Monday, December 24, 2007

Emmanuel -- God is With Us

Isaiah 7:10-16; Matthew 1:18-25

The wait is over. If you’re not finished with your Christmas shopping, it’s too late. By the time we’re finished singing the last carol, the stores will all be closed. In fact, even Starbucks will be closed. And so it’s time to put aside the hustle and bustle of a season that starts earlier every year.

Now that the day is here and the children are eagerly eyeing the presents under the tree, hoping that their every wish will be fulfilled, it’s time to stop and consider the true meaning of Christmas. It’s the kind of question Charlie Brown was asking. He didn’t find it in the pageant or in hunting for Christmas trees. Finally in desperation he cried out, begging for someone to give him an answer that made sense. It is at this point that
Linus steps out and tells the story of the First Christmas from the perspective of St. Luke.
We have come here tonight because, like Charlie Brown, we need to hear that Christmas is more than food, aluminum trees, and bright lights.

1. OUR LONGING FOR GOD'S PRESENCE

Both of the Bible’s Christmas stories speak of light shining in the darkness. During our journey through Advent we may have felt this darkness pressing in on us, and yet we’ve also heard promises each week about this light that will disperse the darkness and bring hope of a new beginning to our lives.

Yesterday we sang "O Come, O Come Emmanuel," and in the second verse we sang:

"O Come, thou Day-Spring, come and cheer our spirits by thine advent here,
disperse the gloomy clouds of night, and deaths deep shadows put to flight."

The question is: Where will this light come from? Where should we be looking?
Isaiah and Matthew tell us to look for a child whose name will be called Emmanuel, which means "God With Us." This child, who is called Emmanuel, is the light that will "disperse the gloomy clouds of night, and deaths deep shadows put to flight."

Now Matthew and Isaiah seem to have different things in mind. One speaks of a child to be born in the 8th Century B.C.E. whose birth will bring hope to the people of Judah – perhaps an heir to the throne. Matthew takes this passage from Isaiah and speaks to his own day. In both cases, however, the writers address the eternal longing we have to be in the presence of God. In this little child, Matthew says to us, God is present, and by receiving this child into our lives we will experience oneness with God.

2. THE MYSTERY OF THE INCARNATION

Too often we get caught up in the how of this passage and miss the point. If we focus on the science of whether a virgin can have a child, then we have lost sight of the mystery that is God.

Theologians speak of the incarnation – the idea that God is so completely present in a human being that when we see this child we can say – there is God. When we see him, we can know God intimately. Now theologians have been arguing about how this happens for the past 2000 years, but ultimately it is something we must receive as a mystery of God.

One way of doing this is to see the incarnation in sacramental terms. Pope John Paul II described it this way. Jesus is the "Sacrament of the Invisible God -- a sacrament that indicates presence. God is with us. God, infinitely perfect, is not only with man, but he Himself became a man in Jesus Christ."1 The invitation of Christmas is to see in Jesus – from the beginning of his life to the end, the visible sacramental presence of the invisible God. When we look at his life and listen to his words, then God is revealed to us. And that is what Christmas is all about – the unveiling of the invisible God.

Matthew doesn't tell us anything about stables or shepherds. That’s in Luke. But what Matthew does is remind us about how scandalous this birth really was. Joseph was on the verge of putting his wife away, since they were not yet married and she was pregnant. This isn't the way you would expect God to be revealed. Even if God didn't choose to make a grand entrance, you would at least expect it come off without a scandal.

But that’s the point – for God to be revealed to us is a scandal – what some people call a scandal of particularity. It could have been different, but it has happened in this way. But whatever the case, when God is present, unsettling things happen. As William Willimon points out, "when God is with us, God is not with us in placid, nondisruptive ways. God's intrusions among us cause consternation and difficulty."2 And such is the case of this birth. It has caused great consternation.

3. THE NECESSITY OF THE INCARNATION

And why must this revelation of God happen? The answer of scripture is simple – we have lost our way and we need someone to lead us back to God. For whatever reason, it is our belief that God has chosen this way – through a child – to point us back in the right direction. I think songwriter and poet Michael Card, gets it right:

He is no longer the calm and benevolent observer in the sky, the kindly old caricature with the beard. His image becomes that of Jesus, who wept and laughed, who fasted and feasted, and who above all, was fully present to those he loved. He was there with them. He is here with us.3

This is the message of Christmas: Emmanuel is here and God is with us. And as Matthew writes in the conclusion of his gospel, even in his departure Jesus – Emmanuel – will always be with us. That is a worthy thought for a Christmas Eve – God will never leave us nor forsake us, even as we experience the difficulties of life. Yes, God has visited us and we’ll never be alone again.


1. John Paul II, Crossing the Threshold of Hope, (NY: Alfred A. Knopf, 1994), 7.
2. William Willimon, "Unto Us a Child," in Pulpit Resource, 26 (Oct., Nov., Dec. 1998): 47.
3. Michael Card, "Immanuel," in Calvin Miller, ed. The Book of Jesus, (NY: Simon and Schuster, 1996), 242.


Preached by:
Rev. Dr. Robert D. Cornwall
Pastor, First Christian Church
Lompoc, CA
Christmas Eve
December 24, 2007

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Vision of Restoration

Isaiah 11:1-11

If you wander through a grove of Redwoods, you’ll likely run across the stump of an ancient tree giving birth to a new generation of trees. That forest giant may have died, but new life is emerging from it. In much the same way Isaiah envisions a shoot emerging from the stump of Jesse. Jesse, of course, was David’s father. Isaiah is saying that David’s kingdom might be threatened with extinction, but despite the dire news of the day, things will get better. Not only will they get better, but a golden age of peace is on the horizon. The people’s hopes and dreams will be restored by God.

As Christians we see in Isaiah’s vision a promise of the Messiah, God’s anointed one who will restore Creation to its proper order. It may seem like a utopian dream that doesn’t line up with what we know about nature – but that’s not the point. The seasons of Advent and Christmas focus not on what is, but what shall be. It is as
Bobby Kennedy said:

"There are those who look at things the way they are, and ask why . . . I dream of things that never were and ask why not."

That is a good question to ask at this time of year – why not dream of things that never were and "ask why not."

I. THE SPIRIT ENDOWED KING
The dreams of things not yet are filling our minds. After all, the beckoning call of Christmas is reaching a fever pitch. The stores are staying open longer in the hopes that you and I will deposit some of our money in their coffers. The Christmas songs are everywhere. In fact, many of you are waiting to sing the carols and wonder why we’re still singing Advent songs.

Waiting is difficult, but it can also be a good thing. We call it delayed gratification and it keeps us focused on the most important things in life. Of course, Advent is a season of waiting. The message of Advent is simple: we await the Spirit-endowed king, who is anointed by God to proclaim the good news of freedom and healing to the poor, the lame, the blind, and the captive (Isaiah 61; Luke 4). This Spirit-Endowed King – unlike so many of today’s leaders – will rule with wisdom and understanding, counsel, and might, knowledge and fear of the Lord. When the day of the Lord comes, Isaiah promises, Judah’s fortunes – our fortunes -- will be restored. And if, as we believe, Jesus is this Spirit-endowed King then we must realize that the mission of this king isn’t the restoration of a nation to its past glory, but is instead the restoration of humanity to its proper relationship with God. When that happens, the creation will experience justice and mercy and peace.
II. RIGHTEOUS JUDGMENT
But there’s a step that has to be taken before we get to this future. We have to deal with the past. No one wants to deal with the past, but unless we do – it will stick to us. That’s why when I recently submitted my papers to the national office, I had to authorize a background check. They don’t send out ministerial profiles to churches these days unless they make sure they’ve looked for all the skeletons in our closets. You’ll be glad to know that I passed!

And so Isaiah’s vision begins with judgment. The king holds court and holds the people accountable for their past. To get an idea of what Isaiah has in mind, think back to South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which was led by Bishop Desmond Tutu. That commission allowed South Africa to make a peaceful transition from white minority rule to black majority rule. To move forward Bishop Tutu knew that the nation had to deal with its past, and the same is true for us. We may not enjoy standing before the judge, but it’s a necessary step toward wholeness.
And this judge weighs the evidence according to the rules of righteousness and equity. This isn’t blind justice, instead it’s justice decided on by an arbiter who, as Gerhard Von Rad wrote, "cares particularly for those whose legal standing is weak."1 God is, after all, the one with a "preferential option for the poor."

