Monday, June 30, 2008


Matthew 28:16-20

I heard about three men – a Baptist, a Catholic and a Presbyterian … they died on the same day and went to heaven.
St. Peter met them and said, “I’m sorry men, but you’re rooms are available yet.”
Peter didn’t quite know what to do, so he called Satan and asked if he’d keep the men for a little while.
Satan reluctantly agreed, but in a few hours later, called back.
“Peter, you’ve got to come and get these guys.”
“The Baptist man is saving everybody.”
The Catholic man is baptizing everybody.”
“And the Presbyterian has already raised enough money for air conditioning.”

Strategy … you’ve got to have strategy … a plan … an idea of where it’s going, what needs to happen, how to do it.
Jesus has strategy.
Jesus knows what to do to build His church.

For the last several weeks, we’ve been looking at JesusStrategy …

Choosing the leaders.
Training the leaders.
Inspiring the leaders.

Today: the Great Commission – Matthew 28
Sending the leaders.
To continue doing what Jesus does – build His church!

Let’s take a look at the Matthew reading …

The missionary heart of the church.
Mission is who we are, and mission is what we do [remember this phrase].

Covenant on the corner … looking up and down Sepulveda … along 80th to the west, and 79th to the east … our friends and neighbors, many of whom have little or no religious anchoring in their lives … living and wandering and wondering … trying their best to do good … and God loves them through and through, that’s for sure … and it’s up to us to share that love …

Love is action.
Love rolls up its sleeves and gets to work.
Love is focused and specific.

Love works for the wellbeing of our community.
Love reaches out to our unchurched neighbors.
Love invites them to go to church with us … and have lunch with them afterward …
Loves pays attention.
Love listens.

The church faces outward … mission is who we are, and mission is what we do.

What does Matthew 28 mean for Covenant on the Corner?
By the way, I like that description … Covenant on the Corner … where cross the crowded ways of life … intersection … things going and things coming … energy, traffic, noise, lots of people.
Covenant on the Corner.

What does Matthew 28 mean for Covenant on the Corner?

Let’s step back for a moment to the larger picture for American Presbyterians.

The big news for 40 years has been our decline in membership … what’s happened to Covenant has happened to thousands of Presbyterian congregations around the nation.

We enjoyed enormous success after WW 2: new members … new churches … new programs … we had it all, and it was grand.

But in the last four decades, things changed … the Presbyterian Church today is half the size we were 40 years ago … we have closed hundreds of congregations … we’ve cut back and reduced … we’ve downsized and made do with less.

That’s the pattern we’ve lived for the last 40 years.

It’s made us a little edgy … fearful.
We’ve turned inward.
We’re likely to grumble and argue with one another.
Presbyteries and General Assemblies … too often like the folks in the wilderness … grumbling against Moses, wanting to return to Egypt … hesitant and fearful.
When they came to the Promised Land, they sent in spies to check it … and what a land it was … flowing with milk and honey just like God said … opportunity unbound … there it was for the taking … but some of the spies said, “We can’t do it. The folks are giants. In their eyes we look like grasshoppers.”
They lost heart; they missed the opportunity; time passed them by.

In my 40 years of ministry, I’ve seen our churches turn inward, protective and cautious.

We try to hang on to the members we have.
Let’s not rock the boat.
Let’s not roil the waters.
Let’s not take any chances.
We stop reaching outward and start looking inward.
We settle for what we have and hope it doesn’t change.
We take care of what we have, and we hope that no one leaves.

But nothing stays the same.

Let’s say First Presbyterian in Crane Hill, ND has 50 active members.
They work hard to hang on to them … keep them happy … be sure no one leaves …

But what happens?

Fred gets ill and goes into a nursing home. Now they only have 49 active members
Three weeks later Ted and Sally move to Philadelphia to be near their children. Now they have 47 active members.
A month later, Joan is transferred to a bank in Chicago. Her husband and their three children move with her – so now they only have 45 active members, and three less children in their Sunday School.
Three months later, Jim dies and six months later his widow moves to Phoenix. Now they have only 43 active members.
And, of course, Randy and Jane leave in a snit: … they don’t like the music, and it seems that someone forgot to put their name in the bulletin. Now they have only 41 active members.
Charlene leaves because she wants more social action, and her two children go with her.
Now they have only 40 active members, and two less children in their Sunday School.

