Sermon Transcript 9.18.22
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable to you, oh Lord, our rock and our redeemer. Amen.
So, I've been drawing from a series on God's Temple that was put together by the United Methodist Health Ministry Fund. And one of the things they emphasize is this series is not about shaming us about what we ought to do. I, for one, should drink less soda. Those kinds of things. We hear those messages but so often, they become these absolutes. and we failed to recognize how different things affect different people. I may have mentioned before, I have a dear friend who is on a high sodium diet. Do you know anybody on a high sodium diet? Normally, it's low. We Americans consume way too much. She's wired differently. She had a family member that was low sodium for a long time. She would provide meals. She ate low sodium. She wasn't getting enough. The doctor told her to eat more salt. I could do that!
But we focus on our bodies and we focus on what we ought to do. Robin and I got a letter from Buck Run Community Center and the first line was about our commitment to our health and we obviously had that because we were members of the exercise gym there at Buck Run… um… I kind of looked at that and went, yeah, I signed up. Oh. Not sure I could tell you what it looks like inside. but at least for me, guilt doesn't help. That doesn't motivate me to go do the things that I know I ought to do.
This series is about what God desires for us, not just individually but in community. we are God's Temple. There's something to the idea that our body is God's Temple but sometimes we get too literal about that and it becomes too individualistic and we Americans are very good at making things too much about us and not enough about us. The concept of this series is that we collectively are God's Temple. That God dwells within each of us… in community. That we can't be Christians by ourselves. That we can't be healthy by ourselves. We are built to live in community.
Last week, I asked, where does your food come from? To help us to think about our access to food to healthy nutrition, to how nutrition changes. How our culture has made available to us nearly anything we could want anytime but often it's less nutritious than it was when we were truly eating seasonally and locally. It's both an opportunity and a challenge to track where our food comes from, how it's grown, who harvests it, how they're paid, where their food comes from. To think communally about how we eat. This healthy congregations program is designed to help us think communally about all sorts of different aspects of health. It challenges us to think not just about spiritual or physical health but social health, emotional health. To recognize that we are, whether we like it or not, connected necessarily. That none of us are truly self made. That we all ultimately are dependent on the work on the labor on the commitment, on the participation of others and that we are healthiest in community when we recognize that and seek actively to build one another up.
This week, I ran across an article from Sojourners Magazine. I had not seen it before. I am an on and off subscriber to that magazine. Sometimes, I read it cover to cover and sometimes I go months without picking it up and then, I'll let the subscription lapse because I'm not really using it. Then, I'll run across an article like this one that completely justifies signing up again. Was about an artist named Makoto Fujimura. And his approach and use of materials. He has a theology around his art and he does things intentionally slowly. He uses a paint process in which pigments are pulverized minerals and precious metals that are intentionally applied in multiple layers. Taking far, far longer than would be efficient. He argues that God doesn't really value efficiency. God seems to delight in slow, methodical, incremental growth and change and so his art reflects that. It's a style of art made for a type of long, unforced gaze that slowly reveals ever more depth. Deceptively, simple, and quietly extravagant.
He draws on what he calls a theology of making which is a phrase that the Anglican theologian NT Wright first coined. In Wright's writing, Christ inaugurates a new creation in unexpected ways. This kingdom and kin-dom of God that we are called into community in new ways, not based on rules and regulation but on grace, on community, indeed, on difference, that it takes time to build the beloved kingdom that God is not in a hurry. Wright also points out and Fujimura embraces an idea that God created beyond utility or need that God is all sufficient this is our doctrine of the Trinity, father, son, holy spirit; creator, redeemer, sustainer. God doesn't actually need us. Which is maybe a disturbing thing to hear. God wants us. God intentionally makes space that we might be and free to choose that we might be free to say yes to God. God necessarily gives us the space to say no, to fall short, and yet God constantly invites humanity to co-labor with God in this new creation. It is shockingly inefficient.
