I have to share that I am loving Advent! It’s always one of my favorite seasons but this year I have been having fun with my devotions, reading of scriptures and the writings and musings of others as they reflect on God and God’s presence and work in our lives, in this time. I am being overwhelmed by LOVE. God’s love!
Everywhere I turn I am reading about love, singing about love, thinking about love. One of the books I’m reading is FIERCE LOVE by Jacqui Lewis and I laughed when she was discussing it with two pastors who host a podcast called PULPIT FICTION because she said, “There's a seat at the table for you as we midwife a more just world.”
Well todays subtheme of our THE INN: HOUSING THE HOLY series is “A PLACE AT THE TABLE” so what does LOVE have to do with that? Everything! As she says, We need a world where we love ourselves, other people and the world. We need a love revolution. And that is what Jesus came to do, to bring in the kingdom of God, a reign of divine love, here on earth! TO BE LOVE. As Christian believers we proclaim that God is love, and Jesus is God incarnate in human form so we proclaim that Jesus is love! And although during Advent we often focus on waiting, I am already spending time at the manger…. How about you?
I am so excited to share LOVE! Because Jesus has come! And it is to make a difference not only in my life but in the entire worlds! God came down in the form of a tiny baby boy who was evicted from Mother Mary’s womb to show us how to be God’s beloved people and to love as God loves! I also read an article in the Christian Century that spoke to me. Brittney Cooper wrote “Returning to Repentance” and since the Gospel reading assigned for today is from Luke 3 (I know we didn’t read it) but where John the Baptist preaches a baptism of repentance, so this word repentance has been creeping up everywhere this week.
In her article, Brittney shares part of her story—growing up in a branch of Christianity obsessed with sin and repentance such that she couldn’t even approach God in prayer until she had dutifully catalogued a litany of her sins. she felt unworthy, unholy, and exhausted by her own inadequacy. She understood that her sense of unworthiness was so she would be properly grateful for the extension of Divine Grace as she puts it, but instead she sometimes felt better not praying, not confronting day in and day out her own shortcomings.
But at some point, she realized she could not continue to live, or I would add, believe like that, and she began to see God as unconditionally loving, as the Being who, having created her was the ONE most intent on helping her make her way in the world as triumphantly and with as little harm done to herself and others as possible. She had changed her mind about God---and since changing one’s mind is one of the ritual disciplines of the Christian faith and since to change one minds is one of the earliest definitions of the word repentance, she had repented!
We are all called, not just during Advent, but daily to the work of repentance to having our minds changed. Or our understanding changed. Or our course changed. Or our vision changed. Advent is a time where we focus on waiting, waiting for God to come, incarnated as Jesus in both his first and second coming. But let’s be honest, when God comes to us humans we are often very surprised by what we get. God doesn’t often fit our ideas of what God should be, or what God should do, or where God is found!! God’s ways are not our ways!
Think about it: We celebrate a God who came in the form of a tiny human birthed from a female body—born not in their hometown but in Bethlehem, not in their home but a stable, not as an all-wise and powerful king but a poor humble boy who would grow up to be a carpenter rabbi. We celebrate the very presence of LOVE in our vulnerable human form—God in Jesus, love incarnate. And Love changes everything. That is why the Apostle Paul shares in his letter to the church in Philippi his prayer for them: that their love may overflow more and more! God is love and so may God overflow more and more! Such that their living is a testimony to Christ!
Now what you might be thinking do those musings have to do with our Advent theme of THE INN: HOUSING THE HOLY? Everything!
Last week we thought about making room in the INN and we reflected on whom we are literally being asked to house. Today’s subtheme is “A Place at the Table?” and I think that in order to think about that from God’s perspective we all need a little repenting--- we all need to have our minds changed a little because who has a place at God’s table? EVERYBODY! Me, you, everybody. No matter their gender, race, economic class, age, sexual orientation, ability, or country of birth! All are made in God’s image, loved, BELOVED, and there is a place for them at the Table! And we are to make room for them.
