upper room daily devotions

Sunday, April 29, 2007

"making disciples of jesus christ..."

By and large I don't like the United Methodist mission statement to "make disciples of Jesus Christ." I don't know how to "make" a disciple. As a pastor, I might nurture a disciple, encourage a disciple, or witness for discipleship in my own life, but I don't know how to "make" one. It seems coercive. However, it is the mission statement that we have and I preached on it today (omitting my qualms with the lingo). I don't typically post my sermons. Preaching is a relational experience; reading them does them a disservice. (Perhaps I'll write on that another time.) But, for some reason, I thought that I would post today's sermon on mission...

Our Mission is...
Acts 9:36-43
April 29, 2007, Easter 4C

The Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church, which orders the lives of United Methodists and our institutions, says that our mission is “to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.” It goes on to say, “Local churches provide the most significant arena through which disciple-making can occur.” Yet local congregations spend inordinate amounts of time talking about and trying to discern their purpose. Our denomination takes its purpose from the Great Commission in Matthew where Jesus sends the apostles on their disciple-making mission. And local churches share in that ancient mission. At the very core of our existence is the growing of disciples for Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. That is our purpose pure and simple.

The mission of the emerging church had already begun when Peter travels to Joppa to find Dorcas. In this story we find the mission of the church exemplified in the individuals Peter and Dorcas. Dorcas, probably a deaconess in an early Christian community, embodies good works and mercy. She has focused her life’s work on caring for widows, one of the most vulnerable populations of her day. After an illness, she tragically dies leaving those in her care in an extremely vulnerable position. There they are, gathered around her, weeping and showing the fabrics that Dorcas had made for and with them. Dorcas is the work of the church alive in world, transforming people’s lives in real and tangible ways. Her very name tells us about her love of life, the vitality of her spirit – Dorcas means “gazelle.” In this deaconess, there is a gazelle, bounding through life spreading God’s love concretely in life transforming ways. Peter comes to her; Peter the “rock,” Peter the head of the emerging church. He is fast becoming the leader of the emerging church in all locations. Dorcas is the leader and life of the church in her one location. Peter is becoming the head of the church universal. Together they are making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.

This resurrection story exists in a line of narratives that tell us something about God’s power to transform our world. Acts uses imagery and words reminiscent of the raising of Jairus’ twelve year old daughter in Mark 5. Jesus is summoned to Jairus’ house. He takes Peter, James and John with him. And in the midst of the grief that fills the room, Jesus takes the dead girl by the hand and says, “Little girl, get up.” The work done through Peter in the book of Acts strongly recalls God’s work through Jesus. Peter is Jesus’ heir. And such stories of God’s action of bringing life from the dead don’t originate in the New Testatment. In 1 Kings, Elijah raises the son of the widow, beseeching God to let life return to the child. In the midst of the sorrow that fills not only the room but also Elijah’s heart, he stretches himself over the child and lays upon him and life returns (1 Kings 17:17-24). Later in 2 Kings, Elijah’s protégé Elisha faces the same situation. Called to a house where a little boys has died, Elisha goes it, “shut(s) the door on the two of them and prayed to the LORD. 34 Then he got on the bed and lay upon the boy, mouth to mouth, eyes to eyes, hands to hands. As he stretched himself out upon him, the boy's body grew warm. 35 Elisha turned away and walked back and forth in the room and then got on the bed and stretched out upon him once more. The boy sneezed seven times and opened his eyes” (2 Kings 4:42-47). God’s power is not containable by anything, not even death, and our mission as the church is to be heirs of this tradition by letting this power loose on the world through our touch, our breath, our presence so that life may return to those dead places of our world.

In Dorcas we find the hard work of being Christ’s presence and witness to a particular community day in and day out. Her service over a long period of time made life altering transformation for the women she tended. In Peter we find the challenge of bringing God’s power to many people in many different places. Peter had become a leader of leaders, moving from place to place. He, as the “rock”, became Jesus’ heir, as we see in his participation of raising Dorcas from the dead. In them, in their touch, we find the life of the early church. The church was not and is not only an institution. Rather, the church, when it is faithful in its mission, transforms people’s lives. First, the lives of those gathered in wonder and worship reach out and touch the Holy. Once our hearts have been touched by the power of the living God, then we extend ourselves as vessels of God to the world.

This week The United Methodist Church received a gift that could help us bring transformation into this world. American Idol (a show that I just can’t bring myself to watch) raised over $60 million this past week in a fundraiser for eight different organizations benefiting both The US and Africa. They raised over $60 million. A United Methodist mission was one of the eight. Nothing But Nets is a joint effort of our denomination, the United Nations Foundation, the National Basketball Association’s NBA Cares, Sports Illustrated mag and Major League Soccer’s MLS W.O.R.K.S. Nothing But Nets sends insecticide-treated nets for African children to sleep under. It’s that simple. Its goal is to eliminate the effects of malaria in Africa. The goal is simple, concrete, and attainable. We are being both Peter and Dorcas when we tap into God’s creative imagination to come up with a ministry like this one. We are making real and significant changes in people’s lives over the long run, like Dorcas. And we are being leaders on the world stage, bringing life from places of death, like Peter.

