Sermons

We’re In This Together

Posted on Sep 15, 2015 in Sermons

 

Genesis 2:4-25New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

These are the generations of the heavens and the earth when they were created.

Another Account of the Creation

In the day that the Lord[a] God made the earth and the heavens, when no plant of the field was yet in the earth and no herb of the field had yet sprung up—for the Lord God had not caused it to rain upon the earth, and there was no one to till the ground; but a stream would rise from the earth, and water the whole face of the ground— then the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground,[b] and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being. And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east; and there he put the man whom he had formed. Out of the ground the Lord God made to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food, the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

10 A river flows out of Eden to water the garden, and from there it divides and becomes four branches. 11 The name of the first is Pishon; it is the one that flows around the whole land of Havilah, where there is gold; 12 and the gold of that land is good; bdellium and onyx stone are there. 13 The name of the second river is Gihon; it is the one that flows around the whole land of Cush. 14 The name of the third river is Tigris, which flows east of Assyria. And the fourth river is the Euphrates.

15 The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it. 16 And the Lord God commanded the man, “You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; 17 but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.”

18 Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper as his partner.” 19 So out of the ground the Lord God formed every animal of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name. 20 The man gave names to all cattle, and to the birds of the air, and to every animal of the field; but for the man[c] there was not found a helper as his partner. 21 So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept; then he took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. 22 And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. 23 Then the man said,

“This at last is bone of my bones
and flesh of my flesh;
this one shall be called Woman,[d]
for out of Man[e] this one was taken.”

24 Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh. 25 And the man and his wife were both naked, and were not ashamed.

 

We’re In This Together

Please pray with me:  May the words of my mouth and the meditation of all our hearts, be acceptable and pleasing Your sight, O Lord, our Rock and our Redeemer.  Amen.

 

I’m going to let you in on a little secret:  There are passages in the Bible that even Pastor’s don’t like to preach on.  These passages are not universal.  Each of us have our favorite passages and passages we try to avoid.  This mornings scripture is such a one for me.  So, just a little background on myself:  I was raised in the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod.  The Missouri Synod part is important – because Missouri Synod Lutheran’s think they are the only REAL Lutherans and they are very conservative – so much so that I remember when growing up, we would refer to the Southern Baptists as “those liberals!”  In my teen years I attended the Assemblies of God church in my neighborhood.  It was in these two denominations that I received my foundational biblical and theological teachings as a child.  And it was in these two denominations that this particular story of Adam and Eve was taught to instill in us very specific gender roles.  So although both males and females were taught what their “proper” roles were, the fact of the matter is, this account of Adam and Eve was the foundation story that many churches then, and still do today, use to keep women out of the pulpit, out of leadership in church, and in some denominations attempt to keep women out of any kind of leadership in society in general.  So for myself, I much prefer the other Adam and Eve story from Genesis 1:26-27:  “Then God said, ‘Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.’ So God created humankind in His image, in the image of God He created them; male and female God created them.”  To me, a much more beautiful story of all of us, male and female alike, being created in the image of God.  So, I’m sure you can understand then that when I looked at the Narrative Lectionary, all excited about being able to preach on the different stories of the Bible, and I see that THE VERY FIRST ONE for this church year is the Genesis 2 account.  I looked at the Lectionary, my bubble burst, I looked up and said, “Seriously, my first week?”  And, here we are…

Those of you who were here last week might recall that the scripture I used last week was I Corinthians 12: 12-27, “One Body, Many Members,” and in my sermon I mentioned that it is precisely the scriptures that we want to avoid, that we should face head on.  So it is with this in mind that I prayed and I tackled, and I studied this account of Adam and Eve and prayed that I would find the message God would have for us.

In verse 18 it says, “It is not good that man should be alone, I will make a helper as his partner.”  In God’s divine and infinite wisdom, God created each of us to live in relationship with God and with each other.  God never intended any of us to go it alone in life.  Now, please don’t misunderstand.  I am not talking about marriage here.  Not everyone gets married, nor do I believe it was ever in God’s divine plan that every person gets married, but marriage aside, none of us goes through this life truly by ourselves.  Everyone has and is part of a community.

Just as it is God’s plan that we live our lives in community, it is God’s plan that we live our faith in community.  God never intended our faith to be solitary.  We worship together on Sunday mornings, but that should only be the start.  As Christians we are called to live out our faith together.  When people tell me, “my faith is very personal and private, it’s between me and God,”  I wonder how a faith that is private and solitary can sustain itself, much less grow?  We need each other to grow, we need each other to accomplish the work that God is calling us to, male and female, young, aged, and in-between, all colors, cultures, and creeds – for each of us is created in the image of God to help fulfill God’s divine plan.

Most churches today, and this includes SouthPark Christian Church are in the process of discerning how best to be church in the 21st century.  What is our purpose, and how does a faith established in a different time and culture relate to us today?  We have entered a time at SouthPark of discerning the future ministry of this congregation.  What is important to us today?  What has changed within us in the past several years?  Who do we believe God is calling us to be?  What are we looking for in the next settled pastor?  This is the discernment we do together.

