Monday, July 17, 2017

"Where Will YOU Plant?" - Sermon, July 16, 2017

Community UMC, Quincy
“Where Will YOU Plant?”
July 16, 2017
Pastor Andrew Davis
Isaiah 55: 10-13
Matthew 13: 1-9, 18-23

How many of you have a vegetable garden in your backyard?  How about a flower garden?  Since moving into my house last July, it was too late to plant a garden, so I made sure that I planted a garden this year.  Now considering that I’m not really a builder-type or even remotely skilled in that area, I did manage to put together a shabby garden bed, complete with mole/gopher-proof mesh bottom, and managed to get some deer netting around the outside.  So far, all my veggie plants which include  my tomato, eggplants, and green beans are growing and will hopefully produce next month, while my jalapeno pepper plant and cucumber plant have me scratching my head a little bit.  But when we decide to have a garden, we have to decide where we’re going to plant.  Ideally, we want a place where the garden will get adequate sunlight throughout the day.  Then when we do raised beds, we have to decide what kind of soil mixture we’re going to use.  In fact, that might be my mistake, as I don’t have enough top-soil, but instead a three-manure blend and something like the consistency of compost and potting soil.  It’s trial and error in this first attempt at my own garden and I always have next year to remix the soil and try again.  But where to plant is always the essential question that we ask ourselves and this morning’s Gospel Lesson, also known as the “Parable of the Sower” also asks each of us, where will YOU plant? 
This morning, we encounter some of Jesus’s parables in Matthew, which are not literal statements, but sayings of Jesus that often use the literary convention of hyperbole, or exaggerated phrases and demands that Jesus uses to make his point in many of his teachings.  However, today’s parable is one that you may have heard before, although it may be completely new to others and that is okay!!  Parables can be a little tricky to read at times, but also just as tricky to unpack.  However, in this morning’s parable of the sower, Jesus is telling a crowd of people about a farmer planting seeds in several different soil-types, with each one producing a different result.  However, after reading this same parable in Mark and Luke’s gospels, Jesus is saying that the seeds that are sown are the word of God, as we are the farmers who will plant the seeds, but we need to decide which soil we’re going to plant in, as the soil types are the people who will receive God’s word.  Yet this parable is sometimes hard to swallow because it also kind of feels like there’s a little shaming going on, especially in verses 18-23. But that’s not necessarily the case, as it’s more about how the seeds, or the word of God is received.  
At the same time, Jesus is all about people paying attention to God’s word, hence why he compares those who hear and receive the word to the different soil types where the seeds are planted by the sower.  Some of the soil will be rocky and hard to plant in, while some seeds will be left out and won’t even sprout, while other seeds will get scorched by the sun because the soil isn't very deep.  As we heard in the lesson, Jesus is very direct, sometimes even blunt, and perhaps a little passive aggressive, which we particularly see in the character of Jesus in Matthew’s Gospel.  Even leading up to today's lesson, we’ve heard sharing God’s word being like ‘lambs in the midst of the wolves’ (Matt. 10:16) we’ve also heard that when we welcome the stranger, we welcome Jesus (Matt. 10: 40). The last week as he addresses the crowds, Jesus says we can find rest in him (Matt. 11: 28).  But now after a slight interaction with the Pharisees, who were the religious authorities at the time who loved to question and challenge Jesus, we find Jesus addressing the crowds once again, essentially asking them ‘where will YOU plant?’ Where will you share God’s word with the world?  However, when we think about it, Jesus is asking us today where are WE going to plant?  Where are WE going to share God’s word? Especially when we have so many opportunities around us to plant the seeds of God’s word around us here in this community.  Of course, there will no doubt be different soils that our seeds will fall on.  Yet I think all of us hope that all soil that we plant our seeds In will be good soil, where God’s word will take root, but we also know that there’s a chance that our seeds will stay on the footpath and some of our seeds will not quite take hold.  It’s the reality that we live in today. 
