Tag: ecumentical

One Spirit, One Body

Psalm 19
1 Corinthians 12:12-31a

How shall they, the world, know us? How can you witness if someone is a Christian? If it is by all of us worshiping the same, being in agreement, unity by similarity… showing love in the same way… we Christians are failing.

As of the last count, about ten years ago, there were over 330,000 Christian churches dotting America; and these are divided into 217 different denominations. World wide, there are about 4 million churches and 33,000 different denominations!

And an awful lot of us are not speaking to each other anymore.

Yet, Jesus’ prayer in John for us is, “that they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one–I in them and you in me–so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”

What happened to Jesus’ prayer? What happened to our unity? Where did it go so wrong that Christians frequently leave churches in anger, never to speak to their former brother and sisters again; and that Christians go out to injure, murder other Christians?

Can we pinpoint a particular moment?

Was it when the United Church of Christ began to openly welcome gays? You and I both know we lost many churches and members in the UCC.

What about several years before that, when in 1959 our denomination aligned itself with Martin Luther King Jr., and became publically active in challenging racial laws? We lost some churches then, who felt King was too radical, and we were mixing politics and religion. Again, we split into different denominations and factions.

But you know and I know, the UCC draws together several different denominations. To draw together denominations means our splitting had already begun.

So the divisions among Christianity had to start earlier.

Maybe our conflicts began in the early 1900s when new scholarship opened the history of the Bible for the laity. People began to see and read, understand, that the Bible has many different translations over millinia, and these translations don’t all agree.

At the same time, people struggled with science, which no longer tried to prove how the world was made in 7, 24 hour days… and science began to interpret the Bible rather than the Bible dictate science. Maybe the early 1900s is where we broke into churches that support science and those that oppose it.

But there were arguments long before science.

In the 1800’s, some people felt church was dry. Scholastic. It was all about lectures, learning, and the mind. It had no heart or soul. It didn’t affect the real lives of the people — lives that are messy and not scholarly at all. The Holy Spirit moved among some of the people and awoke them to reinvent their faith so that it was relevant to them again. Little Bible-study groups led to tent revivals, and tent revivals to new denominations that focused on the Spirit rather than study.

Now we had churches that began and ended when the Spirit moved the people; and we had churches with planned scripture and written sermons. Churches and denominations to serve both kinds of ways to worship God.

But, I tell you, we argued before the 1800’s too. Two hundred years before the Spirit reawoke the church, there were people who wanted to live pure lives, according to Biblical standards, and they felt that the Church – as it was – wouldn’t permit them. These “puritans” sure caused waves too.

Some of them held insane ideas… such as it is wrong to have slaves, others advocated many wives, while still others said one should never marry and be chaste. One such crazy man named William Penn started a whole colony based on treating the native Americans as HUMANS. It’s hard to believe his colony is now the state of Pennslyvannia… several early colonies were purposefully made as havens, safe places, to worship God in unique ways… such as by treating natives as brothers and sisters. Obviously other churches disagreed on many of the strange new ideas – and many new denominations were formed.

Simutaniously, other people felt our sacrements were no longer sacred – anyone could get baptized, anyone take communion – it wasn’t just for the faithful. These scholars read the Bible and saw adults being baptized, not children – and they wanted to baptize only adults who could confess their faith. So they began to re-baptize adults, and stopped baptizing children.

You know that caused major, major fights – because some people believe there is value to a child’s baptism. Some even argued unbaptized children go to hell. Big, big stakes — big, big emotions — lots of bickering — lots of new denominations.

Sexuality, race, what is proper to study, nationality, ethics and theology… these have divided us.

So too has money.

The Protestant Reformation was in part about money and power. The Reformation leaders felt that the Church needed to be far simplier, far less wealthy and powerful on the earth, and far more concerned with souls than with who is sitting on this or that throne. Each Reformation leader had a different idea how to go about this — and the Counter-Reformation — when the Catholic Church reformed — had different ideas within itself too. But all over, people split over how best to run a society with rules, and live a Christian life with rules, without the duties of either conflicting.

… We still haven’t solved this issue.

For example, it is wrong to kill, says the Bible. Is it always wrong? Can we defend ourselves? Is the military acceptable in Christian ethics?

Depends on your denomination.

Your interpretation of Scripture, Tradition, and experience.

They didn’t solve this issue in the Reformation. Nor was the Reformation the beginning of our divisions within Christianity.

Two hundred years before that, so about the 1300’s, the Lollards got in a lot of trouble. John Wycliffe believed people needed to understand Scripture. Few people spoke and understood Latin, which the Priests read scripture in. And sometimes even the Priests didn’t know what they were saying! So Wycliffe began to translate the Holy Scriptures into his native tongue, so he and others could understand Scripture better… and this divided the church. Is English too secular a language for Scripture?

