Monday, January 28, 2008
Scriptures: 1 Corinthians 1: 10-18
Matthew 4: 12-23
I fished quite a bit as a kid, but I must admit I haven’t been in a while. There are certain things I remember though, and those things I do remember are translatable to the kind of fishing that Jesus asks his disciples to engage in: fishing for people. (I must admit that I haven’t done that as recently as I should as well though). some lessons i learned about fishing when I was a boy translate well to what Jesus is calling his disciples to do.
Fishing Requires patience. You don’t cast your line with any assurance that is going to be bitten. Cast many times.
There's a woman I know named Margaret who is bubbling over with invitation. She wants everyone she meets to walk with her on the path of discipleship. She's always casting out her line. She'll invite the grocery clerk, the lady at the drive through bank window, or the police officer who had just pulled her over for a ticket. I used to look at her with wonder and amazement because she felt so comfortable doing something that made me so uncomfortable. When I became a minister, I discovered that like it or not, I would need a portion of her spirit to help people feel welcome and excited about the ministry we were doing at the church to which I was appointed. We must be willing to cast our line into the water without any assurance that our invitation will be taken or not. We are surrounded by people who need to be "caught" by Christ. They may have gone to church once or twice a year here or elsewhere, or they may have never been involved with a church, but we quite literally surrounded by people who have no home for their faith.
Strategy and a knowledge of the ins and outs of the area helps tremendously.
the best fishers know their environment like the back of their hand. They know that a nest of brim usually congregate around that old fallen tree, or that the bend in the river usually contains a group of trout resting and in the mood for an occasional fly. To be effective evangelists, we should best know our own context and what we offer to our community.
You need bait and a willingness to go with different bait if what you’re using isn’t catching.
One of my favorite lures in my boyhood tacklebox was a big, colorful bellied fish with two multipronged hooks coming out of it. I think I liked it because even if I didn't have any fish on it, I still felt like I was reeling something in time after time. But for the little pond that I fished in, that lure didn't make much sense. It probably scared off the fish more than attracting them, because I was primarily catching perch and brim and the occasional bass.
Sometimes, in order to catch fish for Jesus, we have to be willing to change our lure. Sometimes we have to put aside our "pet projects" and favorite ways of doing things if we are going to attract new people.
You don’t just go from a fish biting to the fish being in your basket, you’ve got to reel them in.
One "hello" on a visitor's first visit isn't enough. We need to have consistent and continued contact with those who have taken an interest in our faith community.
Dynamite is an immoral way to fish. I used to enjoy tossing in an m-60 firecracker into the pond and watch all the little water creatures float up to the surface. but looking back on it, I really regret that I used to do that as a kid.
Some brands of Christianity employ the "scare the hell out of people" approach to evangelism. They harp on the crux of believing certain things in a certain way and the consequences they perceive are in the future for those who don't subscribe to their ideas. In my opinion, this isn't the kind of "Good news" that we are called to share in our community. We are here to invite people to walk with us the path of discipleship. We don't have a privileged standpoint, we are broken and faulty people seeking the companionship and shared journey of other broken and faulty people.
Those churches that use the "dynamite" of fear, threats, and damnation are likely to get the human equivalent of dead fish floating to the surface. We're looking for someone different: vital and vibrant fish who can contribute to our community.
Cleaning fish can be a stinky process. Cleaning catfish is one of the worst smells I've ever encountered.
Likewise, when we do attract fish who've been scouring the bottom of the pond for nourishment, the process that the Spirit undertakes to "clean" that fish sometimes causes an unpleasant environment. We must persevere in our calling to "fish for people" even when the results of that action cause consternation and strife in the community.
But all these analogies are built on the image of a fisherman with a rod and line. And so we probably make the equation in our own minds, since we go fishing as a past time, that perhaps evangelism is a past time. Perhaps evangelism is only something for those who enjoy it. You probably notice that Andrew and Simon Peter and James and John aren’t standing on the lakeshore artfully casting a line into the water. No idealistic soft lit river with Robert Redford’s narrative voice in the back ground. These men are doing hard labor with heavy nets. They are making a living.
