Worship Message Texts

I concluded my final interim pastorate in March 2016, so I am no longer preaching on a regular basis. I am available for pulpit supply and these sermon scripts and videos give a picture of my approach. For pulpit supply, I am happy to write new sermons targeted at specific concerns or needs of congregations, otherwise I will rework previous sermons based on the texts of the Revised Common Lectionary for that Sunday.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Convinced to Believe

Jeremiah 32:1-3a, 6-15; Luke 16:19-31
September 29, 2013
© 2013

I have had the privilege of getting to know Allan Eubank, a Disciples of Christ minister who has served as a missionary in Thailand since 1960. His book God, Are You Really God? tells the stories of Thai people who have trusted Jesus when challenged to ask God to address their lives’ trials. Allan’s evangelistic technique in a predominantly Buddhist culture takes a page from Psalm 34:8. “O taste and see that the Lord is good.” What would you say has or would convince you to trust Jesus and become his disciple?
Logical or empirical evidence or arguments from philosophy or science?
Mystical or miraculous experiences, either your own or for someone you knew or read about?
A relationship with a person of faith whose relationship with Jesus was authentic and compelling?
When the outlook seems bleak, listening to the Word of God convinces us to trust God has good in store for us. We read how Jeremiah heard the word of the Lord that he was to buy a field from Hanamel (vv. 6-7), and when Hanamel came to Jeremiah in prison and asked to sell him the field, Jeremiah knew it was the word of the Lord (v. 8).
This sale of land was according to the laws in Leviticus 25. In verse 23 God said, “The land shall not be sold in perpetuity, for the land is mine; with me you are but aliens and tenants.” Real estate was not thought of as private property at the owner’s disposal but as belonging to God and held in trust for the community and future generations. As Hanamel’s cousin, Jeremiah had not only the right but the responsibility to buy it to keep it in the family. What is 1st Christian Church’s legacy held in trust for future generations of those who will follow Jesus?
Judah was under siege by the Babylonians when Jeremiah bought the field. It was a sign that as bleak as their situation seemed, they could hope in God who had a future for them. What signs of hope do you think God is giving 1st Christian Church for a fruitful future?
The field that Jeremiah bought had already been occupied by the Babylonians. Buying it was not a wise fiscal investment, but it was a powerful act of faith. What act of faith can you take to express your confidence in God’s hope for the future of 1st Christian Church?
The story of the rich man and Lazarus in Luke 16:19-31 is familiar but unique in all the Gospels. It is Jesus’ only parable with a named character. Lazarus means “God helps.” Since Luke did not introduce it as a parable, some have wondered if the rich man and Lazarus were real people who had recently died that his audience would have recognized. Yet, the story is clearly a parable and not a history or a theological exposition.
“There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. 20And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, 21who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man’s table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores. 22The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried.
23In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side. 24He called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in agony in these flames.’
25But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony. 26Besides all this, between you and us a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who might want to pass from here to you cannot do so, and no one can cross from there to us.’
