Wednesday, September 7, 2011

On My Way to a Sermon: 1 Corinthians 12:7

On My Way to a Sermon: I Corinthians 12; To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit

To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the discernment of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses. (1 Cor 12:7-11)

What if Paul really means what he is saying here? I mean what if Paul really means that every member of the church is the recipient of a charismatic gift from and through the Holy Spirit?
How many times have I read these verses before myself and instead of pausing to really pay attention to the charismatic nature of these gifts and then launched into the cliched encouragement of accountants to use their gifts on the Finance Committee and teachers to use their gifts on the Christian Ed committee? I don’t know exactly how many times, but I am a bit ashamed to think about it.
I know why I’ve smoothed the rough edges of these verses. I read ‘gifts of healing’ and in my minds eye come images of Benny Hinn slapping people in the forehead using his ‘gift of healing.’ I read ‘various kinds of tongues’ and I remember watching Jimmy Swaggart with my grand-mother. He would regularly go into a little tongues in his sermons. It never struck me as all that authentic frankly.
I don’t want to be compared to Benny or Jimmy so I’ve neatly tamed these verses to mean using in church the skills that we already have acquired in school or in our careers. I don’t want to turn worship into cheap entertainment and I don’t want to promise people results that I cannot guarantee.

But here is the thing. If we only read these verses and then think about skills we already possess we are closing off the possibility that God could still be creating in and through us, in strange, amazing and unexpected ways. Reading 1 Cor 12 as an encouragement to use the skills we possess in the long-run limits God to what we think we can do ourselves. Well, ok, God isn’t limited, but we are limiting ourselves. While lingering for a moment with the possibility that the Holy Spirit could empower us to do unexpected things, give gifts beyond our imagining and everyday experience might just challenge some of our dearly and rarely questioned assumptions. God is no longer some distant ‘higher power’ waiting patiently around the corner for our call, but a present and active, and perhaps inconvenient, reality. Church is no longer an occassional boost to the ego or massage for the spirit, but a training ground for the mission that God has called us to undertake. Faith no longer some dusty old ideas that we affirm upon occasion, but a process and a practice and a journey which stretches us and challenges us daily to grow into the Image of God that we were created to reflect into the dark corners of the world.

Maybe we are missing a golden opportunity by skimming over these verses and this whole idea. Perhaps there are many people out there who are waiting for someone to tell them that they were created to make a difference in the world. Perhaps there are people out there who are waiting for the opportunity to be a part of something good in a world that seems over-run by violence and greed. Perhaps they are waiting, expectantly to be told that there is a path through life that will bring more satisfaction than cruises and retirement accounts, something worth sacrificing for. Do we offer that? Paul was convinced that the Holy Spirit would empower the new Christians at Corinth to do great things. Do we challenge each other to great things? Or are we stuck in a system that offers people a place on a committee, which doesn’t sound much like a world changing kind of activity?

What if Paul really means that we are all recipients of a manifestation of the Spirit? God would no longer be a cosmic butler, church no longer a matter of convenience, membership no longer having one's name on a list, discipleship no longer joining a committee, and faith no longer a collection of ideas. All of which is good news if we’ve long been haunted by feelings of insecurity and the fear of our inadequacy. Bad news if we like our God distant, our church convenient and comforting and our faith safely ensconced in our mind.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Sermon: Mt 17; Transfiguration

Mt 17:1
Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves.
Mountains are thin spaces, special connections between humans and God.
At least, that is what the scholars tell me is one reason why Jesus, Peter, James and John go up a high mountain.

But I’ve climbed a mountain (well, not a mountain exactly. Mars Hill Mountain is located in my home town and it is technically a few feet short of mountain, which by the way should tell you something about the stubborn streak of the stock I come from… we still call it a mountain anyway, but that isn’t my point). I climbed an almost mountain, and as beautiful as the view from the summit was, the journey wasn’t easy. And you don’t need any special equipment to climb Mars Hill Mountain. But I did it in the summer and its hot and humid and the mosquitoes and blackflies are out. There are some pretty steep sections. It can be challenging, perhaps not for some of you more experienced hikers, but it was for me.

Today’s first story, Jesus, Peter, James and John, going up the mountain comes AFTER a story we talked about not to long ago; the story of Peter confessing that Jesus is the Christ, but then faltering with the idea that Jesus will have to suffer and be crucified, and in his attempt to wrap his head around that idea (which begins, like most of us if we admit it, with denying that which we cannot yet comprehend) Jesus calls him Satan…

Now my point is this.
The mountain, if you asked me, is the journey of being a faithful disciple
The mountain can be
personal struggles;
the loss of a loved one,
caring for aging parents,
battling addiction,
the constant maintenance of a healthy relationship with our spouse,
just keeping the bills paid.
The mountain is the stuff of life that you can’t avoid,
The stuff that you wouldn’t either, such as raising kids and caring for parents
But the details of life that can swing either way
As moments that can reveal the glory of God
Or that can really weary, discourage and distract us…

Jesus told this parable in Luke 8 about a farming scattering seed…

14 The seed that fell among thorns stands for those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by life's worries, riches and pleasures, and they do not mature.

