Christ the King Sunday - Last Day of the Christian Year

Click here to read Matthew 25:31-46.

This is the last Sunday of the Christian year, the final Sabbath in the cycle of the Christian story. Next Sunday we will return to the beginning, to the scriptures of expectation and longing for the birth of Jesus. Nearly every week, our congregation follows the lectionary texts chosen to guide us through the scriptures. We are yoked with millions of Christians throughout the world as we move together through the anticipation of Advent, the astounding celebration of Christmas, the horror of Calvary, the Glory of Easter, and the empowering rush of Pentecost. The past few months we have been in Ordinary time—time in between the feasts and festivals of the church, time set aside to really listen to the teachings of Jesus, time to be in the presence of the great Gardener as he plants seeds for the Kingdom of God in our hearts and in the world. Today is the culmination of this Ordinary time and of the whole Christian year. To usher us from one cycle to the next, today the Church celebrates Christ the King.

Our scripture today is a vision of judgment day. The Son of Man comes in glory, surrounded by a throng of angels. Imagining this vision gives one chills. There he is: Christ, our King, sitting on an ornate throne in exquisite heavenly glory. He is a perfect vision of power and righteousness. He is a textbook king. The nations are gathered at his feet. Maybe some of those gathered recognize this King’s glory, and are humbled and nervous. Just like Aslan the Lion in the Narnia books, he isn’t safe, but he is good.

And then the judgment begins. The people are separated—separated as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. The sheep are ushered to the right, the goats to the left. The sharp distinction between these two groups is not necessarily what we might have expected it to be. The sheep are not commended for their acceptance of the right doctrines. The goats are not condemned for belonging to the wrong church. The matter at hand is simple, painfully simple. The King welcomes the sheep, pronouncing them heirs to God’s Kingdom. The Message translates it starkly: “I was hungry and you fed me, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was homeless and you gave me a room, I was shivering and you gave me clothes, I was sick and you stopped to visit, I was in prison and you came to me.”

Can you imagine the confusion of these righteous men and women? Can you hear the murmur that rises up from their bewilderment—whenever did we see this mighty and holy King hungry? What is he talking about? He is royalty—whenever could he have been jailed?

And it becomes clear as the diamonds on this King’s throne that we are not dealing with a textbook king after all. This is a king who has been to hell and back. This is a king who has shared the pain of humanity, and borne the weight of all suffering on his back. This King has been injured in war. This king has been deprived of food. This king has suffered in ways that are unimaginable, and the sheep of this world were there to tend his wounds.

On this Christ the King Sunday, we celebrate a King who became human. And the mark of true faith in this King is how we treat the least of our fellow humans.

The beauty of the sheep is that they didn’t even realize that they were serving Christ by serving the broken. The sheep in this story are astounded that the guest in their midst was actually Jesus. They met the needs of their sisters and brothers in need because of their fidelity to the gospel. They loved their brothers and sisters as Christ had commanded them to do.

The King in this story, restored to glory, proclaims that the sheep have inherited the kingdom. They didn’t earn the kingdom. This is not a matter of earning salvation by doing good works. We are redeemed by God’s grace, but we are not saved to be bumps on a log, concerned only for ourselves and our families. We are redeemed to be a blessing, called out to be the Body of Christ, following the way of Jesus joyfully. It matters to our Gardener King that we bear gospel fruit. The sheep in this story did just that: they cultivated the seeds of the Kingdom of God that Jesus planted in their souls, and the result was an abundant shower of God’s love and mercy. They allowed the love of Christ to be multiplied in their lives, and they lived to share that love generously.

Mark Twain wrote, “It is not those parts of the Bible that I do not understand that bother me. It is the parts of the Bible that I do understand that bother me the most.” I think this is one of those scriptures we all understand so well we’d just rather ignore it than let it bother us with conviction. Can you imagine if our love for Christ could only amount to our love for the person we love the least? This is a scripture that paints a clear picture of what it means to bear the cross of Christ. There is no real mystery here. To follow Christ and to be heirs of his Holy Kingdom is to give ourselves over to the service of our hungry, poor, homeless, and imprisoned sisters and brothers.