About a month ago I preached and at the conclusion of my sermon I asked you to write down two things:  One, what you envision community looks like at SouthPark Christian Church, and Two:  What was it that made you want to join this community? The responses were honest, truthful, beautiful, and amazingly, very similar.  I want to share them with you.  The following ones are how you envision this Church:

  • “Open minded, welcoming, warm, inviting, loving church for all.
  • I wish this church community will stay strong over the years to come and may it be filled with lots of members that there will be no empty seats every Sunday.
  • I envision this church as a place where people are not judged but are inspired by the Holy Presence.
  • Open minded; outwardly focused.
  • We are all a big family no matter what…color or sexual orientation.
  • Love, welcome, openness, questioning, giving, honesty, acceptance.
  • Joy
  • Community is EVERYONE – the same and different from me.
  • I envision a church where we submit to God’s will and let the petty issues go.
  • My wish for the SPCC community is an apolitical environment with no other agenda than to worship God through His son, Jesus.
  • Family
  • Love, open, healthy, focused on what to do for others.
  • SouthPark is a community to me, I know I am welcome and cared for; I feel valued. I do feel that this is my family.
  • I wish for this to be a open, loving, caring community.
  • I want us to always be a busy church. Busy with each other, helping those less fortunate and learning to walk in the steps of Christ.
  • Our church – open to all. Having a place for each person to take part.  Open to our community and it’s needs.  Open to togetherness and love of each other.
  • We need more support to get more members with the caring spirit we have to reach out to the community.
  • Encouraging, united, helpful.
  • What community means to me is a sense of belonging as an equal member.
  • I wish SouthPark to be more Christ-like in all that we are, say, do, believe. If it didn’t matter to Christ, I pray that it won’t matter to us. If it does matter to Christ, then let it matter to us.
  • Community – love everyone, share and take care of everyone. Recognize we are all in God’s image – therefore all are to be loved.
  • Community means family.
  • A place of peace and welcome.
  • Open, happy, accepting.
  • I want it to be welcoming to all, peaceful but a place of fun and joy. Many people with many ideas joining together for one worship.
  • A place where God is seen as working.
  • I would like our church to reach out to Assisted Living and Nursing homes in our area.
  • To be open to all, to serve all and for the church to help give guidance/facilitate ways to serve.
  • As children of God and Christ we offer that same acceptance and love to all – with no exceptions.
  • More people, more people, more people.

 

Do you see a theme here?  Loving, welcoming, open, accepting, joyful.  These words, these ideas, describe the foundation on which we move into the future of who God is calling us to be.  What exactly this will look like in one year, 5 years, 10 years, we don’t know yet, but we have right here the foundation to build upon.  And guess what, this foundation is solidly supported by Biblical principals.  Micah 6:8 says, “What does the Lord require of you, but to act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God.”  Jesus states in Matthew 22 – “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind, and love your neighbor as yourself.  For all of the Laws and Prophets hang on these two commandments.”  Loving, welcoming, open, accepting, joyful.  We have the foundational tools.  To move forward, we need YOU.  EACH AND EVERY ONE OF YOU.  Every person in this Sanctuary today, those who can’t be with us today, and those who haven’t yet found us yet, we are all needed to do this job.  We’re in this together.  “It is not good to be alone, I will make a helper” says the Lord our God.

Friends, hear the good news today:  SouthPark Christian Church has a very bright and promising future.  God has a plan for us and together we listen, work, and live into the Community God has and is calling us to be.

Amen.

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Not Far From The Kingdom of God

Posted on Sep 10, 2015 in Sermons

“NOT FAR FROM THE KINGDOM OF GOD”

 

Mark 12:28-34

 

August 30, 2015

Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Southpark Christian Church

 

“You are not far from the Kingdom of God,” Jesus said to the scribe who originally asked him which was the greatest commandment.  And then Mark tells us, “After that no one dared ask him any question.”

Which could lead you to wonder if being near the Kingdom of God was a bad thing.

“I’m not asking him anything.  Did you hear that the last guy to ask him a question was not far from the Kingdom of God?  So you ask him, not me!”

Now, if that’s not it, then what was the curious silence and refusal to ask him anything else at the end of this story?  Was it that one of the scribes, who usually had an adversarial relationship with Jesus, compliments Jesus on his answer about the greatest commandment and reaffirms it with his own commentary?

Jesus said that there were no commandments greater than these – loving God with your whole self and loving your neighbor as yourself – and the scribe added, “These are much more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.”  In other words, he was agreeing with Jesus.  If now, Jesus’ enemies were his friends, maybe people were confused about who belonged where in Jesus’ world.

Or maybe they thought Jesus’ statement was really deep.  Such things – loving God with whole self and neighbor as self – the scribe said were much more important than the offerings and rituals performed in the Holy Temple everyday.  And then Jesus said he was close to the Kingdom of God.  How could turning your back on the holiest of rituals and towards loving your neighbors bring you to the precipice of God’s Kingdom?

Maybe this is difficult for us to figure out because if you have been in Church for very long this statement by Jesus is very familiar and very comfortable to you.  This story is repeated in both Matthew and Luke – you should look them up because both of those gospel authors change Mark’s original story in ways that fit their theology.  In addition, Matthew quotes the passage in a couple variations of the saying.  It is also found in Paul’s letters as well as in the Book of James.  Of course Jesus was quoting two passages from the Hebrew Bible:  the first from Deuteronomy 6 and the second from Leviticus 19.  This idea of loving God with your whole self and your neighbor as yourself has been a vital part of the Christian faith since the end of the first century.

So, why was the crowd silent after they heard Jesus tell the scribe, “You are not far from the Kingdom of God”?

