Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

95 Opportunities

Posted: October 31, 2017 in Uncategorized

Luther_95_ThesenFive hundred years ago today, Martin Luther nailed 95 Theses to the door of All Saints Church in Wittenberg, Germany. Luther’s dispute with the Roman Catholic Church called for an end to the practice of indulgences and resulted in the protestant reformation. In contrast to a dispute, I offer these 95 Opportunities as ways for us to connect to God’s work in the world today. These are offered in the style of Luther with the hope of bringing continued reform and movement of the Holy Spirit to the Church.


Ancient Letter O. Vector IllustrationOut of love for grace and from desire to elucidate it, the Pastor Greg Henneman, Master of Divinity, perseverance runner, and humble servant at the United Methodist Church for All People, intends to invite all people to live in to the opportunities God has provided to love one another. Therefore he asks that those who cannot be present and dispute with him shall do so via social media. In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, Amen.

  1. The gospel of John describes the incarnation of Jesus as the manifestation of grace and truth.
  2. And the word “grace” neither can, nor may, be understood as only referring to receiving the sacraments within the church, rather our invitation is to be practitioners of grace in all that we do.
  3. Nevertheless we do not think of inward grace only: rather inward grace is worthless unless it produces outward manifestations of love.
  4. Therefore grace exceedingly abounds, knitting together God, humanity, and all of creation, in intimate union with one another.
  5. All people are united in our shared ancestry of being created in God’s image (imago Dei)
  6. Each face of diversity amongst God’s children illumines a portion of God’s identity; in the eyes of the stranger we see Christ.
  7. In suffering, and in glory, we are united together as joint heirs with Christ.
  8. As such, our invitation is not only to love one another sentimentally, but also to offer works of love to each other in the following opportunities:
  9. As a people who have experienced poverty (financial and spiritual) we bring good news.
  10. As a people who have been captive, we proclaim release.Single pamphlet page with decorative initial capital letter.
  11. As a people who were once blind, we offer sight.
  12. As a people who were oppressed by systems of inequality, we offer freedom.
  13. As a people who have been disadvantaged, we proclaim favor.
  14. As a people placed in the garden, we care for all of creation when we responsibly consume and recycle.
  15. As sisters and brothers, we care for each other and understand that our well-being is intertwined.
  16. As people who have received gifts of grace more numerous than stars in the sky, we worship a God of abundance and not a god of scarcity.
  17. God invites us to move from the homelands where we were comfortable in order to be a blessing to all people.
  18. In showing hospitality to strangers, we find the divine among us.
  19. In wrestling to understanding God, we are blessed.
  20. When we forgive one another, relationships are healed and restored.
  21. Although we make plans out of fear and selfishness, God produces good from it.
  22. God hears cries of injustice and sends us to bring people out of oppression.
  23. God invites us to end exploitation when we raise awareness of human trafficking.
  24. God invites us to end marginalization when we work for racial justice.
  25. God invites us to empower people when we break the school-to-prison pipeline through education.
  26. God invites us to recognize human dignity when we welcome and include LGBTQIA persons.
  27. God invites us to live humbly within divine mystery.
  28. God assures us that when we work for justice, we are not alone, but that the Divine is with us always.
  29. God is the source that brings us out of oppression who invites us to:
  30. Recognize the idols of power, prestige, and position and not allow them to control our lives.
  31. Offer positive and affirming names and words.

    Always reforming; always catholicizing

    Luther at All Saints Church

  32. Rest from work.
  33. Honor our families.
  34. Protect all life.
  35. Respect relationships.
  36. Recognize that we have enough.
  37. Tell the truth.
  38. Trust in God’s provision.
  39. Love God with all that you are.
  40. Love your neighbor.
  41. Love your enemy.
  42. Love yourself.

    IMG_6213

    Church for All People

  43. Provide sanctuary to an immigrant.
  44. Repent and receive forgiveness.
  45. Forgive others, and your burden will be lifted.
  46. Delight in the Lord.
  47. Praise God in the church.
  48. Praise God amongst creation.
  49. Praise God with drums, guitars, and crashing cymbals.
  50. Listen for the still, small voice
  51. Spend time with the poor, who God called blessed
  52. Comfort people in mourning and grief
  53. Do justice.
  54. Be kind.
  55. Be humble!
  56. Show mercy.
  57. Beat a sword into a plowshare; end gun violence.
  58. Turn the other cheek.
  59. Practice reconciliation.
  60. If someone is cold, give them your coat.
  61. Close your door and pray.
  62. Set aside worry and trust in God.
  63. Do to others as you would have them do to you.
  64. Feed the hungry.
  65. Give a cup of water to a child.
  66. Help someone when it is inconvenient for you.
  67. Welcome a returning citizen.
  68. Give someone money without expecting them to pay you back.
  69. Donate clothes and follow the donations.
  70. Care for someone who is sick.
  71. Visit a person in prison.
  72. Make healthy choices and live in to the gift of abundant life
  73. Sell what you have and share with others.
  74. Spend time in community with people different than yourself.
  75. Give a family member a second chance.
  76. Invite someone to your table for dinner.
  77. Read, study, and contemplate scripture.
  78. Care for a foster child.
  79. Visit a widow in a nursing home.
  80. Pray without ceasing.
  81. Offer the simplest prayer: thank you.
  82. Offer the prayer of the heart: help me.
  83. Sings psalms and hymns and spiritual songs.
  84. Love someone rejected by others.
  85. Have a cup of coffee with someone from a different faith tradition—or no faith tradition.
  86. Model joy in a difficult situation.
  87. Develop internal peace through mindfulness.
  88. Show patience to a learning child.
  89. Be kind to someone with a difficult job.
  90. Practice gentleness to a person struggling with mental health.
  91. Invite a person trapped in addiction to an AA group.
  92. Do good
  93. Do no harm
  94. Stay in love with God
  95. In God’s fullness we have received grace upon grace and are invited to share in God’s work until we bring the kingdom on earth, as it is in heaven.