And yet, it is what God seems to do. delighting in our slow, methodical growth in grace Fujimura says, God is love. Therefore, we followers of Christ must be about love. Yes, too often the church is seen as sowers of hatred, divisiveness, and the power struggles of culture wars. We are projecting the opposite characteristics he says of the fruit of the spirit. And yet, when we look at creation, he says, we see extravagance of abundance everywhere in nature. The delights of God hidden everywhere for us to discover. Purpose transcends way beyond our industrial, utilitarian, or pragmatic work. God loves beauty and mercy exactly because they stand as the antidote to survival at all cost mindset that is so normative for us in western culture and indeed humanity after the fall. Fujimura is also a practitioner of an art of repair called kintsugi or “golden repair” in Japanese. In a western mindset, very often to fix something means that you can never notice that it was broken. You want your car or the dish or whatever to not show anything from the accident. In kintsugi, Golden Repair, the Japanese embrace the scars, the brokenness. Pottery, for example is often repaired with glues infused with precious metals so that the cracks actually stand out and make the dish even more beautiful for seeing what we would see as flaws. And they take their time with this. In some case the master teaching the student will pass shards down. The student will keep those shards unrepaired, studying them, pondering them, pondering the wholeness that has been disrupted, and in many cases, they're passed on to their student before the repair is actually made. It is shockingly inefficient. And it is truly beautiful. Creating a new whole that embraces the history of its brokenness.
John Wesley probably never heard of that practice and he certainly didn't have access to the Hubble telescope or the Webb telescope to see the galaxies beyond us. But he had this sense of wholeness, of new creation that includes the brokenness. A sense of grace as healing, a sense of grace as needing community, not just about ourselves. Many of us don't recognize one of his best-selling books. He wrote or compiled or republished a number of works and we usually talk about his sermons and his guidelines for the societies that he founded this renewal movement but one of the most popular things that he wrote, indeed, it was continued to be published decades after his death. Was a book called Primitive Physic. Was basically a herbology manual. It was a book on health care. He wrote it in 1747 and it was still being published in the 1860s In it, he taught about how to use natural remedies, how to brew teas, and make soups out of the available components, the abundance of nature to treat a whole range of conditions. Now, some of what he wrote probably doesn't work. It's like grandma and great grandma's home cures but increasingly, we see that many of those things did have value do have value Too often we replace the work of nature with the work of chemicals. Again is not to downplay the gifts that science brings us with some of the chemicals and pills and inoculations and vaccines. but sometimes we're fighting against ourselves when nature, when God has already provided means and again, we seem to think that we'll all react the same way to the same thing and it's just not true. Different compounds, different recipes, different treatments will be effective for different people. We are all wired a little bit differently. Our chemistry even as we share genetic code is a bit different for each of us and we have to take time to what works best. Individually and in community. And we get frustrating that it is so inefficient. And yet that is how God has created us. That is how God sustains us. In community.
We are called to join with God, to be a holy and living sacrifice for all that we do to be done in communion. In Galatians, Paul writes perhaps one of his most famous lines. There is no longer Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female. All are one in Christ. Paul is emphasizing to the Galatians our commonality Paul knows as well as any of us that those distinctions do not get eliminated. Paul knows very well that there are still some who follow the law that there are some who do not, who are called into this Christian community. Slavery is still a part of the Roman Empire. Two of his letters deal extensively with what should be the relationship between a master a servant or a slave once both are Christian. Paul wrestles with this. The community wrestles with this. Paul certainly knows that there are still males and females and yet those distinctions do not separate us from the love of Christ.
