This week on the Strangely Warmed podcast I speak with Mikang Kim about the readings for All Saints’ Sunday [C] (Daniel 7.1-3, 15-18, Psalm 149, Ephesians 1.11-23, Luke 6.20-31). Mikang is the pastor of Epworth UMC on the Eastern Shore of Virginia. Our conversation covers a range of topics including proper pronunciation, perseverance, communal reading, saintliness, the difference Christ makes, directions for singing, courage, blessings and woes, sermon introductions, and Kingdom work. If you would like to listen to the episode or subscribe to the podcast you can do so here: Praying Our Goodbyes
When he returned to Capernaum after some days, it was reported that he was at home. So many gathered around that there was no longer room for them, not even in front of the door; and he was speaking the word to them. Then some people came, bringing to him a paralyzed man, carried by four of them. And when they could not bring him to Jesus because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him; and after having dug through it, they let down the mat on which the paralytic lay. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts, “Why does this fellow speak in this way? It is blasphemy! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” At once Jesus perceived in his spirit that they were discussing these questions among themselves; and he said to them, “Why do you raise such questions in your hears? Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven’, or to say, ‘Stand up and take your mat and walk’? But so that you may know that the Son of man has authority on earth to forgive sins” – he said to the paralytic – “I say to you, stand up, take your mat and go home.” And he stood up, and immediately took the mat and went out before all of them; so that they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, “We have never seen anything like this!”
“They didn’t teach me that in seminary,” is a favorite line among clergy-types. When the pandemic came in earnest, I heard countless colleagues make that remark with regard to moving church online. It shows up turning denominational turns as we’re tasked with communicating bizarre elements of our polity with our laity. And it’s the go-to expression whenever something goes wrong with a church building and all the eyes turn the pastor for direction.
And yet, the irony is, there is no type of schooling that fully prepares someone for their vocation. Imagine how boring our lives would be if we knew everything we needed to know the day we graduated.
However, I must confess, the words “they didn’t teach me that in seminary” left my mouth the very first time I was tasked with a committal to the grave.
Grief counseling? Services of Death and Resurrection? Theological proclamation in Bible study? No problem. But then, after my first funeral service, I found myself driving to the cemetery without knowing what I was supposed to do.
When we all arrived, we stood around the casket of the recently departed, and all the eyes turned to me. And then, because God provides, a story from the scriptures appeared in my mind.
Listen: Jesus returned to Capernaum shortly after calling the disciples to follow him. It was reported among the community that he was home and crowds began to gather. Rumor had it that this particular son of a carpenter could make the impossible possible.
Soon, so many people arrived that they were spilling out onto the road, waiting for their turn.
And, it came to pass, that a group of friends caught word of the Word’s arrival and they put together a plan. Their friend was paralyzed, and so they carried him through the streets of Capernaum until they arrived at the house. Upon discovering the size of the crowd, the climbed up on top of the house, used shovels to dig through the roof, and they lowered their friend to the Lord.
When Jesus saw their faith… notice, not the faith of the paralytic… when he saw their faith, he said to the man, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”
If the story ended there, it would already be radical enough for the Gospel. It’s got all the markings of a remarkable tale: friendship, hope, overcoming adversity, and a delightful conclusion. And yet, Jesus forgives the man his sins.
Isn’t that strange?
If this were a proper story, Jesus would’ve reached out to the man, and healed his legs.
But instead, Jesus forgives his sins.
Of course, the story keeps going because some scribes were near by, the do-gooding religious types. Perhaps they couldn’t help but hope for a glimpse of heaven on earth, even if they didn’t really believe everything they heard. And they grumbled.
“Who does this guy think he is? It’s blasphemy I tell you! No one can forgive but God alone.”
And Jesus said, “Check this out: Which is easier, to tell him he’s forgiven or to tell him to walk. But so that you may know heaven is standing here right in front of you, I’m going to do both.”
He looked over at the forgiven paralytic and said, “Go home.” And the man stood up and left.
Everyone was amazed and glorified God, saying, “We have never seen anything like this!”
The family stood staring at me, pondering why this story, of all stories, was the one I proclaimed at the grave. And then I said, “Gathering here, we are like those friends who carry the one we love to Jesus. With our faith, we witness to the promised truth that this is not goodbye, this is, “until next time.” Until we gather together at the Supper of the Lamb that goes on without end.
And then I reached down to the dirt, laid it on the casket, and I sang: Softly and Tenderly…
It is a strange thing to be a Christian. There was a time, of course, when it was expected or assumed that Christianity was a normative experience for people. But now, today, the church is a rather radical witness to the work of God in the world. In short, we approach the throne of God with a trembling hope because we know that we cannot take any of this for granted.
To be a Christian is to know that time is now fleeting the moments are passing. It is to know that we are defined not by our mistakes but by the grace of God. It is to know the great Good News that Jesus Christ is the pioneer and perfecter of our faith.
Those descriptors might not sound strange to our ears, but to the world they are as confounding as can be. The world tells us that, so long as we purchase certain products, and dress a particular way, that we can hang around forever. The world hangs our mistakes around our necks and compels us to carry them everywhere. And the world forces us to believe that we are completely alone and can only ever depend on ourselves.
To be a Christian is to be different.
We worship a God who became one of us, who arrived in the muck and mire of our lives, to be the difference that makes us different! We follow the Lord Jesus who is not only capable of forgiving our sins, but also of raising the dead!
The fundamental difference between the world and the church, is that the world assumes we can earn or achieve everything we need, whereas the church reminds us that the everything we really need has already been finished for us in Jesus Christ.
Therefore, the church exists to mediate Christ to us through sermon, song, and sacrament. The church teaches us who we are. The church proclaims the Good News to a world drowning in bad news.
Notice, the friends from scripture today bring their friend to Jesus and they won’t let anything stand in their way. The do something wild and reckless: They trust that this 1st century rabbi can make a way where there is no way, and they’re willing to dig through a roof to see it happen!
And then, when Jesus does his Jesus thing, the crowds glorify God and say, “We have never seen anything like this!”
When the church is at her best, we all depart with those same words, either aloud or in our hearts, and we can’t help ourselves from living differently because of the Good News.
