the tentmaker

daily thoughts on the common lectionary

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Location: Sharpsburg, Georgia, United States

"...because he was of the same trade, he stayed with them, and they worked together — by trade they were tentmakers." Acts 18:3. Tentmaker is a title taken by bi-vocational pastors. As such, I am both a pastor and a project manager. I am a pastor of a local congregation of moderate, accepting and affirming people who worship in the Baptist tradition. We call our church "Hope Memorial Baptist" and we are about 40 in number. I am also a project manager of major construction projects for the State of Georgia. My home and church is in rural Coweta County, between Peachtree City and Newnan, with a mailing address of Sharpsburg, Georgia.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Year A - Easter 2

Where Do We Go from Here?

Liturgy of the Word:
Acts 2:14a, 22-32
Psalm 16
1 Peter 1:3-9
John 20:19-31

Abraham Lincoln said, “The Lord prefers common-looking people. That’s the reason he made so many of them.” The same might be said of small churches. Although much is written about megachurches, we’re simply a nation of small churches. Approximately two-thirds of all churches in the United States average 100 people or fewer on Sun-days. More than 100,000 churches average 50 or fewer in their Sunday morning attendance.

I believe the key issue for churches in the twenty-first century will be church health, not church growth.*

Last Week I spoke these words:

Do not embrace the stagnant stone of complacency. If you do, this church will cease to be the Church, the body of Christ, in this community. Our attendance is deplorable. Church has become something to do when we don’t have anything better to do. Our recent offerings will not support the ministry of this church. Our outreach to the community is confined to purchasing a few gifts for one family at Christmas. We come to church on Sunday morning and that is all the church we want. And many of you don’t come but once a month or even less.

We have no programs for our youth. Consequently, we have no young people in our church. We have tried many times to begin programs to reach out to both our youth and our adult communities. Many of you have children and grandchildren. Most of them go to other churches, if they go at all. What is it about this church that drives them away? Unless we change, and reach out to the youth of this community, this church will be dead in ten years.

Those were harsh words. They were words that, I am sure, caused much pain and perhaps much anger. But please know that I said those words out of love for you and this little body of Christ we call Hope Memorial Baptist Church.

Our problem is not that we are small. There are many small churches that thrive at the size they are. They are a witness for Christ in their community.

Small Churches are a place where people can experience community. Large churches tend to be very impersonal whereas in small churches everyone knows one another. We know each other’s kids, grand kids, pets, aunts and uncles. We know each other’s trials in life, be it sickness, grief or sadness. We share each other’s joys, such as birthdays, the birth of new child or grandchild. These are qualities you won’t find in a large church.

In small churches, everyone has an opportunity to use their talents to serve God. In large churches a person is overlooked in the crowd unless they possess a very highly gifted talent. But God made mediocre talent too. And he intends us to use our talents, no matter how accomplished or unaccomplished it may be, to further his Kingdom growth. In a small church, talent is sparse. There is always something that needs a person to take charge of it and make it a witness for the Lord.

In small churches, communication is quick. In healthy small churches issues get discussed before they become problems. People talk to one another. Did you notice, last Sunday people actually stayed behind after the service to talk with one another about their week. People need a place to share their stories. And we need to hear the stories of others so we can place our own stories in the context of reality.

I’d like to make one thing clear. I do not advocate for a bunch of fancy programs designed to get everyone involved in church. I do advocate for people who love one another, and love their neighbors, enough to get involved and be a witness for Christ.

There was a time when this church was large enough and had enough income to support a full time pastor. During those times, the pastor did most of the outreach to the community. But now our church can only afford a bi-vocational minister. One of the things I did not know when I first became your pastor, was that bi-vocational churches are different from churches where there are full time pastors. Full-time pastors spend their work day seeing to the ministry of the church. They visit the sick, they canvass the neighborhood looking for newcomers. Part of their work day is taken up with bible study and sermon preparation. They have time to spend planning ministry activities so people have every opportunity to be involved.