Jim Wallis, a prophetic preacher and the founder of Call to Renewal, an evangelical anti-poverty campaign, tells a story about his seminary days in Chicago. He and his fellow students were alarmed by the trend in many American churches to ignore the plight of the poor—and to ignore the consistent emphasis our Holy Scriptures place on the poor and oppressed. Many American churches celebrate a sort of prosperity gospel, in which Christians are told they will be rewarded for their faith with financial and social security. This distortion of the gospel is due in part to the tendency for American churches to read scriptures selectively. So Jim Wallis and his friends started a project. They went about locating every single instance in scripture that addresses the poverty and justice. They discovered that in the Old Testament, the only theme that is more prominent is that of idolatry—and even then, some of the passages regarding idolatry are related to the glorification of wealth. Well, one seminarian who was particularly disturbed by the dismissal of such significant passages decided to painstakingly snip each and every passage about poverty and justice out of the bible. As you can imagine, the book that they were left with was full of holes. He most certainly received criticism from those who found his actions sacrilegious, but this man used scissors to dramatize what happens week after week in too many Christian churches. It is altogether too easy for us to skip past the scriptures that bother us, to ignore the parables that convict us.

Because we allow the common lectionary to guide our scripture readings, we do not have the option to close our eyes and ears to the hard sayings of Jesus. We must face today’s scripture honestly, and hopefully, let it transform us. This is truly the heart of the gospel, the heart of God’s word for us. We are called to worship—and we are called to be transformed by that worship. We are called to believe—and we are called to be shaped by that belief.

We live in a culture that does not encourage us to act like sheep. Our culture has rejected ancient codes of hospitality that formed the skeleton of Hebrew culture. We are told to beware of strangers, and it is no wonder, because every day we read in the paper about the astounding capacity for human beings to treat one another with raging cruelty. And so we get caught up in a terrible cycle. We are afraid to be like the sheep, because we are afraid that the least of these are not Christ after all. We are afraid that the least of these are goats, or, worse yet, vicious beasts capable of doing us great harm.

And so we return again to the perennial gospel struggle of following the way of Jesus: we are called live as citizens of the Kingdom of God, even though we live in a world that does not abide by the laws of that Kingdom. We are called to love all of God’s people with the same joyful love we offer to Christ. This is huge work, work that requires us to have humble hearts, work that depends on a God that is ever-loving, ever-forgiving, and ever-gracious.

On this Lord’s Day, we celebrate a King who is very much alive in this world, a King who is more likely to be present among the poor and lowly than among the rich and mighty. We also celebrate the Thanksgiving Holiday. As we remember all of the ways we have been blessed, we are gently and firmly reminded by the Lord of All that we are called out to be a blessing—called out to mirror the grace—the active love—demonstrated by King Jesus. By the grace of God, let us be sheep.


Link to Information about Dean Cornwell

Dean Cornwell, a member of South Bay Christian Church, is in the Congo for two years as a missionary. He is working to develop a public relations department at the Protestant University in Kinshasa. Click on the picture to learn more about his mission.


Sunday, November 14: Creation!

Click here to read Genesis 1:20-27.

Most of you have already figured out by now that I love animals. I especially love our dog, Deacon, who is destined to be a character in my sermons for years to come.

We are all animal people, in one way or another. Humans have long depended on animals for food, labor, and companionship. Whether you’re a pet-loving vegetarian or a steak-loving carnivore, your life is enriched and blessed by animals.

And so we’re going to celebrate the blessings of animals by blessing them—and by giving them treats, which are probably more to their liking. This whole blessing of the animals thing is a bit crazy. I know that. There is a great British comedy called The Vicar of Dibley that features an episode with an animal blessing. The vivacious pastor tries so hard to get her parishioners to rally around the concept of a pet blessing to no avail. Her first mistake was to hold it in the sanctuary. Let’s just say her trustees were not pleased with the prospect of mopping the floors and scrubbing the pew cushions. There’s only so much Febreeze can do.

But this wacky and wonderful tradition goes way back. Oftentimes churches hold animal blessings to commemorate St. Francis of Assisi, the spiritual grandfather of animal lovers and the patron saint of animals. Church lore tells us that he even preached to the birds!

Animals are significant to the Christian life not only because of their usefulness to us, but because as people of faith we believe that God is the Holy Creator of all that lives.

When there was nothing but chaos, God created the Heavens and the Earth. When there was water, and dry land, and light, God said, “Let the waters bring forth swarms of living creatures,” and then when the oceans and lakes were full of silvery fish and sea monsters, God said, “Let the earth bring forth living creatures of every kind: cattle and creeping things and wild animals” and so on. God formed these living creatures, and then God saw that it was good. This wild and wooly animal kingdom, with so much extravagant diversity, was good. And then, after affirming the extraordinary goodness of this created life, God blessed them. The first recipients of God’s blessing were the birds and the fish, and then the creeping things, and finally, humankind.

