Sermon: That awkward moment when you realize Jesus called you and I – Leigh

That Awkward Moment When You Realize Jesus Called You And I

This past Sunday, Leigh’s sermon was based on Lectionary readings for the 3rd Sunday in Epiphany: Isaiah 9:1-4; 1 Corinthians 1:10-18; and Matthew 4:12-23.  The main idea was to explore the epiphany of how God has chosen us to be His emissaries/ambassadors and what that means for us as a community of faith.

It centers on the realization that the Church – God’s community – is truly a revelation that could only have come from Him. English writer Dorothy L. Sayers previously described how God went through “three great humiliations” in His pursuit of humanity:

  • The first was the Incarnation, when Jesus took on human flesh and became like us.
  • The second was the Cross, where He died a shameful and painful death.
  • And the third, was the Church, “when God entrusted his reputation to ordinary — sometimes very ordinary — people.

That’s the “aha” moment, the epiphany – that Jesus would call out to us still, “Come, follow me, and I will show you how to fish for people” (Matthew 4:19); in spite of who we are and what we are like, individually and collectively.

Hence, THAT AWKWARD MOMENT: WHEN YOU REALIZE JESUS CALLED YOU AND I (and meant it).

Leigh’s slides are here:

Or if you’d like to listen to the sermon accompanied by the slides, here it is (please forgive the audio quality):

And this is the poem Leigh read out at the end, which was inspired by a quote commonly attributed to, but unverified to be said by, St. Augustine of Hippo: “The church is a whore, but she is my mother”.

I And My Muther, WunnMarty Schoenleber III, 2012

Over on the dirty side of town glimpsed between the red flashes of “don’t walk”
And barely visible through the steam spewing off of street drains
Leaned up against the neon sign of a pawn shop is a prostitute
Whose mother was a prostitute
Whose grandmother was a prostitute
Whose great-grandmother was a prostitute back
As far as they can recall
And she’s wearing the hand-me down wedding dress that fits her a little too well

And if you go down the right alleyways
You’ll find her prayers stenciled onto liquor shops like brick wall communiqués
Up to the ears of a still-listening God go her graffiti apologies

Confessions so painful they can’t be pretend
They get more vulgar until you reach the alley’s end
Where they run out of room and start climbing up the wall,

Climbing up and up and up until they turn into steeples
The spray paint colors into stained glass windows
Forming a sanctuary whose doors don’t close
She strides inside and waits at the altar in white clothes

And who should reverse the customary process and approach as her groom?
None, but a ruler whose purple train fills the entire room
How backward to see this promiscuous harlot married to a king
But as she mouths her vows
They resound as forgiveness hymns she sings

In the pews made of cigarette butts and beer cans
Every hard-backed row built by her own hands
Sits a throng of witnesses
And all of them can see she doesn’t deserve His graces

Their sense of justice so violated
It can’t be controlled,
That their arms are crossed like origami waiting to unfold
In objection to this unholy marriage
As they ask themselves who gave her the privilege

At this alter she doesn’t have a right to be
“But,” she says, “He proposed to me.”
And wedding wine never tasted so good
Full forgiveness flavored finer than it should

He leans down with a kiss on her brow
She tilts her weary head down
And feels the weight of a holy crown
Etchings along the inside
Read: “Child and Bride, In You I Abide”

And with whisper in her ear He is repeating over and over
I love you I love you I love you I love you
I love you…

The congregation cheers and rises,
But from the street outside the open doors of the shabby-made cathedral
A shout across the crowd breaks the joyous celebration
A man cursing as he swore
“You can’t hear the gospel from a whore!”
But in walked two daughters and then in walked a son
They placed their hands on the man with a smile and said,
“I and my mother one.”

As performed by the artist:

As performed by the artist’s dad!

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Bono: On Jesus & Grace

Bono, best known as the main vocalist and lyricist of the Dublin-based rock band U2 is also a singer, musician, venture capitalist and humanitarian. In an interview, excerpted from the book Bono: In Conversation with Michka Assayas and reposted at The Poached Egg, Bono talks about Jesus and the power of grace over karma.

