Preaching to the Choir

These are some sermons, but mostly lectionary discussions. It also has prayers for some Sundays.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Psalm 32, Easter 4B

Psalm 23

Today I am meditating on Psalm 23 as I sit outdoors on myporch. I don't really know about sheep, sheepherding or Shepherds, but that doesn't seem to be the point does it. I do know the Shepherd and I want to know him more, and that seems to be the point.

There are a lot of different versions that have been written of Psalm 23 from the Sailor’s Prayer to the Indian’s version to the newest version. Psalm 23 is often described as the most popular Psalm, and most well known. If it is read at funerals, people can recite it with the reader. And even though we no longer in an agrarian society we are still touched by the opening words, The Lord is my shepherd.

Karl Jacobson at the Society for Biblical Literature has written an article called;

Through the Pistol Smoke Dimly: Psalm 23 in Contemporary Film and Song” It is worth the read because it looks at Psalm 23 is popular among the popular—in songs you might actually hear on the radio or movies that aren’t released directly to DVD. He goes on to show some examples of songs and movies that have used Psalm 23 in them. Why is this important to us? Because I think it gives us a look at what culture is doing with scripture and how it is being used and interpreted in a whole different way than we may know. Does it matter on Sunday morning? You bet you it does. Because we may be thinking all warm fuzzies when we read the Psalms, and at the same time it has been read, sung or spoken in some other way. And those are the people we are to be witnessing to, and reaching out to. And we need to know, because that says to me that they don’t really know the shepherd and that they need to know the shepherd.

So if we know the shepherd are we letting others know him as well and what he means to us? Or is it that we too don’t know the shepherd? "A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23," by W. Phillip Keller, which was first published in 1969. Mr. Keller was able to bring a unique perspective to the 23rd Psalm, based upon his life experience. As he explains it: "I grew up in East Africa, surrounded by simple native herders whose customs closely resembled those of their counterparts in the Middle East . . . I actually made my livelihood for about eight years as a sheep owner and sheep rancher . . . later, as the lay pastor of a community church, I shared the truths of this psalm, as a shepherd, with my "flock" every Sunday for several months."book "to keep in mind that the poet is recounting the salient events of the full year in a sheep's life. He takes us with him from the home ranch where every need is so carefully supplied by the owner, out into the green pastures, along the still waters, up through the mountain valleys to the high tablelands of summer." "Obviously, David, in this psalm, is speaking not as the shepherd, though he was one, but as a sheep, one of the flock. He spoke with a strong sense ofpride, devotion, and admiration. It was as though he literally boasted aloud, 'Look at who my shepherd is -- my owner -- my manager! The Lord is! . . . After all, he knew from firsthand experience that the lot in life of any particular sheep depended on the type of man who owned it. Some men were gentle, kind, intelligent, brave, and selfless in their devotion to their stock. Others were not. Under one man sheep would struggle, starve, and suffer endless hardship. In another's care they would flourish and thrive contentedly. . . It is no accident that God has chosen to call us sheep. The behavior of sheep and human beings is similar in many ways. Our mass mind (or mob instincts), our fears and timidity, our stubbornness and stupidity, our perverse habits are all parallels of profound importance. . . . Yet despite these adverse characteristics Christ chooses us, buys us, calls usby name, makes us His own, and delights in caring for us."