However, I do see some very fresh soil and am particularly excited about this coming week and Vacation Bible School, as our theme is Barnyard Roundup; talk about being farmers and sowing seeds!!  Starting tomorrow, we will be welcoming many children from our community to our campus, including many of our own children from this church.  THIS, friends is a prime opportunity to plant some seeds.  One of the many things I have heard in my conversations with you this past year with you is the desire to invite younger families to our church, and this week is the chance to reach out and plant that seed and for all of us to put our desires and our words into action.  I believe that children are good soil to plant in, but it takes the responsibility of all us, the farmers Jesus speaks of, to cultivate, water, and nourish the seeds that we plant and we do that by genuinely and authentically welcoming ALL people; but with the children in particular, we really want to nourish those seeds that we plant by being encouraging, being willing to step up and TEACH our children about loving God, serving God, serving others, and about what it means to worship and be a follower of Jesus, something we can keep doing well after VBS has concluded.  It’s chances like these that we cannot let slip away and get snatched away by the birds or forces of evil, or fall on rocky soil (although we know birds are quite good at planting seeds too and will just leave it at that).  Yet in order to have a productive garden, it takes a good mixture of soil, planting the seeds, watering, and nourishing those seeds.  Even weeding and pruning.
Another means of planting seeds happened over this weekend which I returned a little early from, as I had the opportunity and honor of being an assistant spiritual director on the 36th Girl’s Chrysalis flight at the UMC Rancho Cordova, which is also the church I am a member at, and the church that launched me into ministry.  Chrysalis is the youth version of the Walk to Emmaus, Cursillo, Tres Dias, and similar three-day weekend experiences, which a number of members here at Community UMC have also been a part of (also how my family's known Pastor Ray over the last 20+ years).  While there are many surprises that happen over the course of three days, participants hear a series of fifteen talks that help nourish the seeds that have already been planted in them, but at the same time, there are many new seeds that are planted along the way after these three days.  Just like working with chaperoning the youth delegation at Annual Conference last month, this is am entirely new step for me in working with youth, but I also realize that that we need to keep nourishing the seeds that were planted in our youth and children and that is my hope here at Community UMC, that each of us can plant the seeds of faith throughout our community, particularly with our younger generations of young adults, youth, and children, even showing them and encouraging them to be leaders in the church, to be disciples, and make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world, and plant seeds of their own.  And I hope that over this weekend, those teenage girls experienced God’s love in many new and exciting ways, and I hope that we will be able to have a boy’s flight in the near future too and plant and nourish the seeds in our young men as we have with our young women. 
As we think about where we plant our seeds of faith, the more that we can plant those seeds with our younger generations, the more likely that those seeds will take root when we nourish them, but there is plenty of opportunity all around us with ALL different ages.  Most importantly, we need to keep trying to scatter the seeds and keep trying to plant everywhere, even if the soil might be rocky or gets overgrown by weeds (of course, weeds can be pulled and the plants can be salvaged!).  In fact in my own garden, I’m wondering about my soil mix if it’s good soil, but it takes trial and error, but more important, not giving up either and the same goes for sharing God’s word and planting that seed.  As we go into our new week and celebrate VBS, where are YOU going to plant?  

