The Church has Issues: 2 Thessalonians 3:1-17

Pastor Travis Norton
14 October 2020
Wednesday AM worship

We’re finishing up our series on the Church has issues this morning. Today we go to the church in Thessalonica, the capital city of Macedonia in Greece. We believe that these letters to the new Christians in Thessalonica are the oldest books in the new testament. Paul traveled through Macedoniain the 40s and likely wrote this letter in 50 A.D. You can tell Paul had a special fondness for this churchmaybe because it was among the first that he planted on his missionary journeys. I know as a pastor I have a special connection to the first church I served, Our Redeemer’s in Helena, Montana. Mostly because they knew me as a 26-year-old pastor who made a lot of mistakes which they met with patience and grace. Paul is pastoring the Thessalonians from afar and through his associate Timothy. But even though he has a special place in his heart for them, or maybe because he does, he writes to correct them on some of their issues. As he does with all the churches he writes to, he urges them to be holy, to begin to live as Christians, set apart from the world around them. We’ve talked about that a lot in this series, most of Paul’s letters are heavy in the theme of sanctification. We are saved by God’s grace, but we are saved for God’s work and witness which asks us to live holy lives, free from sin. To the Thessalonian’s, the two main issues Paul addresses is their sex lives and their work lives. As for their sex lives, he tells them that they can’t be promiscuous like the gentiles, they are not to sleep around. In 1 Thessalonians 4:4 he says, each one of you know how to control your own body in holiness and honor, not with lustful passion like the gentiles who do not know God, that no one wrong or exploit a brother or sister in this manner. We could do a whole series on sexual ethics, rooted in this passage that sex not be used to exploit others for our own benefit. Christian sex is meant to serve our spouses and not ourselves, a lesson believers and unbelievers still need to hear today. The second issue that Paul addresses is the work life of the Thessalonians. In chapter 4 of 1Thessalonians, he says that they should “aspire to live quietly, to mind your own affairs and to work with your hands as we directed you.” I think the whole of the protestant work ethic is contained in that verse. Mind your own business, work with your hands. What is that phrase, idleness is the devil’s plaything/workshop? Paul really gets after this issue in his second letter. He tells them to stay awayfrom those who don’t work, who are being idle. Having nothing to do with them. If they aren’t going to work, they shouldn’t eat. Everyone should earn their own living. Now, we have to be quick to saybecause this passage has been misused politically over the years, Paul is not talking about people who can’t work because of disability, illness or circumstance. Paul is not saying that we shouldn’t help those who are poor, unemployed or in need. Paul is talking about people who choose not to work and because of that choice become busybodies who have nothing better to do than disrupt the community. One of the issues was that some believed that Jesus’ return was right around the corner, they thought the end of the world was at hand, so they quit their jobs to wait for Jesus to come back. And once they quit their jobs, they all of a sudden had a lot of free time to fill up. Apparently, they used that free timeto bother the rest of the community, and cause problems. We don’t know exactly what they did, but it was bothersome enough for Paul to tell the community to bar these people from Holy Communion. Although Paul does say that they should still be treated as believers, as members of the community. But they shouldn’t be allowed to eat with the community if they aren’t contributing and only causing trouble. Paul wants the busybodies to be ashamed of their actions and change their ways, go back to work and reenter the community. The goal of all of this is a church where everyone contributes, where everyone is helping to build up the community. So that the church can help believers grow in holinessand then be an example to the community. So, others might come to faith in Jesus. I wonder what the lesson is for us. We don’t have many people who quit their jobs just to cause trouble at the church. We may have people who don’t carry their own weight, although we don’t’ really try to identify them. I know many of us were surprised when we looked at the giving chart of our communityhow the greatest giving to this ministry was done by a relatively small number of people. I think there is something about what Paul is saying that would urge us to contribute to the good of the ministry, to carry our own weight. I remember being counseled early on by a Pastor saying that he’d discovered that those who complain the loudest about the church often give the least, if at all. I know I’ve found that to be true in terms of volunteering. Someone will come to me with a complaint but when I ask if they willvolunteer to help solve the issue, they suddenly become very quiet. And I will be honest that I tend to give greater weight to the critiques of those who serve and support the church than those who don’t. We aren’t meant to be mere consumers of the ministry the church offers. We are meant to be producers of the ministry as well as recipients. So, we must all ask what we can do to make this congregation strong and healthy so we can share God’s word with the world. In our giving, in our volunteering, in the words of encouragement we offer. Even coming to worship at 9am on a Wednesday is an encouragement to those of us who put forth the effort to create this service. Our singing, our prayers, our attendance are all important ways of showing support. Most of what Paul wrote to the Thessalonians show up in lines like verse 4. “We have confidence in the Lord concerning you, that you are doing and will go on doing the things that we command.” I would like to echo Paul’s words that you are already doing what is needed for this congregation. You are supporting the ministry with your gifts of time, talent and treasure. When we proposed the Peel house project you overwhelmingly supported it. When we ask for donations for the hungry, you exceed our goals. When we need volunteers to deliver bags to the congregation, we had more volunteers than we needed (I say that because we’ll be asking again for Advent ����.) When the coronavirus forced us out of the sanctuary, you continued to adapt and pivot and support the new ways we are worshipping.So, all I can really say is keep it up. Keep doing what you are doing and watch how God uses it to bless others. We are seeing new people come to the church, people passing by on Cascade seeing us worshipare now joining us and becoming part of the community. We don’t have to do something crazy or out of the ordinary we just need to keep being the church. Keep working on getting stronger, more united, more faithful. Keep learning and practicing the ways of Jesus, keep identifying and repenting of our sin. Keep worshipping and growing, don’t be idle but be active in doing the work of God and watch as God continues to bless and grow this congregation for the sake of our neighbors and the sake of the world.Thanks be to God.

