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The Church Has Some Serious Work to Do (October 7, 2018)

Mark 8:34-38

He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35For 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. 36For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? 37Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? 38Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”

Let me share with you one of the more surprising things I experienced during my sabbatical. I discovered a hesitancy to tell people what I do for a living. I found myself being just a little bit embarrassed about it.

When I began to hear people’s perspective of the church, what they assume, what they believe, what their personal experiences have been, I found myself not wanting to be associated with the church institution they were describing. Both from people outside of the church and people inside the church.

For instance, Frank in Birmingham, AL, was the grandson of a pastor who served there in the 1960s. I loved the church, he told me. We helped people. We made a difference. I remember the marches, I remember the acts of violence against us. What we did then mattered. We changed people’s lives. But since then, he has found it to be too judgmental for him. People within his own congregation shunned him when he lost his job and eventually his home. He lives in a park and says the church doesn’t matter to him. He’s not bitter or angry about it. He just accepts that as the way things are. Why would he expect anything different from the church? It was as if he was talking about General Motors or Universal Studios or something. Helping him, a homeless black man, isn’t what they’re about.

Or the couple we met during a cooking class in Florence, Italy who were devout and proud members of their church. And the husband who, without even being aware of it, was speaking offensively about race and women. In the same sentences with his church membership. And the rest of the people in the cooking class kind of backed away and tried to change the subject. And so they looked at me and asked, “What do you do, Rob?”

Over and over, time and again, whenever church came up, which, honestly wasn’t that often, I noticed a couple things about it. 1) normally church didn’t much matter—both to members and non-members. It was not a big deal for them. Or, 2) to a few, it mattered greatly. And that was always (hear me!), always in a way that was opposed to my understanding of the gospel. Church was about power (making other people conform to my perspective), about justification (they are less than me unless they do conform). Church was about how they, as church members, could improve their own circumstances. In the language of this gospel text, how they could save their own lives. Church was a way to serve themselves. Every. Single. Time.

There was a universal acceptance of a disconnect between the church and the poor, the vulnerable, the weak, the powerless, the abused, the oppressed, the hopeless. There was no thought that the church exists for the very people Jesus lifts up, holds, comforts, heals, forgives, and hangs out with. The very people Jesus equipped his disciples to go to, to serve, and give themselves away for. In the language of this gospel text, to lose their life for. It was embarrassing that this is the view of the church.

But I needed to hear it. It crystallized some things I’ve been struggling with for a while now. What I was hearing from people about the church was almost completely opposite of the things I was hearing from God about the church. And I’ve got an idea as to how we can move more fully into God’s view of the church. You’ll be hearing more in the days and weeks to come.

The church has some serious work to do, and we need serious disciples to do it. “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. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life?”

The church has some serious work to do, and we need serious disciples to do it. In my estimation, we simply don’t have time to waste. This congregation exists so that each of us can give ourselves away for the benefit of those around us.

Each of us who bears the name of Christ has already been equipped in the waters of that baptismal font to be Christ for the world. To exhibit forgiveness, to live compassion, to serve the poor, to stand with those whose power is taken away, to speak up for those whose voices go unheard. And to speak and live this gospel truth in the very midst of our culture and especially to those with power.

And this is not easy. And this isn’t automatic. And this will require serious discipleship and serious sacrifice. “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. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life?”

The church has some serious work to do, and we need serious disciples to do it. That means we don’t have time to squabble among ourselves over things that don’t matter to the gospel of Christ in the world. We don’t have time to use our own personal preferences to draw a line in the sand. We don’t have time to detour from Christ’s work in our neighborhood to deal with threats because someone isn’t getting their way.

The church has some serious work to do, and we need serious disciples to do it. I hope you’re with me. I hope you too are willing to give up some things in your own life in order to gain life following Jesus. As we increase our service to those Christ calls us to serve, not only do we find real life, but we find real life for this church. The presence of this church can mean something that matters. Something worth giving our time, our money, our very selves away for. “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” The church has some serious work to do, and we need serious disciples to do it. It’s worth everything. Let’s get to it.

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Posted by on October 10, 2018 in Sermon

 

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When Secrets Become Public (21 Pentecost — Oct 13, 2013)

Luke 17:11-19

 “As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance, they called out, saying, ‘Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.'”

Because of their illness, these lepers couldn’t come near to Jesus to ask for help privately. Culturally and legally. They had to stand far away and yell, hoping someone might have mercy and help them. To everyone their illness is public knowledge; and so by everyone they are judged as insufficient, lacking, unworthy, even sinful.

These ten lepers have to live this way–separated, isolated, humiliated–and have to do so publicly. They are considered broken and flawed people, and these inadequacies are revealed publicly every day.

Can you imagine if our brokenness and our inadequacies were made public? Can you imagine if your deepest flaws and failings were out in the open for everyone to see and judge? We all want to hide our frailites, keep them private, but we all have them. Make no mistake, everyone in this room has the fear that comes from knowing we don’t measure up. And we all live with the terror that our deep fractures will become known.

That which the lepers longed to be private has become public. However, when their flaws became known to Jesus, they are made clean. They are restored. They are shown mercy. This is what Jesus does. He makes us clean, restores us. Jesus meets us in those areas of our lives we desperately want to remain hidden and shows us mercy. It’s in the hidden parts of our lives–those parts we desperately want to keep private–that Jesus knows us most deeply. It’s there that his love for us makes the biggest difference.

I think many of us would agree to that in theory. Jesus knows the innermost, private pieces of our lives, meets us there, and redeems us. Day by day, Jesus continues to save us. That’s how forgiveness works. That’s how mercy works. That’s how all the gifts of God work. Jesus does his most loving and gracious redemption in the hidden, private aspects of our lives.

And, for the most part, we’re fine with that. As long as Jesus heals us, redeems us, saves us privately.

But we have a universal terror: that our private deficiencies will become public. Can you imagine how that which you never talk about became known to everyone? Take a simple example: can you imagine, for instance, if your checkbook became available for anyone to examine? Can you imagine if we were categorized according to our credit card debt? Can you imagine if we were judged according to the percentage of our income that we give away? Like the lepers, can you imagine keeping your distance from everyone because you made too many extravagant purchases?

If the private, hidden aspects of our lives–such as our finances–became public, it would be humiliating. Yet it’s in the secrecy of our finances that Jesus comes and makes us clean, makes us whole, saves us. Just like all our flaws, we keep our finances hidden. But Jesus comes among us to save our financial selves too. That doesn’t mean more money–it has nothing to do with amounts of money. Like every other part of who we are, Jesus meets us and cleanses us, save us, so that we can be part of God’s salvation in the world.

Imagine your hidden, secret money life being redeemed by Jesus. Imagine how differently we would live if we understood our money’s primary purpose as revealing mercy and grace in the world. The more secretive we are about our money, the more Jesus meets us there to heal us.

In the gospel reading, one leper–a Samaritan–returns and falls at Jesus’ feet giving thanks to God. But all ten are made clean. One recognized the gift of salvation he had received. But all ten were made new by Jesus.

Your response to Jesus’ salvation in up to you. Your response won’t change how Jesus feels about you. It won’t change your forgiveness. It won’t change your worth as a child of God. Regardless, Jesus is present for you. Even now he’s meeting you in the hidden and secret parts of your life–including your money. He is cleansing you. He is making you whole. He is saving you. Thanks be to God. Amen.

 
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Posted by on November 12, 2013 in Sermon

 

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