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 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.


Blogger Tripp Hudgins said...

Wow, Joel. Wow.

God's grace be with you and your congregation, brother. May change come and may it be a blessing!

3/23/2008 10:46 AM  

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