Saturday, October 25, 2008

Blessings of God

Luke 1:39-46

If case you hadn’t noticed, the world is in a deep financial crisis. The politicians and the pundits keep telling us that this is the worst it’s been since 1932. I wasn’t around back then, but from what I’ve heard, it was pretty bad. So, Just like it was back then, the stock market is crashing, banks are closing, jobs are being lost, and credit lines are frozen, and, people are both scared and angry. At least that’s what I’ve heard on the news!

With all of this bad financial news swirling around us, maybe this isn’t the best time to launch our annual stewardship campaign. No matter how you sugar coat it, asking for money when the economy is in the tank is dangerous! Despite my reticence, and maybe my better judgment, the Stewardship Committee wants to press on anyway! Apparently they have to plan a budget, and to do this they need to know how much you’re going to give.

Despite all this bad economic news, or maybe because of it, this just might be a good time to talk about money. After all, money is on our minds. Like the pundit said: “It’s the economy stupid!”

Like most pastors I’d just as soon not talk about money. For one thing, I know that your offerings pay my salary. I also understand that money, like sex, politics and religion, is a personal, even private thing. Now, when it comes to religion, I don’t have any choice. It’s my job to talk religion. But, talking about money, like talking about sex, seems just a bit meddlesome. And yet, money plays such an important role in our lives, we can’t avoid talking about it.

I’ve heard it said that the Bible talks a lot about money. And if you read the Scriptures, you’ll discover that it does have a lot to say about money. But I warn you, you might not like everything you read! Some parts might even sound un-American. So, as we begin this annual consideration of our call to stewardship, the question that stands before us is this: What would God have us, as followers of Jesus, do?

As we seek to answer that question, we turn to a familiar text, but it’s one that seems oddly out of place. This is an Advent text, something I might preach on in about a month from now. But if we listen for God’s voice in this text, then perhaps we’ll hear something about what God is up to in the world. Maybe we’ll find some guidance in the way that Mary responded to God’s activities in the world. And finally, perhaps we’ll discover what Jesus would have us do.

1. What is God up to?

When times get tough, we often ask: Where is God? It’s a question that we don’t ask quite as often when things are going well, but it’s an important question nonetheless. In this conversation between two pregnant women we hear a witness to God’s presence in the world. Elizabeth tells Mary, a young woman who is pregnant and yet unmarried: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!” (Luke 1:42). Why? Because Mary was an agent of transformation. God was at work in the world, and she would be a partner with God. Therefore, she was blessed.

What is God up to? Listen to Mary as she sings God’s praises. God will bring down the rich, the powerful, the proud, and the satisfied. And, God will lift up the poor, the powerless, the hungry, and the humble. In other words, God is turning the world upside down. No longer would conventional wisdom hold true. While there might not be a “biblical economic system” that we can or should implement, it does seem, from this text, that God has certain priorities, and those priorities might differ from the world’s vision. But, it is in this work of God, that we will find blessing.

2. Mary’s Response to God’s Blessings

This morning we sang Andrae Crouch’s song: “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me bless his holy name.” This is a powerful statement of faith. God has done great things and so we come to bless the name of the Lord. This morning, the person who leads us in this song of praise is Mary. Mary, the mother of Jesus, was a young woman, probably no more than 13 or 14. She came from peasant stock and lived in the backwater Galilean village of Nazareth. She was pregnant but not married. She was neither rich nor powerful. And yet, God had chosen her to be an agent of transformation. In response to this blessing, Mary sings out a song of praise and thanksgiving.

My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked with favor
on the lowliness of his servant. (Luke 1:46b-48a).

Mary sang out with a loud voice, giving praise to God, because God had blessed her. God blessed her, because she offered herself up for God’s use in the world.

