I typically don’t like posting my manuscripts from sermons, especially because people will read how I speak, and that ain’t right. Also, there are “directions” for me. So yeah.
Today I preached this at First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Bardstown, KY.
worship should change us.
One of my biggest frustrations with our scriptures and the way in which they are written and interpreted, and then read in segments, is that sometimes it is very difficult to know who is talking, and to whom.
Is it God talking, is it Isaiah? Is it the people asking Isaiah to talk to God?? WHAT??
Another beef I have with scripture, well its not really with scripture, but how we talk about scripture, is how we talk about prophets.
A prophet is not a future seer.
They are not ones who have the ability to see into the future what is going to happen.
Prophets are people who speak a message from God to the people, and not just that message that they are doing okay, prophets are constantly telling people the thing that they don’t want to hear.
Let us be very clear about this scripture, God is speaking through Isaiah to the people of Israel, these things. And Isaiah is a prophet.
I am going to re-read the scripture, but this time from the Message, a contemporary interpretation of scripture by Eugene Peterson.
READ FROM THE MESSAGE.
There, that is a little more clear, I think.
It is more clear that God is having Isaiah tell the people whats up.
This is not the message these people wanted to hear.
Isaiah is saying, yeah you people are doing one heck of a job when it comes to the rituals you all do.
You are great at not eating, you are great at humbling yourself in the temple…
But what is the purpose of that??
What is the purpose of all that if when you leave your ritual and the temple, you go out and step over the homeless and the poor, and you hate your neighbor, (slow it down) you make your employees work when you are not allowed to?
I was watching a Fox Sports special on the Sunday of the Conference championships a few weeks ago, and it was talking about fans and their rituals during or before the games.
One Kansas City fan said that when he watches the games at his favorite bar in Philadelphia with a bunch of other Chiefs fans, that he has to watch the game in the other room because when he comes into the other room, the Chiefs start to go bad.
One Steelers fan said she had to sit just right in her chair.
There were countless other stories about NFL fans and their superstitions.
But I kept asking myself over and over again, that when you put those shoes on that are only worn during away games in the rain, because they are “lucky,” and then your team not only loses, but gets blown away, and your star receiver gets a season ending injury….
is it all for naught??
These NFL fans are really good at performing their rituals, but they really aren’t doing anything to change the course of events for their team.
This is similar to what the people of Israel were doing.
The people were acting as though ritual and temple worship are all a part of some greater superstition.
Some great equation, that if I fast on the sabbath plus I burn this kind of animal, I am okay with God.
That that is all I need to do to please my God.
Here I am God, its the sabbath, I’ll bow my head.
I’ll not eat for a few hours……
“Ohhhh! Goooood for you!”
All of your sacrifices, your head bowing, your not eating, is for nothing if it doesn’t change who you are!!!!
If you come to the temple with the fattest of calfs, with the hungriest of stomachs, with your eyes closed the tightest, it means nothing. absolutely nothing if it isn’t changing who you are, Isaiah is telling his people.
I don’t agree much with evangelical christianity, but what i absolutely agree with them on is that in that moment when you accept Jesus into your life, and allow for God to work with you, there has to be something at your core that changes.
That at this moment, you stop living for yourself, and you start living for God and for others.
Worship is all for nothing if it doesn’t change us.
If it doesn’t invite people to be different.
Worship is about giving us the energy to go out from this building and to serve God’s people.
Feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visit the sick and the imprisoned.
I am not the first person to say this.
Because if it is just worship for the sake of sitting in the Temple or the church, than coming to the church or the Temple than it is nothing more than superstition.
how do we in the 21st century, in mainline protestant churches, worship??
we show up to church.
we come in, and we sit down.
we say hi to a few folks.
we wonder who those new people are over there.
we sing some hymns, sometimes with great fervor, sometimes just barely.
we read scripture.
we take communion.
some of us face forward.
some of us pass notes to the people in our aisles.
some of us fall asleep.
some of us try to get everyone else involved.
some of us are wondering what are we doing here?
some of us are distracted by what the person in front of them is wearing, or by what I am wearing…
some of us are wondering why aren’t there more people here?
some of us are wondering, what is the point of us being here?
are we here because when we arrive at the gates or whatever that moment looks like, God is going to judge us on our church attendance record?