The Church has Issues: Colossians 2:6-3:1

Pastor Carrie Baylis
7 October 2020
Wednesday AM worship
Do Not be Led Astray

Brothers and sisters in Christ grace, peace, and mercy to you from Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior. 

The question I asked myself when reading and studying this text, especially in the understanding that “the church has issues” is: What does this letter urge the church to believe to hope for, and to do?  And like all the weeks before us, it is amazing how we find ourselves in the same place thousands of years later looking at how we can live fully into the body of Christ without letting the “outside” world distract us, or misguide us, or lead us astray.   

Our faith shall not lead us astray like the world will.  

This letter was written to the people of the city of Colossae who were stretched beyond just the faith and belief of Jesus Christ as the full embodiment of God.  The possibility of religious syncretism was perhaps stronger here than anywhere else in Paul’s world.  (Judaism, local religions, standard pagan cults, gentiles) they could be considered people of a multiethnic church. Throughout the city some were judging others for not following certain dogmatic ideas and self-abasing practices.  There was more than just a faith towards God, but a looking towards authorities and rulers who provide philosophies and promises through practices and beliefs that are not of God, but of human tradition and ideas and that promised good life and needs being met if they put their faith there. 

As Paul heard of this call to faith in people and promises other than in Christ and God the father his response in writing to the people was to urges them to be rooted in the Messiah, in whom the “entire fullness of deity dwells bodily.” Since they too have “come to fullness” in this Messiah — having been baptized into his crucifixion and resurrection — they need not be “dogmatized” by any self-appointed “authorities and rulers” who seek to undermine their faith. 

What might it look like to undermine one’s faith?   

I will venture so far as to say that you can pick up a paper, turn on the news or answer a robocall these days and probably pick out a handful of different places where our faith is undermined by a call to serve the interests of things that are not of God, but of economy, loyalty and tradition. 

Paul warns to beware of anyone who would trap you with deceptive philosophies that strip your experience of life’s fullness and value — whether based on human tradition or ideas about the universe. The writer here is not attacking “philosophy” per se, but rather beliefs and practices (which in this case are clearly spiritual and religious) that are not rooted in the Messiah, those that might undermine one’s faith. 

Looking a little more closely, however, there is another threat to the church, a threat that has been common to the human condition ever since we failed to live our lives in the image of God and embraced earthly/human images instead. While idolatry doesn’t get named until chapter 3, the rhetoric of the argument in chapter two indicates that idolatry is in the author’s sights. Remembering to always read the New Testament with Old Testament eyes, an argument that dismisses an opposing worldview as “empty deceit”, mere “shadow” without substance, a “human tradition”, and a “human way of thinking”? It speaks to our OT understanding of idolatry and reminds us substance is of God. 

So today I invite you to consider the idolatries that continue to have a deathly grip on our lives. Might we need to name something like the financial markets of the global economy as a “shadow” without substance? If our identity is “in Christ,” might it be time to recognize all patriotic nationalism as a “human way of thinking”? Might we need to see where we are living into empty and deceitful practices that don’t provide for the least and the lost, but allow us the self-indulgence of helping the “other” through a self-imposed piety or humility. 

One of the text studies I read this week suggested that this text and the people of Colossae (and I believe us today) were in the midst of trying to understand competing worldviews.  Pastor Karl Jacobson from Good Shepherd in Minnesota identifies three competing views that could be summed up as opposites when trying to understand and live this text.  It includes: 

  1. Philosophy and the true word of the gospel;  
  1. empty deceit and the knowledge of God;  
  1. human tradition and spiritual wisdom and understanding. 

Philosophy is not gospel, nor are human traditions.  Even (and maybe especially) religious, church-related traditions–the same thing as spiritual wisdom or understanding that might be the toughest one for me, I love some tradition but when pressed on the spirituality of all tradition or where we find the gospel in it, I can talk until I’m blue in the face and still just be making stuff up. We don’t need to hold these things in steadfast opposition, but perhaps need to find where it is that they live into the divine reality of Christ for us. Philosophy and the gospel need not be in opposition; nor are human traditions in and of themselves hurdles to wisdom and understanding. When philosophy attacks the gospel, or human tradition, piety, dogma and patriotism becomes a burden to faith it is right to set them aside, but when they serve the church and the proclamation of the gospel they may be embraced. It is only deceit and the knowledge of God which are in pure opposition of each other. 

