What shall I return to the Lord
for all his goodness to me?
I will lift up the cup of salvation
and call on the name of the Lord.
I will fulfill my vows to the Lord
in the presence of all his people. – Psalm 116:5-14
Today’s photograph is not the best image I’ve ever captured at church. But it is Rebekah preaching this past Sunday – June 5 – and I wanted to root this story in real time.
Being the first Sunday in the month, we shared communion. Taking the bread and the wine is always deeply meaningful for me, even more so when I am part of a community of people we have come to love so much.
Rebekah said as much in her message. She was talking about the consummate sense of gratitude that defines her life, and the beautiful faith community here in Wake Forest has captured her heart.
“Oh my goodness, you’re just wonderful,” she said, gesturing to the congregation; “You have been so faithful, striving to move forward with the Good News, and I just love you.”
“It’s what hope and healing tastes like,” she went on to say later. “If there’s a flavor to it…”
Some preachers – and family – cultivate a carefully calibrated “professional distance” from their churches. But not Rebekah, and not me; for almost 35 years now we’ve found that holding back in the love department is something we simply cannot do.
for almost 35 years now Rebekah and I have found that holding back in the love department is something we simply cannot do.
The sentiment was a great introduction for the second scripture reading, which started like this: “To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: ‘Two men went up to the temple to pray…'” (Luke 18:9-14).
The first man told God – essentially – how grateful he was for his own righteousness, and for the fact that “I’m not like those other people…”
Then Rebekah read from a letter written by pastor she knows – he said the same thing about the Presbyterian Church, and how he thanks God he has now separated from, “such a sinful body…”
“I want you to know right now that I’m grateful to be part of such group of miserable sinners,” Rebekah smiled, looking around at the congregation. “Because I’m a sinner too, and I love hanging out with other sinners. Together we have the opportunity to experience God’s amazing grace, and compassionate mercy – and that is transformational, and life changing at a deep level. It’s a witness to the world around us – all cruddy people welcomed! Of course, if we choose to be honest we can all be Pharisees from time to time…” Click here for the complete message…
I love the way Rebekah concluded her sermon. She picked up the cup, and held it high in the air:
“So how do we respond? Do we fast twice a week, do we bring sacrifices? Do we tithe everything we’ve ever owned? What do we do to respond to God’s love to us? The answer is, ‘I will lift up the cup of salvation, and call on the name of the Lord to fill it...’ Give thanks by asking God to fill our lives with his merciful salvation, every day! That’s remarkable! The acceptable means of thanksgiving is to simply receive the Good News, the grace found in Jesus Christ. Where else but right here at the table… Our gratitude for everything begins right here…”
Right here at the table. Grateful; forgiven; free.
You can listen to Rebekah’s complete message by clicking on this link – Audio Sermons at WFPC