Saturday, April 25, 2015

Being the Church today: Food

And so, brothers and sisters, I could not speak to you as spiritual people, but rather as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. 2 I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for solid food. Even now you are still not ready, 3 for you are still of the flesh. For as long as there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not of the flesh, and behaving according to human inclinations? 4 For when one says, “I belong to Paul,” and another, “I belong to Apollos,” are you not merely human?  1 Corinthians 3

Had we just picked up reading the letter to Corinth with is gem, we might think Paul sounds a little "Too big for his britches", as my grandmother would say.  Yet, we know that Paul just confessed his own fear and trembling in the previous chapter.  Paul says as long as we quarrel we are not ready for solid food.  As long as we try to score political points, prove who is right and wrong, and how much smarter we are than others, we still don't get what it means to follow Jesus together.  As I child, I learned that great rhyme, "Here is the church, here is the steeple, open the door and see all the people."  What that rhyme did not teach me is that people can sometimes cause a lot of hurt and harm to each other.  That rhyme did not tell me that when we argue and bicker with each other inside the church, the sermon our communal life together is preaching, enters a dissonant chord not easily resolved.  That rhyme did not tell me that within the church there are moments others will grate on us and challenge us and we might be tempted to try that other church down the road a piece...where the grass looks a little greener.

On the one hand we can be frustrated about this image of milk...on the other we can see that it is as essential as water to sustaining and strengthening us.  You never really outgrow milk.  I try to drink milk everyday.  Likewise in the church, we never really outgrow our need to learn and deepen our connections to each other and to God.  One of the hardest obstacles to overcome is that of seeing Confirmation of youth as graduation from the church.  One reason it is an obstacle is that the child is getting older and the crafts/games of Sunday School may not be meaningful any longer.  That does not mean, however, that they (or any adult) has it all figured out.  Yet, how often do we, as adults model such life-long learning?  How often do we participate in Bible study, book discussions, or small groups?  How often do we keep striving to move deeper into the mystery of our baptism?  Or do we switch to autopilot and set the cruise for status quo?  To be sure, I get that.  It takes energy and effort to keep reading.  It takes energy and effort to keep exploring new ideas, some of which I don't like or even offend me.  It takes energy and effort to engage our faith.  Yet, when we don't, we stay stuck in our understandings of God, Jesus, the Spirit, the church, and why we do what we do when we do it.  There is always more mystery to explore...God is not done with us yet.  

How many of us act like God is finished?  How many of you have written a statement of faith recently?  I know I have not.  How many of you have sat down and read the Bible?  And for preachers like me, the preaching passage doesn't qualify.  How many of us pray?  Our faith is a verb, a living part of our being.  And in order to keep moving and growing, faith needs nourishment.  Hopefully, worship does that.  Hopefully, you have other ways on the other days of the week.  

What is nourishing your faith right now?  

I pray you sense the presence of God moving in ways that cause you to grow and move and live deeper in God's grace and love.

Alleluia and Amen.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Being the church today: Words

When I came to you, brothers and sisters, I did not come proclaiming the mystery of God to you in lofty words or wisdom. 2 For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified. 3 And I came to you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling. 4 My speech and my proclamation were not with plausible words of wisdom, but with a demonstration of the Spirit and of power, 5 so that your faith might rest not on human wisdom but on the power of God.  
1 Corinthians 2:1-5

I spend a lot of my time dwelling with words.  I listen to words of other preachers.  I read words.  I exchange words with my family, with church members.  I compose sermons and -ahem- blog posts. Words, words, words.  Yet, this is just a fraction of words we swim in each day.  There is a tidal wave of words that wash over us every day and trying to make sense of those words, plus our own reactions, takes a lot of energy.  Even though we talk about a still speaking God, how in the world would God get a word in edgewise in this world?  Some of suggested that the God who sang creation into being, called out to Abraham and Sara, to Moses, to Deborah the judge, to Jonah, increasingly grows quieter and quieter as the world grows noisier and noisier.  It is hard to hear when we are constantly trying to sort through emails, texts, phone calls, news papers and news shows, books, and on and on.

