During my sophomore year of college, there were two terrifying abduction cases. Penn State, who most often gathered around football, basketball, and Creamery Ice Cream, was galvanized around two abductions and sexual violence. Both were of young women involved in the active Greek life. Both were surrounded with concerns of love and care. Both brought an emotion of chilling fear and kept college coeds closer together as they traveled from dorm to dorm, especially at night. What distinguished them was that one young woman was white and one young woman was black.
The young woman who was white was publicized in the Collegian and on the TV station. We received emails and warnings. The other young woman who was black was only mentioned in whispers of social circles alluded to in comparison to the first. The difference was chilling. And to many of us, the inherent racism needed to be brought out. A group of students gathered to protest the gross indifference in resources marshalled for these two women. We peacefully marched in front of Old Main. We gathered inside of the HUB. We spoke our pieces, until finally the voices were heard.
Out of these peaceful sit-ins, the department of African and African American Studies was formed at Penn State. Additional tenure track professors were hired. Requirements for coursework in a diversity were added. Both women were ultimately found. One alive and one murdered. One went onto graduate Penn State and look forward to life. The other was a casualty of society who did not treat her the same as her white sister. It was the presence of the gathered body that changed the path forward. It was intentional presence of college students gathered together to support one another that changed the way forward.
I have listened to families say time and time again. It is not what you say that matters it is that you showed up. It is that you sat with me in my time of need. It is that you cared enough to keep coming when my loved one was no longer cognizant or engaging. Presence is a great gift.
This week, we begin a five week focus on stewardship. Let me remind you what stewardship. Stewardship is how you use what you have been given. Over the next 5 weeks, we will be diving into how do you use your presence – spending time with others, your witness – living a life that points to Jesus, your service – how do you live out your purpose, your prayers – the joys and challenges from others and yourself in life, where do you take them, and your gifts – your money. You, who are blessed, how are you blessing others?
If you are blessed, it is so that you will bless others. Intentional presence is showing up on purpose. It is what you and I did this morning. We came to church on purpose this morning. We may have come because we committed that we would teach Sunday School or usher. We may have come, because it is what we do on Sunday mornings. What we often come to find out is that when we come, we talk to those who need encouragement, we teach those who are eager to learn. We ourselves end up being ministered to in the process.
Showing up and spending time with our brothers and sisters, here and around the world is hard work. We watch people who are struggling and wish we had answers. Someone who has been wandering in the wilderness so long. Someone whose smile is starting to move towards bitterness. Someone who cannot find the way forward and is tired of all your usual affirmations, prayers, and clichés.
To be present is like the friends of Job. The friends of Job will tire of this intentional presence soon (read the book to see how). But here, they sit with their friend. They commiserate. They feel with the pain, not offering solutions, but intentional presence to the one separating from their spouse, fighting addiction, struggling with the kids, caught in fears about work, fixated on the natural disasters around them.
To be present is like the messy book of Genesis. Jacob and Esau are at it again. When will they get along? They are still divided and so much so, that their mother sends Jacob away, so she will not lose two sons on the same day! The messy book of Genesis is our life, too! We notice that we do not believe all exactly the same things. We see it on our Facebook post and our choice of ballcaps. Wesley, the founder of the Methodist movement, famously wrote in a sermon, entitled Catholic Spirit, “though we cannot think alike, may we not love alike? If your heart is as mine, put your hand in mine.1”
Yesterday, at Planting Seeds for Ministry, Scott Chrostek, pastor of the United Methodist Church of the Resurrection downtown, in downtown Kansas City, spoke of the misfits. 9 people united around starting the community of faith in downtown Kansas City between a strip joint and a tattoo parlor. Those who had nothing in common. Those misfits, came together for the sake of the gospel, to tell the stories of where they experiences something bigger than themselves, where they knew love bigger than they could understand. And began to find the words and actions to describe and live out the love of Jesus.
Sometimes, we too can feel like have nothing in common. It can be hard to feel united as the body of Christ, across this sanctuary, let along across the world. On this World Communion Sunday, we may feel more like misfits, who have little in common. What united us across the world when language and perspective do not? Unity is not merely, suppressing voices of dissent, or shouting loudly, “just go along with it.”
