Saturday, July 28, 2007

10,000 DISCIPLES PRAYING

Luke 11:1-13

I bring you greetings from the Disciples of Christ General Assembly held this past week in Fort Worth. While there weren’t 10,000 Disciples gathered in Fort Worth, there was probably close to 7,000 present. That’s a whole lot of people. The 10,000 Disciples comes from a call put out by our General Minister and President Sharon Watkins for 10,000 Disciples to pray for the church and its ministry. We who gathered in Fort Worth this past week did just that. We prayed and we sang, we listened and we shared in the Supper of the Lord. We brought gifts and we did business. We argued and debated, and yes, we prayed.

Like every General Assembly there were issues that divided the body. Issues like the Iraq war. Although the resolution placing the church on record as opposing the Iraq War passed, the house was divided, and prayer was needed. Our moderator, Bill Lee, an African American pastor from Virginia, did just that, he called us to pray for healing in the body. He prayed that we would remember that there are differing positions on many issues and that disagreement doesn’t break the body. With this prayer the spirit in the room calmed and we could move onto other business.


And, did I say that we sang? Oh, my, did we sing, and we danced, and we clapped. The band, of course, was wonderful, but it wasn’t just the band. It was the Spirit of God who moved us to worship our God with boldness and with joy.

General Assemblies are important reminders of our connections with God and with the broader church. As a congregation we’re not an island; we’re part of an ever larger body of believers whose lives are centered in the God to whom Jesus prayed this prayer: "Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name." This call to prayer was heard often this past week, because without prayer there is no church. Indeed, without prayer the church is little more than a social group or a service organization. There’s nothing wrong with those kinds of groups, but they’re not church. And so ultimately, our work in the world as Disciples of Christ is determined by our relationship with God.

I wish all of you could have joined us in Fort Worth, because I think you would have enjoyed it and you would have come home tired but inspired.

1. A Call to Prayer


This morning’s text is itself a call to prayer. Even if this version is shorter than the one we recite each week, its familiarity should resonate with our spirits. And as Jesus prays to the Father he affirms God’s holiness and reminds us that God can’t be mocked. This is a prayer that announces the coming of God’s kingdom, and reminds us that our lives are dependent on God’s grace. Isn’t that what praying for our daily bread is all about? Finally, we pray for God’s forgiveness, knowing that forgiveness brings freedom from guilt and from fear so that we might fully serve God and God’s creation, even in the face of great trial.

One of the things I heard this past week was that good things take time. In workshops and in sermons, I heard the word: Be patient and watch for the movement of God’s Spirit. It’s easy to give up too soon, but Jesus tells us to be persistent, because if our own parents won’t give us a scorpion when we ask for bread, then surely God will be faithful and pour out the Holy Spirit on us if we ask.

Sharon Watkins invited 10,000 Disciples to join in prayer because, as she said:

"The only way I know for us to stay grounded during this time of rapid transition and challenge is to stay rooted in prayer. God is both the ground on which we stand and the creative energy promising newness of life." (10,000 Disciples Pray 2006-2007, CBP, 2006).


And so we come today to pray for the church in all of its many forms, here and around the world. We come to pray that the church, which is the body of Christ, will become an agent of transformation and reconciliation in a broken world.

2. A Disciple Vision

We gather here today in prayer as Disciples of Christ. As Disciples it’s helpful to know who we are and what we’re called to do. Our moderator, Bill Lee, called us to give a strong word to the world about Jesus and his kingdom. And what is that word? Well, it’s summed up in our calling as Disciples to be a church committed to true spirituality, true community, and to be passionate for justice. As we were reminded several times at the Assembly, this isn’t multiple choice. This is our identity!

Therefore, we are:

A. Committed to true spirituality.

Whatever we do in the name of God, we do in the context of prayer. It is our foundation and our starting point. As church we’re connected to God through the living ministry of Jesus our Lord and by the presence of the Holy Spirit who moves amongst us and through us, empowering us for service. This happens as we intentionally draw close to God in worship and in prayer.

B. Committed to true Community

Because this is the age of the individual, we glory in our autonomy and in our ability to go it alone with God. But the Christian faith isn’t a go-it-alone proposition. We’re not nomads wandering to and fro, we’re pilgrims on a journey together with a destination in mind. We find our identity in our Baptism and in our gatherings at the Lord’s Table. Baptism invites us into relationship with God and it seals our relationship with God’s people. Baptism is also our call to ministry. Then, at the table we gather for sustenance and for fellowship, because it’s there that we meet Jesus, the host of our meal, so that in eating together we can become a true community.

C. Passionate for Justice

As Jesus was beginning his ministry, he took these words of Isaiah to be his calling:
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. (LK 4:18-19).
As he claimed this mantle, he passed it onto us. For, if we’re to be true to our Christian faith then we’re called to be partners in bringing healing to a broken world. This was in fact Jim Wallis’ charge to us during the closing assembly worship. He charged us to be true disciples of Christ and commit ourselves to ministries of justice and peace.

It’s always good to be at the General Assembly, but we can’t stay there. We must come home and be God’s people in this community, and to be God’s people is to be in prayer for our fellow pilgrims and for the world at large.


Preached by:
Rev. Dr. Robert Cornwall
First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
9th Sunday after Pentecost
July 29, 2007


Saturday, July 14, 2007

THAT'S RIGHT NEIGHBORLY!

