Thursday, September 28, 2017

World Communion Sunday

This Sunday is World Communion Sunday--a day churches around the world, regardless of their typical practices of celebrating communion, choose intentionally to gather at the Lord's Table with awareness that we do not celebrate this meal in our churches alone, but that it is a meal that connects us to brothers and sisters across the globe, and throughout space.

In preparation for this Sunday, I invite you to do a little reflecting on what communion means to you, and why you choose to participate in it--or choose not to! I came across this tremendous article where diverse Christian leaders reflected on these questions, and commend it to you here:

In response to this article, if I had to name "Why I Take Communion" in 100 words or less, here's what I'd say:

I take communion because sometimes I need physical things to remind me of spiritual things it is harder to grasp or understand. I take communion because I need to look others in the eyes and remind them that Christ is for them, and I need others to look me in the eyes and do the same. I take communion because I need to be reminded that I am part of something so much bigger than myself. I take communion because I need to be nourished for the long journey of seeking to follow Christ through this crazy world. 

What about you? See if you can answer this question in 100 words or less on your own, or in the comment box below.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

The Letter to the Church at Broadneck

Over the course of the summer, each week our congregation read a New Testament letter written to the early church in the name of the apostle Paul and talked together about how these ancient letters connect with our modern church. For this past Sunday, when we celebrated our 35th anniversary, I asked the congregation to help me do something unusual: to imagine what a modern letter written in the voice of the apostle Paul to our church would sound like. I had them take a survey and answer questions like, what would Paul give thanks for in our community? How would he challenge us? What blessing would he offer for our future? I got responses from more than a dozen folks, and it was those responses I used to craft the sermon. Several people have asked for the chance to read the "letter" themselves, so here it is below. It was read on Sunday along with the two scriptures the most people said they thought our congregation should hear and remember in this time--Micah 6:6-8 and Luke 10:25-37.

To the saints who are at the church at Broadneck, God’s beloved children drawn together to be God’s family in this time and place, where Christ’s mercy and love dwells and from where the Spirit flows, creating a community of hope and light for all people—

From Paul, an apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ and a fellow worker for the Gospel--

Grace and Peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

I give thanks to our God every time I think of you, remembering your faithfulness and participation in the Gospel from your first days until now. Your generosity to those among you and those you’ve never met reflects the generosity of Christ, who gave fully of himself for all people. As you have freely received from God, you freely give, and your giving is known far and wide. Though you are small in number, you are large in impact, both where you live and throughout our world.

As I remember you before God, I offer praise to the One who made us all in the image of God, for as those baptized into One God you strive to make no distinction between people because of background, race, level of religious commitment, sexual orientation, family make up, or any other thing that seeks to separate. Your desire to be a community of unconditional welcome reflects how Christ has changed you with his unconditional welcome of all of us. Your genuine care for each other and others beyond your fellowship, your thoughtful reflection and decision making, and your desire to discern God’s will for you are an inspiration to many. Remembering these things, I am confident of this, that the God who has been stirring in and among you from the beginning is at work even now, leading you further into the high calling to which you have been called. And this is my prayer, that you will continue to grow in grace and wisdom, that your beacon of light and hope may burn brighter and brighter for many years to come. May you grow deeper in your pursuit of knowledge and love of neighbor, opening your arms and minds wider than you thought possible, knowing that through and in us God is able to accomplish abundantly more than we could ever dream or imagine!

As you celebrate all that has been and look towards all that is to come, I can’t help but praise the God of our Lord Jesus Christ!  This God is clearly at work in you as you offer shelter to those who do not have it, food to those who hunger for it, and a welcome home to those who have often been excluded by God’s people. Though your community is diverse, your sense of unity is strong as you come together in a common care for one another and seek to live as Christ intends in a troubling day and age. As you work side by side in ministry groups, the gifts of all find a place, giving honor to the One who gave them to be used for the common good. As you welcome and include children, you honor the one who first came among us as a child and grew up to welcome them in his own embrace. As you love and support each other physically and emotionally though good and bad times, you honor the Christ who has promised never to leave or forsake us. Thanks be to God for these indescribable gifts!

Beloved, be brave. You live in challenging times. There are many voices saying many things, making many claims. There is much diverse thought about what is right, even among those who claim to be followers of Jesus. The voices are often loud, acrimonious, confusing, hurtful. During this divisive time, you must rise up to bridge the gap. Keep being a place where people can have difficult conversations that others may hesitate to take on. God’s spirit is evident in your willingness to discuss controversial issues in a way that promotes growth, learning, and action. It is evident in your struggle to stay in relationship with one another even when you disagree, in your covenant commitment to practice openness toward those who may be different than you are, honoring and respecting the different ways the Spirit of God is at work in each of you, listening before speaking, being thoughtful about your words. As you seek to know what is right, commit yourselves anew to disciplined study. Do not count on others to read and interpret God’s words for you or to do this work on your behalf. Immerse yourselves in the wisdom of scripture and tradition each day. Do this as a community and as individuals.  Amidst all that assails your eyes and ears daily, fill your spirits with the words of God, with the wisdom of Christ our Teacher who came proclaiming peace and calling for justice, realizing you can’t have one without the other. Recognize your own need to grow and to deepen relationship with God, then devote time and energy to this need.

