Wednesday, May 17, 2017

What Entry Test?

Acts 15:1-18
 “What Entry Test?”
14 May 2017 St. Andrew’s Military Chapel Singapore

In 2011 Rob Bell the pastor of Mars Hill Church in Grand Rapids Michigan, wrote a book entitled Love Wins in which he outlined differing views of salvation. He was careful in the book to not choose one specific view over the others, just emphasizing that God’s love would win in the end. He made the comment that even in the face of any objections someone may have to the view that everyone gets to heaven, it is ok for a Christian to long for that universalist view.

Based on the reaction within certain theological circles, you would have thought that Rob Bell went on a murderous rampage. One pastor took to Twitter with the words “Farewell Rob Bell.” People questioned Rob Bell’s theology with some harsh words. The tone of the reaction to his writing was of a nature that I think Christ would have spoken out against.

In October of 2016 popular Christian blogger, writer, and television personality Jen Hatmaker was quoted in an interview describing her views on a wide range of subjects, including some political topics. The interview broached the topic of gay marriage. She described how gay couples are in congregations and are going to need marriage support and parenting help. They will find those inside or outside the church. According to her, “Not only are these our neighbors and friends, but they are brothers and sisters in Christ. They are adopted into the same family as the rest of us, and the church hasn’t treated the LGBT community like family. We have to do better.”

One large Christian bookstore chain banned the sale of her books. Something that was in their right to do, yet I question the action. Christians are to act with grace towards everyone. Actively taking away part of a person’s ability to earn a living seems the anthesis of grace.

The hate that came from Christians on the internet in response to her comments was astounding.

But, Jen didn’t go quietly away when the controversy died down. She stuck to her guns and recently wrote on her blog about how the “burn of mob mentality scorched my heart into ashes.” What kind of church are we when people articulating an opposing view feel that from the church’s response to their thoughts and ideas?

The Christian marketing enterprise rose up against her in a concerted way. She writes, “This year I became painfully aware of the machine, the Christian Machine. I saw with clear eyes the systems and alliances and coded language and brand protection that poison the simple, beautiful body of Christ. I saw how it all works, not as an insider where I’ve enjoyed protection and favor for two decades, but from the outside where I was no longer welcome…My mind knows the difference between the Christian Machine and Jesus, but this year it feels hard to separate.”

Powerful words.  

What does it take to become a Christian? What are the minimum requirements?

How are we as Christians to deal with differences of opinion on theological matters? How do we engage with the secular, or non-church world?

Reading today’s passage we can see that these questions have been asked for as long as the church has existed. At the heart of the debate for the last 2000 years is the idea of who belongs and who doesn’t. Who is worthy to be called Christian and who has to sit outside?

Luke records this episode in Acts where there is an active debate in who gets to call themselves Christian. Is it the circumcised who follow the law of Moses or can any Gentile call themselves Christian?

Enter Peter, the rock of the church. The one on whom the church was built clearly addresses this controversy in the early church. After letting the leaders know that God had specifically told Peter he would be the one through whom the Gentiles would hear of Christ, Peter says those who are led to Christ through the Holy Spirit, have the same place in the Kingdom as those who directly come from the Jewish tradition.

He then asks a searing question, “Why are you putting God to the test by placing on the neck of the disciples a yoke that neither our ancestors nor we have been able to bear? On the contrary, we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will.”

Seems the matter was settled 2000 years ago. So why do we still come up with reasons to keep people from Christ or distance ourselves from those who think and speak outside the box in which we place Christ? And why in the world does the church have to do so in such a hateful way? I’m sure it has something to do with human nature and the need for superiority over something or someone.

The disagreement wasn’t the problem in Peter’s day, nor is disagreement and difference of opinion the problem today. Our problem, and what Peter would sternly rebuke us for today, is the same issue he addressed in this passage: our desire to exclude rather than embrace and work with the different.

It’s in our best interest not just as an institution called the church, but as a body of fellow travelers who have sinned along the way to cast as large a net and welcome everyone we meet into this strange, sometimes dysfunctional, yet breathtakingly beautiful family. It’s our differences and how we work together through and despite those differences that gives Christianity its awe-inspiring beauty.

            Difference creates disorder and makes church messy and uncomfortable. Take our worship services each week here in Singapore. Sometimes you have to deal with a tone deaf pastor attempting to lead you in singing. Occasionally, there are children that are walking around the chapel who want to have conversations with their big friends during the message or prayers. I may bring up a topic, perhaps even this one, that causes discomfort or that you have a strong disagreement with based on your theology. All of that together is messy and can be frustrating.

However, we have committed to talking with each other, getting to know each other’s stories, listening with grace and compassion to differing voices, allowing ourselves to participate in a worship environment that is outside our comfort zone. And you know what, it really works. In these walls we take messy differences and weave them into a beautiful tapestry of compassion, caring, and love.

            Scot McKnight wrote a book about embracing the different as a primary aspect of naming oneself a Christian. He writes, “The church is God’s world-changing social experiment of bringing unlikes and differents to the table to share life with one another as a new kind of family. When this happens, we show the world what love, justice, peace, reconciliation, and life together are designed by God to be. The church is God’s show-and-tell for the world to see how God wants us to live as a family.”

