GiftsEden On The Bay

All are welcome ~ Come as you are

Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church ~ Munising, Michigan

What Do We Mean By All Are Welcome - 09/02/2018

At the risk of sounding like I’m a little over the edge about mountain biking, I’m going to start with a story from my experience at the end of the Ore to Shore race a few weeks ago.

As some of you already know, it was not what you would call a very “clean” race for me. I came off my bike a couple of times in dramatic fashion. The first time I went over my handle bars into a sand bank that busted my helmet up a little, gave me a mouth full of Lake Superior sand and, what I didn’t know, covered me with dirt from tip to toe. I even had a tire mark up my back … from my own bike.

And then, I had another spill that threw me into a little rock garden and bloodied and bruised me up a bit. This all happened pretty early in the race, so by the time I reached the finish line, I was frankly just happy to have survived this O2S experience – it certainly wasn’t my best race – and thinking mostly about getting something to drink and eat. I was not thinking – or even that aware of how dirty I was or the dried blood on my leg and arm. My very helpful friend guided me toward the beer tent and taco truck.

Now, also at this time, as I was coming in off the easier 28-mile Soft Rock race, a whole bunch of others were coming in off the Hard Rock race, the 48-mile race that is designed for a much stronger rider than me. These riders are often covered with dirt and are much sweatier than those coming off the Soft Rock.

So anyway, I’m sitting there with my friends trading race stories and super thankful for U.P. microbreweries and taco trucks, and I’m not kidding you, three strangers approached me and suggested I may want to go hit the free showers inside Lakeview Arena. After the second person said it, I turned to Larry and my friends and asked, “How dirty am I?” They took pictures with their phones and showed me … the dirt, the bloody elbow I hadn’t notice, the tire track up my back. I was a mess, indeed. But it was a race, I don’t mind getting dirty, I knew I’d heal up, and truthfully, I was kind of proud of my all my battle wounds. It made me feel tough and resilient and alive.  

And then a third person said it. That’s when I noticed the glut of riders coming in off the longer, harder, more prestigious race … as dirty and sweaty as I was, and nobody said anything to them expect … Congratulations! Good job! Way to conquer!

Hmmm, I thought. I turned to one of my friends and said, “I wonder if this is what it’s like to not feel welcomed at church?”

Hospitality is important to us – it’s deeply ingrained in Midwestern culture, of which we are the northern cousins.

It’s also a foundational value of our Christian identities – going all the way back to our stories of Abraham and Sarah, Rahab, the 14-year-old Mary of Nazareth.

And, it’s pretty clear that hospitality – making the stranger feel welcome – is important at Eden too … with our “All are Welcome/Come as You Are!” proclamation to the world that passes by on M-28.

And, I think, we are pretty good at this hospitality thing. It is one of the most consistent comments I hear from visitors to our weekend worship services, funerals, weddings and other gatherings. It is a gift of the Spirit that has been nurtured well here.

So, hospitality – it is part of our culture, we are called to it by our God and our Christian beliefs, we live into it well here at Eden.

Hold on to that idea as I take us, hopefully, a little more deeply into one of the main themes in our appointed scriptures this week … the law. Both God’s law and humankind’s law show up in our readings today.

Deuteronomy literally means: “deutero” or “second,” and “nomos” or “law.” Second law. And in today’s reading we heard “So now, Israel, give heed to the statutes and ordinances that I am teaching you to observe …You must neither add anything to what I command you nor take away anything from it, but keep the commandments of the Lord your God with which I am charging you.” (4:1-2)

And from James we heard “Religion (or law) that is pure and undefiled before God, … is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.” (1:27, paraphrased).

Psalm 15 is often viewed as an entrance psalm, a prayer said as one enters God’s holy space. Who is worthy under God’s law to enter that place? Is the question behind this prayer. “Those who walk blamelessly, and do what is right, and speak the truth from their heart,” the Psalmist sings. It is a lofty expectation of the law follower.

I think the word blameless here can be problematic, especially for us Lutherans who try to be so honest about our saint and sinner natures. So I looked it up. It is the Hebrew word tamiym (tah-meem), which means without blemish or stain, perfect, upright, whole, sincere, complete, full. I thought it was interesting that while we can strive for a couple of these ideals throughout our lives … like to be upright and sincere … we also know we cannot attain, on our own, what it means to be tamiym (tah-meem). And we recognize that God has given us this gift of being tamiym (tah-meem) in Jesus, whose life and death and resurrection makes us unblemished, whole and complete.