Dr. Marsha McFee suggested thinking about the childhood game of musical chairs—do you remember it? Every round there is always one more person than there are chairs and you have to race to not be the one left out, without a chair! We often live like we are playing that game and are convinced that there are NOT enough places at the table! We shrink the guest list, she suggests, just in case there is not enough and we scramble to occupy the chairs first….
But our sacred texts invite us to imagine and make real the gathering of all people to the table, robed in the garments of a Peace that comes with justice. That is what really matters—this is the fruit of what is right and good, she says.
For Brittney Cooper Repentance is not just personal piety but is really about a willingness to change our minds in ways that allow us to bend more easily toward love, justice, mercy and grace! What if discipleship is about a willingness to change as we come to learn more about what it means to live in ways that are loving and just?
“If indeed it is true that we must repent in order to access the kingdom of heaven, I believe” she writes “Christ is asking us to be willing to be completely transformed by our commitments to love, to challenge empire, to journey with and as the least of these to a better world.”
Those words stayed with me this week as I listened to pastor Jacqui Lewis’ podcast Love: Period as she dialoged with different theologian friends about her book Fierce Love. She is a dear friend of Valeria Kaur, a lawyer, filmmaker, innovator, and fellow author who is one of 500,000 people in America that are part of the Sikh faith. And who is also a fierce advocate for LOVE! World changing love! Love in action, concretely changing the lives of people NOW because God is love! And in listening to her talk about her work, the phrase a place at the table kept coming up too!
Love sees everyone as being worthy of being at the table of grace, God’s table, and actively working to make sure they know that—they have the invitation but maybe they need a ride to the party. Maybe they need someone to accompany them—who likes going to a feast all alone right? For those who are loved, there is Always room at the at the table! And LOVE will find a way to make a room at the table. Imagine a new child coming into a family--- the table might be crowed but by golly, we’ll make room for another loved one! Pastor Grace Imathiu says, if YOUR table is not big enough, check your love. It’s not the tables problem. It your heart. It’s a heart problem- a love problem.
We’ve got lots of problems in this world, always have and will until the completion of the kingdom coming to earth. That’s why we still need prophets, shouting to us about LOVE! The prophets of old bellow out God’s call for us to be a more caring and compassionate community, one of hope and love. In today’s reading from Baruch, the exiles in Babylon are encouraged to take off their mourning clothes—clothes of sadness and of their oppression – and instead dress themselves in dignity of God’s glory!
They are beloved—not forgotten by God- and they will receive a new name “Righteous Peace, Godly Glory” and they will rejoice. They have a place at the table---God has not forgotten them! If we are all asked to consider how We can house the holy--- What are these texts asking us? Who today might feel that they have been forgotten? Who needs reminding that they are to clothe themselves in dignity of God’s glory? Well I started to think about this idea about love, and repentance, and having plenty of room to feed more people at the table. And I thought back to the founding of this congregation over 130 years ago….
How German Christian immigrants actively helped and supported by Temple Aaron’s Jewish Immigrants formed this faith community. This body of believers actively worked with people of another faith in being people of God here in Trinidad. We were helped, and I believe over our century and a third, we have helped those in our community and elsewhere but where NOW are we being asked to help others I wondered? There is space at God’s table, who are we being asked to make room for?
Once again, I laughed at the Holy Spirit because commentator Jon Berquist wrote that Baruch’s poetry is reflecting on the experience of exile that is the experience of homelessness, the experience of being a refuge. How they asked, can God live inside us if we don’t even have a home anymore. Well who have we been talking about that have found themselves homeless, as Refugees? The Afghans!
Since October we have been considering the plight of our global brothers and sisters who have fled their country, temporarily been housed on bases and are now being relocated into welcoming cities across our country. Colorado Springs has welcomed almost 80 individuals with almost 100 more to come by Feb 15th. And they need help, support, welcoming! Can we offer them Baruch’s words “take off your mourning clothes, your clothes of sadness and your oppression and dress yourselves in the dignity of God’s glory.”?
People of God, Love came down at Christmas—that’s what we’ll sing soon and we proclaim that Christ comes, has come and will come. And that LOVE is to make all the difference in the world. Will you join me in the work of love and changing our mind if needed about who we are to actively welcome at the Table? As we do the work together of Housing the Holy?