Sunday, December 25, 2016

Sermon: God-with-us

Grace Presbyterian Church
December 25, 2016, Christmas 1A
Matthew 1:1-25


It is both an amusing and enlightening exercise to compare the four gospels and note how differently each one begins, how each gospel chooses to introduce its central character, Jesus, or to provide what in modern superhero comic books or movies would be called his “origin story” – the account of “where Jesus came from”.
Mark, the earliest gospel, doesn’t provide an “origin story” – that gospel jumps in directly to the account of Jesus’s baptism. Luke provides an “origin story” that almost overshadows the entire rest of the gospel, with its elaborate account of the events leading up to not only the birth of Jesus, but also of his forerunner, John the Baptizer. The gospel of John, on the other hand, goes cosmic; its poetic and mystical prologue explores the eternal significance of the one who “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”
From there it can then seem deflating to turn to the Gospel of Matthew and find that it begins with a family tree. A genealogy, as it typically called in more formal scholarly terms; or in more informal lingo, “the begats.” You know, so-and-so “begat” so-and-so as it was translated in the King James Version. It’s not a word we really use anymore, and the NRSV’s choice of “was the father of” is much more communicative and understandable for a modern reader. But…yeah, “the begats.”
So, why the family tree? For one thing Matthew wants you to see the three fourteens in the genealogy (not only is three a big deal in this tradition, but so is seven, and three double-sevens has to mean something. For anohter, a geneaolgy (interestingly, the word here translated as ‘genealogy’ could also be translated ‘genesis’) was not uncommon in those times as a way of establishing the royal lineage of a new king – showing that the king had ‘good bloodlines,’ so to speak. You can see why Matthew would find it worthwhile to include such a genealogy if the whole point here were to portray Christ as King.
But this is a strange genealogy, though. For one thing, while some of the figures included in this geneaolgy were regarded as among the great heroes of the Hebrew faith – Abraham for certain, and also David – there are some serious bad apples in this genealogy. Manasseh, for example? A bad king. A horrible king. If anybody its making a list of all-time worst kings in history, Manasseh is a contender.
Additionally, though, some of the extra details that Matthew includes would, according to the usual usage of these genealogies, diminish rather than enhance the ‘new king.’ Tamar, for example, was Judah’s daughter-in-law; that story is in Genesis 38, and it’s ugly. Rahab was the prostitute in Jericho who hid Joshua’s spies, aiding the Hebrew people’s conquest of that city. Ruth was a Moabite – another foreigner. And ‘the wife of Uriah’ was none other than Bathsheba, the woman who David took by force (that is, raped) despite her being married to one of Israel’s front-line soldiers who was off in battle.
These don’t look good in a royal bloodline, to say the least.
Yet Matthew presents it to us, ugly stories and all, as evidence of nothing less than God’s hand in the birth of this child to be called Jesus – what else could it be? It also works well as preparation for the messiness of the story as it relates to the man named Joseph, who Matthew calls ‘the husband of Mary’, the one charged with being the human father of the Son of God.
Joseph is called a ‘righteous’ man, though we might initially be more inclined to call him ‘upright.’ When he finds out that his contracted wife, Mary, was pregnant without any involvement from him, his first thought was not to have her put to death – acceptable under the law at that time – but to ‘dismiss her quietly,’ which was certainly less fatal but would nonetheless have condemned Mary to a lifetime of humiliation and likely inescapable poverty as well. Fortunately, the Lord was in the business of sending angels at that time, and one of those invaded one of Joseph’s dreams to set him straight on the origin of Mary’s child ‘conceived in her of the Holy Spirit.’ Once he was set straight Joseph turned out to be a good guy after all,  capable of empathy and even compassion, being a father and husband in a situation where many lesser men fail, and listening for the guidance of God to keep this family safe (but more on that next week).
All of this messiness and seeming lack of purity of line and conception and delivery might be difficult for some to swallow. Let’s face it, that’s not the impression you get from this lovely Nativity scene up here. It is rather pristine. Let us be blunt; Mary there doesn’t look like a woman who just gave birth. Joseph is awfully calm. The animals are awfully clean, and the shepherds...oh, the shepherds. They’re not even in Matthew’s gospel, of course; they are part of Luke’s more elaborate story. Suffice to say they wouldn’t look this clean. The wise men are part of Matthew’s story, but technically they aren’t here yet. If we were going to get the time line right, they wouldn’t show up until Epiphany. And the child? I don’t care what the second vere of ‘Away in a Manger’ says, a newborn infant is going to cry at some point.
The scene is lovely, but somehow lacks chaos. I wouldn’t make a big deal of it except for the tendency we Christians have to act as if our lives need to be as pristine and pure as this Nativity scene in order for Jesus to be born in us, in order for the Christ child to grow up into the Messiah who saves us. And that’s a real problem, and that hurts us.
First all we will never be that pure. We will never be ‘good enough’ without the Christ for whom we’re trying to be ‘good enough.’ When Matthew singles out Isaiah’s prophecy of a child called Emmanuel, and points out that the name really does translate as ‘God-with-us,’ it’s not because Jesus was born into a pristine family tree or because Joseph and Mary had been such spectacularly good people that they somehow earned the honor of becoming the Holy Family. Remember, Joseph was ready to put Mary away; it took angelic intervention to talk him down from that tree. And as we noted before, that family tree was pretty messy and difficult.
Christ is not waiting for us to be good enough. We never will be.
Second, we need Jesus if we are ever to move towards that goodness. We don’t make ourselves good; to the degree we are ever good it is God working in us, enabling us to live the life a disciple of Jesus lives. Even the act of confession and repentance only comes from the Spirit’s working in us because of Christ’s love for us. We don’t get there on our own.
Finally, even if we do manage to move towards that goodness, we won’t be led to a blissful little paradise of sweetness and light, and our lives won’t be as pure and pristine as this manger scene. This child in the manger does grow up, after all, and that grown-up Jesus was anything but a go-along, get-along guy. He made trouble. He challenged authorities, religious authorities in particular. He wasn’t a family-values guy as we would define him; later in Matthew’s gospel, when his family comes looking for him, his own words were that ‘whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother’ (Matthew 12). He also says, in this gospel, ‘Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword’ (Matthew 10:34). If we really follow the Messiah that this child grows up to be, our lives are only going to get messier and more challenging, not less.
In short, while we celebrate the birth of this child, nothing less than the Incarnation of God in human flesh, we need to avoid getting distracted by the sweet music and pretty scenes. It’s in the messiness and clutter, the chaos and the despair, the grief and sorrow that God is with us. It’s in the struggle and confusion that God is with us. It’s in the rejection and pain that God is with us. It’s in the loneliness and terror that God is with us.
If Matthew’s troublesome ‘begats’ and messy Nativity story have anything to offer us, it virtually has to be that ‘God-with-us’ is not a far-off fantasy achieved only by favored heroes. It is the here and now, for all of us, no matter how much our lives don’t look pretty. Even the most broken of us. Even the most sorrowful of us. Even the most messed-up of us.
For ‘God-with-us,’ even us, Thanks be to God. Amen.