Jesus brought together those who were living a religious life and those who sin was more known than gifts. Pharisees and prostitutes, drunk and dowdy religious folks who had little in common besides Jesus called them to walk with them. Jesus called each of them to call each other brother and sister, even if they were stranger. So, that they would come to value one another.2
The early Christians were known for their unusual practices. One of which was that when someone of the faith died, others would support the families. Christians would surround one another with food and support. Their presence was so notable that governors commented on it in the letter seeking advice. How do you handle these crazy Christians who cannot be controlled with just bread and circuses, who seem to support one another at all costs?
Early Christians were distinctive by the way they gave the gift of presence to other another. Still today, this is what makes people of faith unique. It is showing up with a church family when they are keeping vigil at the death bed of a loved one. It is showing up with someone you barely know because they are sweating where their teenager is, because ‘they should have been home by now.’ It is hanging around after worship to ask about prayer request raised last week. It is introducing yourself to someone you have never met before, because meeting your neighbors and brothers and sisters in Christ matters.
To show up. To be present. To take a knee. To link arms. To stand beside. To sit in. These actions of intentional presence are gifts, and they are who we are as Christians. Jesus called us to be in community with one another. Jesus went so far as to say this community if so strong, that if even two or three of you gather together in the name of God, God is there with you. If two or three of you can agree, God’s Spirit will move.
As we begin our stewardship season, we renew the vows we make each time someone joins the church, each time someone is baptized, to faithfully participate in the ministries of the Church by our prayers, our presence, our gifts, our service, and our witness. We show up, on purpose. Hear this challenge: meet someone new to you this morning. Introduce yourself to someone you have never met. Here at the church or in your daily round. Then, be present enough to hear their story and see God in the midst of it. Show up. Be here at church in the gathered body and be fully present to those you love and those you have yet to love.
This is the life to which Jesus calls us. Showing up and loving one another. In the midst of our difference and for Jesus’ sake.
This is the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, thanks be to God, Amen.
2Inspired by http://day1.org/7975-will_willimon_one_in_christ
Old Testament Lesson: Genesis 26:2-5, 27-32; 27: 1-8, 18-22, 27-37, 41-45
The Lord appeared to Isaac and said, “Do not go down to Egypt; settle in the land that I shall show you. Reside in this land as an alien, and I will be with you, and will bless you; for to you and to your descendants I will give all these lands, and I will fulfill the oath that I swore to your father Abraham. I will make your offspring as numerous as the stars of heaven, and will give to your offspring all these lands; and all the nations of the earth shall gain blessing for themselves through your offspring, because Abraham obeyed my voice and kept my charge, my commandments, my statutes, and my laws.”
Isaac said to them, “Why have you come to me, seeing that you hate me and have sent me away from you?” They said, “We see plainly that the Lord has been with you; so we say, let there be an oath between you and us, and let us make a covenant with you so that you will do us no harm, just as we have not touched you and have done to you nothing but good and have sent you away in peace. You are now the blessed of the Lord.” So he made them a feast, and they ate and drank. In the morning they rose early and exchanged oaths; and Isaac set them on their way, and they departed from him in peace. That same day Isaac’s servants came and told him about the well that they had dug, and said to him, “We have found water!”
When Isaac was old and his eyes were dim so that he could not see, he called his elder son Esau and said to him, “My son”; and he answered, “Here I am.” He said, “See, I am old; I do not know the day of my death. Now then, take your weapons, your quiver and your bow, and go out to the field, and hunt game for me. Then prepare for me savory food, such as I like, and bring it to me to eat, so that I may bless you before I die.”
Now Rebekah was listening when Isaac spoke to his son Esau. So when Esau went to the field to hunt for game and bring it, Rebekah said to her son Jacob, “I heard your father say to your brother Esau, ‘Bring me game, and prepare for me savory food to eat, that I may bless you before the Lord before I die.’ Now therefore, my son, obey my word as I command you.
So he went in to his father, and said, “My father”; and he said, “Here I am; who are you, my son?” Jacob said to his father, “I am Esau your firstborn. I have done as you told me; now sit up and eat of my game, so that you may bless me.” But Isaac said to his son, “How is it that you have found it so quickly, my son?” He answered, “Because the Lord your God granted me success.” Then Isaac said to Jacob, “Come near, that I may feel you, my son, to know whether you are really my son Esau or not.” So Jacob went up to his father Isaac, who felt him and said, “The voice is Jacob’s voice, but the hands are the hands of Esau.”
So he came near and kissed him; and he smelled the smell of his garments, and blessed him, and said,
“Ah, the smell of my son
is like the smell of a field that the Lord has blessed.
May God give you of the dew of heaven,
and of the fatness of the earth,
and plenty of grain and wine.
