Once Upon A Time
1 Peter 2:2-10
† In Jesus Name †
May the grace of God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ overwhelm your heart with the knowledge you belong to Him, for you have received mercy!
A struggle to belong
I’m going to list a group of television shows and movies and I want you to think about them as I do. You may not know them all, but think about what they have in common,
The Breakfast Club, MASH, Friends, Force 10 from Nazarene, the Power Rangers, Stripes, Grey’s Anatomy, Seinfeld, Gilligan’s Island, Cheers, the Dick Van Dyke show, Lost.
You might know some of those movies and shows, a few of you might know all of them. Some of those are comedies, some dramas, some tragedies. They span five decades, and include diverse casts, playing diverse people. People who will get on each other’s nerves, that won’t understand each other at first. They will grow to depend on each other and find a place in each other’s lives.
Which is why we resonate to such shows.
It gives us a hope that we might find a group of people we belong with, that we can depend upon, a group that belonging to will give us something to identify ourselves by. A chance to stop being the outsider but to belong.
But they are only television shows, they are only movies. No matter how much they resonate with us, they are simply stories that strike a chord in our soul. These things help us identify a need that the Apostle Peter identified for us nearly 2000 years ago. He described the need this way,
Once you had no identity as a people…
Once upon a time, you didn’t belong, you had no place in life, you were broken off, lost, helpless.
But all that has changed now.
how we got there
There has been a great concern for a couple of decades regarding how we see ourselves, our self-esteem, how we see ourselves, how each one of us identifies themselves.
We, as a culture, and as individuals struggle with this, and because of that, we often fell left out, not part of the in-group. Most of the characters in the movies and shows I mentioned had that problem. And they dealt with if differently.
Some very aggressively, trying to lead and dominate the group
Others tried to impress, or make themselves valuable and needed.
A few kept back, afraid to trust others, afraid for people to see who they really were.
And many tried all of those tactics at one time or another.
We do this today as well, as we try to figure out our roles, to figure out the meaning in our life. We want a reason to belong, a valid reason that gives us value.
The problem with this is that our creating our identity usually backfires, for what happens is we separate ourselves from those not like us, who we think cannot understand us, and the further we separate, the harder it is to let the others be part of our life.
We just go on our own way and assume no one else knows or even cares. We realize we aren’t like others and we won’t fit it with them. Hurt by this, and even angry about it, we eventually will make the decision that they aren’t worth it.
Which is why the following
43 “You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy. 44 But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! 45 In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven
Jesus goes on…
46 If you love only those who love you, what reward is there for that? Even corrupt tax collectors do that much. 47 If you are kind only to your friends, how are you different from anyone else? Even pagans do that. 48 But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect. Matthew 5:43-48 (NLT)
Anyone struggling with this standard? Anybody else got a group of people they don’t understand, don’t like, are afraid of, and can’t imagine being part of that you find it hard to love?
Yeah? Well, Jesus calls you to love them.
That is what following Jesus, results in, that is your identity, what it means to receive mercy…when you can’t imagine someone showing you mercy.
The key is found in Peter’s words about acting like babies. Seriously!
Hear Peter’s words again,
2 Like newborn babies, you must crave pure spiritual milk so that you will grow into a full experience of salvation. Cry out for this nourishment, 3 now that you have had a taste of the Lord’s kindness. 4 You are coming to Christ, who is the living cornerstone of God’s temple.
Where I to have several hours to preach, I would explain the cornerstone illustration more completely. But realize this – God has given us an identity, a part in those who are called to be His people. Each one of connected to Jesus the cornerstone,
We find our identity in how we relate to Him, we find our place in life based on His place in our life. We find out who we are in God’s eyes, and we find the mercy, the welcome, the hospitality in the eyes of Jesus who died and is risen, that we would know life.
But this is just a little taste of His love, of His desire to make us His own. Peter says to crave experience this love, now that you know about it, drink deeply of His love, desire it, make experiencing it the major priority of your life.
For knowing His love, with not just your mind but your heart, your soul, that is what helps you realize you fit in, that we all do, for we find our place in our relationship to God.
Our identity as well, and the reason we can love those we formerly didn’t fit in with, for they two are coming to Jesus, and being made part of His chosen people, called out of the darkness into His glorious light.
For once upon a time you had no identity, but now you are identified as His people.
