Nice House. Who Built It?

Before I begin, I want to offer a few words of gratitude and background.

First, thank you for welcoming me to your congregation and this pulpit. I appreciate the trust that Deb and Steve have shown along with the Elders of Central Christian church.

Second, I’ll let you know how much I have admired the varied ministries of this congregation, from your thoughtful integration of modern technology into a very traditional sanctuary and worship service, your engagement with the community through the dog park, community garden, theatre programs, nesting of a young Spanish language congregation, ….

Lastly, I’ll note that Deb filled me in on some of the big decisions that you all are facing as a congregation. While these are challenging times for all churches, your particular decisions are quite striking. They really do significantly impact the long term direction of the congregation. Let me say at the outset that whatever decision you make, God can and will still continue to be at work in and through you wherever you find yourselves if you will humbly yield yourselves daily to seeking the Lord in all things. Beyond that, I would not presume to suggest which direction is preferable. Even before Deb shared this information, I was intending to preach from the Lectionary. How interested I was to find that two of the four texts make mention of the construction of places of worship. I invite you to be curious with me as to what these texts might have to offer you, and us together as part of the One Church, in the midst of this Emergent/Missional shift.

The importance of our houses: Do you notice the builder’s signs in the yards, or the ads in the newspaper or online and even on billboards? They are all around a growing city, in urban, exurban, suburban and rural communities. Whether it is a large national builder like David Weekly or a local one like M. Christopher, Bella Vita, or Robert Elliot, for many people the name brand recognition of the designer and builder matter. It has become like the brand of car we drive or the shirts and shoes we wear or purses that women carry. Who designed and made it matters. Certain names denote attention to detail and quality.

Even the archaeology research of prehistoric man suggests that we have, as a race, always cared about the places we lived, and have customized them beyond mere functionality. We have carved niches in cave walls to hold small figurines, and have painted murals to tell stories of what matters most to us in our life. It is no surprise then that when humans turn to creating other kinds of spaces for other purposes, they would follow the same practice. And the more important the story, the more significant in our lives the relationships, the more effort goes into the construction and decoration of these spaces. Often it is believed that the space not only tells the story, but literally impacts how we experience life in relationship.

And we are not the only creatures who carefully construct homes, nor the only ones who decorate them. After all, there is a reason we use the phrase “feather your nest” to describe bringing into a home items that offer comfort.

Only humans create worship spaces: While we are not the only creatures to carefully craft homes, we may be the only ones who feel the need to do the same for God. And this seems to be a universal human need found in all cultures among all races. David and Solomon felt this need to create a permanent worship place. The Jews in Israel and everywhere they went build synagogues out of this same desire. Even spiritualities that do not really “worship a god or gods” such as Buddhism still put wonderful creativity and effort into constructing houses of prayer and meditation. Spaces and places matter to us.

Our two texts for today, both of which actually are appointed lectionary texts, may have something to say about this topic. Let’s listen for the word of God in our Scripture Readings from  1 Kings 8:22-30 and Luke 7:1-10.

The Second Temple – From 1 Kings 8:20-30 – regarding Solomon’s Temple  – the first Jewish in Jerusalem.temple

If we go back in this story to 2 Samuel, we read about David’s desire to build a temple, and the Lord’s instruction that he should not, but that his son may build it. It is interesting to note that the LORD never commands that the temple be built. Rather, he permits that which the king desired to do. David is motivated both by a sense of guilt that he dwells in such a fine palace while God only gets a tent, as well as desire for pride among the neighboring nations with their gods. David, and Solomon after him, are interested both in doing something nice for another, as well as maintaining stature in the community – i.e. keeping up with the Joneses. Moses and the prophets us a similar argument with God when trying to persuade the LORD to save the people, basically asking, “What will the other nations say about you if you can’t even save your own people?”

And who built the Temple? From where did the craftsmen and laborers come, along with the materials?  Hiram of Tyre was the lead metalworker. The timbers came from the cedars of Lebanon. The King of Tyre send the materials, along with laborers to join the Israelites and the Gebalites in the work of building the Temple. It was paid for with grain stores from Israel, but much of the work, and the artistry, were done by non-Jews.

And you may recall that Nebuchadnezar destroyed the temple that Solomon built in Jerusalem (2Kings 24-25). 70 years later, Cyrus of Persia sent the Israelites home from Babylon, and he and Darius provide for the rebuilding of Jerusalem and the construction of the Second Temple (Ezra). This time the wealth of Persia paid for the construction of the temple of the Jews in Jerusalem.

