouth church had two guest speakers, Madison Lovelien and Gretchen Bye. They were in Thailand in January of this year on a mission trip to work with women and children who are victims (or were victims) of human trafficking (slavery), specifically caught up in sex trafficking.

Madison and Gretchen shared some of their story with the congregation about how the trip changed them.

We do not have a text for this, just the audio. The audio begins with a reading of the ten commandments and the story of Jesus overthrowing the money changers in the temple from the second chapter of John's gospel. Fitting scriptures for testimony about the evils of slavery. Their stories can be difficult to listen to, but they also end with much hope for the future.


I have known Madison for many years. Her family owns the Living Room Coffee House (on Cameron, and at the Luther Hospital, and a few other places) in Eau Claire, which is where I first met her. She is in her first year of college, studying online. Gretchen is a junior at UW-EC studying a form of psychology (sadly I just can't remember).

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Communion in More than Bread - sermon for Lent 2.

What if we saw our acts of charity, kindness, and even basic human interaction not just as acts of charity, kindness, and so on, but as sacred acts of communion with the people around us? Communion is not just the bread and wine of the worship celebration we call communion or eucharest, but also our way of being with others, and with all of creation.

What do you think? Have you had a moment in which you felt that you are in the midst of a celebration of holy communion, that was outside of worship and didn't involve bread and wine? Please post and comment below. I'm curious to hear your story! (and let the sharing of that story - a sharing of yourself with others - be an act of communion). 

“Communion in More than Bread”
Sermon, Year B, Lent 2, March 1, 2015
Plymouth United Church of Christ, Eau Claire, WI
© Rev. David J. Huber

[you may also listen to the sermon]

When we were having our soup and discussion time this last Wednesday, the thought came up that transformation often has a cost involved with it. To become something else usually means giving up another thing. Whatever that might be, there is some kind of cost that comes in transformation. And there is some kind of cost in following Jesus as we decide to forsake other ways and focus our attention on following Jesus. One thing Jesus says in this passage is “Take up your cross and follow me.” Which implies some level of discomfort. Even if there is great joy in it, some level of discomfort just simply in that to grow often involves some pain. To grow spiritually is to experience some discomfort. To let go of former thoughts and ideas. Especially if you really liked hem or cherished them. Letting go can have some discomfort, even when you are going to something really good.

There is a cost in that change. To let go of things that are harmful, that are not godly, or that are not, in some way, appropriate for the journey you are on. There is also the cost of entering a new kind of world, as you are transformed. To follow Jesus is to see the world as a bigger world. To see our connection to our neighbors. To see our connection with all of humanity. To see the communion of all of God’s creation together.

That, sometimes, can be uncomfortable. To see the world in such a radically new way, as a much larger place, and to see our responsibility to one another. One thing that came up Wednesday was how even something as simple as going to college can involve this, or joining the military and serving overseas. How having one’s world enlarged and have an experience of that. There is a cost in a change in relationships with family or friends who have not had that experience. I felt that when I went off to college and my friends stayed in the hometown. And then I moved to NYC, and then to Hawaii, back to NYC... and they stayed there.

There is a cost in following Jesus in giving up ways that are not his ways. Following Jesus takes time and money and more, and involves a changing relationship with time and money. Changing relationship with the idea of “Who is my neighbor, who am I in communion with?” You may have friends who say “Let’s go do something on Sunday morning” and you have to respond, “I go to worship on Sunday morning, so I can’t join you.”

Perhaps you’ve had the experience of saying that you go to church on Sunday and receive a weird look. But if you do get a weird look, that’s a good opportunity for extending an invitation to them. “Come with me, and experience what I experience about fellowship, love, being included. Experience it with me!”

I was listening to an interview with Alton Brown, the FoodNetwork star who does Iron Chef, and Good Eats, and other shows. In the interview he said that he travels a lot, but that even with all the travel, sometimes by himself, sometimes with his family, wherever he is he goes to worship on Sunday morning. It’s a non-negotiable for him. He talked about how he sometimes gets weird looks or surprised responses from his crew or other people he’s working with when they invite him to go party on Saturday night and he says, “No, I need to go to bed, so I can get up for worship.” Or if they invite him to something on a Sunday and he says, “Thank you, but no, I’ll be in church.”

To follow Jesus can be to give things up. There can be a cost in that. Jesus says, “Take up your cross and follow me.” Dietrich Bonnhoeffer expanded that to “Jesus bids us to take up our crosses and die.”