To hang on and hope that no one leaves doesn’t work … it doesn’t work for Wal-Mart or Macy’s or Trader Joe’s, and it doesn’t work for the church.

So what happens?
Why do churches turn inward?

Fear … fear is always the underlying issue …
Why did Israel fail to take the Promised Land?
Why did Peter begin to sink beneath the waves?
Why did the Temple officials plot against Jesus?
Why did Rome execute Him?

We all get fearful when the world changes.

We remember the good old days …
We wonder why we can’t have them again.
We don’t like what’s happening … it’s confusing and confounding.
Nothing looks familiar … everything seems strange to us.

The world goes on, and we’re standing still.
The keys we once used to open doors don’t fit anymore.
Our children and grandchildren sing the strangest things … whatever happened to Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby?

We all get fearful when the world changes!

But listen to God’s Word:
Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom (Luke 12:32).

I will build my church, says Jesus!
Come and follow me.
Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me.

On every hand, Jesus speaks encouragement … trust … faith … confidence … straight ahead … you can do it.

On every hand, Jesus says, “Go!”
You can do it.
You can climb the mountain.
You can cross the river.
You can manage the challenge.
You can come through the crisis.
I believe in you.
I have confidence in you.
I put my future into your hands.

Mission is who we are, and mission is what we do.

Do you have friends who are unchurched [turn to each other a moment – give a rough estimate, a number – 2, 4 10 unchurched folks you know].

Chances are they believe.

In the latest Pew poll, folks are very spiritual … folks believe … but 2/3 are disconnected from fellowship; they’re bowling alone, dancing by themselves …
They’re missing a key ingredient: connection!

Something vital is missing.
Like corn on the cob without butter and salt.
Like a burger without cheddar cheese.
Like hot apple pie without ice cream.

Donna’s father was a cattle dealer in Minnesota … next to the house, a cornfield … I learned something about corn … it has a shallow root system, and grows tall.
Grow a stalk of corn all by itself, and in the storm, it’ll blow right over … the roots don’t hold.
But plant acres of corn … thousands of corn stalks growing next to one another … and let the storms come.
The stalks support one another.

Folks trying to make it alone in the world are stalks of corn planted all by themselves … the root systems are shallow … when the storms come, it doesn’t take much to blow ‘em over.
The missing ingredient for millions of Americans – the people connection, and observers of the American scene all agree: it’s getting worse. The lonely-factor is growing larger in our lives; the lack of people-connection is telling in our growing edginess, our impatience with one another, our grumbling and our anger.

That’s why we have a work to do.
Our job … our mission … our purpose … to transplant people … from growing alone, to growing alongside of one another … with Christ in the center!

Mission is who we are, and mission is what we do.

But mission will change things …

Bring new folks into the life of the church, and the life of the church changes.

Back in Detroit, a new family in the church told me about their third visit … they found a pew and settled in.
A few moments later, in came Peg Kordenbrach – she looked at them, shook her head, and said, “You’re in my pew!”
The new family moved to the next pew … and thank God, when they told me, they laughed about it.

I think about Peg.
I wonder what went on in her mind that day?
Was she even thinking about it?
“This is my pew,” she said.

Whose pew?
Whose church?
Ten, twenty, thirty years from now, we’ll all be gone … and then whose pew, whose church?

Right now, today, we lay the foundations for tomorrow.
The corner stone for a 21st century church.
Covenant on the Corner.

With Jesus our Lord at the center”

We will face the future and find a way.
We will meet the challenge … we’ll be experimental, innovative, creative … we’ve nothing to lose, and everything to gain.
The promised land … not back there somewhere … but out there, ahead of us.

With Jesus our LORD at the center:
We’ll play our part, and play it well.
We’ll direct our energy outward.
We’ll tame our fears and build our faith.
We’ll stir the pot and roil the water …. Jesus did it all the time.
We’ll be progressive, and we’ll be open …
A 21st century church.
A place where everyone is welcome.

When it comes to members:
We’ll not worry about keeping the members we have; we’ll train the members we have to keep the faith.

Go … make disciples, said Jesus … baptize them … teach them … and I am with you always, to the end of the age.

Mission is who we are, and mission is what we do.


Monday, June 23, 2008


John 20:19-23

I’ll never forget it … his words live in my memory, a special place there for him … a little piece of holy ground.

