Born for This

Isaiah 35:1-10

There are eight shopping days until Christmas. Eight days!

Does that strike you with fear? Did I just increase anyone’s blood pressure or make your heart race a little bit faster?

If so, welcome to advent.

Advent is a time of preparation and expectation. We might normally thinking about waiting for something as a passive activity, that we are sitting and waiting for Christ to be born among us again. Or, that this time of the year should be about peace on earth and then we get disappointed when we don’t find any peace in our lives. But if you think about the Christmas stories, about all of the characters in the manger scene, they all had some unexpected fear and interruption happen to them.

Mary was planning her wedding and all of the joy that would come as her family and nativity-icon-4community came together for her day. Then an angel shows up and calls her blessed and her life is changed. She responds with fear and asks, how can this be? Mary’s heart raced.

Joseph too would have been imagining life with his new family. Perhaps he dreamed about the children he and Mary would have, only to be told that Mary is pregnant with a child that isn’t his. The angel tells him that instead of being a biological father he will be the adopted father of a boy he will name Jesus, the one who came to save people from their sins. Joseph’s heart raced.

Shepherds were quietly watching their flocks by night, like a million uneventful nights before, when the sky lit up and the sound of a chorus of angels startled them. The first words the angels said to them were “do not be afraid”. But from my experience when someone says, do not be afraid, there is something to be afraid about. Whenever someone looks at you and says “I have something to tell you, don’t freak out” internally I freak out. The shepherds’ hearts raced.

Wise men were doing just fine sitting in Persian palaces and advising kings. They lived comfortable lives and then they saw a star. They knew the star was significant, that it meant the coming of a king, and they were compelled to follow it and to bring gifts and worship the newborn king. When they saw the star, their hearts raced.

So if we find ourselves eight days out from Christmas and we have a little anxiety, we are not alone. There are gifts that need to be bought, meals that need to be cooked, cards that need to be written, and less than 200 hours to get it all done.

And six days from now, this sanctuary will become a winter wonderland as it will be transformed in to the Christmas Shop. We do a lot of remarkable things here at the Church for All People, but there is something special about the Christmas Shop and the energy that comes with it. It is really miraculous. But the amount of work to get from here to Saturday is incredible and exhausting and I am sure it makes Dessarre’s heart race.

And yet, it is for this reason that Jesus was born.

I know that eight days out from Christmas this scripture may not be what you expected to hear. It is not the familiar stories of the call of Mary or Joseph that are often preached on this Sunday. But I thought it was worth backing up a bit and exploring the question why did Jesus come, why was Jesus born? We spend a lot of time and energy celebrating the birth of Jesus, as we should, but what is it really all about?

Much of our understanding of Jesus not only comes from the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, but how we understand Jesus, and how Jesus first followers understood him, comes from the book of Isaiah.

The book of Isaiah is either directly quoted from, or referred to, nearly 100 times in the New Testament.

Matthew, Chapter 1, says “Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel”. This is a direct word for word quote from Isaiah 7:14.

Listen to these words from Isaiah, Chapter 9:

For a child has been born for us,
a son given to us;
authority rests upon his shoulders;
and he is named
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
His authority shall grow continually,
and there shall be endless peace
for the throne of David and his kingdom.
He will establish and uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
from this time onwards and for evermore.
The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this.

For the people of Isaiah’s day, these words were the hope of a messiah to come. For us, this is who we understand Jesus to be.

When Jesus began his ministry he preached in his home church and directly quoted Image result for jesus in isaiahfrom Isaiah 61 when he said:

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.’

And when John the Baptist sent his followers to Jesus and asked him, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?’ Jesus answered them, ‘Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.’

If you go back and look at verses 5 and 6 of this morning’s scripture, you can see this a direct attribute back to Isaiah 35. When John’s followers say are you the one, Jesus says, yes, I am the one because I am fulfilling the vision given by Isaiah.

What is this vision? Why did Jesus come as Emmanuel, God with us? What is it all about?

From what we hear in Isaiah 35, Jesus came to restore creation. He came so that the desert, dry, barren places of life would blossom.

Jesus came so that the weak would be made strong, the fearful would be comforted, the blind would see, the lame would walk, the speechless would sing with joy.

We could look at these things metaphorically and talk about those who are spiritually weak receiving strength. In some cases, that might be true. But I think there is also a literal meaning to this. Jesus said he came that we might have life and have it abundantly. The proof Jesus offers to John’s followers is the physical healing he provided. In his earthly ministry Jesus was very concerned with healing the human body. It is why we at the Church for All People have a fresh market and exercise programs and cooking classes and urban zen. Our bodies matter. Jesus came so that we would have life. Not only in life eternal, but that we would have the life we were created and meant to have now.

Having an abundant life is not only a matter of diet and exercise, it is also finding peace within our souls.

Isaiah 35:4 says: Say to those who are of a fearful heart, ‘Be strong, do not fear! Here is your God.

That phrase fearful heart comes from a Hebrew term, nimharê lēb, which is literally Related imagetranslated as “ones whose hearts are racing”.

Our hearts don’t only race because we are eight days from Christmas and there is so much to do. Our hearts race when we find ourselves in unexpected and anxiety creating situations.

When we sit in a doctor’s office awaiting a diagnosis, our hearts race.

When a bill marked “late notice” comes in the mail, our hearts race.

When we find ourselves in an uncomfortable or unfamiliar place, our hearts race.

This week Mark Slaughter shared with me a story about his dog, Hooper. Mark had a truck with a cab in it where Hooper used to ride. Now, Mark has a new truck that doesn’t have a cab so Hooper sits in the front. But Hooper is not a fan of the front seat. It creates anxiety in him. When Mark is driving down the road Hooper’s breath picks up, his tongue wags, his eyes get big, he is one whose heart is racing.

But how many times are we like Hooper? We find ourselves in a place that is unfamiliar and uncomfortable and all those same instincts kick in.

And yet it is for people like us and situations like this that Jesus came in to the world. Jesus came as Emmanuel, God with us. Jesus came offering us peace in the midst of our anxiety.