Hymns (from Glory to God: The Presbyterian Hymnal):
#132            Good Christian Friends, Rejoice
#112             On Christmas Night All Christians Sing
#125            Before the Marvel of This Night
#127            Hark! The Herald Angels Sing
#110            Love Has Come
#136            Go, Tell It On the Mountain

Credit: Cerezo Barredo, via

Sunday, December 18, 2016

A word about Lessons & Carols

Note: this isn't a sermon; I didn't preach one today, as we celebrated a Service of Nine Lessons and Carols. It seemed, though, worthwhile to go back and give a little background to that service, in case it had become one of those things you do without thinking about it. I learned a little bit in doing so, and maybe it might be useful to others too.

The first known example of a Service of Nine Lessons and Carols, in something like the format that has become popular today, dates to 1880, when such a service was held at the cathedral in Truro, in Cornwall, England, on Christmas Eve. Services of lessons and carols had been held elsewhere, but the then-Bishop of Truro formalized a pattern of scripture readings and carols that would prove popular for years to come.
It was thirty-eight years later, though, that the service began to take off in popularity when it was adapted for use at King’s College, Cambridge, by its Dean Eric Milner, who felt that worship in the college, and perhaps more generally, needed revitalizing.
Thirty-eight years later, of course, was December 1918.
The Great War had ended little more than a month before. Milner had himself served as a chaplain through January of that year, and knew well the horrors that not only he, but many who were entrusted to his spiritual care, had witnessed in the four years before. Indeed, Milner was no doubt mindful how many of the young men who had been part of the college four years before had been killed in the war, or wounded, or knew well someone who had been killed. Most likely, no one before whom Milner presided in that first Lessons and Carols at King’s had escaped being affected by the war somehow.
To say that worship, in the face of such horror, needed “revitalizing” was a dramatic understatement. How could one simply go on as before, in unthinking routine and idle songs about Heaven, in the face of four years of unremitting Hell?
For Milner the Service of Nine Lessons and Carols provided an answer, one that has always been useful throughout the church’s history; when all else fails, go back and tell the story.  Starting from the Genesis account of human sin and fallenness, the Lessons unfold the story of God’s relentless working in human history for the redemption of us all, tracing the work of God through God’s promises to Abraham and the words of the prophets, finally culminating in the unlikely and world-changing birth of a child in an out-of-the-way corner of the Roman Empire.
You can hear these concerns in the Bidding Prayer that has become part of the tradition of the service. Worship leads us to lift up in prayer “the needs of the whole world,” not to ignore them or dismiss them as meaningless to us. We may not be fresh from the most destructive war humanity had yet known, but war still rages in our world, visiting fresh atrocities upon children of God for the whole world to see. Perhaps we, too, need to hear the story again.

Beloved in Christ, be it this Christmastide our care and delight to hear again the message of the angels, and in heart and mind to go even unto Bethlehem and see this thing which is come to pass, and the Babe lying in a manger.
Therefore let us read and mark in Holy Scripture the tale of the loving purposes of God from the first days of our disobedience unto the glorious Redemption brought us by this Holy Child.
But first, let us pray for the needs of the whole world; for peace on earth and goodwill among all his people; for unity and brotherhood within the Church he came to build, and especially in this city of Gainesville and the church worldwide.
And because this of all things would rejoice his heart, let us remember, in his name, the poor and helpless, the cold, the hungry, and the oppressed; the sick and them that mourn, the lonely and the unloved, the aged and the little children; all those who know not the Lord Jesus, or who love him not, or who by sin have grieved his heart of love.
Lastly, let us remember before God all those who rejoice with us, but upon another shore, and in a greater light, that multitude which no man can number, whose hope was in the Word made flesh, and with whom in the Lord Jesus we are for ever one.

Let us worship God.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Sermon: That's What Christmas Is All About, Charlie Brown

Grace Presbyterian Church
December 11, 2016, Advent 3A
Luke 1:46-55; Isaiah 35:1-10; Matthew 11:2-11