It’s my senior year of high school … Grand Rapids Christian High … Grand Rapids, Michigan … two weeks before graduation … a Bible Class taught by the Rev. Morris Faber – built like Hobbit, hair swept back – a twinkle in his eye, delight in his faith – a love for the Bible, and a love for his students.

He invited the graduating seniors in his class to step forward and tell their post-grad plans … so, one by one, plans were shared about college or work … and then my turn came.

I stood in front of the class – I was wearing a white shirt, sleeves rolled up – with a pack of Camels in my front pocket.

I said to the class, “I’m going to Calvin College in the fall, and I’m entering the pre-seminary course.”

The classroom erupted in raucous laughter … I mean, they really laughed.

You see, I wasn’t seminary material by any stretch of the imagination … I won’t bore or delight you with the details, but suffice it to say, I was anything but the image of a pre-seminary student.

And I was laughing right along with everyone else … I never did fit the traditional molds of faith and religion.

I remember when I was in 5th or 6th grade Sunday School – at the First Reformed Church in Sheboygan Falls, Wisconsin, the Sunday School teacher – a dear soul, for sure, wanted us to memorize the LORD's Prayer and the Apostles’ Creed, and I remember so clearly saying, “I’m not going to do that. It doesn’t mean anything to memorize them.”

I don’t recall her response … it must have hurt her, I’m sure, but what I remember is my own internal compass … I already loved God dearly and deeply … God was a constant factor in my life … a companion to me … some of my earliest memories are of God – can’t say much more than that – God was simply there; a loving presence, strong and gentle at the same time.

I remember going through at least two confirmation classes, and when the time came, declining to join the church as everyone else did … it just didn’t seem right to me to go through a class and then be eligible to join the church – just like that … it seemed to me then, still does, that faith needs to be more thoughtful, maybe most costly … more dramatic.

I always loved God.
And I always knew that God loved me.

I rarely missed church … worship was an anchor experience for me … but I was anything but material for a pre-seminary course, at least as my classmates imagined it.

So they laughed uproariously, and I laughed right along with them.

And when the laughter died down, Rev. Faber turned to me and said – and these are the words that live in my heart – “Tom, I believe you will do it.”

His words of encouragement went deep and have blessed me all these years, to this very moment. When I get to heaven, Rev. Faber will be one of my first appointments – to thank him for that remarkable day in June, 1962.

Some years later, while in Grand Rapids for study, I was grabbing a hamburger at Russ’s – a great west Michigan hamburger chain – and lo and behold, there a few tables from was Morris Faber and his wife.

I stepped over and introduced myself … Morris looked at me for a moment and then looked through to me to some time and place beyond me … a hint of a smile on his face … I knew in a moment that he was somewhere else far away.

His dear wife greeted me and apologized: “Morris has Alzheimer’s,” she said.

I shared my story and said “Thank you” to both of them.

Whether Morris heard me or not, I don’t know … but when I get to heaven, he’ll be one of my first appointments.

His words live in my heart.

Call it inspiration!

From the Latin, inspirare, to breath upon, to fill with breath … associated with divine influence … the breath of God … the image of creation, when God blew breath into the nostrils of the little dust creature.

When someone dies, we sometimes say, “they expired” – their breath took leave; the breath went away … to in-spire is to fill with breath … like the creation story … God breathed into the nostrils of the dust creature and it became a living being.

The word for Spirit, in the Hebrew and the Greek means breath or wind:

Ruah (hiwr) in the Hebrew
Pneuma (pneuma) in the Greek– from which we derive the word pneumonia … or pneumatic

Breath, wind, inspiration … the very being of God, God’s love and God’s mercy, God’s purpose and God’s promise – not out there somewhere, but within the heart, flowing in and through us to one another, to the world.

When Jesus came to the disciples in the night, when shadows rule and voices whisper – the doors were locked; fear filled the room – Jesus says, Peace be with you.

The tension … the contrast …

And then again, Peace be with you.

As the Father has sent me, so I send you.

The baton is passed.
The diploma given.

But look at it again … as the Father has sent me, so I send you.

Same task … same mission … same work …

Let’s step back a few years to John the Baptist … the Jordan River in the southern stretches of Palestine … folks coming out to hear John preach … I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness; make straight the way of the LORD.