Recognize, too, your own need to grow and to deepen relationship with others. Listen to many voices, holding close those from whom you differ and learning what drives them. Connect with and learn from those who might never sit beside you in worship. Stand firm in your faith, yet root yourself deeply in love and mercy, and let this be your guide as you navigate the stormy waters of this age. Remember our Lord Jesus Christ, crucified by the empire for challenging the way things have always been, for proclaiming love that does not discriminate, for pronouncing forgiveness and truth to his final breath. Do not be afraid, likewise, to raise your voices when you witness injustice, to speak for what you know to be true. There will be times when you make mistakes; but voices of powerful love must prevail over voices of powerful hate. God has given you this voice to use, and is working within you to help you speak words of challenge, healing, hope, and justice into this day and time.

God has given you a voice, too, to use to share the good news of the Christ who is at work among you. Beloved, do not lose courage in using this voice. I have heard that “evangelism” has been made a dirty word by some among the churches who would use guilt, shame, fear or superiority to try to drive people to Christ for their own purposes. But it is not so among you. You have good news to share—the good news of a God who is alive and well, who is present in your life and community, who is drawing people together from the places to which they have been scattered and making of them one family. Of a God who cares for the poor and for the earth, of a God who loves all people and honors each person’s human dignity. What God has done in Christ is no small thing: Christ, through his self-giving love, has begun the process of knitting the whole world back together, of bringing broken things and people back together, of renewing all of creation by pouring out on us a Spirit of faith, hope, and love. Share this news far and wide! Don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zone, to not grow self-satisfied with where you are but to continue to actively seek out God’s beloved children who need a home. Go out into the corners where few tread and invite all to the banquet of God! Don’t be afraid to grow and to invite new people to grow along with you. Speak freely of your faith and your connection to God; actively invite more and more to come know Christ at work among you. Go beyond your walls, not waiting for others to stumble upon you. Keep finding new ways to tell the story of Jesus, and letting that story take on deeper meaning for your own life. Then speak the good news of Christ to those who are young and those who are old, those on the left and those on the right, those of means and those without, those who have faith and those who have none, those of every skin tone, language, and background. Be active! Be bold! And be not afraid.

Finally, beloved, don’t grow weary, but keep moving forward in doing what is right. Attend to your own growth in Christ, and to your stewardship of personal and corporate resources, that you might grow more and more into the commitments you have made to God. Develop awareness of where you hunger for God personally, and feed this hunger with study, reflection, and regular spiritual practice. Even when you don’t feel like you are growing, through your faithfulness, God is working within you. Continue to pray in all things, speaking to God simply, honestly, and from the heart, yet also disciplining yourself to be silent, to create space for God to speak in ways you may not quickly recognize. Earnestly and intentionally seek God’s guidance and wisdom rather than just reacting; yet be poised and ready for action when the moment calls for it. Do not let your many interests—though good—keep you from digging deeper into the call of Christ for you. Listen to those who are on the edges of church life, exploring why some are spectators more than participants, then broaden the face of leadership among you so all may share the work and have voices at the table. Deepen your relationships so you may be more compassionate with one another. Share in all things with honesty, building the trust and love your world so deeply needs. Don’t grow overly prescriptive or legalistic, but maintain openness, creativity, and flexibility so you may move as the Spirit leads. In all things, give thanks to God and stand ready to share what you have with others, so that none may go without and all may have enough. Rely on one another to keep up your energy and focus, honoring the gifts present among you and participating with larger community in the work of seeking justice, loving mercy, and walking humbly with God. Be the Samaritan on the road, seeing a need and responding regardless of circumstances, loving God as you love the one not normally seen as a neighbor as fully as you love yourself.

As you do these things, it is my prayer that God will put feet to your faith, helping you draw a bigger circle around what is possible. May God's love and light shine on you all—the light that shines in the darkness, that darkness will never overcome. May you know that God loves you even in your flaws. May you rest in the arms of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit and trust them to keep, love and guide you in right paths, being brave as you look forward and press on towards greater things. May you keep looking for and learning of the love of God that surpasses all understanding, continuing to fight the good fight of faith. And above all, brothers and sisters, continue loving one another, seeking God's truth and desire for yourself, each other, the church, and the world.

I send my greetings to and thank God for each one of you, my fellow laborers and brothers and sisters in Christ, and for all who have been part of your fellowship from the beginning, and all who—God willing—may become part of it in the next 35 years and then some.

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you. Amen.