I can imagine how Mark comforts Hooper and touches him and reassures him that all will be well, in the same way God reassures us that we are never alone and the Risen Christ is with us always, to the very end of the age.

Many of the things that trouble us and cause our hearts to race are not only the things that happen within our own body, mind, and spirit, but also the situations of the world we live in.

We live in a country where 40 percent of the food we produce ends up in landfills and 20 percent of kids go hungry. That makes my heart race.

We live in a world where people we know and care about deeply are homeless, but there are more vacant houses than there are homeless people. That makes my heart race.

We live in a world where women earn about three-quarters of what men make for the same work. I saw a story this week that said women will not reach pay equity with men until they year 2,059; African American women won’t get there until 2,119, and Hispanic women 2,224. That will make your heart race.

In contrast to the broken world we live in, Isaiah gives us a vision of a restored creation where waters shall break forth in the wilderness, the redeemed will walk down a holy highway, the ransomed will return with joy and gladness.

As I read these words, I can hear the voice of Dr Martin Luther King quoting from the prophet Amos, “But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”

Image result for let justice roll down like waters

What Isaiah and Amos and King are envisioning here is justice. Jesus not only came that we would have life individually in our body, mind, soul, and spirit, but that justice would reign

Isaiah, Chapter 40, forsees a day when

Every valley shall be lifted up,
and every mountain and hill be made low;
the uneven ground shall become level,
and the rough places a plain.
Then the glory of the LORD shall be revealed,
and all people shall see it together.

Jesus came to bring about God’s kingdom on earth as it is in heaven, so that we would live in to the life we were created to have, to still our racing hearts.

Eight days from now, we will exchange gifts with those who we love. As we tear open the paper our hearts will race, in a good way. We might open a box and inside it find clothes or toys or books or electronics. Those are all good things.

But in Isaiah we hear that the gifts God offers to us in Jesus Christ are strength, courage, hope, joy, and peace. May you prepare to receive these gifts so that we might fully be all that God has created us to be, so that we might be a part of God’s work of justice, and so that as we share those gifts, every heart will be stilled and together we can rejoice in gladness.

Amen.

 

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Stewards, We Seek to do God’s Will

Romans 12:1-13

Listen to this sermon at: https://4allpeople.sermon.net/main/main/21280338

The United Methodist Church for All People is a miracle.C4AP-1

I know this is not the first time that I have mentioned it, and it is not a thought I came up with.  The fact that this church is a miracle is an observation offered made by Joel Teaford.

While I have mentioned this before, I think it is worth exploring a little further what the miracle means and how it happens.

The miracle of our church is not simply the work of God done to or for or upon us. It is not like creation where God said “let there be light” and there was light or like Jesus touching a blind man and giving him sight.

Surely, it is the movement of God’s Holy Spirit that has made all of who we are happen. But it is God moving in us and through us and among us and with us that has brought, and continues to manifest, the miracle among us.

If you need proof that this church is a miracle, just think of the ways we have lived in to the miracle in the last few weeks.

We have gone from the All People Conference with 100 people here from all over the country, to a Halloween celebration with hundreds of neighborhood kids, to the NLA graduation to the First Birthday party to the Annual Celebration.

We have raised over $900,000 in the last nine months through the Forward Together campaign and have purchased the building of the bike shop, the Fresh market, and two weeks from today we will burn the mortgage of this sanctuary.

We have done all of that while engaging with over 500 people a day through our Free Store and Fresh Market and job training and after-school programs.

For us, that is just another couple of weeks in the life of the Church for All People. But when we pause and step back and look at all that God has done through us, we are reminded that this place truly is a miracle.

So what makes the miracle happen?

God, first and foremost and always.

As we have learned, when we are connected to what God is doing in the world, God provides and amazing things happen that we never expected.

But again, the miracle doesn’t simply happen to us, the miracle happens through us.

Last week Pastor John shared with us the first half of the miracle. The miracle happens in the widow’s mite, in our stewardship, our tithing, and financial giving.

Every week people who don’t have a lot of money give to our church in a way that is sacrificial and is grounded in their deep faithfulness and trust that God will provide. In turn, this challenges those of us who have more financially to give with this same confidence that God will provide.

We live in an era, where as a country, church attendance and participation has been declining for over the last 50 years. Many churches are struggling and having to cut staff and programs.

Because of your generosity, we are able to do an abundance of programming, we will pay all of our bills this year, we annually pay 100 percent of our apportionments to the West Ohio Conference and the global United Methodist Church that helps to fund everything from missionaries around the world to disaster relief efforts in the United States. On top of all of that, this year we have collected more than $12,000 from our noisy offerings that have supported local and global missions that range from expanding the Bike Shop to hurricane relief in North Carolina.

The United Methodist Church for All People is a miracle.

If the first part of the miracle is how the gift of the widow’s mite challenges those of us who might have a bit more, the second half of the miracle is that this is a place where all people are given the opportunity to fully live out all of who they are.

I think at some point, almost every Sunday, we make the statement that all people are welcome here: rich and poor, black and white, gay and straight, progressive and conservative.

But the fact that all people are welcome is only the beginning. It is not just that every person is allowed in the door, but that every person is invited and encouraged to express and live out who they are. Every person has the opportunity to come fully alive.

This is a church where every person can be their full, honest, true selves and when we live that out through the gifts and talents that God has given us, amazing things happen.

On Friday, I was walking through this space as Dessaree was talking to 38 high school students. She told them the story of how she came here as a shopper and today is the Free Store director. She said to them, this is my dream job and I love coming to work.

That is the miracle that happens when our hearts desires connect with God’s opportunities and we are able to live in to our giftedness. We find ourselves doing what we love and when that happens the church thrives.

This is the invitation given to us in today’s scripture that comes from Paul’s letter to the Romans.

This scripture begins with Paul calling on the Romans to “present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.”