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, let the church say AMEN!!  

Monday, July 10, 2017

"I Will Trust (and rest) in the Lord" - Sermon, July 9, 2017

Community UMC, Quincy
“I Will Trust (and rest) in the Lord”
July 9, 2017
Pastor Andrew Davis
Romans 7: 15-25a
Matthew 11: 16-19, 20-25

            Did you enjoy the extra day off this week?  How about the Four-day weekend if you got Monday off?  I do admit that it’s kind of an odd placement when the Fourth falls on a weekday, as Wednesday sure felt like Monday, even though I worked through the afternoon on Sunday and some of Monday before heading to Reno for a lunch meeting.  But having that extra day off and going up to Frenchman Lake very early for some morning fishing action was nice too, well before the water-skiers and jet-skis hit the lake, which can be fun too since fishing won’t really be good from the bank until later in the evening.  Plus there’s nothing like a fresh, lake-to-fork dinner as well!!  Although, somehow, I don’t think that we’ll be getting a five day weekend out of it next year, as the Fourth falls on a Wednesday.  Nonetheless, I always enjoy and appreciate the extra little bit of time off and extra sabbath since sabbath is going to be a little hard to come by these next couple weeks, as I'll be helping with the Girls Chrysalis Flight in Ranch Cordova Thursday until Saturday then with VBS starting a week from Monday. But, it's still going to be worth it, especially as we welcome a number of children onto our campus for VBS, an important outreach.   
While I typically take Friday as my Sabbath where I intentionally don’t do anything church related (although will respond in a life or death emergency), Saturday is usually my day to work in the yard or around my home and do laundry, basically all my domestic stuff, then read, re-read, and polish my sermon for Sunday.  But it’s that Friday sabbath that I always look forward to each week, as it’s a time to rest, regardless of whether it’s been quiet or really busy.  And I know that one of my greatest faults is that I have a tendency to overcommit myself and can sometimes be a work-a-holic, which is easy to do when you’re single and live by yourself.  And given the culture we live currently live in, it’s one that readily encourages us to constantly go-go-go, not really encouraging us to take time for rest except to sleep at night and even then, six hours or a little less is average compared to the recommended eight hours we should be striving for (now for John Wesley, it was five hours for men, six hours for women; although several of those waking hours were to be spent in prayer and Bible study).  I don’t know about you, but 4am is an ungodly hour to be awake, but that’s just me and I know it does work for others.
Our present day culture is also like having to have more-more-more, and that includes getting the most productivity we can out of every waking hour that we have.  Yet sometimes, in my case where I wrestle a lot, it feels like I have a greater purpose in life when I engage in many activities at once and give more-more-more, but I also have to ask myself, does doing this bring me joy?  Does doing all of this stuff give me purpose in life?  Am I trusting in the Lord while doing all of these activities, whether it's what I'm called to do or me just doing it to add more to my plate?  And, am I intentionally taking adequate time to rest and do something renewing, something I really enjoy? I have to admit that at times, things do get a little hectic both here and in life and I think all of us have been in a place where we feel a little overwhelmed and burned out here and there, which can cause the body, mind, and spirit to get a little out of whack.  It’s kind of like last week when I shared that I always looked forward to my family’s Fourth of July BBQ, but after a number of years, the amount of work was becoming a lot and it was time to take a rest from hosting, although the property still has to get mowed to the ground before the fourth.  However, as much as we want to or feel that we need to be productive every waking hour, regular rest and renewal is something that is important in our journey of faith and life as disciples of Jesus. We need to trust in our Lord when our Lord says it’s time to rest. 
            I also need to admit that this morning’s entire Gospel lesson is a bit of a challenge for the preacher, as there are almost two messages in one, yet I can’t help but constantly reflect on Jesus’s words in Matthew 11: 28, “come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” Jesus is once again offering a chance to learn from him, an invitation to discipleship even though he and John had just been rejected by the present generation of their time earlier in the chapter with John the Baptist being a seen as crazy person and Jesus as a glutton and drunk because he was always dining with and hanging out with the tax collectors, the poor, and others who were often marginalized.  However, Jesus still makes the invitation to learn from him with those who are typically seen as outsiders to the Roman empire, the poor, the sick, the outcast, the children, and all of the people who are vulnerable in society.[i] Even we in todays world can take up this invitation to come to Jesus, to trust in him, and learn from him because he is offering everyone, as well as us a chance to rest from things that trouble us.  And like the time when the Gospel of Matthew was written, Jesus was talking about living in “God’s empire” which is a lot more “life-giving” than the empires of the world, hence a reason why I tend to view the world as God’s kingdom, and why I trust God over trusting the rulers or nations of the world of now. Gods Kingdom is much more powerful and has so much more to offer in giving life and a place where we can find rest.  But as a people of the Christian faith, it’s about trusting and resting in our Lord, which given how things are going in our world right now, we need to trust and rest in our Lord more than ever!! 
            That’s the heart of the Gospel reading today, and even in Paul’s letter to the Romans, particularly how he talks of being a ‘slave to sin’ (which I admit I don’t like the word slave, but also understand that it’s a different time period).  I believe that we are able to trust in the Lord and even rest in the Lord, we are able to find rest from our sin and learn from Jesus, who in addition to rest, can give us life when we take up his invitation to a life of discipleship, even today which can also free us from sin.  It is a new way of life, but will still have its challenges and pitfalls, even when we rest and trust in our Lord.  But no matter what the case is, Paul puts it best when he proclaims that “the answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom. 7, 25a, NLT). 
        When we trust and rest in Jesus Christ our Lord and savior, we can live a whole new life, even though it does not necessarily mean escaping the world that we presently live in, although we can definitely give Jesus our troubles and burdens whenever we pray.  It's something I'm still working on, especially In my moments of anxiety and depression, as I do have what theologian St. John of the Cross calls ‘a dark night of the soul’ here and there when these things come up.  While I do have my ways of managing anxiety and depression, I try to keep trusting and resting in our Lord amidst the chaos or dark nights. And regardless of what might be bothering us or what we might be dealing with, whether it's mental illness, addiction, recovery, general illness, injury, or whatever is going on in life, we are still given this invitation by Jesus to take his yoke, trust him, and find rest in him.
             Even though we don’t physically see Jesus, we still trust him and feel his presence through the Holy Spirit.  Colin Yuckman, a doctoral student at Duke Divinity School explains that
as disciples, we do not simply attempt to duplicate the actions of an absent master; on the contrary, we rely on the ongoing presence of Jesus himself. This, too, is included in what Jesus means by "rest." As Matthew reminds us early on, Jesus bears the name of the one promised in Isaiah: Immanuel, "God with us" (1:23). All who take the yoke of discipleship upon them can experience a kind of new creation sustained by the ongoing presence of the Creator in a life of discipleship.[ii]

