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Sunday, June 26, 2016

The Main Thing is To Keep the Main Thing the Main Thing (Hebrews 12:1-3)

So then let’s also run the race that is laid out in front of us, since we have such a great cloud of witnesses surrounding us. Let’s throw off any extra baggage, get rid of the sin that trips us up, and fix our eyes on Jesus, faith’s pioneer and perfecter. He endured the cross, ignoring the shame, for the sake of the joy that was laid out in front of him, and sat down at the right side of God’s throne.

Think about the one who endured such opposition from sinners so that you won’t be discouraged and you won’t give up.

In sports, the adage is to “keep your eye on the ball.”  In driving, it’s “keep your eyes on the road.”  In working on some difficult task, it’s “keep your eyes on the prize,” remembering the goal and reward that awaits you at the end of this hard work.

Maybe you’ve had the experience of driving down the road, and you look at something over on the side of the road, and without even realizing it, you’re starting to steer the car in that direction.  Why? Because our vision informs our direction.  The most common mistake I make in my golf game is that I tend to pick my head up before I swing through the ball.  Every time I lift my head and my eyes a little bit, the rest of me lifts up a little bit, as well, and I don’t make the clean contact needed for a good shot.

Our vision informs our direction.  What you see is very much what you get.  Anybody here drive or have driven a motorcycle?  I’m told that part of the training for learning how to ride a motorcycle involves very clear instruction on where to look as you ride.  Cyclists are told to look for the openings, not the obstacles, because where they look is where they will go, and you obviously want to gravitate toward the openings, not the obstacles.

Whether we are keeping our eye on the ball, the road, or the prize, these are simple reminders to stay focused on what is most important and what matters most, to not lose sight of what is central and essential, not only so that we see it, but that we align our movements toward it.

Someone once said, “The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.”  And friends, for Christians, the main thing is Jesus, for he is what matters most, he is most important, he is central and essential to our faith.  We keep our eyes on Jesus, not just for the sake of seeing him, but so we can constantly move our lives toward him.

On my last Sunday as your pastor, as we close out this chapter of the story and you and God prepare to write a new chapter, that is my prayer and encouragement for you as you move forward.  Morehead Church: keep your eyes on Jesus.  He’s the main thing.

Today’s Scripture reading from the book of Hebrews makes the same plea.  Let’s run the race set out before us, with a great cloud of witnesses from throughout all times and places in the stands cheering us on.  Let’s put aside sin – anything that separates us from God, anything that tangles us up, anything that distracts us, anything that takes our eyes off Jesus – let’s put all of that off to the side and focus with pinpoint-laser-vision on Jesus.  Keep the main thing the main thing, and the main thing is Jesus.

We stumble and get tangled up when we focus our attention on other things, when we allow ourselves to get sidetracked by people and things that aren’t even on track, when we major in the minors.

I know you already know this, so indulge me in this little public service announcement.  The main thing is not the building.  The main thing is not the worship service time, or style, or format, or location.  The main thing is not the music – it is not organ or piano or praise band or whatever else.  The main thing is not whether the choir or director or pastor wears a robe or street clothes.  The main thing is not the leadership or the committees or the staff.  The main thing is not the budget.  The main thing is not pride in the past, it is not productivity in the present, it is not possibility for a promising future.  The main thing is not people’s personal preferences.  The main thing is not the plans or programs or preaching.  The main thing is neither the pastor in the pulpit, nor the person in the pew next to you.  The main thing is Jesus.  Who’s the main thing?

How many times have we seen a church build itself around, or define itself by, one of these other things?  You ever just want to say, “How’s that working out for you?”

When we bring these other things from the periphery to center stage, Jesus gets crowded out.  You can’t focus on two things at the same time, and when we obsess over these other things, we lose our focus on Jesus.  Jesus himself warned us against doing this, he likened it to building our house upon unstable and shifting sand, rather than solid bedrock.  The old hymn says, “On Christ the solid rock I stand; all other ground is sinking sand, all other ground is sinking sand.”

