Message from Sunday, November 18, 2018 at Faith Lutheran Church in Bellaire, TX.
As I’m preparing to deliver the message at church this Sunday, I’m thinking about food deserts.
From Wikipedia: “A food desert is an area, especially one with low-income residents, that has limited access to affordable and nutritious food. In contrast, an area with supermarkets or vegetable shops is termed a food oasis. The term food desert considers the type and quality of food available to the population, in addition to the number, nature, and size of food stores that are accessible. Food deserts are characterized by a lack of supermarkets which decreases residents’ access to fruits, vegetables and other whole foods. In 2010, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) reported that 23.5% of Americans live in a food desert, meaning that they live more than one mile from a supermarket in urban or suburban areas, and more than 10 miles from a supermarket in rural areas.”
For those of us that live with an abundance of food security it can be hard to imagine not having whatever we want readily available to us at all hours. The gospel for this Sunday tells about how Jesus miraculously fed thousands with just a small amount of food available. Jesus was concerned about their well-being. He wanted the people to be really nourished, not just spiritually fed. What does that mean for us? How does the fact that we assemble around a table for communion every Sunday lead us to action?
The table is not just a place for us to commune with God privately. It is a sign of God’s overflowing abundance and desire for all to be fed, physically and spiritually.
44While Peter was still speaking, the Holy Spirit fell upon all who heard the word. 45The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astounded that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles, 46for they heard them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter said, 47“Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” 48So he ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they invited him to stay for several days.
[Jesus said:] 9“As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. 10If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. 11I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.
12“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 13No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14You are my friends if you do what I command you. 15I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. 16You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. 17I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.”
26An angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Get up and go toward the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” (This is a wilderness road.) 27So he got up and went. Now there was an Ethiopian eunuch, a court official of the Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, in charge of her entire treasury. He had come to Jerusalem to worship 28and was returning home; seated in his chariot, he was reading the prophet Isaiah. 29Then the Spirit said to Philip, “Go over to this chariot and join it.” 30So Philip ran up to it and heard him reading the prophet Isaiah. He asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?” 31He replied, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” And he invited Philip to get in and sit beside him. 32Now the passage of the scripture that he was reading was this:
“Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter,
and like a lamb silent before its shearer,
so he does not open his mouth.
33In his humiliation justice was denied him.
Who can describe his generation?
For his life is taken away from the earth.”
34The eunuch asked Philip, “About whom, may I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?” 35Then Philip began to speak, and starting with this scripture, he proclaimed to him the good news about Jesus. 36As they were going along the road, they came to some water; and the eunuch said, “Look, here is water! What is to prevent me from being baptized?” 38He commanded the chariot to stop, and both of them, Philip and the eunuch, went down into the water, and Philip baptized him. 39When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away; the eunuch saw him no more, and went on his way rejoicing. 40But Philip found himself at Azotus, and as he was passing through the region, he proclaimed the good news to all the towns until he came to Caesarea.
The words we sing in worship are important. When the sermon is done we hopefully have heard God’s word preached and the gospel proclaimed. But how much content from a 25 minute presentation will we truly remember? Something special happens with music. God has used music as a vessel to deeply embed in our hearts the truths of who God is and what God has done. The songs we sing in worship stick with us; great melodies can be carried around inside us our whole lives. And the words we attach to those melodies stick like glue as well. So the words we sing in worship have to be appropriate, beautiful, and richly convey the meaning of following Jesus.
Matthew 2:1-23 –
In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, 2asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.” 3When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; 4and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. 5They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet:
6‘And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
who is to shepherd my people Israel.'”
7Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. 8Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.” 9When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. 11On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 12And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.
13Now after they had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” 14Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, 15and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet, “Out of Egypt I have called my son.”
16When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men. 17Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah:
18“A voice was heard in Ramah,
wailing and loud lamentation,
Rachel weeping for her children;
she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.”
19When Herod died, an angel of the Lord suddenly appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said, 20Get up, take the child and his mother, and go to the land of Israel, for those who were seeking the child’s life are dead. 21Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother, and went to the land of Israel. 22But when he heard that Archelaus (Arche-Lay-Us) was ruling over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. And after being warned in a dream, he went away to the district of Galilee. 23There he made his home in a town called Nazareth, so that what had been spoken through the prophets might be fulfilled, “He will be called a Nazorean.”