That’s What Christmas Is All About, Charlie Brown

I have long been a fan of Charlie Brown.  Even as a child, I “got” him.  I could understand where his perpetual frustration with the world and its inhabitants came from, because I felt it often myself.
 My favorite of all Charlie Brown/Peanuts stories was, no surprise, “A Charlie Brown Christmas.”  Even today I’m willing to hold that the existence of that show itself single-handedly justifies the existence of television.  For one, I’ve always liked the music, even before I knew anything about Vince Guaraldi or how unusual it was to use jazz as an accompaniment to an animated TV show.  But most of all, again, I “got” Charlie Brown’s frustration.  At the dramatic climax, when the tree he selects has been laughed and hooted down, and he finally lets out his exasperated exclamation “isn’t there anyone who can tell me what Christmas is all about?”, well, I could feel where he was coming from.  I knew what I heard at church, and I saw what went on “out in the world,” and they didn’t match.
Of course in the TV show, the absurdly philosophical Linus, having quickly memorized his lines under threat of violence from Lucy, takes center stage and recites the Christmas narrative from Luke (you can’t do that on TV today, that’s for sure!), and everyone is properly chastised; after one small setback the tree is decorated (not to mention miraculously filled out) and all ends well.  Warm fuzzies are safely delivered, and everyone can go home happy.
When I see the scriptures offered by the lectionary for this third Sunday in Advent, I wonder if Linus has gotten things slightly wrong.  Yes, Linus has given us a good summary—the best possible summary, you could even say—of what Christmas is.  I’m not sure, though, if he—or we—necessarily get from that what Christmas is all about.
The reading from Isaiah 35 points to a day and a world we probably don’t recognize.  It is a world turned upside down and inside out.  A world in which the desert is blossoming abundantly is not the usual world of the prophet.  Words like “wilderness,” “dry land,” “desert” . . . these are not places in the biblical landscape typically associated with rejoicing and blossoming.  But the prophet keeps driving the images home:
“For waters shall break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert; the burning sand shall become a pool, and the thirsty ground springs of water; the haunt of jackals shall become a swamp, the grass shall become reeds and rushes.” (Isaiah 35: 6b-7)
But there’s more; it isn’t only the wilderness being undone.  We are also promised sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf, dancing for the lame, and speech to the mute; even the infirmities and disabilities that afflict the body are turned around.  And even more emphasized is something not associated with the wilderness, or the desert: safety.
Through this undone wilderness the prophet sees a road, one promised only to God’s people.  No threats will be found there; no lions, no predators of any kind (which beats last week’s Isaiah reading, in which lions were reduced to eating straw).  But this promise is ultimately capped by the image of the “ransomed of the Lord…joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.”  All this undoing and turning upside down has a point.
If the prophet promises an undoing, the words of the Magnificat are a virtual assault on The Way Things Are.  The words out of Mary’s mouth exhibit no ambiguity at all.  God looks with favor on the lowly servant.  The proud are scattered in the “thoughts” of their hearts. The powerful are brought down, the lowly are lifted up.  The hungry are filled, the rich sent away without.  The reversal of the world’s ways, the ways we are accustomed to living and tolerating while getting through the day, cannot be more explicit.
If there is still doubt, Jesus echoes the very words of the Isaiah reading in his message to a weary, worried, wounded John the Baptist, languishing in Herod’s prison.  One can hardly blame John for wondering.  After all those years in the wilderness (which was distinctly not blossoming and flowing with streams in his experience), it had seemed so certain.  Cousin Jesus, nondescript though he may have seemed, sure looked like he must have been the One, what with all those noises from heaven and things descending upon him.
But now, while Jesus was still preaching out in the countryside, John sat in Herod’s prison, a place people didn’t leave alive, and doubts crept in.  Is this how it ends?  Is Jesus really the One?  Have I wasted my life just to lose my head to this corrupt so-called king?  So he sends some of his disciples, maybe some of the very few left to him, and asks directly:  Are you the One?  Should I be looking for someone else.
Jesus’s answer seems anything but direct, unless you remember your Isaiah.  Again, the blind see, the lame walk, the deaf hear.  Plus as a bonus, lepers are cleansed and the dead are raised.  And then the last, cryptic comment:  “And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me” (Matthew 11: 6).  Is that a jab?  Or something only John the Baptist would understand?
All of these witnesses proclaim in concert that the world as we know it is due to be overturned.  A world in which the poor and lowly continue to be oppressed and impoverished, in which the powerful continue to lord it over the powerless, in which the rich are filled beyond gluttony and the hungry only get hungrier; this is not the world proclaimed in Isaiah, or the Magnificat, or the Gospel.
Is it a mistake to tie this world undone, turned upside down and inside out, to Christmas?  I don’t think so.  While it is no doubt tempting to sprint ahead to the babe in the manger, we do so at our peril. For one thing, we risk failing to understand exactly what we’re embracing.  Even that babe in the manger makes no sense at all without the words from Isaiah, from the Magnificat, from Matthew.  Look at it this way: when Prince William and Princess Catherine had their children, it wasn't at a feed trough, not with hospitals and palaces at their disposal.  That’s not how it’s done among those of high status. Yet the One we call Messiah, Immanuel, Christ the King, was born in a nondescript setting in a nondescript town in a nondescript backwater of the Roman Empire.  Nowhere near Rome, the seat of earthly power.  Not in Jerusalem, the focus of spiritual authority.  This cannot make sense to us without the images and contrasts drawn by Isaiah, by Mary.  Even the appearance of this babe is part of a world undone.  Herod in all his power could not stamp it out, though he tried, brutally.  The Roman Empire couldn’t comprehend it.
For another thing, we run the risk of finding ourselves—dare I say it?—on the wrong side of this world undone.  Very few of us think of ourselves as “rich,” or “powerful.”  We are pretty good at casting our eyes longingly at those with more than us: more money, more power, higher status, a better car, a bigger house, you name it.  But is it possible, just maybe, that we don’t always remember the poor, the hungry, the blind, the lame, the oppressed as being those blessed of God?  Are we too comfortable, are we too much at home in a world where the powerful just get more and more powerful, the rich get richer and richer, and the poor . . . well, the Bible itself says they’ll always be with us, right?  Are we too ready to accept that justice is a thing to be bought and sold? That the true meaning of the Golden Rule really is “he who has the gold makes the rules”? That the only way to cope with The Way Things Are is to play the game, grab as much gold and power as we can, and as for those less fortunate, well, tough luck?
If that way, The Way Things Are, has found so cozy and comfortable a home in us, then we’re in serious trouble.  Isaiah’s blossoming wilderness, that desert with springs bursting forth, is forbidden to us.  We become the powerful who, Mary warns us, are brought down from our thrones and sent away empty.  If we’re at home with the way things are, then we have no part of God’s kingdom, the kingdom of heaven.
And this, Isaiah and Mary and even Jesus tell us, is what Christmas is all about.  “Silent Night” and “Away in a Manger” are just noise if that babe in the manger doesn’t grow in us into the One Who undoes and throws down the powers and thrones we humans so adore.  Without taking time to hear the stern rebukes of the prophets, we risk turning Christmas into little more than a too-cute idolization of a highly sentimentalized children’s story, something too easily accommodated to The Way Things Are and, frankly, something far worse than the crass over-commercialized boondoggle so many of us vocally deplore.  That at least is a clearly false and sham “Christmas”; to trivialize the real thing, to try to take what Christmas is without the life-changing demand true Christmas makes of us, is something like an abomination. 
So then, if Isaiah and Mary and Jesus may be allowed to bump Linus from his spotlight, what then do we learn?  The desert blooms and flows with life-giving water.  The blind see.  The deaf hear.  The lame walk and even leap (and dance too, I’ll bet).  God’s people walk in safety.  The lowly are exalted.  The poor hear good news.  The proud are scattered, the powerful dethroned, the rich denied.  And those who are not offended at this undoing Jesus are blessed.
And that’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.
Thanks be to God. Amen.

