Living MessagesPosted: October 19, 2014
SLIDE 8: SIMPLE AD
It was a small simple ad that appeared in a London Newspaper, some of us remember what newspapers were: “Men wanted for hazardous journey, small wages, bitter cold, long months of complete darkness, constant danger, safe return doubtful, honor and recognition in case of success. Ernest Shackleton – 4 Burlington Street.” Hundreds of men responded, eager for the opportunity. Regardless of the dangers and difficulties they were willing to sign up for the adventure.
In his initial greeting to the church in Thessalonica Paul was welcoming those early Christians to join him on a similar adventure: hazardous faith journey, no wages, persecution by the Empire, constant danger, safe return doubtful. So why did they sign up? Why despite the odds did the early church thrive and grow in the face of persecution?
SLIDE 9: EMPIRE WAS MORALLY BANKRUPT
The Empire was morally bankrupt. What had started out as the Roman Republic had become a military dictatorship. Roman philosophy had fallen into the trap of the skeptics: “Nothing can be known for sure, because all things must be doubted.” Roman culture was falling into degeneracy. The principle public entertainment was blood sport in the form of chariot races and gladiatorial contests. Theater had become crude farce, and the upper classes of Roman society were exploring all forms of vice employing slaves for sexual entertainment.
The Romans had stopped producing much of anything but Empire. Most of the food was imported from abroad. Most of the scholars and tutors were Greek, the artisans were from the provinces. Even soldiers were being recruited among the barbarian tribes. Rome was the capital of debauchery. The Empire had become a leech sucking and exploiting the resources of those whom they governed.
SLIDE 10: WAY OF JESUS IS STILL RADICAL
Many people were looking for a better way, and along came the way of Jesus. Love your neighbor. Share. Free the slaves. Respect women as human beings. Make love not war. The message of the early church was radical. In some places today the way of Jesus is still radical.
SLIDE 11: BIRTHDAY PARTY FOR AGNES
So what happened? Why aren’t we still advertising the church like an amazing dangerous adventure: “hazardous faith journey, no wages, constant danger, safe return doubtful.” Maybe we have accommodated too much to the general culture. Remember June’s Tony Compolo story about the birthday party for Agnes? Would we dare to become a church that gave birthday parties for prostitutes? As the owner of the greasy spoon said, “If there was a church like that I’d join it.” Sometimes I hear people wonder why so many people have stopped attending United Church. I think it is because we have welcomed too many of the not right kind of people. Some folks are uncomfortable with so many people who are “rough around the edges.” No matter who you are or where you are on life’s journey you are welcome here,” was fine as a slogan, but to actually welcome “undesirables” was just going a little too far.
SLIDE 12: FRONTIER MADAM
Allow me to share a story that I think helps explain June’s fondness for the Happy Birthday Agnes story. Beth’s mother grew up in the same small town in Wyoming, where June grew up – Lusk. In fact Beth’s Grandfather was the County Sheriff for a time. When we were visiting Beth’s aunt almost twenty years ago now, Aunt Edna asked Beth if her mother had ever told her about the “Yellow Hotel.” Beth confessed that her mother had never mentioned it.
SLIDE 13: THE YELLOW HOTEL
The “Yellow Hotel” was located behind the house where Beth’s mother grew up and it was a world famous house of prostitution run by a legendary madam named Dell Burke. (I think you can see the water tanks on the hill behind the Hotel, in this picture, that’s where Beth’s mother lived.) Dell was an enterprising woman, who also was very generous with the Lusk community. When the City Water system broke down during the depression, and there were no dollars to fix it, Dell gave the community the money to get it fixed. She took good care of her girls and she was generous with charity.
SLIDE 14: JUNE WITH HER MOTHER AND SISTERS
The connection with June is June’s mother was an excellent seamstress. And June can remember Dell Burke sending a car to pick up June and her mother to be taken to the Yellow Hotel. June and her sisters sat in the kitchen with a maid who fed them a plate of Dell’s homemade oatmeal cookies, while her mother took measurements. June says she had no idea what had gone on at the Yellow Hotel until years later a family member sent her a copy of Frontier Madam.
SLIDE 15: CHURCH LADIES
June also shared that when Dell was very old and living in a nursing home in Lusk a group of proper church ladies went to visit her armed with a Bible thinking they would confront her with God’s judgment and save her soul. Dell told them to get out and threw the Bible after them.
SLIDE 16: LIVING IN A CULTURE OF MATERIALISM
What has happened to the church that rather than inspiring people to embark upon dangerous and awesome journeys of faith we have contented ourselves with bland lives of middle-class respectability? Like Jesus we are called upon to make our lives living messages of the Way – not preaching fluff but actually living examples of the love of Christ. We are living in a culture that celebrates materialism and accumulating more stuff than anyone can use. We over eat, over consume, and treat property and corporations as more important than people. We are allowing corporate money to pollute our common political life.
SLIDE 17: WE STILL HAVE A WAYS TO GO
True we no longer engage in gladiatorial contests. We have made great strides in combating imperialism, racism, sexism, and the oppression of our Gay and Lesbian brothers and sisters. But we have so much more to do. We have a long way to go in changing our life-styles to use less, recycle more, and live in a more environmentally friendly manner. Our brothers and sisters of color and our Gay and Lesbian brothers and sisters still face the kind of discrimination that is hard to prove in a court of law. The Institute for Women’s Policy Research reports that, despite Lily Ledbetter’s efforts, women still only make 78 cents for every dollar made by men performing the same work. We still have a ways to go.
SLIDE 18: FAITH UNTESTED IS NO FAITH AT ALL
The early church seems to have thrived on affliction, because a faith untested is no faith at all. The church today seems to be suffering from multiple afflictions, but the church today is not thriving. Perhaps we have been too comfortable. What we take to be affliction is just our lack of faith in the face of material distress. There aren’t enough people attending to pay the bills. But aren’t we like the Israelites who are constantly complaining because there doesn’t seem to be enough? Maybe the challenges facing the church today will force us to re-examine our mission, and make a decision whether or not we really want to be the Body of Christ in the world. We may even reawaken our faith.
SLIDE 19: LIVING MESSAGES
Hazardous faith journey, no wages, persecution by the culture, constant danger, safe return doubtful. Are we prepared to answer the call? I believe that if we become living messages of the love of Christ, there are unchurched people, who will be attracted to our community of faith. Life in the general culture is shallow and unfulfilling. If we reach out to other peoples’ needs, the homeless, the mentally ill, the disenfranchised, the poor, the spiritually homeless, then like the early Jesus movement we will begin to thrive.
SLIDE 20: INCARNATION
The issue is incarnation. Advent is coming up when we celebrate the word made flesh. What we too often miss in the observance of Christmas is that incarnation is about God becoming our flesh – living messages of the love of God. The importance of the message of incarnation is not long ago far away in some cave in Bethlehem, the message of incarnation needs to become visible in our flesh in our lives in the here and now. Let us ask God for the courage to become living messages so others might come to our community of faith and find welcome and hope.