Offenses and Fences


This past Sunday, I preached from the lectionary's gospel reading, John 6, and also from the book of Jonah about the spiritual offenses we experience in life. I felt led to expand on some thoughts I shared in the sermon here on the site.

If you want, you can take a listen to the sermon here:

"Does this offend you?" - Jesus, in John 6:61

In both stories from Jonah 3 and John 6, the good news of God's grace and mercy was offensive, but only to the people who considered themselves to be at the cool table. These stories show how we can become real Gretchen Weiners. We forget that we were once invited to the table by the very same One we had yet come to know.

Our spiritual offenses: They're more than differences of opinions on faith. What really happens is the way that God works messes with the box that we've put God in. And we would've gotten away with it, too, if it weren't for those meddling kids (i.e. grace and mercy).

Our fences: the barriers we put up to protect us from what we perceive to be threats. We sometimes avoid engaging marginalized groups and the issues they face because we're afraid of how they will rock our boats. I wanted to list a few groups, but you can probably think of some from the news you watch and the conversations you have. So, in regard to those groups and issues, we say things like: "If we just stop talking about it, it won't be an issue." "The Bible says it. What is there to question?" "All Lives Matter."

When we react in these ways, we fail to engage the stories of our brothers and sisters. To be clear, engaging someone's story is not about converting others to our opinions, but rather about cultivating compassion in our own hearts. When we fail to sit, listen, and dialogue, we don't do God's will. We break God's law. We rebel against God's love. We don't love our neighbours, and we don't hear the cry of the needy. In all, we do not love God with our whole heart.* We really think fences help us by keeping out things and people we feel are threats. However, fences do more damage by inadvertently confining us. In our self-preservation, we imprison ourselves in prejudice. These fences of our offenses guarantee us nothing, but false security.

Jesus said that he was "the bread of life" and that we should "eat his flesh and drink his blood." Now, that's jarring to hear even today. However, Jesus' words foreshadowed The Last Supper that was to come. The scandal was not so much in the fact that Jesus asked Jewish people to literally commit these defiling and unholy acts. Instead, I think the scandal was that Jesus used defiling and unholy imagery (taking it on himself), made it holy, and in that made it available to the unworthy. He leveled the playing field by making himself accessible to us. To all.

Photo credit: The Practice Tribe, Willow Creek

Photo credit: The Practice Tribe, Willow Creek

That's why when it comes to the Eucharist (Sacrament of Holy Communion), I wholeheartedly affirm an open table. All are invited to partake. It simply demonstrates that there is nothing that can keep anyone from receiving the love of God in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:39). The table that the elements rest on is not a bench for some groceries that sit on fancy ware. This Table belongs to God and has more than enough room for saint and sinner. It demonstrates the very heart of God.

At the end of his story, Jonah whines and complains about the Ninevite repentance. God asks Jonah, "Is it right for you to be angry?" This is a poignant question for us when we feel the need to be judge, Judy, and jury. In view of what God has done, Jonah (very much like us today) doesn't get his way. And as a person constantly in need of grace and mercy, I'm glad we never do.

Grace and peace, friends.


*"A Service of Word and Table," The United Methodist Church.

Keith BethellComment