Sunday, October 25, 2009

October 25, 2009 "Permanent"

Hebrews 7:23-28

There are three groups of people in our world:

Some play the game …

Some watch the game …

And some don’t even know the game is being played.

The players …

The watchers …

And the disconnected …

I don’t want to be disconnected …

And I’m not satisfied to watch the game …

I want to play the game!

That’s what Jesus invites to do …

Come and follow me.

I’ll make you into a player …

I’ll show you how to love.

That’s the game we want to play.

Play it hard.

Play it to the end.

Play it to win.

Play it with everything we have.

Until the coach calls us off the field,

And sends us to the showers!

And when we’re done, other players will take our place.

When we’re all done, another team.

Every 30 or 40 years, a whole new team hits the field.

Perpetua and Felicitas …

Clement of Alexandria and Origen …

Thomas Aquinas and Erasmus … Wycliffe and Hus … Luther and Zwingli, Calvin and Knox …

Mother Teresa and William Sloan Coffin …

Thomas Merton and Dorothy Day …

Barbara Brown Taylor and Diana Butler Bass …

You and me …

Covenant on the Corner.

There will always be a team.

Jesus still calls fishermen to leave their boats and nets behind …

A tax collector to change professions …

A physician to become a healer of souls …

A man on the Damascus Road to become an unexpected disciple …

To play the game,

Play it well.

Play it for everyone who’s played the game for us.

Before we ever showed up … long before any of us were here.

When the day is done, the lights turned off, we lay our head down,

We know, don’t we?

We know that we played the game well, or maybe we didn’t.

We struck out a few times, and dropped the ball.

Maybe we hit a Grand Slam and made the winning catch!

Good or bad, or mostly in between, we played the game.

That’s what counts!

Dear friends in Christ,

Play the game … play it well!

Don’t waste your time with thoughts and things that are of no account.

Don’t fret and fuss about those who see the world with different eyes and sing a new song in the old land.

Don’t dig in your heels and resist change, because change is the heart and soul of real life.

Listen to the voices of compassion.

Pay attention to those who seek justice.

Learn from those who push, wider and wider, the boundaries of love … infinite love, unconditional love … because God is love, and God so loved the world …

Set your mind and heart upon Jesus.

The High Priest of our faith.

Keep on surrendering.

Keep on giving your life.

Again and again.

Because, the Christian life is a SERIES of surrenders.

At every turn in the road, we give our lives to Christ all over again.

Because we’re always becoming new people.

Who we were no longer exists; what we did is only a faint memory.

We’re brand new people every seven years.

And every seven years, if not more often, we need to give our life to Christ … at every turn of the road; in every moment of time!

As a child in Sheboygan, Wisconsin, Hope Reformed Church, I remember some fine pastors – I remember Rev. Vermeer, tall and refined, with a shock of silver hair … then he moved to Grand Rapids, Michigan, and we moved there, too, some years later.

One Sunday, we visited his church.

I have neither idea nor recollection, except for one moment.

I can still see the church, and where I was sitting with Mom and Dad.

Rev. Vermeer asked in the course of his message, “Who will go?”

There I was, a high school student, and that question, like a spear, drove deep into my heart, and I wanted to stand up, right then and there, and shout with everything I had, “I’ll go. I’ll do it. Yes, I will.”

Being a sedate Protestant in a Dutch Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan, I didn’t jump up and I didn’t shout, but I jumped up in my heart, and I shouted to heaven that morning, “LORD, I will go. Yes, I will.”

A year or two later, at Immanuel Reformed Church, the Rev. Dr. Jerome DeJong … a man of dignity and preaching skill, well-read and passionate … every year, a week-long missions conference … and always a special evening, a service for young people, ending with candlelight and a moment of dedication for “full-time Christian service.”

I was there that night … I have no idea how it all went, but I remember the candles - I remember the invitation to come forward and give my life to Christ for full-time Christian service …

I remember sitting there …

The Spirit at work …

A few young people went forward.