Devotional Thought of the Day:
9 Love must be completely sincere. Hate what is evil, hold on to what is good. 10 Love one another warmly as Christians, and be eager to show respect for one another. 11 Work hard and do not be lazy. Serve the Lord with a heart full of devotion. 12 Let your hope keep you joyful, be patient in your troubles, and pray at all times. 13 Share your belongings with your needy fellow Christians, and open your homes to strangers. 14 Ask God to bless those who persecute you—yes, ask him to bless, not to curse. 15 Be happy with those who are happy, weep with those who weep. 16 Have the same concern for everyone. Do not be proud, but accept humble duties. Do not think of yourselves as wise. 17 If someone has done you wrong, do not repay him with a wrong. Try to do what everyone considers to be good. 18 Do everything possible on your part to live in peace with everybody. Romans 12:9-18 (TEV)
Christian experience begins in the everyday world of communal experience. Today, the interior space in which Church is experienced is, for many, a foreign world. Nevertheless, this world continues to be a possibility, and it will be the task of religious education to open doors on the experiential space Church and to encourage people to take an interest in this kind of experience. When people share the same faith, when they pray, celebrate, rejoice, suffer, and live together, Church becomes “community” and thus a real living space that enables humanity to experience faith as a life-bringing force in daily life and in the crises of existence.
As a young believer, I watched the church betray and hurt people I loved. I’ve seen it again recently, to more than one person.
It puts the words from Pope Benedict above in a different context, as he speaks of those for whom the experience of being the church is a foreign world. We aren’t talking about those who are completely blinded to the gospel, we are talking about those who have had to seek refuge from the Church.
Why would the place described as the place where we “experience faith as a life bringing force in daily life and the crises of existence” be the place where such faith is snuffed?
Have we forgotten that the church is a body, that we are to have the same concern for everyone, weeping and laughing with them, That we are to try and live in peace with everyone? This is why we talk of church as a community, a communion, a fellowship. Everyone is important, no one is to be silenced because they are drowned out by the crowd.
But how do we create this environment in the church? How do train leaders to develop such a spirit, especially in a culture which promotes narcissism? How do we do this in a culture which says we have to take care of things at home?
Pope benedict talks of the mission of religious education being to help people experience this – but how can they, if the church is more often seen as a cold and heartless place?
My answer may seem to simply, but it is the only one I’ve seen work. That answer is to work on developing hearts full of devotion. This kind of church is not something naively discussed, but it occurs as God’s presence is revealed, and people adore Him, because of what His presence brings about, the lives of joy that His presence creates, strengthens, and sustain.
We find what people what we need, in the communion of saints, the communion that is fashioned by Jesus, and gathers and laughs and cries, as He laughs and cries with us… all as one.
This is where the church is, where it is experienced, where it goes and finds refuge from the world, and then brings others to experience that refuge. AMEN
Ratzinger, Joseph. Co-Workers of the Truth: Meditations for Every Day of the Year. Ed. Irene Grassl. Trans. Mary Frances McCarthy and Lothar Krauth. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1992. Print.
(TEV)Devotional Discussion Thought fo the Day:
1 I, then, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to live in a manner worthy of the call you have received, 2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another through love, 3 striving to preserve the unity of the spirit through the bond of peace: 4 one body and one Spirit, as you were also called to the one hope of your call; 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism; 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. Ephesians 4:1-6 (NAB)
Not only by the reception of the sacrament but by the words associated with the sacrament the heart will be encouraged to believe and be quickened. For it is in the words that God promises the forgiveness of sins: “This is my body, given for you.” “This is the cup of the new covenant,” is the new promise, the promised righteousness, eternal life, “in my blood which is shed for many for the remission of sin.”
Thus they obtain the forgiveness of sins not through any outward act but through the faith which is awakened by the word and the sign.
Also the people are to be taught that this sign has been instituted not only to awaken faith but also to instruct us in love, as St. Paul says in I Cor. 10[:17]: “It is one loaf and it is one body, for we all partake of the same loaf.” We are not to harbor envy and hatred, but each is to care for the other, to help the other with alms and every kind of service which God has commanded us.
