“Community: A Communion Of Unity” ~ May 17, 2015 Sermon

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Sermon For May 17, 2015 ~ “Celebrating Community”

Romans 12 ( http://bible.oremus.org/?ql=298857033 )

“Community: A Communion Of Unity”

Franklin Circle Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)

Cleveland, Ohio ~ http://www.FranklinCircleChristianChurch.org

Rev. Allen V. Harris, Pastor & Preacher ~ E-Mail: PastorAllen@FranklinCircleChurch.org

Twitter: @FranklinCircle ~ Pastor’s Blog: https://nearwestclevepastor.wordpress.com

A video of this sermon can be found online at: https://youtu.be/gPtkc5ka-dY

IntrovertExtrovertHow many of you have ever heard of the Myers-Briggs Personality Inventory? It is a pretty standard questionnaire that seeks to determine a person’s basic psychological and social type. The first of the four scales that it references is whether or not someone is more of an introvert or an extrovert, whether they are more comfortable alone or in groups. I have taken the assessment several times and every single time I fall right in the middle, only a notch or two one way or the other. This feels so true to my own experience, for I am both an introvert and an extrovert... and everything in-between! To look at this positively, it means that I am as comfortable in a crowded community, addressing large assemblies, as I am in speaking with someone one-on-one or even in being completely alone with myself. I attribute any success I may have had as a pastor to this ability to balance these two worlds.

Of course, those of you who are astute will have figured out already that the opposite can sometimes be true: there are moments I am painfully uncomfortable in crowds and times when my skin crawls when I am alone. At my most brazenly honest moments, I see myself as a painfully shy introvert trapped in a chronically exposed extrovert’s life. But, thankfully, these have been few and far between, or at least I have been able to adapt to the dilemma in a socially acceptable way. When I have failed to manage this well, I ask your forgiveness.

ChristInCommunityAnd while both skill sets are helpful, and needed, in being a fully functioning pastor, it is the ability to be comfortable in, to nurture and sustain, and to promote community that I think is the more important ability in the 21st century, and an especially-needed trait in the Church. I say this for all those reasons social commentators and church pundits have been exploring and explaining ad naseum these last few decades, but also because I believe the ability to create and celebrate community is at the core of the Judeo-Christian faith and the essence of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Commentators and pundits have pointed out that due to a variety of reasons, modern American/western civilization’s social skills have become less and less actualized and we have become a far more individualized culture. Robert Putnam’s ground-breaking social commentary from 1997, Bowling Alone: The Collapse And Revival Of American Community, highlighted how our human capital has become more and more focused on private good rather than public good, and how our sense of membership has become more focused on online philanthropy and cyber-activism and less on joining civic-minded groups and long-term participation in them. Added to this is the social media phenomenon where groups of friends, colleagues, even family members are focused, sometimes exclusively, on the small screen in front of them, seemingly to the exclusion of the people physically gathered around them, all the while connecting to others near and far via posts and tweets.

S

Small Group of Franklin Circle Christian Church serving together at the Cleveland Christian Home.

Small Group of Franklin Circle Christian Church serving together at the Cleveland Christian Home.

o one of the places where community is still in vogue, is still de riguer, is still common is church. Our faith communities are just that, communities, and while drive-in worship services and sermons posted on YouTube get some press, the idea of showing up to church remains the norm, and when we don’t do it there is still a sense of guilt, even if only passing. So my premise has been these last fourteen years of this congregation’s 173-year history, to focus on building community, nurturing community, sustaining community, and celebrating community. And these last five weeks I have tried to share with you how I have been doing that.

We first considered honoring diversity and focused on Isaiah 56:1-8. We then explored what it meant to liberate laughter, and used 1 Corinthians 1:18-25 as our guide. Next we focused on ensuring justice, and heard Jesus’ speech in the synagogue from Luke 4:14-30 as our own clarion call. Last week we discussed the need to nurture love, with Paul’s case for God’s love in Romans 8:31-39 central to the conversation. These four facets of healthy group life make it possible to truly celebrate community, and I have chosen my favorite scripture from when I began to be a part of the church community as a teenager, Romans 12, as my text today. Let me remind you a little of what I said in these past few weeks.

Watch Night Fun at Franklin Circle Christian Church

Watch Night Fun at Franklin Circle Christian Church

Creation is naturally diverse, and God was richly creative in the way in which humanity has been shaped. But given our human inclinations, we gravitate toward the familiar, the comfortable, and the easy – those just like us. This is not what God wants. Period. God created us diverse for a reason, because we learn and grow best when we are around those who are different from us. When we are reminded, cajoled, and invited to look out for those who are most different from us – even when we are accused of being “politically correct” by doing so – then we are better for it. Franklin Circle Christian Church was diverse when I arrived, but no one can deny that we are far more integrated and empowered as a diverse community today, in not only those who come to our programs and sit in our pews, but those who sit on our church boards and teams and those who envision our future.

HolyHumorSunday

Holy Humor Sunday at Franklin Circle Christian Church

Humor and laughter provide the lubrication and release valve (to create a weirdly mixed metaphor) for community life… but not just any humor and not just any laughter. Jesus made it quite clear that the foolishness in which God engages is never at the expense of someone else and always looks for the joy that can only come in building people up. Holy humor is humor that understands the true absurdity of life – where amoebas and giraffes, long division and black holes, Laverne and Shirley, Ponce de Leon, and Queen Latifa can all exist in the same universe. God-made-real-in-Jesus knew that if the divine being shouldn’t take her/him/itself too seriously, then we ought not to, either. Franklin Circle Christian Church is such an incredibly important and necessary community of faith, on the Near West Side of Cleveland, in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), and in the warp and woof of humanity that we simply must laugh at ourselves and enjoy the ride!

GodBeforeGunsMarchAnd then there is justice, which just doesn’t happen, but must be ensured that it will happen. It takes hard work, sweat, and sometimes even tears to make sure that the compassion God had for humanity, the love Jesus had for the poor, the widow, the orphan, the immigrant, is made real. We will be confident and unapologetic engaging in acts of charity and benevolence that cares for the least amongst us today, as we seek to empower people to be their own change agents and their own best advocates, AND as we seek to address the systemic causes of racism, poverty, ableism, disease, ageism, illiteracy, sexism, homophobia, and heterosexism. Franklin Circle Christian Church has long been on that arc of the moral universe focused on justice, but we must be vigilant lest we be torn apart by those who use false dichotomies and pit justice against compassion or advocacy against evangelism. We know that to do the will of God, follow Jesus, and build the Beloved Community requires doing justice AND loving kindness AND walking humbly with our God.