Today we’re talking about, and thinking about, witness, the final aspect of church membership. When someone joins a United Methodist Church they make a vow to support the church with their prayers, presence, gifts, service, and witness. It’s all too easy to take the theme of witness and boil it down to something like a church growth strategy.
Put another way, we often confuse witness with evangelism.
There’s a church, not too far from here, that is busting at the seams. Each week they have to pull out more and more folding chairs to make space for people. And, when the pastor was asked to what he could attribute the increase, he said, “It’s our iPad giveaway program.”
You see, at this particular church, they raffle off an iPad every single Sunday, and you receive more raffle tickets depending on the number of people you bring to church with you.
Those people are being converted to something, but I don’t think we can call it the kingdom of God.
Notably, in our denominational neck of the woods, there’s a rather sobering statistic that haunts me: Today, the average United Methodist invites someone else to worship once every 38 years.
And even so, the location of the church today is a great gift! For, it gives us the space and opportunity to rediscover how unusual it is for us, Methodists of all people, to be the church of Jesus Christ.
The early church grew, despite all the reasons it shouldn’t have, not because they gave away tablets, or went door to door, or handed out tracks in downtown Corinth.
The early church grew because the witness of Christ in the world was life-changing.
Rich Mullins, who I’ve been quoting a lot recently, once said, “I am a Christian, not because someone explained the buts and bolts of Christianity, but because there were people willing to be nuts and bolts.”
In other words, people carried him to Jesus.
The God we worship is a healer of broken things. And yet, the brokenness that God heals is not just our broken bodies. God heals broken hearts, broken spirits, broken promises.
In the cross and resurrection of Jesus we see how the one who said, “Your sins are forgiven,” had the power to do exactly that.
Notice, the paralytic did absolutely nothing to earn his forgiveness. Save for the fact that he had some good friends. And those good friends were already living according to the difference that Christ makes.
All of us this morning are here, whether we know it or not, because someone or some people carried us to Jesus. We are products of those who made Jesus real for us, those who were willing to be nuts and bolts.
And, in the end, that exactly what it means to witness. It’s living according to the Good News of God in the world as if our lives depended on it, because they do.
Whatever Christianity is, it is at least the discovery of friends we did not know we had. Friends who are possible only because Jesus has gathered us in for God’s great parable to the world we call the church. Friends who are willing to carry us to Jesus over and over again because Jesus is the difference that makes all the difference. Amen.
Now every year his parents went to Jerusalem of rite festival of the Passover. And when he was twelve years old, they went up as usual for the festival. When the festival was ended and they started to return, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but his parents did not know it. Assuming that he was in the group of travelers, they went a day’s journey. Then they started to look for him among their relatives and friends. When they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem to search for him. After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. When his parents saw him they were astonished; and his mother said to him, “Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety.” He said to them, “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” But they did not understand what he said to them. Then he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them. His mother treasured all these things in her heart. And Jesus increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favor.
I would like everyone to close your eyes for a moment, find a comfortable posture, and I would like you to imagine the perfect church…
What does it look like?
What kind of people are in it?
What are some of the things the church does?
It’s a little terrifying how easy it is to imagine “the perfect church” only to open our eyes and be stuck here with each other. It’s so easy to picture a particular church in our minds because that’s what life has conditioned us to do. We usually curate everything we can to benefit our own tastes, and leanings, and hopes, and dreams.
If we don’t agree with someone else on Facebook, we can just block and unfollow them.
If we start watching a movie and within ten minutes it’s boring we can push a few buttons and watch something else.
If we’re hungry for a particular meal, we need only open an app on our phones to have it delivered right to our door, despite all the food we might already have in the pantry.
Basically, we are consumers living in a consumable world. We choose exactly what we want, take what we want, and move on with unlimited choices and unlimited speed.
And, frankly, we bring this understanding of reality to the church as well. That’s why there’s every flavor of Christian denominationalism on Grandin Road. If you encounter a church that doesn’t give you what you want, there’s always another one to try.
The only problem with that is the fact that what we want is not often what we need.
An example: We are blessed in this church to have visitors nearly every Sunday. That is something worthy celebrating, but a very strange phenomenon when taking in the scope of Christian history. Up until the last 100 years, you went to church where you could. Now we go to church where we want.
Anyway, we get a fair number of visitors here, those church shopping for a new church home. And, every once in a while, visitors come back again and again and I will meet with them to talk about what it might mean for them to join or become more involved. During that conversation I always ask about where they were attending church before.
And, more often than not, someone will describe their last church, usually somewhat local, and how they attended for years until something particular happened. A too-political sermon. A unfortunate song choice on a Sunday morning. A stinging stewardship season. And that was enough to say goodbye.
According to the world this is a normal thing that happens. We can move on over and over again.
But in the realm of the church this is downright strange.
Charles Spurgeon, 19th century preacher, put it this way:
“If I had never joined a church till I had found one that was perfect, I should never have joined one at all; and the moment I did join it, if I had found one, I should have spoiled it, for it would not have been a perfect church after I had become a member of it. Still, imperfect as it is, it is the dearest place on earth to us.”
Strangely enough, the church is where we discover the comforting gospel of Jesus Christ that leads us to live uncomfortable lives for him. Uncomfortable because, living for Jesus means living for the people in the church around us too.
When someone joins a United Methodist Church they covenant to support the church with their prayers, presence, gifts, service, and witness. To support the church by presence is literally that, it means being present.
Part of our discipleship is a willingness to be present with God and with one another. We gather week after week to remember the stories of God and to be re-membered into the body of Christ. We break bread with one another in worship, and during the Garden, as a recognition that the Christian life is one that is meant to be shared. We show up for Bible studies, and outreach programs, and all sorts of other things because, on some level, we understand that being present together is at the heart of what it means to follow Jesus.
Luke’s Gospel has all the best stories. Mark is short and brief, Matthew is theological, John is all over the place, and Luke’s got the stories. And the story of Jesus at the temple is just so good.
It’s got drama and intrigue, family strife, and youthful rebellion.