This teaching shall be repeated often. For what else is it than dishonor of the body of Christ when we harbor envy and hate and want to show no love and yet want to be considered a part of the body of Christ
First of all, that the Last Supper of Jesus is recognized as the authentic occasion of the founding of the Church: Jesus bestows on his own this liturgy of his death and Resurrection and, in doing so, bestows on them also the feast of life. At the Last Supper he repeats the covenant of Mount Sinai—or better: what was there initiated only in signs becomes here the full reality—a union of blood and life between God and mankind. When we say this, it is clear that the Last Supper anticipates both Cross and Resurrection yet at the same time necessarily presumes them, for otherwise everything would be but an empty gesture. That is why the Fathers of the Church could say, in a very beautiful image, that the Church sprang from the open side of the Lord, from which there flowed blood and water. That is, in reality, only another way of formulating the thought I express when I say: the Last Supper is the beginning of the Church. For it always means that the Eucharist unites mankind not only with one another but with Christ and so constitutes humanity as the Church, thus giving, at the same time, the basic constitution of the Church: the Church lives in eucharistic communities
Some people are afraid of it, for they assume unity means compromise.
Some people are afraid of it because they know that such unity does mean change, and requires us to submit our will, our right to grievances, our resentment and even jealousy to God’s desire for His people.
Some are simply afraid of it, no let’s be honest, we are afraid of “them.” Of those we’ve been taught to stand opposed to, even as we recognize that we confess the same creeds ( or if we are “anti-creedal – we cover the same ground in our faith statements.)
And yet, in the New Testament, there is a definite call for the church to be “one,” to be unified, to be about the ministry of reconciliation. It is part of Jesus prayer, where He asks the Father to bless us, that we would all be one. It is a major them in the 2 letters to the Corinthians, and to the Galatians, it is obviously here in Ephesians, and the great passage in Philippians 2 describing in Christ’s ministry to us, is to urge us to unity, to submit our personal desires and even needs to serve those who need it.
Even our enemies, even those we are afraid of, even those who cause anxiety.
This kind of unity is not worked out in theological dialogues, or debates. It is not fostered by blogs and vlogs and podcasts. In fact, those monologs, even ones like this urging unity, don’t foster the unity.
That is done in the sacraments, where God shows unity not only to be possible, but to be created. Some will hopefully wet our appetite for such a unity, while I fear far more urge greater division, greater separation because of a false understanding of holiness and purity.
In our mutual baptism, we are each joined to Christ. Where we are so united, we share in His death, and in the resurrection. But even as we individually are drawn to Him, and find that He has united us to Himself, we find we are united together.
We also see it as we kneel and commune, as we share in the body and blood of Jesus together. Where each of us is reminded we are part of the covenant, and we commune with the Body and Blood of Jesus, together. Here are the words of St. Paul on this,
16 The cup we use in the Lord’s Supper and for which we give thanks to God: when we drink from it, we are sharing in the blood of Christ. And the bread we break: when we eat it, we are sharing in the body of Christ. 17 Because there is the one loaf of bread, all of us, though many, are one body, for we all share the same loaf.
1 Corinthians 10:16-17 (TEV)
It is in these things where we not only encounter God, but are joined to them that we find we are joined. Where the urgency that Paul observes finds not only hope, but the reality of what it means to be “one, holy (pure/set apart), catholic (universal – there is only one) and apostolic ( the church with a mission, a church that is sent into the word) Church.
A mission that is seen as people look at His church, His people and say, “see what love they have for each other!” and thereby are drawn to Jesus. AMEN!
Luther, Martin. Luther’s Works, Vol. 40: Church and Ministry II. Ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann. Vol. 40. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1999. Print.
Ratzinger, Joseph. Co-Workers of the Truth: Meditations for Every Day of the Year. Ed. Irene Grassl. Trans. Mary Frances McCarthy and Lothar Krauth. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1992. Print.
Devotional Thought of the Day:
19 Nevertheless, listen to my prayer and my plea, O LORD my God. Hear the cry and the prayer that your servant is making to you. 20 May you watch over this Temple day and night, this place where you have said you would put your name. May you always hear the prayers I make toward this place. 21 May you hear the humble and earnest requests from me and your people Israel when we pray toward this place. Yes, hear us from heaven where you live, and when you hear, forgive. 2 Chronicles 6:19-21 (NLT)
1 If GOD doesn’t build the house, the builders only build shacks. If GOD doesn’t guard the city, the night watchman might as well nap.