The tension in Colossians lies in what the governing influence in one’s life is. These opposites we speak of could also be identified as “the elemental spirits of the universe” in one column and t “the Christ,” in the other and it is here that the real tension comes to the fore. Does one orient faith and daily living according to the elemental spirits of the world, philosophy, empty deceit (whatever form that takes) and human tradition or does one orient faith and daily living according to the who fullness of God in Christ through the true word of the gospel, knowledge of God, and spiritual wisdom and understanding (which we are always learning new.)  Will we stumble, will we fall?  Yes, the church has issues, for thousands of years we are still learning to  turn towards God in Jesus Christ, to understand that our loyalties fall to God through the crucified Jesus Christ and authority comes through him, not through people of this world.   

The piece that accompanies this writing to the Colossians and really to all of Paul’s letters, is to remember that there is no embodied faith without forgiveness. When this text comes up with the regular lectionary it echos the OT, Psalm and NT readings and Colossians takes us to the place of forgiveness in the cross. Something remarkable happens at the cross. Our author doesn’t tell us exactly how this works, but at the cross, is nailed all that stood against us, all that held us guilty, all that would strip us of the fullness of embodied life.   Trespasses, transgressions, sins are forgiven and no one gets to rule us out of the kingdom again! 

And if we are to understand this text as a tract against idolatry (and empire), we need to ask today, which rulers and authorities are disarmed at the cross and paraded behind the Messiah in triumphal procession? Dare we imagine these to be our rulers? Our political, economic, military, and even ecclesiastical authority structures? Are we in the captive procession? And if that is where we find ourselves, maybe not all day, everyday, but even some of the time, we should join Paul in learning how to live a life fully embodied in Christ,  and then remembering the final verses of today’s reading, “if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth, for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory.” Amen. 

The Church has Issues: Philippians 1: 27-30 and 2: 12-18

Pastor Carrie Baylis
30 September 2020
Wednesday AM worship
Hold fast, Stand Firm 

Brothers and sisters in Christ grace, peace, and mercy to you from Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior. 

Philippians is probably one of my favorite books in the bible.  I love Paul’s writing and truth telling that we need to live into the cruciform Christ Jesus.  In the final verses of the first chapter he tells us to “live our lives in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent and hear about you, I will know that you are standing firm in one spirit, striving side by side with one mind for the faith of the gospel.”   

Whoa. 

Did anyone watch the presidential debate debacle last night? 

Does anyone have someone that they love dearly, but can’t see eye to eye with? 

Do you sometimes wonder if the troubles of today, and there are many, so take your pick, are too insurmountable for us to overcome so we will just live in defeat, in fear, and in doubt? 

The church has issues.  The world has issues. 

What does it take for us to “stand firm and united?”  Paul has us understand that unity is a derivative of faithfully embodying the truth that Jesus is Lord, even in the face of opposition. 

What might it look like if we were able to stand back sometimes and reflect on what separates us from one another?  So often these days I wonder how all of us, people of faith, can look at the world with such radically different perspectives and all claim Christ as Lord.   

I think that is part of what Paul is getting at in his letter to the Philippians.  Paul’s overriding concern in is the unity and integrity of the community in the face of opposition.  He and the Philippians turn to the story of Christ’s life, his incarnation and death, and the confession that Jesus Christ is Lord to also be the story of their lives as citizens in a society that doesn’t always see eye to eye.   

The Philippian community was founded in and continued to live in a climate of suffering for the gospel, yet Philippian believers were both generous and joyful in their affliction. The shared experience between Paul and the Philippians is at the heart of their gospel fellowship, they are united in Christ by their common suffering for him and their common joy in him. 

Paul’s suffering was imprisonment. He composed a letter that relates the story of Christ to the ongoing story of the Philippian community.  Paul wants the story of Christ to shape people who will live out their citizenship in ways that are worthy of the gospel story of Christ.   

What does that mean?  It means we live as Christ lived.  Self-humbling, self-emptying. Obedience to God. 

Paul proclaims love for others that is self-sacrificial, power that is self-emptying rather than self-serving, hope that suffering for God is always followed by divine vindication and exaltation.   

As a community the church has both internal and external responsibilities. Internally we are to love one another, learn with one another, bear one another’s burdens. If one suffers, all suffer, and if one rejoices, all rejoice.  Externally we are to bear witness to our neighbors and to love all, even our enemies.  And if persecuted, like Paul, would be expected neither to be surprised and not to retaliate. We are to share faith, express love, and remain secure in hope as we interact with the world around us. 

In reading on this text, many refer to it as being Paul’s most ego-centric letter.  I think that might also make it one that we most clearly identify with.  And it certainly shouldn’t be discounted as within this letter are many passages of great power and truth.  That itself is due to the grace of which Paul is not yet truly aware. Maybe that’s where our ego lies too, in not yet truly being aware of grace given to and for us.  Sheesh.  Not yet truly aware.   