Welcome to the first Sunday of Christmas; remember that there are 12 days in the season of Christmas. Unlike our house, the tree is still up here at Faith. Also this is the last Sunday of the year 2013 – which happens to be the most heretical Sunday of the church year! Why are churches across the nation filled with heresy today? Because this is the Sunday that every pastor takes off, thus leaving others to fill in the pulpit. Which leads to all sorts of heresy! (Hopefully not here.) Continue reading →
During the month of August at Faith Lutheran Church, we are in a message series called “Some Assembly Required” (borrowed from the Synod Assembly title that I jokingly came up with). It is a four week series on worship, with each week taking up a different fold of the service:
- August 5 – “Gathering: Worship and the Stranger”
- August 12 – “Word: The Narrative of Worship”
- August 19 – “Meal: The Down to Earth God”
- August 26 – “Sending: Worship on the Way”
As part of the series, we decided to include a “narrative” script during each service that describes the significance of each action of worship. It works as a running commentary of the “whys” of the worship service. We printed the narration into the worship bulletins, and had a person read the narration aloud during the service.
(before the Welcome/Announcements)
The basic pattern of this service – gathering, word, meal, sending – is a structure that originates from the earliest documented Christian liturgies. It is also a pattern we can observe in how God interacts with people throughout the Bible. As the people of God, we are joined together by the gifts of God’s grace, for the sake of the gospel, into the life of the one triune God.
(before the Confession and Forgiveness)
As we gather together as the body of Christ, we are reminded that Sunday is the day of Christ’s resurrection. We are assembled, brought together from different places, as a witness to the risen of body of Christ, active and moving in the world today. We begin in humility, confessing our sin and hearing God’s word of forgiveness.
(before the Gathering Hymn)
Singing during our gathering includes both hymns old and new. The songs that gather us together surround and support a people who come to worship with different frames of reference and different emotions. The gathering song moves each individual into the communal experience and purpose of worship.
(before the Greeting and Prayer of the Day)
During the gathering, the presiding minister and the assembly greet each other in the name of the triune God. The presiding minister gathers the assembly into prayer. All of worship is based on the foundation of prayer and can be understood as dialogue with God.
(before the First Reading)
The word of God is proclaimed within and by the gathered assembly. The first Bible reading, usually from the Old Testament, is followed by a psalm sung in response. This pattern of proclaiming the word is as ancient as the synagogue worship of the Jewish people.
(before the Psalm)
From their origin, the psalms were intended to be sung. Certainly the meaning of the text can be communicated when spoken, but the quality of this ancient poetry is inherently musical.
(before the Second Reading)
The second reading, usually from the New Testament letters, bears the witness of the early church. After the second reading, we stand to greet the gospel and sing an acclamation.
(before the Gospel Acclamation and Reading)
Christians have inherited the practice of publicly reciting the appointed biblical texts and responding to the recitation with singing. The read-sing-read-sing sequence continues. The gospel acclamation consists of two parts, alleluia and a verse of scripture, which acclaim the living Word, Jesus Christ, present in the gospel reading.
(before the Message)
Preaching brings God’s word of law and gospel into our time and place to awaken and nourish faith.
(before the Hymn of the Day)
God’s word is further proclaimed as we sing our faith aloud. The hymn of the day is the principal hymn of the service and is a distinctively Lutheran element in the liturgy. The assembly participates in proclaiming and responding to the word of God with a common voice. The hymn of the day typically relates directly to the season or day, the lectionary readings, or the preaching.
(before the Prayers of Intercession)
As the assembly prays for the whole world, we remember we have a high priest who continually intercedes for us. The prayers follow a pattern that encourages us to turn our hearts and eyes outward to the world. We pray for the needs of the church, for all of creation and the people of the world, for those in need, and for the local community. We also give thanks for the lives of the saints who inspire us in our pilgrimage.
(before Sharing Christ’s Peace)
Passing the peace of Christ is an ancient component of Christian worship and liturgy. Our modern day version of peace passing is descended from an earlier act of worship known as “the kiss of peace.” The practice of verbally and physically sharing Christ’s peace trains ours hearts, hands, and tongues in the ways of peace.
(before the Offering, Choral Offering, Offertory Response, and Offering Prayer)
A collection of material goods for the church’s mission, including the care of those in need, is a sign of the giving of our whole selves in grateful response for all God’s gifts. The table is set with bread and wine, also part of the gifts we offer to God. The choir provides an offering of music, a sacrifice of praise.