27He said, ‘Then, father, I beg you to send him to my father’s house— 28for I have five brothers—that he may warn them, so that they will not also come into this place of torment.’
29Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.’ 30He said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ 31He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’”
With exquisite literary eloquence Jesus told God’s reversal. Poor Lazarus was personalized with the dignity of being named while the self-important rich man remained anonymous. Lazarus was escorted by angels to Abraham, but the rich man was simply buried. As an indigent, Lazarus’ body would have been tossed into the burning garbage dump that had become the popular image of Hades, while the rich man had the honor of a burial. But Lazarus was comforted with Abraham, and the rich man found himself in Hades. In his luxurious life, the rich man ignored Lazarus’ agony, but begged for Lazarus to relive his agony with a drop of water.
To take this as teaching about details of what happens when people die in isolation from the rest of Scripture will miss the “ah-ha” insight Jesus was conveying. Invisible people are important to God. If we are in harmony with God, we will empathize with them and do what we can to relieve their suffering.
Jesus’ secondary insight is that people are not convinced by persuasive arguments or spectacular experiences. Whether Jesus pointed to his own resurrection in verse 31, that’s how the early church understood it. His opponents covered up evidence he had risen. While they may encourage believers, I’m skeptical that unbelievers are convinced by reading about someone’s vision of heaven after a back from death experience. When the outlook seems bleak, listening to Scripture convinces us to trust God has good in store for us.
John Stendahl, pastor of the Lutheran Church of the Newtons, Newton, MA, was “visiting a young man in a facility for people with severe brain injuries. He was agitated and eager to walk, so I joined him as he went from room to room as if he were searching for someone. Eventually we came to a big room that was not in use. At the far end a couple of janitors were at work buffing the floor. I saw that no one was sitting at any of the tables and said to the young man, ‘There’s nobody in here.’ Then, from the other side of the room, came the voice of one of the janitors. ‘What do you mean, nobody? We’re not nobody.’” Christian Century, September 18, 2013, p. 21.
Listening to Scripture opens our spiritual eyes to see invisible people as full humans, loved by God, valuable enough for Jesus to redeem. Listening to Scripture gives us God’s perspective on unchurched and dechurched people, people of all cultural and ethnic backgrounds, all socio-economic positions from homeless to executive, all generations. Rather than a nuisance or annoyance, God puts invisible people in our paths for us to see opportunities to give and receive love.
Jesus told the rich man his brothers should listen to Moses and the Prophets, which was shorthand for the Scripture they had. We also have the Gospels and Epistles. They would not have had printed copies but would have to go to synagogue to hear them read aloud. By listening to Scripture in community, we join the conversation God has been having with people for generations. In our post-print world we tend to think in terms of cookbooks and shop manuals, textbooks and self-help books. Listening to Scripture is much more than information to agree with; it changes our perspective and shapes our character.
Invisible people are all around us. They may not all be in physical agony as Lazarus was. Some are as hollow as the rich man was. Many are spiritually hungry and unaware of the nourishment available by listening to Moses and the Prophets, Jesus and the Apostles. Evangelism is not trying to convince people to believe the right facts about Jesus but to be met by him as Scripture overflows from us so they can listen.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Everyone Expectations

