The Church Is at Its Best When: When it is a Discerning Community” John 16:12-15; Acts 15: 6-21

God Said itYears ago well meaning people of faith wore a t-shirt that said, “Bible said it, I believe it, that settles it!”  They were reflecting what has been true since the reformation; the church’s source for authority is the Bible.  Then, we read these biblical words.  Jesus tells his disciples three nights before his death, “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.  When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth.”  Let’s not pass to quickly over these words; defaulting to a familiar position-the Bible is the sole place to look for all truth. 

These words of Jesus are consistent with what he practiced in his entire public ministry.  Jesus possessed the authority to interpret scripture.  In the Sermon on the Mount he says: “You have heard it said, but I say to you; revealing to his disciples he informed the truth.  He challenges the former writings of “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth”, saying, “not to resist an evildoer.”  He forbids the tribal ways of retaliation, which were recorded in biblical law; insisting we turn the other cheek.  When Jesus said, “I have come to fulfill the law” he is telling us that scripture is the first thing we look to; but not the last thing when discerning the revelation of God.  Word Became Flesh

What Jesus means when he says Christ’s Spirit will lead us to truth is he is Lord over all, including scripture.  After all it is written, “In the beginning was the Word, the Word was with God… and the Word became flesh.”  Jesus is the Word that became flesh.  Now he is leaving the flesh, so he leaves his Spirit of Truth to aid us in discernment.  Christ’s Spirit is Lord over the community of faith; especially as we discern together what God desires for our church and how we shall carry out our mission to the world. 

Our United Methodist heritage gives us the Quadrilateral as one way to keep Christ’s Spirit Lord over scripture, tradition, reason and experience.  Christ’s Spirit is the Lord over scripture; helping us apply it to our lives.  Christ’s Spirit is Lord over tradition; showing us the former things we should preserve.  Christ’s Spirit is Lord over our reason; guiding our minds to what new things we need to embrace. Christ’s Spirit is Lord over our experience; engaging us in meaningful times that confirm our faith. 

Christ’s Spirit speaks to us in the context of personal prayer, conversation with others, and paying attention to what’s going on in the world.  This is a demanding process that no one can do alone; it takes all of us to mine the mind Christ’s Spirit.  When a faith community is shaped and led by Christ’s Spirit we are at our best at discerning the ways of God. 

QuadtrilateralThere are communities of faith that place a unhealthy degree of trust in their own ability to discern what God wants.  They believe they can pull themselves up by your own bootstraps; feeling if God’s work is going to get done it is up to them.  A church anchored too firmly in their own ingenuity tends to do nothing more than repeat the same practices from the past.  They end up feeling of frustrated because of the ebb and flow of fate that brings good and bad times despite their best efforts.  This isn’t the best way to be a discerning community of faith.

There are communities of faith that live so high up in the world of the Spirit, they are rarely grounded in trusted traditions and best practices.  These communities tend to be swept away by fanciful flights of faith.  A church so loosely connected to the real gifts of this world can be washed away by the whimsical waves stirred up by the latest trends.  They end up chasing dreams that rarely become difference makers in God’s kingdom.  This isn’t the best way to be a discerning community of faith. 

A community of faith is at its best in discernment when it holds in balance the glorious tension between the ways of this world and the power of the Spirit.  This kind of church is able to consider how the former things can be wed to the new thing God is doing.  Mixing past with the future will make for a recipe that can enable a community of faith to do good discerning work.  Balance

Marrying the past with the future in the discernment process can be called traditioned innovation.  Traditioned Innovation honors tradition; but isn’t a slave to it.  A discerning community of faith doesn’t run from tradition, like an adolescent rejecting all they were taught.  A discerning community of faith innovates on tradition, like an adult child exceeding her family expectations. A discerning community of faith is courageously conservative or prudently progressive, depending on your default point of view.

We have a vivid example in Acts 15 of a discerning church at its best.  After Jesus’ resurrection, the church was composed of only Jews who had come to believe in Jesus as the Messiah.  At the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, the good news of forgiveness and abundant life that comes by grace and faith and not by works of the law spread to the Gentiles.  Jew and Gentile who came to believe in God through Jesus, were together in the church; sharing the message with all who would listen. 

Acts 15Traditionalists said if Gentiles were to join the newly formed Christian fold, they would have to become Jews too, obeying the Law of Moses and accept the mark of circumcision.  The traditionalists appealed to the law (Bible), others said God is doing a new thing.  Leaders gathered in Jerusalem to listen to traditionalists, led by Peter and the progressives, led by Paul.  They heard the testimony of Gentiles who professed faith and served side to side with believing Jews.  Jews reflected on their experience; knowing they’re no different than these believing Gentiles; both came to salvation by the mercy of God in Christ Jesus and not by their works of the law. 