The Creation story doesn’t tell us the mechanics of how life came to be. This story is much deeper than biology, much more profound than fact. The creation story reveals the essential truth of who we are: that we are fearfully and wonderfully made by our delightfully creative God. The account of the beginning of life in Genesis boldly proclaims that God is the maker of all, and that all the things that God has made are good. The very meaning of life is found in this book.

God is the source of all that is: the wellspring of the trees and the bugs, the bison and the trout. And God is the source of human life. Only humans are created differently. Humans are created in the image of God. We are created in such a way that we reflect the Creator of the Universe.

Before we even get to the part of the Creation story where God blesses the newly minted humankind, God declares, “let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.”

And as creatures formed in God’s image, as men and women infused with the spirit of God, we have a different relationship to God, and a different relationship to our fellow creatures on earth.

This relationship is marked by the word, “dominion.” Dominion is a tough concept. We do not think of “domination” as a very good thing. No one wants to deal with a domineering person.

All too often, the gift of domination over the earth has been interpreted to mean that humankind has the right to use and abuse any living thing. This is a testament to the brokenness of human nature. At the genesis of creation, we were called to be in charge of the earth. We were given domination over what God created and called good. But instead of approaching this role with fear and trembling, instead of being humbled by the awesome responsibility of taking care of God’s creation, humans have more often than not ransacked and plundered the earth and the living things it sustains.

Christians have a very particular calling when it comes to living things. As believers in a creative and creating God, we affirm that life is good, in and of itself. God formed and blessed this world and its inhabitants. This is the basis for our stubborn plea for the sanctity of life—all life. We must acknowledge and honor that each and every living thing is the recipient of God’s extraordinary blessing. Before we rush ahead to looking for ways that God’s creatures are useful to us, we must give thanks for God’s abundant blessings of life. And when we do use God’s creatures for our own sustenance and enjoyment, we must always be mindful that these creatures are blessings, good in their own right, before they are resources.

This matter of domination is a matter of stewardship. Oftentimes when we talk about stewardship in the church we talk about financial stewardship—but truly, we are called to practice good stewardship over much more than our pocketbooks. What Genesis teaches us is that everything is God’s. Everything. There is not one thing, animate or inanimate, that does not belong to God. When we abuse the gift of creation, we are practicing poor stewardship. We are failing to honor what God has made—failing to agree that creation is good. And that failure is a sign of arrogance.

We cannot let arrogance be our mode of relating to God’s creation. When we are arrogant, we see everything as it relates to us—will this hurt me? Will this help me? Arrogance clouds our vision from seeing creation as it relates to God. Arrogance is a form of pride, and pride is a form of sin. I do think it is time to recognize that the abuse of the earth is sinful. To move toward better practices of stewardship we need a change of heart—a conversion to a Christian spirituality that takes seriously the claim that life is God’s and life is good. Christ came not only to redeem individuals, but to redeem the whole creation.

Next Saturday our church parking lot will hopefully be teeming with life—life in all its astounding diversity. And I hope that this Blessing of the Animals will give us an opportunity to cultivate a deeper gratitude for God’s creation. I hope we will be reminded of what a blessing life is—all of life. This earth is a cathedral of God’s making. Let us learn anew to say grace for this vast and glorious home, and to match our thanksgivings with the hard work of stewardship.

Sunday, November 6th -

Click here to read Matthew 25:1-13.

We know the great commission and the greatest commandments pretty well. But there is another “great” in the Christian tradition that is relevant to our scripture verse this morning: The Great Disappointment. On October 22, 1844, the second coming of Christ did not happen—much to the despair of the upwards of one hundred thousand followers of William Miller, who had predicted that the end of the world as we know it would kick off on that fateful morning. Many of Miller’s followers had taken drastic measures to prepare for the big day. Some had even sold their family farms and quit their jobs. When the day came and went without a downpour of heavenly fireworks, many people were devastated. Thousands abandoned their faith altogether. But a small and loyal following resulted in the eventual development of two denominations—the Seventh Day Adventist church and the Jehovah’s Witness movement.

The Great Disappointment was a huge event—or, should I say non-event—in the history of the Christian faith, and not just for the groups that directly emerged from Miller’s teachings. William Miller’s apocalyptic predictions marked the beginning of the modern obsession with the end of the world, an obsession that crosses denominational lines. No matter that folks who predict the end times constantly have to rework their calculations; the apocalypse is big business in the United States. There are popular books on the second coming of Christ—Hal Lindsay’s The Late Great Planet Earth in the 1970s, and the long-running Left Behind series in more recent years. Then there are the movies and television programs; just last year, one of the networks ran a miniseries called Revelations that approached the last days with a hefty dose of imagination and more than a pinch of conjecture.