Ted & Mary Brogan celebrate their wedding anniversary

Ted & Mary Brogan celebrate their wedding anniversary

Fourthly, whatever we do, whether it be honoring diversity, liberating laughter, or ensuring justice… we must do it with love. Love is the very essence of God and is the ultimate charge Jesus has given to us, his followers. And this has been both the easiest task and the hardest challenge in this congregation. When one gathers folks together, particularly those who have been hurt by loved ones, disregarded by society, and ridiculed by the whims of the world, it is hard not to take out those injuries and offences on those closest to you, those who have opened their arms and hearts to you. But we cannot shoot the wounded! So communities like Franklin Circle Christian Church must love one another and the world around us all the more fully, passionately, even sacrificially. We must love those who are most unlovable, at least by the world’s standards, for that is what Jesus did. We must love humbly, knowing both the majesty of our place in creation and the minuteness of our place in the universe. Our love must be wrapped up with abundant forgiveness, of ourselves and one another, and we must ask for forgiveness as if our lives depend upon it… because they do.

Franklin Circle Christian Church Elders

Franklin Circle Christian Church Elders

And a community that is able to do these things, honor diversity, liberate laughter, ensure justice, and nurture love, as Franklin Circle Christian Church does and will continue to do, is a community that must be celebrated! This church is Good News to a world hell-bent on bad news. This church is a sign of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ and will, if you let it, bring new life to those who are all but dead to themselves and to the world around them. This church is a city on a hill that cannot be hid, it is salt that brings flavor to a painfully boring existence for many, it is a candle that cannot, should not, will not be hidden. No! Proclaim it from the mountaintops! Run or roll or hobble or dance down the streets and avenues and proclaim God is alive and well and living in this community called Franklin Circle Christian Church to friend and neighbor and stranger alike! Celebrate Community, for you are a damn fine community to be celebrated!

Amen.

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Why I Support Franklin Circle Christian Church

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Why I Support Franklin Circle Christian Church

Kathy Moody-Arndt

 

Kathy Moody-Arndt

Kathy Moody-Arndt

We all have our own ways of relating to this congregation. I was asked to share some of my reasons for my commitment to this church and for my desire to play my part in keeping it strong and vital.

 

Ken and I came to FCCC a little over a year ago.  It was July morning not long after we retired and moved back to Cleveland.  What I remember about that first Sunday, was how we both knew that this was where we wanted to be. As I look back, I find it

 

amazing to think about how much gets communicated just through the atmosphere and character of a congregation and surprisingly Pastor Allen wasn’t even here.  He was on vacation.

 

As many do, when I came to the service and looked around, I immediately noticed the diversity. (Unfortunately, this stood out because it is an unusual quality in most churches.)  I was also struck by the way that the leadership responsibilities were shared.

 

It was clear that people of different races and classes and sexual orientations were an integral part of the decisions being made.  I found myself thinking that surely this is what Jesus had in mind when he talked about loving our neighbor and reaching out to people we may not feel comfortable getting to know.

 

When I began meeting people, I assumed they had been here for some time.  Most churches I’ve been part of are primarily made up of members that go way back.  They like to tell you about the way things used to be done. Usually there is a golden age people refer to as the time in which they wish we could return.

 

I was surprised one Sunday to see the bulletin board in the chapel showing the new members and to notice all the people I thought had been here for a while who had also come recently.  It left me feeling like, yes, I could fit in just fine. I began to see that I could help foster a church that’s moving into the future.

 

Now when I come on a Sunday morning, I find myself easily laughing and having fun with other people who are here. Some might say that we have more than our share of real characters. But out of this sharing comes a spirit of joy in being together.  This helps us to then be able to give thanks as we worship and fellowship together.

 

The thing I find most moving about being with all of you is how, sometimes, I look around and realize that I’m getting a glimpse of what it means to apply my faith. I say to myself, “This must be what Paul had in mind as he ministered to the early churches challenging the members to share one another’s joys and burdens and to affirm gifts both great and small.”

 

Now in spite of all these strengths, I am aware that we are not perfect.  Sometimes in fact I’m disappointed by things I hear and see.  Yet as we share together from all our different ages and backgrounds and perspectives, I find my faith is renewed and I leave giving thanks for God’s blessings and challenges in my life.

 

As we ponder our own thoughts, let us now express our thanks to God for this church and for Christians around the world as we offer our morning gifts.

“The Waters Of Time Roll On” ~ February 23, 2014 Sermon

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Sermon For Sunday, February 23, 2014

Exodus 20:8-11 & T.S. Eliot’s poem, “Dry Salvages”

“The Waters Of Time Roll On”

Today is the third sermon of a four-part series:

“On The Journey With Faith & Poetry: A Faith-Based Study Of

T.S. Eliot’s “Four Quartets” (Twitter: #TSE4quartets)

Franklin Circle Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)

Cleveland, Ohio ~ www.FranklinCircleChurch.org

Rev. Allen V. Harris, Pastor & Preacher

Twitter: @FranklinCircle ~ Pastor’s Blog: https://nearwestclevepastor.wordpress.com

To hear T. S. Eliot read the poem “Dry Salvages” go online to: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qpuzIoso-44

To watch a video of Pastor Allen’s sermon, go online to: http://youtu.be/N_utxA7Lvw0

Along The Cuyahoga River, Photo by Allen V. Harris

Along The Cuyahoga River, Photo by Allen V. Harris

As with so many great cities around the world, Cleveland has been defined as much by the river that runs through it as almost any other single geographical factor.  Previously even more winding and “crooked” than it is today, the river defined the life of this city in so many ways, from providing the Erie and the Iroquois peoples rich grounds for swimming, fishing, dancing, and hunting, as immortalized in the R.E.M. song “Cuyahoga,” (1) to offering ease of navigation for industrialists like John D. Rockefeller and his Standard Oil Company and J.P. Morgan’s U.S. Steel Company (2), the river insured the land around its opening would be treasured for generations to come.  In more recent years, as bad luck would have it, that same river has served as a symbol for all things that were not well with our modern metropolises, from deep-seated racism to environmental degradation.  Regardless, almost in defiance of such human disregard, the mighty river rolls on.

T. S. Eliot

T. S. Eliot

T. S. Eliot, in his third poem in the series he gathered as the classic poetry set, “The Four Quartets,” uses the river as his foundational image, as well as the sea by extension.  It seems Eliot had some acquaintance with the majestic Mississippi River from his childhood in America, but it feels like he almost knew our meandering Cuyahoga itself when he ponders,

I do not know much about gods; but I think that the river

Is a strong brown god—sullen, untamed and intractable,

Patient to some degree, at first recognised as a frontier;

Useful, untrustworthy, as a conveyor of commerce;

Then only a problem confronting the builder of bridges.

The problem once solved, the brown god is almost forgotten

By the dwellers in cities—ever, however, implacable.

Keeping his seasons and rages, destroyer, reminder

Of what men choose to forget. Unhonoured, unpropitiated

By worshippers of the machine, but waiting, watching and waiting.