The result is that things get properly sorted out, kind of like the parable of the wheat and the weeds (Matthew 13). Kathleen Norris says that this parable frightened her has a child, largely because her grandmother used this parable to convince her that God’s judgment is terrifying. In time, however, she found the parable liberating, because it freed her from the "disease of perfectionism."
I began to see God's fire, like a good parent's righteous anger, as something that can flare up, challenge, and even change us, but that does not destroy the essence of who we are. The thought of all my weeds burning off so that only the wheat remains came to seem a good thing.2
Yes, God holds us accountable and what’s not of God is burned off as dross – but we survive. Having faced God's righteous judgment, we are ready to enjoy true fellowship with God.

III. MESSIANIC PROMISES
When Isaiah brought this vision to Judah, his nation was facing destruction and its leaders – even the best of them – fell short of God’s standards. Despite the omens of destruction, Isaiah offers a word of hope to his people. That was then, but what message does this passage have for us living centuries later?

I believe this vision says at least two things to us. We’ve already talked about one – God’s righteous judgment will save us. The other message has to do with the promise of a restored Eden. In the Genesis story, God creates the earth and it’s good. Everything and everyone gets along just fine. And in this vision, natural predators sit and eat grass with their normal prey – just like it was, Isaiah says, in the beginning. In his vision the wolf and the lamb, the lion and the calf, dwell together in peace under the leadership of a child.
What the prophet is doing is offering a vision of universal peace. It’s something we’ve never seen, but it’s also something we can work toward, led of course by a child. That child is the one born on Christmas Day.

The Advent season of preparation is coming to a close, leaving with us a vision of God’s cosmic plans. Although God is concerned about each of us as individuals, God is also concerned about the healing of the cosmos itself. As the old 1960s song puts it: "He's got the Whole World in his Hands." That is the message of Advent and the message of Christmas. Darkness may be enveloping us, but a light is shining in the darkness bringing hope of restoration to all.
1. Gerhard Von Rad, Old Testament Theology (NY: Harper and Row, 1965), 2:169.
2. Kathleen Norris, Amazing Grace, (NY: Riverhead Books, 1998), 317.
Preached by:
Rev. Dr. Robert D. Cornwall
Pastor, First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
Lompoc, CA
December 23, 2007
4th Sunday of Advent

Saturday, December 15, 2007

A VISION OF WHOLENESS

Isaiah 35:1-10

The Mitchell Report was released on Thursday. It told us what we already knew, there are problems in Baseball. It also told us that Barry Bonds isn’t the only one implicated in the scandal. Yes, Baseball, America’s sport, is broken. We also learned this week that the CIA destroyed tapes that showed agents using waterboarding to get information. Waterboarding is considered torture by the Geneva Conventions. There were bombings in a number of nations and shootings at a church in Colorado.

It would seem that we live in a broken world. As psychiatrist Paul Tournier pointed out many years ago: "Its ills are innumerable; it writhes in pain."1 In the words of Frederick Buechner:

The world floods in on all of us. The world can be kind, and it can be cruel. It can be beautiful, and it can be appalling. It can give us good reason to hope and good reason to give up hope.2

Life it seems fragmented and unpredictable, and as a result we often become reactors to the world rather than actors in the world.

Of course you don’t need me telling you this. You already know that this is true – whether it’s our bodies, our souls, our communities, or our nation, things seem to be a bit broken. As we face life's difficulties and complexities, we wonder if there’s any hope of wholeness. In answer Isaiah offers us a vison of a desert in bloom, a desert that becomes like the forests of Lebanon and the fertile plain of Sharon, and where the glory and majesty of God are visible to all. This is a vison of wholeness.

1. HERE IS YOUR GOD
When Katrina struck, people asked: "Where is God?" They asked the same question when the tsunami hit Indonesia, and when the recent fires hit our region. This question arises when we feel a sense of absence and need reassurance that help is on the way. As we begin to falter, we hear these words to Isaiah:

Strengthen the weak hands and make firm the feeble knees. Say to those who are of a fearful heart, "Be strong, do not fear! Here is your God."

Something of Isaiah’s vision can be seen in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. In C.S. Lewis’ story, Narnia has fallen under a spell that keeps it in constant state of winter. But not only is there constant winter, there is no Christmas either. All of this changes when four children, the promised kings and queens of Narnia, enter the land, and by their very presence call forth Aslan. When Aslan enters the land not only is the spell of winter broken, but Christmas returns as well. Aslan brings to the land the promise of Spring and with it the promise of a new age.

The Advent message rings out: prepare the way, for God is coming. Look around and see that the desert is blooming, and with it comes the healing presence of God. The odds may still seem great, but if we’re willing to take hold of it, we can enjoy the wholeness of God.

2. THE PROMISE OF WHOLENESS

Listen to Isaiah’s promise of hope:

Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then the lame shall leap like a deer and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy. (Is. 35:5-6).

This is the promise of shalom – the peace of God. This word shalom has a number of meanings, including wholeness and healing. In an earlier passage in Isaiah, the Messiah is called the Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6). The messianic reign, the prophet tells us, will bring healing and wholeness to our lives.

This promised wholeness could have a physical manifestation, but it can also be spiritual. Even a person with physical disabilities can experience wholeness, even if that wholeness does not yet include his or her body. Buechner tells of his grandmother, who, no matter what the circumstance, "seemed always remarkably and invincibly herself."

Even when her life was shattered by the deaths of people she loved and by other kinds of loss or failure, she remained so serene and intact that it was if she lived out of some deep center within herself that was beyond reach of circumstance.3

When we are at peace with our selves, we usually are at peace with our world. That is when we find wholeness.

3. THE WAY OF SALVATION

When we talk about salvation, we usually think about getting right with God. That’s part of it, but there’s more. Salvation means becoming a whole person. It is what St. Augustine meant when he talked about a void in our lives that only God could fill. Or John Calvin’s idea that within us resides the spark of divinity. Whatever the physical nature of our lives, there is also a spiritual dimension as well. And ultimately wholeness is a spiritual thing.

This salvation doesn’t happen instantaneously. It is, instead, a lifelong journey. It begins with a decision to walk along the path set before us by God – Isaiah’s "new highway" that God’s people are invited to travel on. This is the pilgrim’s road, a road once threatened by enemies, but now made clear and safe. As we come marching into Zion, we may sing songs of everlasting joy and gladness will fill our hearts.

This is the road John the Baptist proclaimed when he cried out Prepare the Way of the Lord. While there seem to be dangers lurking along the road, the way is set before us and the promise of wholeness – of salvation stands before us. This is the message of Advent: the road is set before us. Wholeness is possible even in a broken world. And this wholeness comes to us in the person of Jesus.
As Frederick Buechner writes:

It is in Jesus, of course, and in the people whose lives have been deeply touched by Jesus, and in ourselves at those moments when we also are deeply touched by him, that we see another way of being human in the world, which is the way of wholeness. When we glimpse that wholeness in others, we recognized it immediately for what it is, and the reason we recognize it, I believe, is that no matter how much the world shatters us to pieces, we carry inside us a vision of wholeness that we sense is our true home and that beckons to us.4

We long for home, and Isaiah says, the road is set. Start the journey and God will walk with you. As we take this journey we will find wholeness in body, mind, and spirit. It won’t happen over night, but it will come. That is the promise.



1. Paul Tournier, The Whole Person in a Broken World," (New York: Harper and Row, 1964), 1.
2. Frederick Buechner, The Longing for Home, (SF: Harper-Collins, 1996), 109.
3. Buechner, Longing for Home, 106.
4. Buechner, Longing for Home, 109-10.



Preached by:
Rev. Dr. Robert D. Cornwall
Pastor, First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
Lompoc, CA
Advent 3
December 16, 2007

Saturday, December 01, 2007

A Vision of Peace

Isaiah 2:1-5


John Lennon imagined a world without religion or nations, but one with peace.
Imagine there's no countries, It isn't hard to do.
Nothing to Kill or die for, and no Religion too.
Imagine all the people living life in peace . . .

Then in the chorus he sings:

You may say I'm, a dreamer But I'm not the only One.
I Hope someday you'll join us and the world will be as one.

Imagine for a moment a world at peace. What might that be like? What will it take? Will it take the end of nations and religions as we know them today?

It’s unfortunate that John Lennon is on the mark. Nationalism and religion have often contributed to the hatred and the violence that make a mess of our world. And just to be clear, it’s not just Islam that’s at fault. Every religion, including ours, contributes to this problem.
When we think of peace, we tend to think globally. But it’s not just a global issue, it’s also very local and very personal. Wherever conflict and anger and hatred are present, peace is threatened. If you listen to talk radio or watch the cable news networks, you’ll see on display a growing lack of civility tainting our public conversations and the political process. Unfortunately that same lack of civility is present in our churches and in our homes. We seem to be people set on edge. So, it’s no wonder that violence is on the rise. We simply find it difficult to get along.

