Reflections on how Christians help each other to grow and mature in loving God with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength and to love their neighbor as themselves.

Friday, June 23, 2006

"Perfect Love Casts Out Fear"

Here’s the sermon I’m going to preach this Sunday in Minneapolis, MN.

Mark 4:35-41; 1 Samuel 17:32-49; 2 Corinthians 6:1-13
June 25, 2006

How could Jesus sleep through such a violent storm? Was he so tired that he was oblivious to what was happening around him? Did he simply not care what happened to himself and his friends in that little boat tossed about on the waves by the wind?

Jesus was able to sleep and be calm while all around him were panicking because he, his being, the essence of who he was, was centered and grounded in God his Father. Jesus knew who he was and whose he was. He found his identity, his power, his purpose for living, and his peace of mind in his relationship with God. His faith empowered him to trust God with his life. And his faith helped him do what needed doing at the time—saving his friend's lives.

This story is a great source of hope and comfort for the world today. We live in a world that seems to be ruled by fear, chaos and violence; the same forces confronting Jesus and his disciples in that boat. If you look at television, movies, books, video games and even comic books today you find violence at the center of what we call entertainment. Violence is part of life today. It's considered by many to be an acceptable way to resolve conflict or make a political statement. Much of it is driven by fear.

Our society as a whole has chosen to turn its back on the poorest, weakest, and most vulnerable of its citizens. "You're on your own now. Get a job." is all they are left with as words of encouragement.

There is a general coarsening of life. The consequence is a radical individualism that views the community good with suspicion and even contempt. Such individualism is really nothing more than a self-centeredness that ignores the common good in favor of "looking out for me, myself and mine."

Name calling, character assassination and cynicism now pass for acceptable public discourse. It seems that we can no longer find common ground. There has to be winners and losers.

Busy-ness has taken over the lives of many families. Schedules of parents and children have become over loaded to the point that many families now no longer have time to sit down together for a meal any more. There is no time to simply "be" with each other. There is now only time for doing and going and getting. It's no wonder families are stressed and often broken these days.

We live in increasingly violent, chaotic times. The waves of the world are beating over the bow of our ship. It's no wonder we sometimes feel as though we are sinking and nobody cares; not even God. Which is why this story from Mark's gospel is a word of re-assurance and hope.

In such times as these, we need to find a place of calm in the midst of the storm. Jesus' place of calm was God his Father and the power of the Holy Spirit to guide and empower him for ministry in the world. The gospel lesson today tells us we can look to Jesus to be our calm center. We can find ourselves, our life, our reality in him and his life among us. This story assures us that Jesus is in the boat with us offering to calm the waves and silence the wind.

Jesus is the incarnation of the God who is love. In Jesus Scripture reveals the fullness of God’s love for the world. This love has the power to calm the wind and the waves of a storm. This love has the power to save lives that are filled with fear. This loves is the power of God to not only save but to set us free to live and to love as Christ lived and loved. This story tells us that salvation is a present reality. It is more than something to hope for when we die. Salvation is now and it leads to a new way of life; a life set free from the power of sin and the fear of death. The source of this new life is our relationship with the God who is love and who comes to us in the person of Jesus Christ.

You see, Jesus was fearless because of his relationship in God. Because he is the incarnation of the God who is love fear is not part of his life. The writer of 1 John puts it this way:

“God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them. Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness on the day of judgment, because as he is, so are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear …” (1 John 4:16b-18a).

Jesus could sleep through the fury of the storm on that lake because he was so filled with love that he was fear-less. It was his love that calmed the storm and saved he and his friends from destruction. His love is the power of God that saves, heals, and brings wholeness and peace out of chaos and despair.

We see here that the opposite of love is not hate. Love’s opposite is fear. Fear leads to pride which leads to hate which leads to alienation and despair which eventually lead to violence. When we accept God’s acceptance of us in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, we receive the gift of faith. “By faith you are saved through grace.” By faith through grace Christ sets us free from the powers of sin and death. Fear is removed and replaced by love for God, our neighbors (those whom God loves), and ourselves. When we are in Christ and seek to live and walk with him, he sets us free from fear and for love.

Christ wants to be your calm center in the midst of a world and a life that are filled with chaos and violence. The gospel assures us that Christ is in the boat with us; even when we feel like he isn't there or simply doesn't care about what we're going through. He is there with you. He cares. And he wants to help. He wants to save you. All you have to do is let him. Let him be your still, calm place in the midst of the storm.Let him be the ground of your being, your life, your reality so that when the world throws its worst your way, you will be able to stand and even thrive.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Having the Form But Lacking the Power

The only problem with Bishop Dyck’s excellent sermon is that her challenge for The United Methodist Church to become the “Church of Go” is that it assumes the church is filled with people who are equipped and ready to evangelize the world. I fear that this is a faulty assumption.

My observation of the majority of UM churches is that most, certainly not all, members see themselves of consumers of services provided by the church. They show up on Sunday morning, when it is convenient, expecting to be “fed.” Worship is a performance for which they are the audience. The ultimate purpose of worship is to make them feel good about themselves and their church.

Church programs exist for their benefit, enrichment and pleasure. In return they give their hard-earned dollars to pay the clergy salary and benefits and maintain the building. They refer to worship as “going to church” rather than “being the church.”

If you asked most UMs to share their faith with you, they’d probably respond by telling you their faith is between “me and Jesus” and its none of your business. They would probably be hard-pressed to describe to you the content of the gospel of Jesus Christ and why he is “good news” for the world.
This reality is largely due to the fact that the UMC has neglected the basics of Christian faith and life for too long. The good news is that several conferences have recognized this problem and have begun addressing it. Bishop Sally Dyck is one of the bishops who understands what needs to be done and is working for positive change. She deserves our wholehearted support and prayers.

"The Church of Go"

The people of the Tennessee Annual Conference were challenged tonight by Bishop Sally Dyck of Minnesota to be the Church of Go. Using the various definitions of the common word, “go,” she admonished the leaders and people of The United Methodist Church to relinquish their complacency, privilege, and self-centeredness and go out into the world to share the good news of Jesus Christ with all people.

To that end, Bishop Dyck used the metaphor Jesus used with his first disciples: “fishing for people.” She said we need to use a wide net that will catch as many as possible. Jesus and his disciples did not use fishing rods and hooks. We need to stop “fly fishing for Jesus.” We should go beyond the practice of selecting and inviting those who look and think just like us. Rather, we need to do what Jesus and his disciples did, cast a wide net and bring all people into the household of Christ. Most particularly, the church needs to seek out those who have never been in a church or who have been alienated by the church. People like the poor, drug addicts, the homeless, gay and lesbian people, racial minorities, etc. Bishop Dyck told the congregation that our job is to do all in our power to bring all people to Christ. It’s God’s job to sort them all out in the end.

Bishop Dyck is a dynamic and engaging preacher. She brought a challenging word of good news to the people of the Tennessee Annual Conference tonight. I pray that the people will respond accordingly and become the Church of Go … into the world to make disciples of all people, teaching them to obey all that Christ commanded, and remember that he is with us always, even to the end of the age.