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Monthly Archives: January 2014

Text of Pastor Ray’s message on January 26

Disunity“Pastoral Personality Contest”  1 Corinthians 1:9-18

We live in a culture obsessed with celebrity.  Most news broadcasts include as much celebrity gossip as “real” local, national and global news.  It is not surprising that celebrity culture has seeped into the ways that we think about church and church leadership.  You don’t have hang out with Christians very long until you learn about celebrity pastors–the ones who serve megachurches, write best-selling books, have their own television shows and look like movie stars.  Celebrity pastors don’t necessarily like their celebrity status.  In fact, most are probably uncomfortable with it.  That doesn’t change the reality that people have elevated them and used their name to establish their own personal spiritual credentials.  “I follow (fill int he blank)” isn’t uncommon–especially in this era of blogs and Facebook and podcasts.

However, pastoral celebrities are nothing new.  In every era of the church, there have been popular leaders who have inspired followers.  Revivalism produced Billy Sunday, D. L. Moody and Charles Finney.  The First Great Awakening produced Jonathon Edwards, George Whitfield and John Wesley.  The Reformation produced John Calvin and Martin Luther.  Go back even further and you’ll meet celebrity Simeon Stylites–an ascetic  who became so popular that he ended up living for 47 years on top of a 9 foot column in part to avoid the crowds who came to hear his wisdom.  Even emperors of the Holy Roman Empire came to visit Simeon at his pillar.  So it is not surprising that pastoral popularity is first issue that Paul addressed in his letter to the church at Corinth.

“I follow Paul,” some said.  Paul was the founding pastor of the church after all.  “I follow Cephas (aka: Peter),” said others.  Peter was the leader of the apostles after all and he was given the keys to the kingdom and he preached the first sermon on Pentecost that resulted in 2000 conversions.  “I follow Apollos,” said others.  Apollos was the most eloquent of speakers and confounded the opposition with his wisdom.  He had an impressive grasp of the Scriptures and he had been pastor a Corinth for a period of time.  You might be thinking, “So the people in Corinth had their favorite pastors.  We all have preferences for styles and personalities.  What’s the problem?”

The problem is not that people preferred one leader/speaker over another.   The problem lies in an attitude of arrogance.  Beneath the identification of favorite spiritual leader was a belief that they had a deeper spirituality than the others.  In essence, each one is saying, “Because I follow so and so, I am more spiritual than you are.”  Spiritual pride leads to divisions.  The focus has shifted from the mission of the church that we accomplish together to the evaluating one another’s spirituality.   Even those who say, “I follow Christ” are falling into the same spiritual pride–pretending they are above everyone else.   By identifying themselves with a leader, they fail to see themselves as “members of one another in the body of Christ.”  An “I’m right and you’re wrong” attitude has destroyed their fellowship.   Paul, rightly points out that such “divisions” are antithetical to their claim of being spiritual.  By emphasizing allegiance to a leader and determining their fellowship along those lines, they are demonstrating their spiritual immaturity—not their godly wisdom.

Instead of this “personality factionalism” what is Paul’s desire?   I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought. (1 Corinthians 1:10)

Unity is Paul’s call.  This does not mean uniformity that we will all have the same opinion about every subject.  Even in a small group, people have a variety of opinions about things.  Paul is not advocating for drone mentality—that does nothing to advance our understanding of God, Christ and the mission of the church.  Disagreement can be actually help us grow in our understanding of God–if we’re in honest dialogue with one another.  Paul is advocating a higher focus than personality and celebrity culture and a majoring in the majors—in particular the good news of the kingdom expressed in the death and resurrection of Christ.  But we cannot accomplish the mission of God when we are intent on lording our deeper spirituality over those around us.  

What is true within the local cells of the body of Christ is also true in the larger context of the church.  The global church is divided by denominationalism, theology, polity.  Baptists don’t play with Pentecostals, Evangelicals don’t play with Mainlines.  Fundamentalists don’t play with Roman Catholics.  We’ve divided ourselves up–in essence saying, “I follow (fill in the blank).” And in our refusal to speak to one another, let alone work together, we have weakened the Church’s ability to be a witness of the Kingdom.

It may not be possible to eliminate all the walls that separate us, but it is possible to knock some doorways through them so that we can listen to one another, learn from one another, and work together on issues that are of great importance to all of us.  Kimball Avenue Church has learned this first hand.  Our participation in the Logan Square Ecumenical Alliance (made up of Methodists, Lutherans, Disciples of Christ, Catholics and others) has strengthened us.  We’ve learned about God’s heart, gotten different perspectives on Scripture and addressed Kingdom issues in our community that demand a larger voice than just one church.  And in the process, we’ve acknowledged our unity as followers of Christ.  We are indeed one in the Spirit.  In the essential of the person and work of Christ we are in agreement.  In the non-essentials, we give liberty.  In all things, we uphold charity.

Has your church affiliation ever gotten in the way of the work of the Kingdom of God?  If so, how?

When have you felt prideful on the basis of who you follow or your church affiliation?  How did your attitude affect your relationships with people who were different from you?

How “ecumenical” are you personally?  What about your church?  How can you promote “ecumenism” among your church peers?

What an amazing day we shared on Sunday, January 12.  At the beginning of the service, prayed that God would grant us wisdom, and the Holy Spirit moved among us–not only giving us wisdom and discernment but also bonding us to one another even more deeply to prepare us to move into the world.

