(NOTE: I’m a little nervous about posting sermons. I’ll right more about that later. However, since this gets at my understanding of church and what’s been swimming around in my head for a few years, I thought I’d post it here.)
I’m going to start off this sermon offering a little insight into my perspective of theology and church and faith. Those who have checked out my blog might recognize some of the themes.
When I got to Girdwood, I started doing some of the things I thought I should do as the only pastor here at the time and being part of a community that didn’t seem quite so sure it could trust a pastor…or a church for that matter. I got involved. I became intimately connected with the community. I served. I cleaned. I planned. I invited. And I attended more meetings than perhaps I needed to. I was not and am not the only one who does this. I’ve always said I thought Girdwood was a community that took “community” seriously. I still believe that.
But that involvement wasn’t just because I thought Girdwood was a neat place that I wanted to be involved or that I thought community was a good thing and that if I was going to make any inroads in the community that was the way to do it. It was because I had AND HAVE an understanding of pastoring and the church that said the church does not exist for those in pews, but exists for the world–for those that hurt, for those that have need, for those that are lost, for those who need to know they are found. Many of you have heard me take a phrase from Disciple Bible Study and say that Jesus and the church exist for “The Least, The Last, and the Lost.” And as I was assigned to Girdwood Chapel I have tried to see this particular expression of the Body of Christ not so much as a place TO DO MINISTRY but as a place TO DO MINISTRY FROM.
I guess, theologically, I understand us to be missionaries for Christ and the church then becomes a place, not so much a place to invite people to be fed, but as a place where we give people the tools whereby they can go into the world to feed others–yes, around the world…but perhaps most importantly here in the community of which we are a part (which many of you will know is a phrase I use a whole lot).
Now, the building process has kind of put a damper on this. It’s been a long process. Some of our most involved leaders and followers have been putting more time than they might have wanted to on this particular task. It hasn’t been so much a matter of “reaching the people out there.” It’s been a matter of building this structure that we need to get out of the way first. It’s been a long process. It’s been seven years since we moved to our present location. It’s been five years since we moved from one side of the property, right by the entrance, to where we are today. In 2007 and 2008, in particular, it was wearing on me. It felt like it was kind of getting in the way of the ministry that I thought we COULD be doing…in the way of the ministry that I thought we SHOULD be doing.
With some light at the end of the proverbial tunnel of our building process, my sermons over the past year or so have been trying to push us in ways to see ourselves as missionaries in this world–sent out as bearers of the Good News on the highways and the byways…to the coffee shops…and the Merc…at the Forest Fair Meeting to the Fire Department…on the chair lift and the classroom chair…on the bike path and in our own families. We are bearers of the Good News. More than a list of rules and regulations, this is what it means to be a follower of Christ….something I confess to doing more haltingly than should be the case for someone who is supposed to be setting some sort of religious example.
And so, whether you’ve seen this coming or not…even whether I’ve seen this coming or not…we have embodied a theology of mission. We’ve had DAYS OF SERVICE, where we’ve gone out in the community to do service projects. We’ve had a series, called “UNCHRISTIAN” that was essentially a guide for those in church to understand how some of those outside of the church may view us. We had a series called, “OUTFLOW,” to biblically construct a framework for you to see how God’s love is intended to flow into your lives and then to your families, your friends, your community, and the whole world. We changed our mission statement, which previously talked of being a “Christian Spiritual=life center,” to one saying “Love God. Love others. Change the world.” Sending us out. Telling the bigness of our God and changing our communities as others are brought into the story.
God may have called us to be here, this Sunday…any Sunday…but he calls us only to send us away as lightbearers for this world.
There is a BIGNESS to a church that is doing something like this. A SMALL church exists for itself. But it’s big when it’s changing lives of those that come…and changing lives of those who come in contact with them because of the grace and mercy and love others experience in them. There is a bigness to the faith that recognizes it is swept up in big salvation story of our God. There is a bigness to the action. It is an understanding of faith and Christ that says it’s too big to be contained and held and sheltered. (It’s like the children’s song today “Hide it under a bushel? NO! I’m gonna’ let it shine.”)
Via that long introduction, we come to the Scripture lesson for today. In this lesson there are three sections.
First is the resurrection account. I know we’re a couple of weeks past Easter, but the resurrection butterflies are still hanging above the altar so I thought it was appropriate to recount that story. This is the story that shapes us and gives meaning and understanding to the power we have from Christ to be the hands and feet of God in the world.
Next we have the famous Walk to Emmaus story where Jesus walks with some unsuspecting travelers and they tell him the horrible and astounding events of the previous days. This gives Jesus the opportunity to announce to them that it was necessary for the Messiah to suffer and go to glory. And, my favorite line in that account, verse 27, “Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the Scriptures.” He laid it all out there for them, telling him how everything (from Genesis, and Isaiah, and the Psalms, and everything) had brought them to this place…the place where he’s telling the story. It’s a call for them and for us to place ourselves in this long salvation story.
Only one of the travelers is named…Cleopas. They were so enthralled by the teaching of the still-unrevealed Jesus that they invited him to spend the evening with them. And, as we know, they don’t recognize who it is that’s among them until Jesus “took bread, gave thanks, broke it, and began to give it to them” (24:30). We have communion here every week in the hopes that you, too, come to recognize who it is among us.
