Top of Page ILLUMINATING AND THINKING ABOUT THE SERMON
A number of years ago I was talking with a member of a nearby church. I was relatively new in town, so that fellow was filling me in on the local history. As he spoke at length about his congregation, he particularly sang the praises of one particular pastor who had served the church back in the 1950s, a Rev. Smith. Apparently, Rev. Smith had been a solid preacher, a faithful visitor of the sick, and an overall likeable person. Yet one day, that church member said, Rev. Smith's ministry in the community came to a crashing end.
That caused me to wonder what had happened. Had Rev. Smith been running around with some woman? Had be absconded with church funds? Had he preached some heresy? It turned out that Rev. Smith had done none of those things. Rather what brought Rev. Smith's ministry to a close in that community was that on a October Saturday afternoon, some of the church members had seen Rev. Smith walking down the main street of town wearing a sweatshirt.
The church members didn't have anything against sweatshirts per se. Many of the people in town wore them from time to time. The problem was that their minister was wearing a sweatshirt. As far as those church members were concerned, a sweatshirt wasn't religious enough for a minister to be wearing in public. They figured it was OK for pastors to wear robes and clerical collars and things like that, but a sweatshirt! In their opinion, that crossed the line. Their minister wasn't looking religious enough—he was looking too much like them. Apparently because of that incident, the congregation told their formerly beloved Rev. Smith to pack his bags and hit the road.
I have heard all kinds of reasons for ministers being asked to leave, but this is a new one.
When it comes to God, we don't have a problem with God appearing in a burning bush. We don't have any objection to God appearing amid an army of angels, with lightning bolts crashing all around. That's what we expect God to look like.
When God, however, shows up as a guy carrying a hammer and a two-by-four, with sawdust in his beard, and wearing a sweatshirt, we have a problem with that. We figure that if God is going to be God, the least God can do is look like God.
That, in part, was why the people of Nazareth had such a difficult time accepting Jesus for who he was. After all, Nazareth was Jesus' hometown. It was the village where he had spent most of his years growing up. The people there in Nazareth knew Jesus from way back. They were the ones who had sat in the audience when Jesus had played the part of Tommy the Tooth in the second-grade class play. They remembered how as a little kid, Jesus had walked around with his trick-or-treat bag on Halloween, dressed up like one of the Pokemon characters. So, being as familiar with Jesus as the people of Nazareth were, they found it hard to believe that Jesus was anything more than just another hometown kid.
The truth of the matter is that we don't have much of a problem believing in God as long as God is far off in heaven, hidden from our view behind some distant galaxy. We don't have a problem believing in God as long as God is in heaven doing God stuff, leaving us alone here on earth to do our stuff. But when God puts on a sweatshirt and starts bumping into us in the produce section at the grocery store, then we have a problem. Because at that point, we figure, God has crossed the line. We figure that God is getting too close for comfort.
Yet at the heart of our Christian faith is the belief that in the person of Jesus, God became fully human. In other words, with Jesus, that distance—where God is far off in heaven by himself, and we're here on earth by ourselves—disappears. And it was that extreme closeness that made the people of Nazareth so uncomfortable.
At times we also fear that Jesus' closeness to us is bad news. We're afraid that if Jesus is too close, he'll cramp our style. But the truth is that Jesus' closeness to us is good news. It means that no matter what we face in life, we're not alone. It means that no matter what we face in life, our God is with us and will see us through.
As Jesus' disciples, we too are called to exhibit that same closeness in our ministries. When Jesus sent his first disciples out, he wanted to make sure that they did not engage merely in short, superficial acts of kindness. Instead, Jesus commanded the twelve to find households that would receive them and then stay there until the ministry in that community was completed. Jesus realized that while powerful, one-time encounters may yield some fruit (after all, Jesus touched the lives of many through such brief contacts) deep and lasting change often comes about only where there is an on-going, nurturing relationship. Proof of that may be found with the disciples themselves. Jesus did not just gather them together once a week for an hour and lecture to them about the way of God. Rather Jesus invited those twelve into a deep and intimate relationship with himself, to the point where the disciples ate, drank, traveled, and lodged with Jesus on a daily basis for approximately three years.
Are we prepared to encounter Jesus in such an up-close and personal way? If we are, then we'll discover that the Christian faith is not just a matter of debating obscure, far-off philosophical points. Rather, as we draw near to Jesus and walk with him, we come to realize that Jesus is calling us likewise to engage in a ministry of closeness as we set aside the barriers that keep us apart from those for whom Jesus would have us care. Are we ready to put on our sweatshirts and get to work?