            Frequently we hear of the church as a counter cultural place. This is a valid claim because we are different from culture in many ways. One of the more drastic ways that the Church stands against Western culture is in how we are welcoming to all. When we exclude those who are different from us we cease to be a holy body of Christ. What if our ability to embrace people of every different category we can imagine is the greatest evangelism we can offer the world?

The Church is called to be a patchwork quilt in the mindless march towards a monochromatic, bland world where everyone is expected to think, act, and believe the same thing. A place where you can be you and I can be me and we’ll all give and receive love because of who we are and not how we define ourselves. When we put that into practice each and every day of our lives we are following the words of Peter from today. And we’ll be well on our way to fulfilling Christ’s intention for his motely gathering of followers.

You can listen to sermons from St. Andrew's Military Chapel here.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

He Is Risen

Luke 24:1-12
 “He Is Risen”
16 April 2017 St. Andrew’s Military Chapel Singapore

Seven weeks ago we began a journey with ashes on our foreheads. Ashes of all that remains from a previous year’s Palm Sunday celebrations. We spent time reflecting on tough Scripture passages and saw how our lack of noticing and understanding Christ’s purpose on earth isn’t unlike what the disciples experienced even after spending years walking alongside Christ.

The last week has been a busy one in the life of the Church, reflecting the craziness of Christ’s last week walking the earth. While the disciples, and even us, weren’t too sure where Jesus was headed and the reasons for his actions over the last week, he knew all along what was going to happen.

So what exactly occurred over the last week? As we discussed last Sunday, Christ entered Jerusalem to shouts of Hosanna from an adoring crowd lining his path. If the fact he rode in on a donkey didn’t clue us in that this wasn’t a typical savior, his actions at the temple on Sunday sure did. He went right into that temple and let everyone know what the Kingdom was about. It wasn’t about making money and rote sacrifice, it was about living out Scripture to the benefit of everyone, especially those society mocks.

The next day he curses a poor fig tree. Sure, it was a symbolic prophetic act, but what did that fig tree do to anyone? Why did he have to take out his frustration on part of his beloved creation?

On Tuesday he focuses his effort into one of the things he is known for, teaching. Jesus regales the crowds with parables directed towards the religious leaders about how the world is about to change and he predicts the fall of the temple. Not surprisingly, those in authority and power, the ones that benefitted from the system he derided were none too happy and vowed to take down Christ.

On Wednesday, we see that someone understands what Jesus represents and this woman’s intuition leads to Christ receiving a memorable anointing while at Simon’s house for dinner. But, things have also taken a dark turn as Wednesday is when Judas arranges the arrest of Jesus.

Thursday Jesus has one final meal with his disciples marking the beginning of a long night. He takes the disciples for prayer at Gethsemane where he is betrayed and arrested. Then we get the beginning of his trial, the first part before the Sanhedrin. Throughout the evening, Peter denies knowing Christ three times.

On Friday, Christ has a trial before Pilate who really doesn’t want to take responsibility for what is happening but still sentences Jesus to death. This is followed by beatings, a walk with the cross towards crucifixion and death around 3pm.

All is eerily quiet on the Sabbath of that Saturday. Though many people have already given up on following Christ, some remain though they may be questioning their life choices over the last few years.

 Now we stand here at the tomb, but he isn’t here.


            And no one saw it coming. For if they did, the women wouldn’t have been perplexed at the sight of an open tomb. They wouldn’t have assumed his body was stolen. Perhaps the sight of the two men in dazzling clothes would have been expected. Peter might have actually believed their story instead of second guessing their testimony.

We cautiously peer into an empty tomb two thousand years later still perplexed and doubting the testimony of these faithful women. For if we truly believed this first testimony of Christ risen, we’d all (including yours truly) live markedly different lives.

Do our lives testify to the Risen Lord? What testimony are we giving with our actions, for we know they speak much louder than words, bumper stickers, or symbols we wear? We are all called to be a living testimony to the Risen Lord. What testimony are we speaking?

Now, we won’t all share the same testimony, because Christ invited us into the story at different times and in different ways. Maybe we are like these unnamed, yet vital, women who point to the empty tomb saying, “he isn’t there” and are told to quit looking for Christ among the dead. Because he is among the living.

Our testimony could be one of small acts of charity that become spectacular when viewed over the course of our lives. It could be putting our lives on the line for the righting of an injustice. Some of us will testify through spending time with children, patiently helping them explore their faith each week for years. Perhaps our testimony is silently supporting those in the spotlight, keeping them focused on finding Christ among the living and not in the tomb.

Testimony is an action word, not sitting around pondering the beautiful truth of the resurrection. These women are told to look among life for the true life, so they go and tell the disciples their new story, inviting them into the one story that matters, explaining what they have experienced over the last few years. Testimony invites others into the story.

However we share our testimony, we have one because we have witnessed Christ in our lives and the lives of others. Part of that testimony is to invite people into the empty tomb. We need to enter the tomb to know that Christ was there in the darkest corners of life and death and that his light overcame and will always overcome.

He is Risen!

Now let us go forth and live like it.

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