Now, it seems that we often think that means we are supposed to suffer or be in misery. But I don’t think that Jesus calls you to intentional suffering on his behalf. As though if you are enjoying your life you are somehow failing a a follower of Jesus. He’s not saying that. But this cross, taking up the cross, is for us to give up our self-centered desires on behalf of the other. To take us away from focusing on ourselves to focus on others. And I think that’s what the cross for Jesus. Yes, it was an instrument of execution and shame. But it also a sign of Jesus’ willingness to take up a literal cross. But it also is a sign of Jesus’ love. A sign that Jesus was thinking of others, not of himself. Thinking of us. “How far will I go to show you my love? I will do this for you.” We can think of Jesus as saying also, “I will let you do this to me” to the people who were doing it to him. “I will let you do this to me. This is a sign of my love for you, that death on a cross is better than self-preservation.” Especially self-preservation through violence. That’s a sign of love.

Take up the cross, take up the way of love. Take up that sacrificial way of love.

We see that symbolized here at this table that is set for Communion. Jesus offering bread and wine, body and blood, for us.

But there is also the Communion that doesn’t happen just at this table. There is communion that comes in taking up the cross for others. Of being Communion for others. Other ways to think of this sacred moment of communion. To see our acts of charity, all the good things we do, rethinking why we do them or what is happening in that process of doing them. Not just acts of charity as being a nice or a kind thing to do, but what if we saw them as sacred acts of communion with the people for whom we are doing with them or for? Sacred acts of communion. If we saw visiting the sick not just as something we do to brighten their day, but as something that we do as a sacred moment of communion with them. Or offering a prayer for someone. Or listening to stories from people outside the mainstream. Listening to the stories of the poor, the homeless, the ill, the goth, the stories of women and children... not just listening as an act of kindness, but as an act of communion with that person. A sharing of one another, body and spirit, with the other person.

Maybe even more simple things. Perhaps you shovel your neighbor’s sidewalk. What if you saw that act not just as a way to help your neighbor, but as a sacred communion moment with your neighbor? You do that because you are connected to them through God, through Jesus, a spiritual connection with your neighbor. To transform a good deed into an act of sacred communion with your neighbor. So the act doesn’t change, but a change – a transformation – of our internal sense of the act. Of the meaning.

Jesus said to take up your cross and follow him. Part of the trick of doing that is that it doesn’t have to be distasteful. It doesn’t mean to do only things that you don’t want to do, or that you don’t like to do. That if you are doing something that you enjoy, then God doesn’t want you to do it. It doesn’t mean that at all. Though part of our spiritual growth is do some things that are uncomfortable or make us feel weird. That’s part of growth. But it doesn’t mean we can’t like what we are doing, or can’t enjoy what we’re doing, and have it be a holy act or have it be an act of communion with another.

I remember when I was a kid, we had a snowblower. For some reason, I’m coming up with a lot of snow imagery today. I’m going to end with a poem that involves snow as well. I don’t know why this is. It’s winter. Snow on my mind.

We had a snowblower when I was a kid, a big one. And it was fussy, so it didn’t work all the time, but every now and again we could get it to work. It was wide, and it had a tall chute that blow snow 10-15 feet in the air. I don’t know why, but I found it hilarious and fun as a kid to run that thing and see the snow flying out of that chute, and see where I could make it blow the snow. So I’d run that up and down the sidewalk. Not so much to help my neighbors, though that was part of it. It was good to help them, and I liked that. But mostly I just loved running the snowblower and seeing what I could do. “I’m going to do this until I run out of gas!” And then my dad pokes his head out and sees me halfway down the block, “Stop it, you’re going to use up all the gas!”

But dad, I’m enjoying it and I’m helping my neighbors.

You can enjoy what you are doing and still be doing ministry. Take up your cross doesn’t mean you have to not like the moment. You can be freely sharing with others because you enjoy it, and still be sharing a moment of sacred communion with someone else. It does not have to involve literal bread and wine, but a moment of sharing of yourself, of your body, your spirit. Who you are being shared with someone else. A moment of communion.

I want to read a poem, by Maren Tirabassi. It talks about communion, starting with communion of bread and wine (though a gluten-free and alcohol-free one) and then turns into a communion of a relationship with someone else.

Maren Tirabassi, Communion [Please be sure to go to this link and read the poem before you finish this sermon]

My morning crumb of gospel hope, not just in the communion at church, but in the communion of the paw-friendly ice-melt used by the neighbor. The writer’s neighbor used paw-friendly ice-melt because she (the neighbor) knew that she (the writer) had a beagle and that she’d be walking on the sidewalk and she wanted to make sure the beagle would have a safe place to walk. She (the writer) thought of that moment also as communion. For the neighbor to have put out the ice-melt, that’s a cross-taking-up sacred moment of holy Communion that we can all do in the cost and in the joy of following Jesus.