Barbara Brown Taylor, in her work on shepherds and shepherding, offers us the insight that sheep might not be as dumb as we've been led to believe. She even suggests that the bad reputation sheep have may have arisen out of rumours spread by members of the cattle industry!"Cows" she says "are herded from the rear by hooting men on horseback cracking whips, but this doesn't work with sheep at all. Stand behind them making loud noises and all they will do is run around behind you, because they prefer to be led. You push cows, but you lead sheep, and they will not go anywhere that someone else does not go first - namely their shepherd - who goes ahead of them to show them that everything is all right.""Sheep tend to grow fond of their shepherds," she says. "A shepherd can apparently walk right through a sleeping flock without disturbing a single sheep, while a stranger could not step a foot in the fold without causing pandemonium. Sheep develop a relationship with their shepherd that is quite exclusive. They develop a language of their own that outsiders are not privy to. A good shepherd can distinguish a bleat of pain from one of pleasure, while the sheep learns that a click of the tongue means food, or a two-note song means that it's time to go home."
There was once a Shakespearean actor who was known everywhere for his one-man shows of readings and recitations from the classics. He would always end his performance with a dramatic reading of Psalm 23.
Each night, without exception, as the actor began his recitation -"The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want" - the crowd would listen attentively. And then, at the conclusion of the Psalm, they would rise in thunderous applause in appreciation of the actor's incredible ability to bring the verse to life.
But one night, just before the actor was to offer his customary recital of Psalm 23, a young man from the audience spoke up. "Sir, do you mind if tonight I recite Psalm 23?" The actor was quite taken back by this unusual request, but he allowed the young man to come forward and stand front and center on the stage to recite the Psalm, knowing that the ability of this unskilled youth would be no match for his own talent.
With a soft voice, the young man began to recite the words of the Psalm. When he was finished, there was no applause. There was no standing ovation as on other nights. All that could be heard was the sound of weeping. The audience had been so moved by the young man's recitation that every eye was full of tears. Amazed by what he had heard, the actor said to the youth, "I don't understand. I have been performing Psalm 23 for years. I have a lifetime of experience and training - but I have never been able to move an audience as you have tonight. Tell me, what is your secret?"
The young man quietly replied, "Well sir, you know the Psalm . . . I know the Shepherd."

Thursday, April 23, 2009

1 John 3:1-7

1 John 3:1-7
Children of God
We are children of God, loved children of God. Thanks be to Jesus for his death and resurrection. And because we are children of God we want to be like Jesus so we purify ourselves as He is pure. On the other hand there are the ones who are rebellious against God. They choose to go against God, sin against God.

There are so many people who have no idea what this means to be children of God. They have no idea what it means to be loved and especially have love lavished on them. Too many have been rebellious against their parents and their family and the world they don’t know how to be any other way. If they found a loving family they would run the other way or try to make it into something they were familiar with.

The problem is that not many church families are truly that loving. And they are especially not loving to outsiders, strangers or people that are different than them. At the same time there are church families that recognize this and have been working hard at being loving.

Just a reminder we are called to be children not childish.

On an Iowa roadside, the old man chats with a pregnant runaway. For the girl, family is a prison, to be broken out of. The old man tells her that he used to give each of his kids a stick and say, "You break that." Of course they could. Then he'd tell them to tie some sticks in a bundle and try to break that. And they couldn't. "Then I'd say, 'That bundle - that's family.'" The next morning, the old man wakes up to find the girl gone, with the hint that she'll be returning home. On the ground is a bundle of sticks with a bow tied around it. -Scene from David Lynch's movie The Straight Story, cited by Richard Corliss in "A Grand Quest," Time, October 25, 1999, 120.
We are an imperfect family, but we are family.

Acts 3:12-19, Easter 3B

Acts 3:12-19 Easter 3B

Prior to these verses in Acts, Peter and John have healed a person who was a beggar and crippled. All the people were astonished and came running to find out what is going on for this person. Verse 12 begins with; When Peter saw this, he said to them: "Men of Israel, why does this surprise you? Why do you stare at us as if by our own power or godliness we had made this man walk? 13The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of our fathers, has glorified his servant Jesus. He thus uses the occasion to witness to Jesus, death and resurrection. In verse 16 we read; By faith in the name of Jesus, this man whom you see and know was made strong. It is Jesus' name and the faith that comes through him that has given this complete healing to him, as you can all see. In verse 19 he then calls them to repentance so that so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord. I wonder why the lectionary stops at verse 19 when there is a comma and it continues into verse 20 which says; 20and that he may send the Christ, who has been appointed for you—even Jesus. But don’t you just like that, repent so that your sins may be wiped out and that times of refreshing may come from the Lord. Peterson in the Message say; so he can wipe away your sins, pour out showers of blessing to refresh you. Wow we certainly are in some times that could use some showers of refreshment from God. And yet how has our unwillingness to repent, to turn, to change, has gotten in the way of our receiving the refreshment God has for us? The locale where Peter preached this sermon had special meaning. Solomon’s Portico was a gathering place for all who came to the temple. It was not the vestibule of the temple, but the eastern range of a columned and roofed part of the temple precincts extending around the outer court. While attributed to Solomon, it was almost certainly built when Herod the Great renovated the temple during the two decades just prior to the birth of Jesus. Everyone who came to the temple, Jews and Gentiles, Jerusalemites and pilgrims alike, would have assembled there. The Beautiful Gate through the east side of the portico gave access to the temple courts from the Kidron Valley and the Mount of Olives. The poor and disabled would come there begging for alms from the multitude. This was the occasion for Peter’s sermon to the amazed crowd after healing the man lame from birth (vss. 2-8).You could focus on the by faith in the name of Jesus this man has been healed.You could focus on repentance and what comes from it.You could focus on the various names of Jesus that Peter refers to; the Holy and Righteous One, the author of life and servant Jesus.But what makes this passage hard is the tone of anti-Semitism by Peter. So which way is a Preacher suppose to go with this Acts passage for Sunday?