The church exists within this world and is affected by it. Perhaps that’s why growing numbers of young people are fleeing "organized religion." Doug Coupland wrote a book entitled, Life after God. In that book he writes that people under thirty-five look forward to a life that is "charmed but without politics or religion." It’s a "life after God," a "life of earthly salvation on the edge of heaven." He goes on to write:
Perhaps this is the finest thing to which we may aspire, the life of peace, the blurring between
dream life and real life-- and yet I find myself speaking these words with a sense of doubt.

From there he goes on to say that there’s a trade off in achieving this golden life. The price is the "inability to fully believe in love; instead we gained an irony that scorched everything it touched. And I wonder if this irony is the price we paid for the loss of God."1
1. A GOD OF ALL NATIONS
Isaiah speaks to our sense of disillusionment and offers us a word of hope by giving us a vision of peace. He insists that God and nationalism don’t go together. Instead of claiming God for ourselves and our nation, Isaiah declares that God is the God of all nations.
As we come to pray this morning, we come not to worship a God that’s bound by national borders or politics, but instead we worship a God who promises to bring peace to all peoples. It’s tempting to wrap God up in red, white, and blue and to see ourselves as God’s chosen people, but if we do that, we’ve misunderstood the gospel.

Instead of proclaiming the god-of-the-nation and invoking God in the name of national security or national pride, Isaiah looks out and sees the nations coming to God. They’re coming because they seek peace. Although Isaiah makes Mount Zion the focal point of God's work, he doesn’t do this for nationalist reasons. Zion simply symbolizes God's desire to bring creation together in peace. This vision says nothing about Judah's nationalist aspirations, because it has nothing to do with them. In Isaiah's vision the focus is on God's reign over all nations, not just the Jewish people.

2. GOD'S INSTRUCTIONS AND JUDGMENTS

As the people in Isaiah's vision stream toward the Mountain of the Lord, they come seeking instruction and judgment from the Lord. Isaiah calls out:
"Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths." (Isa. 2:3).
Isaiah catches the sense of the people – things aren’t working and we need a new vision for the future. Perhaps we can go to God and find that vision. Although the Torah speaks to the issues and needs of Israel, it also speaks more broadly to our human need for peace, order, and reconciliation. Torah, Isaiah says to us, is the way to peace.

Knowledge of the ways of God will set us free from our bondage to petty myths that divide and separate us. These are the stereotypes that keep us from talking to each other. Isaiah envisions us coming to God because we know that God will decide fairly and justly.

Peace has never been easy to achieve. If it was, we’d already be at peace. The fall of the Soviet Union didn’t bring peace, it just changed the focus of our attention. Rather than focusing on a "nuclear deterrence" we’re now more concerned about terrorism. And terrorism is rooted in extremism, and there are plenty of extremists out there, representing just about every ideology and religion. And what extremists do best is wreck the process of making peace, often by way of bombings and assassinations.

3. THE PROMISED AGE OF PEACE
Isaiah understands the situation well, and so he envisions a time when the tools of war will be turned to the service of all humanity. The sword will become the plow and spears pruning hooks. What was once used to kill will now be used to sustain life.

Martin Luther King, Jr. offered a similar vision in his 1963 speech in Washington DC. On that day he proclaimed:

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed -- we hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal.

He dreamed that his four little children would "one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character." He envisioned a day when freedom would ring from every part of the nation, and he called on us all -- black, white, Jews, Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics -- to speed up that day by joining hands and singing the words of the old spiritual "Free at last, Free at last, Thank God Almighty, we are free at last." Dr. King didn’t live to see this dream fulfilled. In fact, we still dream this dream so many years later. But the good news is that the dream continues to speak to our hearts.

As we enter the Advent season, let us carry with us the vision of peace. John the Baptist came into Judea preparing the way for the Messiah. The message of the messiah is one of peace, and no message resonates more during the Christmas season than the one the Angels brought to the shepherds: "On earth Peace among those whom God favors" (Lk 2:14). Let us commit ourselves to the cause of this peace by singing "Down by the Riverside." (p. 673). And as we sing, may we choose to "study war no more" and turn the tools of destruction into the tools of life.
1 Doug Coupland, Life after God, (New York: Pocket Books, 1994), 273. Note that Coupland wrote this in 1994, so those under 35 then are those under 48. If you round that up, it's people under 50.


Preached by:
The Rev. Dr. Robert D. Cornwall
Pastor, First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
Lompoc, CA
Advent 1
December 2, 2007

Saturday, November 24, 2007

SUMMING THINGS UP

Colossians 1:11-20

It’s only the last Sunday of November, but for the church this is it. This is the last Sunday of the church year, and next Sunday when we get together to decorate the church before the service we’ll be starting over with a new year. Because it’s tradition to sum up the year gone by, I thought it might be worthwhile to sum things up this morning. Now don’t worry, I’m not going to give you a statistical report, or even list all the things we’ve done this past year. Some of you might be needing a nap, but I’d rather not put you to sleep just yet.

Instead we’re going to consider this grand statement from the letter to the Colossians. There’s some question as to whether Paul wrote this letter, but for now we’re going to assume he did. It really doesn’t matter who wrote it because the statement holds true whatever the case may be. In this brief passage, we hear a call to kneel before our Lord and embrace him as our king.
1. THE PROBLEM OF POWER
Today is Christ the King Sunday. It brings to a close the church year by celebrating the enthronement of the one whose coming was promised during the season of Advent.

In this text Paul speaks of power and its use. Power is intoxicating, and as Edmund Burke wrote many years ago:

Those who have been once intoxicated with power, and have derived any emolument from it, even though but for one year, can never willingly abandon it.1

There’s much truth in this statement, which makes our nation’s history of peaceful transfers of power so amazing.

History teaches us that rulers and would-be-rulers fight for power and rarely give it up willingly. We know too that power tends to corrupt even those with the best of intentions. Consider that often quoted statement of Lord Acton: "Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely."2 Perhaps the reason why our nation has been able to peacefully transfer power is that Founders of the nation understood the difficulty of doing this. And so they established a Constitution designed to limit the power of any one person or group. That doesn’t mean that power struggles don’t happen, it’s just that limits have been placed on them.

When we look at things cosmically, we discover that power is ultimately limited because Christ is the King who reigns over all. We may think we have absolute power, but there are limits. But we only stop seeking power when we finally submit ourselves to another – and that other is the one who died on a cross outside Jerusalem’s walls.
2. SUMMING UP CREATION

If we’re to understand our place in the universe, we must look at things cosmically. In this passage Paul insists that the one who brings order to the universe and reconciles us to God is the one who is the image of the invisible God, the first born of creation; the one who is before all things, and in whom all things were created.
In this beautiful hymn we hear the gospel summed up. It begins with creation and moves toward reconciliation. It starts with darkness and moves to light. Four times our text uses the words "all things." In Christ, God created all things and in fact Christ is before all things. In Christ all things hold together and in him all things are redeemed. It’s not just some things, it’s all things that are made new.
This is a word of hope to those who live in a world that’s fractured and hurting. We can raise the bloody flag of violent resistance to those who would try to hurt us, but we soon discover that this isn’t enough. The cycle of violence only leads to more violence. This was something first-century Christians knew quite well. They knew of the peace promised them by Rome. It was a peace that came at the point of a sword – we would say today through the barrel of a gun. This kind of peace, however, requires subservience and a loss of freedom. It requires that we honor the emperor as Lord and Savior. This kind of peace is still with us, but it never lasts very long.
But there is another way. We can turn ourselves over to the one in whom "all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell." It is this one, whom we call Christ the King, who reconciles all things to God. In him there is peace and justice, but this peace comes not at the point of a sword, but by way of a cross. In Jesus God turns the tables on the powers and principalities of this world. In him, we are made whole and reconciled to God and to the creation itself.
3. LIFE IN THE NEW CREATION
To kneel before the throne of Christ the King is a life changing experience. We ended our reading this morning with verse 20, but the verses that follow remind us that although we were once estranged from God because we sought after the power to control our own destinies, things have changed. Here Paul writes:

You who were once estranged and hostile in mind doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his fleshly body through death, so as to present you holy and blameless and irreproachable before him -- provided that you continue securely established and steadfast in the faith, without shifting from the hope promised by the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven. (Col. 1:21-23).

