Compassionate CommunityPosted: February 15, 2015
SLIDE 3: A MIRACULOUS VISION OF LIGHT
Today is the feast of the Transfiguration, the last Sunday before Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent. Today we remember that just before Jesus set his face to Jerusalem, he climbed a mountain with three of his disciples, where they experienced a miraculous vision of light. The transfiguration is often described as a mountain top experience, a dazzling revelation. But today the lectionary bids us pay attention to what happened, when Jesus came down from the mountain top.
SLIDE 4: COMING BACK TO CHAOS, CONFUSION, SUFFERING
Like coming home from vacation or returning to our everyday routine after an awesome spiritual experience what did Jesus find: chaos, confusion and suffering. When he went up the mountain Jesus left some second string disciples in charge of the camp site. In the meantime a distraught father showed up with his epileptic boy looking for Jesus and healing for his child. Who knows how far they had traveled in search of the Rabbi, who wasn’t there. Then the disciples offered to fix the boy, and no sooner had they said a prayer and performed an exorcism than the child suffered a seizure.
SLIDE 5: IF YOU CAN DO ANYTHING, HELP US
To make matters worse there were scribes who fancied themselves religious experts and healers who were arguing with the second string disciples about how they had botched the exorcism. (You didn’t tie a red thread around his pinky finger! You didn’t repeat the Shema three times!) The poor father was at his wits end. And then Jesus showed up. Jesus asked one of his disciples, “What are you discussing with these scribes?” Recognizing Jesus the epileptic boy’s father broke in to beg for help, “If you can do anything have pity on us and help us!”
SLIDE 6: ALL THINGS ARE POSSIBLE TO HIM WHO BELIEVES
This is one of those moments in the gospel, when I wish we had a recording, so we could hear the inflection in Jesus’ response. Did he say, “If you can?” Or did he say, “If you can?” Is the question about Jesus’ power, or the father’s faith? “All things are possible to him who believes.”
SLIDE 7: I BELIEVE, BUT HELP MY UNBELIEF
Not only was the crowd amazed, but his disciples were dumbfounded. “Why couldn’t we cast out the unclean spirit?”
SLIDE 8: DO ANY OF US SPEND ADEQUATE TIME IN PRAYER?
And Jesus gave them the enigmatic answer: “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer.” And what did that mean? So what were the disciples doing in their attempts at exorcism? We can only guess, but perhaps their attempts to exercise authority over the spirits were not fully grounded spiritually. Do any of us spend adequate time in prayer?
SLIDE 9: PRAYER AND THE WORK OF COMPASSION
Jesus alternated between the life of dedicated prayer and deep immersion in the messy world of human need. Sometimes I crave the quiet and rest of meditation and prayer. I fanaticize about a month long spiritual retreat — take a sabbatical and become more spiritually centered. But we cannot camp out on the mountain top of spiritual devotion. We must descend into the world, where there is work to do – the work of compassion.
SLIDE 10: JESUS DIDN’T DO IT ALL HIMSELF
Part of the genius of Jesus was that he didn’t do it all himself. He invited people to follow him. He trained them. He prayed for them. He taught them to pray. He mentored them into leadership. He invited people to join him in becoming the Commonwealth of God. He created a community of compassion welcoming everyone saints and sinners, rich and poor, in group and outcastes, to come to God’s Sharing Table, where acceptance, love and healing were shared.
SLIDE 11: WE ARE INVITED TO BECOME THE COMMUNITY OF COMPASSION
The work of Jesus is not finished. He still invites us to become part of the community of compassion. Everyone is welcome. Jesus prays for us and encourages us to pray with and for each other together seeking the healing power of God in our midst.
At this point I would like to cite our Moderator’s most recent letter to the congregation. Bill Tucker really does work hard on these messages. He ponders them seeking insight into how can our community of faith thrive. When he writes something we are not required to agree with him, after all this is United Church, but we really should pay attention.
SLIDE 12: CHURCHES ARE TYPICALLY EXPERIENCING SLOW DECLINE
For some reason I have been doing a lot of reading about church membership lately. I have learned that our recent experience is completely typical. Churches are typically experiencing a slow decline. On the other hand, some are thriving. I am sure that our church is unique and quite special.
On the other hand, we live in the same world as all of those shrinking churches. Money is tight everywhere. Jobs can be hard to come by. People everywhere lead increasingly complex and incredibly busy lives. If we are to thrive when others are shrinking, we have to be different. So what makes UCH special?
SLIDE 13: WHAT MAKES UCH SPECIAL?
My own faith journey is boring. (I don’t think so.) My family began attending UCH when we moved here because we were UCC and this was the only game in town. (Not only did Bill grow up United Church of Christ, he had an Uncle, George Hirst, who was a UCC minister and the coordinator of migrant ministries for the Illinois Conference of the United Church of Christ.) We soon knew we had made the right choice because of the incredible support provided to our then young family. But that story could have been true of any church. UCH is special because it provides that kind of welcome and generous hospitality to everyone — not just people who transfer to another congregation in the same denomination. I have heard appalling stories of people finding a home here after being rejected elsewhere. That makes us special.
SLIDE 14: WE DISAGREE BUT MAINTAIN TRUST AND RESPECT
That much diversity is guaranteed to create some amount of conflict. Perhaps if we were all the same, maybe we would get along, or, maybe not. Here we seem to be able to disagree but maintain trust and respect. That makes us special.
SLIDE 15: SEEKING TO BECOME THE COMMONWEALTH OF GOD
Bill is describing a congregation seeking to become the Commonwealth of God envisioned by Jesus — a compassionate community. We welcome everyone. Is it easy? No! As Bill wrote, “That much diversity is guaranteed to create some amount of conflict. . . . Here we seem to be able to disagree but maintain trust and respect. That makes us special.”
SLIDE 16: EARLY CHURCH WAS DIVERSE AND EXPERIENCED CONFLICT
Sometimes we are deceived into thinking that in the early church everyone got along, everyone was in agreement, we were one in the spirit and one in the Lord, and it was one big love fest all the time. A closer reading of the Book of Acts and the Letters of Paul suggest otherwise. First century Judaism was incredibly diverse. There were Sadducees, Pharisees, Zealots, Herodians, and Essenes, and each of these groups had multiple sub-groups. There were the Jews who lived in Israel, but then there were the Hebrews of the Diaspora who outnumbered the population of the homeland by at least five to one. And each group had their own peculiar way of interpreting the faith.
The early church had attracted Jews from many different groups and they didn’t always get along. And then the gospel began to spread to the gentiles and the church had to try to incorporate a multitude of the ethnic groups that made up the Roman Empire. And they didn’t always get along. Sometimes they had really nasty fights.
SLIDE 17: LIFE AT UNITED CHURCH IS ALWAYS EXCITING
Our diversity is a challenge — although in comparison to the early church we all do speak the same language. And our diversity makes our call to become a compassionate community all the more meaningful. If we all agreed about everything, if we were all the same, we would be boring. As one member of our congregation said, “This ain’t no white bread church. We aren’t vanilla.” Life at the United Church of Huntsville is not boring!! Why just this week on Monday evening we were on the cusp of making history as we celebrated a marriage in defiance of soon to be twice removed Supreme Court justice Roy Moore. Oh my, was that political? Well as we say we don’t all have to agree all the time. Life is always exciting at United Church.
SLIDE 18: UNITED CHURCH CAN FLY!
We are called to be the compassionate community following the way of Jesus. We pray with and for each other so that God might equip us to be the people of God in the world. And that is why two weeks from now we are going to have a party after church. We are going to celebrate this community of faith, because we believe United Church can fly!