Here’s how Eugene Peterson describes what happened next in “The Message” translation:
They didn’t waste a minute. They were up and on their way back to Jerusalem. They found the Eleven and their friends gathered together, talking away: “It’s really happened! The Master has been raised up—Simon saw him!”
Then the two went over everything that happened on the road and how they recognized him when he broke the bread.
Jesus leaves and the two men run back to Jerusalem to share the good news that Jesus Christ is really risen. THIS is the part of the Emmaus section of the story that I want to focus on right now. Cleopas and “the other guy” are transformed by an encounter with the risen Christ and, all of a sudden, become missionaries. They recognize that they have encountered a message that is too important not to share with the community. It is hoped that their lives are not just changed for this sprint back to the city but for as long as they live. They are part of the story.
We read the scriptures, not as history. We sing our songs, not as performance. I preach, not because I like to hear myself talk (or not ONLY because I like to hear myself talk–and make people laugh.) We do this so that we can see ourselves in the story and learn how to share this story with the folks we meet in our daily lives…no matter where we come into contact with them. This is not about “preaching to the choir” in this place but preaching to the world when we go from this place.
Our church then becomes an outpost for the advancement of the Good News into the world. And how effective we’re being as a church is less dependent on the building or the rear ends in the pews but how our folks — you — are being Christians in the world — how much you’re putting into your walk of faith with Christ.
There is a third section of our Scripture passage from Luke. Cleopas and his friend have high-tailed it to Jerusalem and, as they are recounting all that has happened, Jesus shows up…my guess is that he’s not even winded. He shows them his hands and feet. It says, in verse 41, “while in their joy they were disbelieving, and still wondering.” You gotta’ think it seemed too good to be true. He told them that the Messiah was to suffer and die and that this was all part of the plan. WHY???? This is why, according to Peterson’s translation, The Message:
“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” (Luke 24:47-49).
This mission of the church as a powerful, life-giving, world-shaking, moving, holy entity springs from all that Christ was and is–and did and does. Our mission is a response to Jesus’ mission. We are to reflect God’s mission in and for and to the world in Jesus. We may be called here, but we are sent out…and we are given the power of the Holy Spirit to be sent out and given message of Good News to take with us wherever we go. WE ARE WITNESSES to this great story of the love of our God and invite others along for this ride.
I got an e-mail from your former pastor, Chuck Frost, this week. He doesn’t have an opportunity to preach in his current setting and wondered about the following. Actually, what he said was, “I have a sermon idea that you are free to use. You may think it stinks, but if you don’t, it’s yours.” I don’t think it stinks. Here it is…
I was at a friend’s recently playing guitar and singing Americana style songs. When we came to a song about trains, I mentioned the fascination with trains in roots music and that even my children, who were born in the late 90’s were enamored with trains when you’d think that the modern child might move on to more advanced methods of transportation.
When we lived in Alaska, we would take the boys for a walk during the summer down to a local overpass (very tiny overpass as the town we lived in was much like the one in Northern Exposure) where the train would pass under.
This was a daily highlight…to see the train.
I can clearly remember the high-pitched toddler voices that yelled “TRAIN TRAIN” when they saw it coming around the bend
When I was younger, I am told that I loved to sing Elizabeth Cotton’s “Freight Train” and Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues” (“I hear the train a comin’”).
Of course, for children the fascination extends beyond trains. They are simply fascinated with big objects that move…airplanes, RV’s, Semi’s, motorcycles, and bulldozers.
When my oldest was almost two, we were on a plane taking off from the Mobile, Alabama airport to return home to Alaska. We put his seat at the window and watched his eyes get bigger with childlike wonder at the enormous planes nearby as we waited to depart. He started softly, “ehh-plane.” Then he said it again: “ehhhh-plane”. And again: “ehhhhhhhh-plane.” Each time stretching the first syllable and increasing in volume until he was saying over and over again as loud as a toddler could get “EHHHHHHHHHHHHH-PLANE!” The people around us were not annoyed, but amused as they were giggling along with my wife and me.
The childlike fascination with big, moving vehicles is a joy to see, but it’s the one thing that we rarely lose as we get older. I still look up when I hear a plane or watch a train go by. I especially take note of motorcycles since I am a rider myself.
There is something elemental about this love of big, moving things. We are drawn to moving things that are much bigger than we are. Whether they are physical, communal or spiritual.
We are all drawn to something that’s big and goes somewhere.
Through the death and resurrection and the coming of the Holy Spirit, we are hooked onto a story that is far bigger than ourselves. It’s big. It’s going somewhere. We’re along for the ride.
And, as a church, we go out into the community, to our community, helping others get along for the ride. THAT is how we change the community.
And so we have “A Change the World Weekend” along with many United Methodist Churches this weekend. We’ll have an overnight to raise awareness about the world’s malaria problem. And so we hand out cookies indiscriminately (or as we call it, “Cookie Flinging”) with the sole purpose of saying “we love you” to folks we share this town with. And so we have “Bible and Brew” — our Bible Study in a bar. And so we have Bible and Brew. And so we plan Vacation Bible School. And so we’ll build. And so I preach. And so, I hope, you listen.
How will you invite others to hop on board, latching onto the big story of our God’s love for us? For that is how we change the community.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.