We often struggle with the perfect idea of a pastor. The old joke about a perfect pastor being 30 years old with 35 years of experience. We just have a very hard time figuring out who we sees as the perfect pastor not to mention the way the perfect pastor behaves. The same is true of the perfect church we have a hard time knowing what is exactly the perfect church and how it should behave. We also have a hard time picturing God, we are never quite sure what God looks like. The is the wonderous thing about Jesus in the equation, with Jesus we have a much clearer picture of God and how God behaves.
Top of Page ILLUSTRATING THE SERMON
As the story goes, a woman approached her pastor to inform him that she’d no longer be attending his church.
Perplexed by her decision, the pastor pressed her as to why.
“Ah! I saw a woman gossiping about another member; a man that is a hypocrite; the worship team living wrong; people looking at their phone during service; among so many other things wrong in your church,” she replied.
The pastor was sad to hear her reasoning, but not surprised, as he’s heard it all before. That’s why he let her go. But not before she did one final thing for him.
“But before you go, do me a favor: Take a full glass of water and walk around the church three times without spilling a drop on the ground. Afterward, leave the church if you desire.”
An odd request to say the least, but the woman knew it would be a piece of cake.
She followed his instructions, walked three times around the church with her full glass of water, and returned to him — task completed.
The pastor prompted her with just one more thing before she left:
“Before you leave I want to ask you one more question. When you were walking around the church, did you see anyone gossiping?”
She told him, “no.”
Then he asked if she’d spotted any hypocrites or come across anyone on their phones.
Again, the woman replied, “no.”
Then the pastor offered up this perspective-shattering, thought-provoking analogy that would leave even some nonbelievers shouting “amen.”
“You were focused on the glass, to make sure you didn’t stumble and spill any water. It’s the same with our life. When we keep our eyes on Jesus, we don’t have time to see the mistakes of others. We will reach out a helping hand to them and concentrate on our own walk with the Lord.”
And that my friends, is worthy of a mic-drop. (https://faithit.com/woman-leaving-church-pastors-perfect-response-andy-harris/)
The idea of itinerating from town to town might not be as scary a proposition for us today as it was for those first disciples. In Jesus' time, people generally lived from birth until death in the same general geographical location. In contrast, in the United States today almost no one lives their entire life in the same community. The Census Bureau calculates that the average American (age 15 and older) moves every 5.2 years. Those who own their own homes stay in one spot longer at a time (8.2 years between moves) while renters change their address much more frequently (every 2.1 years)
The disciples traveled from town to town relying on the generosity and hospitality of strangers. Nowadays, though, many people are reluctant to give handouts to those who ask, fearful that those requesting assistance are perpetrating some scam. This past Christmas season, the monks at the Swiss monastery of Einsiedeln near Zurich debated whether to ban beggars from their premises. The monks became suspicious of some of the beggars who approached them for help when they saw several of the beggars being let out in front of their door in a mini-van. The monastery has an ancient tradition of assisting those in need, and the monks were not eager to discontinue that practice. The abbot met with the local police officials in an attempt to crack down on any possible racket that might be attempting to take advantage of the religious men and the visitors who stop by their monastery.
Mark Bowden authored the book Finders Keepers: The Story of a Man Who Found $1 Million. Bowden was a newspaper reporter in Philadelphia when a million dollars fell off the back of an armored truck on February 26, 1981. He proceeded to chronicle how Joey Coyle came into possession of the money and what happened next. Coyle was an unemployed dockworker with a history of drug addiction. After finding the money, it turned out that the excitement and the paranoia concerning it was too much for him to bear. On the one hand, he swore everyone he told about the cash to secrecy. Yet on the other hand, he told the secret to almost everyone he met. In the end, Coyle ended up in jail, and the money was taken from him when the authorities finally caught up with him. By finding that money and subsequently obsessing about it, Coyle saw his life go from bad to worse. One wonders if Jesus tried to prevent anything like that from happening to the disciples by commanding them to carry no money at all in their travels.
Healing was part of the ministry that the disciples were to engage in. A woman attending a service at the Pentecostal Upper Room Tabernacle in Dix Hills, New York, ended up getting injured in the process of attempting to be healed. The woman fell and broke her arm when the minister pushed the evil spirits from her forehead, causing her to fall backwards, but no one was there to catch her. The injured woman ended up receiving an $80,000 settlement from the church because of the mishap.
Jesus instructed the disciples to accept whatever hospitality was offered to them. Many people today are rather finicky eaters. Would they be willing to eat anything that might be set before them by their hosts? What would you do if someone set a plate of fried tarantulas in front of you? In Cambodia, fried tarantulas are considered to be a delicacy. The hairy spiders are pan fried and coated with garlic and salt.
Notice that the disciples did not venture out on their own until after Jesus had given them proper instructions. In contrast, when a 49-year-old man in Edmonton, Alberta, purchased a pair of in-line skates at a sporting goods store, he refused to stick around and wait for the store's instructor to show him how to properly use the skates. Immediately he laced up the skates and took off out of the store.
