The Word This Weekend – May 13, 2018
“The Company We Keep”
The Rev. Dr. William L. Hurst
FLCS Senior Pastor
I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me." (John 17:20-21)
“People are known by the company they keep.” (Anonymous)
The next two weekends are big ones at First Lutheran. What a time to be together as one community of faith and purpose.
This Saturday hundreds of people will arrive at our courtyard for the annual Taste of the Town Gala and Food Fest. Always a great evening of food and drink, auctions and prizes – all in support of this community’s mission and ministry in church and school. Then, on Sunday, a group of children will kneel for Communion for the very first time, along with their families. A number of new members will be received during worship. We will observe Mother’s Day, as well as the 7th Sunday of Easter, and pray for the unity for which Christ prayed and lived, died and rose.
Then, on Sunday May 20th, our congregation holds its annual meeting to elect leaders and approve a plan for mission for the coming year. It’s been our practice to gather for a special Unity Service at 10am, and this year’s “Unity Communion” will feature the Rite of Confirmation for a large group of 8th Graders. This inspiring service will be followed by brunch and celebration in Faith Hall, with our (hopefully brief) congregation meeting afterward. Our theme for the day and for the season: “Not by might, not by power, But by my Spirit,” says the LORD (Zechariah 4:6).
As it happens, the Gospel text for this weekend, Easter VII, is all about Unity as well. Jesus, in deep and fervent prayer on the night of his betrayal, arrest and trial, pleads with God that his followers, and those who would come to faith through their work, would all be one – and that the world would recognize and trust in Christ’s love because of that unity.
What a blissful and awesome vision – a fully united and reconciled Body of Christ, hands joined and hearts interwoven, standing in solidarity across the rich and colorful patchwork of races, languages, cultures and traditions that lift high the cross of the world’s Savior!
So how are we doing with that vision of Unity -- the prayer that Christ voiced in the Garden, bled for on the Cross, and rose from the Tomb to assure? Not too well, I’d say. I mean, what does the world see when they look at this Body of Christ around the world, in our neighborhoods, and especially as presented through the media? Too often the world around us sees Christian communities as backwaters of sectarian constipation or crass fundamentalism, selective and exclusionary Biblicism, hyper-judgmentalism or downright hypocrisy. If current research is any indication, this generation has our number, as fewer and fewer of them identify as Christian, preferring to call themselves “Nones” or “Dones.”
“People are known by the company they keep.” So goes the old axiom, and it’s a proverb we’d better take seriously in our own day, at least any of us who would hear Jesus’ prayer for unity and reconciliation as the principal task of a Church that would be a lens through which people would sense the truth of God’s grace in Christ, rather than a soiled and twisted carnival glass that perverts and misrepresents the face of the One whose name we bear.
“The company we keep.” What, I wonder, might be the hallmarks of such a company of faith? How might our neighbors, our allies, or even our adversaries or detractors see a clear picture of this band of sisters and brothers who live and love in the way of Jesus our unity? Well, to my mind here are a few of the marks to which we must always commit ourselves:
- Standing under the cross of God’s self-giving love for all
- Being honest about our own brokenness, and equally open to the brokenness of others
- Cherishing God’s Word as a beacon of inclusive hope rather than an ugly club of exclusion
- Valuing our differences as precious gifts, rather than “rights and wrongs”
- Embracing all people, without reserve, as equally precious gifts of God’s creation and grace
- Welcoming all comers to the Water, the Word and the Table – and I mean all
- Keeping the ethos of love, forgiveness and servanthood always at the fore
- Being as concerned with being the Church in daily life as having a church to clutch and protect
You can add your own bullet points to this list, or frame it in your own way. But, I pray – and, more importantly, Jesus prays – that this Company we keep and cherish will be not only a mirror in which we see our need of God’s amazing grace, but as a magnifying glass of that grace that will actually draw people to recognize and trust in its ever-welcoming, ever-loving, ever-serving and ever-redeeming One whose name we bear and whose mission we embrace. All this we will cherish, and all this we will pursue, that the world may know the depth and breadth of God’s all-embracing love, and that this Company we keep will ever say “Welcome” to every seeking soul.
So, I hope to see you at worship this weekend and next, as we claim anew the welcome and will of the one we know as Love in the Flesh, and in whose Name and promise we work, claiming for a new day the mission to which we’ve been called, in company and harmony with all humankind, united in Christ, now and forever!
With You in God’s Good Work,