And when we read it we tend to fixate on Jesus teaching the elders. He’s a 12 year old boy and everyone is amazed at his teaching. And so people like me stand up in a place like this and say things like, “Our youth are not the future of the church, they are the church right now.” And a 3.5 minute story will usually be shared about a youth and how they understand the kingdom better than we do. And so on.
And that’s all good and fine.
Jesus does say that if we want to get into the kingdom of heaven we have to act like children.
And yet, I fear we miss something else in the story when we emphasize Jesus’ teaching in the temple alone. What we miss is the fact that this is also a story about horrible parenting!
Listen to it again: They traveled all the way to Jerusalem for Passover, a six days journey by foot, and when they were done they returned home Mary and Joseph did not know that they left their son behind.
What? How does that happen? It’s one thing to lose track of a wayward child in the grocery store, but leaving them behind in a foreign city? C’mon!
And that would be bad enough. But then it says they traveled a whole day before they noticed. AND THEN once they turned back it took them another 3 days to find him!
Jesus was in the Temple teaching and his parents were astonished and Mary said, “Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety.”
Which is the Bible’s version of, “Boy, you had us worried sick! You are grounded from now until eternity!”
And how does Jesus respond? “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”
Must is a strong word. In life all of our must and shoulds don’t muster up to much in the kingdom of God, but Jesus’ response is notable.
It is good and right to be in the house of God. Honor and keep the sabbath, that’s 1 of the 10 commandments.
The psalmist writes, “I was glad when they said to me, let us go to the house of the Lord.”
To be in the house of God was as necessary to Jesus as it is to breathe.
And yet, there are a few more staggering details in this story that really bring it all home. The Holy Family went to Jerusalem for Passover. Some 21 years later, on Passover in the same city, Jesus will take a loaf of bread and a glass of wine and share it with his friends. He will become the Passover Lamb for the them, the exodus for the rest of us.
Mary and Joseph abandon Jesus in the city, much like the aforementioned disciples will abandon him to the cross the day after Passover.
It take Mary and Joseph three days to find their son, much like Jesus sat in the tomb for three days before the resurrection.
And notably, after the family’s confrontation in the Temple, scripture says that Jesus returned home and was obedient to his parents and Mary treasured it in her heart. Which is another way of saying that Jesus forgave his parents for what they did to him, much like Jesus returns to his abandoning and denying disciples on the other side of Easter.
A crucial eccentricity of the Christian faith is the claim that salvation does not come to us by natural inclination, by birthright, by earning, or deserving. Salvation is a gift from God. And because it is a gift it can only be received on God’s terms, not ours. The church is the witness to the gift of salvation, reminding us time and time again what we have been given even though we deserve absolutely nothing.
That’s a hard truth to swallow, the “we deserve nothing.” But it’s true. We all do things we shouldn’t, we all avoid doing things we should. We are imperfect people. We might not be the type of people who forget our children back in Jerusalem and wander around for a few days before we find them, but we do have a lot more in common with Mary and Joseph than we let on. What’s more, even though we fail to be an obedient church, even though we fail to love God and one another, God offers us grace anyway.
Therefore, the perfect church is actually an imperfect one, constantly reminding us of our imperfections and the great Good News that someone has come to help us. And that someone has a name: Jesus
Without the church how can we know that grace is given to us, how can we discover that we are caught up in Jesus’ story, how can we receive the sacraments?
We need one another, because you can’t baptize yourself no more than you can give communion to yourself. We need someone to give those gifts to us. We need the church to tell us again and again, “The world will only ever see you through your faults and failures, but God loves you.”
We need the church because it holds us together even when it feels like everything else is falling apart.
Rich Mullins once said, “Nobody goes to church because they’re perfect. If you’ve got it all together, you don’t need to go. You can go jogging with all the other perfect people on Sunday morning. Every time we go to church we’re confessing again to ourselves, our families, to the person in the pew next to us, that we don’t have it all together. That we need direction, we need accountability, we need help.”
The reason for being present in church is the strange fact that this is the only community that is consciously formed, criticized, and sustained by the truth. Which is Good News for a world that runs by lies.
Church is the last vestige of place where we willfully gather with those who are not like us, this is the fellowship of differents. And though we are different, the truth that is Jesus Christ, somehow makes us one.
I often wonder why I kept going to church throughout my life. At first I was present in church because my parents made me – they couldn’t leave me home alone as a child even though Mary and Joseph clearly would have.
But then, around my teenage years, I started running the sound system so I had to be present in church. And then I left for college, and there was a church that needed a drummer so I was still present in church. On and on and on.
And when I look back now, I know the answer to why I kept showing up for church: Jesus.
Jesus churched me. The church is how God dealt with me. I am who I am because of the church. Through sermons and sacraments, through friends and even foes, I was shaped into who I am.
God is in the business of remembering us. That is, God re-members us, puts us together, like pieces from a puzzle. And yet, have you ever pulled out a puzzle and worked away on a rainy day only to realize that one or two of the puzzle pieces we missing?
The picture isn’t complete.
The church is complete, the body of Christ is complete, when we are together. Your presence here makes the church the church. When we are present before God’s presence, we live God’s future in our present and it actually changes things.
So welcome to the perfect church! It’s perfect because God does God’s best work with imperfect people like us. Amen.
Make a joyful noise to God, all the earth.
Week after week the people called church get together for worship.
God gathers the scattered flock into one place where we share signs of peace with whomever God drags through the door. God proclaims God’s Word to the gathered with scriptures, and prayers, and sermons. The gathered respond to God with shared sacraments. And God sends forth the gathered back into the world shaped and nurtured by the Word.
For the well seasoned weekly worship can feel normal. But to those outside the church, what we do as a church is very strange.
To the world we are a bunch of people who sing unpopular songs, we read from an old and dusty book, we listen to someone offer remarks about the book that may, or may not, interest those listening, and then everyone stands up to eat and drink really small portions or bread and juice.
Worship is strange and yet worship changes things. And sometimes the thing that worship changes is us.
We are changed through a particularly powerful prayer that expresses thoughts/feelings/hopes/dreams/desires that we did not even know we had. We are changed through a handful of sentences in a sermon that proclaim our forgiveness and we actually feel our hearts strangely warmed. We are changed through water and bread and cup as God’s grace is communicated to us physically and tangibly.