Could he have known how much commerce would be amplified inordinately by this river –  only a stone’s throw from us right now?  Could Eliot

Bridge Across The Cuyahoga, Photo by Allen V. Harris

Bridge Across The Cuyahoga, Photo by Allen V. Harris

have envisioned the multitude of bridges, many brightly lit at night, that span its bends and twists?  Could he have imagined how so many forgot, or tried to forget, the power that this river has, only to be reminded of its “rages” when the torrents of runoff from snow emergencies and rainstorms threaten to make it overflow it’s normal boundaries?

It is most fitting for Eliot to use the image of rivers and seas to talk about the mighty flow of time throughout our lives.  “There is no end, but addition: the trailing

Consequence of further days and hours,” he pines.  “Where is the end of them…” the poet wonders, then answers, “There is no end of it…”   Having grounded us in the rolling river, Eliot then interweaves musings of time with images of prayer and annunciation, thus turning our thoughts to things more worshipful.  There is no great leap of imagination to cause one to think of the ancient and great marker of time for we who are in the Judeo-Christian tradition: the Sabbath.

Waters of the mighty Mississippi River, in Minneapolis, MN; Photo by Allen V. Harris

Waters of the mighty Mississippi River, in Minneapolis, MN; Photo by Allen V. Harris

The Creation of Light, George Richmond, 1826. Tate Gallery

The Creation of Light, George Richmond, 1826. Tate Gallery

From the first grand shaping of creation and time itself, the final marker for work well done was the Sabbath day, the seventh day.  Throughout the Hebrew and Christian scriptures, Sabbath was defined as that countercultural act of both resistance to human attempts to “be god,” and the greatest act of devotion to the only one who was God… is God.  Though never using the word, Eliot still captures the power of Sabbath as an act of remembering what is deeper, most important in his life when he writes,

It seems, as one becomes older,

That the past has another pattern, and ceases to be a mere sequence—

Or even development: the latter a partial fallacy

Encouraged by superficial notions of evolution,

Which becomes, in the popular mind, a means of disowning the past.

The moments of happiness—not the sense of well-being…

Pharaoh forces the Hebrew slaves to work without rest.

Pharaoh forces the Hebrew slaves to work without rest.

But, like city-dwellers and bridge-spanners tend to forget the mighty river that rolls underneath them, so we, like passengers on a train or plane, tend to forget to mark the passage of time with moments of rest, of unfettered time, of Sabbath.  Why is this?  Why do so few of us remember to take time off – completely off from not only work, but also worry – until we are forced to by illness, or suffering, or even death?  Well, the great biblical scholar Walter Brueggemann would remind us that we have been duped by the powers that be, the Pharaohs of our lives, into believing we are being judged by our productivity and our performance, rather than our faithfulness to God, which is never dependent upon how many bricks we produce.  Brueggemann writes extensively about this, but sums it up:

So what is it that makes people like us weary?  It is not working too hard that makes us weary.  It is rather, I submit, living a life that is against the grain of our true creatureliness…, being placed in a false position so that our day-to-day operation requires us to contradict what we know best about ourselves and what we love most about our life as children of God.  Exhaustion comes from the demand that we be, in some measure, other than we truly are; such an alienation requires too much energy to navigate. (3)

Like the river, we are forced into new patterns to try and make us more and more productive.  So we try to speed up time by making our trains faster and our wait time at the RTA station or Hopkins as minimal as possible, we try to make our lives more and more productive.  Imagining God as Pharaoh or big boss or Industrialist Tycoon we try to please God by making Sundays anything but Sabbath days and then spend the rest of the week feeling horrible that we haven’t laid at the feet of a demanding God enough prayers or offerings or service or study or whatever.  Brueggeman goes on to say,

But of course it is never enough, for our anxious sense of responsibility will never touch the truth of creation.  For the truth of creation, without any regard for us or our need to make it right, is that God has ordained the world in its abundance; it will perform its life-giving exuberance without us, as long as we do not get in the way.  Our exhaustion, I propose, is rooted in anxiety that mistrusts the abundance that God has ordained into creation and, as a result, we – like the creator on the sixth day – have our naphshim [our whole selves] completely depleted.  But we, unlike the creator, take no seventh day for refreshment, because, unlike the creator, we are too anxious to rest.” (4)

FCCC at Worship

FCCC at Worship

This is why we must engage in the spiritual disciplines of the faith, the most primary one being Sabbath rest.  While the language may seem to call us to the exact opposite, spiritual “disciplines” allow us to relax, let go of unnecessary things, and put life into perspective.  Whether it be the discipline of prayer – like the lady, the women, who pray for all those in ships on the sea – or the disciplines of study, confession, service, almsgiving, hospitality, or Sabbath-keeping, disciplines put us

Here between the hither and the farther shore

While time is withdrawn, [so we can] consider the futureIMG_4718

And the past with an equal mind.

At the moment which is not of action or inaction

Which is a quite wonderful place from which to view one’s life and the depth of meaning of God’s love.

And what is the purpose then of all this discipline, if it is not to make us more and more productive workers or citizens or Christians?  Perhaps it is simply and only a way to help us to be most fully ourselves, the very beings God created us to be.  Which is another way of saying to be invested in our lives, embodied in our bodies, incarnated

For most of us, there is only the unattended

           Moment, the moment in and out of time,

           The distraction fit, lost in a shaft of sunlight,

           The wild thyme unseen, or the winter lightening

           Or the waterfall, or the music heard so deeply

           That it is not heard at all, but you are the music

           While the music lasts. These are only hints and guesses,

           Hints followed by guessed; and the rest

           Is prayer, observance, discipline, thought and action.

           The hint half guessed, the gift half understood, is

                                    Incarnation.

Amen.

(1) For more on the R.E.M. song, go online to: http://www.songfacts.com/detail.php?id=6897

(2) For more on Cleveland industrialists, go online to: http://ech.case.edu/cgi/article.pl?id=IASI

(3) Walter Brueggemann, “The Sabbath Voice Of The Evangel,” in Mandate To Difference: An Invitation To The Contemporary Church (2007: Westminster/John Knox Press, Louiseville) p. 42

 

(4) Ibid, pp. 42-43

“The Church: Diversity Without Irony” ~ July 7, 2013 Sermon

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Sermon for July 7, 2013

1 Corinthians 12:4-13

“The Church: Diversity Without Irony”

Today’s sermon is part of a series “The State Of The Church/The Fate Of The Church” in conjunction with the work of the New Visioning Team.

