RSS

Tag Archives: Acts 2:42-47

After the Spirit

(a sermon for June 16, 2019, the 1st Sunday after Pentecost, based on Acts 2:42-47, 3:1-10)

“…and they lived happily ever after!”  And… Amen!

Now that’s how the story really ought to end, right (?); at least as it pertains to those first few verses of our text for this morning.  I mean, consider the “narrative arc,” if you will, of this part of the biblical story; think for a moment about everything that brought that group of twelve disciples from where they were – that is, as this rather motley assortment of fishermen, tax-collectors, and other assorted outsiders who’d left everything to follow Jesus – to what they are now, the Spirit-filled and Spirit-led Apostles in whom “many wonders and signs are being done,” and by whose proclamation of good news a new church is growing exponentially, to the point where once there were little more than a handful of believers and now – in a single day, no less (!), the day of Pentecost  – “about three thousand persons were added;” and as Luke goes on to tell us, “day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.”

And it’s at this point in this sweeping narrative that Luke began in his gospel and now continues his “Book of Acts” that we’re given this incredible description of Christian community as it was truly lived out in the life of this new church.  We’re told that the believers were all gathered together and that everyone was filled with awe about all the signs and wonders they were witnessing; and along with worship and prayers and “devot[ing] themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship,” they also gave to one another as any had need, and – I love this part – “ate their food with glad and generous hearts.”  It’s worship, it’s fellowship, it’s compassion: from the very beginning these were the marks of the Christian life and to this day remain our model and the ideal of what the church of Jesus Christ is supposed to be.  Or, to put it another way, if I might quote Laura Truman of the Forum for Theological Exploration, “Oh my goodness, it is beautiful.   They are doing theology, they are living together, they are eating together, they are praying together – this is the kind of community that most church leaders would give their left foot for… This story of the beginning of the Church,” she writes, “is just glorious.  This is the Church alive.  This is the Church on the move.”

And so, do you see what I mean when I say that this might well be the place to end the story; that now we’re at the part of the gospel in which we can gaze upon this amazing new church – formed by Jesus Christ himself, crucified and risen, and gathered, led and empowered by his Holy Spirit – and know that from this point on, after everything those apostles had been through and more to the point, through what God had done in the person of the Christ (!) that they could indeed “live happily ever after.”  I mean, if I’m making a movie about this (I guess technically, given it’s about the apostles and their journey after the resurrection, it would be a sequel!), about the time the Spirit has come in all of its power and the believers are “praising God and having the goodwill of all the people,” it would be time to fade out and roll the credits; as I said before, that’s where the story ought to end, right?

Well, if we understand scripture, not to mention the mission of the church, the answer there would be… no.  In fact, it can well be said that “after the Spirit” is when the story begins anew; and in many ways, it’s the place where our story and truly, our mission as believers really comes into focus.

Actually, from a narrative point of view, it’s interesting to note that following this very grand and idealistic view of the beginnings of the Christian church, Luke in his telling of the story sort of pulls back a bit so to tell the story about how “one day Peter and John were going up to the temple at the hour of prayer, about three o’clock.”  So, you see, already there’s a routine developing in the life of the church; and I don’t say that as a negative, nor am I in suggesting that the “wonders and signs” done by the apostles were in any way diminishing, because if you read on in the Book of Acts, you’ll know that this is not the case.  If anything, this “going up to the temple” every afternoon tells us that a discipline of prayer and worship was from the very beginning, as it continues to be, essential to the Christian life.

And so it is on this particular day, we have Peter and John on their way to the temple for afternoon prayer – for “prayer meeting,” The Message calls it – and as they pass through the gate of the temple known as the “Beautiful Gate” they encounter a man “crippled from birth,” [The Message] “asking for alms;” that is, begging passersby for any kind of handout they might we willing to offer him as one poor and needy.  Now, we don’t know much about this man: he’s not given a name nor is there much of a backstory about what’s brought him to this station of life; all we really can glean from the text is that being “lame from birth,” he’d been carried to this gate and placed there for the purpose of begging, and that apparently he’d been doing this for quite some time, because later on we find out that all the people who entered the temple by this so called “Beautiful Gate” had recognized this  man as one of “those people” who were always there on the fringes begging for whatever spare change anybody might give him.  And so likely what he was doing that afternoon was what he always did, which was with eyes to the ground and arms extended crying out… crying out again and again and again for alms… for money… for something, anything that might help.

