Monday, April 4, 2016

Stages of Discipleship

This is the outline I preached from at St Stephen's in Hurst. Audio is on the right sidebar in the PodBean Player. 

Stages of Discipleship
Sermon Easter 2C

Movement in the Readings – LOTS

Locked Room – Praise Psalm – Writing Letters to Others to tell what God has done – Teaching and Getting into Trouble for it

Fear – Adoration – Excitement – Responsibility of making more Disciples

How do we move from one to another?
Collect: How do we show forth in our lives what we profess in our faith?
Lenten Discipline?

Where are you?
Where is St Stephen’s?

Jesus blesses US today – did you hear it? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe – that’s US. Take that blessing – be emboldened to move to the next stage.

Alleluia. Christ is risen!

The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia!

Sunday, March 13, 2016

You will Always have the Poor among You

Today we find ourselves back in the house of Mary, Martha and Lazarus. We’ve been here before when Martha was mad at Mary for not helping serve dinner, when Mary and Martha were grieving the death of Lazarus – and then celebrating his resurrection. These three siblings are very dear to Jesus – there is a great mutual love shared in this house. I think that of all the places that Jesus teaches and all the dinners he attends, THIS is where I would’ve liked to have sat and listened to our Lord interact with his closest friends and disciples. I can picture the scene as intimate and lively, full of love, mutually shared among all these great friends.

It is in his tribe of good friends and disciples that Jesus makes a curious statement, "For you always have the poor with you, but you don't always have me" (v. 8).  To my Gen-X ears, this sounds like a callous statement of fact – Jesus knows that in 2016 we have not yet solved the puzzle of poverty – and maybe he doesn’t think we ever will. However, Jesus is referring to the Torah, and the complete verse reads, "For the poor will never cease out of the land: therefore I command you, saying, "You shall surely open your hand to your brother, to your needy, and to your poor, in your land" (Deuteronomy 15:11). 

In 2016, we have not solved the puzzle of poverty – so as cynical as it sounds, Jesus is exactly right. We are his body gathered together here this morning and we have not come to a solution, as Christians. Judas may believe the anointing in the story to be the most scandalous part, but I am inclined to think that knowing our children and elders are going to bed hungry is much more scandalous. How do we open our hands to the poor? The Gospel today points us to the worries we still face.

In Wichita Falls, we partnered with a couple of my seminary classmates and their churches to feed the homeless one night a month. ECWF provided food for about 80 people one night a quarter. It was a lot of work: some provided ingredients, some helped serve, some cooked, some donated money, and some did any combination of those things. For a church with an average Sunday attendance of about 25 while I was there, it was quite the undertaking.  We served the meal at a church across the street from the homeless shelter – where the people would later spend the night and would have eaten anyway. So why do it? Others might rightly say, like Judas, that we would have been smarter to donate the money to the shelter and let those good people there provide for the needs of the poor and homeless.  It’s quite the quandary, right?
Here’s where Mary’s anointing and Jesus’ defense of her comes into all of this for me. There is something valuable – something necessary – something essential – in serving face-to-face.  Martha served Jesus dinner, Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, Mary anoints Jesus on the day before he will be arrested by the Sanhedrin – this is all Incarnational ministry – in the flesh – face-to-face serving each other. Because there is something about looking another of God’s Beloveds in the eye and serving them. Yes, sometimes it might be smarter to serve from a distance, with money or supplies or legislative work or letter writing or whatever. But there is something about standing in front of another of God’s Beloved, realizing that in serving them, you also are being blessed. It’s a mystery, and it is true. We are called as Christians into service that is intimate and messy, as we stand open-handed with the least, the lost and last.

You all are a fairly new Tribe of Christians in Wise County. I live one county over, so I do not know the specifics in Decatur and the surrounding area. All I know is what I have observed in the last 30+ years of driving through here. When I used to drive from Archer City to Denton to visit friends at North Texas State University, Decatur was a place to stop for a Dr. Pepper and stretch my legs, either at the McDonalds, the Dairy Queen, or if I went though town, at the convenience store where I made the turn to get to 380. It has changed now and rightly so. It feels to me now as though Decatur is joining the outer band of suburbs of Ft Worth. When I go on through Decatur from my dad’s place in Joy to my FM 407 Exit, I can see Decatur reaching further and further south toward the metroplex. I wonder who all is being displaced by the demographic shifts here? I wonder who is making out like a bandit by selling land to developers and whose land is being claimed by imminent domain? And we are right back to that quandary that Judas knowingly pointed out: I am sure some are profiting while securing the future of their children and grandchildren, and I am sure some are being displaced from family homesteads. How can this Tribe of Christians known as Episcopalians in Wise County stand up as the body of Christ in the midst of it all? I know I only hear a fraction of the shenanigans in Denton County, but the actions of some of the developers are shocking over there: backing one candidate and getting special rules put into place that are not in the best interest of all – I’m sure some of that happens here too, or will soon. How are you all called to serve the voiceless and the uninformed? Who will interrupt the corruption that sometimes occurs in these transitional times?

As we ponder the puzzle of how best to stand with and serve the poor right here, right now, let us remember Paul’s inspiration this day, “but this one thing I do: …I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.” Amen.