This morning we come to consider what God would have us do with our lives, including our finances. Perhaps we can find some guidance in Mary’s response to God. First of all, she responded to God’s call with deep humility. She gives thanks that God had looked upon her and considered her worthy to be used by God. Everything about her suggested that she wasn’t a candidate for God’s work of transformation. She was young, pregnant, unmarried, poor. But she made herself available to God. Doesn’t this very fact say to us: God can use you – Your gifts, your abilities, your resources, to fulfill God’s purposes in the world. Yes, what you already possess is sufficient for God’s purposes. All that you need, you already have.

Sometimes we don’t think we have much to bring to the table. And yet we may have much more than we think. Because of that, God is, I believe, calling us to be good stewards of the gifts we’ve been given by God. Mary may not have had much in the way of financial resources, but she did have her life to give for God. And she made herself available – body, soul, and spirit.

3. What Would Jesus Have Us Do?

Mary responded to God’s call by giving her entire being to God. Her story has many echoes in the gospels: Some are positive and others not so positive. We see a widow who gave her last penny to the Temple. It wasn’t much, and yet it was more than the rich man gave, because it was all she had. On there other hand, there’s the young man, whom Jesus told, if you love God, then sell everything and give the proceeds to the poor, and come and follow me. Unfortunately, he could not follow Jesus. Of course, would we have followed him? And then there’s the message found in Matthew 25: What you do to the least of these, you do to me.

A few years back, we heard the question posed: “What Would Jesus Do?” Peter Gomes, writing in his book The Scandalous Gospel of Jesus, suggests a different question. Rather than ask what Jesus would do, perhaps we should ask what Jesus would have us do? Because our lives and situations are different, might it not be better to ask: What would Jesus have me do in this moment in time?

The Bible says that there are two primary commandments – love God with your entire being, and then love your neighbor as you love yourself. Mary seems to have understood this premise, and so she gave herself completely to God’s service out of love for God and love of neighbor.

In the coming weeks we will be asked to make a financial pledge to the ministries of this church. You will hear testimonies and read some others. This invitation focuses on our financial contributions. This is important, especially in this time of economic upheaval. Our decisions will be an expression of our faith in God. As we consider what to pledge we will be asked to think through how we approach money. As Jesus said, where our treasure is, there will our hearts be also (Luke 12:24). But it’s not just about money. We’ve been asked to be good stewards of all that God has blessed us with, our money, our time, our abilities. And so, as we prayerfully consider God’s call on our lives, we will be seeking to invest these gifts of God in the ministries of the church. As we do this, we will be guided by our calling to be a missional church, a church that looks outward and asks of God: What would you have us do as you work to transform our world? And as we ask these questions, we will get to share in the blessings of God, even as Mary did, so many generations ago! And when we share in them, then we can also magnify the Lord and rejoice in God’s blessings.


Preached by:
Rev. Dr. Robert D. Cornwall
Pastor, Central Woodward Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
Troy, Michigan
October 26, 2008

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Disciples Values: The Ministry Principle

1 Thessalonians 5:15-21

I doubt that many of you would recognize the names Gary Wells or Brett Younger, but both of them were once my pastors, and I have great respect for them. I expect that each of you could name a pastor or two who have been an exemplar of Christian ministry, a pastor who has especially touched your life.

October has been designated by someone or some group the month of the ministry. It’s one of those Hallmark occasions when you’re supposed to send out cards to your pastor. The month is waning, and I’ve yet to receive any of these cards, which means that Hallmark is not happy! But seriously, ministry is an important part of Christian life. In fact, ministry is much more than something that a pastor is or does. Indeed, ministry is something that we all do. So to be fair, I should be sending out cards to all of you!

This is the final chapter in our six week series on Disciple Values. And ministry is a central Disciple value, but only when we define ministry broadly. At her installation as General Minister, Sharon Watkins said that Disciples don’t do hierarchy very well, and she’s correct. In fact, Alexander Campbell was known to condemn a "hireling ministry." With that in mind, what is ministry for us as Disciples?

