Sermon Prep Reflections for May 3, 2020 - John 21, 1-14
You don’t have to go looking for God. God is everywhere you are. Even when you’re not looking, or maybe especially then, God shows up.
When the world changes rapidly, when the rug gets ripped out from under you, you may not know where to turn or what to do. Even if the change is a good one, it can be disorienting and strange and set us off our game.
We often revert back to our old, comfortable habits of place and practice when the world presents us with new information and opportunities that overwhelm us. That’s not necessarily a good or bad thing. It’s just a thing. All depends on what those behaviors and spaces are and how healthy and helpful they are for us going forward. Just because it used to work for us in the past does not mean it will work for us in the future.
In John’s gospel, chapter 21, we again encounter several of the Apostles – the inner circle of Jesus’ friends and followers. These are his most trusted and loyal allies, the ones he called and mentored for months on end. They saw him teach and minister and heal. They were blessed and renewed by his grace. They shared his story as their own. They watched him be arrested, crucified, and buried. Then three days later they encountered him risen from the dead, just as he promised. The world would never be the same.
To be clear, their worlds had already been turned upside down by meeting and choosing to follow Jesus. They’d chosen the Gospel over their old lives, which if necessary meant choosing Jesus over family, friends, work, and even the ways they’d been taught to believe and practice their faith. Now everything had changed again. It just felt like too much.
I’m struck by the way John tells the story of these weeks following the Resurrection. I would have expected Jesus to spend every waking hour with his core followers, preparing them for his return to the Father and the sending of the Holy Spirit and the Birth of the Church. There should have been strategic planning meetings, power point presentations, webinars and zoom meetings and conferences and workbooks with Certifications and Continuing Education Credits in Church Development and Missions. God was about the birth the church in, among and through them. All they seem to get is a brief weekly check in. “Hey. How are yall? Still doing ok? Alrighty then. Good. See you soon.” And he’s gone again.
It truly is a New World for the disciples. And they are dependent on their Old Routines to get them through. Easter night Jesus appears to them. Then, a week later, the same stunt showing up in a locked room. Then, John tells us, “…After these things Jesus showed himself again to the disciples… and it happened this way…” So according to John’s gospel, this story represents their third encounter with the resurrected LORD. Not surprisingly, they’re a bit at a loss for what to do in the between times. How should they be planning for what is next? What are they supposed to DO? They’ve got no clue. So they do what is familiar, comfortable, useful. They go fishing.
Remember, at least some of these guys are professional fishermen. They return to the Sea of Galilee (here called the Sea of Tiberias), some 75 miles north of Jerusalem. When they walked back home to the north country of Capernaum and surrounding communities we don’t know. But here they are back at the familiar port town, back at their boats and among their friends, their ropes and sails and nets. Here they know what to do without thinking. The muscle memory is so deep that they can function on autopilot.
That’s what often happens to me when I’m feeling overwhelmed. If I can function at all, it’s on autopilot. I do what I know so well that my brain can check out and I can just go. My body can be absorbed in the tasks of cooking and cleaning or organizing or playing music or walking or writing. These things I know. They are comfortable and familiar and in some way useful or productive. Widows will often come home from the hospital after losing their life partners and set to work in the kitchen feeding everyone in sight, because that is something their body can do without their brain fully engaged.
Notice several weeks have passed. It’s likely, since this story is framed this way, that the disciples sat around eating and drinking and staring at one another day after day for a fortnight. They couldn’t do much of anything. Nothing made sense anymore. They didn’t know their place in the world. The new reality had been described to them. They had the information, the facts, but still they were frozen. Finally, maybe because of the miles of walking north day after day, they get unstuck enough to at least do this. Peter is able to frame an idea, and everyone else simply ascents to it. “Yep, let’s go fishing…”
What do you do when you feel overwhelmed? Once you are able to do something of course. What are the people, places and practices that bring you that familiarity in which you find comfort? After a loss people often reach back into their past to reconnect with old relationships, even old flames. I think one reason is that people are seeking solid footing, and we imagine that the past might hold it. This rarely proves true, but there’s no harm in spending some time there.
