NOTICE TO ON-DEMAND WORSHIPPERS
This service has been filmed during the period we are worshipping online only while our building undergoes repairs needed following storm damage. During this period and due to equipment limitations, we are unable to hold a complete worship service.
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be pleasing to you, O Lord, my rock, and my redeemer, and may you see fit to use me as a vessel from which you pour out your Divine Word.
In Jesus’ name, Amen.
In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul reminds the readers that they should not be following him or anyone else but Christ Jesus. Remember that he writes, “God didn’t send me out to collect a following for myself, but to preach the Message of what he has done, collecting a following for him. And he didn’t send me to do it with a lot of fancy rhetoric of my own, lest the powerful action at the center—Christ on the Cross—be trivialized into mere words …
This is the way God works, and most powerfully as it turns out. It’s written,
I’ll turn conventional wisdom on its head,
I’ll expose so-called experts as shams.
So where can you find someone truly wise, truly educated, truly intelligent in this day and age? Hasn’t God exposed it all as pretentious nonsense? Since the world in all its fancy wisdom never had a clue when it came to knowing God, God in his wisdom took delight in using what the world considered stupid — preaching, of all things! — to bring those who trust him into the way of salvation.”
The author of Luke wrote the Book of Acts. In his introduction to the Book of Acts, Eugene Peterson (author of The Message Bible translation) writes:
Because the story of Jesus is so impressive – God among us! God speaking a language we can understand! God acting in ways that heal and help and save us! – there is a danger that we will be impressed, but only be impressed. As the spectacular dimensions of this story slowly (or suddenly) dawn upon us, we could easily become enthusiastic spectators, and then let it go at that – become admirers of Jesus, generous with our oohs and ahs, and in our better moments inspired to imitate him.
It is Luke’s task to prevent that, to prevent us from becoming mere spectators to Jesus, fans of the Message. Of the original quartet of writers on Jesus, Luke alone continues to tell the story as the apostles and disciples live it into the next generation. The remarkable thing is that it continues to be essentially the same story. Luke continues his narration with hardly a break, a pause perhaps to dip his pen in the inkwell, writing in the same style, using the same vocabulary.
The story of Jesus doesn’t end with Jesus. It continues in the lives of those who believe in him. The supernatural does not stop with Jesus. Luke makes it clear that these Christians he wrote about were no mere spectators of Jesus than Jesus was a spectator of God – they are in on the action of God, God acting in them, God living in them. Which also means, of course, in us.
And, to paraphrase a friend, in the passage from Matthew today, we hear Jesus telling the disciples that they will fish for people. My friend sees this as an opportunity for churches in our society to decolonize what has often been meant by fishing for people. That we would reflect on the mission of the church to be an impetus for ministries that allow people to be caught up in the love of God. That we would not ask people if they were saved … but whether they are well. That we would want to minister to the entire person and minister to their needs whether it be in mind, in body, in spirit, or in all of the above. That we want to lift up our neighbor. That we are invested in their overall wholeness and wellness. “That,” he states, “is an example of the Kingdom of Heaven that has come near.”
I want to touch on that “one mind, one heart,” concept for a moment because it’s important to understand it. One mind, one heart if both are truly in Christ, doing what he taught us, following his Way can be a good thing, can be a wonderful thing, can literally bring heaven on earth.
But there are those that are doing things in the name of God and the name of Christ … right now, here and in other parts of the world … that are in opposition to what Jesus taught us and the actors in that movement. The Christian nationalists, those … entities promoting even indirectly white supremacy, antisemitism, homophobia, transphobia, xenophobia, sexism, ableism, ageism … entities that are operating in the guise of a religious or faith-based organization … and they, too, are seeking to build a society of “one mind, one heart” with a difference. They’re using legislation to force their beliefs, their hates, their beliefs on everyone and if they succeed, that means they’d force them on us, too. These groups are bringing a new form of colonization to the 21st century – their goal is to colonize our hearts and minds to align with their agenda.
We have to tread carefully here. Think again of Paul’s letter to Corinth. He’s trying to tell them they are not following the Way, following Jesus in the way they’re acting. He uses a familial reference, even when trying to correct their behavior or at least their thinking about their behavior. “Brothers and sisters,” he says. We are connected, we are united, we are the family that was created not by blood, but by the life and witness and death and resurrection of Jesus the Christ. Even in a conflicted situation, there needs to be a sense of connection, a belief in community. So, might we say that being of the same mind is that we all agree that our primary effort is in building up the body; or as Commander Spock said to his friend Admiral Kirk in the second Star Trek film – “the needs of the many, outweigh the needs of the few, or the one.” (I know, he wasn’t the first to say that, but it was a moving scene, you must admit.)
