Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Church Signs

You’ve seen them before.  Church Signs.  While I was on summer staff at Camp McDowell during my college years, the staff made a running list of the various church signs around Nauvoo and Jasper.  As you can imagine we had a lot of material!

Here are some examples:

What’s missing from CH__CH?  UR!
Honk if you love Jesus.  Text while driving if you want to meet him.
The Resurrection of Jesus is just as real this week.
Dust on your Bible can lead to dirt in your life.
God accepts broken hearts.  But He must have all the pieces.
Be an organ donor.  Give your heart to Christ.
Staying in bed shouting, “O, God!” doesn’t constitute going to church.     

Some of them are funny.  Some of them fall short of funny in efforts to be clever.  Some of them are true.  Some of them deceive the truth.  Many of them use guilt tactics.  A lot of them make good “water cooler” conversations.  But most of them do little in terms of attracting those who aren’t involved with a worshiping community. 

As I was driving through Crestline Park last week I noticed a sign that was more meaningful than most.  The sign simply said, “Grief Support Group: Wednesday’s at 6 PM.”  I thought to myself, “that sign has some depth.”  I know that church signs and websites and propaganda only do so much—you only really know something once you’ve experienced it.  A Big Mac from McDonalds looks really good on paper but after you have eaten one you immediately regret it.  On the flip side, you can have a great worshiping community and do little to make that known to others. 

All of this is to say, what kind of signs does the world need from the church today?  We might take a clue from Jesus.  The Gospel according to John records seven signs from Jesus, signs that are displayed in flesh and blood.  John the Evangelist also says that Jesus gave many more signs that aren’t written in the Gospel text.  The seven signs of Jesus include turning water into wine, walking on water, healing the sick, feeding the hungry, and raising Lazarus from the dead.  Talk about signs with depth and truth… 

What is the common denominator?  All of these signs are evidence of the new creation that God is establishing through Christ.  In other words, these signs represent the new world that God wants his people to be a part of.  Ultimately through the Resurrection of Christ, God is showing us a world where things that were thought to be impossible are now possible.  This new creation includes healing for all.  This new creation is a place where no one is too rich and no one is too poor, a place where no one goes hungry.  God’s new world includes life where there was previously death.  As someone once said, “this is Resurrection country,” 

Every church has a sign (or signs) to show to the world.  I am not just talking about literal signs now.  I am talking more about the signs like we see in John’s Gospel.  I am talking about signs that are displayed through the words and actions of church communities.  Every church and every Christian has an opportunity to show signs of God’s new creation alive in the world today. 

What signs can we hang?  How are we healing?  How are we feeding?  How are we telling people that with God all things are possible?  How are we living in God’s new world created through the Resurrection of Christ?

I know many of you are living in this Resurrection country.  You show me all the time through your words and actions.  If you haven’t, I’d love to know.  I am also confident that those who do not know All Saints’ and those who do not know God want to see signs of this new world order—a world order that is focused on healing and wholeness for all people. 

The world is tired of catchy slogans and empty promises.  The world needs eternal truth.  This eternal truth is available now as Christ is establishing his reign on earth as it is in heaven.  The church has the opportunity to show these signs of God’s new world

God has given you a sign to display through Christ, a sign of healing, a sign of hospitality, a sign of new life. 

It doesn’t have to be big and fancy.  It just needs to be authentic and true to your lived experience in God’s new creation.

Invite a friend or stranger to church to worship, serve, learn, or have fun with us!  Invite a friend to experience Resurrection country.     

Monday, June 3, 2013

Faith and the Church today

I am really glad that the church was presented with the story about the healing of the Centurion's slave this past Sunday (Proper 4).  It is not a Gospel lesson that we get to hear a lot because of the way the church calendar is drafted.  It is a powerful story about the faith that Jesus is calling us to live by, a faith that reaches far and wide.

Jesus makes a bold declaration, "I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith."  Jesus is referring to the centurion's faith.  Remember that a centurion represents Rome and on some level represents an enemy of Israel, an enemy of Christ, someone outside of God's covenant relationship.  But somewhere, somehow Jesus sees a great faith in this centurion.   

What kind of faith is Jesus talking about?  We will have to look at the two groups of people who approached Jesus.

Jewish elders approached Jesus in person asking him to heal this slave because he helped the Jews build a synagogue.  They hoped to prove this slave's worthiness so that Jesus would be moved to heal the slave.

The centurion's approach is wildly different.  The centurion sends a messenger on behalf of the slave.  Through the messenger he said, "Lord, do not trouble yourself I am not worthy to have you come under my roof..."  The centurion goes on to appeal to the worthiness of Jesus.

Jesus was moved by the centurion's approach and praises his faith.  The faith that Jesus is calling us to exhibit is a faith that looks to God as the author of our salvation and not our good deeds.

How do we live a life by this type of faith?

It starts by trusting that Jesus is in charge of healing us, that Jesus is in charge of our salvation.  It starts by gazing upon that wondrous cross where Jesus died, upon that same cross where a centurion is moved to say, "surely, this man was God's Son," upon that place where Jesus gave himself up for the life of the world.

It is ours to follow that kind of faith, to reach out in charity to those who we might deem as "unworthy" to receive the healing power of God for it is Christ's alone to grant healing and salvation.

I find this passage refreshing to hear in a church atmosphere where too many conversations inevitably lead to, "how are we going to save this declining church?"  It is not up to us to save the church.  God will do with the church what He pleases.

Instead, we are called to have faith like the centurion.  A faith that looks to the power of God as the source of healing and life.  A faith that calls us not to worry about saving ourselves or even our beloved church but a faith that believes that if the Word of God is spoken and proclaimed (in word and deed) with honesty and integrity then Jesus' work will be done on earth as it is in heaven.