And sometimes we are even changed in spite of worship!
For instance, C.S. Lewis came up with the idea for his remarkable book The Screwtape Letter during what he described as “one very boring sermon.” And I myself fell in love with the beauty of the Bible as a child because whenever I grew disinterested in whatever the preacher was talking about on a Sunday morning, I reached for the old book in the pew ahead of me and jumped into the strange new world of scripture.
Worship, week after week, gives us Jesus and we can’t help ourselves from making a joyful noise in return.
On Sunday, we praised God with the song “Great Are You Lord.” I’m not sure whether it was the ukulele, or the arrangement, or the lyrics, or all of them combined, but it knocked me hard in the chest. When those musical moments happen in worship, I know that we are in the presence of God whose Spirit is guiding, shaping, and leading us in the ways that lead to life. It is my hope and prayer that everyone feels compelled to make a joyful noise every single Sunday, but if not I am grateful I got to experience it on Sunday.
And so I conclude with the words from the song, and if you would like to watch/hear it you can do so here: (First Light Worship [the song starts at the 14:41 mark]).
You give life, You are love,
You bring light to the darkness.
You give hope, You restore
Every heart that is broken,
Great are You Lord.
It’s Your breath, in our lungs,
So we pour out our praise,
we pour out our praise.
It’s Your breath, in our lungs,
So we pour out our praise,
To You only.
All the earth will shout Your praise
Our hearts will cry, these bones will sing:
Great are You Lord!
It’s Your breath, in our lungs,
So we pour out our praise,
we pour out our praise.
It’s Your breath, in our lungs,
So we pour out our praise,
To You only.
Are any among you suffering? They should pray. Are any cheerful? They should sing songs of praise. Are any among you sick? They should call for the elders of the church and have them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord. The prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise them up; and anyone who has committed sins will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective. Elijah was a human being like us, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six month it did not rain on the earth. Then he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain and the earth yielded its harvest.
It was a typical Sunday morning with the typical Sunday crowd. We read, we sang, we listened, we gave, we received.
I announced the final hymn and we all started singing.
Over the horizon of my hymnal I took a glance at God’s church. I saw the woman who had recently confessed to me that she was about to divorce her husband, who was standing and singing right next to her. There was the teenage girl who was accepted to every college she applied for and was currently experiencing the paralysis of analysis as she had to make a decision about which one to attend. And I saw one of the ushers dart out the back door for a cigarette, a habit he shared that he was trying desperately to drop.
But before we had a chance to make it to the second verse, Don keeled over in his pew with a loud thud.
There was a panicked moment as everyone turned toward the pew in question. I ran from the altar, and gathered around the man with a few others. We, thankfully, had a few nurses in attendance that morning and they went quick to work – one of them checked his pulse, another stretched him out to help open his airway, and other was on the phone with the rescue squad.
I leaned close and asked if there was anything I could do, and one of the nurses shot me a quick glance and declared, a little louder than I would’ve liked, “You could start praying preacher.”
And so I did.
Right then and there I closed my eyes and feel to my knees and I started praying. Soon I felt fingers wrapping around my own on both sides, and when I opened my eyes at the end of the prayer, the rest of the church had joined in a large circle and all of us were praying together for Don.
The rescue squad arrived with my amen, and they took Don to the hospital.
And then we did the only thing we could, we finished the hymn.
An hour or so later I drove to the hospital to check on him and when I walked into his room he, miraculously, treated me with a big toothy smile and he said, “I learned my lesson preacher, no more skipping breakfast before church.”
For as long as I can remember, I have been my family’s designated pray-er. Whenever we get together, and the timing is appropriate, all eyes will shift in my general direction and I am expected to lift something up to Someone, namely God.
Going into the ministry only made it worse.
But, let me confess, I’ve never found prayer to be an “easy thing.” I’m not even fully sure how I learned to do it other than picking up the language while spending so much time in and around church. Over the years I have come to find the prayers of the church, that is those written on behalf of the body of Christ, to be absolutely necessary to the fiber of my being. I find great solace in offering words to God that have been offered by so many so many times before. And yet, to stand in this place week after week leading us in prayers is just as bewildering as praying in this room day after day when none of you are here.
What I’m trying to say is this: Prayer is at the heart of what it means to follow Christ and yet we so rarely talk and think about what prayer actually is.
James, the brother of the Lord, writes of prayer almost as if a foregone conclusion. If you’re suffering you should pray. If you’re cheerful, you should pray. If anyone is sick, they should ask for prayers. It’s as if the community called church to which James writes knows nothing except a life of prayer.
And yet, for many of us, myself included at times, we view prayer as a last resort.
When push comes to shove, we are far more inclined to take matters into our own hands, than we are to lay them before the throne of God. If we are the masters of our own destiny, who wants to bring God into the situation and run the risk of messing everything up?
And yet, prayer is about more than just offering up a laundry list to God.
Prayer is the expression of a relationship, it is (to use a seminary word) a dialectic. It is the back and forth between Creator and creature. Prayer is where Christianity becomes practical. Prayer is something we do. It is, oddly enough, who we are. We, the church, are God’s prayer for the world. Prayer is what separates us from any other communal organization.
But perhaps that’s getting a little too heady.
On a fundamental level, there are three types of prayers that can be summarized with three words: Help, Thanks, and Wow.
Prayer happens when we cry out for aid when there seems to be no aid around at all, it is the plea for help when we can no longer help ourselves.
Prayer also happens when we are able to take a look around and realize how amazingly blessed we are, it is the communication of gratitude toward the One through whom all blessing flow.
And prayer also happens in those remarkable moment of awe. The Wow prayer is more than thanks. It is more like, “I can’t believe what God was able to do considering the circumstances.”
Sometimes prayers are made possible through a lot of work and reflection. And sometimes they billow forth without us even really thinking about what it is we are doing when we are praying.
Karl Barth believed that to be a Christian and to pray were one and the same thing. Prayer is as necessary to a Christian as it is for a human being to breathe.
