Monday, February 27, 2012

February 26, 2012 - "A Good Conscience"

1 Peter 3.18-22

Good Morning Calvary on the Boulevard.
And welcome to the first Sunday of Lent.
In the traditions of our faith.
Lent, a time to say, “I’m sorry!”
A double “I’m sorry.”
For the sins of our life.
The things we’ve said and done.
That have hurt our families and friends.
And the things we’ve left undone.
Sin is not only what we do.
But what we fail to do.
To love big.
Forgive often.
Push ahead.
Be of good cheer.
Devote ourselves to good works.
Pray often.
Read our Bible.
Learn and grow.
Grow up into the love of Christ.
And that’s what Peter wants for his church.
To grow up into the love of Christ.
To be mature in the things of God.
Deeply grateful.
Ready to serve.
Full of faith.
Kindness and love.
Peter directs our attention to Christ.
Because of Christ, we’re here today.
In the family of God.
With hope in our heart.
And peace in our soul.
Because of Christ.
Who proclaims to us the Kingdom of God.
The way it should be.
The way it can be.
The way it will be.
Christ invites us to sign on with the Kingdom.
To stand on the right side of history.
To stand with him.
To take up our cross.
And suffer, if we must.
Suffer for the sake of good.
For the sake of the gospel.
For the sake of Jesus Christ.
In our passage this morning, Peter celebrates.
The far reach of God’s love.
Reaching into the darkest deeps of time and space.
The love of God going to hell.
Storming the kingdom of darkness.
The realms of evil.
To preach to the lost souls.
Because the love of God is vast and rich.
There is none beyond the reach of God.
In the end, all are saved.
All are redeemed.
I believe that in the end:
The fires of hell are quenched, and quenched forever.
The darkest place filled with light.
When I think of salvation, I think of light.
The rise of the sun after a dark night.
A dark room, and someone flips a switch.
That which was dark is now bright with light.
Let there be light, said God.
On my morning walk, a home.
Dark with shadows.
Large leafy trees filled the city easement.
The sidewalk heaved up by their roots.
And then one day, the trees were removed.
A new sidewalk paved.
It’s a new home.
Beautiful in the light of day.
I think of light when I think of salvation.
Souls lost in darkness are found.
The blind can see.
All of creation will sing the songs of salvation.
The work of Christ completed.
On that glorious day:
Christ will hand the kingdom over to his Father.
And God will say to Christ:
Well done, good and faithful servant.
This week, my son, Josh, handed his keys over to the manager of the Social Center. This week, the first day of school … Josh took a great picture - a child entering the building, the last child in a line - they’re all in the building now, safe and sound … with electricity and lights, bathrooms and running water, and a kitchen that works - a beautiful building … for parties and gatherings of one sort or the other … and a place for health-care workers to store their equipment and medicine.
We’re all very proud of Josh and what he’s done … and, of course, Calvary is part of that work … all of you have prayed for Josh … the Deacons gave a most generous gift … and personal gifts from many of you, as well.
With the keys turned over, the work is done.
That’s what Christ will do one day.
Turn the keys over.
The work will be done.
Heaven and earth made new.
Christ rescues the perishing, as the hymn puts it.
Christ rescues the whole of creation.
From top to bottom.
From the hallways of heaven.
To the depths of hell.
Nothing lost.
No one left behind.
All are saved.
Those lost in the flood.
And those redeemed by the water.
By the water of baptism.
We’re saved, says Peter.
Not because of anything physical, says Peter.
But the spiritual reclamation of the soul.
The transformation of our lives.
The mark of a good conscience, says Peter.
For we have said yes to Christ.
Who first said Yes to us!
We who once lived in the shadows of sin and death.
Live now in the light of Christ.
W live by the will of God.
By the rules of love.
Peter writes a little later:
The end of everything has come.
Therefore, be self-controlled and clearheaded.
So that you can pray.
Above all else.
Show sincere love to each other.
Because love brings about the forgiveness of many sins.
Open your homes to each other without complaining.
And serve each other.
According to the gift each person has received …
Whoever speaks.
Should do so as those who speak God’s word.
Whoever serves.
Should do so from the strength God furnishes.
Do this.
So that in everything, God may be honored.
Through Jesus Christ.
To him be the honor and power.
Forever and always.
And to that, I can only say, Amen and Amen! 

