Sermon delivered at St. Andrew’s Lutheran Church, Perkasie, PA & the Lutheran Community at Telford, Telford, PA
Grace and peace to you from God, our Source, and our Brother and Lord Jesus Christ.
As Pastor Krey, I’m sure, knows well: a big part of being your pastor is going out and being in your community. Pastor Krey is always out making visits with new members (apparently 500 since he’s been with you)! And we both like to have meetings in public places, to let people know we are here and unashamed of God’s call upon us. And just this week, as you might have seen on Facebook, Jenna Detweiler and I were in Harrisburg with lots of other people of faith talking to our state Senators about what they can do to help end hunger and food insecurity in PA.
When Pastor Krey and I do all this public stuff, it’s a kind of evangelism. He and I both are kinda traditional in many ways, and in public we very often wear our clerical collars. In doing this, we are sharing that our relationships with Christ stirs us to action, to be public figures of hope and peace and justice.
But people have all kinds of reactions to us and these symbols of God and the Church. And these reactions run the whole gamut, from folks who’ve been hurt by the Church with very angry words, to great kindness and generosity, even free stuff for Pastor Krey over at The Perk!
So, most recently, I was out running an errand with my collar on. And an older gentleman eyed me, and said, “You look like you know the Lord.” Taken aback a little I said, “Yes, well, I guess I do!”
He introduced himself—let’s say his name was Frank. Frank and I shook hands, and I introduced myself, “I’m Joshua Sullivan, pastor over at St. Andrew’s Lutheran in Perkasie.”
And Frank said this, “Oh! I was Lutheran for over 40 years… until I found Jesus and was saved.”
He then said, “God bless you,” and quickly made his exit.
And I felt so sad. But not for myself or for our Lutheran tradition! I still feel sad because clearly someone had let him down. As a Church, how many other folks too have we failed to show where Jesus is and what it means to be saved?
For 40 years Frank was meeting Christ in the Lord’s Supper, and Frank’s being saved was revealed the moment he was baptized I’m sure as a little baby, but I guess no one ever told him about it…
I felt sad, sure, but I also knew as I was getting into my car and thinking about this encounter that this was the Holy Spirit handing me this week’s sermon illustration! Because, despite what Frank was trying to imply about our different flavors of Christianity: Jesus is here and God has already saved every one of you.
Christ is less like a fixed package that we must accept. And more like an always growing relationship given to us. And I know our Scripture lessons today will help to show you this…
The story of Lydia from Acts is one of my favorites. So, here, the Holy Spirit gives Paul a vision. And says, go to Macedonia. Paul goes. He goes and finds some women and Lydia by the river. The point here: the Holy Spirit sent Paul to find Lydia. Lydia did not find God all by herself.
Acts goes on and says this, “The Lord opened her heart to listen eagerly to what was said by Paul.” It was the Lord who opened her heart. And she and her whole household were baptized and made part of God’s family, the Church.
Our Gospel lesson from John says essentially the same thing. It is the Lord who comes to us, the Word made flesh comes to us, as we gather here in worship, as we read Scripture, and as we come to the Communion Table.
Jesus in John says, “Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.” Jesus goes on, “I have said these things to you while I am still with you, but the Helper, the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you.”
As Emily and Emily and Alaina who are coming to the Communion Table for the first time this morning know: they didn’t choose God. They were only little babies when we all learned that God chose them. The Holy Spirit, the Lord, opened the hearts of their parents, who with hope and joy brought them to baptism, to the waters of life. And the Lord, the Holy Spirit, put the words of instruction into the mouths of their Sunday school teachers and all the leaders and pastors they have known. It is the Holy Spirit that has taught them everything, Scripture says, and reminds them of all that Jesus has said to them.
Scripture today says a powerful thing: no one finds God. Nobody really finds Jesus. According to the Book of Acts and the Gospel of John today God finds us. In our baptism the Holy Spirit is poured into us, and the Holy Spirit is given to us and makes us believe.
This is a very big thing to say, that only God finds us. Because what about all the people that don’t gather with us here? Are they abandoned by God? To this I will say: don’t be so sure you know who God has found, and who God is still looking for! You see, Frank was quite sure he knew that no one here had found Jesus. And he would be very mistaken.
And it makes me so sad that Frank felt so powerfully betrayed by his Lutheran tradition. It’s our own fault, of course, I take ownership of this failure as a leader. God certainly will find all peoples, of all nations, as the Book of Revelation describes today. But there are two places that God has promised to be: one is the waters of baptism, and the other is the communion meal. Jesus has promised he will find us at the table. We need to share our experience of God here, with everyone!
As Emily, Emily, Laney and I were studying about communion, we read a lot of stories about Jesus and meals. Jesus ate meals with lots of people. He ate meals with people called “bad,” and with people called “good.” He ate meals with lots and lots of people outside, and with his closest friends and disciples inside. Jesus was eating with people all over the place. And Jesus’s habit of sharing tables with lots of people was his way of saying, “I love you. I want you. You matter to me. There is a place for you here.”
Did you notice what came next after Lydia and her household were baptized? The Book of Acts says, “She urged us, saying, ‘If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come and stay at my home.’” That is to say: they all went over to Lydia’s place for a meal.
You know what John’s Gospel says about those who love Jesus? Just like Lydia learned to love from Paul, like we learn and strive to love? Jesus says, “My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.” God’s home is with us, in us. Jesus always comes over for dinner.
Now, it’s no coincidence that we call this dinner, this meal, comm-union. Having things in common, sharing—being together, being in union. In this very simple, very ordinary looking meal, not only does the Holy Spirit we received at baptism nudge us to come, not only is Jesus at the table, there’s one thing more.
As part of the first communion instruction with the girls I asked them to write a short prayer they could say as they waited to come up and receive the bread and wine for the first time. And one of the gals wrote a prayer asking God to bless some of her loved ones who had recently died.
And the Holy Spirit in me told her that was a very beautiful and appropriate prayer because not only do we meet Jesus in this meal, but we join in communion with every person from every time and place—those living and those who have entered God’s eternity—all God’s people are at this meal with us.
In this meal, time breaks apart and eternity comes and finds us here. It is for this very mysterious reason that Holy Communion is such a wonderful way to commemorate our loved ones who have died, especially for Memorial Day. When we eat this bread and drink from this cup together we do so with all God’s people. This is what it means to be saved, to know that all people are found by God. And this meal is the reminder that the Holy Spirit has given to us. When God claims us in baptism, and when we come to this meal, God reminds us that we belong to God.
And this relationship with God never ends. Communion is our tangible reminder, a real, hands-on thing we can touch and taste. To be saved is to know we always have a place at this table. All our loved ones, all God’s people, all of creation is around this dinner table. And the laughter and the conversation and the joy—on the great big back porch of eternity, as I like to call it—it never ends.
Come, and be found by Jesus here.
Come, and hear the Holy Spirit remind that you are indeed saved.