So, does this mean that we surrender truth? Or right? In favor of just sticking together no matter what? Of course not. Paul is writing this letter to correct behaviors and understandings that he argues are wrong, not of Christ, he says. But it does mean that there are ways we will go about making our arguments; there are behaviors that we will not accept as we seek reconciliation and new understandings. We won’t tear one another down; we won’t call names and point fingers; and we certainly won’t tell others not in the community what terrible people we are saddled with in the body of Christ. There is a call to a high behavior, no matter how frustrated or upset we get. There is nothing here about giving up trying to find ways of coming to a common mind.
Plus, and this is key: we listen as well as speak. “Where does that come from?” you ask? The next verses: “I belong to Paul” or “I belong to Cephas” or Apollos or Christ. (Wait, Christ? Hang on we’ll come back to that one.) What this sounds like is what psychologists call “confirmation bias.” We listen only to the ones who confirm what we already believe. We aren’t challenged to look at something in another way. We exist in our echo chambers, repeating our understandings and our beliefs, rather than digging deeper into the source of those beliefs and being willing to be challenged to another way of thinking or applying.
Okay, Paul, Cephas and Apollos, maybe. But Christ? Why did Paul include that name on this list? As if there was some problem with saying, “I’m following Christ.” Actually, it seems as though that one should be the antidote to the problems, rather than an additional division or a separate camp to follow. And that would be true in the best of situations. We can and should always call upon Christ to be the arbiter of our disputes and disagreements and multiple interpretations. Except that too often, we claim Christ as one who always agrees with me but not with you. And that to disagree with me is to disagree with Christ. The other side is not just wrong, but they are anti-Christ, which is about the worst thing we can think to say about them. Christ is not our exclusive property, no matter how “right” we might be. We cannot claim that only we follow Christ, even as we seek to communicate the Christ we have come to know.
Forcing anyone was never Jesus way. Never. Not once did he say, “Thou shalt follow me or else.” He asked people to follow him 87 times. He asked people to believe in him twice. But he never commanded us to follow him. Not ever. And I believe that’s what my friend was saying about the passage from Matthew.
For a long time now, Christians have read the “I will make you fishers of people” part of that passage to mean we should learn how to win “converts” to Christianity. And, for a long time now, that’s what the church focused on, working to spread Christianity everywhere through coercion and colonization. In more than one instance, we have tried to literally force our beliefs on others, employing demonization followed by violence and cultural genocide – prohibition of the cultural traditions of whatever group was being colonized and Christianized. And when a culture we were trying to colonize would push back, we’d say, “See? We told you they were … insert any number of derogatory, demonizing slurs for said group,” justifying our mistreatment of them in the first place.
My friend is suggesting we stop looking at that passage the way we have been. We need to “decolonize” our thinking. Think of it environmentally. We’ve overfished the waters and if we don’t change our ways, there’ll be nothing to fish for. We need to move into conservation mode.
So how do we do that? Well, the first way is to remember some things.
- Just because someone hasn’t prayed the sinner’s prayer and made a public declaration of their allegiance to Christ doesn’t mean that person doesn’t believe in God or isn’t doing the things Christ taught us. I know that’s hard for most of us here to accept because we’ve been taught otherwise our entire church lives, but it’s true. Jesus wanted us to follow his way. As a community that we came to call “the church.” There is no sinner’s prayer in the Bible. He just asks us to repent – to change our ways, and to follow him.
- God created everyone in God’s image – that’s stated in both the Genesis 1 and Genesis 2 creation stories. Everyone. All over the world. You can’t convince me that everyone all over the world that wasn’t Hebrew or early Christian or Muslim – the three Abrahamic faiths – were out there doing nothing but evil, heinous, hateful things. I imagine God has far more names than the ones we know from the scriptures, don’t you? And I imagine, since we’re ALL created in the image of God, we ALL have that internal seed, that ingrained sense of right and wrong, moral and immoral, harmful or helpful. Plus, if you read up on world history, there was no civilization … no successful civilization that is … individuals. Every successful, long-lasting civilization was communal in some form. And almost every spiritual tradition had similar moral codes. So perhaps we can accept that even those cultures whose spiritual traditions we would consider pagan had enough of that “divine DNA” to instinctively form similar codes for right and wrong.
If we can accept those two things, then we can stop fishing for converts to Christianity that we then enforce our ways on, decolonize our thoughts which also decolonizes the thinking that justifies all those phobias and isms, and focus on what my friend suggested: reflecting on the mission of the church to be an impetus for ministries that allow people to be caught up in the love of God, not asking people if they were saved … but whether they are well, ministering to the entire person and ministering to their needs whether it be in mind, body, spirit, or all of three, and lifting up our neighbor and investing in their overall wholeness and wellness.
In other words, we can repent – change our ways – so that we can then begin the process of reconciliation with the family of man, the Children of God. And we can make significant inroads to bring heaven on earth.
Heavenly Father, you have called us in the Body of your Son Jesus Christ to continue his work of reconciliation and reveal you to the world: forgive us the sins which tear us apart; give us the courage to overcome our fears and to seek that unity which is your gift and your will; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord.
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