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.


Now What? A Message for Human Relations Sunday

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.

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.

I’ve been asking myself “Now what?” a lot lately. Especially while watching the morning news, catching up on local news, and catching up on what’s going on in the world of churches and religion.

It occurs to me that the history of the God’s children recorded in the Old Testament scripture is also filled with incidents that led to “now what” questions. For which, those children of God didn’t always come to the best or right conclusions. Well … some did. The prophets seemed to have pretty clear understandings of “what” but, overall, the rulers, religious leaders, and people too often either missed the prophets’ point or eventually chose to ignore the prophecies altogether.

So, God gave us a “who” eloquently described by Rev. Kliewer of Dancing Faith:

“We bring you good news,

which will be of great joy

to ALL the people”

so the words echoed (or so we are told)

through the sky

so hope was born in human souls

so hearts were warmed

and hands opened

good news of great joy

for all

for unto us a child is born

Wonderful Counselor,

Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Great will be his rule and there shall be endless peace

a child was born

angels sang

shepherds gathered

magi gave

Mary pondered


and then Herod decompensated 

soldiers did what they were told

babies were murdered

and the child became an immigrant

fleeing certain death

we know the story

how it goes

up, down, good, bad, illness, healing

victory, defeat

ultimately, resurrection

this is not the story we would write

it is a messy, stumbling thing

a journey of fits and starts

we would make the story cleaner, clearer

more linear

a steady slog upward toward grace, and love

up, up, and still further up

we would make it easier, less costly

more comfortable

there would be no Herods, or Pontius Pilates

no recalcitrant Sadducees and Pharisees

no frenzied mob

no whips or crosses

but this is the story

“Into this world, this demented inn,

in which there is absolutely no room for him at all,

Christ [came] uninvited.”  (Merton)

and comes uninvited still

comes into a world reluctant to receive him

comes into hearts only partially open

does it matter that the Sacred came?

does it matter that we are filled with Sacred Presence?

does it change anything, really?

leaders still abuse power

soldiers still “follow orders” and commit atrocities

people still hate

are still cruel

mothers and children are still forced to flee

into the cold and dark

even when, like Mary, Joseph, James, John, Peter,

and all the rest

we say “yes”

even when we have chosen to be


branches grafted onto the life-giving vine

it sometimes seems as

we are still the same old creatures

we are there with Peter, denying

there with James and John, arrogantly plotting

there with Paul, struggling

doing that which he does not want to do, and not doing that he wishes to do

as we struggle with our desire to dominate

and our lust for money

as we jump into recovery from addiction and then fall prey again

as depression or anxiety rule

as we become deplorable

we are part of that struggling society of misfits who trod in the dust

behind Jesus,

following, not following

succeeding, failing,

They were so like us, we are so like them

But Jesus never rejected them,

never cast them out

never gave up on them

and in the end, gave them himself

gave them the Holy Spirit

and entrusted to them his message of love

promising hem they would never be alone

this is the good news of great joy

it’s not that the world will magically be a better place

it is not that we will miraculously become saints

alas we will always be strugglers (shall we say, sinners?)

it is simply this

that we are never alone

as we walk through this world with all its ills

as we live in our vulnerable bodies

as we struggle with issues of heart, soul, and mind

we are permeated by the Sacred

and this ongoing incarnation in us

comforts, guides, and empowers us

as we stumble through all the vagaries of life

until such time as our ongoing communion with the Sacred

becomes union

We love the story of Jesus’ birth

with its simple, somewhat awkward splendor

let us love too, the whole story

for in the raging tantrums of Herod

the family fleeing in the dark

we are reminded

that this story is about us

our world

our lives

our struggles

it is about light in the darkness

and new birth

and a love that will not let us go

it reminds us that there is still hope

That “who” … Jesus … brought the “what” that the children of God had repeatedly failed to grasp throughout all those previous generations. The “what” became known as The Way … those things he taught us we needed to do to get right with God and to live according to God’s will and plan.

And yet … one more time … the children of God didn’t pay attention to the prophetic message Jesus was bringing to them and made yet another bad choice.

The book of Acts was the story of those first days after that bad choice, the story of how the Apostles and followers of Christ grappled with their own “now what” questions, and how they went from “now what” to carrying out what he’d taught them; how they literally went about building and living in God’s kingdom.

For example, Acts 4:32-35 says, “The whole congregation of believers was united as one—one heart, one mind! They didn’t even claim ownership of their own possessions. No one said, “That’s mine; you can’t have it.” They shared everything. The apostles gave powerful witness to the resurrection of the Master Jesus, and grace was on all of them.

And so it turned out that not a person among them was needy. Those who owned fields or houses sold them and brought the price of the sale to the apostles and made an offering of it. The apostles then distributed it according to each person’s need.”

