We are ALL on the same TEAM.

Preached at Bethany UMC on World Communion Sunday

To listen to audio – https://soundcloud.com/bethanyumcsc/october-7-2018-sanctuary?in=bethanyumcsc/sets/2018-sanctuary

behappydoodles_31

Mark 9:38-41 (NRSV)

38 John said to him, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.” 39 But Jesus said, “Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. 40 Whoever is not against us is for us. 41 For truly I tell you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ will by no means lose the reward.

The disciples were complaining to Jesus about a person who was not in the card-carrying club of the Disciples, Inc. casting out demons in Jesus name.  The Message puts it this way: “We stopped him because he wasn’t in our group.

The disciples clearly had already developed an “us versus them” mentality. Perhaps we’re no different. When you’re a member of an exclusive club, whether somebody is “one of us” or not is terribly important. One thing any of the ultra-elite clubs has in common is elitism. John wanted to make sure that non-disciples weren’t casting out demons. Most people might think that getting rid of a demon is a good thing. But apparently not John.

What’s even more comical, or disturbing, is that this incident comes on the heel of the “Who is the greatest?” argument that the disciples had been having. They didn’t get it then, and it is clear that in today’s text, they still don’t get it.

John’s confusion could have been well-intended. He had already witnessed and participated in things with Jesus that nobody had ever seen before. It would have been easy to understand the God-given power behind miracles as something reserved for Jesus alone and those sent by him. Jesus doesn’t have the same reaction.  Jesus takes on a decidedly inclusive and unthreatened response to privilege. He realizes that the work of God isn’t for the few elitist members of Disciples, Inc. — after all, he chose teenagers, fishermen, and tax collectors as his Twelve in the first place. Jesus has a larger cosmic perspective, an all-encompassing world view and when the fields are ready for harvest, it’s all hands on deck.

What can we learn from Jesus’ response to John? Surely there aren’t any parallels in our churches today, right? Is the church the most elite club in the world? Is there a dress code?  Like Mike’s first time at the country club where they made him wear a suit jacket? Are we guilty if giving the side eye, if people are sitting in our pew?  What if people genuinely want to connect with God and be used by God in a meaningful way, but we are accidentally standing in the way?  That’s something to think about.

We don’t get details about the “someone” of verse 38, but John said that he was not ekolouthei — literally meaning “not following us” or “not a disciple.” Somehow someone not yet known as a follower of Christ had gotten wind that demons could be cast out in the name of Christ. We don’t know anything else about the story of “someone,” but isn’t it possible that serving God — even with potentially impure motive (and we don’t know that was the case here) — caused him to believe in the power of Christ as the Messiah?  If you cast a demon out of a person using the name of Jesus, wouldn’t that have an affect on you?

Jesus was concerned with something so much larger than just one demon’s being cast out. He wanted to ensure that his future church would never feel like an elite club. Instead of being exclusivist, he wanted her to be as inclusive as possible.

So how do we turn our churches into the least elitest places of our culture? When we do this, we will truly “bear the name of Christ” (v. 41), and neither church insider nor outsider will need to feel that he is “not one of us.”  The church is a place where all are welcome.  Both Clemson fans or South Carolina fans.  Both Ohio State fans and Penn State fans.

We are ALL on the same team.

That may be hard for some of us to hear and understand.  We in our self-righteous anger thinking that we’re the only RIGHT way.  ALL “sides” are guilty of this.  I know many faithful Christians who are Republicans and I know many faithful Christians who are Democrats.  Jesus calls us to be united under his leading, his direction, as HIS FOLLOWERS.  When we’re getting ready to demonize the other, we need to check ourselves in the Spirit.    We may get rebuked by Jesus as the disciples did.  The harvest is ripe and the laborers are few.  So what if they don’t look like us or speak like us or dress like us if they’re preaching Jesus and it brings about Christ’s transformation that only he can do…great.  I can’t busy myself policing other people’s behavior if I’m to do what Christ is calling me to do.

In the 1996 movie Phenomenon, John Travolta plays George Malley, an ordinary man who sees a bright light descend from the sky and discovers he now has super-intelligence and telekinesis.  I’ve always loved what he says about the apple.  “You know, if we were to put this apple down, and leave it, it would be spoiled and gone in a few days. But, if we were to take a bite of it like this,” he then takes a bite of the apple as he continues, “it would become part of us, and we could take it with us, forever.”  I’ve always wanted us to treat communion that way.  With only a bite of bread and a dip of juice, we can be changed people.  And we can take that with us, forever.  If we take the words seriously, we can be changed with this meal.  Even us judgmental disciples.  As I said last week, Jesus is always working on us, pruning us, shaping us, molding us.  If we think of this like we are ingesting Jesus and his likeness will pour out of us, what would that be like for us personally and in our communities, and by very extension, our worlds?

