Through Jesus’ Love: We Welcome

So how are you coming on those New Year’s resolutions?  Are you on track?  Or have you faltered?  Have you been successful at (fill in the blank) losing weight, or eating healthier or reading your 1 book per week or whatever your resolution might be for 2019?  Or do you feel like you’ve already crashed and burned?

Well, if you have already let go of your new year’s resolution, you aren’t alone.  A study by the University of Scranton has shown that only 8% of people who make New Year’s resolutions ever actually complete them.

I have to take a moment to humbly brag…I am one of those 8% of completed their goal; because several years ago I made a New Year’s resolution to never make a New Year’s resolution again.  Nailed it!

There’s nothing wrong with coming to the conclusion that we want to improve ourselves…to take steps to change something about ourselves.  But I fear that when we make these resolutions, we approach them like a task on our to-do list.  “Check!  It’s done!”  And if we can’t check it off…then we’ve failed.  And then we quit trying.

Sometimes I wonder if we should approach resolutions less like tasks, and more like a mission.  To focus not on the “what,” but on the “why.”  Like instead of resolving to lose 10 pounds, we say that our mission is to live a healthier life.

The question then isn’t so much “what should we do?” But rather, “Why should we do it?”

In the church, we talk about mission a lot.  At Trinity, we have spent the last year living in to our brand-new mission statement.  And as we begin 2019 together, Trinity’s centennial year, your pastors thought it might be appropriate to begin the year in a sermon series, thinking together about our congregation’s resolution…our sense of mission.  Because out of mission, comes our identity.

For us to do this though, I think first, we ought to at least know our mission.  Do me a favor…take a look at it.  It’s right on the front of your bulletin.  And let’s read it out loud together.  It says: “Through Jesus’ love, we welcome, connect, learn and serve.” 

That’s it.  That simple statement describes our mission together.  It is the “why.”  Why, for the last 100 years, God has put us here…in this place.  To do this work…to welcome all…to connect with each other…to learn and grow deeper in our relationship with Jesus Christ, and to serve our neighbor, wherever or whoever they are.

I’ve got to say, while I’m kind of biased, I think it’s a pretty good mission statement.  And while having a good mission statement is, I believe, an important compass, the challenge becomes in determining how we live this out. How do we discern what it means for us to be a people empowered by Jesus’ love to welcome…to connect…to learn and to serve.

Today is a day our Gospel centers around mission.  Today we celebrate “The Epiphany.”  It is one of the major celebrations of the church year.  The Gospel story normally associated with Epiphany is the story of the three wise men…the magi…who visit Jesus.

King Herod was anxious about the prophecy that a new King had been born in Bethlehem.  In fact, scripture says that he was frightened.  And so, the King selected three wise men; magi from a distant land; and gave them a job…a mission to complete.  “Go to Bethlehem to search for this child, and when you find him to send me word, so that I could go and “pay homage.”

He was lying to the 3 magi.  Once they reported on the location of this newborn King, Herod would send soldiers, to have the child Jesus killed.  That was the real mission.

The wise men went, didn’t know the role they were playing in Herod’s scheme.

When they arrived in Bethlehem, they found Jesus.  On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down around him. Matthew’s Gospel says that they knew right away that he was the Messiah, and that “they were overwhelmed with joy.”  Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

That night, however, God came to the three in a dream and warned them of Herod’s plan.  And so, they abandoned Herod’s mission, and instead of returning to him to report on the child, they “left for their own country, by another road.”

The wise men discovered that the mission that Herod had given them, was not the mission that God had in mind for them.

Herod’s mission was centered around fear and hatred.  It was around clinging to power and destroying anything that challenged him.

God’s mission, they discovered, was love.  It was light in the midst of darkness.  And when the three looked at the child Jesus, they knew that he was the light.

And so, they chose to follow God’s mission.

As a community of believers, we have a mission.  Through Jesus love, we welcome, connect, learn and serve.