This is what I think…
Matthew is telling us a story to address the same issue

Because the mountain, if you asked me, is discipleship struggles
If you call someone fool you are headed straight for hell!
If someone strikes you, turn the other cheek
If someone takes your coat, give your shirt as well
If you don’t forgive, you won’t be forgiven

Following Christ is the decision to climb a difficult, risky path through life…
It doesn’t come easy
It doesn’t seem natural
Or logical even, sometimes

So the mountain is that struggle with the voices in our head that suggest that Jesus
Must have meant something else, something less demanding when he said to
Give generously, forgive wantonly, accept openly…

So the mountain can be personal struggles, discipleship struggles and one more…
We’ve really rehearsed these examples so much that I sometimes fear that they lose their edge
But the mountain is the story of Dietrich Bonheoffer who returned to Germany during Hitler’s rule
To lead an underground seminary, as so many churches drank the Nazi cool-aid and watched as innocent Jews were loaded into cattle cars.

The mountain is the story that I mentioned not too many weeks ago, of Martin Luther King Junior penning letter to a Birmingham Jail, in response to the local white clergy who wanted him to stop causing such a stir in the community. You are disrupting our peaceful existence…

Or John Woolman the 18th Century Quaker who walked around in white because wearing clothes made of dyed fabric would have been depending on slave labor and slavery, Woolman believed was wrong. There were all that many who agreed with him at the time… Not even among the good Christians

My point is that the mountain is not just personal struggles, or the growing pains of our own development of faith, the mountain is also the witness that we are called to maintain in a world filled with violence and injustice. The challenge of being the church God has called us to be even when culture and society will not agree or understand or appreciate what we are doing…The mountain is our hesitation to join Jesus in over-turning the tables of the money lenders…

17:1 After six days
Which could mean six days after Peter’s confession followed quickly by fear, doubt and denial…
But which also points us to two other stories…
The story of Moses on Mt. Sinai, surrounded by the cloud of God’s presence, the presence that made his face shine like the sun…
And also the story of creation in Genesis…

James, John and Peter were lead up the mountain, the mountain of their fears, doubts, and denials
To see, firsthand, what God was doing…

James, John and Peter were lead up the mountain to see the glory of God

They were lead up the mountain for strength and hope…
When all about them would seem dark and dangerous,
This glimpse of God’s glory, in their friend Jesus
Was meant to inspire them to follow him
Taking God’s creative and creating light into the dark places of the world
Reflecting God presence into the lives of those who were denied
That loving forgiving presence

The thing about the transfiguration is that it isn’t something we can practice
We can’t work toward transfiguration
We can’t earn it
We can’t plan it
We can’t control it

Transfiguration is a gift
Seeing God’s glory
God creative presence
Is a rare and wondrous and if we look at Peter’s reaction,
A daunting thing

Peter is shown the transfiguration
So that one day, he will remember it
And realize, when he has returned to his simple, safe life of fishing
That he too is called to follow Christ, no matter the consequences
And that no matter how dire those consequences seem
On the other side of sacrifice… is glory, light, resurrection
The creative presence of God, even in defeat.

Convictions, wrote James Wm. McClendon, are not just beliefs or opinions, … for our convictions show themselves not merely in our professions or belief or disbelief, but in all our attitudes and actions…
And if that were not challenging enough, McClendon goes on to say of the church…no mere collections of the curious will count.
James William McClendon, Jr.
Doctrine p 29

John Howard Yoder wrote similarly contrasting two choices for the church… ‘run-of-the-mill’ devotion or a ‘heroic’ level of devotion.

J.H. Yoder; The Priestly Kingdom
The Kingdom as Social Ethic, p. 83

The Transfiguration is a gift to inspire heroic devotion… to shock us out of our curious believing and into action…

Which is where our second strange story comes into play…

Mt 17:27
Take the first fish you catch; open its mouth and you will find a four-drachma coin.

We cannot control Transfigurations
We cannot plan them, as I said,
We wait expectantly for them…

We ready ourselves for Transfigurations
Those moments that interrupt our struggles and doubts and silence and fear
With the white light of God’s own creating

We ready ourselves to be ready for those moments
With the seemingly foolish
Searching for gold coins in the fish mouth

Peter, for all his faults, did something foolish, silly, unbelievable
When Jesus told him to go fishing for a coin, he did…

And that is what is required of us…
Watching and waiting,
and when the time comes the courage to take risky and even foolish chances
that God’s creative presence will come shining into our darkness
come shining through those of us
who will dare to climb the mountain…

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Sermon: Matthew 16:21-28; Consequences, Clutter and Cold Steel

Mt 16:24-26
"If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 25 For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it. 26 What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul?

You are a kid. A young kid. It is winter. Snow blankets the playground… you are at school. It is cold out and you are all wrapped up in layers of coats, mittens, scarves. One of the kids from a grade or two above yours, one of the cool kids, comes and dares you to stick your tongue on one of the metal bars of the jungle gym.

Ever happen to anybody?
What did you do?

I’m not exactly sure why I thought of the time I got my tongue stuck to the jungle-gym bar, except that the first thing that jumps out at me in today’s reading is Jesus question, ‘what good will it be for someone to gain the whole world and yet forfeit the soul.

There is something troubling about that word…. Forfeit…

There will be consequences.

I’m sure I’ve suffered more troubling consequences in my life than getting my tongue stuck to the metal bar… but that is what I thought of…

And I got that strangely funny and frightening image of God leaving me stuck to the pole for all eternity.

This is the end of a story that is all about consequences though.
As uncomfortable as consequences are… I suppose we’ve got to deal with them.

Just a few verses back, Jesus will ask the disciples, who do you say I am? (A question we will revisit in a couple of weeks). Peter says, ‘the Messiah’ and Jesus praises him.

Then Jesus begins to describe the consequences of being the messiah… he will be crucified and Peter gets… afraid? I think Peter is afraid. And he chastises Jesus, tells him not to talk like that.