Woodland Park has a world transforming ministry in it. As the local church, it is our holy and sacred mission to transform the Phinney Ridge and Greenwood neighborhoods. As the assembled, hoping to touch the Holy in our own lives, we, like Dorcas, need to reach out to God’s hand extended to us in the form of others when we are floundering, lost, barren, and alone. In our times of death, God is there commanding us to rise as a powerful and faithful witness for others. And, as the church, Dorcas offers us a powerful witness to what being the midst of others can do. We can make real and significant changes in our local neighborhood. It’s true that local congregations can’t do everything; it’s not our mission to do so. It is our mission to persistently and faithfully witness to God’s astounding and life-changing love, day in and day out, for one another and for our world. Our mission is no less than that of the church “to make disciples for the transformation of the world.” Amen.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

get rid of earth day

It's time to get rid of Earth Day. The time has come and gone for us to set aside one day a year for environmental awareness. Our planet is now ill enough that we need to make immediate and significant changes in the ways in which we live our lives if we are going to revive our planet.

While it has become chic for entertainers and others to promote Earth Day and the environment, I have grown increasingly concerned that we are turning Earth Day into another commercialized event steeped in consumerism. Just this week, Oprah Winfrey hosted an Earth awareness program on her television show. Ten - even five - years ago, this would have excited me, but this year I watched concerned that the crux of the message is that we can live essentially the same way that we do now if only we would purchase more eco-friendly products. It is certainly true that each of us could make simple and easy changes that would positively affect our planet, but the environmental crisis has reached a tipping point that switching from toxic cleaning materials to something like 7th Generation just won't get it. It's time for us to adopt systemic changes that will go to the heart of how we live in the world. Some of these changes may be very difficult for many of us, but nothing is more important that reviving the health of this living miracle on which we live.

Even though it will take radical action from our government in regulating power companies and larger corporations to exact the effects that we really need, individual action is important as well. Here are some of the basic things every person should do in order to make first steps into caring for the environment:
*Change from using incandescent light bulbs. Energy Star's Change a Light Campaign can tell you what you need to know.
*Buy Energy Star certified products. These save energy.
*Jettison phantom power! Every outlet with something in it is putting out some power. If you have lamps or other items plugged in but you don't use them, unplug them. Power down your computers and don't leave your screens running. It might be a minuscule amount of power, but every little bit adds up.
*Don't buy bleached products. Most of us have bleached paper towels, typing paper, and other items in the house. Buy non-bleached paper. It's better and safer.
*Adequately insulate your home, but beware...much insulation is not eco-friendly. Look for "green" insulation.
*Turn down straws, plastic bags, and other unnecessary plastic items. They don't biodegrade.
*Don't buy bottled water. The energy used in creating the bottles even though they are recyclable isn't worth it. Use filters at home and take along your own bottles.
*Purchase renewable energy from your power company. In Seattle, you can purchase "green" energy from Seattle City Light. Municipalities around the nation offer similar options. Learn more about renewable energy from Interfaith Power and Light.
*Buy food that is locally grown and organically produced. In Washington state we have the Washington Sustainable Food and Farming Network.
*Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle. That's basic. Compost what you can.
*Buy a hybrid car, an electric car (Chevy's Volt is an example if they would just build it), or use biodiesel. See "Who Killed the Electric Car?" If you live in Seattle, biodiesel is very easy to purchase. Even better, walk to work or take mass transit.
*Go solar! You can get off the grid so do it.
*When upgrading your home, buy carpets, paint, wood (bamboo), tiles, and other products that are eco-friendly. Online and local stores can help you out. Check out Eco By Design, The Environmental Home Center.

These are just some things individuals can do. Mostly we need to use less and buy less. And when we do buy, we need to make sure the planet was treated ethically in order to produce, package, and transport our wares. But really it's time for large scale government action if we are going to make much difference in rising sea levels, species collapse, and devastating climate change. Local municipalities and the federal government need to offer tax incentives for businesses and corporations that take care of the environment, and they need to tax those that don't. We need to raise our mileage standards and create better mass transit systems inside our cities and among them. We need a nation wide train system that works and is affordable. We need more wilderness designated areas. We need to proactively go about the business of decreasing carbon emissions now...not by 2050 (even though I support Step It Up's campaign).

Some will say this post has nothing to do with progressive Christianity. I strongly disagree. The first story in our scriptures is the story of creation in which God commanded humankind to take care of the earth. At no time in our history could we have conceived of literally destroying our planet, but now we can and, in fact, we are destroying it. It is time that churches lead the way rather than obstruct it in creating social change related to this earth - God's precious creation which God loves and called "good". God has placed us here to be stewards; let us answer God's command faithfully.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007


When something unimaginable happens people often look to faith for answers. However, faith that provides depth of meaning doesn't offer simple or trite responses to life's difficult, cruel, and horrific moments. As someone who attended school in Virginia and who has very fond memories of that part of the world, my prayers lift the students, faculty, and members of Blacksburg tenderly to God. That is all that I can do.

