Thursday, September 13, 2007

Sermon for a U2 Eucharist 12 September 2007

“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age."”

May only God’s Word be spoken, and may only God’s word be heard. Amen!

Again, let me say welcome tonight to our U2 Eucharist, or, as some might say our U2-charist. It has come to that time in the service that most of us call the sermon, but, if we’re honest some folks call it “nap-time”. There’s no need to deny it. I’ve been there. We’ve all come to church sat our happy selves down, got ourselves into that well worn position on the pew that we know so well—cause you know you’ve been sitting in the same spot for decades—we cock our head to the side in that listening pose and half sleep and half stare into the distant nothing. With enough practice you can even get yourself to nod your head at key moments in the sermon so the preacher thinks you are listening. There is no need to deny this phenomenon. We’ve all done it. I’ve done it. Tom’s done it. Linda’s done it. The visitors have done it. The youth have done it. The old folks have done it. Everybody in between has done it. Shoot, half of you are thinking about doing it right now. It’s been done.

My hope this evening, however, is that I can hold your attention, your wakeful awareness, for a few moments. In a blatant and obvious attempt to keep your attention I’m going to start off tonight talking about something near and dear to the heart of the average Nebraskan: Football, more specifically elite football players. There are a lot of character traits that are common among elite football players: strength, speed, and agility, to name a few. Tonight, however, my interest is in a different trait. See, it seems that the most common trait among the elite football players of this world is an intense desire. Whether it is Peyton Manning or Tom Brady, Reggie Bush or Edgerin James, even Terrell Owens or Randy Moss, we find in these people an unquenchable desire, an inability to be satisfied no mater what feat they accomplish or victory they achieve.

These unfulfilled competitors, no matter how long they have played the game, still desire to work hard and achieve. It is like they are searching for something and they still haven’t found what their looking for. (Nice how I slipped that U2 lyric in there isn’t. I told you. You needed to stay awake for this one.) So, I was thinking about these human beings who keep striving for something, and then I started to think about my life of faith. It began to dawn on me that I’ve been at this endeavor for a while. Shoot yall, I’m the son of southern Baptist pastor. I’ve been going to church since I was a fetus. I have lived a life of faith my entire life—a life sometimes close to God, sometimes running from God, sometimes in direct defiance of God, but a life of faith nonetheless. For almost thirty-one years I’ve been at this thing we call faith, and I still haven’t found what I’m looking for. Yall, I’m looking for peace and I haven’t found it! That peace, that wonderful mysterious peace that passes all understanding that I desire for my neighbor and myself still seems less like reality than theory, less like substance than dreams.

In the Gospel story proclaimed just a few moments ago, we heard about the apostles on the mountain with Jesus just after his Resurrection. I don’t think they had found what they were looking for either. They had been on the road with Jesus for years, literally walking with him. I’m not talking about a sentimental emotional reference, some cheesy poem on a pastel plague on the wall. “Jeezus walks with me all the time, and when there’s only one set of footprints in the sand, that’s when Jeezuus was a carryin’ me.” No that’s not what I’m talking about. I mean literally they walked with Jesus everywhere. Talked face to face with Emmanuel, God with us—The ultimate divine one as human…God with skin. But yet here they are on top of this mountain with Jesus, and there it is in the scripture, “Some Doubted”.

Can you blame them? Can you blame them for expecting something different? They left their families and homes, gave up hopes and dreams to follow Christ. Their lives were not easy to begin with. Rome was an oppressor with little regard for the lives of the conquered. Their hopes for the dramatic expulsion of their oppressor were not realized. Their hopes for peace were not realized. Their hopes for the kingdom of God were not realized. They still hadn’t found what they were looking for.
But it is a component of the Christian faith that this Kingdom, this divine ordering of Creation has occurred. The nations have been placed at the feet of Jesus as the ultimate power in the universe. The apostle Paul writes in his letter to the Colossians that, “Through Christ, God was pleased to reconcile all things to himself whether in earth or on heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.” In the life, death, and Resurrection of Christ, the Kingdom has come. God’s will has been done.

But, it is blatantly obvious, to anyone with eyes to see, ears to hear, or hearts to feel, that the Kingdom has not yet been reconciled. We live in a world where 25,000 people—many of them children—will die today, tomorrow, and the next day because of Aids, malaria, tuberculosis, and hunger. We live in a day and age where we can wage war at hyper-speed, where someone in Arizona can remotely control a flying drone like a video game while it drops bombs in Iraq. We live in a nation that—despite the action of many well-intentioned people—is more like the Roman Empire then any other nation-state since the fall of Rome itself.

Paradoxically the Kingdom has already come but is not yet here. Though the path to the Kingdom has been opened to all, the mission of reconciliation is ours. The mission of reconciliation is placed at our feet, on our backs, and in our hearts.
There were doubters on the mountain with Jesus. There are doubters in this room tonight, and there are doubts within my own heart as well. But, doubts or no the command of Christ in the gospel is still the same. This God who became a human in the Name of Love, who “stretched out his arms on the hard wood of the cross so that all might come within his saving embrace” gives the same command, the great commission to the doubtful and the confident alike. Go. Go teach what I have taught you, to all that exist. Christ lays the mission of reconciliation out before them all and all of us the confident and the doubtful. The whole body of Christ, the physical manifestation of God’s love in this very world, is to be about this mission of reconciliation.

