Thursday, March 31, 2016

Letters from the Soul: This Month's Newsletter Column + New Sermon Series

April 2016: "Everyone Welcome"

Dear Church,

The words "Everyone Welcome" are emblazoned in bold cursive on our marquee out on the front lawn of the church property.

Those words speak to a fundamental identity within our Disciples of Christ tradition that we are meant to foster unity and openness in the "essentials" of our faith: belief in Jesus Christ as the Son of God, and the priesthood (that is, the ministry) of all believers. That is, on a theological level, what we and many, many other Disciples churches believe when we say, "Everyone welcome."

But on a practical level, what does that mean? It means, I think, being a church of hospitality, of welcome, of embracing visitors and strangers alike who grace our doors on Sunday mornings, whether they are attracting by our beautiful historic sanctuary or by the fair-to-middling preaching that takes place within said sanctuary! (If this were a sermon, this is where I would allow for laughter...)

How do we go about that sort of welcoming hospitality? Because if we really say "everyone welcome," we had better mean it. That means the person who sits in your favorite pew is welcome. That means the rambunctious child is welcome. That means the person whose cell phone goes off in the middle of the prayer is welcome. Everyone, quite simply, means everyone.

It is tempted to get frustrated by such disruptions--believe me, I know. I have to be locked in every Sunday at 11:00 am in order to give both God and all of you my very best, and I would hope that you feel the same way. But as Jesus puts it to the Pharisees in Matthew 22, our love of God must resemble our love of our neighbor. As He says, "the other (law) is like it...(and) on these hang the entirety of the Law and the Prophets."

In other words: everything else we do depends on whether we are loving God and loving our neighbors, and if we are to love God with all of our heart, soul, and mind, as both Jesus and the Hebrew Bible teach, then we must love our neighbors as ourselves. And if someone is sitting next to you in your pew, they literally are your neighbor for the next hour!

For many of us who have been attending this church for years, even decades, it is easy to forget that we too once worshiped here for the very first time. It is easy to forget that we too were once strangers in a strange land. Going to a new church for the first time is a scary proposition for people: what if the members are unfriendly to me? What if they don't have quality childcare or classes for my children? What if I don't fit in?

But there is scarcely a higher calling than welcoming that stranger in a strange land, because it involves a ministry to--and removal of--those sorts of fears and trepidations. It involves giving another fellow follower the courage to be in God's presence with us. And what a great gift that truly is!

Yours in Christ,
Pastor Eric

New sermon series: "Help in Unbelief: Reconciling Faith and Belief

With the empty tomb of Easter Sunday now in our rearview mirrors, you might expect us to be speeding away to some new part of Scripture...but Easter as a season in the church calendar is meant to be celebrated for *fifty* days, which is the length of time between Easter and Pentecost, the day when the Holy Spirit came upon the assembled followers of Jesus in Acts 2. 

Pentecost Sunday this year falls on May 15, which means that we have six Sundays of Easter at our disposal to talk together about what for me is a central component of the Easter narratives in Scripture: the necessity of believing that Jesus did indeed conquer death. As Jesus says to Thomas when the apostle puts his hands upon Jesus's wounds in the first Scripture passage we'll read, "Blessed are those who don't see yet still believe." 

Belief, in its simplest form, is the acceptance of something as true or factual. I believe that the sky is blue because my eyes tell me so. I believe that Jesus rose because the Gospels tell me so. But is another animal altogether. Faith involves a lifetime of belief, of taking those beliefs and actually living them out in my day-to-day existence.

So how do we reconcile the two? How do we bridge them, bring them together, so that our faith can match our beliefs and vice versa? That is what we'll be talking about during this year's Easter sermon series that will stretch through mid-May up to Pentecost Sunday. I hope you'll join us for a wonderful series that will look at stories of faith and belief from all four of the Gospels as a celebration of the good news of the resurrected Christ!

I'll see you Sunday,
Pastor Eric

Easter 2016: “Help in Unbelief: Reconciling Faith and Belief”

April 3: “These Things Are Written,” John 20:24-31
April 10: “Genesthai,” John 8:48-59
April 17: “Jantelagen,” Luke 7:36-50
April 24: “Red Sunday,” Matthew 16:1-4
May 1: “Simon, Son of Jonah,” Matthew 16:13-20
May 8: “All Things,” Mark 9:14-24

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