1 Timothy 2:1-7; Luke 16:1-13
September 22, 2013
© 2013

My Dad was an undertaker. Cliff Stenberg, my Mom’s cousin by marriage, was an accountant with the IRS. They both belonged to the same civic service club. When they arrived or sat together, other members said, “Look, death and taxes.”
In our unstable, changing world, with grim humor we identify death and taxes as dependable certainties.
After every industrial accident, mass shooting, child abused at school or church, or terrorist attack we call for action so this will never happen again. Wise protections are a good idea, but we cannot guarantee total safety.
Today’s Scriptures assure us that God’s generous mercy is life’s most dependable certainty.
Luke 16:1-14 may be the most puzzling of Jesus parables. Far greater minds than mine have confessed they could not understand it. I am not presumptuous enough to claim that I can. However, in keeping with my promise to listen for the voice of God in the Scripture lessons from the lectionary, I can point us to the reliability of God’s generous mercy.
I looked at a lot of commentaries that point in many contradictory directions. Without suggesting which are right and which are wrong, Ken Bailey shed insightful light on this parable for me. Here are a few things that I hope make it understandable for you.
Jesus told this parable to the disciples, knowing that the Pharisees were listening in.
Whether Jesus spoke them in close chronological proximity, Luke put it in the sequence of the banquet parables, the cost of discipleship and the lost and found parables we have just looked at, and the rich man and Lazarus we come to next week, all of which touch on Luke’s typical challenges about money.
Jesus used ironic, sarcastic language to convey, probably with gesture and tone of voice, the opposite of the direct meaning of the words.
Jesus told the parable in Aramaic. The words for dishonest and wealth in Luke’s Greek translation are almost identical. Mammon from KJV is worldly wealth in NIV and dishonest wealth in NRSV.
This is a parable, not intended to be a realistic story or an allegory where each element symbolizes something. Rather, it invites us to a singular “ah-ha” moment of insight and enlightenment.
Jesus had told the crowds about the cost of discipleship and told the lost and found parables to the Pharisees who grumbled that he welcomed sinners and ate with them.
Then Jesus said to the disciples, “There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was squandering his property. 2So he summoned him and said to him, ‘What is this that I hear about you? Give me an accounting of your management, because you cannot be my manager any longer.’
3Then the manager said to himself, ‘What will I do, now that my master is taking the position away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg. 4I have decided what to do so that, when I am dismissed as manager, people may welcome me into their homes.’
5So, summoning his master’s debtors one by one, he asked the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ 6He answered, ‘A hundred jugs of olive oil.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it fifty.’ 7Then he asked another, ‘And how much do you owe?’ He replied, ‘A hundred containers of wheat.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill and make it eighty.’ 8And his master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly; for the children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light.
9And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes.
10“Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much; and whoever is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much. 11If then you have not been faithful with the dishonest wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? 12And if you have not been faithful with what belongs to another, who will give you what is your own?
13No slave can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.”
Yes, the Pharisees ridiculed Jesus, thinking him absurdly impractical about money. But I think they also ridiculed him for telling such an inscrutable story. Yet I think we can get it if we imagine the dynamics this way.
The manager knew his master was generously merciful, and he was right. He could have been thrown in jail, not just fired. So before anyone knew he had been fired, he reduced the tenants’ debts, letting them think the master was being generous. They were understandably thrilled to have a generous landlord and praised him in the community. When the manager handed over the doctored books, probably the end of the same day, the master recognized his shrewd move. Rather than damage his reputation for generous mercy, the master absorbed the cost, fully paying for the manager’s dishonesty himself.
As I have listened for the voice of God in Jesus’ parable of the dishonest manager, my “ah-ha” insight is that God’s generous mercy is life’s most dependable certainty.
Just as the master paid in full for the manager’s dishonesty, Jesus has paid in full for our redemption.
We sometimes think of God’s generous mercy as a specifically New Testament emphasis, but it permeates the Hebrew Scriptures. The Hebrew word hesed occurs 249 times to both describe God and the character of God to be emulated by people. Hesed is a big Hebrew word that can’t be captured in a single English word. It is often translated “loving kindness” but means also mercy, grace, favor, fidelity, goodness. Psalm 130 conveys the dependable certainty of God’s generous mercy.
Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord. Lord, hear my voice! Let your ears be attentive to the voice of my supplications! If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities, Lord, who could stand? But there is forgiveness with you, so that you may be revered. I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I hope; my soul waits for the Lord more than those who watch for the morning, more than those who watch for the morning. O Israel, hope in the Lord! For with the Lord there is steadfast love [hesed], and with him is great power to redeem. It is he who will redeem Israel from all its iniquities.
As we appropriate the dependable certainty of God’s generous mercy we are empowered for lives of exuberant freedom. Knowing we have received God’s generous mercy, we are motivated to serve God faithfully. Trusting God’s generous mercy, we can depend on God to guide us on our journey. Confident of God’s generous mercy, we do not fear taking a wrong turn or making mistakes.
The dependable certainty of God’s generous mercy is affirmed when 1Timothy 2:4 says, “God desired everyone to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth.”
Because of God’s generous mercy, 1Timothy 2:1-2 calls us to pray for those in high positions so we can peaceably live as Jesus’ disciples and proclaim the Gospel. The word for “herald” in verse 7 was used for someone who made official announcements for the Roman Emperor, indicating the high priority of the Gospel announcement.
Praying for people in high positions is tied to Christian discipleship and evangelism, since no one, not even the Emperor, is beyond God’s generous mercy. The Emperor at that time was Nero, who eventually executed both Paul and Peter. The early Christians had no expectation that the Empire would promote Christian faith or be run on Christian principles; only they prayed that it might promote stability in which they could live in godliness and dignity as Jesus’ disciples proclaiming the Gospel.
Our Disciples of Christ tradition has avoided written creeds as human creations. 1 Timothy 2:5-6 is a proto-creed that comes directly from the New Testament and affirms in theological language that Jesus paid the cost to make God’s generous mercy life’s most dependable certainty.

