SERMON NOTES for 072218:
(TEXTS: Jeremiah 23:1-6; Ephesians 2:11-22)
From the perspective of the Covenant of God with Abraham and his descendants, the human race was divided into two groups: Jews and Gentiles (literally “races” or “peoples”). Paul calls them “circumcised and uncircumcised” (Eph 2:11). That’s it. The whole human race divided into “God’s covenant people” and “everyone else”. Which may sound harsh and cynical and frankly pretty narcissistic of the Hebrew people and stingy of God. Till you actually hear WHY the children of Abraham were called:
Now the Lord said to Abram, "Go from your country and your kindred and your father's house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed." (Genesis 12:1-3)
BLESSED TO BE A BLESSING
Abraham was promised that, through the covenant God was establishing, the world would experience blessing. That was the purpose of the special relationship. The people often lost sight of that. The covenant became a source of pride rather than humility, and the covenant became a wedge and a hammer rather than a source of healing and flourishing. Until finally Jeremiah had to say, “You’re going to be in captivity 70 years for your faithlessness. And after that time God will redeem and restore you.
In the meantime... return to your first purpose. Bless your neighbors. Put down roots and commit to your community like you love it, like you need it and they need you. For you will only be able to experience God’s blessings to the degree that you first bless others.” (Jeremiah 29:4-15 paraphrase) Those people in that other group, the ones who you consider “outsiders”, love them as you love me.
And then along comes Jesus, who “breaks down the dividing wall and the hostility between us, making of the two groups one people.” (Eph 2:14-16). Because of the work of Christ on the cross, there are no longer two groups of people. There is just one chosen people, the human race. The call still exists to be a blessing. Its extends now to all humanity, and those who hear it are drawn into it. Whether people recognize, believe, accept or embrace this, it is a true and completed fact. God has extended the call of “blessed to be a blessing” to the whole human race. Jesus is the redeemer and savior of all. There are no insiders and outsiders any longer. There are no hoops to jump through or requirements to meet.
YOU ARE BELOVED. YOU BELONG.
The witness of the gospel of Jesus as Paul articulates it to the Ephesians is that God through Jesus has done away with the distinctions that used to separate Jew from Gentile – chosen from excluded. The church has spent much time, spilling measureless ink and blood, to declare and prove that some are IN while others are OUT. It continues today, with people still arguing in word and practice the following: Male = In / Female = Out. Straight = In / Gay = Out. Rich = In / Poor = Out. White = In / Everyone Else = Out. God declares that the dividing walls are torn down. The borders and barriers that we erect between us, and even that scripture has been interpreted to construct, are eliminated.
You don’t have to change to belong. You already belong. Everyone belongs. Welcome home.
As you come, allow God to continue working in and through you to move toward fullness and flourishing. God accepts and welcomes us as we are, but does not leave us such. God calls and crafts us forward from chaos to wholeness.
What are some useful and reliable measures of “True Faith”?
Plumb Line. Used in construction to ensure that the upper parts of a structure built upon the foundation are square and in line with the cornerstone. Are the walls vertical and true?
The first element in a structure is the corner stone, from which all measures are taken horizontally, vertically and diagonally (to ensure square angles). When setting frame timbers, or building a masonry wall, the plumb line helps to ensure that the walls are perfectly vertical, and set directly over the cornerstone rather than leaning in or out.
It is vital to remember that the chief cornerstone for our faith is not the Law of Moses, or any other set of rules. Jesus is the chief cornerstone for the community of faith (Eph 2:20). His person. His reality. His teaching and witness and ministry of healing and justice and transformation. Jesus is the primary reference point for our lives of faith, from which we line and measure so that we are true and plumb with His work.
Jesus, as much as we can know him, is known through the witness of scripture, from the teachings of the church through the last 2000 years, and through the ongoing witness and teaching of the Holy Spirit who continues what Jesus began. Another term we might use is canon – as in the canon of scripture – derives from the Greek word for a ruler or measuring stick. It was a piece of reed or bamboo that was cut to a standard length and could then be used to ensure everything else “measured up”.
The Christian Faith is built upon the identity of Jesus, who is the canon for matters of faith. We ask questions like, “How does this ‘measure up’ against what we know about the life, teachings and work of Jesus? Paul tells us that “in Him the fullness of God was pleased to dwell” (Col 1:19). So Jesus is God’s self-revelation to us. Jesus is what God wants us to know about God’s self. Jesus is thus the measure of what is true about God, or at least what God wants us to trust and upon which we build our lives.
