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Reforming, Mission, and Model: This Matters (Oct 28, 2018)

John 8:31-36

Then Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; 32 and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” 33 They answered him, “We are descendants of Abraham and have never been slaves to anyone. What do you mean by saying, “You will be made free’?” 34 Jesus answered them, “Very truly, I tell you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin. 35 The slave does not have a permanent place in the household; the son has a place there forever. 36 So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.

“Churches that love their model more than the mission will die.” [i]

That’s one of the predictions from Carey Nieuwhof, who’s a broadly recognized and acclaimed church futurist. Here’s how he explains that prediction:

When the car was invented, it quick[ly] took over from the horse and buggy. Horse and buggy manufacturers were relegated to boutique status and many went under, but human transportation actually exploded. Suddenly average people could travel at a level they never could before.

The mission is travel. The model is a buggy, or car, or motorcycle, or jet.

Look at the changes in publishing, music, and even photography industry in the last few years.

See a trend? The mission is reading. It’s music. It’s photography. The model always shifts . . . moving from things like 8 tracks, cassettes and CDs to MP3s and now streaming audio and video.

Companies that show innovation around the mission (Apple, Samsung) will always beat companies that remain devoted to the methods (Kodak).

Churches need to stay focused on the mission . . . and be exceptionally innovative in our model.

This is Reformation Sunday. It’s a day where we not only recognize the immense ways the church has reformed its model in its history, but where we open ourselves up to being reformed by God today. The model of how we go about God’s mission is constantly reforming. God’s mission is constant. God’s mission is the recreation of a world where everyone—regardless of anything else—is equally valued, loved, forgiven, respected. The church is created by God exclusively for that mission. The model is up for grabs.

The question for us on this Reformation Sunday is, “To move forward in this mission, how is God trying to reform the church now?” And, “Are we cooperating or resisting?”

We are in the throes of Reformation. Right now. At this moment. Paraphrasing the late Phyllis Tickle, God is having a huge church garage sale. God is even now in the process deciding what will be kept and what will be thrown out. According to what models help God’s mission.

What is God trying to do among us here at LCM? How is God reforming our model of being church? What has to change, perhaps even die, in order for us to more clearly be part of God’s mission in the world?

Let me toss a few things out there and see if anything sticks. I believe God is reforming the church around:

  1. Discipleship—following Jesus—is becoming more important than church order or doctrine. Rather than teaching about the dual nature of Jesus and the Trinity and the books of the Bible in order, it’s becoming more important to accompany people as they struggle to follow in the footsteps of Christ. The Reforming Church will be the living as the Body of Christ present in the world.
  2. Compassion is gaining a voice and growing legs. The church will take the model of God’s unconditional love, mercy, and grace into the streets. We will loudly and visibly take the side of any who are powerless and victimized. If that means we stand up to businesses, elected officials, anyone in power then that’s what we will do it publicly and boldly. One good example right now is how the Reforming Church will respond to the caravan of migrants and refugees coming through Mexico from Central America.
  3. Community matters. Forgiveness and grace lived among us. Everything will begin with how we treat each other in the congregation. Reforming Church communities will be where we practice Jesus’ compassion so that we can carry it out into the world.
  4. Success is being measured by influence rather than numbers. There will be less weight given to worship attendance numbers and more given to how much love and compassion are made real (to real people) in our neighborhoods. The Reforming Church will find ways to measure that success.
  5. Leadership. Luke will lead us. I don’t mean just him. He’s the one who is affirming his baptism today which means he is committing to live as a disciple of Jesus and continue to grow in his capacity to do so. He has a better understanding of what the Reforming Church needs to look like than anyone over 30. The Reforming Church will listen to him.

The church will continue to reform. There will always be a vibrant and mission-focused church led by the Holy Spirit. The question is, which denominations—which congregations will be part of it?

Those congregations where God’s mission matter more than their particular model of being church are being reformed. That, I believe, is good news.

[i] https://careynieuwhof.com/10-predictions-about-the-future-church-and-shifting-attendance-patterns/

 
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Posted by on October 28, 2018 in Sermon

 

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“That’s What Compassion Looks Like” (June 18, 2017)

Matthew 9:35—10:8

Then Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and curing every disease and every sickness. 36 When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. 37 Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; 38 therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” 10:1 Then Jesus summoned his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to cure every disease and every sickness. 2 These are the names of the twelve apostles: first, Simon, also known as Peter, and his brother Andrew; James son of Zebedee, and his brother John; 3 Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; 4 Simon the Cananaean, and Judas Iscariot, the one who betrayed him. 5 These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: “Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans, 6 but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. 7 As you go, proclaim the good news, “The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ 8 Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. You received without payment; give without payment.

