Easter Unfolding

A sermon based on Psalm 116 and Luke 24:13-35 preached on April 30th, 2017

Sermon audio

The ability to see is granted gently.

Throughout scripture, God’s very presence is described as light. The kind of light that overwhelms us, the kind our eyes are not built to withstand or make any sense of.

When God comes to His people, it’s always with a blinding truth that none of us are able to handle. Think of Moses at the burning bush. On fire but not consumed. Think of Sinai, the mountain that only Moses could ascend. He climbed into God’s radiating company. After those mountaintop conversations with God, Moses had to cover his face with a veil, or else the afterglow of God was enough to blind the Israelites.

I imagine every time he stood atop Sinai, Moses shook all over from a reverent fear—an overwhelmed and overwhelming sense of the Holy that not one of us are built to witness. Not many of us could withstand such a sight.

God knows this about us. God was careful with Moses, and God is gentle with us, too. God grants us the ability to see, but He grants it to us gently. Our eyes adjust slowly to new rays of light. That’s why Easter comes not all at once, but over all these days and weeks after Jesus’ resurrection. God unfolds the Truth of Easter slowly. One sign at a time, and only when our eyes and ears, hearts and minds are ready to see it.

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No one has ever found Emmaus. Thousands, perhaps millions, of maps have been unfolded, unearthed, and unrolled from their ancient containers, combed over with magnifying glasses in case its name has faded away, but Emmaus has never been discovered. Perhaps it was never a place—or at least no place in particular.

And Cleopas. Who’s Cleopas? We don’t know really. He wasn’t one of the Twelve, but he was a disciple of Jesus all the same. He and his unnamed traveling companion—they were walking away. Away from Jerusalem. And toward who knows where or what. Maybe they didn’t even know. All they knew was that something they had given their lives to had come to an end. It all had unraveled in the course of the last three days. Along the way to Emmaus, they recounted their time with Jesus to each other. All the places He had taken them.

Wouldn’t we like to know all they were saying to each other. They must have recounted His words. His teachings. They must have laughed at themselves for never understanding any of His parables. What was Jesus trying to say, anyway?!

They must have had conversations along the Road about all the healings they witnessed. The way Jesus talked about God as if He knew God’s own heart—or had God’s own mind. What’s not to be astonished by? How could they ever forget?

They must have recounted that last week with Jesus over and over again while they walked away. The conflict in the Temple. That last meal together. The words Jesus had spoken around that table—this is my body broken;  this is my blood poured. Those sleepy moments in the Garden of Gethsemane when their Master went off on His own to pray. The two of them must have poured over every detail of what happened next. The arrest. The chaos of it. It all happened so fast. The next time they saw Jesus, He was hanging on a cross. Then the burial. How many tears were shed along that road as these last few days unfolded again and again in their memories? How do you walk away from all that?

They were going back to their old lives. They were walking away from the last three years of following Jesus. All of it having unraveled into nothing right in front of them.

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It’s in the thick of their grief, the fog of all this loss, that Jesus comes along. Appearing to them as a fellow companion along their journey away. Anonymous. Just a stranger keeping them company. He walks with them slowly. Nobody’s in a rush here. There’s nowhere specific to go now—nothing left to do anymore, or so they thought. This is slow time along a lost and dusty road. Jesus had so much to share with them. So much to prove to them, but Jesus is patient with them. God grants us the ability to see, but He grants it to us gently. Our eyes adjust slowly to new rays of light. Jesus knows this about us.

It’s along a road like this, with stories shared like these, that the truth of Easter should strike us not as an event that occurred, but a path on which we stand. A journey we take. A direction we walk. Easter, as well as the resurrection that comes with it, they are not one-time events frozen in place along a timeline. They are a constant unfolding of truth that takes place right in front of us. Easter resurrection is a way for us to encounter Jesus no matter when or where we are.

Emmaus maybe be a lost destination so far as maps are concerned, but we know where it is, because we’ve been there before. Emmaus is all the in-between places in our lives. It’s the ground we stand on when we don’t know exactly where we stand or what we stand for. There are many Emmauses. It’s in the middle of these Emmaus moments that Jesus arrives.