Jesus comes to John for baptism … when John sees Him, he exclaims, “Here’s the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”

That’s why God sent Jesus … to take away the sin of the world … by dealing with it.
To lift up the downtrodden and give welcome to the excluded.
To shame Pilate with silence.
To confront the religious rulers with their hypocrisy.
To welcome sinners … and touch the untouchables.
Turn a few heads and turn a few tables.

John the Baptist testifies: I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on Him (John 1:29-34).

God sends the Holy Spirit to inspire the Son, to empower Him.

And now on the other side of the cross, the Risen Jesus meets the disciples in their darkened room behind locked doors.
Jesus greets them with a traditional blessing: Peace be with you … shalom aleichem.

As the Father has sent me, so I send you … with the same purpose, and the same Sprit.

To take away the sin of the world.

And how does Jesus do it?

With a snap of the fingers?
A nod of the head?

No … by putting Himself in the line of fire …
By turning a few heads and turning a few tables …

Now on the other side of death, Jesus commissions His disciples.
Deal with sin with sin … take up your cross … put your life on the line … turn a few heads … turn a few table.
Welcome the unwelcome.
Open wide the doors of grace … forgive liberally and inspire people to get on their lives.
Forgive where forgiveness has been missing: the Samaritan woman at the well … the woman caught in adultery … the marginalized and the excluded – give them welcome; they, too, have a place in the kingdom of God.

And in some instances, don’t forgive … retain sins …

Retain where forgiveness would be a lie … listen to how Jesus addresses the religious rulers after He healed the blind man on the Sabbath … remember how those men got all hot and bothered because the healing occurred on the Sabbath? They missed the healing, the restoration of a man blind from birth … could they see the glory of God? Nooooo. All they could see was a rule violated, and they were angry at Jesus.
Listen to how Jesus addresses them: “I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.” Some of the Pharisees near him heard this and said to him, “Surely we are not blind, are we?” Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains (John 9:39-41).

Take the measure of life, and use the measuring rod of God.
Lift up the good and shine a light on the evil (Romans 12:9) … be kind and gentle with one another, but ruthless with the sins of power.

Our task is to tell the truth … God’s Truth

A political button recently appeared: “If Obama is president, would we still call it the White House?”

Racism is a sin that cannot be forgiven, but must be illumined and revealed for what it is – hideous and dysfunctional, crippling to a soul and devastating to a nation.

The pillaging of our environment for short-term gain – the peddling of fear to gain political leverage.
Starvation for millions because we lack the political will to make it different … the global slave trade and sex trafficking.

Nationalism without a larger vision … narrow allegiances and small loyalties …

The lack of health care for millions … sub-standard conditions for LAX hotel workers … school districts under funded; our nation’s lack of public transportation, proving an even greater hardship now for the poor … thousands of returning vets who have survived fearsome injuries, only to face a future of hardship back home (AARP July/August, 2008, p.62).

These are sins, sins that cannot be forgiven … they must be illumined and revealed for what they are by the Word of God …

As Jesus did in Jerusalem …

Is it any wonder they killed Him?

But in killing Him, they undid themselves.

In rising from the dead, Jesus makes it wonderfully clear: the goodness of God, though battered and bruised, remains intact … the message goes forth; the love of God goes on.

Jesus invites us to join Him.
Stand with Him and embrace His work.
Take up our cross and follow Him.
As the Father sent me, so I send you.

We have a moral responsibility … to be handled with care … handled as Jesus managed it …
Immerse ourselves in the Word of God as Jesus did … when confronted with the Devil in the wilderness, Jesus reaches into the Bible He knew so well … One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.
Jesus used the text to refute those who claimed to know it best!
Make ourselves available, with prayer and humility … “Here I am, LORD … I go where you go and I do as you ask.”
With Jesus in the Garden, Not my will be done, but yours, O God.

This is the most important thing any of us will ever do; this will go with us all the way to eternity.
We’re in that room, right now, with the disciples, with Jesus.
He breathes upon us the Spirit … as the Father has sent me, so I send you.

Are we ready for it?
Covenant on the Corner, are we ready for it?
Yes we are!
Yes we are … yes we are!
We are His disciples.
Wouldn’t have it any other way. Amen!

Monday, June 16, 2008


Matthew 4:18-22; 9:9-13; Matthew 10:1-11:1

Goooood morning Covenant Church.