It’s good and right to rely on the familiar in our time of uncertainty. Many people I know have reconnected with old friends, renewed old hobbies, returned to favorite authors. These are source of comfort that offer a mooring in these unsettled waters.
The story shows us that Jesus meets us there, but does not leave us there. He invites us to commune with him. He acknowledges and responds to our concrete human needs in the moment. And then he calls us toward the future. Once we’ve found rest and solace, once we’ve taken our fill and be satiated, Jesus shakes us from our stupor and calls us away from out past that can be an anchor dragging us down to the depths. He calls us forward into new life in Him. He refuses to let us get distracted by the paths that others are walking. “Keep your eyes on your own path. Mind your own business. Don’t worry about how I’m calling or leading someone else. Walk the road that I’ve put before you, and let that be enough.”
This is both a comfort and a challenge. It is comforting to know that we can return for a time to what soothes us. It is a comfort to know that Jesus meets us there. It is a comfort to know that he sees and addresses our needs in times like this. And it is a challenge because eventually he will call us to wake up to the new realities and begin to live the hope and promise of a bright tomorrow that is different and blessed.
So for now, take comfort. But be ready. It is a New World, and those Old Routines that may comfort us now will not serve us well for long.
Jesus shows up in unexpected places. This is one of the messages of the post resurrection stories in the gospels. He wasn't where they thought he was, i.e. the tomb. He showed up where they didn't expect - a locked room (twice), along a road trip (to Emmaus), at the beach while they were fishing (cause they didn't know what else to do in that post-crucifixion time), etc.
Tim and I are working to plan worship that is both comforting - traditional hymn favorites - and surprising - new places and spaces. You may have heard or seen recently "Jesus has left the building" in response to remote worship services and churches no longer gathering in our buildings. Truth is, we are discovering that he's always been more "out there" than "in here". Jesus is in all the places we don't think to look.
We invite you to imagine and suggest places where we might encounter Jesus. We will work to bring elements of our worship service that include those places.
At the same time, we are wanting to bring some sense of the comfortable and familiar- thus we are asking folks to share their favorite hymns and worship songs. We've done this in the past and thus have a list from which to work, AND we are asking again so this is definitely something you can ask everyone you talk with in the next few weeks: "Hey, what hymns or songs are bringing your comfort and hope during this time? What words float through your mind and what tunes you catch yourself humming or singing?" Then send those responses on to us, please.
And we are wanting to bring the scriptures (and other spiritual wisdom) that may be most familiar and comforting during this time: cf Psalm 23, John 3:16, Psalm 150, Romans 8, etc... Let's gather and share also what scriptures comfort and inspire us in this time.
The Gospel is both familiar and foreign, stabilizing and surprising. We know it, and yet it is always new, if we are really paying attention. Like a true love of friendship in life - we know them so well, and yet we are also always learning and discovering new and delightful things that challenge and inspire us (and perhaps bewilder us!).
My prayer is that we are each open to discovering Jesus in a new way. Resurrection may not mean what we thought. Or put another way, We may learn that Resurrection means far more than we imagined or believed. The people around us are there in part to help us learn things about God we cannot learn without them. Even the ones who don't believe in God in the same way that we do - for they are made in God's image and are God's beloved. "For God so loved the world..."
God be praised by our words and in our living in this most extraordinary time.
Please let me know how I can be serving and supporting you and yours.
Dear Church Family,
This is a strange and difficult time for all of us for various reasons, and I regret not being more available to you during these weeks. My family and I thank you for your prayers and understanding of the need for some time away to grieve the death of my Dad, Jim Crawford. I look forward to returning to active service in the congregation and community soon. Until then, please know that you are in my prayers as well.
I'm grateful for the way Tim Caffee and others have led our music and worship. Thanks to Rev. Dr. Irie Session for preaching last week, and to Rev. Shirley Johannsen for preaching our Easter Service – see more at CCCDT.org/remote. You'll want to join together Thursday evening for a joint Maundy Thursday service cohosted with East Dallas Christian Church and Northway Christian Church AND the Womanist Good Friday Seven Sayings. Both will be viewable at 7pm on Facebook.com/CentralChristian.Dallas.