Psalm 127:1 (MSG)
About 12 years ago, I was in a program that trained pastors for what is called Intentional Interim Ministry, or what I prefer to call Transitional Ministry. It trained pastors, many retired or about to retire, in how to help a conflicted church or a church whose identity was found in relationship to their old pastor prepare to be shepherded by someone new.
A lot of the material was excellent, but there was one theory I questioned then, and I question even more now. It was called the “life-cycle” of a church. It proposed that most churches were lasting about 40 years, and 25 years into that cycle they began to decline. Often overlooked in that discussion was the exception. I questioned the theory and the basis for it. I have seen too many churches that have existed for hundreds of years and are still a cornerstone of their community. I also wondered about the correlation of the theory to the generation it originated in – the baby boomers.
Now, I see the theory has become self-fulfilling. But I still don’t think it is accurate. Here is why.
1. How we use our talent.
If we buy into the fact that a church has a specific life-cycle, then we will see a move to use our human resources and gifts accordingly. Our brighter seminarians will be taught that the best will be the large church pastors or church planters.
After all, the statistics infer that the biggest “bang for the buck” is not in established parishes and congregations, but in doing something new. Those churches in the decline or approaching 40 years will be relegated to men who go through the motions, or as the clergy crisis draws nearer, to retirees who are great preachers, but don’t have the energy or drive to disciple and work in the community.
2. How we use our money.
What we will see here is similar, Rather than invest in the costly upkeep of 40-70-year-old churches, we will fund new initiatives, and ministries that make us feel like we are accomplishing things now. Effectively we will teach the next generation that sacrifice and determination are not as important and that it is better to give up and abandon, rather than dig deep and care for a community. (we already see this in the wastelands of cities that have been abandoned)
By the way, I am not just talking about the gothic cathedrals, but the store front chapels, the inner city, and extreme rural churches.
3. We devalue the people in a place
The first church I was called to pastor was a little place with 14 senior citizens left by the time I got there. I was told by “the experts” that the most effective strategy was to drive off the people, close the doors, and re-open the church six months later with a new name. They were willing to put their money where their mouth was and offer me a generous salary if I went with their logic.
But they couldn’t answer how these people would be cared for, where they would hear of God’s love. I have since heard other leaders say it doesn’t matter; they will find some place to go, if they can’t travel to the new church plant, well they can go to some other church in their community. These people of God didn’t matter, what mattered more were the resources they were hoarding, that they weren’t using. They didn’t see any value to them. They didn’t see them as children of God, as fellow brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus.
Where there’s is no prophetic vision, scriptures tell us, people will perish. When we teach them that their church must leave a legacy, rather than have them share what God is doing, then that is all that is left. A legacy. We’ve robbed them of what is theirs in Christ Jesus.
4. We dishonor God, and dismiss His promises
As I look at scripture, while the church is the people of God, there is always a special bond between the people and the land where they gather with God. The promised land to Abraham, the altars of Jacob/Israel, the role of the tabernacle and then Solomon’s temple. God always talked of a place where He would put His name, where He would gather His own. The only time those places “closed” and something new was started was during times of sin and rebellion. Times where people did what was right in their own eyes. Times when the people forgot the promises of God, and leaned on their own strength and understanding.
While a church building today isn’t the same as the Temple – it is still dedicated and set aside for a purpose. There are still those who are baptized there, where the Body and Blood of Christ is a feast of our communion with God. Where we celebrate new life, both physical and spiritual, and where we give thanks for those who are part of us, who have died and gone home.
When we invest in the new, as if it is the best, if not only hope for the church, we dismiss God, and we discount people.
But what if we invested in these places, in the communities? What if we sent pastors who would sacrifice and strive, who would guide and be patient? What if we rededicated those buildings, and re-read the gospel as the Jews were told to do regularly. What if we treasured what happened in those buildings, and invited people to join us there. What if we realize God was with
What if we sent pastors who would sacrifice and strive, who would guide and be patient? What if we rededicated those buildings, and re-read the gospel as the Jews were told to do regularly. What if we treasured what happened in those buildings, and invited people to join us there. What if we realize God was with us there, and put His name there for a purpose, for people?
I bet that would fulfill a different prophecy, and we would see that God doesn’t abandon a congregation, that God doesn’t forget His promises.
That God hears, and forgives, and reconciles and bless His people. What if that vision were given, in such a way, that the people and the church didn’t perish?
Could we give that a try, rather than just abandoning people and planting new wildernesses?
