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Messy Sunday

What would happen if we decided to give up going to church and decided to be the church? Would we find ourselves surrounded by people who look like us, behave like us, believe like us and belong like us? This article on the Emergent Village webpage has me thinking about what it would look like for me. Jared Enyart and his wife for the last two years have given up going to church – unless you consider church breakfast with a dozen or so homeless people under a bridge. They have begun calling what they do, “Messy Sunday.” Eating with people who smell like urine, swear, teach children how to throw sand at others is messy, but the Enyarts have realized that kingdom living in the steps of the king gets messy sometimes. Or as Jeff Walling sometimes puts it, “If things didn’t get messy, we wouldn’t need a Messiah. It’s a bold move. One that requires a lot of compassion and faith. It doesn’t take a long look at Jesus to realize that sometimes His work is going to require us to roll up our sleeves and get a little bit messy.


A New Kind of Christian

I just finished reading Brian McLaren’s A New Kind of Christian. I was not sure what to expect when I picked it up other than the fact the McLaren was rethinking how Christians think about things and sharing his insights with the world. After completing the first of the trilogy following the spiritual journey of Dan and Neo, I feel very similar to how Dan descibed himself at one point – very excited but mildly depressed. I am excited because I feel that McLaren has captured much of my own frustrations and anxieties over the current state of Christianity and the dialogue between Neo and Dan captures many of the questions I have had for some time and allows for dialogue – not necessarily answers – about them. The mild depression I find myself in is the result of a “now what” feeling I am left with. I think I am going to let McLaren’s words marinate for a while before trying to move on to the practical side of things. Right now there are certainly more questions than answers.

Professional Vices & Swimming for Life

~Henri Nouwen, The Way of the Heart

“Anger in particular seems close to a professional vice in the contemporary ministry. Pastors are angry at their leaders for not leading and at the followers for not following. They are angry at those who do not come to church for not coming and angry at those who do come for coming without enthusiasm. They are angry at their families, who make them feel guilty, and angry at themselves for not being who they want to be. This is not an open, blatant, roaring anger, but an anger hidden behind the smooth word, the smiling face, and the polite handshake. It is a frozen anger, an anger which settles into a biting resentment and slowly paralyzes a generous heart. If there is anything that makes the ministry look grim and dull, it is this dark, insidious anger in the servants of Christ.”

Ministry can be frustrating at times. I will occasionally vent to Krista about different things and she will ask me if I am angry. I usually reply that I am not angry, just a little frustrated. Its funny how the “frustrating” things can be stifled enough for a smooth word, smiling face, and polite handshake but deep down those little frustrations turn into what Nouwen calls hidden anger, frozen anger, insidious anger. How can we keep our frustrations for building up into such things which create biting resentment and paralyze generous hearts. I think we have all known ministers who have fallen into this. We can see it in the ministries they lead and hear it in their conversations.

This section from The Way of the Heart is actually the first part of a chapter on solitude. Henri Nouwen talks about how the Desert Fathers would “swim for their lives” into the desert to escape the temptations of this world. I find it ironic that he is using swim to describe anything that happens in the desert but when we think about the release that is found in intentionally stepping back from our frustrations to let the Spirit guide us, His counsel satisfies our thirst in a dry and weary land where there is no water. So much so in fact that we can swim for our lives.

“If there is anything that makes the ministry look grim and dull, it is this dark, insidious anger in the servants of Christ.” We are not called to lead people using grim and dull ministries. The Gospel of Christ is cause for celebration. Celebration flows from a generous heart, heartfelt words, genuine smiles, and nail-scarred handshakes. Frustrations get in the way of celebrations. How can we swim for our lives and free ourselves from professional vices (like anger) without stepping out of contemporary ministry settings?


Change in Communion?

I just started reading a new book, Nurturing Children’s Spirituality: Christian Perspectives and Best Practices. At the close of the first chapter, the editor retells a story of a two year old girl, Elizabeth, who is “playing” communion in her bedroom. Elizabeth, a catholic, has a cup for the wine and small white disk representing the bread. The mom asks the her if she was hoping to change the small white disk into Jesus (catholic theology of transubstantiation – bread becomes actual body of Christ). The little girl replied, “Oh no, I change Wizbef {Elizabeth) into Jesus.”

We meet each week to share in the communion with one another and with our Lord. While I do not believe the bread becomes actual body and wine becomes actual blood, I do believe the emblems represent Christ and his sacrifice. Sadly, we often put much more emphasis on how the bread represents Christ than on how WE represent Christ. I think it is important to focus on Christ’s sacrifice each time we take the Lord’s supper. Thanks to Elizabeth, I may start focusing on how sharing in the communion changes me to be more like Jesus.


God is Near

This morning I preached a sermon that has developed out of some spiritual awareness I have had recently. I have been thinking a lot about God’s nearness. God has been much nearer than I have known and felt. As I was preparing my sermon, I began tracing God’s presence throughout history in the Bible. I worked my thoughts into my sermon and thought I would share them here.

When God created the world. His desire for intimacy with his creation is seen as God walks in the garden in the cool of the day. God is near his People and now we claim that nearness as our own.

When Abraham feels as though the Covenant God made with him is being threatened by a command to sacrifice the very son promised to him. God’s story shows us a God that is so close He can halt a dagger as it pierces the air before it pierces the son of a covenant.

As a half million former slaves leave Egypt for a land promised to them, God’s presence leads them by fire at night and by smoke during the day, only to marvel this baby nation by paving the way through a mighty river.

As two rebellious nations make Israelites choose sides, God’s story brings us “in your face messages” ending with “thus saith the Lord” from reluctant prophets.

God’s story takes us into a foreign land where Jews mourn the loss of a Holy City. Other prophets emerge to help them know that while they are in a distant land they worship a not so distant God who shuts lion’s mouths and visits friends in a fiery furnace.

From the least likely places God shows just how involved he is by moving the heart of King Cyrus to deliver his people back to the promised land. His involvement guides prophets to expect an even more incredible deliverance from a coming Messiah.

Here God’s story takes the most exciting turn yet. Limiting the distance more than ever, God comes down to dwell in one man. Emanuel, God with us. The very God of creation walking and talking, breathing and hurting among those he created.

Just as quickly as God makes his dwelling on Earth, it appears that he makes an about face and leaves his own Son to die. In reality his ultimate attachment to you and to me is shown by attaching his own son to a cross.

When we think that God couldn’t get any closer to showing his love for us than a nail splitting wood, God’s own spirit splits our hearts and once again God’s dwelling place is not just among his people but now inside his people.

As we join God’s story we remember Jesus words before leaving his disciples. That as we go out into the entire world Jesus says, “Surely I am with you always.”

God is near.


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