In a bi-vocational church, the pastor spends his working hours earning a living for his family. All of his pastoral duties are done during his leisure time. It’s like trying to do two full-time jobs. When people are in the hospital, or there is a death in the community, the pastor has to ask off from his day job to perform his ministerial duties. He is unable to meet with other pastors in the community to share ideas about how to be more effective in his ministry. For years, I felt guilty because I felt too tired at the end of the work day to go visiting. I used my Saturday’s to prepare for Sunday’s service and could not get out and canvass the neighborhood for new comers. I felt like all these things were my duty. I even heard people say, “Don’t expect me to go visiting, that’s the preacher’s job.” I understand that sentiment. When people work hard all day they want to be able to rest, relax and recreate. And your pastor is no different.

The way in which bi-vocational churches are different from full-time pastoral ministries is that the membership must do most of the ministry of the church. The role of the pastor becomes more of a leader and a planner, than a doer. He spends his time away from his regular job guiding the membership to reach out to the community, visit the sick, minister to the grieving, canvass the neighborhood for newcomers, and provide the staff of teachers and group leaders to carry on the ministry of the church.

In the New Testament, the Apostle Paul was an itinerant preacher. He went around the country founding new churches. He would stay in any one community only long enough to get the church established and then he was off again to another place where there was no church. All of the ministry was done by ordinary Christians, the membership of the church.

We must consider ourselves partners in this ministry. We must look to our future and the future of the ministry of Christ in Major, GA, and the surrounding area. Look to the fields for they are already white unto harvest. New neighborhoods are being built every day. We no longer live in a rural community. Our world is changing and if we are to survive we must change with it. This is the first in a series of sermons designed to move us forward with hope and health as effective ministers for the Lord.

Let us Pray.

* Rick Warren

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Year A - Easter

Come, see the place where he lay.
Then go quickly...*

Liturgy of the Word:
Acts 10:34-43
Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24
Colossians 3:1-4
Matthew 28:1-10

He Arose

Low in the grave He lay,
Jesus my Savior,
Waiting the coming day,
Jesus my Lord!

Vainly they watch His bed,
Jesus my Savior;
Vainly they seal the dead,
Jesus my Lord!

Death cannot keep its Prey,
Jesus my Savior;
He tore the bars away,
Jesus my Lord!

Up from the grave He arose,
With a mighty triumph o’er His foes,
He arose a Victor from the dark domain,
And He lives forever, with His saints to reign.
He arose! He arose!
Hallelujah! Christ arose!

At the end of Matthew's gospel, an angel of the Lord appears before Mary Magdalene and the other Mary, echoing the angel's two appearances to Joseph at the beginning of the gospel, in Matthew 1:18-24 and 2:13-15. And in the end, as in the beginning, the message of the revelation is "Get going!"

A little girl, whose parents were not churchgoers, was visiting with her aunt, and so on Sunday, she went for the second time in her life to a church. When her mother dropped her off at their house, she made sure to explain to the little girl as best she could what church and the nursery there would be like. She said it would be a little like when mommy went to the gym, and there was a special class for the children to enjoy some exercise while the parents worked out. The little girl immediately understood, and from that point on referred to going to church by the name of the children's class at the gym: she called church "Stretch and Grow. "

Of course, "Stretch and Grow" means moving in ways we don't usually move. It means change.

If we live the gospel, then the gospel will always be characterized by change – and – at the same time that it remains recognizably the same gospel, not “a different gospel”. In order to avoid our running aimlessly or beating the air, and to avoid our disguising our stubbornness as piety, church should be a place where we learn how to change; and how to disagree about how we should change.

This kind of language of what it means to be the Church would probably strike many of us as odd. The Church doesn't have much of a reputation as an agent of change these days, and the metaphors I hear most often in popular culture tend to be along the lines of church as a rock -- a metaphor that appears only once in the New Testament.

A rock is pretty stable, and that can feel comforting. Rocks are very easy to paint; you can do it with a limited palette, and you can take as long as you like to capture them on canvas without worrying whether they will fly off.

But rocks are also known for being unyielding, cold, and without nourishment.

Doing Church and being the Church of Jesus Christ, I think, is like trying to paint the feathers on the wings of a hummingbird in flight. Have you ever seen what a living hummingbird's wings look like? I haven't, and I love watching them at the feeders on the front porch. Now, I'm not much of a painter, but I'd say that the best way to get across on canvas what a hummingbird's wings look like would be to show the arc of their motion. When painting a hummingbird's wings, blurring is more realistic than being static.

When we're tempted to think of church solely as a rock, I think it's worth reminding ourselves that while the church is referred to once in the New Testament as rock, there's another metaphor that's far closer to the center of what we're called to be. We are the very Body of Christ, and an angel of the Most High God has revealed that Christ and Christ's Body are very much ALIVE.

Christ is alive, raised by the God of Israel, and so we know that the Word of God is not dead and hardening but living and life-giving. Christ is alive, and so we know that God is still speaking, working, teaching, and healing.

Christ is alive, - and he's on the move!

We may have come to this place seeking a rock, a solid place to sit and be still. But God's power has shown us just how empty that place is, just look around you, - and we're called to die to this?
An angel charged Joseph to journey to Egypt not to settle there, but to bring new life out of that place of slavery. The angel charges Mary and Mary Magdalene to enter the tomb not so that they can embrace the stone, but so that they may spur the rest of Jesus' followers on to Galilee.

Do not embrace the stagnant stone of complacency. If you do, this church will cease to be the Church, the body of Christ, in this community. Our attendance is deplorable. Church has become something to do when we don’t have anything better to do. Our recent offerings will not support the ministry of this church. Our outreach to the community is confined to purchasing a few gifts for one family at Christmas. We come to church on Sunday morning and that is all the church we want. And many of you don’t come but once a month or even less.

We have no programs for our youth. Consequently, we have no young people in our church. We have tried many times to begin programs to reach out to both our youth and our adult communities. Many of you have children and grandchildren. Most of them go to other churches, if they go at all. What is it about this church that drives them away? Unless we change, and reach out to the youth of this community, this church will be dead in ten years.

Jesus is ALIVE, and as Christ's Body, we are called to experience the life of the Risen Christ too, freed from all that would keep us from that life. We're not to hang around the tomb to erect a shrine; that's what you do for the dead. We're called to follow him to Galilee. When we get there, we will find ourselves commissioned to bring the Good News and the new life of the Risen Christ to all. And when we're on the move with Christ, we can experience Christ's presence with us to the end of the age, even at the ends of the earth.
The Lord is risen! Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!
Thanks be to God.

* Thanks to Dylan for this sermon.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Year A - Passion of the Christ

Liturgy of the Word:
Isaiah 50:4-9
Psalm 31:9-16
Philippians 2:5-11
Matthew 27:11-54

Truly, This Man Was the Son of God

I have decided to use the following text as a replacement for the Old Testament text given in the lectionary: Isaiah 53:1-12

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Year A - Lent 5

Believest Thou This?