I think Jesus expects us to “fish for people” with that kind of mentality. Inviting people into a life of discipleship to Christ, reaching out to those whom we know and love and pulling them along to follow Christ with us, is not a past-time. Fishing for people should be a livelihood for us. It should be basic to our walk with Christ. Part of the invitation that I’m giving to you to give to others is to worship the Living God with us here in community. But that’s not all and that certainly doesn’t have to come first. Sometimes, folks will respond to the invitation to join us in service to the poor or unfortunate. Sometimes we might invite others to look at the world around them with a different perspective when we encounter hostility or racism or narrow mindedness.
These are all invitations into discipleship. If you think I’m trying to convince you today that you all need to go out and invite someone to church, you’re hearing me too specifically. Think more broadly about what your life of discipleship means to you. That’s what you can best “advertise” when it comes to sharing the grace of Christ with others. Coming to church to be in worship is important, but it isn’t all there is.
I heard about a pastor who used this fishing model for evangelism, and a woman in our congregation said to him, "You know something, I hate fishing. And as for fishing for people -- I don't have the kind of time available you talked about. Does Christ have any place for a harried mom with four children?"
The pastor thought about that and came to the conclusion that the principles behind the text were not, "Help wanted - Fishermen Only!" The point is that you and I were meant to become a part of the tremendous divine plan to bring light to a dark world right whoever and wherever we happen to be. The carpenter's invitation reads, "Follow me and I will make you build people." The accountant will hear it as, "Follow me and I will make you help people know they count." The waitress will hear, "Follow me and I will make you serve the spiritual hunger of people." The physician will hear, "Follow me and I will make you a healer of people's souls." A beleaguered mom's call is, "Follow me and I will make you a builder of children."
Do you see? You were meant to be a part of God's divine plan to bring light, hope and meaning to a dark world. You can do this where you are. In fact, Christ needs you where you are. Fishermen will reach the fishermen. Teachers will reach the teachers. Truck drivers will reach the truck drivers. Moms (and Dads) will reach the kids.
What an amazing wonderful thing that you were designed to bring the light of God to a corner of the world that only you could possibly reach. Somewhere, someday, you will encounter that person that no one else in all of God's creation could reach with the light of God.
The only question left is -- "Are you available to bring the light of God to them?" It's what you were meant to do!
These are just notes from my sermon. I preached more extemporaniously here than I usually do.
I'm intrigued by this invitation that Jesus gives his disciples to "Come and See" when he is asked where he lives.
Where does Jesus live around here? He might be telling us to "come and see" and we're not hearing it. Come and see where Chrsit lives.
Whereas the story tells us that Jesus took the disciples to his house, perhaps now when we respond to Christ's call to "come and see," we'll find that he's not staying in one place. In order to see where he's staying, we must follow him.
When we respond, when we follow, Christ takes us by the arm and opens our eyes to the depths of things much like Amelie takes the blind man on the curb and describes to him in beautiful detail the world around him. Perhaps we are blind, since we fail to see the utterly intense beauty of the world and people around us. We pass through it like we are living in the darkness, as Isaiah says, but if we respond to the invitation to "come and see," we will be blessed with our eyes being opened for us. Christ describes all whom we encounter in ways that we were previously blind to. He helps us sense the "thou" in those whom we meet.
Friday, January 18, 2008
I was thinking the other day about an article I read in the Christian Century a couple years ago. The article was about a poll that was conducted nationwide regarding teenagers and belief. Perhaps surprisingly, Most Teens learn beliefs from parents! But most parents don’t feel competent in transferring beliefs.
Religious traditions understand themselves as presenting a truth revealed by a holy and almighty God who calls human beings from a self-centered focus to a life of serving God and neighbor….but most teens and probably most parents too think
religion is to help them make good life choices and be happy.
This focus of beliefs is what the poll conductors ended up terming “Moralistic Theraputic Deism,” moralistic in terms of being rule and ethic based, therapeutic in the sense that the point is to make you feel good about living life, and Deistic in the sense of the theological worldview that many of our founding fathers had—God created the world, but then kind of stepped back and didn’t do anything to influence the world. God is not active in the world other than in how the natural consequences of his original creative act have panned out throughout space and time.
