Saturday, December 28, 2013


Happy New Year!  It is time for a new start.  Of course that start is built on everything that has happened before and as much as we'd like a reset button, there just isn't one on life.  So we start anew mentally, but in reality we're continuing on a path that has been moving forward since well before we ever were part of this physical existence.  

Yet, all things are becoming new.  That is where the path takes us, towards something new, something God intends that we have yet to fully be able to understand.  So we peak at the things we see that may speak to what God is up to.  We look at a world that is changing rapidly around us and we remember that our God tells us time and again "Do not fear" even as we wonder what all these new things mean for us.  We are told this because God does have a plan, which will happen regardless of our willingness to go with it.

Yet we're reminded that faith(fulness) is all about discerning and acting along with the ways of God.  So that means placing others before ourselves, looking out for all in need, and pursuing justice in God's name.  It means being part of our community, not just the community of faith, but part of the world that is God's community of faith, God's world made up of all of these different people, all of whom are as much in God's image as you or me.

Many of you heard me talk about the "new" paradigm.  This is a place where God's relational relevance needs to be at the forefront of who we are.  We are to be people who are making all things new.  Who are moving forward in the ways of God.  We don't know exactly what the end looks like and we cannot assume to be able to understand that end, but we can act as we are able in the here and now trusting that God knows what "New" really looks like.

May we make the New Year not a beginning or an end, but a commitment to doing things that make the world and ourselves new everyday. We're all in this together.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

12/15 sermon base.

The actual sermon took more twists and turns but this is the basic outline.

Isaiah 61:1-3
Matthew 9:35-10:11, 40-42

Today there are a few “different words” that I will use in this sermon: Paradigm, Apostle, and Advent.  So let's define them a bit before we really get started.

  • Advent – A time of waiting on what an expected coming.
  • Apostle – One sent out 
  • Paradigm - “the norm” of how/why things work in a particular time/place.

We are currently in Advent, during a new paradigm, and we're called to be apostles.  That is what we hear in scripture and what we're going to talk about today.

I have a real passion when it comes to the long view of things.  Some of you may have noticed the time-line that had been on the bulletin board in the main hallway throughout the fall.  One of the main things I loved about it was how it made it visually clear how things we feel are ancient history aren't really all that long ago.  For example the birth-date of a 75 year old is closer in time to the date of Abraham Lincoln's death than it is to today.  Paradigms are interesting to me because they look at norms that continue for even longer periods of time than that, things that change (not all at once mind you) every 500 years or so.  This is important because many of those who study these things feel that we have reached a point where the previous paradigm and the transitional period (known currently as Modernity and the Post-Modern transition) have given way to this new paradigm that has taken shape around us.  So that's where we are in the big picture.  Phillis Tickle when discussing churches during changing paradigms refers to them as rummage sales, times that churches end up having to put everything out and let go of all that's not utterly important, just holding on to the parts that are essential to the new norms of the time and place.  This often comes across as Rodger Nikiosia says in forms that are full of fear of loss and death, but each time throughout history that it has happened, the church comes out stronger.  We see this fear on social media regularly when what people post is created in such a way to cause defensive, fearful reactions from those who disagree or are on another side.  This divides us and we give up control to outside sources instead of trusting a God who has always been working through the long view of things.  So instead of being afraid, or worried, or beaten down and discouraged, what should we be doing?  Well I think if we take these texts we read today (as well as many others that I didn't include today because I didn't want to make worship last for hours on end)  and look at them in the context of the pillars of the new paradigm, I think we'll find a handful of things that are essential to being church (and doing it well) as we go forward.

