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Based on the Scripture readings:
Isaiah 11:1-10
Romans 15:4-13

2004 December 5
Rev. Kenneth F. Baily, Senior Pastor

Welcome to Reality

Imagine that you are a major network programming committee. Just for a minute, imagine that you are decision makers in a powerful media empire. Let me pitch you a story idea for the holidays. It's an amazing story.

I have this idea, based on some old material, about a small, numerically insignificant but fascinating group. It follows their story.

First, set the scene. Imagine a desert: a cross between something from a Bob Hope, Bing Crosby movie and The English Patient. Desolate, struggling, but humorous sometimes, too. It has strong women and committed men. Not Desperate Housewives, but The Power of One.

Now, imagine the context. It's like Dr. Zhivago. It is a time of enormously expensive militarization and fear, yet there is also great poverty, both material and spiritual. There is extensive accommodation between giant religious groups and the dominant powers of the day, including the government. I can't think of a show like that.

Now the group. Our little group has a spiritual, moral, charitable, social, political, and even cosmic character. It's a combination of The X Files and Joan of Arcadia. This group believes that the "truth is out there" and that God touches our lives everyday. But it's not a high school clique. Back to topIt believes that anyone can join -- anyone.

So anyway, the story traces the group from the birth of its founder until one day it goes to the big city and tries to share its joyful message there, but the powers-that-be reject the message, snuff it out, cancel it.  But then something magical happens. The actual rejection of the message gets more attention than the group imagines. The snuffing out becomes a symbol, even on popular jewelry, and the power of the powerful is superseded by the rejection of the weak. The rejection reveals the message of the little group. It's like Saul Alinsky's ju jitsu or Peter Sellers in The Mouse that Roared.

Now this is all based on actual historical material that anyone can read, but network executives haven't done that, so I'm bringing it to you to see what you think. Could we tell this story of rejection and new life this year? Would anyone believe it? Could this be reality TV?

Well, among all the things that I would like to say about the week that just was, let me say this: it was an amazing week for our UCC denomination and for the Christian faith across the United States. After a year of planning, showing our new commercial to networks and to diverse groups from other denominations and religions (who gave it a pass), this week, citing the U.S. President's commitment to present a constitutional amendment regarding marriage, two major networks spiked our little UCC message because it shows men holding hands coming to worship and women together in church, which is too controversial for CBS and NBC. We've weathered the dangers of Harry Belafonte's interracial touch, Murphy Brown's single parenting, and Ellen's kiss. Currently we're marinated in a culture with thousands of grotesquely negative images of human love, along with visuals of war, torture, and Viagra. But now the networks have said that they can't allow a message of faithful inclusiveness and welcome, extravagant welcome like God's, to be on public air. They don't want Saving Private Ryan's explicit reality, and they don't want us to save a place where the private lives of God's children are included. Yet in rejecting our message, they've made it much bigger than ever it could have hoped to be. In trying to kill it, they've given it abundant life. It seems like the powers-that-be never read how history has a way of doing that; it certainly seems they've taken no management lessons from the Bible. Back to topWhich turns out, ironically, to be good news.

Welcome to the United Church of Christ. Welcome all you despised, rejected, middle class troublemakers. Welcome you who work, you who are retired, and you have lost your job. Welcome infants who cry, children who talk back, and those of you who have lost children. Welcome you who are gay or lesbian, you who are celibate, even if gay or lesbian, you who are questioning. Welcome you who are Republican, Democratic, or dismissive of such labels. Welcome theological conservatives, indignant Unitarians, and morally grounded progressives. Welcome if you are differently abled or care for those who are. Welcome powerful women and uppity men. Welcome you who grieve in a season so often named by joy and you who seek in a house so often feared for judgmental certainty. Welcome veterans and pacifists, welcome saints and sinners, welcome Red Sox fans. And, welcome Yankee fans.

This is not just my welcome nor just ours as a parish. It is what God asks of us in the scriptures, even though we don't always do what we're asked there. But this morning Hope read a small, revolutionary phrase from Paul. "Welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you." And do this because it glorifies God, it shows something beautiful and meaningful beyond yourself when you offer welcome.

This is not just my welcome, nor just ours alone. It is Jesus' welcome. In this parish, at least for a time, we sang a certain song at baptisms. It said, "Welcome home, little one, welcome into the fold. The Good Shepherd will guide you, the flock will hold you safe, you are free now grow strong and true in faith, and in hope, and in God's love for you." We sang that song to little babies. All I'm saying now is that we don't sing a different tune to grown ups. We don't change our song or forget our promise as time goes by. Back to topWe don't forget the poetry just because innocence develops experience.

How did Jesus welcome people? He didn't turn away foreigners, lepers or untouchable women and unimportant children. He ate with what we sometimes call prostitutes and sinners. He embraced traitors and embezzlers. Did he ever make a statement on gay rights? Well, sort of when he said the issue in Sodom was inhospitality, but some issues didn't get much time. Did he ever speak to the blending of religion and politics? Well, he was executed not for his prayers but for his political stance. It seems that the only people that Jesus didn't welcome were the powerful elite who oppressed the poor. He condemned their behavior in the Sermon on the Mount. Although he was polite even to Herod and to Pilate.