There is one God; there is also one mediator between God and humankind, Christ Jesus, himself human, who gave himself a ransom for all.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Never Out of Reach

1 Timothy 1:12-17; Luke 15:1-10
September 15, 2013
© 2013

Do you remember this line from Simon and Garfunkel’s 1968 song America? “‘Kathy, I'm lost,’ I said, though I knew she was sleeping. ‘I'm empty and aching and I don't know why.’”
Forty-five years later, that song is still downloaded and played over and over again, because people still resonate with its cry to be found by someone who can fill the ache.
When I was in college some students went off to find themselves: hitchhiking in Europe, living in a commune, backpacking the Pacific Coast or Appalachian Trails.  Jon Kabat-Zinn captured the reality of the search for self in the title of his book Wherever You Go, There You Are.
Revivalist Christian evangelism speaks of saving the lost. Though Matthew 10:6; 15:24 quote Jesus describing his mission to “the lost sheep of Israel,” the broader use of “the lost” is unique to Luke. Today we see it in the lost sheep and the lost coin in Luke 15:1-10, and November 3 we’ll get to the story of Zacchaeus where Jesus said, “The Son of Man came to seek out and save the lost.” (19:10)
Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to [Jesus]. 2And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.”
3So he told them this parable: 4“Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? 5When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. 6And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ 7Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.
8“Or what woman having ten silver coins, if she loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? 9When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’ 10Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”
We are God’s Fellowship of the Lost and Found.
Don’t be too quick to come down on the Pharisees for labeling people “sinners.” It’s a human response to those who make us uncomfortable: homeless, addicts, mentally ill – fat cats, hot shots, opportunists. I’m sure you could brainstorm plenty more that are not so polite. In the Pharisee’s universe, they imagined joy in heaven if one sinner was obliterated, thinking them beyond repentance.
With ironic artistry, Jesus reversed this conventional thinking. Even the Pharisees knew that there were not 99 people who did not need to repent for every one who repented. Jesus implied that those who considered themselves righteous enough not to need repentance were depriving heaven of joy. So, if you want to make God happy, repent!
Because we have turned “the lost” into a label for people who are not like us, we miss that by reversing the language from “sinner” to “lost,” Jesus was humanizing those who came to listen to him. Like the sheep and the coin that always belonged to the shepherd and the woman, Jesus asserted that “the lost” actually belong to God.
Jesus is the host for God’s Fellowship of the Lost and Found. When the Pharisees complained that Jesus welcomed sinners, they saw that he was the host inviting them to be his guests. In that time, a generous person of wealth might feed a large number of poor folk, but would never sit down and eat with them. That would imply equality, identification and acceptance. That is exactly why Jesus ate with sinners.
What was it about Jesus that attracted the lost to him? I believe he took their plight seriously without demeaning them. He offered hope rather than advice. He called them to higher living, confident they could experience it. He was not embarrassed or awkward around them. He spoke to them respectfully – human to human.
A large church not far from where we lived in Milwaukee had a large neon sign that said, “Sinners welcome here.” Though they did seem to put that into practice, I wouldn’t recommend putting it on a neon sign. But we do need to ask what kind of church attracts people who are lost, empty and aching? One of the common criticisms of churches is that they are gatherings of the 99 who think they are too righteous to need repentance. So we have a public image problem to overcome if we are to attract those who are lost, empty and aching.
You may have friends who have been influenced by Roman Catholic folk faith for whom St. Anthony of Padua is the patron saint of lost things and people. People say prayers to St. Anthony to help find something that has been lost. Here are some cutesy ones:
  • St. Anthony, St. Anthony, please come down. Something is lost and can’t be found.
  • Something’s lost and can’t be found. Please, St. Anthony, look around.
  • Tony, Tony, turn around. Something’s lost that must be found.