Given all this, most of what we see today are pundits trying to shout louder above the cacophony.  The volume keeps getting turned up.  Yet, Paul, says that he came not with eloquent speeches but in weakness and in fear and trembling.  Most preachers will tell you, we are nervous on Sunday morning.  Beneath that calm exterior that says, "Oh, everything is fully in control," our minds are racing making sure we don't look too foolish up there.  Most of us are editing sermons right up to the preaching moment, even afterwards too.  I agree with Paul.  Maybe, all of us who come to church should have some fear and trembling too.  Not in a guilty way or that the roof of the church is going to cave in kind of way.  No, but in a way that realizes what we are evoking.  Annie Dillard has one of my favorite quotes:
Why do people in church seem like cheerful, brainless tourists on a packaged tour of the Absolute? … Does anyone have the foggiest idea what sort of power we blithely invoke? Or, as I suspect, does no one believe a word of it? The churches are children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets, mixing up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning.... we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews. For the sleeping god may wake someday and take offense, or the waking god may draw us to where we can never return.
—Annie Dillard, Teaching a Stone to Talk: Expeditions and Encounters (New York: Harper & Row, 1982), pp. 40-41.

We enter into the presence of the life-changing God, it matters and I pray makes all the difference for the whole week.  Yet, because worship often falls into a comfortable routine, because we sit in the same pew week after week, because the monotone voice in which we speak, we try (perhaps) to lull God to sleep.  Yet, the Spirit moves.  Recently, in worship, there was a goosebump moment during a hymn.  I had just shared words about the first chapter of 1 Corinthians, and the hymn we sang after spoke about our need for prayer, our need to acknowledge that we don't have it all figured out, our need to encounter this living God who draws us to where we can never return.  That is powerful.  There is a sense of fear...meaning "awe" and amazement.  There is a sense of hopefulness, but also a recognition that what we are doing with these words could change every thing.

I pray the words you encounter this week shape you and speak to you.  I pray the words you use are in concert with God's presence.  But most of all, I pray, you will sense the mystery of God and realize that silence can be full of an unspeakable grace and love that really does change everything.

Alleluia and Amen.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Being the Church Today: Baptism

Now I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you be in agreement and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same purpose. 11 For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there are quarrels among you, my brothers and sisters. 12 What I mean is that each of you says, “I belong to Paul,” or “I belong to Apollos,” or “I belong to Cephas,” or “I belong to Christ.” 13 Has Christ been divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? 14 I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, 15 so that no one can say that you were baptized in my name. 16 (I did baptize also the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized anyone else.) 17 For Christ did not send me to baptize but to proclaim the gospel, and not with eloquent wisdom, so that the cross of Christ might not be emptied of its power.  
1 Corinthians 1:10-17

I find verses 14, 15, and 16 among some of the funniest in all of Scripture.  Paul is stream of conscious trying to recall who he baptized.  Oh, I baptized Crispus and Gaius...that is it!  Oh yes, and the whole household of Stephanas...but that is it!  Apparently, Paul was not that great at keeping records.  But whether or not Paul's list is exhaustive, really is not the point, is it?  The point is that as the Corinthians are arguing over who baptized whom and whether that gives them a claim to fame, power, and authority, Paul wants to be clear that the most important part of baptism is the connection to the cross.

Usually, because we baptize infants, we don't usually make a connection between baptism and the cross.  I have now taken to looking the child in the eyes and saying, "For you Christ was born, for you he lived his life wide open, for you he died and for you he rose again.  May the mystery of this truth be sealed on your heart."  The claim we make, is that in baptism we die and rise to new life.  In the blink of an eye at baptism, this sacrament (a visible sign of God's invisible grace) contains the whole narrative of Jesus' existence.  We enter the water, we die to our old self and as we came out of the water - or it evaporates on our forehead - the story of Christ is sealed upon our hearts.  It takes a life time to live out that story and to explore this mystery.  That is why we make the symbol of the cross on the child or adult's forehead.  I find it incredibly meaningful that on Ash Wednesday, the palms for last year burned to make ashes, trace the exact location of where the water of baptism once claimed us as God's beloved.

Baptism is not a one and done moment.  We continually die and are invited into new life.  Most of the time, we don't talk this way.  We avoid mentioning death.  We don't want to deal with the mortality of these vessels that carry us around.  Yet, we also try to live our lives so that something beyond us remains even when we are not physically present.  I try to share generously with my family...both because I love them and I pray that in some way I can help them grow in new, life-giving ways that last.  Yet, there are moments I am quick to snap or let the stress of my work overshadow the time we have.  While it seems a bit overly dramatic to call those moments of death, there certainly is grief at missed opportunities.  