Friday, April 13, 2007

step it up, seattle!

April 14 is the National Day for Climate Change and Step It Up is at the forefront of bringing attention to the need for sound public policy and personal action related to the environment. Calling for an 80% reduction in carbon emissions by 2050, Step It Up events will be happening all over the United States. Step It Up Seattle has a list of activities for the Emerald City. The big march of the day will begin in Occidental Park at 2 PM and will end in Myrtle Edwards Park. From 4-6 PM there will be a Solutions Fair at Myrtle Edwards Park.

Taking care of the environment was one of the first commandments given to humankind from God when God instructed Adam and Eve to care for the earth and all of its creatures. While Christianity has too often understood "subdue" as a coercive verb, the command is to use the power of humankind of tend creation, not to exploit it. At the heart of both Christianity and Judaism is the idea of Sabbath. Sabbath is not our time; it is God's time. One day a week the earth and all who work it should rest. Sabbath extends to every seven years and every fifty years. Christianity has an obligation to be leaders in the movement to cherish and hold holy this miraculous creation of God. I hope there are thousands of Christians on the streets of Seattle (and across the US) this Saturday demanding that our public officials take action on our behalf that will replenish this living, breathing miracle of planet Earth. What a wonderful thing to happen during Easter - a justice movement for bringing new life back to this planet.

For too long we have understood gains in society through the lens of growth - growth equals good. New housing builds is one of the main rules against which we measure the health of our society. Perhaps the time has come for us to develop a different ruler that measures other things in order to determine the health of our society. I mean, how healthy can it be when the very earth on which we live is struggle to catch its next breath? It's time for Christians to stand up - to step it up - personally and communally and demand deep, significant change. Let's Step It Up, Seattle!

Thursday, April 12, 2007

easter's interruption is just beginning

Wow, I had a crazy Holy Week and a crazier start to the Easter festival season. In addition to the typical Holy Week frenzy of extra services and Easter Sunday preparation, I helped two folks get ready for and helped send them off on trips abroad, I welcomed my mom into town for a visit, and I signed some of the many papers required in buying my first house! As I went through this process, I kept thinking, "Easter Sunday will come and we'll celebrate the miracle of the risen Christ and then I can take a break!" What a thought! Easter isn't a moment or a day or even the great fifty days that we set aside for it in the church. Easter is the heart of our faith, and the great feast that reminds us of its centrality has just begun. Easter didn't come and go on Sunday; it just started.

However, this past week the craziness of preparing for Easter was supplanted only by an even greater craziness when Easter Sunday finally came. I hosted a church-wide Easter Egg Hunt at the parsonage, led services at church, came home, and my mother became ill and was taken by ambulance to the hospital. She's spent most of this week hospitalized. (She's on the mend, no worries - I hope.) All of this interruption, though, in the routine that is my life has raised a number of questions about the interruption of Easter and what that interruption should be in our lives.

Easter isn't a crazy day of family, church, sugar, and holy music. It isn't even just the Great Fifty Days. It is an interruption in how we live life. It interrupts our routines, our expectations, and our assumptions. Some of the interruptions in my life this week have been welcomed and planned; others scary and chaotic, but they all remind me that Easter interrupts the fabric of this world and it intentionally unsettles all that I take for granted. I'm glad that Easter isn't just a day, even though I'm kinda glad that the craziness of Easter Sunday has passed. I wonder how we might be in the world if we participated in daily Holy Communion during Easter - living God's great interruption each time we place the bread and wine in our bodies. I wonder if the church might be more of an interruption in the world if we let ourselves live inside of God's great mystery each day this festival season. I'm glad that Easter's interruption is just beginning. Happy Easter.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

a peace parade

As Palm Sunday comes to a close, I enter Holy Week quite reflective about the counter-cultural, confrontational, conspicuous peace parade of Jesus and his friends. By entering past his followers through the gate into Jerusalem, he mocked, satirized, and ridiculed the military marches of Roman imperialism. Jesus was asserting in a bold and startling way that his message of God's kingdom demands that we lay down our swords and pursue a different reality that values justice, mercy, and peace. He could have lifted arms against Rome; many people wanted him to do so. He could have stirred the people to erupt into violence as they converged on Jerusalem for the Passover celebration. He did neither of these things. Instead, he maintained that all who live by the sword will die by the sword. He maintained a message of resistance through love and faithfulness all the way to the cross. Today we waved palms in church and we sang our hosannas. Yet Maundy Thursday and Good Friday are the real witnesses to the faithfulness of Jesus - the same faithfulness we, as the body of Christ, are called to have today. And, during this time of war, nationalism, tribalism, and imperialism, the witness of Palm Sunday is a special witness for all who claim to be followers of Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace.

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