They arrived at traditioned innovation; not wanting to weigh down the new Christians with former ways; causing them to lose the winsomeness of the Spirit, which was born anew in them.   They also maintained continuity with what God has been doing through Israel for centuries by adding provisions all must not eat meat offered to idols and abstain from fornication.  Idolatry and sexuality concerns of the law were preserved.  In the end, they accepted the Gentiles as they were; allowing converts to live by the Spirit in the newness of life Christ had brought to them as long as they held onto some former fundamentals that would benefit all.  Seeing Differently

Later, some of what they decided at the Jerusalem Council faded as the church discerned that kosher wasn’t necessary for making or marking a Christian.  This change in discernment doesn’t prove the prior discernment wrong.  Instead, the change shows we’re always discerning.  Faithful discernment was needed before, during and after scripture was penned.

Discernment requires the right balance between the faith handed down and the faith coming to be.  This requires us to study scripture, listen to what God is doing in people’s lives, praying together with the help of Christ’s Spirit.  Finally, we arrive at consensus about what is fitting for all; not blindly following the pastor or thinking the majority rules.  

FutureOur HCI Team is doing necessary discerning work so we might be at our best. They worked four hours yesterday on the book Remember the Future; learning from each other and with persons in other faith communities.  The book asks the question whether we love Jesus enough to change.  It reminds the reader to remember the changes our predecessors made.  Remembering the future means building on what our forbears did and make similar changes to remain faithful for the sake of the future.

Some of you can recall times when you remembered the future.  It may have been at time of crisis or a time of necessary discernment.  You gathered, listened to each other’s stories, looked for biblical reasoning, and eventually came to a consensus that this is the way the wind of the Spirit was blowing you forward.  You made changes for the future by building on the past for the sake of this community of faith. 

This is a critical time for FUMC Irving.  We are doing some necessary discernment in listening for the current call of God for our community faith for the coming years.  I didn’t say this is a crisis time; it’s a good time to imagine what God might be calling us to next and how the Spirit’s wind might blow us there.  We will listen for God in each other’s understanding of scripture and tradition.  We’ll take note of the activity of God in each other’s understandings and experiences.  Together with the help of the Spirit of Christ we will discern our own version of traditioned innovation; deciding how we can cooperate with God in extending Christ’s kingdom in Irving.  Spirit blows

When the pilgrims boarded their ship in Europe to head for the New World in the year 1620, their pastor, John Robinson, commissioned them with these words: God has yet more light and truth to break forth from his holy word.  Their task was not to plant the old world in the new, but to plumb the mind of the Spirit as they traveled to this new land.  Just as God spoke to them; God is still speaking to us.  The church is at its best when it’s a discerning community of faith.  What might we discern in the coming years?

Published in: on October 21, 2013 at 8:55 am  Leave a Comment  

The Church Is a Learning Community Prov. 9: 1-10; Matt. 11: 25-30

Heaven on EarthOur church is a religious-service provider; we employ staff and deploy volunteers to gain more ground for the sake her cause.  That can sound self-serving, but there’s nothing wicked about it.  We shouldn’t apologize for offering services to our community.  Yet, if a church is a colony of heaven on earth, we’re to extend our work across time and space.  We don’t exist just for this moment.  A community of faith reaches out across that divide of space as a teaching congregation; passing on the accumulated wisdom of the past, while remaining open to discover the new from those we teach.  Church is at its best when it’s a teaching congregation; willing to learn too.

Harpole is the head teacher of a Church of England school in J. L. Carr’s novel The Harpole Report.  He squares off with a prim and proper teacher who takes offense saying, “I’ve never been spoken to like this in my thirty years of experience.” Harpole replies, “You haven’t had thirty years of experience, Mrs. Grindle-Jones. You’ve had one year of experience, thirty times.”  The church cannot be at its best if we act like Mrs. Grindle-Jones, thinking there’s nothing more to learn.  We’re at our best when we’re a community of faith that mutually teaches and learns from each other.Two Way Street

Teaching hospitals that include learning in all processes are good models.  In a teaching hospital, young administrators, doctors, and nurses learn by doing among the more experienced.  There’s also a symbiotic relationship in a teaching hospital, for not only do the learners gain from the teachers, the teachers learn from the students.  A teaching church passes on what they know while learning as they pass it on. We’re at our best when this kind of mutual learning experience exists.  There are some common denominators in learning communities of faith.

A learning community shares a spirit of humility.  The word sophomore comes from two Greek words: wisdom and moron; wise fools. Sophomores think they know all they need to know and there isn’t any more to learn.  The more we think we know, the more learning curve declines.  This is the immaturity the proverb says to set aside because the church isn’t at its best if it behaves sophomorically; thinking she can teach without learning.