Franklin Circle Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)

Cleveland, Ohio ~ www.FranklinCircleChurch.org

Rev. Allen V. Harris, Pastor & Preacher

Blog: https://nearwestclevepastor.wordpress.com; Twitter: @FranklinCircle

Back in June I began this sermon series on “The State Of The Church/The Fate Of The Church” exploring scripture and our church’s mission statement, which will be interspersed with some guest preaching when I am away from the pulpit.  You may not remember, but on June 16 we looked at the first line of our mission statement alongside Ephesians 4:1-6.  I made the case then that our church should be, and is, a place of teaching and empowerment.  I put forth that this is never a “one-time get your act together” training, but as a journey, a lifetime process of developing, growing, and becoming disciples.  Then on June 23, looking at the next section of our mission statement alongside Micah 6:6-8, I made the case that our church would do well in bringing God great joy to not simply go through the motions of worship and ritual, but to put into action real justice, loving-kindness, and humility.

Today, we come in our mission statement to “The List.”  I have chosen to pair it with a text in the Christian scriptures that deals well with lists: 1 Corinthians 12.  I think talking about the diversity of creation and the church, along with the diverse gifts of the spirit, will help us appreciate them all the more.

But let’s begin with a bold affirmation: It is God’s intention that creation be richly diverse and that we human beings, charged with stewardship of this earth, are called to maintain, nurture, and develop that diversity.

From the first descriptions of creation we see God diversifying everything, from separating the light from the dark and the water from the land, to populating the earth with a mind-boggling assortment of creatures on land, sea, and sky.  God even charges the earth creature with the task of naming these beings (listen to Carrie Newcomer’s song A Crash Of Rhinoceros for a really fun take on this!) in addition to caring for them.  In the words of the King James Version, the earth creature was put in the garden “to dress and to keep it” (Gen. 2:15).  Throughout all of scripture there is a clear and distinct bias towards variety, multiplicity, and assortment in the divine scheme of things.

And when we human beings mess things up by trying to take the dominion part of the equation too seriously, and thinking for a brief moment that we might be gods ourselves, we are reminded

– sometimes gently and sometimes not-so-gently – that we can only foster this diversity, but are never authors of it.

  • When our hubris makes us think we can build a tower to the heavens, God scatters us to the ends of the earth and diversifies our language (Genesis 11:1-9).
  • When the people of God begin to think being a “chosen people” was something for pride and elitism, God reminded us that being “a house of prayer for all peoples” is about faithfulness and righteousness, not our ability to procreate nor our nationality (Isaiah 56:1-8).
  • When we are fearful and afraid of the powers of the world that seek and succeed in crucifying even the most holy among us, we are given at Pentecost both voice and hearing to enrich and bridge the diversity that might otherwise keep us apart (Acts 2: 1-13)
  • When the Holy Spirit began to call people who did not act like us, did not talk like us, did not think like us, we were reminded, sometimes in dreams and visions, that “what God has made clean we must not call profane” (Acts 11:1-18)!

And Paul, here in 1 Corinthians 12, but elsewhere, reminds us that this community, which he so eloquently images as “the Body Of Christ,” was never meant to be homogeneous, but heterogeneous and diverse.  Comparing gifts, talents, skills, and graces used to help others and build community to parts of the body, with which on some level all of us have some acquaintance; he reminds us that we need it all – everyone.  Furthermore, we can’t just “put up with” each other, we need to honor and encourage one another and the unique and different gifts each of us have!

So the challenge is to nurture and develop this rich diversity to which the Divine is clearly committed in the ways that make the most sense in our day.  This is where lists become helpful.  When we were expanding our mission statement back in 2008 we discussed the virtues and limitations of making a list.  We are well aware that no list will encompass the entire spectrum of folks that need to be included in our congregation.  We are aware that every list has its limitations.  But experience has proven several things:

  1. There will always be those in a particular time and place in history who are being left out, ignored, and underserved, and by naming those who, in this moment, are the “least among us,” to use Jesus’ words, we can more certainly serve them.  One hundred fifty hears ago, “slave and free” would be top on our list and quite controversial.  Fifty years ago “biracial couples” would have been ground-breaking.  Oh, maybe that should go back on our list!  Lists help us focus!
  2. Without naming those whom you seek to be intentional about including in your community, there is no impetus to work for inclusion.  To proclaim, “We welcome everybody” usually works out to mean nobody!  But what research has shown is that when congregations get specific about who is included, people take them seriously… even if they aren’t included on the list!  It still shows intentionality and honest effort.  Lists keep us accountable!
  3. Lists were meant to grow and change as the needs, understandings, and situations change.  Already we have seen that “gender identity” for our trans sisters and brothers, as well as for our gender-neutral folks, is more critical than we anticipated.  Also, there is a movement in our congregation towards more environmental and sustainable ways of being church, with the Green Chalice movement on our horizon.  Lists provide a means of measurement for how we are doing as well as where to go next!

The call to be a diverse congregation in the midst of a diverse neighborhood, enveloped within a diverse planet is a tall order.  In contrast to God’s created order, diversity doesn’t “just happen” in human lives.  It has to be nurtured intentionally, and constantly.  Just this past week I was reminded of that in a mostly pleasant but clear way.  The Chautauqua Institute is this amazing community of learning, sharing, and celebrating.  The topic of the week, “The Next Greatest Generation,” was shaped by an incredibly diverse host of speakers and preachers, from the Rev. Otis Moss III of Chicago’s Trinity United Church of Christ and the choir from that great church, to Muslim, Jewish, Mainline Protestant Christian, Evangelical Christian, and even Humanist speakers; military, religious, business, and media lecturers; young, middle aged, and older presenters; from all around the world.  But as diverse as the leaders were, the audience was homogeneous: the vast majority being white, wealthy, protestant, progressives.  The disconnect was unnerving at times.

What we have here at Franklin Circle Christian Church is precious!  The diversity, nurtured over the last few generations, which has bloomed recently, is only a start, however.  As challenging as the diversity we already have is, there are those who still feel excluded and need to be welcomed.  As hard as it may feel to manage the rich variety of folks we already have in our midst, we simply must move beyond the welcoming, and even the equipping, to do those things which truly show our commitment to diversity: advocating for the rights and dignity as well as the presence of everyone in our community.

One of the key learnings I came away with from the lecturers at Chautauqua was that the Next Greatest Generation will have nothing to do with territorial attitudes and homogenous communities.  They are all about collaboration, transparency, shared wisdom, and diversity – unambiguous, unfettered, unapologetic diversity.

We should and do celebrate the diversity of this congregation.  But the next step would be to listen to one another in our diversity and discover where our hurts and sorrows are, where our angers and our injustices are, where our growing edges and our dreams are, and then work to support, advocate for, and empower one another to be out in the community, in the world showing everyone that through the will of the Creator, love of Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit our diversity is not just a label or a list, but a guide to help us change the world to make it a safe and supportive place for all God’s children!  In the words attributed to Mahatma Gandhi, “We must be the change we wish to see in the world!”