Faithful prayers are those that offer us up to possibility because prayer is the ultimate recognition that we are not in charge. Prayer deconstructs all of our preconceived notions about what is, and isn’t possible.
And, frustratingly, prayer teaches us what it means to be patient. Nobody likes being patient but life isn’t possible without it. Our world is based on speed but prayer is based on patience. Prayer is the reminder that God’s time is not our time, that God is God and we are not.
Put another way: Prayer is not about getting what we want, but what God wants.
I spent a lot of time this week asking people from the church and the community about answered prayers. And, wonderfully, every single person had an answer. I heard of job searches, and relationships, and children, and parents, and homes, and healings. On and on.
To me, this church is an answer to prayer…
The Good News of prayer is that God listens, God answers. Sometimes it occurs in ways we cannot know for a long long time. Sometimes God doesn’t answer our prayers, at least not the way we want. But this community is constituted by our prayers. Prayers is the fuel that makes the church the church.
But why continue talking about prayer when we can do it instead?
In just a few moments we are going to pray for one another. I know this won’t be easy, or comfortable, for a lot of us, but the church that prays together is, indeed, God’s church for the world. So we’re going to do it.
As you are able, I encourage you to find someone else in the church, you don’t have to wander too far, but find someone that is not part of your normal church orbit. And, if we have an odd number, whoever is left will have to pray with me, so that should encourage you to pair off speedily.
Once you find a prayer partner, I would like each person to have an opportunity to share something they need prayers for. There are absolutely other people in other places experiencing other things who need our prayers, but for the moment I would like us to be more personal. It doesn’t have to be an ultimate confessional moment, maybe the thing you need is more patience with your job or children, or maybe you feel confused about a decision and you could use some discernment.
Whatever the thing it, I want you to share it, and the person who hears it will pray about it. The prayer can be as simple as, “Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.” Or it can be filled with other words.
The point is, I want every person here to pray and to be prayed for today.
I know this is uncomfortable, but sometimes the most faithful things we do as disciples are born out of discomfort. So, let us pray…
The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!”
I have a conflicted and tumultuous relationship with church membership.
I went through confirmation as a tween-ager in my home United Methodist Church and became a member at the conclusion, though we never once talked about what that meant. Instead we watched the 6 hour long film Jesus of Nazareth over 6 different Sundays and talked about what prayer was supposed to look like and feel like.
But covenanting to support the church with my prayers, presence, gifts, service, and witness? Nope.
Additionally, when other people joined the church it would take place like this: The pastor would occasionally announce, right before the concluding hymn, that if anyone felt the Spirit moving them to join the church, then they could come forward and do so. And, occasionally, people would march forward, share their names and vocations before the benediction, and that was that.
Moreover, I am part of a generation that is deeply suspicious of joining anything.
Therefore, when it comes to church membership I often let people come to me with their questions rather than pushing people to join.
And, after serving the UMC for nearly a decade, I think I’ve been wrong.
My wrongness stems from the fact that I have treated membership to the church like membership to any other number of organizations, whereas to join the church as a member is actually a profound witness to our faith.
For example: There’s a bishop from another denomination (thankfully) that often tells a story about recruiting for a local seminary. Over the years the bishop would meet with candidates and at some point in the conversation he would say, “Why should I join the church?” And the candidates would often wax lyrical about the music program, or the value of community outreach, or the fellowship that is present on Sunday mornings, but not a single candidate ever said anything about Jesus.
The church is not the local symphony through which you can experience dynamic music every once in a while. The church is not yet another social agency through which you can feel better about making other people’s lives better. The church is not a country club through which you can meet people of a similar social strata.
The church can be like those things, but the one thing the church is and has that nothing else does is Jesus.
Therefore, to join the church as a member is a remarkable thing. It is a strange adventure that is made possible only by faith.
Notably, when the Lord teaches the disciples about forgiveness they can’t wrap their heads around it. It would be one thing if Jesus told them they should try to forgive one another but instead he tells them they can never stop forgiving one another. That runs against everything the world teaches us. But forgiveness is the currency of the kingdom, and of the church.
If we insist on being right and perfect and only ever surrounding ourselves with right and perfect people then, according to the Lord, our lives will be miserable and boring.
The church, then, stands as a dynamic witness to the power of the Spirit. The great gifts of the church include connecting us with people we would otherwise never connect with, the sacraments that make our lives intelligible in the first place, and the promise of the empty tomb that offers us a new past where we are no longer defined by our mistakes and a new future where resurrection is reality.
I didn’t know what I was getting into when I became a member of my home church, but it was the difference that made all the difference in the world. It was the difference because, week after week, the church gave me Jesus.
In the end, the church is a miracle and, like the early disciples, we need all the faith we can get for it to be the blessing that it is and can be.
Therefore, if you are not (yet) a member of a church, I encourage you to prayerfully consider joining. It will take faith, but even faith the size of a mustard seed is enough in the kingdom of God.
Then Jesus said to the disciples, “There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that his man was squandering his property. So he summoned him and said to him, ‘What is this that I hear about you? Give me an accounting of your management, because you cannot be my manager any longer.’ Then the manager said to himself, ‘What will I do, now that my master is taking the position away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg. I have decided what to do so that, when I am dismissed as manager, people may welcome me into their homes.’ So, summoning his master’s debtors one by one, he asked the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ He answered, ‘A hundred jugs of olive oil.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it fifty.’ Then he asked another, ‘And how much do you owe?’ He replied, ‘A hundred containers of wheat.’ He said to him ‘Take your bill and make it eighty.’ And his master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly; for the children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light. And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes. Whoever if faithful in a very little is faithful also in much; and whoever is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much. If then you have not been faithful with the dishonest wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? And if you have not been faithful with what belongs to another, who will give you what is your own? No slave can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.
I would like to have a word with whomever decided this would be the text for today. It’s one thing to assign different, and even strange, texts to retired clergy filling in while a certain pastor was on paternity leave. But for that pastor to return after a month only to dust off the homiletical muscles with the hardest parable?
Who thought this would be a good idea?
Apparently I did months ago when I chose this text for this Sunday.
Some fools for Christ are just fools.