But I was glued to the pew …

So God fired a full barrage at me …

God is ruthless.

God threw a roundhouse punch and it landed:

A cute blond went forward …

And I wanted to meet her.

A cute blond was God’s pry bar that got me outta of the pew!

What a God!

So unethical!

So I stepped up to the front with my candle, a prayer of dedication was said over al us, and then the youth pastor took us to a side room for counsel and further prayer … I don’t remember what he said.

But later that week, the blond and I had a date!

And for the rest of my life, I knew that I had given my life to Christ for full-time Christian service.

The blond and I went our separate ways in a year or so, but my walk with Christ has lasted the whole of my life.

God is good all the time.

And all the time God is good.

God is not above using teen hormones to move a young man a little closer to Christ!

Plenty of other moments along the way.

Retreats and conferences, mostly.

A pastors’ group in West Virginia … the Ecumenical Institute in the early 70s … a charismatic prayer group in northern Wisconsin …

A small monastery in Oklahoma and conversations with Fr. Jim Conner, a Trappist monk.

Leadership Conferences at Willow Creek Community Church in Barrington, Illinois.

Prayer groups and Bible studies …

And a lot of light and funny moments, too – pizza and beer with all kinds of friends – cooking together, going to the movies, enjoying the power of friendship, and the love of Donna, and the love of my children.

God in a thousand different ways touches our lives with grace.

Moments of love and hope that come like a downbeat in music … or an exclamation point in writing.

A moment slightly unusual.

A transforming moment … maybe a great joy, like the birth of a child, or a great sorrow like the premature death of a loved …

And in it all, the hand of God.

We hit the bed at night with a grateful heart, and breath our last prayer of the day: Thank you, LORD. Thank you!

Moments of surrender.

Many years ago at a retreat, the leader spoke of his marriage …

He loved his wife, of course, but as a young man, he saw himself as unattractive and odd, and if he didn’t marry this girl then and there, he believed no other girl would marry him … so, “I got married,” he said, “by default.”

He was responsible and faithful to his wife.

He mowed the law and took out the garbage.

But over time, he realized: “I never chose my wife.”

“I guess she chose me,” he said, “but I had never chosen her.”

“I looked at her one day, and my heart was flooded with indescribable joy, and that day, after twelve years of marriage, I choose her … for the first time, I choose her, and I gave my life to her.”

Sometimes we’re related to Christ more by circumstance than by choice.

We grow up in the church.

We’re baptized, confirmed, trained and taught … we do the church thing, and we do it well …

But circumstance is one thing; choice is another.

For those of us in the church, steeped in its ways and patterns, it may come as startling news to us that it’s been a long time since we’ve given our lives to Christ.

We’re preachers and elders and deacons and Sunday School teachers and choir members and youth group leaders and committee members and hard workers …

We know the hymns and we say our prayers,

We have our pew and we have our ways.

We settle in and we settle down.

We do the church thing rather well.

But have we given our lives to Christ?

Maybe when we were young.

Maybe twenty years ago.

Maybe five years ago.

But what about today!

Let’s give it a try this morning.

Right here, right now.

At Covenant on the Corner.

We all need a moment, now and then, when we can start all over again – a moment to decide, a moment of surrender … a moment to look at Christ, full in the face, the Man of Sorrows on Calvary’s Cross, the Risen Christ inviting Thomas to touch his wounds, the Great High Priest of our Faith … a long, careful look at Christ, and to choose Christ again!

Because Christ is permanent.

He’s the rock, he’s the anchor.

He’s forever; he’s permanent.

Let’s close our eyes, bow our head – let’s think of Christ … and ask ourselves, “When was the last time I gave my life to him?” [pause] …

Maybe today is a good day to do it!

If it seems right in your spirit, silently repeat after me the prayer of surrender, and give your life to Christ.

