Sep 10

Real Church Life



Two weeks ago, in the wake of Hurricane Harvey, Houston megachurch pastor Joel Osteen brought on himself the kind of attention nobody wants. His church, Lakewood Bible Church, was slow to open its doors to offer its neighbors shelter. Osteen himself was a little clueless, if not insensitive, in his answers about why it took so long for one of the largest churches in the country to help out after such a bad storm. I can’t stand Osteen, and I think in general he does more harm than good, but I don’t bring up this unfortunate situation to beat up on him. I’m more interested in the reactions from people both inside and outside the church.

Almost everyone I heard said something like, “This is a church. Don’t they know how they’re supposed to act? Don’t they get it? How could they let something like this happen? Don’t they know that they’re a church?!” And on the one hand, I support that response. We Christians ought to hold ourselves to a high standard, and we shouldn’t be upset when others hold us to a high standard, too. But on the other, I think that attitude is dangerous. It makes the church an ideal, a fantasy society that gets everything right all the time. But the church, in this world, is not filled with ideal people. The church is a hospital for sinners, a place where we are healed from sin so that we can live according to the new life given in Jesus Christ. But a hospital is not a place where everyone is well. And the church is not a place where no one sins anymore. The “ideal” church is a lie. And when we believe the lie, or let others believe it, we set ourselves up for disillusionment and even for falling away from the church when things go wrong. Continue reading

Nov 25

Thanksgiving All the Way (A Sermon for Thanksgiving Eve)



Christ Jesus is our reason for thanksgiving. Christ rescues us from ourselves, opening us up to the new creation that he brings through his reign, opening us up to true life which is found in him and nowhere else. From the earliest days, the response of those who have been set free in Jesus Christ is to give thanks, gladly, joyfully, freely. Eucharisto: I give thanks. The Apostle Paul tells the Philippians to rejoice, chairete, and to make their requests known to God “with thanksgiving,” meta eucharistias. And the writer Justin Martyr, one of the first witnesses to Christian worship outside the Bible, tells us that prayer and thanksgiving were always a part of the regular Sunday worship services; in fact, Justin says that the Christian name for the bread and wine that were central to Christian worship was Eucharistia, the Eucharist, or what in some of our churches is called Holy Communion or the Lord’s Supper. Long before there were Puritan pilgrims, or Abraham Lincoln, or turkey and gravy, followers of Jesus knew to call the most important food we share our thanksgiving meal. Continue reading

Oct 06

Your Church Is Too Small



I have good news for you this morning: your church is too small. Your church is too small! Now, I imagine you’ve heard that before, and I’m willing to bet that the last time you heard it, it didn’t sound like good news. Maybe you heard it in a meeting with the district superintendent: I’m sorry, she said, but your church is too small to support a full-time pastor. I’m sorry, but you’re too small to be on your own anymore.

Or maybe you heard it from a visitor one Sunday morning: I love your church, he said. The people here are friendly, and you obviously love to be together for worship. I wish I could stick around, but your church is too small. I’m looking for something bigger.

Or maybe you have found yourself saying it in at church council one night: It would be nice, you said, if we could do more for our community, but we’re just too small. We don’t have the resources.

“Your church is too small.” It doesn’t sound like good news, but today, on World Communion Sunday, at this Community Worship Service, it is the gospel, the good news, we need to hear. Your church is too small, but Christ’s church—ahh, that’s a different story entirely. Continue reading

Jun 20

Galatians: Baptized into Christ



When we are baptized, we die to our old selves and rise to life in Christ. Paul says, “As many of you were baptized into Christ have clothed yourself with Christ.” Last week, we heard Paul say, “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me.” Crucified to our old selves, adorned with Christ on the outside, alive by Christ on the inside, that is what it means for us to be baptized. As the church of Jesus Christ, life after baptism should be an intense focus on giving Christ free reign over our lives, so that we can be made more and more like Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit. Continue reading

May 16

The Gift of the Giving God



I have some news for you today: the first Pentecost was not the first time the Holy Spirit started working in creation for the sake of God’s mission of love and reconciliation. Pentecost is not the birthday of the Holy Spirit. No, no, no. The Spirit is eternally God, and just as God has always been at work in creation, from the very beginning, so the Spirit has always been moving, active, alive in our midst, all along. Continue reading