Pray to the Lord of the Harvest – for these fields are still ready for harvesting..
Devotional Thought of the Day:
But Melchizedek, who was not a descendant of Levi, collected a tenth from Abraham. And Melchizedek placed a blessing upon Abraham, the one who had already received the promises of God. 7 And without question, the person who has the power to give a blessing is greater than the one who is blessed.(Heb 7:6–7) NLT
Her purpose has been to adapt the Gospel to the grasp of all as well as to the needs of the learned, insofar as such was appropriate. Indeed, this accommodated preaching of the revealed word ought to remain the law of all evangelization. For thus the ability to express Christ’s message in its own way is developed in each nation, and at the same time there is fostered a living exchange between the Church and the diverse cultures of people.
I have an older member of my congregation; she is tone who loves a traditional liturgy with organ accompaniment going full throttle. She said to me one day, “Pastor, I prefer the older liturgy, but I hear people singing the new liturgy, and I see where it is a blessing to others. Keep doing it.” I have another member, who learned the Lord’s prayer from a modern translation, without the hallow ‘d’s and Thy’s. But hearing the passion in the voice of the older folk who say it, he wants to hear them say it, their way, and not steal their comfort by forcing them to become modern.
I hold them out to you, dear reader, as an example of Christian maturity.
Why? Because they understand that being blessed by their preferences being satisfied is not as important as helping others know Christ Jesus, to experience His love and His mercy.
As the writer of Hebrews explains it, it is Christlike, it is the more mature that blesses, and what greater blessing is there that you can give someone, that to have the gospel communicate to them in a way they “get.”
That’s what I like about the statement from Vatican II. It recognizes the purpose of the church to make sure that can grasp the gospel. To express Christ’s message in a way that is different, not in core message, but in view of the context it is delivered to, knowing the age, the culture, the various ethnic and language idiosyncrasies. Let me give you an example. The French spoken in Quebec is different than the French of Belgium, is different from the French spoken in Vietnam. Some is the same, but to communicate to the heart of the people, you phrase some things differently. Likewise, I would preach a sermon on the same passage differently if I was preaching it at a Harvard Chapel, or at a rescue mission. As Robert Schuller used to talk about, we have to study our milieu as much as the passage we preach.
A mature church adapts its message to the people. This is not sugar coating it, but understanding it is an act of love to bless others with a message it can grasp. That means working hard, diligently preparing messages and music, and helping others see where they too can learn to sacrifice.
This is the church; this is growing in awareness of God’s desire. This is growing in our ability to depend on God, to love, to be transformed into the image of Christ. It is proof of His work in us….
So think – and bless God fo the ability to communicate His love, even to those who are different!
Catholic Church. (2011). Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World: Gaudium Et Spes. In Vatican II Documents. Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana.
Devotional/ Discussion thought of the day
28 When Jesus arrived on the other side of the lake, in the region of the Gadarenes,* two men who were possessed by demons met him. They lived in a cemetery and were so violent that no one could go through that area. 29 They began screaming at him, “Why are you interfering with us, Son of God? Have you come here to torture us befoe God’s appointed time?” 30 There happened to be a large herd of pigs feeding in the distance. 31 So the demons begged, “If you cast us out, send us into that herd of pigs.” 32 “All right, go!” Jesus commanded them. So the demons came out of the men and entered the pigs, and the whole herd plunged down the steep hillside into the lake and drowned in the water.
33 The herdsmen fled to the nearby town, telling everyone what happened to the demon-possessed men. 34 Then the entire town came out to meet Jesus, but they begged him to go away and leave them alone. New Living Translation (Mt 8:28–34).
But when theological discussion ceases to be a striving for truth and becomes, instead, a struggle for power in the Church, then the nature of theology has been radically falsified; it introduces party politics into the Church and becomes the medium of party power; it divides the Church. Wherever theology generates theological parties and these parties become Church parties, it has become a false wisdom. It creates enmities and embitters people. I must admit that what shocks me most deeply in many letters and publications is the rank hatred of the Church and her members that speaks through them. The role of true wisdom and hence of the authentic teacher of theology in the Church is to create peace, not strife, to create goodness and inner openness, not embitterment.
As I’ve read verse 33 above, I have always wondered what was in the people’s minds. They saw Jesus deal with the person in their village who was most in need, and he completely rescued and healed the man. Because of his actions, the villagers were safe.
