15 July, 2015

A Faithful Church is in Business 24/7/365

"When I moved here 12 years ago, I expected that the church would be busy on Sunday mornings.... but there is something happening there every day.... that is not acceptable; it needs to be regulated."(1)

This was spoken at a  meeting of the Village Plan Commission last evening by a member of the community.  My initial reaction was anger.  

  • How could someone not know that the work of the a faith based community is non-stop? 
  • Where was this person in school when the Anglo settlement  of New England in the 1600's by people fleeing religious regulation was discussed? You remember them -- the Pilgrims, who established a faith based community where the work of faith and life itself were indistinguishable?  
  • Was there an extended illness when the 1740's settlement of the  west coast was led by Roman Catholic Missionaries was taught?  You remember that -- the Roman Catholic missions that housed and educated the native population and established all of the oldest communities in California.   
  • Surely someone taught about the founding of public education was done by churches who opened their doors to children returning from long hours of labor in factories and mines. 

How did public education fail the person who spoke this complaint?

I understand that someone who does not practice faith might think that Sunday morning is the only time a faith community is active.  Clearly the speaker had an impression of faith communities that did not match my experience. 

  • But why would a church need a building if it is  a Sunday-only association?  
  • Why not just meet in people's homes?   

Clearly the CHURCH has failed in its 24/7/365 practice of faith. 

I left the meeting with my blood pressure through the roof.  I took the long way home -- walking briskly in the night air five blocks out of my way so I could think and pray about the situation.  

God has a way of turning my reactions into responses if I can just keep my mouth closed long enough. My reactions are usually knee jerk responses in anger or defense; I should never be allowed to speak after 9 p.m. when my brain operates only in the brain stem and my reactions are reptilian .  Responses are the result of trying to understand the other point of view and offering a reasoned, rational reply.  Responses come from the cortex and upper brain anatomy.  I cannot be reasoned or rational if I'm angry. 

Through the cool night air and the brisk stride, God doused the anger with another possibility. In the middle of the second block it struck me that the church this person was talking about is doing faithful ministry -- if they are doing "something everyday," if their ministry is not just on Sunday morning, they are being the Church, the Body of Christ.  If that faith community feeds the hungry, offers drink to the thirsty, welcomes the stranger, clothes the naked, visits the sick and the imprisoned (Matthew 25), they are indeed being the church.  

Celebrate with this community of faith that someone is complaining that they are faithfully following Christ is providing for "one of the least of these who are members of [Christ's} family" [Matthew 25:40).  This IS the work of the church.

If our building is not used 24/7/365, we are not being faithful.  We are not being good stewards of the blessings God has given to us through our predecessors in the faith.  We are going to do better.  We need to fill our empty space with those busy going about the work of providing for the least of these.  We need to find the vision and the energy to commission those among us for ministries.  If the Kingdom is going to come "on earth as it is in heaven," we cannot sit around and wait for it to happen; we are called to use our hearts, minds, bodies, and spirits.  Let us fill the building with God's work!  Let us make busy the doors! Let us be the church to all the world. 

(1) This was the overarching complaint of a number of members of the community who stuck out the entire meeting for the purpose of voicing their concern that an amendment to the village zoning ordinances regarding the definition of "Religious Use" of buildings was removed from the agenda and not discussed.  

To the other concerns, I offer these responses:

Comment:  Churches rent their space to outside businesses and agencies so that they can increase their coffers and make their expenses.

Response:  Churches offer to share our space with agencies who are doing work that tends to "the least of these."  That may include, but is never limited to, young, aged, widowed, addicted, homeless, oppressed, unemployed, under-employed, poor, disabled, sick, naked, hungry, imprisoned or newly released, mentally ill, sinners of all sorts, immigrants and other strangers, and you.  

Sharing space is just that: space is offered so that those who are working toward the fulfillment of the Realm of God (see Matthew 25) can have a safe and secure place to do their work.  If churches make a profit of any kind, they lose their property-tax exempt status and will incur massive expenses; churches offer space at the cost of having that space -- which is far below the market rates.  Churches may recap the cost of the space, but nothing the church can do will ever re-cap the cost of building and upgrading the space; the best that can come of shared space is re-cooping the cost of heat, air conditioning, electricity, and maintenance of the space.  Churches do not make a profit at anything they do.

Comment: Not for profit is tax terminology; it does not relate to the what churches are doing.

Response:  Unlike other entities in our Capitalistic Economy, the goal of the church is NOT to make a profit or to stay "in business."  The mission of the church is to usher in the Realm of God by offering God's extravagant welcome, unbounded hope, abundant grace, and unlimited love to all who will accept it and be transformed by the realization that they are children of God. 

When this  mission is completed, the churches can and should go out of "business;" but it will never be complete in my or your lifetime.  It is ongoing and fueled by hope and the vision of a better world. The difference between the capitalist business (aka a "for profit") and a faith community rests on the benefactor of the activity: For-profits are fueled by the vision of benefit to the owner(s) (monetarily) while not-for-profits have a "benefit the other" driven vision. Not for profits "do it" at a loss -- always because we're not in it for the money; we're in it for the benefit of "the least of these." That's why we depend upon donations. 