Peter doesn’t like the consequences, not for Jesus, not for himself.
You see we often think that Peter chastises Jesus because he doesn’t get it…
Because he mis-understands what the Messiah will have to go through

But I think Peter does get it… and doesn’t want to hear it…
He understands that if the Messiah must sacrifice and suffer,
So must the disciples…
And those are not the consequences of following Jesus
That Peter wants.
And he is right…
Right after that exchange Jesus launches into the challenging verses we read today…
Lay down your life, take up your cross…
Those are the consequences of following me, getting behind me…
Have you got my back? Jesus asks?
This is what having my back means; following me, going where I go
But not just going where I go, among the sick and the poor, the abused and forgotten
And then to the cruel and powerful who put them there…
But doing what I do,
Helping the poor and expendable,
And confronting the powerful, show them a new way
Challenge them to live a new kind of life

If you don’t, there will be consequences…
You think that by not following me,
Or by creating distance between us that you are
Making your life easier,
But you’re not
You are losing your life.

This is the uncomfortable assumption behind the question, what will it benefit a man if he gains the world and forfeits his soul… the assumption is that there are consequences to not following Christ.

Jesus really focuses our attention on the 1,000 pound gorilla in the room.

Does faith really matter, does devotion to Christ and his church really matter, ultimately?

‘The important distinction between the objectives of highly devoted Christian teenagers and their peers was simply that highly devoted Christian teenagers did not think about their actions or their futures simply in terms of what they wanted. They considered themselves morally bound to contribute to God’s purpose in the world. ‘ Kenda Creasy Dean

It is uncomfortable because we all have friends, loved ones, family members, perhaps even spouses, who do not have faith,

Or, if they do have faith,
Their faith is like the proverbial treadmill in the TV room.
It just sits there, without getting used for its intended purpose…
Nobody runs on it, its just a clothes hanger

And Jesus is saying, here,
And in many other places, that I have included in your devotions for this week
Jesus is saying that this is not really faith at all
And there will be consequences
And I don’t know about you, but I don’t find that comfortable.
Because my friends and relatives are good folks
And it makes me sad to think that they are risking consequences.

Even if we don’t want to go down the path of eternal damnation as the consequence,
We are still left with the suggestion that life lived without a relationship with God is
A wasted life… that the potential that we were created with lies wasted, unused
That we did not become all we could have become
Accomplished all that we could have accomplished
The consequence is that those who do not
Passionately foster their faith relationship
Are a mere shadow of the self they could have been
Through Christ.
And if we take Paul’s theology seriously,
Paul’s theology that suggests that the church is a diverse body, with different
Parts depending on one another,
If one part, one person, does not reach potential,
The rest suffer.

It isn’t so much about personal consequences…
It doesn’t simply affect me if I do not allow Christ to grow in me
It affects you, all of you,
It affects the church
And if the church is affected,
So is to is the world which waits for our witness
A witness that does not reach its full power
Because we have not followed Christ, picked up a cross…

The other evening Bert and I watched this show, Clean House.
It is basically is lighter version of Hoarders.
Hoarders is a show that documents the lives of people who cannot part with their belongings, to the point that it affects their health, they have no room at all in their homes, which are full of stuff.
Clean House is basically the same thing. A team of folks come in to help the person or family clean out all the clutter, and then give them a re-decoration.

In one episode, as the guests were trying to get a woman to get rid of some of her stuff,
She absolutely had a melt-down. Most do have a melt-down.
They cannot part with their stuff.
Anyway, she said to the host, ‘I thought you were coming to help me, not make me get rid of the things I love.’

And I thought, that is Peter.
When Peter chastises Jesus for the challenge of the cross,
The challenge for the disciples to put aside the idea of gaining,
And pick up a cross…
Peter is saying, I thought you were coming to help me, not make me get rid of the things I love.

And perhaps, just perhaps,
That is what Jesus question, What is the benefit of gaining the world if we forfeit our souls
Perhaps that is the moment of realization that Jesus is pushing us toward…

That we have to put aside some of the things we love, in order to pick up the cross…

Just because the woman loves the stuff, doesn’t mean it is good for her…
It was ruining her marriage, having negative consequences on her children…

This question of Jesus challenges a church that is so focused on self-help and self-esteem that it has lost its true mission, which is to see God's purpose done in the world

This Question of Jesus challenges a discipleship that is assumes it already knows the right answers to the doctrinal questions, but is not put into action in any intentional way

This Question of jesus challenges the church that is satisfied with 'be good' and
be nice' with a much more challenging goal, to accept the way of the cross.

These words of Jesus challenge a discipleship that treats the church as ok when it is convenient, but not all that important, not something to sacrifice for,
with a warning of the consequences of an apathetic faith,
the loss of life.

Perhaps that is what Jesus has the guts to show us…
That we need to make space for the cross
To put down some things we love, clean up the clutter
Give up the things that get in the way of fostering faith
Get rid of the barriers that are blocking us from our cross
In order to pick it up and follow
For it is only in the following Christ, all the way, that we will
Ever grow into the person we were created to be.
And it is only in the journey of becoming who were are meant to be
That Berean becomes the church god intended it to be
A church that welcomes the wandering to dine at Christ’s table,
Live in God’s Kingdom, and find a path with a purpose, the path Christ
Chose, the path of the cross