And they drove Jesus away… they pleaded with Him to leave them, to leave them alone!
I wonder if the church today is more sophisticated than that, but to the same effect. Within our theological discussions, the last thing we look for is the presence of Christ, or His desire, reconciliation, health and wholeness. You can see it in the refusal to meet at the altar and start theological dialogues there, in His presence, together as His body. You see it in the nature of forming political parties in a church, or in a denomination. (we won’t call it that, but we have planks and litmus tests, and budgets and political machines )
We relegate the Lord of Lords, the King of Kings, the Redeemer, Reconciler to the back room, to some closet or chapel, while tempers flare, and sides square off, and everyone battles for power. We would rather talk about purity of doctrine and purging ourselves from anything false (like we could!) or faithfulness to our mission. (as if we are ready to go out on our own, with a bunch of web articles and expert consultants)
In the meantime, we are so busy arguing what often boils down to semantics, that we forget the Lord can deliver us from all that crap. We forget that this is work based in His will, in His desire. We forget that we are led by the Holy Spirit, not some negotiated consensus.
That is how these reconciliation happens. True reconciliation that isn’t based in compromise, but in Jesus,
May we stop running from the one who will rid us of our demons, bring healing to our souls, bind us together as one body as we celebrate being in His presence,
Ratzinger, J. (1992). Co-Workers of the Truth: Meditations for Every Day of the Year. (M. F. McCarthy & L. Krauth, Trans., I. Grassl, Ed.) (p. 242). San Francisco: Ignatius Press.
Discussion/Devotional Thought of the Day
10 God has made us what we are, and in our union with Christ Jesus he has created us for a life of good deeds, which he has already prepared for us to do. Ephesians 2:10 (TEV)
15 But have reverence for Christ in your hearts, and honor him as Lord. Be ready at all times to answer anyone who asks you to explain the hope you have in you, 1 Peter 3:15 (TEV)
“If you were to die tonight, would you go to heaven?” “why?“ (1)
“The only preparation which multitudes seem to make for heaven is for its judgment bar,” (2)
Nearly 30 years ago, my pastor and I were trained in what was known as Evangelism Explosion. The goal of the ministry was to prepare people with a scripted message that they could share the Christian faith. Tens of thousands of pastors and people were trained in the method. The scripts basic concept (as with most evangelism methods ) was to give peopel the assurance of eternal life in heaven, rather than eternal damnation/annihilation/punishment and the wrath of God.
In fact, last week someone asked those very questions to me via social media.
And this blog has been simmering ever since. The key was the quote from my devotions this morning, which brought it home. is our evangelistic work as believers primarily focused on making sure people get into heaven? Or is it about giving them the life, the peace, and the knowledge of God’s presence in this life, that is our hope for eternity?
If it is evangelism to prevent them from being sent to hell, there is strong motivation that would cause us to share God’s love with those we care for, with those we love. But that mission accomplished, is there the tight communion that you should see, is there the shared life, is there a willingness to stay together through thick and thin. To be blunt, does create a life that struggles with sin, and strives to love others as Christ did?
If our questions and manuscripts lead people only to get past the St Peter and those who guard the gates of heaven, what are we really doing? is conversion something that happens in a twinkling of an eye? You were going to hell, woops now you are going to heaven?
Or is our hope, our expectation based on a promise that we have a hint, a glimpse of in this life, and that glimpse changes everything? A promise that is repeated time and time in the scriptures. “You will be my people, and I will be your God.”
isn’t that where our hope lies? In the fact that who weren’t once a people, are now a people? Isn’t our hope seen in the promise that God will transform us and cause us to walk in ways that are incredible and blessed. (even though they might include suffering)
The evangelism explosion questions have their place, much of the material I still use to this day. Even so, the direction of our evangelism must be more than selling eternal fire insurance. What our hope is based on is one promise, that is as true now as it will be then. That gives us hope for this world, when it seems like it is falling apart, and yes for eternity.
The hope that is found when we know that the Lord is with us, and will never abandon us.
May the questions you ask lead people to realize this.
(1) paraphrase of the two questions from Evangelism Explosion used in many evangelism training seminars
(2) Celtic Daily Prayer, Harper 1 Publcishing – the devotion for this day
Y’all Come Back Now, You Hear?
† In Jesus Name †
May the grace and mercy of God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ assure you of the peace that is found as the world comes back, reconciled to Him!