The word sacrifice here might be a bit uncomfortable. When we hear sacrifice we might think of Abraham and Isaac, the Old Testament practice of sacrificing animals in atonement for sin, Jesus on the cross, or the sacrifice of men and women in the military who have given their lived in service to our country.

To present ourselves as a sacrifice is not to nail ourselves to the cross.

The word translates as sacrifice is the Greek word thusia which means offering.

Just as we put money in the basket as an offering, we give ourselves as an offering back to God and Paul says that is our spiritual worship. Our worship is not only what we do for an hour here on a Sunday morning, but when we are returning to God the talents that God has given us, when we are doing things connected to God’s work in the world, that too is a form of worship.

In verse 2 Paul goes on to ask the seemingly eternal question: what is the will of God? What is good and acceptable and perfect?

From the prophet Micah who said God’s will is to “do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God” to a countless number of surveys, self-help books, and websites, people have long struggled with the question, what is God’s will for my life?

I think that we have often made the answer to that question much more complicated that it need to be.

God’s will for us is nothing more than to do the things God has given us the passion and the skills and the ability to do.

In this scripture Paul makes this point in an almost comical way. What is the will of God? If you are a minister, in ministering; the teacher, in teaching; the exhorter, in exhortation; the giver, in generosity; the leader, in diligence; the compassionate, in cheerfulness.

We could expound on that ourselves. If you are someone who can sort clothes in the Free Store, sort clothes. If you can read scripture, read scripture. If you can hold a baby in the nursery, hold a baby, if you can teach kids, teach kids.

12_altarego_spirit_golfgift

We are not called to do anything more than live out of the gift of who we are. For the things that we do, do not come from us, but are gifts of grace given to us. We don’t operate out of our strength, cleverness, or ability. It is all grace.

Grace is the unconditional gift that God gives us.

It is grace that empowers me to preach.

It is grace that equips Katelin to sing.

It is grace that strengthens John to lead.

It is grace allows Mike to unload produce, Gary to cook, Chris to play.

It is all grace.

And when we all operate from that grace, and bring the different gifts God has given us together, the miracle of the Church for All People happens all over again,

But we are not only a collection of a hundred different people bringing our diverse gifts together. We are also unified in a common mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of our world.

Our life together is not simply about us being a bunch of over-achievers who do a miraculous number of things, but it is who we are and the way we live our lives, the words that we say and the way that we carry ourselves, that is part of our stewardship and provides a witness to our faith.

Paul says that no matter your gift is or what you do:

Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honour. Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.

For us as United Methodists, we like to create a more systematic, organized, methodical way of living this out.

This way of living was brought together by the author Reuben Job who outlined John Wesley’s the Three Simple Rules.

The Three Simple Rules are to do good, do no harm, and stay in love with God.3Rules2V2-1We have expounded on these at the Church for All People. We have said that this is the code we will live by.

We do good by helping each other, offering good words to each other, praying for each other.

We promise to do no harm by not cursing, gossiping, or using hurtful language.

We stay in love with God by participating in worship, reading the Bible, and serving one another.

It doesn’t matter what your role or place or job might be, we have said this is the way we will live our lives.

How we live our lives is part of the miracle. Among a world of division and animosity, this place where diverse people gather around one table and live together as one people in relationships of vulnerability and mutuality is a miracle.

The United Methodist Church for All People is a miracle.

It is a miracle because of who God is and the way God has moved among us.

It is a miracle because of the gift of the widow’s mite that challenges and convicts us all to have a deeper faith.

It is a miracle that there is a place where not only is everyone welcome, but everyone has a place to live out their gift.

It is a miracle that is continuing to unfold.

God is not done here yet.

God is not finished with any of us yet; not as individuals, not as a church.

We have an exciting future in front of us, but the key to living in to the continuing miracle is you.

So I encourage you to prayerfully consider the opportunities listed in the bulletin. What gifts of grace has God given you? What on here would make you come alive? Do those things, so that the church will be fully alive and so that the miracle of the Church for All People will continue to unfold.

Amen.

 

Blessed to be a Blessing

Matthew 5:1-16

Listen to this sermon at: https://4allpeople.sermon.net/main/main/21259550

For anything you want to accomplish in life, there is a process.

If you want to shop in the Free Store there is a process of getting a number and waiting for it to be called and getting a certain number of items in a certain time. If you want to shop in the Fresh Market there is a process of getting a key card and getting a basket based on your family size and checking out. If you want to lose weight there is a process of making sure you burn more calories than you eat. If you want to bake there is a process.

I have to admit to you, I am not a big process person. I like creativity more than process.  One of my favorite things to do is to walk through the Fresh Market and figure out a dish I can make based on what they have. At home I’ll take whatever leftover ingredients i can find and throw them in to an omelet, often to the disgust of the rest of the family. I like to be my own personal Iron Chef.

While I like to be creative, when it comes to baking there isn’t a lot of room for creativity. You can’t decide to use whatever amount of flour, eggs, or sugar you want. You can’t experiment with the temperature of the oven. If you want to bake, there is a process you have to follow to get the cake or bread you want.

The importance of process is not only true for the Free Store and Market and kitchen, but for our discipleship.

Jesus said that he came that we might have life and have it abundantly. Over the last several weeks we have heard the invitation from Howard Thurman that “what the world needs is people who have come alive.”

Like so many other things, to come alive doesn’t just happen because we want it to, but requires intentionality and process.

The ingredients to be fully alive are the leading causes of life we have been exploring over the last several weeks: the importance of living in connection and community with one another, the grounding of coherence that gives us purpose and direction, the strength of agency that empowers us to be the leading actor of our own life.

The fourth ingredient in this recipe is blessing.blessingLike the ingredients of a cake, the ingredients of the leading causes of life all work together. They aren’t independent elements, but mix together to bring us life, and blessing is an essential part of that mix.

Unlike coherence and agency, blessing is a common word that we often hear spoken. And yet, the way we understand blessing is not the way Jesus used the word blessing.

In the words of Inigo Montoya, from the movie Princess Bride: “You keep using that word, I do not think it means what you think it means.”

