[The First Sunday in Lent, February 29, 2004; Luke 4:1-13;
preached at St. Peter’s Church, Cheshire, CT; the new rector was concerned the congregation had not had serious adult education for a long time; she invited Mr. Schwab to preach and to lead the first adult forum for Lent which followed the liturgy; the rector had noted that, while the members made the church an open and welcoming place, they probably needed help to connect their church life with their daily living more.]
Jesus has to figure out how he will carry on his mission as part of God’s reign. He’s in a hungry land run by a powerful government with people who go for spectacle rather than coping with the realities. He’s tempted to produce free food for all; to force people into living right; and to entertain them with tricks. Real temptations! Truly evil, devil-filled temptations.
We face temptations too. Our communion has rich liturgy, free inquiry, and room for many forms of faith. And we know how to be warm and friendly and caring. It’s a rich household of faith. In the midst of such riches, we can be tempted too. Tempted to go no further than inspiring worship, roomy belief, and hospitality. We can be tempted to avoid the deeper things – sharing our hurts and hopes so we can help each other to grow and living – living – the actual connection between our worship and our daily lives. There are ways out of these two temptations – with God’s help. We are not customers who have come here to get our money’s worth. We are here to be transformed.
I have a great big Webster’s dictionary. It is 5 and 1/2 inches thick. It has many meanings for transform. One I like is “change of heart.” We are here to be changed from the inside out. Who does not want a change of heart? Who does not want to be more loving and caring than he is? Who does not want to be more just or fair than she is? How will God open our hearts to change?
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Margot knew the people of her congregation needed a change of heart. She planned their annual parish weekend around a daylong sharing of how they were living as Christ’s people. They did a very simple thing. They wrote how they were trying to make life better right where they were – in their homes, their work places, their neighborhoods and towns, their recreation, even the wider world of the values and policies of the state and the nation – and, yes, in their church, their spiritual health and their part in the life of the congregation. Then they shared their lives – but with people they did not know or, at least, did not know very well. And you should have seen the excitement! They were getting to know some of these nodding acquaintances better than their close church friends! And, they could tell they were beginning to change from the inside out already! The leader had to ring a loud bell to get their attention. Even Tom who had come only to run the camcorder got involved!
This story teaches at least one important lesson. Arrange ways for church people to share how they are actually living in their various daily places – their homes, their work, their neighborhoods, and so on. Not only will they share but they will find unexpected power and growth. Just being listened to tells you that you are valued. You sense a power at work in you that you had not recognized. Whenever you seek to be loving and just, you are part of God’s mission among us. God is here to overcome evil and to bring love and justice. Those people in Margot’s congregation were part of God’s mission already! The kingdom of God was at hand – at their own hands! They were already being changed from the inside out. And it happened so simply. All they did was share what they were doing day by day to make life better – more loving and more just – God’s own work!
There is no magic here. These folks were Jesus’ people just sharing what they believed Jesus wanted them to be doing. And Jesus was transforming them as they talked. You could see it in their light in their eyes. You could hear it in the excitement of their voices – not loud roars like the Super Bowl crowd but the growing intensity of people talking about what mattered to them. There’s no mystery here. Just plan to do it and do it.
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And what about that other temptation of not getting worship and life together? Here’s one way to put them together – rather to discover they are together and you are just catching up to that truth. When Jesus’ people gather at Jesus’ table, start with that bread on the table at the door. Put your daily life into that bread. Become one of its bakers. Christians offer the whole world when we offer the bread. Offer your whole life this past week. And offer your whole life this coming week. Put all of you’re trying to love and be fair in your daily places into that bread. There’s room for it. Our supermarket sells 12-grain bread. Jesus’ bread has room for all the grains of all of us. In your preparation the night before or in a quiet moment while you prepare for church, recall each of your daily places and what you are doing there right now. Say, “Lord, when I get to church, make room for all of those places in your bread.” And offer a short prayer as you come in: “Lord, here are my missions this week. Knead them into your loaf.” You know the motions of kneading bread. See Jesus kneading his life into your life – adding his power to your limited power. I know it’s already baked but, but see Jesus remixing and kneading and baking it. Here are what two of Jesus’ people kneaded into Jesus’ bread recently.
Susan put in the bread her week’s work on the town council – planning a farmer’s market in the town park. And in the wider world, she put in her asking both big political parties to back legislation for cleaner water in the state. And she put in her witness to her husband – a person who lives his rich values but is not a church person. This week she said, “You may not know who leads you but I do.” He smiled. This was her church mission this week. She kneads her life – her “missions” – in her community, the wider world, and her church life into the bread.
Pete kneads his past week into that bread, too. Pete runs the insurance section of a large law firm. He puts in his week’s work to build a climate where his coworkers can learn from their mistakes – rather than be rebuked for them. How much they appreciate it! And, into that bread, Pete puts the pain of his son, the high school senior, who still is not getting the family counselor’s constant message: “Deal with reality – these English papers have to be done.” And, this week he was able to get home from a business trip a day early just to hang out with the family. Happily, he kneads that into the bread. He is putting his “missions” in his daily work, his family, and his leisure time into the bread.
Then, as the liturgy continues, all the Susans and all the Petes see – with eyes of faith – Jesus giving thanks with each of them; praying for each of them; adding his presence and life and power to cope with evil to their life once more; breaking the bread and their lives because being loving and just anywhere costs; and giving that bread and their daily missions back to them strengthened for another week by his presence and power.
The more all the Susans and Petes of all ages see with eyes of faith that this is what Jesus is doing at his table and in their lives – the more they cultivate these eyes of faith, the more Jesus transforms them – changes them from the inside out, from the heart. And the word will get around. This Jesus kneads the life of everyone into his bread of life. He is the greatest host of life. His hospitality spreads to the ends of the earth – indeed, the whole of the universe – even the parts the Hubble telescope has yet to find!
And the miracle of life in Jesus Christ continues for more and more Susans and Petes as they find their way into those growing church groups that meet regularly to share their daily missions, to hear the support and counsel of others, and to pray for each other’s daily missions until they meet again.
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Hear these words from the risen Lord: “As the Father has sent me, so I send you. . . Receive the Holy Spirit.” And “Lo, I am with you to the end of the age – to the end of every day and every week – week by week by week . . . until the whole of the universe is caught into the life of God.”