The question remains, “What measures do you (we) use to confirm that our own words and actions align with the person of Jesus?” What is our plumb line to ensure that we are building lives of faith (and the church) true to the chief cornerstone?
Join us for a free, public event of peace through understanding. Please RSVP so we can prepare sufficient food and seating for all who wish to attend, learn, and grow together as neighbors.
Christians, Muslims and Jews trace their heritage to Abraham and his descendants. As such, we are siblings within the family of the three great monotheistic religions. This is reason enough to share life together. Beyond this, we understand that at this time in human history (and in our own nation and communities) it is essential that we seek peace through understanding. We fear what we do not know and understand, and we learn to hate what we fear because this emotion is less threatening somehow. The holy month of Ramadan is a time for faithful people to draw near to God through prayer and fasting, reminding ourselves that we are dependent upon the provision of a loving God.
We are excited to invite you to join us at Central Christian Church for a special Ramadan Dinner on Wednesday, June 6th at 7:30pm.
The evening will start with a welcome by the host and followed by a Ramadan presentation. Tasty home cooked meals will be served at the dinner. Fast breaking time is at 8.34pm sharp and the evening will end after dinner.
Join us to make this a memorable night and break bread together in the holy month of Ramadan!
This event is cohosted by The Dialogue Institute of Dallas, whose aim is to promote mutual understanding, respect & cooperation among people of diverse faiths & cultures by creating opportunities for direct communication. You can also find them on Facebook at @DialogueInstDFW.
Hebrews 2:10 reads: “It was fitting that God, for whom and through whom all things exist, in bringing many children to glory, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through suffering.” The Greek word used here is teleio. This word can mean perfect, but a better translation (given our modern connotations of that word) would be complete or whole. If you’ve been working on a 5000 piece puzzle and you fit in the last few pieces, then the puzzle has reached its telos – its intended end or purpose. It is now complete, whole, perfect. You can see the full image in all its beauty and complexity and the puzzle has and is fulfilling its purpose.
Jesus needed to suffer not because suffering itself is a means to perfection, but because without that Jesus would not be complete as our mediator. Jesus-as-God-in-flesh must undergo the full human experience, which includes suffering and death. Only then is Jesus complete, whole, perfect. Only then is the puzzle of the Messiah finished. Jesus even said from the cross, “It is finished.” This was not an affirmation of suffering itself, but a declaration that through his own suffering on the cross he had achieved full and final union with humanity, and thus was able to redeem the fullness of humanity not in his death but through conquering death in the resurrection.
Unfortunately, this one verse has been used by the church for two millenia to justify the use of suffering as a means to sanctification and perfection of the followers of Jesus. This is blasphemy. We already suffer. If human suffering could have been redemptive then we would not have needed Jesus to join fully divinity and humanity in one being. You do not need to suffer to experience God’s salvation. Christ has suffered for you.
And yet, Jesus also calls us to take up our cross and follow him. The author of Hebrews references the sufferings of his own audience (10:32-39). He states explicitly that “[Jesus] had to become like his brothers and sisters in every respect…” including “sharing in their flesh and blood” and thus their sufferings. (2:14-18)
Biblical perfection – “Be perfect as God is perfect” (Matthew 5:48) – means to be mature, whole and complete, and thus to fulfill one’s end or purpose. It is not about never making mistakes, nor ever changing one’s mind. It is not about flawlessness of speech or skin. This phrase from Matthew could be understood in this way: Seek God’s measure of perfection rather than the world’s measure, for “humans look on the outward appearance, but God looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7).
God does not seek to shape our hearts by suffering, but to redeem our sufferings. Jesus became “perfect” in that he was fully like us only when he suffered and died, thus making him able to redeem and transform our humanity fully. When we “take up our cross” for the sake of the gospel we are following Jesus’ example of accepting suffering and hardship rather than forsake the calling and turn our backs on those Jesus desires to reach through you and me. God does not will or desire that we suffer. God recognizes that we will, and becomes our ally and advocate by joining fully in our suffering. When we suffer for the sake of the gospel, for the sake of justice and righteousness on behalf of the kingdom of God, then our sufferings become efficacious because they are joined with those of Christ (Colossians 1:24). When we willingly endure suffering for the sake of others this becomes our testimony to them – an extension of Jesus’ own testimony of suffering for the sake of the world. It becomes our solidarity with God-in-Christ and with the world Jesus came to save.