People who the world calls blessed are often those who have an advantage that we don’t.

We might call someone like LeBron James blessed because he has a physical strength and talent and ability that we don’t.

We might call someone like Elon Musk blessed because he has a net worth of $20 billon we can’t imagine.

We might call someone like Beyoncé blessed because she can sing and dance and entertain unlike anyone.

Often, when we hear the word blessed being used, it is to describe someone that has something or does something that we don’t. Blessing becomes a synonym for luck.

But that is not how Jesus uses the word blessed.

Look at the scripture today from the Sermon on the Mount. Who does Jesus called blessed? People who are poor in spirit, mourning, meek, hungry, merciful, peacemakers, and persecuted.

The people Jesus calls blessed are not people who have accumulated stuff.

In fact, stuff is not one of the ingredients of an abundant life. The recipe for coming alive is to blend together connection, coherence, agency, blessing, and hope. Getting stuff is nowhere in the mix. And yet, we spend so much of our time and energy and life trying to get stuff, whether it is making money, getting the latest model of cell phone or video game system, or seeing who can get the most items from the free store. We spend so much energy living in the understanding of “whoever dies with the most toys wins” and that is not what real blessing is about.

Real blessing comes when we experience the transformational love of Jesus Christ.

The poor and mourning and meek and hungry aren’t blessed because they are poor and mourning and meek and hungry. There is nothing glamorous about being poor or hungry. The people Jesus describes as blessed are blessed because it is through God’s transformational love that they are the one’s who see God.

They see God, not with their physical eyes, but when we mourn and are comforted, when we are hungry and filled, when we are merciful and receive mercy, when we live as the children of God we are transformed and we are the one’s who are truly blessed.

When our lives are transformed, we see God’s work among us, and we are blessed.

Being blessed never has anything to do with us. We cannot bless ourselves. We are blessed in what God does for us, and how God works through others, bringing us life and liberation and freedom.

Do you see yourself as the blessed people of God?

We are a people who have been blessed by God. Not because we have things other people don’t have, but because we experience the power of God’s strength and power and love and grace unlike anyone else. I have lived all over the world and been a part of churches all over the world and I have never seen God at work in the way I see it here at the Church for All People.

Not only do I see it, but others are starting to notice. Throughout this year our church has been on the front page of the Columbus Dispatch multiple times, earlier this week we were on the evening news as the South Side High School Harmony Project server at the market and free store.

But people are not only noticing us locally, but nationally.

This last week US News and World Report published this article “From a Vicious Cycle of Poverty to a Virtuous Circle of Success”. This article details the transformation that has taken place in our community. A transformation not only where homes are renovated and an entire community rebuilt, but where people are comforted, fed, and given the gift of life, where the kingdom of God is made present among us.

(Read the article at: https://www.usnews.com/news/healthiest-communities/articles/2018-10-09/church-hospital-join-forces-to-help-a-columbus-neighborhood)

This transformation is the true expression of blessing.

We are blessed because God is at work here. We are blessed when a person has a key in their pocket and hope in their heart.

A key ingredient to coming alive happens is the awareness that comes when we look around and realize that we are blessed.

We are the very people who Jesus called blessed.

But our full sense of blessing is not only found when we open our eyes and recognize it, blessing finds its fullest expression when we share the gifts of grace we have received with others.

b2bWe are blessed in order to be a blessing. A blessing that is received and not shared is no blessing at all. But when we can offer to others what we have found, that is when we Come Alive.

When we come here we receive radical hospitality, healing, inclusion, and joy. Then when we leave here, and we take those gifts in to the places where we work and live, life builds upon life, and blessing happens.

We live this blessing out through our connection with one another.

We aren’t individuals living out our own faith, we are a community. Last week on World Communion Sunday we recognized that we are connected with Christians all over the world. In the words of the Apostle’s Creed, we are part of something called the “communion of saints”. Our connectedness is not only with the people in this room and Christians all over the globe, but also with everyone who has come before us and everyone who will come after us.

We are blessed by those who have come before us. None of us have come to this place of faith on our own. There are people like Howard Thurman and John Wesley and Angela Davis who are the giants whose work we stand upon. There are people who are our parents and grandparents and mentors whose names will never be in history books, but who are the people that have shaped us and formed us.

This year, in the life of our church, we have lost an unusually high number of saints who have gone on to their great reward. People who have blessed us. People like Dave Wollam who was a fixture of our community and always greeted us with a smile, Virgil Smith who loved greeting people at church, Nate Wilson who fed us many meals,  Vernell Howard who filled our church with music, Natasha Gibson who loved this church and her wife Tiffany deeply.

These people, and so many others, have gone before us, and passed the torch to us. Part of what challenges us to come alive and keeps us accountable is to ask ourselves, how are we doing in carrying on their legacy? We have been blessed by the people who have come before us. What are we doing with the gifts they have given us? We can imagine Dave and Virgil and Nate and Natasha and Vernell and Cynthia and Noah looking over us and praying for us…. But if they are watching us as individuals and as a church, what would they have to say?

This has been a year where a lot of people we loved died. In and of itself, that is a sad thought. They have gone to glory, but we miss them. These are people who are an important part of us.

But, over this same time, we have had more babies born in our church than we have had people die. Life is present among us.

The gift of blessing is not only to recognize that we have been blessed by those who came before us, but to ask ourselves how are we going to be a blessing to those who will come after us.

How do we live in a way… how are we a church in a way… that will bring blessing and life to people long after us? How will we be a blessing to Russell, Malachi, Eloise, Lochlan, Jose, Liam, Riley, Olive, and Owen.

What will be our legacy? How will we live in our lives in a way that when we come to the end, people will look at us and say that they saw God in us and through us they were blessed?

As we go in to this week, I want you to consider two questions. How have you been blessed? Not blessed with stuff, but blessed by God’s transformative love. Let us open our eyes to see the blessings among us.

Second, how are we going to be a blessing to others?  How do we share the gifts of grace we have received with people longing to be transformed?

