Points for Preaching and Teaching
by the Rev. Dr. John Fairless
There have been any number of movements to have us “get back to the early church.” Even the early church was trying to “get back” to the way Jesus did things. Here, the most radical idea is that “no one claimed private ownership of any possessions.” Makes sense, since Jesus owned nothing and lost what little he had to the gambling soldiers at the cross. Working out from that point, the church discovered that — together — they owned just enough to take care of one another. Nobody was too rich, and nobody was too poor.
Not sure how well that flies in our contemporary culture — but, that’s what it says! How will these words challenge you (individually, and all together) in considering what it is that you “own?”
This is a power-packed three verses! Dwelling together in unity has always been a challenge for God’s people. But when it works, it really cooks! The pouring of oil is a sign of “anointing” for a purpose — in this case, the setting aside of Aaron as high priest among the Hebrew people. Taken in the context of kindred dwelling together, we might well see an illustration of our common call — our anointing — to be bearers of the steadfast love of the Lord in a world filled with discord, disunity, and all around dysfunction!
The dew from Mt. Hermon becomes the source of the headwaters of the Jordan River, which then flows and waters the whole land of Israel. It literally is the source of life. So, apparently, is the sense of God’s dwelling among us — with us — and flowing through us into the lives of others. What does it mean to you to think about being called as a bearer of God’s love and life-giving blessing to others?
1 John 1:1-2:2
John brings it own down to the “getting real” level of life. The story of Jesus is not just a bunch of theological mumbo-jumbo; it’s all about the things we have felt, heard, seen, and experienced. When it’s time to “share your faith,” this passage is a great model! Don’t worry if you don’t know all the “right words.” You know what God has meant to you, and that’s the gospel truth that we have the privilege of passing on.
The story of developing faith among the disciples after Easter continues in this week’s gospel text. We saw last week that John, Peter, and Mary Magdalene all had different experiences at the empty tomb. They each had to make up their minds about what to believe, in their own way, space, and time. Now, we get Thomas — the “give me the facts” guy — who can’t quite believe just based on the experiences of others. He has got to know it for himself.
Thomas is not so much a doubter as he is a realist. He’s practical. He doesn’t rush into something that he can’t fully commit to. I kind of admire him, when I stop and think about it. But his “coming to faith” is, in the end, not so much a matter of adding up the facts as it is encountering Christ face-to-face. Are there any ways that we, who will never “see” Jesus like Thomas did, still have an opportunity to encounter Christ for ourselves?
by the Rev. Dr. Delmer L. Chilton
When you hear the word “church,” what picture comes to your mind? Just close your eyes and think “church?” What did you see? A large neo-gothic cathedral? A picture perfect white frame building with arched windows and a high steeple? Perhaps a sturdy brick building with a bell tower? Maybe something more modern; with soaring glass walls and sharp angles vaulting toward the sky? Maybe a community gathered around a Word and Sacrament, sitting in folding chairs in a room used for something else most of the time? Perhaps a stage with people playing drums and guitars and people with closed eyes and upraised arms singing words of praise? What do you see when you hear the word church?
I’d almost be willing to bet none you saw fifteen or twenty scared and lonely people, huddled behind closed and locked doors, whispering among themselves, jumping out of their skins at every noise from the outside. Whatever our image of church is, it usually doesn’t include locked doors and frightened people.
Yet that is the picture John paints of the very first church. First Church, Jerusalem: gathered together on that first Sunday after Jesus’ death, huddled and hiding, trembling and terrified, lonely and loveless. They’re not much of a church; no organ, no pews, no pulpit, no stained glass windows, no joy, no praise, no word, no sacrament. Nothing but a room to meet in and memories to talk about.
“What was it he said at Supper the other night? Something about the bread being his body and the wine his blood? Peter, what did he mean by that?” “Did you hear what Mary Magdalene and the other women said? They said they went to the tomb this morning and Jesus’ body was missing, the stone was rolled away and the body was missing. And Mary Magdalene said she saw the Lord?”
“Well, sure, did anybody check her breath to see what she’d been drinking? She saw Jesus alive this morning? Right! And so on.
They talked, they fretted; they worried themselves sick about what it all meant and what the Roman soldiers or the Chief Priests might be up to. And maybe, just maybe, somebody in the room was praying, but it’s not likely.
Doesn’t sound like much of a church does it? Preaching professor Tom Long said they are a picture of the church at its worst, “scarred and scared, disheartened and defensive.” Long wonders what sort of advertisement might this church put in the Saturday paper to attract members?
THE FRIENDLY CHURCH WHERE ALL ARE WELCOME? Hardly. Locked doors are not a sign of hospitality.
THE CHURCH WITH A WARM HEART AND A BOLD MISSION? Forget it. This is the church of sweaty palms and shaky knees and a firmly bolted front door.
Here is a church that has almost nothing going for it, has practically no claim to being church except . . . . except that when they gathered, the Risen Christ pushed through the locked door and stood among them.
That is what turned that little group of scarred and scared people into the church, the Presence of the Risen Christ in the room. It wasn’t anything they did or didn’t do, it wasn’t anything they said or didn’t say. Church happens when the gathered community pays attention to the presence of the Risen Christ in the room.
And, when that presence is ignored, nothing of any consequence can or does happen. It was the disciples’ awareness of and attention to the presence of the Risen Christ that made the difference then; and it is our awareness of and attention to the Presence of the Risen Christ that makes the difference now.
Jesus comes to us today, Jesus comes to us showing us his love for us by showing us the wounds he has suffered on our behalf. Jesus comes to us offering us peace and the fiery breath of the Holy Spirit. Jesus comes to us, to tell us, I love you and I have great plans for you!
Are we paying attention?
Amen and amen.