Sunday, February 19, 2012

"Listen to Him"

Mark 8.34 - 9.9

Indian Ocean, East London, South Africa
Sometimes my wife puts her hands on my shoulders.
And says, “Listen to me!” 
And then I know.
It’s time to listen!
She has something to say.
So I pay attention.
I listen to her.
Now I don’t know about you.
But I find listening to be a challenge.
I have to work at it.
Maybe we all do.

God said:
This is my son.
Listen to him.

To understand what God is saying to the disciples on the Mount of Transfiguration, we need to step back in the story … before the Mountain.
When Jesus lays out God’s plan to the disciples.
A plan that involves suffering and death.
What did you say?
Suffering and death?
Suffering and death, you say, for the Son of the Man?
Peter explodes when he hears this!
He takes hold of Jesus, scolds him and sets him straight.
Jesus turns his back to Peter.
Looks at the disciples.
Get behind me Satan. You are not thinking God’s thoughts, but human thoughts.
All who want to come after me must say no to themselves, take up their cross, and follow me. All who want to save their lives will lose them. But all who lose their lives because of me, and because of the good news will save them. Why would people gain the whole world but lose their lives? What will people give in exchange for their lives? Whoever is ashamed of me and my words in this unfaithful and sinful generation, the Son of Man, the Human One, will be ashamed of that person, when he comes in the Father’s glory with the holy angels. 
I assure you that some standing here won’t die before they see God’s Kingdom arrive in power.


Oh, that sounds good.
Who doesn’t like power?
Six days later, Jesus takes Peter, James and John to the top of a very high mountain … and there they see the Kingdom, arrive in power.
A bright light falls upon the Mountain.
Moses and Elijah talk with Jesus.
But no King David … no armies … no legions of angels.
Power, you say?
Well, if this be power, I’d like to see weakness.

That’s why God says, Listen to him.
God’s ways are decidedly different.
Different than we might expect …
Peter expected rebellion and victory … he’s on the winning side … he walks and talks with Israel’s long-awaited Messiah … who’s gonna put things right and straighten things out.
Yes, the Messiah!
Restore Israel’s glory … the glory of King David … thrones and kingdoms, palaces and armies… Israel a powerhouse ... a king to be reckoned with … Jerusalem safe and sound … no foreign powers telling us what to do.
Peter had hopes and dreams for a new Davidic Kingdom … and Peter wasn’t alone. 
Ask anyone in Jerusalem what the Messiah would do, and they’d answer in unison - The Messiah will save us from Rome; the Messiah will marshall a divine army, arouse the people, save us from our enemies, and restore the glory of David.
For 500 years, the people dreamed the dreams of days of old, when David sat on the throne.
And when Jesus enters Jerusalem, from the Mount of Olives, riding on a young donkey ...
The people shout with joy:
Hosanna! Blessings on the one who comes in the name of the LORD. Blessings on the coming kingdom of our ancestor David.

No wonder Peter reacts so negatively when Jesus talks about suffering and death, as God’s way to a new world … 
Jesus makes it clear:
No armies to conquer Rome.
No armed conflict.
The work of the Messiah has nothing to do with the past.
The past is past.
Long gone.
Let it go.
It’s all about tomorrow.
A future.
Not by sword, but surrender.
Not by violence, but with values.

And why?

Because war can never bring an end to war.
Hatred will never put an end to hatred.
Violence cannot achieve peace.
Those who live by the sword …
Die by the sword.
Jesus invites us to a different way of power.
Jesus denies himself, and asks of us the same.
Jesus takes up a cross, and bids us do the same.
He does not try to save his life.
But gives his life away. 

When we listen to Jesus.
When we truly listen.
We understand Peter’s distress.
Talk of servanthood and surrender sounds good.
But servanthood and surrender are a challenge to all of us.
When we listen to Jesus, truly listen, we’re bound to get uneasy.
And that’s all right.
Jesus is like sharp-edged plow cutting through the hard soil of our soul … cutting through hard roots, turning it upside down, so that righteous seed can be planted, and in time, a harvest of righteousness.
Listen to him, says the Father.