Psalm 4, Easter 3 B

Psalm 4

In verse 1, the Psalmist says; “Answer me when I call to you, O my righteous God. Give me relief from my distress; be merciful to me and hear my prayer.” Isn’t this a prayer for today. Aren’t most people looking for relief from their distress? Aren’t we? Verse 3 gives the answer: 3 Know that the LORD has set apart the godly for himself; the LORD will hear when I call to him.
But then the Psalmist puts responsibility on the us as well in verse 4; In your anger do not sin; when you are on your beds, search your hearts and be silent. And then again in verse 5 Offer right sacrifices and trust in the LORD.
The Psalmist then continues in praise of what God has done in the last verses; Let the light of your face shine upon us, O LORD. You have filled my heart with greater joy than when their grain and new wine abound. I will lie down and sleep in peace, for you alone, O LORD, make me dwell in safety.

There are sure a lot of people who have sleep disorders, sleep problems, difficulty sleeping. This is a Psalm to turn to when one has trouble sleeping. What keeps you up at night? Is it worry? The bills? The debt? Job security? Children? Marital problems? Old resentments and hurt? Memories from the past? Grudges? Guilt over things left undone? The “what ifs,” and the “if onlies?” Lies, deceit? What’s keeping you awake at night?
The Psalmist tells us to cry out to the Lord, and that when we lie down to search our hearts and be silent? Have you done that? Do you know how to do that? Well, in AA they practice this every night as a way of putting to rest any unresolved parts of the day. They can’t afford to let it build up, or it will ruin their sobriety. Neither can we as Christians.
John Wesley would ask the members of the classes of Methodism; “How is it with your soul?” At the Band meetings he would ask, “What known sins have you committed since our last meeting?” two questions for ordination are the same now as they were in Wesley’s day: “Are you going on to perfection?” and “Do you expect to be made perfect in love in this life?” Here are some more of John Wesley’s questions:
1. Am I consciously or unconsciously creating the impression that I am better than I am? In other words, am I a hypocrite?
2. Am I honest in all my acts and words, or do I exaggerate?
3. Do I confidentially pass onto another what was told me in confidence?
4. Am I a slave to dress, friends, work , or habits?
5. Am I self-conscious, self-pitying, or self-justifying?
6. Did the Bible live in me today?
7. Do I give it time to speak to me everyday?
8. Am I enjoying prayer?
9. When did I last speak to someone about my faith?
10. Do I pray about the money I spend?
11. Do I get to bed on time and get up on time?
12. Do I disobey God in anything?
13. Do I insist upon doing something about which my conscience is uneasy?
14. Am I defeated in any part of my life?
15. Am I jealous, impure, critical, irritable, touchy or distrustful?
16. How do I spend my spare time?
17. Am I proud?
18. Do I thank God that I am not as other people, especially as the Pharisee who despised the publican?
19. Is there anyone whom I fear, dislike, disown, criticize, hold resentment toward or disregard? If so, what am I going to do about it?
20. Do I grumble and complain constantly?21. Is Christ real to me?

B. Wesley’s Band Meeting Questions:
1. What known sins have you committed since our last meeting?
2. What temptations have you met with?
3. How were you delivered?
4. What have you thought, said, or done, of which you doubt whether it be sin or not?
5. Have you nothing you desire to keep secret?
Reference: John Wesley’s Class Meetings: a Model for Making Disciples, by D. Michael Henderson, Evangel Publishing House, 1997, pp. 118-9

However you choose to search your heart, I hope you sleep well.