What are you discussing as you walk along?

He says.

Jesus companions with us in these places, but He doesn’t reveal himself—not at first, not in any obvious way—because He knows that our faith cannot yet handle a revelation. We aren’t yet ready for that. Faith cannot be forced upon us. It cannot be coerced. Faith—that is, having eyes to see and ears to hear Jesus—does not come all at once. It must be gradually unfolded in front of us. We are brought to sight slowly. As poet Denise Levertov puts it, every step we take is a sort of arrival. God is patient with His people.

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There are moments in our lives when we feel like we’re headed in no specific direction at all. When we lose sight of our purpose and our path. So, we walk away. Away from life as we knew it before. In our grief and hurt, we think that every step forward—away from a life that once was—will distance us from our past.

Jesus knows us better than we know ourselves. That first question He asks the two along the road is Jesus’ way of reminding them of who they are and whose they are. In effect, Jesus comes along and says,

Let me re-tell you your story. It’s God’s story, too.

Jesus won’t let them walk away. God’s story is the biblical story, and we have been a part of it from the very beginning. Jesus won’t let them walk away because first and foremost, this is a story of a God who relentlessly pursues us. Who will not let us go. Who will not let us forget our story. And that’s when Jesus takes over. He tells the two everything that God has been doing. He starts with Moses—all that God has done for His people as God guided them away from slavery in Egypt and into the freedom and abundance of the Promised Land.

Jesus didn’t stop there. He told them about all the prophets who came along after that to guide God’s people in the right direction. Throughout history, those who lose their hope in God—who forget their salvation story—they walk away. But over and over again, God pursued them, retaught them their own story, and set them back on right paths again.

Along the road to Emmaus, as Jesus unfolds God’s story for the two disciples, their hearts are kindled inside of them. Brought to flame. And with each one of Jesus’ words, the two disciples begin piecing back together what they thought was forever broken. Maybe the Jesus story does have a future. Who are we to say that God’s story has an ending? Maybe there’s more.

Easter slowly unfolds in front of these two disciples along the Emmaus road. They start gaining eyes to see some vague notion of a future for themselves. Their hearts are brought to flame as the Holy Spirit speaking into them. But they needed more nudging. We all do. Our eyes are never opened fully. The Easter news of resurrection is too big for us to see all at once. There’s always more that needs revealing. It was only when they stopped and gathered around table, as Jesus broke bread with the two, that something in them was shaken awake.

How many times had they gathered around table with Jesus and shared bread with him? How many times had Jesus hosted a meal with them, inviting the hungry and the lost to be nourished, to recover who they are while sitting around table? This happens over and over again. Countless times. It was around table that their eyes were opened. When bread is shared, all heaven breaks loose.

They recognize Jesus right then. In table fellowship. This should remind us of Communion, of course, but I don’t think that’s the only thing that Luke intends here. After all, it was the two disciples who invited Jesus to stay and eat with them. Jesus was their guest. With hearts burning inside of them, they couldn’t yet let go of this mysterious traveler. They wanted more time with Him. Having been invited to their table, though, Jesus quickly becomes their Heavenly Host, taking bread and breaking it in front of them. It was then, in that moment when Jesus took bread and broke it, that their burning hearts were broken open and they could see!

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Friends, Easter is still unfolding right in front of us. There is no end to God’s story. Salvation is still working itself out right in front us, with every step we take along the Way. Emmaus is nowhere in particular. Emmaus is everywhere. Emmaus always happens. Easter is always unfolding in front of us. In all of our journeys, do we have eyes to see Jesus with us?

All praises to the One who made it all and finds it beautiful!

Alleluia! Amen.

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A Thousand Tongues

A sermon based on Isaiah 55:1-9 and Psalm 63:1-3 preached on October 2nd, 2017

Sermon audio

In his book Life’s Too Short to Pretend You’re Not Religious, author and religion professor, David Dark, shares a moment when his 4 year-old son was sitting down in front of the TV watching Scooby-Doo.