Now, if we were to do what the Apostles and earliest Christians did, we’d most likely be labeled as a religious cult living in a commune, because … by today’s standards, that’s what those earliest Christians did. Everything that could be sold was sold and the money given to the Apostles. Everyone who followed Christ lived together in one community.

 So our “now what” question is more about how. How do we live “in the kingdom on earth” within a clearly not kingdom like world? Getting every person in even a small group to be united as one with one heart and one mind in today’s world? Literally sharing things so that there is not one needy person among the group?

Let’s make this a bit more relatable. The church owns this property we’re on. So each of us that owns our own home sells it, gives the net proceeds … 100% of the net proceeds to the church, and then comes to live here on the church’s property. For those of us who don’t own our own homes, you just move here. If any of us sold the things in those houses we owned, all that money comes into the church’s purse as well. Plus any ongoing income any of us have.

The church is now responsible for making sure we are fed and our other needs are met. All necessary expenses – ours and the church’s – are paid by the church. Utilities, taxes, food, any medical expenses of the community members, so on and so forth. One big happy family. Share and share alike.

Y’all are up for that, right? Not so much?

Now what? If we can’t completely emulate the earliest Christians who – looking back through time – seemed to come the closest to actual “kingdom living,” how are we supposed to even begin to do this … to bring, build, live in the kingdom on earth in the here and now?

If you look hard at what Jesus taught us about what God was really like, what God expected of us, and how God wanted us to behave and live, you realize that … regardless of whether we were to all establish a commune here at the church … we can do far more than we realize.

We’ve already established a basic community here, and we’re moving along at figuring out what spiritual gifts we have and how we can put them to work both here at the church and – to some degree – out in the community. Honestly and based on what I know of how you all interact? This community is leaps and bounds ahead of a lot of other faith communities in that respect.

Is that it then? Have we achieved kingdom living? If so, my work here is done. Except we haven’t and it isn’t. There is more we can do to continue to build, to expand the kingdom.

There are people who need what we have here, what we know. Some of those that need it most are folks who’ve had such bad experiences with the churches they’d been in, they’ve literally walked away. They may have been discouraged because they kept hearing how God loved them but didn’t see or feel that love from others in their church. They may have grown frustrated at being told every Sunday about how sinners were going to be eternally condemned to burn in hell, only to then hear that … because of who they were … they were on one of the irredeemably sinful lists. And some … more than we realize … may have run away because they suffered some type of horrific abuse at the hands of a church leader or member.

We need to learn how to sit with those folks, how to let them tell their stories, and how to love them so well that they realize on their own we’re “not that church.” And we need to work doubly hard to make sure we never do become “that church.”

There are people who need what we have here … the community … the mutual support and love … but they’re wary because they see what is happening “in the name of God and Jesus” that has direct negative impact on them and they’re not hearing church communities like ours contradict it.

We need to learn how to advocate for them as a faith community, as the body of Christ … not just by the social media posts we make, but by actual presence … at school board meetings, city and county commission meetings, and the halls of government … to advocate as a group … what was that line in that passage from Acts … with one heart, one mind on any action that would perpetrate an injustice on members of our community. Physical presence. Unison voices. Solidarity in Christ. Solidarity with those being harmed.

Remember I mentioned that tomorrow is Martin Luther King Day. Remember also that MLK was a pastor, the pastor of the same church where Senator Rafael Warnock is the pastor. Those active in the Civil Rights Movement were often congregations who went with one heart and one mind to stand up against the injustices being perpetrated on the African-American community. There is still a need for that today.

Another example is the Reconciling Ministries Network churches and groups. I know of three Reconciling churches … congregations … in all of Holston Conference. Three out of 840+ churches. I know that there are some groups within other churches. I know that the only time a significant number of Reconcilers get together in person is at the RMN worship service at Annual Conference. And I know, from experience, that the LGBTQ community is very aware of the lack of church presence in the form of support at their events, at school board meetings, and in the halls of government where extremely harmful laws and ordinances are being passed. I also know, from experience, that they are very aware of the abundance of church presence from those who oppose them at all of the events and places I just mentioned.

We need to learn to be present for them. We need to learn to encourage other RMN churches and groups to be present with us and we need to learn how to be present in the communities of those other groups.

We are learning how to be present for the homeless here, and we need to continue that. But we also need to learn how to be present for the immigrant community and any other community that is subject to unjust laws and treatment.

Those are the kinds of things we need to do to begin … and it would be only a beginning … to build and live in God’s kingdom here on earth as it is in heaven, because until everyone I just mentioned can also live in the kingdom … there is no kingdom.

Let’s pray:

 God of mercy, we pray for all in any kind of need or trouble: For those whose lives are closely linked with ours, and those connected to us as part of the human family. For refugees and prisoners; for the sick and suffering, the lonely and despairing; for those facing violence; for all held down by prejudice or injustice. Awaken in us compassion and humility of spirit, as we seek and serve Christ in all persons.



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