Archive for November, 2013
10 When the builders laid the foundation of the temple of the Lord, the priests in their vestments were stationed to praise the Lord with trumpets, and the Levites, the sons of Asaph, with cymbals, according to the directions of King David of Israel; 11 and they sang responsively, praising and giving thanks to the Lord, “For he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever toward Israel.” And all the people responded with a great shout when they praised the Lord, because the foundation of the house of the Lord was laid. 12 But many of the priests and Levites and heads of families, old people who had seen the first house on its foundations, wept with a loud voice when they saw this house, though many shouted aloud for joy, 13 so that the people could not distinguish the sound of the joyful shout from the sound of the people’s weeping, for the people shouted so loudly that the sound was heard far away. [NRSV]
Returning Home is Never the Same:
The experience of Ezra and the people coming back to Jerusalem from exile comes with the mixed blessing of building something new with the sorrow of what is no longer reality.
John Wesley opposed preaching outside to reach the poor and disconnected, but in doing so transforms the church and the world for Jesus Christ, The council of Bishops, after great study and prayer is putting the resources in vital congregations. Those left behind linger by their choice to live in the past, The commitment is to remember and acknowledge the loss of what we once were, while experimenting in building the new church. The Church of England stayed in the past and is empty. The Russian Orthodox Church has the liturgy but no connection with the people. In our life time, the church will become something new.
Who is our Leader, Who do we Follow?
Remember when Billy Graham was the iconic central figure of the protestant church. Who is next? One of the TV preachers? One of the book publishing authors? One of the political preachers? It is scary to not have the map. But if we follow the old ways we will not find the new Church.
Who Is Lost and Who is Found
It is not comfortable to be lost, but its worse to stay where we are and swap familiarity for faith One of the important questions to ask as a church: What the best day of Jackson United Methodist Church? If you say, some time in the past, you don’t think much of the present and have no hope for the future. If you say, the best day are ahead, then we don’t throw in the towel and we grow closer toward the Light of Jesus Christ. Looking backward, we are grateful and thankful for those who have paved the way before us, but the work of paving a new way is not over.
The Road Goes On, or Does it?
It continues. Where do we start? At the table: Jesus promises to meet us at the table as often as we gather in presence and memory. Remember and Eat. Learn from our past, and step out in faith in our future. Come to the table and let’s eat, weep and shout for joy!
21:5 When some were speaking about the temple, how it was adorned with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God, he said, “As for these things that you see, the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down.”They asked him, “Teacher, when will this be, and what will be the sign that this is about to take place?” And he said, “Beware that you are not led astray; for many will come in my name and say, ‘I am he!’ and, ‘The time is near!’ Do not go after them. “When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified; for these things must take place first, but the end will not follow immediately.” Then he said to them, “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and plagues; and there will be dreadful portents and great signs from heaven. “But before all this occurs, they will arrest you and persecute you; they will hand you over to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors because of my name.
This will give you an opportunity to testify. So make up your minds not to prepare your defense in advance; for I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict.
You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, by relatives and friends; and they will put some of you to death. You will be hated by all because of my name. But not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your souls. [NRSV]
For some reason I remember one of the lines of actor, Ed Asner, who as an over-worked newspaper editor goes home to get much needed rest tells his staff, “Don’t call me unless the moon collides with the earth.” Well the big story breaks during the night and they call to let him know. He answers the phone after fumbling for the receiver, he says, “Oh my God, the moon has collided with the earth!”
While the news story was big it was nothing compared to the typhon of recorded history in the Philippines. We remembered and prayed for the people last Sunday, just as we did for those in the typhon of Japan 2011, and hurricane Katrina, Andrew or Camile. But the magnitude, not of loss of property nor number of deaths, but the power of the storm ranks this latest as the worst in history.
Not having been on board with Noah, nor sitting around when the Asia and Europe plates collided, this terrible storm has the makings of an apocalyptic storm in the minds of some and surely those in the Philippines have been asking, “is this the end?”
While it has been terrible and tragic, I don’t think it is anymore the end that the storm before or the next one that follows. Storms might be signs but they are not the end of days.
Jesus points to signs of wars, global conflicts, earthquakes and famine. All might be signs, but are not the BIG sign.
SO WHAT is ‘THE’ SIGN?
“But before all this occurs, they will arrest you and persecute you; they will hand you over to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors because of my name.
When the storms become spiritual and personal and political. Be ready when you are involved.
The UMCOR gives us a great way to know our money is going to meet human needs on the ground when disasters strike, They may not spend the money marketing that good news, but that is our job. The also count on us to tell the story and save the money for the real needs. When you hear of suffering know your church will be ready to serve and give generously to keep this mission alive and strong.
The task we have at home, every day, is to be ready for attacks on our faithfulness, our trust, our core values and beliefs. The end is near, Jesus reveals, when we are being arrested for our faithfulness. The end is near when the powers of authority come after us for standing up for God’s power and grace. The end is near when you are imprisoned for giving to the church, oppressed for telling God’s Good News.
