Sunday, November 22, 2009

Generosity is the Hallmark

1 Kings 17:8-16

Julianna Claasen, in reflecting on today’s text, wrote:
Sometimes God’s provision comes in the most unlikely of places and by means of the most unlikely of people. 1
Or, to put it another way, “God works in mysterious ways!”

The story of the prophet Elijah’s encounter with the widow of Zarephath is a perfect illustration of this principle. Think about it, God sends the prophet, who is fleeing from the wrath of Queen Jezebel, to a foreign land to find shelter with an impoverished widow and her son. What is more, not only was this widow poor, she wasn’t even a worshiper of Yahweh. Being from Sidon, she would have been a worshiper of Baal, the same god worshiped by Jezebel. And yet, it was this most unlikely woman who provided food and shelter for a stranger, even though her resources were few. But in the midst of her scarcity, God found abundance.

There is another story about a widow. Although this story is a bit different, it also features a widow who gives sacrificially. In fact, she gives her last penny to the Temple. You may have heard this story before, but I’d like to read it. Don’t worry it’s brief: Read: Mark

He sat down opposite the treasury, and watched the crowd putting money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which are worth a penny. Then he called his disciples and said to them, ‘Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.’ (Mark 12:41-44)

As you listen to these stories, do you hear echoes in the words of our opening hymn?
Come, ye thankful people, come, raise the song of harvest home; all is safely gathered in, ere the winter storms begin; God our Maker, does provide for our wants to be supplied; come to God’s own temple, come, raise the song of harvest home
(Chalice Hymnal, 718)
Do you hear in these stories and in this hymn, a call to trust in God’s provisions and to give thanks for God’s abundance?

In both of these stories, there is the background of scarcity. The widow of Zarephath is facing famine and the other widow simply faces the reality that her resources have come to an end. Their stories are reflected in many stories of our day, for we live in difficult times – when news about foreclosures, job losses, climbing unemployment rates, dominate our conversations. This news is serious, and we shouldn’t take it lightly, but is there another word that we should hear at this time of Thanksgiving? Can we not pause to reflect on our abundance and give thanks for God’s provisions?

1. Seeing God’s Abundance

While it’s difficult to talk about abundance when the times are so stressful, can we not find signs of grace in our midst? The widow of Zarephath didn’t have much, but she did have some grain, some oil, and a few sticks of wood. As we see from the story, this was sufficient for her to be a blessing to a stranger – and in the end she was also blessed.

Over the past week or so, I’ve watched several of our members post daily words of thanks on Facebook. These words of thanksgiving are reminders that we have been blessed beyond measure. After reading these for several days, I even set up a discussion forum on our Facebook fan page so we could offer words of thanksgiving in a more public fashion. Not too many of you have visited this forum, but there’s still time to share our thoughts about God’s abundance.

When we look at the biblical stories, we find many examples of God’s provision for humanity, starting with the Garden and moving on to the manna God provided in the wilderness. There’s the feeding of the 5000 and this story of the widow who shared what she had with Elijah, and received God’s blessings as a result. We needn’t be Bill Gates, Oprah, or Warren Buffett to experience abundance, so the question is – what are the signs of God’s abundance in your life? Finding an answer to that question, requires that we look at our lives prayerfully.

2. Generosity as a Way of Life

This biblical story reminds us that we can find abundance in the least expected places, but it also encourages an attitude of generosity. In the devotional readings for this week the message is one of generosity as a hallmark of one’s life – a message reflected in the title of this sermon. Therefore, as we hear this call to be generous with God’s abundant grace, we also hear a call to bring in and dedicate our pledges of support for the ministries of this church. We do this for at several reasons.

First, we give to the church as a sign of commitment to living in a covenant community of faith. If we wish to have a place to worship and serve, then it will take money to pay the bills – including salaries, utilities, and program costs. If we are to be a missional church then the church must have financial viability. Therefore, each of us must decide, prayerfully, how much should be given for this work.

Second, we take the offering in worship as a sign of our gratitude – because as the Psalmist puts it: “The Lord is good; his steadfast love endures forever” (Ps. 100:5). Yes, God has blessed us with every good and perfect gift, and so we respond by returning a portion to God’s house.

Third, by making these pledges and bringing in these offerings, we recognize that everything belongs to God and that we have given access to it as a trust from God. Or, as Mark Powell puts it: biblical stewardship is about “giv[ing] all to God by letting Jesus Christ be lord of who we are and what we have.”2 Yes, by making these gifts through the church we affirm God’s lordship over our lives – including our money. I think we can all agree that it’s difficult to let go of our finances. That’s why some people attach strings to their giving, even in death. But by putting those funds into the plate, we give up control. Yes, we trust they’ll be used wisely, but once we let go, those funds no longer belong to us.

Now, I don’t talk much about amounts or percentages, because I believe this is a decision that must be guided by God’s Spirit, as we prayerfully consider what to give. In this I tend to follow Paul’s lead. He doesn’t talk amount or percentage – instead he talked about cheerful and proportionate giving. In his second letter to the Corinthian church he writes:

The point is this: the one who sows sparingly, will also reap sparingly, and the one who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that by always having enough of everything you may share abundantly in every good work. (2 Corinthians 9:6-8).

I believe this word is sufficient guidance – some among us will give more sacrificially than others – but my hope is that we will all recognize God’s abundance, and respond accordingly.

3. Offering a Word of Thanksgiving

Because this is not only the final day of our stewardship campaign, but it is also a day of Thanksgiving, I want to close with a word from Jimmy Carter that I have returned to on more than one occasion. He writes:

Almost every day is filled with opportunities to be grateful. When we wake up in the morning, when we meet a friend, when someone lends us a hand, when one of our children or grandchildren expresses love, when we go to a job that is gratifying, when an unanticipated opportunity arises, when we see a beautiful sky, or when we have any kind of exciting experience – all of these are opportunities to give God the credit and acknowledge God’s greatness. It’s a good habit to develop.3

As the story of Elijah’s visit with the widow reminds us, we can never know exactly how blessings will be shared, but God’s steadfast love endures forever – and in that promise there is hope for tomorrow.

As we pause to give thanks, let us remember an occasion where blessings were shared and received. Just a few weeks back, as we hosted SOS, I know that many of you were blessed, as were those who received care during that week. I know that many who stayed here were grateful for the blessings of meals and beds. Some expressed their thanks quite openly. Others, were quiet. After all, it’s not easy being in such a difficult situation. But I did hear words of thanks from them. I also heard words of thanksgiving from those who served as volunteers for the blessings they received in their opportunity to serve.

Therefore, on this day of thanksgiving, may we give thanks for the abundance of God’s blessings that never end.


2. Mark Allan Powell, Giving to God: The Bible’s Good News about Living a Generous Life, (Eerdmans, 2006), p. 77.

3. Jimmy Carter, Sources of Strength: Meditations on Scripture for a Living Faith, (New York: Times Books, 1997), pp. 168-169.

Preached by:
Dr. Robert D. Cornwall
Pastor, Central Woodward Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
Troy, Michigan
Thanksgiving Sunday
November 22, 2009

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Provoked to Love

Hebrews 10:19-25

Imagine for a moment that you’re watching two men talking. You can’t hear what they’re saying – they could be talking about football, politics, the best place to get burgers, and maybe even religion. At first the discussion seems fairly congenial, but then it gets a bit heated, and you see one man put his finger into the chest of the other, and shouts: “Don’t provoke me!”

It would seem that this word -- “provoke” – carries a lot of negative baggage. When we hear it, we hear argument, heated discussion, or even a fight. Wars start with provocations, and in Ephesians parents are told not to “provoke [their] children to anger” (Eph. 6:4). Now, I wish the message had been -- children, don’t provoke your fathers to anger, but that’s not what it says. Oh, by the way, if you turn to 1 Corinthians 13, you’ll find Paul saying that love isn’t “irritable,” which is the same word in Greek as provoke. And, who wants to be irritable?

So, from what I can tell, it’s safe to say that it’s not polite, indeed, it could be irritating, to provoke people! And yet, here we have the author of Hebrews telling us to provoke our neighbors –not to anger -- but to “love and good works.” So, maybe being provocative isn’t always a bad thing!

I. Stir Things Up

But, since the word “provoke” has so much baggage, we could try using a different word or phrase – something like “stirring things up” – and, in the context of our passage this might make sense. The author of Hebrews tells us that because Jesus has purified us, we can enter God’s sanctuary with confidence and boldness. Jesus has opened the way for us to enter God’s presence by taking down the curtain that separates us from the Holy of Holies.

With that kind of wind at the back, we needn’t be timid in our praise of God or in our relationships with each other. Now that Jesus has washed us clean, we are in a position where the Spirit of God can push us beyond our comfort zones and open our eyes to the needs of the world. The Spirit also stirs things up by making us aware of our neighbor’s gifts, talents, and abilities, and so we can encourage them to take up the good works God that has already prepared for them (Eph. 2:10), so that they might use these gifts and talents for the glory of God and for the benefit of their neighbors.

II. With a Word of Encouragement

There is another side of being spiritually provocative, besides stirring things up. It also involves offering words of encouragement. If we’re going to be a true community, then the ministry of encouragement must stand at the heart of who we are as a congregation. We’re not just a group of unrelated individuals, filling pews for an hour on Sunday morning. Instead, we’re a community of people living in relationship with each other, or as the speaker made clear last week at the Stephen Ministry retreat – the flip side of me is we.

Peter Gomes, suggests that a word of encouragement provides “that positive, affirming force that is so often missing in the routine of life.” A word of encouragement says to a person: you are important; you have purpose, you are loved and needed! Without these words of encouragement we will perish, maybe not physically, but certainly spiritually and emotionally. Although there are plenty of self-help books for sale, Gomes reminds us that we can’t “encourage ourselves.” Therefore, it is, “our spiritual obligation to encourage one another” (Christian Century, Nov. 5, 1997). And that only happens in community, which is why the author of Hebrews chides those who are “neglecting to meet together.”

Church people aren’t perfect. We may grate on each others nerves, say things we shouldn’t, but in the course of the relationships we build in the church – if we allow the Spirit room to move – we lift each other up. So, if our provocations are to be positive – not negative – then the focus has to be on we and not me.

III. Provocative Steps

How, then, do we get from this word of encouragement to a word that provokes? I think we can start by recognizing that our text doesn’t give us permission to manipulate people to “do the right thing.” It does, however, tell us to live our lives in such a way that people will be enticed, that is, provoked, to live their lives in love and service to others. As Paul tells the Thessalonians -- you have become such good examples of what the gospel is, that wherever I go, people know of your witness, and therefore, I have “no need to speak about it.” Of course, that didn’t keep Paul from speaking about the gospel, but their lives made his job a whole lot easier.

But, if we’re going to get to the point where our lives entice people to enter the kingdom of God, then our work must start with prayer. That’s because, if you pray for someone, you will put that person’s welfare front and center in your mind. Then you’ll be in a position to more clearly recognize that person’s needs, gifts, and talents. At the same time, when we pray, we will discover the words that encourage.

Then, as bearers of this word of encouragement, we can come alongside people who are struggling and speak words that give hope. As we get to know a person, we will also begin to recognize their gifts and talents, and then we can encourage them to make use of these gifts -- whether that means picking up a musical instrument or singing a song, painting or sculpting, speaking or dancing. It might involve stirring up a sense of compassion for the poor or the homeless. Whatever it is, this word of encouragement is deeply rooted in a relationship with the one who has broken down the wall that separates us from the presence of God.

As we consider this ministry of provocation and encouragement, we need to again hear the admonition: don’t forsake the gathering together as some do. I understand why some people stay away from church. Many have been hurt and don’t find the church to be a safe place to live or explore their faith. Some find it irrelevant. I’ve been asked on more than one occasion if going to church is necessary – to be a Christian. While I always say – it’s not absolutely necessary, in the end it’s very difficult to grow in faith and understanding, to learn to love and share in good works, if we’re not involved in a community of faith. And again, as the Stephen Ministry presenter made so clear, relationships are based on a movement from me to we – and so as we gather in community – not always agreeing on every thing, often provoking each other to something other than love – we put ourselves in a position to be provoked to love and good works. And this is our calling as God’s people. This is especially true, since the Day of the Lord is fast approaching!

Preached by:
Dr. Robert D. Cornwall
Pastor, Central Woodward Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
Troy, MI
November 15, 2009

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Faith is the Foundation

1 Peter 4:7-11

Do you ever put yourself in the biblical story by asking whether your life story fits into the sacred story? If so, have you ever seen yourself in the story of Abraham and Sarah? In this important biblical story, God calls a couple to leave their homeland and move to a new place. I sort of resonate with this story, though not to the degree that we see described in Hebrews 11, which says that they set out on this journey, “not knowing where he was going.” At least, we had a house when we got here. They had to live in tents for several generations! But, they dwelt in this new land and “looked forward to the city that has foundations, whose architect is God” (Heb. 11:8-9).

This is what faith is all about. It’s about trusting someone with your life and your future, even though you don’t know what that future holds. Harvey Cox calls this a “deep-seated confidence.”1 It’s a quality that comes to us as a gift from God and lets us step outside the box and take risks when necessary, so that we can accomplish the things that God has set out for us. That is, faith lets us take hold of the manifold grace of God so that we can be all that God would have us be!

You may wonder – why trust my life and my future to the hands of God? Shouldn’t I take responsibility for myself? Perhaps the answer to that question can be found in the one who Paul says, emptied himself, took on the form of a slave, and humbled himself by dying on a cross (Phil. 2:6ff). It is Jesus who defines God’s true nature for us, and provides for us the works that are “to be our way of life” (Eph. 2:10). Faith lets us take hold of this calling.

1. Stewardship as an Act of Faith

For the next several weeks our focus will be on the call to stewardship. The annual stewardship packet, which includes both a pledge card to be returned by Thanksgiving Sunday – November 22 – and a daily devotional, has already been distributed to members and friends of the congregation. We’re being asked to prayerfully consider the ways in which we will support of the ministries of this church for the coming year, even as our ministry groups are prayerfully planning their budgets for the coming year. All of this is being done, with faith as our foundation.

As we listen for God’s voice in this process, it’s important that we bring our congregational core values into the conversation. In many ways our call to stewardship is simply a continuation of the conversation we’ve been having in worship over the past two months. Stewardship is itself an important core value that can be listed alongside those we discerned as a congregation last winter -- compassion, service, acceptance, a joyful spirituality, witness, and worship. Our acts of stewardship under-gird everything we do as a congregation. As Rick Rouse and Craig Van Gelder write in their book The Field Guide for the Missional Church:

“A congregation that wants to move forward in mission will find it necessary to practice stewardship as it builds financial viability.”2

Central Woodward is fortunate to have a corps of strong givers and a legacy of capital and endowment gifts that make it possible for the ministry of this church to flourish as we walk with God into the future. This practice of stewardship is an act of faith – an act of trust in God’s provision for our lives. We give our money and our time and our abilities, even though we could be doing something else – perhaps even important things – but we seem to know that our stewardship of God’s gifts is a sign of trust in God’s provisions. By acting in faith, we put this church, and its ministries, in a position of financial viability even in a time of financial challenges.

Our text this morning, which is taken from 1 Peter 4, calls on us to be both serious and disciplined, for the sake of our prayers. It also calls us to be constant in our love for one another and in showing hospitality. Finally, we’re told to be “good stewards of the manifold grace of God,” by serving “one another with whatever gift each of you has received.” Therefore, if you speak, remember that you are speaking the words of God, and if you serve, do so in God’s strength, so that God might be glorified.

2. Four Zones of Stewardship

The message is clear. We’ve been given the gift of God’s abundant grace. Or, to quote Bruce and Kate Epperly, this is a “lively resurrection faith” that “calls us to experience life and ministry in terms of abundance rather than scarcity.” Although our culture is focusing on scarcity and telling us to hoard our gifts, because we don’t know when the other shoe will drop, that’s not the biblical story. Even in difficult times, God calls us to live by faith. The Epperlys point out that:
As the biblical tradition constantly asserts, even in the most desperate situations, God is constantly doing a new thing, bringing worlds into being and imagining alternatives to present situations of suffering and injustice.3

As we consider this call to be good stewards of God’s grace, we do so with the biblical story in mind. And, if faith is our foundation, then we will make good use of God’s wondrous gifts, not by hoarding them, but by putting them to work for the kingdom of God – because our God is a God of abundance, not scarcity.

We tend to think of stewardship in monetary ways, but if you take a look at the front of the bulletin, you’ll see four words – time, talent, treasure, and terrain. These four words, taken together, define for us the zones in which we’re called to exercise stewardship of the “manifold grace of God.”

  • Time
The first zone is time, and if you’re like me, you waste a lot of it. By being good stewards of our time, we’re reminded that time is precious, and that it should be used for the glory of God. It’s not a matter of God getting a percentage of our days, while we control the rest. No, time belongs to God, and we’re called to use it all for the glory of God. So, whether it’s our involvement in the life of the church, time with family, or time at work or even at play, we should use this gift wisely and for the glory of God.

  • Talent
The words “abilities” and “gifts” define what we mean by talent. While Peter’s list is brief, Paul’s much more expanded list in 1 Corinthians 12, which ranges from prophecy to healing, and from teaching to service, reminds us that whatever our abilities – whether it’s the ability to sing, listen, write, sew, lead, or teach – we’re called to be good stewards of these gifts, and use them to build up the body of Christ and to love our neighbors as well.

  • Treasure
Jesus said, where your treasure is, there your heart will be as well (Mt. 6:21). That’s about as simple and straightforward as you can get. We can argue about percentages, but the question each of us must ask is: Where does my treasure lie? That’s because wherever we put our treasure, that’s where we’ll find our hearts. By making a financial pledge to the ministries of this congregation, we show ourselves to be good stewards of the manifold grace of God and we invest ourselves in the work of God from this community to the ends of the earth.

  • Terrain
The fourth zone of stewardship -- that of terrain – may sound out of place. Indeed, the use of this term in this place, is a new one for me as well. In fact, Felicia introduced the idea to the Stewardship Group as she took leadership of this ministry. Felicia had in mind, at least in part, the stewardship of our church property. And we should be good stewards of this gift, but we can expand on this idea – and I’m sure that Felicia would agree with this expansion – to include the care of all of God’s creation. Besides, even though the use of the term terrain in a stewardship context might be new to us, it’s really as old as Genesis 1, where we find God giving humanity a commission to take care of this new creation (Gen. 1:27-28). And, once again, when we hear 1 Peter call us to be good stewards of the manifold grace of God, we should keep in mind our responsibility to care for the earth and all its inhabitants. This is, of course, not only a matter of stewardship, it’s also a matter of justice and compassion, making it an expression of honor to God and an expression of our love of our neighbors. Therefore, but being stewards of this terrain, we fulfill both of the Great Commandments – to love God and to love our neighbor.

I invite you to prayerfully consider this morning’s text, meditating upon it over the next three weeks, as you consider the ways in which God is calling you to a life of stewardship of God’s bounteous gifts.

1. Harvey Cox, The Future of Faith, (San Francisco: Harper One, 2009), p. 3.

2. Rick Rouse and Craig Van Gelder, The Field Guide for the Missional Church, (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress Press, 2008), 110.

3. Bruce and Katherine Gould Epperly, Tending to the Holy: The Practice of the Presence of God in Ministry. (Herndon, VA: Alban Institute, 2009), p. 25

Preached by:
Dr. Robert D. Cornwall
Pastor, Central Woodward Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
Troy, Michigan
23rd Sunday after Pentecost
November 8, 2009

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Worship: Job 1 -- Core Values # 6

Note: This is the sixth and final sermon in my series on our congregational core values.

Psalm 95:1-7a

O come, let us sing to the Lord;
let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation!
Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving;
let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise!
For the Lord is a great God,
and a great King above all gods.
In his hand are the depths of the earth;
the heights of the mountains are his also.
The sea is his, for he made it,
and the dry land, which his hands have formed.

O come, let us worship and bow down,
let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker!
For he is our God,
and we are the people of his pasture,
and the sheep of his hand.

It’s All Saints Day, and so today we join with all the saints in heaven and on earth in singing “Holy, Holy, Holy,” to the Lord our God, the Almighty. We do this because, as the prophet Isaiah declares, “the whole earth is full of his glory” (Isa. 6:3). We sing praises to God, because as Augustine said, it’s part of who we are. It’s almost instinctive. At the very beginning of his Confessions he writes: “You have made us for yourself, and our heart is restless until it finds it’s rest in you.”1 Augustine’s confession echoes the Psalmist invitation to do what we were created to do – that is, sing to the Lord and “make a joyful noise to the Rock of our salvation.” We come into God’s presence with thanksgiving, because we understand that the depths of the earth, the heights of the mountains, the seas and the dry land, lie in God’s creative hands. Therefore, “let us worship and bow down, let us kneel before the Lord our maker” (Ps. 95:7).

It’s appropriate that we should conclude this six-week exploration of our congregational core values by giving attention to worship. It is, to borrow a phrase from an old ad, our job one. And if, as Augustine suggests, worship is our human destiny, then worship should define what we do together as church. And, each of the five other core values help define the nature of that worship. That is, if our worship isn’t compassionate; if it doesn’t call us to a life of service or make us more accepting and welcoming of others; if it’s not spiritually joyful or doesn’t bear witness to God’s love, grace, and mercy, then our worship will be hollow. But, if these five other core values define our worship, then we will be ready to embrace our calling to be a missional congregation.

According to Jesus and the Torah, there are two commandments that we must follow. We must love God with our entire being and love our neighbor as we love ourselves. These two commands sum up all that is in the Law and the Prophets. And, it is in our worship that we must directly express our love and gratitude toward God. But, if we truly worship God, then we will also express it by loving our neighbor. Therefore, as a missional congregation, our worship centers us in the one who called us into being. It reminds us that we belong not to ourselves, but to God, and that whatever ministries we engage in, we engage in through the power and presence of the Lord, our Maker.

1. What is Worship?

So, if worship is our job 1, and if it defines our missional calling, then what does it mean to worship? If I tried to answer this question by taking a survey of the congregation, I’d get a lot of different answers. For some, worship is centered on the Table. For others, it’s the music, and for others maybe the sermon. Some focus on the vertical dimension – the God-human relationship, while others focus on the horizontal relationship we have with each other as the body of Christ.

Whatever worship might involve, it is first of all the work of the assembled body of Christ. That means worship isn’t something that Pat, the choir, or I do for the congregation. Because it’s not a performance, the presiders and leaders of worship are called out from the congregation to assist the community in its worship of God, so that they might be formed into disciples of Jesus Christ. And what we do in this space, as we offer praise and thanksgiving to God, prepares us to live missionally outside these walls. Kimberly Long suggests that:
[S]inging praises becomes not just an element of worship, but also a way of life. All of worship, at its heart, is doxological and, rightly lived, so is all of life. We practice praise, so that even in the face of death we know what to say to God, even if we do not feel it – for the God who formed our inward parts, the God who claimed us in baptism, the God who sustains our every breath, does not leave us to our own devices.2

Worship can involve many elements, from prayer to singing, from sharing at the table to hearing the Word read and proclaimed. At times it’s joyous and celebrative, but at other times it can be reflective and confessional.

