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Archive for April, 2012

'Even when you can't see what we're holding, our body language tells you that we're talking on a cellphone' photo (c) 2009, Ed Yourdon - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/Here is an interesting post from Christian Piatt about making friends with young adults.  He describes the experience that he and his wife, Amy,  had when they first started a new church in Pueblo, Colorado a few years ago.  They thought that, since they were young adults, that other young adults would be interested in coming to worship with them.  That’s not what happened.  The first people who actually accepted their invitation, came and stayed in the new church were mostly adults over 65.  Unlike many young adults, these older adults already had experience with being in church and coming to worship.  Christian and Amy discovered that it is best to make friends with young adults first, and then invite them to worship.  Here’s some of what Christian says:

“For young adults, the idea of participating in worship was a major commitment. After all, they either didn’t know any of the songs and rituals, or they represented a host of negative feelings from their past. To start there for them would be a setup for failure.

So we had coffee – a lot of coffee. We invited people over for dinner, or took them out for a beer. We chatted with younger folks through Facebook, added them to email list apprising them of upcoming social and service-oriented events we were planning. Basically, we just made ourselves available to them as friends first, allowing a more three-dimensional relationship to develop first, so that they could come to trust that we weren’t the same breed as the religious folks they had known in the past or from the media.”

Hmm.  I wonder what my congregation and I need to be doing in our local situation.  We have so much love to offer people of all ages.

Readers, send me your ideas via the comment box below or my contact page.  Thanks!

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Good Shepherd fresco from the Catacombs of San...

Good Shepherd fresco from the Catacombs of San Callisto under the care of the Pontifical Commission for Sacred Archeology (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Here’s a sermon for the fourth Sunday of Easter, Year B:

The Supreme Shepherd

A Sermon based on Psalm 23, 1 John 3:16-18 and John 10:11-18

Ever since Moses, God’s people had thought of themselves as a flock of sheep.  God had taken Moses from tending the flocks of his father-in-law Jethro, and put him in charge of shepherding Israel.  Years later, God had taken a shepherd boy, David, and raised him up to be king of Israel.  God’s people were used to seeing themselves as sheep and their leaders—both religious and political—as shepherds.

What a time God’s sheep were having when Jesus came on the scene!  It wasn’t the first time that their shepherds had been interested in things other than the true welfare of the sheep.  In fact, the sheep were used to it.  But still it rankled.

The political shepherds from Rome were interested in power.  They kept their feet on the necks of the people of Palestine, using terror, taxes, whatever worked to keep them in line and cooperative.

The religious shepherds—scribes, lawyers, Pharisees—religious professionals, in other words, were likewise interested in power: maintaining their sacred empire, centered in the Temple.  Their empire was built out of layers and layers of law that, they were certain, only they could rightly interpret.   They and only they really knew what God’s will was.  Everyone else must submit without question.  It was a burden, and it was hard for God’s people to bear.

Jesus shook his head.  He had just observed how the authorities responded when he healed a man on the Sabbath.  See John 9.  The leaders hardly noticed the wonderful gift of sight Jesus had given the man who had been born blind.  Instead of giving thanks, they launched an official investigation and declared Jesus a sinner because he broke the Sabbath law—their interpretation of it, at any rate.

Jesus shook his head at them.  As far as he was concerned, shepherds that were mainly concerned with their own power and authority and position weren’t really shepherds at all.  No wonder his heart ached with compassion for the crowds of people. They truly were like sheep without a shepherd. (more…)

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How often have you heard this assessment of a small congregation: “But there’s nothing here for my children!”  I beg to differ on that, and so does Kenda Creasy Dean, Professor of Youth, Church and Culture at Princeton Theological Seminary.

Dean uses the term “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism” (MTD) to describe the lukewarm form of Christianity that is rampant in our culture.  To put it simply, MTD is a non-demanding, non-transformational form of religion that is not about being a growing disciple of Jesus.  Rather, MTD says that the goal of life is to be happy and successful, feel good about oneself, be a good person, and do good to others.  However, you can do that without Jesus.  Dean didn’t invent this term, but she speaks extensively about it in her book Almost Christian: What the Faith of American Teenagers is Telling the Church.

On her own blog Dean responds to a post by UMC pastor John Meunier who asks, “Will slow, patient, and steady preaching, teaching, and invitations to true discipleship wean people away from MTD? Or does it require shock therapy — the kind that shakes congregations and shatters them?”

Dean responds: “After spending nearly a decade of my life immersed in the research that led to the term “moralistic therapeutic deism,” I still don’t know how to fix it short of divine intervention (which may be what God is going for).  In answer to John’s question, I’m inclined to say: “Both.”

“But then I remember where I go, week after week, to draw life: a 37-member congregation, not counting the young adults who stop by for a month, or a year (or three or four) while they’re students.  You might call Kingston United Methodist Church a “raw” church, unprocessed and unpredictable.  The pastor is a PhD student who will be moving on in June.  The financials are, frankly, unsustainable. The century-old building has three creaky, leaky rooms and a really scary basement.

“It’s the best church I’ve ever been part of.”

Read on for a portrait of the Dean family’s experience of life in a small church that does call people of all ages to faith in Jesus Christ and active discipleship.

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St.Olave's church Tiny church by W.Scorer in 1885

St.Olave's church Tiny church by W.Scorer in 1885 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In his book Humble Leadership: Being Radically Open to God’s Guidance and Grace (Alban, 2007), N. Graham Standish tells a wonderful story that he heard from Frank Harrington, long-time pastor of the Peachtree Presbyterian Church in Atlanta, Georgia.  The Peachtree Church is one of the largest congregations in the PC(USA), if not THE largest.