We worshiped, celebrated God’s movement among us and prayed together that God would build the kingdom here and now through the church.  We recognized our fears and anxieties about the future, confessing them and renouncing them.  We discerned the course God wants to take, and we committed to moving forward–leaving the old behind and entering the new place God has for us.  “Move Forward” became the unofficial tag line for the day.

We also took action in regard to proceeding with the landscape/labyrinth design.  Starting this spring, we will begin implementing the “organic design” developed by the youth of Voice of the City.  The photo gives a view of the basic design we’ve selected, though some details may change or be added.  We are excited about these next steps as we minister to the community through an expanded, reconfigured “farm” and new spaces for spiritual reflection, socializing, and outreach.

Reflections in Epiphany by Bruce Ray, Pastor

Epiphany means “manifestation” or “revelation” and refers to the manifestation of Jesus as the Son of God and light of the world.  So today, we celebrate the visit of the magi and the fulfillment of God’s promise to send light into the darkness of the world.

I have always found the story of the magi fascinating.  As foreigners, the magi had little knowledge of God, yet they are the ones that receive the message.  Literally, the heavens declare the glory of God to them and they understand, leading them on a quest to discover the truth.  The insiders—the teachers in Jerusalem—can quote the Scriptures, but have no inclination to investigate.  It is a complete reversal of who is living in light and who is living in darkness. Knowledge of the light does not necessarily lead to walking in the light.  The magi, with limited knowledge, make the original star trek.

The story reveals God’s readiness to extend the boundaries of God’s kingdom beyond the borders of Israel.  Suddenly, the outsiders are the insiders.  The light of God is for all nations, not just a chosen few.  And God is ready to speak their language—the language of the stars—to ensure that they are included.  We could all learn a lesson from that.

I also find it fascinating that the magi go to Jerusalem initially to seek out the one that is born King of the Jews.  They go where one would naturally go—to the headquarters of the ruling family.  They assume—as most of us do—that if anything of great importance is going to take place, it will commence at the center of power.  They discover something else.  Their compass is off by nine miles.  The ruler that will shepherd the God’s people comes out of Bethlehem—a small town whose only claim to fame is the birthplace of David, another unlikely King.

God seldom works through the existing structures of power.  In fact, most of the time, God is set against the powers that be.  Herod is an impostor King, controlled by the Roman Empire and doing its bidding.  Herod represents the interests of Rome and the interests of self-serving power.  In the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem, God is doing nothing less than announcing the removal of the existing powers in favor of a new structure that is founded in humility and righteousness.  God is ordering social life (the function of government) according to a new rubric.  In the words of Isaiah, “unto us a child is born…and the government will be upon his shoulders…and of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end.”  God’s new true king will judge with righteousness; justice will be the foundation of his throne.  The kingdom will not begin in Rome or in Jerusalem, the seats of power, exerting itself over people in domination.  The movement toward God’s kingdom will begin from below, in Bethlehem, building from a new foundation.

How frequently people go to the capitol or city hall, thinking that answers will be found there.  How frequently we think that existing power structures will be the source of our help and salvation.  How frequently we buy into the notion that having the right person in office will make all the difference.  It doesn’t matter whose sitting in the chair if the chair is broken.  The existing structures of power are only concerned with one thing—keeping the power.  Herod, as we know, was not interested in the welfare of the people.  Herod was more than willing to massacre children to ensure a continuation of his power.  We need to shift our compass.  True north is not Jerusalem or Rome (or Washington or any other center of power).  True north is Bethlehem and the Christ child.  From Christ, we are able to orient ourselves toward God’s ways.

Finally, the magi are faced with a dilemma.  They have been instructed by Herod to return to Jerusalem after finding the child.  But in a dream, they are instructed to return home a different direction.  A choice must be made.  Whose instructions will they follow?  And what are the ramifications of the choice?  Ultimately, it is a question of allegiance.  Which king will we follow?

Return to Jerusalem will make Herod happy though the consequences of that are unknown.  After all, the dream is a warning.  Leave by a different route and you make Herod your enemy.  Neither option seems appealing.  Will the magi be true to their convictions and beliefs that this child is the rightful king (exit a different way) or will they be motivated by the desire to preserve good personal and national relations with Herod (return to Jerusalem)?

They choose to live by the conviction that the One revealed in the stars is indeed the One who should be given homage and obeyed.  They chose to recognize the True King by refusing to obey the dictates of the impostor king.  They choose whom they will follow.

In many respects, we are also faced with the same choice.  Will we following the King of Kings or the impostors that set themselves up against the principles of the Kingdom?  Which king will be enthroned in our lives?  Will we be enlightened by the “Light of the World”, or will we return to darkness because it is easier and better for self-preservation.  The impostors can punish those who do not obey their commands.  Innocents die.  We will remain outsiders to their privileges.  We will be perceived as troublemakers.

It has been more than 20 centuries since the magi made their decision, but the way they went is still the way to go.  Just as they were not taken in with the deception of Herod, we also can resist the deceptions of the many Herods of this world—those people who seek power, who cling to power, who worship power and expect us to live according to their plan.  And in so doing, we expose them for what they are—empty shells—and we reveal the fullness of the glory of God in Christ.

Choose your king.