Theo Camara Sermon 10/13
Dan Potter Sermon 10/6
Bill Beck Sermon 9/29/19 Get Real
Bill Beck Sermon 9/8/19 Speaking Christianese
THEY ALL COME HOME AT LAST Sermon By Charlie Best
Mark 4: 35-41 Luke 13:29 Luke 15: 31
September 1, 2019
Credit to F. Morgan Roberts for ideas relevant to the sermon
I want you to notice something different about the familiar Mark passage on Jesus stilling the storm. Notice at the beginning of the story, in verse 36, Mark says, “And other boats went with him.” Do you think thosesailors noticed the storm blowing in around them about to swamp their boats? I bet they did. But, it isn’t clear if they know who calmed the storm, is it? They were no doubt praying to their gods for help. Or, maybe they didn’t believe in any gods or God? But, nevertheless, Jesus saved them all.
Karl Barth, a Protestant theologian, was commenting on this passage and said: “Christ even saves those who have no idea they are being saved. God brings calm and peace into the lives of people who don’t even consider that there is a God. God often blesses people who have no faith at all.”
As people of faith, we know who calmed the storm.
Now, in the first Luke verse read this morning, Luke quotes Jesus envisioning a great banquet in some sooner or later future, saying: “People will come from east and west, and from north and south, and sit at table in the kingdom of God.” Some people call this the “heavenly banquet” or “the great banquet of the kingdom.” Whatever, we are moving toward a glorious day when God will welcome all of the sheep home, even the ones Jesus called the “other” sheep.
The problem for us, though, is the inclusion of those “other” sheep. Some will stand outside the banquet hall, checking their invitation to see if they’ve arrived at the right hall. They’ll wonder if those in charge reviewed the guest list because of the shabby people who don’t appear to be part of “our crowd.” “Look at her!” they’ll exclaim, “She’s got some nerve showing up after the life she’s lived.” Looking in another direction, some will say, “I can’t believe that he’s here; he’s one of them.” And then there’ll be lots of “different” people, leading some to say, “How did these people get invited? Why can’t they have their own banquet in some other hall with their own kind?”
Sadly, that’s how some people will react to God’s ending of the story. For that matter, when they see those other folks who are arriving at the banquet, they may stand outside, refusing to come in. Understandably, they won’t want to join a party to which “whosoever will may come.”
But if they take time to notice those who are arriving, they’ll discover that these “other” people are there because some members of the church have always been issuing an invitation to them. There have been members of the congregation who have always been saying to all kinds of people, “Please come, because our banquet can’t be a real banquet, a real feast, without you.” By words and actions of compassion, they’ve been saying to these other people, “Heaven will never be heaven without you.” They’ve understood what Bonhoeffer wrote, that the church is only the Church when it exists for others.
Just take a look at those who will be arriving and you’ll see who they are.
Many of these strangers will be present for the simple reason that they were given food to eat.
There will be ex-convicts at the banquet table because some individuals believed Jesus’ words, “I was in prison, and you visited me.
There will be low-income folks who had a decent place to live.
There will be the poor, little children being tutored.
And that’s just a small part of the crowd. While some will come because they were invited by folks like you, others will come because the Lord has brought them. They may not have known Jesus exactly as you do; but they were known to him. They were those sheep of some other pasture that he promised to bring with him. They’ll be there for the same reason that we’re there, because God brought them. After all, we didn’t get here on our own. “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.” Just as God, in God’s own time and way, awakened faith in ourhearts, our God of sovereign grace is working secretly in every human life. God, in kindness, love, and justice, is eternally pursuing every soul on the face of the earth. And, such unconditional, universal, and amazing grace is leading all of us home.
They all come home at last; even the ones we wish would stay away!! Jesus is bringing all of God’s sheep home. That’s why the Easter hymn verse says, “He closed the yawning gates of hell; the bars from heaven’s high portal fell: Let hymns of praise His triumphs tell. Alleluia!”
So if we all come home in the end, what is the role of the church today?
I suggest that we begin by realizing that we’re not the only show in town. In a world today in which religious, ideological, and political fundamentalism have become a deadly sickness and a cause of violence, we cannot afford to add fuel to the fire by continuing to talk about God in such exclusive terms. Christianity began as a faith in a Lord who would rather die than not love the outsider. It was a cheerful religion, inspired by the kindly vision of One who was such a friend of sinners that he even prayed for the forgiveness of his executioners. But somehow, sadly, our friendly faith became a cold creedal system about a God who would rather kill than tolerate the otherness of those who had a different vision of God. It became an unfriendly “turn or burn in hell” message that didn’t sound at all like good news. Instead of the good news about a relationship with a friendly God, preachers became salesmen of eternal fire insurance.
We’ve got to turn this around and become again a church that proclaims the unconditional kindness of God to everyone. We can’t follow Jesus faithfully and deny the reality of God’s presence in the life and faith of others.
But, the fact that God is bringing all of God’s children home does not relieve us of our responsibility to be evangelists — to be out there in a hurting world, helping bring folks home. After all, the great banquet has not yet begun. Those of us who have received our banquet invitation and have sent in our RSVP are not supposed to be in the banquet hall, enjoying the cash bar, nibbling on the appetizers. We’re supposed to be outside the hall, helping our host who is out in the dark, seeking the missing guests.
In one parable of Jesus we are given a picture in which the host has not yet arrived at the banquet. The host is still outside, trying to talk others in to coming in. What do I mean?
The parable of the prodigal son in Luke 15 was the Bible story that got my imagination as a teenager. Back then, of course, I was focused on the younger son who left home, blew his inheritance on riotous living, and then came home to his compassionate father. I saw myself in the younger son.
These days, however, I find myself fascinated with the unfinished ending of the story in which the old father is outside the banquet hall, pleading with the older brother to join the party. I think that this final scene is the real meaning of the parable, principally because it leaves us with the picture of a father who is endlessly, foolishly, and incredibly merciful and who will never join the banquet until everyone comes home!! In this parable’s final scene, we are hearing and seeing the gospel about a kindly Father who never forecloses.
That unfinished final scene is telling us where we’re supposed to be: outside the banquet hall with our host, spreading the good news of God’s ever-open invitation. Our message is to those who think that they’re too good to come in, as well as to those who think that they’ll never be good enough – but it is particularly for those who are worried whether there will be a next meal or fearful about finding their next overcrowded refugee shelter or freedom from human trafficking — that they can’t possibly begin to think about heavenly banquets. Our message to all of them is in the words of that gracious father, “My child, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours.”
What I have been seeking to learn all these years, through storm and stress, goes right back to the character of God as it is revealed to us by Jesus. It means that God, our Heavenly Parent, whose nature and character Christ came to teach us, is truly the Parent of all humankind and not of any single race or sect or creed or education level. God is no tribal God. God favors no denomination, is bound up with no race. God loves humanity. Mercy is over all creation. Even those who outwardly appear to deny Him are still God’s children, embraced in the arms of his love.
At the heart of myfaith is the assurance that we’ll all be together at the great banquet of the kingdom, because our gracious God will be bringing all of us home at last.
A congregation that is inspired by such a hope, and believes that the story ends with a grand victory banquet, celebrating God’s sovereign grace – such a congregation will always have a glorious future.
Live in reverence of God’s pursuing presence in the life of every person, walking cheerfully over the world, answering that of God in every one.