Updated: Sep 18
Our worship – like life – embraces a rhythm of gathering and sending, gathering and sending. We gather here (online and in-person) on Sunday mornings and worship; we experience a Word together; and then we are sent into the world to live and to serve. And then the next Sunday, we gather again. Our worship, flows into our work – our work into our worship. In that rhythm, we live one whole life.
That same rhythm moves us through every bit of life – through all of our coming and going. We gather –
· in all the ways we can now gather – in-person or online –
· in all the communities we gather – family, friends, this community,
the causes we hold dear –
we gather, and then we move into life – our lives moving and converging again and again, weaving themselves together – God with us in all that. It’s like the Psalm says, “O God, you have searched me and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise. You discern my going out and my coming home. You are familiar with all my ways.”
In the broad expanse of this rhythm of life, “Homecoming” names and celebrates one particular gathering again. We gather here today – as one community, online and in-person – at the close of summer, looking forward together to a full Fall. Over the summer, we’ve been on different trajectories, and here in this moment, in this space – our paths converge again. And we welcome each other home. We even have a saying that reminds us of that welcome:
Wherever you are on your spiritual journey, wherever you are,
there is a place for you here.
As we gather here for Homecoming, ready to move into a full Fall – we are turning to that saying as our theme for the season – there is A Place for You Here. It’s something we say every Sunday – but in a number of ways that I’ll mention in just a bit – it feels like those words we say are coming to life with particularity – and new possibility – in this full Fall.
And as we turn to that saying – There is a place for you here – it’s no mistake that we also turn this morning to this Scripture from the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Romans – to ground our journey. More than anyone else in Scripture – except Jesus of course – the Apostle Paul’s writings and life embody that sense of expansive welcome – There is a place for you here. In God’s love for the world in Jesus Christ, there is a place for you here.
Now, we know that the Apostle Paul didn’t always think like that. Remember from earlier this year – the Apostle Paul started out as Saul the sworn enemy of the Jesus movement – known in those early days simply as “The Way.” Saul/Paul persecuted the emerging church breathing threats and violence. But then, he was transformed – in an encounter with the Risen Christ and in the forgiveness of some he had persecuted. He saw God’s love open up beyond anything he had ever imagined. And Paul began to proclaim this: This gospel, this Good News – God’s love for us in Jesus Christ – this is Good News for everyone. There are no longer any barriers – no separation – there is neither Jew nor Greek, male nor female, slave nor free. He began to proclaim a gospel of radical hospitality. Wherever you are on your journey, whoever you are, there is a place for you here.
The Apostle then takes that message on the road with urgency and fervor – Galatia, Ephesus, Philippi, Corinth, coming and going, coming and going – dashing off letters as he goes. But at some point in all that breathless coming and going, the Apostle Paul does stop and take a breath. He longs to go to Rome – the center of their known world – but he’s not sure that he will make it – he’s made a few enemies – and so he writes ahead – and he lays it all out – the message he longs to bring. “To all in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints,” this is the Good News that I am coming to share:
What God has been doing all along, God is doing in Jesus Christ – in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Everything that has separated us from God and from each other no longer has any power. What does have power now – power stronger than any power that does us harm, including death – what has power now is love. Nothing can separate us – not from God, not from each other.
In the letter to the Romans, chapter after chapter, the Apostle Paul lays all that out – and then he gets to what we call chapter 12, and he says “... and this, this is what that looks like – this is what love looks like – when it comes to life. It’s like we are all members of a body, the body of Christ – let us live together into the fullness of that.
Let love be genuine. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. That word that’s translated as “genuine,” in the Greek is anypokritos – “not hypocritical” – an/not – ypoktritos/hypocrisy. Let our love be not hypocritical. I might translate it “let your love have integrity.” May how we live line up with the words say, and may all that reflect and embody God’s love for the world. May it embody the goodness of God – that “cling to what is good” – one writer puts it this way: “Glue yourself to good.” I love that.
Be tenderly devoted to one another in mutual, familial love. Honor one another above yourselves. Love lived out manifests in a quality of relationship – in a mutuality of power and caring. All those hierarchies and rules that separated us and kept us apart – that’s the old order. Dismantle them – see each other as equally human – live into what one writer calls “a New Humanity.”
Be joyful in hope; patient in affliction; faithful in prayer. We are talking about real life here. There will be affliction and trouble – weather it together. Ground yourself in the goodness of God. In that affliction, trust that nothing can separate us from God’s love. Be joyful in hope.
Share with those who are in need. Here’s where it starts to get a bit challenging. Share with those in need. Share what you possess – your means – with those in need. But it’s even more than that – it’s really share in the need. Share not only resources – but share in the experience of having need – share in meeting deep need together.
The Apostle Paul paints a picture: In the Body of Christ, this is what it looks like when love comes to life. But not just that.
Practice hospitality. So far the Apostle has them looking at each other – but here, he makes clear that this love is for the whole world – not just friends and family, but the stranger too. The hospitality word in Greek is pretty amazing. It’s a mash-up of “familial love” and “stranger.” Philoxenia. We may be more familiar with its opposite – xenophobia. Fear of the stranger – that’s the Greek word that has survived into English. Not that. Extend familial love to the stranger. Not fear of the stranger. Love for the stranger. Practice hospitality.