If we live in the legacy of those who have come before us and in the promise of those who will follow, we will come alive.

Amen.

Coherence: Who are you?

Listen to the podcast of this sermon: https://4allpeople.sermon.net/21250651

Luke 4:14-21

Imagine an alien landed in Columbus, Ohio and looked around. That alien would think,newsEngin_18246638_road-construction “these people really like orange barrels”.

It is hard to go any where around Columbus and not find construction. Whether you are driving or riding the bus, you can see that Columbus is one giant construction zone.

The seemingly endless construction is a reminder that we live in an ever changing world.

From the year 2,000 to 2,004 our family lived in England. Noah, our oldest son was born there, and we lived in a small village north of Cambridge called Ely. We bought an antique map of Ely from the 17th Century and the roads on this map are the same as they are today. It would be awkward to carry this around, but you can go to Ely today and navigate the streets using this 400 year old map. In Columbus, if you used a navigation system from 10 years ago you might be in trouble.

Think of the changes to our community in recent years.

Schottenstein department store was a fixture on the South Side for 90 years and now seems like a distant memory.

City Center Mall has given the way to the Columbus Commons.

And here on Parsons Avenue, in recent years we have seen a new library, a new fire station, new businesses, and now a freshly paved road.

Change is all around us.

In many ways, change is a good thing. Look around our neighborhood. Abandoned and blighted homes were once common and now are difficult to find. Look around this room. A church like this where people of different races and classes come together to worship would have been very unlikely fifty years ago.

But while change is often a good thing, change can also be uncomfortable.

When change happens in our lives we can feel out of control. The changing world around us can feel like a big, daunting, scary place that we have no control over and that is happening to us.

And even within our own lives it only takes one illness, the loss of one job, one heater to go out in our homes, and the foundation under our feet is shaken.

In order for us to live full, abundant lives in Jesus Christ we have to be able to have the confidence that God is with us in all things, that there is a bigger plan at work, we have to know who we are and whose we are.

The word for this security and confidence is coherence.coherence-1

Coherence is the second leading cause of life. Last week Sheldon Johnson introduced us to the first cause of life, connection. Connection is vital for us as we are made to live in community with one another. But real connection cannot happen without coherence.

Coherence is the narrative that keeps us on track because it orders our lives. Coherence gives us a sense of belonging and meaning.

Without coherence, we are merely trying to survive the storms of life that come at us. We are tossed about and living in reaction to everyone and everything else. With coherence, we can do more than survive, we can thrive.

So how do we build coherence so we can Come Alive?

Coherence begins with knowing who we are and being true to ourselves.

If you have met someone who has a strong sense of identity, who is comfortable in their own skin, who knows who they are in the world, that is what coherence looks like.

Jesus was a person who had a strong sense of coherence. He know who he was, what he came to do, what his purpose was in life, and that guided everything that he did.

In our scripture today we hear the story of Jesus’ homecoming.

This is from Luke, Chapter 4, it is early in Jesus ministry. Word spread about him, people are beginning to talk. He is becoming known for his teaching. To put it in modern terms, Jesus just went viral.

While he seems to be popular all around Galilee, sometimes the hometown crowd is the most difficult.

It is the Sabbath and Jesus is an observant Jew. So he goes to the synagogue like he had in many cities around Galilee. He stands up to read and a scroll is handed to him. Jesus unrolls the scroll to what we know as Isaiah, Chapter 61 and he says The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me… Jesus is the spirit-filled anointed, chosen one of God.

He goes on to say that he has come:

       to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.’

This is Jesus’ message of identity and coherence. Jesus not only says this is who I am, but he lives it out. A person with a high sense of coherence not only talks the talk, but walks the walk.

To know who you are and have your actions be consistent with your identity does not mean you will be popular. By calling himself the anointed one, reading this scripture from Isaiah, and saying today this has been fulfilled in your hearing, is to claim to be the Messiah. Jesus is saying, I am the Messiah. That is his identity. But the people of his hometown are not buying it. In fact, the people of Nazareth are scandalized. They ask who is this that claims to be the anointed one? Who does he think he is? We know him, we watched him grow up, he is no Messiah, he is Joseph’s son.

Jesus responds to this criticism and says “Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s home town.”

Sometimes the people that are the hardest for us to be our most authentic around are the people who have known us the longest. The ones who remember us when…

Yet Jesus is not deterred by this criticism or the criticism he will continue to face from religious leaders throughout his ministry. Even in front of Pontius Pilate and even on the cross, Jesus does not waver because he has a strong sense of who he is.

It is important for us to have the same. If we know who we are and operate from that identity, we may not always be popular. As disciples of Jesus Christ we will not always do what the rest of the crowd is doing, we won’t always speak like the rest of the world around us is speaking. But if we are secure in who we are, we won’t be deterred when we are criticized.

It is important that we have a clear sense of who we are so we can be fully alive. And yet, our coherence is not grounded in us, but in God.

Coherence is not just a matter of who we are, but also whose we are.

We can have security that we will overcome, we will make it up the rough side of the mountain, not because of who we are but because of who God is.

This message of coherence is sung every time Paul sings “He’s Sweet, I Know”

He’s sweet, I know, He’s sweet, I know,
Storm clouds may rise, strong winds may blow.
I’ll tell the world wherever I go,
That I’ve found a Savior, and he’s sweet, I know.

No matter how hard the storms or how strong the winds, we know that God is with us.

It is who Jesus came to be.

In the first chapter of the gospel of Matthew Jesus is described by the angel of the Lord as Emmanuel, God with us. In the last chapter of Matthew, the very last words that Jesus speaks are:‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’*

This is who God is. A God who is with us in all things, at all time, and in all places. A God who understands our struggles, because God experienced them in Jesus Christ. A God who will never abandon us or forsake us

In Hebrews 13, two Psalms are quoted when the writer says, “‘I will never leave you or forsake you.’ 6So we can say with confidence, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid.
What can anyone do to me?’