Hymns (from Glory to God: The Presbyterian Hymnal):
#88                          O Come, O Come, Emmanuel (stanzas 1-4)
#106                        Prepare the Way
#100                        My Soul Cries Out With a Joyful Shout (Canticle of the Turning)
#88                          O Come, O Come, Emmanuel (stanzas 5-7)

Monday, December 5, 2016

Sermon: Weirdoes, Little Children, and Other Advent Saints

Grace Presbyterian Church
December 4, 2016, Advent 2A
Isaiah 11:1-10; Matthew 3:1-12

Weirdoes, Little Children, and Other Advent Saints

There are a lot of reasons I, and other people as well, find it necessary to resist the urge to plunge too soon into Christmas when Advent is still in progress. For one, this is not an area in which I think it’s a good idea for the church to follow the larger society, which has already extended “Christmas” to well before Thanksgiving and has got Halloween in its sights next (and after that look out Labor Day). For another, without the preparation and self-examination of Advent, Christmas too easily becomes a sentimental, even gooey exercise of cute decorations and rituals performed without meaning or substance, leaving us singing with Peggy Lee, “Is that all there is?”
Another reason, perhaps not quite as important as the above but still one I appreciate, is that if you rush too quickly through or pass over Advent, you miss out on the weirdos and crazy stuff.
Take the Old Testament readings we tend to get during the Advent season. While there is some of the talk of judgment we expect from these old Hebrew prophets, Advent is the time when we get to delve into the opposite vein of this literature. And if prophets like Jeremiah or, here, Isaiah could be incredibly harsh and stern when speaking of God’s judgment, they are also capable of getting positively trippy when they turn to the fulfillment of God’s promises in a more, shall we say, optimistic vein.
Our reading from Isaiah starts off sounding a bit like last week’s reading, using the imagery of trees and stumps and branches to suggest a forthcoming new king out of the line of David, who was, you’ll remember, the son of Jesse. It’s again a prophetic utterance that sounds a bit like a wish-list for the Ideal King – “the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord” it begins, and goes onto add righteousness and equity for the meek and faithfulness – along with a bit of old-fashioned enemy-smiting in verse 4.
But then verse 6 arrives, and we seem to be off on something completely different. After all, no matter how good a king might be, turning predatory animals into grass-feeders is not likely to be one of his accomplishments. And yet here is where we get these long-beloved images of wolf living with lamb, leopard with baby goat, and cow with bear, as well as lions that feed on straw rather than prey.
But don’t miss the little children – the one who will lead them in verse 6, and the infants doing all sorts of dangerous things around snakes in verse 8 without being struck. While Isaiah’s readers and hearers would not have had the highly sentimentalized image of children that we do today, they would have recognized in Isaiah’s language that these children represent vulnerability. We don’t have to be told that the smallest children, the ones young enough not to understand the dangers of the world around them, are inherently and frighteningly vulnerable. The smallest toddlers don’t quite understand that playing with snakes will get you hurt or worse. But here, these children, these most vulnerable of all, are not at all vulnerable on God’s “holy mountain.”
Clearly this is a “not yet” prophecy. And yet it is a part of what we await in Advent, that coming reunion with our Lord when no one will hurt or destroy. We know all too much of hurt and destruction. We need to hear the crazy stuff. That’s where the hope is.
Still, though, wild and trippy hopeful story that this might be, I’m not quite sure it matches up with the straight-out weirdo that shows up in our reading from Matthew.
John, sometimes called the Baptizer, looked the part of the crazy man, and his diet also fit the bill. His sermons were a bit one-note – all about “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near” and the like. He wasn’t very deferential to the respectable religious authorities; they were the ones who caught the most flack from John, and calling them “brood of vipers” wasn’t likely to gain John their approval. And this is the one who was “preparing the way” for Jesus. Maybe it takes someone a little bit crazy to get us humans to wake up to the coming Messiah.
If you do much social media you may have seen a photo that recently went “viral,” as they say, of a man with a sign. The man bore a full beard and had on his cowboy hat and flannel shirt – he was, by appearance, as clearly a Texan as John the Baptizer was, well, himself. He was standing in front of a mosque in a Dallas suburb, holding that sign, and at first glance it was easy to think “oh, no, not again,” expecting a story of one of the now more than 800 incidents of racial or ethnic or religious harassment since Election Day.
But it turns out the sign he was holding up, in front of the mosque, said, “You belong. Stay strong. Be blessed. We are one America.”
After about a week of anonymous fame (the kind of thing only the internet can do), the man stepped out to tell his story and what motivated him to make this striking show of support for his neighbors. He said, “This was about binding up the wounded. About showing compassion and empathy for the hurting and fearful among us. Or, in some Christian traditions, this was about washing my brother’s feet.” He then added Matthew 25:35-36 (it starts “I was hungry and you gave me food…”, you might remember) and the poem found on the Statue of Liberty (“Give me your tired, your poor…”).
And God bless him, he’s a Presbyterian.
We need the prophets telling crazy stories and the people doing crazy things, because sometimes they’re the ones through whom God is speaking to us, maybe even yelling at us, trying to get our attention.
Even the table we’re about to come to is a little bit crazy. We are all over the map in terms of social status, family status, economic status, place of birth, political beliefs, theological beliefs, you name it. And yet Jesus expects us all to gather at the same table, be fed from the same bread and cup, to be united in him? In a world with as much division as ever and in which churches split over any- and everything, that really is a bit crazy.
And maybe it’s just the crazy we need.
For the crazy stories and weirdoes who point us and pull us and call us back to Jesus, Thanks be to God. Amen.

