One Church

This is the sermon that I preached at our community Holy Week services on Monday. This sermon is partly the outgrowth of the work that I have started writing here about Luke 10 Theology. Most important for me in this sermon was the attempt to reclaim some of the greatest and richest elements of my religious tradition the Stone-Campbell Movement (a.k.a. the American Restoration Movement). These are important words that don't often square up with either our speech or practice in many Churches of Christ. This makes this attempt at reclaiming that I think all the more important.


PS - 1 Million Restoration Movement nerd points if anyone can tell me how many times I quote directly from the Declaration and Address in this sermon and which propositions each quote comes from. Happy listening!

Love/Fellowship ≠ Endorsement...

I want to take a brief aside to address an objection to what I am advocating (larger cooperation and service alongside people of other Christian traditions). This is an objection that I have heard all of my life and it has been employed in a number of situations. It is a form of "exclusion" that is both very subtle and seemingly innocent. The objection is this: "If you do that people will think that you approve of all of their false teachings."

My contention in this post is that there are a number of difficulties (or problems) with this perspective which are actually damaging  to the life and witness of the church in the world.

  1. This correlation (relationship = endorsement) doesn't function in any other realm of life.
  2. In all honesty there is no one on the planet that we fully endorse without qualification.
  3. This is in direct contradiction with the framework that is laid out for us by Jesus himself.

Let's examine each of these in turn...

This correlation (relationship = endorsement) doesn't function in any other realm of life.
It should give us pause to recognize the selective nature of such a framework. Do parents give unqualified endorsement to all actions of their children? After all, they do live together and love one another. (This is especially true if your kids are toddlers or teenagers right?) When you buy produce at your local grocery store does this mean that you give an unqualified endorsement to the oppressive working conditions that are faced by migrant farm workers? (I am hoping that it is becoming clear what I am getting at here.)

In all honesty there is no one on the planet that we fully endorse without qualification. If unqualified endorsement is signified by relationship or intimacy (or for our discussion "loving our neighbor") then we are in trouble. (The irony is not lost on me that people use these categories to exclude any form or semblance of relationship with people of other Christian traditions. So we can't have a loving and mutually beneficial relationship with other Christians, but we can have the most intimate relationships of our lives like a spouse and our children?!?!) Maybe to make this more poignant we should ask it this way:

  • Which of the 12 Apostles did Jesus give an unqualified endorsement? Peter (when he cut of Malchus' ear), James and John (when they asked Jesus for permission to execute Samaritans by fire from heaven), Judas (this one should be pretty obvious)????
  • When Paul writes to the Corinthians: "To the church of God in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be his holy people, together with all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ—their Lord and ours: Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Corinthians 1:2-3, NIV) are we supposed to hear this as endorsement of all the things happening in that church (you know really minor stuff like incest, drunkedness, discrimination, etc.)?

We should at least be given pause in our withdrawal of relationship from other people who profess faith in Christ despite our significant theological disagreements in light of the surprising depth of "fellowship" that we see demonstrated between the Apostles (particularly Paul) and the churches to which they address.

This is in direct contradiction with the framework that is laid out for us by Jesus himself.
The perfect example of this situation is recorded for us in the Gospel of Mark:

    “Teacher,” said John, “we saw someone driving out demons in your name and we told him to stop, because he was not one of us.”

   “Do not stop him,” Jesus said. “For no one who does a miracle in my name can in the next moment say anything bad about me, for whoever is not against us is for us. Truly I tell you, anyone who gives you a cup of water in my name because you belong to the Messiah will certainly not lose their reward. (Mark 9:38-41, NIV, emphasis mine.)

Here Jesus makes an important distinction between who is with us (in John's mind) and who is with us (in Jesus' mind). Too often we equate the two. "If we're with Jesus--and everyone who identifies themself as a Christian assumes they are with Jesus--then they, if they aren't with us, must not be with Jesus." But Jesus says that we tend to have too small of a view about just who is exactly is "with us".

So what does this mean? What are the implications of what I am trying to say here. A couple of hunches:

  1. This idea that love/fellowship=(unqualified) endorsement is absurd.
  2. The forms of exclusion that are generated from such a position are counter to the very teachings of Scripture about the unity of the church and love of neighbor as we love ourselves.
  3. Jesus calls us to something much bigger than competition ("we're right and you're not of us so you are wrong), or co-existence ("you're ok, I'm ok"). He calls us to self-giving love for one another as we together seek the glory of God and the transformative power of the cross and resurrection of Jesus in our lives by the leading of the Holy Spirit together.