Luke 10:25-37


I grew up in small towns where we knew most of our neighbors, especially our neighbors with kids. Because everyone knew everyone else, our parents didn’t worry too much about us, as long as we let them know where we were going. We couldn’t get into too much trouble, because there was always a parent present to keep an eye on you and you knew that your Moms would talk to each other. But that was another time and another place, but it illustrates something about neighborliness – neighbors know each other and they watch out for each other.

There is a flip side of this idyllic scene that illustrates the problem of not recognizing each other as neighbors. I read a story about a stabbing in a convenience store. A couple of thugs stabbed a woman to death, but no one stopped to help. A video store camera records customers stepping over the dying woman and one person even took a picture with a cell phone camera. Now that’s not very neighborly, is it?

Every day we read about a neighbor killing neighbor, neighbor robbing neighbors, neighbor taking advantage of a neighbor. In Iraq neighbors are killing neighbors in the name of tribe or sect, and the same is happening in places around the world. Maybe you watched the film Hotel Rwanda. The movie tells about the genocide that took hold of Rwanda. In the course of this genocide, Hutus began to murder Tutsis, for no other reason than that they were from a different tribe. Many killed neighbors of long standing, and even more horrifying, we learned how Christian pastors were involved. It’s into the midst of this brutality that an unassuming hotel manager named Paul Rusesabagina, stepped up and became a true neighbor. He wasn’t looking to be the hero, but he became one nonetheless when he turned the upscale hotel into a refuge for thousands of Tutsis who had no place to go. He could have fled, and yet he didn’t. As a result he became a neighbor who cared.

So, who is my neighbor? That’s what Jesus questioner asked. It’s a question that led to one of Jesus’ most famous parables. We know it so well that it’s really hard to say something new about it, but at the same time it has much to say to us. When the man asked Jesus about being a neighbor, Jesus told him that sometimes our neighbors will be unexpected persons. It might be a Shiite protecting a Sunni or a Christian rescuing a Jew from the Nazis.
Rather than focus on the parable, I’d like us to ponder the question of what it means to be a good neighbor. The man who questioned Jesus got the right answer – the neighbor is the one who shows mercy. In that vein, I’d like to suggest that a neighbor is one who welcomes, who cares, and who listens.

1. To Welcome
Do you remember the Welcome Wagon? This neighborly group would bring trinkets from the local merchants to new residents and welcome the newcomer to town. It’s a nice idea – they even visited us in Manhattan, Kansas.

The purpose of that organization is to offer hospitality to newcomers. We’ve talked about hospitality and what it means for the church to be a place of welcome. But I think Jesus has more in mind than making the church a welcoming place. I think in telling the parable he wants us to live hospitable and welcoming lives. That is a difficult challenge, because it’s not always comfortable to open our homes and our lives to strangers. At least it is for me. But it’s about more than simply opening our homes. It also has to do with the way we treat each other in daily life.
The other day I read a hateful letter to the editor in the Record. It basically said, if you’re not my kind of person then I don’t want you in my town. It was xenophobic in the extreme and its anti-Latino tone isn’t in keeping with the American ideal of welcoming the stranger. But as the recent demise of immigration reform legislation proved, there is a lot of fear in America, and the root fear is a fear of the stranger. I don’t blame the priest and the Levite for passing by. You don’t know who could be lurking in the brush. It’s better to pass by. Besides, you don’t know anything about the person.

But according to Jesus being a good neighbor means throwing out the welcome mat, even for one who isn’t my kind of person.

2. To Care For
Being a neighbor is about more than throwing out the welcome mat, it’s also about compassion. The man said to Jesus, it’s the one who showed mercy that is the neighbor. The Samaritan wasn’t a respected person in Jesus’ community, but he cared about the one in need, going well beyond the call to duty. The good guy in the story didn’t know the victim, and yet he put himself out. He was a lot like Paul Rusesbagina, because he did what was necessary to save a life. He didn’t see himself as the hero, but he did show mercy in heroic fashion.

3. To Listen

Now Jesus doesn’t say anything here about listening, but I think listening is part of what it means to be a neighbor. In fact, listening is what makes it possible to be a neighbor.

A couple of weeks back a number of us attended the Gang Forum. That was about listening. We listened to the stories told by young men who had made bad choices. They asked for our help and we considered their request. Then we listened some more to each other as we shared ideas that would keep young people out of gangs. We heard a call to be good neighbors and to watch out for each other.

Listening comes in many forms. The good thing about listening is that we learn from each other and we learn about each other. If you don’t know a Muslim or a Jew or a Latino or an African American or a homosexual, your information about such a person will be based on second hand information. We call that stereotype, and most of the time stereotypes are incomplete at best and usually distorted. This is one of the reasons why I’m involved in interfaith dialog. I want to understand the Jewish faith and the Muslim faith from the perspective of a Jew and a Muslim. Otherwise, I’m liable to let stereotypes define people of other faiths.
What does it mean to be a neighbor? I think it has something to do with that question Cain asked God? "Am I my brother’s keeper?" The answer is yes, we are our brothers and our sisters’ keepers.
Preached by:
Rev. Dr. Robert D. Cornwall
Pastor, First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
Lompoc, CA
July 15
7th Sunday after Pentecost