Your elders and staff are offering strong leadership during this time and are available to support you. Please do not hesitate to reach out to them directly, email the church office at Central.Christian.Dallas@gmail.com, or call the pastoral care line: 469- four eight zero -9077.
As we journey through this Holy Week and into the Easter season, may we be reminded that the disciples were likewise sorrowful, disoriented, confused and even frightened by the events of that week. Jesus could not wipe away their concerns or remove them from the path they would walk. Jesus did serve them, feed them, teach them, pray with and for them, and offer them hope. Not until the resurrection came did they understand the message or the events of their lives. The resurrection did come, for them and for us. We are invited to make the journey again with Jesus - to the cross, through the death, and into the tomb. There is no resurrection without death. We cannot be born anew, personally, as a church, or as a human family, unless we die to our old ways and allow the Holy Spirit to bring new life.
I look forward to the day when we will gather together again to declare: "Christ is Risen! He is risen indeed!" Until then, may we have the courage and faith to stay on the path, enter the Upper Room, pray in the Garden, and stand at the foot of the Cross.
Yours in Christ,
Pastor Ken Crawford
The Church and The Community: Why and How We Reconnect
OR: What's next for Legacy Churches?
I believe that congregations can be a force for good in the world - can be instruments of peace and channels of God's grace to heal and transform lives, homes and communities. If this is to happen, we need to overcome several obstacles:
1) We are no longer connected to our communities, much less at their center. While I don't believe we need to reclaim the social or moral center, I do believe we need to engage deeply and be a place of gathering, seeking and finding. How do we do that?
Several generations ago Christian churches (and congregations of other faith groups) were at the center of American life in most communities. This has been changing for decades. Unfortunately, a large subset of these congregations were asleep as it was happening, and when we were told, we chose to either ignore the new reality or only pay lip service to the changes happening around and within our campuses.
2) Our "business model" was built on several social realities that no longer hold.
a) Congregations were staffed by scores of volunteers from 2 parent homes where only one adult worked, so there were many (typically wives) available to do much of the work around the church and out in the community.
b) People's relationship to their time was different. There were fewer alternatives for what to do on Sunday mornings.
c) People's relationship to their finances was different. There were fewer claims on people's money, and the "living wage" went further. And fewer people were working in the gig economy where they had shifts on Sundays. It now takes 7-10 Millennial and Gen Z givers to replace one Silent Generation or Boomer.
d) People's relationship to "Truth" has changed. In the post-modern world, assumptions of absolute truth are not a given.
e) People's relationship to institutions has changed. Younger generations do not give to support institutions out of loyalty, and they don't become life-long members of anything. They will subscribe, but anything they join is understood to be temporary and non-binding, like a gym membership.
f) The cost of doing business has gone up for churches, as it has for households, so there are greater needs in the church budget at the same time members have less to give.
g) In many cases, what I call legacy congregations have buildings that are far too large for their needs. One option is to "right size" the facility to match the congregation. Another is to reimagine how the facility becomes a blessing to new groups of people in the community who are also seeking life, wholeness, peace and hope.
All of this combines to bring us to our current condition, and to a set of strategies for the way forward.
1) Congregations need to recognize that, though we are no longer the center of our communities, we can still have a meaningful role to play, if we will actively engage people where they are. This means spending more time out of the building and off of the campus, understanding people's needs, and their dreams. ABCD - Asset Based Community Development is the current favored approach, which starts with the assumption that individuals and neighborhoods have strengths, capacities, and dreams. They don't need people to fix or rescue them. They do benefit from (and welcome) humble engagement that says, "I'm here to stand with you."
One of my mentors, Ken Janke, believes that "the dreams in people's hearts are the seeds of the kingdom of God," so he leads with this invitation: "Tell me the dreams you have for yourself, your family, your community." Once people get over the shock, and begin to share, his response is always the same, "I'd like to walk with you toward that."
As we do this work, we will encounter people who are already doing or dreaming amazing things that could find a new home on our campus or in our buildings. These may be things we've never considered doing before.
Congregations need to recognize that the church of the 19th and 20th century which most of us knew was the anomaly. What we are experiencing now is far more like what has been through most of Christian history, and certainly what was true in the first few centuries. We have a wonderful opportunity, if we can work through our grief and fear, to go forward into an ancient way of just being present in people's lives.