The end-times frenzy is a central force in some Christian churches. When I was ten or so, I attended a worship service at a friend’s church that had a chart on the sanctuary wall detailing precisely when the rapture was going to occur, leaving those who were not members of that denomination to suffer the tribulation. It scared me—though not enough to remember what day they had determined would be the last!

The science of the apocalypse is complicated. End-times predictors approach the bible as if it is a code to be cracked. They often emphasize the book of Revelation, reading it as literal prophecy, and often taking it out of its context as a letter written to the early church. Any numbers that pop up in the bible are fair game to be included as proofs for intricate theories pinpointing the end of the world. The icing on this doomsday cake is the reading the signs of the times—linking up current events such wars, famines, political conflicts, and natural disasters with biblical prophecies. Even as I recognize that apocalyptic speculation is undertaken with pure and faithful motives, the effect of such speculation is often fear and hysteria rather than hope and joyful expectation.

I lift up this contemporary expression of apocalyptic thought not only because it is extremely popular, and therefore what many people think of when they consider the second coming of Christ, but also because it strikes me as such a vastly different picture than that which is painted by Jesus in the parable we heard today.

Jesus sets the stage for the parable of the bridesmaids by giving us a big clue right off the bat. Even as the bridesmaids scurry off with their lamps to meet the bridegroom, Jesus divulges that five of the women are wise, and five of the women are foolish. All the bridesmaids are where they are supposed to be. All the bridesmaids fall asleep when the bridegroom doesn’t show up. However, the five wise women are prepared for his delay. They have brought oil with which to replenish their lamps for the long wait. The foolish women who have run out of oil beg their friends to share, but the fact is that the wise bridesmaids don’t have a drop of oil to spare. They have just what they need to greet the bridegroom and celebrate the inception of his marriage. The foolish bridesmaids are sent off to the merchants to buy more oil, but their last minute attempt to make up for their foolishness is simply too little too late. They’ve missed the boat. Meanwhile, the wise women who were fully prepared for the late arrival of the groom have entered the bright and warm wedding celebration. The parable ends with the premonition, “Keep awake, therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.”

I think that it is really hard to read this kind of scripture without filtering it through the cloud of apocalyptic hysteria that has stormed through Christian churches in the past hundred and fifty years. To get to the core of this parable—to uncover the gospel kernel within it—we need to peel away the layers introduced by pop culture apocalypticism.

So if this parable doesn’t resemble contemporary end-times fever, what does it teach? The scripture does imply that something is going to happen, something about which we know neither the day nor the hour. The point of this scripture is not to encourage us to figure out that day or that hour. Regardless of when this momentous event in the life of the kingdom of God is going to occur, there will be waiting involved. But not idle waiting. Waiting that is filled with intentional preparation. The core of this scripture lesson is the matter of readiness. The question each hearer of this word must ask himself is this: am I like the foolish bridesmaids, who waited for the bridegroom without the oil they needed to keep their lamps burning? Or am I like the wise bridesmaids, who came prepared to wait for the bridegroom’s delayed arrival?

Why all this waiting in the first place? The early church—the first and second generations to read Matthew’s gospel—believed that Jesus was going to return to earth within their lifetime. The newborn Body of Christ had no idea that God’s plan for the church was to minister in the name of Jesus Christ through millennia. The early assumption was that Jesus was going to hotfoot it back to the earth to harvest the seeds of the kingdom he planted during his first coming. But the day did not come. Their expectations for a quick second coming were mounting to a first Great Disappointment.

So the waiting is a reality; each generation experiences the same anguish of waiting for the kingdom of God to come into fruition on earth. The point is not to parse when the waiting will finally cease. The point is to be prepared—to have oil for one’s lamp when the Christ returns. So what is this oil?

The meaning of the oil in this allegory is good works—good works that demonstrate the believer’s commitment to responding to God’s grace by following the way of Jesus. I think it helps to recall a scripture from the Gospel of Matthew that the lectionary skipped past, in which Jesus beseeches the Pharisees to tithe not with offerings of mint, cumin, and dill, but to offer a sacrifice of Justice and Mercy. The oil is a symbol for that sacrifice. The oil is a symbol for what will matter when the Christ returns: how has your life reflected your commitment to Christ? Did you get lazy when it became clear that the life of discipleship requires hard work, day in and day out? Did you find ways to nurture the flame of the Holy Spirit in your life, by consistently practicing lovingkindness to your neighbors? Did you forgive? Did you repent? This is the oil that lights our lamps and in turn brings God’s light to the world; this is the oil that fuels the movement of the Christian life. And this is not oil we can run out and buy at the store. This is not oil we can afford to run out of and borrow from our sisters and brothers. This is the sacrifice of readyness, the work of justice and mercy, that each follower of Christ must practice in this, and every, time and place.