            When I think of resting in Jesus and taking up this yoke of discipleship, I know that I can trust in our Lord, even when I take a day away from the grind of life to escape it's routines and renew my soul or even in the midst of my anxiety or depression; when I said yes to taking the yoke of discipleship, I have come to believe that we CAN receive new life when we trust and rest in our Lord, whether it's living a new life by breaking a bad habit, turning an attitude around, living a healthier lifestyle, and keeping our eyes on Jesus, allowing him to guide our feet, hold our hand, and stand by us.  But it takes that step of accepting the invitation, whether it's one time, or many times. We can trust and rest in Jesus.
         As disciples, Jesus says to rest in him, lay our burdens on him, and more importantly, trust in him, especially when we are weary or tired or troubled, or experiencing a ‘dark night of the soul.’  As I said earlier, it is no wonder why we have more people who are stressed out and burned out than ever before because we live in a world of more…more productivity, more doing, more, more, more.  Unless it’s a life or death situation, we can trust in our Lord that whatever we didn’t finish today will still be there tomorrow, unless skipping that task causes harm, or could lead to disciplinary action by your supervisor.  There’s definitely a tension in rest and work, but when you do get a day or two off, definitely try to take the time to rest, even spend some of that time in prayer by walking with our Lord Jesus, trusting, and resting in him. 
As we are in the midpoint of the summer and may have a little extra time in between things, I encourage all of us to take that time to rest and renew, and even play; take that time to rest in Jesus as we trust him when he says to “come unto me, and I will give you rest.” When we trust and rest in our Lord, let’s emerge with this new life and a renewed energy so we that can continue walking with Jesus as his hands and feet in our world, being and making disciples, changing the world for the better, and sharing the Good News of the Gospel with everyone who we encounter.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, let the church say, Amen!

[i] NRSV Bible Study Notes (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2003), 1766.

[ii] "Commentary On Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30 By Colin Yuckman". 2017. Workingpreacher.Org. Accessed July 6 2017.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

July 2017 Adventures (Pastor's Page from "The Quincy Quill")

This is a day of new beginnings, time to remember and move on;
Time to believe what love is bringing, laying to rest the pain that’s gone.

Christ is alive, and goes before us, to show and share what love can do
This is a day of new beginnings, our God is making all things new.
(This is a Day of New Beginnings, The United Methodist Hymnal, pg. 383)

As I sit down to write this month’s Adventures, I am preparing to head to Burlingame for the 169th session of the California-Nevada Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church.  At the same time, I also find myself reflecting on this past year as your pastor.  While my appointment to Quincy will be fixed by Bishop Minerva G. CarcaƱo during the Annual Conference Session, I am excited to be continuing with my appointment here in Quincy.  I can’t say enough how thankful I am to be here in Quincy and am looking forward to this next year and the many possibilities, as it’s a day of new beginnings.  Oftentimes, the first year of ministry is more a time to observe, get to know each other, and to get to know the community.  It’s a year of wonder, a year of discovery, a year of learning (which really never ends…even after seminary), and finding my leadership style.  However, as I begin my second year with you, not only does the hymn “This is a Day of New Beginnings” come to mind, but so does the title a song by The Carpenters, “We’ve Only Just Begun.”