Why we don’t affirm Moralistic Theraputic Deism:
We have a much richer, more theologically deep religion, and the distintinctive elements of it are the unique parts of the revelation—we could come up with “be happy and feel good about oneself” without a revelation from God. Furthermore, we don’t believe that God is satisfied with “being happy and feeling good about oneself.” It’s not that God wants us to feel worthless and bad about ourselves, but God wants us for us a happiness that sometimes defies our worldly sense of happiness. The old saying goes, “God loves us just as we are, and loves us too much to leave us that way.”
Wesley wrote in the covenant oath that we will take today, “Christ has many services to be done. Some are more easy and honorable, others are more difficult and disgraceful. Some are suitable to our inclinations and interests, others are contrary to both. In some ways we may please Christ and please ourselves. But then there are other works where we cannot please Christ except by denying ourselves.”
I believe we are what the book of Revelation calls “lukewarm” if and when we all believe Christ has called all of us to “easy and honorable” service for Christ. When you respond to Christ’s call to “follow me,” and then the path you walk is never among and with the poor or sick or outcast, then perhaps you’ve sleepwalked off the road of discipleship. Perhaps the calling you responded to wasn’t Christ’s, but the prophet of “moralistic, therapeutic, Deism.”
In our expression of Christianity, we believe there is a moment of being “saved,” but we believe the process of salvation involves a continual outpouring of grace propelling us toward a higher plane of living and loving.
A covenant is an expression of living into a higher plane of trust and commitment. At first glance a covenant looks a lot like a contract because it is an agreement. One way of looking at it would be turning over our own will freely to the will of God. Certainly, later in the covenant service, you will all say the words, “I renounce my own will, and take your will as my law.” However, I believe a better way of thinking about it would be making a formal commitment in the presence of God and our community to consistently strive for the Vision and Goals we find expressed by God in the Scriptures.
At the end of the covenant service, we will also all say together, “O mighty God, you have now become my Covenant Friend, and I, through your infinite grace, have become your covenant servant.”
As Jesus proclaims in the Gospel, by acknowledging our connection to the life giving vine—which is Christ himself, we will bear much fruit. A covenant is this kind of connection, and fruit bearing is the activity of a Christian who is “plugged in” to the radically life changing grace and love that we find in the person of Jesus Christ.
Christ causes us to live outside ourselves. Christ calls us to sacrifice for others, to confess our sins and to turn around on a new course. Christ calls us to live according to a new law—the law of Love. Seperated from this Vine, we shrivel up in the dry depravity of self-centeredness. We whither in the wasteland of want. Covenant making is public declaration—it calls our attention to our own connectedness. We serve God both individually and together as one body. We are fed spiritual food individually and as one body. We bear fruit individually and as one body. We make a covenant both individually and as one body. Making a covenant is an audible, visual, experiential reminder that we are indeed connected to the vine, and therefore SHOULD bear fruit.
As Wesley wrote, “I do here willingly put my neck under your yoke, to carry your burden. All your laws are holy, just, and good. I therefore take them as the rule for my words, thoughts, and actions, prominsing that I will strive to order my whole life according to your direction, and not allow myself to neglect anything I know to be my duty.” Keep in mind that Jesus says that his yoke is easy, and his burden is light. This isn’t because Jesus calls us all to “easy and honorable service.” This isn’t because taking on Jesus’ yoke is simply about “making good life choices and being happy.” Christ’s yoke is easy and his burden is light because God lifts us up and propels us forward with the Holy Spirit to advance the Kingdom of God when we give ourselves to him. We aren’t on our own—through covenant, God vows to be on our side. And unlike us, God never abandons this Holy covenant. Thanks be to God!
The Covenant service can be read here
Wednesday, January 09, 2008
Sunday, January 06, 2008
Matthew 2: 1-12
I begin the sermon by showing a photo of some friends of ours, and the picture is folded in half where you can only see them and not Lara and me. They look like your average folks. Then when I unfold the picture you see that they are giants. The woman is about half a foot taller than me (I’m 5’10’’), and the guy is a foot taller than me. Lara is standing next to me, and the female friend is about a foot taller than her. Your perspective is re-oriented.