This superstition rests on a legend from his days with Francis in the Little Brothers of the Poor. A novice monk ran away from the community and took the Psalter Anthony used for his prayers. He prayed it would be found and returned to him. The legend is that the novice met a demon in the forest who frightened him into returning the Psalter and rejoining the community. And they welcomed him back with joy.
We read from 1 Timothy 1:12-17 how the apostle Paul went from being a Pharisee who would have counted himself among the 99 who needed no repentance to consider himself to be the foremost of sinners, inviting people into God’s Fellowship of the Lost and Found.
Shauna Hannan teaches preaching and worship at Lutheran Theological Seminary in Columbia, South Carolina. She tells how when she was growing up, as the oldest of five children, she was often told to keep an eye on her younger siblings. She says she would count, “One …two … three … four children” and breathe a sigh of relief. Large department stores and amusement parks worried her the most. Sometimes her Mom would turn around at the cash register and ask, “Where’s Brent?” Her heart would sink as she looked up and down the aisles. What a relief when she spotted her little brother playing with a truck in the toy aisle. While he did not even know he was lost, she rejoiced that he was found. She affirms that finding, especially a person, is more gratifying than being found. The Christian Century, September 4, 2013, p. 21
Like the sheep and the coin, we don’t find ourselves. God finds us. Perhaps, like Shauna Hannan’s little brother, we don’t even know we’re lost. We’re smart enough to know we’re not one of the 99 who need no repentance, but we don’t know what it is like to be found. Whatever joy there is in being found is an overflow of the joy God receives from finding us.
I want to end with a prayer from Brennan Manning’s 2005 book The Ragamuffin Gospel. (Multnomah Publishers, Colorado Springs, CO, p. 229)

O God our Father, be present with us, Your least disciples. On each page of this journey, in each thought and emotion, we go forward in the name of Your Son, Jesus Christ. Lead us into the mystery of the love in the heart of your crucified Son, the love that surpasses all knowledge and understanding. Cover us with His beauty. Grant us the grace of true conversion, to make a radical break from the darkness in our lives and move toward the Light, who is Your Son, Jesus, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God forever and ever. Amen

Friday, September 6, 2013

Jesus Shaped Heart

Jeremiah 18:1-11; Luke 14:25-33
September 8, 2013
© 2013

As a pilgrim settled down to sleep, a villager appeared saying, “I had a dream that you have a diamond of great value, and if I asked for it, you would give it to me.” The pilgrim reached into his bag and pulled out a stone. “You may have it,” he said and settled down again to sleep. The villager looked in amazement at the largest diamond he had ever seen. He took it, and walked away. He tossed and turned all night unable to sleep, and the next day he returned to the pilgrim handed back the diamond and said, “Give me the wealth that makes it possible for you to give away this diamond so easily.” Robert B. Kruschwitz, General Editor of Christian Reflection, Center for Christian Ethics at Baylor University

In Psalm 73:25 the Psalmist wrote, “There is nothing on earth that I desire other than you.” Do you desire God more than anything on earth?

In Psalm 84:10 the Psalmist wrote, “A day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere.” Have you had one day with God that was better than your best 1,000 days combined?

Jesus calls us to be his disciples who let go of everything else so he can shape our hearts to match his heart.
This summer we have already seen how in Luke, more than any other Gospel, we listen to words of Jesus that make us flinch. Luke 14:25-33 may be as unnerving to hear as any.
Now large crowds were traveling with [Jesus]; and he turned and said to them, 26“Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple. 27Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.
28For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it? 29Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it will begin to ridicule him, 30saying, ‘This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.’
31Or what king, going out to wage war against another king, will not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to oppose the one who comes against him with twenty thousand? 32If he cannot, then, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for the terms of peace.
33So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.
We are intended to cringe at what Jesus said to the crowd. Again Luke called them a “crowd,” indicating they were not totally sympathetic. Knowing that the cross lay ahead of him and the demands of the mission on which he would send them after his resurrection, Jesus was purposely thinning the ranks. He was not concerned about avoiding failure but about seriousness of intent.