From the end of the first chapter through the beginning of the second Paul had been encouraging the Philippians to conduct themselves in a manner worthy of the Gospel. He had been teaching on unity, harmony and humility. And he had highlighted Christ’s example of perfect obedience and self-sacrifice. With all this in mind, therefore, Paul urges the Philippians to obediently put this teaching into practice. From verse 2:12, Paul explains to the Philippian church how to apply what he had been teaching them. 

Paul speaks of integrity and commends the Philippians for being people of integrity. What they have done in Paul’s presence as people of faith they continued to do in his absence.  We need to have a faith that is more than just an outward show of Christian values which are displayed in the presence of certain people.  We should expect the same of others. A genuine faith in Jesus Christ should be the driving force in our life, a force that shapes our inner attitudes and our outward behavior. 

Paul persistently taught that salvation is through faith and grace alone, and is in no way dependent on performing deeds or rituals associated with the Jewish laws; but here he tells the Philippians to work out, or work at, their salvation. Which might have us asking just who is doing the work in verse 13? God is the one working within every believer and working within the church. While God is the one working our response is to work alongside of him, to live in righteousness not to earn our salvation but to respond to it through good works.  I like the Greek word for “work” used in verse 13, it is a strengthened form of the word for “work”; it is the word we get “energy” from. God is the one who is energetically at work within each believer and within the church, actively transforming us, individually and corporately, according to his will, according to his purpose. We’re reminded in Romans 8:28 that, “we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. 

Paul didn’t just want to tell folks about Jesus, he wanted people to come reach Spiritual maturity and perfection, that Christ would be formed within us. God is the one who is working in us, and it is up to us to respond obediently to the promptings of the Spirit. Paul wanted the Philippian church to work together and cooperate with God’s work to produce a mature, united community of believers. Individual and corporate spiritual maturity is the product of “working out” our salvation. 

We are not only told to work out our own salvation, but to do it with “fear and trembling.” Isn’t there an expression about a healthy dose of fear?  When it comes to God I think Martin Luther likes to begin his understandings of God remember that we are to “fear and love God so that…” So today, it seems that one of the most lamentable characteristics of our modern Christianity is the lack of fear, awe, reverence and wonder that God’s transcendent and awesome nature warrants. The Bible has so many examples of people who were met with God and by God and were terrified by his brilliance and power. Yet many modern Christians treat God with flippant familiarity. 

While it might seem impossible, at this present time, in this state of our world, to have a truly accurate understanding and appreciation of our holy, majestic God, we need to be wary about being too casual and complacent in our relationship and conversation with him.  

God abides with us in a close spiritual union, he guides us, and graciously and generously assists us. But God is much more than that. God is also gloriously powerful, transcendent, and holy. 

The Creator of the universe is at work within us, using his tremendous power and benevolence to recreate us in the image of Christ. Our part is to cooperate with God in his transforming work and just as Paul told the Corinthians (2 Cor. 7:1) to “purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God”.  You cannot have holiness without reverence. 

Paul continues his letter with some practical advice: “Do all things without complaining or arguing”. There is something awry about a Christian who always seems to have a pessimistic outlook on life, or a contentious, never satisfied demeanour. Paul doesn’t want the Philippians to be whiners and complainers; he wants them to be joyful. By refraining from grumbling, complaining, and dissension, the Philippians would prove themselves to be blameless and innocent, in contrast with the surrounding pagan society. 

Back in Moses’ time, the Israelites had been guilty of murmuring and complaining. Not only had they grumbled and complained about Moses, they also grumbled and complained about God. God took these sins very seriously. While we need to honestly face problems and difficulties, and not dismiss them with blind optimism and loyalties, we need to be wary about becoming pessimistic complainers, whiny gossips, or promoters of dissension. 

And finally after all of that, which is a tall order, Paul speaks of having joy in the face of sacrifice and death.  The Bible actually encourages us to be joyful and happy as a church. 

In his letter to the Philippians Paul not only says in 2:14, “Do everything without grumbling or arguing” he says the opposite, positive command just 4 verses later, “So you too should be glad and rejoice with me.” Paul doesn’t just not want churches full of complainers. He wants churches full of happy, joyful, laughing people. 

So one of the ways we obey God is by being joyful. Remember back at the end of the first chapter Paul says, “Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.”  

Somehow Paul manages to find joy despite his circumstances. 

Paul is being poured out by suffering under house arrest for the gospel. The amazing thing is Paul says, “This sacrifice makes me happy and it should make you happy too.” What could possibly make Paul willing to pour himself out as an offering? He’s willing to do it for their faith.  The faith that ultimately centers on Jesus who was first poured out as an offering. Just as we’ll share in the sacrament here in a moment we remember that offering in our gospels where “In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.” 

Jesus’s body and blood became the bread and wine of our offering. He poured himself out so that we can have life, and laughter, and joy. Why would Jesus do this? Because saving his people is his joy. Anyone who puts their faith in him. At the cross, Jesus loaded up all the sin and grumbling and complaining of any who trust him upon himself, and then he died. But that means our sin and grumbling and complaining are put to death too. And when he rose from the grave, he left it behind, banishing it forever. Now Jesus offers us joy where we once only knew grumbling.  

Find your joy in Jesus. When we understand Jesus offers us his eternal joy, we realize Jesus is worth our joy. Amen. 