Even if you’ve only spent a little time reading the Bible, it is clear that some of the stories that Jesus tells are in need of an editor’s touch. Or, as we might say in this part of Virginia, they need fixin’.
Here are a few examples: The parable of the so-called Good Shepherd. Jesus says the kingdom of God is like a shepherd who goes off in search of one lost sheep. A quaint little tale. We might even like it. We certainly enjoy telling it to children during Vacation Bible School. But do you know what happens when you leave behind the ninety nine in search for the one lost? Ninety nine more lost sheep. It’s not way to run a business!
Or, the parable of the Good Samaritan. I’d rather us call it the Dumb Samaritan. This fool comes across a beaten and bedraggled figure on the side of the road, and puts him up in the four seasons and leaves his Amex card behind for any additional charges. Bad idea!
And then there’s the creme de la creme – The Prodigal. A son commands his father to drop dead, runs off and ruins his inheritance, only to come home with a pitiful repentance worked up in his head and his aforementioned father throws him the greatest block party in history before the kid even gets a chance to apologize.
And then Jesus does it again!
The Pharisees, good religious folk like us, heaven’t even had a chance to lift their jaws off the ground when Jesus tells another story.
There was a man who worked for an investment bank. And, after a few ill advised stock purchases, the CEO marches into his office and says, “You’re fired. I want this office cleared by the end of the day and I’m taking a deeper look into all your recent trades.”
The money-manager finds himself going down the elevator with a cardboard box of office trinkets and thinks to himself, “What am I going to do? I’m too old to go back to school and I’m too proud to beg!” And then he gets an idea. He still has the company credit card in his wallet and he calls us some of his best clients and takes them out to lunch. In between appetizers, and glasses of wine, he pulls out his phone and starts typing away reducing the debt of his soon-to-be former clients knowing that even though he is no longer employed, it helps to have well connected people in your debt.
And then, Jesus says, the CEO calls up his the fired money manager and congratulates him: You have acted shrewdly; for the children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light.
That’s not a very responsible story Jesus! I don’t know if that’s the type of tale we want people hearing in church. Shouldn’t end more like this?
And the CEO calls up the fired money manager and rips into him yet again for being such a conniving no good dirty rotten scoundrel. And Jesus looks out at the crowds and commands them to live honest and virtuous lives.
The great challenge of the parables, this one included, is that Jesus tells them because they are true, and not because the actions of the characters in them can be recommendations for imitation. Good Samaritans are often taken advantage of. Any shepherd who makes a practice of leaving the ninety-nine behind is quick to go out of the sheep-keeping business. Any Father who throws a party for a wayward child is rightly rebuked for encouraging bad behavior. And any money manager who swindles clients, or bosses, out of money will usually spend some time paying for their crime.
And yet, the parables are not stories about us. The parables are stories that Jesus tells about himself.
Which means, oddly enough, Jesus is the shepherd to risks it all on the one who is lost. Jesus is the Samaritan who lavishly helps those down in the ditch. Jesus is the Father who forgives before apologies are offered. And Jesus is the unjust steward, the dishonest manager, who fudges the account, our accounts, when we don’t deserve it.
Don’t get me wrong, this is, indeed, the hardest parable. For some strange reason the master in the story praises the shrewdness of the steward. In a matter of verses the master goes from wanting to ring his neck to congratulating him for his bizarre intellect. The master goes from being an insufferable ledger keeper to the strange celebrator of the Good News.
And it doesn’t make any sense. Just like the shepherd, the samaritan, and the prodigal, these stories don’t make sense.
But this one really takes the cake.
Even St. Augustine once said he refused to believe this story came from the lips of Jesus.
And yet, here it is. And we all just said, “Thanks be to God” after it was read!
What makes this parable the hardest is the fact that no preacher can water it down or manipulate it enough to make it say something that it doesn’t. Perhaps it would make more sense if the dishonest manager was punished for his crimes, or, at the very least, the money he stole from his master was given away to the poor like a first century Robin Hood.
But instead, the unjust steward is a liar, a cheater, and a thief. And Jesus has him commended, rewarded even, for what he did.
And yet the “what he did” in that sentence betrays the immensity of what transpires in the parable. You see, grace only works on those it finds dead enough to raise.
And, just as sure as you and I are in this room, the unjust steward was dead. Dead as a doornail. While the nails are hammered into his vocational coffin, he makes life a little easier for others by wiping away their debt. But he is not the only one who dies. The master dies as well, he dies to his bookkeeping.
This is such a strange and bizarre story that it should leave us scratching our heads, but perhaps it should make us laugh. Grace is the divine lark offered to a world so sin-sick with seriousness that it can even stop to enjoy the roses.
This parable is outrageous, but so is the Gospel.
It is everything for nothing. It is Good News for a world drowning in bad news. It is life out of death.
What makes the parables true is that they describe who God is. Every single parable, from mustard seeds to wedding banquets to unjust stewards, are about the foolishness by which Grace raises the dead. They describe in weird, wild, and wonderful ways how God is in the business of making something out of our nothing, of making the impossible possible, and making a way where there is no way.
Jesus is the unjust steward. The misguided money manger dies to his career and rises with forgiveness, just like Jesus. By his death and resurrection he resurrects others wiping away their debts, just like Jesus. But most of all, the dishonest manager is Jesus because he is a crook.
Christ the crook: words I never thought I’d say from the pulpit but here we are!
We often betray the reckless nature of the Messiah today with our songs and our paintings. We like our Jesus well manicured with perfect morality and good manners.
But this parable, and all the rest of them for that matter, is a ringing reminder that grace cannot come through respectability or through achievement or through perfection.
Grace comes only through losing.
Grace works for losers and only losers, the only problem is that no one wants to hang out with losers.
No one, that is, except for Jesus.
Jesus spent his life among the last, least, lost, little, and dead. Jesus broke the Sabbath, consorted with criminals, supped with sinners, and he died the death of an insurrectionist. Jesus became sin for us sinners, weak for us weaklings, lost for is losers, and even dead for those of us who go around pretending we’ve got it all figured out when we don’t have much to show for our so-called lives.
It’s almost as if, parable after parable, Jesus is begging us to see ourselves for who we really are.
