Welcoming the Stranger

Hosea 1:2-10

Psalm 85

Colossians 2:6-19

Luke 11:1-13

Introduction: Maggie Foote, new resident here, I’m really excited to be with you, and am grateful for the warm welcome I have already received.

I think this is an interesting time to be joining a new community, with all of the buzz about our nation over the upcoming presidential election.  This has been a season of huge transition for my family and me; I graduated from seminary and was ordained, I got married in January and then my wife and I moved across the country, we are trying to buy a house for the first time, and in the backdrop of all of that has been the current race to see who will be the next president of the United States.

I don’t know about you all, but I feel like this particular presidential race has been fraught with controversy from the start, and it doesn’t show any signs of slowing down.

It seems like every time I open my computer, turn on my tv, talk to a stranger, or look at the signs along the roadway I’m bombarded by messages telling me what to think, what to believe in, who I should be.

 Do you want to “Make America Great Again,” or not?

Are you with her, or are you against her?

Do Black lives matter, or do all lives matter?

Who’s allowed to use your bathroom?

You know, for a society that thrives on individualism, it seems like everyone wants to know, who’s side are you on, anyway?

It seems like suddenly the merits of my character, the history of my relationships with others, past good deeds, struggles I have overcome, accomplishments I have achieved, personal tragedies and triumphs are overshadowed by which side of the political chasm I happen to come down on.  When society tries to force this sort of classification onto me, it’s almost easier to just submit to it.

If nothing else matters other than my political views, it’s just easier to let those beliefs define me and forget the rest, rather than try to parse out what exactly it is that makes me the uniquely beautiful and beloved child of God that I am.

I don’t think that our society is always like this, I don’t think we are always defined along party lines, but this feeling does seem to amp up during election season, and especially during this particular presidential race.

It wasn’t so different for the original readers of the Letter to the Colossians.  They wanna know who’s in, and who’s out.  Who’s saved and who’s not?  Did Christ’s life, death, and resurrection secure believers’ place with God for eternity, or do they still have to do more to earn it?  They face scrutiny over the types of festivals they observe, the food they eat, what they drink, the every day actions of their lives.

And the writer’s response?  He says, hey, look. I know it’s hard to be you right now.  You have all of these people trying to judge you for what you eat and drink, and the festivals you observe. To me, that sounds like, hey, look. I know it’s hard to be you right now.  Everyone is telling you what to think, who to vote for, what to believe.

I feel like he’s grabbing me by the collar now, and kinda shaking me.  Really trying to drive his point home.  Don’t let anyone define you by the standards of this world.  Don’t let anyone define you according to human tradition. Don’t let others tell you what to think or believe, but find your identity in Christ.

But he leaves me there.  Leaves me wondering what that even means for me, today.  Find my identity in Christ? What does that mean when the face of Christ is virtually unrecognizable in this season of tumult, this season of dis-ease, this season of polarity so pervasive that I think it might even be splitting the hairs on my head.  What does it mean for our identity to be rooted in Christ?  This is where we have to take a closer look at the gospel, a closer look at Christ himself.  Throughout the four gospels, Jesus is consistent in a few things, among them are: his constant proclamation that the kingdom of God has drawn near.  He continually shows a preferential option for the poor and marginalized among us, and above all, he demands that we love one another.

I want to hone in on the kingdom of God for a minute, because in our reading for this morning, we find Jesus teaching his disciples how to pray, and one of the first things he tells the disciples to pray is “your kingdom come.”  There are countless references to the kingdom of God in the gospels.  Well, I’m sure someone has counted them.  Anyway, in each of these references, Jesus gives us a glimpse of what is to come.  He shows us that the generosity of God overflows even to those who don’t deserve it, he shows us that everyone has a place at the table set before us, and he tells us that the kingdom belongs to the poor in spirit, the kingdom belongs to the ones who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake.  Jesus implores us, over and over again, to recognize that the kingdom of God is at hand, and we better start acting like it.  We better start showing the generosity and radical welcome that the kingdom of God offers even the most unlovable among us.  We better start welcoming the strangers and refugees. We better start caring about what happens to our neighbors.  We better start finding ourselves on the side of the oppressed.

It is by this measure that we are called to size ourselves up.  It is to these standards that we are to hold ourselves accountable, not by the standards of this world where everyone wants a piece of us, but no one wants our whole selves.  Christ is the one who loves what is unlovable in us.  Christ is the one who calls us by our name, and not by our political party. Christ is the one who remembers what makes each one of us worthy of love, and not our past mistakes.  And Christ calls us to see this in one another.

This is the identity that the writer of the letter to the Colossians is talking about. Our true identity is found in the one who toppled the systems of power in this world.  The one who “disarmed the rulers and authorities.”  He tells us to find ourselves in him, and not to let the ones in power stake a claim on our very lives, on those things that make us the uniquely beautiful and beloved children of God that we are.

And sometimes, it will get hard.  Sometimes it will seem too difficult to figure out if we are the stranger or if we are the welcomer. It will be heartbreaking to confront the powers that hold us back, and keep us from flourishing. It will be painful to take a look at our own lives and to acknowledge the ways in which we contribute to the powers of the world gaining even more power.   And it will seem nearly impossible at times to break out of this cycle of power and dominion into the freedom of belonging to Christ.  Freedom from the ties that bind us to conforming to human expectation, freedom from only being identified by the color of our voting ballot.

And when it gets too hard, Jesus reminds us that all we need to do is ask, search, and knock.  Ask God to remind us who we are.  Search our hearts for the identity that can only be found in Christ, and knock on the door to God’s kingdom and be reminded how to welcome others to the table.  Jesus also reminds us that this work cannot and should not be done alone.  When our friend wakes us up in the night looking for bread, we will not abandon her.  When we are wandering aimlessly trying to figure out what it looks like to be a follower of Christ in this world, today, we will look to the people sitting in this room for guidance, and encourage one another. This also means that we will hold ourselves and one another accountable to living into the values of our identity in Christ.  And when we fall short, we will seek reconciliation.  And when we are asked to forgive those who sin against us, we will offer forgiveness with no strings attached.  We, here at Ascension and Holy Trinity, will commit to love one another even when we disagree, and we will strive, side by side, for the kingdom of God.


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