Monday, September 26, 2011

The Joy of the Lord is Our Strength

As I prepared and preached a sermon on the scriptures for last Sunday, I was struck by two things: the question "Is the Lord among us, or not?" and the pronouncement of Jesus that "the tax collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him; and even after you saw it, you did not change your minds and believe him."

As I mentioned in my sermon, too often we operate under the assumption that God is somehow absent and that it is solely up to us to do what God has called us to do. That almost directly translates into a lack of joy and to eventual burnout. The Pharisees' desire to preserve the religious institution dedicated to God blinded them to the new thing that God was actually doing in their midst. It was the tax collectors and prostitutes, the lowest of the low who had nothing to lose, that were the most receptive to John the Baptist's message and Jesus' ministry.  The mention of prostitutes and talking about the danger of a lack of joy, reminded me of this passage from The Kingdom of God Is a Party, by Tony Campolo:
After I finished, Harry leaned over the counter and with a trace of hostility in his voice, he said "Hey! You never told me you were a preacher. What kind of church do you belong to?" In one of those moments when just the right words came, I answered, "I belong to a church that throws birthday parties for whores at 3:30 in the morning." Harry waited a moment and then almost sneered as he answered, "No, you don't. There's no church like that. If there was, I'd join it. I'd join a church like that!" Wouldn't we all? Wouldn't we all love to join a church that throws birthday parties for whores at 3:30 in the morning?"
I'm not announcing a new ministry to prostitutes at St. Edward's, although a colleague of mine runs a quite successful one called Magdalene House in Nashville, Tennessee (shop their Thistle Farms site for great products for a great cause). What I am saying is that when we allow ourselves to take risks, to think outside of the church box, to really connect with the needs, hopes, and dreams of our community, the news that we proclaim goes from old news to good news.

One of the key things we'll be doing as a "new re-plant" church is something that churches that are planted often do--look around at the neighborhood and ask the question "What do people need?" As we do that, we also need to be aware of what gives us joy. Perhaps my favorite quote comes from Frederick Buechner, an author and Presbyterian minister: "The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world's deep hunger meet." Being able to discern where our deep gladness and the world's deep hunger meet will be a key part of our re-planting process.

Jeremiah 8:10 says "Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the LORD is your strength." The old St. Edward's gave us much to grieve--the loss of friends, resources, and passion. To successfully plant the new St. Edward's, we need to do what God has called us to do, not of our own strength out of a sense of duty, but out of God's strength with all the joy that God has for us. See you Sunday for another celebration!

No comments:

Post a Comment