By Pastor Bryan Niebanck

You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored?

Matthew 5:13

Why are you here in church this morning?  Why are you here?  Seriously, ask yourself the question and really ponder it for a moment.  Why are you in church this morning?

Your answer may be that it is what you always have done, that it would not seem like Sunday without it.  Perhaps you wanted to see your friends.  Maybe your answer might even be that you come here to worship God in community.  Jennifer Williams noted her reasoning for coming to church every Sunday: “We come to meet God here in this sanctuary and to learn about our faith and how to serve Jesus Christ.  That is our promise at baptism, that we will be present with the people of God.”

Do you remember the vows that you made at your baptism?  “Do you renounce the powers of evil and desire the freedom of new life in Christ?  Do you profess Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior?  Do you promise, by the grace of God, to be Christ’s disciple, to follow in the way of our Savior, to resist oppression and evil, to show love and justice, and to witness to the work and word of Jesus Christ as best you are able?  Do you promise, according to the grace given you, to grow in the Christian faith and to be a faithful member of the church of Jesus Christ, celebrating Christ’s presence and furthering Christ’s mission in all the world?”

Who taught you about church?

Why did you first want to go to church?

What does church mean to you?

When I was young, I wanted to go to church because I had friends there.  I also wanted to exceed the expectations that were given to me and perform well in Sunday School just like I did in school.  Is that desirable?  Should we still seek to exceed expectations?  What are the expectations now?  In many ways, they might be less than they were before, which makes them easier to exceed.

I come to church now for a couple of the same reasons; I like to see friends and I like to worship together.  I also come to church by myself when there is no one else here.  Those times, I come to worship God.  I worship God in my actions, in my work, and in silent prayer in the sanctuary when everything is quiet.  There are always other things that I could be doing.  There are other things you could be doing right now other than being here.  But in all honesty, I could not imagine myself doing anything else in my waking hours than trying to give God glory in whatever I do.  I know that is best done through fellowship, helping our neighbors, and worshipping.

If we are not aware of the reason for coming, why would we come?  Paul says in 1 Corinthians 1:18, “For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”  Are we willing to be as fools to those who are leisurely sleeping in on their only day off or reading a book by the window for no gain?  To us, it is the power of God.  We come because we find something rich in coming to worship!  And if we do not, it is our responsibility to make it rich.

When I think about exceeding expectations, I wonder what the expectations are to exceed.  Do pastors and religious leaders really expect us to remember all the vows that we made at our baptism?  Many of us were too young to remember!  We may have heard the promises made among other families since, but they just seem like formalities.  We need to renew our commitment to them, to promise to always grow in the Christian faith, and never fall stagnant, and also to always be a faithful member of the church of Jesus Christ.  Even if the standard of expectations is lowered between each other, I don’t believe that God lowers them.  If we promise something, that is a promise.  We are bound to it in covenant.  In return, God offers us the richness of His grace and presence – a richness that cannot be found anywhere else.  When we give God our presence – our full presence not only physically but our commitment to grow and faithfully commit to building up the body – God returns that gift with the ultimate gift of His presence.  “We are here to be present with one another, our families, and to be in the presence of God.  We come to worship God and to be filled with the power of the Holy Spirit” (Jennifer Williams, Sermon Series: Our Baptismal Vows, 9.28.2011).  We celebrate that in Communion too.  We break the bread, which is the body of Christ, and we drink the cup, which is the blood of Christ.  We have Communion in fellowship with one another – in presence with one another.

When we partake in Holy Communion, we are not just remembering, or memorializing, the Last Supper of Jesus and the disciples.  “We are re-membering, putting the body of Christ back together through invitation, mutual repentance, mutual forgiveness, and the receiving of grace.  LGBTQ Christians are every bit of that body as their straight siblings in Christ.  All of us belong in the body together.  Whether your impulse is towards inclusion or purity, we have so much to learn from one another and contribute to each other” (Charlie Baber).

What does Communion mean to you?

Is it hard to think of people who you don’t agree with also being in the body of Christ?

Whether we think someone is misguided, misled, intentionally disobedient, or downright wrong, it does not stop our neighbor from being in the body of Christ.  The Jewish population was equally shocked when Paul proposed that the Gentiles should be seen as part of God’s people, as many churches are today that LGBTQ should be.  It is a growing problem and churches are dividing because of it.  Yet, regardless of your stance, I believe that we welcome everyone, just as Paul preached, regardless of what we choose to affirm or not, because we need more love in this world.  Our first concern should be sharing the love of God, not keeping people out.  As we celebrate the sacrament of Communion, remember that we need to do our part to keep Christians unified.  That is one reason why we come to church to worship with our neighbors, despite any differences we may have.

Offering your presence means that you are offering your commitment to God.  It means that you realize that there is something greater than you in this world that is worth giving your time, talent, and treasure toward.  You come and clean the church when your own house needs to be cleaned, just as the prophet Jeremiah called the people to stop building their own houses and come together as one people to rebuild the temple that was sitting in ruins.

I have three challenges for you to take from today: First, recommit your presence.  When you were baptized, you promised that you would offer your time to grow in your faith and to be a faithful member of the church.  Recommit to those goals; I hope that no one just comes to church and goes home unchanged.  We are meant to be changed.  We are meant to grow.  Second, think about what is rich in your church experience.  Take a moment to write it down in the space in your bulletin; what is rich for you about church?  What makes you want to keep coming back?  If you cannot think of anything that is currently rich, write down something that you think you need to make it rich, and then please share it with myself and others.  Together, we can make our experience of God rich, so long as we are both committed to spending the time to make it happen.  Psalm 112 tells of those who delight in the commandments being happy because they are gracious, merciful, and righteous.  They “conduct their affairs with justice” (112:5)  And, “in the end they will look in triumph on their foes” (112:8).  Isaiah offers us a conditional statement: “If you remove the yoke from among you, the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil, … the Lord will guide you continually and satisfy your needs in parched places, and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like the spring of water, whose waters never fail” (Is. 58:9-11).  This contains your third challenge: Remove the pointing of the finger and the speaking of evil from among you.  Do not cast blame.  Only spread love.  To fully experience God’s presence, we need to bring our presence in our commitment to our promises  and to the growth of Christian love.  That is why we are here.  We can only grow together.  May all glory and honor be to God!  Thanks be to God!  Amen.

Scripture Readings:

Isaiah 58: 3-4, 9b-11
58:3 “Why do we fast, but you do not see? Why humble ourselves, but you do not notice?” Look, you serve your own interest on your fast day, and oppress all your workers.
58:4 Look, you fast only to quarrel and to fight and to strike with a wicked fist. Such fasting as you do today will not make your voice heard on high.
58:9b If you remove the yoke from among you, the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil,
58:10 if you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like the noonday.
58:11 The LORD will guide you continually, and satisfy your needs in parched places, and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters never fail.

Psalm 112:1-10
112:1 Praise the LORD! Happy are those who fear the LORD, who greatly delight in his commandments.
112:2 Their descendants will be mighty in the land; the generation of the upright will be blessed.
112:3 Wealth and riches are in their houses, and their righteousness endures forever.
112:4 They rise in the darkness as a light for the upright; they are gracious, merciful, and righteous.
112:5 It is well with those who deal generously and lend, who conduct their affairs with justice.
112:6 For the righteous will never be moved; they will be remembered forever.
112:7 They are not afraid of evil tidings; their hearts are firm, secure in the LORD.
112:8 Their hearts are steady, they will not be afraid; in the end they will look in triumph on their foes.
112:9 They have distributed freely, they have given to the poor; their righteousness endures forever; their horn is exalted in honor.
112:10 The wicked see it and are angry; they gnash their teeth and melt away; the desire of the wicked comes to nothing.

Matthew 5:13-20
5:13 “You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot.
5:14 “You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid.
5:15 No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house.
5:16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.
5:17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill.
5:18 For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished.
5:19 Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.
5:20 For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”

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