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Jesus gives his apostles their marching orders. He gives them specific instructions on how to go about this mission. “Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” Proclaim that the kingdom of heaven has come near. Cure the sick, raise the dead, cast out demons. Accept no pay.

What do you think? Are these specific instructions how disciples all over the world and who live centuries later are to go about being part of Jesus’ mission? Don’t go near non-Jews, stay out of towns that aren’t exclusively Jewish, and talk only to Jews? Of course not. We understand these specific instructions are for those twelve in a precise context at a particular time.

So how do we understand our role, our own specifics, in being part of Jesus’ mission? Where do we find that? Where in the Bible do we discover what Jesus calls us to do in our context, in in our time, in our particular circumstances?

I find the answer to that toward the beginning of this text. Jesus is going about cities and villages, but he’s the only one teaching, healing, and so forth. Then, in verse 36, “when he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless.” It’s at that point that he gathers the twelve disciples together and sends them out to do the same thing he’s been doing: cast out demons, teach, heal and so forth.

The trigger that turns him from doing it alone to recruiting and equipping his disciples to join him is his compassion for those who are stressed, who are worried, who are helpless. In his context, compassion looks like healing and casting out demons—the source of people’s worry and anxiety. Those are the things that keep them without any voice or power. It’s his compassion, recognizing the depth and breadth of people’s anxiety and pain.

The guiding value here isn’t Jesus’ specifics of teaching, healing, or casting out demons. Rather, it’s compassion—noticing the concerns that cause people to throw their hands up in despair, to give up. Stepping in when someone is helpless or vulnerable, especially when it would be easier to look the other way.

The girl who noticed a new classmate seemed sad. When she tried to talk to him, she realized he only spoke Spanish. So she took out her phone and used a translation app to write him a note asking if he wanted to sit with her today. “Look for me at lunch, and I’ll show you where we sit. We can just color or tell scary stories.” That’s what compassion looks like.

The man on the lite rail who noticed another man with his head in his hands, mumbling. When he asked the man if he was ok, the man replied he had a headache and was running late for a job interview. A woman nearby offered him an Advil, but he had no water, so a young mother offered him a juice box. The first man suggested that when the other man got to the interview, to apologize for being late, but offer no excuses. Just walk into the interview tall and tie his hair back if he could. A teenager nearby gave him a hair-tie off her wrist. When the man stepped off the train for his interview, the whole car waved and wished him good luck. That’s what compassion looks like.

Or the grandmother who was new to text messaging and tried to invite her grandchild to Thanksgiving dinner, but entered the wrong number, accidentally inviting a random 17 year old. When they figured out the mistake, the grandma invited him anyway texting, “Of course you can come. That’s what grandmas do . . . feed everyone.” That’s what compassion looks like.

Or this week at VBS, one girl’s first time here and didn’t know anyone.  One the first night and was having a hard time participating, obviously very shy. Another girl in her crew saw it, came over to her and invited her to do the movements to the song together. By the next night, the girl was involved in everything and having a wonderful time. That’s what compassion looks like.

Those are the instructions Jesus gave his disciples. Show compassion. Simply pay attention to those you meet and step in when someone is stressed or defenseless. It’s less about solving the issue and more about simply being there–showing up. Letting someone know they aren’t alone in their helplessness. Going a step beyond what’s easy to accompany another person who is vulnerable.

Those who follow Jesus are sent into their neighborhood simply to do that—show compassion.

Think about where you’re likely to be his week. What would compassion look like in those places, among those people. Recognize that each one of us are called, are equipped, and are sent to those exact places with clear instructions from Jesus himself. Pay attention to those you meet. When you see someone alone or anxious or helpless, step in and walk with them for a few minutes. Le them know someone cares. That’s what Jesus himself did. That’s what he sent his disciples to do. Show compassion.

“When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.’”

That’s us. We are the disciples who are now being sent to show compassion. As we go, we are already proclaiming the good news, that “the kingdom of heaven has come near.”

 
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Posted by on June 20, 2017 in Sermon

 

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God’s Mission: It’s That Big a Deal (June 22, 2014)

Pentecost 2

Matthew 10:24-39

Whatgoes through your head when you get a phone call and the person on the other end greets you with, “Don’t worry. Everything is OK”? That the cue to start worrying?