The end is near when anyone gets in the way of your faithfulness. This is not to belittle the great and terrible day of the Lord, but think of the times that we back down before we are called to speak out.
Think of the times that we help back when we needed to be ready to stand up to individuals and governments that water-down our faith.
Think of how easy it is to do nothing, rather than lead the way. What would the crowd who watched Jesus be crucified say before God at their judgement. “Well, everyone else kept quiet.”
The real end of days are the days that we hold back, give-in and keep quiet. The storms of life with come and go. Wars and nations will take their toll on us all. But the one thing that remains:
What are you and I going to do, right here in ‘river city’, to make sure the last words of grace, love and power have not already been spoken.
The occasion of tragedy and persecution become opportunities for us to share, witness and proclaim. Don’t avoid them, be ready to make sure each day is not the last day to proclaim the Kingdom of God.
44 All who believed were together and had all things in common; 45 they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46 Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, 47 praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved. [NRSV]
The Community Shared of what they had to meet the needs of who they were.
They spent time in the temple sharing in worship and witness
Sharing Leads to Growth
It has struck me in this season of preparing for our Stewardship Campaign and our church’s Charge Conference reporting that while a great deal of emphasis and assumption is placed on numbers and statistics, very little is said of the life we are challenged to live.
I would say that greatest piece that is missing from the modern church of 2013 is the storehouse of faith experienced in the generations between Wesley’s and that of the church in 1968.
At the point of our uniting as the United Methodist Church, we merged different traditions, with many similarities, yet we cashed in many of our denominational credits to increase numbers. We spent our hearts to insure our diamonds to use a playing card metaphor.
As one born in 1964 I have been witness to much not thinking that I had much responsibility along the way. I suppose it is wisdom that comes from experience, that I see more clearly now. The flavor of church known as United Methodist is missing something important from the earliest expression of church that is at our core.
We are expecting to make withdrawals from a bank of giving to which we have not not invested.
It is a great thing to check your bank balance and find it positive. Maybe you have seen interest grow, investments pay off, incomes increase and the balance has grown. For most folks to see a balance that is even and above the read line is a comfort. The reality is that many folks are living in a deficit with number of credit and denial keeping afloat hope and economy.
We know too well the news of budgets, economy, expenses and liabilities on a national level is debilitating and we detach ourselves from the news and tune out the notion that they are talking about our money because it is the government’s money.
Something our nations could also learn from the early church is the example of sharing based on a relationship with have with the community.
I have learned in these nearly 50 years that it would be great to give everyone everything they needed at the expense of those who have, but once those who have either give it all to the collective or withdraw from the community, the problem is worse than at the beginning.
The thing to learn from the church in Acts is that they community of faith shared each others lives together.
They prayed, worshipped, and shared themselves.
There is a value in being a faith community. The is a desire in the heart of God to be in fellowship with us and us with each other.
The General Church asks of us to report out Vital Statistics of worship and members and giving with an basically unspoken hope that in seeing our numbers we would be driving to increase our numbers. But they are not offering the method how and even greater they are not inspiring us to ask why.
Why comes to church? Why serve the poor? Why give to the needs of the community? Why share our faith with others? Why?
The easy, Children’s sermon answer, that is correct and direct is, Jesus told us to.
But that is not a complete answer: Why does Jesus want us to do these things?
For some will read this passage of Acts and see the early church growing and jump ahead. If we don’t share and meet needs of the poor, we won’t grow and we can manage to be the church with out them..
The chapel model of church, where things are neat, orderly, defined and sterile with no expectation of more, instead maintain. It’s not too often you hear of a church or hospital tearing down their chapel to build a bigger chapel. It would not meet the definition of chapel if it grew.
Take some time to review any story or example in scripture where people manage the situation within their own ability and resources to keep the status quo and maintain the tradition that God speaks up and says, well done good and faithful servant. You won’t find one. That is not how God works.
God speaks and things come into being. God creates and calls for multiplication. God reaches out the unlikely individuals to transform the community and nations. If we jump ahead of God, we will not find God calling for maintenance. God is all about sharing and growth.
It is helpful to step back into the Acts 2 church to focus on what is being shared. Real life is shared and read needs are placed on the table. Acceptance of people despite they needs and problems builds the community. An interested fact that is that people have problems, failures, fears and needs if they are rich or poor.
It is assumed that wealth is what are shared, but from our economic lessons, the thing that drew people to the church was the people’s needs were shared, and addressed. Real people’s lives were placed at the alter and the community shared these needs in worship and relationship with God.
That is very different from what we do on most Sundays.
For the past fifty years we have looked at numbers more closely than we have looked at the needs people have and are willing to share.
