Gospel: John 8:31-36
1st Reading: Jeremiah 31:31-34
2nd Reading: Romans 3:19-28
What should we have for dinner? That’s the question that faces us every night. Sometimes we’re smart enough to plan out a menu ahead of time. Sometimes we’re just trying to get ourselves fed as quickly as possible from the ingredients we have on hand. Each of us considers the question from our own perspective. We look at the available ingredients and time as well as what our cravings are saying to us. Everyone shares their point of view and enters into a dialogue. We make the best decision we can for all of us, and then we get to cooking and eventually eating. Then we start again the next day.
The Reformation started with a question, as well: What is God’s will or purpose for the church? Maybe this question seems far removed from what to have for dinner, but we’re asking how to nourish our bodies and how to nourish the body of Christ. It kind of reminds me of the scene in “Oliver” when he asks for more. There were those who found the question threatening. The Roman Catholic Church had been creating the menu for years and forcing people to cook and eat what they wanted people to swallow. But there were many more who were already asking the question behind the scene. They were hungry for a new way of doing church. Many people were already considering the question from many perspectives, considering the resources, looking at all the options. Many people shared their point of view and entered into the dialogue. People started trying their own recipes. Martin Luther ended up writing his own recipe book. It included many old favorites, but with new twists, and especially empowering people to think and cook for themselves and decide what worked for their families. Out of the Reformation came many different meal options, new ingredients and preparation techniques. Of course, we aren’t still using all the same recipes that came from that time. The Reformation is ongoing. We must ask the question in every generation, in every context: What is God’s will or purpose for the church? We ask each other. We ask God. We all decide together what makes sense. We worship with the tools and knowledge skills and faith that we have available in this time and place. Then we do it all again the next week.
We are still asking that question about God’s purpose for our church. You’ve asked it before in the congregations you came from. You asked it before in this congregation over 10 years ago. You ate that dish and were nourished by it for many years. Now, new ingredients are available, new tastes, new cooks. So we sit with the question again: What is God’s purpose for our church, our congregation? We listen to our church and our community again. We listen to God again. Maybe God will share with us the same recipe that we’ve been using all this time. And maybe God will say something that we haven’t heard in quite the same way before. Maybe new ears hear something a little bit different. Maybe we have new language to understand and express God’s purpose for our community, but we’ll never know unless we stop and listen to God once more and listen to each other once more, which is what we’ve been doing in our Mission Statement Process in the past month. You are invited to participate in the Mission Statement process. Last month a group of us met on a Saturday and prayed and read the Bible and had a discussion about God’s purpose for our community. Our Mission Statement team has been praying and studying those responses to come up with a draft statement. If you didn’t get a chance to come to the retreat, you are invited to take home a Bible Study page to complete and return to the church to be considered as we shape our drafts.
We weren’t anticipating asking any questions about the space downstairs, until the preschool moved on. Now we have an opening and a question. How can we use the space downstairs to serve God? The council was considering placing an add, but we realized that this gives us a chance to listen to the Holy Spirit. It is a chance to ask the question, pray, consider the resources, have a dialogue, and decide together. So far, people have had such great ideas. It could be a day-use retreat space for groups to meet. It could be used for tutoring. It could be used for a parent-toddler play group. It could be used for a musical group to practice. You are invited to pray, to read scripture, to discuss, and to make a suggestion about how the space could be used to do God’s work in the community. The Holy Spirit speaks to every one of us and when we listen to each other we have a much richer and tastier menu and are nourished more fully.
God keeps on asking the question about how to show us love and help us to love each other. At times we haven’t been so wild about that question. We’ve been too distracted by our fears and our greed and our other priorities. But God keeps posing that question in every age. God doesn’t just give us questions, but gives us resources to help us find our way. God gives us our relationship with God as an example of what love can look like. God gives us prophets to help point us in a direction that is helpful. God gives us all the people we meet to help challenge us and help us grow. God gives us this amazing world we live in as a gift that we are stewards of. And God gives us endless chances to try again when we fail and to improve on our recipes.
This is partly what we mean when we talk about being simultaneously saint and sinner, slave and free, like the scriptures point out this morning. Maybe saint and sinner language is too loaded for us, these days. We either get too humble—“I’m no saint,” or defensive, “What do you mean, I’m continually sinning!? I do the best I can.” But the slave and free way of saying it may be more helpful. We can see how at any moment we are bound, in a kind of slavery. We are bound by our life circumstances. We are unable to see the options before us. We get stuck in our patterns. We get comfortable with where we are. And we make lots and lots of choices that distance us from others and hurt us an others. We are slaves to sin.
And yet that isn’t the end of the story. Jesus frees us, continually, with the gift of God’s love. Jesus reminds us that fear and guilt are not the end of the story. We don’t have to spend our days beating ourselves up for all the mistakes we’ve made. We are beloved children of God. We are adopted into God’s family. The Son has welcomed us. We can move from that place of slavery and being stuck. We can approach God for help. We can ask the Holy Spirit for guidance. We can expect another day of God’s grace to ask the questions. We can come together again in community with all these other imperfect beloved children of God and decide together. Our cookbook of life is open. We are free to use the amazing gifts and ingredients that God gives us to make something new and beautiful and delicious. We are free to ask the question, “What’s for dinner?” and listen to all the possible responses in the body of Christ. We are free to be nourished and fed at God’s table. And we are freed to take God’s love out to all we meet so that someday everyone will be fed in body and spirit. Someday all will be freed in body and spirit.