In Christ we are a new creation. The old is gone and the new is here. Like a new born baby, we’re innocent and holy before God. Having been given this new start in life, we’re called to remain steadfast in this relationship, which God has established with us through Christ.

As we bring to a close this church year by celebrating the reign of Jesus the Christ, we look forward to beginning another year of living in the presence of God. We have been called to be servants of this gospel of peace and reconciliation, by walking humbly with our God and doing justice in the land (Micah 6:8).
1. Edmund Burke quote in Oxford Dictionary of Quotations, 3rd ed., (Oxford. 1987), 111:28.

2. Dictionary of Quotations, 1:5.


Preached by:
Rev. Dr. Robert Cornwall
Pastor, First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
Lompoc, CA
Christ the King Sunday
November 24, 2007

Saturday, November 17, 2007

The Provisions of God

2 Corinthians 9:6-15

Every day we get bombarded with requests for help and assistance. The causes might be good, but how do you decide when and where to give? Of course, these appeals come even faster the closer we get to Christmas. Although we must be careful and discerning in our giving, we also must be aware of the temptation to close the heart and wallet, and become overly protective of our assets. When we do this, we fall prey to the miserliness that cut Mr. Scrooge off from humanity.

Paul made an appeal to the Corinthian Church, that might not have gone over very well. He told them that he was coming south and was taking up a collection for the church in Jerusalem, which was experiencing famine. I’m not sure, but it seems like he was hearing some grumbling about having to give to strangers when there were troubles enough at home. In answering them, Paul focuses on the heart of the giver, the provisions of God, and the blessings of giving.
1. THE HEART OF THE GIVER
Paul does talk about obligations earlier in this chapter, but now he focuses on the joys of giving from the heart. According to C.K. Barrett, Paul is calling for an "outward act expressing inward conviction rather than desire for praise or fears of censures."1 You can find a similar principle in the extra-canonical book of Sirach, which says: "with every gift show a cheerful face, and dedicate your tithe with gladness" (Sirach 35:11).

In talking about sowing and reaping, Paul uses the language of the farmer, but he could just as easily have used the language of the investor. If you invest in something of value, you will likely receive something of value in return. If you invest nothing, you get nothing. Jesus understood this principle, because he talks about just this idea in the parable of the Talents. In this parable the one who buries the one talent out of fear of losing it, ends up losing everything (Lk. 19:11-27).

Giving joyfully or cheerfully is a bit like investing. If you’re afraid of the future, you won’t invest. If you’re afraid of God’s future, then you won’t give. By investing cheerfully in the things of God we benefit from the works of God in our midst.
2. THE PROVISIONS OF GOD
Cheerful giving is an expression of trust in the God who gives generously. As that old hymn says, God is the "fount of every blessing."

Now, God might not put two Beemers in every driveway, there is the promise of having enough to live faithfully. Although Jesus will occasionally talk about giving up everything to follow him, he doesn’t preach the kind of ascetism that denies the value of the material world. But, both Jesus and Paul speak of keeping things in balance, so that the things of this world don’t rule our hearts. As the author of the book of Hebrews puts it:

Keep your lives free from the love of money, and be content with what you have; for he has said, "I will never leave you or forsake you. (Heb. 13:5).

3. THE BLESSINGS OF GIVING
As we approach a national day of Thanksgiving, it’s good to stop and recognize the blessings of God. If we do this, we discover the blessings that come from giving. The greatest blessing that comes from giving is being free from the fear of what the future holds. When we’re afraid of the future, we tend to hoard and hold on to things, but when we give, we open ourselves up to the blessings of God. Richard Foster writes in the Celebration of Discipline:

But if we truly believe that God is who Jesus said He is, then we do not need to be afraid. When we come to see God as the almighty Creator and our loving Father we can share because we know that He will care for us.2

So, is there a benefit to giving? Paul says, yes! "You will be enriched in every way for your great generosity." (2 Cor. 9). In fact, when we give, everyone benefits, including us. Although the Judeans might benefit materially from this gift, they would benefit spiritually from the connection comes when we give to another part of the body of Christ. So, when we give to the Week of Compassion or to the Thanksgiving Offering others may benefit materially, but we benefit by growing in our trust tin God. By giving to others, we get to share in their lives.

As this congregation looks forward into future, we’re being called upon to stretch our selves by giving generously so that our ministries can expand. I know that many here are faithful and even sacrificial givers, but you seem to know that when you give you receive in return uncountable blessings, and as we give now we build upon the gifts of previous generations who chose to invest in God’s work in Lompoc.

When we give, we show that we trust God to be our provider. And when we give cheerfully and freely, we do so, knowing that through this act of giving our hearts are opened to God, and our relationship with God is deepened. It is deepened because by giving we put aside the things that get in the way of our relationship with God – the materialism that tells us that we’re not complete unless we have the latest gadget that comes down the pike. Our giving is a recognition that we’re complete in Christ, the giver of every good and perfect gift.

CONCLUSION

In the next week or so, many of you will receive a letter from the chair of the congregation and the treasurer. This letter will contain an estimate of giving card. By signing that card and turning it to the Financial Secretary, you can make a commitment to give faithfully and cheerfully in response to the many blessings poured out upon you by God. It’s not a bill, it’s simply a call to embrace the kingdom of God.
1. C.K. Barrett, The Second Epistle to the Corinthians, (NY: Harper and Row, 1973), 236.
2. Richard Foster, Celebration of Discipline, (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1978), 78.
Preached by:
Rev. Dr. Robert D. Cornwall
Pastor, First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
Lompoc, CA
Thanksgiving Sunday
November 18, 2007

Saturday, November 10, 2007

RESURRECTION LIVING

Luke 20:27-38

No, I’m not confused about the seasons of the year. I realize that Christmas and not Easter is just around the corner. If nothing else all those ads that keep popping up remind me that I need to get busy with my Christmas shopping. Besides there are a lot of other holidays to get through before the Easter Bunny hops out.
But here we are, singing Easter songs in the middle of November. There’s a reason for my madness, and that reason is this passage from the Gospel of Luke. Because it talks about resurrection, I thought it would be great to sing some Easter songs out of season.

When we meet up with Jesus in this passage, he’s having a discussion with a group of Sadducees. The Sadducees were a group of religious and social conservatives who didn’t believe in the resurrection. Their Bible was essentially limited to the first five books of the Old Testament, and they didn’t think you could find the resurrection in these books. And so Jesus, who had a broader sense of God’s revelation, said to them: "He is God not of the dead, but of the living."
Now the passage itself is a fairly complicated discussion of what happens when a woman ended up married to seven brothers. In the resurrection, the Sadducees asked – to whom would she belong? It’s not just to whom would she be married, but to whom would she belong? Jesus says – in the resurrection the old ways don’t count – since no one is married, she wouldn’t belong to any of them. That sounds kind of liberating – don’t you think?
Since we’re on the subject of resurrection, I thought it would be useful to talk about how the resurrection affects the way we live. In other words, if you believe in resurrection, what difference does it make in your life in the "here and now?"

1. THE PURPOSE OF LIFE
A few years ago I was invited to speak to a group of students studying World Religions at San Marcos High School. I was supposed to talk about Mainline Protestantism. Now that’s no easy task, since we’re a fairly diverse group. But, I did my best. When I told the group that most Mainline Protestants are moderate to liberal in their theology, I got asked about how we understand salvation. I told them that there’s not just one view. Some of us are even universalists. Now, that didn’t sit well with everyone. One student asked me, then why even be alive?

Now this student believed that we’re on the earth to be tested. We either we pass or we don’t, and if we don’t pass then surely there has to be some sort of punishment. I mean, if everyone passes then why be alive? What’s our purpose in being here? Besides, if everyone makes it into heaven and there’s no punishment in the offing, then why bother being good? Let’s just "eat, drink, and be merry!