Liturgy of the Word:
Ezekiel 37:1-14
Psalm 130
Romans 8:6-11
John 11:1-45

Moving from Lent to Easter
  • Easter will be upon us in two weeks
  • In the next two weeks we must move from Lent to Easter
  • Lent is a time of deep reflection
    • It is a time for taking stock of our lives
      • Who are we?
      • Where are we?
      • What’s wrong?
    • It is a time for considering the future
      • Where we will go from here?
      • How we will travel on our Journey?
    • It is a time to consider our present state
      • Our relationships
        • Our Family
        • Our Friends
        • Our Work
        • Our God
      • Our state of satisfaction
        • Do we have enough
        • What do we yet lack
        • Of what do we still have need
  • Easter is a time of Joy and Celebration
    • Easter is the event that defines us as disciples of Christ
    • Easter is the reason we are not all still pagans
      • Worshipping the gods of the Greeks and Romans
      • The gods of the Norsemen and Germanic tribes
      • Or making a pilgrimage to Stonehenge every year
    • Without Easter there would be no Christianity
    • Indeed without Easter there would be no Christ
    • We would still be searching for the coming of the Messiah and the World Wide Kingdom of God
  • But before we can move away from Lent to Easter
    • We must go with Jesus on his journey to Jerusalem and the cross
    • We must yet endure the pain of loss
    • We must experience the grief of death
    • We must suffer along with Jesus as he completes his mission here on earth
    • We must suffer and rejoice with Mary and Martha
    • We must confound our minds in order to test our faith
The Story of Lazarus
  • The Call for Help
    • Lazarus is Sick
    • Jesus is Busy
      • He was across the Jordan in the wilderness where John was baptizing
      • Many people came to him
      • Many believed in him there
    • The Disciples are Concerned
    • Jesus comforted them
      • This illness of Lazarus would not lead to death
      • Lazarus was only asleep
      • He Tarried Two more Days
  • Jesus Responds
    • Let us go to Judea again
    • The Disciples warn him of the Jews who tried to stone him
    • Now Jesus tells them that Lazarus is Dead
    • Thomas is ready to go and die with his Master
  • Lazarus had been dead for four days
    • By now his Body must be beginning to decay
    • First, Martha comes to meet him
    • Martha blames Jesus for Lazarus’ death
      • If you had been here…
      • But you can still help
      • Jesus tries to comfort her
      • She still does not understand
Jesus Wept
  • The scripture says that Jesus cried real tears
    • He was the Son of God
    • He had the power to move mountains
    • He knew that Lazarus would come back to life
    • And yet he cried
  • Do we not cry at the loss of a loved one?
    • It doesn’t do any good to say “He’s in a better place now”
    • Just then we are numb
    • We do not have the gift of clear thought or logic
    • All we know is that we feel the loss
    • And we feel it deeply
    • We feel the loss in the core of our very souls
  • And so, Jesus Wept
    • He wept for the loss of his friend, Lazarus
    • He wept for the lack of faith of Mary and Martha
    • He wept at the lack of faith of the multitude
    • Perhaps he wept for the people of the world, whose lack of faith in the One True God who could save them, would keep them in the pain and sorrow of sin
Are You Weeping Yet?
  • Are you weeping for Lazarus
  • Are you weeping for Mary and Martha
  • Are you weeping for the lost souls in the world?
  • Are you weeping for the fields that are white already for harvest?
The Resurrection and the Life
  • Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died
  • Martha, don’t you know yet who I am?
    I am the resurrection and the life
    He that believeth in me,
    Though he were dead yet shall he live
    He that liveth and believeth in me shall never die
  • The Resurrection and the Life
    • For hundreds of years the Jews had believed in the final resurrection
      • But the resurrection they believed in was not a personal resurrection
      • It was the resurrection of the Kingdom of God
      • It would be the restoration of the Kingdom of Israel like it was under David
      • The oppressors would be driven out as they were in the time of the Maccabees
      • That was the main mission of the coming Messiah
      • We too are looking for the restoration of the Kingdom of God in the end times.
    • But Jesus is the Life
      • I am the Way the Truth and the Life
      • I am the light of the world
        • He that believeth in me shall not live in darkness
      • I am the Bread of Life
        • He that believeth in me shall never be hungry
      • I am the fount of living water
        • He that believeth in me shall never thirst
This hymn was written after two ma­jor trau­mas in Spafford’s life. The first was the great Chicago Fire of October 1871, which ruined him financially. Shortly after, while crossing the Atlantic, all four of Spafford’s daughters died in a collision with another ship. Spafford’s wife Anna survived and sent him this tel­e­gram, “Saved alone.” Several weeks later, as Spafford’s own ship passed near the spot where his daughters died, the Holy Spirit inspired these words. They speak to the eternal hope that all believers have, no mat­ter what pain and grief be­fall them on earth.