This parable that Jesus shares demonstrates the nature of the kingdom of God. And even though the full emergence of that kingdom has not been established, the bridegroom is on his way. I think that we can believe in this joyfully and expectantly without buying into the sensationalized versions that are so popular in our culture. Indeed, I think that we must believe that Christ will return to finish the work of healing this broken and forlorn world. It is our only hope.

And the hope of Christ’s return is a glorious hope indeed. This parable is lovely reminder of the wonderful nature of the object of our anticipation. What is the kingdom of God like? It is like a wedding reception, a celebration of life and love and intimacy. At that holy party, God’s earth will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Our brother Jesus will be present to us in new and unimaginably marvelous ways. We will dance and laugh in a room decked with lamps fueled by justice and mercy warm our skin and light our path. We will feast in the presence of God.

Sisters and brothers, let’s be like the wise bridesmaids. Let’s ready ourselves for Christ’s return not with technical charts and smug predictions. Let’s prepare for His arrival by saturating our lives with plenty of love, gratitude, generosity, and humility to keep our gospel lights burning brilliantly.

We have been promised that Christ is coming and that our future lies with God. The end is certain—what matters for us today is how we let that glorious end form and transform our lives in this day and in this hour. When we have oil for our lamps—when we live in accordance with the way of the gospel—we can boldly and joyfully pray, “Come, Lord Jesus! Come!”



Sunday, October 30th: All Saint's Day

There is a lot of groaning going on today. Throughout the Christian church, preachers who follow the lectionary scriptures are inwardly groaning at the charge of proclaiming this gospel passage. The theme of the texts and the topic of the day is hypocrisy. And nothing humbles a preacher more than being reminded that we are supposed to practice what we preach. Reading this first of seven woes proclaimed by Jesus to the teachers of the law is a recipe for feeling convicted. As I meditate on this passage, I cannot help but wonder how often in my sermons I have bound up a heavy burden to deposit on your shoulders even as I refuse to bear the exact same burden. How often have I been like a Pharisee, preaching one message and living another? How can a preacher preach about hypocrisy without facing her own hypocritical nature?

In the months since I’ve been preaching regularly, I’ve realized how much more easily I feel convicted. It’s one thing to read scriptures about the dire importance of loving God and neighbor and failing to do so; its another thing to passionately encourage your congregation to love God and neighbor and turn around and treat one of God’s children unlovingly.

My friend Stacey, who is a pastor in the Reformed Christian Church, recently wrote about her struggles with aligning her walk with her talk. After delivering a fervent message on forgiveness, she found herself in a situation that tested her own ability to forgive. She wrote, “I don't want to be forgiving. I don't want to care about reconciliation. What I want is to… at the very least, bid someone a fond "Don't let the door hit you on the way out." I want to get all righteously indignant and engage in some good old fashioned smiting. I want to lay out point by point exactly what was done wrong, in the least gracious way possible, and call it "church discipline."

Yes, I have a bit of a temper.
Sigh. Remember sermon. "Forgiveness is a better way, God's way." What was I thinking? Why do I emphasize the compassionate, loving aspects of God? If I had talked about judgment, at least I'd have an excuse...

It sounded so nice when I was saying it to someone else. I don't really even want to try to work toward forgivenss right now. But here comes that nasty, sneaky, little poking feeling of God saying, "You know, if you're going to get into a pulpit and tell people this is the best way, perhaps you ought to at least make a good faith effort yourself."

Rev. Stacey ended her recap of her internal argument by declaring that she has got to start preaching about smiting.

I can relate to Rev. Stacey’s struggle. One of the issues I struggle with is the dissonance between my ideals and my actions regarding consumerism. I could preach a fiery message about the spiritual vacuum of overconsumption. I could sound like a good old fashioned hellfire and damnation preacher, pounding on the pulpit as I condemn the culture of buying much more than we need, of allowing material goods to eat up large portions of our incomes, of failing to give generously on account of enormous credit card debt. And then I’d go home to the Sunday paper and make a beeline for the Target advertisement, forgetting my high-minded values as soon as I see the new designer series. Consumerism may break my heart, but it continues to break my pocketbook.