Unfortunately for him, the store was located near the top of a hill. It was only as he was picking up speed as he sped down the hill that he realized that the didn't know how to stop. He eventually crashed and injured himself. He successfully sued the store, assigning the blame for his accident on them.
One of the most difficult aspects, if Americans want to emulate the disciples today, would be the idea of traveling with so few possessions. In general, we are addicted to our belongings, and as time goes by, we tend to accumulate more and more stuff. There are now more than 30,000 storage facilities across the country, totaling more than a billion square feet for individuals and businesses to put their excess baggage. In fact, the storage industry is one the most booming industries in the United States, having grown fortyfold since the 1960s, to the point where it is now a $12 billion a year market.
Since the United States celebrates Independence Day this weekend, it might be useful to give consideration to "The American's Creed." William Tyler Page, Clerk of the House of Representatives, wrote the Creed in 1917, whereupon the House accepted it on behalf of the American people the following year. The Creed reads: "I believe in the United States of America as a government of the people, by the people, for the people; whose just powers are derived from the consent of the governed; a democracy in a republic; a sovereign Nation of many sovereign States; a perfect union, one and inseparable; established upon those principles of freedom, equality, justice, and humanity for which American patriots sacrificed their lives and fortunes. I therefore believe it is my duty to my country to love it, to support its Constitution, to obey its laws, to respect its flag, and to defend it against all enemies."
"Familiarity breeds contempt." (Proverb)
"The first day a guest, the second day a guest, the third day a calamity." (Indian proverb)
Jesus' reception at Nazareth, with the unbelief of so many in the synagogue is well known, especially his pithy observation about a prophet not being without honor except in his own country. We come away with the sad impression that because of this unbelief, Jesus could do no miracles there—and yet Mark adds "except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them." Yeah, some failure! But no doubt the unbelievers explained this away, much as Everett Ulysses McGill does in the Coen brothers delightful film O Brother, Where Art Thou? Everett has been in a southern prison where he cons two dim-witted fellow inmates into helping him escape by telling them that he has buried treasure in his yard back home. After a series of misadventures, the three make their way to his home but are caught by the sheriff and his posse who have been pursuing them. Even though Everett has been able to obtain a pardon from the governor after one bizarre adventure, the sheriff, who has long looked forward to catching up with the three, and the smart aleck Everett in particular, intends to lynch the three. The graves have been dug, three ropes with nooses hang from a tree limb. Then Everett, who has disdained faith and all things religious, utters an earnest prayer to God for deliverance. The proud man even confesses his faults. Just then a roaring sound is heard. A wall of water rushes forward, engulfing and sweeping away everyone and everything. Everret manages to swim to the surface where he hangs onto a floating coffin. His two comrades also bob to the surface, one of the declaring this to be a miracle. Reverting to his old way of unbelief, Everett denies that the flood is an answer to prayer. He knows that the government was scheduled to release water from a dam as part of its plan to bring hydroelectricity to the area. Ole Everett would have been right at home in Nazareth on that day when Christ came to the synagogue.
There is a Calvin and Hobbs cartoon strip in which Calvin comes marching up to his mother, who is seated in the living room with her morning cup of coffee. Calvin is wearing that enormous space Helmut that he sometimes wears_his whole head is encased. Hanging from his shoulders is a large cape that drags on the floor behind him.
"What's up today?" asks his mom.
"Nothing so far."
"So far?" she asks.
"Well, you never know, something could happen today, "Calvin says. "And, if anything does, by golly, I'm going to be ready for it."
Calvin's mom sits there thinking about that, and finally says: "I need a suit like that." (Bill Watterson, Calvin and Hobbs. Source unknown.)
The people in Nazareth were surprised at Jesus' power and authority and wisdom because they knew his family, knowing them to be simple people with no previous sign of unusual gifts. Jesus' people are laid out in even more detail in the genealogies in Matthew and Luke, and they include the famous, the infamous and the anonymous, just like our genealogies. A detailed look at those lists shows the power and grace of God in sending the promise out to the world through all sorts of vessels.
Some time back, I heard about a church that had been trying to "get rid" of their pastor. Sadly, this is something that happens a lot in the American church scene. We get unhappy with the pastor or with something the church is doing; and then, instead of doing the biblical thing and prayerfully seeking to work out the differences, we choose up sides. Then, if there are enough votes to dismiss or enough people to make things unpleasant, out the pastor goes.
It's tragic, not only because of what it does to that pastor, but because of the broken relationships and the slow-healing wounds left behind, which often remain long after the pastor departs. Frankly, there are simpler ways. If you ever want to get rid of your pastor, instead of looking for votes or choosing up sides, try one of these five ideas.
Idea No. 1: During the Sunday morning message, listen closely and take notes. Look your pastor straight in the eye, and occasionally nod your head and say, "Amen!" Begin to make serious efforts to apply the life lessons you learn from the sermons. In six months, he'll preach himself to death.