As always, what is written and what was preached actually varies. The audio version is on the Podbean Player on the right sidebar.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

My Visit to a Lutheran Contemporary Service – 2nd Sunday after Christmas

As I was wondering about where I would go to church yesterday, I decided to check the offerings of the churches in the neighborhood. The local Lutheran church had a contemporary service and I decided to see how our ecumenical siblings do that. I would go again - it was well done and gave me some new ideas. 

Order of Worship (70 minutes total) – screens, no bulletin
            1 Praise and Worship song
            1 Christmas hymn
            Opening Prayer
            1 Christmas hymn
            “Noisy” Offering for local outreach with video
            Gospel reading & Sermon (25 minutes)
            Gospel Reflection by Worship Leader while children brought in
            1 Christmas hymn
            Communion & Peace (Music by band – no communal singing)
            Offering with Video
            Closing Prayer
            Closing Christmas hymn

            I arrived at 10:20 for 10:30 service – did not park in visitor parking. An usher at the door of sanctuary greeted me. I was told worship band was still rehearsing and they didn’t usually open the doors until 10:30, but that I could go on in. I was glad of that because I would have been more uncomfortable standing alone in the narthex than sitting alone in a pew. There were about ten people already in the space – other visitors who do not know the norm? The worship band worked out kinks until 10:28 when the ushers asked if they could open the doors. A 5-minute countdown clock started on the screen as people came into the space. Service began about 10:35.
            I loved the idea of the “Noisy” offering for local outreach. Metal buckets were passed – maybe painted by youth? – people shook them playfully as they passed the buckets to make noise. The emphasis was for noisy money, but there was silent money in there also. I was slightly concerned that it was the regular offering also, and maybe I had missed my chance to drop in the check I had remembered to complete at home. 
            The Peace was at the end of the words of institution and after the communion instruction (which was very clear and well done). The regular offering followed communion and a video was shown for a Financial Peace University class starting in January.

            Afterwards, I walked to my car. The pastor was a member there, but not on staff. The usual pastor was on vacation.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Choose Life!

As you all know by now, I am usually a strictly Lectionary preacher. But today, I am going to bring in another text. Today, I want you all to also hear the words of Moses to his people. Moses had led them through the Wilderness and knew that he would not be able to lead them further – he would not accompany his beloved people to the Promised Land. So today, I am using his words as a framework for my final sermon among you all:
Moses said,
This commandment that I’m commanding you today isn’t too much for you, it’s not out of your reach. It’s not on a high mountain—you don’t have to get mountaineers to climb the peak and bring it down to your level and explain it before you can live it. And it’s not across the ocean—you don’t have to send sailors out to get it, bring it back, and then explain it before you can live it. No. The word is right here and now—as near as the tongue in your mouth, as near as the heart in your chest. Just do it!

Before we get to Moses’ commandment, I want to remind you all of what we have all done together over this last year:
     ·      50 people for Christmas eve services
·      Bylaws passed
·      Upgraded Sound System
·      Helped launch new church in deanery
·      Lived through several rearrangements of our space
·      Bishop High at Palm Sunday
·      Seder Dinner with WF MCC
·      60 people for Easter services
·      Power Packs for Kids >300 per packing
·      Covered houses for Parade of Homes – met many new friends
·      Started Downtown Dinner: 6/16, 9/15, 12/15
·      Sent two of us to General Convention
·      Welcomed New Members
·      Ferris Teacher’s Lunch & School Supply Donations
·      First Combined Audit
·      Racial Reconciliation
·      Hosted Executive Council
·      Bishop Mayer Visit
·      Joint Deanery Project: Ramp for Marsha
·      St Francis Blessing – Outside
·      All Hallows’ Eve & Trunk or Treat
·      Live Broadcast of Presiding Bishop Michael Curry’s Installation
·      Hosted live music concert for WF MCC friends
 “Just do it” – and we did!

Here is Moses’ Commandment to his beloved people
And I command you today: Love God, your God. Walk in his ways. Keep his commandments… so that you will live, really live, live exuberantly, blessed by God, your God, in the land you are about to enter and possess.

I do not know what land you are about to enter and possess – I have no idea what God is up to here – Moses didn’t know for sure either. He did know that was not his to worry about – that God knows and God is working. It may take another 40 years for God’s work THIS DAY to be known in this place. Just as our Biblical ancestors showed us, we will continue to worship and praise God, trusting that was are all God’s beloveds as we move forward.

Mary and Elizabeth show us that same faithfulness and trust in God in our Gospel lesson today. Childbirth could be the beginning of the end for any woman, statistically much more so for Mary and Elizabeth in their day – yet they are happy to be carrying new life. They are celebrating their pregnancies and dreaming about how their lives will change. They are birthing the future, just as you all are here. Dream big dreams and live, truly live exuberantly, blessed by God as you nurture and raise up the Episcopal Church of Wichita Falls.

Moses continues, for us and for his people,
I call Heaven and Earth to witness today: I place before you Life and Death, Blessing and Curse. Choose life so that you and your children will live. And love God, your God, listening obediently to him, firmly embracing him. Oh yes, he is life itself, a long life settled on the soil that God, your God, promised to give your ancestors, Abraham [and Sarah], Isaac [and Rebekah], and Jacob, [Leah and Rachel].

All that you need is here. You are courageous and beloved  – Just like Mary and Elizabeth – pregnant with possibilities – Choose Life!