Sunday school lessons are prepared so that even a person of no faith could read them and ask a few questions and we would call it Christian Educaiton
Orders of worship of dutifully filled with liturgy and familiar songs and we hope people will connect the dots of tradition with the holes in their hearts and find Christ on their own.
Buildings are maintained, debt notes are served, and programs are funded, but are people sharing their need for Jesus Christ and the church responding with a relationship that confirms salvation, live, community and belonging in the heart of God?
What are you supporting with your prayers, presence, gifts, service and witness?
I am proud of the faithfulness that my church has taking on a growing budget this year and with great generosity have met the challenge in this economy and we will continue to increase what we give and share… but there is a danger to avoid.
We are are not buying salvation. We are not paying for someone else to be the church for us. We are not hiring someone to do our service. We are not perpetrating a system that is focused on serving ourselves first.
We answer the ‘Why’ question today with our pledges saying… why do support our church?
Because Christ is found here and this is where we want to share Christ.
This is where God is bless and stretching us and we want to grow
This is where the Spirit embodies and empowers us and we want to go where the Spirit sends us.
This is why we give. because we belong, and we are connected and committed where we belong.
The TV sitcom Cheers was a community of flawed people who share ritual, sorrow, joy, celebration and everyday life, because that is where they knew and were known.
That is fertile grown that will grow disciples for the transformation of the world.
He entered Jericho and was passing through it. A man was there named Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was rich. He was trying to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was short in stature. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree to see him, because he was going to pass that way. When Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today.” So he hurried down and was happy to welcome him. All who saw it began to grumble and said, “He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner.” Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, “Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much.” Then Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.” [NRSV]
Our communities are generally more concerned about Halloween than celebrating all the Saints who have died and found the promises of eternal life and love fulfilled during this weekend of celebrations. Even fewer are trying to hold the memory of the saints in a high place of honor while addressing lessons of stewardship for the upcoming Stewardship Sunday next week. But here we are faced with the reality of context in the face of the power of the lectionary text: Zacchaeus the Wee, Little man.
As we listen carefully to this passage we can learn a good deal about Zack and ourselves. First this man was a notorious cheat and swindler of the community. His reputation and status was made through taking advantage of his position to profit from some of the poorest of neighbors. Taxes, user fees, registrations, licenses, and mandated participations in medical plans are all forms of taxes. They are always up for debate for everyone except for those who collect them and those who profit from them. Everyone else would like to avoid paying any more than they must pay. Zach not only had the unpopular task of collecting these funds, he also used the occasion to collect an acquisition fee on top of the tax has his income. He had the opportunity to define the amount of profit he would make from collecting unpopular taxes. Together this made him to be the least likely to befriend in the neighborhood.
It is no wonder that folks did not cut him any slack in finding his way to see Jesus who was visiting their town. Secondly we learn that Zach was not only not respected and excluded from popularity contests, he was none the less, curious about Jesus. This is actually a refreshing picture of those that we least favor in our communities. Even the least respected and most avoided can be curious about Jesus. And this is the chink in the armor that opens the door of grace for us all.
Zach, actually is more than curious; he takes extra steps to make a way to Jesus. He sets up the occasion to have a better perspective and even a chance meeting with Jesus. When the community of faith had given up on him, Zach remains interested enough to do some homework and recon work himself to create an opportunity to meet Jesus. If you have never taken the opportunity to participate in the Walk to Emmaus retreat ministry, you should attend. It is a concentrated effort to create opportunities for someone to meet Christ and to grow closer in her or his relationship with Christ. (Visit the Upperroom.org and check it out.) Zach has made his own little retreat in the top of a tree, hoping to gain a new perspective and understanding of Jesus.
Rather than simply being a spectator, Jesus calls Zach into a relationship of participation. Jesus does what the community has refused to do because of Zach’s behavior and destruction of the community. Jesus includes the stranger. Jesus opens the heart and home of the one who has no relationship. Jesus makes a way through honesty, confession and accountability when others are blocking access, even when it might seem justified. Jesus opens the heart.
When Zach’s heart is touched, he moves to confession and repentance. Without any prescription for restitution he begins to make things whole. Why, because when Jesus reaches out to this searching soul, Jesus is making him whole and out of wholeness responds by making things right or complete.
As a Stewardship message: it is out of wholeness that we learn to give what is holy. We might start with a Rx of 10% but finally mature to see that it might take more than a percent. It might take out whole lives.
As a Transformation message: it is the shift from Zaccheus making the plan and ruling the community, into Jesus making the plans and Jesus shaping the hearts of the WHOLE community.
As a practical message for us all: This example is not just about the rich, not about the oppressors, those to blame. It is also for the crowd that judged Zach as unreachable, unloveable, and beyond trust.. Jesus sees what is hiding in all of us and invites himself into the hearts and homes of those who are seeking.
Our task is to help each other seek Christ. In the streets or in our homes, in business or in church, back then and right now. Jesus desires to be at home with you and me. Let us go with him and all be make whole.