A NOTE TO READERS: This past Sunday was our church's fall youth-led worship service. Approximately 25 youth took part in leadership. The theme for the service was "There's Room At The Table." Below are the two "sermonettes" given by seniors Holly Mills and Cody Swicegood. I'm not sure what I'm more pleased with - the powerful way in which they conveyed the gospel of diversity and unconditional love in the body of Christ, or the fact that they felt empowered to share it with their church family in the first place. Probably both! I hope you will find their meditations as inspirational and challenging as I did!
Good morning! How many of us remember what it was like to be a little kid? Now I know for most of you it wasn’t that long ago but try to remember. Sharing the treats your mom packed in your lunch that day made you new friends every day, the biggest arguments you got in were over someone hogging the crayons, and your favorite class in school was PE. Differences didn’t matter all that much when seen through the innocence of a child.
Anyone remember that song about Jesus loving everyone? Now I know that’s a little vague but you remember don’t you? “Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world, they are yellow, black, and white, they are precious in His sight, Jesus loves the little children of the world.” Growing up hearing that song I was reminded not only of how much Jesus loved me, but of how much I should love other people because of that. In a little while we’ll all go down to the fellowship hall to share a meal together as a family of Christ. I think it’s safe to say that we’ll be sharing a meal with people that we love. They may drive us crazy…but we accept each other, care about each other, shoulder each other’s burdens, and rejoice in each other’s triumphs. And that’s amazing.
While I absolutely love that about this family, I sometimes wonder what it would be like to have someone not so similar as us sitting at those tables. Sadly, we as human being spend so much time picking out the differences we have with others that we fail to see that which connects us at our very core. It’s not just the biology: the blood the runs through our veins, the heart that beats in our chest, our genetic makeup – but the fact that every single one of us was made in God’s image. Having said that, that means we’ve all got God IN us!
With that frame of mind, when we interact with people we must be mindful of the fact that we could be dealing with Jesus. How would this change the way you treat people on a daily basis? What would we do if when we walked into the fellowship hall it was full of our polar opposites? Maybe it’s the alcoholic, the person covered in tattoos and piercings, maybe it’s the pregnant teenager, for me it might be an introvert. Maybe it’s a liberal, or a fundamentalist…it could be a democrat, a republican, a beggar, a spoiled child, a sick person, a marathon runner, a widow, a polygamist, an orphan, someone who hasn’t bathed in a week.
What if our tables were full of “THE LEAST OF THESE?” What if our tables were full of Jesus in every way, shape, and size? Romans 3:22-24 tells us This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is NO difference for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,(listen…this is my favorite part) and are justified freely by His grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. Brothers and sisters, there is room at the table. And to quote Casting Crowns, “Jesus paid much too high a price, for us to pick and choose who should come. We are the body of Christ.” Jesus willingly offered Himself so that the whole world could know God’s love and live an abundant eternal life with Him.
When we judge others…when we consciously or unconsciously decide that they don’t belong in the pew next to us, that maybe they should just go somewhere else, that aren’t deserving of the mercy and grace of God, we diminish the huge sacrifice our Father made in giving His son for our lives. No sin is too big for God to forgive when we just ask. This means that no matter how many times we screw up, and trust me it’s gonna be a ton by the time we’re standing before God, but no matter how many times we fall short, God wont ever take our seat away from God’s table. We may choose to walk away at times – but our place remains. Through the grace of God we’re given chance after chance, ALL OF US, to come join God’s family and the eternal feast that awaits us.
So next time you’re tempted to pick out the differences you have with people, next time you convince yourself that you have the “right” way of thinking, or somehow just deserve it more than they do – stop. Remember that you could be dealing with Jesus. Then sit down, and pull up a chair for that person and your own table. And above all, “love one another, and by this everyone will know that we are disciples.” Thanks be to God. Amen
But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” —1 Samuel 16:7
Good morning. If you would, let’s all think about the world we live in. For me, one word comes to mind: diversity. Our world, God’s world, is filled with so many beautiful people with so many different cultures, backgrounds, and lives. Each and every one has a story. Every one loves, makes life-altering choices, and finds both sadness and happiness in their lives; yet not all of them know the true happiness that comes from knowing Jesus. There are many reasons for this: some of those life-altering choices could have led them astray. Or maybe they have never been introduced to His loving ways. But one reason stands out to me: so many people, all across the world, turn away from God because they feel like they are unwelcome.
Now, let’s think about ourselves. Not necessarily just First Presbyterian Church, but ourselves as the entire body of followers of Christ. We paint a vividly different picture from the rest of the world in terms of diversity. And as I’ve spoken with God over the past weeks, as we planned for this Sunday, I’ve come to feel that this is not how things should be.
In the famous verse John 3:16, it is said that God sent his son to die for us because He “so loved the world.” There is no footnote at the bottom of that page in the Bible that says “asterisk – Let the people of the church choose who shall be ‘in’ and who shall be ‘out.’” He so loved the WORLD that he sent his son for us. And, to me, Him loving the world means that he loves the world. Every SINGLE person here, regardless.
So, who’s in? Are we in? Are we in the circle? Maybe we are kinda around the rim, or possibly, ya know, closer to the center? Perhaps? No. Because God is not a souped-up Escalade. He doesn’t have rims.
The theme for this youth Sunday is that there is room at the table, God’s table, for each and every one of us. And there will always be room. An open chair is always present for me at that table. And there’s an open chair for you. This table is universal; all are welcome. Let me repeat that…ALL are welcome.
I have no intent of calling my own church family out, but it’s true. Sometimes it seems as though, because we fit a certain “criteria” for God, we are given some sort of status. We act as though we are the security for the VIP section of God’s venue. As though we stand there clipping and unclipping the red velvet rope, picking and choosing who we let in, and who we send away.
I see it every day. “How can she call herself a Christian if she smokes?” “No, he’s not straight, he couldn’t possibly believe in God.” Or even “Haha, no he doesn’t go to my church. He’s black.” And that worse part is, I’ve heard these very words come from people whose faces I am looking at right now. I’m guilty, you’re guilty. We are all guilty. Of assuming we are the only ones destined to God’s kingdom in Heaven. And that all the “others,” all the people in this world who don’t fit a determined mold, aren’t worthy of that.
As I wrote this I prayed that what I said wouldn’t bring disgusted gasps from the congregation. But I feel like it’s true. No, our church isn’t filled with terrible people who maliciously try to ruin everyone’s life. But although we usually aren’t making conscious attempts to turn people away, we need to make more conscious attempts to bring people in. Open our doors, our minds, and our hearts. And, like a host for God’s table, politely lead others in and help them to find their chairs at the table of God. And even pull their chair out for them when they find it.
God not only asks this of us, but he demands it. In John 15: 12 it is written: “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.” He tells us to love each other, not love some and not the others. We are all meant to be at God’s table, enjoying the feast he has prepared before us. And what greater time is there to realize this then at Thanksgiving.
Remember those who Jesus surrounded himself with? The homeless, the lame. The sinful, and the greedy. The lost and the broken. As we try to live our lives in Jesus’ image, as we were created to do, we need to be more aware of our actions. Jesus was with these people because they needed him, just as those not ministered in the world need us. They need us to grab their hands and joyfully lead them towards a life with God. They need us to exclaim Jesus’ love for them, and give them the push they need to live for Him. As the body of Christ, that is our job. We must accept all, because all are children of God.
This reminds me of a quote I heard while at Montreat this past summer. Oscar Wilde once said “Every saint has a past and every sinner has a future.” Remember that. Amen.