SERMON: Resurrection and Death

This is the sermon I preached last week at the Central Church of Christ where I serve as the preaching minister. It was the second in a series (the first was not recorded) about the resurrection and how it changes our view. The first week was about resurrection and suffering. This sermon covered resurrection and death with two primary theses:

(1) Resurrection changes the way we experience death.

(2) Resurrection changes the way we think about causing death.

I hope you will listen, engage, and interact with what I think are some really important (and controversial) implications of the resurrection for the way we think about death.

This next Sunday we will continue the series by looking at Resurrection and Mission and finally on Easter we will look at Resurrection and Salvation.

If I can get all the kinks worked out I will begin to post sermons here in video format very soon.

An Encouter with the Flannel Jesus...

In the church that I grew up in there was a rite of passage that you had to go through if you were in elementary school. It happened in the Winter and Spring of the fourth grade. It was absolutely unavoidable in my day, you simply had to go through it and hope you came out on the other side. No, it's not some kind of hazing or some intense "proving ground" as we prepared for our teenage years. It was Mrs. Gorton's fourth grade Sunday morning Bible class.

Perhaps the worst part of this experience was that the primary teaching method was the dreaded flannel board. This came with a seemingly endless supply of clouds, boats, loaves and fish, and Jesus in the same outfit that he always wore (it almost made you wonder if he had two outfits). The 12 Apostles all looked like brothers or at least cousins and they were all about 2 inches shorter and reasonably less handsome than Jesus. How could a kid like me ever survive six months of Bible class with this inhumane mode of teaching?

Mrs. Gorton was legendary. She had probably taught this class for well over a 1,000 years if not more. Her material never changed, her voice was firm, any form of distraction or not paying attention was greeted with a no tolerance policy. I'm sure she would have sent me out of class back to my parents had they not both been teaching at the same time. (I dodged a bullet there.)

For all the complaining, dread, and clock watching that I did in that cold classroom with the movable wall partitions and table with gum on the bottom I see things a little differently now. You see, this wasn't the last time that I interacted with Mrs. Edna Gorton. A few years older (not many) Mrs. Gorton has fallen victim to an agressive form of Alzheimer's and was in a nursing facility way across town. One week we decided that the youth group was going to go visit and sing hymns to/with Mrs. Gorton and those at her nursing facility. Two confessions here that I still think about: (1) I didn't even notice she wasn't around and (2) when I found out we were going to see her those same feelings of dread and impatience came rushing back. But something happened that night that I will never forget.

It was a cold night and the church van was jammed full. This was one of those nights that no matter how many layers you had on or how long the heater in the van had been running it was still cold. We pulled up to the nursing home and hesitantly went in. We went into this large open room that had a fountain in the middle and rather sizeable trees in large pots all around the outside. It was like a little oasis of life and warmth from the ice world we had just been in.

We finally found Mrs. Gorton and I couldn't hardly recognize her. She wasn't wearing her glasses that I'm sure she had had since maybe before I was born. Her frame had withered to not much more than skin and bones, she couldn't stop drewling, and was completely unresponsive to any engagement whether verbal or by touch. So we just began to sing circled around her wheelchair that she was restrained in because she lacked the strength to keep herself in it.

The first song garnered no response. The same with the second. The third song which wasn't in our music that had been prepared for us was My God and I. We knew it because many of us had just sang it at a funeral. We finished the first phrase "My God and I..." when Mrs. Gorton sat up and smiled. Her jaw began to quiver and her hands curled up. I wasn't sure what was happening. By the middle of the first verse we could tell what was happening. She was singing!! She joined us as we reached these words of the first verse...

My God and I walk through the meadow's hue;
We clasp our hands, our voices ring with laughter,
My God and I walk through the meadow's hue.

She lowered her head and went silent for a few moments. The third verse came around and the preacher started it with extra fervor and volume. And again Mrs. Gorton came to life joining us this time for the entire verse although still with eyes that were as blank as before.

