You Might Be A Christian If…You Have A Weird Thing For Calling People ‘Ministers’

Sunday’s Scripture ~ I Peter 2:1-10.

This is my tenth year under pastoral appointment. This means – to date – I have written somewhere in the realm of 520 Sunday sermons.

Woah!? That does not seem possible.

But it is.

While I continue to find Scripture passages I have yet to explore for preaching, I am also now to a place in my preaching where I have already preached particular texts on one or more occasions. I like to return to these sermons as a way to reflect and remember…and to also rejoice because some of my earlier sermons…

Woah…

And not “Woah! That was great.” More “Woah…that was a nice effort…?”

My congregation’s were (are!) super gracious.

The last time I preached this text from I Peter I was appointed to a congregation in downtown Orlando. With this text I encouraged and exhorted. I impressed upon them the significance of their presence in and participation with the Body of Christ.

I affirmed them as living stones!!!

And two years later – almost to the day – the church closed.

Learning of that closing caused me to experience a scattering silence.

Luke 19 describes Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. The faithful and hopeful surround him; joyfully they “praise God in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen: Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the LordPeace in heaven and glory in the highest” (Lk 19:37b-38). Some of the Pharisees admonished the crowds’ praise of Jesus, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples!” “‘I tell you,’ [Jesus] replied, ‘if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out’” (Lk 19:39-40).

Jesus said the stones would cry out – in hope and praise and assurance – of him as King and Messiah. In I Peter the Apostle also called the church – God’s holy nation and royal priesthood – stones. The same Greek word – lithos – is used in both places. While Jesus anthropomorphizes stones by giving them human qualities in praising and crying, Peter likens humans to stones hewn together for strength and stability as God’s kingdom is built with us and before our eyes.

With Reeves Memorial UMC closing…I felt the stones had been scattered and silenced. I experienced a scattering silence. And the effect was sobering.

I went into a time of mourning and grief. I questioned what I had done. I questioned what I left undone. I hoped the good I offered far outweighed any harm I committed.

Ultimately, I felt like I let them down.

In time God met me in the scattered silence and reminded me that the church did not close. The building closed but not the church. Yes, indeed, the stones were scattered from that locale…and they were still speaking testimonies of God’s goodness and grace.

I know there were also words of grief and grimace peppered among the words of goodness and grace. In fact, I heard some of them personally! And that is okay. They are human. We are human. That behavior is human. Telling that story – of goodness and grace alongside, speaking louder, and/or resulting from grief and grimace – is one way God does what God does in transforming scattered stones into seeds.

Seeds that root and sprout.

Spouts that rise and bloom.

Blooms that bring beauty and joy.

The timing of this transforming is something God alone can see. The testimony of that transformation is a gift for all the world to see.

I do not think I will ever read this text from I Peter and not think of my time with the Reeves congregation. I am grateful for the opportunity to have shepherded them and to have been shepherded by them. I am hopeful for the ways God continues to use the faithful stones of that congregation to cry out in prayer and praise. I pray those stones have found their way into new congregations so that their faith is strengthened through proximity relationship to Christ and neighbor.

I trust God is making seeds of those stones – that with God’s help they are rooting and sprouting, rising and blooming, bringing beauty and joy as they testify to God’s enduring faithfulness.

God knows the timing of their transformation. God gifts these transformations to us as testimonies of lives lived in faith.

Prayer: “There’s a song in every silence, seeking word and melody; there’s a dawn in every darkness bringing hope to you and me. From the past will come the future; what it holds, a mystery, unrevealed until its season, something God alone can see.”* Amen.

*“Hymn of Promise,” The United Methodist Hymnal 707.

 

A Knock At Midnight

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Luke 11:5-8.

One of the most powerful moments in my ministry is to be present with people. One of the most powerful gifts in my ministry is for people to be present with me.

My aunt had surgery on Thursday, which took me to Lakeland in the wee hours of the morning to pray with her and be present with her husband and my cousin. Her surgery was a success, but in the time between our shared prayer and our reuniting in recovery, we three looked deeply into the face of mortality.

I saw a side of my aunt’s husband I am not accustomed. Usually cracking jokes with a toothy grin, Rodney was quiet and reflective. Expressions of hope and worry washed across his face as waves wash up on the shore.