Monday, April 20, 2009

The Road to Emmaus: Luke 24:13-49, Easter 3B

The Road to Emmaus
Luke 24:13-49
We are so familiar with this story and if you have been on a walk to Emmaus it is poignant for you. Don’t you just love it two people walking along, talking and Jesus shows up in the midst of them, only they don’t know or seem to recognize him.
He acts like he doesn’t know anything and ask them Columbo like questions. They are grief stricken and are irritated by his questions, but they answer him anyway. They tell him the recent events, but conclude with telling Jesus that the body was taken. So thick-headed! So slow-hearted! Is what the Message has Jesus saying to them. This doesn’t waken them to who he is. He has supper with them. It is in the breaking and blessing of the bread that they recognize who he is. Then he is gone. Their words are then; "Didn't we feel on fire as he conversed with us on the road, as he opened up the Scriptures for us?" The scripture goes on to show another time Jesus appears to them and shares a meal with them.

Then he said, "Everything I told you while I was with you comes to this: All the things written about me in the Law of Moses, in the Prophets, and in the Psalms have to be fulfilled."
45-49He went on to open their understanding of the Word of God, showing them how to read their Bibles this way. He said, "You can see now how it is written that the Messiah suffers, rises from the dead on the third day, and then a total life-change through the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed in his name to all nations—starting from here, from Jerusalem! You're the first to hear and see it. You're the witnesses. What comes next is very important: I am sending what my Father promised to you, so stay here in the city until he arrives, until you're equipped with power from on high."
So what does all this mean for you and me? For our congregations? Where have we experienced Jesus and did not recognize him? Where have we had our hearts burning when we met Jesus? In the breaking of the bread? A meal shared? In times of fellowship with someone? Conversation? When have we been slow-hearted and thick-headed? Have we not believed?
Isn’t it interesting that even though these early disciples were slow-hearted and thick-headed, he still chose them to be his witnesses. It is the same today. You would think Jesus would have chosen another group by now, but no he still is about using you and me even with our weakness and strengths to be his witnesses.
Check out Barbara Brown Taylor's sermon on this text, "Hands and Feet," from her collection, Home by Another Way. She points out how Jesus draws their attention to his hands and feet. She points how the hands and feet of Jesus had been important in his ministry, healing people, breaking bread, traveling around with the good news: "They were wounded now--all of them--the hands that had joined him to other people and the feet that had joined him to the earth. They had holes in them, sore angry-looking bruises that hurt them to look at, only it was important for the disciples to look, because they had never done it before....He wanted them to know he had gone through the danger and not around it." Taylor says, goes on to say: "When that world looks around for the risen Christ, when they want to know what that means, it is us they look at. Not our pretty faces and not our sincere eyes but our hands and feet--what we have done with them and where we have gone with them"
In an Easter sermon at Trinity Church in Boston, the Rev. Pamela L. Foster, discusses what it means to be Easter people: “Mr. Paul Rusesabagina, is the former manager of Hotel Rwanda. In the midst of the Rwanda genocide, Mr. Rusesabagina, with great risk to himself, was able to convince Hutu authorities to leave unharmed for longer than anyone would have imagined possible the Tutsi people who had taken refuge in the hotel. This shaky agreement made possible some safe passage convoys that otherwise never would have occurred. In a recent interview, Rusesabagina was asked how he had been able to convince the authorities to grant that precarious asylum. In his reply, he spoke the following sentence: ‘Even the hardest heart has a part that is soft.’ He is one man. We Easter people are many.” See the movie Hotel Rwanda

Friday, April 17, 2009

The I John Passage for Easter 2B

1 John 1:1-2:2
Fellowship with Jesus, fellowship with one another and dis-fellowship(my new word) with sin. Joy and more joy!
5This, in essence, is the message we heard from Christ and are passing on to you: God is light, pure light; there's not a trace of darkness in him. 6-7If we claim that we experience a shared life with him and continue to stumble around in the dark, we're obviously lying through our teeth—we're not living what we claim. But if we walk in the light, God himself being the light, we also experience a shared life with one another, as the sacrificed blood of Jesus, God's Son, purges all our sin.

1-2I write this, dear children, to guide you out of sin. But if anyone does sin, we have a Priest-Friend in the presence of the Father: Jesus Christ, righteous Jesus. When he served as a sacrifice for our sins, he solved the sin problem for good—not only ours, but the whole world's.