Or the dentist says, “You might feel a little discomfort”?  I think dentists and I have two different definitions of the word “discomfort.”

Or Jesus says to us, “Follow me, but don’t be afraid”? Uh oh. That makes me a bit apprehensive. If you follow me, people will say hateful things about you. If you follow me, people will want to physically hurt you. If you follow me, some people you thought you could count on will abandon you. If you follow me, you will lose your life. Rather than peace, it’s swords and division.

Why would Jesus say things like this? Why is his language so harsh? There are, I think, a couple of reasons:

–Because he’s making it very clear that what he’s asking his followers to do actually is that difficult, and,

–Because God’s vision for the world is that big a deal.

The U.S. Soccer team is playing in the World Cup in Brazil. They continue to endure grueling physical workouts, a horrible travel schedule that keeps them away from home for weeks at a time, a lack of support from many of the citizens of their own country, and the knowledge that in spite of all their work and effort and talent, they probably aren’t good enough to win the World Cup. Why do they do it?

Because the opportunity to play in this world tournament is that big a deal. The hope that they might have a chance to do well—with the opportunity to possibly win it—is worth all of the effort and more. It’s that big a deal.

Those who were part of the Civil Rights protests in the 1960s endured threats, beatings, arrests, even death. Yet they continued. Why would they do this?

Because a culture where they could have the same rights and opportunities as everyone else is worth all that and more. It’s that big a deal.

God is accomplishing something in creation that is that big a deal.

–Imagine a world where you are so valued that you are recognized as worth everything. For God that’s a big deal.

–Imagine a world where you can live every day free from any threat of any violence, where you live free from worry, free from fear. For God that’s a big deal.

–Imagine a world where we all are willing to share so generously with anyone else that every person has enough of everything. For God that’s a big deal.

–Imagine a world where you are encouraged, loved, accepted just as you are right now without any conditions whatsoever. For God that’s a big deal.

Can you begin to envision a world like that? Because God can. That’s God’s vision. And it is God’s intention and mission to make that happen. Bringing the reality of that vision into this world is what Jesus is about. IT’s that vision that he lives for, that he died for, that we can see in the resurrection.  It’s that vision he gives to his disciples. And it’s that vision he sends us into the world to make real. No one ever said that would be easy.

That is why the church exists. That is why we are here. LCM exists because God has a vision for the world, and we have been called to reveal it.

This mission into which we’re baptized is hard. It is costly. It is inconvenient. It is uncomfortable. Because this mission is not about us, or what we like, or what’s comfortable for us. IT is only about God’s mercy, forgiveness, peace, and love being made real in the world. So we do things to embody God’s vision:

–we practice forgiving each other, taking that into the world,

–we love those who are different than us; even our enemies,

–we show the world what real peace looks like,

–we reveal unselfishness to them,

–we live generously, giving away more of our money than makes sense for the sake of others.

–we publicly stand with those who, because of nationality, economic status, or sexual orientation, have been made to feel worthless in our culture.

We do all this not because it’s easy or comfortable, but because in our baptism God’s mission becomes our mission.

At our council meeting last Tuesday our council president, Roger Johnson, used this gospel text as our opening devotion. We spent 45 minutes talking about the cost of discipleship, and what it means today to follow Jesus.

Pastor Brigette. As pastoral leaders called to this congregation we want to be very clear that God’s mission is what we believe to be the freedom, joy, and heart of the gospel. Our calls here as ministers of Word and sacrament revolve entirely around proclamation and equipping for God’s mission.

Council. We talked about this at our meeting, and we decided that we are affirming here this morning that we are disciples of Jesus. As such, our call as elected leaders is to set a direction for LCM that is deeply rooted in our purpose within God’s mission in the world. We are assuring you publicly that we are committed to that.

Jesus tells us it will be hard, that the consequences of following him can be severe and even painful. And yet, he says, don’t be afraid. It is in God’s vision that you find your life. It’s that big a deal.

 
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Posted by on June 22, 2014 in Sermon

 

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We’re Not in Jerusalem Any More (3 Epiphany: Jan 26, 2014)

Matthew 4:12-23

Normally when this text comes up, we talk about Simon and Andrew, James and John, and Jesus calling them away from their nets to fish for people. That’s almost always how I’ve preached on this text. But if that’s all we hear, we overlook some other pieces of text — parts that may not be as obvious but are also important and just as relevant.

Look at the first two verses of this text. “Now when Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee. He left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum”.