 

 

There is a trap in all religions, whereby rituals performed by the pious can become more important than people.  All religions have their rituals from the Church’s Eucharist or Islam’s pilgrimage to Mecca, to making food offerings and prayers to Hindu gods or Yom Kippur in the Jewish faith.  Christians cannot claim to be any less ritualistic than other religions.

To be devoted to prayer, to fasting, to pilgrimages, to silence, to tithing and generous offering calls for sacrifices great and small and often we call such persons devout.  To be deeply religious there is a general idea that such matters must be practiced and those that do not practice them are less devout.  However, it can often be the case that such practices are rather safe.  Sacrificial, yes, but also safe.  When you pray to an icon, the icon does not insult you or ask you for gas money or rent money.  When you write an offering check for a charity, it does not ask you for a ride once a week to the store, or argue with you in a church committee.  When you fast during Lent your stomach might get hungry during meal times, but you won’t have to dig in your pocket for every panhandler around town, or have difficult conversations about race with people from different backgrounds.  Piety is controlled.  Rituals are predictable.  People are not.

The emphasis by Jesus that loving God with your whole self is tied to loving your neighbor as yourself means that Christianity cannot be practiced by acts of piety alone.  It has to be practiced in community, which means it has to be practiced with real human beings and for human beings.  With people who are grumpy and self-centered, with people who worry and get scared and while they want to do the right thing often do the thing they think keeps them safe.  It means that it has to be practiced with people who break your heart, who make you mad, who disappoint you, and who also love you madly and cause you to do things you never planned on doing.

It’s a lot easier to take the Eucharist, fast, make pilgrimages, take silent retreats.  Not that there is any thing wrong with rituals of spiritual practice.  They can be transformative experiences.  It’s just that when the scribe said loving God with your whole being and your neighbor as yourself was more important than any ritual, Jesus told him that he was not far from the Kingdom of God.

We cannot get to the love of God without going through the love of others.

 

 

Did you notice that the scribe asked Jesus what was the greatest commandment of them all?  He didn’t ask for the top two.

We may think that loving God with your whole self and loving neighbor as yourself are two commands.  Jesus didn’t.  Two parts maybe.  Tethered together.  Two sides of the same coin.  Back to back.  In Jesus’ mind the two great commandments were inseparable.  The scribe did not ask Jesus what were the top two commandments — just the greatest one.  But Jesus can’t speak of one without the other.

The first part was a gimme.  “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind,” was central in Jewish theology.  The Shema, it was called.  A 13-year-old boy preparing for his Bar Mitzvah could have gotten that one right.

The second is ultimately what kept people from asking him any more questions.

The two great commandments, when paired as one, complement each other.  One is more heavenly directed, the other is more earthly directed.  One is spiritual, the other physical.  One focuses on the invisible God, the other focuses on face-to-face humans.

To be in a right relationship with God it takes both of those loves.  The tiny New Testament book of I John says it over and over — “Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. . . Beloved since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another.  No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us. . .

“Those who say, ‘I love God,’ and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen.  The commandment we have from him is this:  those who love God must love their brothers and sisters, also.”

But of course as Luke showed us in his version of the story we read today, whom we define as our brothers and sisters, whom we define as neighbor, makes all the difference.

 

 

 

The Randall Kerrick trial has exposed a divide in our city that seems to always be lurking under the surface.  The Charlotte Observer tried to tell us that the trial was not about race even while its first sentence after the mistrial was announced was that this was a case about a white police officer shooting an unarmed black man.  It’s not about race, they said, but their very first sentence defined the accused and the victim by race.  How is it that white people generally saw this trial from one viewpoint, while people of color generally saw it from a different viewpoint – confirmed by the racial breakout of the jury’s decision?  Can we say that we really love our neighbor if we cannot even see the world through his or her eyes?

CMS is re-examining diversity and questioning the morality of re-segregating our schools.  In the next few months we will be hearing about a new student reassignment plan.  There will be listening sessions and community input.  Even if the school board can come to an agreement, which will in some way re-integrate our schools, will white parents be willing to send their children to school with racial minorities, and will middle-class parents of all races send their children to school with poor children?  Can we say that we really love our neighbor as ourselves if we will not send our children to school with their children?

The Supreme Court decision this summer making marriage equality the law of the land has created a backlash.  Caterers and photographers and county clerks are saying they will not serve same-sex couples.  It is against their religious beliefs.  So, they are going to prove their love for God by a lack of kindness and charity for people who have different beliefs.  In what way is that loving your neighbor as yourself?

When this church or any church in our city tries to serve Jesus by ministering to the poor, will we do it as neighbors and friends, or as the privileged helping the poor?  When you do Room in the Inn do you sit with your guests and enjoy a meal and conversation with them as people, or do you stay in the kitchen and serve them from a distance?

Your former pastors, Greg and Helms, are trying to live out neighbor love and love of God by choosing to live in a poor neighborhood and building bridges across racial lines.  Is that what God is calling all of us to do?  In what ways will this congregation keep the relationship with your former pastors in order that you can love your neighbors in Enderly Park?

Maybe these are the reasons no one asked Jesus any more questions.  You are not far from the Kingdom of God, Jesus said to the scribe.  And in their silence maybe they were asking a question inside their heads, a question that maybe is inside of our heads – if that’s what getting near the Kingdom of God is, do we really want to go there?

AMEN.