After the Transfiguration, Jesus and the three disciples rejoin the other disciples.
And what they see and hear are folks arguing. 
And a boy who’s sick.
Down from the mountain.
The world at their feet.
And what a world it is.
Full of bickering and heartache.
Strife and sorrow.
Sin and sickness.
It isn’t long before the disciples are arguing amongst themselves … and guess what they’re arguing about … Who’s the greatest?
Can you believe it?
After the Mountain.
After Jesus heals the boy.
After Jesus speaks about self-denial and the cross.
They’re arguing about their own importance in the kingdom of God.
Can you believe it?

No wonder God says so clearly: Listen to my Son.

If we don’t listen to Jesus.
We sink into a sea of silliness.
A pond of pettiness.
We lose ourselves in bickering and strife.
And we can’t solve a thing.
There’s no healing in our bones.
We end up just like the disciples.
Bickering over our own importance.
Trying to trump one another.
With spiritual merit badges.
Who goes to church the most?
Who gives the most money?
Who’s been around the longest?
Who prays better?
Who knows more?
I’ve done it, too.
Every preacher I know has done it.
We’re all so full of ourselves, it hurts.
And there’s only one antidote.
Listen to Jesus.

Because Jesus offers to us how to be real, true and good.
How to be witnesses in this tangled and difficult world.
How to get a long with one another.
How to serve.
How to give.
Give way … to make way for the LORD, and for one another.
Give away … time, talent, treasure.
Open up.
Open up to the influence of the Holy Spirit.
Open up to one another, rely upon one another, help one another.
Lay down our lives for one another.
Build the kingdom.
Build up one another.
Bear one another’s burdens.
Forgive each other.
Strive for peace in the church … do not let the Devil win the day.

Seek the gifts of the Holy Spirit.
Seek the greatest gift of all - the gift of love.
Love is the greatest of all gifts.
Greater than faith.
Greater than hope.
God says to us today ...
For the sake of love ...
Listen to my Son!
Amen and Amen!

Sunday, February 12, 2012

"Theistic Evolution"

This is a LONG message - so I divided the liturgy up into three parts, each part with it's own character. Afterwards, I met with the congregation for a Confab with the Pastor.

Genesis 1; Hebrews 11.3; Colossians 1.15-20

I am forever grateful to my college Bible professor, the Rev. Dr. John Bratt, who introduced me to the term “theistic evolution” ... 

Theistic means God … and we know God by faith.
Evolution is the gift of science, and we know science by observation.

What does it mean when we say, “I believe in God the Father Almighty, creator of heaven and the earth.”
Two things:
First of all, God the Father is the root and source of all things, all things visible and invisible, what we see with the eyes of faith, and what we see with our natural eyes through a microscope and a telescope … in all things, God, and God in all things.
Second, heaven and earth are two peas in a pod - distinct and unique, forever connected … both are reliable, trustworthy, honest, because they’ve been created by a reliable, trustworthy and honest God.

Let’s consider for a few moments the creation story of Genesis 1 … 
God said, Let there be light. 
God IS the beginning, the source, the foundation … God IS the Big Bang, the author of the material world - from the smallest microbe to the largest star.
And after the light, everything else … 
God gives the earth generative powers - soil and water are able to bring forth their own life forms … God gives permission to the earth to be fertile, creative, generative.
Let the land produce … 
Let the waters teems with life … 
Let the land produce living creatures according to their kind …

God is the author of evolution … by God’s design, the earth brings forth new life-forms.

Scientists call it evolution.
The power of the earth to bring forth life … year after year, century after century … millions and billions of years … older than we can image, more profound than we’ll ever know … the power of life to generate life and even more life.

The fossil record tells a wonderful story … creative and inventive - change and growth … life on the move … jumbled and wild, glorious and good, powerful and beautiful, strange and mysterious … look at Grand Canyon, watch a lunar eclipse, see a child born, watch a loved one die.
Through a telescope: a universe expanding at the speed of light … billions of solar systems and galaxies … stars exploding and stars collapsing, dark holes and quarks.
Evolution - everything on the move … a story found in the sediments of the ocean, in the rocks of the highest mountains … in every leaf, in every bird, in every human being … evolution is the process by which life unfolds, and life generates even more life ... and God made it that way!