A woman explained mansplaining to me.  She said a man from Manhattan (not Kansas) tried to piously tell her about farming.  Well, she grew up in Ohio in Amish country, where a horse might run over you if you’re not looking and traffic stops for the cows.  Her DNA was shaped on the farm and her values were rooted in the dirt that grew the crops she helped plant and harvest.  She said, “Mansplaining is when a man supposes he possesses knowledge a woman already knows; like farming.

Dining TableThe proverb beckons us to hear the call of wisdom; wooing us in a Martha Stewart like way to come and sit at wisdom’s table.  We read, Come, eat of my bread and drink of the wine I’ve mixed.  The call of wisdom is a call of hospitality; drawing us closer to wisdom’s beauty.  The nearer we come to wisdom, the more a spirit of humility falls on our spirit; for we know we’re not worthy of wisdom gifts.  .  Wisdom charms us into its world; so truth can fill our hearts and minds with a new light.  We’re drawn, not dragged along on the path of righteousness.  For, divine wisdom isn’t learned by a schoolmarm smacking on us the wrist with her ruler.  Wisdom comes as we  humble ourselves; believing we have something to learn.

The Cowboys’ rookie wide receiver, Terrance Williams, had a rough start at training camp and through the first few weeks of the season.  Did I mention Williams was from Baylor?  He said. “At first I was so nervous I dropped everything.  The last two weeks we’ve seen him at his best; catching 11 passes for over 200 yards; including a 82 yard touchdown.  Jason Garrett said: Sometimes nervous isn’t bad.  When you’re nervous and prepare the right way, you do well.  I am more concerned about the guy who has all the answers. Garrett commends humility and criticizes those who dictate the answers rather than learn in humility.  Did I mention Baylor won yesterday? Terrance Williams

The humble path the leads us to walk in the way of wisdom holds tightly to our personal faith in Christ, while holding loosely to our certain declarations about Christ.  This creates room for us to learn more about the person of Christ from others persons in the community of faith.  A spirit of humility knows intimately the One who is the Truth, while also knowing certainly we’re not he; nor do we exclusively possess all the truth we need to know.  A community of faith is at its best when learning fosters a spirit of humility.

A learning community of faith fosters a spirit of curiosity.  A learning community pursues truth with active minds; pushing each other to explore, grow, and live into the questions. We’re fearless about the truth.  Truth is stubborn, it can’t be ridiculed without consequence.  God is the author of truth and wants us to know it.  We pursue it; trusting it will deepen our faith and ,grow our knowledge of God’s ways; leading us to God.

CuriousA man spoke to me about my sermons.  He had a graduate degree and wouldn’t have the job he had without a great amount of education.  Yet, he had different idea about church.  He told me he had to think all week, when he came to church all he wanted to hear was the old, old story he already knew. He wasn’t in the mood for dialogue so I acknowledged he was heard. 

The Proverb says “A scoffer who is rebuked will only hate you.  The wise, when rebuked, will love youThe wise lovingly listen to those who speak to the truth, even if it feels like a rebuke; refusing to hate or make enemies.  The wise are open to converse with science, even if her findings challenge their world view.  The wise look for the good that comes from one who don’t yet believe, even though their practices raise questions.  A spirit of curiosity draws us closer the truth, not hating what challenges us or those who differ from us.  A spirit of curiosity can’t weaken the faith; the Gospel can stand up to any challenge, or it isn’t the Gospel.  A community of faith is at its best when learning fosters a spirit of curiosity.yoke

A learning community of faith yoked together in unity; growing in the knowledge of God together.  Matthew’s gospel depicts Jesus as the embodiment of wisdom.  God gave Jesus unique access to the Father.  As the Son, God has given him the right to reveal the knowledge of God that’s hidden from the wise and revealed to infants to whomever he chooses.  Wisdom is uncovered through this New Testament invitation to be yoked to Christ and each other, so we grow in the knowledge of God together.  

Jesus says, “Take my yoke”, learn from me and others who yoked together; plowing into the knowledge of God as we’re guided by Christ’s wisdom.  A yoke-a wooden beam that harnesses the oxen to each other and to the farmer who directs the plowing.  (Now I am mansplaining.  Many of you know more about plowing than I, who prefer loafers to boots.)  At the risk of over-explaining (mansplaining) let me point out some aspects of being yoked to Jesus, so we might learn in unity from him and each other..

Hands UnityYou’ is plural when Jesus says, “You, take my yoke”.  It’s more common to have a team of animals yoked together.  The yoke implies we don’t learn alone; for a faith community isn’t made up of individuals who learn on their own.  We learn together, tied to Christ; in unity with him and each other. 

This yoke is custom fit, not one size fits all.  It sits gently; allowing us to learn together without tiring. It’s easy, not exhausting to dig deeply; plowing ground as we learn from Christ and each other.  Christ leads us gently, but surely in what we need to learn.  No voice should be silenced, each voice is needed to learn together.  None are privileged, learning together means we learn from every person.  Christ may speak to all of us, through any of us.  As we hear each other, we learn of God and the greater wisdom that can be learned in a unified community that is yoked to Christ and to each other. 