 

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SouthPark as One Body

Posted on Sep 9, 2015 in Sermons

I Corinthians 12: 12-27
12 For just as the body is one and has many members, and
all the members of the body, though many, are one body,
so it is with Christ. 13 For in the one Spirit we were all
baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—
and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.
14 Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of
many. 15 If the foot would say, “Because I am not a hand, I
do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any
less a part of the body. 16 And if the ear would say,
“Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,”
that would not make it any less a part of the body. 17 If the
whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If
the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of
smell be? 18 But as it is, God arranged the members in the
body, each one of them, as he chose. 19 If all were a single
member, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are
many members, yet one body. 21 The eye cannot say to the
hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the
feet, “I have no need of you.” 22 On the contrary, the
members of the body that seem to be weaker are
indispensable, 23 and those members of the body that we
think less honorable we clothe with greater honor, and our
less respectable members are treated with greater respect;

24 whereas our more respectable members do not need
this. But God has so arranged the body, giving the greater
honor to the inferior member, 25 that there may be no
dissension within the body, but the members may have
the same care for one another. 26 If one member suffers, all
suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all
rejoice together with it.
27 Now you are the body of Christ and individually
members of it.
Many Stories, One Book
Please pray with me: May the words of my mouth, and the
meditations of all our hearts, be acceptable and pleasing in Your
sight, O Lord, our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.
Well, here we are…at the start of another church year. This
weekend is Labor Day, but next Sunday we kick off
another year of church activities. We get back into the
groove of the church year. And we start back after a
Summer of changes and transitions. First Lesley Ann
resigned. The next week, Joe. Then Helms and Greg. I
don’t know about you, but I was kind of afraid to come to
church the next Sunday for fear of who was next! It was a
lot for us, the congregation, to adjust to. The leadership of
the church began their work to pray, discern, and search
for an Interim Pastor. I, with Kevin, began to pray and
discern what God was calling me to do, and ultimately
contacted John Richardson and asked him to provide the
Elders with my profile, and they had contacted John
Richardson requesting mine. We then began to discuss
and discern that God might be at work, bringing us
together in a new way, in a way that is outside the
proverbial box. But isn’t that how God works best?
Outside of the boxes we construct to contain God, in an
attempt to maintain our comfort? And so here we are,
Lesley Ann, Joe, Helms, and Greg are gone, and I have
transitioned from the bench to the pulpit, and we are set to
embark on a new year, filled with anticipation and awe,
eager to answer the call God is placing on this
congregation, to see the work God is going to do here
amongst us and through us at SouthPark Christian
Church! We’re excited! I feel it! I hear it from each one
here. But it’s also scary. Change always is. Change is
never easy – even for those of us who like to consider
ourselves open to change. Maybe even especially for us,
because at least when you admit to not liking change,
you’re admitting it is hard, whereas those of us who
profess to be open to it have to confront and deal with the
rude awakening of the difficulty change brings.
When Kevin, Brayden, and I walked through the doors of
SouthPark almost a year ago, we immediately felt at
home. I’ve told many people, Kevin and I had a list of
churches we were going to visit, and SouthPark was the
first church we visited. We never went to the others on
our list. One thing that we liked was that this church had
adopted the Narrative Lectionary for the year. I had never
heard of the Narrative Lectionary and so I read about it,
and I fell in love with it, because it followed the stories of
the Bible. And like, the Revised Common Lectionary, the
one most Protestant denominations use, it is set up on a 4
year cycle. In my interview with the Elders, and after I
was offered and accepted this call, I was asked if I was
going to use a lectionary, and which one? I responded that
I wanted to continue on with the Narrative Lectionary if
that was ok, for two reasons: 1) I liked the idea of
continuing on studying the different stories of the Bible,
and 2) probably more importantly, there has been so much
change in our congregation that continuing on with the
Narrative Lectionary would be the foundation of
consistency on which we can steady ourselves during a
time of transition and change.
Here is one of the lenses in which I view and approach the
Bible. From Genesis to Revelation, the Bible is a book of
stories that depict Gods relationship with humans, our
relationship to God, our relationship with each other, and
our relationship with all of Creation. In the Bible we find
relationships that are fraught with dysfunction, deception,
manipulation, and every kind of vice. BUT, it is also filled
with stories of God’s faithfulness to us in all of these
circumstances, and God’s unending love for us, and God’s
unending hope, and expectation, that we can do better. It
is also filled with stories of our ancestors in faith, doing
their very best to follow God’s call on their lives as they
understood it. Sometimes they succeeded, many times
they failed, but God’s love never left them, even when it
seemed God was disciplining them pretty harshly.
Our scripture this morning speaks of one body, many
parts. Each part of the body is essential to make up the
whole. An eye cannot make up for the loss of an ear. Each
part of our body is important. So it is with the stories of
the Bible. Without the story of Adam and Eve we cannot
have the story of the Birth of Christ. Without the Birth of
Christ, we cannot have the story of Christ’s death, and
without Christ’s death, we certainly cannot receive the
story of the Resurrection, upon which the very foundation
of our faith and hope is built.
In the same way, as our passage states this morning, there
are parts of our body that we deem less honorable, so we
take greater care in clothing those areas so as to be
respectable. It is the same with the stories of the Bible.
There are those stories that are more difficult for us to deal
with, those stories that we would rather ignore. Instead, it
is all the more important that we study those stories and
really dig deep to hear the lesson God is trying to convey
to us. The United Church of Christ has a statement that
says, “Don’t put a period where God has put a comma,
God is still speaking.” The first part of that sentence was
actually a statement made by the late comedian and
actress Gracie Allen. There is a lot of truth in that. Not
only do the stories of the Bible still mean something for us
today, but these stories propel us to be open to the story
God is writing with us today. In the coming year, as we
study the various stories, I encourage us to consider in
what way is God co-writing our story here today? What
story of God’s faithfulness is God co-writing with us at
SouthPark Christian Church in 2015-2016? God did not
stop speaking to humanity once the canonization of the
Bible was complete. We serve a living God, a God that
desires to be in relationship with each of us, individually
and collectively, together being a witness of God’s majesty
and work in the world today.
The Narrative Lectionary is set up so that from September
to December the readings come from the Hebrew
Scriptures, what most people refer to as the Old
Testament. I like this because many times within
Christianity we avoid much of the Hebrew Scriptures,
except for the Psalms and possibly Proverbs. But we need
to study the Hebrew Scriptures to also understand the
New Testament. Again, this goes back to the idea that
each part of the body is needed to make up the whole.
Year two of the Narrative Lectionary, which is what we are
in this year, is known as “the year of Mark,” as all the
Gospel reading from Christmas until Easter will come
from the book of Mark.
Our first story next week is Adam and Eve. “It is not good
that man should be alone, I will make a helpmate for
him.” (There may or may not be apples involved in next
weeks breakfast. You’ll have to come and find out…)
What can we learn from this story? What does the Adam
and Eve story have in common with us today and in the
writing of our story here at SouthPark?
The following week we will hear the story of Isaac being
born to Sarah. Now those are some messy relationships
that don’t seem to go too well. Going further into Autumn
we will hear about Jacob’s relationship with God, Moses’
relationship with God, God’s relationship with Israel
through the Ten Commandments, Ruth and Naomi’s
relationship, David’s kingship, Rehoboam, Elijah, Hosea,
Isaiah, Josiah — so many rich and wondrous stories.
Friends, I encourage you while at home during the week,
to pick up your Bibles and read these stories, bring your
questions to church, your observations, and let’s discern
God’s call on us together, as a community of Disciples at
SouthPark Christian Church.
Yesterday we gathered to honor the life of Eddy Brown,
Tanya’s husband. In my eulogy I told the stories of Eddy
that Tanya and her family shared with me – their stories of
their relationship with Eddy throughout his life. His
closest friend from High School on, shared his heart and
the story of how they met and became friends. Not all of
us knew Eddy. I never met him. But I learned a lot about
him through the stories told to me by his family. Having
the opportunity to hear these stories helped to know
Tanya better, and hopefully become a better friend, a
better Pastor to her. In the same way, reading, studying,
and talking about the stories of our faith in the coming
year will help draw us closer to God and to each other,
which will empower us to reach outside these walls and
welcome those God brings to us in the way God has
welcomed each of us.
What is the story of SouthPark? What is the next chapter
in our lives together? In what direction is God calling us?
Exciting things are afoot here, that is for certain. Let’s join
together and discover the story God is writing with us and
live into the faith and hope that comes from Christ Jesus.
Amen.