May it be so!  Amen

“Looking For Faith In All The Wrong Places”

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Sermon for Sunday, June 2, 2013

Luke 7:1-10

“Looking For Faith In All The Wrong Places”

Franklin Circle Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)

Cleveland, OH ~ http://www.FranklinCircleChurch.org

Rev. Allen V. Harris, Pastor & Preacher

To see a video of this sermon, go to: http://youtu.be/YGpvuSP4x8k

Pastor Allen’s Blog: https://nearwestclevepastor.wordpress.com; Twitter: @FranklinCircle

468786_10151617325594640_666645763_oLast weekend my partner, Craig, and I were delighted and honored to be guests at the Disciples Fellowship Retreat at Camp Christian.  Some know it as “Family Camp,” for it is a place where both individuals and families of all ages can enjoy camp together.  They gather on Labor Day Weekend as well as Memorial Day Weekend.  It was a wonderful experience by all accounts, and I was so pleased that Craig could finally be introduced to the magical place we know as Camp Christian.  I hope you will consider it in the future!

976173_10151617326749640_198746964_oWe were the keynote speakers at the camp, and we had chosen to talk about one of our favorite constellation of topics: diversity, hospitality, and inclusiveness.  The title of our presentation was “Put Another Leaf In The Table,” and one fun aspect of the keynote was to project images of tables that the campers had previously sent me.  We used the image of the table, in large part, because the Communion table is so central an image to Disciples of Christ.  The table illustration is also powerful because almost every person in all cultures and times gathers around tables at home, work, school, community, and church.

Using stories from this very congregation, we together celebrated the Jesus-inspired calling to try to include more and more of God’s people in the community of the church, no matter how different we may seem to be.  We lifted up the success of Franklin Circle Christian Church at bringing together people of vastly different life experiences and physical, emotional, and spiritual qualities.  Our Open & Affirming, Anti-Racist, and Accessible Core Commitments were inspiring as much as they were challenging to the participants.

But then I come home to have to preach on a text like the one we have today.  It reminds me there is so much more we have to do.  Don’t get me wrong, I am proud of the hard work we do day in and day out to maintain a rich and healthy diversity in this community of faith.  But the story of Jesus healing the Roman centurion’s slave pushes even our boundaries… my boundaries.  Let me explain.

JesusHealingCenturionsServantOn the surface this text from Luke 7 could be seen as just another example of Jesus healing people, or even just another example of how a vastly different persons responded to Jesus message and presence.  But we would be missing the point if we left it there.

You see, much like disciple, Matthew, and follower, Zaccheaus, whose tax-collecting occupations represented collusion with the enemy – the Roman Empire in this instance – the centurion represented that and more.  For not only was the centurion a hireling of the hated Roman occupiers, he was in the business of fear, control, violence, and death: all antithetical to Jesus’ understanding of the Reign Of God, which was more akin to the Beloved Community.  The militaristic focus of the centurion and his ilk stood in stark contrast to Jesus’ message of “turn the other cheek” and “lay one’s life down for a friend.”

Centurions had the middling role in the hierarchy of the Roman army, put in charge of about 80 soldiers, but situated below those who commanded cohorts and legions. (1)  In a mostly unusual turn, Jesus does not initiate healing here, but responds to a request from this outsider and, ostensibly, antagonist.  Jesus, in essence, heals on behalf of an enemy soldier.  It demands us to recalculate our hospitality, both here in this church and in our own lives.  Yes, we welcome those who are different from us, but do we actually respond to and care for the needs of those who are our enemies.

With Jesus words from Matthew 5:44 ringing in our ears, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,” our commitment to diversity, inclusiveness, and hospitality is stretched mighty thin.  Sure, that’s easy for Jesus to say… after all, he’s the Son of God!  But me?  I’m an everyday follower of Christ who has to schlock out a meager existence all on my own.  We’ve done enough “widening the circle” for all those children of God who are different from us.  We shouldn’t be expected to “widen the circle” for our enemies.  Right?

Wrong.  Or at least not biblical.  So, it begs for me the question, “Who is my enemy?”  And lest I go frolicking in that garden of liberal niceties (i.e. “I don’t have any enemies for I love everyone!”) I ought to get real and acknowledge that there are people I understand as my enemy, whether I use that word or not.  For me, and this is deeply personal and confessional, a few of my enemies are:  persons who are intractably and proudly intolerant of others, rabid fundamentalist and conservatives – especially talk show hosts and television preachers, anti-urban avengers who have nothing good to say about cities, mean-spirited people who intentionally hurt others, petty and self-absorbed people… and the list goes on.  If we are truly honest with ourselves, all of us have a list of “enemies.”  Jesus is calling us to face up to it, and see them as people.

To twist the words of an old song, we need to “look for faith in all the wrong places,” or, to misappropriate the motto of Star Trek, we need to “go where no one has gone before.”  Or, at least, few have gone, and rarely at that.  If we are going to be completely honest about our commitment to diversity, inclusiveness, and hospitality we need to find ways not just to tolerate our enemy, but love our enemy.  Love them enough that we would bring healing and restoration to their household.  THAT, my beloved, would be to “Widen The Circle For ALL God’s Children.”  Amen.

(1) Commentary, Luke 7:1-10, Jeannine K. Brown, Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2013.  Found online at: http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=1678

“The Body Of Christ Is Bound Together In Love, Not Doctrinal Unity” ~ August 5, 2012 Sermon

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Sermon for Sunday, August 5, 2012

Ephesians 4:1-7 & 11-16

“The Body Of Christ Is Bound Together In Love, Not Doctrinal Unity”

This summer’s sermons will explore evangelism through the lens of basic Christian theology.  Today: Christian Unity

Franklin Circle Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)

Cleveland, Ohio ~ http://www.FranklinCircleChurch.org

Rev. Allen V. Harris, Pastor & Preacher

To hear a podcast of this sermon, click HERE:  120805SermonPodcast

To watch a video cast of this sermon, click HERE:  http://youtu.be/HgO7wxXOA98

Our seeker today asks her question with a grin across her face.  “Is God a Presbyterian, Methodist, Catholic, or Disciples of Christ?  Or perhaps God belongs to a Vineyard church?”  Touché, Seeker!  You’ve found the Achilles heel of the Church of Christ on earth.

Christian Unity is a goal in almost every segment of the Christian faith, and yet the most elusive of all of the great doctrines of the faith.  We in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) have a particular love/hate relationship with the concept of Christian Unity, as it was – and is – one of our key hopes and visions for the church of Jesus Christ,

Barton W. Stone

and yet we have suffered painful splits and nasty divisions throughout our history.  Barton W. Stone is said to have oft repeated the phrase, “Christian unity is our polar star.”  One of the other founders of our movement, Thomas Campbell, penned the phrase, “the Church of Christ upon earth is essentially, intentionally, and constitutionally one.” (1)

 

Thomas Campbell

The problem has been, in my humble estimation, is that though our movement was one of doctrinal freedom and the rejection of uniformity in thought, we nonetheless maintained a strict understanding of what a believer should and should not believe.  We championed the well-known mantra of the day, “In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity,” but our commitment to “Restoring the New Testament Church” led us to set into stone aspects of the New Testament church that were more a reflection of the growing fundamentalism of the 19th century than it of the wildly diverse and decidedly non-uniform first century Christian community.