I. AN EVOLVING SENSE OF MINISTRY AMONG DISCIPLES

Things have changed a bit since the days of Alexander Campbell and Barton Stone. Unlike the early days of our movement, most Disciple churches today have seminary-trained pastors. Back at the beginning of the movement, however,Alexander Campbell believed that every person was a minister. That’s why Campbell founded Bethany College. He wanted everyone in the church to be fully educated in Scripture, not just pastors. For Campbell, elders not only gave spiritual leadership, they were the pastors who ruled, taught, and preached. And, unlike modern pastors they usually emerged from within the local congregation. This is why the Disciples were such big hits on the frontier. Churches didn’t have to wait for a preacher to come to town before starting a church.

After the Civil War things began to change, and Disciples began to look at their neighbors, and decided that they wanted trained pastors for their churches, just like everybody else. But, when in 1862 Isaac Errett, then the pastor of a Detroit church, accepted the title Reverend, he received considerable flack from other Disciples. No, we don’t do hierarchy very well.

Nevertheless, over the years, as the frontier gave way to cities and towns, our churches decided that they needed properly educated pastors to lead, guide and care for them. Colleges and seminaries began to spring up across the country to train future preachers, and the churches called these newly trained young men – they were young men back then – to fill their pulpits and look after their people. It was a natural change, but it did offer a challenge our understandings of ministry.

In time more changes would come. Women, for instance, began to take on greater and broader roles in the church, and today we have a woman serving as our General Minister. I think Alexander and Barton would be a bit surprised with all the changes, but in the end the Disciple principle of ministry remains intact. Ministry is still something we all do, whether we’re clergy or laity, whether inside or outside the walls of the church.

II. THE MINISTRY OF THE PEOPLE (LAOS)

Today we’ll baptize Heidi Michael. Her baptism not only seals her confession of faith in Jesus and invites her into membership in the church, it also serves to ordain her to Christian ministry. In baptism we’re equipped and empowered by the Holy Spirit for service in the kingdom of God (Acts 2:38; 1 Cor. 12:7).

Baptism reminds us that biblically there’s no difference between clergy and laity. That’s because we’re all part of the part of the Laos or people of God. While some among the Laos (laity) are called to specialized forms of ministry that require education, training, accountability, and professional standards, each of us is called to a ministry that involves caring for our neighbors through prayer, acts of compassion, the sharing of our faith, and a commitment to justice. Each of us has been called to be an ambassador of reconciliation, and each of us have been called to use our gifts and abilities to serve God in our communities. Ministry is a shared vocation that emerges from within the congregation, and therefore, the congregation, which is the body of Christ with Jesus as its head, is the fountain of all ministerial authority. Jesus doesn’t just speak through preachers, Jesus speaks through the congregation. Although congregational government may not be the most efficient form, Disciples believe it’s the one that allows Jesus to speak most freely.

III. THE QUESTION OF ORDINATION

If ministry is, for Disciples, a shared vocation of all God’s people, as I’ve been saying, then what role do pastors play in the life of the church? What about ordination to pastoral ministry?

It’s true that Disciples haven’t always been comfortable with the idea of an ordained clergy, but over time we discovered that our mission requires that we set aside some from among us to perform specific tasks of ministry – especially the tasks of teaching, preaching, and leadership. We also discovered the need for standards. Once churches began to look beyond the congregation for leadership, they needed to have confidence that the people they were calling were up to the task. In the beginning, the focus was largely on education, but in time other questions emerged. In fact, the Jim Jones episode, helped spur on this development!

One study of ministry among the Disciples defined three fundamental tasks of pastoral ministry: The report said that Pastors should:

1. "Act in obedience to God's commandment of love in self sacrifice on behalf of others and in a servant life in the world;"
2. "Proclaim the gospel by word (teaching and preaching); by sacramental actions (Baptism and the Lord's Supper), and by deed (mission and service);"
3. "Oversee the life of the community in its worship, education, witness, mission, fellowship, and pastoral nurture."1
In one sense every Christian can fulfill these tasks, including that of oversight. But pastors serve the church in a representative way. It is as representatives of the whole church, that pastors give leadership to the church’s ministries, but even then pastors don’t act alone.

Paul recognized the importance of this kind of ministry, and so he appealed to the church at Thessalonika: “to respect those who labor among you, and have charge of you in the Lord and admonish you, esteem them very highly in love because of their work” (1 Thess. 5:12-13). In other words, the church is called on to affirm, support, and work with those whom God has called to be leaders, teachers, and care givers.

Our views of ministry may have evolved. We may have been influenced by the needs and issues of the day. Indeed, we have been influenced by our relationships with other traditions, but Disciples still start from the premise that ministry is a shared vocation of all God’s people. So, my question is, as we bring to a close this series of sermons on Disciples values, are you ready to answer the call of Jesus? Are you ready to affirm your own ordination to ministry through your baptism, even as Heidi comes today to receive her ordination to ministry in Christ’s church?



1. "Word to the Church on Ministry," in D. Newell Williams, Ministry among Disciples: Past, Present and Future, (St. Louis, Christian Board of Publication, 1985), 111


Preached by:
Rev. Dr. Robert D. Cornwall
Pastor, Central Woodward Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
Troy, Michigan
October 19, 2008

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Disciples Values: The Sacramental Principle

Acts 2:37-42

“A picture is worth a thousand words.” Look at a picture of a smiling young man in a tuxedo, standing hand in hand with a young woman dressed in a flowing white gown, and you know what’s been happening. You don’t need any words. The picture tells the story.

You enter the church and you see a table set with a chalice and a loaf of bread, and you probably know what’s going to happen. These ancient symbols bring to mind an ancient story about God’s love for humanity, a love that was most fully expressed on a cross. Words may be shared, but the symbols themselves carry the story.

This picture of the table set, or a picture of a baptistry filled, call to mind a sacred covenant that God has made with us. They’re reminders that we, though flawed human beings, may rest in peace while standing in the midst of God’s grace. We know this to be true, because these symbols continue to speak to us, from one generation to the next.

I. Why Sacraments?

These sacred signs of grace are often called sacraments, and a sacrament is by common definition an “outward and visible sign of an inward and invisible work of grace.” The word comes from the Latin, and it once referred to a sign of loyalty given to a military or political leader. In time the word took on a broader, deeper meaning. It continued to convey a sense of loyalty, though in this case, the object of this loyalty is God, but it went deeper. The external act became the sign of God’s gracious work of transformation, which happens internally. Over the years Christians have debated over which signs most explicitly carry this witness, and we Disciples follow Protestant practice and claim only two sacraments: Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. It’s possible to expand the number, but these two stand out.

Despite the long usage of this word, Disciples haven’t always been comfortable with it. Alexander Campbell, for instance, didn’t think it was biblical enough, so, he chose an equally non-biblical word, “ordinance.” But, even though Campbell didn’t use the word sacrament, he did believe that these two acts of the church were ordained by Jesus to be signs of God’s grace. And thus, today most Disciples are comfortable with claiming these two acts as sacraments of God’s church.

II. BAPTISM AS MEANS OF GRACE

It is Disciple practice to baptize by immersion upon confession of faith. We’ve been doing this ever since Alexander Campbell decided not to baptize his infant daughter and instead asked a Baptist preacher to baptize him, along with his father and their families. Like most of his fellow Christians of that day, Campbell had been baptized as an infant, but after reading the New Testament he decided that believer’s baptism by immersion was the clearest practice of the early church, and therefore it should be our practice.

As important as that example was, even more important was the meaning he found in baptism. Looking to Acts 2:38, he found the key to understanding baptism. In this passage Peter answered the question: What must we do to be saved? His answer was simple and straightforward:

"Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit."
Walter Scott, another of our founders, turned this passage into an evangelistic formula that he called the “5 Finger Exercise.” What Campbell heard in these words was a promise – if we repent and are baptized, God will be faithful to forgive our sins. It’s not that the waters of baptism have magical powers. It’s just that Campbell believed that God would faithfully act in response to our repentance and our willingness to enter the waters of baptism with an offer of forgiveness. He took comfort in that promise, because he didn’t have to rely on religious experiences or feelings – which can be fickle – to tell him he was part of God’s family. His baptism was all he needed to remember that he was a forgiven child of God. But not only that, even as God is faithful to forgive, God will also faithfully empower us by the filling of the Holy Spirit so that we might walk boldly the path of faith.