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“EMMANUEL, GOD WITH US”

Posted on Aug 10, 2015 in Sermons

Matthew 28:16-20

 

August 9, 2015

Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost

SouthPark Christian Church

Reverend Dr. Timothy Moore

http://ftimothymoore.wordpress.com/

 

The Faces of Jesus by Frederick Buechner is a favorite book of mine.  Buechner wrote the text and collected the artwork 41 years ago.  He understood where Christianity was going.  What had been a European based religion was expanding rapidly across the globe.  Globalization was happening in the Christian Church faster than it was in the business world.  Buechner’s book reminds us that believers from around the world see Jesus in their own faces.  He does not have blue eyes and sandy brown hair.

So in this book we see an African Jesus, a Korean Jesus, a Chinese Jesus, a European Jesus, a Latina Jesus.  In one picture Jesus looks a little bit like Buddha.  In another one, he has the dark skin of an African tribesman.  In another he looks like he was born and raised in Iowa.

This idea of incarnation – that God became human, that God came in the flesh – means that Jesus was a particular man (and I’m not trying to speak generally of human kind).  Jesus was a man and not a woman.  He was Jewish by birth – ethnically and religiously – which meant that he was not African, or Hispanic, or European.  Sometimes the Church has used Jesus’ particularity to construct some odd conclusions.  One of the reasons cited by branches of Christianity that have an all-male priesthood is that because Jesus was male, priests should be male.  Likewise, Jesus’ unmarried status is used to defend the Catholic position of having celibate and unmarried clergy.  But if those are compelling reasons, why stop at gender and marital status?  Why shouldn’t all priests be of Middle Eastern ethnicity, or Jewish by birth?  Kick out all the blue-eyed or blond-headed priests.  Or maybe an apprenticeship in carpentry should be required before seminary training?

Of course such arguments are ridiculous.  To pose things that way is to miss how Jesus became like us.  The Christian story is that God – the creator of the universe, a being that is beyond time and space – became mortal, limited.  God became particular.

And by being one thing – one gender, one race, one ethnicity – he could identify with the one thing for everyone else.  In becoming male and Jewish and Middle Eastern, he affirmed the person who is female and white and Hispanic as well as the person who is male and Asian and Japanese and so on with every person on earth.  We are all one thing and not another in all sorts of categories.  Everyone can see Jesus in the mirror, because each of us is one thing as Jesus was one thing.