At first glance, we may well ask, “So what?” What’s that  about? He heard John the Baptist had been arrested, so he moved. Why does that matter, and what does it have to do with us?

Actually, a lot more than you might think.

In this text, Jesus has just been baptized and tempted in the wilderness. This move to Capernaum is, in fact, his first act as the announced “Son of God.” And so, in this gospel, moving the 30 miles from Nazareth in Judea to Capernaum in Galilee makes a major statement about the nature of Jesus’ ministry. Here are some things that would catch people’s attention when they heard that:

  • Capernaum was in the region of Galilee, which was about as far from Jerusalem as you could get in Israel — way on the north end. Away from the political power, away from the religious center. It was largely ignored by the rulers and the priests. Like what we might refer to as an east-coast bias.
  • Galilee was surrounded by Gentiles and pagans. Phoenicians on the west. Syrians on the northeast, Samaritans on the south, and the sea of Galilee on the southeast. No good God-fearing people anywhere nearby. Kind of irreligious.
  • Unlike Jerusalem and other cities in Judea, Capernaum was a crossroads for major foreign trade. It had been invaded and conquered over and over. New people, new ideas, new ways of thinking, new cultures were constantly being introduced. Foreigners had flowed in and and sometimes even took over. If there was anything weird going on in Israel, it probably started somewhere in Galilee. So if recreational marijuana had become legalized, Capernaum probably would have been first.
  • Galilee was Jewish, but it was a forced Judaism. It had been in all kinds of different Gentile hands for about 600 years, but in a previous war the Jews had revolted and all the residents had been circumcised at “gunpoint.” So their loyalty to the established religion in Jerusalem had always been questionable.

So think about that. To bring God’s vision, Jesus moved from his hometown, not to the religious center of Jerusalem that everyone knew, but to a place completely different and largely ignored by the religious people. A place surrounded by people who didn’t know God, a place whose culture had changed significantly over the generations, and a place of largely independent people.

Does that sound familiar? Jesus didn’t move to the Vatican, Salt Lake City, Minneapolis, or ELCA headquarters in Chicago. He moved to Denver! God’s vision he was bringing wasn’t like anything the religious people knew. He chose not to make this vision fit where the Jews used to be. He chose to make it fit where non-religious people lived at the time.

This is my biggest problem with Lutheranism in the United States: we have a history of making our faith fit where we used to be instead of where we live at the time. We’re always looking back to Jerusalem instead of revealing God’s vision right here and right now. As Lutherans, we’ve always preferred Jerusalem to Capernaum.

Lutheran in the U.S. were European immigrants who kept their homeland languages and customs (where they used to be) so were looked on with suspicion.

Lutheran missionaries from the U.S. taught their European-rooted values and doctrines (where they used to be), so it never took root in our neighboring countries.

Even now, the centers of Lutheranism in the U.S., 400 years later, are still largely where those European Lutherans settled — and Lutherans are still trying to duplicate the Midwest Lutheran culture (where they used to be). Garrison Keillor is entertainment, not the model. This isn’t Jerusalem. It’s not Minneapolis. It’s not Dallas (or wherever the heart of the so-called Bible belt is). This is Denver. This is Capernaum. Lutheranism had better look different here. Jesus is making clear that context means everything. Many of us remember Jerusalem, but we live in Capernaum.

The surrounding context here is moving further away from where many of us came from in our faith lives. This culture aroound us doesn’t automatically value what the church values. They question, they doubt, they are very slow to commit. For them, the way the church has been sharing Jesus is a negative thing, and something they simply have no use for. They are savvy, techy, impatient, self-proclaimed authorities on anything thanks to the internet. They balk at authority and hierarchy, despise rules for their own sake, and therefore make up their own. And any rules they come up with are different than the church rules in Jerusalem where most of us came from. They can smell inauthenticity a mile away, long to make a difference, but don’t see the church as a way to do it. They aren’t from Jerusalem. They are from Capernaum. And our message and ministry better fit there. Because as a church, we are here for their sake.

So as we continue to understand the changing culture and context in which we live, our very core Lutheran identity, including the Theology of the Cross, the Priesthood of All Believers, and the Paradox of Being Both Saint and Sinner will look different than it did even 5-10 years ago. The gospel and the Jesus we proclaim don’t change. But the way we proclaim this has, and it will.

That’s hard for those of us who expect the church to be understood in Jerusalem, where we used to be. But as Jesus makes clear as he makes his home in Capernaum, that’s where we, as church, need to be understood.

 
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Posted by on January 28, 2014 in Sermon

 

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