John in this letter is telling us what God has for us and a guide out of the sin life.

John Wesley in his notes says; "We have for our advocate, not a mean person, but him of whom it was said, "This is my beloved son." Not a guilty person, who stands in need of pardon for himself; but Jesus Christ the righteous; not a mere petitioner, who relies purely upon liberality, but one that has merited, fully merited, whatever he asks."

Check out the sermon “That Our Joy May Be Complete” by Jana Childers Dean and Professor of Homiletics, San Francisco Theological Seminary. She begins with the song, Will the Circle be Unbroken, using that as a metaphor about what we long for in church and life. She does have a way with words.

C. Clifton Black at Working Preacher says this; In simple terms, this is 1 John's theme throughout: the coherence of the church with God's love expressed in Jesus Christ. In practice, it is not at all simple; for soon we learn that the letter's author is distraught over a schism in that church, a divorce over who Jesus is and the difference his coming has made (cf. 1 John 2:18-25; 4:1-6; 5:1-12). The author writes with heartfelt hope that "our joy may be consummated" (1 John 1:4). First, John's memo to the church: let's not pretend that for generations the message handed down is some figment of a sick or infantile imagination. Let's not sing of community while stabbing others in the back. Let's not kid ourselves that we'd never think of such a thing and haven't done it. God is no fool, and Jesus didn't give his life for us to continue living our lies. Easter is God's refusal to leave the world in the lurch, the risen Son's promise to reclaim us and everyone else for his Father.

1 John gives us a window into a first Christian community rife with dissension, if not complete schism. In Acts of the Apostles we see what looks like a very civilized community. John helps us to see that Christians have been bitterly fighting each other since the beginning. Behavioral issues are described in 2:7-8 and 3:10-11. What is clear is that the two factions had forgotten how to love each other despite their theological differences.

Check out this article: Sin Is When Life Freezes (I John 1:8) by Dorothy Solle. Perhaps her title says it all, and that not only do we freeze, but our relationships freeze, our fellowship of the community freezes, our fellowship with God freezes. She has several illustrations in this article that are good too.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Psalm 133 for Easter 2b

Psalm 133 NIV
A song of ascents. Of David

1 How good and pleasant it is
when brothers live together in unity!
2 It is like precious oil poured on the head,
running down on the beard,
running down on Aaron's beard,
down upon the collar of his robes.
3 It is as if the dew of Hermon
were falling on Mount Zion.
For there the LORD bestows his blessing,
even life forevermore.

The Psalms for Sunday’s Lectionary continues the theme of being in community with one another as one of unity. The message says it this way: How wonderful, how beautiful, when brothers and sisters get along! Yes, that's where God commands the blessing, ordains eternal life. I didn’t want to leave the women out of this community.

This is literally a song of ascents, sung by the worshipers as they went up the high place; Jerusalem and ultimately to the temple which was on the mount.

Nancy Koester at working says the following; As the Temple in Jerusalem was the high place for the Jewish people, so Easter is the high point of the Gospel. From here the Gospel spreads around the world. Jesus has risen from the tomb, and he raises us up from unbelief to faith, from death to everlasting life.Faith in the risen Christ draws people--not only to see things from this Easter point of view, but to see things with our fellow Christians. The risen Lord creates a new family of those who believe in him. The Gospel flows down freely from the summit of Easter and makes one family in Christ. Easter unites Christians around the world. Standing on this high place, we become one in faith, hope and love. According to the New Interpreter's Bible, the word "kindred" (which may also be translated "brothers") does not mean blood relatives, but a people joined by God's grace1.

What is all the liquid about? The high priest's hair was saturated with oil (Exodus 29:7), signifying his total consecration to God. Mount “Hermon” (v. 3, west of Damascus) receives copious rain; for Jerusalem (“Zion”) to receive as much would be true abundance. From Chris Haslam Revised Common Lectionary Commentary

More from Nancy Koester; In our times of conflict and economic distress, Psalm 133 is like water on parched ground. People who are divided and estranged from one another need God's call to "live together in unity." For them, this Psalm offers hope and the promise of kinship in Christ. And people suffer scarcity in everything from food and housing, to justice and love. The message: God loves us abundantly and holds nothing back.Easter is like the oil of blessing, bringing people together in faith. Easter is like the dew of Mount Hermon, flowing with abundant life.