Now, let’s stop there for a second. Maybe you know how I feel about Scooby-Doo. There are some who’d say Scooby-Doo is a badly-drawn and hastily thought-out, repetitive, formulaic cartoon. But those who think that are wrong. Like we talked about last week, there are glimpses of the Gospel everywhere we turn, and Scooby Doo is a treasure trove of Gospel truth.—

I digress. David Dark’s 4-year-old son was sitting in front of the television, watching Scooby Doo, and it gets to the part where Shaggy and Scooby are getting hungry and they go out in search of food, but inevitably their search for a snack gets them in trouble. They find themselves walking through a dark hallway where all the sudden they’re confronted by a monster, or at least a man in a monster costume, and Shaggy jumps into Scooby’s arms (or, perhaps, the other way around), and they hold each other and shiver together in fear. And David Dark’s 4-year old son walks into the next room where his father is and says,

I like the part in Scooby Doo where they hold their ‘chother.

And at once, David Dark, the religion professor, had a word to describe sacred community, and it came from the mouth of his 4 year-old son: Chother. Chother happens when Scooby and Shaggy grab on to ‘chother so tightly that there’s no way to see where the dog ends and the man begins. They hold their ‘chother.

Since this is a brand new word, let me use it in another context. You may not be able to recall a band from the late 1960s whose name was The Hollies, but you know their hit: He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother. Well, none of you are heavy, you’re my chother. Because we’re sacred community, you and I, we get to carry chother. And if we do that well, it’ll be hard to tell, just like Scooby holding Shaggy (or the other way around) where I end and you begin.

In church, we gather with chother. We come together to hold chother in prayer and conversation, in worship and song. And today, on this World Communion Sunday, we gather with chother around Table. To hold chother is to practice something ancient yet enduring—and certainly today, more than any other time—counter-cultural.

Around this Table we gather, and in the act of gathering, whether we realize it or not, we confess that the only way any of us can be whole is if we’re willing to be a part. When we gather with chother around the Lord’s Table, we’re admitting a few things about ourselves. The first is, that we do not feed ourselves. In fact, no matter what table we gather around, we come confessing that we do not feed ourselves. Being hungry means being in constant need of sustenance that can only come from outside of us. Whether we’re talking about hunters and gatherers from thousands of years ago foraging for food, or how we go to Kroger to hunt for bargains and gather food in our grocery carts, it’s all a confession that we have to go outside of ourselves to find our nourishment.

The second thing we come confessing to chother and to God when we gather around the Communion Table is that we’re in constant need of this nourishment. That daily, we have to seek out the goodness and abundance of God’s creation to feed ourselves. In the Lord’s Prayer, we pray Give us this day our daily bread, because for all our wit and wisdom, when it comes down to it, we are entirely dependent upon God, life’s true and only Source for our hunger and thirst.

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Psalm 63 is an early morning Psalm. The first Christians gathered together every morning and sang these words with chother. No matter how much bread and water might pass their lips that day, this song was a way of saying,

God, my tongue will taste food and drink today, and it’s all a gift which you have given us.

Our need for food and drink should always remind us of our need for God. In fact, chewing food and swallowing water, if we’re mindful about it, could be the best prayers we’ll ever make, and whenever we sit down for a meal to refuel our bodies, we are invited to pay closer attention to our constant need and utter reliance upon God, and by doing so, nurture a life of gratitude. Because every swallow and every chew can be—if we let it!—a way to say Thank You.

There was a monk who was once asked, “Hey, did you make this bread or did Someone give it to you?”

The monk replied, “Yes.”

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From the very first verse of Psalm 63, the writer confesses his total reliance upon God.

I thirst for you, my whole being longs for you.

