Mission

Why Pentecost Matters

In every parish that I served, I encouraged people to think of Pentecost as one of the three great holidays of the church. There is Christmas, Easter, and Pentecost. They are of equal importance and should be celebrated with the same degree of serious preparation. Christmas allows us to speak of the Trinity and the uniqueness of Jesus among men. Our systematic theology goes into high gear as we try to speak about God’s mission to save all of humanity. In Easter we rediscover the passion of God and the wretchedness of humanity. Our theology goes low, as we identify with the people who stood by his cross and then carried our Lord to the grave. Easter is a story filled with transition, the greatest example being the resurrection.

    In Pentecost, we realized that both Christmas and Easter occurred, not simply that individuals might be saved, but that a religious community might be formed. We push people towards the end of the second chapter of acts, when we realized that all this fire and wind resulted in the birth of the church as an organization. The spiritual birth of the church, I believe, was when Jesus gathered people on a hillside and told them that they were already blessed by God (Matthew 5:1-9). Three years later, the day of Pentecost takes this awareness that we are a blessed people, and empowers us to organize to share that blessing. On Pentecost, our theology goes wide.

Sunday, May 20, 2018
Pentecost Sunday

About that Cross Ahead

Jesus once called Peter, Satan — as in, “Get behind me, Satan.” I’ve come to think of Peter as a mother hen. He wants to protect Jesus. Keep him from any harm. I tell the people I love to be careful when they go out into icy weather. I have not yet resorted to hiding my wife’s keys when she plans to drive in the snow. That would be silly. Jesus is telling Peter that he is more than being silly. Peter’s urge to protect Jesus borders on being traitorous. He is, in this moment, Satan. For Jesus’ mission involves going to the cross. He plans on being harmed. Jesus plans on dying. That is why he reacts to Peter’s concern so dramatically.

Jesus goes on to say that each of us will go to the cross, in our own way. We must plan it into our lives. We must not let our urge to protect ourselves cause us to back away from our mission. We must not let the concerns of our loved ones keep us from doing what we are called to do. If a mother hen stands between us and doing God’s will, we call him or her Satan.

I think of Martin Luther King. As the fight for civil rights intensified, he knew it would cost him his life. He said, “Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will” (“I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” Montgomery, April 3, 1963).  I imagine his wife had a hard time listening to that speach. Jesus says that each of us will go on to the cross in our own way.

What does Jesus mean when he says, "If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it”?

Sunday, February 25, 2018
Lent 2

Where is the Soul of the Church?

Just before he was betrayed, captured, and crucified, Jesus warned his disciples that he would be leaving them. In his extended prayer (John 17) Jesus reveals a key concept: just as God was present in the world through Jesus, so also, Jesus will continue to be present in the world through his Church. In John 17:13-17, Jesus says that his Church will be in the world, but not of it. How do we understand Jesus? Simply, he was a man who was in the world, but not of it. He was fully human, but also fully divine. He was a citizen of heaven, yet also a resident of first century Palestine. Imagine three over lapping circles: The top circle represents Jesus’ divine nature (fully God). The bottom left, his life and physical presence among us (fully man). The third circle represents the world he came to save (John 3:16). Now that Jesus has gone back to heaven, his church takes over the bottom left circle — we are now the physical presence of Christ in our community. God is still on top, overlapping our circle. The world is still to our right, overlapping the church and, through the Holy Spirit, the divine circle. The soul of the church lies where the three circles over lap. Note that this Soul is not in the safe part of the circle with the majority of the church’s programs and concerns. It is out in the dangerous intersection of our holy God and the chaotic world.
Sunday, May 28, 2017
Eastertide 7
Ascension Sunday

A Light for the Nations

Christopher Columbus noted in his private journals, how the words of Isaiah 42, especially the line “I have given you as a covenant to the people, a light to the nations,” kept him going, through the dark times of his life. When no one was willing to back him on his westward quest, the fact that God had given him this vision drove him on, hat in hand, visiting the various courts in Europe looking for a sponsor. When everyone turned against him, Columbus held tighter onto this personal interpretation of Isaiah. The phrase, “I give you as a covenant to the people,” is spelled out in the next line of Isaiah 42:7, “to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness.” This sense of mission, Columbus says, and not the search for gold, is what made him return to the Americas for two additional journeys.