I’m glad to be here, and I know that you are, too.

This is the day the LORD has made, let us rejoice in it and be glad.

A pastor was greeting folks in the lobby after the service … he saw a man he hadn’t seen for long time, and he said to him, “Sir, you need to join the army of the LORD.”
The man said, “What do you mean? I am in the army of the LORD.”
The pastor said, “Well how come I only see you at Christmas and Easter?”
The man leaned close to the pastor and whispered, “I’m in the secret service.”

There are no secrets when it comes to Jesus … he’s building a new community … and Jesus has a strategy …

It’s all about leadership.

Ultimately, everyone of us is someone’s leader.
Parents lead children.
Older children lead their siblings.
Spouses lead spouses.
When you pray for someone, you’re leading them.
When you’re ordering a hamburger at In ‘n Out, you’re a leader for the young lady taking your order … you smile and bless her, you see more than a teen; you see a real person with a real story, wondering where life will take her … you see her family, her hopes and her dreams … bless her with a smile; ask her how it’s going today … it’s amazing what we do for the folks who cross our way, even for a moment.

Hold doors open … pay attention to the person pushing the shopping cart down the ramp at Trader Joe’s … nod your head and say good morning … set the pace; show the way … let your light shine …

We’re all leaders.
We help someone stand a little taller.
We push them along the road a little further.
We help them take a deep breath and start all over again.

It’s all about leadership …

Jesus calls leaders …

But let’s ask one giant question: “What are their qualifications?”

Dianne Carlyle sent this to me the other day … a “memo” from a management firm:

Addressed - TO: Jesus, Son of Joseph
Woodcrafter Carpenter Shop, Nazareth

FROM: Jordan Management Consultants, Jerusalem

Dear Sir:

Thank you for submitting the resumes of the 12 men you have picked for management positions in your new organization. All of them have now taken our battery of tests; we have not only run the results through our computer, but also arranged personal interviews for each of them with our psychologist and vocational aptitude consultant.

It is the staff opinion that most of your nominees are lacking in background, education, and vocational aptitude for the type of enterprise you are undertaking. They do not have the “team" concept. We would recommend that you continue your search for persons of experience in managerial ability and proven capability.

Simon Peter is emotionally unstable and given to fits of temper. Andrew has absolutely no qualities of leadership. The two brothers, James and John, the sons of Zebedee, place personal interest above company loyalty. Thomas demonstrates a questioning attitude that would tend to undermine morale.

We feel that it is our duty to tell you that Matthew has been blacklisted by the Greater Jerusalem Better Business Bureau. James, the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus definitely have radical leanings. They registered a high score on the manic depressive scale.

One of the candidates, however, shows great potential. He is a man of ability and resourcefulness, meets people well, has a keen business mind and has contacts in high places. He is highly motivated, ambitious, and responsible. We recommend Judas Iscariot as your controller and right-hand man. All of the other profiles are self-explanatory.

We wish you every success in your new Venture.

Sincerely yours, Jordan Management Consultants

Let’s take a look at the story of the fisherman again:

Peter and Andrew, James and John, had already been turned away from further education to be rabbis … being a rabbi was the dream of every young man and his family … and young women, too.
Like the old Irish families of Boston – to have a son be a priest, a daughter a nun.

The young men in the boats had already gone through basic Hebrew school, but only the best and the brightest were accepted by the rabbis to go on with their education and training.
If you didn’t make the cut, you were sent back to your family to take up the family trade.
These young men had already been passed over.

So when Rabbi Jesus comes along and invites them to take up His yoke – that’s rabbinic language to join His school and learn from Him – there’s no hesitation!
They know who He is … a rabbi of unusual authority … to be invited by Him, goodness sakes alive … like getting an invitation to study at Stanford on a full-ride scholarship … of course, they’ll go with Him!

Amazing how God works!

There’s a remarkable story about this in the Bible (1 Samuel 16).

After King Saul fails, God asks Samuel to anoint a successor.
God sends Samuel to the house of Jesse in Bethlehem, for I have provided for myself a king among Jesse’s sons.

When Samuel arrives, arrangements are made for dinner and worship, and when Jesse’s sons arrive, Samuel says to himself when he sees these strapping young men: Surely the LORD's anointed is here.