 

1)           Matthew ends his gospel by answering the beginning of his gospel.

At the beginning of Matthew it seems Joseph wasn’t buying the whole “an angel came to me and said that I was going to have a child by the Holy Spirit” story.  So, he decided to divorce Mary quietly, to keep the scandal as quiet as possible.  But then he had a dream.

In the dream an angel comes to him and tells him all that is happening.  The angel tells Joseph that the child is to be Emmanuel, which means God with us.  God with us.  The Christmas story, as Matthew tells it, is focused on Jesus’ presence.  God is with us through Jesus.

And then at the end of his gospel he comes right back to this idea.  By now, Jesus has died on a cross and been resurrected on Easter morning.  The disciples have gathered on a mountain to say good-bye to Jesus.  He tells them, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations…  baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son and of Holy Spirit.”  And his last words to them were, “And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

He could have said, “And remember, I am Emmanuel, for all of you, even to the end of the age.”

The beginning of Matthew’s gospel declares that in the birth of Christ Jesus God is with us, that God became like us.  The ending of Matthew’s gospel declares that as we live our lives, as we go into the world, God through the resurrected Jesus goes with us.  The birth story of Jesus tells us that he had a face.  The resurrection story of Jesus tells us that his face is in ours.  So when we look in the mirror, we see Jesus.  And when we look at one another, we see Jesus.

The incarnation of God first declares that God in Jesus lived as we live.  The resurrection declares that because of Jesus as we live God lives with us.

 

2)           One of the great things about our human experience is that each one of us is unique.  There are no two of us alike.  Not even identical twins – who have the same DNA – are alike.  We are each uniquely made in God’s image.  There never was another person like you on the face of the earth before you came and there will never be another person like you on the face of the earth.  That is really fascinating.  That each of us get the chance to play a unique role in God’s world.

It can also be liberating.  Our task in life is simply to be who we are.  We do not have to be like our parents, or siblings.  We do not have to be like the genius in Geometry class.  We do not have to be like the beautiful and popular girls at school.  We do not have to be like the guy who could sell ice cubes to Eskimos and is always the top sales producer at the company.  We have God’s permission to just be ourselves.  Only you can be you.  No one else can.  You are the only person with the privilege of being you.

But our uniqueness also means that at times the human experience can be a lonely one.  There is no one like us.  And there are times that feels very much alone.  There are times when we feel that no one understands us.  There are times when we feel like we have failed – not just in our studies, or on the job, or in our marriage – but failed at being us.  And bearing that burden alone can be very heavy to carry.  Often times we find ourselves wishing we could be someone else.  That if we were just as smart as the genius in Geometry class, or were as beautiful as the girl across the street, or had the charisma of the top salesperson in our company, then our life would be better.  But in wishing for a different life, we risk losing the chance to live the life we have.

It’s one of the reasons we long for connections in our lives.  It’s why falling in love is so wonderful, because it feels like we are completely one with another human being.  When you start falling in love you find yourself saying, “I just met him and it feels like I’ve known him my whole life,” or “When I talk to her, it’s like she already knows what I’m thinking.”  The cathartic feeling of being one with someone makes you imagine that you are not alone, stuck in this body, but you’ve been able to connect past these flesh made boundaries.  But of course, falling in love is temporary.

So, we are left with the harder work of connecting in more pedestrian ways – of making friendships, relating to family, building a marriage of love after falling in love fades, creating a faith community.  It is these connections that make the particular experience that each of us has a unique human being broader and bigger than what goes on in our heads and in our souls.  Still, the alone-ness creeps in doesn’t it?  Specifically, when we find ourselves on difficult paths.

But the incarnation of God in Jesus Christ says that we are not alone.  The incarnation of God in Jesus proclaims Emmanuel, God with us.  The incarnation of God in Jesus announces, “I am with you, even to the end of the age.”

So, when as a teenager you are trying to figure out who you are – and are sometimes elated when moments of self-understanding open your eyes and are sometimes crushed when you don’t like the person you see in the mirror – Emmanuel, God is with you, understanding you, loving you, giving you courage to be you.

And when as an adult you are trying to manage spinning all the plates you have to keep spinning before they all come crashing down – and are sometimes amazed at your competence and are sometimes scared to death that at any moment the plates will start coming down and everyone will see what a failure you are – Emmanuel, God is with you, understanding you, loving you, giving you courage to be you.

And when as an aging adult you are trying to make the most of these days – and are sometimes filled with love because of all the blessings in your life and are sometimes depressed because you feel it coming to an end, your health, your mobility, your mind, your life – Emmanuel, God is with you, understanding you, loving you, giving you courage to be you.

 

3)           The first words Jesus says to his disciples on that mountaintop just before he left them and ascended into heaven are easily forgotten, but I think set everything up.  “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me,” he says.  In other words, every thing is under his command and what he says next is like a decree to the whole world.

And what does he say next?  “Go therefore…” or as it could also be translated, “As you go…” into the world… I will be with you, Emmanuel, even till the end of the age.”

He had a face… just as each of you has a face.  He had a life to live… just as each of you has a life to live.  Don’t lose the chance to live the life you have by wishing for a different life.  Have the courage to be you.  AMEN

 

 

 

 

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An encounter with God…

Posted on Jul 15, 2015 in Sermons

Do me a favor – turn to Isaiah 2:2-7 and read it aloud.