But language was already dividing the church before the Lollards. A hundred years earlier, the church has split into the East and West. In the East, Latin was spoke and the Latin Empire was fighting Crusades against Muslims and others. In the East, Greek was spoke and they saw their Christian-Muslim cities being attacked by Latin-speaking Christians.

But their East-West issues began long before this moment. It started back when translations and theology couldn’t be agreed upon, hundreds of years earlier.

This takes us back to 400 years after Christ’s death… and you know what… Christians were arguging even then. They argued: Is it okay to be part of a secular community or should one be monastic? How is Jesus both divine and human? How does Mary fit into this? Is she the Mother of God, or Mother of Jesus, and is she divine?

And what about the Trinity? Not once in our scriptures is the Trinity described. Rather, it is inferred from the talk of God, Son, and Spirit. But once we speak of Trinity, it sounds like we have 3 Gods instead of one.

Oh yes… Christians slaughtered other Christians over these issues and understandings. Several councils were people were supposed to help each other with defining Christian theology ended with shoes thrown, swords drawn, and insults or death.

Yet, if we return to scripture, before this major conflict… we will find more yet conflict. The letters of Paul, Peter, John, Jude and the book of Acts all talk about conflicts in the early, early church! Jewish Christians and Greek Christians fighting; Aramic Scripture and Greek Scripture not agreeing in translations; and no one knowing if the Apostles, John, or maybe James has the most authoritative word.

… Even the Apostles couldn’t agree.

Jesus was right there! Right there with them and they argued amongst themselves! Peter even argued WITH Jesus!

Debate, diversity, has always been a part of Christianity.

… Jesus’ prayer, that we may all be one, has never been answered in the form that we don’t argue with each other.

… I think it never will.

See- Jesus didn’t pray: “Father, don’t let them argue.” No, he prayed that we may be one, united. He never prayed “May they all be identical.” No, he prayed that we be one in Christ, united.

In all the history of Christianity, which we just skimmed through, we have NEVER been united in everything. We have different languages, different prayers, different ways of understanding God, different priorities. We are different people with different souls.

I don’t think we ever WILL be united in these things.

Our unity isn’t in ethics, or governments, or language, or song, or even scripture…

Our unity is in Christ.

We are one because we all confess Jesus as Christ.

As Paul wrote the Collosians, we SHOULDN’T all be the same. Some of us are called to be ears — we hear things others miss. We hear scripture and know there are better, more modern ways to say that language. Or we hear the old hymns and know that these old songs speak a truth modern songs have forgot.

Others of us are called to be eyes — we see things others miss. We see how power and religion are helping or harming one another. We see and understand.

Others of us are mouths — called to be prophets, Called to be a voice to those who are silenced.

Others of us are hands — called to be doers, movers, workers. Called to build new churches, try new things, go new places.

Others of us are rumps — believe it or not — and we need to fill a pew, keep the fire of the faith burning, and pass this faith fire on to a new generation.

We are feet for walking with others; we are knees for kneeling in prayer; we are elbows for networking and shoulders for crying and backs for carrying and bellies for great big childish laughter.

We are the body of Christ.

We are different members, with different gifts, different ways of understanding God and responding to God’s call — but we are united in one Spirit, in one God, under one Christ.

God calls us by NAME. Our own personal name. We each hear our name, not each other’s, and we respond to our own name.

So long as we each are following where our Shepherd calls us, we are united.

So long as we are each confessing Jesus as Christ, we are united.

In the future, we’re going to have more arguments. I don’t know what they’ll be. Maybe we’ll argue whether or not robots have souls, or can take communion. Maybe whether or not computers can be pastors. I don’t know what we’ll argue, but we’ll disagree.

HOwever, I believe in Jesus’ prayer. I belive in the power of the Holy Spirit. I know we worship One God who, in stunning, exhubulant creativeiy, has given us unimagionable diversity. And this One God has One Love expressed in billions of ways.

I believe we will remain united in this love, united in Christ.

Arguments, disagreements, misunderstandings, divisions — these have always happened among Christians. But so too have we always had the prayer of Christ.

And this prayer, this promise, of unity in Christ will always let us extend forgiveness, tollerance, and love to one another.

We never have to agree.

We simply have to love.

Amen.

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What Child is This?

Samuel 2:18-20, 26
Colossians 3:12-17
Luke 2:41-52

Our Lectionary gives us today the story of two women, both seeking their sons. Hannah goes to see Samuel and finds him in the temple. Of course, she expected to find him there. She presented him to the temple to be raised as a priest in gratitude for God hearing her prayers to grant her a child. We’re told that each year Hannah goes to the temple and brings with her a ephod, an outer garment that priests wear sort of like a sleeveless shirt. She’s sewn and made this for her growing little boy and she gives it to him to wear until the following year when he’s outgrown and worn it out.