While he was President, Lincoln attended church almost every Sunday at New York Avenue Presbyterian Church, where Dr. Phineas Gurley was the pastor. Lincoln’s presence caused such a commotion that Dr. Gurley gave Lincoln a key to his private study just off the platform, and Lincoln would often slip in and listen to the message in the Pastor’s study. After one particularly eloquent, moving sermon, Lincoln was leaving and his assistant, John Hay remarked, “Mr. President, wasn’t that a great sermon?” Lincoln thought for a moment and said, “It was a good sermon, but it was not a great sermon.” His assistant asked, “Why do you say that, Mr. President?” Lincoln said, “Well, the speaker was eloquent and the content was excellent, but it wasn’t a great sermon, because Dr. Gurley forgot one important matter. He did not ask us to do something great for God.”

I’m going to ask you to do something great for God today.  I want you to take this meal and live like changed people, a living testimony for all the world to see.  In an increasing non-church culture, you may be the only witness the world ever sees of the grace and love of Jesus.  Live it.  Rest in God. Show people Jesus.

Family

Ephesians 1:3-12 (NRSV)

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love. He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and insight he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, 10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. 11 In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will, 12 so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory.

It’s all about family with God.  We are all beloved children of God.  Blessed, chosen, destined, bestowed, lavished. The main theme of Ephesians is the Church, which is the body of Christ and it should be a family no matter what.  With family you can be your best self or your worst self, but they still have to let you in!

“Call it a clan, call it a network, call it a tribe, call it a family: Whatever you call it, whoever you are, you need one.” —Jane Howard

Family is your people.  Your tribe.  The ones in your corner.  Even more so, the body of Christ, the Church, is your family on super strength with super powered vitamins because it has Jesus as our core unifier.

Verses 3-14 are all a single sentence in the original Greek and in that sentence Paul uses seven action verbs to help us discover everything that God has done to give us an identity as God’s children. Blessed (v. 3), Chosen (v. 4), Destined (v. 5), Bestowed (v. 6), Lavished (v. 7), Made known (v. 9) and Gather up (v. 10).   Each of those verbs are designed to be the markers of being one of God’s beloved children.

One of the church’s most limiting and debilitating myths is that “holiness” pertains exclusively to individuals — as though holiness were the product of a solitary spiritual journey. Listen again to the words of thanksgiving and blessing the writer uses in the text “… he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love” (v.4). Who did God choose to be “in Christ”? Individuals yes, but individuals in community. We are called to be a holy church, a holy apostolic church functioning as Christ’s bodily presence here on earth, a HOLY FAMILY.
A holy, apostolic church exhibits three clear-cut values that keep the body healthy and growing in holiness: It must make disciples; it must mark disciples; it must mature disciples.

This is why once a disciple is made, the church must mark the members of its community. A marked disciple bears the “marks” of a living body of Christ.  In Greek these are known as didache-diakonia, koinonia, martyria, and kerygma. First, are we a teaching-serving community of disciples? Second, are we a fellowshipping community? Third are we a bread-breaking and broken-body community? Fourth are we a praying community?  It’s all about relationship and community!

Making and marking disciples for participation in the holy community of the church is still not enough. Jesus called his followers, making them disciples. He then journeyed with them all over the countryside, teaching them, fellowshipping with them, breaking bread with them and praying with them. All these activities were forward looking, pointing towards the creation of mature disciples, able to stand firm in the faith.

The body of Christ looks forward to the future and meets the challenges of sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ to an ever-changing, always-longing world. But for those already feeling insecure about the ground they stand on, the future looks like a scary place. Mature disciples, well-grounded in the bedrock of a holy community, don’t need to stand fearfully rooted to one spot. We can be an active body of love, mercy, truth and justice.  Mature disciples know that the shape and the face of the church can change, as long as at the heart of this holy family is Jesus.

Mike and I went to the Goodbye Road Tour in Savannah on Tuesday night.  It was headlined by “Johnnyswim” and “Drew Holcomb & the Neighbors” with special guests “Penny & Sparrow.”

In the wake of the racially charged events at Charlottesville, the loss of rock icon Tom Petty (who was a huge influence on Drew Holcomb), and the heartbreaking attack upon an audience of music fans at the Route 91 Harvest Festival in Las Vegas; Johnnyswim, Drew Holcomb, and the guys of Penny & Sparrow wrote and recorded the EP “Goodbye Road.”*

They began the show by saying, “We don’t care how you voted, we don’t care about what you think on this or that, you’re family here.  The family that sings together, stays together.”   

