Tuesday, January 27, 2009

A Young Church? A New Community.

Some things make me happy. Like last Sunday night.

The church group I'm part of stakes its identity on the conviction that community--fellowship, koinonia--is a major part of Jesus' message about the new order of things God is bringing. Just like God frees us through Jesus' death and resurrection to be in his family (John's Gospel says to be "children of God"), so we're freed to be family to one another. This is something we're struggling to learn how to live, to move this from conviction to habit. I think some would call this "discipleship" or, maybe, "spiritual formation."

We've been trying out different ways to do this. We're plotting to begin home groups in the next months. We've already passed around sign up sheets for rotating dinners around each others dining room tables (or on each others living room floors). (If anyone still needs to sign up, email me.) Another way we've been training ourselves in the discipline of friendship is a common potluck after each service.

Last Sunday night, this looked like fifteen or so people, clustering around three or four tables, slurping bowls of white bean chili (a Cindy specialty), chomping garlic bread, and savoring some cake batter cookies (if you've never had these, your taste buds are missing an new world of delight). Even better than the food (which, let me repeat, was quite good), people were trading stories, getting to know one another. Some are old friends--some are old married couples. Some are quite new. Everyone was, perhaps unknowingly, showing what the new life Jesus promised looks like, how it listens and laughs, ask questions, passes the container of cookies. This makes me happy.

We started out calling our Sunday night gatherings "the Five O'Clock Service." I thought that was a generic enough, straight-forward enough. But after some reflection, some prayer, and a few conversations, we're changing the name. From this point forward, we'll be the Five O'Clock Community. I hope when we follow Jesus, it looks a lot more like sharing in a potluck than listening to a sermon.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Jan 25, 2009 - The Kingdom of God Is Near

First Presbyterian Church of DuPage - The Five O’Clock
Mk 1.14-34 - “The Kingdom of God Is Near”

Now after John was handed over, Jesus went into Galilee and proclaimed the good news of God. He said, “The time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!”

Now we’re in it. We talked last week about how Mark was letting us in on the secret, laying it all out in front of us, explaining who Jesus really is. He showed us first in his title--The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, Son of God. He showed us in the way he described John the Baptizer. He showed us through what happened after Jesus was baptized--the sky splitting apart, the Holy Spirit anointing him, God declaring, “You are my beloved Son, in you I take great delight.” But now Jesus comes back from down South where John was preaching by the river, he comes back form forty days in the desert, now he comes back proclaiming the good news that the kingdom of God, the new world set right that God brings, is just now arriving--and we’re plunged into confusion. The light’s go out. We’re left with all sort of people--normal people, rich people, farmers and fishermen, beggars, prostitutes, and political power mongers--all debating and misunderstanding who Jesus is, what his message is about.

Last week I told you to hold on tightly to the clear, mountaintop glimpse of who Jesus is as we spend the next few months walking through the sometimes frantic, sometimes monotonous, sometimes lonely, sometimes harried, sometimes anonymous world where Mark tells the rest of hist story, the world that we live in.

“The time is fulfilled! The kingdom of God is just about to arrive!” Jesus announces. In fact, in a lot of ways it’s arriving right now, in Jesus, through what he does, what he says. But it’s not here all the way. We can even see that in our day. This world does not look like--does not feel like--the new world, the good world that God brings. And this is part of Mark’s and Jesus’ point. The new world cannot really begin until Jesus is handed over to the authorities, before he dies, before he is raised into the new life of God’s new world. The new world, God’s kingdom, is here and yet a lot of it is, even still, just about to arrive.
But what I’m saying here is too theological, too abstract. Jesus doesn’t come to meet us in our theology; we don’t live the new life of God’s world in our doctrinal statements. He meets us while we’re washing dishes after potluck, while we’re chasing down a rambunctious son or daughter, while we’re inputting number into a computer at work or trying to appease a cranky customer, while we’re having an awkward long distance phone conversation with a parent, when we crawl into bed and wish we weren’t quite so alone. God’s kingdom--the new world, God’s new life--is something that we need to find in our every day lives.

