Is it Pride or is it Conviction?
It’s a tale as old as time, is it not? But one, I daresay that is becoming more and more the norm… Two people locked in a battle of wills. Both so deeply convicted- that they have strayed wildly into the territory of pride and stubbornness and disrespect for the other… We see this play out on Capitol Hill everyday – the battle of wills known as partisan politics. And perhaps, on a much closer level, we see this play out at family reunions- displays of old grudges. And I think if we are honest, we may even admit that we see this battle of wills play out in our church community from time to time
The Zax is a frustrating but familiar tale…
Two creatures, full of certainty – one going north, the other going south – find their path blocked by the other. And they both refuse to yield. Each Zax is so certain of his path- they are convinced that this is no possible alternative route. There is no room for stepping to the East/ there is no room for sliding to the west. Both dig in, drop anchor, ready to wait it out- be it 59 hours, 59 days or 59 years! All the while being fueled by their certainty alone. And they wait, and they wait, and they wait… And they wait.
But a funny thing happens while they are caught up in this battle of no retreats… the world changes around them, leaving them in its dust. All around the Zax, the world evolves, leaving them behind locked in their certainty.
Locked in pride. Locked in stubbornness.
The Zax begs us to examine what motivates us or what foundation we stand upon. And especially it asks us to think about those inevitable moments when our beliefs or opinions clash with someone else’s. What keeps us grounded?
Rev. Robb McCoy, pastor of Two Rivers UMC in Rock Island, IL he wrote a sermon on this very question a couple years back and I like his perspective on this, he said, “Assurance is a virtue. I’m not sure certainty is. Certainty is built on the promise that I am right. It inspires us to dig deeper trenches, and defend certainty at all costs. Certainty regards new facts with suspicion. It does not adapt well to change. [But] Assurance is built on the promise that I am loved. It is a source of hope and inspires confidence. Assurance allows freedom for challenge and growth. I think the world could use more blessed assurance and less religious certainty.”
Certainty is built on the promise that I AM RIGHT! Assurance is built on the promise that I AM LOVED!
As we see with The Zax, certainty in the midst of conflict, can lead to displays of pride. And what did Proverbs tell us today about pride? “Pride goes before destruction.” (Proverbs 16:18) Pride, is a very dangerous thing indeed.
If we are to be disciples of Christ, our living God, then our lives are always going to be filled with questions and very few concrete/ certain answers. Certainty (religious certainty) places its foundation on having the right answers. It’s about picking the right Bible verses for the right moments. It’s about standing firm/ rooted in being right- as they know what is right, of course.
And yet, I daresay, that Jesus was very good at calling out those who piece apart and proof text Scripture to defend their “rightness.” Jesus was very good at breaking down people’s constructed institutions and religious rightness.
Jesus was constantly inviting his followers to struggle with real problems! To see enemies in a new light! To see a Samaritan as worthy, to see a tax collector as a beloved child of God. To see the poor and the ill and the outcast as those who will inherit the Kingdom of God! Jesus was constantly calling his followers to let go of the understanding and the certainty that they are right and embrace a higher soulful orientation/ assurance towards the promise of God.
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son, that whoever believe in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his son into the world to condemn the world, but to save that world through him.” (John 3:16-17)
Instead of offering certainty, Jesus offered assurance. Instead of demanding that we get things right, Jesus told us, “Of course you aren’t going to get things right! You are not called to be right. You were only ever called to be loving.” Which is a far harder thing to be than just being right… Jesus told us to “Trust in Him! Trust in Grace! And be loving!”
This week I had a great conversation with a couple about what it is to disagree and to fight fairly in their marriage. And we boiled this art of fair fighting to this rule: If you go into a disagreement or conflict with the assumption that someone is going to win and someone is going to lose- you both already lost. You have already broke down the safety of that relationship to be open and vulnerable and made it into a Zax like stand off.
To break that kind of pride, we must shatter our compulsion to win or keep score. Just as our God, in infinite love does not keep score.
Conflict and disagreements are inevitable in life. We face them in relationships, we face them in our families and houses of worship… but if we ever hope to grow from a conflict then we have to check our certainty at the door and take up a posture of assurance.
In assurance, we know that whatever the outcome of conflict- we are still loved by God, and that puts everything into perspective. We see that, truly, God is in control. And God can shape or reshape all things to work towards God’s divine purposes.
St. Augustine, once wrote: “In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things charity.” And a thousand years later I think it was John Wesley who expanded that quote to “In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, and in all things Charity. And where charity and love prevail, there is God.”
As I’m sure you all know, the congregation for several months now has been carefully considering our marriage policy, asking the direct question of: should we change it to allow same-gender weddings to take place in our church/ our spiritual meeting house? This policy question is one steeped in theology and emotion. So our church leadership has encouraged people to be in prayer, discussion, and study. We had a three-part Bible study that lead to some wonderful conversation from people who approach this topic from many different positions- considering the importance and experience of marriage, considering what it is to have a holy and authentic sexual life… all while immersed in Scripture, seeking the authority of God. We’ve had several different ways for people to offer voice: one-on-ones, small group meetings, via written card… and today we offer one more way for people to engage this issue. Following worship today, we will have a Congregational Survey.
Today, before you voice the fruits of your discernment in that survey, I ask you to examine the spiritual foundations upon which you build your house.
I’d like to read for you a portion of our Gospel passage from the Message. Jesus said, “These words I speak to you are not mere additions to your life, homeowner improvements to your standard of living. They are foundation words, words to build a life on. If you work the words into your life, you are like a smart carpenter who dug deep and laid the foundation of his house on bedrock. When the river burst its banks and crashed against the house, nothing could shake it; it was built to last.”
Examine, prayerfully, that foundation of yours- and I’m talking about the essentials of your faith… If at the foundation of your house lays the knowledge that marriage is between one man and one woman and that no other kind of marriage relationship can be Christ-centered/ God honoring/ and grace-filled. Then, please, tell our leadership that in your survey.
Or if you examine your foundation and see something else. That a Christ-centered/ God honoring/ grace filled marriage makes no demand on gender. Then, please, tell our leadership that in your survey.
In this whole process, I’ve attempted to stay pretty neutral to your discernment. Unsuccessfully at times, I admit (and I apologize for that for it was always my intentions to merely create a space for questions to be asked… not to offer answers). I honor the work of the Holy Sprit in your heart… wherever that leads.
But please, allow me to share with you my heart today- I think it’s time for that.