But whereas most people going to temple that afternoon sought to ignore the beggar’s cries and probably did everything they could to avoid any encounter with him altogether, we’re told that Peter and John heard the man’s cries and stopped; but even more than merely stopping to hear the request, Luke tells us that “Peter looked intently at him, as did John,” and said to this beggar, “Look here…” “Look at us…”   which, as even you and I in these times, was a pretty radical response!   I remember years ago someone I went to school with describing to me of her experience one summer living and working in New York City.  Now, this girl was not only still pretty young, she was also from Maine; and her first instinct on the streets of Manhattan was to smile and say hello to everyone she passed on the street!  But, she explained, that exuberant spirit was short-lived, as very quickly her more streetwise co-worker informed her that the first rule of walking down along a New York City street was not to make eye contact; this, after all, is not Bangor, Maine!  And we understand that, don’t we; especially as it applies to those in this life and in this world that in all honesty we’d rather avoid: from that person across the aisle at the market who makes us feel uncomfortable to the one who’s standing there with the handwritten cardboard sign on the median of Fort Eddy Road; just keep your head down and keep moving, and there’s no problem.

Sadly, that’s too often our attitude, but not Peter and John; they look this beggar square in the eye and pretty much demand that he look back at them in just the same way; thus treating him and engaging him as a person… as the child of God that is rather than the nameless beggar that the world has always perceived him to be.  And then Peter says something very interesting: he says, in the very poetic language of the old King James Version of scripture, “Silver and gold have I none; but such as I have give I thee: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth rise up and walk.” (Or, if you’d prefer a more contemporary translation, how about this from The Message: “I don’t have a nickel to my name, but what I do have, I give you.”) Either way, Peter then reaches out to this man, this man crippled from birth, pulls him up (!) by his right hand, “and immediately his feet and ankles were made strong.”  So strong, in fact, that the beggar immediately starts leaping and dancing for joy; praising God for all he’s worth and, might I add, totally disrupting any semblance of a serious prayer time that afternoon and astonishing everybody who’d witnessed what happened to this now former beggar there at the Beautiful Gate!

This story from Acts serves to tell us that “after the Spirit” came on the Day of Pentecost and filled them up with its power, the disciples’ story begins anew; with their being called to and given the gift of healing in the name of Jesus.  And moreover, writes Craig Barnes, it’s also a reminder that ultimately, in a multitude of ways – not just physical, mind you, or even financial; but also in the emotional, relational, even spiritual sense – “we’re all beggars, and it’s only in the name of Jesus that we’re going to get back up on our feet again” and we, as believers, have the ability, the call, the power to proclaim that name “that gets people back up on their feet.”  But even beyond all that, friends, what this story proclaims is that all of us – you and me and everyone in this sanctuary, all of us who count ourselves as believers – do have this ministry of healing and of life in Jesus’ name.

After the Spirit, you see, there’s the church of Jesus Christ… and we are the church.

In the end, you see, it’s not about the almsgiving, though in Christian love and creativity, we do do that, and we should; reaching out to those in need, however that may happen, is always to be at the very center of our mission as believers.  But it’s not just about that; likewise, it’s not only about the acts of healing, though I know that there are many of us in this very room, myself included, who can tell the stories of how healing prayers and words and gestures and creative, Spirit-led, actions led to the healing of mind, body and spirit.  It’s not even about the miracle, per se: because, you know what, miracles are not always what they at first seem to be, or not to be; sometimes the miracle with that overwhelming sense of the holy in our midst; in that peace Jesus spoke of that the world can neither give nor take away.  In the end, it’s about this Spirit that all of us have been given and this ministry we share; this calling to be witnesses to all we’ve seen and heard and received, sometimes by what we say, but always by what we do.