In the last days

the mountain of the Lord’s temple will be established
    as the highest of the mountains;
it will be exalted above the hills,
    and all nations will stream to it.

Many peoples will come and say,

“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
    to the temple of the God of Jacob.
He will teach us his ways,
    so that we may walk in his paths.”
The law will go out from Zion,
    the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
He will judge between the nations
    and will settle disputes for many peoples.
They will beat their swords into plowshares
    and their spears into pruning hooks.
Nation will not take up sword against nation,
    nor will they train for war anymore.

Come, descendants of Jacob,
    let us walk in the light of the Lord.

The Day of the Lord

You, Lord, have abandoned your people,
    the descendants of Jacob.
They are full of superstitions from the East;
    they practice divination like the Philistines
    and embrace pagan customs.
Their land is full of silver and gold;
    there is no end to their treasures.
Their land is full of horses;
    there is no end to their chariots.

(https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=isaiah+2&version=NIV)

At Wild Goose, Father John Dear  read this passage to us and broke it down like this…

“Upon the mountain, the Almighty God will be lifted up. The people will say, “Let’s go up on that mountain.” They will commune with God and learn from his teaching. In response to God, they will beat the swords into plowshares and study war no more.”

What you don’t see is…”Ok, God, I have 1 hour, so make it snappy.” – You don’t see…”But I’m too old; but I have important work to do; but I hate change; but what about my heritage; but I like swords; but I am not used to gardening; but I don’t know how…; but we might offend someone.” – You don’t see…”God, that is really admirable. I’m going back to the way things were.”

This is the sequence of events when it comes to an encounter with God…

The people will get a glimpse of God. The people will say, “Let’s get closer.” God will teach the people and unify them. After the experience with God, they will come down the mountain and take the weapons of death and make them into tools for life. They will disarm the hatred and turn towards love. And they will say “Come out of the darkness. Let us walk in the Light of the Lord.”

What are the weapons of destruction and death the we are called to disarm?

An encounter with god results in disarmament and creativity. Taking that which is undesirable, unholy, unjust, unloving, and re-working it for the good.

What a miracle!

This, my friends, is the miraculous nature of the relationship between God and God’s people. With God, we have the power to transform something dead and destructive into something alive and life-giving.

See for yourself… John 13:1-17 

Dirty feet into a holy act of intimacy, service, and love.

Bread and a slobbery shared cup into a means of unification and a symbol and reminder of salvation.

People of God, you are invited too….