  1. We must focus on building authentic relationships outside the church doors.  This is pretty simple.  We've got to Engage people where they are.  We cannot be a closed door community waiting for people to come to us, or even expecting that others will find value in an invitation to join us.  We've got to go and be with people, getting our hands dirty along side of them.  This begins with those we see everyday.  The new paradigm is built on a relational life.  A life where connections and trust are built one on one in the everyday parts of life.  This echos Jesus's sending of the 12. They go to where people already are and just join in that life.
  2. Part of joining in the life of others is the sharing of stories.  We live in a world where very few spend their entire life in one place and this transient nature of life means that we all have had very different experiences that have taught us often very different things about life.  Thus it is that we must share stories of our experiences with one another while listening and validating the experiences we hear from others.  Many people, if not most of us, connect to those descriptors we read in Isiah.  We feel beaten down, we feel hurt, we feel damaged, but all of these experiences come from our very different paths and different reactions to those experiences. We need to remember that none of us have all the answers, and those with different experiences are not wrong, misguided, or lost.  We all are seeking after mystery, those things that scripture tells us that we can only see dimly through the looking glass, as we all seek, knock, and look for answers about ourselves, our world, and God.  This comes to the forefront in our new paradigm because people are more okay with not knowing all the specifics than ever before because there really is so little we really know.  To share our stories and listen to those of others help all of us see a bit more clearly what God may be up to in both our personal lives and the big picture.
  3. There is though one thing that God is always about, and it's one place the church should be always at the forefront of: Placing others before ourselves and understanding what is “ours” is really to be shared freely.  This is hard, because even with a change in paradigm, it is still very counter cultural.  Wanting to not be in need, to not hurt, to feel safe and secure and in control are very much the cultural norm.  Yet the open source movement and how it has moved toward more general acceptance in recent years is an example that the world is looking for the freedom that comes from this (very biblical) freely giving.  Open source is when someone creates something, and instead of copyrighting it, they aim to share it and allow others to use it as desired.  Things like this and the crowd sourcing of projects (when small donations are all that make up the funding for major things like movies, music, art, education, etc.) show me a world looking for a different kind of life, and in doing so I think point towards a central tenet of Jesus's life.  Jesus takes on fear, division, and control by taking the idea of sharing and giving to the extreme, giving his entire life for us.  Thus likewise we need to remember Jesus's reminder that nothing is truly ours, but everything belongs to God with the intent that it point to God's glory, to bring Good news as both Isaiah and the end of Matthew (and Micah, and Amos, and on and on)  state which is the core of what God's glory looks like.
  4. So far this seems pretty normal for most of us, and I hope this does to, but the initial statement may sound a bit shocking: Don't aim to bring them to church.  Instead go be church with them, and let the connections to the community of faith come naturally.  Also along these lines, help the leadership of the church provide the opportunities for those who you are being church for that they need.  This is apostleship at its core, not going and saying “come see Jesus” like the angels did for the shepherds, but taking Jesus, and the church out in all we do.  The disciples are now apostles in Matthew because they are sent out, going out to take the work of faith to others. And those who can do this work of faith or even talk about faith are not limited to those of us who preach, teach, or have other leadership positions here in this place, but every single person in every single pew here is a leader in faith.  I say this with confidence because we have entered a paradigm where my title doesn't make me an expert, my position doesn't make me an expert, the only thing that helps people feel I know what I'm talking about is their experiences with me. What you do speaks to others louder and more clearly to those you have relationships with about who God is than anything I can ever say.  So whatever we do, be it eat, drink, work, play, whatever, let us do it with an honest effort to doing so in a way that we each discern brings glory to God.  By doing this in our everyday life, we expand the reach of the church far beyond the programs and experiences we have here.
  5. This though has to connect to the last thing that Church in the new paradigm must be doing: We must make time together serving, sharing, making memories, and creating mementos of togetherness with one another as a community of faith.  I hear lots of rants, some from my own mouth, about how technology has divided us, how it keeps us from really interacting.  Yet, let us not forget how connected people of the past paradigm could be connected to the visual or the audible word.  Yes, things are changing.  Yes, it has been shown time and again that for many social media and smart-phones increase feelings of loneliness and increase the competitiveness and comparativeness between lives.  But no, it's not bringing an end to the physical connection or to deep communication.  Rather, history shows us that when technology increases so does the desire for the physical.  We want things that make us feel connected to one another and to those special moments in time.  High tech leads to High touch.   We long for ways to fill the prison of aloneness, and we pick all kinds of physical things to try to fill that void.  Yet the only physical that really helps fill those holes is the touch of another, be it person to person or  the physical things that bring us close to a time and place where that person to person closeness happened. I have a number of things that connect me to those I care most about, things that when I see them I reach out and I feel good about life and my place in it, I feel loved.  These are things made by those I love, or created in times where we were most connected.  This means the church should be a place focused on moments of togetherness, but also creating physical things that remind us of our connection to one another and the depth of love shared in these moments.  So we must be about creating time together where we serve, where we share, where we make memories with one another where one cannot separate the moment from the people.  

Jesus sends out the 12 to do the work that needed to be done.  In Mark this sending comes right after Jesus reads the Isiah text we also read this morning.  That promise that came to life in Jesus was central to the work Jesus sends them out to do.  Likewise it is central to the work we're called to do.  We are called to take care of those in need, and that is at the end of the day everyone.  To not do this for anything we can receive from doing so, but because it is what shows God's glory and intent for creation.  We are to connect to all who are part of our lives, and reach out to all who have need.  We are called to be apostles.  To Go Out,  To  Go Connect and Bond with those outside our faith community here,  To go hear the stories of others and share the fulness of our own stories, to go be church taking no more than what is essential, To go together and serve with those outside our walls.  The church in the world today has to be a church that Goes, even as we wait.  If we embrace this call, we are answering the call of God, and doing that which we were made to do.  For waiting is never passive, the prophets remind us of that time and again, it is always about going, going to the world right around us and being church, not for them, but being church with them, so that they may understand who this God is on which we wait.  We must Go and do what it is we were made to do.  Love and Serve the world.  AMEN.