Those distinctions, those differences are blended together in the whole of the community. There is no longer Jew nor Greek because God's grace is available to all Paul uses in the Galatians the metaphor of childhood again. Couple weeks ago, I preached about the realization I had that when Paul writes that his audience wasn't yet ready for solid food. They needed milk, spiritual milk, child's food. I had the realization that all of us, I don't care if we're one or 100, we're still children. We don't yet see We may have grown, we may have a more mature palate yet. We may be able to deal with a wider range of spiritual truth but we are still ultimately children. Here he uses that metaphor not as a challenge but as an assurance because we are still children, we are God's children. We are adopted. We are not just children but heirs. In Christ, we are unified with God and if you are then and if you are Christ, then you are Abraham's seed and heirs according to the promise. that we are called into this community, this long promised partnership where God works with our frail human limitations and promises to Abraham that his descendants will be more multiple than the sands and the stars. And God honors that promise, Paul says. We are children, we are heirs, through Christ. Christ who was born of a woman, Christ who was born subject to the law. Christ who became like us as the early church attested, that we might become like him Christ who knows what it is to be human, to weep, to suffer, to be betrayed, Christ became like us that we might become like him We are freed from the law, not so that we can do anything we want to do, but we are freed from the shame and the guilt. We're freed into grace in Christ. We are gathered together in all of our difference and diversity in Christ, through whom all things were made. We, together, he writes to the Corinthians, are the body of Christ. Each of us is a part of it. The ear is necessary, the eye is necessary, the hand is necessary, the foot is necessary. We can't ultimately divide ourselves. We are all one in Christ. Even as we have differences, distinctions, different gifts, a different role to play in the community. We're not all called to be apostles, not all called to be teachers, not all called to in tongues, we are given these different gifts that together collectively, we can be the body of Christ, not for ourselves but for the world. We again are called to be a holy and living sacrifice in union with Christ offering for us. We are called to be communion for the world. To be community, to be the beloved kingdom, To embrace our difference and our diversity to challenge one another, to build one another up that we might each see more clearly, that we might invite others to the feast which God provides, which God has prepared for us.
I had some amazing conversations this week. Some of them were quite difficult Had a couple of conversations with people with whom I deeply disagree. And we were candid about those different disagreements. and yet, I hope the other person in the conversation took from it the same thing I did which was to go deeper in our understanding to seek to make sure that we are reflecting Christ and what we say and what we do. One of the conversations I had was in a clergy cohort I'm part of for transforming clergy. It's a group of clergy from eight different states and I think it's at least four different denominations facing the current crisis in the American church. Trying to become better trained, better equipped agents of change and transformation and those of us that embark on this kind of ministry, sometimes it becomes a bit too much about us and in the conversation, I was reminded of one of the things Bishop Saenz often says to clergy when we gather and he talks about the appointment process and he talks about congregations and networks and the church as a whole. See, Bishop Saenz doesn't think he appoints us to churches. And I agree with him. Bishop Saenz did not appoint me to First United Methodist Church. Bishop sign appointed me to the Fort Scott Mission Field. It's too easy to withdraw in our walls and get busy with the meetings and the paperwork Important necessary parts of ministry. But it's not ultimately about us. It ultimately has to be for the community. It has to be for those who are not yet here, as the pastor that preached my classes ordination sermon. Challenged us to focus on what he called “the Not Yet Church.”
We live in a time in which Christianity, Christianity is no longer the default in our society Many ways that makes life harder for us but I also think it allows us to be more fruitful. See, people don't come just out of habit, just out of rope, just out of social expectation. We get to go and look for what God is doing in our community and build it up and share what God has given us. That we might walk the path together. That clergy cohort I'm in also reminded me that we are not the savior not the clergy, not the church. We are not the savior. The world already has a savior and it is not us.
But we are called to participate in what God is doing. To join with the salvic work of Christ. With the movement of the Holy Spirit. In the places where we gather and are planted. all might experience the risen Christ, the resurrection, resurrected Christ who Fujimura would point out, still carries the wounds. He is making all things new including you and I and this church and this community and he does so bearing the wounds, bearing the worst that we have to offer and redeeming it. And making it whole, making us and the world a new creation.
I had another conversation this week that was both tremendously edifying and quite challenging. I have in the 15 months or so I've been here, thrown out a whole lot of ideas. A few of them have been good ideas. A few of them we have adopted as a congregation. Sometimes the idea I threw out wasn't a particularly good idea but it sparks somebody else to have a better idea. To tap into the energy that is happening here at First and in Fort Scott. To ways to build bridges and connections and community, not in spite of our differences, but because of them. I was challenged to explain to this person and in turn explain to the congregation how all of these crazy ideas I keep tossing out connect. Is there a comprehensive plan, I was asked?