(before the Dialogue, Preface, and Holy, Holy, Holy)
Before the Lord’s supper is shared, the presiding minister leads us into thanksgiving. The words of the opening dialogue are known as the “Sursum Corda,” which is Latin for “hearts lifted.” This dialogue is found in the most ancient of Christian liturgies, dating all the way to the third century. The presiding minister and assembly exchange a formal greeting. Then the assembly is invited to lift their hearts to God. The final exchange indicates the assembly’s agreement to the presiding minister continuing to offer the remainder of the Eucharistic Prayer on their behalf. The proper preface follows, which relates to the liturgical season or day. The assembly then joins with the whole creation in singing the angels’ song: “Holy, holy, holy Lord, God of power and might.”
(before the Words of Institution and Lord’s Prayer)
The grace of God’s gift is always proclaimed in Jesus’ own words of command and promise at the table. The term “Eucharist” comes from the Greek word meaning “thanksgiving.” The service of Holy Communion is connected to every meal in which Jesus gave thanks before breaking bread. The thanksgiving concludes with the prayer our Lord Jesus taught us.
(before Sharing the Meal and Prayer after Communion)
In Christ’s body and blood given to us, God forgives us and nourishes us for mission. We sing as the bread is broken and as the meal is shared. After sharing the meal, we pray, asking God to send us in witness to the world.
(before the Benediction, Sending Hymn, and Dismissal)
God’s mission sends us out. God’s mission includes the gifts of grace that we share in worship. Now, we are sent to continue our participation in God’s mission by sharing these gifts of grace with the world. With the blessing of God, we go out to live as Christ’s body in the world.
- Acts 2:42-47
42They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. 43Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. 44All who believed were together and had all things in common; 45they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, 47praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.
- Robert Putnam wrote a book in 2000 called “Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community.” In this book, Putnam puts out a simple premise: “Americans need to reconnect with one another.” He chronicles that many of the civic organizations that were started and thriving in the 50s, 60s, 70s, and 80s have begun to collapse. Bowling leagues and garden clubs that had popped up and continually been replenished with new members, suddenly stopped growing. In the last 20 years, many of these groups have ceased to exist. The church hasn’t been immune either. The days when it was assumed that everyone would belong to a church somewhere are gone.
- However, in the passage from Acts 2 we hear the story of the early church – the followers of Jesus that formed communities immediately after Pentecost and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. This passage presents a paradigm for church membership that includes four main actions: the teaching of the apostles, fellowship, breaking bread, and prayer (v. 42). These four main actions are expounded on in the verses that follow (vv. 43-47). These four main actions synthesized the new faith of these Jesus followers.
- The first action was that they “remained faithful to the teaching of the apostles” (Acts 2:42). The teaching is specifically related to how the apostles worked “many signs and miracles” (v. 43). In the modern mindset, it can be very difficult to link these two things: teaching and miracles. The Western, Post-Enlightenment, rational mind tends to view teaching favorably and miracles with questioning. However, in ancient Eastern cultures, as well as in many developing cultures today, miraculous events are seen as modes of authentication. At one time in the church’s history, theology was naturally linked to miracles, spirituality, and mystery.
- The next action that the earliest followers of Jesus remained faithful to was “the fellowship” (Acts 2:42). The Greek term used is koinonia which is also translated as “the community.” Specifically, the fellowship practiced by the early church is elaborated on by their familial sharing of possessions. They “owned everything in common; they sold their goods and possessions and distributed the proceeds among themselves according to what each one needed” (vv. 44-45). Actions such as these were the signs of a deep connectedness and humility toward one another. Jesus’ teaching that one should “lend without any hope of return” (Luke 6:35) was being actualized.
- The third action that the early church committed to was “the breaking of bread” (Acts 2:42). This action is expanded on with the description that they “met in their houses for the breaking of bread; they shared food gladly and generously” (v. 46). It is worth noting that the Eucharistic practice of the early church occurred during the sharing of a larger, common meal (known as the agape). When the early church had communion, it wasn’t in a continuous assembly line! It was in the context of the common meal the blessing and thanksgiving over the bread and wine would take place. Eventually the practice of the common meal fell out of use and the rite of giving thanks that Jesus instituted remained. It is clear from the language in Acts 2:42 that the common meal was the practice in the context of Jerusalem. The sharing of food generously speaks to the context of the larger agape meal. The breaking of bread, however, is more specific language that Luke previously used when Jesus shared a meal with some disciples after the resurrection (Luke 24:35). When the disciples broke bread together, it was more than an ordinary meal. The breaking of bread recalled the death of Jesus, the mighty acts of God’s salvation fulfilled in Jesus, and the hope of his return. For Jewish believers, recalling Jesus’ death through the breaking of bread was more than detailed memory. It was the truth, fully alive and come to life before their eyes.