It Is Well With My Soul
Horatio G. Spafford, 1873

When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou has taught me to say,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.

My sin, oh, the bliss of this glorious thought!
My sin, not in part but the whole,
Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more,
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!

For me, be it Christ, be it Christ hence to live:
If Jordan above me shall roll,
No pang shall be mine, for in death as in life
Thou wilt whisper Thy peace to my soul.

But, Lord, ‘tis for Thee, for Thy coming we wait,
The sky, not the grave, is our goal;
Oh trump of the angel! Oh voice of the Lord!
Blessèd hope, blessèd rest of my soul!

And Lord, haste the day when my faith shall be sight,
The clouds be rolled back as a scroll;
The trump shall resound, and the Lord shall descend,
Even so, it is well with my soul.

Thanks be to God

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Year A - Lent 4

Once I was Blind, But Now I See

Liturgy of the Word:
1 Samuel 16:1-13
Psalm 23
Ephesians 5:8-14
John 9:1-41

  • Jesus was in Jerusalem
    • The Synoptics have Jesus going to Jerusalem only once
    • John tells us that Jesus went back and forth from Jerusalem many times
  • He has been teaching in the courtyard of the Temple
    • The Jews were astonished at his teaching
    • He tells them not to judge by appearances
    • Man looketh on the outward appearance, but God looketh on the heart.
    • Jesus says to them,
    • I am the Light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness
    • And he says,
    • If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.
    • The Jews accused him of being possessed by a demon
    • They picked up stones with which to stone him
    • But Jesus slipped past them in the crowd and left the Temple
What does it mean to see
  • It is the sense of sight
    • To see the world around us
    • To see the beauty of God’s creation
  • But it also means to understand
    • I see what you mean
    • Jesus is the Light of the world
      • He is the agent by which God makes all things known

      • When we see Jesus
        • We have seen the Love of God
        • We have seen the salvation of God
        • We see hope for the world
        • We see hope for ourselves
Jesus and the Blind man
  • Who sinned, this man or his parents?
  • Infirmity and illness was the result of sin
    • It could be the sin of the person who is ill
    • Or it could be the sin of the parents, grandparents or other ancestor
  • Jesus puts to rest the notion that illness or calamity is the result of sin
    • Our human condition is not the punishment of God
    • Our condition is the consequence of the cumulative choices we make in our lifetime
      • Sometimes we make good choices
      • Sometimes we make bad choices
  • The man was blind from birth
    • He had never seen the light of day
    • Modern science has been successful in restoring sight to a once sighted person on certain occasions
    • Modern science has not been able to give sight to a person who has never ever seen
    • They cannot make an artificial eye that will send light signals to the brain and duplicate the sensation of sight
  • What Jesus did here was truly remarkable
  • The Jews didn’t believe that the man who could see was in fact the same man who had sat on the street begging
I was blind but now I see
  • The Jews interrogated the parents, twice
    • They wanted them to say that this man was not their son
    • They wanted them to praise God for the miracle
    • They wanted any statement that would discredit Jesus with the performance of this miracle
  • They interrogated the man himself

    • They interrogated him twice
    • They accused Jesus of being a sinner

    • Meaning he was incapable of performing miracles because of his sin
    • I do not know if this man is a sinner, what I do know is that I was blind, but now I see.
Amazing Grace
  • Jesus stands as the Light of the world
  • Won’t you come to that light
    • For Jesus is the light that shines in the darkness of illness and despair
    • It is through him that we can truly see the salvation of God
    • It is through him that we can truly see the Love of God
    • And it is through him that his light shines through us for us to become the Light to the world around us
    • It is because of the Love of God in Christ Jesus and his saving grace for us even while we are sinners, that inspired John Newton to pen these words:
Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me
I once was lost, but now am found
Was blind, but now I see.

Thanks be to God