Let peoples serve you,
and nations bow down to you.
Be lord over your brothers,
and may your mother’s sons bow down to you.
Cursed be everyone who curses you,
and blessed be everyone who blesses you!”
As soon as Isaac had finished blessing Jacob, when Jacob had scarcely gone out from the presence of his father Isaac, his brother Esau came in from his hunting. He also prepared savory food, and brought it to his father. And he said to his father, “Let my father sit up and eat of his son’s game, so that you may bless me.” His father Isaac said to him, “Who are you?” He answered, “I am your firstborn son, Esau.” Then Isaac trembled violently, and said, “Who was it then that hunted game and brought it to me, and I ate it all [a] before you came, and I have blessed him?—yes, and blessed he shall be!” When Esau heard his father’s words, he cried out with an exceedingly great and bitter cry, and said to his father, “Bless me, me also, father!” But he said, “Your brother came deceitfully, and he has taken away your blessing.” Esau said, “Is he not rightly named Jacob? For he has supplanted me these two times. He took away my birthright; and look, now he has taken away my blessing.” Then he said, “Have you not reserved a blessing for me?” Isaac answered Esau, “I have already made him your lord, and I have given him all his brothers as servants, and with grain and wine I have sustained him. What then can I do for you, my son?”
Now Esau hated Jacob because of the blessing with which his father had blessed him, and Esau said to himself, “The days of mourning for my father are approaching; then I will kill my brother Jacob.” But the words of her elder son Esau were told to Rebekah; so she sent and called her younger son Jacob and said to him, “Your brother Esau is consoling himself by planning to kill you. Now therefore, my son, obey my voice; flee at once to my brother Laban in Haran, and stay with him a while, until your brother’s fury turns away— until your brother’s anger against you turns away, and he forgets what you have done to him; then I will send, and bring you back from there. Why should I lose both of you in one day?”
Old Testament Lesson: Job 2:12-13
When they saw him from a distance, they did not recognize him, and they raised their voices and wept aloud; they tore their robes and threw dust in the air upon their heads. They sat with him on the ground seven days and seven nights, and no one spoke a word to him, for they saw that his suffering was very great.
Gospel Lesson: Matthew 18:15-20
“If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one. But if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If the member refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. Again, truly I tell you, if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.”
Meditations For Your Week
Sunday, October 1st-Saturday, October 7th
Sunday: “Reside in this land as an alien, and I will be with you, and will bless you; for to you and to your descendants I will give all these lands, and I will fulfil the oath that I swore to your father Abraham.” Genesis 26:3. God cared for Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah, God will care for you. Where is God caring for you and blessing you?
Monday: “They said, ‘We see plainly that the Lord has been with you; so, we say, let there be an oath between you and us, and let us make a covenant with you so that you will do us no harm, just as we have not touched you and have done to you nothing but good and have sent you away in peace. You are now the blessed of the Lord.’” Genesis 26: 28-29. Even those who do not know God, can see God’s hand of blessing in your life. Where can you bring peace in the midst of conflict?
Tuesday: “Let peoples serve you, and nations bow down to you. Be lord over your brothers, and may your mother’s sons bow down to you. Cursed be everyone who curses you, and blessed be everyone who blesses you!’” Genesis 27: 29. Isaac blesses Jacob with Esau’s blessings over great words of promise. Our words have the power to bless and to curse. Consider how you are offering blessings.
Wednesday: “Esau said, ‘Is he not rightly named Jacob? For he has supplanted me these two times. He took away my birthright; and look, now he has taken away my blessing.’ Then he said, ‘Have you not reserved a blessing for me?’” Genesis 27:36. Between Jacob and Esau, the conflict is strong. In what conflicts, do you need the encouragement to work towards peace, even (and maybe especially) when it is hard?
Thursday: “When they saw him from a distance, they did not recognize him, and they raised their voices and wept aloud; they tore their robes and threw dust in the air upon their heads.” Job 2: 12. The friends of Job stayed with him in his pain. Who are you sitting with in their pain?
Friday: “They sat with him on the ground for seven days and seven nights, and no one spoke a word to him, for they saw that his suffering was very great.” Job 2: 13. Notice platitudes and stories were not necessary in this comforting. Consider sitting with others in their pain, without trying to solve it.
Saturday: “Again, truly I tell you, if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.’” Matthew 18: 19-20. God is near. As near as gathering with brothers and sisters in Christ.