So, keep the main thing the main thing.  And the main thing is Jesus.  Keep your eyes so fixed on him that he remains the center, the focal point, and allow all those things and issues that ought to remain on the periphery to stay exactly where they belong.  Do that persistently, faithfully, regardless of whatever opposition you face, regardless of how other people respond, what they think of you, say about you, keep your eyes on Jesus, who has been there and done that, who has run the same race ahead of you, and is calling you to follow after him.

Keep your eyes on Jesus, who told us the greatest command is to love God and our neighbor.

Keep your eyes on Jesus, who has called you in your baptism, and commissions you to serve in ministry in his name.  Don’t leave the tasks of ministry to someone else.  Ministry is the work of ALL the people of God, laity and clergy alike.  We get in the bad habit sometimes of referring to the pastor as the minister, and often implied in that is that he or she is THE minister.  The paid professional who performs all the ministry tasks for and on behalf of the congregation.

When our Community Care Team was up and running, one member of the team told me that another member of the church objected to the word, “Minister” on her name badge.  “You’re not a minister!” this person insisted.  What emerged is that recognizing the person in the pew next to us as a minister brings us face-to-face with our own call to be in ministry.

Friends, when it comes to ministry, you are not a spectator.  You are not a consumer.  You are not a passive recipient of ministry goods and services.  You ARE a minister.  Don’t fall into the conspiracy of thinking you pay the pastor to do all the ministry, or thinking that the pastor’s role is to be Christian on your behalf.  Some pastors will be co-conspirators in that lie with you, preferring to do it all and decide it all themselves, rather than training up others and releasing them out into the fields.  One way the Bible describes the role of the pastor is to “equip and empower the saints – that’s you – for the work of ministry” (Ephesians 4).  Everyone, including you, including the person sitting next to you, is called to be a minister.

Keep your eyes on Jesus, who calls his followers to serve rather than be served.  When a crowd of 5000 gathered on the lakeshore and mealtime came around, his disciples said, “Jesus, these people are hungry!”  And how did Jesus respond?  Did he say, “Thank you for telling me that!  You sit back, and I’ll take care of everything!”  No, he said, “Then YOU give them something to eat!” (Mark 6, Matthew 14, Luke 9)

Following Jesus means that we’re the ones serving, not the ones being served.  If you want to be served, go join a country club.  Take a cruise.  Book a day at the spa.  When you follow Jesus, get ready to serve.

Keep your eyes on Jesus, who welcomed little children to come to him, and rebuked those who tried to stop them.  He commended imaginative, boundary-pushing child-like faith, and told us adults, who often take ourselves way too seriously, to become more like these, and thus inherit the kingdom of God.

One measure of the health and vitality of a church is in what it does for children.  I’m encouraged when I see our best people, our most dedicated, our most faithful, step forward to work with children.  For all who teach Sunday School and keep the nursery and work in Vacation Bible School and children’s choir, and every other opportunity we have to care for and nurture children in their faith, I am grateful.

Keep your eyes on Jesus, who commissioned the church for the purpose of making disciples, baptizing them and teaching them to obey Jesus in everything.  As I leave, I’ll remember those I was privileged to baptize in this place over three years:

·        Jonathan Dixon

·        Jennifer Dixon

·        Parker Dixon

·        Reymonda Turner

·        Chad Hatch

·        Skylar Hatch

·        Melissa Lewis

·        Valorie Lewis

·        Jake Lewis

·        Zack Hurley

·        Sylvia LeClair

I’ll remember those of you who have come to faith for the first time, those who have come back to faith, and those who have grown deeper and wider in your faith.

Keep your eyes on Jesus, who is full of grace and love, and who said that we would be known as his disciples in how well we love others.  Love is one of those things that, if you have it, you just share it. And friends, there’s a lot of love here.  Look for it.  Nurture it.  Multiply it.