Jesus suffered so that you would not be alone in your suffering, and so that through his own suffering, death and resurrection he might transform all suffering. God does not directly answer the question “Why is there suffering?” or “Why does God allow suffering?”. God’s response to those queries is Jesus. “I am with you. You are not alone. Your suffering is not the final word. Death is not the final word. I will redeem, restore, make new. I have (already) reconciled to myself all things through Jesus’ life, death and resurrection.”
We might wish, hope and long for a God who would eliminate suffering. This is fruitless. Rather, we have a God who comes to be one of us, to undergo all things in human experience, and thus is able both to understand and to redeem.
Whatever you’re going through, you are not alone.
God really does understand and really does care.
This is cause for hope. This is Good News.
Exploring Cross-Cultural References
Communication requires mutual understanding, or is perhaps the process of arriving at that understanding. My 8th grade science teacher used to say, “To hear me is to understand me.” One aspect of this shared meaning is cultural reference points, including our story-telling. The New Testament often refers sideways to cultural touch points, particularly agricultural, political and military illusions which may be lost on a modern urban audience. The authors also reach back to the Hebrew Scriptures and other narratives that would have been well known to their contemporary audience but which are increasingly unfamiliar today.
In a similar way, we need a shared vocabulary of current pop-culture references – the stories of our own time. Complicating this is that “our time” crosses nearly a century and 6+ generations, and multiple language, ethnicity, race, and gender identity subcultures. Our ability to communicate requires a shared body of narrative references.
Toward that end, I’m undertaking a periodic survey of people’s favorite stories, as those are likely the ones that have the greatest potential communicative impact on them. Below is my initial set of questions (and on SurveyMonkey here). I welcome your responses, you’re your suggestions for how to improve this project.
NOTE: We will be using this to develop future worship series and other teaching opportunities.
POP CULTURE QUIZ – What are the stories of your life?
HEY!!! NOW, you can take the survey on SurveyMonkey here.
Following Easter we returned to an earlier rhythm of spending 30 minutes +/- in staff meeting on leadership equipping - addressing the vision and mission of Central and sharpening the skills that will help us pursue God's call with excellence.
At staff meeting yesterday we shared a conversation after watching this brief interview (https://youtu.be/nxqEye8ma5o) with Warren Bird of Leadership Network and Reggie McNeal author of Kingdom Come: Why We Must Give Up Our Obsession with Fixing the Church and What We Should Do Instead
Reggie has been a leader for over 20 years in helping congregations reach their communities, shifting from maintenance to mission. Though he does not use the same language, this is consistent with Eddie Hammett's The Gathered and Scattered Church vision. And though he doesn't address it in this video, a vibrant faith commitment to Jesus is presumed in everything he says here. He starts with that as a given, and then goes forward from there.
You can learn more about Reggie here - http://www.reggiemcneal.org/
And about Leadership Network here - http://leadnet.org/
The graphic below shows my whiteboard notes of our conversation.
Please join in the discussion.
Primary reference texts: Genesis 1: 26-31; Romans 8:14-25
We care for community and creation
The first generations of our movement lived primarily in rural areas and small towns. They lived close to the land and were dependent upon it for their survival. They did not explicitly convey a concern for the environment as such, because they didn’t need to. Caring for that upon which you are dependent no doubt seemed obvious to them. Barton Stone, Alexander and Thomas Campbell and others were people of their time who shared many of the same values, priorities, and blindnesses.
Our movement grew rapidly during the 19th century in part because the country was growing rapidly westward and we went with them. Born on the frontier, we were tailor made for the individualism of the time.
Why as “Big D Disciples” do we care about the Environment and make this a priority?
There are several reasons grounded in our historic identity. I occasionally hear someone say something along the lines of, “I don’t come to church to hear about the environment, about the plight of the poor, or other social issues.” I come to hear sermons from the bible.
My response is: “Tell me what’s left of the bible if you remove creation, the poor, and our relationships with one another in community? Not much.” I don’t mean this in a sarcastic way. I’m genuinely serious, and if you’re skeptical I hope to convince you this morning, at least a little.