We knows these words are true not only because we read them in the Bible, but because we have experienced them in our lives?

How many times have you seen God make a way out of no way?

How many times have you witnessed answered prayers?

How many times have you looked around when others abandoned you and God was still right there?

Nothing can separate us from the love of God. Not height or depth or life or depth. When we know that not just with our heads but at the core of our being, we have confidence, surety, and coherence.Romans-8-38-39Our sense of belonging begins with knowing who we are, is rooted in who God is, and comes together when we have a clear sense of purpose in our lives.

When we combine who we are and who God is with why we are here, then we are setting ourselves us to come alive.

If we go back to this morning’s scripture, Jesus had a very clear sense of why he was here, what he was anointed to do: to bring good news to the poor… to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.

 Everything that Jesus did lines up with this statement. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus said “blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Jesus released people whose lives had been captive to years of sickness, gave sight to the blind, living water to a Samaritan woman.

Not only did Jesus actions line up with his mission statement, he didn’t do anything inconsistent with what he came to do. A mission statement both tells us what we are going to do and what we are not.

The mission statement of the United Methodist Church is to “make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world”. Disciple making and transformation are the business that we are in. That is what we are called to do. We grow in grace within ourselves so we can bring transformation to the world around us.

The vision of Church and Community Development for All People is to build a “whole, healthy, and engaged community” so that ALL people can come alive.

Coherence is built by having a clear sense of who we are, whose we are, and what we do.

Perhaps it is in this third area that we have the greatest opportunity to engage as we talk about Come Alive. For who we are remains fairly constant, who God is doesn’t change, but what we are called to do changes throughout the seasons of our lives.

As we go to school, work, retire, the things we do change.

Twenty years ago I would not have imagined being a pastor, ten years ago I would not have imagined living in Ohio, but here I am. There is no other place where I have felt more connected to what God is doing and no place where I have been more fully alive.

So I want to invite you to take a fresh look at the questions around Come Alive and ask yourself what God might be calling you to do next? At this season in your life, what opportunities do you have to discover who you are, whose you are, and what God has called you to do?

And if you don’t know the answers to those questions, if they sound way too big, that is okay too. That is why John and Donita and all of us are here, to accompany each other in to a full life.

Let us not live in fear of the change that surrounds, but let us go from here knowing that we are the children of God, who is with us always, and who has called us to share the gifts of grace we have received with everyone we meet, so that the world will be transformed and come alive.

Amen.

Life Creates Life

John 1:1-5

1 Corinthians 15:50-58

Listen online: https://4allpeople.sermon.net/21242490

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States. Every year, more than 600,000 people die from heart disease. The tragic part of this is that about 200,000 of those deaths are preventable. Changes in habits such as stopping smoking, exercising, and reducing salt in diets can save the lives of 200,000 people a year.

This is not only a national problem, but is even worse here on the South Side of Columbus. The rate of heart disease in our community is 55 percent higher than the rest of the country. So heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States and if you live here you are even 55 percent more likely to get it.

This last week we marked the anniversary of September 11th. We shared stories of where we were when this tragedy happened. We remembered the rescue workers who sacrificed themselves so others could live and we honored the military members who have sacrificed so much for us. And yet, as a society we have not figured out how to offer our veterans healing and hope. On average, 22 veterans commit suicide every day. Nearly one veteran takes his or her life every hour of every day.

Last week there was a story in the Columbus Dispatch that 16 people in Franklin County died in a one week period from drug overdoses, largely due to fentanyl and other substances laced in drugs. We live in the midst of an opioid epidemic that is taking lives.

All of these statistics I have shared with you are true. This is the reality of the world we live in. And these realities are not God’s will, they are not fair and not just. And yet, the mere awareness of them does nothing to change anything. Focusing on death does not create life.

I can tell you all of the statistics about heart disease, but will it cause you to eat a healthier lunch at the end of this sermon? We can talk about veterans suicide, but does that bring anyone hope? We know people are dying from addictions, but does that set anyone free?

We are a people surrounded by death. Stories of death sell newspapers and keeps us watching news broadcasts. But from that,  we have been conditioned to see death, to look for death, to focus on death. Death feels like this lingering bogey man, just waiting to inevitably take us away. Death feels like a dark inevitably.

This morning I want to challenge these assumptions and encourage you to think differently.

Last week Pastor John began our “Come Alive” sermon series and talked about our Kairos opportunity.

We heard from the theologian Howard Thurman who said “Don’t ask yourself what the Howard_thurmanworld needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive, and go do that, because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”

Our invitation in this season is not to be a people burdened with death, but to be a people free to receive life.

When we think and speak from a place of life, we bring a whole different energy in to the world. An energy that builds, that creates, that nurtures, that blossoms, with life.
We know this is true because we saw it unfold in the growth of our First Birthday program.

Five years ago people began focusing on the issue of infant mortality, but they did so from a place of preventing death. In the United States, six babies per thousand die before they reach the age of one. In the South Side of Columbus, particularly among African American familes, 20 babies per thousand die before the age of one.

But this fact alone does not create life.

40042949_1137958013021958_3204871765545189376_nIn response Franklin County created a task force called the Greater Columbus Infant Mortality Task Force. Not a very life giving name.

But here at Church and Community Development for All People we asked what is the goal, what is the vision? It is each baby celebrating their first birthday. This is life. So we created a program called First Birthdays, that influenced Franklin County to change the name of their program to Celebrate One.

This vision creates life.

This life was on display less than a month ago as over 300 people celebrated life around the Fresh Market.

This life is real. Out of the hundreds of families we have been in relationship with over the last four years, not one baby has died from infant mortality.

Life wins!

This truth that life creates life is what has made this church work.

Yes, people come here because it is a place that is cool in the summer and the winter, yes this is a place where the coffee pot is always on, yes we give things away for free, but above and beyond that we are a place that is alive and people are attracted to life. There is a vibrancy and an energy here that people want to be a part of. You can feel it when someone like Molly or Dolly walks in to a room, they bring a life, an energy, a spirit that people just want to be a part of.