I've shared with you once before my favorite ever SPRC evaluation came from a former appointment where somebody…y they were just talking about how they were going to answer the questions on the form. And some just said out loud. You know, Christopher kind of goes off half cocked but it usually works out.” and they all laugh and say, oh, we can't write that down. That's not going to holy enough. That's not… and I said, “no, no, you are writing that down. That is me. I like that.” This conversation was the same kind of thing.
How does this all fit together? I was challenged to think about how it is a comprehensive plan. How I think these things I'm throwing out there are part of one path towards renewal this church and this community. I have on the screen one of those ideas, my favorite spiritual practice. I approached the Presbyterians that own the lot that used to be Whiteside's grocery store about setting up a labyrinth. Doing something like this to kind of renew our partnership after this two years of COVID. We've cooperated on a number of things over the years. They provide the land and I'm providing the structure and we are gradually building this path.
And then a few weeks ago, I asked some of our Wednesday work crew folks if they'd build benches and Ron jumped on that and built benches and then some other guys delivered them and figured out how to anchor them, just to discourage anybody from walking off with them and making that space that much more inviting. A place to sit and ponder and pray. I had another conversation this week. Somebody who's working with stone had some that weren't fit for his purpose, but might be perfect for the labyrinth and so I went out and looked them over. Yeah, this is this is a great blessing and so gradually, we're delivering that stone and adding to the debris that's there. Stone the builder rejected, that becomes part of this path… One of the things I like about this site is it was a place of nourishment and community and then it sat vacant for a long time. And now it's being renewed as a place of nourishment and community. And we're using the broken pieces and the rejected pieces to create a path that leads to wholeness. One of the reasons I proposed this is I just like walking them and building them. It's edifying and healthy for me and I like introducing the practice to others but like I said, it's also about building connection with First Presbyterian and our partnership and it's about creating space for the sacred and the Fort Scott community that doesn't require somebody to be brave enough to open the door of a church.
Since we are no longer the culturally default, there are barriers, even to those who are seeking spiritual nourishment. It's hard to decide to walk into church, especially if you weren't raised in a church environment. You're not sure what to expect or where to sit or what to do. The labyrinth on this shared space doesn't require anybody to commit to go to the Presbyterian or Methodists or even to know what their own questions are. Just invites them to walk. To begin to ponder God's presence in their midst, in the midst of brokenness. It is a low barrier entryway for both of our congregations.
I've also talked quite a bit about our building and how when I got here, I tried very intentionally to walk with new eyes. This building is a beautiful asset, a sign of God's abundance. It also, in some ways, represents a barrier and we talked about how we can make the building more inviting. You know, those of us who have gone here for a long time, those of us who are used to church, we don't think about how intimidating it can be to enter the building. Where do you park… If you didn't know this building at all and you find and walk in the front doors. Where is the meeting room? It takes a commitment to get to the parlor. We think of nothing of holding an event in the parlor. You gotta go in and down a hall and you can't see where you're going from the door. And you don't know where the exit is or the bathrooms are. When you walk in that main door, you probably know the sanctuaries off to your left just because the building's fairly obvious but recently, we put this the clear glass on the front to make the front that much more inviting. You can see in before you make the commitment to open the door. We can see out and remind ourselves that it's not all about what happens in here. This building has been beautifully maintained but it also sits empty a great deal of the time and people drive by and they don't even see it anymore. We've been here since 1906. We're just part of the scenery. How do we make a building itself invitational? About the time I was asking those kinds of questions, mural projects started popping up all over Fort Scott. They started in Gunn Park with some quite beautiful spray paint art but not the sort of thing I'd want to put on the building. Then, they spread downtown and there are four or five different artists that have contributed but I was particularly drawn to a couple of them. The incredibly detailed Fort Scott postcard that is on Main Street Antiques wall and the sunflowers that are on Angie Dawn's and so I did some asking around and I looked at the art and I figured out that they had the same artist in common. A woman named Danyell Tanner Miles and so I reached out to her almost a year ago now and said, what