What happens in many churches today is that we hear messages and we pray what we think we want to hear.
Worship becomes self-serving.
When we sing songs of praise that don’t invite us into being better people, and only compare God to other things in our world, it serves zero purpose, God knows who God is.
We do things because we think singing these songs will please God, we think that if we do things this certain way it will attract people to the church.
But just as the prophet Isaiah was telling his people is what pastors want their churches to know today.
That worship is meaningless if it doesn’t invite people to be better than they were when they walked in those doors.
Isaiah is pleading with his people about what the true purpose of God worship is!
and today, people join churches almost 90% of the time based on worship.
Not, if it is the most contemporary, with the best band.
But if it is authentic worship.
What attracts people to the church is seeing that the worship in a church is authentic to who the congregation is.
What attracts people to the church is seeing a worship service that energizes people to real change in the world and in their community.
One of my favorite theologians, Peter Rollins pleads with the church in his latest book entitled: the Idolatry of God, that the church is not about selling some God product, the way in which a car salesman sells you a car.
The church is about changing the lives of the people within the walls in order to change the community outside of the walls.
Church growth, church excitement does not happen because the pastor is a good story teller who reminds us of what it was like to be a child.
Church growth, church excitement does not happen because a church has the greatest choir in town.
Church growth, church excitement happens because when people come into worship they leave with such excitement that they cannot contain it inside themselves.
Which is what Isaiah says in the last half of today’s scripture.
Read it with me again, verse 6-8.
Read it a loud with me on the back of your bulletin, verses 6-8, and remember this is God talking through Isaiah.
Read with me:
Isn’t this the fast I choose:
releasing wicked restraints, untying the ropes of a yoke,
setting free the mistreated,
and breaking every yoke?
7 Isn’t it sharing your bread with the hungry
and bringing the homeless poor into your house,
covering the naked when you see them,
and not hiding from your own family?
8 Then your light will break out like the dawn,
and you will be healed quickly.
Your own righteousness will walk before you,
and the Lord’s glory will be your rear guard.
When worship is not about the ritual but about changing who we are, then our lights cannot be hidden.
Our righteousness will be our liberation from our finger pointing, our calling names, our casting people aside, and we will be like a spring that never runs dry.
Our righteousness does not affect our worship, but it should be the other way around.
This is why one of the Disciples of Christ founders, Alexander Campbell left his baptist roots when his pastor before communion made people turn in a certain coin if they had been righteous that week.
Giving them a prerequisite to communion, a prerequisite for worship..
When our worship lures us to being better people then we were when we walked in the church doors, then it is worship.
When we pass the offering plates, and we think about what we give to the church, is it a burden?
Is it just something else we do? Do we give just because we are used to giving?
Or is it an opportunity to change?
And when we share in the bread and in the cup, it has to change us.
Other wise, we are just eating a bland stale cracker, and drinking a few drops of purple high fructose corn syrup.
I stopped reading this immediately when I read “back up dancer” to describe Robin Thicke. Robin Thicke wrote and sings the song that is about the blurred lines of consentuality. He is not an anonymous back up dancer. As much as I love Justin Timberlake, he was the one who removed Janet Jackson’s shirt in that performance in the Super Bowl several years back. And yet it is Janet that we remember. I wonder, will we remember this performance for the over the top performance of Miley and forget that Robin Thicke was even a part of it? Or maybe we will just forget Robin Thicke. But we can’t forget Miley because we love watching train wrecks, for example Lindsay Lohan and Amanda Bynes.