 

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A Step in the Right Direction

Posted: October 21, 2017 in Uncategorized

22687573_1974777976070414_2719589841552416121_nHistorically, Parsons Avenue is a dividing line in Columbus, Ohio. Separated since the policy of redlining, the neighborhoods west of Parsons are among the wealthiest in the city, while the neighborhoods to the east of Parsons are among the poorest. In a short walk of only a few blocks, one can travel from a neighborhood where houses sell for tens of thousands of dollars to a street where houses sell for millions.

While the distance between these neighborhoods is short, today that distance became even shorter.

For the second consecutive year, the German Village Walking Club hosted a Community Walk for All People. Dozens of people showed up not only to walk together on a beautiful autumn morning, but also brought a truckload of clothes and household items to share with others.

IMG_5975Kim Hairston, the Free Store Director, thanked people for the donations and invited people to come, to
follow the donations, and to build relationships with our community.

After this, the diverse community walked from the Winans Coffee and Chocolate Shop in German Village to the Winans in downtown Columbus. Along the journey, we saw an area that was an impound lot IMG_5976that has been redeveloped in to a park. We saw the banks of the Scioto River that have been developed in to community spaces. We saw new downtown apartments and townhouses that have created community.

The greatest potential for redevelopment is not in houses, buildings, or even parks. Rather, the greatest potential is in creating relationships that redevelop people. Today, we took another step in that direction.

Join us in the next step of the journey at the Hangry Turkey on November 11:

HangryFlyer

 

Radical Generosity

Posted: October 1, 2017 in Uncategorized

Scriptures: Acts 2:42-47, Acts 3:6, Acts 4:32-38

What do you do when someone asks you for a dollar?

Whenever I go and visit another church and share with them the stories of the work we do one of the questions I often get asked is, what do you do when someone asks you for a dollar?

We can find the uncomfortable answer to that question in the story of the birth of the church.

On Pentecost, the church was born.

The Holy Spirit is poured out and people are able to speak and hear in their own language. Romans and Arabs and Egyptians and Jews are all able to hear about God’s work in Jesus Christ in a way that each of them can understand.

From its inception, God created the church to be a diverse and inclusive space.

But not only does Acts, Chapter 2, tell us about the formation of the church, it ends with a description of what the first church did: the church devoted itself to teaching, fellowship, breaking bread, and prayer. And those who were part of this movement sold their goods and possessions and gave the money that was raised to those in need.

The church was not only a place of learning and worship for those filled with the Spirit, it saw its role as being at work in the world to lift up those who are down and provide for the needs of all people.

The church was a place that was hard at work in the world.

After all, this first book to come after the gospels is called the Acts of the Apostles. Not the beliefs or teachings or understanding of the apostles, but the Acts. And, throughout the book, people are doing stuff. They are teaching, healing, praying, building, organizing, traveling, sharing, feeding, worshiping, debating, and just hard at work. Central to their work was providing for the needs of one another.

Again, in Chapter 4, after a short time passes, there is a very similar description of the life of the church and in its sharing all that they had so that no one was in need. There is even an illustration of Barnabas who sells a field and brings the proceeds from that to the apostles’ feet.

So if we were to go and ask Peter and Barnabas and friends the timeless question, what do you when someone asks you for a dollar, how do you think they would respond? They didn’t just give money to people in need, they built an entire economy on those who became the first Jesus followers selling what they had, sharing it in common, and caring for all people.

The church created its own micro-economy within the Roman Empire. An economy unlike any other. Not an economy based on increasing the gross domestic product of the empire, not an economy based on individual wealth, but an economy based on attending to the needs of one another.

As far as I know, this is unlike, and upside down from, any economic system in world history.

We could call this economy, Radical Generosity. Radical-Generosity

If you have been around the Church for All People for more than 15 minutes you have heard the term Radical Hospitality. Radical Hospitality is one of our core values that describes the kind of culture we seek to create where every person is welcome and included. Radical Hospitality happens when we live in community with one another and we create relationships of mutuality and respect.

Radical Hospitality creates the space for us to be who God has called us to be.

Radical Generosity describes what the church is doing, when it is a church that does what it is supposed to do.

We can see how the church of Acts lived in to Radical Generosity as they sold and shared all that they had.

Why did they do this? Why would they give up what they had and what they worked for to help someone else?

Their work, their Radical Generosity, was a response to God’s work. Their movement was a response to the movement of the Holy Spirit.

Earlier in Acts Chapter 2 Peter told them about the power and work of God, and so the church reflected God’s work. The Spirit rushes in like a mighty wind, which causes the church to go in to the world like that mighty wind.

Now when we read the stories of what they did in Acts, Chapter 2 and 4 on the surface it may not sound like much.

How hard can it be to sell stuff and share the proceeds with others?

We, more than anyone, know how much work it takes to receive things and give them away.

As people who operate a Free Store and Fresh Market and Bike Shop, we know that there is nothing simple about giving things away.

Clothes don’t just show up on the racks of the free store, they have to be sorted and prepped and hung. Food doesn’t just show up in the market like manna fallen from heaven. Every Tuesday morning, regardless of weather conditions, 12,000-some pounds of food is carted in case by case. Over 500 children’s bikes aren’t just given away, they have to be cleaned, repaired, and made safe for kids to ride.

And yet we do all this for the same reason the apostles did. We have been touched by God’s love and work and grace, so we share those gifts with others. We have been changed by the generosity of God’s forgiveness and compassion, so we offer Radical Generosity to others.

Radical Generosity is not only an economic system that moves us from selfishness and greed and coveting to looking at the needs of all, Radical Generosity also brings social change.

When someone asked Pope Francis, what do you do when someone asks for money, he said it is always right to help. If you have it, you should give the person money, but don’t stop there. Don’t just throw someone a coin, but look them in the eye, touch them, and offer them a good word, because we all have inner poverty.

Radical Generosity leads us to see each other differently. We see each other not as winners and losers, producers and consumers, rich and poor. Instead we see each other with dignity and respect and we are at work to lift up one another in our commonality. This vision is at the concept of the next part of the social creed.

Today we look at the fifth statement of the social creed and I invite you to read this with me:

We believe in the right and duty of persons to work for the glory of God and the good of themselves and others and in the protection of their welfare in so doing; in the rights to property as a trust from God, collective bargaining, and responsible consumption; and in the elimination of economic and social distress.

The creed starts out with a statement about the right and duty of people to work for the glory of God.

The ability to work and serve is a gift from God. It isn’t just the church of Acts who worked to glorify God, and it is not just about the work we do here at the Church for All People, no matter what our jobs are we have the opportunity to glorify God in anything and everything we do.

There was a 17th century monk named Brother Lawrence who turned being a dishwasher in to a practice of prayer.

You can see it in the face of Reverend Parker who at 85 years old finds great joy in sweeping the parking lot.

No matter what our vocation, we can do that job in a way that glorifies God.

The truth is, not every job feels glorifying. There is work that is dehumanizing and that takes advantage of people.

A single mother should not have to work three part time jobs in order to provide for her children. Every person deserves a job that pays a living wage.

A returning citizen should not be unable to find work after their sentence has been completed.

Children should not be exploited.

Where these things happen part of our work as the church is to advocate to change these situations. As Community Development for All People we have been pushing employers to pay a living wage so that people can afford things like safe, affordable housing and healthy food.

Our work is both in what we do, in how we carry ourselves at our jobs, and in the economy of Radical Generosity how we work to bring dignity to one another.

We live out this social creed and build the kingdom when people own their own homes.

I remember hearing it in the voice of Kay when she moved in to Parsons Village and said this was the first time she moved in to a place new and nice in her life.

We are just beginning to imagine how we can broaden the impact of having dignified jobs and homes at the Residences at Career Gateway homes.

The creed goes on to talk about relieving social and economic stress.

On one hand, we can feel as if we are often the ones on the stressful end of social and economic situations, but like the apostles we can turn the world upside down by using what God has given us to create a community based on Radical Generosity.

In between the stories in Acts Chapters 2 and 4 of people selling and sharing what they have, in Acts, Chapter 3, Peter and John go to the temple and see a beggar sitting at the beautiful gate. The beggar asks for money and they don’t have any, but Peter replies, “Silver or gold I do not have, but what I have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk”. Here is an example of Peter sharing what he has and that bringing more transformation than a coin.

In the book of Acts there are many stories of people using relationships to bring change. Barnabas stands up for Paul, Lydia uses her standing to get Paul entry in to Thyatira. Social capital is used and the kingdom of God is manifest.

We can use our resources and our experiences and our relationships to change the world around us.

This last week a group of us went to a rally outside Senator Portman’s office to protect medical care. Mickey Witkowski spoke before the crowd and shared her work in the field of mental health and how proposed cuts would impact vulnerable people.


When the community uses its possessions and relationships and experiences to give life to those in need, when the resources of the individual are fully committed to benefit the whole of the community, the glory of God is shown.

What do you do when someone asks you for a dollar?

Our gut reaction might be to say no and to think we don’t have enough, but look at all of this bread.

When Jesus stood before a hungry crowd the disciples asked him to send them away. They said there wasn’t enough. But Jesus said, you feed them.

You feed them.

And there was more than enough for everyone to be full, with 12 baskets left over.

We gather at this table on World Communion Sunday. Today we are united in one body with Christians from around the world who break bread and drink from cups sharing the body and blood of Christ.

Today, we not only see our unity as followers of Christ, but hear an invitation to live in to a spirit of Radical Generosity where my well-being is connected to your well-being. Your ability to have dignified work and housing and social standing are connected to my social and economic health. For we are all a people of inner poverty whose emptiness has been filled with the love and grace of Jesus Christ.

Amen.

Restoring Paradise

Posted: September 17, 2017 in Uncategorized

Restoring Paradise
Genesis 2:8-25
Sep 17, 2017

“It took Jesus a thousand years to die. Images of his corpse did not appear in churches until the tenth century.”

These are the opening sentences of the book, Saving Paradise, by Rita Brock and Rebecca Ann Parker.

Brock and Parker went on a pilgrimage to the oldest Christian churches in the world, in the Mediterranean and Middle East. They went looking for the earliest image they could find of the dying Jesus on the cross and they couldn’t find one in ancient churches.

They could not find a painting, a statue, a mosaic of a bleeding Jesus on a cross.

Finding Jesus was not difficult.

They found the resurrected Christ, the living Christ, Jesus teaching and healing and feeding and living in the world.

Not only did they find Jesus, but they found him surrounded by creation. Early churches were filled with images of trees and rivers and animals and the beauty of paradise.

trans

The picture that is on the bulletin and screen comes from a 6th century church in Italy. This is an image of the transfiguration. Notice this image is not of Jesus alone on a mountain top, but he is surrounded by an abundance of trees and animals and greenery.

For the first thousand years of the church the predominant image projected was not the suffering Jesus on the cross, but the resurrected Christ among the beauty of creation.

Last week Pastor John began our sermon series on the United Methodist Social Principles by describing us at our best as “the church that does what a church is supposed to do.”

If we went back to these ancient churches and asked them, what is a church supposed to do, they might say that the church’s role is to reflect the beauty of God’s creation and to work to restore that beauty wherever it is missing.

This early vision of the church is quite a bit different from what most of us have experienced. Over the last thousand years, the Christian faith has come to present itself as a ticket to escape this world. That if we come to believe the right things, that we will find peace on the other side. And the means to getting our ticket punched to get to the other side is the crucified Jesus.

Now, it is true, that there are difficult times in life. There are moments when I struggle with the pain and injustice in the world and the only thing I can hold on to is knowing that this life is not the end, that God’s work will be complete in the fulfillment of time.

But we are not crucifixion people, we are resurrection people!

The story of our faith did not end at the darkness of the cross, but in the beauty of the empty garden tomb.

This beauty runs cover to cover in the Bible. From the creation of Genesis 1 to the restoration of a new heaven and a new earth in the book of Revelation.IMG_5213

But this creation didn’t just happen. Listen to the verbs in the story of creation.

God made the earth and the heavens
God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being.
God planted a garden in Eden, in the east; and there he put the man whom he had formed.
Out of the ground the LORD God made to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food

In just these few sentences, God made, formed, breathed, planted, and put. I imagine God shaping like a sculptor with clay, God bringing life through dust and breath, and the result of God’s work is all around us. From the vast oceans to the soaring mountains to the Mike Dyle garden, all of creation testifies to the majesty of God.

But God doesn’t simply create all that is and say that’s it. God turns to the man he has created and puts him in the garden to till it and to keep it.

The Hebrew word for keep it is shamar and to keep it means to protect it, care for it, and nurture it.

The first job that God gave man was to protect and care for the garden.

This is also the first statement of action in our social creed.

Last week John preached on the opening statement in which we affirm our belief in Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. But the first word of what that belief leads us to do are these:

We affirm the natural world as God’s handiwork and dedicate ourselves to its preservation, enhancement, and faithful use by humankind.

So if the first job God gave to man was to keep the garden and the first real statement of action of our social creed is to preserve, enhance, and faithfully use the gifts that God has given us, how are we doing?

Not very well.

This last week we witnessed one of the largest hurricanes ever, on the heels of another hurricane and with another one behind it. Ocean temperatures are rising and the effects are death and destruction and devastation.

In the last 500 years, approximately 1,000 species of animals have gone extinct, largely due to the results of pollution and habitation destruction.

But the effects of not caring for the environment not only impact plants and animals, it impacts us. Usually, it is vulnerable people who take the hit of environmental destruction the hardest. We live in a community surrounded by interstates and factories and the rate of respiratory disease on the South Side of Columbus is 73 percent higher than the rest of Franklin County. Not all of that is due to outside sources, we also have three times as many people who smoke in our community. Our lack of care for the environment not only pollutes rivers and forests, it pollutes us.

What do we do? We may not have the resources to change the global climate, but we can garden, we can recycle, we can form and breathe and plant just like God did. We can work to restore creation in our community.

We are doing it by growing thousands of pounds of produce in the South Side Settlement Garden.

We are doing it like Bikes for All People who cleaned up the area behind our building that was a trash heap and made it a place where flowers are growing and people gather.

This year we have been a part of opening two urban forests, one on Carpenter and one on Reeb, taking abandoned corners that were once places of unwanted activities and making them places of life and health.

img_1363

We work to restore paradise when we plant and grow and clean and responsibly use all that God has given us.

Caring for all that God has given us is not limited to yardwork and recycling. The second chapter of Genesis not only talks about God shaping and forming nature, but man and woman.

God looks at all that has been made, calls it good, and yet says “It is not good that the man should be alone”

So God forms the animals. He takes dust and shapes horses and aardvarks and cranes and all the animals that are. And yet, none are a suitable companion for Adam. He is still alone.

So God puts Adam under some anesthesia, busts out one of his ribs, and makes Eve.

Adam wakes up and speaks these beautiful words, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh.”

Adam is not alone.

We are not alone.

We are united in the fact that we are all created in God’s image. There is dignity in saying that every person has divine value and sacred worth. And as we share this common heritage, we are the bone of each other’s bone, the flesh of each other’s flesh.

Just as God create Eve to be Adams partner and companion, we too are created for one another.

The next statement in the social creed states “We joyfully receive for ourselves and others the blessings of community, sexuality, marriage, and the family.”

Similar to the statement on caring for creation, if we hold up this statement with one hand and the newspaper with the other, how are we doing in living in community and relationship and family with one another.

Overall, not very well.

Our nation is divided along lines of politics and race and class.

Half of all marriages end in divorce.

And then a few years ago we woke up one day and read in the paper that in the zip code of this church that African American babies are dying at three times the national average.

Infant mortality is not a problem in itself, it is a sign and a symptom of the state of the community.  It is like taking the temperature of our overall health.

It is a symptom of a culture where babies are born to parents too young and too closely spaced together.

It is a symptom of the stress that comes with living in poverty.

It is a symptom of a scarcity mindset where we hold on to what we have in fear that it wont be enough. We are the wealthiest country in the world, we throw away 40 percent of the food we grow, and yet more than 20 percent of children in Ohio go hungry.

In contrast, we can look at our First Birthday program and be proud. In the last three years we have worked with over 500 families and only one baby has died. We are restoring paradise so every child can achieve its First Birthday, be ready for its first day of kindergarten, and go on to have the kind of life Jesus spoke of for all of us, that we would have life and have it abundantly.FB_Aug17-26

But it is not enough to say, isn’t it great that I am part of a church that has a First Birthday program. We are all called to work toward living in healthy relationships with one another.

If you think about what we do here, building an inclusive and diverse community where every person has value and has a voice, this is really a counter-cultural place.

We are able to create this sacred space because we have taken on three simple rules to live by: do good, do no harm, stay in love with God. We have posted these rules on our walls and we have said this is the code that shapes us.

We will do good: we will respect each other and love each other and pray for each other.

We will do no harm: we won’t curse or gossip or hurt one another.

We will stay in love with God: we will dedicate our lives to prayer and worship and scripture.

3Rules2V2-1

This is not a just a code we live by so we can have a functional place while people wait to shop in the Free Store. When we live like this, we create the peaceable kingdom. We restore paradise when we love our neighbor as ourselves and pray for our enemies and work to empower every person to be all who God created them to be.

The invitation God has given us is to be the keepers and the caretakers of all of creation. We are to care for the environment and to care for one another and when we do so we are the change that we pray for, we create the kind of world God made for us to live in, and we restore paradise.

Amen.

Sermon: Friends Build Up

Posted: September 3, 2017 in Uncategorized

Preached at Jerome UMC on September 3, 2017

Are you ready for some football?

If you are a football fan, this is the most wonderful time of the year.

The Ohio State University began its season on Thursday night, beating the Indiana Hoosiers. Optimism runs high in Buckeye Nation as the Buckeyes are ranked #2 in the country.

And this week, America’s favorite past time, the National Football League, begins its season.

Right now, every fan is excited. Every fan feels as if their team will be better this year than they were the year before. Even Cleveland Browns fans are optimistic after their team won more games in the pre-season than all of last year.

But the thing about fans is that we are fickle.

I say that myself as a fan of the Green Bay Packers. I grew up as a fan of the Packers long before the days of Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers. The Packers were not very popular in the 70s and 80s. In fact, in my high school yearbook, a half hour south of Lambeau Field, the most popular football team was the Oakland Raiders. The Packers were not even popular in their own backyard.

Today, the Packers are one of America’s most popular teams. As many as one-in-four Americans root for the Packers on a Sunday afternoon.

What is the difference?

The Packers still wear the same colors, play in the same stadium, and hail from the same small town in Northeastern Wisconsin.

The difference is that they have been winning for the last 25 years, after losing for the previous 20 years.

Winning sells, as long as you don’t win too much.

If you get too popular, people turn their backs.

Fans love an underdog, until the underdog gets too big.

It happens in sports with teams like the New England Patriots. It happens in music with bands like Nickleback. It happens in coffee with places like Starbucks.

Us fans are fickle people.

Fans are as quick to tear someone down as they are to build someone up.

But as Christians we are called to be more than fans, we are called to be followers.

A few years ago a book came out called “Not a Fan”. This book makes the argument that as followers of Jesus we are called to be more than fans who admire and cheer from the sideline, but we care called to be followers.

The book makes the argument that when Jesus spoke in front of large crowds he tended to say things that were not simple or easy or popular, but called people to live in ways that were sometimes difficult and counter-cultural.

Jesus didn’t look for people to be cheering fans, but to be committed disciples.

One of the best examples of a person who made that kind of commitment was the Apostle Paul. Perhaps more than any other person, Paul shaped how we understand Jesus and what things like resurrection and righteousness and grace mean. After all, Paul wrote or inspired almost half the books of the New Testament.

To say that Paul made a lasting impact on Christianity would be an understatement.

And yet, perhaps none of that would’ve happened if not for a man named Barnabas.

Saul was the original persecutor of the church. He was there when the first Christian martyr, Stephen, was killed. He is on his way to Damascus with orders to round up and arrest Jesus-professing Jews.