The Church has Issues: Ephesians

Pastor Travis Norton
23 September 2020
Wednesday morning worship
Ephesians 4:17-30 
 
They were stealing for crying out loud
when we say the church has issues 
we’re talking about some very basic things 
Like Christians should obey the commandment 
that says thou shalt not steal 
Paul has to write to the Ephesians 
that Thieves who are now Christians 
must give up stealing 
But he goes beyond just what they  
need to stop doing 
He says that they should instead 
work honestly with their hands 
so as to have something to share with the needy 
There’s a whole other sermon there 
about the point of work being not just to provide for yourself 
but to share with others 
But for this morning 
we are just going to focus 
on the fact that the early church was so messed up 
Paul had to tell them to stop stealing 
I like this series on the church has issues 
because it makes me feel better about the issues 
the  modern day church has 
Well, maybe not better, 
but I take some satisfaction in knowing 
that those early Christians struggled just as much as we do 
At least our congregations 
aren’t full of thieves 
(that I know of) 😊 
Paul insists on something 
that maybe the early Christians weren’t aware of 
He insists that they need to change the way they live 
that they can’t keep living like the Gentiles 
The word gentile just meant  
non-Jew originally 
or the nations 
We would probably say Non-Christians today 
or even more simply 
call on Christians to act differently 
than everyone else 
Christians are supposed to live a unique kind of life 
following the values espoused by Jesus 
We should be known for being a bit strange 
for standing out from the crown a bit 
because we have standards that others don’t follow 
Paul names some of them 
here in Ephesians 
Christians shouldn’t lie 
we shouldn’t misconstrue the truth 
we should put away all falsehood 
When we get angry 
we shouldn’t use our anger as an excuse 
to misbehave 
And we should aim to resolve the conflict 
before the day is over 
No evil talk should come out of our mouths 
but only what is useful for building up 
Do you hear that 
Paul goes so far as to say that Christians should talk different 
We should be known for using our words 
for the purpose of building people up 
encouraging them and giving them grace 
Christians should not harbor bitterness or wrath 
we shouldn’t be known for arguing or slander 
There should be no malice in our hearts 
no wishing ill of anyone 
Instead we are to be kind 
tenderhearted and forgiving 
These are just some of the things 
that Paul urges the Ephesians to correct 
Now we may not have a problem with thievery 
but how many of us have bent the truth? 
How many of us have used our words 
to tear down instead of build up? 
How many of us have been unkind 
or hard hearted 
We have issues too 
don’t we 
Sometimes Lutherans have been particularly  
guilty of this particular issue 
We emphasize that we are saved by God’s grace 
that we can’t do anything to save ourselves 
And that is good and right 
we are unable to lift a finger to save ourselves 
God has done all the work  
in Christ Jesus on the cross and in the resurrection 
Even the Holy Spirit 
is the one who gives faith 
for us to believe and receive Christ 
However, that doesn’t mean 
that we shouldn’t put forth any effort 
into living a life worthy of the salvation we have received 
At issue here is the difference 
between justification and sanctification 
Justification is the act of salvation 
where our sins are forgiven 
and our assurance of salvation is secured 
We are saved by Grace through Faith 
as it says in Ephesians chapter 2 
Not by works so that no one can boast 
 
But then there is sanctification 
which is the process by which the Holy Spirit 
makes us a Holy, Set apart people 
In justification there is no growth 
you are transferred from being outside the kingdom of heaven 
to being inside the kingdom of heaven 
You are either saved or not saved 
there’s no in-between or back and forth 
That is not the case in sanctification 
 
There are indeed some Christians 
who are better Christians than others 
Not in terms of salvation 
but in terms of how their lives reflect 
the commands and expectations of Jesus 
now that’s a bold statement 
and you can argue with me after the service if you’d like 
I might like that actually 
But stick with me for a minute 
 
We are saved by pure gift of God 
but once we are saved we are expected 
to grow up and mature in Christ 
God expects us to get better 
 
to get better at holding our tongue 
and letting our words reflect the one we follow 
to get better at being honest 
telling the truth, even when it’s hard 
to get better at being generous 
sharing with those in need 
from the wealth we’ve built with our honest work 
to get better at forgiving 
those who have sinned against us 
God is at work in us 
 
That famous verse from Ephesians 
chapter 2 vs 8-9 about being saved by grace through faith not by works 
Is followed up by chapter 2 verse 10 
“for we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works 
which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life” 
I was thinking about this life we are upposed to live 
as something we improve upon every year 
to offer a better gift to God and our neighbor 
some of you may know  
that I’m an amateur woodworker 
I’m learning how to create furniture 
from wood, mostly cheap lumber from Lowes 
I made this Adirondack Chair 
from $100 worth of Cedar 
But I’m not sure I improved upon the value 
of the wood 
I’m proud of this chair 
glad to sit in it on Saturday mornings and read the paper 
with my coffee sitting in the wide arms 
But it is far from perfect 
there are so many mistakes 
In the arms you’ll see six holes 
even though there are only three screws 
because I had to adjust the arms as initially they were too close together so that only my kids had small enough butts to fit 
 
On the back you’ll see a big piece of pine 
and multiple screw holes where I had to experiment many times 
to get the seat secure enough it wouldn’t break when you leaned back 
One arm is rougher than the other 
because I traced and cut the pattern on the wrong side 
The back is square 
and the whole thing unstained 
because I got so fed up with all the mistakes 
I just quit and said good enough 
But is it good enough? 
it makes me happy 
but I wish it were better 
Our lives are like this chair 
 they are meant for us to enjoy 
but they are also meant to be a gift to God and our neighbor 
And for that reason 
we can never stop growing and improving and perfecting them 
Everyday we get a chance 
to try again, to do better, to honor God with our lives more perfectly 
that’s not meant to dismiss what we did before 
God will always use the imperfect things of our lives 
to bring goodness and value to the world 
We don’t try to be better to earn anything from God 
we try to do better to improve our thanksgiving for what God has done for us 
Verse 30 says 
“And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, 
with which you were marked with a seal for the day of redemption” 
What does it mean 
to grieve the Holy Spirit of God? 
I think it simply means to give up 
and prevent the Spirit from doing the work the Spirit 
wants to do in our lives 
The Holy spirit is the one 
who is sanctifying us 
the one who is working on us to make us more like Christ 
Let’s let the Spirit do his work on us 
on our hearts, on our mouths, on our minds 
until our lives reflect the truth about Jesus 
Our salvation is not dependent 
on how well we live a life that imitates Christ 
But wouldn’t it be nice 
if our lives were lived 
so that people saw Christ in us? 
I think we’re all pretty good 
and I know I see Christ in you 
but we’re unfinished 
so let’s let the Spirit finish His work in us. Amen? 
 
 

Factions and Unity

Pastor Carrie Baylis
16 September 2020 
Wednesday a.m. worship 
1 Corinthians 11: 17-34 

Brothers and sisters in Christ grace, peace and mercy to you from Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior. 

The Corinthians were a pretty divided people.  Paul wrote his letter to them about six decades after the death of Jesus, and it’s safe to say that they were not one cohesive community.  Most would say that they worshiped money and all that it could buy, though not everyone had money in this sprawling town that was second in size and affluence only to Rome.  Paul came here on a mission to convert this crossroads of a town to Christianity, believing that if conversion could take hold here, it could be viable anywhere. 

While Paul was able to bring Christianity to life in his mission, the Corinthian believers had to try to figure out what it means to be followers of Jesus Christ in their particular cultural context.  In a city where competition for status and privilege governs social relationships, Paul was trying to help them understand and practice a religion in which the embodiment of love is called the highest of the “spiritual gifts.”  It was going to be a new understanding of love, love for the neighbor, love of Christ, love that was not inward or self-centered that idolized money and status, that separated the haves and the have nots and that couldn’t see past schisms to find common ground. 

Throughout 1 Corinthians, Paul is dealing with fractured communal unity caused by the attitudes and actions of various groups within the Corinthian congregation. The letter’s overarching theme involves his appeal that there not to be divisions, factions and schisms among the Corinthians, but that they be continuously united in the same attitude and the same resolve for each other through Christ. Many were practicing Christianity, gathering in house churches, and celebrating the Eucharist.  But the ways in which they are doing it draw upon or call differences to what their status is in society and all the things that entails politically, socially, economically.  All are welcome at the table, but not every table is set the same. 

Paul is able to find the Lord’s Supper as the place to both call us out for making it about us and in the next breath call us to unity in what God has given us in this meal. If factions and division and status are going to be a part of gathering Paul was not going give thanks for the fact that they simply gathered, he was a truth teller. He tells them that their gathering is not for better but for worse. That’s a tough pill to swallow in itself when they believe they have gathered to share in Christ’s meal for them, but he goes on and tells them that gathering together with factions and division among them and status to even further separate them is in contempt for the church of God.  It makes me nervous to hear Paul call them in contempt.  I had to stop and think about why that makes me nervous today, is it because we still live in a world of haves and have nots, is it because we are divided on so many things in this world yet make claims of righteousness and unity in the church, is it because we come to the table and receive God’s meal of grace despite ourselves.  Maybe it’s all of these things. 

Paul saw the Corinthians gathering to share in the Lord’s Supper and criticizes them for problems associated with their practice of the Lord’s Supper. The Corinthians, it seems, were allowing the divisions that characterized their culture to shape the way they celebrated their common meal. Paul was not happy about it. 

The Greco Roman culture was divided into social levels. Status is always relative: my high status only has meaning when juxtaposed to your low status (or the other way around).  

Virtually all social interaction was shaped by this hierarchy of status. The church at Corinth had members of relatively high status, with the power and wealth that went along with such position, as well as people of relatively low status. This mixing of status then posed challenges for the Christians at Corinth. 

Status often showed it’s ways, if a host had guests for dinner, perhaps gathering for house church, it was common for guests of high status to be served more and better food and drink than others, and for guests of lower status to be served less food and drink of poorer quality. Differences in status resulted in differences in treatment. While not everyone was happy with these differences, most accepted them as a part of how the world worked. 