Jesus could welcome people because he knew that God isn't finished with any of us yet. It's not how we enter a church that God sees us. It's how we lead our lives, how we love, how we share, how we exit life.

After Jesus was born some looked back at the prophets, like Isaiah, where it said one day someone would come who would not judge by what his eyes see, or decide by what his ears hear, but with righteousness He would judge the poor and decide with equity for the meek of the earth. He would be clothed in faithfulness, and around him there would be such an aura of peace that the cosmos, nature itself, would change so that a lion and a calf, and aggressor and a weakling, could live in harmony. And anybody who had half a mind would want to be around him.

Do you think this story could sell? It is an unbelievable story on so many levels. For one thing, the characters in it are so imperfect. I don't live without anger or frustration or judgment. I am as ignorant and foolish as anyone could be. My discomfort with change is gargantuan at times. But I have no trouble saying, when I get together with all of you, that extravagant welcome, divine welcome, is our greatest joy. Does that mean anything goes? That's a silly question. Does it mean as a group we know how to do it with perfection? Not at all. But we're trying. And it is our call. If you want to be a Christian in your heart in your heart, welcome someone as God would do.

You know, Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof. We are together in a very privileged place. Somewhat guarded by our government, very graced by our God, we can say anything we want in here. Anything, like "you belong here." Maybe we can't sell our commercials, but we can celebrate our sacramental center. As a small group of joyful, peaceful travelers we proclaim that God is with us, all of us, and God has the actual power of new life. It's coming in just twenty days. Assuming that the networks aren't afraid to show advertisements about Christmas and reporting its date. They wouldn't cancel those, would they? Back to topWhat is reality: TV? Amen.

Copyright 2004 Kenneth F. Baily.  Used by permission.

Parent page ] Sermon "Sacred Vessels" ] Sermon "No System to Save" ] Sermon "Entitled to be Thankful" ] Sermon "Welcome Food" ] Sermon "Waking Devotion" ] Sermon "Sitting at the Welcome Table" ] Sermon "Table Manners" ] Sermon "Speaking of God" ] Sermon "Singing New Songs" ] Sermon "Prepare the Way" ] Sermon "Here-ing God" ] Sermon "The Possibility of Possibility" ] Sermon "Sweet Creations" ] Sermon "Not at All Dead" ] Sermon "Planning, Praising and Pondering Palms" ] Sermon "March for Life" ] Sermon "Imagination, Dreams, and Vision" ] Sermon "Following the Magi" ] Sermon "Pushing Christmas" ] Sermon "Forecasts" ] Sermon "Ready for Christmas" ] Sermon "God in the Middle" ] Sermon "The Days to Come, the One to Come" ] Sermon "Earthly Healing" ] Sermon "Digesting Communion" ] Sermon "The Change of Prayer" ] Sermon "Unbreakable Body" ] Sermon "Seeing Clearly" ] Sermon "Right for Present" ] Sermon "A Change Agent" ] Sermon "What is Sabbath" ] Sermon "In Memory of Hope" ] Sermon "These Baptisms are Killing Us" ] Sermon "Wanting Prayer" ] Sermon "Last Minute Gifts" ] Sermon "Praying Well = Praying Much" ] Sermon "Peace Repent, Peace Remember" ] Sermon "Choosing Church" ] Sermon "A Model Church" ] Sermon "The Empire Struck Back" ] Sermon "Love is Patient and Primary" ] Sermon "Manifestations" ] Sermon "The Green Grace of God" ] Sermon "Signs of Sacred Things" ] Sermon "A Deal with the Future" ] Sermon "Free from Fear" ] Sermon "To Carry Each Other" ] Sermon " With God in Death; with Each Other in Dying" ] Sermon "Healing Prayers" ] Sermon "Facing God's Miracle" ] Sermon "Finding All Three" ] Sermon "Controlling Christmas" ] Sermon "Finding Jesus" ] Sermon "God as a Baby" ] Sermon "What Does It Mean" ] Sermon "Katrina's New Covenant Call" ] Sermon "Elevate your Expectations" ] Sermon "See: the Healing" ] Sermon "Lifeless Chaos and Living Creation" ] Sermon "Rapt Gifts" ] [ Sermon "Welcome to Reality" ] Sermon "Offering Up Thanks" ] Sermon "Blue State Blues" ] Sermon "Are we not entitled to thanks?" ] Sermon "Ancient Pieces of Peace" ] Sermon "Noticing Neighbors" ] Sermon "A Summer Day of Renewal" ] Sermon "A New Thing" ] Sermon "Breath of New Life" ] Sermon "Easter" ] Sermon "Sin: Currently Tense" ] Sermon "Why Are You Angry?" ] Sermon "Anxiety over Sin" ] Sermon "A Marriage Grade in Heaven?" ] Sermon "Isn't Marriage Gay?" ] Sermon "Expanding the Body of Christ" ] Sermon "Miracles:  Seeing More in our Midst" ] Sermon "Turning to God" ] Sermon "Why are You in Churchl" ] Sermon "Remember your Baptism" ] Sermon "Every Day Spirituality" ] Sermon "The Cross and Joy of Love" ] Sermon "Welcome Back" ] Sermon "Living Together" ] Sermon "Transforming Destruction" ] Sermon "The Work of Healing" ] Sermon "Peace" ]