One of the young men catches his attention – he’s everything a king should be.

But the LORD says to Samuel, Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the LORD does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance; but the LORD looks on the heart.

Jesse brought out his sons – seven of them … God said no to all of them.

Samuel asks if Jesse has any more sons.
I do have one more son. But he’s the youngest; he’s out keeping the sheep right now while the rest of us are here for the party.

Samuel says, Bring him here. We’ll not sit down for dinner until he comes.

You know the rest of the story … the one ignored by Jesse, the last so, the youngest and the least … that was the one God choose to be the king.

God said, He’s the one.

God at work on two levels …
For the sake of the world … and for the sake of the church.
Talent for the world … gifts for the church.
Common grace for the well-being of the world … supernatural grace for the spiritual formation of the church.

God began by giving David worldly talent – talent and ability to be a shepherd; a leader of sheep … David knew how to fend off predators, how to guide the sheep to good pasture and safe water … David had only a sling for a weapon, but David knew how to use it expertly.

When Samuel anointed David, something happened.
The Spirit came upon David … his natural abilities were transformed: David became a leader of God’s people.
In the very next story, David defeats Goliath … a remarkable combination of natural talent – David knew how to wield a sling – and supernatural grace – so that talent becomes a servant of the Most High God!

Not even David’s father could know it … not even Samuel the prophet could see it!
Amazing how God works!

The fisherman knew a lot about fishing; that’s how God prepared them.
The common grace of love that flows out to the world.
They knew how to make nets and raise a sail … they could read the sea and smell the wind … they could handle their boats in the worst of storms … they knew the markets, how to move their product and win the best price … they were very good at what they did.

But no one thought they could be spiritual leaders.
Amazing how God works!

How do you see yourself today?

I mean, really see yourself?

We may see ourselves as failures …
We may see ourselves as successful …
Chances are, we’re a little of both.
We hope we’re better than we are sometimes, and sometimes we know just how crummy we can be.

But Jesus takes folks just like us …
Amazing how God works!
It’s a spiritual thing … and only God can do it!

Only God can make David into a king.
Only God can make Peter into a preacher of the gospel.
Only God can make us into elders and deacons, Sunday School teachers or youth leaders …

Water needs heat to become steam.
Carbon needs pressure to become a diamond.
Knowledge needs time to become wisdom.
Our common grace talents and abilities need spiritual transformation to become spiritual gifts.

This is the word of the LORD … Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the LORD of Hosts (Zechariah 4:6).

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives (John 14:27).

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God - what is good and acceptable and perfect (Romans 12:2).

It’s a spiritual thing!

And that’s the good news for all of us!

It’s a level playing field at the foot of the cross.
Starting from scratch.
Bank presidents and single moms … CEOs and construction workers … Harvard graduates and Hispanic immigrants … liberals and conservatives … Republicans and Democrats … folks at the top of their game and folks not even sure where the game is played.
It doesn’t make any difference to God, because God changes all of it, transforms it, rebuilds it, makes all the necessary adjustments … God replants us and prunes the tree; God takes our talent for sheep or fishing and transforms it talent into gifts for the people of God (Ephesians 4:12).

For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything; the only thing that counts is faith working through love (Galatians 5:6).

Have you see Kung Fu Panda?

Great family fun – grandparents, take your grandkids.

It’s all about a fat little panda voiced by Jack Black … a fat little panda named Po, who dreams of being the Dragon Warrior …

By accident, Po ends up with the Furious Five who are all training to be the Dragon Warrior … he doesn’t fit; he doesn’t belong; they don’t want him; he’s overweight and out of shape, and his father wants him to be a noodle soup expert.
As far as the world is concerned, he’s no Dragon Warrior.

But Oogway the Master looks at the Furious Five – they’re all good, they’re fast, well-trained … and then Po, the fat little panda … all he has are his dreams, and his noodle soup … but he’s the one … he’s the Dragon Warrior who will bring peace to the land. The world can’t see it; even Po can’t see it. But the Master sees it!

When the Master calls the fishermen, who would’ve guessed?

It’s a spiritual thing.


Monday, June 2, 2008

I Will Build My Church - June 1, 2008

Matthew 16:13-20

What does Jesus want?

Jesus wants to create a community of faith, grounded in the stories of Israel, equipped to live in its environment – the Roman Empire – cruel, powerful, and pagan.