I, as well as millions of Americans, sat in amazement as I watched your VMA performance. No, you are not the first artist to grind on a backup dancer (however you may be the first to grind on a teddy bear but who knows), sing about your life of partying and drug abuse, or to strip down to your chonies. It’s all been done before. So why is your performance evoking such media attention, anger, amusement, and general confusion? Well, I have yet to speak to the millions of viewers personally, but here are a few of my guesses.
1. Yes, we all know that you are NOT Hannah Montana and we are all aware that you are of legal age to make your own decisions and mistakes. I am sincerely sorry that at such a young age you were forced to adhere to the pressure of being…
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I remember one of the first times I took a group of kids hiking for Mountain Camp at Christmount in 2007, a camper looked at me as we were doing some plant identification and said: “I am never going to need to know the difference between a rhodedendron and a mountain laurel plant.”
And I think this is what parents feel when they are faced with the debate of sending their kid to summer camp.
What is my kid going to learn?
How is this going to help my kid get a college athletic or academic scholarship?
Well I am here to say: IT WON’T!
Summer camp is one of the best things we can provide our children in this ever changing world.
I have seen awesome things happen at camp.
I have seen kids who are completely dependent on their parents for everything become individuals who can actually handle daily tasks with ease, ON THEIR OWN!
I have seen kids who are shy beyond belief blossom into some of the most “popular” and well loved kids at camp.
I have seen kids who are afraid that their parents are going to find out how silly they act in a talent show skit, make me keel over in laughter.
I have seen kids who are the biggest pains in the neck become visions of the person that they are growing into.
I have seen kids who have such tortured home lives escape the hell, who, for just one week, get to live in a community of people who actually love them.
I have seen kids who are so far below the poverty line that they didn’t have anything to pack away for a week, show up to the camp dance looking like they had parents who were loaded.
I have seen kids who are normally the bully-type, the cool kid, the all-star, or anything else in that category welcome and guide a child whose autism controls their ability to interact with others.
I have seen kids when that lightbulb hits on what it is they feel called to doing with their lives.
I have seen kids in that moment when they realize that they are, in fact, completely and totally normal.
I have seen adults with learning disabilities become the star of the week who at their group home is just another client who has to take medication.
I have had a child explain to me the true meaning of communion at a vespers service.
And so on and so on.
And yet camping programs are struggling.
Year round schooling and the increasing intensity of childhood athletics and summer homework for classes in the fall have ripped children away from summer camps.
And not just sports day camps, but over night, stay away camps.
Camping programs struggle because year round schooling keeps the things the kids learned fresh in their minds, and keeps them out of trouble on the streets.
But all this really does is create more competition, create more dependency, and create kids who don’t know what its like to stay a week away from mom and dad until their first week of college.
Parents are sending their kids to more athletic practices, which only creates a person whose sense of the world is being better than the next.
It also creates memories, laughter, first-kisses, first time asking someone to dance, a place to not sit alone at meal times, relationships with other kids, relationships with adults who aren’t the child’s parents, and countless of other possibilities.
Camps are not just fun (although they are insanely fun), but camp is our largest and best educator in helping kids discover who they are, building self-esteem, building independence, and yes even learning a few educational things as well.
So why don’t we send our kids to camp?
And of course I have to ask this question: what if the church was more like camp?
What an amazing post. Especially the last 4 paragraphs. Thanks for speaking truth in a place that needs it.
I got to go to the Macklemore concert on Friday night. If you want to hear about how that went, ask me, seriously, I want to talk about it until I die. The whole thing was great; but the best part was when Macklemore sang “Same Love.” Augustana’s gym was filled to the ceiling with 5,000 people, mostly aged 18-25, and decked out in thrift store gear (American flag bro-tanks, neon Nikes, MC Hammer pants. My Cowboy boyfriend wore Cowboy boots…not ironically….). The arena was brimming with excitement and adrenaline during every song, but when he started to play “Same Love,” the place about collapsed. Why? While the song is popular everywhere, no one, maybe not even Macklemore, feels its true tension like we do in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. If you’re not familiar, here’s the song:
Stop–did you watch it? Watch it.