Bono: My understanding of the Scriptures has been made simple by the person of Christ. Christ teaches that God is love. What does that mean? What it means for me: a study of the life of Christ. Love here describes itself as a child born in straw poverty, the most vulnerable situation of all, without honor. I don’t let my religious world get too complicated. I just kind of go: Well, I think I know what God is. God is love, and as much as I respond [sighs] in allowing myself to be transformed by that love and acting in that love, that’s my religion. Where things get complicated for me, is when I try to live this love. Now that’s not so easy.

Assayas: What about the God of the Old Testament? He wasn’t so “peace and love”?

Bono: There’s nothing hippie about my picture of Christ. The Gospels paint a picture of a very demanding, sometimes divisive love, but love it is. I accept the Old Testament as more of an action movie: blood, car chases, evacuations, a lot of special effects, seas dividing, mass murder, adultery. The children of God are running amok, wayward. Maybe that’s why they’re so relatable. But the way we would see it, those of us who are trying to figure out our Christian conundrum, is that the God of the Old Testament is like the journey from stern father to friend. When you’re a child, you need clear directions and some strict rules. But with Christ, we have access in a one-to-one relationship, for, as in the Old Testament, it was more one of worship and awe, a vertical relationship. The New Testament, on the other hand, we look across at a Jesus who looks familiar, horizontal. The combination is what makes the Cross.

Assayas: Speaking of bloody action movies, we were talking about South and Central America last time. The Jesuit priests arrived there with the gospel in one hand and a rifle in the other.

Bono: I know, I know. Religion can be the enemy of God. It’s often what happens when God, like Elvis, has left the building. [laughs] A list of instructions where there was once conviction; dogma where once people just did it; a congregation led by a man where once they were led by the Holy Spirit. Discipline replacing discipleship. Why are you chuckling?

Assayas: I was wondering if you said all of that to the Pope the day you met him.

Bono: Let’s not get too hard on the Holy Roman Church here. The Church has its problems, but the older I get, the more comfort I find there. The physical experience of being in a crowd of largely humble people, heads bowed, murmuring prayers, stories told in stained-glass windows

Assayas: So you won’t be critical.

Bono: No, I can be critical, especially on the topic of contraception. But when I meet someone like Sister Benedicta and see her work with AIDS orphans in Addis Ababa, or Sister Ann doing the same in Malawi, or Father Jack Fenukan and his group Concern all over Africa, when I meet priests and nuns tending to the sick and the poor and giving up much easier lives to do so, I surrender a little easier.

Assayas: But you met the man himself. Was it a great experience?

Bono: [W]e all knew why we were there. The Pontiff was about to make an important statement about the inhumanity and injustice of poor countries spending so much of their national income paying back old loans to rich countries. Serious business. He was fighting hard against his Parkinson’s. It was clearly an act of will for him to be there. I was oddly moved by his humility, and then by the incredible speech he made, even if it was in whispers. During the preamble, he seemed to be staring at me. I wondered. Was it the fact that I was wearing my blue fly-shades? So I took them off in case I was causing some offense. When I was introduced to him, he was still staring at them. He kept looking at them in my hand, so I offered them to him as a gift in return for the rosary he had just given me.

Assayas: Didn’t he put them on?

Bono: Not only did he put them on, he smiled the wickedest grin you could ever imagine. He was a comedian. His sense of humor was completely intact. Flashbulbs popped, and I thought: “Wow! The Drop the Debt campaign will have the Pope in my glasses on the front page of every newspaper.”

Assayas: I don’t remember seeing that photograph anywhere, though.

Bono: Nor did we. It seems his courtiers did not have the same sense of humor. Fair enough. I guess they could see the T-shirts.

Later in the conversation:
Assayas: I think I am beginning to understand religion because I have started acting and thinking like a father. What do you make of that?

Bono: Yes, I think that’s normal. It’s a mind-blowing concept that the God who created the universe might be looking for company, a real relationship with people, but the thing that keeps me on my knees is the difference between Grace and Karma.