However, in some ways, I feel like we’re really just beginning here in my second year with you.  Although there have certainly been a number of ups and downs this last year, and certainly lessons that I have had to learn the hard way.  Yet amidst some of the challenges that come with life and ministry, Christ is present, alive, and before us as we begin this new appointment year together.  God is always making things new for us and I pray we continue trusting in God and the work of the Holy Spirit as we function as the hands and feet of Christ in our church, community, and world, especially as we show and share what love can do.  We have made it through a contentious election cycle, we have said goodbye to some of our loved ones both in the church and in our extended church family, and made it through a long winter.  And even amidst the more difficult times in the last year, we have also had a lot to celebrate too.  We celebrated a baptism and new members in November, we have a thriving music ministry with our choir and bell choir, we have a small core group of children who are now attending regularly, and we have another baptism and new members joining us very soon!!

As I look back on this past year, it has been a time of great learning, and even some un-learning.  There are things I have done well, although there are certainly things I can do better as a pastor.  There are things I have succeeded in and some places I have failed.  But we are also here to learn from each other and it’s amazing what we can all learn from one another.  I also hope we all can commit to our spiritual growth and discipleship in this coming year, particularly studying scripture regularly, praying daily, worshiping regularly, and checking in with each other regularly asking “how is your spiritual life?” But what are also some ministry ideas you are most excited about that you would like to talk about?  As we begin this new year together, let’s start visioning of where we can go and what ministries God is calling each of us into!!  Or another way of putting it, what flames of the Holy Spirit are burning that we can throw some kerosene on? 

Peace & Blessings,

Pastor Andrew  

"Creating a Place of Welcome" - Sermon, July 2, 2017

Community UMC, Quincy
July 2, 2017
“Creating a Place of Welcome”
Pastor Andrew Davis
Romans 15: 1-13
Matthew 10: 40-42

            Up until 12-13 years ago, one of the highlights for me each summer was my family’s annual Fourth of July BBQ party in our backyard.  Now while many kids would eagerly anticipate Christmas morning, I absolutely loved the Fourth of July, since it was warm out, we could go swimming, fire up the grill, and watch the fireworks, both the safe and sane kind and the big fireworks from Cal Expo in the distance.  When we started hosting the party in the late 80’s/early 90’s, it started with mostly family, then evolved into friends of our family, our church family, and many others.  But like items in the grocery store that have a shelf life, the party began running its course and like seasons of life, people passed on or moved away, and the amount of work that went into hosting and preparing for the party would take its toll on us.  Nevertheless, reflecting on those years when we had our Fourth of July Party, it was more about about creating a place of welcome in our home for those near and dear to us to enjoy, to celebrate our country, and enjoy some good food, fellowship,  and camaraderie with one another. 
            As my family created a place of welcome each Fourth of July, we hear the message about creating a place of welcome from Paul and Jesus in both texts that we just listened to.  In our text from Romans, Paul is instructing his people to welcome one another; particularly the Gentiles who had ordinarily been shunned and excluded by the greater community of faith in Paul’s time.  But we also hear a powerful message of welcome from Jesus, saying that whoever welcomes the ones who have been sent by him, welcome Jesus as well, as these are also Jesus’s final instructions to the Twelve as he sends them out into the mission field. 
               At the heart of our texts is a message about the importance hospitality and the need to create places of welcome,  which is especially relevant today here in the church and can be rewarding in itself as it gives us opportunities to create new relationships as 21st Century disciples.  As Paul says in his letter to the Romans in chapter 15,
So reach out and welcome one another to God’s glory. Jesus did it; now you do it! Jesus, staying true to God’s purposes, reached out in a special way to the Jewish insiders so that the old ancestral promises would come true for them. As a result, the non-Jewish outsiders have been able to experience mercy and to show appreciation to God. Just think of all the Scriptures that will come true in what we do! (Rom. 15: 7-9, MSG). 