Thank you for all the ways you have been loving and gracious to me and my family for the last three years.

We came in July, 2013.  Ashley’s Grandma Alice passed away in August of that year, my Papa Bill less than a month later.  Ashley’s Papa Buddy died 8 months after that in May of 2014.  Four months later, my Dad received the kidney transplant for which he had been waiting for five and a half years, but during the wait, it turned out his health had declined to the point that he was simply too weak to recover from the transplant surgery.  Between September 2014 and April 2015, he spent 94 days in Wake Forest Medical Center, which meant we spent 94 days in Wake Forest Medical Center.  He eventually chose to go into Hospice care in April 2015, where he died a week later.

Friends, I wouldn’t wish losing three grandparents and a parent in less than two years on anyone, but you never forget how people respond during a time.  The depth of love and grace practiced by the people of Morehead during that time is something I will always remember.

And so, as you move forward, I encourage you to keep your eyes on Jesus.  That shouldn’t be a new concept.  It’s what I hope to have helped you do over the last three years.  If somehow that’s happened for you, then praise God and to God be the glory.  And if I’ve somehow let you down in that, I ask for your forgiveness.

Just remember, the main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.  And who’s the main thing?  Jesus.  Who’s it all about?  Who’s at the center?  The focus?  Keep your eyes on who?  Jesus.

What you see is what you get.  So keep your eyes on Jesus. Let his love surround you and fill you and shine through you.  I’ll be cheering you on.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Continue What God Started (2 Timothy 3:2-5,8-17)

People will be selfish and love money. They will be the kind of people who brag and who are proud. They will slander others, and they will be disobedient to their parents. They will be ungrateful, unholy, unloving, contrary, and critical. They will be without self-control and brutal, and they won’t love what is good. They will be people who are disloyal, reckless, and conceited. They will love pleasure instead of loving God. They will look like they are religious but deny God’s power. Avoid people like this.

These people oppose the truth in the same way that Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses. Their minds are corrupt and their faith is counterfeit. But they won’t get very far. Their foolishness will become obvious to everyone like those others.

10 But you have paid attention to my teaching, conduct, purpose, faithfulness, patience, love, and endurance. 11 You have seen me experience physical abuse and ordeals in places such as Antioch, Iconium, and Lystra. I put up with all sorts of abuse, and the Lord rescued me from it all! 12 In fact, anyone who wants to live a holy life in Christ Jesus will be harassed. 13 But evil people and swindlers will grow even worse, as they deceive others while being deceived themselves.

14 But you must continue with the things you have learned and found convincing. You know who taught you. 15 Since childhood you have known the holy scriptures that help you to be wise in a way that leads to salvation through faith that is in Christ Jesus. 16 Every scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for showing mistakes, for correcting, and for training character, 17 so that the person who belongs to God can be equipped to do everything that is good.

Have you ever had someone stick their nose in your business?  It’s got nothing to do with them – nothing – and yet they’re all up in your Kool-Aid?  How do you like that?

How about when they start telling you how to do things?  Criticize you?  Complain about you?  Make up things about you?  Don’t you just love that?

Now, have you ever stuck your nose in somebody else’s business?  Why do we do that?

Maybe it’s simply human nature, but it’s been my observation and experience that a lot of us are more interested in other people’s business than we are in minding our own.  We spend a lot of time and effort in life worried about what other people are doing.

We can also waste a lot of time worrying about what other people think about us.  We get caught up in comparing ourselves to others, wondering how we measure up.  Who is ahead, who is behind, who is winning at life, and who is losing.  Who’s right?  Who’s wrong?  How do we rank?  Where are we in the pack?  What do other people think of us?  What do we think of them?

There is a lot of time and effort wasted caught up in what other people are doing, and in what other people think of us.  As the people of God, we are called to something different.  We are called to something better.