I wanted to be strong for my family while also being present in my own emotions. I showed up for my family and my family of faith – at and beyond Tuskawilla – showed up for me. People prayed for me. People sent messages of hope and encouragement throughout the day. People named that cancer is awful and that I and my family are not alone.

What does it mean to be the church? It means to show up. It means having someone come to you at midnight – representative of a time of need, a time of great distress – and answering the door. It means going to someone in your time of need and time of great distress and being welcomed.

I am grateful to have answered my family’s knocking. I am grateful to have been welcomed in my time of knocking.

May we all continue on – encouraged, shaped, and participating in – the showing up of the church. May we knock and be answered. May we hear knocking and swiftly move to the aid of our family – of origin, of choice, of faith.

Prayer: “Blest be the tie that binds our hearts in Christian love; the fellowship of kindred minds is like to that above. We share each other’s woes, our mutual burdens bear; and often for each other flows the sympathizing tear.”* Amen.

*”Blest Be the Tie That Binds,” The United Methodist Hymnal 557.

Rock of Ages: Building On This Rock

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Matthew 16:13-20

In this week’s Rock of Ages text we hear Peter’s confession about the identity of Jesus – “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God” – as well as Jesus’ declaration about Peter’s future – “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church” (Mt 16:16, 18a).

My first appointment was to a new church that resulted from a merger of two existing congregations with two existing church campuses. The vision that drew the now one congregation together was that they could better serve their local communities as one church and one united body of God’s people than they could separately. At the beginning of my appointment we continued to worship, host events, and welcome folks on both campuses. As my appointment progressed we began looking forward to purchasing a new piece of land that would be the future home of New Horizon Church. We committed to working to sell the original church campuses so we could invest all our available stewardship, resources, and people into the new campus that was adjacent to a local high school and many developing neighborhoods.

We were able to purchase the new church property in early 2011 and so church leadership moved into the design phase of the project. I did not take the class on reading blueprints or completing permitting in seminary – I missed out! – so much of went on was new to me and very over my head. While many around me began to talk about what was going to go into and on top of the ground I wanted to give thanks for the ground as it already existed.

The Saturday following Easter in 2011 I invited the congregation to join me at the future site of the church to complete a prayer walk over the grounds. The church would make its home in an orange grove. The trees were still in bloom; the air was fragrant and sweet. The trees were so dense that not much grass grew on the ground so we walked through God’s wonderful gift known as Polk County sand. Corner to corner for 20 acres we walked and prayed, we gave thanks to God for the land that had been provided for us, we praised God for how God was blessing and continuing to bless the ties that bound us together as a congregation, and we asked God to continue leading us to be witnesses of his love, service, and justice in our community. Before there was any sort of finalization of blueprints or completion of environmental studies or selection of the fabric on the pew chairs or even a ground breaking we prayed over the ground as God had provided it to us. We prayed over each other. Even though there was no building, we prayed over the church.

I learned very early – through a beloved Sunday School song – that “the church is not a building, the church is not a steeple, the church is not a resting place, the church is a people.” People are made into the church by sharing in Peter’s confession about Jesus, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” When Jesus told Peter, “on this rock I will build my church” Jesus was referring to Peter’s confident confession. That confession is the bedrock of every believer and a shared foundation in every Christian community of faith. A building is not necessary to communicate this statement of faith.

We are the church. We are the people. This is our confession to make. This is our story to tell. And may we, like Peter, do so with great confidence.

Prayer: “I am the church! You are the church! We are the church together! All who follow Jesus, all around the world! Yes, we’re the church together! The church is not a building, the church is not a steeple, the church is not a resting place, the church is a people. We’re many kinds of people, with many kinds of faces, all colors and all ages, too, from all times and places. Sometimes the church is marching, sometimes it’s bravely burning, sometimes it’s riding, sometimes hiding, always it’s learning. And when the people gather, there’s singing and there’s praying, there’s laughing and there’s crying sometimes, all of it saying: I am the church! You are the church! We are the church together! All who follow Jesus, all around the world! Yes, we’re the church together!”* Amen.

*”We Are the Church,” The United Methodist Hymnal 558.