Before the song, Macklemore spoke really…
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To many non-Christians, and many Christians really, Easter is nothing more than a zombie story that does not include the literal eating of brains.
But that is if you read the story literally: that Jesus literally only physically rose from the dead, which is something that I have always struggled with.
But as someone who does not see the point in looking and searching for biblical fact, rather than biblical truth, I always look for what is the truth in the biblical narrative.
Last night, the Saturday before Easter, my fiancée and I were out on a date and we saw the movie “Oz The Great and Powerful,” the prequel to “The Wizard of Oz.” I could not, and nor could Kelley, stop thinking about all of the Christological images in the film. (What this means, is how does the image of Jesus or how does the story of Jesus paralleled or easy metaphors are drawn from another story)
Careful spoiler alerts ahead
One of the greatest images was Oz, the Wizard (played by James Franco), when he had drawn up this huge plan to rid the kingdom of Oz of the wicked witches.
In this plan, Oz decides to make his “death” a great trick.
But what made this story very Christological for me, was in his resurrection.
In his resurrection you see the first time that the Wizard does his trick of hiding behind a curtain and with that face in the smoke.
But in his resurrection the people become excited; they were afraid that they had lost their wizard, they were afraid that they were going to have fight evil on their own.
So that is enough of a summary… if you haven’t, go see it. It’s not the best movie, but it’s okay. Worth seeing, just because it’s fun.
But Oz had to die, so that the kingdom of Oz could be all it could be.
Oz had to resurrect so that the kingdom of Oz would realize that their wizard and king would be with them always.
Oz had to die because the people had to fight evil on their own.
Oz had to resurrect to give people the courage and strength to fight evil on their own.
Oz had to die and resurrect in order to become the wizard that the people of Oz believed him to be.
Just as Jesus had to so that the realm of God could be all that it could be.
Jesus has to resurrect sot that the realm of God would realize that their Christ would be with them always.
Jesus had to die because people have to fight evil on their own (whatever that evil may be).
Jesus had to resurrect to give people the courage and strength to fight evil on their own.
Jesus had to die and resurrect in order to become the messiah, the Christ, that we believed him to be.
But in Jesus’ death and resurrection, just like Oz’s death and resurrection, we and the people of Oz have to fight evil on our own.
The people of Oz had to fight the oppression of living under the wicked witches. We have to fight the oppression that we cause. We have to fight the evil that is poverty, that is hunger, that is war and violence, that is abuse, that is human trafficking, that is sexism, that is racism, that is homophobia, the list goes on and on.
But it is us, the church that have to fight it.
We might have something greater than us to look to, but we have to do it. As the community of the church. As the living body of Christ.
In the death and resurrection it makes it possible for people like Paul to say things like “I can do all things through Christ,” and makes it possible for the Wizard to say “With your faith in each other, anything is possible.”
We can, as a community of faith, do anything. But we have to realize that Jesus is physically dead, but resurrected in the body of the church.
We the church make Jesus the messiah that we say he is.
We the church make it possible to fight evil in our world, even when we can only see Jesus off in the clouds in some way.
We the church make it possible for the realm of God to be realized here on earth.
This Easter, my hope is that we look to the resurrection not as proof of something about Jesus, but rather as a symbol that Jesus is with us and we can fight evil.
Good Friday is the day in which Christians around the world reflect on the death of Jesus Christ.
Christians will weep, Christians will rejoice, Christians will sit and be confused: “How is this what we focus on?”
I am one of those who will be in church on Good Friday, and wonder: “How is the death of a man what we focus on?”
There are some things that I understand about the day that Jesus was killed to be true and factual.
1.) Jesus’ death was not unique from any other capital punishment of the Roman Empire of his time. If you do not know this, just ask the question: Well, what were those other two guys doing?
