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Lombard CRC

What Shall We Do?

Kids, whose birthday is it today?

Maybe someone in your family

or a friend does have a birthday today,

maybe you do,

but I’m talking about the Bible,

so I’m thinking of someone in the Bible,

in the story of God and God’s people,

whose birthday is it?

 

You might answer it’s the Holy Spirit’s birthday,

because today we celebrate Pentecost,

50 days after the resurrection of Jesus

the promised gift of the Holy Spirit was given

in noise and fire to the apostles,

and they shared the good news of Jesus

as Savior and Lord

to each person in his own language.

God is that close and concerned about you and me

and your friends and neighbors

and those around the world

like the ones Mike VanderDyke has ministered

to and with all these years in Nigeria –

the promise is for you,

we can say to anyone on our hearts.

But it’s not the Holy Spirit’s birthday.

The Holy Spirit is co-eternal

with the Father and the Son,

without beginning and without end,

the Holy Spirit, Triune God

with the Father and the Son,

always was and is.

 

So whose birthday is it?

The answer is: the church, it’s the church’s birthday.

Not our congregation here at 22nd and Meyers,

but the church universal,

visible and invisible,

spanning all time and place,

nation and language,

rich and poor,

old and young,

Christians here and across the oceans,

red, yellow, black, brown and white

each precious in God’s sight:

the church of Jesus from Peter to Paul

to Mike and the people he serves with in Nigeria

to you and to me.

The church was born on Pentecost,

fulfilling Jesus’ promise to build his church.

 

How can we celebrate this blessing?

Well, when you celebrate a birthday you give thanks to the Lord for the blessings of the year,

and then you look forward,

anticipating where and how the Lord will guide you in the year to come.

Maybe you get to play in Little league this year.

Or you’re finally old enough to take driver’s ed.

Or you’re going to graduate this year.

So as church we look forward and ask,

what’s our mission for Jesus?

What is he preparing us to do for the gospel?

 

Last week we talked about our worship.

We gather for story and glory.

We re-enact the story of God and God’s people

every Sunday in worship

so we find our identity and place

in that story of grace:

made and redeemed to give glory to God

by our faith, hope and love.

But worship isn’t all there is to church.

We don’t just go to church;

we ARE church, together.

What’s our calling, our mission, our purpose

in this grand story of God?

 

Just as worship has been maturing in this century

to be less about my own preferences

and individual expression

and more about forming my soul

for God’s kingdom desires,

so being church together is changing today:

it is less about being a spiritual consumer

or a savvy church customer getting my needs filled and being safe and secure,

instead, followers of Jesus belong and participate

as church together to learn to stop

seeing church as the way

to find a spiritual comfort zone,

and instead to serve, sacrifice and suffer

with the Lord who so loved the world

he gave his Son, Jesus, our Savior.

following Jesus in being disciples who make

disciples of all nations.

Being church is more about taking up the heart of Christ and his mission.

Worship is being formed in the story for God’s glory

and church is about being mentored

to be mission minded.

 

Look what happens:

The day the church began

it was pushed out into the street.

A few days before

the disciples are huddled behind locked doors,

for fear, is the reason the Bible gives.

But now as they meet in the house

the Spirit descends upon them

then we find them out in public

with the news of Jesus died and risen from the dead.

And in this street we find people

from the whole world at the time:

every language, tribe and tongue,

each hearing the message.

The message given and shared by the church

to neighbor and stranger and even enemy;

breaking down all divisions and borders.

 

And if you keep reading,

from then on the church is on the move,

outside,

home to home, street to street, town to town, country to country,

from Jerusalem to Judea to Samaria

to the ends of the earth.

The message is Jesus:

crucified by the world, now Lord and Christ.

The one who reigns over all the earth

and who alone brings God into our lives.

Peter declares the promise is for you

and your children

and all who are far off.

 

Pentecost commands us as church

to bring the cross of Jesus across the street,

down the road,

into your relationships,

to be a holy presence in the neighborhood

just as Jesus was present to forgive and save

when he came as one of us.

 

So that’s what I hope we can take to heart today.

This opening of our heart

for our neighbors and neighborhood.

Church is no more about huddling and cuddling;

it’s about going, being sent, sharing life with

the last, least, little and lost

out in the street, the neighborhood, the world.