            Paul is basically saying that the Gospel needs to be accessible for EVERYONE throughout ALL the world, as it is a source of hope, of mercy, and a source of light which people can experience whenever we create a place of welcome, both then and still today.  Hence why it is important to welcome everyone to take part in God’s glory, and to keep in mind that whenever we welcome people into our church on Sunday morning, at the community supper on Wednesday evening, or anytime we welcome people into town whether they're attending the music festival or Joshuafest, or those who are passing through from the Pacific Crest Trail, we are welcoming Jesus Christ too!!  We never know who we may see the face of Christ in, as the face of Christ can be seen in people we would never expect to see.  We also see Jesus focus a lot on the vulnerable within society in this morning's Gospel lesson and all throughout the Gospels. Yet in particular, he emphasizes the poor, the outcast/outsider, or the children when he says “And if you give even a cup of cold water to one of the least of my followers, you will surely be rewarded” (Matthew 10: 42, NLT).  Kind of hearkens back to everyone he names ealrier on on The Sermon on the Mount.  Essentially, it’s all about creating a place of welcome for EVERYONE, regardless of where they are in life or whatever situations in life are going on.  It’s about practicing hospitality at its best, just like my family did when we hosted our Fourth of July parties each year and something we need to keep striving for here in the church.   
              Plus now that our wheelchair lift is operational as of this past week thanks to the diligent work by the Trustees and Council, it’s one of the ways that we are practicing radical hospitality and creating a place of welcome, as our sanctuary is now more accessible without having to navigate the front steps or go the long way around to access the ramp. And, maybe I’m dreaming some here, but I hope to see the rest of our building become fully accessible someday too!!  Having the lift helps us to welcome those who have mobility issues by making it a lot easier to come and participate in worship, but as we face the realtity of an aging congregation, it is part of considering our future too.  As another means of radical hospitality, we have also begun making large-print bulletins to make it a little easier to read, as text can be small otherwise.  These are a only couple small ways of how we are creating a place of welcome, and there are always more ways how we can create such a place, as it’s a continuous process and do feel free to share with me your ideas too how we can take creating a space of welcome to the next level.  And let's be radical in our hospitality too, although not too aggressive or pushy either. Like Goldilox and the three bears, we want it to be just right, not too hot, but not too cold. ---
In his book, Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations, Bishop Robert Schnase writes that
Christian hospitality refers to the active desire to invite, welcome, receive, and care for those who are strangers so that they find a spiritual home and discover for themselves the unending richness of life in Christ.  It describes a genuine love for others who are not yet a part of the faith community, an outward focus, a reaching out to those not yet known, a love that motivates church members to openness and adaptability, a willingness to change behaviors in order to accommodate the needs and receive the talents of newcomers.  Beyond intention, hospitality practices the gracious love of Christ, respects the dignity of others, and expresses God’s invitation to others, not our own.  Hospitality is a mark of Christian discipleship, a quality of Christian community, a concrete expression of commitment to grow in Christ-likeness by seeing ourselves as part of the community of faith, “not to be served but to serve” (Matthew 20: 28).  By practicing hospitality, we become part of God’s invitation to new life, showing people that God in Christ values them and loves them.[i]