But today’s scripture from the fourth chapter of Ephesians reminds us that the unity that we find in Christ is not a unity based in uniformity, especially uniformity of thought or doctrine, or even practice!  The “unity of the

Unity is NOT based on believing a list of certain doctrines…

Spirit” is based in “one body, one Spirit, one Lord, one faith, one baptism,” and ultimately in “one God.”  The closest thing to a doctrinal unity in that list is “one faith,” and if we take Peter’s great confession, “You are the Christ,” that’s pretty easy!

What I love about using Ephesians 4 as a basis for our understanding of Christian Unity is two things: First, most of the aspects of unity are beyond our control (one Spirit, one Lord, one baptism, one God.)  But the second is even more wonderful: the foundation for Christian unity is grounded, founded, and expounded in the diversity of our gifts and the use of those diverse gifts!

The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ.

… but, instead, unity is based on how we discover, offer, and use our gifts in community!

Now THIS is a kind of unity that I can celebrate, and to which I think the world would respond most favorably!  Our unity is based not in our uniformity, but in the good and faithful sharing of our diverse and wondrous gifts!  You play the tuba?  Come on in!  You speak in tongues?  Come on in!  You love to read?  Come on in!  Our strength is found in having our gifts and graces honored and used well, all to the glory of God!

And I so deeply appreciate the next section of this scripture.  It is almost as if the author of Ephesians knows that the course of Christian history will be wrought with conflict and tension around the maintenance of doctrinal uniformity and not the celebration of the diversity of our gifts.  We read:

We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people’s trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming. But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.

Barton W. Stone, Thomas and Alexander Campbell, and the other founders of our movement tried their best to remind us that Christian unity was as simple as the following the North Star.  Unfortunately even the tradition that followed from their examples, teachings and writings would succumb to the human need for uniformity of thought rather than unity of purpose.  Nonetheless, Christ’s vision, and Stone and Campbell’s vision, of one church throughout the entire earth which pulsed with a rich diversity of gifts, rituals, perspectives, and approaches to following Christ and worshipping God continues to beckon us forward.

Let us not be wooed by the voices in our world, even if they come from ministers and people of faith, to believe that the only way to be church is to demand that we think alike, talk alike, pray alike, and believe alike.  Let’s speak the truth in love to them, and show them how it’s done.  Let us honor one another’s different perspectives on the faith.  Let us seek out and help one another discern each one’s gifts and graces for ministry, and then find a place in our congregation and community for those gifts to be utilized more fully.  And in doing so, the Body of Christ, in all its wondrous diversity, will be knit together in love.

Amen.

(1) Thomas Campbell, Last Will & Testament of the Springfield Presbytery

July 10, 2011 Sermon and Podcast, Richard Hinkelman

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The Woman At The Well                

John 4:1-31

Richard Hinkelman, Guest Preacher

Franklin Circle Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)

To hear a podcast of this sermon, click HERE:  110710SermonPodcastHinkelman

(Our apologies for both the delay in getting this sermon and podcast uploaded as well as the less-than-adequate quality of the taping (unforeseen fan interference!).  There is also a video of the sermon on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/video/video.php?v=10150258963779640.  Thanks to Jake Pruitt for both the audio and video of today’s sermon.)

 

Choir Song:  Instruments of Your Peace

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iBc4uxiXsfc

O God, we pray that the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts might be acceptable in thy sight – O God, our Rock and our Redeemer.  Amen.

Richard Hinkelman, offering insight on God's Word. (Photo by Jake Pruitt)

If you have your Bible, please open it to the Book of John – chapter 4.  The fourth book of the New Testament.  As you are turning, I just want to give you a little background about the disciple John – so you can have a little perspective about the author of the story we are about to read.

The Gospel of John is not simply an historical account of the life of Christ –
but rather it is a powerful argument for the incarnation,
a conclusive demonstration that Jesus was, and is, the very heaven-sent Son of God
and the only source of eternal life.

John – as a man, was not perfect.  In fact, most would consider him a little rough-around-the edges, to say the least.  In Luke 9:52 we read how, after feeling unwelcomed by the Samaritans, John asks Jesus if he should call down fire from heaven to destroy the Samaritans.

Not only was John short-tempered, he was also a bit self-centered.
He asked Jesus if he could have one of the two seats of honor at the side of Jesus, in the Kingdom.  And of course, this caused tempers to fly within the other disciples.

John’s temperament and way of going through life caused such a stir,
that Jesus even nick-named him one of the “Sons of Thunder.”

However, Jesus saw potential in John.
He looked past what John was, and saw what he would become.

As we read the Gospels, there is no dramatic event to account for John’s transformation.  It must have come from being with Jesus, being accepted, loved, and affirmed by the Lord, and then being filled with the Holy Spirit.

When he realizes Christ’s love for him, John is so humbled that he doesn’t even refer to himself as “John” as the author of the Gospel – but rather, “The Disciple Jesus Loved.”

Jesus accepted John as he was, a Son of Thunder,
and changed him into what he would become, the apostle of love.

John 4:1-7 (NLT)

1 Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard, “Jesus is baptizing and making more disciples than John”
2 (though Jesus himself didn’t baptize them—his disciples did).
3 So he left Judea to return to Galilee.
4 He had to go through Samaria on the way.
5 Eventually he came to the Samaritan village of Sychar, near the parcel of ground that Jacob gave to his son Joseph.
6 Jacob’s well was there; and Jesus, tired from the long walk, sat wearily beside the well about noontime.
7 Soon a Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Please give me a drink.”

So, here we see Jesus and his disciples traveling from Judea, headed for Galilee.
The most direct route would have been to go through Samaria.
However, in those days, the Jews and Jewish leaders despised the Samaritans so much, that they would go out of their way to go around the city at all costs – tacking on extra time to their journey, in order to avoid contact with Samaritan villages or people.

The Samaritans were a people of mixed Jewish and Gentile (non-jewish) ancestry.
They, like the Jews, claimed descent from Jacob and worshipped the God of Israel –
but the Jews looked down on them as having no claim to “their” God, because they were not “thoroughbred” Jews.
In fact, this exclusion was so great, that the Samaritans and Jews worshipped in separate places – the Jews in Jerusalem, and the Samaritans at Mount Gerizim.

But Jesus…a Jew himself…was not concerned with contributing to the racial or religious hypocrisy of the day.  He was concerned with putting an end to it.
Jesus wasn’t concerned with “avoiding that sort of place” because it might upset the religious authorities or personal traditions of the Jewish people.
[When personal and religious traditions got in the way of love and inclusion – Jesus chose to break tradition and demonstrate love and inclusion.]
He even further upset the applecart by talking to a Samaritan WOMAN (the lowest of the low).
The Jewish religious leaders considered Samaritan women to be unclean from birth.