Hymns (from Glory to God: The Presbyterian Hymnal):
#87            Comfort, Comfort Now My People
#96            On Jordan’s Bank the Baptist’s Cry
#378            We Wait the Peaceful Kingdom
#383            Dream On, Dream On

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Sermon: Be Awake

Grace Presbyterian Church
November 27, 2016, Advent 1A
Isaiah 2:1-5; Matthew 24:36-44

Be Awake

It happened Friday, late morning. I am not a Black Friday shopper, and in fact I slept in while others across the country were fanning out to retail stores to appease the gods of commerce in the guise of “getting ready for Christmas.”
But I did want something to eat.
So, I was off to a favorite eating establishment for a very early non-turkey lunch, whilst also juggling both sermon prep and Sunday-school prep in my mind. It may sound odd, but lunchtime can be some of the most effective sermon-prep time I have. I don’t understand it, but I’m happy to take advantage of it.
So there I was, order placed, settling in at a table with my very large tumbler of sweet tea (peach-flavored, in this case), when it happened. “Holiday music” started attacking my brain.
I think Mel Tormé was in there, with the chestnuts roasting on an open fire. I remember both “Jingle Bell Rock” and “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” being part of the assault. It was relentless. Horrifying, even. And my brain was indeed withering under the assault. I enjoyed my lunch, but no real progress happened on the sermon that was about forty-eight hours from delivery at that point.
It is by now old hat to complain about how soon the barrage of worldly trappings that gets called “Christmas season” kicks in. There were radio stations playing Christmas music 24/7 even before Halloween, for goodness’ sake.
It’s pretty easy to get lulled to sleep by the ongoing headlong rush of “tidings of comfort and joy,” to be anaesthetized by the omnipresent greenery and bell-ringers at every retail entrance and lush soundtrack of crooned carols. If you’re fortunate enough to escape it before Thanksgiving, it only escalates beyond imagination the day after.
Today’s readings from Isaiah and Matthew are out to deliver a world-altering one-two punch to such complacency and numbness.
It’s not hard to see in Matthew’s account of one of Jesus’s late teachings. This particular scripture has a long history of being “fear fodder” – the kind of passage preachers turn to when they want to strike some fear into their congregation. It’s the kind of passage that gets turned into books about the “rapture” and how badly tribulation goes for the “left behind” while the “saved” presumably look on smugly and safely from heaven.
Matthew would be thoroughly perturbed at the use of his gospel in this way. For Matthew, the immediate problem in the community to which he wrote was quite the opposite; writing as he was at a time when the followers of Christ had been scattered around the Mediterranean and the eyewitnesses to the life and teaching of Christ were dying off, Matthew’s community was beginning to despair of any reunion with Christ at all. To this end Matthew warns his readers not to presume that all is lost, but to remember that “about that day no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” If even the Son did not know the time for that gathering up of God’s people, how could we humans claim to know it was all called off?
Of course, that proclamation hasn’t stopped people from calculating, down to the year and month and date, and sometimes even down to the hour or minute or second, when Jesus would return. I guess Jesus must just be dumb in their eyes.
The author and retired Episcopal priest Barbara Brown Taylor puts Matthew’s insistence on the unknowability of that time like this:
He was not concerned with reading signs and keeping timetables, at least partly because he knew how preoccupied people could get with those things. Before long they cared more about their calculations than they did about their neighbors. Once they had figured out who God’s 144,000 elect were, they did not waste any time or courtesy on the damned, except perhaps to remind them just how hot hellfire was going to be. Meanwhile, God’s chosen had plenty else to do: flee the cities, arm themselves against the enemy, purify themselves for their journey to heaven. Once they had gotten themselves all worked up about this, Matthew found it just about impossible to impress them with the fact that there were widows and orphans in the community going hungry because no one was signing up for the soup kitchen, or that there were still some people in jail who needed visiting, as well as some sick people at home who still needed looking after. But what did any of that matter, when the end was right around the corner?[i]

Matthew’s words are not about “skipping to the end of the book” and putting life on cruise control until the “rapture” rolls around; it’s about the utter necessity to keep living the life of a follower of Christ without relenting. You don’t know the day, you don’t know the hour; the only real option is to keep doing Christ’s work in God’s world, no matter how bleak – or even more, because of how bleak the world is looking around us. Cruise control is over; the real work of being a follower of Christ begins now.
The message from Isaiah is not dramatically different. Isaiah’s prophecy in this passage has a clear “not yet” quality to it. You can scan through it quickly and see how much the word “shall” is used to translate Isaiah’s message:
In days to come the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established…
…all the nations shall stream to it.
Many peoples shall come and say…
He shall judge between the nations…
Even the most famous quote from this passage is couched in “shall” language – “they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks” and “nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore” – it’s all still an object of future happening. And we can clearly look around and see a distinct lack of such change around us.
But then, notice what follows next – see what verse 5 does to us:
O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the Lord.
Not a “shall” in sight.
Imperative – “come.” “Let us walk.” Do this. Do this now. Even Isaiah sees the need to call the people not to get caught up in future dreaming, but to do now what the Lord calls God’s people to do, to “walk in the light of the Lord.”
As is typically the case, the first Sunday of Advent in particular is a two-sided observance. Yes, we begin the period of waiting and marking the days to the first appearance of Christ on earth, the Incarnation event we celebrate on Christmas. But this day also reminds us, a bit stubbornly, that the Incarnation is not the end of the story, and that we are still in Advent, living in an Advent time as we wait that time when Christ shall come and call us unto himself. We still wait, we still prepare, and not unlike Matthew’s readers, sometimes we give up hope.
But our call has not changed. We are still charged to be followers of Christ in a world that does not want us to be followers of Christ, even though the world desperately needs us to be followers of Christ. There are still the poor, the hurting, the ones who live under regular and constant threat of violence, the forgotten, the lost, those who no longer know why they’re here, the ones whom nobody loves. They are still waiting for us to show and live the gospel to them.
If the church’s “New Year’s Day” means anything to us, perhaps it is the kick-in-the-pants we need, to paraphrase A Brief Statement of Faith in our Book of Confessions, to receive courage from the Spirit in a broken and fearful world. In a time of increasingly open racism and misogyny and xenophobia and hatred of every kind, being enacted gloatingly and with pride even by people who call themselves Christians, we are still charged with being bearers of good news, being followers of Christ. Perhaps this beginning of Advent is a wake-up call, or maybe an alarm clock.
So, no more sleeping. No more snooze button. Wake up. Be awake.
Thanks be to God. Amen.