But what does it look like? We all know there are too many counterfeits out there! We tend to water it down to a “God is in all things,” to a hunt for the warm fuzzies or the silver lining. Or else we fixate on one part of it, turning “Love your neighbor as yourself” into a baptism for our failing attempts at world peace, or our unapologetic defense of our way of life. Sometimes we turn the promise of eternal life into a raspy-voice, finger-pointing tirade about hellfire and brimstone. But as much as I read the stories about Jesus in the New Testament, I never see him going around Galilee peddling tickets to heaven, his message was never about a washing machine in every home, a laptop for every child, or two cars in every garage. And he certainly never gave his support to the Roman government’s “peace”--their pax romana enforced by a military garrison in every major city, heavy taxes to house and feed their “peacekeepers,” and just enough entertainment--gladiators, festival days--to keep the poor too distracted to revolt. But if none of these are the new life Jesus brings, what is it? What does God’s kingdom look like?

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Jan 18, 2009 - Getting to Know the Jesus We Follow

First Presbyterian Church of DuPage - The Five O’Clock
Mk 1.1-13 - “Getting to Know the Jesus We Follow”

We talk a lot at the Five O’Clock about “following Jesus,” about living out the message Jesus preached, about living as the proof of God’s coming kingdom. Last week we brainstormed some ways that we can be living out Jesus’ message more faithfully, as a community of people whose lives are growing more and more closely together and as a community of people who want to help meet the needs of our neighbors as a picture of the sort of kingdom that Jesus brings. During the weeks of Advent, we talked a lot about how God’s people have longed and waited for the kingdom that Jesus announces, the kingdom he will one day finally bring.

My question tonight is “Why?” Why do we talk so much about “kingdom” and “gospel” and “Jesus”? There is a Sunday School answer to this question. When I was younger, a Sunday School teacher--a guy named Eric who I thought was so much cooler than all the other adults I knew--once laughingly said that no matter what question he asked in class, we’d be right if we answered with “Jesus.” In way, we could reply “Jesus” to the question tonight of why we talk about kingdom and gospel and, even, Jesus himself, at the Five O’Clock. But this answer would be true in ways and with a depth that a second grade or junior high Sunday School kid wouldn’t quite grasp. Honestly, it’s true in a way that most of us don’t pick up on initially.

What I have to say tonight is important because we who are becoming part of this Five O’Clock community are just beginning a process that will be hard work, that will be often uncomfortable, we’re beginning something that’s going to ask more of us than we think we have to give. But it’s just this answer of “Jesus”--who he is, what he announced, how he lived and died and, especially, how he lives again--that will gets us through.

We are together trying to faithfully live as the people of God, to be the church in a real and full sense, in an Acts 2 kind of way. This is going to mean getting to know one another better, becoming vulnerable as our live increasingly intersect, as we share our needs and try to help each other out in practical ways. It’s going to mean some awkwardness, as we make social missteps, as we bump into unfounded assumptions. It’s going to mean frustrations as we unfortunately sometimes let each other down, as we find places we disagree, as we unroot hidden prejudices. And it’s going to mean forgiving one another, just as God forgives us, just as we pray in Jesus’ prayer each week. Tonight, it’s going to mean some of us doing the chore of cooking pasta, setting out some plates and silverware, it’s going to be the sweat of washing up dishes afterward.

On our own, we’ll eventually run out. Our patience will wear thin and break, we’ll be tempted to pull out, to hole up in the isolated comforts of a couch and television programs instead coming to meet the raw reality of being together the loving, difficult people of God. And in this, it will be the person and presence of Jesus that sustains us, that refreshes us, that gives us the energy to have one more conversation, to wash one more plate, to drive out into the cold January night one more time.

This is all the reason why I want us to spend the next few months reading through the Gospel of Mark. Mark is a great place to meet Jesus, to get know him better, and to find out what his kingdom and gospel are about. Mark tells a story about Jesus that says so much more than we find on our first read through. The author’s a clever, skillful storyteller, and his book is more like epic poetry or even, perhaps, a riddle, than just a scientific, rigorously precise record of what Jesus said and did. For the longest time, I didn’t like Mark for just these reasons. I would read through it, and I couldn’t make heads or tails of it. He starts off, as we’ll see in a few minutes, without any background story for Jesus. He also ends quite differently from other Gospels, mysteriously even. It wasn’t until I was part of leading a bible study through Mark in college, and I began to read through it over and over, that I began to understand how rich and how real-life, how gritty Mark’s story of Jesus is. I think this is just the sort of picture of Jesus we need as we set about the difficult project of becoming God’s people, something gritty but also something that requires commitment, dedication to bear fruit.

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