Sunday, September 30, 2012

September 30 - Snippet from Sunday - Quick to Listen, Quick to Obey

Here we have a kind of firstfruits of this year’s harvest spread out before us this morning. We have the aroma of our celebration of what God has given us wafting up from the kitchen. Like the ancient Israelites at their holy festivals and feasts, we offer a bit of this year’s produce back to God as proclamation that, “Yes, God, all good gifts come from you.” In doing so, we ourselves become a kind of firstfruits of a different sort of harvest. Gathered together, we are the first sheafs of wheat or oats, the first cucumbers and zucchinis, of a redeemed humanity. We are the foretaste, the preview of all nations and all creation praising God.

This year was a good year, and this year was a hard year. This year has been one of loss, but it has also been a one of celebration. It’s for both the joyful times and for the comfort that sustains us in hard times that we thank our God this morning.

Most of all, we thank our God for what James calls in v 17, the word of truth and, in v 21, the word planted in you, which can save you. Of all the good gifts that God our Father gives, the true and powerful good-news word that saves us is the best. We gather on this morning once a year to thank God for a bountiful harvest, for growth and accomplishments in our families, for work well-rewarded and days well-spent in the last year. But every Sunday morning we gather to thank God for the gift of his saving word to us. Even more, every prayer, even every action we perform should be a grateful “Thank you” to the God who saves us. This is what James has to say to us this morning.

One word for living this way is “worship.” Our lives demonstrate to God and to the world the value and the worth of the gospel-word God has spoken to us in Jesus. Maybe we recall Paul telling believers to live out this kind of worship in Ro 12.1: I urge you, brothers and sisters, in light of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God--this is true worship.

Another name for living all of life in grateful response to the good news is “discipleship.” By far, this is the term the early Anabaptists used most to describe how we live in response to the gospel. Many of the sixteenth century Reformers taught that the gospel only asks for our belief, a response of faith. But the Anabaptist believed that faith is only the beginning. The gospel calls for our faith and trust, but it also asks for our faithfulness. Jesus isn’t just a divine sacrifice to trust in; Jesus is also our Lord to be followed and obeyed.

This morning, if our gratitude is only a warm emotion, it is not enough. Our gratitude must become a burning motivation that produces a glorious demonstration of our thankfulness by the way we live from moment to moment. The only true thanksgiving we offer to God is the kind we live with our lives.

(Check out the whole sermon after the jump. . .)

Notes from the Corner - Hospitality Series No. 1 - An Introduction

The first Sunday Cindy and I walked through the doors of the meetinghouse at WMC, many of you shook our hands firmly, smiled, and said, “Welcome here!” Since that time, many more members of our church-community have welcomed me into their homes for coffee, for a meal, for good conversation.

Hospitality, it seems, is a character trait of this congregation. We’re quick to open our homes and share our stories with one another. We like to welcome people with something good to eat. But hospitality is more than just a cultural tradition. Hospitality is a New Testament command and a gift the Spirit’s given for us to use. In the next few weeks, I’ll use this corner to reflect on hospitality, in my life, in Scripture, and in the mission God has set us on.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

"Mom, what is church?"

I overheard a three year-old ask his mom "What is church?"

Our church rents out the meetinghouse weekdays to a pre-school. It's been great this last week seeing the kids flood in at 9 a.m. and, for a second shift, at 1 p.m. I've tried to strike up conversation with a few of the moms and an encouraging number of dads dropping off their kids, but I haven't met with much luck. In these first few days I think they're fairly preoccupied with how their child is adjusting to preschool (and perhaps--appropriate to context--praying that there won't be a meltdown in the foyer).

As I eavesdropped on a momma-child conversation this morning, I could almost predict word-for-word how she would respond to the toddler's question:

"Church is a place we go to learn about God."

I think this mom threw in the fact that we go to church on Sundays.

On the one hand, this all too common answer is just that: all too common. Church is 1) reduced to a building/space we go to, and 2) its mission paired down to education. Missional sisters and brothers, I think you'll agree with me that church is not somewhere we go but something we are. And we are a heck of lot more than just our educable intellects.