But we don’t only see it at a large, organizational level, we have experienced it in our own lives.

Ten years ago I found myself in the doctor’s office of a liver specialist. My liver enzymes were high and I was diagnosed with fatty liver disease. The doctor could have taken the normal path and tried to prevent death by giving me pills or doing a biopsy. Instead, he encouraged me to embrace life. He took the time to teach me about high fructose corn syrup and the other foods I was eating. He encouraged me to start exercising and that is when I started running. Today, I am 51 years old and feel more alive than when I was 41 or 31. And not only more alive physically, but more alive mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. For me, running has not only become a way of having a health body, but is a form of stress relief and even a spiritual practice.

I am not here this morning to recruit you to run, although there are a group of us leaving here on Saturday for a 30 mile run around Columbus. What I am here to invite you to do is to change your thinking. To not put your focus on avoiding death, but on embracing life.

As Morgan Freeman’s character, Red, said in the movie Shawshank Redemption, it all comes down to a simple choice, we can get busy living or get busy dying.

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What is it that makes you come alive?

One of the ways that makes us Come Alive is by giving life to others.

Life creates life.

Life has a cumulative, multiplying effect.

Life is not a limited resource where if I expend some of it I won’t get it back, life builds upon life and creates more life.

One of the areas where we all find life is in giving back, helping others, finding joy through meeting a need.

There is something inherent in all of us that is fed only when we feed others.

One of things that I have learned since I have been here is that we all have a need to give back.

A couple of years ago we did a program with Nationwide Children’s Hospital called Moving Healthcare Upstream. We interviewed families about issues that impacted their health: whether they had good housing, made enough money, had a primary care doctor. At the end of these questions we asked people what it is that they would like to do, what would give their life meaning?

Almost every person answered that question talking about wanting to serve or give back.

I remember one family in particular who had eight people living in a house that according to my standards was way too small for eight people. They talked about wanting to help house homeless people and give others a place to live. Even a family that didn’t have sufficient housing themselves wanted to help others find housing.

When we are in that place where our hearts desires connect with God’s work in the world we find life. When we find life and operate from that place, it creates more life.

Life creates life.

This pursuit of life is something that continually pursues us. The Holy Spirit continues to move in us and shape us so that we will find life and give life.

Most of the things I have said in this sermon would be echoed by all kinds of people. You could find a social worker or life coach or school counselor that would agree that when we live in the place where we are doing things that give us life we bring life out in to the world.

While many would agree with that foundation, we as followers of Jesus Christ should be advocates of life more than anyone.

Our first scripture this morning comes from the opening words of the gospel of John. John describes who Jesus is in his essence. Jesus is the Word, the Logos, who was present with God from the beginning.

John says, in him “all things came into being”. Through the eternal Christ, everything that has life came into being. Life originated from Jesus.

What has come into being in him was life.

But life did not only have its origin in the Word, but Jesus came as the light that has overcome all darkness. The light of Christ continues to shine in our lives and world that overcomes all addiction, suffering, mourning, and pain so that we will have life and have it abundantly.

The gospel of John begins with this assertion that Christ created all life and continues to work to bring life.

But even this is not the end of the story.

In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul spends the entire chapter talking about the meaning of resurrection.

In the portion included here is the promise that one day this perishable body will put on imperishability, our mortal body will put on immortality.

Paul offers these familiar words “Death has been swallowed up in victory. Where O death is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?”

Death not only does nothing to create or bring life, death has no power over us because it has been conquered in Jesus Christ.

Jesus overcame sin and darkness and pain and death itself.

As followers of Jesus Christ we are not Good Friday people, we are Easter people.

We are people that live in the light, that live in the resurrection, that live in the life of Jesus Christ.

abundant-life2

The fullness of our life comes when we are not only people who have been given life, but people who give that gift of life to others.

The opportunities around us are countless.

We are a church that has a chance to share the gifts of life with our community seven days a week.

And this is only one place.

As a person who has received life, you have the chance to give life to every person you interact with: at home, at school, at work.

What is it that gives you life? Go and do that, because what the world needs now, what God needs now, is you fully alive.

Let us not be a people merrily seeking to avoid death, but let us embrace life and life will create life.

Amen.

Clothed in Grace

Listen to this sermon at: https://4allpeople.sermon.net/main/main/21229124

This is a Roman soldier, in full armor.roman1

Paul uses this image to illustrate strength and power.

This is an image that the ancient world knew all too well.

Remember, Paul was in prison when he wrote this letter to the Ephesians. A prison heavily guarded by Roman soldiers. So you can imagine that when Paul is writing these words, he can look up and see this soldier.

But it was not only a matter of Paul’s reality, but also of the Ephesians.

Ephesus was once one of the most powerful cities in the world. Some historians have said that outside of Rome, Ephesus was the second most powerful city in the ancient world. It was located at a crossroads of Europe and Asia and the Middle East in what is modern day Turkey, so it became a place of great wealth.

Then, in the century before Jesus was born Ephesus was conquered by Rome. It’s wealth was plundered and the people forced to pay incredibly high taxes. There was a brief period of liberation from Rome, but then when they were reconquered they had to pay five years of back taxes.

Ephesus was economically crippled by Rome and would never regain its place in the world.

But the city was not only financially occupied, but militarily occupied.

The Roman soldier would have been seen on the streets as a reminder of the power wielded over them. They were an occupied city.

For Paul to use the image of the centurion is really interesting. He is taking the image of the occupier, the image of what people assumed power and strength looked like, and flipped it on its head.

In effect, he is saying, this is what the world thinks strength and power looks like. A sword, a helmet, a shield. But, real power doesn’t come from physical armament, but spiritual armament: a belt of truth, a breastplate of righteousness, shoes of peace, a shield of faith, a helmet of salvation, a sword of the spirit.

Paul says our struggle isn’t against flesh and blood, our struggle is against powers and principalities.

We don’t change the world by taking up weapons or returning violence for violence. We change the world when we clothe ourselves in truth and righteousness, in peace and salvation and prayer.