Jesus asks her for a drink.

His interaction with her stars off as routine.  Simply asking for a drink of water.

However, to her, it was more than just a stranger asking for a drink of water.

8 He was alone at the time because his disciples had gone into the village to buy some food.
9 The woman was surprised, for Jews refuse to have anything to do with Samaritans. She said to Jesus, “You are a Jew, and I am a Samaritan woman. Why are you asking me for a drink?”

She knew he was a Jew.  She knew what the Jews thought of her.
She knew how the religious leaders felt and acted in regards to her and her people
– not because of something she had done, but because of who she was
– something she was because of her birth – something she couldn’t change.
Something she had no choice over.  She knew where she stood.

10 Jesus replied, “If you only knew the gift God has for you and who I am, you would ask me, and I would give you living water.”
11 “But sir, you don’t have a rope or a bucket,” she said, “and this is a very deep well. Where would you get this living water?
12 And besides, are you greater than our ancestor Jacob who gave us this well? How can you offer better water than he and his sons and his cattle enjoyed?”
13 Jesus replied, “People soon become thirsty again after drinking this water.
14 But the water I give them takes away thirst altogether. It becomes a perpetual spring within them, giving them eternal life.”

(Continues to vs 15)

15 “Please, sir,” the woman said, “give me some of that water! Then I’ll never be thirsty again, and I won’t have to come here to haul water.”

Suddenly she realizes this man, a Jew, has a different message
– different from her previous experiences with Jews and the Jewish leaders.
This man told her of a gift God had for her.
He also told her that if she only asked, he would give her living water.

Now, at this point in the conversation, from the woman’s perspective, living water simply means fresh, or flowing water (for example, from a stream – as opposed to stagnant water).  She challenges Jesus on how he can possibly provide better water than what she is about to draw from the well.

So Jesus explains further about his water…water that will forever quench her thirst… would be a source of new life within her…water leading to eternal life.

“Give Me This Water!” she replies.

16 “Go and get your husband,” Jesus told her.
17 “I don’t have a husband,” the woman replied. Jesus said, “You’re right! You don’t have a husband—
18 for you have had five husbands, and you aren’t even married to the man you’re living with now.”

Some personal information about the woman comes to light, when Jesus tells her to go and get her husband.  Readers often imply an accusatory tone in Jesus’ voice, during this passage.  However, is it possible that he said it with concern and a gentle tone of understanding?  A soft “I know…I know where you’ve been…I know how you’ve been treated…”

Is it possible that she was not all to blame for her situation?  Remember, some customs permitted a man to divorce her wife just for burning the bread.  Something in Jesus’ voice caused her to further engage in conversation with him…not to shut down and run away.

19 “Sir,” the woman said, “you must be a prophet.

And then, after a moment, she changes the subject.

20 So tell me, why is it that you Jews insist that Jerusalem is the only place of worship, while we Samaritans claim it is here at Mount Gerizim, where our ancestors worshiped?”

Perhaps it was due to the fact that she wanted her questions of worship cleared up, once and for all – and clearly a holy prophet would have the correct answer.

Or perhaps it was an attempt to avert any further disclosure of her personal life – by shifting the conversation to religion.

Either way, notice how Jesus responds to her change of direction.

21 Jesus replied, “Believe me, the time is coming when it will no longer matter whether you worship the Father here or in Jerusalem.
22 You Samaritans know so little about the one you worship, while we Jews know all about him, for salvation comes through the Jews.
23 But the time is coming and is already here when true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth. The Father is looking for anyone who will worship him that way.
24 For God is Spirit, so those who worship him must worship in spirit and in truth.”

He was not presenting a system or a pre-rehearsed “here’s how to get saved” gospel outline; he was simply having a conversation with someone who needed living water.  Jesus made no attempt to turn the discussion back to her lifestyle; rather, he entered into a dialogue about the true place of worship.  Jesus kept the woman’s interest by demonstrating his willingness to let her direct the discussion.

The Samaritans only had Genesis through Deuteronomy to instruct them in their ways of worship.  They did not have access to remaining books of the Old Testament – as the Jews did.  Therefore, the Jews truly had a more complete picture of God, and more accurate form of worship.

Jesus is not neutral; he accepts the correctness of the Jewish position, although he does not allow that to remain as an ultimate barrier to racial reconciliation.  Jesus points to a new realm of worship – not Mount Gerizim or in Jerusalem, but in spirit and in truth.

25 The woman said, “I know the Messiah will come—the one who is called Christ. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.”
26 Then Jesus told her, “I am the Messiah”!

Before she can say another word, the disciples return.

27 Just then his disciples arrived. They were astonished to find him talking to a woman, but none of them asked him why he was doing it or what they had been discussing.

Though they didn’t say a word, it seems that it was clear on their faces, the disapproval they felt in their hearts…their racist and sexist attitudes of astonishment that Jesus would be talking to a Samaritan woman.  The disciples don’t say a word – but the woman heard them loud and clear.  The disciples watch as:

28 The woman left her water jar beside the well and went back to the village…

The disciples urge Jesus to eat, and Jesus turns the setting into a teachable moment…an opportunity to impart some spiritual wisdom, and perhaps address their attitudes of exclusion.

31 Meanwhile, the disciples were urging Jesus to eat.
32 “No,” he said, “I have food you don’t know about.”
33 “Who brought it to him?” the disciples asked each other.
34 Then Jesus explained: “My nourishment comes from doing the will of God, who sent me, and from finishing his work.
35 Do you think the work of harvesting will not begin until the summer ends four months from now? Look around you! Vast fields are ripening all around us and are ready now for the harvest.

“Of what was Jesus speaking?” the disciples probably wondered.

Unbeknownst to the disciples, the Samaritan woman ran back to her village.  We can’t be sure how much she understood of what Jesus had told her, but she was convinced that everyone in town ought to hear what he had to say.

28 The woman…went back to the village and told everyone,
29 “Come and meet a man who told me everything I ever did! Can this be the Messiah?”
30 So the people came streaming from the village to see him.

Jesus says “Look around you! Vast fields are ripening all around us and are ready now for the harvest. “  The disciples look up, and see the multitude of people – Samaritans from the woman’s village, rushing towards Jesus…wanting to learn from him…begging him (a Jew) to stay at their village…all because one woman shared with her community, her experience with Jesus.

39 Many Samaritans from the village believed in Jesus because the woman had said, “He told me everything I ever did!”
40 When they came out to see him, they begged him to stay at their village. So he stayed for two days,
41 long enough for many of them to hear his message and believe.