So, I think part of being the church is remembering and practicing our baptism.  I have always been taken by churches where the baptismal font is right there at the door when you enter into worship. Remember your baptism.  Remember who you are and whose you are.  Remember that those mistakes and missteps of the last week do not need to confine or define you.  Remember, this water is who you really are.  I need that reminder.  Yet, all too often, the baptismal font becomes furniture.  It is set aside and put out only when there is a baptism.  Ideally, the baptismal font would be at the door, the Bible would be in the aisle as a reminder that we are a people grounded in the Word, and the communion table would be at the front as the place where our baptismal promise and the Word of God point toward.

I hope and pray you will spend some time remembering your baptism this week.  I hope and pray it will connect you to God whose love claims you again and again.  I hope and pray this water which wraps around us and is the living stream where we all stand, renews us for the living out of these day.  

Alleluia and Amen.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Being the Church today

I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that has been given you in Christ Jesus, for in every way you have been enriched in him, in speech and knowledge of every kind— just as the testimony of Christ has been strengthened among you— so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ. He will also strengthen you to the end, so that you may be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful; by him you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. 1 Corinthians 1:4-9

Over the next few posts, we are going to explore Paul's letter to the church in Corinth.  This was a cosmopolitan, diverse city.  It was a hub of activity.  Politically, they enjoyed a special relationship with Rome.  And before Las Vegas was a blimp on the radar, this was known as "Sin City".  People were wealthy from the pottery and earthenware produced there.  Paul arrived in 50 CE and spent about three years in the city forming the church and building relationships.  

The other initial comment is that when you read one of Paul's letters, we are reading someone else's mail.  I have always wanted to travel back in time and ask Paul directly what he thought of the letters of his included in the New Testament.  I wonder if he might say, "Corinthians, you included the letters to the Corinthians??  You should have read the last letter I sent Crete, that was a masterpiece!"  It is a good reminder when I preach, write, blog, or never know what is going to catch on and have staying power.  As we read this letter, part of the power is that there is truth that can still speak to our life today.  We live in an increasing cosmopolitan, diverse world.  We live in a world of economic inequality, like Corinth.  We live in a world where faith, even though it is 2000 years old, still has challenges and conflicts; we debate and are as divided as we will see the Corinth church was.  So, this letter speaks deeply to our lives and to being the church today.

Paul starts all of his letters (with the exception of Galatians) by giving thanks.  Now usually, we confine thanksgiving to November, when we set out our turkeys and indulge in all things carbohydrate.  However, could you, right now write down a list of ten things you are thankful for?  For me it is:
1. Family
2. God's presence in my life
3. Health
4. The church I serve
5. Friendships that sustain me.
6. Our home
7. Food
8.  Laughter when reading a good book or watching a good movie
9.  The feeling after a four mile run
10.  And the opportunity to share ideas with others...

I could go on, but the point is that starting with thanksgiving is not exactly the way we live today.  I like to think of myself as a realist, which means that hope to be able to see the beauty and brokenness in myself and around me.  But the danger is that once you see the crack in something, it is difficult to stop seeing it or slip into thinking that everything is ruined.  In the coming posts, you will see that there is plenty of brokenness in Corinth.  They fight about everything!!  

And yet, can we hold onto the truth that Paul starts by thanking them.  Paul starts by saying they are not lacking in any spiritual gifts.  They have everything they need.  We live in a world that not only sees brokenness, but also likes to point that out.  Almost every evaluation I have had says, I need to delegate more or be less hard on myself.  I often want to cry out, "Thanks for that insight, Captain Obvious!"  However, that rarely makes the review go better.  What if you heard from someone, "You are not lacking."  If you are like me, you'd start to list all the ways you see yourself lacking, you'd counter the proposal.  And while I am far from perfect, I do believe God gives us the strength and courage to face what we need to face when we need to face it.  We have the gifts, but we are often afraid to be too vulnerable or that we might fail in order to step out on that wire.

So, was dive into 1st Corinthians, hold onto this invitation to give thanks and the invitation that the church you belong to has the gifts it needs for the faithful living out of today.  

God's blessings and peace ~ 

God's Calling - We don't have it all figured out

  A few weeks ago, I offered the analogy of the Slinky as a serendipitous example of the ways calling can go off course and still end up in ...