The Scripture we’ve read today is part of St. Paul’s letter to his young friend and protégé, Timothy.  It is his encouragement to him, and to us, to continue on the path of what we know to be true and faithful.  Regardless of other people, whatever they say, whatever they do, whatever they think, to do the right thing, the godly thing.  Continue on the path of new life in Christ, which we’ve learned from the Scriptures, which we’ve learned from preachers and teachers and parents and friends, to keep walking and living as children of God, even when people around us are not.

Growing up, we used to get in those little fights or arguments with our siblings or friends.  We all know that it’s not the person who throws the first punch or hurls the first insult in these situations who gets caught.  It’s the one who hits back.  How many times did I get caught doing this, and I’d always whine, “But Mom, he STARTED it!” and in our house, anyway, the response was always the same: “I don’t care what HE did, because YOU know better!”

The same dynamic is at play in the Scripture reading.  Paul gives a long list of what we would all consider poor behaviors and attitudes – there will be people who are money-hungry, selfish, braggadocios, prideful.  They’ll lie about others.  They will be ungrateful, unholy, unloving, contrary, and critical. They will be without self-control and brutal, and they won’t love what is good. They will be people who are disloyal, reckless, and conceited. They will love pleasure instead of loving God. They will look like they are religious but deny God’s power.  Paul says to avoid people like this.  To that, I’d add, avoid becoming people like this, too.  Avoid letting people like this have influence over you.

This afternoon, I am headed down to Charlotte to lead a celebration of life service for a friend I met through a member at my last church.  A couple weeks ago, I was talking to that church member, Sara, as we were starting to put together the plans for the service, and of course, we got to talking about other things, as well.

Thanks to the magic of social media, word has trickled down to Charlotte that I am making a shift to ministry beyond the local church, but apparently what got lost in the translation was that this is a choice I  have made, not one that was made for me.  Sara was very upset and agitated, because of what another member of the church was saying.  She said, “Carol is telling EVERYONE that you’ve been asked to leave your church!” and I just started to laugh.  I said, “Clearly, Carol spends a lot more time thinking about me than I do thinking about her.  I haven’t given her much thought since I moved away three years ago.  But, I’m honored and a little amused that she still thinks about me, enough so, that three years later, she’s still making up stories about me just so she can say something about me!”

Today’s Scripture says, “In fact, anyone who wants to live a holy life in Christ Jesus will be harassed.”  This echoes the words of Jesus, who said, “Blessed are you when people persecute you and hate you and speak evil and lies against you because of me.  Rejoice and be glad, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who came before me.”

If anything, I should sit down and write a thank-you note to Carol for giving me such a blessing.

Here’s some free advice: avoid fighting in the mud with a pig.  You’ll just get dirty, and the pig will just enjoy it.  It’s always better to take the high road, to stay above the filth, to walk away and simply refuse to play the game of those who wish to drag you down.  Let them talk about you, let them think what they want about you, and hold your head high as you do.  What they say and do about you reflects more on them than it does on you, and the Scripture says their minds are corrupt and their faith is counterfeit.  They won’t get far.  Their foolishness will become obvious to everyone.

It doesn’t matter what other people are doing, because you know what you should be doing.  What people out there in the world are doing, what the person sitting next to you in church is doing or isn’t doing doesn’t sway your course.  They are not making your decisions.  You are.  So make the right ones.  Paul’s encouragement now as of then is not to get caught up and swayed by the negative actions and behaviors of others.

We can get very good at diagnosing and pointing out the faults, shortcomings, sins, and failures of others.  We can also let our perceptions about the actions or inactions of others determine our own actions.  I don’t know about you, but I am not willing to allow misguided people to have that much control over my life. 

Friends, when we know who we are and whose we are, when we know that we are children of God, called to walk in his marvelous light, moving forward and continuing in the way of grace to which God has called us.  When we are comfortable in who we are, we can be confident in what we’re about.  That will drive people who want to exercise control over you absolutely nuts, but we must never allow ourselves to be sidetracked by people who aren’t even on track.