I may have new appreciation for the issue of hypocrisy, but Jesus’ teachings on the importance of practicing what we preach is relevant for all Christians. Clearly, Jesus was not happy with the Pharisee’s failure to coordinate their teachings with their actions. His central accusation is that they are prideful and blind to their own brokenness. He says, 5They do all their deeds to be seen by others... 6They love to have the place of honor at banquets and the best seats in the synagogues, 7and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and to have people call them rabbi.” They love the prestige of being religious leaders, but they are not transformed by the religious teachings they proclaim. The Pharisees put themselves before God; they wear their piety like a badge, using it to procure privileges.

Hypocrisy is a potent catalyst for mistrust. When you see that someone has behaved hypocritically, you feel betrayed. You no longer trust what the hypocrite says. And religious people have an enormous reputation for hypocrisy. Many non-Christians have strongly negative opinions about Christians, and the reason is that they perceive many Christians are hypocritical. Whether or not it is fair, non-Christians judge Christians when their actions fail to live up to biblical standards. No matter that no one is perfect; when a Christian acts in a manner that is unchristlike, people notice.

When words and deeds do not match up, a chasm forms. And that chasm is more dangerous than we might imagine. Faith can fall into that chasm of mistrust and disillusionment, and be lost. Many people have become so disgusted by the actions of Christians that they have rejected the church altogether. I have heard so many people claim that they like Jesus just fine—they just don’t like his followers. There are certainly lots of Christians who would send me running in the other direction if I wasn’t securely rooted in a relationship with God through Jesus Christ. Sometimes I wonder if people who claim to be Christians are any less likely to lie, cheat, steal, abuse, and judge.

Again, no one is perfect. We are all human and given to human failures; as we all know, being in relationship with God doesn’t prevent us from sinning. But this problem of hypocrisy among the Body of Christ is truly a crisis. Too many Christian people are acting like the corrupted Pharisees—and that is precisely what the gospel advises against.

The crisis of hypocrisy is causing many Christians to struggle with their identity as Christian people. We live in a culture that increasingly mistrusts Christianity; how, then, are we supposed to go about our way sharing the gospel of Christ from our doorsteps to the ends of the earth? This issue came up often during the eight weeks of our Talking Faith discussion group. We are people who have chosen to follow the way of Jesus; how do we communicate that to our neighbors in the shadow of so-called Christians who proclaim not the way of Jesus but the way of judgment, hatred, and deception?

We’ve got to get back to the basics, and recommit ourselves to not simply believing in the gospel, but living in a way that is fully informed by the good news of Jesus Christ. When we wake up each morning, we need to begin our days with a humble prayer, asking God to help us embody the love, grace, and forgiveness of the gospel. We can’t waste too much time fretting about the Christians who continue to practice hypocrisy; after all, judge not, or you shall be judged. We’ve just got to take a deep breath of the Holy Spirit and let that Spirit recreate us again and again according to the will of God.

There is a wonderful quote attributed to St. Francis of Assisi— “Preach the gospel always. When necessary, use words.” I might use words in the pulpit as the one called to be pastor of this community. But we are all called to be ministers of the Gospel when we are baptized in the name of the Creator and the Christ and the Holy Spirit. And part of the ministry all believers are called to is the ministry of preaching. Perhaps not often with words. But always with actions. We must preach the gospel with every inch of our lives. That is not to say that we will not make mistakes. We will continue to fall short. But when we falter, we can model a way of humble repentance.

We can ask for forgiveness and do what is right to restore relationships when our actions hurt our neighbors.

During this season each time of year, the Church Universal celebrates All Saint’s Day. This is a time in the life of the congregation to remember those who have passed away, and to celebrate the lives of the whole communion of Saints. I know that this congregation has lost some extraordinary members in recent years, true Saints of the Church who lived graciously. These people were not perfect, but their integrity and humility make the connection between their walk and their talk seamless. Remembering and honoring this communion of Saints is part of our work as Christian people. As we endeavor to rid our lives of hypocrisy and become more Christlike, we need the examples of men and women who have traveled this same path.

We might groan under the burden of loosening ourselves from the grip of hypocrisy. I meant it when I said this scripture makes me groan as a preacher; I am humbled by my many failures to live up to the words I pronounce. But God’s grace transforms our groaning into songs of praise. God’s love turns our expressions of repentance into illustrations of forgiveness. Thanks be to God.