Jesus came to renew and rebuild the House of Israel.
To include Gentiles on equal footing with the Jews.
The original vision with Abraham, Genesis 12: ALL the nations of the world would be blessed.
Inclusive … no boundaries … everyone welcome …
Paul the Apostle understood this when he wrote his famous words: There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer male or female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then your Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the purpose (Galatians 5:28-29)

A new community!
This is what Jesus wants.
This is what Jesus teaches.

At the Transfiguration, the Father says:
This is my Son, the Beloved; with Him I am well pleased; listen to Him.”

And that’s what we’re going to do for the next several weeks … we’re going to listen to Jesus …

I’ve entitled the series: JesusStategy!

As we think about the future of Covenant … the world in which we live … what’s required of us?
Who do we have to be?
What should Covenant on the Corner look like for the 21st Century?

Now’s the time to return to the source, to the center, to where it all began … with Jesus and 12 disciples … the earliest Christians – the original vision – the New Community created by Jesus.

At the heart of JesusStrategy - Leadership!

Jesus preached to the crowds, but He called and created core leaders.
Jesus fed the multitudes, but he trained a cadre of disciples.
Jesus sent out the 70, but He focused prime attention on the 12.

It’s all about leadership!

Like elders and deacons – the core leaders of the local church.

Right now, our Nominating Committee is in a time of discernment – reading the Bible, reading the Book of Order – praying and meditating … seeking God’s guidance, to find those whom the LORD has called and gifted for leadership.
Keep your Nominating Committee enfolded in prayer:
Stafford Fredericks
Ken and Carol Carlson
Jean Perkins
Sandra Miller-Manzo
Sue Gwinn
Herb Evans

In our Presbyterian form of government, there are three offices: Elders, Deacons and Ministers of Word and Sacrament.
Their work?
Cast a vision … empower God’s people … diligent in spiritual matters … setting the pace; leading the way; arm-in-arm with one another … looking to Jesus for all things.

But we’re all in this together.
Leaders are vital … but everyone who names the name of Jesus is called and gifted … everyone who signs on and says, Jesus my LORD, is invited into a way of life, a way of thinking and acting, grounded in Jesus and lived out in the new community … everyone is responsible for some part of God’s Church!

Our Book of Order says it well:

The existence of these offices in no way diminishes the importance of the commitment of all members to the total ministry of the church. These ordained officers differ from others members in function only.

In the next few weeks, we’ll be thinking about Christian leadership … elders and deacons … and the work to which we ALL are called.

We’ll be thinking about JesusStrategy.
And the promise of Jesus: I will build my church.
His promise … His work!

But we have our work, too: “Love one another” – A new commandment I give to you, says Jesus, that you love one another as I have loved you.

Why is love so important?
It’s all about mission!
It’s the Rock!
It’s Peter … it’s a real live human being … it’s you and me!
And where Jesus says this as just as important as what he said.
There’s more to this “rock” business than meets the eye.
Where were they?
Caesarea Philippi – a Roman capital city in northeastern Palestine – now called the Golan Heights, mountains, rocky – there a spring emerges from the base of rock cliff on which the city of Caesarea Philippi is built – a rock cliff a hundred feet high and 500 feet wide; along its face, shrines to the pagan gods – local legend had it: the spring was a portal to Hades … here in the heart of the Empire, a portal to Hades, Jesus says, “I’ll build my church” and I’ll build it in the middle of the kingdom of death.
I’ll build my church with something the Empire doesn’t understand, and Hades hates … I’ll build my church with love … and all the power of Death, the gates of Hades, will not prevail.

Everyone will know that you are my disciples, says Jesus, if you have love for one another (John 13:35).

Love for one another catches the attention of the world …

Not our theology, though that’s important.
Nor our buildings, though buildings are useful.
Neither our preaching nor our music, though such things have value.
Not even our work for social justice or our proclamation on issues, though such things are vital.
Only one thing catches the attention of the world – our love for one another.
They will know we are Christians by our love.

Love is our part of the bargain.
When we love one another as Jesus loves us, His promise kicks in.
When we love one another, we become trustworthy in God’s sight.

When we love one another, we become a safe place.
A place where God can bring Jane and Bill, Susan and Stanley – a place where folks can be loved and celebrated, where people will find grace and mercy, where folks will discover their gifts and put them to work in a ministry.