The Hebrew Poets give voice to this story … 
The glories of creation …  
And please remember, when Genesis 1 was written, Israel was in exile, in Babylon - Jerusalem in ruins, the temple a pile of rubble - it would seem that the gods of Babylon had won … and it wouldn’t be long before the children living in Babylon would make the shift - “Why bother with Yahweh; Yahweh lost. Babylonian gods won.”
The Hebrew Poets, theologians they were, preachers and teachers, crafted a story to capture the faith and their hope.
There is no God but God, the Creator heaven and earth.
The moon and the hippo are not gods.
Stars and birds are not gods.
Nor is the sun, the moon, nor anything else.
There is no God but God.
Please notice, the Hebrew Poets do not attack Babylon.
No ranting or raving.
But their faith is firm.
The hope is real.
The love is strong.
That’s what Genesis 1 is all about - faith, hope and love!

The creation stories are a confession of faith.
If I want to know HOW the earth and the universe came into being, I read a science book … if I want to read WHY the earth and the universe came into being, I read the Bible.
When the Bible is read well with the eyes of faith, when the earth and the universe are seen honestly and openly with the eyes of science, everything begins to dance, as God intended … 
Both the Bible and God’s creation are trustworthy, because God is trustworthy, and God is the creator of both, creator of heaven and earth, the Bible and Science.

Every day, I believe in God.
And every day, I believe in science.
Thank God for science.
The cars we drive, the food we eat, the clothes we wear, the medicine that heals us - all of this, from science. 
Thank God for scientists … surgeons cut out a tumor with lasers … 
Engineers build a rocket to lift tons of hardware into earth orbit …
Physicists probe the mysteries of the universe and smash atoms … 
Biologists search our jungles for medicine …
Geologists look for oil …

That some Christians would be distrustful of science, and make bizarre claims for a 6000-year old earth, a literal 7-day creation, flies in the face of reality and makes no sense for those who follow Jesus, who is the Truth.

At a Pepperdine Conference this spring on science and faith, two leading Christian scientists spoke to 600 people, most of whom were clergy.
Dr. Francis Collins, former head of the human genome project and now head of the National Science Foundation … and Dr. John Polkinghorne, British physicist and Anglican Priest.
Both pleaded with the clergy in the audience, “Go home, tell your people the truth. Creationism isn’t science, it’s pseudo-science. The world is billions of years old, not 6000; the seven days of Genesis are a poetic image, a metaphor of completion and beauty, not a literal description. Creationism is bad science at its worst. Creationism isn’t science at all. Creationism is claptrap and deception; it serves no godly purpose whatsoever. Please, go home, and help your congregations get straightened out on this one.”
When giants speak like this, I pay attention.
When men of faith, and men of science speak like this, I honor their words.
Why listen to some poor uneducated, misguided preacher, hungry for his own power rather than the glory of God?
Why listen to those who specialize in half-truths and lies?
Why waste our time on those who lead us only into further conflict and turmoil?
As for me and my house, I’ll pay attention to Dr. Francis Collins, and one no less than the Rev. Dr. John Polkinghorne.
These men are giants in faith and science.
And they speak the truth.
The truth of God’s love, and the truth of God’s creation.

“Theistic Evolution” my Bible Professor said.
And I will ever be grateful.
My Bible Professor gave to me the framework of understanding - an appreciation for the glories of the natural world as the scientist sees it, and the spiritual world as the eyes of faith see it, and in the simple words, Theistic Evolution, there is no conflict … only harmony between the glories of science the wonders of faith. Amen!

Movement #2 - Fundamentalism ...

I want to shift here to speak about fundamentalism … its condemnation of science and it’s misreading of Genesis.

Fundamentalism is afraid of science.
Research on the fundamentalist mind reveals fearfulness as a primary response to life - fear of strangers, fear of change, fear of god - for the fundamentalist, the world is full of enemies, dangers, and dark forces of Satan.
It’s hard to say whether fundamentalism MAKES people afraid, or whether fear creates fundamentalism … like the chicken and the egg question - what comes first!
But this much we know:
Fundamentalism is a religion of fear.
Be it Muslim, Jewish or Christian, is riddled with fear … where there is fear, faith and love struggle to survive, because faith is all about love … 
The Bible says: Their is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear.

Science shows us a large and ancient earth, a large and ancient universe … science tells us that we’re tiny, and we haven’t been around very long (even the poetry of Genesis reflects the late arrival of humankind) … after all, we were created last!
With a large universe, we feel small … nothing wrong with that … we are small … mighty, no doubt, but still small.
That’s a problem for fundamentalism.
Fundamentalists don’t like to feel small.
Which makes fundamentalists easy targets for those who preach power!
That’s why fundamentalism is drawn to the violent parts of the Bible - have you noticed that? 
Fundamentalists love images of war, conquest, victory, blood and guts, Armageddon, left behind stores, rapture and war, tanks and bombs!

Fundamentalism, furthermore, is a sad religion.
Fundamentalists long for a world when someone had all the answers, folks knew their place, god was on his throne, all was right with the world … a world that never existed, as fundamentalists imagine.
And that’s the problem.
A world imagined that never existed is no help whatsoever to any of us.
The backward glance cripples and stymies progress.
Remember Lot’s wife?
She looked backward to what she was leaving … and she turned into a pillar of salt, forever stuck in time and place, unable to move ahead.
Fundamentalists are very much like Lot’s wife - looking backward … they try to reclaim the past in order to save the future.
Fundamentalists spend a lot of time grieving about what they’ve lost … and like Lot’s wife, are stuck in time and place.

I am not a fundamentalist.
I’ve never been a fundamentalist.
I am a Calvinist - a Calvinist Christian.
And that means Presbyterian … mainstream Presbyterian.

Mainstream Presbyterians have always had a deep respect for science, BECAUSE we believe in the creator God who made heaven and earth.
God is Truthful and honest.
And so is the world God created.

When a scientist looks at the fossil record, when a chemist probes the life of a cancer cell, when a biologist studies ants in the Amazon - they’re dealing with a reliable earth - mysterious and wondrous, for sure - complex and detailed beyond all imagination … but a world reliable and trustworthy and honest.
The fossil record is not a lie, as some fundamentalists have said.
The fossil record is not the Devil’s doing, as some fundamentalists have said.
The world God created is truthful, reliable, honest and trustworthy … available to us for study!

Calvinist Christians are not afraid of science.
We trust God.
We trust the earth God created.
Calvinism is a robust faith.
We welcome change and new ideas … we’re explorers and those who ask questions … 
We think, because we love the LORD with our minds. 
We’re welcome questions, because our salvation is secure in Jesus Christ.
We let God’s love be bigger than we are.
We keep on growing, going and evolving.

What’s at stake here?
Truth is at stake!
Jesus said, I the way, the truth and the life.
Truth is in the middle of that phrase.
Truth is the fulcrum on which the way and the life are balanced.
Without truth, the way becomes clouded and muddled.
Without truth, life becomes wrangling and strife.
The truth sets us free, says Jesus.
Christ has set us free for freedom, says Paul the Apostle.

And freedom is what’s missing from fundamentalism.
Fundamentalism doesn’t like freedom.
Whether it be Muslim, Jewish, Hindu or Christian fundamentalism - there isn’t a dime’s worth of difference between any of them, they don’t like freedom - it’s all about control and conformity, rules and laws: fundamentalism makes everyone think alike, behave the same way, believe the same things, sing the same songs, dress alike and never, ever, ask questions or raise doubts.

But questions and doubts are the handmaidens of truth.
Only those who dare to ask question can truly learn.
Those who are willing to challenge the status quo find a way to a better day.
Remember, Christ set us free, but it took his crucifixion and death to make it so … freedom of thought and life is never easy to win!

There was a time when Christians believed and taught that the earth was flat and the sun revolved around the earth.

There was a time when Christians called Jews Christ-killers and believed that it was all right for marauding soldiers to kill Jews now and then.

There was a time when European Christians believed and taught that people of color were less than human - that people of color could be chained and sold as slaves, because they were the condemned race of Ham, Genesis 9.

There was a time when Christian men believed and taught that women were a man’s property, that a women had no place in the world other than to give birth and stand by a stove - women couldn’t vote, couldn’t preach, couldn’t go to school and couldn’t have a public life.

All of these ideas were defended by Bible quotes.
Popes and Preachers proclaimed these ideas as God’s eternal truth, and woe to the one who would disobey any of them.
We have to clear - Christians haven’t always been on the forefront of thought and change.
We’ve been like Lot’s wife, dragging our feet, looking backward, when we should have been looking ahead.
Moses out front.
Joshua crossing the river.
Elijah ahead of the chariot.
Jesus going on ahead of us.

Thank God for those who truly read the Bible.
Thank God for those who ask big questions.
Thank God for for those who help us all find a better day.

