Following Jesus: Transforming the Church 10-18-15

David: We’ve been talking for 2 weeks already about the relationship of the church and the culture. The first week I talked about the early church’s isolation from the culture and opposition to the culture. Last week, I talked about the ways in which the church got coopted in some ways by the culture around it, using two examples – Constantine making Christianity the religion of the Roman empire, and the ways in which the Protestant church in the 20th century became dominant, assumed as the norm, and part of the culture.

Today, Brian and I have set ourselves the task to think about transforming the church – which is almost as pretentious a task as trying to cover 17 centuries of Christian history in one sermon last week.

Listen for the word of God for you this day from Mark.

 

Mark 10:35-45 35 [B] James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came forward to Jesus and said to him, [D] “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” 36 And he said to them, [B] “What is it you want me to do for you?” 37 And they said to him, [D] “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” 38 But Jesus said to them, [B] “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?” 39 They replied, [D] “We are able.” Then Jesus said to them, [B] “The cup that I drink you will drink; and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized; 40 but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.” 41 When the ten heard this, they began to be angry with James and John. 42 So Jesus called them and said to them, [D] “You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. 43 But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. 45 For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”

Brian: (Pray)

 

October 18, 2015

Following Jesus: Transforming the Church

 

David: Last week, I was feeling really good one morning, so clear-headed and alive after an hour of prayer, that I was actually feeling pretty proud of myself. Elijah was awake by that time and, while I was talking to him, I put the tea in the microwave while we were checking in with each other. A couple minutes later, Elijah looked up and said, “Dad, something’s on fire in the microwave!” I ran to turn it off and found that I had put a tea bag into a mug and put it in the microwave without any water(!)

 

It was about that time that selecting the topic “Transforming the Church” felt indeed a bit beyond me. If I can’t even make tea, what business do I have making a prescription for all that ails the modern church?

 

Brian: For centuries the church has enjoyed a position of respect in society. As a result we as the church acted as though we also had a privileged position in the Kingdom of God.  Just as James and John we have made bold requests and assumptions that go beyond our power. While we may not see the ways that we ourselves go to extremes, we can easily identify them in our fellow Christians whom we don’t always agree with.

 

For instance, when I found that this church was in need of a youth director, I talked to a few pastors I knew in the area about St. Luke. Everyone said that it was great and that Pastor David is a very nice guy. However, I did hear how he was a flaming liberal! I came in ready to hear him preaching what he heard recently on MSNBC and maybe… the Bible occasionally. I expected that he would help make sure that I was signed up for Obamacare. I also thought I might get the chance to lead him to the Lord, because I assumed otherwise.

 

David: (Did you understand what he said? He said he’s gonna have to get another job!) When I heard that Brian was going to Asbury Seminary I had some second thoughts about whether he could fit in at St. Luke. We joked in preparing for this sermon about the scripture giving us a chance to talk about how I sit on the left hand of Jesus and he at the right. Asbury Seminary has a reputation as being one of the most conservative schools in the country.

I’ve met some pretty rigid people from Asbury – people who will not budge in their evangelical emphasis and their desire to take the UM church back to a time of more personal piety and less social action. But Bishop Peggy Johnson also went to Asbury, so after making sure that Brian had some similar flexibility, (maybe we can transform him!) we thought we could take a risk and have him here – even if he is a flaming conservative. And he has been a blessing to this church.

Brian: Whatever culture we are brought up in or place ourselves in affects who we are and how we think about the church. Whether we are conservative or progressive, libertarian or whatever, we tend to not see ourselves as biased because of our culture. In fact, we tend to think that God agrees with us in whatever position we are taking and in whatever criticism we have of the culture.

 

David: In our reading for this morning, Mark portrays James and John as asking to sit at the right and left hand of Jesus. He seems to be caricaturing the disciples in their personal desires and bias.

 

Brian: Jesus said, “Whoever would be great among you must also be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave to all.” Jesus invites us to be humble. When we think or act like we are important, like James and John did, we become less teachable and struggle to listen to what is actually important.

 

David: We are all a product of our cultural backgrounds. Brian and I have tried to illustrate that today, by contrasting our own different cultural biases. When we in humility acknowledge and realize those cultural biases, we may be more open to God’s work among us, God’s forgiveness of us, God’s transforming power working in and on and through us.

 

Brian: You know how we have the slogan, ”Open hearts, open minds and open doors” as United Methodists? the United Church of Christ boldly proclaims, “God is still speaking.” They are letting the world know that they are choosing to listen to God, ready to listen to how God will transform them, their church and the world. It is a practice of humility, the practice of a servant, to listen to who really is in charge. We believe God is in charge. “Open hearts, open minds, open doors” speaks to our welcoming embrace of all and we can also use it to think about having an open heart and mind to the prompting of God.

 

Earlier, Pastor David joked about people not being able understand what I said at one point.  I want to think about that for a moment with you. I have known that I am called to preach for a very long time. Longer than that, I have be aware of challenges that I face in communicating. I do not have the same ability Pastor David has to form words. I do not speak with the clarity of voice of other preachers. Preaching is a way for me to be humbled. It is being dependent on God for words to share. It is trusting that God will help me speak and help others listen.

 

David: When I first became a pastor, I thought I was going to transform the church. I thought I had everything it would take and I was ready. Then someone in my congregation died for the first time, and I realized I didn’t even know how to pray or what to pray with the family. I had a to call a pastor friend and say, “How do you do a funeral?” And that happened over and over.

God is still speaking. God is still loving us. God is still transforming our church. We get to be part of that process (it doesn’t have to be pretentious, when we are part of that process) through our prayer, through our discernment, and through being part of the community we call church. This is God’s good news.

 

Brian: Thanks be to God.