The Order of the Towel

I was honored to again fill the pulpit of our neighborhood church, Church of the Redeemer. This invitation was to fill an urgent need. Now retired, I have deep sermon archives. Coming off the bench as a substitute is what I do these days. And the text was timely.

June 26 was a unique day for public worship, the first Sunday after SCOTUS reversed Roe v. Wade. Moral Law v. Constitutional Law. As one pastor said, the day called for sober reflection and rejoicing. Across the nation, emotions run high; political divisions run deep. Public squares have filled with celebrations and protests.

What's next in the USA? I don't know. What comes next for Jesus' followers?

John 13:1-17 is a drama in slow motion.

Regardless of political persuasion, what does Jesus expect from all of his followers right now? Jesus models a posture that I call the “Order of the Towel.” By socially scandalous acts and compelling words, Jesus points the way to hope, help, and healing.

The message is here.

Will followers of Jesus embrace and embody Jesus’ love? When faced with personal betrayal and political treachery, this King didn’t cling to rightful status or grasp at political power. Will his followers also stoop, serve, and sacrifice?

Father, forgive us.
Lord, have mercy on us.
Holy Spirit, renew us.
Reveal your glory through our service.

Welcome one Another

My national church meets soon. Now retired, I don't vote but pray. This year, I pray less about the positions of those who gather and more for their posture: for their hospitality and intercession.

"Welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you for the glory of God.” (Romans 15:7) "Show hospitality to one another without grumbling.” (1 Peter 4:9) For decades, I equipped churches to show hospitality for outsiders (like international students). Jesus' followers must also show welcoming grace for insiders (to one another).

We welcome one another around our shared Confession of Faith. We also intercede for a lost world. These postures, hospitality and intercession, are connected. We see the connection in a mysterious Bible chapter, Genesis 18.

The opening scene has been reimagined in church art for millennia. Abraham welcomes three complete strangers. He then intercedes (prayerfully negotiates, haggles, makes pleas?) with One Stranger (probably the pre-incarnate LORD) for Sodom to be spared.

Abraham (Genesis 17:17) and Sarah (18:12-14) had become cynical about God's ability to provide a promised son. They tried to "help God (Plan B: Ishmael). But, after they welcome the strangers, they are reassured as believing partners in God's plan to save the world. God transforms their cynical laughs into a gift of Laughter. The good news (a promised Son) becomes a reality (in Isaac).

When we welcome others, even elders who are strangers to us, we become fellow workers for the truth (3 John 5-7). In-person hospitality breaks down social media missile silos. And hospitality transforms hearts that have grown cynical about God's ability to change the world through the ordinary means of grace and not our clever political stratagems.

Then note Abraham's posture in the second half of Genesis 18. Abraham intercedes for Sodom. But on what basis? Can God spare a wicked city if there is a righteous remnant of 50, 45, 40, 30, 20, 10? The original text (scandalously) infers that the LORD remained standing before him — until Abraham stopped interceding. Can God save MANY sinners, if there is only ONE who is righteous? Abraham cannot comprehend that. Even angels would marvel at such a thing!

We face "wars and rumors of wars” (militarily and culturally). We may glower and scowl over Sodom. We may be driven by fears of our loss of political and spiritual influence. But each time we look at the sinful world, we must look more at Christ's righteousness.

The Judge of all the earth will do what is just." God dispatches angels on reconnaissance to judge. "But Abraham remained standing before the LORD." We must also. As Matthew Henry says: "The LORD did not (stop) granting until Abraham (stopped) asking ... though sin is to be hated, sinners are to be ... prayed for.”

GOD is not slow to keep his promise. But WE can be quick to condemn and slow to proclaim the gospel. God did not first send his Son to condemn the world, but to save. And his church is now sent, as Christ's ambassadors, not as God's avenging angels. Our world must not perish without our prayers.

So what is the posture of the children of Abraham? We are called to hospitality (a literary contrast between the welcome at Abraham's tent and the violent sexual abuse of strangers at Sodom's gate is probably intentional). And we are called to intercession. Until the last Day, we must welcome one another and we must intercede for the world.

From @IntlBuzz