Beyond this witness in Acts we find other passages that deepen the meaning of this sacrament. Paul speaks of baptism being the place where we symbolically share in Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection. That is, even as we die to our old lives as we’re buried with Jesus in the waters of baptism, we become a new person when we rise with him from the waters of baptism (Rom. 6:1ff). John calls this being born again (Jn 3:1ff).

Baptism can be a life changing experience because it so powerfully symbolizes the transformation that is happening within us when we choose to follow Jesus and receive both forgiveness and the empowerment of the Spirit. It’s true that we may stray from our commitments, but the memory of that event reminds us that God will never stray from us, and in that there is great joy!

I must add something to this statement, however, for while we practice believer’s baptism by immersion, we also affirm the baptisms of all Christians. Therefore, we don’t require people to be rebaptized if they’ve been baptized as infants. That’s because we don’t presume to restrict God’s work in the lives of Christians whose baptismal experience differs from our own.

III. THE LORD'S SUPPER AS SACRAMENT

We refer to the other sacrament, the one we faithfully observe each week, as the Lord’s Supper, Holy Communion, or the Eucharist. As with baptism, we find this sacrament described in Acts 2. It would appear that when the early Christians gathered for worship, besides listening to the teachings of the Apostles, sharing in community and in prayer, they would also break bread. Disciples have tried to follow this biblical pattern by coming to the Lord’s Table each Sunday. This practice is kind of unique in Protestant circles, which is why we chose a chalice to be our denominational symbol. It reminds us that the Table, more than anything else, defines us as a people. Because we are a people of the Table, Dick Hamm summed up our church’s mission as: "The Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) inviting the World to Christ's table." And our new denominational identity statement puts it this way:

We are Disciples of Christ,
a movement for wholeness
in a fragmented world.
As part of the one body of Christ,
we welcome all to the Lord's Table
as God has welcomed us.
But what does this mean?

Just as with baptism the Lord’s Supper has a number of meanings. For instance, as we gather together at the table we remember that Jesus also broke bread with his disciples, with sinners, and with tax collectors. Indeed, Jesus invited everyone to his table. We also gather in remembrance of all that he was and is. We remember his life, his teachings, his death, and his resurrection. We do this because he called on us to share in the bread and the cup in remembrance of him.

But we don’t simply come to remember, we also come to the table to experience Christ’s spiritual presence. He may not be with us in the flesh, but surely he is with us in Spirit, for as he said to the disciples: “where two or more are gathered in my name, I will be in their midst” (Mt 18:20). But there are also other elements to this witness. We see and hear in this meal a call to unity, for as Paul put it, because there’s one bread and one cup, there’s one body of Christ (1 Corinthians 10:17). And just as we are called to remember his earthly life and death, we’re also called to anticipate a final messianic banquet, what John the Revelator calls the “marriage supper of the Lamb” (Rev. 19:9).

We have a tendency to approach this meal with great sobriety, and for good reason. It is a sacred meal and a remembrance of a life given for others. As we gather at the table, we remember his sufferings on the cross, and surely that is sobering. But, because of the Resurrection, we should also come to the table with a sense of joy and celebration. Death isn’t the final word, so as we come to the table, we’re able to sing: “I come with Joy, a child of God, forgiven, loved and free, the life of Jesus to recall in love laid down for me, in love laid down for me.” Indeed, as we share in this meal, we become “new community of love in Christ’s communion bread.” (Chalice Hymnal, 420).

Alexander Campbell understood the sacredness of this meal, but he also recognized the need for joy at the table, and so he wrote that “with sacred joy and blissful hope (we) hear the Savior say, ‘This is my body broken -- this my blood shed for you’." It is this joy, and this hope, that moves us to embrace one another in love. Indeed, in this call to the table we hear a call to love the world, even as Christ loves the world.