LORD Jesus Christ,

Son of the Living God,

I give myself to you,

In faith and obedience.

God bless each and all of you.

To God be the glory.

Amen and Amen!

Sunday, October 18, 2009

October 18, 2009 "The Source"

Hebrews 4:14 - 5:10

Welcome Maya!

Welcome to Covenant on the Corner.

Welcome to the heart of Jesus Christ.

I like the word “welcome.”
It’s a good word.
Strong and decent.
Big and bold.
Bright and Brash.
With an exclamation point!

Friend to friend.
Brother to brother; sister to sister.
Father to son; mother to daughter.

Here’s where you belong.
This is home.
Glad to see ya’.
Come on in.
Take your shoes off.
Kick back and relax.
Here are some chips and salsa.
What do ya’ want to drink?
Wanna watch TV?
Listen to music?
Sure glad you’re here.

Welcome Maya.
Welcome to Covenant on the Corner.
Welcome to the heart of Jesus Christ.

Have ya’ ever been in a place where you are not welcome?

Been there and done that a few times …
Doesn’t feel very good.
Ice in the room.
Tension in the air.
You’re not wanted.
You’re not welcome!
See ya’ later.
Or never again.
Don’t call me, I’ll call you.
Thanks, but no thanks.
You’re not welcome here.

Jesus says welcome!
Welcome to everyone!
No one turned away.
No one left behind.
No one denied a place at his Table!

Not that everyone liked what Jesus did.
The rich and the powerful weren’t too sure.
Hey, you can’t do that, they said to him.
And Jesus said right back at ‘em, Oh yes, I can; just watch me!
Jesus played the game with his own set of rules:
Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
Love God with all of your heart, soul, strength and mind, and love your neighbor as yourself.
Some didn’t like it one bit.

The Pharisees didn’t like it; Jesus played fast and loose with their rules, about who was in and who was out, and how to keep the Sabbath.
The Sadducees didn’t like it; Jesus was way too serious about God, and this resurrection-from-the-dead thing - the Sadducees thought it was just too new an idea.
The Zealots didn’t like it; Jesus refused to take up the sword and join the rebellion against Rome.
The Romans didn’t like it; Jesus preached things that stirred ancient longings for freedom and subverted the cult of emperor worship.
Pilate didn’t like it; Jesus didn’t scrape and bow in Pilate’s presence; Jesus declined to answer Pilate’s question about truth.
The thieves didn’t like it; Jesus remained on the cross, and there he died.
Satan didn’t like it; Jesus died for the sins of the world and walked through hell’s gate to quench the fires of doom and set the prisoner free.

Jesus played the game with his own set of rules!

The book of Hebrews is all about Jesus …
He is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being.
He made purification for sins.
He was faithful to the one who appointed him.
In the days of his flesh, he offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears.
He is the source of eternal salvation.
He is our apostle and the high priest of our confession.

Jesus knows us through and through.
He is not above us or beyond us.
He is with us.

He did it right.
He did it all.
And still does, for all of us.
For the whole world.
For everyone and forever!
He is our LORD and our Savior!
And to each of us, an unqualified, Welcome!

What does it mean to be the church OF Jesus Christ?
A church shaped and sharpened by Jesus.
A church following the patterns of welcome – welcome to everyone, no questions asked.
What does that mean for us?

A church that doesn’t buy Pilate’s values.
A church that DOESN’T buy all the nonsense of capitalism - spend and spend and spend some more … toys the children play with only once; stuff we’ll have to sell in next summer’s garage sale – basements filled, closets crammed, attics bulging, storage units rented to hold even more stuff our homes can no longer hold.
The church OF Jesus Christ - devoted to God and loving toward neighbor.
A church interested in people than in budgets and programs.
Willing to take risks for the kingdom of God – to throw caution to the wind sometimes … to stand tall for those who can’t!
To lift up the glory of justice and the power of kindness – to say NO to the negative, and Yes to the postive.
A church that forgets the past, no matter how bad it was!
A church that forgets the past, no matter how good it was!
A church that strains forward to the upward calling of Jesus … because the best days are ahead of us … 
A church that prays deeply as Jesus prayed.
A church that knows the very Scriptures Jesus loved.
A church that knows how the cross feels.
A church that honors the deepest words of our faith: to follow Jesus where e’re he lead … whither thou goest, I shall go, too! Jesus my LORD!