2 . RESURRECTION LIVING

Now you may be wondering – What does this have to do with the resurrection? Well, I think it has something to do with the way we understand life itself. Does it have a purpose? Does it have value? I think the answer can be found in Jesus’ statement that God is the "God of the living and not the dead," Life is important to God. God values life – all life – which means we should value life. God does not rejoice in death and neither should we.
We’re called to embrace resurrection living. That is, we’re called to live out the values of resurrection in the present.
To give you an example of what I mean, listen to what Garrison Keillor said at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco sometime after 9/11. He talked about the meaning of life in the aftermath of 9/11, and he said:

. . . if we want to really understand the truth of this event, we should look to all the men and women who saw that death was near, who called home on their cell phones. And not to express anger or fear or bitterness but, simply, to say "I love you, take care of the children, have a good life." In a moment of great clarity at the end, they called amidst smoke, and confusion and panic to give us their benediction. And we should accept it. Love each other, take care of the children, have a good life. And give thanks to the Lord with our whole heart for his steadfast love and faithfulness and beseech him that we may have a quiet and peaceful life in all godliness and dignity and that in every place men and women should pray, lifting up holy hands without anger or argument. Amen.1

I do think this is a good description of resurrection living. It answers the question – why be alive? It is about living in relationship with God and with our neighbor. It’s a reminder that as the people of God we should value life so much that we don’t think about getting revenge, but instead we’re called to embrace each other and give thanks for the opportunity to be alive, even in the presence of death.
Now, we live in a time of great uncertainty, at a time when many of us are questioning why we are alive. People ask about their marriages, their jobs, their families, and they ask: What do these things mean? Jesus says to us as we ask these questions: Our God is God not of the dead but of the living!
The prophet Haggai spoke to people asking very similar questions. They had returned from exile in Babylon, but now their temple was gone. Besides that, the foundation stones for the new temple had been sitting there for years and the dimensions of this new temple, if it ever got built, wasn’t even close to the one that had been destroyed. So, what's the point? Haggai responded: Remember, what you build now is a foretaste of what is to come. Take courage and start to build.
God said to the Judeans, Take courage and work on the Temple "for I am with you." Yes, remember the promises I made to your ancestors when they came out of Egypt. "My spirit abides among you; do not fear." What does it mean to experience resurrection living? It means that when we’re in the presence of God we don’t have to live in fear and in regret.

We just finished with another holiday – Halloween. Halloween reminds us that death and fear go together, at least in the minds of many. With its ghosts and goblins, Halloween tells us that we should be afraid of death. But when we live in fear of death, we’re unable to love. But if God is the God of the living and not the dead, then there’s no need to fear. By embracing the resurrection we’re free to love and to live boldly before God.
******
1. Garrison Keillor quoted in "The Most Important Things," by Russell Peterman, The Wellspring: The Newsletter of Sandy Springs Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), 3 (October, 2001): 4.

Preached by:
Rev. Dr. Robert D. Cornwall
Pastor, First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
Lompoc, CA
26th Sunday after Pentecost
November 11, 2007

Saturday, November 03, 2007

JOYFUL GIVING

Luke 19:1-10

It’s not Christmas yet, although with Halloween now out of the way, the Christmas stuff has begun to emerge. But when I read about Jesus’ encounter with Zacchaeus, that famously short chief tax collector from Jericho, I can’t help but think of Ebenezer Scrooge. You know the story. On Christmas Eve, that rich penny-pinching money lender, is visited by three ghosts. By the next morning he’s a new man. Instead of taking money from the poor, he gives it away. Now Scrooge didn’t go looking for this encounter, but according to Luke Zacchaeus did. We’re not told why, just that he did. In fact, Zacchaeus goes to great lengths to see Jesus, going as far as climbing a tree so he could see the Master when he walked by. The amazing thing is that not only did he see Jesus, but Jesus saw him. That glance upwards changed his life forever.

1. Salvation – now and then
This is supposed to be a stewardship sermon, but this is really a salvation story. But in this story, salvation isn’t just about getting right with God so we can get to heaven. This is a story about getting right with God so you can enjoy the presence of God in the "here and now" and then make a difference in the world in which you live.

Last week I mentioned Eric Elnes book, Asphalt Jesus. Eric helped write the Phoenix Affirmations, a brief statement of progressive Christian principles. The ninth principle states that "Christian love of self includes: Basing our lives on the faith that in Christ all things are made new and that we, and all people, are loved beyond our wildest imagination – for eternity."
While some messages of salvation are rooted in fear – if you don’t love Jesus, you’re going to hell, the message I get from this story and from many other parts of the Bible is this: salvation is rooted in love – in God’s love for each of us, a love that’s unconditional and transforming.

2. Love that Transforms
We don’t know why Zacchaeus went looking for Jesus. It would seem that he had everything he wanted and needed in life, and yet something was missing and for some reason he thinks Jesus has the answer. Because he’s too short to see him from the ground, he climbs a tree. Think about that for a moment. Would you climb a tree to see someone famous? Would you risk life and limb and even dignity to see someone, without any real hope that this person would see you?

But Zacchaeus isn’t the only one looking. Jesus is also looking – up – and Jesus sees Zacchaeus and invites himself over for dinner. That’s the wondrous message of the gospel – God is seeking us. It’s the message of the Prodigal Son and the parable of the lost sheep. God wants to be in relationship with us – now and not just later.
By inviting himself over to Zacchaeus’ house Jesus makes a statement. Do you remember the parable we read last week – the one about the Pharisee and the Tax Collector? That parable is relived here in this passage. The grumbling of the religious folk reminds us that Zacchaeus might be rich, but he was also a social outcast. By reaching out to him, Jesus reminds us that no one is beyond redemption and that God’s arms are open to everyone. No one is worthless in the eyes of God.
3. Generous and Joyous Giving
Earlier in Luke Jesus tells his disciples: "where your treasure is, there your heart will be also" (Luke 12:34). He tells them this to encourage them. Don’t worry about today, he says, because God will provide. So, give it all up, take a risk, and follow me.

This is a hard decision to make. Not everyone can make it – the Rich Ruler walked way when Jesus told him to give everything away to the poor if he wanted to be saved. Zacchaeus on the other hand, doesn’t ask Jesus what he should do, he just does it. Before Jesus could say anything about his lifestyle, he tells Jesus, I’m going to repay four times, what I inappropriately took from people while collecting taxes. And then I’m going to give half of what’s left to the poor. He didn’t need a lecture from Jesus, he knew what he should do. And so Jesus tells him: "today salvation has come to this house."
Mark Powell wrote a book about stewardship, and in it he talks about Jesus’ view of money. He says that Jesus talked a lot about money, not because he was a fund-raiser or he was interested in building projects or religious programming. No, "he talked about money because he cared about us and because he knew that what we do with our money affects who we are spiritually."1
Each week we hear an invitation to bring our offerings to the Table, and at least a couple of times a year we hear messages from the pulpit about giving. There’s a couple of reasons why this happens. One reason is pragmatic, there are bills to be paid. But the second and more important reason for doing this is that giving through the church is an important spiritual practice – just like praying or reading the Bible. As the stories of the rich ruler and Zacchaeus remind us – there are two ways of giving. We can, and often do, give out of obligation and duty. That’s the question the rich ruler asked – what am I obligated to do if my life is going to change?
There’s another way of giving and Zacchaeus models it for us. Zacchaeus gives freely and joyfully. No one has to tell him how much or when, he just gives from the heart. The amount might not be the same as Jesus required of the rich ruler, but that’s not the point. It’s not the amount or the percentage, it’s the motivation. Zacchaeus gave because his life changed. He became a new person and giving was a natural response.

In this month of Thanksgiving, as we stop to give thanks to God for the bounty that is ours, we also stop to consider the status of our relationship with God. It’s not a question of what we owe, but how much we love and what we love. When we give, is it out of joy? Or is it out of obligation? Now the church will take either, but if our giving is to have a spiritual impact on our lives, then joyous giving would seem to be the better option.
1. Mark Allan Powell, Giving to God, (Eerdmans, 2006), 54.
Preached by:
Rev. Dr. Robert Cornwall
Pastor, First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
Lompoc
23rd Sunday after Pentecost
November 4, 2007

Saturday, October 27, 2007

STANDING IN THE NEED OF PRAYER

Luke 18:9-14

"The bigger they are, the harder they fall!" That could be the mantra of this season’s college football teams. Every time a team reaches number 1 or number 2 it loses. LSU, USC, South Florida, Cal. It’s like no one wants to be in the BCS Championship game. After USC got beat by lowly Stanford, it looked like Cal was in the driver’s seat to win the Pac10, especially after they squeaked out a win over my Oregon Ducks. Then LSU lost to Kentucky of all teams and Cal looked up and began to celebrate – only they went on to lose that same day to Oregon State. Even though #2 Boston College held on and won this week, it still has been a topsy turvy fall. And you know what? We like it that way. Unless it’s our team on top, we like to see the big guy lose. For some reason we don’t like the person or the business or the country or the team that’s arrogant, self-important, or snobbish.