We are indeed, a sacramental people who celebrate God’s grace by sharing in the waters of baptism and in Christ’s messianic feast. These are visible signs of God’s kingdom that is already in our midst. As Disciples, this is a principle worth embracing.


1. Richard Hamm, "Address to the Assembly", General Assembly of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), (Cincinnati, October 10, 1999).

2. Alexander Campbell, Christian Baptist, 3 (Aug. 1, 1825): 175 [Reprint, College Press, 1983].


Preached by:
The Rev. Dr. Robert D. Cornwall
Pastor, Central Woodward Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
Troy, MI
October 12, 2008

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Disciples Values: The Eschatological Principle

Revelation 22:12-17

Back when I was in high school, I was really into eschatology. I mean, I read all the end times books, including Hal Lindsey’s Late Great Planet Earth. I also played Barry McGuire’s Eve of Destruction and Larry Norman’s “I am the Six o’clock News” on my record player. Sometimes at church we had rapture practice – which involved jumping off chairs in the sanctuary. I think I can safely say that my friends and I thought that Armageddon was just around the corner. In fact, by our calculations, which we took from Hal Lindsey, the end would come in 1988. Now, just in case you didn’t know, it’s now 2008, so I guess we were just a bit off in our calculations.

That was then, and as they say, this is now. But, I’m still into eschatology, just not the kind I indulged in back then. This word, eschatology, might sound a bit strange and exotic. It’s not a word we use very often on normal conversation, but even though most people don’t know the word, it’s an important theological idea.

As a general rule, we Disciples don’t talk much about the end of the world. We don’t have prophesy conferences or rapture practice at church. But, we do have an “eschatological principle.” That’s because we do believe that God is interested in our future. Even if Alexander Campbell wasn’t an end times preacher, he did name his journal “The Millennial Harbinger.” How much more eschatological can you get than that?

I. THE FUTURE AND THE PURPOSE OF HISTORY

Alexander Campbell believed in God’s providence. He believed that God was at work in the world and that the events of today influenced the future. Like Marin Luther and John Wesley, Campbell had what you might call a Damascus Road kind of experience.

His first attempt at crossing the Atlantic from Scotland, ended with a shipwreck. That event delayed his trip to America by a year, and during that year he studied at the University of Glasgow and met some of the leading reformers of the day. It was during this period that he heard God’s call to reform the church and seek unity among all Christians. What happened then influenced the ministry he would have in America. And as, Campbell looked back at that shipwreck, he saw God’s providential hand at work.

Campbell came to believe that we should take seriously the events of the day, because we don’t know how they will influence tomorrow. When I look back at my life, what might seem like random events, helped prepare me for my ministry here at Central Woodward. It’s not that God determines everything that happens in our lives, but God will use our life experiences to shape our future.

II. GOD’S STAKE IN HUMAN HISTORY

Campbell was confident that God “had a stake in human history." Ours isn’t the God of Deism, the God who sets things in motion, and then goes on vacation. Most Disciples believe that God is present with us. We see signs of that presence in the life and ministry of Jesus (Mt. 1:23) and in the coming of the Holy Spirit.

At the time of his departure , Jesus told the gathered disciples that he wouldn’t leave them alone, but would instead send the Holy Spirit. This Holy Spirit would empower them so that they might bear witness to the things of God, beginning in Jerusalem and moving outward to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:6ff). As Disciples, we must hear this eschatological message: God isn’t absent from our lives; Instead, God is standing out in front of us, leading us and beckoning us into a future full of hope.

There are pessimistic eschatologies and optimistic ones. Some are fantasy and others realistic. Some are focused on wars in heaven and on earth, but a Disciple eschatology should be both hopeful and realistic. Our eschatology is a reminder that God is already at work establishing his reign here on earth, even as God is doing the same in heaven – just as we pray each week when we recite the Lord’s Prayer. This eschatology of ours invites us to join with God in this work of reconciliation and healing of a broken world. It’s ultimately an invitation to love our neighbors, even as we love ourselves. As Paul said, "In Christ, God was reconciling the world to himself," and God is making his plea through us (2 Cor. 5:19 - 20). Yes, God is making something new of this world, and we have a role to play in it!