And the thing is, we never know exactly how that might unfold until it happens:  we’re having this random conversation with a friends or a co-worker, maybe someone we hardly know, but suddenly they’re pouring out their pain and grief in all its intensity and suddenly the “small talk” has become something much deeper and wholly cathartic.  You’re running an errand or taking care of a long-dreaded chore, and all of a sudden you get this idea that what you’re doing in that moment could be helpful for somebody else whose pride has long prevented them from asking for any kind of assistance.  You’ve been wrestling with some sort of big decision in your life, and trying to weigh how what you’ll do changes things for you; but then you wake up in the dawn of a new day and you’re seeing that choice from a different point of view: maybe that of your children or your family or even how it might affect a hurting world.  Or, could be you’re sitting in this sanctuary this morning, you’ve been singing the songs, you’ve prayed the prayers, you’re wondering if the minister’s ever going to wrap this thing up (!) so you can go to lunch… and in that moment you’re inspired… moved, somehow, to call somebody to go to lunch after worship with you, and maybe then invite them to come to church next Sunday….

…who knows? 

Give alms to the poor; feed the hungry; clothe the naked; visit those in prison; love, cherish and nurture all of God’s children; be kind, for Jesus’ sake!  Just know, beloved, that however it takes shape and form this is our ministry, yours and mine together, and that God’s Spirit comes as we do what we do.  And it is in that ministry that beggars become leapers, and that miracles happen.

I hope and pray that now that Spirit has come, we will be bold to embrace its power to do God’s work in this place and time… always in the healing name of Jesus.

And in that holy name, may our thanks be to God.

Amen and AMEN!

© 2019  Rev. Michael W. Lowry

 

Tags: , ,

Lives That Catch Fire

spirit(a sermon for May 24, 2015, Pentecost Sunday, based on Acts 2:1-21, 42-47)

In a word, Pentecost is anarchy.

Truly, of all the Christian celebrations we observe throughout the year, the Day of Pentecost has been the hardest for us to tame.  Think about this: at Christmas we supplement and soften the news of God’s coming into the world with the exchange of gifts and a barrage of holiday sentiment.  At Easter, we respond to resurrection glory by decking the church with lilies and spring flowers, and ourselves with new clothes.  Even during the seasons of Advent and Lent, we have our regular traditions:  we do pageants, we plan holiday fairs, we light candles and we decorate, all of which is very good and holds great meaning; but do you see what can happen in the process?  All too often we end up taking these great “festival days” of the faith and create a normal, comfortable routine out of something that is meant to be a celebration of God doing something radically new and different in the world!

Pentecost, however, which is our celebration of God’s gift of the Holy Spirit, doesn’t seem to lend itself to that kind of taming!  When was the last time, for instance, that we hung a Pentecost wreath on the front door; or gathered the children for their annual Sunday School Pentecostal Pageant?  For that matter, I don’t recall seeing any commercials or flyers in the paper this week for pre-Pentecost or “Red Friday” sales at Target!  Alas, the Day of Pentecost just doesn’t seem to fit easily into the way we like to do things in this world or in the church; and truth be told, historically speaking we really don’t have that much to go on!

There was a tradition from years ago in central Europe, where it was often the custom on the Day of Pentecost to drop burning pieces of wick or straw through an open hole in the ceiling of the church; this to represent the “tongues, as of fire” spoken of in our scripture today, the Spirit of God descending upon believers.  That practice, however, never stood the test of time; because as you might have guessed, what happened is that as these tongues of fire “came to rest,” fixtures, church buildings and sometimes even people tended to go up in flame, and not as a result of the Holy Spirit!

No, aside from the red vestments that symbolize those tongues of fire and perhaps a shift in the liturgy we use, there really isn’t much that’s all that different about our worship today.  And really, friends,  that’s a shame; because Pentecost is in fact one of the quintessential spiritual moments of the church’s life, and I dare say a pivotal point in the history of the world; it is that time in which God’s own Spirit came down to create something new, radical and different amongst his people, doing that which by any estimation would seem impossible: bringing the good news of Christ to a city filled with diverse people from “every nation under heaven;” what’s more, making that good news understood to each in their own language; and further, uniting those people in a common faith, a common vision, and a common purpose!

