It was all supposed to be so simple.

On my first or second Sunday here, I said to you that I had a plan. It was one of those plans that you read about in books about how to be a good pastor. I was going to call around and make appointments; I was going to come to your home, or take you out for coffee, or whatever. I was my big plan to meet each and every one of you.

And I tried. I made some calls and left some messages and waited to hear back. And then I started meeting you during worship and fellowship and in meetings and at Crafty Stitchers. And then things got busier and busier. And my nice simple plan just kind of fell apart.

So, if you’ve been waiting for one year, seven months, and eleven days or so for me to make an appointment… I’m sorry.

It was all supposed to be so simple. And then it wasn’t. It was complicated.

Last week, we met Moses. You remember the story.

Moses was an Israelite, and a murderer, and a fugitive, and a shepherd. And God called to him from a burning bush and told him to go to Pharaoh and liberate the Israelites from slavery in Egypt. And he didn’t think he could do it. But with God guiding him, Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt.

And now, the Israelites are in the wilderness between Egypt and Canaan. And God and Moses are trying to take this people and make them into a nation. And to make that happen, God is going to give them a law and a land.

God will give them the land that he promised to their ancestor Abraham. But today we get to hear a little bit of the law. And it all sounds so simple.

People memorize these commandments. We hang posters of them in homes and offices. We erect monuments to them in front of courthouses and city halls. We imagine that if we could just learn and keep these few commandments…

…if we could just make the Lord our only god with no others before him…

…if we could just refrain from making idols or using the name of the Lord wrongly…

…if we could just give everyone a day off and honor our parents…

…if we could just not murder or steal or bear false witness or covet what belongs to our neighbors…

…if we could just love the Lord our God with all our heart, and all our soul, and all our might…

…then everything would be okay.

And it all sounds so simple. But it’s not. It’s complicated.

For generations, prophets and rabbis and scholars and pastors and Jews and Christians and people-in-general have looked at this list of rules and argued.

We have said, “What does it really mean to have another god before the Lord?”

We have asked, “A whole day off? Really? Every week?”

We have wondered, “What does it mean to honor our parents?”

We have debated the meaning of murder and parsed the definition of coveting.

We have struggled to love the Lord our God with all our heart, and all our soul, and all our might.

Because here’s the thing: when it’s just a list of rules in the scriptures, or on a poster, or on a monument, it’s easy. But once you start trying to live under the rules, things get complicated.

Plans are nice, sometimes. Laws are nice, sometimes. Even churches are nice, sometimes.

And in our imaginations, they can be wonderful. We can imagine that if we just followed the plan, we will realize all of our goals. We can imagine that if we just crafted the right laws, everyone will live in harmony. 

We can imagine that if the church just sang the right hymns and recited the right prayers and put up the right decorations—and maybe even passed the right bylaws—people would come from miles around and fill the sanctuary, and fill the classrooms, and we would never have to worry about anything.

But the truth is that no plan survives contact with reality. There are, after all, people involved.

And that was true even for the Israelites… in the wilderness between Egypt and Canaan… with these fresh new shiny commandments.

The Israelites will go to Moses and say, “Why did you lead us out of Egypt and into the wilderness to wander around for ages and starve to death? Why couldn’t we have just died in Egypt, where at least our bellies were full?”

Moses will go to God and say, “What did I do to you that you made me lead these people?”

Even God will turn to Moses and say, “These people are haughty and stubborn and a pain in the neck. I’m just gonna get rid of them and I’ll make a nation out of you.”

In the midst of our plans and our laws and our expectations, there are people. And wherever there are people, things get complicated. Sometimes, things even get frustrating.

And in those moments of complication and frustration, it is important to remember that the plans aren’t the point.

Today is World Communion Sunday. Today, Christians around the world are gathering at this table with each other—and with our friend and teacher and lord and savior—to partake of a humble feast. Today, Christians all around the world are gathering together to be the church.

And that sounds so simple. Here we are, all together, eating and drinking and remembering.

But here we are, one diverse family, gathering together to do something that we do every day, and every week, and every month, and ever quarter, and only on special occasions.

Here we are, one diverse family, eating wafers and crackers and challah and naan and gluten free Texas toast and a thousand other breads; one diverse family, drinking merlot and frontenac and Manizchewitz and mustum and Welch’s grape juice and a thousand other drinks.

Here we are, one diverse family, partaking in the body that was hung on the cross and the blood that flowed through Christ’s veins; and we are partaking in bread and body, wine and blood, joined in sacramental union; and we are partaking in a memorial meal.

Here we are, one diverse family, gathering at this table with apostles and heretics, saints and sinners, generations long past and generations yet to come; one diverse family, gathering together with people we love, and people we fight with, and complete strangers.

And in that act of sharing a little bread and a little to drink—in this simple meal that we argue about and fight over—we encounter Christ. We receive grace. And I don’t know how that happens, but it does happen.

There is no plan for love. You cannot write out how to love, or how to be a people, or how to be a church and then just follow the instructions. It doesn’t work that way.

The work of being the church is not found in having the right plan. It’s not found in having the right rules. I’m not even sure it’s found in following the right commandments.

It’s found in the simple acts of showing up and doing the messy, unpredictable, complicated work of loving each other… of fumbling and messing up… of apologizing… or making room for each other… or forgiving… of being forgiven.

It’s found in striving to love the Lord our God with all our heart, and all our soul, and all our might… and our neighbor as ourselves. It’s found in recognizing when we fail to do that. And it’s found in accepting that God has enough grace—and more than enough grace—for all of those times that we fail to do that.

It’s found in sharing a simple meal at a great big table. And it’s found in carrying the grace of that simple meal out into the world.

(And that’s not simple. That’s complicated. But with God guiding us, we can do it.)

Amen.

Right now, there is a movement in churches and nonprofits arguing that charity is toxic, that helping hurts, and that the entire nonprofit sector needs to be reformed to truly lift people out of poverty. These charity skeptics are telling Christians that traditional charity deepens dependency, fosters a sense of entitlement, and erodes the work ethic of people who receive it. Charity skepticism is increasingly popular; and it is almost certainly wrong.

Now available from Wipf and Stock’s Cascade Books imprint, Radical Charity: How Generosity Can Save the World (And the Church) weaves together research and scholarship on topics as diverse as biblical scholarship, Christian history, economics, and behavioral psychology to tell a different story. In this story, charity is the heart of Christianity and one of the most effective ways that we can help people who are living in poverty. Charity—giving to people experiencing poverty without any expectation of return or reformation—can save the world and help make God’s vision for the church a reality.

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