But, on the other hand, this mom may have nailed it. I was praying through the BCP Morning Prayer Service today, and it caught my attention that the BCP refers to the Old and New Testament readings as "Lessons" (with capitalization there and in all sort of other unnecessary places). When I read that phrase today, my mind's reflex was to ask "What's the lesson I should get of this?"--perhaps in the same way my childhood story Bible story books always ended with a moral.

Church, to some extent, is the space and the people that train our hearts to ponder about the morals, the lessons, the "go and do likewise" dimension of Scripture and our workaday lives. I remember reading Mike Frost in The Road to Missional (my review here) describe a parent-friend who trained his kids to pick out moments of shalom and "broken shalom" at bedtime each day. We could say in other words that they were looking for the lesson, the moral of each day. And as Jamie Smith reminds us, our habits, especially our habits in community, work to train our hearts and desires.

So maybe church really is "where we learn about God."

Sunday, September 9, 2012

September 9 - Snippet from Sunday - Don't Be Deceived!

A lot of our Christian faith looks toward the future. Each Sunday I step behind this pulpit and remind you again of the good things God has promised for our world. I say over and over that God has promised to make everything right, to make blessings of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount a reality: The poor will really be blessed with God’s kingdom, and those who weep and mourn will really find comfort. Those people starving for justice will be satisfied when God finally brings justice. Like the prophets Isaiah and Micah foretell, God will bring justice to the nations, and then they will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks; nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore (Is 2.4; Mic 4.3). A day is coming when drought and famine, trade embargoes and warlords will no long leave millions to starve to death. A day is coming when disease will no longer wrack our bodies, when loneliness and grief will no longer bring tears to our eyes.

But all of this is still to come. Christ has died; Christ is risen--Amen! But we are still waiting for Christ to come again. God has promised us much; God has given us a downpayment in Jesus’ resurrection, but we’re still waiting for God to make good on the rest. In the meantime, we’re very much aware that everything is not right. The poor stay poor, the mourning continue to mourn, justice is still denied those dying for lack of it. We pass children even in our own community who know hunger. News broadcasts from Syria remind us of that war is still a reality tearing people’s lives and communities to pieces.

I’ve heard people say that Jesus’ followers are so future-oriented that we turn a blind eye to the hard reality of the world around us. We’re so focused on “pie in the sky in the sweet by and by” that we lose touch with the here and now.

I wonder if the original Jewish home churches who received James’ letter two thousand years ago entertained that same thought about James. Last Sunday we the shocking words that open James’ letter; v 2 says, Consider it pure joy . . . whenever you face trials of many kinds. I can picture a few members of those home churches that received this letter raising their eyebrows at these words. These original believers were the descendants of Jewish refugees and exiles. They were quite familiar with trials. I can almost hear one of them muttering, “It’s well and good for James to say that people should consider trials to be pure joy while he’s safe and secure in the big church in our Jewish homeland, but he’s a little out of touch with life for us here in the belly of the Roman Empire.” Maybe we think something similar: “Pie in the sky and promises that God will one day make things right are fine between 10:45 and noon on Sunday morning, but for the rest of the work week, those promises feel a little out of touch.”

I think the Spirit anticipated this skeptical reaction from people who read James’ letter. So in vv 9, 10, and 11, the Spirit led James to tackle head on probably the most concrete reality facing the original believers or us today: money.

(Check out the whole sermon after the jump. . .)

Sunday, September 2, 2012

September 2 - Snippet from Sunday - Joy in Hard Times

I have no final answer to all these questions about suffering this morning. I don’t think Scripture gives us those kind of answers. It’s a not a textbook with answers to all the problems in the back. Reading the Bible is more like eavesdropping on a conversation between wise, Spirit-filled people. Different passages, different people offer their perspective in the discussion, and the Holy Spirit guides the conversation to the truth.

This morning we’re beginning to listen to one person in that conversation: James. The letter that James wrote is often overlooked in our Bibles. Since at least the time of Martin Luther, many believers have thought that James is too practical and not theological enough to be worth reading. But practicality is what we need when we’re unsure how to believe in or live with our God in the gritty details of suffering. We need to see how following Jesus makes a difference for us here and now where we live day-to-day. So over the coming weeks, we’ll be returning to listen to and learn from this letter.

(Check out the whole sermon after the jump. . .)
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...