Pentecost, you see, is no less than the reality of the living and vital presence of the divine blowing into the midst of history; our history, yours and mine.  This is about God stepping right into the middle of our lives with mystery and wonder; shaking us up and transforming the world by the rush of a mighty wind.  So Pentecost cannot ever be tamed by our traditions and routine, because God won’t be contained within the usual standards of human life and living!

What we remember this morning, friends, is a truly “super-natural” event that took place on the streets of Jerusalem on a day much like this one nearly two millennia ago; a “happening” that set in motion the growth of a Spirit-led and Christ-centered church.  But what we celebrate on this day of Pentecost is that it’s an event still happening, time and time again, in the lives of all those have been touched and healed and pushed by the rush of that divine Spirit.  We rejoice in the many times and ways God’s Spirit has come to us in such a way that our lives catch fire; how suddenly with that flame burning within us there was for us clarity of vision and purpose, a reason for being and living.  We give thanks in our worship that God has not stopped speaking, either to the church or to the world, but is indeed a living God; a God of power and grace and, yes, anarchy who even at this very moment is moving in and through our lives, filling the hearts of the faithful and kindling in them the fire of his love.

I’m reminded of a book we used to read to our children – quite literally hundreds of times (!) – when they were very, very young.  It was entitled, “More, More,” Said the Baby, written by a woman named Vera B. Williams; and it was this beautiful and simple little evocation of the affection shared between children and the adults who love them.  Actually, as I recall, the story was three little vignettes about these toddlers nicknamed “Little Guy,” “Little Pumpkin,” and “Little Bird;” and each vignette was a variation on the same theme:  “Little Pumpkin scoots away so fast, Little Pumpkin’s Grandma has to run like anything to catch that baby up!”  But that’s just what Grandma does.

I used to love reading that to our kids; and all these years later I’m realizing that this describes God to a T!  Here we have this wonderful image of the Divine running like anything into the regular routine of our lives just to “catch us up” in love along a new and directed pathway; setting us afire with faith and a new purpose for living, even as those around us react to what’s happening with bewilderment, skepticism and perhaps even some cynicism.

We certainly see that reflected in our second reading from the Book of Acts this morning, which is in effect an “afterward” of sorts to the story of God’s coming in the Holy Spirit; but which also serves as the beginning of this ongoing story we have of the growth of the early church, this gathered group of apostles who were doing “many wonders and signs” in the name of the Risen Christ. You know, as many times as I return to these passages of scripture I still stand amazed that not two months before the events depicted in our readings today, these very same disciples were… scattered; hiding out for fear of their very lives and doing anything but proclaiming the Lordship of Jesus Christ (!); and this is to say nothing of the fact that three years before that,  before Jesus called them to follow, this bunch was little more than this rather motley assortment of fishermen and tax collectors.  But now, here they were; preaching the word, healing the sick, “devoting themselves to… teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and… prayers… praising God and having the goodwill of all the people.”  And, wonder of wonders, “day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.”

So what was the difference between what they were “before” and what they were “after?”  Well, certainly, they’d been witnesses to the truth of Jesus’ resurrection; that had certainly changed them forever, and they’d heard their risen Lord’s “great commission” to them to spread the good news and to “make disciples of all nations;” (Matthew 28:20) and so they understood their calling and purpose of life.  But even with all of this, it took something more to give them the courage and the utter boldness it would take to bring an often resistant world into the circle of faith; and that came in the miraculous gift of God’s Holy Spirit.  It was in how, from the very moment that Spirit came into their house, each one of these disciples were “caught up” by God’s presence, his power and his love in everything that was to come.

That’s is how the church of which you and I are a part began; it’s how it has continued to grow, to thrive, to endure and to adapt over the centuries; and it is what will carry it even through these uncertain times in which we live.  For this is what happens as our Lord is relentless in pursuing those he loves; this is what happens when God’s own spirit moves and acts and welcomes and pushes and prods and encourages and comforts;  this is what happens when, because of all that, a spark ignites… and lives catch fire!