In an interview Holcomb says of the husband-and-wife team behind Johnnyswim, “One of the things I’ve always loved about Abner and Amanda’s writing, is that it dives into the dark parts of humanity, but still comes out of that darkness with hope and light. When we were recording these songs, it was a hard moment. There was a lot happening in the world, and we felt a mutual sorrow about it, but we also shared the belief that sorrow didn’t have to be the entirety of the story.”

“It was three days after the political rallies in Charlottesville,” Abner remembers. “When we wrote ‘Ring the Bells,’ we were all sitting in the same room, thinking, ‘Enough is enough. We want to scream something into the world, but how do we make it productive?’ In that moment of agony and tension — the very moment you’re tempted to be hopeless — you can choose to give in to those dark feelings or rise above them. ‘Ring the Bells’ is our productive shout.”

They had us sing the simple word, “Family” throughout the show.  I’m speaking for myself, it had a huge impact on me, we shared this collective experience, this shared belief, this shared hope and isn’t that what family is at its heart?

They ended the show with Tom Petty’s “I Won’t Back Down” and the family of God, our family of misfits and radicals and sometimes semi-complacent Christ followers, won’t back down.  I had tears streaming down my face, standing in my family, the body of Christ, the Church, that Ephesians writes so eloquently about.  It reminds me of Lauren Daigle song “O Lord” when she writes “I will stand my ground where hope can be found.”  I will stand my ground where hope can be found.  We are making, marking and maturing disciples and we have the solid ground of Christ to stand on.  We don’t have to stand alone.  We can stand TOGETHER.  In our family.  God’s family.  And trust me, from Lauren Daigle’s own lips: “O’Lord O’Lord I know You hear my cry//Your love is lifting me above all the lies//No matter what I face This I know in time//You’ll take all that is wrong and make it right.”  God’s got this.  Even when it seems darkest, God will SHOW up.  Jesus will leave the 99 and come to our rescue.  The Holy Spirit will always make a way.  It may not look like what we want it to, it may have us walk through sludge and muck, it may not be on our time table, but God is going to do a MIGHTY thing in and through us.  We just have to be obedient to God’s call on our lives.  We need to be obedient to God’s mark on our lives.  We need to have the spiritual maturity to roll with the punches and keep our forbearance, tenacity and integrity.

The force that binds us together is stronger than the force that drives us apart.

You are not forgotten.

You are not alone.

David Ogden Stiers says“Family means no one gets left behind or forgotten.” No one gets left behind or forgotten.  NO ONE. We are family and a strong, growing family at that!  And that’s what’s great about family, there’s always room for one more at the table…

***That ends the sermon.  Church pay attention – the audience was multi-generational and they were singing every word with feeling and passion.  We started listening to this album over spring break.  Actually, my husband Mike became obsessed with it.  He said they are singing what we’ve been feeling.  I surprised him for his birthday and our 16th wedding anniversary with a trip to see them live in concert in Savannah.  It was truly an emotional, uplifting, Holy Spirit experience.  We were coming together, young and old, all colors, as a family.  We were so encouraged and I’ll wager everybody was encouraged who was there.  There is a Christian culture humming here.  And Church, we need to listen.  I felt the Holy Spirit moving us to a place of solidarity and I’ve taken that with me in all the places, with all the people, and with all the the news, everywhere … the family that sings together, stays together.  Amen!

 

Jimmy Kimmel Live – Goodbye Road

Jimmy Kimmel Live – Ring the Bells

Some of “Won’t Back Down”

 

Some of “Ring the Bell”

A Great Nation

This past March the students and I went on a trip to Washington, D.C. on a seminar by the General Board of Church and Society on Human Trafficking.  There were so many things that struck us at the time, both the things that were disillusioning like walking into the Senate chamber and only 3 Senators being in there and the things that were truly moving like many of the war memorials that we saw.

The thing that was most hard for us to understand was how our houses of Congress work now.  I had never been on a tour of the Capitol building before and it was really neat to see the sculptures and history.  It was really cool going under the ground in the little cars made by Walt Disney.  It was amazing that our Senator’s office squeezed us in under short notice and that we got such a great tour.

It was one of the most disheartening things I’ve seen to witness an empty room with three Senators going back and forth over air quality and asthma and  these Senators primarily talking to the camera because there wasn’t hardly anyone else in there to hear them.  I understand what the aid said that these days our Congress people get briefed in the mornings and evenings and the transcripts are given to them and they are pretty much told how to vote in their briefings.  I also understood when he said that today our Congress people have to work hard with their constituencies taking meetings and working on those things during the day so that they can get re-elected.  I get that getting to that place is not easy and I’m sure it takes a lot of money and support and you’ve got to keep the people that give you those happy.  I get that.