2.) Jesus was not killed by the Jews. Jesus was killed by the Roman Empire. Some Jews might have opted for Barrabas, as ALL JEWS WERE NOT PRESENT.
I think this accurately describes what happened that day:
3.) Jesus continued to minister to his context even into his last moments.
My understanding of the cross is a reminder to the world of the injustice that we cause on a daily basis.
In the death of Jesus we are reminded of those who have been killed unjustly.
In the death of Jesus we are reminded that humanity continues to fail each other.
That’s it. To me, the cross is that.
I do not believe we are saved by the actions of the unjust Roman Empire and their decision to kill a local celebrity.
I do not believe that Jesus was called by God to die, although Jesus’ humanity would require him to die at some point.
But as a person who says that if you say you don’t believe in something, you have to counteract that with a what you do believe statement:
I DO BELIEVE that in the act of the death of Jesus we learn a little bit more of what the realm of God looks like. What exactly is God’s ultimate dream for creation.
In what is called the “Seven Sayings of Jesus on the Cross” we see these things:
1.) Matthew 27:46: “My God why have you forsaken me?” I start with this, because it is the first in the canonical order; but also because it is a question that Jesus poses to God. No matter how much we think we have accomplished, no matter how well our life may be lived, at the end of it all, we do not think we have accomplished enough. Jesus is no different. Jesus feels forsaken maybe because he does not feel like he accomplished enough in his lifetime. And so Jesus cries out God, “Why have you forsaken me? This death is proof that I have not accomplished enough.”
2.) Luke 23: 34: “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” Jesus is giving us the image of God’s dream that we are to forgive people… even when they kill us in the most violent way they can possibly imagine.
3.) Luke 23: 43: “Truly I tell you, you will be with me in paradise.” Jesus tells this to a criminal. Jesus gives the image that in the realm of God there is space for us all. We do not know anything of the situation or circumstance of the criminals on the cross with Jesus, but all we know, is that Jesus does not judge, Jesus gives words of comfort and affirmation.
4.) John 19: 26-27: “Woman, here is your son.” Then he said to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” In this, Jesus tells Mary Magdalene, the disciple that he loved, to take care of his mother. In a context where widows and childless women have no one to care for them, Jesus shows us that in the realm of God we will all take care of each other, and that in the realm of God, all have women have children, and all children have mothers.
5.) John 19:28: “I am thirsty.” Jesus tells those around him that he is thirsty. In the realm of God, thirst will be no more.
6.) Luke 23: 46: “Into your hands I commit my spirit.” In the realm of God our bodies will no longer be the shells of injustice in which we are trapped. The pain that our bodies create will not be something that hinders us.
7.) John 19: 30: “It is finished.” The last words of Jesus Christ. Showing to us that in the realm of God suffering is finished. In that moment when, what I imagine him, whispering “It is finished,” Jesus says that this suffering is over. No more will Jesus feel physical pain.
What if the church remembered the 7 sayings of Jesus?
Many churches are in the dying stages of their ministry. Just like Jesus on Calvary.
What if the church remembered:
1.) That in the life span of this congregation, that enough has not been done.
2.) To forgive the people who do damaging things within the church. Forgive the treasurer who embezzled all that money. Forgive that homeless person who has on multiple occasions came and begged in the parking lot after church service. Forgive the pastor who was a bit to experimental for the comfort zone of the congregation.
3.) That in the church there is room for all people. For the people who are on crosses today. The criminals. The people who are marginalized. People who are LGBT.
4.) That the church is to take care of those who have no one else to take care of them.
5.) That the church is to be that place where thirst no longer exists. Where people’s most basic needs are met.
6.) That the church is not something that hinders us. The body of Christ (the church) should not hinder us from expressing agape, from being agents of God.
7.) The church must remember that when it is over, it is over. Sometimes things die. And just as Jesus admitted to his own mortality, so must churches.
This Good Friday, my hope is that you think about what it means to be a church in the realm of God.