What does love look like?

Here’s where we learn from Jesus.
Jesus works with small groups … love on a small scale … love that we can manage.

Open up the Bible and read the Book of Acts – small groups.
They meet in homes.
Eat together.
Pray and study together.

For 300 years - no church buildings, only house churches.
No cathedrals, just small groups.

When Paul wrote to the church in Rome, he was writing to 30 or 40 house churches.

And what happened to the early church?
It grew like Topsy.

The loved one another.
And the promise kicked in.
I will build my church!

Love can only be on a small scale.
You and I can’t love the world … only God’s love is big enough for that … and even God’s love for the world is focused in small ways – it’s Abraham and Sarah, it’s Moses and Joshua, it’s Deborah and Lydia … love on the small scale – small enough to have an eye on the sparrow, small enough to number the hairs of our head.
A small group - that’s how Jesus grounds His movement – a small group of men and women who could love one another and show the world.

The reality of love … not sentiment, nor always easy.
But where else can the realities of Christian love come to life but in the dynamics of a small group … here’s where we practice forgiveness and understanding … tolerance and acceptance … where Republicans and Democrats. Liberals and Conservatives, and every other flavor, gather together around God’s Word, supporting one another with prayer – and lots of helping hands.

Love on a small scale.
Where two or three are gathered …
Twelve disciples.
Seventy sent out two by two.
Prayer groups.
House churches.

Love on a small scale – JesusLove – small-scale love.

Jesus said to Peter …

If you love ME, feed my sheep, take care of my lambs.

That’s the kind of church Jesus envisions …
Think for a moment about crucial Biblical imagery:
The one lost sheep, sought and found by the shepherd.
The one lost coin, diligently searched for, until found.
The bruised reed treated gently.
The smoldering wick treated kindly.
There’s a place at the Table for everyone … including Peter and even Judas.
The commandment to care – feed my sheep – belongs to every Christian – to each one of us.

In the past hundred years, the model for care was the pastor caring for the many … a large church, might even hire a pastor of pastoral care; or a retired pastor to call on folks.
Perhaps a few elders … and likely the Deacons ….
The few caring for the many.

It’s a model that didn’t work. Never did and never will.
Pastors never could give all the care needed.
Elders and Deacons couldn’t manage all of it.

Care-givers were exhausted by it.
And care-receivers were often neglected … where’s the pastor when you need him … those elders don’t care … all the deacons do is drink coffee with each other.
I’ve heard it all.

The few caring for the many is a defective model.
It’s not Biblical.
It’s not Jesus.

JesusStrategy: everyone cares for someone.
This a model that works.
It’s Biblical.
It’s Jesus.
Love on a small scale.

New paradigm churches discovered this Biblical model … we look with amazement at the new paradigm churches and their growth.
Let’s face it … we’re all a little envious of what they’ve done. They’re doing what we did in the Fifties.
Yes, we had the Fifties all figured out.
And the new paradigm churches figured out the Nineties.
These days, they’re the first to admit that not all is well … but at the same time, the new paradigm churches have recovered the Biblical model: everyone cares for someone.

We learn from the new paradigm churches …
The power of a small group … a band disciples.
When we love, God adds!

It’s a perfect model for the 21st century … where folks are disconnected and scattered.
It’s the model given to us by Jesus.
It’s how we love one another, so that Jesus can get to work and build His church.

When we love, God adds!

Now let’s think about Covenant for a while.

One of our greatest resources here … our Flock Program directed by our Deacons …

I’ve been thinking a lot about the Flocks … it’s a treasure, a gold mine … and I’ve been dreaming about our Flocks.

I have a dream – as we evolve and grow into Christ all the more, our Flocks will gain strength and gather momentum …
I have a dream – our Flocks will begin meeting once a month for prayer and the study of God’s word.
I have a dream: Flock leaders will create a curriculum – guided by a common theme. We’re all in this together.

I have a dream: every member of Covenant, every friend of Covenant – invited and included in a Flock.
I have a dream – every Flock cares for its members – hospital visitation, home visitation. Everyone caring for someone.
I have a dream – every Flock a little congregation; every Flock, a little church … every flock, a band of sisters and brothers.
I have a dream – our Flocks are powerhouses of love – the kind of love that makes the world sit up and pay attention.