[i] Barbara Brown Taylor, “Don’t Say When: Expecting the Second Coming,” Christian Century 121:19 (September 21, 2004); accessed online November 26, 2016 at

Hymns (from Glory to God: The Presbyterian Hymnal):
#350 Keep Your Lamps Trimmed and Burning
#102 Savior of the Nations, Come
#349 “Sleepers, Wake!” A Voice Astounds Us
#127 Hark! The Herald Angels Sing (Jesus, the Light of the World)

Credit: Maybe it's some kind of agricultural stock option?

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Sermon: The Paradoxical Reign of Christ

Grace Presbyterian Church
November 20, 2016, Reign of Christ C
Jeremiah 23:1-6; Colossians 1:11-20; Luke 23:33-43

The Paradoxical Reign of Christ

While for most folks the main “holiday” of note this week is the one marked by massive feasts on Thursday and massive shopping bills on Friday, the liturgical calendar does offer up one more small-scale commemoration for today before the turning of a new liturgical year next Sunday, the first Sunday of Advent. Today is the festival day of the church known as Christ the King, or Reign of Christ Sunday.
This is, unlike most of the dates that dot the church calendar, one which is both pretty new and possible to date fairly precisely. It was first declared in 1925. Pius XI, the pope at the time in the Roman Catholic Church, decreed the feast day in reaction to the increasing rise of dictatorships and other governments he saw as inimical to the authority of the church; Protestant church traditions eventually adapted the feast day as well, pointing to the ultimate authority of Christ as against any secular government or other pretender to the throne of the human heart.
I wonder, though, if such an occasion is itself fraught with potential for confusion or distraction, not because of the theological premise behind it – being able to acknowledge the sovereignty of Christ is a good thing for the church – but perhaps because of our own human capacity for misunderstanding and misapprehension of a term like “Christ the King.”
Put another way: do we, in our modern minds and ways of thinking, get the “kingship” of Christ wrong? Do we, because of our modern connotations of the word “king,” turn Christ into something Christ is not?
Let’s face it; we get a particular mental picture in our heads when we hear or say or think the word “king.” Aside from the modern British monarchy – ceremonial but largely without power – our concept of “king” is usually about absolute authority. The king commands; you obey, or else. Though we might not think of them immediately, the most apt synonyms for our image of “king” are words like “tyrant,” or “autocrat,” or maybe “emperor” – words that evoke rulers who wield absolute power, and who punish those who resist it. (To be clear, one does not have to have the title “king” to be such a ruler, or to desire to be such a ruler, as a cursory survey of world leaders, and would-be leaders, makes clear.)
When applied to Christ, some Christians take comfort in such an image. We can slip into the desire for a really Old Testament-style deity who gets into smiting enemies and unleashing judgment on those we don’t like. Christ is a pretty poor fit for that title, though, as the gospels uncomfortably remind us. Much more than smiting our enemies, Christ is apt to point out what might be called the “gospel of Pogo.” Perhaps you might remember the most famous quote from that old comic strip character: “We have met the enemy, and they is us.”
It isn’t just the gospels who undo our image of kings, though. Even the prophet Jeremiah, pronouncer of judgment and woe that he was, doesn’t necessarily look at kings in the way we’d like. You will notice that in today’s reading from Jeremiah, though it really is all about kings, it takes him quite a while to use the actual word “king.” The image he calls up most clearly is instead “shepherd.” You know, as in “The Lord is my shepherd.” Jeremiah’s prophecy isn’t the only one to invoke this image; both Isaiah and Ezekiel also include discourses on the mandate for kings to serve as shepherds to their people.
Of course, it’s not hard to make the connection between Jeremiah’s image of king-as-shepherd and a Messiah who proclaimed “I am the good shepherd” in John’s gospel. What is hard is to make a connection between Jeremiah’s words and any king Israel had known up to his time. Not even the great King David, who had literally been a shepherd in his youth, truly lived up to this mandate. Human kings had not truly filled the role God had meant for kings to fulfill, but this does not stop Jeremiah from pointing forward to a time when God would bring forth “a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and he shall deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.”
In the reading from the letter to the Christians at Colossae, we get a slightly different image, directly of Christ, one which does point to the all-encompassing authority of Christ (even speaking of God transferring us into “the kingdom of his beloved Son” in verse 13) without quite conforming to our human image of a king. Here, the “reign of Christ” is one that is meant to pull us forward into full maturity in Christ, growing in wisdom and trust as we come under the reign of the Christ who is celebrated in the hymn that begins in verse 15. This is a “king” who is “before all things, and in him all things hold together”; “the head of the body, the church”; the one in whom “all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell.” But all this fulsome praise is not merely for praise’s sake, but to encourage the Colossians to remain steadfast in the gospel that had been proclaimed to them. Christ the King here is both the source of our wisdom and maturity, but also our only hope of attaining it. Again, not terribly characteristic of the human “kings” we recall.
But if any of today’s readings should undo all our human images of how kings work, the portion of Luke’s crucifixion account we heard ought to do it. This is the eye-twister, the one that makes our brains shut down and say “nope nope nope nope nope.”
Crucifixion was no mere means of execution in the Roman Empire. It was execution combined with humiliation. You didn’t just die; you died pathetically. Even your clothing was an object of a dice game. You were a public spectacle. You hung on that cross for all the world to see and be reminded who the real ruler was – the emperor in Rome, not some insignificant desert rabbi.
In this context, the sign placed over Jesus’s cross – “This is the King of the Jews” – was nothing less than a taunt directed towards a broken, humiliated, dying man, and indeed all who had followed him. The mockery of the soldiers pointed towards that humiliation – “you’re a king, huh? So hop on down from that cross and save yourself.” Being mocked by another criminal at the same time just heaped scorn upon scorn.
And yet Jesus’s response, hanging upon that cross? Forgiveness toward those who had done this to him, and redemption to the second criminal, the one who somehow grasped what he was seeing and cried out for mercy to Jesus.
Here is the ultimate rebuke to our very earthly tendencies about kingship and power. In the words of theologian Eberhard Busch, “The majesty of this king is revealed, not when we look up, but when we look down.” This is the kingship that Jesus has taught us, and this, if we are truly devoted to the reign of Christ, is the kingship we celebrate – one of humility, forgiveness, and utter and undying fidelity to Christ and no other. No human claim on our allegiance can ever – ever – come between or contend with our allegiance to Christ, the shepherd king, the humiliated and broken and crucified Messiah.
The Reign of Christ is not about pomp and power; its only glory is in the cross and the empty tomb. Let our human fumbling with words never lead us astray from this incomprehensible, paradoxical truth. Thanks be to God. Amen.