            --- As I reflect back to year ago when I was just moving in, I got to experience this sign of hospitality from you, as you warmly welcomed me to Quincy as your new pastor, helping me settle in, preparing my house for me to move into, and hosting neighborhood gatherings so I could get to know you more.  Usually, I am nervous as heck when in a new setting and can be shy and reserved, yet your hospitality, showing God’s love in Christ in each other, and creating a place of welcome for me left a big impression, as there are some churches who may view a brand-new pastor right out of seminary as if they were fresh meat in front of a lion’s den.  Thankfully, not here!!  Even when I visited Glide Memorial in San Francisco in May, I received more hugs from complete strangers, and while I admit I was personally a little uncomfortable with that being an introvert who also likes my personal space; yet it was clear that EVERYONE, even pets are welcome at Glide. However, that's one means of radical hospitality which works in their context.  At the same time, hospitality can be a challenge at that requires us to step out of our comfort zones and sometimes might even test our desire to show that Christ loves everyone, and in reality, we sometimes don't always want to extend a welcome to everyone, let's just be real.  Sadly, I have even heard some pastor's say there isn't room at the table for everyone except for the righteous, which I dont think Jesus or Paul are saying in our two texts this morning.  Yet at times, we are faced with situations, maybe even people that put us on edge or make us nervous, testing our Christ-likeness and testing us in creating a space of welcome.
I remember while growing up, our church was located a couple blocks from some group homes and would occasionally have some of the residents show up to church, particularly on potluck Sunday or during coffee hour (in retrospect, we did heed Jesus’s command when he told the disciples grumbling about the crowds to ‘give them something to eat!’).  It oftentimes made people at the church and myself uncomfortable because many of the people at the group homes struggled with past addictions or were in the midst of mental illness beyond their control, and given the high stigma towards addiction and mental illness at that time, I would often get caught up in saying some some not-so-Christ-like things about our brothers and sisters even when all they may have been searching for was a sense of community.
Perhaps out of fear and inexperience with life in general, I often felt the people from these homes weren’t welcome in our church because they weren’t like the rest of us and because I also allowed my own self-righteous, holier-than-thou attitude to prevent myself from possibly seeing the face of Christ.  However, looking back, I was very wrong in my attitude, and I’m still repenting for some of my own behavior at that time, and even for some blips I've made in my first year here as well.  But, I’m also not going to lie that I still struggle at times, and even struggle when I read stories about or when I've encountered people who come to take advantage of the church, but God’s still working on me and I'm working towards training to be better equipped in my ministry with ALL people.  Because I failed to welcome everyone at that time, I failed to welcome Christ, but I also failed to do my part in helping to create a place of welcome and in turn, failed at being a disciple.  Yet, it’s a struggle at times because it’s easier for us to hang out and associate with people who look like us, think like us, or even people who vote alike, even though we are called to love God and love our neighbor, as when we welcome others, we also welcome Christ.
When we come through our doors here, we are likely seeking different things as to why we are here in the first place.  Maybe some of us are Fourth or fifth generation who have always gone to church.  Some of us are here because we are genuinely seeking to know God better and grow in our faith and love.  Some of us are seeking a sense of a loving, grace-filled Christian community of disciples, and in turn, want to be a disciple too as we take our personal discipleship to the next level.  And, some of us may be here because our lives are in crisis and have nowhere else to turn to while trying to seek hope and guidance, as we do have several individuals within our community who have the gift of walking alongside those who struggle.  No matter what reason we are here today, there is an amazing richness of life in Christ that Bishop Schnase mentions that is available through the community of faith, regardless of where we’re are at in life, which is why we need to keep striving to create a place of welcome just like Jesus and Paul called their communities to do two millennia ago. 
As we begin our second year together and this new week, I encourage all of us us to keep thinking of how we can take it to the next level in making this church a place of welcome, a place where we can experience new life in Christ, but a place where ALL (and I mean ALL) of God’s children can come to know God’s love,  grow in Christ, and become one of Christ’s ambassadors by finding great joy that life in Christ and discipleship offers, even amidst the challenges or struggles that all of us face along the way.  Yes, it does take stepping out of our comfort zones a little bit, as stepping out of our comfort zone is necessary and healthy since Jesus was always challenging the disciples to do the same and still challenges us to do the same today, as well as Paul challenging his people.  Regardless of why each of us are here, let’s welcome one another, let’s create a place of welcome for everyone because we never know whose face we may see Christ in.  Because when we create a place of welcome in this church and create a place of welcome like my family did each Fourth of July, we especially welcome Christ into our midst. 
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, let the church say, AMEN!! 

[i] Robert Schnase, Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2007), 11-12. 

"Sky - Dominion & Exploitation" from "Season of Creation," Sermon, September 16, 2018

Community UMC, Quincy “Season of Creation: Sky – Dominion & Exploitation” Rev. Andrew Davis September 16, 2018 Psalm 19   ...