My God and I will go for aye together,
We'll walk and talk as good friends should and do;
This earth will pass, and with it common trifles,
But God and I will go unendingly;
This earth will pass, and with it common trifles,
But God and I will go unendingly.

A with a smile on her face she took a deep breath and bowed her head and that was the last we were able to really interact with Mrs. Gorton.

I never saw her again. I don't know how long it was before she passed away, but that last time that I saw her, in retrospect, was probably one of the defining moments of my life.

You see I learned something about myself, Mrs. Gorton, and God that night. (Although I must admit I didn't learn it fully that night, but only after time and experience and some serious growing up.) I learned that in my arrogance and impatience I had severely limited the extent to which God was able to teach me and shape me. I learned that God works in ways that seem trivial, silly, or sometimes even downright insulting to our intelligence (Balaam and his donkey come to mind here).

More importantly I learned something about crusty, scary, old, and unpleasant Mrs. Gorton. I learned that in fact she wasn't any of those things (well, except old). In fact, she knew intimately something that I in some ways still haven't wrapped my mind around. For her, Jesus wasn't a white guy who always wore a white robe with a blue sash and brown sandles with his hands always lifted in some unnatural position. Jesus was alive, he was a dear friend and the one who set her heart on fire so that even after her mind had been devoured by her Alzheimers her spirit burst forth at the thought of God as her dearest friend and companion.

I'll never forget that flannel board. In fact, the last time I was at Northwest in the resource room I went and pulled out a flannel Jesus just to remember what she had taught me. An encounter with the flannel Jesus ultimately changed my life.

I hope someday to have the intimacy with God that was so obvious in my beloved Mrs. Gorton. I can't wait to tell her someday how thankful I am for that silly little flannel board.  

Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith. (Hebrews 13:7, NIV) 

Living in the Way of Jesus...

The following list is from my sermon this last Sunday at Central. We were talking about the implications of the crucifixion of Jesus and the way that it radically reshapes the way that we are called to live our lives. Here it is:

We do not live according to the ways of the kingdoms of this world, but according to the way of the Kingdom of God.

  • We reject a life of revenge and "redemptive violence" to live a life of loving our enemies. 
  • We reject a life of power for a life of humility and service. 
  • We reject a life of compulsion or coercion for people to agree with our point of view in order that we may live a life of invitation for all to enter into the Kingdom of God. 
  • We reject the idea that those who claim to run the world in fact really do. 
  • We claim a citizenship that is NOT of this world and we follow a king whose throne is not in Jerusalem or Washington but is in Heaven at the right hand of God Almighty. 
  • We reject that we find life by preserving and enriching our own, but that we are to die to ourselves in order that we may life for the sake of others. 
  • We reject that there is another way to live the life that we were created to live other than the way of the cross of Jesus Christ. 


Pray for Danny McGee...

(For more information about Danny McGee
and the upcoming prayer vigil go to

Sometimes things happen all around us that are important and that are moments for God to teach us something about ourselves and about him that we miss all too easily. This has been one of those moments.

On August 12th, 2010 a man, a father, a beloved and valued creation of God went missing from our community. It was in the newspaper, on the news, and was discussed in town. Few people did anything. You see, Danny wasn't perfect. In fact Danny had made some mistakes and some poor choices in his life.

But the truth is none of that matters. Not if we believe in the Gospel.

You see this is what I am learning from Danny McGee...

(1) God views us all as his precious and valuable children. If we claim to love God we certainly better do the same.

(2) Paul wasn't kidding when he told us to "Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn." (Romans 12:15, TNIV)

(3) I am convinced that Jesus finds Danny and his family to be important. The fact that he died for them (and for you and I) makes that crystal clear. He is well known as being the one who left the 99 to look for the 1. In this situation, you and I are not the one.

God doesn't just want us to be people who think that the things happening around us are tragic or lamentable. In fact, it is much more than that.

If we believe in a God who became flesh, lived a sinless life, was murdered on a cross and three days later rose from the dead then disgust or apathy or "praying about it" just won't do. Because of what Jesus has done new life is possible. Hope is renewed day by day by day.

Listen to the (haunting) words of James, the brother of Jesus:

What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if people claim to have faith but have no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, "Go in peace; keep warm and well fed," but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.

James 2:14-17, TNIV