When I look at the essentials for which I seek unity with my brothers and sister in Christ, I see these things: I see the cross of Jesus- God’s radical saving work for all. I see the ever urgent and challenging call to proclaim the truth of the Gospel in the time, culture, and context in which we live in. I see a deep theology of hospitality and welcome, one that demands me to see Jesus in the face of every stranger (which I find hard most days because it asks me again and again to break down the comforting walls I place around myself). I see a trust in grace, knowing that I am a screw up – and yet so loved by God. I see a vague and beautiful concept of an infinite and ever creative God- one that is always finding new ways to be in relationship with us. I see the extraordinary power of God to work through ordinary things: like a cup of wine, a loaf of bread, a stream of water. This is the bedrock that I build my spiritual house upon and in these things I seek to be unified with you. I hope and pray that we grow together in these…
In my non-essentials box, is pretty much everything else- Gender politics included. And in these things… As St. Augustine and John Wesley said… there is liberty.
This does not mean that I don’t care/that I am apathetic. It just means that I have let my theology of hospitality, my trust in grace, and my belief in a marvelous, giant, and relational God… guide my discernment. Not my politics, not my desire to have a less messy and complicated time of being a disciple of Jesus or being a church leader. For me, all road leads to Affirmation. I affirm that the religious rite of marriage is to include the Gay community.
In affirmation I trust that God’s good will is honored.
That is my heart.
The beautiful thing about Congregationalism, is that while I have the freedom of the pulpit to share with you what the Spirit is guiding me toward, you have the freedom of the pew. You don’t have to agree with me. I respect and acknowledge that the Spirit may have led you to a different place in discernment.
And at the end of the day, we are all humbled before God. As Proverbs 3:5 says, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understandings.”
My preaching today is by far more “on the nose” than it usually is, and I pray that you receive this message for what it is- a invitation to see my heart and a request for you to leave behind your certainty, as I promise to you to leave behind my own certainty…
Wherever you are in this matter.. I pray that our fellowship uplifts charity and love, even if we disagree (and there is no one telling us that we can’t have a diversity of understandings on this matter… we are joyfully and problematically Congregationalist after all ☺)… In charity and love… there is God.
Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy.
O, Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love; For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; it is in dying that we are born again to eternal life. Amen.
Matters of the Heart
Deut. 4: 1-2, 6-9
Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23
One day, while a Buddhist monk was in deep meditation at his monastery, he felt something fuzzy brush against his leg. But he was determined not to be distracted or disturbed so he ignored it. Then moments later it happened again… a furry little something brushed against his leg.
But again, in an attempt to remain diligent in his daily meditation he ignored it. And sure enough the furry little something started bumping into him repeatedly. So reluctantly, he opened his eyes… and looked down to find a little black kitten had gotten into the monastery and was looking for some attention.
The monk got up, picked up the little cat and took him outside and shooed him on his way.
Well, of course, a few minutes later, just when the monk had returned to his deep meditation, what happens?
He feels that furry little something brush against his leg.
So, the monk gets up again and takes the cat outside.
Well this became a pattern. The little cat just kept sneaking back inside and bothering the monks while they were in meditation.
So, he decides, that if the cat insisted on being inside the monastery that much, he was going to get a leash and tie the cat up during meditation time.
So, he did! He put the cat on the leash. Attached him to a pillar in their sanctuary area, nice and out of reach.
Time went by… the monks continued to tie the cat up… And after many years, the monk in charge of the monastery, known as the abbot, passes away, and a new abbot is brought in.
When the new abbot goes into his meditation time his first time there, he obviously notices a cat tied to a pillar.
But out of respect… maybe out of the simple fact he was the new guy on campus… he didn’t ask.
He came to assume, over time, that this cat tied to the pillar was a very important/ serious religious tradition.
The cat lived a very happy/healthy/attention filled life… all while the monks keep tying him to the pillar during meditation… but the cat inevitably grew old and his day comes too.
Well immediately upon the cat’s death, in honor of this important religious practice, the abbot convenes a group of monks to go out searching the countryside for another black cat to tie to the pillar.
Ladies and gentlemen, we have witnessed the birth of a church tradition.
Sometimes we do things like this, don’t we? We “religious-ize” and “sacred-ize” things that had very practical beginnings.
We apply meaning to ordinary things… us church goin’ folks, we love to do that.
There is a little bit of this going on in our Scripture passage today, isn’t there?
Now! Before we start poking fun at the Pharisees and start pulling apart their seemingly “sacred-ized” traditions of cleanliness, I need to issue us all a warning: It is easy, when we start talking about the law and other people’s practices and traditions… to fall hard into the trap of trivialization.
This is not a trivial matter. Our traditions… our ways…the rules that we follow… they are important matters of the heart.
As hard as it is to love a Pharisee (and even sympathize with them)… If we pause and try to see things from their point of view… well, I think we might be able to tread lightly through this passage.
So let’s step into ancient Galilee for a moment. The Pharisees of Jerusalem had gotten word of a miracle man in the back woods of Galilee. They have heard all about how he has healed the blind, how he has fed the masses, how he has walked on water- and they are intrigued enough to send a delegation of “spies” to Galilee to check thing out.
And what do they find? They find Jesus with his ever-growing band of disciples.
As they follow him…they witness miracles; experience his teachings… but they also see a Rabbi and his flock not obeying the rituals of their people! Specifically they see Jesus and the disciples eating a meal without washing their hands.
And what’s worse! The Pharisees know that Jesus and his folks had spent all morning at the marketplace healing the sick and the lame and the blind… and they dare to not clean themselves of those people before they touched their food…
From the perspective of the Pharisees and the Scribes they see a teacher of the law, defiling the law!
If the Pharisees had a manta, or a family motto it would be this: “Conserve the Law! Conserve our way! Conserve! Conserve!”
When we think about the Cleanliness Tradition of the Jews, we might be temped to draw a direct parallel back to the cat tied to a pillar in the monastery… It just seems so inconsequential… yet, we have to remember that this seemingly simple rule can carry great meaning under its surface.
What likely started as a rule to protect the people of God from unnecessary sicknesses while they wandered the desert… became over time to be an issue of identity.
Reverend Ryan Price, a pastor in Lubbock Texas, pointed out something in a sermon I read a while back: (this is for you geography buffs out there…) If you can picture in your mind a map of the world for a moment, and you zoom in on Israel, you will notice that it sits at a global cross roads. Over to the West you have Europe, to the South you have Africa, and to the North and East you have all the different cultures of the Ancient Near East and Asia. The nation of Israel was an important nexus that you would have to pass through to get to anywhere else. Not to mention they were constantly at war because other big powerful countries saw the value of owning that nexus…
The Pharisees were constantly concerned about assimilation.