Let’s take a quick trip back to Victorian England.
The mid 1800s. 
Darwin’s Origen of the Species, 1859.
Two years before the American Civil War.
Opposition exploded against Darwin.
And we might well ask why?
Victorian England, a world of nobility and high-church clergy.
The nobility and the clergy feared the idea of evolution in nature, because they feared, even more, social evolution.
The nobility and the clergy lived in luxury.
They believed they were entitled:
“It is god’s will for us to rule, to live a life of privilege and leisure, while God condemns others to lives of cruel labor.”

An interesting side-note here: Darwin and his family, for generations, had been engaged in the struggle to end Britain’s slave trade.
When Darwin looked at the world, Darwin saw a changing world, and evolving world.
Plants and animals, and all of humanity, a common life.
For Darwin, we’re all in this together - red and yellow, black and white - we’re all sisters and brothers in the great family of God.
Darwin was a man of faith.
He believed in God.
But also a scientist who wanted to the know the truth of the world.
When Darwin saw the patterns of evolution, Darwin saw hope … hope for the world … hope for a better social condition.
Darwin believed that things could change … change for the better.

And that’s what we need, change for the better.
Something better than the strife and conflict of fundamentalism.
Something better than dragging our heels and clinging to the past.
Something better than fear and violence.
Something better than a fear of learning and a fear of change!

We need something much better.
And we have it.
We have it all in Jesus Christ our LORD.
His love and his truth.
The truth that sets us free! Amen!

Movement #3

What kind of a world does God hold before us?
But a world of love and freedom.
Freedom of conscience and freedom of expression.
Freedom of choice.
Freedom for scientists to study the world without fear … freedom for teachers to teach the best that science offers, and freedom for students to learn.
Freedom to make mistakes, and freedom to be dumb!
Freedom to grow and freedom experiment.
Freedom to venture far away into the fields of the LORD.
Freedom to be a Prodigal Son, or a tempestuous Peter.
Freedom explore and enjoy the world God created.

I want to live in God’s world.
A world of glorious freedom and beauty.
A world of forgiveness and welcome.
A world so large, there’s room for all of us.
Room for love and room for hope.
A world filled with mystery and delight and wonder.
A world big enough to keep us in our place.
A world kind enough so we can all feel at home!

We worship a God who encourages us to take chances, run risks, think deeply … dance with all of our might, and love one another profoundly.

We worship a God with whom science and faith are never at odds, because God is the source of both.
Because of my faith in God and what the Bible says, I accept what science says about the age of the earth and the universe … it makes sense, and it’s reasonable … because God makes sense, and God is reasonable, and the Bible is trustworthy and reliable … 

Because of my faith in God and what the Bible says,, I accept Darwin’s premise - that life evolves, and continues to evolve, over millions and billions of years. I thrill in this big world, and I rejoice in God’s wonder and mystery and love … because it’s all created by a loving God … it’s really neat what science sees and finds … age up age, eon upon eon … millions and billions of years - what a wonderful story; what a wonderful God.

Because of my faith in God and what the Bible says, there is no conflict between faith and science.
We can rightly say.
And rightly believe.
What my Bible Professor taught me so many years ago - the wonder and the glory, Theistic Evolution … in all things, God, and God in all things!

Glory be to God.
One God, one world, constantly on the move.
One God, one humanity, bound together in common cause.
Christ at the center, holding it all together.
Moving it along to the great gettin’ up mornin’, when all things are brought together, things in heaven and things on earth.
With a great love that casts out all fear.
With a pure and loving truth that sets us free.
That’s the world God holds before.
Amen and Amen!

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

"Moving On"

Mark 1.29-39

If we could visit Capernaum today, we would find the remains of a fourth- or fifth-century synagogue built on the site of a first-century synagogue … and nearby, the excavated ruins of a first-century home that had later been incorporated into a fourth- or fifth-century church.
A case has been made for this home as the home of none other than Simon Peter.
Our text says: After leaving the synagogue, Jesus, James and John went home with Simon and Andrew.

In these few words, we have a world of meaning … a story … early Christians leave the synagogue to form house churches.

Mark was written some 30 years after the Jesus story, and by this time, Christians were well-established in house churches.

When Paul writes to the Church in Rome, he’s writing to maybe 25 or 30 house-churches, some of which were rather large, and others probably quite small.