Standish notes that Harrington told this story in the context of a talk in which he said that loving our congregations is the most significant thing pastors can do.  To illustrate his point Harrington told this story:

A young pastor had invited Harrington to come and speak at his church in Oklahoma.  Since he usually spoke at large churches, a large church is what he was expecting.  The pastor “picked Harrington up from the airport and drove him several hours out into the country, all along exclaiming how wonderful and great his church was, and how it was on the verge of a tremendous renewal” (p. 112).

Along the way, Harrington continued to expect that they would eventually pull into the parking lot of a large suburban church.  Instead, they drove deeper and deeper into the countryside.  He began to realize that they were going to a church that was different from the ones he normally visited.

At last they arrived at a tiny rural church that had saved for over a year to be able to afford to pay Harrington’s speaking fee.

Harrington could sense the pastor’s great love for the congregation, and that it really was a tremendous church, a tremendous SMALL church.  Standish reports, “Harrington discovered in that moment that it wasn’t the size of the church that mattered, but the strength of its love. He told us that if we love our churches, whatever size they are, they can become dynamic places of grace and God’s presence and power” (p. 113).

Amen, amen, amen!

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Jesus Appears to Thomas, 1990 (13)

Image via Wikipedia

Why does the risen Lord still bear the marks of the wounds?  And why do they comfort us?  Here is a sermon that attempts to answer those questions.

Emmanuel Forever!
A Sermon on Luke 24:36-48 and John 20:19-31

Wouldn’t a resurrection body by definition be better than new?  If I were the one raising Jesus from the dead, I’d give him a body that was better than new.  I’d fill in all the tissue that was chewed up by nail and thorn, and I’d knit the great gash in his side back together.  I’d wash away all the dried blood and smooth away every mark of the whip.  I’d cover all the wounds with skin like a newborn baby’s.  Then I’d ease away all the soreness and stiffness.  I would put all Jesus’ wounds into the past.  I would give Jesus a body that was perfectly whole in every way.  A body that can go through walls should by definition be perfectly whole.

But the God who did raise Jesus from the dead had other ideas.  When the risen Lord appeared among his followers on Easter evening, he greeted them with a reassuring word of peace.  But then Jesus pushed back his clothes, and there all those wounds were, still deep, and still red.  He insisted that his followers see and touch.

Yep, that certainly did confirm that Jesus was the same one who had died on Friday.  Yep, the wounds were in the right place.  This wasn’t an imposter.  But why couldn’t Jesus experience complete relief in the resurrection?  To know it was him and to know he wasn’t a ghost, wouldn’t it have been enough for his followers just to see his face and touch whole, unwounded flesh?  Wouldn’t it be enough just to see him eat the fish they offered?  Why wasn’t the pain and the woundedness finished when Jesus drew his last breath on Friday?  It would have been such a blessing to get the pain over with then.

But many do not receive that blessing.  Their pain is not over with in a matter of hours or days.  (more…)

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'DSC_0017' photo (c) 2009, Ted - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

It’s a challenge to preach on Mark 16:1-8.  Here is one of my attempts at it.

It’s Wide Open!

A Sermon on Mark 16:1-8

On their way to the tomb, the women thought their big problem was the stone sealing the entrance.  And it was very big and heavy–huge, Mark notes.  The women wondered aloud who would roll it back for them.    But this wasn’t all that big of a problem.  If worst came to worst, and nobody was around, they could always go find somebody in town and come back.

The stone was their problem, the women thought.  Get that one solved, then they could finish giving Jesus a proper burial, and then they could head home to Galilee.  They were filled with sorrow, of course.  But they knew what to expect: grieving, but also going on with life as best they could.  Get the stone problem solved, do one last act of caring for Jesus, then go home and figure out what next.

It was a shock to find the tomb already wide open!  What’s more, somebody was in there, and it wasn’t Jesus!  He was gone.  And here was a messenger dressed all in white.  “Don’t be afraid,” the messenger said.  Their hearts must have nearly stopped.  “Don’t be afraid,” he said, the first thing that just about every messenger from God says.

“I know you’re looking for Jesus the Nazarene, the one they nailed on the cross.  He’s been raised up.  He’s not here any more.  Look and see: the place where he was is now empty.  Now you get going.  Tell his disciples, and Peter, that he is going on ahead of you all to Galilee.  You will see him there, exactly as he told you.”

Notice: the messenger didn’t say, “There you might see him,” or “There you can see him,” or “There you should see him.”  The messenger said, “There you will see him.”  No question.  They were definitely going to see him.

The place for them to go was home, to Galilee.  But Galilee was so much more: it was the place where they met Jesus the first time.  In Mark chapter 1, Jesus starts his ministry by moving into Galilee after the arrest of John the Baptist.  The gospel story is getting ready to start all over again in Galilee.  Galilee was the place where the disciples and the women all first got called, where Jesus taught hard lessons, healed the sick, battled demons and so much more.  What would Jesus do this time?  If past history is any indication, Jesus was going to do much more than simply greet them, “Hi, friends!  How are you?  Good to see you again.”  He was going to ask something of them.  He might even start in again on that business about the call to take up the cross.

No wonder the women were afraid!  This isn’t cowardice or timidity here.  This is holy fear in the presence of God, as when the prophet Ezekiel fell down in a heap when he saw the glory of God.  As when the shepherds feared a great fear when angels appeared to them.  As when the woman who had been healed from the flow of blood by touching Jesus’ robe came to him in fear and trembling and told him the whole story.  As when the disciples were amazed when Jesus stilled the storm.  This is appropriate, holy awe.  They were stunned.

As if an intense experience of the presence of God weren’t enough to blow these faithful women away, there was more.  Resurrection means there is now no more status quo!  If the dead stay dead, you generally know what to expect.  But if the dead don’t stay dead, who knows what will happen? (more…)

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