“Hate” is a purposely strong word that we dare not dismiss or dilute as a mere literary hyperbole. Yet, we also need to understand that Jesus was not speaking about emotions but about making choices. We might hear Jesus say to us, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must choose me over possessions, family and even life itself.” Jesus was not suggesting getting priorities in order with him first. He insisted on an either-or choice.

Jesus’ stipulation was comprehensive, not just external possessions and relationships but personally intrusive. To choose Jesus over life is to give up our prerogatives and accept how he shapes us. Jesus calls us to be his disciples who let go of everything else so he can shape our hearts to match his heart.

We catch the magnitude of this call in the image of the potter and the clay in Jeremiah 18:1-11.
In verse 6 God asserted the right as the potter to shape Israel as the clay. But the clay is not passive. Verse 11 warns that God was shaping evil against Judah if they do not repent. Jeremiah 2 accused Israel of trading God for things of no value, of forsaking the fountain of living water for cracked cisterns that hold no water. (v. 13)

The image of God as potter and people as clay occurs several times in the Hebrew Scriptures, the Apocrypha and the New Testament. Paul built on Jeremiah 18 in Romans 9:21 to say that the potter has the right to make some objects for special use and some for ordinary use. In 2 Corinthians 4:6-7 he wrote that we have the treasure of the knowledge of the glory of God in clay jars. The ordinary is still magnificent.

One of the Desert Fathers, Abba Poeman (ca. 400 CE) used a slightly different image of how God shapes us. “The nature of water is soft, that of stone is hard; but if a bottle is hung above the stone, allowing the water to fall drop by drop, it wears away the stone. So it is with the word of God; it is soft and our heart is hard, but the [one] who hears the word of God often, opens [the] heart to the fear of God.” The Sayings of the Desert Fathers, tr. Benedicta Ward, SLG, Kalamazoo, MI, Cistercian Publications, 1975, pp. 192-193 I think of this as how reading and hearing Scripture shapes our hearts to match the heart of Jesus. Jesus calls us to be his disciples who let go of everything else so he can shape our hearts to match his heart.

Abba Anthony (ca. 300 CE) is commonly considered the founder of the Desert Fathers. He observed how Christian faith and discipleship deteriorated rapidly as Constantine made a distorted version of Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire. So he sought to discover a new form of faithfulness by which little societies within society became like leaven in a lump of dough, creating pockets of freedom where people could imagine alternatives to the violence and grinding poverty of the world around them. Monasticism Old and New, Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, Grand Rapids, MI, Brazos Press a division of Baker Publishing Group, 2008 Sixteen hundred years later, we are faced with the same question. How is God shaping us, the people of 1st Christian Church, Odessa, TX? How is God shaping us for the next leg of our journey with Jesus with a new pastor? How is God shaping us to call spiritually hungry people in our rapidly changing, secular society to become Jesus’ disciples?

We must start with the personal. Can you describe how God is shaping you to be a disciple of Jesus who has let go of everything else so he can shape your heart to match his? On Wednesday evening we’ll begin our Leadership Conversations prompted by Paul Nixon’s book I Refuse to Lead a Dying Church Cleveland, OH, Pilgrim Press, 2006. He starts with the bold assertion that everything for the congregation depends on the prerequisite of both leaders and people having had a living encounter with the living Jesus. Without that everything else is futile: wringing out socks over the rail of the Titanic (my image, not his).

The interim journey between pastors is an ideal time to ask what business we are in. The Search and Call Committee needs to know what kind of pastor to look for. Do you want a sales manager to increase the congregation’s market share of church goers of Odessa? Or are you willing to let go of everything to invite spiritually hungry people to become disciples of Jesus whose hearts are being shaped to match his?

When Jesus told the parables of counting the cost of building a tower and going to war, he wasn’t talking about the construction industry or military strategy. He wasn’t saying, “Count the cost of becoming my disciple to be sure you’ve got what it takes so you don’t fail.” He was asking whether we are serious about following him. In Luke 18:29-30, Jesus assures us that if we are, “No one who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, who will not get back very much more in this age, and in the age to come eternal life.”