There’s some real freedom in that, folks.  Freedom from being controlled, and there’s also the freedom to feel like we need to control what other people do.  If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that I have no control over anyone but myself.  I can’t make you do something any more than you can make me do something.

The Scripture says, “As for you, continue in the things you have learned and found convincing, because you know who taught you.”  It says, “As for you.”  Not all these other people.  Even if you’ve got clowns to the left of you and jokers to the right, don’t worry about what all these other jokers are doing, you just stay the course of what you know is right.

As for you, continue in the way of Jesus without worrying about whether anyone else joins you or not.  Don’t do it to get rewarded or noticed, not to have your name on a plaque, don’t do it to buy influence or so people will think more highly of you; do the right thing because it’s the right thing to do. Endure, persevere, practice hospitality, give generously, live graciously.  Don’t waste your time complaining or criticizing others who don’t, keep yourself busy doing what you know needs to be done, even if you’re the only one who does it.

In a couple weeks, I will pass the torch of pastoral leadership to Pastor Veranita.  As my tenure draws to a close and you prepare to welcome her, my prayer for you echoes this instruction from Paul to Timothy, from teacher to student: “As for you, continue in what you have learned and found convincing, because you know who taught you.”

The real teacher is Jesus, and his course of instruction is the experience of new life in him.  With Paul, I say to you, “Follow Jesus.  Learn from Jesus.  Walk with Jesus.  You know who taught you - not me, but Jesus.”

The prayer of this verse encourages the timid to do one thing: keep making progress in the same direction like the redemption of the world depends on it - because it does.  God’s redemption story is a masterpiece in the making, but what does the next chapter look like?

Well, that’s up to God, and it’s up to you.  I trust that God who began a good work in you will be faithful to complete it, and that if God has brought you this far, then God will carry you on.

That’s God’s end of the bargain, and God always keeps God’s promises.  God will hold up his end of the bargain. The other part is up to each of you.  You have been on this journey for some time, but God still has work to do; and the terrain of the next mile, the tone of the next chapter hinges on your heart being open to God’s direction.

And so, for you, I pray you will continue what God has started.  That, as God’s grace has touched you, you’ll freely share that grace with each other and with those outside these walls, so that there’s not a person nearby who doesn’t know that God wants nothing more than to gather each and every one in his loving embrace.  That’s not a new story!  It’s the same one we’ve been working on for the last three years together, and indeed, it’s the story God has been writing since the very beginning.

Continue in that story.  Allow God to write the story indelibly on your heart.  Write the next chapter, and keep the story going.  I can’t wait to see what you and God will come up with.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

The ABUNDANCE of Grace (Matthew 26:17-30)

17 On the first day of the Festival of Unleavened Bread, the disciples came to Jesus and said, “Where do you want us to prepare for you to eat the Passover meal?”

18 He replied, “Go into the city, to a certain man, and say, ‘The teacher says, “My time is near. I’m going to celebrate the Passover with my disciples at your house.” ’” 19 The disciples did just as Jesus instructed them. They prepared the Passover.

20 That evening he took his place at the table with the twelve disciples. 21 As they were eating he said, “I assure you that one of you will betray me.”

22 Deeply saddened, each one said to him, “I’m not the one, am I, Lord?”

23 He replied, “The one who will betray me is the one who dips his hand with me into this bowl. 24  The Human One goes to his death just as it is written about him. But how terrible it is for that person who betrays the Human One! It would have been better for him if he had never been born.”

25 Now Judas, who would betray him, replied, “It’s not me, is it, Rabbi?”

Jesus answered, “You said it.”