12 July, 2015

The Lost Sermon

This morning my sermon notes were not available to my iPad because the internet at the church was down.  So I preached from memory.  I did okay, not fantastic.  Here's the text I could not access!

There are two odd things that run through the joseph story.
  • He has and interprets dreams
  • He keeps losing and changing his clothes.  

  1. The Coat….a coat or cloak that extended all the way to the palms and all the way to the feet; hence, our translation “a long robe with sleeves.” It was clear that this was a special garment; this was a garment that betokened a certain exalted status, and that of course was one of the reasons the brothers were so angry when Joseph wore it.
  2. ·The Coat taken from him.  Given back to Jacob with blood stains.  Joseph is sold half naked to a caravan of merchants, then to the slave trade in Egypt, and finally to Potaphar.   Slave Clothes
  3. He leaves his clothes in Potaphar’s wife’s bedroom.   Prison, not death…. Made the servant of the Jailer – also named Potiphar. – he’s in charge of the prisoners.  Hence, he recognizes when the baker and the vinter are upset and interprets their dreams.
  4. ·Called upon to interpret Pharoah’s dreams  .. He is shaven and he changes clothes again.  
  5. ·He is made the governor of Egypt and he changes his clothes again… given a signet ring and a new wardrobe.
  6. Changing clothes is a change of outward appearances.  It can help with first impressions. It can help us feel better about ourselves.  It does nothing for what is going on within our psyche or in our soul. The change is only skin deep.
  7. Changing clothes is about us.  It’s about our ego and our self esteem. It’s only skin deep.

He has 2 Dreams.  

·in his dreams he was always the hero.  – The wheat bows to him.  The stars and moon and the Sun bow to him.  
·It’s about his own immaturity and arrogance.  These dreams build up his own self image and inflate his self importance.  

He Interprets 2 Dreams  

He listens to the dreams of others and helps them understand where they are headed in life.  It’s no longer about him – he give God the credit…. Though, he does tell the vintner to remember him when his day comes in so that Joseph can get out of prison.  

  • He interprets Pharaoh’s 2 Dreams. 

  1. It is no longer about him.  It’s about the larger picture.  It’s about the well being of all in his world.  He not only gives God the credit, Pharoah sees that it is God working through Joseph.  He sees Joseph as a representative to the One who is really in charge.  
  2. This is no longer skin deep.  This is all encompassing. 
  3. “It is not in me; God will give Pharaoh a favorable answer” (vv. 15-16).

  • There are two dangerous dreams. 

  1. Dangerous because God’s dreams disrupt the way things are. Dangerous because God’s dreams threaten the status quo, the normal order of life. 
  2. Dangerous because dreaming God’s dreams might get you into trouble. 
  3. If your dream just confirms what already is, rubber stamping the norm, pouring out a blessing on the sociopolitical empire of the day, it’s not God’s dream because God inverts our human way of doing things, flipping life on its head. 

  • § The last shall be first.
  • § The least are the greatest. 
  • § The weak are the strong. 
  • § The foolish are the wise. 
  • § To go up, you go down. 
  • § To have life, you have to die.

Joseph dreams of a different kind of world. His dream constructs a vision of a new social reality.  Joseph’s dreams disturb the “pecking order” of the world

in 1976, Jerry Garcia and the Grateful Dead sang a song penned by Mac Rebennack and first put out on a 1973 album by New Orleans R&B artist Dr. John. –It describes well what happens at the end of a dream: 

  • § I been in the right place  But it must have been the wrong time
  • § I'd have said the right thing But I must have used the wrong line
  • § I'd a took the right road  But I must have took a wrong turn
  • § Would have made the right move  But I made it at the wrong time
  • § I been on the right road  But I must have used the wrong car
  • § My head was in a good place  And I wonder what it's bad for

We can be in the right place at the right time, 
We can say the right things using all the right lines
We can be on the right road and take all the right turns
We can make all the right moves at the right time,
We can be on the right road in the right vehicle,
And we can have our heads in a good place, 

But if we are just operating out of a wardrobe, we’ll still end up at the end of the dream. 
If we want to really affect change in our own lives and in our world, we have to be about fueling dreams.

dreams that threaten the status quo, the normal order of life. 

  • § •Dangerous because dreaming God’s dreams that will get us into trouble with the world. 
  • § •Dreams that do not  pour out a sociopolitical empire of the day, 
  • § Dreams that invert the human way of doing things and bring us in line with God’s Dreams.
  • § We must dream of a different kind of world. 
  • § Our dreams must construct a vision of a new social reality.  Our dreams need disturb the “pecking order” of the world.

So, Let’s get out of the wardrobe closet.  Let’s get into God’s bed of dreams.