And so it is for you and me today.  The gift of Pentecost, friends, is that we also are infused with the power and presence of God that will transform our lives and the world along with it; and indeed, our prayer for this day is that each one of us will know beyond any shadow of a doubt the reality of that presence and power in our lives; to know and feel the Holy Spirit alive and moving within us.  For it’s that awareness that makes today, the future and all of life a true adventure!

There’s a Garfield cartoon from a few years back in which Odie the dog chases Garfield the cat up into a tree.  The two of them are resting side by side on a tree limb when Jon, their owner, comes by, sees them up there together, and says, “Odie, dogs can’t climb trees!”  Whereupon Garfield thinks, “It’s amazing what one can accomplish when one doesn’t know what one can’t do.”

Friends, there’s great wisdom for us there!  Especially in these days when the conventional wisdom would deem to dismiss Christianity as something on the decline, now more than ever we Christians need to be “out on a limb,” so to speak; ever and always seeking those right and ripe moments when those incredible “possibilities” that God sets before us can come to pass, when what we say and do by faith makes a real difference in the world.  You and I need to be ready and willing to be “caught up” by the Spirit of God, letting our lives catch fire so that we might accomplish that which previously we didn’t know we weren’t supposed to be able to do (!), but then did so anyway, because we were moved by faith and joy and love, and the desire to live as Christ would have us!

You see, you never know how the Spirit will move; sometimes it is like rush of a mighty wind; other times it blows as gently and almost imperceptivity as a quiet summer breeze.  Likewise, there are moments when God catches us up in the manner of a loving, protective parent; but then there will be also be times when God  will give us a kick in the pants, spiritually speaking, so to get us moving out of our own sense of complacency or fear.  Sometimes the Spirit will come to us in ways that are intensely personal, with a clarity and purpose that only we can truly comprehend; but at other times it becomes just as clear that the Spirit intends for us to be led as a community; for after all, what’s a church for if not to walk, together, by faith?

And truth be told, friends, sometimes the Spirit moves, and we won’t have a clue as to what’s happening, or why (!), at least not at that moment; sometimes all we’ll have to go on is that God’s leading us somewhere, and that we need to go!  Because after all, ultimately it’s not up to us how the Spirit moves, it’s up to God; as Jesus was quick to point out to Nicodemus in John’s gospel, the wind blows where it chooses, and so it is with the Spirit.  But the point is when God’s Spirit moves – wherever it moves – incredible, glorious, life-changing and life-giving things can happen: to you and to me, to the world around us, and with the church, the Body of Christ, of which we’re a part.  The only real question is what we’ll be doing about that.

Where do you suppose the wind is going to blow next, beloved?  How will God’s Spirit seek to move us as persons and as a people in the days and weeks to come?  What does that mean for us, for our families, for this church?  Who knows for sure; understand me when I say that that’s all part of the mystery, wonder, and the joy of our discipleship.  I just hope and pray that as the Spirit moves, we’ll let ourselves be moved along with it; perchance to have our lives catch fire for the sake of Jesus Christ… and won’t that be a thing to experience!

Come, Holy Spirit, Come… and may our thanks be to God.

AMEN and AMEN!

c. 2015  Rev. Michael W. Lowry

 

Tags: ,

Blessed to Be a Blessing: Blessed in Community

IMAG1810(a sermon for October 5, 2014, the 17th Sunday after Pentecost and World Communion Sunday; first in a series, based on Acts 2:42-47)

“Awe and wonder came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles,” and “they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.”

Wow.  Friends, I love those verses, but I have to say that every time I read them, I have the same reaction:  How did those disciples get from where they were to here?  I mean, think about it:  we all know that the twelve were not exactly learned men; they were in fact, a rather rag-tag group of fishermen, tax collectors, zealots and at least one thief.  Moreover, throughout scripture we find out they most definitely had their flaws and quirks of personality.