Renowned preacher, theology professor and storyteller Fred Craddock swears this happened to him: He was visiting in a home of one of his former students after graduation, and after a great dinner, the young parents excused themselves and hustled the kids off to bed, leaving Fred in the living room with the family pet-a large, sleek greyhound. Earlier in the evening Fred had watched the kids roll on the floor playing with the family dog.
"That's a full-blooded greyhound there," the father of the kids had told Fred. "He once raced professionally down in Florida. Then we got him. Great dog with the kids, that greyhound."
Well, sitting there with the dog, the dog turned to Fred and asked, "This your first visit to Connecticut?"
"No," Fred answered. "I went to school up here a long time ago."
"Well, I guess you heard. I came up here from Miami," said the greyhound.
"Oh, yeah, you retired?" Fred said.
"No, is that what they told you? No, no, I didn't retire. I tell you, I spent 10 years as a professional, racing greyhound. That means 10 years of running around that track day after day, seven days a week with others chasing that rabbit. Well, one day, I got up close; I got a good look at that rabbit. It was a fake! I had spent my whole life chasing a fake rabbit! Hey, I didn't retire; I quit!"
(found this Craddock quote in a William Willimon Sermon, but I forget which one)
Today, Jesus invites us to quit chasing fake rabbits

Monday, January 10, 2011

Tucson, Hospitality, Peace and 2011 at BBC

We are all shocked, saddened and troubled by this past week’s news of the violent events in Tucson Arizona, which resulted in serious injury and death. You are also, I am sure, aware that many have been reflecting on the angry, divisive and sometimes violent rhetoric that has grown in prominence in our political system and in the media by those who 'report' on politics. In the aftermath of these tragic events many are lamenting the lack of civility in our nation when debating controversial topics. This reminded me of a piece of Berean’s own history that I recently discovered.
The other day while waiting for our secretary to print up some documents for me to proof, I decided to take a glance at the meeting minutes of the Women's group that met at BBC in the early 1950's. I believe this must have been an earlier incarnation of what is now called the 3 B's. I looked at the notes for early in the year of 1950 specifically and saw an interesting note. A woman in the group had prepared a paper entitled 'The Negro Problem.' Now, we wouldn't necessarily choose that language today, but I want us to stop and think about what this little note tells us. Sixty years ago, when our nation was just beginning to discuss the issue, before many churches were willing to talk about the issue, the women of Berean were thinking and talking theologically about what at the time was a very controversial subject, the treatment of African-Americans in our society. It made me extraordinarily proud to read that note. Here was a group of ladies in a tiny little country church, who could have just as easily assumed that their thoughts, prayers and theological reflection would have little to no effect on the nation at large or any influence in the halls of power, but still, they tackled the tough issues, believing that they should and would have a witness to their community.
The year ahead at Berean Baptist will give us many opportunities to live up to the standards of these women, our fore-mothers of faith. We will be studying and discussing the issue of Creation Care and with it the issue of Global Warming. This is still a controversial topic and I am sure that many diverse opinions are present in our little church. This past Sunday, in observation of Human Trafficking Awareness Day, we heard a frank presentation on the lives of women caught in the cycle of abuse and prostitution. We said and heard words that we are not accustomed to in a worship service. We were forced to give careful attention to a slice of our society that many, if not most of us, are quite ignorant of. Once again, God could be calling us to acknowledge, discuss and perhaps get involved in a social issue that could be painful and controversial. Finally, we will be engaging in a discernment process in which we will ask God to show us if we should openly welcome LGBT folks into the life and ministry of our church. This is a divisive subject. This has caused not only individual churches, but entire denominations to fight and split. I am sure that there are many differing opinions on this topic.
We could interpret the events of this past week as a warning for us to avoid controversy topics that bring our differences to the fore. While we would never do violence to one another, we could run the risk of hurtful words or a split in our little church. But I am moved to a different interpretation; As the Church of Christ in a nation and society that is shaken to its core by violence in action and in rhetoric, it is important, vitally important, that we not shy away from the potentially controversial issues that I have listed previously, but that we engage in these dialogues with an even larger goal than our own growth as disciples and effectiveness as the Church of Christ. This is our opportunity to be a witness to our community, our nation and the wider world. God has created us with diversity and called us to live in peace and reconciliation. This is our opportunity to teach the world what God’s Peaceful Kingdom looks like and acts like. We are called by God to welcome strangers, be hospitable to outsiders, and to work tirelessly for peaceful relationships, not just with people we like and like us, but with all God's children, especially those who are not ‘us.’ Perhaps God has brought these issues to the forefront of our lives so that Berean has the opportunity to show the world God’s Peaceful Kingdom in action, lived daily in the lives of normal folks like you and me.
This will take courage, this will take patience, this will take honesty, and above all this will require prayer. So, I encourage you to join me in praying each and every day in the year ahead, not only for friends and loved ones, sick and mourning ones but also for those whose viewpoint on controversial topics is different from your own. Be thankful for them, for it is through difference and diversity that the Holy Spirit can work to bring wisdom and to deepen our faith.

Pastor Darin

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Christmas Eve: God, the Original Grinch

With nods toward William Willimon's 'Upside Down Christmas' and Ron Ferguson in the Glasgow Herald I submit my christmas Eve sermon

Have Yourself a merry little Christmas, let your hearts be light
From now on all troubles will be out of sight…

That is the song that we sang on Christ the King sunday to begin to prepare us for the Christmas season

There are many other Christmas songs, they’ve been on the radio since Halloween
That express this same sentiment…

I’m dreaming of a white Christmas, just like the ones I used to know
Where the tree-tops glisten and children listen
To hear sleigh-bells in the snow.