That Hebrew word for whole being actually refers to the throat or esophagus. That’s where the ancient Hebrews believed the soul was.So, with each swallow, they believed that their souls were being fed. Each gulp of water was a way to nourish their souls with the gifts of God. Each bite of bread a reason to celebrate God’s goodness. A full throat is a full soul. Every gulp is a prayer. The psalmist is confessing for us what our lives are like. Hunger is a sort of longing, and we move from longing to being filled and satisfied, and then back again to hunger and longing, over and over again confessing our constant dependence upon God and His good creation to live. No one gets to have their existence alone; our stomachs tell us so. Existing alone would mean starving.

Around the world, there are thousands of tongues longing for water to quench and food to sustain.

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Thomas Merton was a 20th Century Trappist monk who lived and served from the Abbey of Gethsamane in Kentucky. In Louisville, at the corner of Fourth and Muhammed Ali Streets, a young Thomas Merton was walking along when he had what he referred to later as a laugh-out-loud epiphany. Other times, he called it his Louisville epiphany. It was this moment at the corner of these two streets that Merton found it suddenly impossible to view passing strangers as some sort of random and impersonal occurrence.

At the corner of Fourth and Muhammed Ali, it hit Merton that each person around him was interesting, beloved, full of stories that were meaningful and holy—that even though he had no idea who they were, they were his chother. Merton wrote about that epiphany later, saying,

I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all those people, that they were mine and I theirs, that we could not be alien to one another even though we were total strangers. It was like waking from a dream of separateness, of counterfeit self-isolation. The whole illusion of separate, holy existence is a dream.

That day, the Laughing Monk found out that there is no “they.” To be whole is to be a part.

 

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That, friends, is what we celebrate whenever we gather around this Table. We call it communion because we do it in community, with chother, and there’s no way else to do it. And on this World Communion Sunday, we can be sure that on every continent, in all the Americas—Canada, all through the U.S., in Central and South America, in Europe, Russia, Australia, Africa, the Middle East, and in the Asian nations. In a 1,000 lands, with 1,000’s of people with 1,000’s of parched tongues, Christians gather around table with chother. And by gathering around Table, we confess that our longing for God is both spiritual and physiological. That both our souls and our bodies depend entirely upon the real, and the really spiritual food and drink that God provides. And when God feeds us these gifts from His creation, we will then use our full mouths, and our water-nourished lips, and our thousand watered tongues to sing God’s praises!

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The psalmist recalls his time in the sanctuary. That’s where he beheld God’s power and glory. Whenever the faithful make their way to the sanctuary, they never arrive alone. There is always a community gathered there to worship God with chother. Worship has never been a solitary effort. No one gets to do it alone. And friends, that is what this Table says: No one gets to have their existence alone.

We come here thirsty and hungry. With empty hands that need filling. With hearts and souls and throats that long to be filled with the right things. With a thousand parched tongues that need watering. We come to this Table holding chother up so that we can be fed from it. We come completely dependent upon a God who graciously offers us these gifts. A full throat is a full soul, and every gulp is a prayer! Friends, taste and see that the Lord is good!!

All praises to the One who made it all and finds it beautiful!!

Alleluia! Amen.

Be Fed

A sermon based on Psalm 63:1-8 and Isaiah 55:1-13 preached on World Communion Sunday, October 4th, 2015

Sermon Audio

The changing of the seasons is a wondrous thing. Just a few weeks ago we were in our bathing suits, diving into pools to cool ourselves down, and now all the sudden cold rain is falling from the sky, and we find ourselves fighting the temptation to turn on the heat in our houses just because it feels too early to give in to the colder weather, as if our stubborn resistance to the inevitable changing of the seasons will somehow keep the warm weather among us for a bit longer.

Even if we invite the change of Summer into Fall, each and every year still the same, this abrupt changing of seasons takes us all by surprise. The lavish growing season is past and now among us is the Harvest, where we gather in what we need to last the upcoming winter. It’s in these colder seasons that our traveling circles grow smaller. We stay closer to home. We take out the extra blankets from our closets and drape them over our beds and our sofas. We huddle in closer to one another. We rely on one another a little more to get through the unkind weather that awaits us. Such is the signal that Autumn sends out.