Assayas: I haven’t heard you talk about that.

Bono: I really believe we’ve moved out of the realm of Karma into one of Grace.

Assayas: Well, that doesn’t make it clearer for me.

Bono: You see, at the center of all religions is the idea of Karma. You know, what you put out comes back to you: an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, or in physics; in physical laws every action is met by an equal or an opposite one. It’s clear to me that Karma is at the very heart of the universe. I’m absolutely sure of it. And yet, along comes this idea called Grace to upend all that “as you reap, so you will sow” stuff. Grace defies reason and logic. Love interrupts, if you like, the consequences of your actions, which in my case is very good news indeed, because I’ve done a lot of stupid stuff.

Assayas: I’d be interested to hear that.

Bono: That’s between me and God. But I’d be in big trouble if Karma was going to finally be my judge. I’d be in deep s—. It doesn’t excuse my mistakes, but I’m holding out for Grace. I’m holding out that Jesus took my sins onto the Cross, because I know who I am, and I hope I don’t have to depend on my own religiosity.

Assayas: The Son of God who takes away the sins of the world. I wish I could believe in that.

Bono: But I love the idea of the Sacrificial Lamb. I love the idea that God says: Look, you cretins, there are certain results to the way we are, to selfishness, and there’s a mortality as part of your very sinful nature, and, let’s face it, you’re not living a very good life, are you? There are consequences to actions. The point of the death of Christ is that Christ took on the sins of the world, so that what we put out did not come back to us, and that our sinful nature does not reap the obvious death. That’s the point. It should keep us humbled . It’s not our own good works that get us through the gates of heaven.

Assayas: That’s a great idea, no denying it. Such great hope is wonderful, even though it’s close to lunacy, in my view. Christ has his rank among the world’s great thinkers. But Son of God, isn’t that farfetched?

Bono: No, it’s not farfetched to me. Look, the secular response to the Christ story always goes like this: he was a great prophet, obviously a very interesting guy, had a lot to say along the lines of other great prophets, be they Elijah, Muhammad, Buddha, or Confucius. But actually Christ doesn’t allow you that. He doesn’t let you off that hook. Christ says: No. I’m not saying I’m a teacher, don’t call me teacher. I’m not saying I’m a prophet. I’m saying: “I’m the Messiah.” I’m saying: “I am God incarnate.” And people say: No, no, please, just be a prophet. A prophet, we can take. You’re a bit eccentric. We’ve had John the Baptist eating locusts and wild honey, we can handle that. But don’t mention the “M” word! Because, you know, we’re gonna have to crucify you. And he goes: No, no. I know you’re expecting me to come back with an army, and set you free from these creeps, but actually I am the Messiah. At this point, everyone starts staring at their shoes, and says: Oh, my God, he’s gonna keep saying this. So what you’re left with is: either Christ was who He said He was the Messiah or a complete nutcase. I mean, we’re talking nutcase on the level of Charles Manson. This man was like some of the people we’ve been talking about earlier. This man was strapping himself to a bomb, and had “King of the Jews” on his head, and, as they were putting him up on the Cross, was going: OK, martyrdom, here we go. Bring on the pain! I can take it. I’m not joking here. The idea that the entire course of civilization for over half of the globe could have its fate changed and turned upside-down by a nutcase, for me, that’s farfetched

Bono later says it all comes down to how we regard Jesus:

Bono: If only we could be a bit more like Him, the world would be transformed. When I look at the Cross of Christ, what I see up there is all my s— and everybody else’s. So I ask myself a question a lot of people have asked: Who is this man? And was He who He said He was, or was He just a religious nut? And there it is, and that’s the question. And no one can talk you into it or out of it.

Let the little children come and do not forbid them – Early Communion at BLC

After service this morning, Rev. Augustin held an education session for parents to discuss early communion at BLC.

