We ARE a forgiven people.
Oh, you want me to say more than that, don't you?
For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer. SelahSin and guilt tire us out. They weigh heavy on us, and they wear us down.
Then I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not hide my iniquity; I said, "I will confess my transgressions to the LORD," and you forgave the guilt of my sin. Selah
And when we confess, when we hand all our failings and guilt over to God, we are freed.
I've been leading the Call to Confession at midweek service for some time now, and when I do I talk about God who is always reaching out to us, always desiring to welcome us back.
All we have to do is ask. All we have to do is turn.
Our Old Testament reading today is from the book of Joshua, and it tells us of the day the manna ceased -- don't worry, this isn't a bad thing.
The children of the Exodus, forty years after the departure from Egypt (during which they were not yet born), have reached the border of the Promised Land. God tells them, "Today I have rolled away from you the disgrace of Egypt." The burden of their past has been lifted from them. God has opened the Promised Land to them.
Had we started at the beginning of this chapter from Joshua, we would have read:
For the Israelites traveled forty years in the wilderness, until all the nation, the warriors who came out of Egypt, perished, not having listened to the voice of the LORD. The LORD had sworn that none of them would see the land promised on oath to their ancestors, a land flowing with milk and honey. So it was their children, whom God raised up in their place. (Joshua 5:6-7a)In that earlier portion of Chapter 5 we would have also read about those who were to enter the Promised Land getting circumcised with flint knives, for they had not been circumcised along the way. That is some serious dedication. I'm not sure there's any Promised Land I want enough to go through something like that (provided I were a guy -- I guess their sisters and wives and daughters got a free pass). And so there is this tension -- God's forgiveness and mercy are always and abundantly available to us, we need only ask for them; but to really share in God's commonwealth requires something additional, something difficult. It requires that we give up something of our past lives, of our past selves, before we cross this threshold.
From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know Christ no longer in that way. So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to Godself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to Godself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making God's appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. (2 Corinthians 5:16-20)We are called to the ministry of reconciliation.
Luke tells the story of the prodigal child. Sometimes we are the prodigal child -- welcomed back into loving arms after having squandered all we demanded as our fair share. And sometimes we are the elder child -- angry at the largesse extended to an ungrateful turncoat while we have toiled diligently but unacknowledged.
The story of the prodigal child is one of the stories that Jesus tells to answer the authorities who were complaining, "This one welcomes sinners and eats with them" (Luke 15:2). The parent in the parable -- a stand-in for God -- tells the elder child: "Child, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this sibling of yours was dead and has come to life; was lost and has been found" (Luke 15:31-32).
God says to the faithful, "You are always with me, and all that is mine is yours." In the face of that, how can we begrudge anyone else any of God's abundance?
And yet we do. Over and over again we do. We have earned what we have -- we have worked hard in the house of our Lord, and how dare these others come in and get a glorious welcome. We have worked hard within the system, we have earned what we have -- nevermind the privilege of our race, our class, our physical and mental health or ability, our nationality, our citizenship, our sexual orientation, our gender identity or presentation -- so why should all these other people have advantages and access bestowed upon them? Why should "special accommodations" be made for those with disabilities? Why should my tax dollars go to paying for health care for undocumented immigrants -- why don't they just go back where they came from? The list of people we may resent is neverending -- the parent with the screaming child on the T (don't they know how to make their child behave?), the person on the sidewalk asking for spare change (surely they'll just use it to buy drugs), that first-timer who hasn't stopped talking to your pastor all Coffee Hour (don't they know that you're a lifetime member of this church and you have a very important conversation you need to have with the pastor?). But we are called to a ministry of reconciliation.
Or maybe we are the younger child. We have been given so many gifts, and we have squandered them, and now there is a famine in our lives, and we don't know where else to turn, so we return to the place from whence we came, desiring only to work unseen somewhere until the famine passes. The head of the household rushes out to meet us on the way, and we flinch, expecting to be berated for our poor financial planning, our unhealthy life choices -- but instead, we are embraced. We cry out, "I'm not worthy!" and against our will we are robed in markers of the house, markers of belonging. God says, "Child, you are my beloved. Welcome home. You belong here." And it is hard for us to believe -- especially with elder siblings sullenly preparing the fatted calf for dinner -- but it is true. We are God's children; we are part of God's family -- right along with everyone else. And we are called to a ministry of reconciliation.
The Israelites kept the Passover and on that day they ate of the land -- of the fruit of the land rather than of the manna God had been providing for them throughout their journey.
In eating of the land, they solidify their identity as people of that land -- no longer nomads.
What we eat is important. And where we eat. And whom we eat with.
This past Wednesday I heard a Reflection on the part in Paul's first letter to the Corinthians (1 Cor 11:17ff) wherein he berates them for replicating the injustices of the world in their enactment of the agape meal instituted by Jesus at the Last Supper.
This commemoration of the Last Supper was not the mere mouthful of bread and sip of drink that we have today, but a full meal. And at the church at Corinth, instead of all sitting down together and eating like friends, like family -- people were eating and drinking without regard for each other. Some indulging to such excess that they go home drunk, while others are going home hungry.
No one should leave Christ's table hungry.
If you're leaving hungry, it is a table not of Christ but of the world.
Whose table do we proclaim in our meals? The meal we serve at Coffee Hour -- are we attentive to the dietary needs of our congregation? The grocery shopping we do for the meals we make at home -- are we purchasing food whose production is in keeping with our social values?
We are called to a ministry of reconciliation. And that means recognizing the interconnectedness of all life -- recognizing our responsibility to help care for all of God's beloved Creation. And that includes ourselves. God declares over and over to us, "Today I have rolled away from you the disgrace of Egypt." We do not need to earn this -- we do not need to do good deeds to offset the less good deeds we have done. We are called to the hard work of ministry because we are family, but whenever there is a famine in our lives, God is rushing out to meet us, welcoming us back to sit in front of the hearth and eat a bounteous meal with all those who love us.