This status driven culture was so taken for granted that it shaped the practice of celebrating the Lord’s Supper at Corinth. So, Paul takes the Corinthians to task for what was happening when they met for the Lord’s Supper. The Corinthians observed the Eucharist in conjunction with a common meal, and at that meal social divisions were visible in a way that Paul believed compromised the Gospel. “For in eating, each one goes ahead with his own meal, and one is hungry and another is drunk”. 

For Paul it is unacceptable, especially since the Lord’s Supper was intended to demonstrate the unity of the church in the mutual dependence on the grace of God shown in the death and resurrection of Jesus. 

Paul’s response to this situation was not to abolish the system of status. That task would have been impossible and ultimately out of the control of the Christians at Corinth. Rather, he instructs the Corinthians to celebrate the Lord’s Supper in a way that doesn’t marginalize the poor among them. 

Instead of turning the Lord’s Supper into an occasion to exhibit social distinctions, the Corinthians needed to be reminded of what the Eucharist is for: remembering Jesus and proclaiming his death until he comes. They ought to partake in the Lord’s Supper in a way that demonstrates their unity rather than their divisions. 

Perhaps the question we ought to be asking ourselves is how do we come to the table today, is it in unity with all our brothers and sisters in Christ or do we take our divisions to the table and home with us again. 

The supper’s purpose is to remember Jesus. The church gathering together in fellowship and coming to the table is to remember Jesus.  This meal is a time to reflect on what Jesus has done in giving his life for others. It is a time, Paul later explains, for self-examination, not a cross examination of others who join us. The Corinthians are to discern the body — both Christ’s earthly, human body and the corporate body of believers — so they can overcome division and re-member the body of Christ to which they belong. One of the things that I’ve learned from Paul is that overcoming division is not the same as giving in to someone else’s truth.  As we come together at Christ’s table, we are reminded that we are shaped by the self-giving love of Christ and it is only through him that we are made whole.  As we live into the gospel truth, we repent our sins, and we come to the table of grace with a thankful heart, we are made whole. 

Paul’s concern is not (or at least not primarily) about the proper understanding of the sacramental presence of Jesus in the bread and wine, but about the recognition of the body of Christ in our brothers and sisters. To properly discern the body at the table means that we cannot come while leaving others uninvited and unwelcomed, or without mourning their absence. We cannot leave the table and be content to leave anyone hungry for it is a table where all are welcomed and our fellowship proclaims the scandalous message of God’s grace. To discern the body in the Supper will send us into the world with new eyes and new hearts, to encounter Christ there again and again.  Amen. 

Christian Caregiving

We have now just passed 5 months since we have started living in ways that are meant to slow a pandemic. We have stayed at home, we have worn masks, we have stayed at least 6 feet apart from people that we don’t live with. If someone had told me a year ago that this is 2020 would look like, I most certainly would not have believed them. what

As we lean into the Fall of this strange year we’ll be looking at ways we can reach out to continue caring for one another in the midst of a pandemic. Our Christian Caregivers program has long been one that includes visiting the homebound and hospitalized, writing notes, and making calls. In this time the pastors and caregivers have not been able to make visits to homes or hospitals, this has been hard for all involved as people do indeed crave community and contact. We are currently exploring the possibility of “front porch visits” for our homebound members, continuing with calls and notes, and gathering together online.

If you would like to learn more about ways that you can stay connected to our congregation through different ways of offering care we will be having a Zoom meeting on Tuesday, September 8, from 7 – 8 pm. For more information and the Zoom link please send an email to Pastor Carrie at carrie@flccs.net.

Fall Plan and Programming

Our plan is to get the congregation together in person, safely, as much as possible in the next two months. We know that time is short, and winter is coming. We know that, barring a miracle(which we are praying fervently for!) we are likely going to be exclusively online for most of the late fall and winter. Knowing that we are offering a robust series of outdoor worship opportunities, each including Holy Communion. I encourage you to take advantage of these.

On Sunday mornings we gather on the lawn of the church for worship. We sit six feet apart and wear masks. Holy Communion waits for us on our chairs. We worship using the video created for that week, stopping it for the children’s dismissal to Sunday School after the children’s sermon and then again to celebrate Holy Communion prior to the prayers. After worship we get to fellowship and catch up, all while remaining safe with the added security of the outdoors. Join us at 8am or 10am.

On Wednesday morning, beginning on September 9th, we will begin having worship weekly at 9am. We’ll begin a new sermon series called “The Church has Issues!” exploring the letters Paul wrote to the early church as they figured out how to be Christians. There will be music and prayers and Holy Communion.

On Wednesday evenings, beginning on September 9th, we launch a new worship service called Wednesday Night LIGHT. LIGHT stands for Living in God’s Holy Truth. As the sun sets we’ll gather under new lights on the lawn and enjoy a pleasant evening of worship together. This service will focus on the basics of the Christian faith. We’ll begin with a series on Martin Luther’s small catechism discussion of the Lord’s Prayer and the Apostle’s Creed. This service will also be live-streamed. Following worship, which includes Holy Communion, we’ll gather confirmation students for their class and one of the pastors will lead a conversation with the adults.  We intend to add this service as a permanent feature of our ministry going forward.