What I don’t get is why we keep letting this broken system survive without all saying, “Enough.”  This is ridiculous.  I’ve heard most of my life that you’ve got to work in the system to change the system and I get that.  You’ve got to know what you’re dealing with and sometimes be able to speak the language so that change can happen.  But we are also called to be in the world and not of it.  We can be in the system and understand the system, but we don’t have to be one of the people sucked into it and trying to make it survive without glance at justice or mercy or ethics or even some good ole character and integrity.

I’m not talking about pointing fingers and blaming this group or that group or this person or that person for all of our problems.  I’m not talking about demonizing some of our fellow Americans even if we may completely disagree with them and think x, y, z about them.  The bottom line is that we are all in this TOGETHER.  We don’t need to waste our time trying to pit people against one another.  We don’t need to waste our time blaming all of our problems big and small on a select party or group or body.  We need to work at solutions, asking the right questions, having a dialogue with one another, figuring out ways that we can live it out with or without the support of the powers that be.

I realize that power is a precarious thing and I know that nothing is ever “that” simple, but I would love to see leaders that lead.  Not just when it’s popular.  Not just the party line.  (Either party.)  Not just what you’re told.  But what you think.  What you have discerned.  What you have wrestled with.

I know that Washington is not just a movie – it’s not just Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, The American President, Air Force One, or even the President’s speech in Independence Day.  But we’ve got to do something here.  In this nation that seems more and more divided.  In a place where unemployment is growing and I have more and more students graduating without finding jobs and more and more coming in barely making it through on loans and what little they can make on part-time jobs and not even enough money for raman noodles.

The thing that most moved me in Washington was the Lincoln Memorial.  Reading those words on either side, the Gettysburg Address and the Second Inaugural Address, and the face of a Congress that even then was working on a budget – was a powerful contrast.  There’s no way we’re more divided now than we were then and yet the words of Lincoln ring out.  “With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation’s wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan—to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves, and with all nations.”

We may not be a nation warring with each other but it is time to bind up the wounds of our people.  When it is clear that many of our children are going hungry.  Many parents are wondering how to provide.  Our churches and organizations that are working to clothe and feed and help educate and give shelter, have more than enough work to last a lifetime and the numbers are doubling and tripling and growing by leaps and bounds.  Do I think all of the responsibility lies in Washington?  No.  Do I think it all depends on a President to shape the course?  No.  But I think it’s a start.  There are unsung heroes all around and I know that God’s people are faithful and that the words of Micah to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with our God are words that many are living by not by just words but with their lives.

When I think about that nation that I believe in, this crazy idea of America, of freedom, of representation by the people for the people, I don’t think of trillions of dollars spent on defense.  I don’t think about loop holes or pork barrel spending or people after their own wealth or power.  I don’t think of people wasting time talking to the media or to the rich and wealthy in their districts.  I think about the men and women who have fought to make this freedom a reality.  I think of those who live their lives every day with grace and mercy and selfless service.  Not people that are going to cram an ideology or there own culture onto someone else.

I pray for people to step up in conscience and discernment.  I pray for people that will say, “Enough.”  I pray for people who go back to their roots of what this country was founded upon, of what truly makes us a great nation – not a superpower, but a great nation that has character and respect.  I pray for the people hanging in the balance of some of these programs and spending and I pray that we as faith communities step up and see how we can reach out across our communities and lead the way.  I pray that we will open ourselves up to the One who knows all of our needs and who can direct our course, to the One who doesn’t just bless America, but seeks to be in community and relationship with the whole world.  Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

The Gettysburg Address – Abraham Lincoln

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation, so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate, we can not consecrate, we can not hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

The Speech on The American President

What would “A Great Nation” look like to you?  What do we as a church do to step up ready to work and to grow and to fight in this battle for justice and mercy?  (Yes, I know I used the word – “fight” – because at this point I feel like we’ve got to dig in and take action no matter what the opposition or what the cop out.)

But Mostly Me…

Y’all know I’m a lover of Broadway and with all of the Tony’s it received Sunday night – I’m not the only one who thinks The Book of Mormon is one of the funniest and heart-felt musicals to hit Broadway in a while.

The story follows Elder Price and Elder Cunningham as they are sent to Uganda, Africa.  Elder Price really had his heart set on Orlando, but they’re sent to Uganda.  All sorts of hilarity as well as the tension of real issues of faith, theodicy and how to deal with the crud of life ensues.