There was a great fear of being swallowed up by the other cultures around them. The Jews, during this time, were holding tight to their practices in order to maintain their identity. Things like keeping dietary laws and upholding purity rituals… it gave the people identity, and made them distinct.
During the Exodus, God lead the Israelite people away from oppression… but God also led them all away from everything that defined them. Their homes were abandoned, their work (even if it was forced) was left unfinished. Their world, their sense of culture…fractured.
So, it is no wonder that one of the first things God does as the people wander the dessert was to give them laws.
First, they receive the big ten! The commandments. They teach us about a God that is jealous for our love and attention, and gives us boundaries on how best to relate to each other and to keep in close relationship with the divine. And then through the years as the people wander and wonder and experience… they are (dare I say…) gifted with hundreds more rules! Why? Because God wanted them to have that structure, that culture again… God loved them enough and understood them enough to bless them with an identity. It kept them united. They upheld the law together- that was their collective mission.
It gave them something to cling to when their world was fractured!
Who here has seen Fiddler on the Roof?
It’s the same story!
Tevye, a poor man in a rural town, faced an era of big time political unrest (a culture fractured)… The poor guy, he has five daughters!
Everyday he wakes up in a world where he just seems to be a little in over his head- as a father, as a Jew, as an oppressed citizen. But he tries so hard to be a man of integrity! He tries so hard to be an upstanding Jew. And, bless him… just about every time he attempts to quote the “Good Book” he’s wrong.
And if you asked Tevye how he holds it together, how he keeps his balance in an ever changing world…
He would say: “That I can tell you in one word! Tradition!”
Tevye goes on to say: We have traditions for everything! How to sleep, how to eat, how to work, how to wear our clothes…” he pulls on his prayer shawl and says, “This is to remind me that I am God’s! And this hat, it reminds me who I belong to! You might ask; how did this tradition get started… I’ll tell you. I don’t know… But it is a tradition. And because of our traditions, (and this is the part that I love…) everyone knows who he is and what God expects him to do… Without traditions our life would be as shaky as a fiddler on the roof!”
I feel for poor Tevye. It would be really trying to have three of your five daughter, all in “marry-able age”, bucking the system. All three of them find their own husbands! They reject the tradition of the honored matchmaker. And it drives him batty. The first daughter, after she is already betrothed to someone by the matchmaker… gets engaged to a childhood friend who she is head over heals for. The second daughter, gets engaged without even consulting her father… and her fiancé doesn’t even want permission… And each time… Tevye is faced with this situation of having to bend his rules… bend his traditions! He loves his daughters, he wants to see them happy and successful… but Tevye certainly doesn’t like having the traditions of their people challenged.
But God is faithful! Opening Tevye’s eyes to the gift of love right in front of him.
But the third daughter, goes too far for poor Tevye, she wants to marry a Gentile.
Tevye has this inner war. On the one hand, he loves his daughter. But he fears that they will lose their identity as the people of God. But on the other hand he says, “No! There is no other hand! There is only so far I can bend before I break.”
Have you ever had a moment like that as a parent?
Well, the Pharisees in the Gospel of Mark, unlike Tevye… are unyielding even in the best of times. They do not tolerate the bending of traditions… lest the whole identity of their people break with them!
They might have a lot of cats leashed to pillars (so to speak)… a lot of traditions that seem silly and are distracting to the big picture… But a tradition is a tradition. An identity is an identity.
Stories like this one in Mark, and like the Fiddler on the Roof invite us to look at our hearts- to examine our traditions, to reflect on our identity. But, even more than that, they push us… they push us to examine our lives for those things that distract from our purpose as Christ followers.
So, I ask you, what are those things that clutter our hearts? When have our rules, our beloved traditions leaned dangerously into the territory of legalism? Worshiping the tradition or the rule itself… rather than Christ?
When Jesus is confronted by the Pharisees for his lack of integrity and for flouting the Jewish identity… this is his rather stinging response (and I want us all to hear this, with our own traditions in mind), “These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; in vain do they worship me…”
When I first read that with an open heart this week, it felt like I got smacked upside the head.
And you know what (oddly enough) I think Jesus might be right. Every time I have clung to a false identity… God has found a way to challenge it with the audacity of grace. Teaching me yet again that the brevity of God’s love cannot be contained or experienced through traditions or rules. But only in messy messy relationship with our Lord.
As the Pharisees cling to the law for the sake of who they are… What if I told you that our identity as Christians does not lie with the law… But our identity lies in Christ?
As Reggie Weaver said, “It’s okay to have rituals. It’s okay to have traditions. But our rituals and traditions must never become our god. Rituals and traditions will not save us. They will not make us clean. If we want to be clean we must look, not at the works of our hands, but at our hearts.”
To be truly clean, that comes from our heart. It comes from clinging to our identity in Christ.
Tevye, would say that discerning what is right is a balancing act. We try and live righteous lives balancing like a shaking Fiddler on the roof.
But Children of God… here is the Good News! With Christ, we don’t have to be shaky. The grace of God in our hearts is the firmest of foundations.
As I told the children earlier during the Kid’s Talk. Rules are important they tell us who we are and how we are to act. They are so very important… but we are ultimately held accountable to the greatest of all rules: Living by love.
Christ was very clear on what he expects of us: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your mind, and with all your soul and Love your neighbor as yourself. The greatest commandment of them all. As Christ said, any law, any prophecy hangs on this… It all hangs on love.
- Pastor Ryon Price from Second Baptist Church in Lubbock Texas inspired the cat in the monastery story and the idea for Fiddler on the Roof. He deserves a big shout out! But I can no longer find the link to his sermon… But thank you for the inspiring message pastor!
It was once said by Dietrich Bonhoeffer that the wedding day is the moment when God adds a “Yes” and an “I Do” to your “Yes” and “I Do.”
It was about a year ago, when I receive a Facebook message from Kyle asking me if I was up for a road trip over to Maryland to officiate this most special of days. He said it was important that he and Megan had someone preside over this ceremony that knew how important the Appalachia Service Project was to them (someone that shared their love of service) and of course it was important that this person appreciate their coffee as well.
So, I stand before you today as both chaplain and patron of Kao Jai Coffee, I can honestly say that it is privilege and a joy to be here today, gathered with you, Kyle and Megan, surrounded by your family and your friends that you love so well to witness the moment when God blesses you both with that ”Yes” and “I Do”.
