Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Exodus: Rescued?

Ever been rescued? Not helped, assisted, taught or supported, but rescued. Rescue is a desperate sort of term. It means all other options of self-help have been exhausted. It's a time when our own resources have been depleted and we need help. I don't know about you, but I hate being in those positions. I like to contribute to my own well-being and health. I do not like being dependant on anyone else. I don't like the feeling of desparation and helplessness.
But that's just the point of the Exodus. The people of Israel were reduced from their independance and wealth (when they arrived in Egypt under care of Joseph) to a position of anonymous and annoying slavery. Israel needed help if she was ever going to get freed. She could not free herself. She had no resources, no energy and no leadership...until God appointed Moses.
The altarpiece speaks of rescue and release; of the bullrushes and the basket, of the parting of the waters and the walk into freedom. Through the opening is the clear image of the cross. Our only lasting freedom comes through the cross of Jesus, emptied of his body speaking of the resurrection power we know now.
May you know resuce and real freedom.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

The Gift of Covenant

Covenant is a strange word, especially for those of us at Montecito Covenant Church. The name "covenant" carries with it historic baggage of our beginnings as a denomination, of Swedish heritage, of Chicago and midwestern roots, of a style of worship and lots and lots of coffee. For other believers, it speaks of Calvinism and Reformed theology, of rigorous thinking and logic defending the sovereingty of God, and life in this new community of the church. Many Presbyterian and Reformed churches employ the name "covenant" as part of their local church names.
But before all those uses, there was Noah. We don't know much about Noah except "he pleased God" when nobody else did. God came to Noah with a promise that he would be safe in a coming time of great flooding "IF" he would build an ark and gather his family and animals. He obeyed, built, gathered and floated. And God was good to his word and fulfilled his promise of safety and land. God made a Covenant with Noah in the sky, promising to never again destroy the earth.
The altarpiece evocatively speaks of threat and promise, of danger and safety. The tipped jug makes us uneasy; what if it would spill, flooding the chancel? The olive branches in clear vases speak of the new life God brings, glistening with crystal drops.
Directly in front of the congregation, on the floor(nave), is the baptismal font, filled not with water of flooding death but with water of hope and promise. The new covenant we have as believers is not in rainbows in the sky nor in circumcision on the body, but in life, death and resurrection of Jesus, all contained in the story and waters of baptism.
This Sunday we will baptize new members and believers and offer all worshipers the opportunity to renewl their own baptismal vows.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Sin's Lie

Each Sunday brings a new view on the chancel. Planning worship has never been more fun. I don't do it alone. Every couple months a bunch of us gather together to look at the coming texts and worship themes. In addition to the great music, powerpoint slides and creative prayers and responses, we are welcomed into the space with chancel decorations that go way beyond decorative flowers. A talented crew of volunteers who know art and and plants, textures and space are illustrating the sermon theme.
Last week we had a full vase of apple branches loaded with bring, shiny apples to illlustrate creation. This week I am preaching on the Lie of Sin from Genesis 3, and you can see the lie in the vase: a branches and no leaves, with one apple, with a chunk bit out of it.
This week has been a week of lies: James Frey's "A Million Little Pieces" to Jack Abramhov's influence peddling and all the folks who now run away from ever knowing him. I received a letter from a friend talking about how hard it is to trust pastors after a long season of disappointments. We have been lied to so often, distrust and skepticism is our first response too many times. I invite you to inventory your truth sources. Who is it you really trust? Where do you find objective, relilable truth? How does your faith life hone and refine your understanding of truth?

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

The Fuel is Worship

In the last posting, I argued that the motor for all church activity and life must be mission. I had a number of good comments that argued convincingly that worship is the motor of the church. Worship drives and is central to all that we are and what we do. Upon reflection, that really is true. Mission that is not driven by worship is simply a crusade, campaign, project or program. General Motors has a mission, Microsoft has a mission. the LA Lakers have a mission. Some missions are measured in terms of profit and loss. Some are measured by winning seasons. Some are measured by marketplace share. And too often the church "competes" in the world in just the same manner, with skillful marketing and up-to-date strategies. And we can end up looking like just one more Starbucks. Dr. John Piper in the Jan/Feb 2006 journal "Missions Frontiers" writes an article entitled "Minimizing the Bible? Seeker-Driven Pastors and Radical Contextualization in Mission" raises the question of what gets sacrificed in the church to do missions? What fuels and drives missions?
The answer must be WORSHIP. Worshiping God must be the driver for all we do, because, in the end, it is what believers will be doing eternally: not preaching (I'm out of a job when Jesus comes), teaching, evangelizing, serving or enduring. We are built to worship the one true God. The high octane fuel of worship fuels to motor of mission that propels the church into significance in the world.
Now I hope this does not sound like a soft-shuffle to ease critics. Rather, it is an admission that missions remains outwardly visible and measurable, but must be fuels by the vision and values of worship. As we worship, so we serve. As we worship, so we love. As we worship, so we see.

Friday, January 06, 2006

The motor is Mission

I fly often. I try to get seats from the middle to the front of the plane and often on the aisle. When flying smaller planes, that is especially the case because the back of the aircraft is so noisy. It's where the motors are. Nobody misses where the sound is coming from on a smaller regional jet. But, I would not want to fly and have the sound stop. Because those motors drive, propel that plane through the air. And we all know that as well. So, we put up with the noise because of the indespensability of the motors. Without those motors, those planes will not fly.
In the MCC Missions Committee we have been having some exciting conversations about our church motor. What's the motor that "drives, flies" the church? Picking up off the last article, we all agree that Missions is THE motor that drives the church. Jesus died and rose for us that we might know him and have eternal life through him. That's a big deal. And while it is important for those of us who already know Jesus to enjoy God and worship him. That's not the whole story, not the whole deal, not the whole plane. There are lots and lots of people who do not have that wonderful, life-giving relationship with Jesus. Some of those people live in distant lands. Some of those people speak different languages. Some of those people come from different ethnic backgrounds. Some of those people are from our same culture, speak our same language, come from our ethnic and cultural heritage. But they don't know Jesus...and they need to. That's Mission; crossing the bridge to people who do not have a living relationship with Jesus.
That means that everything we do here is, and should be, Mission. We should be doing mission, training mission, supporting mission, encouraging mission, celebrating mission. When a 5th grader brings her neighbor to club 56 and that neighbor has no church home....that's mission. When a 7th grader has a lunch-room conversation about why he thinks Confirmation is good for him with his friends....that's mission. When a homeowner brings a tray of cold drinks on a hot day to the yard crew and has a drink with them...that's mission. Missions is less about distance, language and ethnicity than it is about focus, view and intention.
There is no disagreement that our culture is post-Christian in that less than 19% participate in any sort of church life. So, Missions must be the motor that drives MCC. Is it kind of noisy and messy? Yes it is. Is it necessary? Absolutely!