One of the songs at the beginning of the musical that highlights Elder Price’s being the shining star of all things and his belief that he’s going to rock anything he does is called “You and Me (But Mostly Me).”  I think it says a ton about how we see ourselves in ministry sometimes.  Rev. Bob Howell during his leadership seminar during Annual Conference talked about the Lone Ranger who have heard about a ton in the old model of ministry.  In the midst of an election year, there’s always a bit of the sense of self-promotion or arrogance or those type words that get thrown around.  Thoughts like – but I’m smarter than the person or have put more years of service in or have a harder appointment or would study harder or would be more balanced or am wiser than so and so.  There’s a sense of competition or a if this person gets this, what does that say about me kind of thing that takes place sometimes.  I don’t entirely know how we combat that, but I feel like a lot of it is setting a tone that we are all in this together and that it’s for the good of the church.

Who wouldn’t want to be the one to do this big thing???  That’s sort of what the song is saying.  But you know – how much more powerful and contagious is an entire movement???  I don’t see the GC and JC folks we elected as having these shiny halos or spotlights on them like movie stars, but as servants of the church that stepped up and who are making decisions in the church with all of us.  The thing about the present and future of our church whether you’re a death tsunami-er or a let’s die to live person or a let’s just get the Spirit of God moving and continue growing into what it means to be Church-er, we all want the same thing.  Or at least I hope we are.  I don’t care if one person or a body of people or what I’d like – a movement of people – begin this renewal, reformation, outpouring of the Spirit, commitment to prayer, spiritual practices and the scripture – putting it all into action.  We just need to do it.  To live it.  To breathe it.  To commit to it.  To prayerfully and intentionally go forward.

We are all in this together.  Whether fresh out of seminary, whether just commissioned or ordained, whether second career, whether retired, whether right in the middle of our pastoral ministry, whether young or old or not wanting to be classified as either, whether man or woman, no matter where we are on our journey or what we may look like.

How do we feel when the person beside us is lifted up?  What are our motivations?  What role or part can we play in our particular time and place?  What does renewal in The United Methodist Church look like?  Not just what’s a vital congregation or Call to Action, but what does renewal and revival look like where you are?  What are the gifts and graces given to each of us?  How can those be used?  Instead of just hearing and absorbing what we hear and learn and are inspired by, what are our next steps?

For some of us, we hear these inspiring things at conferences or on podcasts or in articles and we’re so tired and worn out and blah from the day to day or the uphill battles, that it’s hard to go forward.  See, the thing about being lone rangers and thinking it’s all about us, is that we forget that we’re all in this together.  Not just a cliche or a good thing to throw out there in theory or during a presentation, but seriously.  Is there someone that you can be for real with and can bust open the good, the bad, and the ugly, and you know it will be okay?  Who do we depend on to be our church?

This is not just a “but mostly me” but something that if we are to survive, if we are to be a stronger, healthier, more grounded body – we’ve got to be supporters, advocates, confidants, friends to each other.

This isn’t just the church or ministry folk, but all of us.  It’s not about this congregation or that.  It’s not just about shuffling our membership to churches as we like the pastor or not or the youth program or not or that they talk too much about money or focus too much on social justice.  It’s about what’s essential and what the mission of the Church is.  How do WE make disciples?  How are WE in ministry WITH the community?  How are WE growing and learning and changing and praying and leading and growing?

It’s a heck of a lot more exciting and a lot less pressure when it’s not just all about me, but about all of us.  Let’s celebrate that.

How and why do we make it all about us???  What are some assumptions and world views that might change if it’s not so me-centric?  What does the Bible say about all this me stuff???  How is evangelism a whole new ball game when it’s just about you, but it’s about the world?

Blest Be The Tie That Binds

So I love this old hymn.  We sang it at the end of every worship service when we were at Wesley Chapel in Lydia and it was played at my Gandaddy’s funeral with Ganny’s alto voice ringing out as always.   It’s not the greatest sounding recording, but it’s about like I remember in UMC’s with a bunch of different voices and a lot of joy in the harmony and singing out as loud as you can even if you’re not the best singer in the history of the world.  The second video – different tune but also familiar and I think the images are cool with the words. Go to http://www.youtube.com/watch#!v=9OfSm2LfX48&feature=related.

What is the tie that binds us?

Love that great cloud of witnesses always before us (can’t help but mention the LOST finale) and that great community of Christ followers that is ever behind us, beside us, and before us.  Love, love, love that in this crazy blog system that people’s posts look like patches in a quilt.  God is sewing community together all around us and that is beautiful.