There is a sentimentality to Christmas
That I find very tempting.
We are bombarded with images everything being
Warm, welcoming, and ok.
And let’s face it, at the end of a stressful
Trying year, this dream that we might have just a few days
Leading up to Christmas where
Families can get together without disagreements
We can treat others and ourselves to gifts which represent
The love we have but are sometimes just to busy or preoccupied to express
We can remember being young again when there were no responsibilities or worries,
Each day was an exciting new adventure and
And under the tree was something wondrous and energizing
Lets face it,
Trying to pay the bills,
Dealing with work stress
Taking care of kids, which we love, but which can be exhausting
Working through relationship struggles
The list goes on and on of the weights we carry
And the picture of Christmas
A time to say goodbye to troubles
To just be joyful and peaceful
That is pretty tempting

But that isn’t the Bible’s version of the birth of the Christ child.
When Worship and Fellowship met a few
months ago to begin planning for Advent
The word terrified leapt out at us like we had never read or heard it before…

Lk 2:8-10 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 9 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.

Terrified… in greek phobos from which we derive our word phobia…
Arachnaphobia, the fear of spiders, Glossophobia, fear of public speaking
Xenophobia, fear of strangers or aliens…

The shepherds, did not experience the first Christmas eve as
a time when everything was finally right (at least, not at first)
First,They had an extreme attack of angelophobia,
or perhaps even theophobia,
fear of God and God’s messengers .
Maybe even gospelphobia
Fear of God’s message.

We can’t say that everything is merry and bright for Mary
When the angel appears to tell her
that God has picked her to carry the Messiah
All her plans, all her dreams, shattered
Her peaceful existence, gone
Now instead of plans for a simple happy life
Her mind goes spinning
As she ponders what her village will say
What her parents will do with her
How Joseph will react.

We can’t say that all troubles are out of sight for Joseph,
The trouble is just beginning when the angel appears
To tell him that he must stay with Mary and protect her.
Just when Joseph was setting down roots
Getting his home built for his new wife
And his business set up to provide for her
He is ripped from his roots to guide her to Bethlehem
He is left sheltering her in a stable
And as if that were not enough
The same angel appears again
And Joseph has to gather what little of his things he has brought
With him to Bethlehem and flee to Egypt
To save the baby that is not even his own
From the violence of Herod
No, “I’ll be home for Christmas…’ for Joseph
For Joseph Christmas is fleeing from danger into the dark unknown of life
In a foreign country
The risk of trying to start life over in a far-away land

Everything changed when the angels announced Jesus birth
His birth turned Mary’s life upside down
His birth turned Joseph’s life upside down

The Christmas story of the bible seems to have just the opposite effect
that we hope Christmas will have
God seems a bit of a Grinch…
Going out of his way to ruin our Christmas Spirit
Well, perhaps not ruin,
But confront our Christmas spirit

So the question I suppose, is,
For all the e-mails, articles, head-shaking in frustration and tongue-clucking
About the lack of Christ in Christmas in the culture around us…
Do we really want Christ in our Christmas
Because putting Christ back in Christmas
Replaces a story of merry and bright, troubles out of sight

With Mary’s song

Lk 1:46-53

50 His mercy extends to those who fear him,
from generation to generation.
51 He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
52 He has brought down rulers from their thrones
but has lifted up the humble.
53 He has filled the hungry with good things
but has sent the rich away empty.

There is something a bit dangerous about this Christmas story with Christ in it
And I suppose that where we view the story from affects whether it will
Cause us joy or phobia.

If, as we have imagined Mary and Joseph,
We have already got a pretty good life,
Maybe not perfect,
But we have plans and dreams
And most parts of our life seem well organized
And properly placed
And going just the way we had hoped
Putting Christ back into Christ
Will be phobia inspiring,
For this Christ child has come to interrupt our plans
Confront our assumptions and
Turn our worlds upside down

There is the story (this is the will willimon part)told of two students...
They had met their Sophomore year at one of our information meetings for the Spring Student Mission Team to Honduras. We've been sending three mission teams to this, the second poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, for some time now. Few students go on one of these teams and return as they came.
He excitedly told me that, after they met that night, they had been going out together and things seemed great between them.
"We're going to Honduras together," he said, "and who knows where it might lead for the two of us?"
So that day, around Christmas time, when I saw him walking dejectedly across campus, I asked, "What gives?"
"Marianne isn't going to Honduras," he said gloomily.
"I'm sorry. I wonder why," I said. "She can't afford the time?"
"No," he said, "Marianne said that her older sister, Clarinda, went down there and it changed her. Made her Mom and Dad furious. Clarinda said she got born again down there. Marianne said she got turned upside down."

Are you sure you want Christ back in Christmas?
Pretty unsettling things can happen to us once we kneel at the manger

On the other hand
If we are more like the shepherds,
Outcasts, ignored or derided,
The announcement of the Christ child will bring joy
If, like the Magi, not kings or wisemen, but mistrusted foreigners,
We have experienced feeling left out, cast aside, or forgotten
Having the world turned upside down might not be such a bad thing

Jesus made a ministry of interrupting and confronting.
By touching lepers,
Guarding prostitutes
Eating with tax collectors
Making all the unwanted, expendable
Folks of the world his sisters and brothers
And proclaiming that they would make up the people of God
Would be welcomed first into the kingdom
Well, that kind of world upending message,
The last being made first,
The least wanted made most wanted,
Well, that would be good news.

And perhaps that is why the shepherds left rejoicing,
And Mary and Joseph submitted to god’s will
And the Magi took the risk of finding a new way home
And a new way in life
And perhaps, just perhaps,
That is what you really want to hear in church
Not let your hearts be light
all troubles will be out of sight

Perhaps you want to hear
God has come to be with us
his presence will interrupt our lives
And his proximity will confront our plans
And when this baby grows up,
He will challenge us to take up a cross and follow

Merry Christmas

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Redefining Faith; Don't forget Diakonia, Faith as Passionate Service

Church: A Community of Service

Question: What is Faith? How would you explain faith?

