Proclaiming the Word of God
This is the first sermon in the series Growing in Christ as well as my first sermon at Trinity United Methodist Church. It is formatted for presentation and not for grammatical or typographical perfection. Enjoy.
Over a hundred years ago God sent a vision to a handful of people that Christ was at work in a new community called North Park. I like to think that, all of a sudden, they could see that Christ was alive and at work in this place, and that they needed to get on board with what Christ was already doing. But whatever the details actually were, that vision became known as Trinity United Methodist Church. At one time that vision wasn’t known by its name or by an address. Before this church was built, it was known because of pastors and people, not bricks and mortar.
It’s hard to imagine now in this place that is so full of restaurants, bars, shops, and the constant activity of the 330,000 people who live within 3 miles of here, but 100 years ago there was almost nothing here or, more to the point, almost no one lived here. It had recently been a 40 acre lemon grove owned by the Hartley family and there was not much else here. It wasn’t until one of the Hartley sons decided to develop houses and businesses on the family property that people began to move in. He began that work in 1911 and the Holy Spirit worked through the imaginations of those who witnessed what was happening and who saw that something amazing was happening here. They saw that there would soon be people and activity and life in North Park. It was visionary time. A time that required great imagination – because why would you build something for people who aren’t even here yet? But the Holy Spirit breathed life into the imaginations for those who were here and they just got ready.
Matthew 10, our scripture passage, is a story of call and of sending. All through the early chapters of Matthew we saw Jesus calling his disciples. In chapter 4, Jesus walks casually along Galilee and sees Simon and Andrew fishing – he sees to the core of them, into their hearts – all their pain, all their strengths, all their struggle, all their failures – and he calls them – calls them to be fishers, not of sea life, but of people. And they follow. They drop everything – including those all-important nets – to follow Jesus. Not knowing what is next, they simply follow him .
Now it’s their turn to go out and to call others. This chapter 10 is a list of best practices for their missionary work. Jesus spent a considerable amount of time training these disciples about what it means to follow him and what is important. Now they are supposed to leave him and go out and tell his story as their story. Jesus sees in their faces considerable anxiety and he gives them these instructions: Go first to your neighbors. Go to the people that you know and understand. Preach. Teach. Bring health. Touch those who no one else will. Kick out evil. Bring the message of God’s love before anything else .
Last week I was explaining to a group of kids what had happened to me on June 17 when I was commissioned as a pastor. I asked them what different about me now. I asked if they knew what I could do now that I couldn’t before. It was actually pretty cool because they knew. Their first answers were that I could not perform the ritual of holy communion and that I could baptize. But then they kept going and talked preaching and teaching and so on and that’s where they went off the rails. As I told them that there was nothing standing in the way of their preaching – even at 9 years old – their eyes got really big. That’s how I like to imagine the disciples as Jesus is talking in this passage. He tells them to do simple things like preaching and teaching and healing and destroying evil and serving. (And, actually, it’s not so simple, right?) And as if it weren’t already enough, he tells them to rely on the kindness and hospitality of strangers. One version of this passage, at chapter 10, verse 10, says, “you don’t need any equipment. You are the equipment. Travel light” . I think they didn’t feel ready and their eyes got really big as he said this.
If we don’t feel a bit overwhelmed about our task here in North Park, then we aren’t thinking about it right. We are tasked with nothing less than bringing the message of the love and redemption of our God and savior, Christ Jesus, to people who may have never heard this message, people who may have never the gospel, and people who probably won’t believe us when we tell them because they have heard a version of the story that we aren’t preaching. They may heard a story of a god of wrath and hatefulness, a god who delights in punishing sin with death. They’ve heard a story that is not ours. So when we bring the good news, the best news that we know, “Christ crucified was raised to life, sits at the right hand of God and intercedes for us” (Rom. 8:34). They don’t believe us because ours is not a god who delights in death. It is the one God who shows grace enough to save us from death. What kind of love is this that our God would lay down his life that we might live? Who would ever believe that story?
The truth is that proof is required when we teach things that are out of the ordinary and so often we haven’t had that proof. The only proof we have is our love and we haven’t been quick to spread it as the Church. In the spirit of hospitality, we set out the communion table and ask, “Why doesn’t anyone show up?” Here’s the fun thing as we look at Matthew 10. Jesus doesn’t really talk about giving hospitality. He talks about sharing his story and receiving hospitality.
When we read verses 40-42, it is easy to hear these words that say something like, “Anyone who accepts you accepts me… and whoever gives even a cup of water to a thirsty disciple will be blessed”  We hear these words and think to ourselves, “we need to be more hospitable.” But that is not the what Jesus is saying. I’m not telling you that hospitality is a bad thing. I’m just telling you that that is not what Jesus is saying here. Jesus is teaching us, that we, as disciples, must allow ourselves to be hosted because it allows others to be blessed in their offering of hospitality to us.
I’ve always been a sucker for adventure. I would even say that it was in my family’s DNA as I was growing up. Experiences were always more important than anything else. So much so that, when I was fourteen, my parents pulled me out of school for a over a month and they took me with them to Chiapas, Mexico, which is right along the Guatemalan border, to spend time with some missionaries and pastors living in Comitan. We did a lot of hosting. Being American and, frankly, having a lot more money than most of the people, we took people out to restaurants constantly. But about every tenth meal or so, we would find ourselves at the home of a pastor or a parishioner from the church at dinnertime and they would host us. I can tell you that, in that situation, being hosted is harder than hosting. There was no sacrifice to our hosting. It was just a little bit of money or time on our part. Being hosted required trust. I remember eating things I couldn’t recognize and, actually, didn’t particularly like. But ate them and watched the hosts come alive as my family ate at their tables.
Jesus said it. When you allow yourself to be hosted, the host is blessed. When we hoard all hosting we stand in the way of God’s grace that host’s life. And, really, we stand in the way of deeper friendships and conversation. As we celebrate holy communion, we know that we believe that Christ works when we gather around tables – yes, uniquely so in the grace we receive at this table together as the church – but we also make room for Christ to work when we gather around tables at mealtimes or for coffee or with our neighbors. When we only allow ourselves to host we limit what Christ can do in the lives of others. And, I don’t know about you, but I refuse to build walls around God’s grace. I want to make room for Christ, not stand in the way of his grace.
Much like one hundred years ago, this is also a visionary time, a time requiring great imagination, and a church that is willing to build something for people who are not even here yet. A church that is willing to live in order to bless North Park by our willingness to host them, our willingness to be hosted by them, and our willingness to live the story of Jesus Christ as our own. Like those who came before us and built this church the first time, may the Holy Spirit breathe life into our imaginations and show us how to build a church for those who are not yet here and may we just get ready.
Recommended reading based on the sermon:
North Park Wiki
Faithful Presence by David Fitch