 

Sunday, January 8, 2017
Epiphany 1

Not my time, not my wine

Jesus seems to be disrespecting his mother at the wedding in Cana (John 2:4). She asks him to do a miracle in front of everyone. “Jesus this is your cue,” Mary says. “The wine has run out and our family is responsible.” His response is, “Not my wine, not my time.” Later in John 7, he will tell his disciples that everyone expects him to do miracles on cue, but it really isn’t his time, yet. There is a messianic kingdom coming. We won’t always be scrambling to keep our kids fed. In the world to come, the lion will lay down with the lamb, we will feast in the presence of our enemies, and death shall be no more. That time hasn’t come yet.

 

Sunday, January 17, 2016
Epiphany 2

Ascending and Descending

I just noticed it for the first time; instead of angels, there are two men in white robes sending the disciples back home after Jesus ascends (verse 10, Acts 1:6-14). And, the men aren’t floating above the heads of the disciples, but standing beside them. Luke then reminds us of the geography; the disciples need to walk down hill in order to ender the city of Jerusalem. Once in the city, they don’t go to the posh neighborhood on the upper Northwest corner. They go to the upper room which was conveniently near the market place center of the city. We are being told, by all this body language, that the proper response to the reality of God’s incarnation in Jesus Christ is to go focus on the mundane. What do people in the city need? Is is possible that those beside us are angels in disguise? How do we treat the people we live with, knowing that as we feed and clothe the poor, and visit the sick and imprisoned, we are serving the Lord of Heaven (Matthew 25:31-46)?

 

Another thing people often miss, is that there are women in the Upper Room. As the disciples wait for the coming of the Holy Spirit, they fellowshipped, shared bread, and pray with a crowd of about 120 believer. Half of these may have been women. They are mentioned here because they will a significant role in the day to day life of the church the Holy Spirit will create, that is, they will be in leadership.

 

Sunday, June 1, 2014
Easter 7
Ascension of Jesus

When Kirk says, Engage

Whenever Captain Kirk takes the starship Enterprise out to explore the cosmos he issues a single command, “Engage.”  What follows next is always an adventure. In some episodes frightening alien creatures take over the ship shutting down propulsion and life-support. The captain and crew struggle not only to get essential systems back online, but also to understand what these strangers want and how to reason with them. The captain seeks to open a channel of communication so that he can tell them that mission of the ship is peaceful.

Where is the Church's soul?

In Reality Check 101, I make a point of stating that churches have souls. By this I mean that each congregation has an intrinsic worth. There is a value to the local church that far exceeds its statistical strength or the value it may have for the denomination that holds the title to its building. Pastors come and go, but a church’s soul remains constant. Like the soul of a human being, the congregation’s soul represents more than the current state of the body.

 

What's in the Way

Martin Buber said, “The world is not an obstacle on the way to God, it is the way.” I think that one of the things that made Jesus the Lord of the Sabbath was the way he welcomed what others saw as obstacles. For him, sabbath occurred when a woman was released from the burden of her painful back ailment. For others, sabbath was a weekly ritual that had to be done right in order to please a perfection hungry god. Jesus taught us to experience the glory of God in the midst of daily life and its struggles. Others were teaching that only those who separated themselves from family obligations and mundane tasks could be holy. Jesus showed us the importance of knowing our neighbor (literally, do you know the person next door?). John remembered this aspect of Jesus and said, “Whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen.” (1 John 4:20) Others have said that you prove yourself a Christian by avoiding anyone you think might be sinning. It is amazing how often we listen to others rather than to Jesus.

Luke tells us that the religious leaders of his day were shamed when Jesus said, “And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen long years, be set free from this bondage on the sabbath day?" I can easily imagine circumstances where similar faults could be found with church life today, and no one would be ashamed. Consider:

Sunday, August 25, 2013
summer
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