Intro: Tattoo story and the visibility of faith.

I found a story on-line this week about a church that was celebrating it’s first year anniversary with tattoos. Yup, that is right. No anniversary tea’s or pot-lucks, no guest speakers or special organ concert’s. This church, made up of mostly 20 and 30 somethings, celebrated their church anniversary by throwing a tattoo party. Along with loud praise music, and food, they lined up for tattoos. It’s actually a growing sub-culture in the tattoo world, Christian tattooing. What is it about tattoo’s.

We could be a bit cynical and say that once again the church is capitulating to popular culture. That these churches are more interested in being cool or hip than in being faithful. We could say that because the church in America has been steeped in a radical individualistic culture of self-expression that the traditional expressions of faith are being rejected for an expression that is no rooted in the Christian story and its history. In other words, these new young Christians do not become a part of the church, but instead completely make the church part of themselves… instead of conforming to Christ, Christ is forced to conform to popular culture.

While you could say those things and have a point, I do think there is something to learn from young Christians and their ink, and not just because I have a couple of tattoos myself. Because the act of getting tattoo’s does symbolize something that young adults and teens today are asking us, the established church to provide for them.

You see faith has long been thought of mostly as something interior and personal. I ‘have’ a faith and that faith consists of my beliefs and the ‘feelings’ I have when I pray, or worship, for example. Just the language I used, which is often the way people speak to me, shows how individualized faith is. It is deeply personal, it is mine. And as I have reflected on before, one of the phrases I hear so often, and which if I am honest drives me nuts, as much as I love the person saying it to me is… Pastor I haven’t been to church, but I still believe. Faith is interior, a system of ideas, an intellectual exercise at best, a feeling of warmth in its worst form really.

Tattoos symbolize what young adults and teens are begging us for… a faith that is not just inside me, but outside, not just in my thoughts, but in my actions, in my practices. A faith is isn’t something that I ‘have’ and therefore control, but is something that has me and controls me, compels me, drives me. Young Adults and Teens want a faith that isn’t something we have, but instead something we practice and pass on. They want, in other words to be passionate, not only in thought or word, but in deed. Faith without works is dead, James would tell us… and teens and young adults are begging us to make that verse our motto. Tattoos, as odd as they are, tell us something about what kind of faith young folks want… a faith that is visible and not private, a faith that is a part of the body and not just the mind or the heart, a faith that costs something, is even uncomfortable, for this reminds us of sacrifice.

The question is, are we passionate about practicing our faith? And the answer, as we talked about last week, is that young adults and teens are telling us that we are not. Faith is not worth sacrificing over. We squirm if we are asked to sacrifice more than an hour of our Sunday morning. Instead of faith being something we will sacrifice for, faith is often the first to be sacrificed. Worship for a walk in the woods or the beach. Sunday morning sacrificed for a good time Saturday night. They are watching folks and they are seeing and reflecting for us just what we are teaching them… Worship, Faith, is a option for feeling better, but it is simply one option among many others, and these others arouse more passion than practicing faith.

II. Back to interactive sermon time: What four things did Christ command us to do? Now three of these we actually do practice and one of them lies often forgotten or is optional. A hint. One of the three that we get, Baptists call ordinances and we practice them regularly.
Love One Another

Jn 13:1-15
13:1 It was just before the Passover Feast. Jesus knew that the time had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he now showed them the full extent of his love.

2 The evening meal was being served, and the devil had already prompted Judas Iscariot, son of Simon, to betray Jesus. 3 Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; 4 so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. 5 After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples' feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.

6 He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, "Lord, are you going to wash my feet?"

7 Jesus replied, "You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand."

8 "No," said Peter, "you shall never wash my feet."

Jesus answered, "Unless I wash you, you have no part with me."

9 "Then, Lord," Simon Peter replied, "not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!"

10 Jesus answered, "A person who has had a bath needs only to wash his feet; his whole body is clean. And you are clean, though not every one of you." 11 For he knew who was going to betray him, and that was why he said not every one was clean.

12 When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. "Do you understand what I have done for you?" he asked them. 13 "You call me 'Teacher' and 'Lord,' and rightly so, for that is what I am. 14 Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another's feet. 15 I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.

What do you suppose Jesus was trying to teach the disciples here? What specifically was he commanding them to do?
He was commanding them to live lives of compassionate service. Faith in him was meant to be practiced… and the washing of the feet was meant to be a regular reminder of all the acts of service that Jesus had showed them in his time with them…
Acts of service such as…
Feeding the starving thousands with bread and fish
Healing the sickness and disease of so many (not forgetting that poverty and malnourishment was the cause most likely of this sickness)
Again through healing taking lepers from the isolation of being outcasts and leading them back to home, to family
Placing himself between an angry crowd and a woman caught in sin

This foot-washing story and command is meant to remind us of the life of sacrificial service that Jesus lived, and to inspire us to acts of sacrificial service. Our faith is not complete in acts of piety such as prayer and worship, although these are vital aspects of faith. Our faith has not grown to its potential if it consists of warm thoughts, or a feeling of self-satisfaction, or in being nice when the occasion presents itself. The foot-washing story reminds of Jesus whose entire ministry among was was focused on seeking those in need, and serving them. Putting himself in harms way to provide for them. That is a lot more than just ‘nice’ I think you will agree. Our faith is not complete unless it is practiced in diakonia, in service to others. And not just occasionally. Service is meant to be the steady drum-beat guiding our lives just as worship and prayer is a constant part of our lives.