 

Last week I was on a spiritual retreat

with some other pastors

and those who serve in the church.

Our theme was scripture

and we spent a lot of time reading and listening

to what the Lord says to us in his word.

At one point we were given an exercise to do

which demanded all our training

from previous retreats on being silent,

listening for the Lord in prayer,

and approaching scripture,

imaginatively reading over and over

waiting on the Spirit to focus one piece of that word into our hearts and lives,

an invitation to growth and faith.

The exercise was to ask the Spirit

to guide each one of us to a character in the Bible, and then ask in prayer why?

What is the Spirit revealing to us

about us by that character?

Which person in the Bible are you like right now?

It’s not an exercise for those who

want to be spiritually comfortable.

 

Maybe you young men want to be like Samson

strong and popular with the ladies,

or maybe you young women see yourself a Mary,

devoted, a trusting servant of Jesus no matter what,

we remember the old Sunday School song,

‘dare to be a Daniel.’

Which person in the Bible are you like right now?

 

We took our time with this prayerful exercise.

And even now I’m not sure if this was just what

has been on my heart and mind for a while,

or a fresh guidance for me by the Spirit.

But I’ll take it anyway as a confirmation

and invitation for what the Lord desires of me

in my ministry here

and I share it with you

because it has to do with what we do together

as a congregation going forward.

 

What character did the Spirit point me to?

I was led to the priest

in the parable of the Good Samaritan.

The one who passed by

the neighbor robbed and beaten

on the side of the Jericho road.

 

Not a flattering character,

not one I want to aspire to.

Why him?

There is an invitation to kingdom living

in this comparison.

You know in the last few months

we have talked and studied and prayed

more intentionally about our neighbors.

We have had Rev Wolff here from Lawndale

and some of his congregation

to help us see

some of the material and spiritual battles going on

in our city and among us

when it comes to issues of poverty and racism.

If I consider the priest choosing to pass by

walking away from the broken and beaten one

that image tells me that together,

as a church,

we have a choice to make.

We can carry on just fine

passing by the other side of the road

when it comes to our communities

and neighborhoods in distress.

No one will notice.

In fact, in our hearts we might prefer this,

getting to our destination safely and intact.

We can choose to be a nice church

on a nice suburban corner

doing some nice ministry things

that in the end keep us content.

I mean, there’s plenty to do each week

just among us.

We could be satisfied making our well-being

the priority!

You and I have been richly blessed with

an abundance of friends and spiritual family.

We’re content relationally:

we don’t think we have enough time

for family and friends and

all that’s important to our heart’s desires already.

How could we do more?

But maybe . . .

if we take the image of the priest on the road

as am invitation to come closer to Christ,

would we dare consider Christ Jesus

not asking us to do more,

but to do something else?

 

Pentecost makes being church an issue of the heart:

our heart for Jesus

and those he came to save.

Our hearts are quite full,

and we can choose to pass by on the other side.

 

Martin Luther King, Jr cast the story this way:

mentioning that our choice

has an element of fear surrounding it,

and the temptation to deal with those fears

by avoiding getting too close

to neighbors and neighborhoods:

he imagined that the first question the priest asked, was, ‘If I stop to help this man,

what will happen to me?’

 

On this Pentecost Sunday

the Spirit is asking us if that’s where we’re at,

individually and as a church.

Content and content to pass by,

because if we do change,

if we do cross the room,

cross the street,

cross the neighborhood,

what will happen to me?

Crossings change us.

Crosses change us, Christ knows.

 

Martin Luther King, Jr then imagines the Samaritan

who came by and stooped down

in order to help the beaten one,

regarding him as a neighbor to love,

he preached:

“But then the Good Samaritan came by,

and he reversed the question:

he didn’t ask about himself,

what will happen to me if I decide that today

I am to love my neighbor, instead,

he reversed the question and asked himself:

‘If I do not stop to help this man,

what will happen to him?'”

 

In my meditation it came to mind

that I have a choice.

I can carry on my ministry for the next ten years or so if God gives me the strength

just fine without spending more time and energy

in our communities

and learning to love my neighbor as Jesus loves me. No one will notice that much.

I won’t, because I’ve got friends,

I’ve got rich relationships,

with you I’m part of a vibrant and caring church.

I’ve got enough.

So why risk it?

Why change focus?