What does it mean for us to welcome?  To be hospitable?  Our Gospel story today reminds us that it’s a lot more than good donuts and coffee; it involves stepping out of what has been and growing into something new.

Maria is an amazing young woman who was a part of a sr. high mission trip team that I was leading to Montrose, Colorado a few years ago.  The team traveled there to work with Habitat for Humanity for a week, working on building homes for several families in need in that community.  Maria has a physical disability that makes mobility something of a challenge for her.  Maria walks, but both her speed and endurance are limited.  Sometimes she uses a wheelchair.  And sometimes she hops onto the back of one of her friends and hitches a ride to her destination.

After our week of working in Montrose, our team drove up into the mountains, to this beautiful little state park near Montrose to do a couple days of camping.

Of course, our group was pretty committed to hiking while we were in there.  There was a trailhead just a couple of hundred yards from our campsite.  The trail only ran 1.7 miles to the destination, a beautiful waterfall.  Our group said “1.7 miles?   What’s the big deal about that?”  Well, we discovered that 1.7 miles is not a big deal, unless the trail is steep, narrow and full of switchbacks, twists and turns.  Then, it’s a big deal.  Before the group started out, I pulled Maria aside and said “If you want to hang out here at the campsite, you’re welcome to do that…or if you want to go until the trail becomes steep, and then walk back, I’d be glad to come back with you.  What would you like to do?”  Maria thought about it and said, “let’s just see how it goes.”

It was a beautiful thing to behold.  After we had filled water bottles and applied sunscreen, without being asked, Megan walked over to Maria and turned her back to her.  Maria just hopped up onto Megan’s back and the group took off.   Maria’s physical limitations were never an issue.  It was never spoken about, discussed, or even questioned.  When Megan got tired, Maria hopped onto Jenna’s back.  Then Amy’s back.  Then Josh.  From one person to the next.  The trail turned very steep…very narrow… winding…difficult.  That “short little” 1.7 mile hike up to the falls took 2 ½ hours.  Maria kept asking people “is this ok?  I could get down and wait here for you to come back down.”  Finally, Josh looked at Maria and said “Look, do you want to go to the top or not?”  “Well yeah, but…”  “We’re all going to the top”, said Josh.  It was non-negotiable.

And this group of young people never questioned or doubted.  Maria was a part of the group, and they welcomed her.  They sacrificed and went out of their way to welcome.  They reminded me that to be truly welcoming and inclusive, is not just a matter of saying “welcome,” it means that you have to be willing to give of yourself, to change your expectations and to go out of your way to accommodate them.

That’s the case if it’s a matter of physical disability, or geography, or age, or race and ethnicity, or sexuality or whatever it might be.

Jesus went out of his way to welcome all, without conditions.  He sometimes taught…or corrected…or even chastised…but he always, always welcomed.  And Jesus teaches us to do the same.

And so, at Trinity, as people who follow Jesus’ teachings, this is non-negotiable.  We welcome all unconditionally and as you are.  It says so right in our mission statement!  We recognize that we are all broken by the world in which we live, and we are all made whole only by the love and grace of God.

This is part of our mission, and we are confident that it comes from God.  How do we know this?  We learn from these 3 magi.  They visited Jesus.  And when they saw him, they knew.  They just knew right away that he was the Savior, the Messiah.  And they were filled with great joy; and they discovered a new mission.

When we gather here, and the Word is written onto our hearts, and we taste of the grace of God in the bread and wine of the sacrament, we know.  We just know.  We see Jesus in these moments, and we know that he is the Savior, the Messiah.  And we too are filled with great joy; and we discover a new mission.

And we cannot help but welcome others into that story, no matter who they are, where they’re from or how they live.

Today is epiphany…the day of light…and we are the travelers.  We are the magi.  We have seen the baby, and we have experienced the light of Jesus.  And we welcome all into this light.  Every year, this is our new year’s resolution; our mission: that through Jesus love, we welcome, connect, learn and serve.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

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