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Dem Bones

Posted on Jul 13, 2015 in Sermons

July 5 Sermon
Greg Jarrell
Ezekiel 37
A couple years back, a neighbor showed up at our house with an unusual offer: two ducks. This might be a regular occurrence out in the country, but we’re city folks.  These two ducklings were American Pekin ducks, bright white and a couple weeks old. They are a domesticated breed, bred for eggs from the females and meat from the males. They were, of course, far too cute to turn down for us, but our chickens tried to kill them. So, Helms built a little house for them, fenced in a little section of the yard, and we hatched a plan. Until they are a couple months old, you can’t tell the gender of this breed. We would wait and do the following: if we had two females, we would keep them for eggs. If we had two males, we would eat duck. And if we had one of each – which is how it turned out – well, we’d figure something else out. So, they grew. The boys played with them, though ducks aren’t much for playing. And then one night, while we were away at youth camp, a raccoon took a fancy to them. IT killed the female and wounded the male pretty badly. By this point they were four months old, nearing full grown. We had come too far to quit on the living one. So we had a funeral and then started fortifying. Our wishful thinking had been that we were too close to town to really have raccoons and other predators around. We’d never lost a chicken that way. But there comes a time when wishful thinking has to end. The duck now lived in a fortress.
 At this point, we were faced with reality – male ducks don’t produce anything. They don’t like being handled and can’t be housebroken, so they stink as pets. And, they have to be fed, which costs money. Eventually we were faced with a choice: I feed the duck, or the duck feeds me. Labor Day was on the way, family was coming into town, and so we set a date for the slaughter of the duck.
There comes a time in each person’s life when one has to decide what is worth fighting for and what is worth suffering for. There are moments in life when a man or a woman must gird up his or her loins and be ready to go to battle. I generally hold to Christian pacifist convictions, which insist on not harming people. This means that when I woke up to scurrying and quacking in the duck fortress around 3AM the week before Labor Day, I had no moral conundrum to resolve. The job had to be done, and the job was hand-to-hand combat with a raccoon. Only one of us was going to eat that duck, and there was no way it was not going to be me.
I won’t describe the scene that followed, though it mostly involved me trying to convince the raccoon to leave by asking it nicely. By a series of heroic actions, namely throwing stones from a safe distance and cursing the whole situation under my breath, I prevailed my will upon the raccoon. I had learned my lesson – the duck didn’t make it through the next day. It made a perfect feast – smoked for hours, fat rendered for frying potatoes later on. And after the last morsels of meat were gone, we boiled the carcass for a while to make a delightful broth that started a number of fine soups.
At the end, what was left was a pile of bones.
————————-
I had not seen any other scavengers around since then – we’re a little too close to the city for that to be common – until a recent morning when I headed down the hill on foot, only to find a freshly squished possum at the city bus stop in front of our house. I dreaded having to clean it up later. Because our street is trafficked by a parade of city buses and tractor-trailers headed to the warehouse at the bottom of the hill, I knew I would have to peel it off the pavement.
 It was my pleasant surprise when I walked outside a couple hours later to find something new to our area: three black vultures doing the job for me. In God’s creation, nothing is wasted. They worked at it for a little while, and when they departed, what was left was a pile of bones.
————————-
In our reading for the morning, Ezekiel comes upon a pile of bones. Bones upon bones upon bones. These bones seem to have reached their final resting place. There is no life left. No organ, no skin, no tissue. The vultures have long since done their work of turning old flesh into the world that is to come. The bones are dry. Death has won.
 Ezekiel, set down in this curious environment, does not get the chance to ask where on earth he is before God begins questioning him: “Mortal, can these bones live?”. Ezekiel responds in a way that is hard to interpret. “O Lord God, you know,” he says. I do not know whether he says this in resignation to the obvious – “God, you know of course that dry bones cannot live” – or whether he says it with a hint of faith – “God, you know that anything is possible with you.”
God’s response opens the possibility of faith. It is a possibility that must be made real by prophecy. Prophecy is not predicting the future. Prophecy is naming the present truthfully. Prophecy is faithful speech believing that the truth so named will incite our imaginations and move our dry bones back to God. Prophecy makes God’s future possible in the present by stating the hard reality of our past. The prophets are not popular people. Telling all those hard truths, even with great creativity, can make the prophetic vocation lonely and dangerous.
God instructions are simple: Prophesy to the bones.
God’s instructions place the responsibility for reassembling the mess in the Valley on the human one there. The one who, if he stood long enough, would return to bone himself. Ezekiel can choose whether or not to engage in this action. There is no coercion on God’s part, simply an instruction: Say to the bones, “Bones, hear the word of the Lord.”
Each of us will one day face the moment of our deaths. After we breathe our last, they’ll place us in a box and put us in the ground. And it won’t be long until the scavengers do their work. Soon you and I will be nothing but a pile of bones. And we’ll be bones far longer than we were whole bodies. Bone ossifies. In the right conditions it fossilizes. It resists being eaten by all the little microbes that will feast on our organs and make short work of our flesh.
If some curious crew digs up my box, or yours, years down the road, long after the elements have washed our tombstones smooth, they’ll know nothing about us. Not how smart we were nor how much money we had. Not how many degrees we were granted and from where. Not whether we loved well or laughed a lot or just acted like a crotchety old stick in the mud. Not how good we looked or how many countries we traveled to or how much time we spent at the gym. They’ll know nothing except that some bones were stuck in the ground.
All of those things they won’t know about us are in some sense dressing on our bones. Almost everything will be lost to history.  Nor will they know, of course, what color our skin was. We will all just be some dry old bones. Race is not in our bones. In fact, it is not even in our genes. Physiologically speaking, race is an illusion. There is no science that indicates it has any physical basis in reality. Genome mapping has demonstrated that there is more genetic variation in a single flock of penguins than there is in the entirety of the human race. In any room of diverse people, there is likely to be more genetic similarity in people of different melanin levels than there is within people with the same melanin level.
Yet, because we have believed the lie of race, it has very real consequences. It has social and economic impact that privileges some at the expense of others. Years of disadvantage send some to their graves far earlier than others. According to Mecklenburg County, the average age of death in the Grier Heights neighborhood is 61. In Eastover, it is 82. The difference between living on one side of Randolph Road or the other is 21 years of life. Race is not a lie we can live with.
God asks Ezekiel whether the bones can be turned back into bodies with flesh and sinews and tendons and ligaments and organs and blood and breath. Can they live after death? I believe God is asking us, with our bodies of flesh and sinews and tendons and ligaments and organs and blood and breath, whether we can live before we become just another pile of bones. We have a system that some of us clearly cannot live with, and if some of us cannot live with it then none of us can live with it.
In the text, God calls to Ezekiel and places the responsibility on him to begin constructing life from dry bone. I believe that God is calling us – calling as clearly today as we have heard in generations. God is placing the responsibility on us to breathe life into every suffocating place in our land, beginning with ourselves and our churches. Our work is to be sure that all can live before they die. Our holy and righteous call is to hear the prophets calling us today. They are grieving prophets, like Jeremiah, like Trayvon’s mother, like Clementa Pinckney’s daughters, like Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted because they are no more. They are boisterous prophets like Amos, like Malcolm, like Baldwin, like Bree Newsome,  full of courage and of righteous discontent. They are imaginative prophets like Ezekiel, like Martin, like William Barber, calling us to live into God’s dream for all of God’s children.
And hearing those prophets, our call is to act. To act for justice. To act to end the racial caste system. To act to save our own souls adrift in a world of illusion. To put our feet in the streets and our hearts and minds to the work of compassion . To act like we mean it when we say “with liberty and justice for all.” To dismantle everything that gets in the way of achieving that dream.
This all sounds impossible. But race was constructed, so it can be deconstructed. The same goes for every principality or power that binds God’s goodness in our world today.
I imagine Ezekiel there in the valley. God questions him, “Can these bones live?” He responds, “O Lord, you know.” Surely he said this with a wide grin, knowing that he was about to be present for a revival that the history books would never believe.
This is what the Lord says: I will put my Spirit in you and you will live (37:14). May it be so.

 

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