Have you ever noticed that whenever Jesus says he came to seek and save sinners, we always imagine that Jesus is talking other people and not us?
Why is it that, when we encounter the truly Good News even in this parable, we are offended by it rather than rejoicing because of it?
Because when it comes to our accounts, our debt to sin is not something we can repay. Each and every one of us, the tall and the small, we all do things we know we shouldn’t and we all avoid doing things we know we should. And it’s hard to admit the truth of who we are. That’s why we bristle at the parables, not just because they tell us the truth of God, but because they also tell us the truth about ourselves.
Namely: we’re just a bunch of lost and wandering sheep, stuck in the ditches of our own making, constantly squandering the gifts of God, with no hope in the world unless the hope of the world decides to fudge the accounts in our favor.
In the words of Anne Lamott: everyone is screwed up, broken, clingy, scared, even the people who seem to have it more or less together. They are much more like you and me than we would believe.
Which, oddly enough, is Good News. Really Good News. Because, in the end, Christ is not interested in role models, moral perfectionists, or those who have it all together. Jesus comes for people like us whose ledgers are brimming with failure, and those who can’t find a way out of the mess we’ve made, in order to set us free.
It’s outrageous. And it just so happens to be the Gospel. Amen.
In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old mens shall dream dreams. Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy.
When I first started in ministry I received my first office visitor before I preached my first sermon. There were still boxes upon boxes of books scattered across the floor when a well dressed gentleman gently knocked on the door. I remember being lost in thought about what to say from the pulpit on my introductory Sunday when the man offered his hand and said, “I’m your local state representative, and as one of our community’s leads I want to welcome you to this place we call home.”
I was flabbergasted. What a remarkably kind and thoughtful thing to do! Here I was, a 25 year old freshly graduated seminarian and he took the time to find me and welcome me.
We talked for a few minutes about the town before he announced that he needed to return to his own office. I thanked him profusely for the visit and just before he walked down the hall he said something I’ll never forget. With a casual grin he looked over his shoulder and said, “I always appreciate my pastors putting in a good word from the pulpit if you know what I mean.”
And with that he walked away.
Here in the United States we operate under the auspices of the (so-called) separation of church and state. It is certainly a worthy goal, but it is not necessarily present in reality; the church and the state are forever getting intertwined.
In most communities church fellowship halls are voting locations, political candidates are often quick to share their religious affiliations, and we put all sorts of theological language on political items like currency, legislature, and judicial proceedings (to name a few).
Even though the country was founded on a separation of church and state, Christians in the US have played the political game for so long that we can almost no longer differentiate between the country and the Lord, something that scripture (and Jesus) calls idolatry.
We might not like to think about the church as a political entity, and we might even lament those moments when the church hedges a little too close to the supposed line, but the church is a politic. And it’s Jesus’ fault.
In Luke’s gospel, Jesus begins his ministry by reading from the scroll of Isaiah: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” And then he has the gall to say, “This scripture is being fulfilled in me.”
This first century wandering rabbi starts it all off with promises about prison reform, political liberation, and economic redistribution!
Later, Jesus enters the holiest of cities on the back of a donkey like a revolutionary. The crowds welcome the King of kings with songs and shouts of resistance to the powers that be, expecting him to lead an armed rebellion against the empire.
The following day Jesus strolls through the temple courts and drives out the merchants for their economic chicanery. Next he condemns the tax system, ridicules the abuses of the religious authorities, and predicts the destruction of the indestructible temple.
For this, and more, he is arrested, condemned, and executed by the religious authorities and the political authorities together. Moreover, the sign adorned on the cross, Jesus’ instrument of capital punishment, reads: “This is the King of the Jews.”
And then, on Pentecost, the Holy Spirit is poured out on all flesh filling the people of God with a bold and wondrous hope for things not yet seen: a strange new world. A strange new world in which slaves are set free, outcasts are summoned home, and everything is turned upside down.
It might seem banal to confess Jesus as Lord, but it is not just a personal opinion. Confessing the lordship of Christ is quite possibly the most political statement a Christian can ever make. For, if Jesus is lord then no one else is.
Every year we mark the occasion of Pentecost in worship because the political ramifications are still echoing across the centuries. The same Spirit poured out on Pentecost fills us today with the strength and the wisdom and the grace to be God’s people in the world. Without the church, the world cannot know how beautiful things could be.
On Pentecost we are reminded that before we are anything else, we are Jesus people. No matter how much we think we are bonded by the names on our bumper stickers or by the animals (elephants and donkeys) of our political persuasions, nothing can hold a flame to the bonds formed in the waters of baptism and by the most political animal of all: the Lamb of God who comes to take away the sins of the world.
Which is all just another way of saying: On Pentecost things get political, and it’s all Jesus’ fault.
I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.
In 1905 the Daily News in London published a piece titled, “What’s Wrong With The World?” and they asked for answers to their query. Hundreds of individuals responded with hundreds of examples. GK Chesterton, writer and theologian, simply responded with two words: “I am.”
There are many versions of Christianity in the world. And not just the different denominations you can find throughout your neighborhood like Presbyterians, Episcopalians, Baptists, Catholics, etc. Even within “one” church like the United Methodist Church there is a great diversity of opinion about what it means to be a United Methodist.
But the one thing that might unite all churches, even more than our commitment to baptism or communion, is a desire to appear as welcoming and as inclusive as possible.
All you need to do is check a church website, or a front lawn marquee, and you can find a self-imposed description that says something like: we are an open, friendly, inclusive, and welcoming church.
In the UMC we like to say that we have open hearts, open minds, open doors.
What a righteous slogan.
The only problem is the fact that we regularly close off our affections toward certain people, we are clearly cemented in “the ways things were” rather than the way things can be, and more often than not the doors to the church are locked.
Inclusivity is the buzzword among most, if not all, churches these days. Though, we are not altogether clear about what it really means to be inclusive. True inclusivity, after all, is not just a matter of having different kinds of people sitting in the pews on Sunday morning; true inclusivity means a total and unwavering commitment to something that is frankly impossible for us: love.
I know that might sound strange: the impossibility of love in the church. But it is, in fact, against our nature. We can’t, or at the very least don’t, love everyone.