Ultimately, worship draws us into the presence of God. While we’‘re not Orthodox Christians, if you’ve been in an Orthodox church, you may have noticed that they tend to be rather ornate, especially by Protestant standards. The reason for this is that they pattern their worship after the heavenly worship pictured in the fourth chapter of the book of Revelation. For them, to worship is to be caught up in heaven. I think we can learn something from this way of worshiping. It reminds us that worship isn’t a lecture or a business meeting. When we come to worship, we should come expecting to join together with the heavenly choir in singing:
You are worthy, our Lord and God,
to receive glory and honor and power,
For you created all things,
and by your will they existed and were created. (Rev. 4:11).

2. Worship as our Missional Calling

As a missional church, the focus of our ministry will be outside the walls of this building, but what we do within the walls, especially what we do on Sunday morning is not irrelevant to that ministry. It’s important to remember that we’re not a service club or simply a nonprofit agency. We are the body of Christ that is called together for the express purpose of worshiping the Lord our Maker with songs of praise and thanksgiving.

So, when we talk about worship in a missional context, the issue isn’t style – whether it should be traditional, blended, or contemporary. It’s not enough to simply jump on the contemporary worship band wagon in pursuit of the elusive younger generations. Nor does it mean that we should defend to the death the old ways of doing things in the name of being true to our heritage. But, what it does it mean is that our worship should be incarnational. That is, we need to be attentive to what we say and what we do, so that we include rather than exclude. While relevance is important, being relevant doesn’t mean copying Letterman or Colbert, U2 or Neil Young. What it means is that God is calling us to be authentic in our worship, as well as being attentive to the community around us.

We have chosen to create a blended style of worship that includes both contemporary and traditional elements. We have an organ and guitars. We sing praise songs and hymns – both old and new. Because we’re Disciples, we gather at the Table every week, in season and out. We also baptize by immersion on profession of faith. And because we believe that Christians should be reasonable and thoughtful, we put a lot of emphasis on the proclaimed Word. But as we continue our journey into the future, new elements will be added, and maybe even additional services offered, which will reflect the new gifts and new people that come into this community of faith.

Some have wondered how an organ fits into our missional calling. It’s a good question, and the answer lies in part in how the organ is used. Those of us who served on the task force continually asked this very question – how might this organ support not only what we do on Sunday morning but expand our ministry into the world? We were very intentional about making sure that the new organ would support not only what we have done, but what we might do – and that includes supporting contemporary forms of worship and supporting a ministry of music that would bring beauty to our community.

As we think about what it means to worship in a truly missional way, it’s important to remember that what we do in worship isn’t just about me and my needs. If we believe that our worship expresses love for God, then that love will reach out to embrace the world that God already loves in Jesus Christ and through the Holy Spirit. This kind of worship isn’t about escaping the world, but embracing the call to join God in transforming the world that God loves and inhabits. This understanding is reflected quite explicitly in a Fred Pratt Green hymn we sang a few weeks back:
When the church of Jesus shuts its outer door,
lest the roar of traffic drown the voice of prayer,
may our prayers, Lord, make us ten times more aware
that the world we banish is our Christian care.

And at the end of the hymn’s second stanza, we sing:
Lest our hymns should drug us to forget its needs,
forge our Christian worship into Christian deeds.

Missional worship doesn’t offer us an escape from the world. It’s not about rescuing the perishing. Instead, it’s about living into the reign of God, so that we can put into practice what we pray each week as we repeat the prayer Jesus taught us: “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” I can’t think of a better way of putting it than this. Therefore, in this spirit, let us
worship and bow down, let us kneel before the Lord our maker. For he is our God, we are the sheep of his pasture, the sheep of his hand. (Ps. 95:7)

1. Augustine, Confessions, Henry Chadwick, trans., (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998), p. 3.

2. Kimberly Bracken Long, The Worshiping Body, (Louisville, WJK Press, 2009), p. 109.

3. Fred Pratt Green, “When the Church of Jesus,” Chalice Hymnal, (St. Louis: Chalice Press, 1995), number 470.

Preached by:
Dr. Robert D. Cornwall
Pastor, Central Woodward Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
Troy, MI
All Saints Day
November 1, 2009