Idea No. 2: Pat your pastor on the back and brag on his good points two or three times a month. Make a bunch of phone calls to your friends and neighbors and tell them all the good things about your pastor. In a little while, so many more people will start coming to your church, you'll have to hire an associate pastor, and your senior pastor will be free to leave.
Idea No. 3: Next Sunday, in response to the sermon, go forward to the altar and rededicate your life to Christ. Then make an appointment with the pastor sometime next week. Ask him to give you some job you could do for the church, preferably some lost people you could go visit with a view to winning them to Christ. He'll likely die of heart failure on the spot.
Idea No. 4: Organize a ministry to call on the shut-ins and elderly members of the church, and encourage the pastor, as the early church did (see Acts 6:1-7), to devote more of his time to prayer, the study of God's Word and sermon preparation. Tell him you'll take care of the widows if he'll take care of the preaching. He'll think the whole congregation has gone completely crazy and start looking for another church immediately.
Idea No. 5: Get a whole bunch of the church members to unite in earnest intercessory prayer for the pastor, his ministry and his family. Organize prayer meetings in which you pray for the growth of the church and the blessing of the pastor. The pastor may become so effective in ministry that some larger church will gladly take him off your hands. (http://www.journal-advocate.com/ci_18860266)
When I was six our church had a big “Good Bye” party for the pastor and his family. I remember the light-hearted atmosphere and the food and the singing and talent show and funny skits of entertainment.
It was common knowledge that the church had decided to ask him to leave. He was fired and I was confused. How could they have a party, pretending everything was fine, when they were terminating the man?
When I grew older I found out the rest of the story. He was a Southern Baptist in name and a Methodist at heart. His preaching and doctrine reflected his true allegiance.
A group of church leaders sat down to discuss their concerns with the pastor. He was surprised at their observations. The leaders were in no hurry. Over time he concluded that he was more Methodist than Baptist. No one got angry or demanded his resignation. They talked it over for several months and worked out a plan of transition. The church was involved early in the process and the leaders told him that they would keep him as pastor until he could integrate himself into the Methodist system.
In less than three months he was pastoring a Methodist church and they had the party. No one got hurt. The matter was handled in a Christian way and peace reigned in the congregation.
Here is what I learned that was so right.
Spiritual men and women handled the issue (Galatians 6:1-2).
The issues were dealt with up front and in a loving way. No one was manipulating anyone.
The pastor knew exactly what the problem was. Not like poor Brother Baker who was never told exactly what he’d done wrong.
The church doctrine was upheld. This is not to say that Methodist doctrine is wrong—it was just different from Baptist doctrine.
The pastor was given plenty of time to conform his preaching and teaching to basic Baptist beliefs, but they all finally agreed that changing his basic beliefs was not possible for him.
Christian fellowship was upheld. Everyone enjoyed the party. (https://www.crosswalk.com/church/pastors-or-leadership/ask-roger/when-to-fire-your-pastor.html)
Top of Page prayers (WorshipAid)
Leader: Great and awesome is our God!
People: God's glory shines throughout all the world!
Leader: Let God's praises to be sung to the ends of the earth!
People: Our God reigns! Our God reigns forever and ever!
God of mercy, You call us to spread Your good news to all the world. Through our words and through our deeds, You command us to proclaim the gospel. We admit that while we sing Your praises when we are inside the church building, we suddenly become silent about You when we venture into the community. We confess that we hear about great missionaries and evangelists, and we admire them for their work, yet we fail to sense any leading to follow their example. We admit that all too often we are comfortable where we are, and so we hesitate to journey forth into unfamiliar areas. Faithful Lord, forgive us for the ways that we fail to fulfill the mission You set before us. By Your Spirit, inspire within us a renewed desire to carry forth Your word to all creation. Amen.
Gracious God, You are able to take what seems to be so small and meager, and You are able to achieve great things. Accept our offerings, however great or modest they may be, and use them to further Your kingdom here in this place and throughout the world. Amen.
O Lord our Ruler, You have called us together to be Your church because You have a mission You want us to accomplish. For it is Your deep desire that all the world might come to know of Your saving goodness. As we gather here each week for worship, and as we undertake the many activities that are a part of our church's life, do not allow us ever to forget why You have brought us together. For we are here not to do our own bidding, but to do Your bidding.
Use our mouths and speak through us, so that others might come to hear the good news of Your Gospel, perhaps in a way that they have never heard it before. Use our hands, and guide us to use them in acts of caring and compassion. Use our feet, and lead us out into the world to those people who are waiting to receive what we have to offer. Use our wallets, so that we might support others in their work as they labor in places and in settings where we are unable to be. In all that we do for You, bless us and grant us success. Amen.