So I think the Spirit invited me to ask:

do you want to look back and see yourself

as the priest who walked by on the other side?

Do any of us?

 

I was at the Art Institute Monday with Sandra.

We saw the painting by Ivan Albright titled

The Picture of Dorian Gray.

I remembered the title from an old book and movie. In that story a beautiful man

decides on a life of pure pleasure

and personal satisfaction

at the expense of any and all.

His sins and selfishness don’t harm him,

instead, they corrupt a portrait of himself.

So that what once was the painting

of a beautiful man turns ugly and fearsome.

That ugly and fearsome painting is at the art institute. But next to that painting is another by Ivan Albright titled:

That Which I Should Have Done

That I Did Not Do, or The Door.

A commentary on life and our choices,

the artist considered this his most important work, taking ten years to complete it.

The painting is dark with regret,

of coming to realize a life not fully lived.

We could ask about our own lives,

are they fully lived for Christ and his will?

 

I think we live in a time

when we have choices to make as Christians

called to love our neighbors,

to act justly and to love mercy.

Our broken communities need Christ,

and need his community, the church.

At Pentecost the Spirit sent enough

noise and heat so the church couldn’t stay indoors,

content with itself as is.

 

The Spirit pushed the church out

into the neighborhood,

but the Spirit didn't leave her homeless.

The last verses of that Pentecost Sunday

show the church together:

42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. 46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

 

What a contrast from today:

There are too many self-described Christians

who have chosen a spiritual homelessness

by running away from church.

Not loving her,

not committed to being a blessing to the church,

assuming we can do spiritual life on our own.

Not true.

 

If I read these verses and let them sink in,

I find an answer, a grace to help us

open our hearts to change,

to change our priorities and values.

How are we going to find the grace

to love our neighbor

and open our heart to our community?

We must raise the value of mentoring one another: being spiritual brothers and sisters,

mothers and fathers to one another.

If worship is about soul-formation,

discipleship is the focus of our mission:

disciples who make disciples.

The strength for this practice

can come through mentoring one another:

devoted to the apostles’ teaching & fellowship,

to the breaking of the bread in shared worship,

and to prayer for and with each other,

sharing life and sharing glad hearts

with a view to the one not with us yet.

Mission and mentoring.

The first church was pushed out into the world.

But the church was also given a home

in faith relationships that discipled one another.

 

We practice this already

when our young people make profession of faith.

Our youth leaders structure the ministry

around opportunities for mentoring.

Our next step is to expand this to our young adults, across generations,

to married and single, aged and middle aged, also.

Some of this may grow out of

the women’s Bible study this summer.

Maybe you could talk about this

in your small group

and look to renew your purpose,

practicing being more than a Bible study,

making your small group a discipling place.

 

I don’t think we can program this:

We can’t top down match you to you

and say mentor each other.

But we have to learn to be more intentional

and deliberate about this,

so it begins with seeing its value.

I can ask another to help mentor me,

I could volunteer to help mentor someone.

We’ll be talking about this

in our elders meeting this week,

perhaps hosting discipleship Sundays once a month,

the goal is to provide opportunities

for us to begin spiritual relationships

where our faith, hope and love,

where our love for God neighbor and church,

is shared and practiced and experienced.

 

We hope to offer some opportunities

for us to do mission and mentoring together:

for instance, next Sunday after worship Ginny Jupp

will outline some volunteer opportunities from Network of Nations.

Also, I’ve been meeintg with the

Outreach Community Center down the street, working with a neighborhood group

to reach into York Center

and the Brandywine community across from us.

We’ll have an informational meeting about this

later this summer.

This is a shift in energy and focus, I know.

So pray about this and your place in it.

 

On Pentecost Sunday the Holy Spirit

showed that the church of Jesus

belonged out in the neighborhood.

The language of gospel,

of sacrifice and resurrection,

became a universal language.

The new Israel transformed into more than Israel with salvation reaching to the ends of the earth, crossing all divides of race,

ethnicity, tongue, economics and place.

Our celebration of the gift of the Holy Spirit

pushes us across the room,

across the street,

across divides we have set up for our comfort.

 

If today is the birthday of the church,

we can ask,

what would you bring as a birthday present

to the church?

Can we start with a change of heart,

to value taking church outside,

and taking time to disciple one another

toward that mission?

We have a choice to make.

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