This, I believe, is something that young people can believe in.

This is something the early church believed in and struggled with.

Ac 6:1
6:1 In those days when the number of disciples was increasing, the Grecian Jews among them complained against the Hebraic Jews because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food.

Ac 2:44-46
45 Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need.

Ac 4:33-35
34 There were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned lands or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales 35 and put it at the apostles' feet, and it was distributed to anyone as he had need.

Ro 15:25-28
25 Now, however, I am on my way to Jerusalem in the service of the saints there. 26 For Macedonia and Achaia were pleased to make a contribution for the poor among the saints in Jerusalem . 27 They were pleased to do it, and indeed they owe it to them. For if the Gentiles have shared in the Jews' spiritual blessings, they owe it to the Jews to share with them their material blessings.
Distributing food, selling possessions to offer assistance to the poor, churches tithing not only for their own ministry, but to send back to Jerusalem… the early church understood what the foot-washing command meant… that they would live lives of service.

As I said before, a faith that does not include a passion for service and regular component of hands on service is not a complete faith.

And I think that we grow in this area by beginning with a change in our language. Instead of asking people to join a committee, lets start asking people what ministry they feel passionate about. Instead of asking new members what committee they are interested in (because whether we like it or not, committee’s are not going to raise new Christian’s passions) lets ask them what mission God is calling them too.

We have many… a clothes closet, a hygiene closet. We have a nutrition ministry. And let me pause there for a moment to say we are re-visioning that nutrition ministry. We will need a new coordinator for that ministry and we are considering working with the RI food bank, and opening the food closet twice a month instead of just having it available by emergency appt. But in order for this to work we will need many people who feel passionate about feeding the hungry, called to give time and energy to this mission.

Although our AI Visioning process revealed to us another mission, I would like to suggest that first and foremost our goal for the next couple of years is focusing on this nutrition ministry. I would like to suggest that our goal for the next couple of years is to widen the circle of those who regularly participate in these works of service, such as the food closet and clothes closet and Holiday food baskets and Summer meal programs. Not only encouraging more of us, the members of the church to get hands on involved in these ministries, but also more community members involved, for in inviting them to serve, we are inviting them to follow Christ. And in including our children we are not only teaching them to serve, we are teaching them to follow Christ.

Now our AI goal is to create a ministry partnership with an American Baptist Missionary and a community perhaps in central America; to get to know the people, to learn about their struggles and then to create a plan, a long term plan to serve them, visit them, but not just to serve them, to create a relationship with them.

I’m asking you to pray for both of these missions of service; the nutrition ministry and the sister relationship with a foreign missionary and church; pray for a coordinator for the nutrition program, pray for the families that we serve, and pray that the Holy Spirit will reveal to you your passion for service. Pray that the Holy Spirit will show us show us how to grow in faith, how to grow from a faith that believes into a faith that serves, how we all together should grow from a faith that we hold, into a faith that we practice and pass on.

Jn 13:17
17 Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.

So let us also, in these 100 days of prayer, pray that we will be blessed with the courage and commitment to wash other’s feet as Christ has washed our own.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

The Mission of the Church is to be a Learning and Teaching Community; Bible; Word of God

The Church as a Community of Teaching and Learning
Acts 2:42/Deut 6:4-9

The Question(s) we start with this morning are… Who taught you about faith? What did they teach you? How?

[time of sharing]

Part I: The Apocalypse of Faith?
The Book of Eli is a movie starring Denzel Washington who plays a character on a mission. He lives in America, but it is a post apocalyptic America, an America after the destruction of nuclear war. If you have ever seen the Mad Max movies you can imagine the landscape… no vegetation, little food, little clean water, small colonies of disfigured survivors, ruined and abandoned cities, rubble. As with any post apocalyptic movie you have to have cannibals for the good guys to fight and Denzel fights more than a few cannibals.

We don’t know much about his mission, not at first. He carries a book. A rare book. He needs to get it from the East Coast to the West Coast where the last enclave of civilization stands.Carnegie is the bad guy. He is looking for a book. He controls a little settlement because he controls a supply of clean drinking water. He wants the book because in the book are words with power, words that would enable him to take control of what is left of the America.

As we go along we find out two things. The book that Denzel carries and that Carnegie seeks is the Bible. The last Bible. There is no more religious faith of any kind in this apocalypse. Denzel has to save the last Bible and Carnegie wants it for his own purposes. There is no prayer, no faith.

I’m not recommending this movie necessarily. It’s ok, some good fight scenes. But the thought of an America without any memory of the Bible or the Christian Faith, accept for one lone man on a mission to save that tradition, to save the Word of God, intrigued me.

But its only fiction.


Part II:
A new book just came out about youth ministry. It is based on a study by Christian Smith and Melinda Denton who work for the National Study of Youth and Religion. The book is by Kenda Creasy Dean and it is called Almost Christian.

I am going to read to you, from an article about the study and the book, by the books author, as found in the Christian Century.