Quotes and illustrations from the African American Lectionary
“There is a difference between unity and uniformity. Dwelling together in unity does not mean that we are rubber-stamped into a similar form. The church is not to be involved in cookie cutter Christianity. Christian unity is not brought about by mechanical restrictions and regulations. Christian unity is a heart union of believers ready to work together for the purpose of glorifying God and furthering the work of his kingdom.”

-Raymond E. Brown The Unity and Diversity in New Testament Ecclesiology
“Unity is the need of the hour.”
-Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

“When it was born in Jerusalem, the church was a fellowship. When it went to Greece, it became a philosophy. When it went to Rome, it became an institution. When it went to Europe, it became a culture. When it went to America it became an enterprise. How the Church needs to return to being a Fellowship again.”
-Lance D. Watson

During Vacation Bible School, a class was interrupted when a new student was brought in. The little boy had one arm missing, and the teacher was very nervous that one of the other children might comment on his handicap and embarrass him. As the class time came to a close, she asked the class to join her in their usual closing ceremony. “Let’s make our churches,” she said. “Here’s the church and here’s the steeple, open the doors and . . .” The awful truth of her own actions struck her. The very thing she had feared that the children would do, she had done. As she stood there speechless, the little girl sitting next to the boy reached over with her left hand and placed it up to his right hand and said, “Here, let’s make the church together.”
- Author Unknown

During Vacation Bible School, a class was interrupted when a new student was brought in. The little boy had one arm missing, and the teacher was very nervous that one of the other children might comment on his handicap and embarrass him. As the class time came to a close, she asked the class to join her in their usual closing ceremony. “Let’s make our churches,” she said. “Here’s the church and here’s the steeple, open the doors and . . .” The awful truth of her own actions struck her. The very thing she had feared that the children would do, she had done. As she stood there speechless, the little girl sitting next to the boy reached over with her left hand and placed it up to his right hand and said, “Here, let’s make the church together.”
- Author Unknown

I heard a story about a visitor to a mental hospital for the criminally insane. The visitor was shocked to see that only 3 guards were supervising more than 100 dangerous inmates. He asked the guide, “Don’t you fear these people will plot an escape and overpower the guards?” “Don’t worry about that,” The guard assured him. “Lunatics never unite.”
- Author Unknown

“Unity, rather than majority is the principle of corporate guidance. More than mere agreement, it is the perception that we have heard the voice of God. We do not seek compromise, but God-given consensus.”
-Richard Foster, Celebration of Discipline

Easter 2B, Acts 4:32-37

-Karl Barth once said the following: The Christian community is the Easter community. Our preaching is Easter preaching, Our hymns are Easter hymns,Our faith is an Easter faith. When you read the Acts passage for the lectionary this Sunday, you get the feeling he was basing what he said on this very passage.

Acts 4:32-37 32Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common. 33With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. 34There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold. 35They laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need. 36There was a Levite, a native of Cyprus, Joseph, to whom the apostles gave the name Barnabas (which means “son of encouragement”). 37He sold a field that belonged to him, then brought the money, and laid it at the apostles’ feet.

How far we have come from those early days of the Christian Community. Dan Clendenin reminds us of the findings in the book the UnChristian, which is a must read for all of us. David Kinnaman of the Barna Group presents statistical research and extensive interviews from a three-year study that document how an overwhelming percentage of sixteen to twenty-nine year olds view Christians with hostility, resentment and disdain.

broadly and deeply negative views of Christians aren't just superficial stereotypes with no basis in reality, says Kinnaman. Nor are the critics people who've had no contact with churches or Christians. It would be a tragic mistake, he argues, for believers to protest that outsider outrage at Christians is a misperception. Rather, it's based upon their real experiences with today's Christians.

