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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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How Do You Know if You’re Successful? (Mark 8:31-38)

Think of someone who is successful. Why do you think they are successful? What’s the measure?

Are you successful? How do you know?

Our human nature is to strive to be prosperous, strong, influential. Doesn’t God want us to be successful? Don’t we thank God for our  successes—calling them “blessings”?

Peter and the other disciples have experienced Jesus’ “success.” They have seen Jesus cure people, cast out demons, feed thousands, challenge the powerful, teach crowds in amazing ways. He is amazingly strong and influential! Everything you’d think a successful person would do. Everything we think a successful church should do.

So imagine how shocked these disciples were to hear Jesus saying that success means suffering, rejection, death. And when Peter tries to question that view of success—because, after all, that just doesn’t make any sense—Jesus calls him Satan. He says that Peter’s human view of success is not of God. It is merely human, satanic. If Peter believes that human views of success are God’s views, then Peter is standing in God’s way, and he needs to back down and get out of Jesus’ way. Because God has a mission, and God will be successful. God’s reign of love, forgiveness, mercy, grace, and generosity has come into the world, and in Jesus it is taking on the powers of human success head on.

Even though it will cost Jesus his life. Even though it will look to all the world as if Jesus has failed. And in the face of all that Jesus is still adamant that this is God’s success. He brings God’s love, forgiveness, grace, mercy, and generosity into the world regardless of how inconvenient it is. No matter the cost to him. So, Peter, if you’re not on board with that then “get behind me, Satan.” The world will be loved and we will be forgiven. Period. That is Jesus’ mission; therefore, as his church, it is ours too.

So how did the church get so far off track?

When did the church become more concerned about gaining members and money than about forgiveness and grace? When did Christ’s church begin to put its members’ comfort and convenience ahead the inconvenience of showing God’s love and mercy in the world?

Go to almost any Christian congregation of any denomination and it won’t be long before you hear the priority of human success. “How big is the church?” “This outreach program is fine, but will it bring in new members?” “How do we get more people inside our doors?” “How’s the budget?”

Peter would stand with us in using these as measures of success. Because in our world they make sense; from a human perspective they make sense. If our human measures are successful, we appear strong, prosperous, influential to the world. We gain status and respect in the world.

But if we hold that as a higher measure of success than forgiving the unforgiveable and loving the unloveable, then Jesus tells us to get behind him, because we are not contributing to God’s success.

Christ’s church can’t make decisions based on how many people like them. The church can’t back off loving the neighborhood because some withhold offerings. If we were merely a human institution those views might make sense. But we are not just a human organization. We are the body of Christ. We are called by God into God’s success. Even if it is painful. Even if it is hard. Even if it is inconvenient. Even if it costs us. Even if it leads us toward the cross.

Ironically, Jesus says it’s following him to the cross that leads us to success and life. Isn’t that a kick? God is successful. The world is loved. The world is forgiven. Even the church. Even you. And nothing will stop Jesus from continuing to bring that love and grace to you. Even if it costs him. God will succeed. God already has. God’s love surrounds you now. You are absolutely forgiven now. Perhaps, as the church, we will find that successful. Because apparently Jesus does.

 
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Posted by on March 2, 2015 in Sermon

 

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Contrasting Views of Success (7 Pentecost B)

7th Sunday After Pentecost

Amos 7:7-15; Ephesians 1:3-14; Mark 6:14-29

What an interesting piece of scripture. Jesus isn’t even in it; neither are his disciples. It’s really about King Herod and John the Baptist—though John was killed way back in chapter 1. The story isn’t told until now. It’s placed here deliberately by Mark,.

John the Baptist was executed because he had confronted King Herod about his improper marriage to his younger brother’s wife, Herodias. Even though Herod liked to listen to John, and actually protected him, he has John locked up for being too outspoken about his marriage. But it was Herodias who was looking for a way to have John killed. She found it when Herod promised his step-daughter whatever she wanted as a reward for wowing dignitaries with her dancing at his royal party.

Why would John the Baptist open his big mouth to Herod over this issue? It was a political marriage meant only to increase this Herod’s power in the region. That was common practice. Why would John make such an issue of this—to the point of imprisonment and a pretty gory death? Yes, Herod married for the wrong reasons—so what? That’s Herod’s problem, isn’t it? Why is John so cranked up about it?

So I wonder, then, if the issue of improper marriage isn’t really the issue. I wonder if Mark is causing us to think about something else. His placement of this story here, right after the return of the apostles from their first missionary trip might indicate what this is really about. I think we are being invited to reconsider what it means to be successful. Mark does so by contrasting the worldly success of Herod with kingdom of God success in John and Jesus’ disciples.

Think about this: Herod has everything. He’s a powerful king with advisers to give him the best advice, an army to protect him, more money than he could spend in multiple lifetimes. He throws a dinner party for the most powerful people in Israel—others who are just as successful as he is. The CEOs, the Cherry Creek Country Club set, the people who wield power and authority, who are the movers and shakers. And they all come! Herod has what most of us work our entire lives to attain: he’s the poster child of success.

Especially when you compare him to John who sits alone and imprisoned and poor, helpless, unable even to save his own life.

Herod throws a party for the most powerful people in the country.

Jesus had just sent his disciples out with no bread, no bag, and no money.

If nothing else, this text causes us to step back and reconsider what success really is. Influence for our own sake or significance for the world’s sake.

Those of us who recognize Jesus as savior, or even those who merely follow his teachings, we are confronted with two views of success. And it seems that the measure of success is who benefits: the powerful or the poor, the movers-and-shakers or the helpless, ourselves or the world. Right now we at LCM give away 10% of our offerings to help those beyond the walls of this church. That’s good! How about we try for 15%? According to this text, that would be a better measure of success than simply how big our budget is.

Even as significant as it is to give away more money, that’s still a narrow view of this text. I think there’s good news for us when we’re feeling powerless. Success is still possible for us when we feel like we aren’t accomplishing anything or getting anywhere. When we feel like John, when we feel we’re helpless, alone, and imprisoned by things beyond our control, the good news is that that’s not the indicator of our worth or our significance.

John was armed with nothing more than truth. So he spoke it. Jesus sent his disciples out with nothing but his authority, and they made a significant difference to those they were sent to. When you’re feeling like you aren’t making a difference, Jesus indicates otherwise. Right now, think of one person you’ve touched with love or forgiveness or generosity. That’s the risen Jesus at work in you. That’s success.

 
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Posted by on July 19, 2012 in Sermon

 

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