With approximately 500 people now officially running for President in 2020 we are beginning to hear folks make the case for what qualifies them to hold the highest office in the land. We hear how their experience as attorneys, or mayors, or senators, has prepared them for the job they seek. Qualifications are important things in our world. It is important that you have the required the knowledge and skills to do the job that you are called to do. It is important to only give benefits to those who qualify or the benefits might run out before they reach the intended party. It is important to qualify for the college you want to attend or they won’t let you in. It is important to be tall enough to ride the rollercoaster, or you could fall out. Qualifications are one way that we try to make sure that the right people are in the right place, that the right people get the right things.
Isaiah’s 55th chapter begins with the voice of God making an offer with an interesting qualification. God is inviting people to come to the waters, to buy food and wine and milk, to delight in rich food. But who is invited to this banquet feast? Who qualifies for this celebration with God? “Everyone who thirsts.” Everyone who thirsts? But don’t we all thirst? Is thirst not a universal need and desire? Its a lot like saying, “Everyone who breathes,” it emphasizes the idea that everyone means everyone. As the passage goes on, the invitation is extended specifically to those that have no money for they too are invited to come and buy wine and milk. Here everyone does not only apply to those who can afford to buy, those with resources, it means everyone regardless of their wealth. Why this insistence on emphasizing the universality of the invitation? Doesn’t everyone always mean everyone? Why spell it out?
Last Sunday we had a potluck lunch after our annual meeting, and Joe Praner, a man who has been coming to Mustard Seed Dinners with his daughters for months now, decided to come and to bring along a friend. When I entered the Fellowship Hall after the meeting, Joe approached me and asked for a favor. He explained that he’d brought his friend Salvador, a guy that he had met a few times scrapping metal over on Chef Highway, to our lunch. Unfortunately, when they arrived Salvador told him that he didn’t want to go into the church. He said that he felt embarrassed, that this church was a church for rich people, and that he didn’t belong. I went with Joe to meet Salvador, I got to use a little of my rusty Spanish, inviting him in, assuring him that he was welcome, that we wanted him to join us for lunch. I said I understood that he felt embarrassed but that he didn’t need to, everyone was welcome here.
Salvador did come in and eat with us, he even thanked me and said God bless you on his way out. But I’ve had to spend sometime over the past week thinking about why he might not have felt welcome here. We are a church that welcomes all, we preach and proclaim as often as possible, and yet Salvador didn’t think that all included him, he didn’t think everyone was a category universal enough to mean him as well. The more I thought about it, the more sense it made why he would feel this way. In our society, everyone is often a limited category. When we say everyone we sometimes mean all citizens of this nation; but of course that would exclude Salvador if he wasn’t yet a citizen. When we say everyone is welcome, we often mean everyone that can afford to purchase what is offered; folks without extra cash are often not welcome to even use the bathroom. When we say everyone we often mean everyone who can speak English fluently, who shares our culture, who look and dress and act as we do; I am sure that Salvador’s Mexican culture and newly acquired English exclude him from places and opportunities everyday. So when Salvador arrived in this goregeous, expensive, white, neighborhood, he knew that he didn’t meet the qualifications necessary to enter the church. His shorthand for saying this, was simply, “This is a church for rich people.”
Of course, I object, every bit as vehemently as all of you to this statement. Our church is not a church only for rich people, this place is for all people regardless of qualifications. This is so, because we proclaim that God’s love is for all people regardless of their qualifications. But saying something, and truly believing it are not always one and the same. Do we truly believe that God loves all of us, regardless of who we are, where we come from, and what we have done? Before your thoughts go off to how God certainly loves other people without qualification, I want us to pause and ask if we believe this about ourselves. Do you believe that God loves you? Can you truly, deeply, actually accept God’s love for you? I ask because I know how hard this can be to believe for some of us. Sometimes we are far harder on ourselves than we ever would be towards others. Of course God loves Salvador, of course God loves children, of course God loves those other nice Christian people at church, but me? Well I know myself too well. I know my flaws and my sins, and my selfishness, and all the terrible awful things I have done. If anyone knew all this about me, they couldn’t possibly love me. Sure God loves everyone, but not me, I don’t qualify.
Listen again to the Word of God from Isaiah, “Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters..” Who? Everyone. But certainly I’m not qualified. Do you thirst? Well yes, but I don’t have any money. “And you that have no money, come, buy and eat!” Me!?! Everyone, everyone, everyone. Everyone means me too. Everyone means you too. God wants this banquet feast, this glorious celebration and abundance and satisfaction for everyone. This is the good news of Jesus Christ, this is the Gospel. All qualifications have been removed. All who thirst, the wicked and the righteous, the Jew and the Greek, the man and the women, the poor and the rich, the gay and the straight, all who thirst are invited to come to the waters of God’s love. Even us.
I want more than anything for Salvador and for everyone who happens to encounter St. Paul’s United Church of Christ to know that we proclaim and believe that God’s love is for all. Everything that we do here is meant to communicate that fact to us and to the world. We collect food for the poor because we believe that God loves them and invites them to feast. We help to send books to prisoners because we believe that God loves the guilty and the innocent and redeems all people. We are working towards racial reconciliation because we believe that racism and its effects are in direct contradiction to our belief that God’s love is for everyone. All of this is tremendously important. But none of it will be truly convincing to Salvador, or to anyone else, if we are not able to believe it about ourselves. If each and everyone of us can continually attempt to accept the love of God, to trust in God’s love for us no matter what, than our message of God’s love for the rest of the world becomes far more convincing. We believe, may God help our unbelief. Amen.
Rev. Andrew Greenhaw
Eternal Student, Christian Minister, Buffalo Wing Enthusiast