Peter was bold and impetuous; John, although he was known as “the beloved disciple,” he was ambitious by nature, apparently had a fiery temper and could be rather intolerant (Jesus himself gave John the nickname of “the son of thunder!”).  Thomas was, of course, the resident doubter and was often bewildered at what was going on; Philip was considered to possess both a warm heart and a pessimistic head; and Simon the Zealot, along with Jude, were more than likely Jewish Nationalists who believed that world power and domination by God’s chosen people could only come about by violent means.  And then there was Matthias, who wasn’t even part of the original twelve, but was voted in as a replacement for Judas after he took his own life in those hours before the crucifixion.

They’d all left everything to follow Jesus three years before; they’d gone into hiding after he’d been hung on the cross, and even in those days after the resurrection, they were still a bit uncertain as to what was going to happen next;  but here they were now, at the center of a movement unlike anything anyone had seen before!  “All who believed were together and all things in common,” we’re told; they sold their possessions and goods and then gave all the money they made to poor, and scripture tells us that not only was there a daily discipline of worship at the Temple, they shared meals together, “every meal a celebration, exuberant and joyful, as they praised God.”  And what’s more, they had “the goodwill of all the people.  And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.”

I’ll say it again:  Wow!  And understand, friends, that, this is no mere historical footnote to the gospels; scripturally speaking, this handful of verses from the Book of Acts represents the place where the Christian Church begins! It’s one of our first evocations that the church, as Christ has established it, “is not a place or a building or an organization in the first instance, but a people;” in the Greek, “the ecclesia, the called out people of God.” It’s what Christian writer and pastor Gilbert Bilezikian calls “God’s ultimate achievement – a biblically-functioning community, a center of warm, pulsating, effervescent, outreaching Christian love, a place with all of its components united to become a force in this world instead of a farce.”

And it’s what creates the standard and sets the pace for us who continue to be the church in this time and place; and yes, that includes you and I who make up this little piece of the ecclesia here on Mountain Road; this “blessed community” of faithful people we know as East Congregational Church.

Of course, this isn’t to say that we’ve totally fulfilled this vision of the perfect church, because most certainly and very sadly, we have not; although, to our credit we do try hard, and sometimes, despite our best efforts, we’ll actually get it right.  Truth be told, sometimes I think that as a church we have more in common with the “before” picture of the disciples than we do with the “after;” in that much like the original twelve, we too are this rather disparate and rather motley assortment of ordinary people who in the midst of all the joys, sorrows and challenges of daily life are just trying to figure out what it all means; and ultimately to discover what our true purpose in living happens to be.  Like them, along the way we’ve tended to struggle from time to time; sometimes we lose ourselves in the effort and sort of forget what (and who) it was that drew us together in the first place!  But what we always end up discovering is that when we’re gathered together as disciples of Jesus Christ we’re a whole lot closer to where we should be than we ever are when we’re out there straggling along the journey by ourselves.

No, we’re not perfect; but we also know that without this community that is the Church we are far less than what we were before.  In community, you see, there is blessing; and we know this because we have experienced it:  in community we are surrounded by grace; in community we can know and be known; we can love and be loved; we can forgive and be forgiven.  In community we are blessed both to celebrate and to be celebrated; to be moved, to be challenged, to be affirmed at times, and others reproved; sheltered from the storm but also sent out into the wilderness.

“Day by day,” we are indeed blessed in this place: by shared worship that is both reverent and filled with joy; with having the burdens of life and living mutually borne by kindred hearts through common prayer and in true fellowship; in being able to learn and grow in faith in the company of others who are also seeking to walk in the way of the Lord; and in having the opportunity to serve God by our outreach, even as there are those who are serving God as they reach out to us.  When we are gathered as the people of God, beloved, we are more than what we were before:  we are people of “glad and generous hearts;” people who are unabashedly alive and filled with passion; full of awe and curiosity and wonder at everything God is doing, and who dare to defy the world’s standards and practices for the sake of following Jesus.

As the church of Jesus Christ, you see, we are truly and wholly blessed in community.

The question, of course, is what we’re to do with that.