2) Congregations need to recognize that many people are alienated from the church because we have not treated others well. We have silenced voices. We have told people they were not loveable by God. We have neglected to show love and have actively abused the vulnerable. We have stood on the wrong side of a range of justice issues. And so a wide swath of the population in the US and Europe has simply said, "Who needs it?" They've not always turned their back on Jesus, or on God, if they'd ever understood themselves to have those connections. They are finding other ways to respond to their spiritual longings. If we want to walk with them on a faith journey, then we need to respect where they are today - not just tolerate but truly respect, understand and even appreciate it.
3) Congregations need to rethink how they relate to money and how they think about donors. We used to believe that the only people who would / could / should give to our ministry were those sitting in the Worship Services and Bible Studies. That may have been true, but no longer.
a) The expenses have outstripped people's ability to give to support the work.
b) Younger givers will not generally give just to support the organization - they give to people and projects that impact the world in ways that move and motivate them.
c) If the work is truly life-giving to people in the community, then others will also want to support it
d) Fewer people are choosing to participate traditionally in organized faith communities - AND, those who aren't will still be looking for ways that their resources can do good.
SO - churches need to adopt non-profit fundraising models that complement their traditional stewardship efforts. We need to learn from foundations, community organizations, and education institutions how they tell their stories, connect with donors, and invite people to participate. Fundraising is not about getting the donor to help the organization - it's about the institution helping donors make a difference with their lives.
Our Journey at Central
Like many congregations, Central has seen a steady decline in membership and income over decades - related to many of the things previously stated. Fortunately we have some reserve funds which give us the opportunity to innovate and experiment with new forms of ministry. Unfortunately, there is disagreement over whether, how and when to spend that money. Some want to spend it now toward bold strategies that can create dramatic impact. Others prefer to save it for a rainy day, and trickle it out so we can delay the eventual death of the organization for as long as possible. I try to tell them, "Noah called. He's building a boat!"
Also like many legacy congregations, we have very large buildings that offer far more room than we could possibly need or use. So we are left asking ourselves, "Do we sell, take that money, and then do something else? Do we sell and give that money to others? Or do we find new, innovative and unexpected ways to use our facilities to bless people and make the world better? God has given us these buildings. What does God want us to do with them? What if we were a small organization of 50 people and we were trying to decide how to impact our community. Along comes a generous benefactor who says, "I'll give you 34,000 square feet of building on four acres and $2 Million dollars to do something amazing!" What would we say? "No thanks, that sounds too hard"?
That's the situation we find ourselves in. Wouldn't you go with all the energy you could muster, all the faith and hope within and around you, and try to do something amazing? Wouldn't you tell that story as broadly as possible so that you could get your neighbors to join you in that adventure? I would.
Rev. Dr. Ken G. Crawford, DMin, MDiv, CSD, BCC
I like La Madeleine. The coffee is hot and the refills are free. It's convenient, comfortable, and not as loud as SBKS. When I'm near church I usually am at the one on Lemmon.
La Madeline is self-serve. You go through the line and order. You get your own drink refills. They bring your food out, but otherwise your left alone. They don't have "wait staff" like many restaurants.
Although, consistently the staff will come around to check in, chat briefly, and say, "Can I get you anything? Would you like a refill on your coffee?" It's my responsibility to get my own coffee. It's not their job to do this. AND YET...
What does it look like for us at Central to practice this level of hospitality? To go beyond assignment or expectation? To "attract, retain, delight"?
Who have you surprised recently by reaching out to them, taking an extra step, so that they experienced a small joy at being seen and served? Perhaps you sent a note or made a call? Perhaps you greeted someone you didn't know. Perhaps you even offered to refill a coffee cup.
And regarding STARBUCKS , they're also rockstars at hospitality. If you go more than once a month they work really hard to learn your name and your drink order.
Churches ought to be "out serving" the service industry when it comes to engaging visitors. We do this not to reinforce a consumer mentality, but to convey care, and then bring people into the circle of carers where they begin serving also.
