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