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Last November in New York City, about 500 people gathered at Saint Bartholomew’s Church the day after Thanksgiving to eat together. The meal was catered, and guests were served roasted turkey, buttered mashed potatoes, red velvet cake, and pumpkin cheese cake, among other fine foods provided by some of the greatest chefs in Manhattan. Each table was adorned with red table cloths and candles. The guests were serenaded by piano and saxophone. Some well-off residents paid $100 for a place at this great banquet. Others there paid nothing. Nothing at all. But each were invited to the feast, anyway. See, this was a holiday dinner for the homeless, and each $100 ticket paid for 2, maybe even 3 plates. Some of Manhattan’s most well-off residents paid the bill in exchange for the honor of eating side-by-side with some of their worst-off neighbors. There in that hallowed space of Saint Bartholomew’s Church, a wonderful, sacred thing happened—something with the power to change everyone who gathered around table that day.

The host that day said he was encouraged that only 2 of 167 people who bought dinners asked not to be seated with the more than 250 homeless people there. At each table, there was a host assigned to foster conversations between the well-to-do and the homeless—to make everyone there feel at ease—and the night was a smashing success. They hope to do it again this year. They also hope that it becomes a nation-wide trend.

One of the paying guests had this to say:

How many parties do you go to with people of the same socio-economic status and you’re bored to tears? It’s good to mix it up.

One homeless man declared to his fellow tablemates with a smile upon his face and a good amount of dignity in his voice,

Tonight, I’m not homeless.

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Today we gather for a Feast around the Lord’s Table. On this World Wide Communion Sunday, we share in a meal with countless Christians in many different places who gather around the same table because, just like us, they have been invited to come—to be reminded that wherever a community gathers together in God’s name, there everyone will have a place at the Table—will be fed, nourished, sustained, and upheld.

There’s no A- or B-list here. No qualifications needed, no reservations required. No labels like homeless or well-to-do. We all come to this table with empty hands. In fact, that’s the only way to come. We must come knowing that no matter what we could bring, it would never be enough. We must come only with our hunger and our thirst, nothing more. In fact, if we brought anything else to this table, it would only show our distrust of God’s powerful ability to sustain us. All we’re told to bring is our emptiness, asking that God may fill it at this meal. God is our host–out Heavenly Host–as we gather around this Table. It is here that we are reminded of God’s great love for us. Here, we are astounded that we have a God who ardently and zealously seeks and finds us, calls us His own, and ushers us in and says to us, “come, accept, delight, and be fed!”

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There are so many empty things in our lives. So many questions we’d like answered. So many relationships we’d like healed. Most of us have made mistakes that we regret making, some of which may have changed the course of our lives in one way or another. We have all said cruel things to others. Thought even more cruel things about others. We have valued things that weren’t worth valuing, people who weren’t worth our time and effort; and we have too easily dismissed other things and other people who we wish we had valued more. God knows about all of these things—our brokenness, our failures, our mistakes and shortcomings—and invites us to the banquet, not despite them, but because of them. Because we who are hungry and undernourished and broken need to be fed with the right things.

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It’s at this Table where we will find, as Isaiah suggests, what’s truly valuable, worth partaking in, worth giving ourselves to. He exclaims in verse 2,

Why spend money for what isn’t food, and your earnings for what doesn’t satisfy?

We hear voices all over the place, no matter where we go, that do a great job convincing us of what we need to buy, and be, and do, and accomplish. Most of them are offers to spend our money, our effort, and our time, our devotion. And don’t we realize, after buying in, that whatever it was they were selling wasn’t worth buying in the first place? It never really delivered on its promise to fill a missing need of ours. We find out that, whatever it is, it was wasn’t made to satisfy us, but only to appease us temporarily.

This message from Isaiah isn’t only an invitation to a meal. It’s an invitation to assess what’s important and what will truly satisfy. That’s what stewardship is. At its heart, stewardship is earnest reflection upon those things in our lives that have true value and worth. It’s the practice of setting our hearts in the right place, so that we can do all we do—live or entire lives, time, talent, treasure, and all—giving ourselves to those things that truly build us up and nourish us—and our whole being to things that satisfy. The rest are empty calories, junk food for the heart, mind, body, and soul. God wants us to be satisfied, but only with the right things.