"Come, and I will teach you to fish for people."
Central Christian Church &
Central Westside Campus
SEPT 7th, 9a-3p
4711 Westside Dr, Dallas
Hopefully you've already saved the date of 9/7.
We are excited to have you join us for our retreat where we explore together how God is working in, through and among us as we partner with our neighbors to experience God's transforming love.
Please RSVP using the comment box below and let us know you can make it.
If you have any questions, don't hesitate to ask.
Some amazing things have transpired since we met last year.
Rev. Dr. Katie Hays will lead us again this year. You're invited to share 1 story that encapsulates the work that you do and how you're engaging the twin missions of our church and campus:
At Central Christian Church we partner with our neighbors
to experience God's transforming love.
We do this with a focus on Diversity and Inclusion,
Creativity and the Arts, Wholeness and Flourishing.
Central Westside is a hub
of community engagement,
innovation and impact
Can't wait to hear your stories and dream together of what God has in store for us.
Seeking Input for New Teaching Series Coming this Fall
It’s easy to recognize that Jesus loved to teach through stories. Nearly every description of God’s kingdom involves a narrative. When he described God’s love for us and the aspiration of our love for neighbor, again he told stories.
In our own lives we experience the power of telling our own stories, hearing the stories of others, and immersing ourselves in a novel, TV show, movie or play. Even poems and songs, however brief, enfold us in imaginary worlds that move us.
This Fall we will again explore the spirituality of stage and screen. You are invited to share below stage plays, musicals or films which you find powerful or provocative. Which stories from our culture give insight into the human condition and call us to our better selves? Which characters highlight the heights and depths of this life? Which teach you about God and self?
Send your thoughts to Central(dot)Christian(dot)Dallas(at)gmail.com.
Or fill out the form below:
Lent is a season of spiritual gardening, of inviting God to unearth in us what lies fallow, what needs to be tended, and what needs to die for new life to emerge. These 40 days before Easter help us prepare our hearts and minds to encounter the power of the Resurrection and the Glory of God’s Love in Christ in a new and fresh way. This year, the scriptures offer us images and stories with themes of earthiness and grit.
Lent begins on Ash Wednesday, March 6th. We will gather in the sanctuary at 7pm for our service of ashes, which is a time of reflection and repentance in preparation for the 40 day journey. Join us prior to the service at 6:30 for a light meal.
The first five weeks of Lent we will follow a rhythm beginning on Sunday mornings with Sunday School at 9:45 and Worship at 11am. Then on Wednesdays we will gather for a light meal at 6:30, followed by prayer, scripture, song. Each week we will hear a faith story (testimony) from someone in our community, and join together in a creative faith practice.
Holy Week begins with Palm Sunday service on 4/14. We will hold a Last Supper / Last Words service on Thursday night. On Easter Sunday we will join the community for a sunrise service at White Rock Lake where we will lead communion. Back on our campus at 9am we will have worship in the dog park. At 10am we will have our Easter Brunch followed by the Egg Hunt at 10:30 on the lawn. Then our Resurrection Celebration culminates in the sanctuary at 11am.
As you prepare, be thinking about what in your life would best be “let go” and what you might cultivate for greater faith and fruitfulness. Remember to get your copy of The Gifts of Imperfection by Brene’ Brown for our reading group. Get the resources offered on campus and online (cccdt.org) that will help you to live and share your faith this Lenten season.
Below is a fresh articulation of the vision God gave me for the ministry at 4711 Westside Dr in Dallas that begins with Central Christian Church AND extends far beyond. Here's a preview:
SNAPSHOT: In 2025, Central Christian Church has transformed to become a center of community life. People come onto the campus for a wide variety of aims and activities. We have developed the campus to not only allow but encourage and inspire this. All the work people do here helps them flourish and thrive through the range of life experiences. Our presence among and alongside them enables deepening relationships, conversations about things that really matter, and companionship in the joys and sorrows of life. Through it all we bear witness to God’s Transforming Love revealed in and among us. We listen to their stories, and we get to share why we follow Jesus, and what difference He makes in our lives. So, is Central still a church in 2025? Yes! Is it also a community center? Absolutely! And thanks be to God for that!