Church is the only enterprise that deals in eternity. So, why is it that most church conferences are about what we can do tomorrow?
A pastor friend of mine dropped by yesterday to talk about communion. He increased the observance of communion at his church from 4-times a year to 6-times a year. At our church, we have communion on the first Sunday of each month — 12-times a year — plus on special occasions like Maundy Thursday and Christmas Eve.
So, the question is — In non-liturgical churches, how often should a church have communion? What does your church do and why? Do your members believe that having communion more often makes it special, or do they think that having communion less often makes it special? Or is that the wrong question? Let me know what you think, because I’m sure other churches struggle with this also.
Yesterday I posted Ten Marks of the Church-as-Abbey. One of the characteristics, economics, plays an important role because the ancient celtic Christian abbeys were self-supporting while providing economic transformation to the community. Today, tall skinny kiwi posts about the fourth sector — groups that want to change the world while making their own way financially. The term “fourth sector” distinguishes itself from the other three sectors, which are:
- Public sector — usually means government.
- Private sector — usually means businesses.
- Voluntary sector — usually means non-profits who depend on volunteers for funding and, well, volunteering.
Here’s what Andrew is doing, in his own words:
I just wrote an article about Co-operatives and social enterprises for a missions publication. I made reference to our new venture – The Old Sorting Room – which we will launch in a few months and which can only be described as our monastic-inspired cooperative-run social-enterprise micro-business fourth-sector for-benefit organisation.
Of course, being from New Zealand, he spells organization funny, but that’s not my point. My point is that around the globe, churches and individuals are doing parts of the church-as-abbey, without necessarily calling it that. And, I like Andrew’s description —
- “monastic-inspired” (Note: the abbeys were monasteries and nunneries, but of course you knew that.)
So, there you are. Another example of the abbey church function — economic self-sufficiency through work. More to come on the abbey phenomenon.
Models for how we should do church are not in short supply. Seeker-sensitive, purpose-driven, emerging, missional, traditional, liturgical, ancient-future, and the like all have their merits. I am really interested in the church-as-abbey concept myself. I have read extensively about the early Celtic Christian church and find it intriguing and encouraging. In that research I identified 10 characteristics of the church-as-abbey, as I call it, or abbey church, for short. Here are the essential characteristics, or marks, of what I mean when I use the church-as-abbey model:
- Worship. The church-as-abbey has at its heart the practice of worship. But worship that is public, powerful, and brings one into the presence of God through some type of intentional liturgy, whether formal or not. But not every parishioner of the abbey will attend every service. The idea is not to get everyone to one service, but to provide opportunities for worship that abbey adherents can participate in regularly, if not weekly.
- Arts. The church-as-abbey celebrates creativity as a gift from a creative God. The arts reflect our connection to creation and God’s creative power. The arts are expression, statement, witness, and beauty for a world that needs all of those things.
- Hospitality. The Celtic abbey was open to all who needed its hospitality and help. Monks, even those fasting, would interrupt their discipline to greet and welcome those who came into the abbey’s confines. Welcoming the stranger is a vital part of the abbey’s ministry.
- Economics. The abbeys were self-supporting, engaged in cultivating fields, raising livestock, operating public markets, and giving employment opportunities to the community. I read about a church the other day that also operates a farmers’ market, and has been doing so for years. I am exploring the agrarian movement, particularly as it attracts followers of Christ. More on that later.
- Learning and scholarship. The Celtic monasteries became the centers of learning, preservation of sacred and literary manuscripts, and schools of instruction. The amazing Book of Kells is the prime example. See How the Irish Saved Civilization for other examples.
- Catechesis and spiritual direction. For new converts, the abbey provided initial instruction. For more mature converts, the abbott or abbess provided spiritual direction and aided in spiritual formation.
- Rule of life in community. The Rule of St. Benedict is the most famous of these “rules of life” but there were many others that defined the monastic community’s social and spiritual interaction.
- Ministry to the marginalized. The poor, hungry, disenfranchised, sick, old, and disabled found help of various kinds within the abbey’s compound.
- Peace and justice. St. Patrick was the first person in recorded history to speak out against the Irish slave trade. Patrick’s appeals eventually resulted in the end of the Irish slave trade, of which Patrick himself had been a victim. Patrick also prevailed upon the Irish kings and warlords to live in peace with one another, as much as they were able. The abbey bears that same responsibility today.
- External missions. Celtic priests, including some of the well-known figures such as Columba, went on extended “missions” to areas removed from the abbey. In a reimagination of this practice, the missional church-as-abbey establishes external groups but groups with ties to the abbey church. This is the area with which I am struggling now, but I believe it is a core part of the abbey concept. These groups are not “missions” in the sense of international missions, but rather are groups that are “distant” from the abbey either in travel, culture, or status, but that have a connection to the abbey as “mother church.”
But, you say, “Where is evangelism, ministry, and education — those staples of the church as we know it today?” The 10 marks of the abbey church above contain evangelism, ministry, and education, but from a new perspective. George Hunter, in his intriguing book, The Celtic Way of Evangelism, says that in the Celtic Christian abbey “belonging” came before “believing.” Prospective converts were incorporated into the community before they became believers in Christ. Not a bad model for us today, which is one of the main reasons I like the abbey approach. What do you think?
I had today planned perfectly. When I arrived at the office, I planned to spend the day getting ready for an important meeting tonight about the community center. But the life of a small church pastor in a small town isn’t always amenable to planning. So, instead of spending the day at my desk, I spent it talking and listening to folks like these:
- Sterling and Tommy, our volunteer church handypersons, were working in the sanctuary attic when Tommy found an old wooden pulley used to lower our massive copper and brass light fixture from it’s 30-foot height, down to the floor for cleaning. They had just installed a new winch and chain, supported by new pieces of steel, when they discovered the old wooden pulley. After some conversation, the pulley went in our memorabilia room, joining photographs, artifacts, and old books from our history.
- Betty, our new deacon chairperson, dropped by to go over the deacons’ meeting agenda for next Monday. Betty has hit the ground running and has lots of good ideas, one of which was a prayer room. I told her I liked that idea, and so we’re going to discuss it next week with our deacons.
- Jean called to give me an update on her father, Pete, who was taken to the hospital early Sunday morning by our local rescue squad. I rushed over to their house before the ambulance arrived, and talked to Pete and Jeannete. We prayed together before the EMTs took Pete to the hospital. Thankfully, he’s improving, though still in ICU. Debbie and I will drive 2-hours one-way tomorrow to see them both.
- A couple from Kansas came by to ask if I would marry them in our sanctuary on Wednesday. Lori found the man’s church membership record with the date of his baptism in1956. So, on Wednesday I’ll marry Hugh and Barbara in the sanctuary where Hugh was baptized 51-years ago.
- I went home about 3:30 to have coffee with Debbie, when Bill called from the local funeral home just across the street from our house. Friends of one of our members were there to make arrangements for her since hospice has been called in to care for her. Barbara is from Chatham, but moved away 50-years ago. She wants her life to end the way it began, here in Chatham. I walked over to meet them, and we planned part of her funeral service today.
- Tonight’s meeting about the community center went well, even though I wasn’t as prepared as I wanted to be. We’ll move in the center in May, so we have lots to do in the next 4-months.
That was my day. Not planned, but just fine nevertheless. Real people living real lives in a small town called Chatham. And all their lives brim over with faith and family and friends. I like what I do.
Last year, after talking about how our church partnered with various groups in our community, someone remarked, “That’s fine for your church, but nobody in our community would work together.” In the interest of challenging that statement, here are 21 groups that I think your church (or any church) might partner with on community transformation:
- Schools — including the PTA, PTO, and other school organizations.
- Civic clubs — our Rotary Club gives away over $12,000 per year to local organizations.
- Local charitable organizations — shared agendas create new partnerships. Join with others to feed the hungry or shelter the homeless. Our church does both working with other groups.
- Local corporations and businesses — our Boys and Girls Club is supported in part by local business contributions. We get donations from other companies for other projects, too.
- Other churches — I know this is a stretch, but yes, churches can work together, too. Our community center began as an informal coalition of local churches.
- Law Enforcement agencies — the local sheriff’s department worked with our Boys and Girls Club on a baseball project last summer.
- Local fire department — our local fire department was a co-sponsor for the Boys and Girls Christmas Party this year. They bought toys for each of the 86 kids who attended.
- Hospitals — many hospitals provide programs for clergy. Why not a community project that involves healthcare, such as blood pressure screenings, etc?
- Transportation companies — some churches provide a “free ride day” with the cooperation of their local transit provider.
- Hobby clubs — local hobbyists could provide instruction or donate products they made for specific projects. One of our members organizes a blanket project, with all the blankets made by others. Blankets go to children involved in calls made by the Sheriff’s department.
- Hunting and fishing clubs — In rural areas, local hunters and fishermen provide game or fish for a community wild game dinner or fish fry.
- Professional partners — doctors, lawyers, and other professionals could partner with churches to provide legal advice for seniors, or health programs for the community.
- Banks and financial institutions — Banks often look for ways to do good in their communities, and you can tap that civic spirit in the form of sponsorships or volunteers.
- 12-step programs — Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, and other 12-step type programs depend on church facilities for meeting space. But, there could also be other tie-ins with these groups.
- Local politicians — we invited local county supervisors to our community center groundbreaking and some came! During an election year especially, local politicians can lend their names to worthwhile projects. Maybe some money, too.
- Other religious groups — the church we attended in Nashville years ago partnered with other churches, synagogues, and mosques to create an interfaith dialogue group that met for dinner once a year.
- Colleges and universities — our community music school is a collaboration with Virginia Tech’s Outreach Department. Universities often need to do community outreach as part of their mission in their state.
- Community Development Corporations — these are groups whose mission and projects aim at community transformation. A lot of variety exists in CDC programs, from low-income housing, to rehabbing old buildings, to targeting specific civic problems.
- Social service organizations — our church hosts the annual Social Services Volunteer Luncheon each year, sponsored by our local county Social Services Department. We call them to check out folks who request help, and they call us when they have a need with which they need assistance.
- Scouts — often Scouts need projects to earn merit badges and churches need things done. Check with your local scout leaders.
- Professional sports teams — our local minor league baseball team sponsors church night and gives church groups discounts. But, this partnership could be expanded to provide visits to children in the local hospital, or to your church after-school program.
This is the sermon I’m preaching tomorrow, January 27, 2008. The lectionary reading comes from Matthew 4:12-23, where Jesus calls Peter, Andrew, James and John, to follow him and he will make them “fishers of men.” Have a great day tomorrow!
the way to the sea, along the Jordan,
Galilee of the Gentiles—
16the people living in darkness
have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of the shadow of death
a light has dawned.”[a]
23Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people.
Our Theme for 2008
Today we’re on the third part of our three-part theme for 2008 —
- Tell the story.
- Invite others.
- Bless the world.
We took the first two Sundays in this month to say we need to “tell the story.” And, here’s what we said about “telling the story:”
- The story we tell is the story of God.
- The story we tell is found in the Bible.
- The story we tell is accepted by some and rejected by others.
- The story we tell is our story, too.
Last week we talked about inviting others. Remember the key point last week? Let me remind you —
- Andrew invited Peter after Andrew himself had met Jesus and spent the day with him.
So, here we are at the final third of our three-part theme — bless the world.
Jesus Tells the Story
Matthew tells us the story of how Jesus begins his ministry. Matthew’s perspective is a little different from Luke and from John, and includes more detail than Mark. That’s to be expected because if any four of us were asked to tell the story of a person we all knew, we would each have different memories and stories to tell.
Matthew begins by reminding us again that Jesus fulfills the prophecy of the Old Testament. This was important for Matthew’s readers, and Matthew is establishing the legitimacy of Jesus to do what he does next. And what is that?
Jesus begins to preach, or better to “tell out,” God’s story. When we hear the word “preach” now we almost always conjure up something slightly unpleasant. Like the experience you’re having now for instance. But, back to my point. We think of someone in a pulpit talking to us in a one-way monologue that we hope ends before noon, or the Methodists get to Pino’s. (A restaurant here in our town) Or, even worse, we think of someone who is fussing at us, or correcting us, or speaking down to us. Years ago, Madonna recorded, Papa Don’t Preach, to express that exact sentiment. We don’t usually like for someone to “preach at us.” I am aware of that, by the way, and appreciate your showing up here most Sundays.