As Jesus tells the story, two guys went up to the temple to pray. One guy was very righteous and the other was a sinner. Even though the first guy is an upstanding citizen and very religious there’s something about him we don’t like. He just seems too stuck on himself and too self-righteous as well. He does tithe and maybe serves on the board, but still, we just don’t like him.
The only word you can use to describe the second guy is that he’s a scoundrel. Tax Collectors, as we know, aren’t the best liked people in any town, and the tax collectors back then were really despised. They tended to be fairly well off, but they were like loans sharks. Not the kind of guy you want to normally hang around with, and probably not the kind of person you’d elect as moderator of the church board.
Jesus says that one of these guys goes away forgiven and the other doesn’t. Who do you think it is? Well, it appears it’s the shady character who stands off to the side, with his head down, almost afraid to talk. Both pray to God, but only the second guy prays for forgiveness. He prays: "Oh, Lord, forgive me. I don’t belong here. I’m a sinner. Please forgive me." Now we’re thinking – that’s a good prayer for that kind of guy, and yet he not the first guy goes home forgiven. He goes home forgiven because he’s the one who understands that he’s in need of prayer.

1. Recognizing ourselves in the parable

When you read this parable, with whom do you identify? I know, it’s a trick question. You’re supposed to say – the tax collector – but you really wish you could say it was the pharisee. But I think we’re all probably more like the Pharisee than we’d care to think. If you’re a good church person, give your offerings, pray, and do good things, well that’s pretty much what a pharisee was back then – a very religious person, who could, on occasion, be very snobbish.

But you’re right, you’re supposed to identify with the tax collector. You’re supposed to see yourself standing in the need of prayer. And yet it’s hard for us to think that way. When the world looks at the church, more often than not it sees self-righteous and unbecoming people. If I put on the shoes of the self-righteous religious person, do they fit? I expect, that at least on occasion, they do.

2. Standing in the Need of Prayer
For a moment, though, let’s try on the shoes of the other guy. Let’s recognize that we’re the ones standing in the need of prayer. And so we sing as we did earlier:

It’s me, It’s me, O Lord,
Standing in the need of prayer.
It’s me, it’s
me, O Lord.
Standing in the need of prayer.

We’re always being told to be self-reliant, to depend on ourselves. And we often take pride in our independence. Sometimes even when we need help, we won’t ask for it, because to ask for help is to admit we can’t do it ourselves. But Jesus tells this parable, Luke says, to those who "trust in themselves." Instead, Jesus says: When you pray, recognize that you come in need of God’s grace.

The flip side of being proud of our self-sufficiency is contempt shown to those who aren’t like us. This religious leader thought highly of himself and his ability to live righteously, He had it all down, and when someone didn’t meet with his standards – he looked down on them.

But the tax collector was under no such illusion. He knew quite well that he was an outcast. In fact, he probably took the job of being a tax collector because he was already an outcast before he had the job. Why else take the job? Oh, it might pay well, but there was a significant social downside.

If the parable of the widow and the unjust judge, which we looked at last week, encourages us to be persistent in our prayers, this parable reminds us that we must come to God humbly and without any pretense that we’re better than the others.

3. Broadening the Circle of Prayer

The Pharisee in this story had a fairly narrow focus to his prayers. The eyes of his heart were on himself. The tax collector also focused on himself, but that was understandable. He wasn’t self-righteous, he was self-conscious. Either way, it’s easy to get focused in on our own lives and concerns.

Last week, after church I was having a conversation about the sermon and about how we tend to pray – whether in church or in our personal lives. It’s great that we take the opportunity to pray for one another. But what about the world outside our own circle? How does that world – whether it’s people or nations or the environment – fit into our prayers?
For instance: Jesus tells us to pray for our enemies. What does that mean? I don’t think it means we should pray for their untimely death. I think it means that we should pray that the things that divide us will no longer divide us. If we pray for the ones we love, then perhaps if we pray for the ones we don’t love, we will come to love them.
We could add any number of items to our list – poverty, global warming, racism, injustice, hatred – what’s the focus of our prayers? If we stand in the need of prayers, surely the world itself is standing in need of prayer. So, as we pray today, let’s pray for the people affected by the fires, for the people suffering the effects of war – like the people living in Iraq, Afghanistan, Turkey, Burma, and Sudan – or for people dying of starvation in Somalia and Darfur. And we shouldn’t forget the sabers rattling from the White House to Turkey to Russia.
Yes, the circle of those standing in the need of prayer is quite wide. Jesus says that if we pray in humility – there will be no contempt in our hearts for the other person! Let’s pray.
Preached by:
Rev. Dr. Robert Cornwall
Pastor, First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
Lompoc, CA
22nd Sunday after Pentecost
October 28, 2007

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Keep those prayers going!

Luke 18:1-8

You’ve heard it said: "Be careful what you pray for, you just might get it!" That’s a scary thought isn’t it? We don’t always think too deeply about what we pray for, and so we might end up praying for things that are better off not being stated.

Well when Evan Baxter – a news anchor turned congressman who ran on a platform pledging to change the world – got on his knees the night before his first day in Congress he prayed for help. What Evan didn’t expect was that God would take his prayer seriously. Not only did God hear, but God answered it by giving Evan Baxter the tools he needed to change the world – in a sort of Noahic way. God delivered some tools, a load of wood, plans, and just a bit of incentive to build an ark. I know that some of you have seen Evan Almighty, so you know what I’m talking about.

Evan Almighty is a nice family comedy with a good message that’s now out on DVD. That’s my commercial interruption. The point of the movie is pretty simple – God gives us opportunities. The question is, will we take advantage of those opportunities? Evan asked God to help him change the world, and God, who appears to him in the form of Morgan Freeman, decides to help him do just that.

The only thing is, he has to build an ark in his back yard.
Prayer is also a central theme in this movie. In a very humorous way, the movie reminds us that prayer is really a two-way conversation with God.

1. A Call to Prayer

Life doesn’t work the way it does in the movies – which might be a good thing – but there is some truth to the idea that God gives us opportunities to do good things. What happens from there depends on how we respond. Evan tried to run from his opportunities, but they kept following him. In our case, the question is: Where do we start when opportunities present themselves? The answer is: Prayer.

Our text this morning is itself a call to prayer. In fact, it’s a call to pray without ceasing. Theologian Jurgen Moltmann says that "faith deepens prayer, and prayer strengthens faith, until we reach the point of ‘praying without ceasing’."1 Evan discovered that if he was going to complete his mission, he would have to talk to God – a lot.

The idea that we should pray without ceasing is a bit daunting. How do you talk to God all the time? That’s the point, prayer is more than talking to God. It’s not a question of the number of words or the volume used. To pray without ceasing is to be continually mindful of God’s presence in our lives. If prayer is, as Marcus Borg suggests, "primarily about paying attention to God," then the form it takes can be verbal or nonverbal, formal or informal. It can involve praise and adoration, thanksgiving and confession, intercession and petition.2 Because prayer is a two-way conversation, it involves just as much, if not more, listening as talking. And, if you’re like me, you do a lot more talking than listening.

Now God may not appear to us in the form of Morgan Freeman -- though that would be fun – but God does have ways of being known to us. We just have to keep our eyes and ears open.

2. Persistence in Prayer

Jesus illustrates the call to prayer by telling a parable about persistence. It has been said that God’s timing is sometimes different from ours. So you have to be patient and you have to be persistent. You can’t give up too soon.

Now the parable itself is just a bit odd. It seems to suggest that if you bug God enough, God will give you what you want. You know what I mean, if a kid is enough of a pest he or she will get what they want eventually! I’m not sure that’s the message Jesus wants to get across to us.

Instead, Jesus offers us a contrast. He tells the story of a widow who goes to an "unjust judge" looking for a bit of vindication. She’d been wronged and so she wanted justice. But this judge was just a little bit nasty. In fact, he was known for showing contempt for the people who came seeking his help. He’s supposed to protect the victim, but it seems that he could care less. In the end, he does the right thing only because the widow is a pest. He gives her what she wants just to get her off his back.

But God isn’t like the unjust judge. God does care about his children and he does what is right not just because we’re pests but because that’s the way God is. God is, after all, an impartial and gracious judge, who acts quickly on behalf of the plaintiff.

Still, even if God will act and do so quickly, Jesus encourages us to be persistent. Our persistence isn’t of the pest kind, but instead involves continually walking in the presence of God.

3. Praying Unceasingly for the Future.

This call to prayer is for all times and all places. Susan reminded us last week that prayer is one of those practices that define what it means to be a Christian. To be a Christian is to be intimate with God, and that means we should be sharing in regular conversation with God.

This call to prayer is even more pertinent now than usual, because we stand here at a crossroads of sorts. We’re entering what you could call uncharted waters. We don’t know what the future holds, which can make us just a bit anxious. So, more than ever, we need to be vigilant in our prayers for the church and for each other.

I have been pastoring this congregation for the past three plus years. I’ve greatly enjoyed my time here. I’ve experienced healing and rediscovered my calling. I have no great need to leave, and yet we don’t know how much longer we’re going to be together. It could be a matter of months or years. This is why Susan called us all to be in prayer – we need to listen for God’s voice. You, as a congregation, need to listen for God’s direction. We have been in a process of discerning what this congregation is to be, now you will enter a time of discernment, seeking to know who will lead you in the next leg of your ministry in Lompoc.

Susan also had a word for me. She told me – be in prayer. Get close to God and listen for God’s calling. I too must discern where God is leading. I have to ask the same questions: where am I supposed to be? It’s quite possible that I’m supposed to be here, but it’s also possible that I’m supposed to be somewhere else. And the only way we can discover the answers to our questions is to be in prayer.

Ultimately this journey we’re on is about God. We are called to catch hold of God’s vision and then join God in God’s work of reconciliation. If we believe that God is capricious and unloving, then we’ll pray in fear. If, however, we believe that God is gracious and loving and just, we’ll pray with hope that good things are in a store for us. And so we enter a season of prayer, seeking God’s wisdom for the future.

1. Jurgen Moltmann, The Source of Life, (Fortress, 1997), 137.

2. Marcus Borg, The Heart of Christianity, (Harper, 2003), 196


Preached by:
Rev. Dr. Robert Cornwall
Pastor, First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
Lompoc, CA
21st Sunday after Pentecost
October 21, 2007

Saturday, October 06, 2007

GIFTS RECEIVED

2 Timothy 1:1-14

Back in the 1970s America gathered around its TV sets, fixated by a mini-series about an African American family. Alex Haley’s Roots was one of the most important events in TV history, in part because of the size of an audience it drew, but more importantly because it brought to life the struggles of African Americans as they made their way through life in America. For the first time White America caught sight of the dark side of its history.

Roots did something else; it encouraged people to explore and to own their own histories. In telling the story of his own family, from the time his ancestor Kunta Kinte was captured and brought to America on a slave ship up to his own day, he showed us the importance of passing on our stories. Owning our family history – warts and all – is key to knowing who we are as individuals.
Each of us has a family history, full of stories, both bad and good. They tell of both struggles and triumphs; they will contain even a few skeletons in the closet. We’d all like to think we descend from nobility or even royalty, but that may not be true. We may pass these stories down orally, through pictures or even in writing. But, however we pass them on, these stories form a legacy that should be received, respected, and even honored.
1. Passing on a Received Faith
In our tradition we practice Believers Baptism, which means we expect candidates for baptism to profess and own their faith for themselves before they’re baptized in water. Because of this fact, we often say that there are no second generation Christians. Each of us starts our journey of faith fresh. While this is true, we are also products of a history. The substance of our faith is a legacy that has been passed on from one generation to another. And no one plays a more important role in this process than a parent. It is the life and the words of a parent that often forms the foundation of a person’s faith journey.

Now not everyone thinks it’s a good thing for parents to pass on their faith traditions to their children. Some parents have decided to leave it up to their children to decide and so they don’t provide any religious education. I’m not exactly sure where they expect their kids are going to learn this stuff. And Richard Dawkins, a brilliant scientist and a militant neo-Atheist, has boldly stated that to raise a child in any faith, including the Christian faith, is tantamount to child abuse.
Obviously I disagree with both ways of looking at this issue. Although we must explore our faith and decide for ourselves whether we’ll own it or not, there is much to be said for passing on the legacy of faith from one generation to the next.

In this letter, a pastor writes in the name of Paul to a young man, who may be a pastor as well. And the older pastor gives thanks for the legacy of faith passed down from a grandmother to a mother and then to a son. Timothy is a third generation Christian, whose faith has been formed in large part by the gifts of faith passed from Lois to Eunice to him. This passage is such a strong reminder of the importance of family to our faith development – in fact it is in the context of family that faith thrives. We may leave behind that legacy. We may change our views over time. But that initial gift helps make us who we are, and even if we walk away from our inherited faith, we may very well rediscover it in time.

For some, the journey of faith starts when they’re a child and they never really deviate from this path. Although my journey hasn’t been a straight line, I can’t say there ever was a time when I was truly not part of the Christian community. But for others it has been different. They remember a time when they weren’t Christians. Still these stories have been told, and they’re part of who we are. How and when we own them will likely be different.

2. Rekindling that Inherited Faith

As I said, Timothy appears to be a third generation Christian. He’s been taught the faith by his mother and his grandmother, and he seems to have embraced it fully. He’s even taken on leadership in this church. This is the gift that’s been given him by the Holy Spirit, but he must continually rekindle it. He needs to restoke that fire by letting the Spirit breath some more life into his faith – just like oxygen on a fire.

I don’t know if Timothy’s fire is cooling off or not, but I think the word we hear is that we need to regularly attend to our spiritual life. Sometimes our journeys get difficult and sometimes we even stall out. But when the Spirit blows we’re revitalized and empowered to continue the journey that is faith.

3. Embrace it with Boldness

Not only is he told to keep the fire going, he’s told to embrace that faith with boldness. First generation Christians tend to have a greater sense of zeal than do subsequent generations. That’s to be expected, but Timothy is being told here to go for it, to take the risk of faith. There’s no room for timidity or cowardice. While cowardice is a bit of harsh term, the fact that it’s used here reminds us that when we hear the call to follow Jesus, we need to give it our all.

4. Legacies Received and Passed On

I want to return to this issue of legacies and passing on faith from one generation to another. Faith is, as they say, a gift that keeps on giving. We stand here this morning on the shoulders of hundreds of generations of Christians that go all the way back to that first generation that includes Lois. Each generation has to learn the story and figure out how that story influences the way they understand and live this faith. Because faith is a precious gift, we need to take good care of it. We need to handle it with care and with deep respect. But,
we’re not just supposed to take care of it, we’re also supposed to pass it on to others.

This morning our congregation will receive a gift and a legacy. Representatives of the Artesia Christian Church have come to pass on to us a set of banners and a cross. This church has decided that it’s time for them to disperse into the body of Christ. Although the Artesia church as an institution has come to an end, their legacy of service continues on in the stories and the symbols of their life together.

As we receive these banners and consecrate them for use here, we are committing ourselves to carrying on the legacy of this congregation. Their stories will become our stories. Their faith will be our faith. Yes we must own it and live it and practice it for ourselves, but whenever we see these symbols of God’s love, we will be reminded of lives lived in service to God’s kingdom. That knowledge can serve as a call to rekindle our faith and live it with boldness.


Preached by:
Rev. Dr. Robert Cornwall
Pastor, First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
Lompoc, CA
October 7, 2007
19th Sunday after Pentecost

Saturday, September 29, 2007

TRUE RICHES

I Timothy 6:6-19


I think the Beatles said it best – "Money can’t buy me love." That’s right –


Say you don't need no diamond ring
And I'll be satisfied
Tell me that you want those kind of things
that money just can't buy
For I don't care too much for money
For money can't buy me love


I realize that diamond rings are helpful, and I’ve bought a few, but they can’t buy love.

And despite what the Pharaohs thought, you can’t take it with you either! Great pyramids were built to hold all manner of treasure, but those bodies are still there a moldering in the grave, along with all those goods. Sometimes we forget this, but we didn’t bring anything into the world, and we’re not going to take anything out with us!
So, "money can’t buy me love," nor does it buy eternal life. Oh, it doesn’t hurt to have a little, but ultimately it can’t buy happiness. Just read the papers about the "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous" and you’ll see that having "things" doesn’t automatically make you happy. A person can have all the riches and the power in the world and still be as cold as ice. Consider Leona Helmsley who when she died left a sizable portion of her fortune to her cat. I think that says it all!

The author of this little letter that’s attributed to Paul, takes on the question of wealth, and from the context it appears that at least a few members of that early Christian community were wealthy. The writer fears that they might be tempted to walk away from their faith because of that wealth.
1. Futility of Chasing the Money
Be content – that’s the word here – because chasing after money can only get you into trouble. Not only can’t money buy you love, the "the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil" (1 Tim. 6:10). So, if you’ve got food, shelter, and clothing, be content and give thanks for your blessings, because to do otherwise can lead you down paths you’d rather not go – just ask Paris Hilton, Michael Vick, and Lindsey Lohan.

Of course having no money can be just as destructive of the soul. Frederick Douglass declared that "the want of money is the root of all evil to the colored people." And as Ralph Wood writes of Douglass’ observation:

He saw that humiliating, hopeless poverty reduces human beings to bestial creatures. Even black freedmen, he declared, "were shut out from all lucrative employments and compelled to be merely barbers, waiters, coachmen and the like, at wages so low that they could lay up little or nothing. Their poverty has kept them ignorant and their ignorance kept them degraded."1

2. Seeking True Riches

With Douglass’s warning in mind, we return to the question: If money can’t buy me love and I can’t take it with me, then what should I do with this fact of life – you need money to survive? Being content with what I have is okay, but is there more than simply being content? Is there something I can seek that has true value?

This past Monday I was reminded about the nature of true riches. It was mentioned several times that Mary Ann liked to collect things, such as dolls and all manner of Boyd’s Bears. But these collectibles aren’t the essence of Mary Ann. No, the essence of Mary Ann was found in her relationships with her children, her grandchildren, with Bill, with all of us. If the tangible or physical things can’t define us, then perhaps we should pursue more intangible things – like righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, and gentleness. These are the kinds of things you can’t monetize, and yet they have eternal value.

The focus of this text is wealth. You see this clearly in verses 6-10 and 17-19, which speak specifically about such things as the impermanence of wealth and the right usage of wealth. But right in the middle of this discussion is a self-contained unit that moves beyond the discussion of money. You could remove it and move from verse 10 to verse 17 without skipping a beat, but these six verses belong here because they tell us how to be content. It is because of faith in God that we can resist the lure of wealth. While it’s true that riches can draw us away from faith, faith can also fortify us as we seek to be God’s people.

This passage isn’t all that radical. Unlike Jesus, this early Christian leader doesn’t tell us to give it all away. He just warns us about being held captive by its attractiveness. Still, despite its lack of radicalness, the message is powerful, because our culture continually tells us that we should want more and seek more. Every time we turn on the TV, we see ads for products that we probably can live without, and couples are told that even if money can’t buy them love, their love will be considerably enhanced through the purchase of a diamond ring.
The call is to "fight the good fight of the faith." We’re called to take up the life of faith with vigor and forcefulness and pursue the good. And what is the good? It is the good of all – the common good. We can contribute to that good in many ways – including through gifts of our money to the Reconciliation Offering or Week of Compassion or to the ministries of the church. Contentment ultimately comes as we entrust our lives to the God who has called us to salvation. And salvation isn’t simply about life after death – salvation is about being made whole. And money won’t make you whole!!!



1. Ralph Wood, "A Passion for Lesser Things," Christian Century, 1995



Preached by:
Rev. Dr. Robert D. Cornwall
Pastor, First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
Lompoc, CA
18th Sunday after Pentecost
September 30, 2007

Saturday, September 22, 2007

IS THERE NO BALM IN GILEAD?

Jeremiah 8:18-9:1

When I last took up this text, six years ago today, it was the second Sunday after September 11, 2001. I think we all have memories of that day, and even two Sundays later, we were still in a state of shock. As I preached that day, I tried to make sense of what had happened just days before. I tried to wrestle with the grief and the anger people were feeling. I reflected on the angry calls for vengeance, which were understandable. I then tried to offer a different perspective, one that reflected the nature and character of the God we know and love in Jesus. That Sunday I tried to make sense of what had happened by using Jeremiah as my lens. As I read this text I heard words of judgement and despair, and then I went looking for words of consolation and hope.

In many ways the shadow of September 11, 2001 still hangs over our nation. The anger, the despair, and the fear engendered by the events of that day remain with us. But it’s not just 9-11 that casts a shadow over our lives. There’s the war in Iraq, Katrina, confessions of moral failure, and the continuing legacy of racism, which is seen in the trial going on Jena, Louisiana. So, we understand when we hear Jeremiah cry out: "My joy is gone, grief is upon me, my heart is sick." (Jer. 8:18).

Jeremiah isn’t the only voice crying out for the people. There are others, such as the psalmist who cries out:

"How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I bear pain in my soul and have sorrow in my heart all day long?" (Psalm 13:1-2a).

Then there’s that cry of dereliction that’s found first in the Psalms and then on the lips of Jesus as he hung on the cross.

"My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?" (Psalm 22:1).


These aren’t joyous texts, and yet they express our real feelings of despair and abandonment. Sometimes we think we have to always put on a smiley face before God, but these texts give us permission to cry out and ask why.

I. WORDS OF JUDGMENT

When Jeremiah spoke the words read this morning, the Babylonians were bearing down on Jerusalem. If you read the entire chapter you’ll hear Jeremiah saying to his neighbors – this is the bed you made, and it’s the bed you’ll have to sleep in. Jeremiah says that the events of his day are a sign of God’s judgment on their spiritual sickness, which was seen in their idolatry and in their treatment of one another.

I expect that the darkness of this passage of Scripture makes us uncomfortable. And that’s as it should be, for while the Scriptures bring us good news, the biblical writers are realistic about the world in which we live. Sometimes we need to be reminded that what we say and do can have a negative effect on the lives of others. While I don’t believe God sent those planes into the towers of Manhattan or Katrina, events such as these are wake-up calls of sorts. When things like these events happen, at least for a moment we stop and consider the shadows that hang over our world.
II. THE BALM OF GILEAD

I realize that this may seem like a gloomy message. As most of you know, I’m a pretty up beat and optimistic person. I’m more like Winnie the Pooh than Eeyore. But I know that life has its shadow side. There is, as the preacher says, a time to be born and a time to die, a time to rejoice and a time to grieve (Eccles. 3:1-8). That’s just the way life is.

Even as Jeremiah brings a word of judgment on his people, he also cries out for healing.

"Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there? Why then has the health of my poor people not been restored?" "O that my head were a spring of water, and my eyes a fountain of tears, so that I might weep day and night for the slain of my poor people!"

Jeremiah recognizes that we can’t live in the shadow side, we must move forward and find our healing. The question is, where is the balm of Gilead? Where is the physician for our souls?

There isn’t an answer in this immediate text, but if we continue to read on, past the point when the people go into exile, we hear Jeremiah tell the exiles that a time will come when they’ll return home. So don’t give up, keep hope alive (29:10ff). There is, as they say, light at the end of the tunnel, so keep hanging on.

As we seek a word of healing with Jeremiah, we’re led to Jesus, who is the great physician and the healer of our hearts. If we read the gospels, we know that healing stood at the center of his ministry. Wherever he went, he reached out and he touched peoples lives. He restored hope to those who lived without hope. He restored broken bodies and broken lives.

We see this promise of healing in his own death and resurrection. Hanging on the cross as he did that day, Jesus tasted the bitterness, the pain, and the despair of humanity. He bore on his body the blows of human anger and hatred, and he offered forgiveness in return. We hear the cry: Is there no balm in Gilead? We hear the answer in the gospels – It is Jesus who bring us God’s healing presence.

A number of Sundays back I preached a message on healing, and that sermon has stirred more conversations than any other I’ve preached. I’m not exactly sure why that is, but I think it has to do with the fact that we all need the healing touch of God. Whether it’s physical, emotional, or spiritual, we are seeking relief from pain and anguish.
I suppose it’s appropriate that we take up this subject when grief is strongly felt by this congregation. Tomorrow we will again gather in this place to remember, to celebrate, and to grieve. We will bid goodbye to one of our own. It’s still hard for me to believe that Mary Ann has died. Just a week ago she was here – a bit tired, but still full of life and full of hope. Two days later she was gone. We as her friends and her family now stand here a bit speechless and needing to be touched by the grace of God.
So, whether it’s the loss of one we hold dear such as Mary Ann, or whether it’s one who at least to us is an unnamed and unknown victim of violence in Iraq, Darfur, Congo or even own neighborhoods, we can find hope for healing in the presence of God. As we hear this message of hope we also discover that we’re to be the agents of that hope.

And so in the words of that old spiritual we sing out:

"There is a balm in Gilead to make the wounded whole, there is a balm in Gilead to heal the sin-sick soul."



Preached by:
Rev. Dr. Robert Cornwall
Pastor, First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
Lompoc, CA
17th Sunday after Pentecost
September 23, 2007