And then, on his way, he is knocked off his horse. The very voice of the Risen Christ calls out, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?”

Saul is blinded by a great light and has a miraculous conversion. The most ardent persecutor becomes the most zealous follower.

Instead of going after the Jesus-followers in Damascus, he becomes one of them. Under the hands of Ananias, Paul is filled with the Holy Spirit, his eyes are opened, he is baptized, and begins teaching in the temple himself.

He does all of this so effectively, that now he is the one on the end of negative attention. Threats are being made against his life. So Paul leaves Damascus and heads to epicenter of Jerusalem.

I imagine that on the road to Jerusalem Paul would’ve been filled with excitement. Think of the stories that he could share with Peter and James and the rest of the disciples.

I heard the voice of Christ call me, I felt the Holy Spirit fill me, I’ve been proclaiming the Good News!

And yet, when he gets there, he is not met with excitement, but with fear.

His reputation has preceded him.

The scripture says that he tried to join the apostles, but because of their fear of him he was unable to do that.

Until Barnabas stands up.

Barnabas, the son of encouragement, stands up and says I was there, what he is saying is true, God is at work here.

Barnabas puts himself and his reputation on the line, he stands against the fear of the crowd, and he says you can trust him. You can trust Paul.

Because Barnabas does this, the rest is history. Even here this scripture says that because of Barnabas’ testimony, which enable Paul’s ministry, the church grew in numbers and found peace.

This shows the difference between a fan and a follower, the difference between a fan and a friend.

A fan is someone who cheers from the sidelines at best, and who tears down at worst. A friend is someone who builds up.

A friend stands up for you, even when it is difficult or unpopular.
A friend builds up.

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This is what we seek to do in ministry. We build relationships of friendship with one another and we build each other up.

This is how you at Jerome United Methodist Church have had such an influence on our community of the United Methodist Church for All People on the South Side of Columbus.

Every Friday you feed home-cooked soup to more than 100 low-income, hungry people.

Every quarter you help us celebrate First Birthday parties and equip families with diapers.

Every Thanksgiving you feed hundreds of people a Thanksgiving feast.

But these things that you do are not simply a matter of things. It isn’t only about feeding hungry people or giving families diapers. It is about the relationships that are formed around that. When one person sits down and eats a bowl of soup with someone else, their relationship changes. Putting your knees under the same table with someone else changes things.

Once those relationships form and strangers become friends, people themselves move from tearing each other down to building one another up.

The work your church does changes the relationships between individuals, within our church, and among our entire community.

But the people who are built up the most are not the people on the receiving end, but the ones who serve.

I know this is true, because this is my experience.

I serve at the Church for All People both as a church and community worker missionary with Global Ministries. I am the director of our Healthy Eating and Living initiative, through which we are seeking to provide the gift of abundant health to our community through health coaching, our fresh market, exercise and cooking classes, and health education.

In addition to being an urban missionary, I am also an ordained elder in the United Methodist Church. I am a member of the New Mexico Annual Conference and prior to moving here I served as an associate pastor of a large church in Albuquerque.

Part of the work I did in Albuquerque was in relationship with the homeless community. The church I was at already had a number of programs providing bus passes and sack lunches and even housing to homeless families. Together we grew those programs, including the creation of an outdoor worship service called “Community of Hope”.

Every week an average of 100 people would come to share a meal, build community, and worship together. It was a remarkable thing to be a part of. Almost every week I would hear the stories of addicts who found sobriety, unemployed people who found jobs, and homeless people who found shelter.

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But the person who was built up the most in that ministry was me. I was the one changed. My faith was challenged by the depth of people who had nothing and truly relied on God. My compassion was challenged by the way people cared for me. My ministry was challenged by people who really gave all that they had. It was among the people on the streets that I saw the example of people who were not fans, but were truly followers of Jesus.

From that experience I felt a second calling to ministry. I became a missionary and dedicated my life to ministry with the poor.

It was the encouragement and friendship and faithfulness of people experiencing homelessness that has brought me to where I am today.

This experience is the story we have heard over and over again this week in the news as neighbors have helped neighbors in Houston.

One of those stories is of a rapper who goes by the name Trae Tha Truth.

Trae has spent this last week using his own boat rescuing people and calling on other people he knows to do the same. When a reporter asked Trae why he was doing this he responded “I felt helpless yesterday when I had to be rescued, so I know that feeling.”

Because Trae had experienced helplessness himself, he helped others. Because someone literally lifted him up, he lifted others.

The same is true of us.

How many of you are here at church, how many of you are a follower of Jesus because someone invited you, encouraged you, prayed for you? Who lifted you up? Who encouraged you?

We all have someone who has helped us and we all need to be that person for someone else.

Like Trae, we know how it felt to be down and lifted up and so we want to share that gift with someone else.

As we go in to this week I don’t want you to only go with the excitement and optimism of a new football season, but to open your eyes and see who you can encourage. Look for opportunities to share a good word with someone who is down, to offer hope to a person who is struggling, to build up a friend.

This is the gift we have found in Jesus Christ. While we may not have heard the audible voice of Christ or seen a flash of light like the Apostle Paul, we have all found forgiveness and inclusion and healing and comfort in Christ. Let us go and share those gifts with one another so that we can build up each other and in doing so we will build the kingdom of God.