But, back to my point, again. Jesus begins to proclaim, to tell out, to make sure those he encounters hear what he has to say. And, what does he preach about? The kingdom of God.
Mark makes this very clear very early in his account when he says,
Jesus does what we have chosen to do this year, tell the story. But, here is how Jesus does it: Jesus tells a story his hearers aren’t ready for. Jesus tells a story too good to be true. Jesus tells a story that few believe, even though they hope it is true. Jesus tells God’s story about God’s creation.
“But, wait,” I can hear you thinking, “didn’t you just tell us that Jesus came proclaiming the kingdom of God? Now you’re saying Jesus was preaching about creation. Which is it?”
Well, it’s both because creation is tied up in the kingdom of God. The kingdom of God is, broadly speaking, God’s will for God’s creation. That’s why Jesus teaches the disciples, and us, to pray,
Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.
The coming of the Kingdom and the doing of God’s will in His creation (on earth) are virtually one and the same. That explains why Jesus preaches, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.” The accomplishment of God’s will in God’s creation is quickly coming about.
Jesus Invites Others
Which brings us to what Jesus does next — he invites others. Matthew records the account a little differently than Luke’s Gospel, which we read last week. But, again, Matthew remembers different details than Luke does, so we don’t need to worry about that. The point is that Jesus sees Andrew and Peter casting their fishing nets and says to them,
“Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will make you fishers of men.”
Jesus also invites James and John, sons of Zebedee to come and follow him also. Are you beginning to see where I got our theme for 2008? Jesus tells the story, Jesus invites others, guess what’s next? Jesus blesses the world by
healing every disease and sickness among the people.”
But, I’m getting ahead of myself, again. Let’s back up and look at Jesus’ invitation. “Come, follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” What does that mean?
Of course, it’s obvious that Peter and Andrew were fishers of fish. They were casting fishing nets into the Sea of Galilee when Jesus sees them and calls them. They were fishermen who made their living in the world of fishing. They fed their families from their fishing. They bought new nets and boats, and possibly clothes, with the proceeds from their fishing. The houses they lived in, the sandals they wore, the offerings they gave in synagogue or at the Temple all were the result of their fishing for fish.
So, it is not small thing that Peter and Andrew leave their livelihood to follow Jesus, who promises to make them “fishers of men.” James and John also leave their father in the boat while they are mending nets to follow Jesus. If James and John were called the Sons of Thunder, do you think Zebedee was happy with their leaving him to repair nets and fish by himself? Maybe Zebedee was the Thunder that James and John were the sons of!
In any event, the inner circle of disciples — Peter, Andrew, James and John — two sets of brothers leave their livelihoods to follow Jesus to a new vocation — being fishers of men.
Fishers of men, not for men
When we read Jesus invitation, “Come and follow me, and I will make you fishers of men” we hear it probably like it was first explained to us. Instead of fishing for fish, Peter, Andrew, James, and John, are now going to fish for men. I’ve even preached entire sermons on this idea of fishing for men. Here are three points –
- When you fish for men, you have to go where they are.
- When you fish for men, you have to use the right bait.
- When you fish for men, you’ll land some, but some will get away.
Obviously, that is not an expository outline from this passage, but all of those ideas are inferred from the idea of being a fisherman. We take the fishing analogy and extend it to the gospel. Which makes really great preaching, but really bad Biblical exegesis and interpretation, because that is not what Jesus is saying.
In New Testament Greek, which was the common language of the civilized world at the time, there is a word for “for”, but Matthew doesn’t use it here. Matthew literally writes the words of Jesus this way –
I will make you fishers belonging to men.
Which does not mean fishers for men. So, what is Jesus saying? Something like this — “You’ve been concerned with the world of fish, now you’ll be concerned with the world of mankind.” In other words, the focus of Peter, Andrew, James and John will turn from the fishing industry, to God’s purpose for creation, mankind included.
Jesus Blesses the World
Do the words you say ever come back to haunt you? Maybe preachers have that happen to them more than most, because we talk more than most folks, publicly at least. I remember saying a long time ago in an energetic discussion with someone over healing, “Well, Jesus didn’t heal everybody!”
Matthew contradicts me in verse 23 — “Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people.” But wait, there’s more. Before you think, “Well, curing every disease and every sickness” is not curing “everybody” — which is a logical thing to think, Matthew goes on in verse 24 –
So his fame spread throughout all Syria, and they brought to him all the sick, those who were afflicted with various diseases and pains, demoniacs, epileptics, and paralytics, and he cured them.”
All the sick…and he cured them.
If you were deaf, don’t you think that Jesus would be good news to you ears? If you were blind, don’t you think Jesus would be good news to your eyes? If you were demon-possessed, don’t you think Jesus would be good news to you when he frees you from the chains of demonic slavery?
The word we translate as ‘gospel’ is euanggelion, literally, ‘good message’ or ‘good news.’ And the gospel has to be good news or it isn’t the gospel. It isn’t about the kingdom. It isn’t the message of Jesus. But, the good news is not what we think the good news is. That’s why we have to repent — turn around in our thinking and acting — which is what repentance means. Change our minds and our ways. Do a 180. A u-turn. An about-face.
Why? Because we often think good news would be we get to do what we want to do. We think good news would be if everyone saw the world like we do. Good news would be that I’m okay, you’re okay. But, that’s not the good news. That’s old news, and it’s neither good nor true.
Jesus came with some real good news — God’s creation is going to be what God intended all along. Thousands of years ago, it was not in the will of God, or the plan of God, that sickness would afflict humankind. So, when Jesus comes preaching good news, preaching the kingdom of God, he demonstrates that the kingdom is near by healing everyone he can. Why? Because the good news is “God keeps his promises” — Acts 13:32. Look it up, if you don’t believe me. What could be better news than that?
Because up until Jesus comes, everybody is doubting if God is even interested in them anymore. Where is God while the Roman army occupies Jerusalem? Where is God when God’s people are harassed, arrested, and killed for wanting their homeland back? Where is God when the Temple is used as a place of commerce and merchandise? Where is God when the High Priest is in the pocket of the emperor along with their own king, King Herod? Is God going to do anything? Is God going to keep His promises?
So, Matthew reminds the people that Jesus fulfills Old Testament prophecy. Then, Matthew tells the story of Jesus, who tells God’s story, then invites others into it, and then demonstrates the story by blessing the world — healing every sick person. God is keeping His promises, that’s the good news.
We bless the world, too
Last Monday, we hosted a community-wide event celebrating the life of Dr. Martin Luther King. As I greeted the group that was assembled here last Monday, I noted that, as far as I knew, this was the first time in this community that white congregations and African-American congregations had come together on Martin Luther King Day. Applause broke out when I said that, because we all realized that we had made history that day. One of the organizers of the event, Mr. Cedric Hairston, assistant principal at Dan River Middle School, and formerly at Chatham Middle School, spoke toward the close of the service.
Looking at me, and in front of the whole assembly, he said, “Your church is doing good things in this community, and people notice.” We are blessing our world by uniting our community. We are blessing our world by inviting white children and children of color into our building to study and learn, to play, and to have a safe place after school. We are blessing the world when we open our doors to little children who are learning to play music and sing. We are blessing our world when we invite teenagers into our old fellowship hall to sing, and read poetry, and talk to each other, and have an event where they get to express themselves. We are blessing the world when we support the Northern Pittsylvania Food Bank, and provide emergency relief to neighbors in our community who need food and gasoline. We are blessing the world when we literally set prisoners free from the wrong thinking that has put them behind bars, to find new life in Christ, and new skills for living, like Karen Hearn does. We are blessing the world when we visit the sick, comfort those who mourn, and care for those who need our loving care.
So, we are doing all these good things, but we must remember the first thing — We are blessing the world, and will continue to bless the world, because we have found our place in God’s story. We know God is making all things new. We tell it over and over again. And we do it by crossing the old barriers of race and class that belong to a world that does not know God. And we do it by giving away what we have, rather than hoarding it to ourselves. And we do it by thinking of others first, and ourselves last. And we do it by giving of our time and our possessions because we know that Jesus did that and more for us. This is the kingdom of God, we are God’s people, we are to be a blessing to all God’s world.