Another Pastor Parker Parable….but one that needs a bit of a set up…
They were gathered, at the end, around a pool that reminded you of a Roman Villa.
As the credits rolled past, the cast of the sitcom would, with a hospitality that seems somewhat unknown today, invite us to watch next week with the words,
Y’all come back now, you hear?
You might call this pastor Parker parable, “The Kingdom of God is like the Beverly Hillbillies!”
Another way to put it is that if we made a television show about our church, it could be called the Concordia Hillbillies!
We certainly are a diverse group of characters, and there is no one that would walk in our doors, that wouldn’t be welcome.
If you are unfamiliar with the show, here is the basic plot, a poor family of people from somewhere in the Appalachia strikes it rich with oil on their property. They load up their truck and move to the Beverly Hills, the place of dreams and where rich people belong.
Of course, there are some things they had to get used to, As the slide says, Ma, somethings just ain’t going to be the way they used to be! Things like indoor plumbing, a pool in the backward instead of a creek and a pond, and the manners of the rich and infamous they would need o learn to deal with, and quickly. It was a study of cultural anthropology, and conflict resolution between peoples of different cultures and backgrounds done with great humor.
As we hear the words of Paul to the church in Ephesus, we see similar cultural issues, and we see a community being formed, as the people become one. There were things that the Gentiles and the Jews would need to learn, as they were brought together in Christ.
This is our goal for today. That we would begin to desire that all people would come and hear our plea, “be reconciled to God!” No matter their place of birth, their native language, their gender or economic status, that they would come, and that they would all come back to God, you hear?
Did We Worry About Fitting In? Or Did we Look Down on the newbies
The first plea to be reconciled goes to those who are new to the community. Those who were, and you have to here the “were” aliens. They weren’t part of the community, they weren’t governed by the law of the covenant, they were considered outsiders.
Some of us have experienced that feeling once or twice in our lives. We were born in a different place, some even on a different continent, like South America, or Asia. Some have come from Africa or Europe Some of us came from really strange places, like the lakes region of New Hampshire. We may have had people mock us, and California natives tell us we weren’t welcome or we felt like we would never fit in. Hear Paul’s words again, and see if the feeling sounds familiar,
- “11 Don’t forget that you – used to be outsiders.
- You were called “heathens” by the others
- In those days you were living apart.
- You were excluded from bein part of the community
- You did not know the rules and benefits of bein a part
- Therefore, you lived in this world without God and without hope”
For the Gentiles, it was just a matter of being held without the hope of fitting in,
I love Paul’s concern for these new believers that they will fit into the community of God. But part of that is helping them understand that they aren’t unbelievers anymore. These things were true – but they aren’t anymore.
It is as if he said, “Clampetts – you used to go to the bathroom out back, but Jethro, you don’t need to anymore.” Paul says, “Gentiles – remember you were like that before, but now you have hope, now you are part of the covenant, now you are in the community, no longer separated, no longer aliens!” They were now saints.. and that means something.
But they weren’t the only one’s who needed to learn!
Does anyone remember the name of Miss Hathaway’s boss? You know the rich banker who used to try and acquire the Clampett’s money? Was it Clydesdale?
Whatever his name, I think they modeled him after the older brother in the story of the prodigal son. He had trouble, serious trouble, adjusting to the fact that someone whom he didn’t think was worthy ended up with more blessings than he did. The Jews had the same struggle. Their pride in their circumcision and the other traditions they counted on caused them to lose contact with God’s vision.
It’s a problem we all struggle with at times, as our faith isn’t focused on Christ, but on something of us. I love how this translation puts it, “even though it affected only their bodies and not their hearts.”
Do we let our religious lives get like that at times, where they affect our body, but not our souls? Do we get to the point where we go through the motions and say the words, but don’t rejoice over the incredible mercy and love God shows us? The point when our traditions, or our preferences become more important than others coming to know God’s love?
What will it take for the new folk and the old folk, for the Jew and the Gentile, for all the cultures, all languages, all life to be at home together?
What Makes it Home
It happens when the same way it did in the Clampett household. It happens as we feast together.
It happens when we remember the life, death and resurrection of Christ includes us. We come home as we are joined together with Christ’s death and resurrection.