—“Early Communion” refers to permitting baptized children to begin receiving communion before confirmation. Rev. Augustin delivered a presentation by Rev. Dr. Jeffrey Truscott, which took us through biblical and historical views on early Communion. In summary:
  • —Documents of the early church make instruction and baptism requirements for communion
  • —Baptism is understood as the rite of admission to communion
  • —Once infants became the primary baptismal candidates, churches did not exclude them from communion (1 Cor 11 was no hindrance!)
  • —Later circumstances led to their exclusion from communion; infant communion had to be suppressed!
  • —ELCA, LCS and other Lutherans churches have moved to early communion
  • —At first, American Lutherans were concerned about avoiding the perception that confirmation/first communion gave full membership status
  • —Now ELCA emphasizes the idea that baptism admits one to the Supper regardless of one’s age
  • —LCS also emphasizes the relationship between baptism and first communion; talks about faith receiving the gifts of HC, rather than constituting basis of admission

Full slides are available here: Early Communion teaching – BLC

The Peace of the Lord

Nevermind the lighting, air-conditioning, seating arrangements, ambience, or appropriate music.

This is what the peace of the Lord looks like; embraced in His presence like a child fully comfortable and at rest.

Have a good Sabbath rest in His presence, everyone!

Ten Cliches Christians Should Never Use

By Christian Piatt via Patheos:

We Christians have a remarkable talent for sticking our feet in our mouths. When searching the words most commonly associated with “Christian,” the list ain’t pretty. I think part of this can be attributed to a handful of phrases that, if stricken from our vocabulary, might make us a little more tolerable. Yes, these things may mean something to you, but trust me, non-Christians don’t share your love for these tried-and-true cliches.

So in no particular order, here are ten phrases Christians should lose with a quickness:

  1. “Everything happens for a reason.” I’ve heard this said more times than I care to. I’m not sure where it came from either, but it’s definitely not in the Bible. The closest thing I can come up with is “To everything, there is a season,” but that’s not exactly the same. The fact is that faith, by definition, is not reasonable. If it could be empirically verified with facts or by using the scientific method, it wouldn’t be faith. It would be a theory. Also, consider how such a pithy phrase sounds to someone who was raped. Do you really mean to tell them there’s a reason that happened? Better to be quiet, listen and if appropriate, mourn alongside them. But don’t dismiss grief or tragedy with such a meaningless phrase.
  2. “If you died today, do you know where you’d spend the rest of eternity?” No, I don’t, and neither do you. So stop asking such a presumptuous question as this that implies you have some insider knowledge that the rest of us don’t. And seriously, if your faith is entirely founded upon the notion of eternal fire insurance, you’re not sharing testimony; you’re peddling propaganda.
  3. “He/she is in a better place.” This may or may not be true. Again, we have no real way of knowing. We may believe it, but to speak with such authority about something we don’t actually know is arrogant. Plus, focusing on the passing of a loved one minimizes the grief of the people they left behind.
  4. “Can I share a little bit about my faith with you?” Too often, Christians presume we have something everyone else needs, without even knowing them first. Ask someone about their story, but maybe not the second you meet them. Christian evangelism often is the equivalent of a randy young teenager trying to get in good with his new girlfriend. When your personal agenda is more important than the humanity of the person you’re talking to, most people can sense the opportunism from a mile a way.
  5. “You should come to church with me on Sunday.” It’s not that we should never invite people to church, but too much of the time, it’s the first thing we do when we encounter someone new. My wife, Amy, and I started a new church eight years ago, founded on the principle of “earning the right to invite.” Invest in people first. Listen to their stories. Learn their passions, their longings, and share the same about yourself. Then, after you’ve actually invested in each other, try suggesting something not related to church to help you connect on a spiritual level. If the person really gets to know you and wants to know more about why you live your life the way you do, they’ll make a point to find out. Then again, if you come off as just another opinionated, opportunistic Christian, why should they honor your predatory approach with a visit to the church that taught you how to act that way in the first place?
  6. “Have you asked Jesus into your heart?” As many times as I’ve heard this, I still don’t really know what it means. why my heart? Why not my liver or kidneys? This also makes Christianity sound like a purely emotional experience, rather than a lifelong practice that can never entirely be realized. But yeah, asking someone if they’re engaged in a lifelong discipline to orient their lives toward Christlike compassion, love and mercy doesn’t exactly have the same ring to it.
  7. “Do you accept Jesus as your personal lord and savior?” Again, this is not in the Bible. Anywhere. And for me, it goes against the whole Christlike notion of the suffering servant. People tried to elevate Jesus to the status of Lord, but he rejected it. So why do we keep trying? Plus, the whole idea of a lord is so antiquated, it has no real relevance to our lives today. Be more mindful of your words, and really mean what you say.
  8. “This could be the end of days.” This is one of my favorites. We Christians love to look for signs of the end of the world; we practically have an apocalyptic fetish. It’s like we can’t wait until everything comes to a smoldering halt so we can stand tall with that “I told you so” look on our faces, while the nonbelievers beg for mercy. Yeah, that sounds like an awesome religion you’ve got going there. Sign me up!
  9. “Jesus died for your sins.” I know, this is an all-time Christian favorite. But even if you buy into the concept of substitutionary atonement (the idea that God set Jesus up as a sacrifice to make good for all the bad stuff we’ve done), this is a abysmal way to introduce your faith to someone. I didn’t ask Jesus to die for me, and if I’m not a Christian, I really have no concept of how that could possibly be a good thing. he whole idea of being washed clean by an innocent man’s blood is enough to give any person nightmares, let alone lead them into a deeper conversation about what Christianity is about.
  10. “Will all our visitors please stand?” If someone finally is brave enough to walk through the doors of your church, the last thing they want is to be singled out. They probably don’t know the songs you’re singing or the prayers or responsive readings you’re reading. Depending on the translation of the Bible you use, the scripture may not make much sense, and they probably have no idea where the bathroom is. So why add to the discomfort by making them stand so everyone can stare at them? Also, calling someone a visitor already implies they are simply passing through, that they’re not a part of things. Instead of “visitor” or “guest,” try something less loaded like “newcomer.” Better yet, walk up to them, introduce yourself and learn their name.