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We’re entering Stewardship season. Next week and for the rest of October, we will hear from each of our Committee chairs about what we have done this last year, and what we hope, with God’s help and direction, to accomplish in the coming year. Stewardship season too easily gets whittled down to money. There are, indeed, important questions and considerations we will focus upon this next month that have to do with money, but stewardship is bigger than that.

This month, there will be a time for you and your loved ones to consider how much to give to the the mission and ministry of your church, and we will talk about that, but stewardship season is also a time to ask ourselves bigger questions—far greater questions, like:

How much time and energy do I spend simply sustaining my existence—the existence of my family—rather than celebrating a Divinely-inspired life?

That question is printed on a slip of paper right in front of you. And this one, too:

How can each of my days be lived as if I am the one invited to a lavish banquet of God’s grace?

Keep this slip of paper. These questions are for you. They are your preparation for this Stewardship season.

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And here’s the most important thing about the Stewardship season: It starts here. At the Lord’s Table. With God as our Host—our Heavenly Host—treating us to feast. Without money. At no cost at all. Here’s the thing about what happens at this Table that you’ll never see anywhere else: In a world of self-service, scarcity, stinginess, and empty calories; when we gather together for this feast, we don’t feed ourselves. Instead, we are fed. Here, we rely not upon our own own devices, our own worthiness, our ability to afford this meal: We cannot afford it. It’s simply impossible to afford it. It is instead given to us, lavished upon us, because God is gracious and merciful to us. Come, and be fed!

All praises to the One who made it all and finds it beautiful!

Alleluia! Amen.

Ladders to the Sky

A sermon based on Psalm 19 and Philippians 3:4b-16 preached on October 5th, 2014.

 Sermon audio

There have been countless surveys and studies done—some of them scientific, others of them casual polls—that sought to find what Americans value most. If you were to take your best guess about what sorts of things were on a list of what Americans value most, what would you say?

A recent Reuters’ poll revealed that Americans value time most, with career, success, and money all coming in a close second. I would hope family and loved ones were somewhere on that list too, but they weren’t mentioned as a part of the study’s results.

Time, career, success, and money. These are the four things Americans value most, and I bet that we value time above the last three only because if we had more of it we could work harder or longer at our careers, become more successful, and make more money.

Time, career, success, and money—the four holy things our culture lifts up and strives toward. I use the word “holy” because it simply means “set apart”—whatever it is that we put up top in our lives—whatever things we give our greatest effort to acquire—whatever we spend most of our time trying to grab a hold of—that’s what becomes most holy to us.

The question is: What does all this striving lead to? And how far up do we have to climb the ladder of cultural status before we realize that it’s not leading us anywhere? That our efforts to climb higher and gain more are all too often purposeless.

Our culture tells us to climb our way up the ladder of success—but do we really know what we’re climbing towards? And is it possible that all our climbing and striving for more is an exercise in futility. That all the ladders we climb lead us nowhere meaningful? That they’re simply ladders to the sky.

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Paul had many reasons to brag in his day. His resume was long and impressive. He lists some of his accomplishments and accolades in this passage. And as the Philippians read these off one by one, they would have been impressed.

By virtue of Paul’s birth, out of the tribe of Benjamin, he was considered the cream of the crop by all Jewish standards, he was circumcised on the 8th day just like the law of Moses says every good Jewish male should be, he studied the Torah and worked his way up to become a Pharisee—basically a lawyer in his day. His parents would have been proud. He was born an elite, he studied at elite levels, he knew it all, and for years and years he used his elevated status and education to climb even higher.

Saul, as he was known before he became a Christian, lived off of and reaped the benefits of his own accomplishments. He was a professional ladder climber and he had reached the very top. Saul was hailed as a leader against the Jesus movement. He was the leading persecutor of Christians. Saul was confident that he was doing the right thing by persecuting Christians. He was confident that by doing so, he was standing up for his faith. But then something unexpected happened. Saul met the very Jesus these persecuted Christians were following.