Hymns (from Glory to God: The Presbyterian Hymnal):
 #12                        Immortal, Invisible, God Only Wise
#109                        Blest Be the God of Israel
#274                        You, Lord, Are Both Lamb and Shepherd
#273                        He Is King of Kings

Was going to give a break, but in all honesty searching for images for Christ the King Sunday kinda proves the point of the sermon...

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Sermon: Living in the Shadow

Grace Presbyterian Church
November 13, 2016
Acts 2:42-47; 4:32-35

Living in the Shadow

It is not often that in the process of developing a sermon over the week I come to a point of throwing everything away, including the chosen scripture, and start completely over. In fact, this is the first time I’ve gone and changed the scripture reading altogether, removing what I had chosen before and putting something completely different in its place.
Not that the scheduled scriptures from the lectionary were wrong or bad. In three years I’ll probably come back to them. The passage from Luke is the kind that needs to be explored and explained now and then, as Jesus says things that are hard to understand and rather frightening. The passage from Isaiah is quite beautiful, and offers a vision of God’s ultimate realm that has transcended scripture to become a recognizable image even in popular culture.
But right now, that’s not we need to talk about. Not this week.
We need to talk about right now, in the place and time where we live. And we need to talk about the church and what it is meant to be in such a time.
The two short vignettes from the Acts of the Apostles capture a moment in the history of the early church, a fleeting moment at that, both idyllic and thoroughly unrealistic. The passage from Acts 2 portrays the early community of Christ-followers in the wake of Pentecost as being in seemingly constant fellowship, gathered around the teaching of the apostles, prayer, and fellowship at the table. Deeds of power were being done among them. The world looked on in approval.
And what is briefly mentioned here is amplified in the passage from Acts 4; the believers were together and even selling off possessions to provide for the needs of those with less. This is where these two passages become stuff that some people would like to rip out of the Bible, fearing the horrible dread spectre of “socialism!” You’ll note that Bernie Sanders did not get elected president this week; that spectre is still enough to provoke distrust among interpreters of scripture.
Where this passage is particularly needful in this moment, however, is not just in pictures of socialist utopias or great miracle-working or even sharing food. These two scriptures are significant not only in text but also in context, and we, living in the moment we do now, need to pay close attention to that context.
Recall that the book of Acts begins with Luke’s account of the ascension of Jesus. After a quick conference to choose a replacement for the betrayer Judas Iscariot, the story moves immediately to the day of Pentecost. Thus what we see in Acts 2 is at least portrayed as happening soon after the ascension, which is reckoned to be forty days after the resurrection. After the Acts 2 account, we get from Luke the story of a healing in the Temple, another large sermon by Peter, and their arrest by Temple authorities and appearance before the council.
In short, this happens very early in the life of the church, or more precisely even before the life of the “church” – we are speaking of a small group within the adherents of Judaism practicing their religious life centered around the Temple in Jerusalem. They’re still a long way from being a church of their own, and the coming disputes with the Temple authorities are at this point an intra-religious dispute within the religious establishment in Jerusalem, a disagreement within Judaism.
The idyllic scene portrayed here doesn’t last. Before too long disagreements will break out over the distribution of relief between Jewish and Gentile widows in the community, and before too long (starting around Acts 12) much of the community will be scattered beyond Jerusalem. The demands of such intimate and ever-present community became overwhelming. But the situation in which they exist in these two passages is not dramatically dissimilar to the one in which a church like ours finds itself right now.
We don’t live in an empire. The United States may well be the most powerful nation on earth, but we don’t quite qualify as an empire in the mold of the Roman Empire, or even of the old British Empire of which we were once a part. We do, however, project influence around the globe – not just militarily, but even more so economically and culturally.
At the same time it is unmistakable that we in this country have seen many of its religious leaders (including sons of two of the most famous preachers in US history) accommodate themselves tremendously to the apparatus of empire, in hopes (not unlike the religious leaders of first-century Jerusalem) to maintain their power and influence. Let there be no mistaking this: such preachers have declared by their actions that their allegiance and desire is much more to this flag over here than to this cross behind me. And not unlike those to whom Luke described Jesus as attributing “woes” in last week’s reading of the Beatitudes, they have their reward.
And all the more damning to those religious leaders is that in the days since Tuesday’s election results became clear, this country has experienced numerous outbreaks of racial or ethnic or gender harassment, vandalism, bullying,, intimidation, and threats. Many of those acts have taken place in schools, among our young people. A swastika, or the slogan “Make America White Again,” painted on a wall; flyers under the windshield wipers of cars threatening immigrants if they don’t leave the USA; black students at one school being added to a social media list with the title "Lynching Party" and frankly more than can be enumerated here (I had originally written about two hundred such events, but the number is now quite higher.). And those religious leaders who have adapted themselves to empire haven’t said one word against these attacks. Believe me, I’ve looked. Not one.
For all of the trauma that many have experienced since Election Day, there is one thing that remains true: our call as the church, Christ’s body here on earth, does not change. We are still here to give praise to God; to give witness to the gospel – the actual good news – of Jesus Christ; to minister to “the least of these” in word and spirit; and to act as those who have been forgiven and redeemed by the love of Christ, and to show to the world that love, no matter what race or gender or nationality or orientation or political party or whatever they may be. That is what it means to be a follower of Christ, and followers of Christ are more desperately needed right now than perhaps we have even realized.
The results of an election do not change our call. They may, however, challenge us to wake up to it and to the world’s desperate hurting need for us to live up to it. We may find that our job really is to be a community that is so knit together in the Spirit, like those early Christ-followers of Acts, that the love of God cannot help but be seen and felt by any who come near us, and then to welcome and care for and suffer with those who are in the most desperate need of that love.
Fear is out there. There are millions in this country who now perceive themselves to be in danger in a way most of us don’t ever know. Do we get defensive and draw back? Or do we open the doors, go out and sit with them, and listen? Do we love? If there is any question we need to answer now as a church, that is it. Who do we choose to be? Do we choose to be the body of Christ to them? Do we choose to show the love of Christ?
For the witness of the body of Christ, then and now, Thanks be to God. Amen.