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In Response to Charlottesville

Posted: August 18, 2017 in Uncategorized

I preached this last Sunday at the Church for All People.

As often seems to happen lately, I had to make some Saturday night edits to my sermon after the events in Charlottesville, Virginia. My sermon changed from a message of sharing the gifts of grace we have found with others for their own betterment, to sharing with others for the restoration of communities and our nation.

However, before I could preach, this violence of Charlottesville came up in the sharing of prayer concerns.

People prayed for peace in the midst of violence, unity in the midst of racial division, and one gentleman even asked for prayers for the driver of the car who smashed in to the crowd and killed Heather Heyer.

I was touched by these prayers and by the Spirit of a predominantly African American community offering hope towards those who spoke and acted in hatred.

As I have reflected on this, this orientation toward non-violence is not new. In preparation for the civil rights movement, King and Harding and John Lewis and others studied Jesus, Gandhi, and Thoreau. This orientation toward non-violence came from a religious experience of singing and professing love in the face of oppression, not allowing the dominant culture to dictate one’s behavior.

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Clergy marching in silent protest through Charlottesville, Virginia

 

This theology of hope is something I experience every day at the Church for All People.

Today I stood in front of people waiting to shop in the Free Store and asked how people are doing. Every word I heard was along the lines of “blessed,” “good,” and “great.” When I asked people how they were blessed they spoke of the gift of life, family and friends, and God’s Spirit living within them. People living in poverty refused to be defined by scarcity and looked at their lives and called themselves blessed.

This is not just a communal response, but is also lived individually. Last year a man named Robert was beaten up so badly that he was in the hospital with serious injuries. On multiple occasions I have heard him pray for those who attacked him and every day he says “I love you all and there is nothing you can do about it.”

We cannot choose the things that happen to us in life, but we can choose how we will respond to them.

Every day I get to be with people who choose hope over despair, forgiveness over vengeance, abundance over scarcity, and love over hatred. And because of that, I am the one who is blessed.

 

How will they know?

Posted: August 13, 2017 in Uncategorized

Romans 10:10-17

In the year 490 BC the Persian military landed on the shores of Greece.

Today the area that was Persia is now modern Iran. At that time, the Persian Empire was feared, mighty, and powerful. When they landed, they outnumbered the Greeks 4:1.

Had the Persians been successful, world history would’ve been very different. The East would have conquered the West. Greek and Roman and European culture would not have happened in the way we know it.

But that is not what happened. The badly outnumbered Greeks launched a surprise attack, won the battle, and pushed the Persians to the sea.

While this was an incredible victory, news traveled slowly in the ancient world. The rest of Greece lived in fear of the Persians, in fact, at the same time that the Greek military was defeating the Persians, the political leaders of Athens were contemplating surrender.

That is, until after the battle a man named Pheidippides was sent to run 26 miles from the battlefront to Athens. Pheidippides ran to the Acropolis, burst into the chambers and proclaimed “Nike! Nike! Nenikekamen!”: Victory! Victory! Rejoice, we conquer!

After delivering this message, Pheidippides collapsed from exhaustion and died.

But with this singular proclamation, the Greeks gained confidence, united together, and the Persians retreated.

The battle in which the outnumbered Greeks upset the more powerful Persians happened at a place called the Plains of Marathon. And today, millions of us, who have something wrong with us, continue to run marathons in the spirit of Pheidippides.

Runners are an odd lot. There is very little physical benefit to running marathons. Sure, we burn a lot of calories, but the human body only needs 60 minutes of exercise a day. Something is wrong with people like Jonathan and I who run four or five or more hours at one time. Back in April I ran a 12 hour race and Jonathan is in the middle of running a marathon in every state.

Not only is there probably something wrong with people like Jonathan and I mentally, but as runners we have ugly feet. When you run as far as we do, we get blisters, calluses, black toenails that fall off. It is not pretty.

feetSo when the apostle Paul wrote to the Romans: “how beautiful are the feet of those who preach the gospel” he had not seen the feet of runners. They are not beautiful.

I would imagine that it isn’t only runners who don’t feel fond about their feet. If I was to tell you all to take off your shoes and socks and we are going to have a foot washing, how many of you would be uncomfortable? If I told you you were going to wash each other’s feet, how many of you would be uncomfortable?

And yet, Jesus washed the disciples feet on the same night he gave us communion. Every month we come to this table and we receive the grape and the grain and we look forward to receiving this spiritual meal.

But foot washing? That is uncomfortable. And yet Jesus instructed us to do it. In the gospel of John it says, “And if your Lord and teacher has washed your feet, you should do the same for each other. I have set the example, and you should do for each other exactly what I have done for you.”

There is probably no other direct instruction given in the gospels so clearly that we do so seldom.

Although many of us are uncomfortable with our feet, and probably even more uncomfortable with the prospect of washing someone else’s feet, our feet are really a remarkable part of creation. Our feet carry the entire weight of our bodies, they put up with all kinds of abuse, and they are resilient.

Our feet carry us everywhere we go, and everywhere we go we are messengers. Like Pheidippides proclaiming victory, we proclaim our own news.