In the first 300 years of the Christian Movement, there were no church buildings, only homes … 
The home was central to the practice of the faith … to this very day, for our Jewish sisters and brothers, the two central rites of Judaism - circumcision and Passover - are celebrated in the home.

It’s the home where Judaism is celebrated - where the stories of Passover are told and the foods of passover are eaten … it’s in the home where circumcision, or the bris, is performed by a Mohel, someone specially trained in the procedure.

The home is the emotional and spiritual center of Judaism.

Christians met in homes, too.
For the first 300 years … 
After Constantine’s conversion in the year 325, and the Christianization of the Roman Empire, Christians begin to meet in buildings, many of them public buildings, to be used for the new religion of the Roman Empire, Christianity.
The Emperor couldn’t have folks meeting in homes any longer.
The Emperor needed more pomp and circumstance.
Along with new and larger buildings, the sacraments of baptism and the LORD’S Supper were taken from the home and transferred to the church building, and more sacraments were added.
Priests became the officiants; only the priest could administer the water of baptism, break bread and pour the cup … only the priest could dispense forgiveness and healing, and eternal hope in the last rites before death.

Several years ago, I asked Dick Mouw, President of Fuller Theological Seminary, about this … I asked him, “Did Jesus intend for the sacraments to be formally located in the church with only priestly hands handling them?”
Dick replied, “Nothing could have been further from the mind of our LORD.”

Jesus was comfortable in homes.
Eating, drinking … teaching.
So much of it in homes.
Which reminds me … 
A 25-year-old son moved back home with an eye toward socking away money to buy a condo. His folks never asked how long he’d planned to stay, but they got a pretty good idea when Dad walked into the son’s room. On his desk, a gallon milk jug with a few coins in it, and a label that read "Condo down payment."

An exciting development in the last 40 years has been small groups and in the last 10 years, the Emergent Church Movement - much of this going on in homes.

In Ohio, a large church, no church building, only house-churches … all of their money goes into ministry and mission.
When they all get together, from time-to-time, they rent a building.

Can you imagine how much money would be freed up if Christians didn’t have buildings to support?
All the fights about paint and carpet would disappear overnight!

I was a part of a house fellowship some years back.
We gathered for prayer and study every Sunday night.
The host was responsible for snacks, drinks and the sacrament.
The words of institution, prayers, bread broken, cup poured … Jesus in our midst.
Some of us thought: how what if the church met entirely in homes once a month, on a Sunday morning - dozens of homes across the city - how much easier to invite friends, neighbors to our homes.

When Jesus arrives at the home, Peter’s mother-in-law is so ill she can’t provide for her guests … 
Jesus goes to her … takes her by the hand, raises her up, and the fever is gone.
The the Bible says, she served them.
That’s the story Morning Glory.

Why in the world would Jesus heal us.
For what purpose.
But that we might get up and serve one another.
This is our singular purpose.
Our mutual calling.
What it means to be a human being.
What it means to be a Christian.
But to serve one another.

But the story is clear: we cannot serve until we’re healed.
Our story isn’t entirely about physical illness.
I’ve known people with terrible infirmities who serve the LORD and God’s people with dignity and joy.
I’ve know others, with healthy bodies, but their spirit is feverish … they’re bedfast and unable to get up and serve.
The touch of Christ restores us to our purpose.
The touch of Christ heals us, so that we can get up and serve one another.

Our fevers are many:
Paul’s list in Galatians says it well:
Fornication, impurity, licentiousness - sins of the flesh.
Idolatry, sorcery - sins of the spirit.
Enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy - sins of the community.
Drunkenness, carousing - sins of personal irresponsibility.
We must be on the alert for the health of our soul.
Peter warns his readers:
Discipline yourselves, keep alert. Like a roaring lion your adversary the devil prowls around, looking for someone to devour. Resist him, steadfast in your faith.
Paul writes to the house churches in Ephesus:
Put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil
Take the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one.

It behooves us to pray mightily for the healing of God.
To welcome Jesus when he comes to us.
Take his hand as he takes ours.
Now is the time of our healing.
Jesus gives us a chance to get up and get going.
“Promptly and sincerely,” as Calvin says.
To serve one another in the fullness of love, the love of our Lord Jesus Christ.
To whom be the glory.
Now and forever more.
Amen and Amen!