The Synagogue at Capernaum  – Now let’s shift forward and hear from Luke 7:1-10 – an account mentioning.synagogue

Obviously the focus of this story is the healing miracle that Jesus works in response to the faith of this unnamed centurion. Yet in the midst of that, given as a justification for why the citizens are so motivated to support the centurion’s request, this brief notice: “he built our synagogue.”

Wait a minute. Let’s back up. Capernaum is a provincial sea-side town, filled with fishermen and trades. It is a town where people go to and from the gentile territories of Gennesaret. That means the town is diverse in culture and religion – far more than a place like Nazareth, for instance. It is a happening place, a place to which people want to move.

Centurions were Roman citizens. This man was clearly wealthy enough to be a benefactor, and he had some kind of interest in helping the Jews. Perhaps he was like Cornelius of Caesarea about whom we read in Acts 10 when Peter goes to visit him, prompted by the Holy Spirit. There Cornelius is described as “a centurion of the Italian Cohort, as it was called. 2 He was a devout man who feared God with all his household; he gave alms generously to the people and prayed constantly to God.” (Acts 10:1-2) Maybe our centurion of Capernaum from Luke 7 is a similar kind of fellow.

Tear down and rebuild: Where I live in Collin County, most of these homes are in new neighborhoods, where all the neighbors have the same builder. Here in the Park Cities areas, they are frequently tear down and rebuilds, where people pay up to a million dollars for a small house on a lot, only to destroy it and build a new one lot line to lot line. Interestingly enough, in studying the history of churches and synagogues, we find that this is often the case. A new structure will be built on the remains of the old one, raised either by war or natural disaster, or perhaps by forward looking planners who see opportunity and possibility where others only see heritage and legacy.

Have you ever had the experience of entering a restaurant, looking around, and walking out, simply because “it didn’t feel right”? The ambiance, the ‘vibe’ was all wrong. There is a homestyle restaurant chain here in the Metroplex that we love. We tried a new location several years ago. Very same food, but we will never go back because the space was awkward and uncomfortable. We never felt at ease. Why do they remodel a perfectly good restaurant or store space when it is not deteriorating in any way? Because our tastes and attitudes have changed, or because they are trying to reach a new demographic who is attracted to a different kind of atmosphere.

Let me review and highlight a few themes that I think arise from these texts:cccdt

1)    God does not dwell in buildings. Even Solomon understood and affirmed that. Buildings are tools that serve our need, not God’s. God often says yes to our buildings, sometimes God says no or not now or not here. Ultimately, the buildings are for us, not for God, no matter what we tell ourselves.

2)    Houses of worship have often been designed and built by people who did not worship in them. They have even frequently been funded by those people, as in the case of the second temple in Jerusalem and the synagogue at Capernaum.

3)    Nothing is permanent. Nothing lasts forever. Rebuilding and starting over are common themes related to these worship spaces. In the case of both the temple and the synagogue, multiple structures were built over the centuries, with the previous ones being destroyed or dismantled, and the materials repurposed.

4)    The worshipping community always finds a way. The absence of a “place” may have temporarily disrupted but never eclipsed the people of faith.

5)    And one final thing, that you all have demonstrated time and again, and that is also found in both texts. The work of God is not contained within the walls of a building. Our buildings are hospitals and schools – places to heal and places to train. Both of these activities are ministry in themselves, but they serve the greater purpose of preparing us to go out, into our community and world, to proclaim in word and deed the Good News that in Jesus Christ we encounter the fullness of God’s redeeming and reconciling and all-consuming love.

Whatever you discern, I think it will probably be ok. Decisions open some doors and close others. David was not permitted to build the temple because he had too much blood on his hands from all the wars he fought. Yet had he not been victorious, Solomon would not have ruled a peaceful land where the Temple could finally be constructed. And be open to the miraculous ways that God might use others outside Central to help you fulfill whatever you and God set your hearts upon, so long as your intent is to honor God and build the Kingdom.

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OTHER NOTES:  This Sunday, July 2nd at 11am I’ll be preaching at Central Christian Church4711 Westside   Drive, in Dallas.

The scriptures for the sermon will be 1 Kings 8:22-30 and Luke 7:1-10. The Kings text templedepicts Solomon at the dedication of the Temple which he built for the LORD. The Luke text is actually a story about healing, with a surprising aside that the centurion featured actually built the synagogue in that community.

Churches over the last 150 years have taken on increasingly elaboratsynagoguee building complexes – think Prestonwood Baptist Church or even Lakewood in Houston. As our ministry has focused more on programming, we have built structures to accommodate this work. We are now moving deeply into an emerging/missional era of church history, where we hear God calling us out into the community away from our buildings and property, back to the streets, cities, and neighborhoods where we live.cccdt

What do these two texts from thousands of years ago tell us about their contemporary communities’ relationship to their religious buildings, and what might they say to us about our own property? What are your experiences of church property? How have facilities enabled ministry? How have they limited or hindered it?