TONIGHT: God’s Advocates: Theology, Justice and Us – A Conversation with Dion Foster

 How can ordinary Christians impact the world in timely and substantial ways? How can we ‘perform’ a theology of social justice in a hurtful and hurting world? Is it even possible to connect our theological doctrines to issues like poverty, oppression, ecological problems and so on? Does ‘God talk’ have anything to do socio-political conversations?

Please join us for a conversation with Dion Foster to explore these questions. Through his many years as an ordained minister and globalizing systematic theologian, as well as his work in Christian advocacy, Dion will help us connect our most fundamental theological principles to personal and communal efforts to make real and deep changes in our world today. Dion will be joined by Chris Chong from Friends-In-Conversation.

Date: Monday 9 July 2012
Time: 8.00pm
Venue: Bangsar Lutheran Church
Organised by Friends-In-Conversation

About Dion Foster

Dion A Forster (PhD. Science & Theology) is International Campaign Coordinator of EXPOSED, International Director of Unashamedly Ethical and the Dean of John Wesley College at the Seminary of the Methodist Church of Southern Africa in Pretoria, where he lectures in Systematic Theology, Ethics, New Testament and Greek. He also teaches at the University of South Africa and the University of Pretoria. An ordained Methodist minister, Dion is a sought-after preacher who also has a weekly radio program.

About Chris Chong

Christopher Chong is a member of FIC and holds a political science doctoral degree. His research interests lies in the intersection between faith and politics (with particular reference to Christians in M’sia). He teaches at a private university.

About Friends-In-Conversation

Friends-In-Conversation is a friendship of followers of Jesus who are called to participate in and create a safe space for reflective and constructive conversations on faith, spirituality, community and society, leading to embodied possibilities and deeper engagement. We are also in friendship and conversation with people of other faiths, to deepen mutual understanding and appreciation, as a foundation for constructive partnerships in a pluralistic society. We believe that creating a space for such conversations requires the firm foundation of friendship – hence the importance of trust, humility, generosity, affirming speech and emphatic listening in all our engagements.