It’s like those churches with signs on the front lawn proudly claiming: “Hate Has No Place Here.”
That’s a worthy hope, but it isn’t true.
All of us have hate in us whether we like to admit it or not. And, to make matters worse, saying that hate has no place in church affirms that the church hates people who hate!
It is true that we are commanded, by God, to love one another just as Christ loved us. And yet, sometimes, I fear we confuse the two. That is: we assume that we have to love one another in order to get God to love us. When, in fact, the opposite is true: God loves us, and when we come to grips with how strange it is to be loved by God, we are then freed to love one another with the same reckless abandon that God loves us.
Notably, Jesus commands the disciples to love one another (as Jesus loves them) right after the foot washing. It’s this remarkable moment that encapsulates the humility (read: humanity) of God). And then, shortly thereafter, the disciples betray, deny, and abandon God to the cross.
If the story ended with the cross, none of us would have ever heard about Jesus. But the cross is just the beginning because three days later Jesus is raised from the dead. And not only is Jesus raised from the dead, but he returns to the same disciples who failed to respond to the commandment of love!
We worship an odd God. Jesus chooses the unworthy and undeserving ragtag group of unloving disciples to be the people through whom the world is turned upside down. In short: there is nothing that can ever stop God from loving us.
Therefore, if there is anything truly inclusive about the church it is not our love for one another, but God’s love for us. It is the triune God who opens up the floodgates of grace to wash away our sins. It is the triune God who opens up our eyes to view others in ways we never have before. It is God who opens up the doors of the church to be a new community where strangers now are friends.
The proclamation of the Gospel is that God loves us even though we are what’s wrong with the world. But, at the same time, the Gospel is an adventure in which God’s love actually changes us so that we might begin to love one another.
Years ago I was asked to preside over the funeral for a man who drove me crazy. He was older than dirt and he treated people like dirt and just about once a week someone from the church would wander into my office in tears because of what the man had said to them.
And then he died.
In the days leading up to his service of death and resurrection I lamented the fact that hardly anyone would be coming. Even though he pushed all my buttons, no one should be laid to rest without a church to worship in the midst of it all.
And so it came to pass that I stood at the doors of the church in my robe ready to begin the service for a small scattering of people when, all the sudden, cars started streaming into the parking lot. One by one church members who had been so wronged by the man during his life paraded into the sanctuary for worship.
The last person to cross the threshold was a fiery old woman who was a regular target of the now-dead man’s insults and I grabbed her by the arm and said, “What are you doing here? I thought you hated him.”
To which she replied, “Preacher, don’t we worship the God who commands us to love our enemies? Didn’t you say, just last week, that even the worst stinker in the world is someone for whom Christ died? Don’t the scriptures remind us there is nothing that can get between us and the love of God in Christ Jesus? Then so be it!”
And with that she marched right into the sanctuary for worship.
Love one another just as I have loved you – easier said than done. But without love, we have nothing.
There’s a lot of talk about acceptance/tolerance in the church today. We ask people to be more understanding of others, we create curricula of theological teachings that are so watered down so as to say not much of anything, and we assume that being Christians is the same thing as being nice.
But how would you like to be the one tolerated?
Tolerance is always a position for those who are in power. And the kind of power we have in the church is best exemplified in the One whose arms were outstretched on the hard wood of the cross. Put another way: We Christians do well to remember that we worship the crucified God.
Tolerance, therefore, is not something we should be in the business of. If the church is in the business of anything, it is the Jesus business.
And the Jesus business is run by forgiveness.
Hymn 560 in the United Methodist Hymnal is titled “Help Us Accept Each Other.” It is a catchy little tune of self-congratulation that is indicative of a church that no longer has anything left to say. If Jesus came so that we would merely accept each other, then there’s no good reason for him to die on a cross. You only kill someone when their very being in the world threatens to upend everything you think you know about the world.
Jesus died on a cross because his existence in the world called into question the powers and principalities that produce a vision of tolerance rather than an ethic of sacrificial love.
At the heart of Christianity is the proclamation that Jesus loves us even though Jesus shouldn’t love us. We all do things we shouldn’t do and we all avoid doing things we should do.
The “church of acceptance” leads to the fundamentally unchristian sentiment of “Love The Sinner, Hate The Sin.” We all know we’re supposed to love sinners, that’s what Jesus did. And yet, Jesus does not call us, his followers, to love sinners, but to love our neighbors.
The distinction is important. “Loving sinners” places us in the position of power in regard to others whereas “loving neighbors” reminds us that we, ourselves, are also sinners.
In the lexicon of the church this is made manifest whenever we gather at the table and hear: “Christ died for us while we were yet sinners, and that proves God’s love toward us. In the name of Jesus Christ, you are forgiven.”
While we were yet sinners. Not before and not after. But right smack dab in the midst of our sins, God in Christ loves us and forgives us.
That’s rather staggering. It’s staggering because we simply don’t deserve it.
Consider the parables: More often than not they end with someone throwing our the ledger book, or offering mercy before an apology, or being invited to a banquet they have no business attending.
Or consider Jesus’ life: He pronounces forgiveness from the cross, reconciles with the abandoning disciples in the upper room, chooses the murderous Paul to be the CEO (chief evangelist officer) of the first century.
Jesus knows the prejudices we’re ashamed of (and the ones we’re proud of), Jesus knows the golden calves we worship instead of Him, Jesus knows our self-centeredness, and Jesus still says, “I forgive you.”
Jesus has seen all the emails we craft out of anger but are too afraid to send, Jesus witnesses the manifold ways we lie to our families and friends, Jesus is aware of our internet search histories, and Jesus still says, “I forgive you.”
Jesus is there with us in the comments we leave on Facebook, Jesus hears us when we scream in the car hoping no one else can hear us, Jesus knows about the biggest mistake we’ve ever made, and Jesus still says, “I forgive you.”
Perhaps, then, we should change the words to the aforementioned tepid tune in the church:
Help us forgive each other as Christ forgives us;
Teach us as sister, brother, each person to embrace.
Be present, Lord, among us, and bring us to believe
We are ourselves forgiven and meant to love and live.