So what is the church, the Body of Christ supposed to do. What are our action steps, our goals, dare I say our benchmarks on the path to global reconciliation. This is where the Millennium Development Goals come in. The MDGs, which you can see on the screen behind me, were adopted by 189 nations and signed by 147 heads of state and governments during the UN Millennium Summit in September of 2000. They are to be achieved by 2015 (that’s just 8 years away folks, we are already behind the game). Speaking of being behind the game, at the 2006 General Convention of the Episcopal Church, the Millennium Development goals were adopted as an embodiment of the church’s mission in the world. It was seen that these objectives to:

  • Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger;
  • Achieve universal primary education;
  • Promote Gender Equality and empower women;
  • Reduce Child mortality;
  • Improve maternal health;
  • Combat HIV/AIDS, Malaria and other diseases;
  • Ensure Environmental Sustainability; and
  • To build a Global Partnership for Development;

are specific areas where we, the church, can and should apply our united energy, resources, and influence as a community of faith to bring about reconciliation, to bring about the Kingdom.

Now, there are some naysayer’s and critics of this action by the Episcopal Church, and every now again they ask some good questions that we need to answer. Some might say, “what does this have to do with getting our souls into heaven?” Isn’t the church a spiritual reality not a physical reality? So, shouldn’t we be more concerned about converting people then about feeding them? Indeed the church is a spiritual reality, but it is a spiritual reality that is erupting into the physical world; just as God became incarnate in the physical world, so, too, the Body of Christ, the church, is to be incarnate in this world and bring about the kingdom.

See, it’s like this, a wise congregant of mine sent me a story this week about a Holy man who was having a conversation with God. He asked God to show him heaven and hell. So God took him down a long hallway that end with two doors: one heaven and one hell. God opened the door on the right and said this is hell. The man stepped in and was immediately hit by the smell of the most delicious beef stew he had ever smelled. Y’all know what that’s like…when you put a pot of stew in the crock pot on a cold winter morning and let it cook all day. You get home at the end of the day and open the door and you start to drool immediately. This got our Holy Man’s attention so he stepped in to take a look at this beautifully smelling hell. What he saw in the room was indeed a big pot of stew cooking the middle of a large round table. Sitting around the table was a host of starving emaciated people. He noticed that they were strapped to their chairs so that only one arm was free. In that arm they were holding a long spoon, longer then their arms. They were able to take a spoonful of the stew from the pot, but, because the spoons were longer then their arms, they couldn’t get the stew into their mouths. Repulsed the holy man left the room and God opened for him the door to heaven. The holy man smelt the same stew and saw the same scene except this time everyone around the table was well fed and content. The holy man turned to God and asked what was different about this group of people. God replied, “These folks have learned to feed each other.”

That’s it folks. That’s what this is all about. We do not bring about the kingdom by privatizing everything including our faith, like we can somehow pull ourselves up into heaven by our own boot straps. We become the kingdom—we bring about reconciliation—when we learn that we are dependant upon God’s grace embodied in our feeding of each other. For indeed, it is too light a thing for us to merely feed ourselves, too light a thing for us to merely feed our families. It is too light a thing, when we have been called to be God’s light in the world, for us to merely take care of “our own”, while our brothers and sisters starve, while we still kill them…too light a thing indeed.

Now the moment you have all been waiting for…In conclusion, there are some specific things you can do to help us reach these goals, things you can do this very evening. First, and you probably thought of this already, be charitable. Tonight’s offering, taken during the service, will be applied in its entirety to Episcopal Relief and Development’s work in the areas of food security and health care. Also, outside in the lobby, there is a basket where you can support All Saints Episcopal Church’s mission to Maar, Sudan. Through the administration of the Christian Outreach Mission Team, the impassioned efforts of Deacon Robin McNutt, and churches in five other states we are looking to build a sustainable network to dramatically improve the health and life of the people of Maar. Tonight you can help with these efforts through your generous contributions.

You can also be charitable with your time and talents as well. There is work to do on all these goals right here in Omaha, NE as well. Where are Melissa and Don Peeler? Tonight is a great night to talk to Melissa and Don Peeler about joining one of the initiatives of the Outreach Mission Team. For those of yall visiting with us tonight, find out what your home congregation, or synagogue, or masque or place of worship is doing in the realms peace and justice and get involved. If they don’t have a group working in these areas, then start one, build partnerships and get to work.

Now, whatever you do—for Christ’s sake I beg of you--don’t just write a check and forget about this night. Charity is a good first step. It is needed and invaluable. But it is only a first step. It is, in a lot of ways, like triage or first aid for the problems mentioned tonight. To treat the underlying cause of these afflictions we must do more. We must lend our voices to the voices of those who are being ignored. We must engage our leaders and get them to focus on these necessary issues. Tonight you can join the One campaign. Go to, it is listed on the last page of your bulletin to add your voice to the global out cry to end poverty.
Lastly, and most importantly you can come and go. Come to this table, this place where we know the love of God is present. Receive the Body and Blood broken and poured out for you. Then Go. Go and learn more about God’s love by reading the scriptures. Go and learn more about the MDGs and the ways you can be involved at the websites listed in your bulletin. Go and teach what you have been taught. Go and love your neighbors. Go and remember the afflicted, feed the poor, fight for the oppressed, strive for justice and respect the dignity of every human being. Go in peace, as the Body and Blood of Christ in the world. Go to love. Go and serve the Lord. After all, this is what you have been looking for. Amen!

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