For Jesus to stay there, eating Samaritan food and teaching Samaritans would be roughly equivalent to defying segregation during the 1950’s – or for an internationally known television pastor to be seen walking out of a gay bar…shocking, extremely difficult, and somewhat dangerous.  However, the Jesus of the Gospels is more concerned with people than with custom.  And look at the end result.  Verse 39.  Many Samaritans believed in Jesus.

42 Then [the Samaritan villagers] said to the woman, “Now we believe because we have heard him ourselves, not just because of what you told us. He is indeed the Savior of the world.”

Application

As a result of Jesus’ conversation with the Samaritan woman, her bold witness in town, and the people’s curiosity, many became believers.  Jesus’ proof was compelling.  John was convinced and believed; the Samaritans were convinced and believed; and since that time, so have millions of others.

And now, the first question each of us must ask is, “Have I Believed in Jesus?”

Have I received the living water?

If the answer is no, you aren’t alone.  Many are searching, seeking, questioning.

The good news is that no matter who you are, Jesus offers you his living water – new life, and new purpose.

The same Jesus we have just read about…

who ignored the boundaries of religion set up to judge who was and wasn’t acceptable to God,

still ignores those religious boundaries…still says…no matter who you are – come and drink of the living water.  Come with me and be a part of the Kingdom of God.

For those of you who have already received the living water of Jesus Christ, the question to you today is, what are you doing with it?  Are you keeping it to yourself? Or are you, like the woman, going out and telling others to come and see!

We can’t keep it to ourselves…we can’t keep the message of a life-changing encounter with Jesus within the walls of this church building – and expect people to come to this building at 10:30 am on a Sunday morning, to find Jesus.

The Samaritan woman’s encounter with Jesus happened outside of the temple…outside of church, if you will.  It could have never happened within the walls of the Jewish temple, for she would have never in a million years set foot in that temple.  She knew how the Jews felt about her.  She knew they hated her, not for something she had done, but for who she was.

Franklin Circle is an incredible example of what the church is called to be.  Not only is it a place where we can come to receive strong, doctrinally sound, empowering messages from Pastor Allen, but as we look around we see Black, White, Latino, Gay, Straight, Bisexual, Transgendered, Single, Married, Widowed, Divorced, rich, poor, homeless, those who have grown up in church, those who have been hurt deeply by the church – but have found this a place of safety where they can reconnect with Christ and His Family, those who are new to the faith, and those who are still investigating the faith.  EVERYONE is welcome and celebrated here.  Come and drink from the water of life.  Here, everyone matters to us – because everyone matters to God.  Sadly, this church is in the minority.

And like the Samaritan woman, there are multitudes of people who would never in a million years set foot in a church.  They know how “the church” feels about them.  They know how “those Christians” feel about them.  They feel judged and hated for who they are.

This is not just a passing observation on my part.  David Kinneman and Gabe Lyons report their findings in the book

“Unchristian – what a new generation really thinks about Christianity…and why it matters.”

Their in-depth, scientific and statistical research shows
that a majority of those outside of Christianity, especially younger adults,
have little trust in the Christian faith,
and esteem for the lifestyle of Christ followers is quickly fading.
They reject Jesus because they feel rejected by Christians.

One fifth of those outside of the Christian faith, regardless of age, admitted they have had a bad experience in a church or with a Christian that gave them a negative image of Jesus Christ.  This represents nearly fifty million adult residents of this country – who admit they have significant emotional or spiritual baggage from past experiences with so-called Christ followers.

National surveys of young people outside of the church have found that

the three most common perceptions of present-day Christianity are:

anti-homosexual (91%),
judgmental (87 percent)

and hypocritical (85 percent).

THIS is the current status of today’s church – through the eyes of the world.

91% think we hate gay people!

This is why most people will never set foot in a church, on their own accord.

87% of them feel judged by us.

This is the reality.

It may not be fair, and we may not have asked for it…but it is now our job to go out and overcome the negative messages that the church has been portraying.
It is now our job to show the world “the real Jesus.”
The Jesus who loves, the Jesus who accepts, the Jesus who changes lives,
the Jesus who invites EVERYONE to join him in the work of his kingdom.

As we experience the river of living water flowing here at Franklin Circle – we cannot confine it to this building.  For, just like a pond – if the water only flows in and doesn’t flow out – it becomes stagnant and unusable.  And the church is like that pond – if we do not have a flow out, we will become stagnant and unusable.

This is why we cannot keep the message of Jesus within the walls of this church.
We can not let our fears, our traditions, or our comfort hold us back.

We as Christ-Followers must be willing to say YES to God’s call on our lives
to go out and share the message of his love with those who do not yet know.

As we saw in the introduction, the Apostle John had his faults, yet God used him.
The Samaritan woman, though rejected by society, was used by God to bring her whole village to faith in Jesus as the Messiah.  And now, it’s our turn to be used.  How will we respond to Jesus?

As Scott sings this next song, I ask everyone here to close their eyes and take this time to respond to Jesus.

For some, today may be a day of taking a first step of a simple prayer and say

“I need to learn more about you, Jesus and your living water.”

For others, today may be the day when you change the course of your journey – and instead of moving toward Christ, you decide that today begins your journey WITH Christ.  Your prayer can simply be “Jesus, let’s do this together.”

Some here know that Christ has called you to more –  but there are certain things in your life that are holding you back from fully surrendering to Christ’s call on your life.

And maybe today is a day to just say “Help me, God.

Help me overcome my fears, my traditions, my need for comfort, my need to play it safe.”

And for some, God has already been speaking to your heart over the past few months – shaping you, preparing you, telling you “Get ready, because I am going to use you.”

And today may be the day for you to pray, “Here I am…Use me.”

Let us respond as Scott sings…

[Scott Solo –Who Will Go]

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dlMr2eKiNpk
Whatever your prayer…

I want to know more about you, Jesus.

I want to begin my journey WITH you, Jesus.

God, I need your help to overcome things that are holding me back.

Or “Here I am…Use Me.”

Whatever your prayer…I encourage each of you to share it with 1 other person.

Don’t just keep it to yourself.

You don’t have to share all of the details – but sometime this week, let a friend know how you have responded to Jesus.

Find a prayer partner this week – who will pray for you as you pray for them.  Who will encourage you, as you encourage them.  Who will help you grow, as you help them.

And now, lets all stand, as one family – as together we respond by singing
Hymn 452, Here I Am, Lord.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-KnsSNbos4I

Closing Prayer:

God, we thank you that no matter where we are on our journey, You meet each of us where we are.  You walk beside us, you lead us, and you cause to grow within each of us the strength to say “Here I am…I will go.”

[Benediction]

God, you are the Source of All Life.
Call us to go from this place and live life fully.

God, you are the Essence of All Love.
Call us to go from this place and love wastefully.

    You, God, are the “Ground of Our Very Being,”
Call us to go from this place and have the courage to be ourselves.  Amen.


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