Thursday, May 19, 2005

Living in Community

This is an offering meditation I wrote for our worship service this Sunday.

If you’ve ever seen pictures of rural areas of the British Isles, you’ll remember the stone walls that divide the fields. Did you know that those are dry stone walls? There is no cement or mortar holding the stones together. They are carefully fitted together so that they will stand strong even without the use of mortar.

Sometimes the one building the wall will find that a stone almost fits in the place where it is to go, but not quite. So the builder will take that stone and simply rub it against the one it will go next to, until their edges match up and they fit together perfectly.

Living in community with other people sometimes is like that—and the church is a community. We are all different, and sometimes those differences create tensions among us. But it is only through being in community that God is able to smooth out the differences that make it hard for us to fit together. Whenever we let our differences divide us, we miss out on the chance to become part of a strong, eternal building called the Body of Christ.

Monday, May 16, 2005

"One Man's Trash..."

(This is the column I wrote for the May-June edition of our church newsletter.)

Something interesting happened in Sac City recently. It happens in the spring of each year--our city-wide clean-up days.

For a week or so before the clean-up days actually happen, folks get ready. We clean out our garages, our basements, wherever we're accumulating things we don't want anymore but that we don't think are really even good enough to donate to Goodwill or put in a garage sale. Or we begin home-improvement projects we've been putting off. And we put all of our accumulated junk--broken furniture, scraps of one thing or another, old carpet, you name it--out by the side of the road for the city garbage people to pick up and take away.

Now, what's interesting about this is what happens between the time we put stuff out and when the garbage trucks actually arrive. Last weekend Mike and I cleaned out our shed and the place on the basement stairs where we'd been collecting stuff we didn't want anymore. We had some scraps of plywood, a bunch of leaky plastic buckets, several lighted beer signs that Mike picked up somewhere for reasons I can't fathom, my old stereo that I bought for $80 in 1987 and which finally wore out last summer, and several other things.

That stuff wasn't out for 12 hours before we started noticing it had been arranged and some things were missing. When people have put their unwanted stuff on the curb, that's when the great junk swap begins.

You find that there's someone out there who wants the stuff you don't want anymore--the stuff you think is downright junk. Last year my neighbor put out a pile of bricks from a fireplace he'd torn out. It just happened that I have a sidewalk that goes only partway from the front walk over to my side porch steps, so I went and retrieved those bricks, and they made a nice little brick walk beside a new flowerbed. Someone came yesterday and took my worn-out stereo. Maybe they can fix it, or it might be good enough as it is to be a radio to keep someone company as they work in the garage. I remember when I interviewed here, and we were at the home of one of the search committee members, and she showed me this old window she had painted up and hung on her back porch. It was a really neat decoration, and she had found it in someone's pile of junk during the spring clean-up.

Paul tells us that what the world thinks of as worthless turns out to be the most valuable thing of all: "For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God" (1 Corinthians 1:18). It's a waste of time to try to figure out how to make the Gospel "reasonable" for those who haven't signed on yet. The Gospel, the message about the cross, is not reasonable. It can't be made rational. It's irrational. But somehow, when someone hears it and through the Holy Spirit's work begins to accept it, they discover that the world's "trash" is the most priceless treasure of all.

And you know, this goes both ways. You used to see a poster now and then that said something like, "God don't make no junk." That poster was talking about people. It seems like in every time and place, in every day and age, in every culture and community, there are some people who are considered to be "junk." They could be people of another race, or they could be people who are desperately poor, maybe even homeless, or they could be people who look or act different for some other reason. For some reason human beings seem to need someone to look down on. For some reason, in order to feel like we're okay, there needs to be someone we consider to be not okay.

But this isn't how God thinks. In Jesus Christ, God showed us that he cares especially about those whom the world considers "junk"--lepers, widows, orphans, poor people, people with disabilities, even sinners. In Jesus Christ, God reached out to the "junk" of the world because, like the folks who went through one another's trash piles in Sac City last month, God sees potential in everyone, even the most seemingly hopeless cases. What is that potential? It's called the image of God. Every human being--every human being, without exception--bears that image, and that means that as far as God is concerned, no human being is "junk" to be thrown away.

As people of God, we also are called to love and care for those people whom the world considers "junk"--because we too were once "junk," but God, through Jesus Christ, found us in our trash heaps, lifted us up, and made us into beloved children.

Sunday, May 15, 2005


In this blog I intend to spend time thinking theologically about the various things that I encounter in my life. That may mean commenting on the news, or deconstructing the messages of reality TV shows, or just discussing something I've read. I believe that God is able to speak to us through all of these things and more, but we have to learn to hear what God says to us.

Since there may be one or two people reading this blog who don't know me, a few introductions might be in order...

I am the pastor of the First Christian Church in Sac City, Iowa, a congregation of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). (Learn more about the Disciples at Sac City is a small community, about 2,400 people. We worship together each Sunday at 10:15 a.m. (in the summer it's 9:15). Disciples share the Lord's Supper (Communion) together each Sunday, and welcome all to join us. We don't baptize babies, but wait until people are old enough to make the choice for themselves that they want to be Christians.

Politically, I'm pretty liberal; theologically I consider myself evangelical--but evangelical in the classical sense which places more emphasis on changing lives and hearts through actively loving and caring for others. (The Salvation Army is a good example of an evangelical organization in this classical sense; the Religious Right of today is not.) I love the Bible and consider it the Word of God because it is one way we are able to know more about what God is like and draw closer to God.

I believe that God loves us and desires more than anything else to be in a relationship with us--and to that end God's Son, Jesus Christ, came to earth to be born of an ordinary woman, grow up in an ordinary family, and live among human beings demonstrating through his words and his actions the incredible, unconditional love that God has for each of us. But as a result of this work many people who feared this great love, or wished to keep it for themselves and withhold it from those they considered "unworthy," succeeded in putting Jesus to death. I believe that God raised Jesus from the dead, though, to break the back of the powers of evil and death that sometimes ensnare even good, religious folks.

The trouble, of course, is that there is still evil and death in the world. People (even Christians) still sometimes use religion as a weapon against others. People still try to exclude others because of the things that make us different from one another--things like race, nationality, economics, or sexual orientation--and sometimes carry that to an extreme with officially-sanctioned discrimination or worse. But God is still at work in this world, and one day the victory that was won on Easter Sunday will be complete.

One of the ways God continues to work in this world is through the body of Christ, the Church. The church is made up of human beings who continue to make mistakes, and the church--as so many have said throughout history--is full of hypocrites. Even so, God is still at work in and through the Church, which is made up of people who, for all their faults, are called by the name of Jesus Christ.

I believe that truly being a follower of Christ means confessing that Jesus is Lord above all else--above our country, above our family, above our traditions, above our bank accounts and our political parties. Sometimes this is easy, but most of the time it is not. Often we who claim Jesus as our Lord, who pledge allegiance first and foremost to him, will find ourselves in hot water with other people or forces who would prefer we give our allegiance to them. But if that happens, God is with us in the midst of it all.

I welcome any comments and questions anyone might have about any of my posts.