It’s a conversation I’ve had and heard often: parents who grieve that their adult children are not part of a congregation.
(Invite someone to church this summer: “my children.”)
It’s a very real concern: “Oh, I wish William would come to church.” “Oh, I just ache that Sharon doesn’t have a church home.” And of course we can’t make decisions for our kids, once they’ve left the home -- some even while they’re still living at home. So we have the familiar scene of church-goers bidding farewell to their children (or siblings, or friends) at the door. They take a polite pass from behind the newspaper on the couch, or still curled up in bed, or from the exercise bike or strapping on running shoes...they take a polite pass on our invitation to Spirit-borne, Christ-centered, cross-and-resurrection communities -- I don’t just mean SVLC, I mean any Gospel-centered Christian family. Week after week, parents are polite and patient too, but often with heavy hearts (and even some deep sadness somewhere way down there), we accept their rejection and head out to enjoy what they don’t have.
Do you ever have -- or get to enjoy -- an incredible dinner (maybe out, maybe at someone’s home)...but the someone who could (and frankly should) be there is not? And even while you have a great time, enjoy a delicious feast, you’re sad too?
Maybe you’ve noticed the sign out front -- “You need what we have here.” It’s not meant to sound arrogant; it’s meant to sound Pauline, namely Roman. I am convinced that the world needs what we have here, what Paul talks about in his letters: God’s grace and mercy. Everyone, everyone, everyone...isn’t just welcome. Everyone, everyone, everyone needs what we have and what is offered here: God’s grace and mercy.
When a loved one (especially a loved one who’s having a particularly hard time) misses that wonderful family feast, there is this sense of deep sadness: “Ah man, they could have really used that, they really needed that and missed out.”
Paul in Romans 9 is grieving that his own family is missing out. He just dropped some of the most beautiful verses in the whole Bible in Chapter 8, he poured his heart out for his people -- we read them last Sunday -- “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, no angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” That’s the family feast! And some weren’t even there. Or to flip the parent-child metaphor -- it’s like a child pouring their heart out with stories and lessons and questions from their day at school, with this need to connect, and the parent just sitting on the couch distracted, missing it all because they’re on their phone, texting or doing Facebook or email. “Um-hm, that’s great, sweetie.”
Much to grieve in these scenes today. Some just aren’t there. Others (of us) are. Others hear it, but are unaffected.
It’s one thing to point fingers at children or others, at what they are missing out on, but what about us -- who actually do hear and participate, who maybe aren’t distracted, but who go on living as if nothing happens here, as if Christ’s cross and resurrection aren’t real, as if Paul never dropped those verses?
I wonder, if we’re honest -- and if you were here last Sunday --how impacted we are by Paul’s “firetruck-of-a-text” (that’s what I called it last week, but I had to go back and look up what I wrote…and I wrote it!)
Yeah, I called Romans 8 a “fire-truck-of-a-text that actually and actively saves lives...dousing the very flames of death, and rescuing suffocating sinners.” How did that letter from Paul change, even save, your life this past week?...with all its ladders and hoses and First Aid? “Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.” [pause]
So we have grief for those who miss out on the Gospel completely...and, if we’re honest and a little more humble, we can miss it ourselves. I’m going to be in Atlanta this week with ELCA pastors from all over the country, and I know we’ll be sharing stories of how we “miss the Gospel” all the time, even as we’ve committed our lives to naming it, proclaiming it, celebrating it. And yet I opt out all the time too, hiding behind the newspaper, or staying active (or distracted) on the bike, or strapping on the latest program on how to run your ministry in tiptop shape, or just curling up and sleeping in. I look a lot like the one who’s missing out, huh?
I think when we’re getting the most upset about how others are not doing or enjoying church right (or at all)...is when we need to check ourselves the most. [pause]
And then, in our brokenness, that’s where those words of grace and peace come and fill in the gaps again. Just when we get all high and mighty about how others aren’t as good or as faithful as we are, that’s when we need to stop. And let God be present. God fills the space whether we invite God or not.
But to be intentional about God’s presence, not only in our arrogance and in our grief, but in our brokenness and humility too. This is the greatest gift. As we mourn, as we judge, as we make snide comments...and as we crash and come up empty, God is still with us. Nothing can separate us from that love.
Paul -- even in these 5 short verses today -- gives it all to God at the end. Paul names God in the Flesh, Jesus the Messiah, as the one “who is over all”.
And in the end, this is all we can do too. In our failure, in our brokenness, in our grief, sometimes all we can do is open our hands and commend it all to God.
“Help us, God, to take it all to you in silence, in prayer, in peace. [pause] AMEN.”