Now, something big is happening right now.
Genesis chapter 2 tells us that when two people are joined together in the presence of God. When they become, “Bone of my bone… Flesh of my flesh” that indeed something changes in their fabric of being.
You both have been together, already, through thick and thin, adventures together and apart, near and far. So you might not feel the change happening yet…
But today you are not only paired to each other… legally, officially… but you are glued together with God’s love in covenant. Which is so much more powerful than even the overwhelming bliss and beauty of this blessed moment in time.
When God adds a “Yes” and an “I Do” into the mix, God creates out of your love and devotion and passion for each other something new – and that is a marriage. From now on it is not your love that will sustain this marriage, but it is the marriage that will sustain you love. Because God is part of that.
Now we are all extremely excited to be celebrating with you/ to see your happiness gushing out. But we must remember… that our celebration here is, first and foremost, an act of worship… because God is at work in our midst. Making you both into something new, and brilliant, and beautiful, and difficult, and important, and (most of all) something that will act as beacon for God’s love in this world.
Already, your individual lives, and your relationship has been a strong witness to the love, peace, grace and justice that our Lord calls us to pursue in this life. But in your marriage, infused with God’s blessing, you two will shine even brighter.
Kyle and Megan, I pray that you trust in God everyday! So that, not only will, God provide everything that you need to keep this relationship strong and joyous… but that your marriage will live as a witness for what God can and is doing in the rest of this world. Flooding it with a divine, perfect love.
Now, for the fun part, some words of wisdom from your ASP family. I had a great time over the past couple of weeks rustling up some of our ASP alumni to ask them this question: How did ASP prepare you for marriage? And here are just a few of the answers that I got…
- From Wyeth and Christina Lawson: The old adage “never go to bed angry” is complete crap. Sometimes, you just need to put an end to that staff meeting. Put the complex room addition plans aside and find an easy underpinning project to occupy the volunteer’s time so you can go. to. bed. Wake up refreshed and ready to revisit the argument. This also applies to “hangriness.” Life will inevitably throw you challenges, some you might find particularly hard to see eye to eye on, but work to never take anything too seriously. Throw on a costume, run a fake border patrol, and know that, as long as you respect one another and have access to some biscuits and gravy, you can get through pretty much anything.
- From Becca Davis: ASP taught me to accept people right where they are, just the way they are. I have learned to accept myself as an imperfect (yet passionate and committed) wife and mother, and to accept my husband’s flaws (and to even find them endearing) because he is an incredible partner and father. ASP is about loving people, and certainly, so is marriage!
- From Ben and Nancy Martin: You never leave staffing behind…Never. You will always be a member of the ASP family. That means you have a ton of support and people to lean on no matter where you live. Also, brace yourselves, and we hope that you love each other’s war stories about the summers… because you are going to hear about them a lot. [like…A LOT]. There will be mini reunions when their past staff members come to visit and you need to be ready to here that story about the time this volunteer messed up a project so much… but your spouse was Hossome and took care of the whole situation.
- From Tim Bomgardener: [It’s all about trust, passion and creativity]. You have to trust the other person to do what they say they will do, but be willing to forgive them when they fall short of those expectations. [and vice a versa]. The passion piece is what makes it all worthwhile. Part of the reason you join ASP staff is for your passion to serve others and do the work no matter how hard it is. Passion will give you the ability to move to a whole new level… operate in overdrive for [months at a time] and still love what you do.
- From Jeremy and Allision Pace: ASP is also a sort of microcosm of married life in general. You love the people you live with, but occasionally you think “what the heck is wrong with him/her” and you have to work through some crummy stuff. But ultimately you weather every storm and it [just keeps getting] better and better.
- And pretty much everybody mentioned Long Range Plans, but the Lawson’s said it best: Make long-range plans. [Then] in five years, laugh about how irrelevant and naive they were.
- And finally, from me: ASP taught me that the more that you learn about/ and experience the love that Christ has for us, the more you will understand your own relationships/ and how to love others.
So if you, Kyle and Megan, if you wish to learn how to love one another as partners in this life in such a way that the quality of your love continues to grow everyday, stronger and stronger, then serve God together, love each other / and others together, bear peace, justice and the grace of God wherever this journey takes you. And work hard to create your “porch” wherever you land. And remember, just as I read at the beginning of the ceremony… “God is love, and those who remain in love remain in God- and God remains in them.”
Mark 5: 21-43
Lamentations 3: 22-33
About three years ago, I spent four months studying this passage from Mark’s Gospel. I had a professor in Seminary that loved this story so much that we spent a couple of months pulling apart the language and exegete-ing its intricacies. It is stunning. There is jut so much happening in this story. Well after the class was done, I couldn’t put it away. I needed more time with these characters. So I wrote a narrative to help me process and engage this tale… So when I saw that this passage came up in our schedule of Scriptures, I decided to share it with you.
This story is distinctly feminine (I say that with some reservations… but I’m not sure how else to describe it), it shares certain characteristics as when Christ’s interacts with the woman at the well- it confronts societal, social, physical issues that women, even today, can identify with. Here Jesus is on his way to the death bed of a young girl (all of 12 years old) but he is interrupted by a rather bold and extraordinary woman. She is likely dealing with the aftermath (again 12 years of it) of a difficult/ perhaps marring experience with childbirth. This has made her ritually “unclean” and shamed.
Some people believe that there are some things that are better off never being mentioned in polite company (and certainly should not be spoke of in church)… things like sex and child birth are at the top of that list… and we defiantly shouldn’t talk about when those things don’t go as planned. So, sadly, this means that we don’t talk about things like miscarriages, fertility struggles…
But the Scripture don’t shy away from these topics. In fact, one of the most common themes threaded throughout the old and New Testament is this idea of God opening and closing the womb. We encounter that theme in the stories of Sarah, Hannah, Elizabeth, Mary…
So, I encourage you not to shy away from the story of the Hemorrhaging Women- because it is important. It talks about healing from the feeling of shame and isolation, healing from the lose of identity and broken dreams, healing in general.
Jesus brings someone who is spiritually broken/ struggling physically, back into wholeness through relationship with God. That’s grace, isn’t it?
Potential. Once a long time ago, I held inside of my womb potential, but now it will hold nothing. I am a sieve. I thought that someday I might just empty out or dry up, but this illness keeps finding more of me to take. It’s hard to believe that after 12 years, there is anything left.