We will continue to pour our energy and resources into the online video as that reaches the largest percentage of our congregation. However, if you haven’t had communion for awhile, if you’re feeling isolated and lonely, if you just miss seeing your congregation I encourage you to take advantage of one of the above opportunities. I think we all need this and it will serve us well during this Covid year.

-Pastor Travis

Learn With Me

In my own hometown, Superior, Wisconsin, there was exactly one black family, the Turner’s. They owned the Billings Park cafe. The “other side of the tracks” was the North End of town where most of the low-income housing was. I would say the income disparity created a wider divide growing up for me than race did? (Which is funny in itself since we too lived paycheck to paycheck, but, my parents owned their home.) It isn’t to say racism didn’t exist, because with one black family in town, who everyone knew, you can bet that if an unidentified person of color showed up somewhere eyebrows were raised. I remember lots of slurs that if I heard people using today would immediately lead me to call them out. But I don’t think it was until I went to college that I had any real sense of diversity beyond the different Scandinavians and some Native Americans I grew up with.

I have a lot to learn on how to be an ally to people of color. While I would like to believe I’ve always recognized that and tried to be “a good person” I’m realizing now that complacency is not okay, but growth and vulnerability are.

Pastor Carrie

From the Pastor

How do we respond to the killing of George Floyd? How do we respond to the protests that followed? How do we respond to the destruction of property that is happening? We all have our opinions and our knee jerk reactions. But let’s stop and ask how our Lord and Savior would have us respond. Too often in these situations when emotions run high and our echo chambers take sides, we forget that we have a Lord, that we follow Jesus. Where is Jesus leading us?

A Christian is called to compassion. Think about your own response, your own emotions. Are you being compassionate? How do we show compassion to the family of Mr. Floyd? How do we show compassion to the protesters? How do we show compassion to law enforcement? How do we show compassion to law breakers? How do we show compassion to the African American community?

The word compassion means literally “to suffer with.” God showed compassion to humanity by coming to us in Jesus and suffering with us. God suffered betrayal, oppression, injustice, violence and murder. Jesus lived a life of compassion. He always had his eye on those who were being oppressed. In his day it was Samaritans, women and children. He spoke harsh words to those in power like Herod and the Pharisees and his own people. But to those who suffered oppression he showed mercy, grace and love. He used his power to bridge divides and offer healing. He never retreated to the safety of his tribe; he never circled the wagons; he always crossed over in compassion and love.

Jesus invited us to follow him and his way in the world. We must therefore condemn racism in all its forms. We must listen to the African American community with compassion and the desire to understand their experience. We must acknowledge the ways that those of us who are white benefit from being in the majority. If we have voice and power, then we must use that to serve our neighbors who are ignored or silenced. And we must confess our own sins of commission and omission. We ask God to forgive us and we repent. That is the Christian way, the way of Jesus.

What would it be like to have an officer have his knee on your neck until you died? What would it be like to be so angry at the oppression of your people that you wanted to march in protest? What would it be like to be so frustrated by injustice that you wanted to destroy something? What would it feel like to live in constant fear that a minor infraction could lead to your death?

I don’t have the answers to systemic racism in American. But I think, at the very least, we can start with compassion. We can suffer with those who are hurting and put ourselves in their shoes. Maybe then we can be part of the solution. In the end it is only God who can change the human heart. May God transform us again and transform our hearts and the heart of this nation. May we all see and treat each person as a fellow creature made in the image of Almighty God.

-Pastor Travis

Evil Be Gone

“Say a prayer for my neighborhood tonight please. It’s under siege. They are finding hidden accelerants all through the neighborhood, at businesses, in yards, in alleys. We’re an hour away, but still terrified. Also maybe a prayer for some peace for me and my family.”

This was how the week started on Sunday evening with a text from my best friend from college. Her family lives in Minneapolis now, just blocks away from the corner where George Floyd was murdered. So I took a deep breath and thought of the Holy Spirit blowing on what was Pentecost Sunday and I prayed for my friend, for all the families in her neighborhood, for George Floyd and those that loved him, and for the breath of the Holy Spirit to sweep in when we can’t breathe.

For the last few days I have been looking at some of the upcoming lectionary texts and this one struck me for the time and place that we are living in today, the text is from Jeremiah the twentieth chapter, here is verse eleven:

“But the Lord is with me like a dread warrior; therefore my persecutors will stumble, and they will not prevail. They will be greatly shamed, for they will not succeed. Their eternal dishonor will never be forgotten.”

In the verses beforehand Jeremiah feels the pain of rejection from those who do not want to hear what he has to say. It reminds me today of all the times and places when the people have spoken out and still haven’t been heard. Yet even in the midst of this rejection, persecution, injustice; the final verse of the passage tells us that glory belongs to the Lord and only to the Lord shall we sing praises, “For he has delivered the life of the needy from the hands of evildoers.” And so we pray today that evil be gone.

-Pastor Carrie

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