- The fourth action to which the disciples committed themselves was “the prayers” (Acts 2:42). The disciples’ faithfulness in prayers related to how “they regularly went to the Temple” (v. 46) and “praised God” (v. 47). Just as the final parts of Jesus’ ministry in Jerusalem took place within the context of the Temple, so the apostles and early church continued to gather there for prayer. Despite the persecution and uncertainty that surrounded them, the early church was characterized by their praise of God.
- These four main actions of the early church remain essential in the church today. It is vital to remain connected to the apostolic teaching and witness to Jesus’ life and ministry. Being bonded together with other Christ-followers in fellowship and commonality is also important today. Continually remembering, giving thanks, and looking forward to Jesus around the table are still central symbolic actions in the church. Jesus has also established his church to be a house of prayer and continual praise. These four actions provide the framework for membership in the New Testament church. These four things are still central to our church here at Faith today.
- Today we are honing on one of the four actions from the early church in Acts 2: Fellowship. In our church we say, “Faith belongs.” The word “belonging” is such a fascinating way of thinking about fellowship and membership in the church. When we join a church – or I would suggest instead of saying “when we join” it is actually “when the Spirit draws us into a church” – it is more than signing your name on a line or attending a class. You are actually belonging yourself to a group of people. They belong to you, and you belong to them. And that is something that the world and culture around us is thirsty for – an authentic community. There is a brokenness in our culture, and it stems from our individualism. We prefer to close ourselves off from the rest of the world. We wear earbuds everywhere (work, shop, and exercise), we’ve got man caves (private dens of testosterone), we work in cubicles (usually wearing headphones). We see our world through an individualistic lens. Lead actors and actresses. Sports stars. Solo artists. Top chef.
- Now compare that with Scripture. Start with the Passover. God rescuing his people Israel from the bondage and slavery of Egypt, delivering them to freedom and new life. Think about how the Passover is celebrated in the Jewish community. The central episode in Hebrew history is celebrated, not in a synagogue by priests, but in the home, by parents around a table set for an evening meal. Its been said that if all Christian churches closed their doors today, the faith would crumble. But if all the synagogues closed their doors, the Jewish faith would carry on as if nothing had happened.
- The transformative aspect of a church community is not only the religious practices, but the friendships that are nurtured there.
- The new covenant that Jesus established – Jesus, through his life, death, and resurrection, opening the gate for belonging to the people of God (no longer race-related, no longer born into it, but available to everyone/everywhere) – The new covenant was instituted and is renewed in the context of fellowship, specifically in the act of table fellowship.
- New research from Robert Putnam: He suggests pastors: “Spend less time on the sermons, and more time arranging the church suppers.” In a new Gallup-Healthways poll with more than 676,000 participants it was revealed that the more church friends a person has, the happier he or she is. “Church friends are super-charged friends, but we have no idea why,” “We have some hypotheses, but we don’t know for sure.” The researchers found that non-church friends do not provide the same benefit in terms of well-being, and that other measures of being religious — like belief in God or frequency of prayer — do not serve as a reliable predictor of a person’s satisfaction with life.
- A meal is a real, valuable act in a church. It takes attention, the food has to come from somewhere, and it all has to be planned, prepared, and afterwards cleaned up. There is really good work, as Putnam indicates, for pastors (and other church leaders) to do in arranging church suppers, both for the act of fellowship and the friendships that will be nurtured around the table.
- “People who frequently attend religious services are more satisfied with their lives not because they have more friends overall but because they have more friends in their congregations,” And churchgoing alone without making friends does not improve well-being, they found.
- Putnam said, “In short, sitting alone in the pew does not enhance one’s life satisfaction,” Only when one forms social networks in a congregation does religious service attendance lead to a higher level of life satisfaction.”
- The transformative aspect of a church community is not only the religious practices but the friendships that are nurtured there. Or perhaps it’s that developing friendships is a religious practice. There is a spirituality to being woven into the fabric of community. Sharing life, sharing possessions, sharing joys and sorrows.
- Let me encourage you: Don’t be a “lurker.”
- Belong to Faith – find a group of people that you can belong to and that they can belong to you – Faith Family Fun Days, Learning Groups, Congregational Events/Meals, service opportunities.