if? See, we have this building and it faces National avenue, probably the second busiest, highest traffic point in Fort Scott and it has these plain tan walls. What if we put a mural there? and at first, it wasn't a good idea. We hadn't gotten there yet. But I and Danyell and several of us that I talked to kept kind of wrestling with ideas and what we might do. And we now have proposal. I have shared with trustees that Danyell believes that she can paint something like this using a brush technique that will make the flowers and the butterfly look a lot like stained glass and she can fill that space that faces National and she can do that for a charge not to exceed $1, 300… and I have some people who have come forward and said, we'll cover the cost! but as I talk to Trustees, they wanted to make this a community decision and I'll admit, Tuesday night, I was a little irritated by that. We've been talking about this for a while. Let's just go… and yet the more I listen to the wisdom of that feedback, that's exactly what it needs to be. This shouldn't just be an idea that the pastor came up with. This should be a communal decision. This should be a joint statement of who we are as a congregation in the community of Fort Scott, and so over the next couple of weeks, you're going to have an opportunity to vote on whether we do a mural similar to this. We won't vote this week but we will set up a mechanism whereby you can cast your vote and say, should we do a mural? and is this how we want to present our theology and our church and make our church a little more inviting and so we'll wrap that up by October 2nd at the Fish Fry and then collectively we will have decided and if collectively, we say, no, we'll keep thinking about how do we use the building and collectively, if we say, yes, we'll embark on getting this done and having it ready to invite people to come and come across that barrier of the sidewalk and come into the space and think about their own journey and their own transformation and stand in front of the butterfly and have wings for fun or Instagram or a senior picture and to get used to interacting with the community that is First United Methodist Church. If this isn't the right idea, that's fine. We'll continue to brainstorm and think about how we do that, how we engage with community, how we know and grow and serve and share as the unique and distinctive people, as the diverse people. Known as the people of First United Methodist Church in Fort Scott, Kansas.
We're working on some other projects that I hope you get a sense of part of the same constant question I'm asking. How do we build community? How do we grow this church and the key is not to make that the goal. The moment we make that the goal, we are using people for our own needs. The way we grow a church is by seeking out and meeting the needs of others, fostering community and relationship so that it becomes easier and easier for somebody to go, “I think I'm going to go check that church out.” So one of the projects we're launching in October is a Shepherds Center. Shepherds Centers are a national network of community organizations, many of them at churches, some of them not - designed to meet spiritual and physical and social and emotional needs. It is intended for retired adults. It's open to anyone but it's really aimed and intended for retired adults… and as I look around our church, that's what we've got and those are the easiest relationships to build. That's also a needed this community. Loneliness and isolation particularly for seniors has grown.
Becoming part of this network of shepherd centers enables us to help meet those needs and use one of our greatest assets, the building, that sits empty so much of the time. To use our classrooms, to invite local experts and presenters in to share their knowledge to help retired adults and others engage in lifelong learning and get more comfortable interacting with this community. Shepherd Centers counteract the negative effects of loneliness and isolation by connecting older adults to empowering programs that foster friendships. I did not realize until was doing the research to propose this here as part of our Healthy Congregations grant that it started in Kansas City 50 years ago. So, we are joining the network of Shepherd Centers on their 50th anniversary and they are excited… because the last couple of years have been rough for them too. A lot of their centers have closed. They've been in this sense of decline and what can we maintain and all of a sudden, they had us calling saying, hey, we want to join this movement. And I've had multiple of their staffers call and say, “we're excited about this” and here's another resource that you can use... We're not on our own.
We can't be Christians on our own and it can't be about us. It has to be about the conversation. Sometimes difficult, sometimes challenging, always ultimately leading us deeper into our faith, into our discipleship, into our self-understanding as Christians, that we might celebrate and be connected, that we might be the body of Christ for the world. And notice our reading this week ended with Paul writing to the Corinthians. “I will show you a still more excellent way” We will continue this line of thought next week as we continue our series on health and community and healthy congregations. Thanks be to God. Amen.