What child is Samuel? He’s a child of God. Gifted by God, regifted back to God, and being raised by priests of God. He’ll grow up to be a great prophet.

But he didn’t start off being raised by priests. He started off being at home, until he was between the ages of 3 to 12. So all those formative early years he was raised by Hannah… and Hannah must have raised him right, for he comes to the temple already knowing of God and prepared to be a servant of the divine.

We’re told that the work God begins, Hannah continues, and the work Hannah begins, God continues – everyone wants this little boy to grow up in wisdom and with the love of God.

Mary is the other woman. She, too, has visited the temple as she does so yearly for the Passover Festival. Like Hannah, she came to the temple with gifts to leave there – and like Hannah she goes back home after visiting. However, Hannah purposefully left her son with the priests. Mary did not. Hannah knows her son is being well cared for and loved by Eli. Mary does not know where her son is, or who he is with, or if he is in danger. Hannah has peace and praises God. Mary has fear and pleads with God.

We heard in Luke’s Gospel how Mary and Joseph leave their traveling extended family and book it back to Jerusalem to search the streets and markets, homes and place of worship for Jesus. When, where, and how will they find Jesus?

Will they find him safe? Will he be with friends? With family? Is he crying at the gates? Is he stolen – kidnapped? Is he sold into slavery, left for dead in a gutter, after all of these years, have King Herod’s men identified the new born king and finished their job at making sure there is no king but Herod Jr.?

At last, after days of searching, Mary and Joseph find Jesus in the temple sitting and talking, listening and asking questions of the rabbis. Mary exclaims, “Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety!” She’s so angry, so elated — her deep, deep love of Jesus makes her this furious because she was so, so worried about what had happened to him.

And Jesus is a typical kid, “Why were you searching for me? I’m not lost.” Then Jesus becomes an atypical kid by concluding, “Don’t you know I must be with my father?”

We’re told Mary and Joseph don’t understand what Jesus is saying. I picture them grabbing up their son roughly, covering him in kisses and wanting to beat his pre-teen bottom blue for giving them this fright and wandering off without permission. I think they must apologize to the rabbis and thank them for caring for their wayward son. And they must march Jesus out of Jerusalem with threats of being grounded until he can grow a proper beard.

After this passage, we’re told Jesus, like Samuel, grow in wisdom as he ages and grows with God’s love and human love. After this, when nearly thirty, Jesus begins his public ministry.

Jesus doesn’t start open rebellion with mom and dad. This scene isn’t the beginning of teenage years where he fights them tooth and nail for independence. He frequently tells people to follow the laws of the prophets, which include honoring your father and mother and not giving them trouble and woes.

And Mary treasures what has happened in her heart. She thinks on these things, ponders them, takes them out of her mental memory box and looks them over. I think, later, she begins to wonder, and put the pieces together, of just who this child she’s raising is.

She’s raising the boy devout. She takes him to the temple and observes the holidays. She teaches him his faith well. But here he is, taking the faith she’s given him and expanding it in new ways she never foresaw.

This happens still nowadays. We raise kids with faith – teach them about their loving heavenly parent, teach them to pray, teach them to follow the Bible… but they make the faith their own. Some are like Samuel, and never give their parents woes. They become more devout and are a source of pride for their parents. Some kids grow up to be like Jesus, and give their parents woes. They become more devout, too, but their devotion isn’t “main stream” and “traditional.” They try out new ways of worshiping God and they rock the religious boat.

Every generation has it’s boat rockers who explore where, when, and how to find Jesus. The Christian music we listen to on the radio – the Christian Rock – was once that far-out and distrusted way of worshiping God. Now these songs find their way into even more traditional services and churches. A couple of them are in our hymnal. Taze, another music style, is in our hymnal and once was suspect. I know several of us are suspect of large churches — “mega churches” — or churches that have gymnasiums, coffee centers, projectors, or lack pews.

At one time, organ music was very suspect and banned from churches. But… many of us hear God in the songs and hymns.

Generation after generation, people take the faith given to them by their parents, and make it their own. Generation after generation, people hear the angels sing and go looking for the good news, the messiah: go looking for Jesus.

You see, Jesus has a way of slipping out of sight. We all get traveling along the road we’re used to, like we do every year, and we assume Jesus is with us… but you know, he might not be. It may be that the Way of God has moved, the spirit has moved, and our old ways no longer travel with Christ.

Jesus says he doesn’t get lost. He is always about his father’s business, always doing God’s work and in God’s house.

We get lost. We lose sight of Jesus, and his beacon telling us the will of God.