26 While they were eating, Jesus took bread, blessed it, broke it, and gave it to the disciples and said, “Take and eat. This is my body.” 27 He took a cup, gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, “Drink from this, all of you. 28  This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many so that their sins may be forgiven. 29  I tell you, I won’t drink wine again until that day when I drink it in a new way with you in my Father’s kingdom.” 30 Then, after singing songs of praise, they went to the Mount of Olives.

After my parents died, one of the things I ended up inheriting was the family dining room table.  It’s a piece that means a lot to me, not because it has any great monetary value, but because of what it represents.  That table represents years of family birthdays and Sunday dinners.  It represents Thanksgivings and Christmases and Easters.  It represents parties and open houses with friends from church.  It represents family and friends coming over for a meal.

I think of the times we would put all the leaves in this table and open it up to its full length so that everyone would have a place.  One of those times was during the week between Christmas and New Year, when friends of ours who were originally from the Dominican Republic, living in the US, planting a Spanish/English church came over.  Mom and Dad had invited them to come over, and then, unexpectedly, some friends of theirs from out-of-town showed up the same day.  Our friends called Mom and Dad to reschedule, and I remember Mom on our end of the phone call saying, “Oh, just bring them along!”  My grandparents were also in town for the holiday, and we ended up with 24 people squeezed in around the table that night – 8 of whom spoke only English, 8 of whom spoke only Spanish, and 8 of whom spoke some combination of the two.  We had a blast.

I think about the lessons I learned around that table.  Sure, there were the usual nuggets of etiquette about how to use my napkin, not chewing with my mouth open, not speaking with food in my mouth, waiting until everyone at the table had been served before I began to eat.  More importantly, I learned lessons about who I am, and to whom I belonged.  Lessons of nurture and love.  Lessons of hospitality and grace and abundance.  One thing about our table is that it was an open table – there was always room for one more.  And it didn’t matter how many crowded around that table, there was always plenty to go around.

What we learn and experience around the family table make us very much who we are today.  And for Christians, we find out very much who we are around God’s family table, in the meal we celebrate as Holy Communion.

In the Scripture we’ve read today, Jesus has gathered with his disciples for what we refer to as “The Last Supper.”  We call it that because it was the last meal he ate before death and resurrection.

Many of the same lessons I learned around my own family’s table are on display around this table with Jesus.  We see evidence of nurture and love.  Hospitality and grace and abundance.

As you look around the table of those first disciples, realize that none of them was worthy of their place at the table with Jesus.  Judas, of course, is the one we single out.  Judas, the betrayer, the one who sold Jesus out for a few measly coins, Judas, the bad apple in an otherwise good bunch.

But friends, there was plenty of sin to go around the table that night.  The disciples had argued about who would get the most important, honorable place.  They had all refused to serve each other.  They had false expectations about him, even at that late hour.  They would fall asleep when Jesus told them to pray.  Peter would deny ever knowing him.  The others would abandon him and run for their own lives.  None of the disciples is any prize.  Not just Judas, but there is enough sin to go all the way around the table.

If the places at God’s family table were awarded based on who is worthy, then Jesus would have eaten that meal alone.  Jesus took his place at the table among those who would betray, deny, and desert him.  Even those closest to Jesus would let him down and disappoint him, and yet he expressed how much he wanted to eat that meal with them.

The saying goes, “You’re known by the company you keep.”  Throughout the Gospels, you’ll find all manner of unsavory people around the dinner table with Jesus. You’ll find Jesus eating with tax collectors and prostitutes and every manner of sinner, every outcast, every social misfit, every disreputable character you could imagine.

It was his table company that seemed to upset the religious leaders the most.  Because, as Jesus ate with these people, he was giving them honor and recognition, worth and value as human beings created in the image of a good and loving God.  He was saying, “The world doesn’t think you matter, but I do.  The world doesn’t see you, but I do.  The world doesn’t think you have any value, but I do.  The world calls you garbage, but I invite you to sit here at the table with me.”