Contrast the image of the centurion with the image of Jesus.

Jesus had no shield or sword and changed the world more than any other person in history.

Think about Palm Sunday.

On Palm Sunday, Jesus entered Jerusalem humbly on a donkey. He came down the Mount of Olives with his disciples laying down their coats before him. It was a peasant rally in which the crowd cried out Hosanna, blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.

At that same exact time, from the west side of Jerusalem, Pontius Pilate entered the city with a great military procession. The historian Marcus Borg described it having “cavalry on horses, foot soldiers, leather armor, helmets, weapons, banners, golden eagles mounted on poles, sun glinting on metal and gold. Sounds: the marching of feet, the creaking of leather, the clinking of bridles, the beating of drums. The swirling of dust. The eyes of the silent onlookers, some curious, some awed, some resentful.”

If you were to look at these two parades, which would you describe as having the most strength and power? In the end, which force would win? The Roman Empire who brought fear or the Prince of Peace who came so all might have life and have it abundantly?

We know who won. The powers and principalities of the world crucified Jesus, but he rose again! He is Risen!

Love wins.mg

We not only see the power of living by truth and peace and righteousness in Jesus, we have seen it in recent history.

We saw it in Mahatma Gandhi. There was nothing about Gandhi’s physical appearance that anyone would call intimidating. He didn’t dress in any powerful way. In fact, for the last 25 years of his life, he wore a simple shawl. He dressed in the clothes of a peasant and yet his work resulted in freedom for the people of India. Operating from a place of poverty gave Gandhi a great strength, from which he took on the British Empire.

Wearing nothing more than a peasant’s shawl, love won again.

kingWe saw it in Dr. Martin Luther King. He wore the suit of a pastor. He said first and foremost, over everything, he considered himself a clergyman, a Baptist preacher. But from that place he gave us a vision, a dream that one day “the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit together at the table of brotherhood.” And look at us, the realization of that dream, the diverse people who gather around the table of brotherhood and sisterhood.

Wearing nothing more than a pastor’s suit, love won again.

We saw it in Nelson Mandela who was clothed in a prison uniform. He spent 27 years in prison, often in harsh conditions and isolated from the rest of the world. And yet, he responded with peace, remained calm, and achieved the goal of bringing an end to apartheid.

nmWearing nothing more than a prison uniform, love won again.

These men wore the simplest of clothes, but they were clothed in peace and truth and righteousness and love that changed the world.

We often use the language around here of being clothed in grace. When you get a shirt from the Free Store you are literally putting on a gift of grace. The shirt itself is a gift that someone donated, that volunteers have sorted and hung. The entire thing is gift, it is grace.

But, like grace, this has become such a common event that I think we often take it for granted.

So let me give you an example of how powerful this really is.

Last week we had our First Birthday party. Over 300 people filled and surrounded the Fresh Market as we celebrated and made possible the gift of life. In the midst of the busyness of First Birthdays, a gentleman approached me and said that he didn’t have any money but he had just got a job at the Reeb Avenue Center. In order for him to show up to work on Monday he needed the right shoes and clothes to wear. I was busy at that moment, so I asked him to come back on Sunday. He did. After the 11am service he found Dessaree. Now, Dessaree was on her way out the door. She hasn’t had a day off since July, her daughter was with her, she could’ve easily said I’m busy, come back tomorrow. But Dessaree is a woman who herself is clothed in God’s grace. So she turned around, came back, found him the right clothes, went in the basement and got him the right shoes, and gave him a hygiene kit.

On Monday, he went to work. Clothed in the grace of the Free Store. Clothed in the grace of our community. He is now a man of strength and power, with the dignity of a good job.

On Thursday his boss came here only to say thank you. He said that he is such a good employee and didn’t want to lose him. He too was touched by grace and love won again.

Over the last several weeks we have clothed over 1,000 students with school supplies. Through the help of the noisy offering, we provided school supplies to three elementary schools, gave them to our church community and through the Free Store. More than 300 kids went to school with backpacks over their shoulders that came from the Free Store, clothed in grace.

Providing school supplies to kids is not just a matter of paper and pencils. It is putting on the full armor of God. An education grounds kids in truth, an education is the top ticket to the bridge out of poverty. No one can take your education from you. You can’t be stripped of your thoughts and feelings.

We are an amazing place that clothes others in grace, but in order for us to live in to our fullness we have to be clothed in grace ourselves.

We can go through the motions and hand out clothes and food and school supplies and a million other things like any other well-meaning service organization. But we are not just another organization trying to help people out, we are the church. We are the one’s called to share the gift of love in Jesus Christ that we have found with others.

But in order for us to share it, we have to be clothed in grace ourselves.

One of the first decisions we make each day is what am I going to wear?

As a country, we spend a lot of time and money and energy in the things we wear. Even though Jesus tells us to look at the lilies of the field and how they don’t toil or spin, we sure toil and spin.

But if we spend so much effort on clothes that will soon go out of fashion or wear out, we need to spend even more energy being clothed in righteousness, peace, faith, and salvation.

How do we do that?

John Wesley described the way that God clothes us as the means of grace. When we worship, serve, volunteer, read the Bible, notice God in nature, we are clothed in grace so that we can clothe others in grace.

But perhaps none of these gifts grounds us and equips us and strengthens us more than prayer.

Paul uses the word prayer four times in the last four sentences of today’s scripture:

Pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert and always persevere in supplication for all the saints. Pray also for me, so that when I speak, a message may be given to me to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it boldly, as I must speak.

In order for us to be strong, we have to be a people of prayer.

In order for us to be a people who confront the powers and principalities of the world with love, we have to be a people of prayer.

In order for us to stand firm in the struggles of life, we have to be a people of prayer.

In order for us to counter violence with peace, we have to be a people of prayer.

Prayer is the strongest of all weapons. More powerful than any gun or shield or sword made from metal. So let us clothe ourselves in grace and prayer so that love will win again.

Amen.