And then, it gets even more challenging. Not just the stranger – but while you’re at it – don’t forget to “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.” The Apostle takes on the powers that separate – and particularly the human instinct to enmity, opposition, and vengeance. He says set aside revenge; embrace reconciliation. All that language about vengeance and wrath – it reminds me of the work we did this summer with the angry psalms – remember, what we learned? Those psalms invited us to be honest about what we feel – the hurt, the lament – and when anger rises, to take a breath, and to turn to the goodness of God and to trust that our good and loving God is sorting all things out. And meanwhile, what is ours to do is to do the work of love. Do not repay anyone evil for evil. As far as it is possible, live at peace with each other. Even your enemy – “if your enemy is hungry, feed them. If they are thirsty, give them something to drink.”
And that brings the Apostle back to the beginning. Do not overcome evil with evil, but overcome evil with good. We circle back to goodness – to the very heart of the matter – the goodness of God expressed in Jesus Christ – and now, in resurrection, come to life in the Body of Christ. In the Body of Christ, this is what it looks like when love comes to life.
The hospitality of all this radiates out –
love your siblings; love the stranger; love your foe.
In the Body of Christ, love comes to life.
Wherever you are, whoever you are, there is a place for you here.
As we move into our full Fall – thinking on this theme – these words we say – A Place for You Here. I want to invite us to carry with us three questions. There is a place for you here.
1. What is the place?
2. Who is the you?
3. Where is the here?
In this morning’s Scripture, for the Apostle Paul:
The here is the Body of Christ – each of us beloved and gifted to live together one whole life.
The you is everyone – and to be clear, that means the “you” is you and every other person.
And the place is nothing less than an equal, life-giving place in the community of all creation – an all-creation community that embodies relationships of mutuality, justice, and care.
We will carry these questions – this affirmation and challenge – A Place for You Here – into a full Fall.
Today, we are welcoming each other back in this moment when paths converge. We each return from all the life we have lived this summer; our kids are back in school; last week and this week, we welcome Rev. Grace Hyeryung Kim and her family, as she begins her ministry as our Directory of Family Ministries. There is a place for you here.
Over the course of the next two Sundays, we will turn our attention to the proposal that’s emerging within our community to reconfigure part of the church property so that we might be able to provide housing and shelter to a refugee family while they await their asylum hearing. We will talk together and think hard about what it would take – the shared commitment it would take – for us to join together to extend that kind of hospitality. There is a place for you here.
We’ll celebrate World Communion Sunday on October 1, and then we’ll turn our attention for several weeks to think deeply of who we want to be as the climate changes – of what it means to call the Earth home in this time of climate crisis and collapse. We’ll gather here on the afternoon of October 15 hosting an interfaith experience around that question – “Who do we want to be as the climate changes?” – seeking together pathways of relinquishment, resilience, reconciliation, and reverence. We will consider those words we say – thinking of Earth as our shared home – hospitality for every bit of creation. There is a place for you here.
And in November, we’ll celebrate All Saints Sunday – and as we enter stewardship season, consider and re-commit to sharing in all that it takes to bring love to life here. There is a place for you here.
And in all that, we’ll continue our support of our neighbors in Marin City, working for racial justice. We’ll continue to stock the community fridge, leaving what we can and welcoming those who come to take what they need. We’ll continue to bring meals and call each other when times are tough.
This rhythm of living life together – all our coming and going – our gathering, and being sent, and then gathering again – sometimes you can almost hear the pulse of it.
Back this summer, in early August, there was this moment when this place grew very quiet.
Enough folks were travelling; there weren’t quite so many meetings; the pre-school closed out their summer program and took a brief break.
You could still hear, though, the conversations from the folks in the Cedars day program.
We continued to gather on Sundays for worship, thinking on the Psalms, singing from the songbook of life.
The refugee-housing team would walk around from time to time – with our partners in the Marin Interfaith – talking in serious voices, hopeful about how a part of the church building might become a home for a refugee.
The full pre-school started up again – the singing in the courtyard picked back up. (This past week, I have heard “The Wheels on the Bus Go Round and Round” no less than three times.)
And just this weekend, the women re-gathered again for the Fall Women’s event; some of us gathered with our Marin City neighbors raising our voices in protest.; and here we are, with the choir and the Barrelhouse Jazz Band – welcoming each other home – ready for a full Fall.
Sometimes – if you stop for a moment and listen carefully –
you can hear the pulse of love coming to life.
So, here we are. As we gather in this moment, in this place where paths converge, ready to set out together into this full Fall – this Fall full of possibility – maybe we should say this one more time to each other – our hope, in Christ, for the world:
Wherever you are, whoever you are,
there is a place for you here.
© 2023 Scott Clark
 For background on this text and Paul’s Letter to the Roman’s, see Herman C. Waetjen, The Letter to the Romans: Salvation as Justice and the Deconstruction of the Law (Sheffield, UK: Sheffield Phoenix Press, 2011); N.T. Wright, “The Letter to the Romans,” New Interpreters’ Bible Commentary, vol. x (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2002), pp.700-15; David McCabe, https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/ordinary-22/commentary-on-romans-129-21-6 ; Frank L. Crouch, https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/ordinary-22/commentary-on-romans-129-21-4 ; Israel Kamudzandu, https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/ordinary-22/commentary-on-romans-129-21  This understanding of the Apostle’s life, ministry, and theology draws from Udo Schnelle, Apostle Paul: His Life and Theology (trans. M.E. Boring) (New York: Baker Publishing Group, 2005).  See David McCabe, https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/ordinary-22/commentary-on-romans-129-21-6  See Waetjen, pp.288-89  See Waetjen, pp.288-97  See Waetjen, pp. 288-97.  See https://www.togetherweserve.org/post/and-what-about-those-angry-psalms-psalm-109-11th-sunday-after-pentecost
Photo credit: Aaron Burden, used with permission via Unsplash