On the road to Damascus, Saul was blinded by light and he heard Jesus speak to him and Jesus told him to stop everything he was doing. And as the days went by after meeting Jesus, as his eyes begin to heal from their blindness, as the scales began falling off his eyes, Saul began seeing everything in a completely new way.

Jesus had entered Saul’s life and disrupted everything he thought he knew. Saul the accomplished Pharisee and Christian persecutor becomes Paul the great Christian evangelizer. Once Paul met Jesus on the road to Damascus, his entire life, purpose, identity, and outlook changed.

It was Saul who boasted about his accomplishment, his accolades, his assets. It was Saul who thought all that mattered. But now to Paul, a servant of Jesus, none of that mattered anymore. Compared to the gift of saving grace that God had given him through his encounter with Jesus, Paul regarded all those past accomplishments as good as sewer trash.

The Gospel hit Paul hard. Once so confident of what he believed and so certain about how to live his life based upon the clear rule of the Laws in the Torah, meeting Jesus threw Paul off his game and sent him spinning—his encounter with Jesus upset all Paul knew and disturbed all of those things he once was so confident about, and it sent him searching for a brand new understanding of himself and how the world worked.

Meeting Jesus made Paul reassess his entire life—its purpose and its direction. Paul’s definition of success changed now that he knew Jesus. The free gift given to Paul on the road to Damascus had turned his entire focus away from himself and his accomplishments and turned it toward Christ. From that moment on, Paul’s one and only purpose was to share Jesus with others and to live out the message of the Gospel. That became Paul’s one and only definition of success.

Paul may not have known where this new life would take him, but one thing he was sure of: All those achievements and accolades that he so often hung his hat on came to nothing now that he knew Jesus. Paul realized it was all climbing ladders to the sky. Striving that got him nowhere.

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Paul wrote these words to the church in Philippi while he was imprisoned—most likely in Rome. Shackled up, dirty, and unsure of what may happen to him next, Paul writes to the Philippian church with hopeful words.

Even in chains and locked up in a prison cell, Paul was confident that God was taking him places—doing new things through him. That’s all that Paul was focused on—Christ living through him, so when anyone looked at him they didn’t see Paul the apostle or Paul the prisoner, but Christ in him and through him in every effort he made and every word out of his mouth.

Every effort we make that doesn’t proclaiming Christ in our lives is like climbing ladders to the sky—empty striving for no good reason.

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We come to this Communion Table only because Christ has invited us to it. We have not earned our way here. There is nothing about our resume that makes us fit guests at this Table. Our invitation to and everything we partake around this communion Table is a sheer gift given to us through Christ.

At this table, we come to know the true definition of grace—love unmerited, unearned, and undeserved. Our bodies, hearts, and souls are fed through the gifts of bread and cup broken and poured out for us.

It is around this table that Christ gathers us and grabs a hold of us, calls us by name, and makes us his own. It is around this table that we, like Paul, have a chance to reorder our values according to a new set of standards, according to a new Kingdom—to be reminded once again that it is not our status that makes us worthy of dining at Christ’s table.

It is not our effort that has earned us a seat here. We climb no ladders to get here, in fact it’s God who has come down in Christ to meet us at our level, Christ came to teach us a new, peculiar sort of life—one based not on earning, reaching for, acquiring more, and calling ourselves accomplished people.

We cannot secure a place on God’s good side with our own effort. It is Christ who does that for us. It is Christ who secures a seat at this table for us.

This table is a glimpse of a different world, one where we shed our status and our station and come into the presence of God with empty hands, claiming no accomplishment but Christ’s accomplishment in us. Here, we ask for Christ’s effort to replace our own. Here we come to confess that all that we have and all that we are—every good gift we celebrate—comes to us only through God’s grace given to us in Christ Jesus our Lord—through whom we are fed and to whom we owe our very lives.

All praises to the One who made it all and finds it beautiful!

Alleluia! Amen.