I’ve always enjoyed mind tricks and optical illusions. I have a pack of playing cards that has all sorts of patterns and pictures that play a trick on you. Do you remember those posters they used to sell at the mall that had some patterns that if you stared at them long enough, if you focused on staring “through the poster” it would suddenly shift into three dimensions, and you could see a hidden picture within it? If you don’t know what I’m talking about, go here and here.
I think I’ve always liked these things because they involve a realization that our perspective can be shifted, it can be altered. One of my favorite “movie moments” is in Dead Poet’s Society where Robin Williams, playing an inspiring teacher at a prep school, convinces his strait laced students to stand up on top of their desks and look at their classroom from that perspective, and thus see their education in a new, more invested way. Toward the end of the movie, I always get chills when the students collectively show their respect and admiration for their teacher by standing on their desks and shouting, “O Captain, my captain!”
Today we heard a story that Matthew tells to make it plain that gentiles are to be included in this revolution the God of Israel is beginning in a manger. The gentile magi saw a star that alerted them to the birth of a new king. They had no doubt heard of the famous star that legend said appeared when Alexander the Great was born some 300 years previous. In their worldview, the stars were living beings, even gods, who observed the world and gave signs to the people on earth.
Astrology was not a problem to the people of the ancient world, in fact it was not a problem to the church for a majority of the church’s history. It was simply accepted that the “heaven’s proclaim the glory of God” in ways that could be studied and read. Jesus himself says in Luke’s gospel that “there shall be signs in the sun and the moon and the stars.” Luke 21 Perhaps if we still lived in a world without electricity, we’d still have more of a natural wonderment when it comes to the stars above us.
Last year we all tried to smell the frankencinse and myrrh and get our senses engaged in an experience of wonder. That’s a change in perspective. We usually live so tangled up in what goes on inside our heads that we forget what it is like to smell something deeply. An encounter with the living God is something that charges us up, body and soul.
So these Magi are Matthew’s way of saying that we’re included too. Gentiles played a part in the unfolding of this story from the start. And these Magi have their world altered, their perspective changed, just like all who encounter the living Christ.
According to the text, when they followed the star, the Magi were seeking “a child that has been born king of the Jews.” When they arrived in Bethlehem, “they were overwhelmed with joy.” I think they were filled with such joy because they had not just found “a king,” but “THE King.” They had turned from star-gazers into sun-gazers, Son-gazers, and responded by offering gifts that legend says made possible the Holy family’s flight and refuge in Egypt. Their epiphany was that this was a much more important pilgrimage than they had perhaps at first realized.
I’m interested in the “overwhelming joy” that Matthew reports these Magi experiencing. Haven’t you had those kinds of moments in your life when things just came into focus for you? Perhaps you had a great sense of joy and belonging and peace and connection. You felt at home in yourself. Have you had those types of experiences? We sometimes call them “Epiphanies,” because this experience usually involves some sort of new thought or feeling that is brought to light to us. Epiphany means “a sudden realization or comprehension of the essence or meaning of something or someone.”
I hope that this time of worship, when we come to the chancel and receive the communion meal can be a time of epiphany for you. This journey to the altar is symbolic of us joining the magi on their pilgrimage. Just like God gives the invitation to the uninitiated magi, practitioners of a different religion, we make the invitation to this table open to all who are here and searching.
When the magi finally find the house of Mary and Joseph and Jesus, Matthew tells us they are “filled with overwhelming joy.” They are wrapped up in the experience of being in the presence of a mystery. Perhaps it wasn’t what they were expecting. Perhaps they had expected to find this child king in a palace, or in a temple. But they found him in humble dwellings. Likewise, it might not naturally occur to us that we can find the God of our creation in a piece of bread and a sip of Welch’s grape juice, but we may be surprised!
So at this time, I ask that you prepare your hearts to experience the overwhelming joy of the epiphany that Jesus Christ is here with us in this very moment. Come to this table as the wise men came to Bethlehem, expecting to meet the king and pay their tribute and homage. Come to this table with the hope that our perspective can be changed and we can strike out on a new road.