III. THE HISTORY OF SALVATION AND THE FUTURE

Disciples biblical scholar Eugene Boring suggests that we might best understand the Bible as a five act play: Creation, Covenant, Christ, Church, and Consummation. It has a beginning and it has an end. It happens in the past, in the present, and in the future. We call this five act story “salvation history.” Standing at the very center of this story of salvation history, is the promise that God will be with us every step of the way as we journey forward into the future. We go forward in the hope that in the end, God will reign over all. Because of this hope we needn’t live in fear.

No book of the Bible is more linked to the future than the book of Revelation. This book might seem exotic and difficult to understand, but its basic point is quite simple. Even though things may look bad right now, hang tight because God will reign victorious. Rome may seem in control, but its leash is short. This bad news you’ve been hearing, it’s not the last word. If we go back a few verses in Revelation 22, we’ll find the messenger of God telling John, “do not seal up the words of the prophecy of this book, for the time is near.” Keep the book open because God is at work. Yes, both evil and good are present, but in time the good will prevail. So, again, just be patient!

We see this same eschatological message present in Jesus’ parable of the mustard seed. Jesus tells us that just like a mustard seed the reign of God starts small, but given time, it will grow, just like the mustard seed, which is among the smallest of seeds, but given time it will become a great bush. You might not see it just yet, but God is already reigning – for the kingdom of God is in our midst. The old order may still be hanging on, kind of like a lame duck politician, but the signs are all around us. If we look hard enough we’ll signs that God is at work. And if we listen closely, we’ll hear God calling on us to join in this work of salvation.

The late Disciple historian Tony Dunnavant once wrote, that the Disciples have always been a "movement that understood itself in eschatological terms as one of God's instruments for the evangelization of the world." It is our calling to be a harbinger of God’s good news of healing and wholeness in this world. Our eschatological message isn’t focused on promises of death and destruction for our neighbors whom God chooses to leave behind. Instead, it is a word of hope and reconciliation.

In these closing verses of John’s Revelation, we hear a word of blessing along with an invitation. We hear Jesus saying to us: “Come . . . let everyone who wishes take the water of life as a gift" (Rev. 22:17). That message of Jesus, is our message as well. It is our good news.

There may be a financial crisis and seemingly unending wars. There is poverty and disease. But these do not have the last word. The days ahead might get rough and unsettling, but the reign of God continues to spread, and we get to be part of that work.

It’s appropriate that today is both World Communion Sunday and Reconciliation Sunday. Our eschatological message is truly one of reconciliation, for God is at work in Christ reconciling the world to himself (2 Corinthians 5:17). And there is no better sign of this work of reconciliation than the Lord’s Table, around which we will soon gather – together with brothers and sisters from around the globe.

The Lord’s Table is one of two important markers of God’s reign. The other is baptism. As Mark Toulouse, our tour guide puts it, "these two central sacraments of the church collapse God's time into our time and bring Christians to a firsthand encounter with God's grace in the here and now." Baptism gives entrance into the kingdom, while the Lord’s Supper anticipates the messianic banquet when the hungry and the thirsty will be satisfied. When we share in them, we declare that God will reign over all.

If this is our eschatological calling, then our prayer, as Disciples, should be: Come quickly, Lord Jesus!


1. Mark Toulouse, Joined in Discipleship, Rev. Edition., (St. Louis: Chalice Press, 1997), 127.

2. Eugene Boring, Disciples and the Bible, (St. Louis: Chalice Press, 1998).

3. Tony Dunnavant, "Evangelization and Eschatology: Lost Link in the Disciples Tradition?" Lexington Theological Quarterly, 28/1 (Spring 1993), 51.


Preached by:
The Rev. Dr. Robert D. Cornwall
Pastor, Central Woodward Christian Church
Troy, MI
October 5, 2008