Though I’m not going to address the politics, I am certainly mindful of the 2012 political conversation between the President and the Republican Party. He was trying to make the argument that even wealthy business owners who are “self-made” had immense help from various forms of infrastructure in our nation, from education to roads to utilities. The Republicans defended their view that in fact much of what they have they did build, with their own hard work, discipline, creativity, risk-taking, etc. What is true? BOTH! (Read more: http://politics.blogs.foxnews.com/2012/08/21/gop-convention-session-be-themed-we-built#ixzz2UpoDDPv3)

I introduced the theme of this sermon on a previous post: http://kengcrawford.com/2013/05/27/1st-sermon-in-4-months/

Phil Shepherd and Steve Knight interview on PowerFM 89.7

Check it out and share it with your friends
Jazzed to share the Phil Shepherd and Steve Knight interview on 89.7 PowerFM. This is a great overview of the wide variety of work they are doing, including Transform, The Euchatastrophe, SoGo Media, etc…

These guys and their friends are leading the progressive faith and spirituality conversation rooted in the historic Christian faith and reaching out into the world that is saturated by audio, video, online presence and social media. They are helping to bridge the gap between the modern 20th century attractional model of church and the postmodern missional models that are emerging in our communities and around the world.

In the interview Steve and Phil cover a wide range of important topics that demonstrate their role at the intersection of church, community and God – as Phil said, “Discovering and joining in the work that God is already doing in the world around us.”

Come to Brite Divinity School on April 5-6 to learn more about Missional and Emerging faith communities at TransForm Southwest.

Reflection on a Visit to a Missional Micro Community

“The Kingdom of God is among you,” said Jesus to the Pharisees when they asked when this supposed kingdom of which he spoke would come (Luke 17:21 [NRSV]). It is interesting that in this encounter Jesus says that the kingdom is not coming with things that can “be observed” – paratērēseōs (Englishman’s Greek Concordance on http://www.bible.cc). A brief word study reveals that only Luke uses this word, and its close cognates are used by him in describing the Pharisees “watching closely” to try to catch Jesus in something with which they can entrap and destroy him. They are looking for some big sign that Jesus is trying to overtly conquer and supplant the existing system of empire (political and religious) by force. Jesus makes the point here in Luke 17:20-21 that such will not be the case. Indeed, it is the very opposite. The kingdom is already here, in the very midst of empire. It is like a mustard seed and the shrub it produces, like the yeast in a batch of dough (Luke 13:18-20). In other words, the reign of God is something that arises unnoticed, right under your nose, and even the most watchful of adversaries cannot defeat it. Such is my experience of the New Day community at Amani House (Missional Wisdom).

My arrival at Amani house on a Sunday evening to share in the community celebration was preceded by a visit there led by Dr. Elaine Heath as part of the Perkins School of Theology at SMU Doctor of Ministry course “Evangelism and Discipleship for a Missional Church” which she led along with Rev. Wes Magruder. That earlier session introduced the location, some key leadership, and the general format of a New Day gathering. While the Sunday evening hospitality was warm and inviting, I imagine that my experience then was colored by the preceding orientation. Familiarity helped me to relax more than I otherwise might, and being known and recognized by some of the leaders added to my comfort and sense of belonging. Though I was aware that this was not my community, I nonetheless felt welcomed by them. This familiarity may also have given them some freedom to spend less energy and attention on me than if I were completely new.

Lastly and most personally, I tend to make myself at home wherever I am, even when I am a stranger in a strange land. This temperament has served me well, I think, in cross cultural settings because I have felt free to let down my guard. A risk is that I might assume a less formal interaction in new relationships than is customary in other cultures. I wonder how much of this comes to me by virtue of being a straight, white, middle class, Protestant male. As a member of the most privileged group in our culture, I have had the least need to overcome obstacles to opportunity. I was formed in settings where I was a member of the host group, which I think leads to a presumption of belonging and familiarity that may be false, particularly in settings like the one where Amani House is being formed – in a community largely of African refugees.

This turning of the tables was one of the greatest gifts of my experience – to receive the hospitality of those who were actively seeking to make a home in this new land – a true parable of the Kingdom of God. The last become first, the first last, the servant becomes the host and the host becomes the guest. This illustrates the way Sarah Miles writes in Jesus Freak: Feeding Healing Raising the Dead about her encounters with the vulnerable and marginalized (Miles 2010, 3). She is challenged by her own presumptions, and finds herself guilty of judging others though she herself has been an object of scorn (Miles 2010, 36-37). It is the encounter with others in surprising ways that prompts a new awareness of the deep humanity present in each person, a humanity that cradles the image of God. It is the recognition of this humanity and a growing love for it that finally leads us to transformation. We discover that the other has become us, and we have become the other, that truly Jesus creates “in himself one new humanity in place of the two” (Ephesians 2:15). I love how Miles frames Jesus’ formation of community as the means to eternity:

When Jesus enters into relationship with outcasts and shares their social death, he starts a process of resurrection. The unclean become full, living people, born again. They are reincorporated – that is, re-bodied – into the community. And the community is healed into wholeness from separation, made new.” (Miles 2010, 15)

One of the striking experiences of this visit related to food. Earlier that day my home congregation had a fellowship covered dish dinner where individuals and families bring a dish, or two, as they are able. For the fifty people in attendance, we probably had six meat dishes, eight casseroles, six salads and twelve deserts. There was enough food for each person to fill their plate three times over. By contrast, a simple, wonderfully nutritious and flavorful pot of beans and steamer of aromatic rice fed 30 people at Amani house. I was reminded of Elaine Heath’s three practices of Eco-Evangelism, the third of which is to speak prophetically about unchecked consumerism. (Heath 2008, 171) The buffet in the early afternoon was not a celebratory feast, but simply an example of gluttony, whereas the miracle of loaves and fishes was experienced by that New Day community, and I experienced far more satisfaction, physically and spiritually, from that simple bowl than from the lunch that had preceded it.

The first time I read Heath’s book I was taken by her statement that “Christians are yearning for a simpler, unfettered relationship with God in community, for a new day for the church” (Heath 2008, 36). This reminded me of a postcolonial critique of the contemporary church, and I wrote in the margin of my book, “This longing may be met in and through the liberative journey of the base community and the encounter with ‘the least of these’, who are Christ to us when we serve them and when we refuse. They are Christ to us in relationship. We encounter God anew when we encounter them, and if we refuse, then we will not encounter God in grace, but in judgment.” Later I wrote, “Redemption for the Middle Class church is found in relationship with the poor and oppressed,” in response to Heath’s description of the Beguines’ commitment “to know experientially the ‘otherness’ of God’s kenotic love. It was this that I found at New Day, at least for myself. This is, in part, the explanation and justification for the place of white middle class churches in relationship to Missional micro congregations among the two thirds world, whether as immigrant and refugees, or in their home countries, such as those found at New Day.

I think the key to New Day, to Missional Communities and Micro Churches broadly considered, lies in Jesus’ statements about the kingdom of God. It is already here, maybe only within us, but then by grace among us. It is about mustard seeds growing under the noses of the establishment. It is not about going toe to toe with empires, secular or religious, any more than Jesus did with his contemporaries. This may be the reason that “the church” must continue to do attractional evangelism, undergirding as much as possible the establishment. All the while, the very same people are doing missional evangelism, out scattering seeds on the wind, letting them land where they may, trusting that some of them will find their way to good soil in which God will produce good fruit (Mark 4). In the process of grafting in, of filling new wineskins, the old vine, the old wine skins are redeemed – all are redeemed together.

Reference List

Heath, Elaine A. 2008. The Mystic Way of Evangelism: A Contemporary Vision for Christian Outreach. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic.

http://missionalwisdom.com/new-day/worshipping-communities/amani/ (accessed February 13, 2013)

http://biblesuite.com/greek/parate_re_seo_s_3907.htm (accessed February 11, 2013)

McNeal, Reggie. 2011. Missional Communities: The Rise of the Post-Congregational Church. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Miles, Sarah. 2010. Jesus Freak: Feeding, Healing, Raising the Dead. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Roxburgh, Alan J. and M. Scott Boren. 2009. Introducing the Missional Church: What it is, Why it Matters, How to Become One. Grand Rapids: Baker Books.

Download a pdf of “Reflection on a Visit to a Missional Micro Community.”

Dealing with the pace of change

Change is a fact of life. Everything changes, from the moment it comes into existence it is in a state of flux, growing, transforming, decaying. Sometimes we view this process as beneficial and healthy, while at others we deny, restrain and even fight change. Fighting change is like trying to restrain the wind or water of a storm – ultimately, nature wins.

We have the opportunity to choose our attitude toward change – fear or hope, resistance or embrace, conflict or adaption. Some people seem to have a greater capacity for peace in the midst of change, and for adaptability as the situation dictates.

Family systems theory gives us considerable insight into how we experience anxiety in ourselves and the system in the midst of change. Often one person will take on the anxiety for the system, particularly if others are remarkably, and seemingly irrationally, calm. The anxious person (identified patient) will think, if not outright say, “What is wrong with you people? Don’t you see what’s going on? Don’t you recognize the grave dangers?!” This individual may absorb and express enough anxiety for everyone.

Each individual’s capacity remaining non-anxious through change is a result of their personality disposition, family of origin influences, and experience and training. Some people have a natural head start when it comes to dealing with change and anxiety. Others develop this capacity over time, perhaps through hard fought personal battles and hard won emotional maturity.

When we interact in pastoral care settings, we frequently are working with people who are facing significant changes and experiencing the ramifications of that situation. We need to recognize that each of these persons is part of their own system (family, friends, community) as well as being part of a system with us (care-giver and care-receiver, organization, institution, etc). And finally, each of us is a system within ourselves – body, mind, soul and spirit, intellect and emotions, thoughts and feelings, memory and future anticipations. Our ability to reflect on the pace of change, and remain non-anxious in the face of other’s anxiety, will go a long way toward helping them find their way toward wholeness.

Think about a situation in your life where you have faced significant change. What anxiety did you feel? How did you handle it? What would you do differently now? What did you learn that you can share with others?

This article is a followup to George Bullard’s article: At what speed should congregations move?

Update on My DMin Program

With gratitude for the support of the Elders, Board and congregation, I started my Doctor of Ministry studies at Perkins School of Theology at SMU in June of 2012 with two 3 week classes that ran concurrently, one in the morning and the other in the afternoon. Two major papers were due a week later.

In the Fall 2012 semester I have been enrolled in a course entitled Feminist, Womanist and Mujerista Theologies – the subtitle is simply “Women’s Theologies”. The primary focus of the course is on what develops when women do theology from their own point of view, rather than simply receiving without critical reflection what a male dominated church hands to them. The bible was almost entirely written by men, the cannon formed by men, and the primary interpreters of the bible for Christian theology have almost all been men. It is widely accepted that women and men experience the world differently, view their situations differently, even use language differently. So what happens when these differences are honored in the tasks of listening to scripture and doing theology. I explained in a sermon series during August how I was choosing to enter this class experience as a way to develop my ability to listen, hear, and ask questions of others (Learning to Listen ~ Learning to Hear, Learning to Ask Questions, and another related post about my school work and our church conversations: Learning to Listen revisited). My final paper for the class is entitled “Evangelicalism and Feminism in Conversation” and it explores the ways in which women find their voice and describe their experiences from within an evangelical church context.

My next classes are January 8-18. I am scheduled to take:

Evangelism and Discipleship for a Missional Church (DM9374)  – 8:30 to 11:30 AM. This course provides a foundation for the theory and practice of evangelism and disciple formation in congregations grounded in a missional ecclesiology. With Dr. Elaine A. Heath

AND:

The Ministry of Spiritual Guidance (DM9368)  – 1:30 to 4:30 PM. Spiritual Guidance is not simply a dimension of parish ministry. It is the key to recovering the mission of the church. This course offers a diagnosis of the situation faced by the church, the theological basis for change, the vocational assumptions necessary to that change, and conversations about the ways in which those changes might be effected. With Dr. Frederick W. Schmidt

I believe that these two classes will be important aids for us as a congregation as we think about deepening our ministry of discipleship here, including our conversation on the scope and sequence of our teaching ministry. The course on evangelism will help us to think about having spiritual conversations with our neighbors as a way to open space for the Holy Spirit to work in and through us to share Christ with those around us.

Speaking of preaching, my plan is to take Preaching from the Bible: Paul (PR8303) on Thursdays from 9-11:20am with Dr. Brad Braxton. As I noted last spring in my sermon on March 4th, I have been in an intentional season of reflection on my preaching. I have been preaching weekly since November of 1997. This class should provide a chance to both reflect on my present approach, as well as exploring other approaches.

The thesis phase of my doctoral work should begin next summer and take 1-2 years.

I began this Doctor of Ministry program because I believe in the ministry of the church in this community and wanted to further my education to strengthen that ministry.  I believe in what we are doing here. I believe in the promised future of this congregation.

We may be like Zechariah and Elizabeth, who was thought to be barren when God moved in their lives to bring them a son, and through them prepare the way of the Lord. We may be like Israel who groaned in Babylon for what felt like far too long. It has always been this way for God’s people. When things seemed most bleak, God appeared. Jesus brought Lazarus from the tomb, though Mary and Martha had all but given up hope.