For thousands of years the primary way that news travelled was through messengers like Pheidippides. For the last couple hundred years news came through print and newspapers. In the last hundred years news came through radio and television. But today, delivering the news is not limited to long distance runners or journalists. Today, we are all reporters.

We publish our lives on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter and Instagram. We proclaim to our friends and our neighbors the things that are important to us.

If the Pittsburgh Steelers win a game on Sunday, you know that Paul is going to talk about it all week.

Many of you went on a trip to the Holy Land in February, and you haven’t stopped talking about it yet.

When something good happens in our lives, we tell people. We can barely eat a good meal without posting a picture of it for all to see.

This is the story of how we have grown as Community Development for All People. We opened a free store thinking a few would show up. But what happened? People told their friends there is this place where everything is free and you have to come and see it for yourself. And what we thought was going to be a few people turned in to more than 20,000 people a year.

This is the story of the Fresh Market. So far this year we have fed almost 16,000 people through our market, and we will feed even more when we move across the street to the old liquor store. And how much do you think we spend in advertising? Nothing.

You don’t have to advertise when food is involved.

A couple of weeks ago Epworth United Methodist Church hosted a barbecue in the parking lot on a Friday afternoon. We only put the word out a few days beforehand and hundreds showed up.  Why? Because people share the news of food.

The church has been described as a place where one beggar tells another beggar where to find bread.

And the bread we have found is something much greater than Sunday breakfast or Soup for the Soul or the Fresh Market. The bread that we have found is the Bread of Life. It is a bread that has fed our souls and brought us liberation from addiction, comfort in our mourning, strength in our weakness, a love for God and for one another that we thought we could never have.

But this bread is not only meant for us. It is not a bread for us to get full on so we can sit back and take a nap with a full belly, it is a bread for us to break and to share with one another.

Paul writes to the Romans that all who call upon the name of the Lord will be saved. That is a message that a Church for all People can get behind, right? Who will be saved? All. Black people and white people, rich people and poor people, republicans and democrats, all of the diversity we see in this room.

While this is a message we associate with, Paul doesn’t stop by saying all will be saved, but he goes on to ask, how can people call on the name of the Lord if they haven’t heard, and how can they hear unless someone tells them, and how will someone tell them unless they have been sent?

Paul’s point here is an obvious one. How can you know about something if no one is sent, tells you, and you hear it.

As obvious as this is, we have all experienced it. How many times has someone said to you, you missed the show last night, why weren’t you at the game, did you hear what Lamar did at coffee house? And you respond by saying, I didn’t know because you didn’t tell me.

In order for people to know they have to hear, in order to hear they have to be told, and in order to be told someone has to be sent.

When it comes to the church, who is the one who is sent?

We might think it is the job of the pastors, the staff, the worship leaders. After all, that is what we pay them for right?

If you say that, you aren’t wrong. In fact, the pastoral staff is working to make sure we do a better job of connecting with people in our community.

But how many of you are baptized? Raise your hand if you have been baptized.

If you are baptized, you are sent in to ministry.

When we take our baptismal vows we says we will support the church with our prayers, presence, gifts, service, and witness. Our service and our witness mean that we are all sent to go and share the good news of Jesus Christ with all people.

We are all sent.

We are not sent simply for the sake of the church. We are not sent because it would make us feel better to have more people here on a Sunday morning. We are not sent so we can have more people to do stuff or more money put in the offering plate.

We are sent because we want others to experience the gifts of God’s love and grace that we have received. We want others to experience the love and forgiveness and redemption and transformation we have found in Jesus Christ.

Pheidippides proclaimed victory. We too proclaim the victory of Jesus Christ who conquered sin and death, and we proclaim the victory God has made in our lives.

The Church for All People is a remarkable place. It is remarkable because despite all of our diversity, we are united as one Body of Christ when we say “God loves us just the way we are and God is not finished with us yet.”

We know God is not finished with us yet because we can see how God has changed us since we came here. In the 2 1/2 years I have been here I have been challenged by your faith, awed by a divine economy of God’s abundance, and enriched by this community. In this short amount of time, I have been transformed and I know that many of you have much more powerful testimonies than me.

How has your life changed from the time you first walked through those doors to where you are today? How are you different because of the ways you have experienced God’s love in this place?

If you can look back and see how you have been changed, think of someone you know and care about who you want to experience the same thing. Who do you want to be able to receive the gift of being a part of this beloved community?

This weekend we have been reminded that transformation is not only an individual thing. We look at the events in Charlottesville, Virginia and are reminded how deep the sins of racism and anger and violence run in our country. The only hope we have is in God. It is us living as inclusive body of Christ that shows the world what it means that every person is created in God’s image. 

Those are the gifts that change people’s lives, those are the gifts that are at work transforming our community, those are the gifts that are bringing about God’s kingdom on earth, as it is in heaven.

But how will they know that this is the place where lives and communities are transformed unless they hear it? How will they hear it unless it is spoken? How will it be spoken if no one is sent?

You are the ones who have been sent. Like Pheidippides of old, you have been given life-changing news to proclaim.

So go and tell others of the gifts of grace you have found here.

Go and tell others that this is a place where all who call upon the name of the Lord experience salvation.

Go and tell others your story about how God’s love has changed your life.

Go and tell others so they too can live in to the full and abundant life God created for them.

Go and tell others, for if you don’t tell them, how will they know?