And then we get to our Gospel from Mark – the Good News of Jesus Christ, who is going head-to-head over the law with the Pharisees and the scribes.

“(For the Pharisees, and all the Jews, do not eat unless they thoroughly wash their hands, thus observing the tradition of the elders; and they do not eat anything from the market unless they wash it; and there are also many other traditions that they observe, the washing of cups, pots, and bronze kettles.) (7:3-4)

Let’s think a little about these people and their faith community. The Pharisees and the scribes often get painted with a big broad brush – we generalize and simplify them as bad, corrupt people with the blood of Jesus on their hands. There is some truth to that, of course. But like anyone else who may bear the weight of an awful truth – it isn’t their whole story – none of us are a product of a single story.

The Jewish faith leaders here are charged with helping the Jewish people remain faithful to God’s law that was handed down by Moses. The reason is spelled out quite clearly in the second part of our Deuteronomy reading: God through Moses said to the Hebrews: “You must observe (God’s law) diligently, for this will show your wisdom and discernment to the peoples, who, when they hear all these statutes, will say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and discerning people!’” (4:6)

This is not law that is confining or restrictive or punishing in any way. God’s law frees us and makes way to abundant life for all.

This law is a treasured and precious gift from a perfectly faithful and outrageously generous God. A God who exceeds tamiym (tah-meem).

And so it was probably quite natural that when the high priests entered what they thought was the most tangible presence of God, the temple at Jerusalem, the priests made sure they were as clean and unblemished as they could possibly be. And the sacrifices of first fruits and sin offerings were also as perfect and unblemished as possible. That’s what this God deserved. That’s what this God’s law deserved.

Eventually, in trying to help the people be faithful to God’s covenant, the religious leaders nurtured a culture in which people participated in daily rituals of cleanliness so they could properly receive the gifts of this perfect and attentive God. It was meant to be an echo of the Holy Temple in the daily lives of the people.

It is much like the way we take our prayers of the table here and say similar words of praise and thanksgiving at the meals around our own tables and gatherings outside of here.

But as sometimes happens, traditions and cultural expectations over time can begin to carry as much weight and perceived divinity… even …as God’s law. Over time and very subtly, God’s people can start doing exactly what Deuteronomy warns us against: “You must neither add anything to what I command you nor take away anything from it…” (4.2a).

This is what had happened with some of the rituals, traditions, expectations and human law that had built up around God’s holy law. All that humanity has built up around it starts to look more like a wall between God’s law and God’s people.

All that ritual and tradition can gradually bring on an amnesia of sorts. In order to uphold those rituals and traditions, God’s command to, for instance, honor mother and father is sidelined; the physical structure of the temple and the high priests themselves are idolized above God; the call to welcome the stranger with radical hospitality becomes much less important than making sure everyone’s hands and food and utensils are properly cleansed and purified.

Jesus is there to provide a check and balance to this very human, very predictable and still prevalent human behavior.

And so what about us? If I had come here from that finish line a few weeks ago, would we have welcomed me, all sweaty and bloodied, to lead worship or even just be among those assembled?

And what about other scenarios that are far more likely to happen? … If among our prayers for this faith community is that more people gather with us at this table and font, are we open to who God sends? If we look for ways to be a blessing to this community, are we ready to go out into it as Eden with our proclamation of All are Welcome… Come as You Are?

What if God’s answer to our prayers is a homeless vet who needs shower and a meal, but has no Sunday best to put on? Or a single mom whose made a lot of poor choices in a small town and may do so again after leaving here? Or someone who needs some help paying the electric bill and talks a big game of coming to worship, but never shows up? Or someone who voted for another candidate? Someone who struggles with anxiety or addictive behaviors or some other brain health issue? What about the family with kids who get a little loud during worship or someone you did not clique with in high school or at work. 

All are welcome! Come as you are! We excel at hospitality at Eden, thanks be to God. And others notice. They say “Surely this great nation is a wise and discerning people!” And still, Jesus comes to us with his check and balance too. He pushes us even further and challenges us to ask:

What do we mean by that exactly when we make that proclamation for all the world to see and hear? And are we ready for God’s answer to that prayer? Amen.

Pastor Ann Gonyea

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Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church ~ Munising Michigan ~ An ELCA, Northern Great Lakes Synod Congregation
P.O. Box 360 ~ 1150 West M-28 ~ Munising, MI 49862 ~ 1-906-387-2520 ~ contact@edenonthebay.org

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