This ticked off the religious leaders something fierce, because it called into question an entire society and culture that was based on hierarchy and status and privilege.  The world worked just fine when “we” were up here, and “they” were down there, when the world was neatly divided into “us” on the inside of the party and “them” on the outside. 

Then along comes Jesus, and he starts inviting “them” to become part of “us,” he blurs the line between “we” and “they,” and if you are someone who has built your life and worth around considering yourself better than other people and someone comes along who threatens to undo that whole system, yeah, you’d be pretty ticked off, too.  You might just conspire to have such a person removed from power or even killed.

Jesus understood that cost.  Jesus knew what he was doing around the table.  He doesn’t end up sitting with tax collectors and prostitutes and sinners by accident; he invites them to his table, he invites himself to their tables, even up to the last, he desires to eat a meal with people who would let him down in the biggest ways imaginable.

Jesus invites to his table sinners and deniers and betrayers and those who disappoint him at every turn.  When it comes down to it, Jesus invites to his table all manner of unsavory, inscrutable, undesirable, undeserving rabble – people like you and me, who are not worthy of a place at the table, but are only here because of God’s amazing love and abundant grace.

Thanks be to God.

The challenge, as we come to the table of our Lord, is to adopt the same attitude that was in Christ Jesus.  I ran across this some time ago, and it seems appropriate: “Be like Jesus: spend enough time with sinners to ruin your reputation with religious people.”

It was Jesus who said he came not to save righteous people, but sinners.  It was Jesus who said he would leave behind the 99 sheep already in the fold in order to go after the one lost sheep.  The hard part for the religious people of Jesus’ day was that they considered themselves so holy already that they didn’t see their own need for grace.  They didn’t see their own need for repentance.  They were so comfortable with the life they had built for themselves, they didn’t desire the new life Jesus was offering them.  They didn’t see themselves as sinners or lost sheep, which is too bad, because sinners get a place at the table.

That’s some real food for thought.  The challenge, as we come to the table, is to adopt the same attitude that was in Christ Jesus.  As Jesus has offered grace and love and hospitality and hope and abundance to us, to in turn, offer them to those around us.

I have a friend who is a single mom who worked her way through college 4:  waiting tables in a restaurant.  Anyone here ever wait tables?  It’s a hard way to make a living.

She told me about the shift she dreaded working the most each week – can you guess what it was?  It was mid-day Sunday, the after church lunch crowd.  She came to dread seeing a nicely-dressed group of people who had obviously just come from church being seated in her section, because they proved to be some of her worst customers.  One of the more memorable was the party of 8 who stayed an hour and a half, had her running back and forth to the kitchen constantly, ran up a bill of $120, and left her a $4 tip.  She was amused at part of their conversation, in which they were talking loudly, about what an awful sin it is to work on Sunday, and yet they didn’t bat an eye at going out to eat and making someone else work on Sunday.

From her interactions with Christians, she had seen enough to know that she didn’t want to become one.  Whereas Jesus demonstrated amazing love and abundant grace at the table, her experience was that when his followers got to the table, they were rude, demanding, inconsiderate, and cheap.

Friends, we worship a loving, gracious, and generous God.  God is a giver, and we are created in God's image.  We are created to be generous as God is generous.  That’s something we learn and experience around God’s family table.

God’s grace is abundant and there’s always plenty to go around.  That’s part of the reason I give you such big hunks of bread when you receive Communion.  I want you to have a big reminder of how big and generous and abundant God’s grace is!  That’s something I want you to remember and why – that I gave you big pieces of bread because God is generous when it comes to giving out grace.

God gives grace in abundance; who are we to be stingy with what God has given abundantly?  When someone complains about the bread being too big, too much, you just look them right in the eye and say, “And how much of God’s grace is too much?”

How much grace is too much?  I’m 36 years in, and I haven’t had my fill yet.

Friends, taste and see, the Lord is good.  Exceedingly, abundantly good.