Then we have to go seeking the Christ again. We know he’ll be with God, we know he’s always residing with us, but… at the same time… these wonderful assurances and these wonderful truths don’t tell us anything solid. They don’t tell us whether or not Christian Heavy Metal is acceptable, let alone do they tell us if we should suddenly have Christian Rock songs in our services. No, knowing Jesus is with God and not lost, and that we’re to discern when, where, and how to find Christ, is not the same as having solid answers at all.

Instead, we’re told our faith is a journey where hopefully we increase with years and wisdom. We’re told each generation finds Jesus is new ways, hears God in new forms, and understands our shared sacred text in different interpretations.

It’s really, really hard to not think those who are different than us surely have lost Christ. It’s tempting to think we need to find them and yank them back to where we found Jesus… but… our scripture challenges us to examine ourselves… and realize that God is ever new, ever speaking, ever moving, ever creating life, and generation after generation must make their own pilgrimage to find Christ in the temple of God.

We can give someone new to the faith our map, told them what works for us, and guide them for awhile… but that child of God is their own person. And when, where, and how they feel the presence of God may be totally different than when, where, and how we feel God’s presence.

So treasure the experiences of others in your heart. Ponder them. Wonder. When you meet someone who experiences God in a way totally alien than you, wonder: what child is this? And give God loving thanks for coming to us in so many different ways. Amen.

Given to Saint Michael’s UCC, Baltimore, Ohio, 12-27-2015

A Great Homecoming

Genesis 28:10-17
John 14:1-4; 15-19
Once a man laid down his head and he had a vision – a vision of angels coming and going from where he was up to heaven. And he heard the voice of God promising God will always be present and will finish the good work God has begun.
So dreamed Jacob. And he took the stone he had slept upon, set it upright, and made an altar to worship God.
Today I ask us to imagine… what did our founders dream? What did Mr. and Mrs. Amschpacher dream in 1917? They’d only lived here four years when Rev. George Weisz came by on horseback.
What dream inspired them a year later to trust the land across the street towards the work of God? Where they laid down their heads, those men and women, who came from three different denominations, did they dream of unity?
Dod they ever dream their little log cabin would grow into a brick church, and continue to grow to have a fellowship hall?
What vision did they see to found a church out of their families and neighbors?
You know, back in Germany, the German Lutherans, German Presbytarians, and German Reformed churches did not talk much. Yet here they shared a single one room church!
What whispers of the Holy Spirit, what lessons of Jesus, what messages from God urged them together?
Picture these people who would not speak often to each other in Germany sharing one building here on the rural American frontier. I think surely this is our evidence of the Holy Spirit uniting us, working with us, towards Christian unity.
I think of God’s words to Jacob: I will not leave my good work undone.
God will not give up on the good God starts.
The uniting work began almost two hundred years ago right here on this road is good work, and work God is assisting.
You heard it in our songs today – we have Methodist Trinity hymns, and down-home Baptist toe-tappers. We’ve sang modern Mennonite hymns and classic English, Gaelic, and Catholic hymns. These are the favorite hymns of Saint Michael’s. These are the hymns of a people who have come from many different backgrounds and yet have found a home here in this rural country church.
These are the hymns of a rural country church who has been welcoming in all with the peace of Christ for centuries.
When you look back on our history of pastors, that history, too, speaks of our diversity, our bravery in trying new things, our commitment to discover what it means to be the body of Christ in each day and age.
For we are the body of Christ. We are always the body of Christ. And this body changes, grows, moves and acts – but always it is filled with the Spirit of Truth.
This Spirit of Truth, the Holy Spirit, is what reassures us, comforts us, when we face hard times. I’ve been here so short compared to most of you, and yet I have heard of some of the hard times. Yet in these hard times St. Michael’s was not alone. Not orphaned.
As long as two or three gather in the name of Christ, Christ continues to live in the hearts of our communities. Our language may change — from thou and thees to you and yours– and our looks might change — all German to the plethora that sits here today and the kaleidoscope of tomorrow — and our worship style may change — from no musical instruments or art to today’s piano, organ, and banners — all of these things may change, but our faith remains. Our Christ remains. Our body continues to live. The Holy Spirit continues to bring us dreams of heaven; continues to show us that where we lay our heads — this common earth — is where angels tread.
And the good work God begins, God will finish.
This day, this marvelous day, we welcome home all who have made St. Michael’s a place God surely is.
And we rejoice that our body extends beyond these walls and out across the world. We rejoice that God has walked with us here in this place for so many years, and before that traveled with us on horseback, and in Pennsylvania, in Germany, in Italy, in the Middle East, in Egypt, in Eden.
We rejoice God will continue to walk with us, continue to gather us, unite us, as one. The good work God begins God shall finish — and what a homecoming that day will be!
Praise God we get a little sample of that day now! Amen.
Given to Saint Michael’s United Church of Christ, Baltimore, Ohio, on 9-13-2015 for their 198th Year Anniversary¬†