We are people of the book, and so we prioritize those things the Bible prioritizes. As relates to our concern for community and creation, here’s a short list:
1. God made and loves creation, (Genesis 1-2) and therefore we should too. John tells us that through Jesus all things were made. Would you disrespect and degrade and destroy the things your loved ones have made?
2. Creation is a unified whole that includes humanity. (Genesis 1-2) We are not a second, separate, later and greater project. “We’re all in this together.”
3. Creation is integral to God’s salvation plan Romans 8; Colossians 1; Revelation 20-21
As evidence of this, Paul conveys that creation itself is also part of God’s salvation plan. God’s salvation is not a individualistic experience just for those who believe a certain set of ideas or even who claim allegiance to a particular person, even Jesus. Paul, for whom Jesus is everything, is the one who tells us that creation longs for redemption and will experience redemption. Followers of Jesus in this life are simply the first fruits of what God will do for all of God’s creation.
Colossians 1: 15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; 16 for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers--all things have been created through him and for him. 17 He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. 19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20 and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.
4. Creation is God’s witness and teacher for us – Psalm 104 & Romans 1 & Job 12. Creation teaches us about the nature of God, classically referred to as Revelation through nature. We cannot know everything about God in this way, but we can see beauty, creativity, love, provision, transformation, regeneration, mutuality, and the cycle of death and renewal. We can see our vulnerability and need for community. We can see that power exists beyond our control or understanding.
5. Creation praises God with us, and therefore is worthy of our honor and respect as our sibling in worship. (Psalm 148) Jesus said during his triumphal entry into Jerusalem that if his followers did not praise him then even the very rocks on the roadside would raise their voices in praise (Luke 19:40).
6. Care for the poor requires care for creation
The bible demonstrates clearly God’s concern for the poor. God intervened for Jacob and his children during famine, and Paul even took up a collection among the churches because of a famine in the region around Jerusalem. We understand today the ways that human action causes and worsens the natural processes that lead to famine. We also can see with just a cursory look around that the poor are far more vulnerable to all environmental disasters.
7. We are in covenant relationship with creation – God’s first covenant with creation is in the act of creating. And our faith affirmations from those two stories declare an interdependence – we need the rest of creation for our sustenance and our companionship – “It is not good for the human to be alone.” Similarly, we are told that the plant world did not come into being until we could be present to care for it. (Gen 2). Our modern scientific understanding makes clear that the timing is otherwise, but our faith profession is none-the-less one of interdependence. Genesis 1 proclaims this covenant as one of dominion – the relationship of a sovereign and subjects, of God and humanity. Dominion is a form of covenant relationship that requires care and provision, if not affection.
What can we do?
1. Reduce, Reuse, Recycle – this isn’t some liberal conspiracy. It’s not a silly hippy or hipster trend. Based on the seven witnesses above, these three practices are integral to our life of faith. We read and hear about companies pursuing zero waste – In.gredients in Austin is a new zero waste grocery store. Even nations are getting into the act. Sweden has sent less than 1% of its waste to landfills each year since 2011. They are so efficient at reuse that they have to import rubbish from other nations just to keep their recycling plants going.
What is preventing Central from pursuit of being a zero waste organization? What if we start by not using paper products except when absolutely necessary? We have glasses, ceramic mugs, plates, metal cutlery and cloth towels. In our fellowship events alone we could reduce our waste significantly by washing dishes rather than using disposables.
2. Reduce our carbon footprint and use of natural resources. Every light switch in the building has a sign saying we move money to mission by turning off the lights. And frank is doing a great job of switching us to LEDs from incandescent and fluorescent lights.
What is preventing Central from pursuit of being a producer rather than consumer of electricity?
What if we installed solar panels on the roof? We might end up selling electricity back to the grid. What if we installed water collection systems to water our flower beds and lawn, at least during parts of the year. We could reduce our use of city water by 1/2.
3. Shop and Buy sustainably. Use reusable bags and recycle any paper or plastic bags we do get. Favor reduced packaging manufacturers and retailers. Buy in bulk, even perhaps forming a coop with others.
4. Support entrepreneurs who are innovating – SyncLife Coworking can be a way that we gather, collaborate and support nonprofit and for-profit enterprises that seek to address environmental issues.
5. Neighbor those who live at the margins and are most affected – here at 4711 Westside Drive we are fairly insulated from environmental problems. Plenty of green space, not in a flood zone, no toxic dumps or manufacturing near by. But we can pursue mutual friendship with those who are not so fortunate, and help them pursue environmental justice for their families and communities.