There is no more potential inside of me. I remember, when it first happened, the pain of its lose. The physical and emotional agony. And now, for 12 years…it’s lose has marked me as an unclean woman. Shame has taken the place of my beloved potential. They shame me for being disgusting. The people of Capernaum. I don’t really blame them; of course, they are merely keeping in accordance to the law. They are bound by their noble faith, to disregard me. I once did the same thing to people who were diseased or somehow destitute, I would cast my eyes away from their hungry gazes, and I would take care to move away from the space that their unseemliness infected. But I never imaged that I would be another cast off.
The shame took so much from me.
It took my name. They no longer call me the name that my father gave me, but rather they just call me the ‘bleeding woman’… if they call me anything at all. I no longer have an identity. Those who are sick are no longer allowed the dignity of who they once were, but rather they are the person who is sick, who is disfigured, who lives in pain, they are ‘that person who is dying’, that one without hope.
The shame took my certainty. When I first became ill, everything that I was certain of became contingent on recovering my lost potential. Would I marry? Would I be able to carry a child? Would I be able to return to a public life? I used to be a woman of wealth. I took pride in being surrounded by comfortable and beautiful things. But when the shame took over… that changed to. In the early years, I employed many people to try and heal me. But they only made things worse, and somehow, more permanent. With their instrument of torture, their medicines that made me sicker, their magic that was more disturbing than anything else… But when their efforts failed, I was left in poverty and, still, without my beloved potential.
The shame took my place. According to the law, everything that I touch would be made unclean. So there was no more going into the marketplace, no more dining with friends or family, there was certainly no more gathering for worship. No chair I sat in, no bed I laid in, no cup I held was left undefiled. And worse of all, no hand that I held was left undefiled. There was only one choice for how I could live…Away.
The shame took my hope. My family put me away. My religion no longer recognizes me. I am left unclaimed. Sometimes I catch the eye of people as they pass me by, and they give me a look that says, “I could not even image being that woman…”, and for the longest time, I wanted to shout back at them “Try!”. But what good would their empathy do, they would still not claim me. I am an orphan. That “bleeding woman”, is what they call me.
It had been 12 years of hurt and living in shadows.
I usually stay out here, by the sea; I don’t pose a threat here. The people who earn their living harvesting this sea, know me. And they stay clear of me. But here I get to see the people coming and going from town, see their visitors, hear the gossip as they pass. It’s here that I spend my day listening. If I go into town, I skirt along the outside of the crowds, with a scarf wrapped around my head, hiding my face. It doesn’t help much, people still recognize me. They still hold their children tighter as I walk by. So I usually stay here.
But being out here, dose have its upside. You do get to hear all the news coming into town.
People have been talking lately about a man that performs miracles. Just recently I heard that he calmed a storm at sea just by just commanding it to be still and at peace! I heard that he rid a man of a demon that was feeding off him. People say that he can heal the sick, that he can put what is wrong, right, just with a touch. They say that this man could be the Messiah, that he is the very Son of God. If I could just touch that man, then maybe… then, maybe I could be rid of my shame.
As I sat there that day, I looked out at the sea, and watched a boat approach the shore. This was nothing new of course. I watched as it drew closer to the shore, the figures that occupied its hull, became clearer. And I heard a man that was working his nets by the shore call out, “It’s him! He’s returned!”.
I knew in that second, that the man in the boat was the one they were all talking about! The man with magic in him. I got up from my well-worn spot, and watched eagerly as a crowd gathered at the shoreline. A man stepped out into the water/ grabbed the bow of the boat and dragged it up onto the land. People climbed out of the boat and joined the crowd. There were embraces and greetings exchanged. They all seemed to crowd around a man that was wearing tasseled robes (the robes of a rabbi). “That’s him…” I thought, “That is the holy man, the one that can take away my shame!”
A group of men came running from the town’s center. It was lead by the man that ran the synagogue. The man whose name means ‘he will awaken’, it was Jairus! The crowd parted as he called out to it on his approach. I watch Jairus, this man of power, fall at the feet of the man that is the hope of my salvation. Something is wrong. “Please!” I hear him cry out, “Please come, its my daughter… she is dying. Come, put your hands on her so that she can be made well!”
The hope of my salvation moves, he follows Jairus as the crowd heads toward the heart of town. “No!” I thought. “Do not leave! If I can just put a finger on his robe, I too will be healed!” Before I know it (I abandon that well-worn place at the shore that has known me as a pariah.) and I run toward the crowd that is churning around the hope of my salvation.
I draw closer to the crowd, but it does not part for me. It does not part for the woman without a name, the one with no certainty, the woman without a place, the one who is outside of hope. The crowd does not part for me.
I neglect to draw the scarf up to cover my identity as I plunge into the crowd. The swarm that engulfs the hope of my salvation, pays me no attention though, they are distracted by this man of glory. I push aside people with all the strength that I can muster. I trod on toes, and trip on clocks as I push my way toward him. “Just a finger” I thought, “Just one small finger on this man of glory, and I will be made well! I will have my Christ! I claim this man and all that he can do!” (pause)
And there he is, I can see the tassels hanging off his robe, I can see his sandals that rush across the dusty pathway. I reach out my hand, my unclean hand, I reach out and run it gently over the fringe. And stop.
Someone bumps into me from behind, but I am glued to me spot.
There in the middle of street, my shame… my shame is starved. I feel that heat burning within me, choking away the shame. I am healed. I feel it. I know it.
Only a moment passes by, when the giver of my salvation also stops. He recoils, and looks around him.
“Oh no” I thought. “I have stolen this!”
The giver of my salvation looks to his left and to his right, and then asks his disciple, “Who touched my clothes?”
He knows! I back away into the crowd, pulling the scarf up over my hair.
His disciple looks at him as if he has lost his mind. “You see the crowd pressing against you and you say, ‘who touched me?’”
But the giver of my salvation ignores him, and searches for me in the crowd.
I stole it! I stole it! I claimed this man’s power, I took his magic, I did not ask! I did not beg! I just took it!
He knows. I move forward in the frozen crowd, and fall down before his holy feet. And I tell him everything, the whole truth. I tremble and I quake, “what have I done?” I thought. “What if this healing was not meant for me? What if it was for Jairus’ daughter? I claimed it!”
I tell my story to this man, the giver of my salvation, and he looks at me. Without pity, without the hardened disgust of those around him. He looks at me as if I were whole and blameless, as if I had potential. And he says, “Daughter, your faith has made you well. Go in peace, and be healed.”
As he spoke to me, just to me… there was movement again as someone rushes to the crowd calling out “Your daughter has died. Why trouble the teacher any longer?”
But those words are not for me. They are for Jairus, the desperate father. Now a man that is ripped with a grief that I have known so well in the past.
The crowd moves around me again, they rush toward the home of Jairus. I hear the giver of my salvation offering this grieving father more of his precious and comforting words.
But I am left behind in my shock. A heavy buzzing fills my ear and I weep into the hands that touched the robe of my savior.
12 years the shame had claimed me! 12 years to carry defilement wherever I go! 12 years I have been put away from my family, from my friends and community! But this man, this holy man, this giver of my salvation claims me as his own daughter.
“Daughter”, he called me. Daughter!
The giver of salvation has given me a name! And it is ‘Daughter’! I have left the ‘bleeding woman’ behind! He has returned to me my identity, my dignity!
He has given me back my certainty! I may have been scarred and damaged, but I know that I no longer have to stay that way.
He has given me a place! No longer will I have nowhere to go, but I am able to return to society, to return to my home, I can embrace my family without leaving them defiled by my unclean hands/ my shame.
He has fulfilled my hope! I can return to the sight of my God. I can enter the place of worship. (pause)
Off in the distance I hear the roar of the crowd return to my ears. Their shouts are clearly those of an elated people… from what I can hear… Jairus’ daughter is awake and well! It seems that this day is not just for me alone, but for all that grieve the agony of losing their potential, and find it again in the savior that claims us as his own.
“Go in peace, and be healed of your disease.” Is what the giver of my salvation said to me. So, I dry the tears off of my face, and I pull myself to my feet, and I go home. Back to my potential.
Mark 4: 35-41
Once upon a time, there was once a fishing village on the shore of a great lake stocked full of fish. The fishermen of the village diligently debated and discussed what fishing is, how best to do it, which equipment to use. They invested millions in boats and gear. They built a majestic fishing headquarters, they hired a talented staff, they even sent their experts around the world to search other lakes and rivers for fish.
Until one day, a little child stood up at their town meeting and asked, “You all claim to be great fishermen- but how come you’ve never caught a fish?” … No one in the village had ever actually caught one. They had never been fishing. They never actually tried it out!
Well, the church does this every now and again, doesn’t it? We talk about growth, we talk about reaching out to our community and inviting new friends into this family, we talk about spreading the love and the word of God. We boast in having this beautiful home, filled with gifted and eager people.
We tend to our tackle and the boat, so to speak…
But how often do we actually… just… go fishing? How often do we cast a line… out of the sheer joy of it, and see what God brings to the surface? See what’s hungry and seeking that day?
Last week we wrapped up a mini-sermon series on the Pew Research Study. And that mini-series ended with us talking about the risk and vulnerability that comes with scattering seeds for the kingdom. Because when we do that, we surrender control. Which can be kind of scary.
Just like, if we cast a line… we don’t necessarily have control over what’s biting… or whether or not we’ll even catch anything.
Well, this is something that the disciples would identify with in a heartbeat! They were regularly asked to risk and be vulnerable!
Jesus was always dragging them into situations with gentiles, and Samaritans, and tax collectors, and other people of ill-repute… or just others that they didn’t understand.
He was always leading them from one back woods town to the next… while he created scenes in town square.
He asked them to take a risk and follow Him… no matter where that took them.
They walked by faith, not by sight (as we talked about last week).
And we have the same call on us now, don’t we? If we are to be faithful and follow our Lord… it means that our Lord is in charge. When we risk, when we hop in the boat with Christ and go where He leads. Jesus is in charge.
Part of being a disciple of Christ is that we accept the fact that Jesus is going to take us into sticky situations every now and again… like we find in our Gospel passage today.
Jesus had just finished a long day of teaching shore side on the Sea of Galilee. He had students gather from near and far to hear him talk in parable. To hear him teach about bearing the light of the Gospel to the world, and scattering seeds of grace, and coming up alongside God in redeeming service… So by the end of the day, I’m imagine Jesus is pretty tired.
They all climb into a boat, head out to cross the sea – so that they can continue their work the next day.
And just in case they needed a refresher on the lessons that they had head that day… A storm comes upon them. Reminding them of the risk that comes from following Christ and daring to spread the Good News.
And this is such a well-known story, we all know how it goes. Jesus is asleep on a cushion on the boat, a storm comes up on them, the disciples cry out “We’re dying!” (they always were a dramatic sort) they shake Jesus awake and tell him to do something… He does. Re rebukes the storm. (perhaps doing some finger pointing)
And once order had been restored he asks his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”
Following Jesus is risky business… but still he calls us to go/ do in faith. To be willing to lose that control we all so desperately cling to, because Christ is in charge.
Now, I want to spend the rest of our Message time talking about the ministry of Evangelism. (We’ve really been talking about it for a month now, while dancing around the dreaded E-word that makes us think about dreaded “door knocking” campaigns…) It’s time to talk about “Fishing for Men”. That is, after all, the mission of the church, as Matthew says in his Gospel with the Great Commissioning: “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations…” (Mat. 28:19a) And it something that when we embrace it/ look it in the eye… becomes something that we do out of the joy of God’s love.
Now, I am by no means and expert at fishing. A few times when I was a child, my dad and I drove up to Rice Lake in Canada to spend a week at a cabin. We would take the boat out every morning, and then spend the evening around the fire, which was great. But when it came to the actually fishing… my job was to bait the hooks. That I was good at. After that I would sit there and cast out again and again… probably about every 15 seconds. On the off chance I got a very speedy fish on my hook, I would reel it in and them make my dad take it off the line because I was scared of those sharp blue gill fins.
But in my limited experience with fishing, I’ve come to learn a few lessons about being a “fisher of men”/ a few thing to keep in mind as we follow Christ where He leads.
The first lesson is: you have to go where the fish are, meet them wherever they are at. Now, I’m not just talking about proximity (although it stands that your are not going to reel in any new fish tucked safely away on shore… the same way that you are not going to reach any new disciples tucked safely away in the church… you have to actually leave the building every now and again to minister.) But Evangelism isn’t about the words, it isn’t about knowing the right thing to say to “win people to Christ” it is about be present to God’s people.
If you come across someone that is lonely, then go to then/ meet them in that place: visit them, welcome them, take care of them. Bring encouragement into their lives.
If you come across someone that is doubting, or questioning the cosmos, or even the existence of God, then go to them in that place. Acknowledge their quest for finding truth. Let them know that asking questions is great, and assure them that not having the answers it ok. Be a safe, steadfast place for them to bring their questions without judgment or fear. Meet them in that place of being adrift, offering them something steady to hold on to.
If you find someone that is homeless, or hungry… If you find someone that is out of work, or just feeling lost. Ask yourself, how can I meet them where they are? How can I support them?
You have to go where the fish are. Physically, spiritually, intellectually, socially. It’s about being present.
The second lesson, simply, patience. So many of you have someone in your life that you have been praying for for decade to acknowledge that God is call out to them. It’s hard, isn’t it? You want them to have a faith that is as fulfilling as the one that you have. You want that for them now.
Picture that person in your mind, and think about them filling the seat next to you in the pew. Your friend, your child, your spouse, your neighbor… whoever that is… and remind yourself that you are sometimes the only Jesus that people will ever meet. You have got to reflect the love of Christ with your every moment. You need to be steadfast in your faith and your patience. There is nothing that you can do to force people into a relationship with Christ. But the most encouraging thing that you could do is to be patiently at peace in your own faith.
I’ve run into a lot of people that bear scars from sour interacts with the “institutional church”. They’ve been burned by the politics, offended by the body of Christ, been hurt or mislead somehow… And it is through your patience that you provide a place for people to experience the healing grace of God.
The third fishing lesson, you have to have the right lure! I remember opening my dad’s tackle box on my childhood fishing expeditions and pulling out all sorts of colorful and shiny lures. But, I was always surprised at the fact that, we never really used them. This is because nothing beats the real thing: live bait. The world may offer glitzy lures, but they are often artificial. Think back to the fishing parable I shared in the beginning, the church builds beautiful buildings, we try “outreach” models, we bring in experts to teach, we send out emissaries to convert people in remote places… And these are good tools certainly… but we have to make sure that we are using the real stuff when we fish.
Like the simple art of noticing people.
Like sharing our story and witness.
Like loving our neighbor and tending to those in need.
Like “passing the peace” to those that you have quarreled with.
These are the real things – little bits of God’s love that we cast out into the world. This world is starving for an authentic real faith.
Forth, and this is an important practical one, there is a right time to fish. As there are certain times of the day when the tides and temperatures are right to bring the fish to the surface looking for some lunch…. there is a right time to fish.
Right now, is not always an appropriate time to talk about our faith with others. If we embarrass someone, if we guilt someone, if we press into still healing wounds… they’re not exactly going to be receptive to the Gospel. Likewise, sometimes we might not be ready to share… We have to trust in our God to make those moments known.
If we listen with discerning ears, people will tell you when they are seeking Godly truth…
Sharing your faith, is the most honest and God glorifying thing that you can ever do. And you have to let God lead.
And finally, you gotta be able to catch and release. There are times when you will have to let that fish go. Even though it was beautiful and promising. Even if we are patient and real, even if we serve with our whole heart and glow the love of Christ into this world… At the end of the day, we are only able to plant that seed of faith. It is up to God to move in people’s hearts and grow that seed into something special.
Remember please, that sharing your faith (in word or in deed) is the most honest and God glorifying thing that you can ever do. And it is your mission/ your commission in life as a Christian to do just that. To go and make disciples of Christ.
Do any of you remember the slapstick comedy from the nineties “Gone Fishin’”? (I think I’ve mentioned this movie before… because I think it is a really good example of Evangelism at its finest…because nothing goes as planned…) The film starred Danny Glover and Joe Pesci, as Gus and Joe- best friends from childhood whose only passion in life was fishing.
Well, in the film, these friends find out that they won a contest! And their prize? The fishing adventure of a lifetime. So they pack up the essentials: “Beer, bait, and boat”…. as they say. But as soon as they set out on their adventure every thing goes wrong… naturally! There is the small inconvenience of a hurricane, at one point their beloved boat gets stolen, they accidentally blow up a gas station, and once they finally get to the water they’re attacked by an alligator. But the interesting thing is that they never catch a single fish in the entire movie. Not a single one.
Gus and Joe had fishing on their minds the entire film… they faced storms and distraction… left and right. Everything that could get in their way did… but they risked, and went where the fish were.
Christ calls us to do the same. To risk, to be faithful, to endure a storm every now and again for the opportunity/ the joy to cast a line.
We are gathering with our sisters and brothers in the Princeton community and beyond for a prayer vigil @ 5:00pm Hampshire Colony Congregational Church tomorrow, Sunday, June 21. We will honor and remember our sisters and brothers who were killed Mother Emanuel Ame Church Calhoun St.
2 Corinthians 5:6-17
Last week during our Message we looked at what the “fresh off the press” Pew Research Study had to say about the direction of the modern Christian church in the US. Which, to many, foreshadows a bit of an uncertain future because the researchers are seeing the pull away from nominal Christianity (the reign of Christendom) and a raise in the “nones” or those no longer specifying a religious title.
Last week, once we had absorbed this information, I challenged us to consider the sub-text/ what is happening between the lines of data and percentages, facts and figures. For while the mainline and evangelical Christian churches across the US are in a state of decline (there is no getting around admitting that)… In no way does that mean our God is in a state of decline. God hasn’t checked out!
The mainline church has gotten into this bad habit of linking our attendance numbers to the faithfulness of God… like somehow, the Golden Era of the church- back in the 1950 or so (how many churches in Princeton have big educational wings that were built during the 50s to accommodate the masses? We certainly do…)- We think that exceptional Golden Era that was felt across much of America somehow proved that God was more powerful/ or more active/ closer/ more present…
I blame Santa Clause for this.
As children we are taught that Santa sleigh can’t fly unless we believe enough, like there is a “belief quota”! So suddenly believing in Santa becomes urgent! Children get worried if they find out that one of their friends or classmate doesn’t believe, because what if we don’t make the quota this year… then the sleigh won’t fly on Christmas Eve.
We treat our Lord, like we treat Santa Clause!
Yet, while Santa’s power/presence/his mode of transportation is contingent on the dreams, joys, belief of a child.
Our Lord’s power, presence, activity is not contingent on our belief. We don’t fuel God.
In fact, it is the other way around. Our joy, our dreams, our beliefs are all gifted to us by God. God fuels us with faith!
(And what do we do with it? … We give it to Santa.)
A shrinking church doesn’t mean a shrinking God. In the same way that a packed house on Sunday mornings with offering plates that are over flowing, doesn’t equal a God that is increasing. But since we can’t freeze time, we get all caught up in the struggle to catch up. Don’t we? We get wrapped up in feeling like we lost our connection with that powerful/active/alive God. We get caught up in thinking the sleigh won’t fly… simply because our friends and family would rather play a round of golf on a Sunday morning than sit in a pew listening to some preacher drone on.
In uncertain times like these, the assurance needs to be given… that God is still thriving and growing and actively redeeming the community around us. Or as Paul writes in our Scripture passage today from 2 Corinthians, God is bringing about a time of “new creation.” God is an expert at resurrection and transformation. That is where our hope lies.
It would be a very brave thing for us to acknowledge that God’s work in this world has very little to do with numbers/ percentages/ quantitative data/ fictional “belief quotas”/ attendance records… and everything to do with fostering real/vibrant relationships with Christ… it’s about faithfulness.
As you sit there in the pew… I ask that you keep this question rolling around in your head: Where do you see the presence of God at work, not just in this church, but in this community? Where is God bringing about those vibrant relationships? Where is God strengthening and growing a ministry?
And then, of course, I encourage you to ask yourself… what can I do to join God in this kingdom work?
Consider this parable from the Gospel of Mark:
[Jesus] also said, “The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how. The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head. But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come.” [Jesus] also said, “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it? It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.” Mark 4: 26-33
What I love about these two parables is the surprise of it all.
A farmer goes out and sows a seed, a seed that is apparently new to him, because he watches it day and night… but that’s all he can do- plant and watch and wait. Jesus reminds us that there is a level of uncertainty and risk when it comes to sowing seeds for the Kingdom of God. So imagine this farmer’s surprise/delight, when this crop actually yields and is ready for harvest.
David Lose, had some good perspective to offer us, he suggests that this first parable is about how we are completely unable to control or dictate what other’s believe. Which can make the church (the collective church) incredibly uncomfortable, because there is a level of vulnerability there. To think that God’s kingdom comes apart from our efforts- to think that God’s kingdom is outside of our control/ influence and can only be received as a joyous gift!
I don’t know about you, but that makes the planner in me/ the controlling human in me that likes to have it her way… very nervous.
What does this mean for how we regard the “Nones” of the Pew Research Study? Those that claim no religious title. How are we to regard all those who do not seem interested in our sermons and hymns, our congregations/ don’t seem to be interested in the Kingdom of God? Or what about those that we might say have “fallen away” from the church, our family members and friends whom we love that would rather golf on a Sunday morning/ or sleep in- watch cartoons with the kids and eat cereal? Those that think our attendance of worship is nice, but seem to have no interest in why we worship?
What does Jesus’ parable have to say for them?Are these folks to be targeted for urgent outreach? Persuaded and cajoled into faith?
I dare say that Jesus tells us that we are simply and humbly all part of the same soil.
The only difference is, as followers of Christ, is that we have a gift to offer! The faith that we hold, the glimpses that we have of the love of God, the witness that we have toward the beautiful coming kingdom of God! All that we can do with that is offer them out of the sheer delight of the offering. A gift without strings or agenda.
Like a child running through the backyard with a dandelion in their hand that is ripe for the blowing. Scattering those seeds, without concern of what happens to them or where they land. But scattering them because of the joy of the gift.
Our parable tells us that God is in control of where those seeds land/ God is in control of bringing forth a harvest.
Jesus reiterated this idea when he tells his disciples that faith is like a mustard seed. To look at it you might discount its potential. But when it is planted in this ground – God’s soil- great things can happen! But if you try and control its growth, you are in for a rude awakening! (Mustard, was considered an invasive species in the ancient world. It runs amok easily.)
If we joyfully sow the seed of our faith into this world, into our community, God is the only one that can truly tend to it, nurture it and grow it into something bold and surprising.
We are like that farmer that sows a seed of faith. Not quite knowing what it might grow into. We might check on it day and night. We might hover over it. But whatever it grows into, wherever it spreads is going to be a surprise, because it is in God’s hands!
Earlier I asked you to consider where you see the presence of God at work, not just in this church, but in this community. To think of where God is bringing about those vibrant relationships. Where God is strengthening and growing the kingdom of God.
Where do you see that happening?
This is soil being tended. Soil that is ready for the planting. Ready for us to run through with our dandelions letting seeds fly!
Last week we started this talk on the Rise of the Nones and looking at the Pew Research Study, alongside the dream cards that you all turned in on Pentecost Sunday. Where you wrote about something you dreamed for the future and direction of this church family.
Just as a recap: you dreamed that this church would build disciples, that it would be a place to grow our faith and teach our children how to love in the name of God, and over and over again you all wrote that you dreamed that this church would grow in number! That it would be packed every Sunday- bursting at the seams.
If that is so, if you all want that to happen… then we need to open ourselves up to seeing where God is busy tending the soil/ preparing for a crop, and then we gotta pitch in!
So I ask you again: Where do you see the presence of God at work? Is there a friend or a loved one that you just know is searching for God? Is there a need in this community that God has placed on your heart? Is there a place that is thirsty for redemption?
That is the good soil! God is letting you know that the time is right to run through with your dandelion! The time is right to share your bits of light and love- to pitch it and help the community with the work of our hands/ a living testimony… that’s how we scatter the seed of the gospel.
Here is a truth for us today; Church growth isn’t a target goal that can be aimed directly at. It’s not. It’s not something that is achieved through advertising campaigns and models. Church growth is a side affect of our own faithfulness. It comes out of our own joy at pursuing our Lord!
True growth (the kind that is long lasting, life changing, God infused) comes from where God prepares the soil, grows the seeds that are scattered in love and hope…
Then we await the surprise of the harvest.
Paul reminds us in his letter to the church in Corinth that we are not called to walk by sight, but by faith. To let the call of the Lord on our hearts guide us forward. To lead us onward.
That is one of the best things about being a Congregationalist. One of the pillars of our church is Freedom! Now, that isn’t freedom from something… But we are free to go where God calls us to go. We are free to follow the pull and direction from our God.
Christ is our only compass.
So as you consider the soil that is around you, I hope that you commit yourself to looking for where God is active and at work. Because you are needed there. Your story, your witness of God’s love, your message of the goodness of God’s kingdom… they are needed there.
That Pew Research Study, we’ve been looking at, shows us that there is soil that God is making ready. Building it into fields of potential, ready for our faithfulness. Ready for us to spread seeds of our witness.
It is my hope that our focus over the past couple of weeks, won’t end here. I truly hope that this is just the beginning of our conversation regarding faithfulness and looking to where God is calling for our presence and ministry.
God Almighty, you have blessed us with big dreams of a thriving ministry. Help us to be brave and bold in our faithfulness! Help us to look to your purpose and direction Lord, for you O’ Lord are bringing about a new creation. Amen.