Sunday, April 22, 2012

Worshiping in a House Filled with Children

What follows was written as a preface to the sermon, “It Happened at the Beautiful Gate,” that was preached on April 22, 2012. The sermon can be found at our church’s website.

Those folks who want church to be orderly—totally orderly all the time—and who attend our church this morning will be disappointed.  We will have guests.  The children from The Peapod (the pre-school that meets in our building) will be singing, and the fact that they are singing will result in parents, grandparents, siblings, and others being in church who are not usually present. 

If that is not enough to create a little disorder, we are also having a Parent/Child Dedication Service for three young sons and their parents.  This will bring additional guests.

Wow!  What a wonderfully disordered day we are likely to have!  I can hardly wait.  Eminence Baptist Church has become a place that welcomes children and the occasional disorder that accompanies them.  I’m not sure how we arrived at this point. It wasn’t always so.  I can remember seeing “ordered” adults staring down their noses at children and their young parents who were “not behaving properly for church.” 

With all the extra folks and the additional things we will do as part of worship, there will be some distractions.  Some folks, maybe most of us, will miss some part of the service.  I suspect some will miss an important part of my sermon.  Chances are I will forget to say one of my best lines. 

Without all the extra children and extra activity this morning, we would have a more ordered experience of worship.  Those participating would be less likely to miss something.  Yes, without the children and their families, church would be more of an ordered adult event . . . .

But then it wouldn’t be church.  At least it would not be the church called into existence by the one who declared to disciples who desired order, “Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs” (Mark 10:14).

I can’t think of anywhere I’d rather be this morning than at EBC with a church building filled with the sound of children’s voices lifting their own life-prayers up to the Lord of Lords.  Maybe that was what prompted songwriter Roger Whitaker to write:

Every time I hear a newborn baby cry,
      Or touch a leaf or see the sky
      Then I know why, I believe.

May we never be far away from the sound of a newborn’s cry.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The Circle of Believing

My pilgrimage of believing is circling back to where it all began—almost.

When I was a child, my parents and my teachers at our small, rural church in Tallapoosa, Missouri, told me what Christians believed and, therefore, what I believed; and I did.  As a teen, I began to question if all I had been told was right.  There were some pretty fantastic events in what “they” said I should believe.

As a young adult, I began to find my own way along the faith journey.  Well, I found my own way as much as one can ever find his own way.  (We are never as independent as we want to believe and sometimes behave.)  So much of it seemed so unbelievable: Noah and his ark of animals two-by-two . . . Moses and the burning bush and the staff turned snake and the parting of the Red Sea . . . God sending His Son . . . a crucified, dead man rising to life . . . men and women risking their lives to tell such stories.  Could this stuff all be true?  My inquiring mind wanted to know . . . needed to know . . . was determined to know.

Throughout most of my adulthood, the questions have continued to surface and swirl.  The intensity of my struggle has, at times, been more intense, made so by the reality that my faith was no longer just my faith.  I was actually spending my life inviting others to believe these fantastic stories and to stake their lives on them.

Today finds me in what is surely the last third of my life, and I am almost back where I began.  I believe, but I no longer believe because others told me that I should.  Nor do I believe because I have been able to prove all that I believe.  I believe because I cannot do otherwise.  The stories and the events they record have become part of my being.  They have become my stories.

I believe the story of Noah’s rescue and of God’s promise because I have experienced rescue and renewed promises.  I believe Moses’ call and his daring deeds because the same God has called me; and, empowered by God, I have done some amazing things.  Oh, I’ve not parted the Red Sea, but I’ve crossed some treacherous waters and lived to tell.  I believe the story of the Son sent by God because I know the Son and through the Son, I’m getting to know God.  I believe the story of men and women who risked their lives to tell such stories because I know what believing those stories has led me to do. 

My pilgrimage of believing is circling back to where it all began—almost.  The difference is that the believing is now mine.

What is it that brought me home again?  The same thing that sent those early disciples out from the security they sought behind locked doors into the streets, cities, provinces, and nations of their day.  The Son of God has breathed on me.  I live.  It has not been instantaneous and it has not ended.  His breath continues to blow; and with each breath, I come a bit more alive.

Like Thomas, I have seen and I believe.  Having seen and having believed, I can tell you what to believe, but it will be necessary for you to live toward your own believing before you can say with assurance: He lives, and because He lives I live.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

to know truth

Once upon a time, I thought that after much study and meditation, I would know truth. Older and wiser, I now know that to know truth, particularly the Truth that is Jesus, requires a lifetime . . . and maybe then some. In Anton Chekhov's book "The Duel," one character is being rowed out to a steamer. The main character watches as the rowboat slips into the mist and observes: "The boat goes on and on now it can no longer be seen, and in half an hour the oarsmen will clearly see the steamer’s lights, and in an hour they’ll already be by the steamer’s ladder.  So it is in life . . . In search of truth, people make two steps forward and one step back.  Sufferings, mistakes, and the tedium of life throw them back, but the thirst for truth and a stubborn will drive them on and on.  And who knows?  Maybe they’ll row their way to the real truth. . . .”  It is a hard and sometimes tiresome journey, but I journey on, believing truth worth the effort.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Resurrection Sunday 2012

With our lips, we too easily and too joyously declare Christ risen from the dead.  We and He might be better served were we a bit more like the women whose experience at the tomb was described by Mark as leaving them amazed, trembling, afraid, and silent.  They expected to find a dead and decaying body. 

We are so sure the tomb will be empty on Easter morn that we hardly take notice of what precedes it—Friday, which can be described as “Good” only after the fact.  We so easily and so joyously declare Christ risen that we do not pause to consider what that means.

Oh, it means we too shall live!  Yes, but in the meantime, it means that we are to live by dying, by giving away our lives in service to others, and by loving others—loved ones, friends, and enemies—as we have been loved.

Maybe that is why Mark presents the women as silent—non-responsive to the instruction of the young man dressed in white.  Maybe they understood.

If He be risen from the dead, dare we leave Easter worship and  return to life as it was before Friday?

Tremble in amazement and be afraid.  He bids us die that we may live. 

He is risen!  He is risen, indeed!

Have we?