What DOES it mean to be the church of Jesus Christ?

The church, you see, is you and me.
So the question really is this: What does it mean FOR US to be followers of Jesus?

What do you THINK?
What DOES it mean to follow Jesus?
Take a few moments right now … pause … what does it mean, FOR YOU, to follow Jesus? [pause]

By way of illustration:
What does it mean to be a Dodger fan?
What do teens do when they have a hero? An athlete they admire? A musician they’re crazy about?
A Dodger fan might wear a Dodger shirt!
A high school football player might learn everything he can about a great linebacker.
A young singer will try to sing like someone she admires.

What does it mean to follow Jesus?
Maybe we can ask, What does JESUS look like?

What does Jesus look like to Zacchaeus when Jesus stood beneath the tree and invited Zacchaeus to come on down, because Jesus wants to have dinner with him? No one else in town wants to have dinner with Zacchaeus, but Jesus does.

What does Jesus look like to the woman caught in adultery – brought to Jesus by a self-righteous mob eager to stone her.  When Jesus bends down to write in the dirt, and then says to the mob, If any of you are without sin, go ahead; throw your stones. And he bends down again to write in the dust … and when the mob leaves, there’s only Jesus and the woman.

What does Jesus look like to the moneychangers and merchants in the temple courtyard when he overturns their tables and shouts at them because they turned a house of prayer into a den of thieves?

What does Jesus look like to the crowds telling the blind man to shut up and be quiet. And what does Jesus look like when he stops and turns, and asks the crowd to bring the blind man to him.

What does Jesus look like to the little children sitting on his lap, when fussbudget adults have no time for them?

What does Jesus look like to the lepers when he takes time to talk with them, touch them, heal them?

What does Jesus look like to the soldiers beating him? To the executioners nailing him to the cross? To the jeering crowd mocking him?

What DOES Jesus look like?
What do you and I look like?

If unchurched young people, ages 16-29, have any sense of it, you and I don’t look very good at all.

Unchurched young people were asked, When you hear the word ‘Christian,’ what do you think?

92% said “homophobic,” or  “anti-gay” … that’s the first thing they think about … and that saddens me, because it means those who pull away the welcome mat, those who slam the door, of course, all in Jesus’ name, have won the PR campaign for the young … so, where’s our voice? Where’s the voice of welcome.

And the statistics drive home the point:
87% said “hypocritical” …
85% said “irrelevant” …
80% said “boring” …
19% said friendly … which translated means, “we may be boring bigots, but we’re really nice about it!” [Diana Butler Bass – retreat at St. Mark PC, Newport Beach, October 2-3, 2009].

What’s even more startling – these statistics change downward for young people raised IN the church by only 5%. Young people reared in the church don’t think very highly of their parents’ church.

Yet young people tell us they like Jesus.
Jesus is okay; it’s the church that troubles them.

Sure, I know …
It’s not as simple as that.
And we can’t be pushed around by opinion polls.
But I wonder – what would happen if we looked a little more like Jesus?

Can the church OF Jesus Christ look a little more like Jesus?
Can you and I look a little more like Jesus?

I think so.
And you do, too.
Are you with me on this?
I know that you are!

Glory to God.
And to our High Priest, Jesus - praise and honor, forever and ever.

Amen and Amen!

Monday, October 12, 2009

October 11, 2009 - More on Hebrews 1 ...

Last week, we spent some thoughtful time with the Text … we went home with a phrase that seemed to engage our spirit.

