He was the most powerful European ruler of the millennium. People called him King Charles, Charles the Great, Charlemagne. He expanded his realm to include all of France and Switzerland, most of Germany, northern Spain, Italy and half of Poland.
He gave cartloads of gold to the church in Rome to rebuild roads and churches. He copied and saved thousands of books in monasteries and schools at his royal court. He protected the Pope and in return, the Pope blessed his reign, said, “God is on your side.”
In 772, Charlemagne looked north at the territory of Saxony in Germany. Saxony was still Pagan. How could this be allowed? A Pagan nation right next door to Charlemagne, the champion of Christianity! So Charlemagne said, “We Germans and French were converted to Christianity. We in turn will convert the Saxons. We will conquer Saxony. We will bring them into Christian faith and into our kingdom. In this way we will save them.”
So they waged war against the Saxons. It's kind of funny to read the chronicles. It says, in such and such a year, King Charles rode north into Saxony and laid waste the land and brought the people into submission, and they said “We're Christian.” and King Charles spent Christmas at home. Then, about mid spring, some Saxon tribe would say “no we're not.” So King Charles rode north with his vast armies and laid waste to the land and deported thousands and thousands of people, and the Saxons said, “We're Christian. And King Charles spent Christmas at home.” Next spring, some tribe would say, “We're not.”
One of the Saxon's greatest leaders was named Widikund. Widikund finally agreed to be baptized after eight years of fighting. The story is told that he was just stepping into the river to be baptized when he stopped and said, “Wait a minute, if I am baptized, will I go to heaven?” “Yes,” said all the church officials. “You will go to heaven.” “Well, what about my ancestors and my relatives, my family. Will they go to heaven too?” “No, no. They will go to hell.” Widikunds says, “Well then, I don't want to be baptized. I would rather be in hell with my family than in heaven without them.”
Charlemagne got so frustrated that he made these crazy laws to force the Saxons into being Christian. Death for refusing to be baptized. Death for cremating your dead father like the Pagans do rather than burying him an a Christian cemetery. Death for eating meat in Lent. I am not making this up.
They fought and fought, for thirty-six years.
You know how the Germans were converted to Christianity? Nobody took them over. These little monks and nuns came over from Ireland and Britain. They would set up a church in an area, and soldiers would protect them so no mobs came along to cut them into little bits. But no one forced anyone to convert either. If you were starving or ill, you could go to the monks or the convent and they would pray for you and help you. If you were outcast, you might even be able to join them. And they would say to the leaders and the people, “There is a God that is greater than your tribe, than your family or your nation.”
That's how the Germans came to Jesus.
In our Gospel lesson for today, Jesus finishes his instructions to his apostles. He is sending them out to proclaim the Good news, that the realm of God is close. The realm of God is associated in Matthew with healing and forgiving each other and obeying the commandments and trusting God's life. Jesus tells the apostles to spread the news, not by taking over countries or threatening them, but by healing the sick, raising the dead, cleansing the leper and casting out demons.
Jesus says, “Now, don't go riding into people's villages or lives like a knight in shining armor on a white horse, with all your power and your resources and your superiority. No. don't take any extra clothes or money or shoes. Don't even bring a stick with you for self defense. Instead, you have to be humble and vulnerable. You have to depend on the people whom you go to serve. Because that's how you're going. Not to conquer, but to serve.
Jesus says, “You are going to meet resistance. People are going to feel threatened by the idea that God loves everyone, and demands that we love everyone too. You might even run into conflict with your own family. Do not be afraid. God still cares about you. Let God worry about them. You keep moving.
Then Jesus gets to the Gospel lesson for today. This is absolutely remarkable. He says when God is particularly present. God is close all the time, but now Jesus says under what circumstances we actually encounter God. Notice, he does not say we particularly encounter God when we have brought a bunch of people to Jesus. We don't have a quota system in the church, where you bring ten people to Jesus and you get fifty points in heaven. You invite twenty people to church, right? Jesus does not say this.
Now, mind you, I love doing baptisms. It's wonderful. And I would love to see standing room only in this sanctuary. Stop and picture it in your minds. Sanding room only, five services a Sunday. Yes.
But that's not Jesus's criterion for success, for God to be truly present, for there to be a miracle. Indeed, the criterion has nothing to do with what we do. He says, “Whoever welcomes you welcomes me. Whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.” That's the criterion of success. That's what it takes for God to be particularly present.
So any time you make a connection with anyone in the ways of God's realm, in the ways of God's love. God is there. The miracle is happening.
For example, yesterday, several of us helped Nancy Robinson move from one apartment to another. It involved some carrying and lifting. No big deal. But God was there. You could feel it.
We're going to do some more moving this afternoon as well, so if you have time, come on out.
This fall, fellowship committee is helping us provide food once a month for the West End Boy's School. If the leaders of West End School feel it is appropriate, we will pray for two or three of their boys once a month, out loud, in church. We will also be watching for further opportunities to follow the lead of folks who live on the West End in how to participate with God's work which they are doing there.
Our service project at Vacation Bible School is for Kentucky Refugee Ministries. We are hoping to have someone come and speak with us as we prepare for God's Work Our hands Sunday, in which we gather hygene materials for refugees. It does not seem complicated to welcome them. Seems a miracle, really.
Charlemagne eventually repealed his hard laws against the Pagan Saxons. And toward the end of his life, he would send out letters to his people saying stuff like, “Love one another. Take care of each other in hard times. Do the right thing.”
He died in the year 814. Within a century, his vast empire had come apart. But the realm of God remains to this day. These tiny moments of connection point toward it. “Whoever welcomes you welcomes me.” These tiny miracles that tell us, God's love wins.