(click above to listen along)
I missed you guys. So much.
But given my lack of sleep and my lack of presence in the community, much less in this country over the last month I must admit I don’t have a real sermon sermon for you. You might notice that I don’t tend to preach on Sundays that follow me being out of town. Apart from general tiredness and lack of time to do so, I also just think that if I’ve not been among you that I have not earned my right to preach for you.
And while I may not have been in our beloved House – I have been in our yard. Jody Olsen likes to say that House for All Sinners and Saints is a small house but with a big yard…meaning we are connected to more people than we realize. – not only are there a lot of former housemates in diaspora – scattered among the nations, but indeed I am here to tell you that as I travel around the world I meet people who may have never been to House – but they totally hang out in our yard. What may be hard to conceive of is how many people feel connected to this little church who have never even stepped through our front door. And because of our sermon podcast and the fact that you are really generous sharing me – allowing me to be a pastor here and also fulfill my calling as a public theologian, I get to meet people in my travels who feel like they are a part of us and in a way they are.
So I may not be able to stand here and explain that completely weird parable about a dishonest manager getting friends through dishonest wealth…what I can offer is a short travelogue that might introduce you to a few people in our yard.
So here you go:
A non-sermon sermon titled: Glimpses of the kingdom – a travelogue of Pastor Nadia’s 25 days in 11 cities in 5 countries.
- Firstly I want you to know that your pastor has amazing friends who know how mentally unhealthy it is for her to travel alone and so they take breaks from their lives to accompany me to make sure I eat and to make sure they always have a keycard to my hotel room because I always forget mine – and 3 amazing women took turns doing this for me and for that I am so grateful. It was as if Jesus himself had said they will know you are my disciples if you share laughter with one another – if you allow one another to cry when needed– and if you keep crazy fans away from one another.
- The Greenbelt Festival is a faith based justice music and arts festival about an hour outside London. As soon as I arrived I was greeted by our own Brits Rachel and Gerwin and baby Grace who had flown home to be with their family. It felt like God’s welcoming committee. About a minute later I met for the 2nd time a middle aged gay couple from London who told me that they listen to the sermons every week and to please tell you guys how much it means to them. So basically, Steve and Craig are waving at you from the front yard.
- My favorite event I did at Greenbelt was to again join a sermon of mine with those of my friends Doug Gay and Padraig O’Touma – each of us preach a 10 minute sermon on one of the parables of the lost – the lost sheep, the lost coin and the prodigal son. As I sat and listened to Doug’s sermon on the parable of the lost coin – a text that says the Kingdom of God is like a woman who sweeps her house looking for this one little lost coin and then when she finds it, calls the neighbors and rejoices – I thought how much I wish all of you could hear his Gospel soaked words and so like the unjust manager in today’s parable – I’ve stolen something of someone else’s for you.
Doug said he hoped “that everyone who feels worthless, who feels no-one would miss them, who feels they have used up all the chances they deserve, who feels they can’t be worth much or else no-one would have treated them like this – here’s the dream of God’s kingdom – that they would come to believe their body and soul is precious, that their life is a great treasure to God, that they are worth finding, worth knowing, worth celebrating, worth rejoicing over. They would come to know that their life deserves repentance. That Jesus is for losers and for those who lose it and for those who are lost. That in Jesus, God got down on her knees and lit a lamp and swept the house of this world and searched until she found them.” Amen?
- At Greenbelt I told the story of Bobbie Jo and the passing of her soul friend Amy Mack and later two women came up to me and handed me a small bracelet and asked that I give it to Bobbie – because they understood what it meant to have a soul friend for that was what they were to each other and they wanted to express their condolences to a women who had lost hers. A woman in another country who they likely will never meet. These women are in our yard waving at Bobbie, and sending their love, and also this bracelet.
5. I was able to spend several days traveling with Anja, from my German publisher. One of the first things she said was she wanted me to tell Pastor Reagan how much she gets out his sermons. Then on the train to Cologne she stepped in when the conductor was trying to issue a ticket to a Syrian Refugee who didn’t have the right paperwork. “She’s with us” Anja said. But he knew that wasn’t true. “This isn’t your business” he replied to which Anja the Gospel warrior said “It is my business because she is a human being”. Anja suggested we take this young woman to the train office and pay her 60 euro fine and buy her lunch. I’d love to tell you this story ended with warm sisterly hugs and cross cultural friendship but in reality we were left wondering if she was also a victim of human trafficking because someone who seemed really sketchy came and got her and we wondered if our gesture had even meant anything at all. We could do nothing but enter the cathedral and light a candle and said a prayer for Layla. Before leaving, I saw a small exhibit in the cathedral’s transept – an actual boat in which refugees, many of whom had died, had been smuggled across the ocean. On the floor was written in many languages, Christ is in the boat. And I left having to believe that. Having to believe that God can hold what I cannot even conceive of. Having to believe that even if we think it doesn’t have any meaningful effect, that basic human kindness has to matter a little and I continue to pray that God be with Layla and with her smugglers, and with whoever that was who picked her up and with us.
- In Strasburg France, I spoke to a small group of faith leaders who comprise an inclusive faith initiative – in the midst of a very conservative culture, they are the first people in their city to come together and create a space for people of all gender and sexual orientations to be welcomed into Jewish and Christian faith communities. And who did they look to for inspiration? You guys. This weird, scrappy little church in Denver.
How good is God that he can make so much out of so little? That out of dust and breath he can create humanity, that out of an insignificant peasant girl he can create a savior, that out of living-room in Denver filled with 8 people who have a penchant for eating together and praying together he can create this church, that out of this little church he can create such ripples of love and freedom and grace – so many more than we will ever know and frankly we shouldn’t know lest we think it is we who do such things. So while I’m here to report back about some of the activity in our big big yard, I feel like I should say that in no way are we responsible for it. We are simply responsible to show up. God really does the rest. (Although God’s not gonna sign up for Altar guild next month – that’s still on you) I guess that seeing what I did over the last month made me realize even more how myopic I can be – how I am only able to focus on the things closest to me – and how often I cannot see what God is doing. Maybe we aren’t entirely meant to but sometimes we get glimpses and those glimpses of God’s magnificent handiwork in our world is something not to be missed. I am grateful for the chance to meet so many people who are seemingly hanging out in our big yard, but I am 10x more grateful to be back in this house here with you this very moment. But I am more convinced than ever that God, the great ecologist doesn’t waste anything. And for this and for all of you I am exceedingly grateful. Amen.