6. Advocate – use our voices toward (the literal meaning of advocate) environmental best practices in our own homes, communities, state and around the world.
7. Study, pray and share – perhaps the most important thing we can do is dig more deeply into our faith tradition, resources and practices where we will find that God calls us deeply into living as those who receive our covenant relationship with creation as a gift from a gracious God. We are mutually dependent upon one another, and by God’s wisdom and spirit we can live more faithful, healthy and fruitful lives.
These seven witnesses of scripture to us and seven witnesses of the church to the world give us a clear biblical foundation for Christians, individually and collectively, to show care for community and creation. Any gospel that lacks this environmental emphasis is incomplete at best. At worst it mocks the love of God who created us for mutuality in relationship with God, one another, and the natural world. The entire witness of scripture from Genesis to Revelation elevates God’s love for us in and through nature and the reciprocal call to love God by loving and tending God’s good gifts in creation.
April 12, 2018
Dear Friends of God,
I don’t know how often you think of yourself under the label “friend of God,” but I hope that you hear and receive it as a word of blessing, encouragement and hope. In your giving to Central Christian Church through time, talent and treasure, you are demonstrating your friendship, commitment and love to God. After all, this is what friends do for one another, isn’t it?
Abraham was called “friend of God” (Isaiah 41:8; James 2:23). Jesus called his disciples “friends” (John 15:15) and The Son and The Father are One (John 10:30). Those who do the will of God are Jesus’ family (Matthew 12:50). We are friends and family with God when we join together in what God is doing in the world in and through the church. By your financial contributions you are doing just that. Here are some examples:
Thank you for your continued faithfulness and partnership with Central as we serve the world in Jesus’ name and for his sake. Please contact the church office if you have any questions about the enclosed giving statement.
Yours in Christ,
One of the ways we engage our right-brained creativity in our study and prayers is by drawing and coloring our meditations on scripture. The text below can be illustrated by a tree (large mustard plant shrub in this case) with nesting birds. As you draw or color, consider how small the seed from which this kingdom grows, and how much safety is provided to these birds. Seek the Lord's wisdom for how even your own simple gifts and modest faith might contribute toward sanctuary and flourishing for some of God's most vulnerable beloved. Download these images for use in your prayers this week.
26 He also said, "The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, 27 and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how. 28The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head. 29 But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come."
30He also said, "With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it? 31 It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; 32 yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade."
33 With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it; 34 he did not speak to them except in parables, but he explained everything in private to his disciples. (Mark 4)
Central is located in the geographic center of six distinct neighborhoods:
We are invited to consider and discern how our context points to God’s dream for us. How might this particular location and these specific groups of neighbors be part of God’s plan for our ministry together? What would the LORD have us do here and now?
One way of approaching these questions is to wonder what needs are shared among most or all of the residents in these communities? How are they more alike than different? This question itself points to one of the foundational answers.
The reality is that we do have much in common, though demographically we appear very different – race, language, economics, education, country of origin, sexual orientation, generation. Yet we all share basic human needs for meaning and purpose, belonging and love. Particularly in the divisiveness and conflict of our current social and climate we need places where we can come together and learn from one another. We need a safe place to tell our story and to hear the stories of others - to know and be known.
Above all Churches ought to be places of welcome, healing and hope. Our context implores us to engage with our neighbors and draw them together in meaningful ways where we can all recognize, affirm and celebrate our common humanity.
The social and economic pressures of our time are best alleviated by solutions that arise from our common knowledge and shared experience. We see in the letters of Paul and the book of Acts these same conflicts arising from fear born of difference. In Christ we learn that our common humanity surpasses the value and power of any distinctions. The human race is made one in Him. We are reconciled to God and to one another, and given the ministry of reconciliation.
How will we claim and live into our reconciled nature? How will we learn and practice the ministry of reconciliation so that it spreads throughout our community and world?
One glance at the above map should make clear the amazing opportunity we have to be a hub of community connections. We can host gatherings, events and programs on our campus that meet real concrete needs of our neighbors and bring them into relationship with one another. We can partner with other individuals and groups as allies and catalysts for similar encounters in other settings.
As we make direct relational connections to our neighbors, we have the opportunity to hear their hopes and fears, their dreams and their struggles. Then together with them and the Holy Spirit we can become the answer to our own prayer that God’s kingdom would come and God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven.