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/

Our Vision as Disciples of Christ

Our Vision as Disciples of Christ:
To be a faithful, growing church,
that demonstrates true community,
deep Christian spirituality,
and a passion for justice.

“Learning to see the kingdom in the church with God’s eyes.”

Vision is about what we see as we look into the distance, out onto the horizon of our faith and future. The weather report often includes “visibility = 7 miles” which is really about how far pilots can hope to see while still below the clouds. How clear is the view? Can you glimpse the shining city of God in the far distance, or only the middle and near geography? Vision is less about what we are, than what we aspire to be – a snapshot, a “future story.” Its like asking the questions, “What do we want to be when we grow up?” only the focus is on God’s will and desire for us – we want to be whatever God has created, called, and charismed us to be.

At the beginning of the restoration movement which birthed the Disciples of Christ was a vision for unity of the Body of Christ – a vision born from reading and praying through the scriptures and hearing the call of God in the words of John 17 and Ephesians 4. Seeking this unity, Thomas and Alexander Campbell and Barton Stone joined with other reformers of the church in quoting: “In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things charity.” The question remained, of course, “What are the essentials?” They practically concluded that the most practical answer was the narrowest, focusing on the simple profession of Jesus as the Christ to be the cornerstone of shared Christian faith. Agreeing that there certainly must be more to say, however, these early reformers proceeded to emphasize a focus on a scholarly study of the scriptures, believing that if faithful people would study the New Testament, they could come to agreement on its meaning. This proved to be naïve.

The early divisions in the movement were over church practice and structure, specifically whether to organize for mission and whether to use musical instruments in worship – as neither of these are specifically prescribed in the New Testament. One group sought to do only that which is commanded or expressly permitted, while the other believed faithful practice included avoiding those things expressly prohibited, and using reason to discern those things neither commanded nor prohibited. These groups began with the same vision, and took the same approach toward it, but ended up with very different conclusions on how to live out their faith. Only since the 1990s are these two streams of tradition coming back together for dialogue and growing in mutual appreciation.

While we as Disciples of Christ continue to aspire to the vision of Christian Unity, we also have an increasingly focused vision through which to pursue that calling:

true community,
deep Christian spirituality, and
a passion for justice.

True Community: The biblical witness to God’s work in the world focuses on the formation of a people set apart. Beginning with the call of Abraham and Sarah (GN 12) this peculiar people (1 PTR 2:9) understood their role as receiving blessings so as to be a blessing to the world. They grew to understand that this was not a gift and calling given to each individual, but a shared ministry and mission given to the community. Only as we grow to be “true community” are we able to fulfill our mission – “to be and to share the good news of Jesus Christ, witnessing, loving and serving, from our doorsteps to the ends of the earth.” Jesus said that the way we love each other will be a direct witness to the world of Jesus’ active presence in our lives (JN 13). Paul talks at length about serving one another (1 PTR 4:10), honoring one another (RM 12), bearing with one another (COL 3), submitting to one another (EPH 5-6) out of love for Christ and each other. I think these virtues are particularly difficult to practice in cultures that are so individualistic and highly valuing of privacy and autonomy. We do not want other people in our affairs, and frankly would just assume stay out of theirs in the particular, even if we like to prescribe rules for others generally. The precondition for the specific submission of any one person to another is the shared commitment to practice mutual submission (EPH 5:21). Jesus models this submission for us in the incarnation itself, submitting his divinity to our humanity (PHL 2) and by the Master coming as a servant (LK 22). This service is foundational for our shared life as the Body of Christ (1 COR 12) as exemplified in the Last Supper when he washed the disciples’ feet (JN 13).

Deep Christian Spirituality: Many of teachings found in Exodus through Deuteronomy focus on how people are to treat their neighbors (LEV 19). Still others focused on how the people were to relate to God – i.e. to “love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and strength” (DEUT 6). Israel was given religious rituals, worship forms, acts of sacrifice, and prayers to shape their practice. Most of the Christian community has assumed that the specifics of those laws are left behind under the new covenant, though their spirit remains. The New Testament only has a very few specific mentions – such as the end of keeping a kosher diet (MK 7; ACTS 10), and the removal of the need for sin sacrifice with the death of Jesus (HEB 10). Many other spiritual practices are left for us to discern – prayer, fasting, study, singing, offerings of first fruits, tithe, devotion and vow. Jesus teaches on some of these, for instance in MTW 6 and LK 11. A deep Christian spirituality follows the example and teaching of Jesus, and is consistent with the spirit of the practices of Israel and the early church, even if it is not identical. Jesus regularly went to worship with others (LK 4) and regularly took time by himself to be with The Father in prayer (MK 1, 6). There is room for much variety of opinion regarding how we are to practice these spiritual disciplines. What is without doubt is that we are to take this aspect of our lives seriously and that our practice is to be both individual and communal.

A Passion for Justice: The bible recognizes a difference between helping those in need and doing justice. Both are called for. LEV 19 focuses on both by legislating that the fields must not be picked clean so that the poor have some access to gather food, and that business practices must be fair and impartial, not oppressing one group or favoring another. Economic practices that oppress the poor and favor the rich were apparently so common that these themes are repeated in DEUT 25, PROV 20, MIC 6, The two main sins of the Israelites, were idolatry, and oppressing the poor (2 Kings 21 & ZECH 7). In ISA 58 we hear the people complain that God does not honor their prayer, fasting and worship. The prophet names their sins of idolatry and oppression as hindering them from receiving God’s blessings – “9 Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am.”

Though the church seems to have been unable or unwilling to maintain the practices with the same intensity, the descriptions offered by Luke at the end of Acts 2 and 4 are often held up as models of how the church should look, of a vision of the kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven. Luke said this:

ACTS 2: 42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. 43 Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. 44 All who believed were together and had all things in common; 45 they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46 Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, 47 praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.

ACTS 4: 32 Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common. 33 With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. 34 There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold. 35 They laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.

We might ask ourselves why the church has not maintained this way. Whether we are meant to live our shared faith in quite that way, we certainly are called to be a peculiar people set apart through our faith in Jesus Christ to offer the world a new way to live in covenant love with self, God and one another. As we seek to grow to maturity in Christ, we will

become true community,
practice deep Christian spirituality,
and live our a passion for justice.

Dream Discovery Process Update from 08202012

The group met several times in July and August. The first item of business was to revisit the process as approved last summer and determine where we are in that process, what remains, and what to do. The group recognized that it elected to slow the process down significantly last Fall, believing that the proposed timeline was overwhelming at that time, particularly given that we had just begun our hosting of Family Promise. Slowing the process, we accomplished some but not all of the early action steps that would provide the seeds for our discernment process. This resulted in our not meeting timeline benchmarks of coming up with the “output” in the spring of 2012 because we did not have all of the necessary “input” up to that point. So in May the group identified several short term goals that fit with our overall vision and would be necessary for us to move forward.

  1. How can we strengthen our ability to care for one another within the congregation. The Member Care ministry convened: TF, CK, KR & SS to discuss:
    1. how we follow up with people in the church who miss several weeks
    2. how we support people during times of crisis, i.e. hospitalization, illness, injury, significant loss or other crisis (relationship, employment, etc)
  2. How can we strengthen our prayer ministry? DS and FB have accepted the responsibility for facilitating this conversation.
    1. Their first effort is to build an Emergency Prayer Chain so that people can call, text or email during the week and know that a group of folks will stop and pray for them then and that they will be lifted in prayer during the week.

Now that these projects, are underway, the DDP is returning its focus to the process. In particular, we recognize the fourfold exploration illustrated in the diagram above and based in Numbers 1-3 “Taking the Census” – getting to know one another and understanding our needs and resources; and Numbers 13 “Scouting out the Land” – getting to know our neighbors and understanding their needs and resources.

While we have done most of what was involved in Taking the Census, we still have much work to do in Scouting out the Land. The group recommitted itself to the process as originally agreed upon by the board. What remains:

  1. In Taking the Census, we still need to compile a comprehensive list of needs and resources so that they can be assessed and matched.
  2. In Scouting the Land, we have
    1. gathered significant demographic data on our community
    2. developed an initial set of discussion points for conversation with our neighbors
  3. We still need to
  4. Decide how and where we will have conversation with our neighbors, individually, in pairs or small groups, and as a larger congregation. We agree that this is not primarily about telling others about our church, but rather our goal is to get to know them, and communicate that we desire to serve our community. In particular, we might say,

    “We at Forest Grove Christian Church are aware that there is more we could be doing to serve our community. We recognize that people have unfulfilled hopes, desires, dreams and needs. We believe that God is calling us to respond to these things and help our neighbors live richer, fuller lives. We would love to hear from you what needs you see in your friends and neighbors, or even in your own family, and if you have any thoughts on how a church might respond to those needs.”

We believe that God does have a dream for us as a congregation. Part of that dream, we think, is to live out our commitment to join with other Christians by exploring how we can support the work of the kingdom in our community and beyond, including praying for and encouraging other ministries, because we are not in competition, but are all working together.

We would love to see FGCC host an open house, homecoming, revival, festival or other event this fall.

 

IN

Needs     & Resources

Member Care

Prayer

Worship

Teaching

Fellowship

Outreach

Disciple Making

Spiritual Formation

 

OUT

Needs & Resources

  • Demographics
  • Circles of Influence
  • Circles of Affiliation
  • “Fishing Ponds”
  • “We are here to learn from you. Please tell us what you see, hear, wonder, hope.”
  • Open house – community calendars – 10/18-21; 11/1-4; 11/8-11
  • 9/18 – AFCC – @ TML

A brief statement of faith.

God’s love for the world is revealed in the creating, redeeming, reconciling and sustaining work known in Jesus the Christ, who is Son of God, Savior and Lord. Through the Bible we receive a witness to the faith of the early church and the people of Israel from within whom the church was born as joint heirs through sharing in that same faith demonstrated by Abraham and Sarah, the parents of the Hebrew people. Through that faith they to set out on a journey to a promised future through which blessings would come – the blessing to be a blessing to others. The Holy Spirit which inspired and empowered the people of God, the incarnational ministry of Jesus, the resurrection of Jesus, and the birth of the church, continues to work in diverse ways to manifest God’s kingdom on earth as it is in heaven until the kingdom of heaven comes to earth. The church functions as a continuation of that incarnation initiated in Jesus as we work and worship, speak and serve in his name as he has taught us. We agree that we are called to follow Jesus and that we are one in him, even if we arrive at different conclusions regarding what it means for us to follow him. Through it all, we trust and pray that God is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love (Psalm 108) and that God’s grace is sufficient (2 Corinthians 12:9).

Forest Grove Christian Church – What We Believe

As a congregation of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) we are committed to embracing unity with all Christians in our common affirmation that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God (Matthew 16:16). God calls us together at the Lord’s Supper where Christ offers us a tangible experience of God’s grace. We believe that together we are called to study the scriptures, using reason and the best scholarship together with humble and prayerful spirits.

We trace our history to the restoration movement of the early 19th century. In response to the divisions then existing within Christianity, this movement sought to find the unity among all Christians for which Jesus prayed in John 17. This quest of faith leads us to accept diversity among ourselves in both belief and practice. By grace through faith are we able to live out this calling.

In covenant relationship with other Disciples congregations, we join together in our particular expression of faith. The Christian Church professes the following affirmations:


We are the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ),
a movement for wholeness in a fragmented world.
As a part of the one Body of Christ,
we welcome all to the Lord’s Table
as God has welcomed us.

Our Mission is:

To be and to share the Good News of Jesus Christ,
witnessing, loving and serving
from our doorsteps “to the ends of the earth.”      (Acts 1:8)

Our Vision is:

To be a faithful, growing church,
that demonstrates true community,
deep Christian spirituality and
a passion for justice.                                               (Micah 6:8)
The Affirmation of Faith of
the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ):

As members of the Christian Church,
We confess that Jesus is the Christ,
the Son of the living God,
and proclaim him Lord and Savior of the world.
In Christ’s name and by his grace
we accept our mission of witness
and service to all people.
We rejoice in God,
maker of heaven and earth,
and in God’s covenant of love
which binds us to God and to one another.
Through baptism into Christ
we enter into newness of life
and are made one with the whole people of God.
In the communion of the Holy Spirit
we are joined together in discipleship
and in obedience to Christ.
At the Table of the Lord
we celebrate with thanksgiving
the saving acts and presence of Christ.
Within the universal church
we receive the gift of ministry
and the light of scripture.
In the bonds of Christian faith
we yield ourselves to God
that we may serve the One
whose kingdom has no end.
Blessing, glory, and honor
be to God forever. Amen.

(from the Preamble to the Design of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)