According to Kinnaman's Barna study, here are the percentages of people outside the church who think that the following words describe present-day Christianity:
* antihomosexual 91%
* judgmental 87%
* hypocritical 85%
* old-fashioned 78%
* too political 75%
* out of touch with reality 72%
* insensitive to others 70%
* boring 68%
It would be hard to overestimate, says Kinnaman, "how firmly people reject — and feel rejected by — Christians" (19). Or think about it this way, he suggests: "When you introduce yourself as a Christian to a friend, neighbor, or business associate who is an outsider, you might as well have it tattooed on your arm: antihomosexual, gay-hater, homophobic. I doubt you think of yourself in these terms, but that's what outsiders think of you" (93).
Gabe Lyons of the Fermi Project who commissioned the Barna research remembers his first look at the data. "I'll never forget sitting in Starbucks, poring through the research results on my laptop. As I soaked it in, I glanced at the people around me and was overwhelmed with the thought that this is what they think of me. It was a sobering thought to know that if I had stood up and announced myself as a 'Christian' to the customers assembled in Starbucks that day, they would have associated me with every one of the negative perceptions described in this book" (222, his italics).
Acts 2:47 says they "enjoyed the favor of all the people". I don’t know that it matters that we enjoy the favor of all the people, because we know that the early church was persecuted and martyred as well. But I do believe that if we are living in Resurrection Faith and as Easter people the community is more of a community that it is now.

I think that you can not take this Acts passage out of chapter 4 and present it on its own standing. I think you have to read it in context. Peter and John were temporarily held for their preaching and then released. They come back to the group and report the events. They all then join in prayer. Read the prayer.
After they are through praying, the place where they were meeting trembled and shook. They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak God's Word with fearless confidence. The whole congregation of believers was united as one—one heart, one mind!

This kind of community cannot be forced, cannot just come from NCD or doing what all the other famous so called successful churches are doing. This kind of community comes from the courageous leadership of the leaders, prayer, and most of all from God through the power of the Holy Spirit, and the members being willing to receive what God has for them. Then they can be of one heart, one mind, and one community.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Easter 2b Lectionary Discussion

I missed preaching Easter Sunday, but I love what our preacher did on Easter Sunday. The title was Taking Mary's Part, it was great. I am not preaching this upcoming Sunday either. In fact I don't preach again until May. But if I were preaching this Sunday at Trinity it would be on the Gospel lesson. And it would be in C and C as this Sunday we have a guest preacher for Traditional. I was thinking this morning of the sermon series that my former Pastor, Creede Hinshaw from long ago did, called Easter People. I have always wanted to preach a series called Easter People.

Easter 2b Gospel passage is John 20:19-31. It begins with the disciples hiding out behind locked doors in fear of the Jews. It is the initial appearance of Jesus to them coming through those locked doors. His words to them; "Peace to you". After he has shown himself to them and their recognition, he tells them again, peace to you, but guess what you are now the ones being sent.
Not sure they got that right then and there. But for a dose of assurance he breathes on them the holy spirit so they can do the work of forgiveness in the world.

Well in comes Thomas later after Jesus appearance. He must have gone into deep hiding or something to not be with them. He doesn't believe them at all that they have seen Jesus, after all they have been behind locked doors. It isn't until eight days later that they are all together again, and Jesus makes his second appearance. This time Thomas believes after some persuading from Jesus.

Jesus then says those words to them; "you believe because you've seen with your own eyes. Even better blessings are in store for those who believe without seeing."

And so the question comes; How to preach this passage? You can take the approach of the doubts we have, but doubt is not a word used here in the passage. Richard Carlson at points out that actually Thomas has a response that is conditional using the words "if"..."then". He then goes on to ask and say: How often do we approach our faith relationship as a legal contract in which we seek to establish the terms by which we will respond with faith? "If I have historical proof...If I have a sign...If near-death experiences can verify...If God would do...If Jesus would cure...Then I will believe in Christ...Then I will know that God exists...Then I will know that there is life after death...Then I will make a commitment of faith."

Frederick Buechner wrote in the sermon, "The Seeing Heart," on this text. We've all heard Thomas called "the Doubter," but Buechner focuses on his other name, "the Twin." He confesses that "if you want to know who the other twin is, I can tell you. I am the other twin, and unless I miss my guess, so are you."

You know it would be easy to judge the disciples who hid away in that room behind locked doors led by their fears. It would be easy to smirk at Thomas as well. But I am thankful they decided to come out from behind those locked doors and fears and get about the business of being sent into the world empowered by the breath of the Holy Spirit. But what has happened that we now are the ones seemingly locked behind the doors of the church building or behind our fears? What has happened to our being sent into the world? When did we stop going and started staying behind locked doors? What will it take to get us out again?