Discipleship and the decline of the Church, What’s Up? Is it the loss of innocence, certitude, time? Or is the Jesus movement less about dogma and worship highs and more about discovering “life" together?
Brenda preaches from 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11. In his letter to the church at Thessaloniki -- which is the earliest Christian writing in the New Testament, even earlier than the gospels -- Paul reassures his disciples that they have what they need to survive anxious times. They have their faith in Christ and the mutual support of their community. We, too, have these things, and like a spiritual emergency kit, they help us to weather the anxious times of our own day.
We are called, as people of faith, to be good stewards of all that God has entrusted to us. Some of that is money. But it is also that is that which is harder to measure: love, grace, compassion, gratitude. May we be generous with all these incredible gifts. May we remember that we are agents of grace, on a journey that makes known the generosity of God through our own practice of the same.
This is first in a series on stewardship, looking at the Journey to Generosity. In this sermon, Russ invites us to consider the difference between what Miroslav Volf differentiates the richness of having and the richness of being. One is outward, the other is inner. Sadly, we are too easily distracted by the external things. But James reminds us there are trials and more along the way, but the great test in life is centered on finding the path to the richness of being.
God’s way of working in the world to alleviate suffering, injustice, and pain, is not to intervene miraculously, suspending the laws of nature, sending angels to make things right. No, God works through people. God hears, sees, and knows the suffering of others… and expects us to do the same. And God’s response is to call US to step up as instruments of God’s help.
Could it be that God doesn’t take us away from life’s horrific experiences, but promises us that through them all we will never be alone? What we discover in the midst of our suffering is that God is there, not as the cause of the suffering, but suffering with us, standing alongside.
In looking at the Creation poem of Genesis 1, perhaps the poet is saying, "In the midst of creation there is so much to do, accomplish, build, create… so much to administrate, many emails to respond to, bills to pay, calls to return, so much to create, manage, do… BE CAREFUL that in the midst of all that you don’t become so consumed that you find yourself enslaved again, back in another sort of Egypt, making bricks, bricks, bricks…"
In the final sermon of the series of women in the Bible, Russ looks at Mary of Magdala. A lot of stories are told about Mary of Magdala, but ultimately she gets to tell her own story – the truth about who she really is and what she stands for. Ultimately that is our privilege and responsibility as well.
Even though at in one letter Paul says that women should remain silent in church, in other places he lifts up and recognizes several women who serve the church in wonderful ways. As far as we know, these church ladies did no heroic deeds or had miraculous experiences. They just served God the way they knew how. Like them, most of us live pretty ordinary lives, but yet, through us, God can do extraordinary things.
Talking about another fierce woman of the bible, Russ looks at the Canaanite woman who, out of desperation, begs Jesus to heal her daughter who is tormented by a demon. When rebuffed (and insulted) this woman from the wrong side of the tracks points out to Jesus that the wideness of God's mercy is bigger than even he can understand, and that God offers more than crumbs, but a place at the table.
Our guest preacher, Rev. Sara Steenhouse, looked at the story of Ruth who resolved to stay with her mother-in-law Naomi, and they found a way, when it seemed no way was to be found. Through Ruth's story we are invited to consider who we are responsible for, noticing that regular, everyday people can find courage to lift one another up, finding a way forward, even when it seems no way is to be found.