Sunday, October 22, 2006

Sunday Sermon-October 22, 2006

It was a small night at church...just three people, myself, Dan, the Cantor and Daniel, my partner and accompanist. Oh well, where two or three are gathered...

Anyway, this is the sermon I shared with them. It's on my thoughts concerning the missional church. Enjoy.

“To Serve Man”
Mark 10:35-45
October 22, 2006
Community of Grace Christian Church
Minneapolis, MN

Most of you know that I love science fiction. I'm not that bad of sci-fi geek as to own a pair of Vulcan ears and head down to the nearest trekkie convention (though I have been to one), but I do love science fiction. What I love best is how this genre can take a current issue and set in another time or place. Star Trek has done that fairly well. The original series dealt with issues such as war and race relations, while the more current versions dealt with issues like rape and war crimes.

Another series that did this well was the Twilight Zone. Hosted by Rod Serling, this series tackled this issues of its time in the late 50s and early 60s. The stories still hold up to this day. One episode that I remember (and you probably do as well) is one where Earth is visited by Aliens who seem to come in peace. The offer to help the planet and they do. In exchange, people from earth end up making reciprocal visits to the alien planet. When the aliens first arrive, a book is left behind and a few people from the government try to translate it. They are able to get as far as the title, which is: To Serve Man. As time goes on, one of the translators is getting ready to visit the alien planet. As he approaches the spaceship, his assistant runs to the ship warning the translator to not board the ship. As she is prevented from reaching her comrade by an alien, she screams “IT'S A COOKBOOK!”

We learn that being served has more than one meaning.

Well, this week was not an easy week for me. Being a new church pastor means dealing with a roller coaster of emotions, and this week it seemed like everything was going downhill. In some conversations with Dan, we both wondered if this congregation could survive. We were tired, frustrated and feeling emotionally and in some cases, physically spent. There were a lot of questions about what we were doing and if it was of any value. Maybe it was time to give up.

It was at that time that I did some thinking and I started to wonder what would happen if we thought about this church differently. What if we decided to really, and I mean really, not focus on how many people are in the seats, but focused on the church that we are? What if we focused on being a community, a missional community, one that's very nature is to try to be like Jesus and serve the world (but not for dinner)?

You see, I think part of our problem is that we have been trying to create something that brings people into the pews. So we have moved to certain locations, tried innovative worship services, shouted to the rooftops that we are welcoming of gays and lesbians and even have thought about trying to meet at different times in order to get people interested, and people aren't interested and we get upset and frustrated-or I should say- I get upset and frustrated.

I'm beginning to think that I was on the wrong track. What we have been trying to do is create a church that I think would cater to the prevailing culture, I don't want to call it “American” because it's more than our native culture, but I will call it a culture that tends to view things as commodities or consumers. In a way, we have been marketing ourselves to the wider culture and they have passed us by. Now there are some churches that do well in marketing to the wider culture and they pack them in. But I tend to think that their worship services are more productions that one could find at the Ordway Theatre.

Is the purpose of the church to be another consumer item that is made attractive in order to buy? Now, I have no problems with being a consumer or with capitalism or anything, but I don't think that as follower of Christ we are called to be another shiny item to be bought and sold like a Lexus.

So what should Community of Grace strive for? If trying to have nice worship services and if I do say so myself, nice website, is not what church is all about, then what is it?

I think the answer lies in today's gospel. Two of Jesus' disciples came up to Jesus and asked for the best seats next to Jesus. Jesus basically tells them that following Jesus means that you probably won't be getting the best places in society. When the rest of the apostles hear about this, they are furious at James and John. Jesus then tells them that unlike the Gentiles who tend to fight for being number one, anyone who follows him must be a servant to his brothers and sisters.

That, my friends, is what we should strive for: to be a community of faith where mission to the world, service, is not just a nice thing, but who we are. It is about following Jesus gracefully, and trying to live like Jesus. Community of Grace needs to be a missional church.

So, what does that entail? I'm still sorting this out, but a few things:

First, we have to be a community. That means that we have to be a place where we are known to each other. So much of our modern culture is so atomized, where we live lives anonymously, disconected from each other. There are many people who attend churches, come in for worship and leave without meeting another soul. That is not what church should be about. Church should be a place where we are known and where relationships are made as we seek to serve Christ and our brothers and sisters.

Second, we have to be a praying community. I am thankful to see our sisters at Lake Harriet Christian who meeting weekly for prayer. If we are engaged in mission, then we need to be more willing to “get online” with the one who sustains us. Praying isn't magic, but it will keep us grounded in God. I am proposing we consider meeting for prayer every other week or at least monthly. Prayer is a good way of sharing each other's burdens and the burdens of the world.

Third, we need to be a missional community. Mission means being Christ to the outside world. When Christ ended his earthly ministry, he told his followers to go into all the world preaching and teaching to obey Jesus' teachings. We need to be about inviting people, not just to church, but to journey with us and find out about what it means to follow Jesus. We need to go and do mission projects, not because they are nice, but because we are called to feed the hungry and care for the widow and the orphan. I have to believe there are many people who long to hear the liberating message of Jesus. We need to be willing to share that word and then back it up by living a Christ-like life.

Fourth, we need to be a horizontal community. You know, when we started the every week worship services, we did with an emphasis on not wearing the ministers out. But what we have done, is really de-emphasize the minister and preaching. And that's a good thing. In most churches the highlight of the service is what I'm doing now-the sermon. That is the staple of Protestant worship. I still think it has a role, but we worship God in so many ways beyond what I say. We worship when have our contemplative services and when Dan leads us in his music based services. The other thing that churches do is look at people like me, ministers, as the spiritual experts. It creates a top down structure, where the pastor is the holy person who does all that holy stuff for us. But I think that in a missional church, the pastor is more of a facilitator than some kind of expert. Yes, he or she should be trained, but not as an expert, but a guide.

On a related note, I am very thankful for Dan and Daniel. When we started, I decided to call Dan a Cantor instead of Music Director. I thought it was a cool old church word and nice than Music Director. But in doing some research, Dan realized that a Cantor is a minister in their own right. What we were doing is emphasizing that music is an equal in worship, not just a nice side note before the pastor speaks. A missional community sees every one as an intregal part of the community and no one is more important than others.

Finally, we need to be a disagreeing yet united community. Let me explain. One of the wonderful thing about being a Disciple is that we are a very broad community. Because we are non creedal, and because we believe everyone must study the Scriptures for themselves, we have diverse opinions. Some of us are Trinitarians, some of us are more Unitarian. We don't see things the same way on a host of issues. And you know what? That's okay! We are united in Christ and that's more enough. To be a community doesn't mean we agree on everything. We might read the same Bible and have different views on war or tax policy, but that's okay.

There's a lot more to talk about, but we can get to that later. Community of Grace is sticking around and I think it will grow. But it will grow because of God's work, not ours. Our job is to try to follow Christ teachings and be Christ to the world.

To serve man and God. That's what it's all about. And not with fava beans and nice bottle of Cianti.

Thanks be to God. Amen.

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