"He is the reflection of God's glory and the exact imprint of God's very being." Norm
"By the grace of God he might taste death for everyone" Shari
"What are human beings that you are mindful of them...?" Patty
“What are human beings that your mindful of them or mortals, that you care for them?” Nic
“Jesus is not ashamed.” Tom

Today, a little more time with the Text …

Prayer – then first reading …
Hebrews 1:1-4; 2:5-12
Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the worlds.
He is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being, and he sustains all things by his powerful word.
When he had made purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.
Now God did not subject the coming world, about which we are speaking, to angels. But someone has testified somewhere,
“What are human beings that you are mindful of them,
or mortals, that you care for them?
You have made them, for a little while, lower than the angels;
you have crowned them with glory and honor,
subjecting all things under their feet.”
Now in subjecting all things to them, God left nothing outside their control. As it is, we do not yet see everything in subjection to them, but we do see Jesus, who for a little while was made lower than the angels, now crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that, by the grace of God, he might taste death for everyone.
It was fitting that God, for whom and through whom all things exist, in bringing many children to glory, should make the pioneer of their salvation, perfect, through sufferings.
For the one who sanctifies, and those who are sanctified, all have one Father. For this reason, Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters, saying,
“I will proclaim your name to my brothers and sisters,
in the midst of the congregation I will praise you.”
Second reading … in phrases repeated after Pastor Tom …
What catches your attention today?
Take some time now to meditate on the passage – begin by saying, “LORD Jesus Christ, son of the Living God, give me insight through your Word that I might be more faithful to you and to the world,” and then begin meditating …

A moment of prayer … Pastor Tom …

Groups of three or four – no more than five …

Work on the following pieces:

Hebrews 1:1-4 is all about Jesus … what words or phrases does the author use to describe who and what Jesus is?

Jesus is the reflection of God’s glory … so when we think about Jesus, we’re thinking about God. When you think about Jesus during the week, what are you likely to think about? When you think about Jesus, does it occur to you that you’re thinking also about God?

Vs. 6, a quotation from Psalm 8 – a celebration of God’s creation and how big it is, and how small we are.

But at the same time, God created us just a tad bit lower than the angels and given the world to us for our care, crowning us with honor and glory.

But the writer of Hebrews looks around her world and says: we have yet to see this worked out. Yet, what we CAN see is Jesus, who was made, like us, a little lower than the angels, but now is crowned with glory and honor, because of the road he traveled for us (and now is infinitely greater than all the angels).

What was your chosen phrase from last week?

Did you have a chance to use that phrase during the week? If so, what was that like?

Choose a phrase for the week ahead - the same phrase, or is there something else here you’ll choose?

Craft a newspaper headline from our Text this morning.

I’d like to have each group read their “headline” when we finish!

Unison reading of the Text.

For the Benediction - Remember the gospel:
1. You are loved more profoundly than you could ever imagine and more than you will ever know.
2. Though your sins be many, they are as if they never were, for when Jesus tasted death for our sake, our sins were wiped away!
3. Even now, the Holy Spirit is at work binding your life to Jesus, enabling you to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world.
4. When you die, you, and everyone you love, will be with Jesus forever!

Sunday, October 4, 2009

October 4, 2009 - something different

Yup, something different.

Rather than a "regular" message, I led the congregation through the following with the text.

Praying Scripture

Hebrews 1:1-4; 2:5-12

1. Text - read by reader – Bibles closed.

2. Open Bibles …

3. Text - read again, in phrases, which cong. repeats

4. Text read silently by cong.

5. Select a phrase for yourself …

6. Repeat the phrase silently for a few moments.

7. Share your phrase aloud with congregation.

8. Groups of three …

a. Share the phrase you chose …

b. Any idea why you chose this phrase?

9. Take it home with you … write it down on your bulletin, scrap of paper.

10. Text - read in unison.

11. Prayer …