Hymns (from Glory to God: The Presbyterian Hymnal):
#352 My Lord! What a Morning
#641 When In Our Music God is Glorified
#373 O Day of Peace
#435 There’s a Wideness in God’s Mercy

Left for a teacher in Gwinnett County, GA, after election day.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

A Sermon for the Sunday Before Election Day (and Every Other Sunday)

Grace Presbyterian Church
November 6, 2016, All Saints’ C
Luke 6:20-31

A Sermon for the Sunday Before Election Day
(and Every Other Sunday)

November 1 is, in some more liturgical Christian traditions, observed as All Saints’ Day. (Since in most years November 1 does not fall on a Sunday, many churches will observe it the Sunday following, which is today.) The day is one for commemorating those “saints” who have gone before us in the faith and who, in the words of the Book of Common Worship’s liturgy for the Service of Witness to the Resurrection, “have kept the faith, finished the race, and who now rest from their labor,” who “having lived this life in faith, now live eternally with you.”
I do not know that this congregation has made much of All Saints’ Day in the past, but it might be something we find meaningful going forward. Not to put too fine a point on it, but a number of those who have been members here over the decades have joined the Church Triumphant, and others will in the years to come. Just this calendar year we have mourned the passing of Lorena McAlpine, Ron Nunn, Lynette Ramer, Larke Nunn, and just this week Judy Attaway; all of these have played a role of note in the life of Grace Presbyterian Church. It would be a shame if we did not give our respect to those who have done so much in the life of this congregation for fear of being “too Catholic” or of learning something new.
(prayer for the deceased)
But the occasion of All Saints’ Day is not merely for commemoration of those departed saints, but also for learning from them and the example they lived among us. To be clear, this is not to be a lionization or beatification of these very human predecessors in the faith; the liturgy quoted above (which you’ll hear me use on virtually every such occasion) also reminds us that each of these departed members is “a sheep of your own fold, a lamb of your own flock, a sinner of your own redeeming.” It would be misguided of us to claim a perfection they did not have (a fact which they now know so well); rather we are to learn from their example, faults and all, and be moved by that example to live into all that Christ calls us to be.
What today’s scripture shows us is that “all that Christ calls us to be” is a monumental challenge, one that would (if we took it seriously) require us to reorient our entire life together as the body of Christ. Being a saint is tough.
The first portion of the text is Luke’s version of the Beatitudes. We heard the more familiar version from Matthew in today’s responsive reading for comparison. You probably noticed that Luke tells the story a bit differently; Luke’s “blessings” are a lot more concise, less elaborated, and less watered down – for example, “blessed are you who are poor” in Luke’s gospel, not just the “poor in spirit” that Matthew cites.
Luke’s “blessings” sound familiar if you know Matthew’s “blessings,” but are rather more direct and to the point (blessed are you, not those), perhaps we might say “less spiritualized” – very earthy, very real conditions that Luke records Jesus as describing and calling “blessed,” conditions that challenge our ability to grasp what Jesus is saying. The poor, those who weep, those who are hungry, those who are hated don’t look blessed to us. But they are “blessed” with Christ’s favor, and if we truly want to be followers of Christ, not just nominal “Christians” but real followers of Christ – it is our calling to see them as Jesus sees them.
If Luke’s “blessings” make that difficult, Luke adds a parallel series of “woes” that Matthew, for whatever reason, does not record. These “woes” truly challenge our ability to “see through Jesus’s eyes.”
It simply doesn’t compute for us to think “woe to you who are rich,” particularly since our society is geared to revere and even idolize them. To say “woe” to those who laugh now, or those who are full, or those who are well-liked and respected, just doesn’t make sense. But we miss the point; those who have grasped and shoved and grabbed and held the best the world can give have obtained exactly that; the best that the world can give, which is nothing but the foulest refuse next to the grace of God. Woe indeed to the embracers of foul refuse.
Again, this is not “pie in the sky, by and by” stuff; this is where Jesus calls us here and now, even if that requires complete upheaval of the way we live and relate to others. And there is no part of our lives excepted from this.
As if that weren’t enough, Luke then adds a “greatest hits” list of The Hardest Things Jesus Ever Said: “…love your enemies…”; a version of “turn the other cheek”; “…give to everyone who begs from you…” (I routinely fail this one); “do unto others as you would have them do to you.” Again, not pie-in-the-sky stuff; here and now, this is Jesus’s instruction to us.
Now for those of you wondering where the title of today’s sermon comes in…right about here is the spot. Of course this kind of turned-upside-down life is supposed to affect us when we mark those little circles on those ballots Tuesday. Again, no part of our life is exempt; this really is how Jesus is teaching his disciples to live every part of every day. Our “political life” (so to speak) is equally under the mandate to see as blessed who Jesus sees as blessed; to love our enemies; to do unto others as we would have them do unto you. If we are going to call ourselves followers of Christ, we don’t get to take Election Day off.
At the same time, we don’t get to take any other days off either.
We might just find, if we take Luke’s “blessings and woes” and other recorded instructions seriously, that every day of our week looks different. It might make a difference in our weekends outside of the church, whether they be spent at the stadium or ballpark or golf course or coliseum, and might even upset the way we decide which of those to choose. It might even cause us to have to pull back from how we spend our evenings. It could just possibly mess with how we spend our days at work, or even what work we do. It might just, if we really follow through on it, cause us to have to speak up where we might just be more comfortable staying quiet when injustice is done, when the poor are shafted yet again to make life yet easier for the rich, or what little food the hungry have is yet again taken away. And we just might find ourselves “blessed” in ways we might never have imagined, and would frankly rather have done without, if only Jesus hadn’t opened his big mouth and Luke gotten wind of it and written it down. We might even have to rethink how we say “God bless you” to one another, if we know ourselves to be more caught up in the “woes” than the “blessings.”
Blessed are you? Woe unto you? Being a saint has never been easy, but saints have never been more needed, on Election Day and every other day.
For the saints before and among us, and what we might learn from them, Thanks be to God. Amen.

Hymns (from Glory to God: The Presbyterian Hymnal):
#326 For All the Saints
#550 Give Praise to the Lord (Psalm 149)
#506 Look Who Gathers at Christ’s Table!
#729 Lord, I Want to Be a Christian

Credit: Is it the devil in the details, or ... ?