Godly wisdom requires a spirit of humility about what we don’t know.  Godly wisdom possesses a curiosity to know what we can know.  Godly wisdom allows Christ to lay his yoke on us and be yoked to him and others in the faith community; learning as we follow Christ wherever he may lead.  When humility, curiosity and unity exist in a community of faith the church is a learning community and at it’s best.

Learning Community

Published in: on October 13, 2013 at 6:47 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Church Is a Generative Community Ps. 145:1-4, 8-9

Hands generationWe’ve reached sermon five in our series Church Is at Its Best When… Today, we’re at our best when we’re a generative community of faith, generating more of ourselves for Christ’s cause. The psalmist speaks of a generative community saying: One generation shall laud your works to another, and shall declare God’s mighty acts.”  This describes a spread of generations declaring God’s faithfulness to each other and others. 

The persons who sit in these pews stretch from those starting out to those finishing up; we’re an intergenerational community.  We regenerate by passing on what we learn from God and each other.  The more our faith matures, the more we know what the psalmist repeats is true-The Lord is gracious, merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love; good to all, and God’s compassion is over all… We want to plant and nurture this seed of truth.  As we do so in a generative community, over the years, we regenerate ourselves;telling of God’s love and salvation in Christ to every generation, until we are living a faith that will outlive us.  Steadfast love

Generative isn’t a word we use often.  The dictionary definition: capable of producing or creating; pertaining to the production of offspring.  I choose the word because its root gives us words like generation and generous.  These words can help us unpack what it means to say a church is at its best when we are a generative community of faith. 

A generative community touches all generations.  This happens as we multiply by inviting and baptizing people into new or fresh faith.  A generative community of faith believes all successes in life are secondary to person’s generative spiritual formation.  There is no academic or athletic success more important than the spiritual growth of our children.  There is no career or family priority greater than the priority of being rooted in a generative community of faith that passes on the good news, so others might give their heart to God.  A generative community of faith regenerates itself; living and learning together in a community of faith. 

Pew DiversityIt’s not exclusively the pastor’s job any more than it’s exclusively persons in the pews job to generate the spiritual faith of others.  All are needed to pray and talk with others about their faith.  A generative community models faithfulness with their presence, not to get something out of church or something from God; we come to give ourselves to God, so we might regenerate ourselves.  Being a part of the regenerative process allows us to experience great joy of new generations taking their place in the community of faith.  Legacy

We see an example of the generative process after a loved one dies and the person’s legacy still speaks.  Every time my family gathers, months after my mom’s passing, someone speaks words that echo her influence.  My mother’s faith lives in each one of us, we can’t escape the sacred canopy she has spread over our heads.  So, our hearts try to keep beat with her heart, which beat so closely to the rhythm of God’s heart.  My mother inspired a generative family, which all generations tell of her love and the love of God she instilled in each of us.  A generative community of faith touches all generations with the steadfast love of God.

Note BurningA generative community of faith is generous.  It challenges each other to greater generosity.  Competition in giving isn’t offensive when everyone is looking for excuses to give more because of the many good things it can generate for God in other people’s lives.  A generative community that is competitive in generosity; is a spiritually powerful community; competing not just with others but with ourselves in generosity. 

Over the past five years, as the economy has gone through this recession, you’ve given, even when times were hard and almost paid off our debt.  We’re so close to burning the note, I can smell the smoke.  After cutting and freezing budgets for years, we’re dreaming again in our 2014 budget. When’s the last time we asked if we could do better in being generous? 

Let me issue a challenge for the remainder of 2013.  This is blessing bowl, I suggest each household designate one in their home.  Each time we speak how this community of faith blesses our lives; we drop in a pre-designated amount into the bowl, attaching our spiritual blessings to our generosity.  Blessing Bowl

It will be dollar in our household.  For example, when I come home and tell Terri the day’s blessings, a bell will go off in my head counting the dollars that need to go in the blessing bowl; and vice versa.  We are going to bring our blessing offering to church at the end of each month, putting it in a special envelope, so we can celebrate our blessings and the generosity of this community of faith.  I hope each one of you will participate with your own pre-determined amount-nickel, dime, quarter, dollar or more.

Staying close to the community of faith helps us flourish in an abiding relationship with Christ.  Staying close to the community of faith maintains the personal touch needed to strengthen each other.  Staying close to the community of faith creates opportunities to care for each other and those who intersect our lives.  Staying close to the community of faith organizes us, so we can engage the world together.  Staying close to the community of faith helps us declare God’s love all generations and to seek ways to be a more generous community of faith.  This is what it looks like to be generative community of faith, and this is when the church is at its best!

Published in: on October 6, 2013 at 4:56 pm  Leave a Comment