That’s how we know when we are home… home together. Hear Paul’s words again,
17 He brought this Good News of peace to you Gentiles who were far away from him, and peace to the Jews who were near. 18 Now all of us can come to the Father through the same Holy Spirit because of what Christ has done for us.
to His home together
19 So now you Gentiles are no longer strangers and foreigners. You are citizens along with all of God’s holy people. You are members of God’s family. 20 Together, we are his house, built on the foundation of the apostles and the prophets. And the cornerstone is Christ Jesus himself. 21 We are carefully joined together in him, becoming a holy temple for the Lord. 22 Through him you Gentiles are also being made part of this dwelling where God lives by his Spirit.
We belong together, we have been made one people, one holy people as we are God’s family. He is making His home out of us. People from every background imaginable, people who’ve committed every sin and been forgiven, people who are broken, who’ve come to be healed. God will work with people who’ve even come, like the apostle Paul did, to fight God, He can heal those who come to persecute God’s people, and like Paul was filled with awe, God can reach them! We can welcome, and even love them, and shown glimpses of the glory of God which we shall share in, together.
That is the power of God, seen as He makes us one….in Christ…
And y’all come back now, to His table for there will be a feast, celebrating His death and resurrection, the power of which is at work in us.
The sermon from Concordia Lutheran Church in Cerritos Ca.
The subtitle could be The Kingdom of God is Like the Beverly Hillbillies
Devotional and Discussion Thought of the Day:
3 How excellent are the LORD’S faithful people! My greatest pleasure is to be with them. Psalm 16:3 (TEV)
9 Love must be completely sincere. Hate what is evil, hold on to what is good. 10 Love one another warmly as Christians, and be eager to show respect for one another. 11 Work hard and do not be lazy. Serve the Lord with a heart full of devotion. 12 Let your hope keep you joyful, be patient in your troubles, and pray at all times. 13 Share your belongings with your needy fellow Christians, and open your homes to strangers. 14 Ask God to bless those who persecute you—yes, ask him to bless, not to curse. 15 Be happy with those who are happy, weep with those who weep. 16 Have the same concern for everyone. Do not be proud, but accept humble duties. Do not think of yourselves as wise. Romans 12:9-16 (TEV)
465 I think it is all right for you to feel concern for your brothers—there is no better proof of your mutual love. Take care, however, to keep your worries from degenerating into anxiety. (1)
For those of us who regularly gather with other believers, it is something we wouldn’t consider giving up for other things. Yet I don’t know if we can explain this well to others. The words from Solomon above tell me that those I gather aren’t the first to feel this way. Even Solomon looked forward to gather with others who also tried to walk with God.
But it takes time to get to this point. It takes effort to look past the fact that we are all sinners and to be comfortable knowing that we can gather with each other. Being honest with each other comes slowly, but it comes, and then we being to see people react like the second quote above. We become like that.
We will, I have seen it.
Even in the most broken of congregations, there are those who will take time to listen and to pray. Often there are people that sacrifice their time and talent, and yes sometimes help out financially. Let me give you an example. We had a visitor one year to our midweek services. She worked somewhere else, and couldn’t have communion regularly. So the congregation agreed that from that point on – Wednesday services will have communion. A simple decision, yet a decision which made our visitor feel quite at home. I don’t think it is a coincidence that those services, during Lent and Advent, have quadrupled in size over the last few years. I could tell other stories, of people underwriting tuition for children, of people bringing others meals, or caring for their lawn.
But to see all of these incredible acts of love one has to be involved. One has to hear the stories, to cry and weep with those around them. They have to let others cry and weep with them. One has to learn to love deeply, and allow yourself to be loved deeply.
The reason to go to church isn’t the love of your neighbor though that is one of the blessings that comes with it. The reason we come together is to see God’s love to you revealed! We are gathered together as He works in our lives, from bringing healing of your heart and soul, to bringing comfort, to sustaining us. We realize this as we find great joy when a baby, or a 90-year-old, is baptised, reminding you of the very promises given to you.
It is an amazing thing to see those promises poured out on the lives of others, to share in it, to be comforted by it. To realize that a church is more than listening to some music and a message. But that the message and the music, because of God’s love, and by the work of the Holy Spirit, impacts lives. It does this as we explore the height, depth, width and breadth of God’s love for us, His family, together.
Come join us, spend some time together with us, and experience the love of God, poured out on a community.
(1) Escriva, Josemaria (2010-11-02). The Way (Kindle Locations 1134-1135). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.