I don’t generally read long quotes but I think we need to hear this…

Smith and Denton reported ‘seeing an alternative faith in American teenagers, one that ‘feeds on and gradually co-opts if not devours’ established religious traditions. This faith, called Moralistic Therapeutic Deism,… is affiliated with traditional faith communities but… [leads to teens] practicing a very different faith than historic orthodox Christianity. If teenagers wrote out the creed of this religious outlook, it would look something like this:
• A god exists who created and orders the world and watches over life on earth.
• God wants people to be good, nice and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible…
• The central goal of life is to be happy and feel good about yourself.
• God is not involved in my life except when I need God to solve a problem.
• Good people go to heaven when they die.
Smith and Denton claim that MTD is ‘colonizing many historical religious traditions and , almost without anyone noticing, converting believers in the old faiths to its alternative religious vision of divinely underwritten personal happiness and interpersonal niceness’… It may be the new mainstream American religious faith for our culturally post-Christian, individualistic, mass-consumer capitalist society….A significant part of Christianity in the United States is actually only tenuously Christian in any sense that it is seriously connected to the actual historical Christian tradition, but has rather substantially morphed into… Christian Moralistic Therapeutic Deism.’

Dean summarizes the report in this way:
“American young people are, theoretically, fine with religious faith — but it does not concern them much, and it is not durable enough to survive long after they graduate from high school.” [Quote from her book]
Then she adds this: “One more thing: we’re responsible.”

Part 3:
I grew up in a very conservative evangelical church, American Baptist, but very different. From childhood I was bombarded with stories from Revelation of the rapture, the anti-Christ, the Tribulation, war and suffering… and it scared me to death. It really did.

I grew up and went to seminary and learned what I think is a better way to read Revelation and it doesn’t frighten me any more. It challenges and convicts and inspires me, but it does frighten me.

This frightens me.

It frightens me because my experience tells me that Smith and Denton and Dean are not Henny Penny running around crying the sky is falling, the sky is falling. We’ve are watching it happen.

Dean writes ‘we ‘teach’ young people baseball, but we ‘expose’ them to faith. We provide coaching and opportunities for youth to develop and improve their pitches and their SAT scores, but we blithely assume that religious identity will happen by osmosis and will emerge ‘when youth are ready ‘ ( a confidence we generally lack when it comes to, say, algebra). ‘

Dt 6:4-9
4 Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. 5 Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. 6 These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. 7 Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. 8 Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. 9 Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.

Part 4:
Last week, we talked about the Vision of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Do you remember that Vision? God tells Abraham that he will be blessed and that he will be a blessing. He will have child, who will have a child and eventually many and they will have a land…

What we read today was the conclusion of that part of the blessing… Moses and Israel, the descendants of Jacob have reached the Promised Land…

And now the next stage of the Vision unfolds. All the peoples of the earth will be blessed… that is what God promised, that was the next stage of the Vision…

That Israel would be the people that God entrusted with the very words of God for all the nations; Who would devote themselves to being shaped by that word into a living witness, In their practice of prayer and worship, in their practice of justice and righteousness.They would not only have the word but hold it in their hearts and minds and be before a watching world The embodiment of God’s word and the life it brings.

Deuteronomy is a Mission statement. Carry my Word to the People.
Wake up to It, and go to bed with it… walk with it and talk about it, and fill your home with it Take it to work and above all, impress it upon your children…the Hebrew word translated impress literally means pierce… a permanent mark

the Word of God, given to Moses and the people of Israel…
the word of God, the faith, the Christian lifestyle handed down to us…
entrusted to us by; [the list of our church's saints and those people they told me about to open the sermon]

The Word of God Entrusted to us by the word made flesh Jesus
Mt 28:19-20
Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.

We have been entrusted with this Word.

Our mission is to be a people devoted to it, to reading it and learning it and discussing it and living it and in so doing passing it on…

I heard an Imam respond to the threat to burn the Koran and he said something that I found very inspirational. He said that you could burn the books, but that the Koran was in the hearts and minds of the Muslim people and that could not be burned.

In the end of the movie, Book of Eli, the bad guy gets the Bible, Eli, looses the book, it is lost…

Incidentally, Carnegie gets the Bible but he can’t read it. Eli is blind. The Bible is in brail and Carnegie can’t interpret it. There is no one to explain it to him. (Which I think is a startling metaphor of the fact that the Bible itself is not enough… it takes a community to interpret it, explain it and live it so that it can be taught. Which is what the text from Deuteronomy is telling us. Read it, Learn it, Live it, Teach it)

But all is not lost. Eli doesn’t have the book, but he has memorized every word.
And his last act before dying of the wounds inflicted upon him by Carnegie and his evil henchmen
Is to dictate the Bible to a scribe so that the word is not lost.

Friends, the Word is not lost.
We can pass it on to our children and to all the un-churched and de-churched folks who enter our doors…
The saints we remembered have dictated it to us through their lives of faith
Christ has entrusted it to us…

It will take all of us…It doesn’t matter if your children are grown and no longer here, it will take all of us…It isn’t enough to believe that the Bible is God’s word or to be of the opinion that the Bible is important.

Convictions, wrote James Wm. McClendon, are not just beliefs or opinions, … for our convictions show themselves not merely in our professions or belief or disbelief, but in all our attitudes and actions…
And if that were not challenging enough, McClendon goes on to say of the church…no mere collections of the curious will count.
James William McClendon, Jr.
Doctrine p 29

John Howard Yoder wrote similarly contrasting two choices for the church… ‘run-of-the-mill’ devotion or a ‘heroic’ level of devotion.

J.H. Yoder; The Priestly Kingdom
The Kingdom as Social Ethic, p. 83

These are serious times my sister’s and brothers. We are not living in the post Apocalypse described in the book of Eli, the land with no faith and with no Bible and with no one to teach what it means and what it looks like in action. But Denton, Smith and Dean suggest that we are slouching toward apocalypse. This is not the time for casual or curious Christianity. This is the time of Conviction and Heroic Efforts.

This is our Mission. To be the Heroic and Convicted Community of Learning and Teaching.
Will we accept it?

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