For this blessing is not meant to end with us; it is true that we are “blessed to be a blessing;” that all that we’ve received in community is meant to be “paid forward.”  To put a finer point on it, we are not to be a “closed” community against the cold, hard world out there, nor should the blessings of our closeness be hoarded and kept from those “outside” who are in need.   William Willimon has put it this way; he says that “unless there is some link between our worship of God and Junior’s spilt cereal at breakfast, the boring routine in the office, the monthly collection of bills, the cancer that will not heal, then our worship is not only irrelevant to human need but also unfaithful to the gospel of Jesus Christ.”  At the end of the day – and, truly, at the close of our worship and when our time of fellowship is done – all the blessings we’ve received in community are meant to be transformed into the courage and strength it will take for us to care for God’s creation and to truly love one another as Christ has loved us.

I say this because it seems to me that right now as a congregation, we at East Church have both a great responsibility and a tremendous opportunity before us to take the abundance of blessings that are ours as a church family and extend them outward; to do God’s work of love and justice “in these days of confused situations” and to bring God’s Word of unending hope to Concord and beyond; inviting people to join in the blessings of community as we do.

It’s about our truly being the church, but let’s be clear: to be the church we are called to be does require the good stewardship of our resources both individually and collectively – it will need an offering of our time, our talent and yes, our treasure – and that’s why we’re taking the time this month to reflect on our stewardship, beginning with the informational meeting later on.   But I also need to say that even more than this, it’ll require our lives. For our blessing to become another’s blessing takes more than half-hearted commitments and empty promises; it means “devot[ing] ourselves” to our what we know and believe as followers of Christ; it’s to grow in faith and to be persistent in prayer; it’s truly to be “doers of the word,” and not simply hearers; it’s reaching out to those in need and being a beacon of light for those who have only known darkness in their lives; it’s living life – all of life“with glad and generous hearts, praising God” in what we do and how we live as a community of faith.  From its very beginning, this has been the central focus of the Christian church, and it is the first and foremost reason we are here this morning.  As we move forward as a congregation, we’d do well to remember that.

A number of years ago in the little town of Island Falls, Maine (nearby where our camp is), an elderly gentleman owned and operated a bottle redemption facility that was located in what used to be the Mobil station in town and across the street from what was at the time a local diner.  Now, given that we’re only up there for a few weeks in the summer, I must confess here I never got the full story; but apparently there had been a rising conflict between this old man and the proprietors of the diner, specifically as regards parking space.  We know this because all that summer, in the middle of the parking lot of the redemption center stood this huge, handmade, hand-written, two-sided sign that had been placed right in the way of any car that attempted to get in there; and on this sign was written the words (and I quote!):  “NOW YOU LOOK!  THERE’S NO PARKING IN THIS LOT!”

Now, that sign absolutely made me laugh out loud every time I saw it; and also, every time we saw it, we were compelled to read it aloud just that way:  “NOW YOU LOOK…!”  And it served its purpose; or else it defeated its purpose, because in the end nobody ever parked in that lot, either for the diner or the redemption center!  It was a reminder for me of all the other signs we tend to put out there in our lives that, however unintentionally, have a way of shutting others out and end up defeating the very purposes that God has for us.  Sadly, as persons, people and even as the church, sometimes all it takes is a sign that tells others that “we’re not listening,” or “we don’t care,” or “we don’t have time” or “we can’t afford it” to end up losing the opportunity to bring some joy, to make a difference or to change a heart.

That should never, ever be our sign; especially in this “World Communion” of believers with whom we feast at this table today.  What we proclaim ought to be who we are:  disciples who are called to welcome people into this loving and caring church family; followers of Jesus who work to equip each one with a Christ-centered faith that works in real life; a group of “pretty good church people” who despite their quirks and foibles are relentless in sharing God’s love through compassionate service to others and who are filled with awesome wonder simply by what we continue to experience in the presence and power of Jesus Christ.

How the future unfolds, nobody knows; but in that kind of community, we can be assured that “day by day, the Lord will [add] to our number those who are being saved.”

So might it be, beloved; so might it be.

Thanks be to God!

Amen and AMEN!

c. 2014  Rev. Michael W. Lowry

 

Tags: , , ,

 
%d bloggers like this: