Monday, September 28, 2015

September 27, 2015 The Lord's Prayer - How To Be Different

September 27, 2015
Matthew 6:5-15

The Lord’s Prayer:  How To Be Different

Last week I began my message by asking what would be the two verses of Scripture that are most well known.  This morning, I would ask you about the prayers most known to people, which would probably be two.  First, the Serenity Prayer, written by the theologian Reinhold Neibuhr in the mid 20th century –

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change;
Courage to change the things I can;
And wisdom to know the difference.

The above lines are most familiar, but there is a longer, less known version that includeds these lines –

Living one day at a time;
Enjoying one moment at a time;
Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;
Taking, as He did, this sinful world
As it is, not as I would have it;
Trusting that He will make all things right
If I surrender to His will;
So that I may be reasonably happy in this life
And supremely happy with Him
Forever and ever in the next.

And certainly, the other paryer would be the Lord’s Prayer, sometimes called the model prayer, as it becomes the example of how we should pray (as Jesus says in Matthew 6:9 – this, then, is how you should pray).

This morning I begin a series of messages based on the Lord’s Prayer.

Because our computer is down I can’t show you a picture I would like you to see, but I’ll use it next week (it is at the top of this manuscript and in the weekly study guide).  It’s a picture of the Lord’s Prayer hand-etched onto the head of a pin.  How do you hand-etch the Lord’s Prayer onto such a small space?  An Englishman by the name of Graham Short managed to do so.  He etched the prayer onto a space that is 0.0787401575 inches across.  It required him to look through a microscope and to engrave only at night because the vibrations from the daytime traffic made it impossible to do the work.  Such precision also required that for the first hour of his engraving session he does nothing but sit still, until his pulse slowed (his resting heart rate, helped by a great deal of swimming, is 30 beats a minute).  He also straps his arm to restrict its movement, and when all was ready worked between his heartbeats, so nothing would jolt the movement of the needle across the surface of the pinhead.

Isn’t that incredible? It’s amazing to consider the concentration, the care, and the dedication required to do such work.  But my first response was why?  Why would anyone take such time and effort to make an engraving so small it requires a microscope to see it?  The second response was, imagine if we could devote that kind of concentration, care, and dedication to prayer on a regular basis.

But perhaps we do, even without knowing it.  Paul writes in I Thessalonians 5:17 that we should pray without ceasing.  Does this mean we are we to pray all the time?  Does it mean to continue in an attitude of prayer?  I think the answers to those questions are found in Romans 8:26, where Paul writes that in the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.  I think one of the things Paul is saying is that we pray all the time, even though we might not be aware of it, because deep within our heart and our soul we are crying out to God in a way in which we don’t even realize or understand.  Prayer comes not just when we bow our head, close our eyes, and fold our hands, but every moment that we breathe, because there is some kind of deeply spiritual communion between the spirit of God and our own spirits.  So we pray in two ways – unconsciously and consciously.  When we pray consciously, Jesus says to do so like this –

“When you pray, you are not to be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners so that they may be seen by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full.
But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.
“And when you are praying, do not use meaningless repetition as the Gentiles do, for they suppose that they will be heard for their many words.
So do not be like them; for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him.
“Pray, then, in this way:
Our Father which art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.
10 Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.
11 Give us this day our daily bread.
12 And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.
13 And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.
14 For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.
15 But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions.

Today I’ll begin with the first words of the Lord’s Prayer – Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name. 

Our Father
These two simple, basic, words are very significant, and in using them, Jesus radically transformed what people thought at the time. 

First, note the word our.  When we think of the word our we do so in a possessive sense – something that belongs to us.  But our, here, is plural, not singular.  It does not denote an ownership claim.  We don’t have an ownership claim on God.  In the time of Jesus, there were plenty of people who felt they had an ownership claim on God, and that attitude, unfortunately, is still very pervasive today.  Having an ownership claim of God results in an us versus them mentality, as in we are special to God and you are not.

In May I was in Sandusky, Ohio, which sits on the shore of Lake Erie.  One afternoon, as I was walking along the edge of town, near the lakefront, I heard live music, and it immediately caught my ear.  The song was Born To Be Wild by Steppenwolf, and I knew immediately I had to follow the music to see what was going on.  It so happened that Biker Week was talking place in Sandusky, and I soon found myself in the middle of a gathering of bikers  And I don’t mean the 10 speed bikers; I mean the boot-wearing, Harley-riding, leather-vest clad, big beard, lots of tatto kind of bikers.  And there I was in my khaki shorts, T-shirt, and green tennis shoes.  Talk about sticking out.  I put a post on Facebook about wandering into the wrong place and it wasn’t long before someone challendged me for thinking differently about people just because they looked different from me.  And you know what?  They were exactly right to do so. It takes constant reminders, I think, to keep us from lapsing into a default position of defining ourselves by what group we are part of and what groups are not part of us.  And too many groups want to claim God as the father for their group and declare he is off limites to other groups.  We do not own God.  We are his creation and his children, and that is true of every person, not just the ones that we want to designate as being part of our group.

Then there’s the word father.  The word father is such a personal word to use as a designation for God, which was a very different concept than what people were used to at the time.  The Aramaic word Jesus used was abba, which means daddy.  It was one of the first words a child learned to say, and it reflected a very significant shift in the manner in which people viewed God.  Jesus presents God as not being distant and detached but as close to us and as interested in us and as loving us as would one of the most significant relationships we can understand.

There is an element, certainly, of the holy and majestic and powerful to God, but at the same time God – the mighty creator, sustainor, and Lord of this universe – is as close to us and familiar to us as a member of our own family.

Who Art In Heaven
The past week must have created a lot of uncomfortable moments for atheists.  With all the coverage of the pope, it must have gotten under their skin quite a bit.  The wall to wall coverage, even if you tired of it or weren’t interested, was undeniably quite extraordinary.  That so much of life came to a halt to focus on the gospel message is testimony to the great spiritual hunger that exists all around us, and within us.  Obviously, we are nowhere near as secular as some claim.

It was a week that served as an important reminder that life is more than just the physical and material.  Who are in heaven reminds us that there is more to this life.  In spite of the claims of some that we can only believe in the things we can see, touch, measure, or test, that is incorrect.  Just because some people have a scientific, materialistic, reductioninst view of the world doesn’t mean that is the reality.  There is a spiritual component to every life, even among those who deny the spiritual part of life.  Who can gaze upon a beautiful sunrest or sunset and not feel something spiritual?  Who can listen to a beautiful piece of music and deny that is moves something deep within us, a part of us that I would refer to as our soul?

Through my years of ministry, while visiting people in their final days, I’ve seen the proof that there is more to this life than just the physical.  There is this very thin layer between this life and eternity, and at the end of life many people are blessed to see both worlds at once.  They have one foot in the temporal but the other is already stepping into the eternal.  While they see this world in which we live, they can also peer into the next world.  I have been with people who will speak of seeing Jesus in the room with them, they will speak of departed loved ones who have come to comfort them as they prepare for the greatest of journeys, and they are not hallucinating.  When people experience such moments there is a clarity about them that is more pronounced than what we experience in our daily lives and there is an alertness and awareness that proves to me that what they see, what they experience, is not an illusion but the ultimate in reality.

Hallowed Be Thy Name
The word hallowed is a combination of two words that together refer to what is holy, and holy because of being different.  Any object that is holy has a different purpose.  A church is different from other buildings because it has a different purpose.  The Sabbath is different from other days because it has a different purpose.  The priests and prophets of the Old Testament were different from other people because they had a different purpose.  An altar was different from other monuments because of a different purpose.

To say, then, that God’s name is to be hallowed is to recognize that God is different, holy, and must be treated differently from anything else in existence.

I never wanted to be different growing up.  None of us like to be different.  It’s why we follow fashion trends, even very questionable fashion trends.  I didn’t always dress like this, in a conservative blue suit, blue shirt, blue tie, and dress shoes.  Back in the 70s I dressed way cooler than this.  Do you know what kind of suit I wore back in the 70s?  A leisure suit.  It was dark blue, with a collar that was wider than my shoulders and had bold, white stitching all around.  My shirt was silky and white and imprinted on the front was a picture of some deer in a meadow with mountains in the background.  Completing that really cool outfit was a pair of platform shoes and my big afro.  When I went out of the house dressed like that my dad would say, are you really going out looking like that?  My response was, dad, when you look this good, you’ve got to go out!  But I very distinctly remember wearing that leisure suit one too many times.  One Sunday morning I wore it to First Christian Church in Kingsport, Tennessee, and I noticed I was the only one wearing a leisure suit.  Suddenly, they were out of fashion and I didn’t get the memo.  That leisure suit went from a source of fashion awareness to a source of embarrassment, and I put it away forever because I didn’t want to feel different.

No one wants to feel different.  When I was in high school I had a patch sewed onto my blue jeans that proclaimed I’m a non-conformist!  Do you now why I had that patch on my jeans?  Not because I was a non-conformist, but because everybody else had that patch sewed onto their jeans!  We are so afraid of being different that we will sometimes do things we don’t want to do just because we want to be like everyone else.

I was often given a hard time when I was young because I went to church and because of my faith.  There were times when I was bullied and ridiculed because of it.  I didn’t like it, but at the same time I didn’t really care.  Don’t ever be afraid of what people think of you, especially if they think less of you or differently of you because of faith.  As followers of Jesus, we are different, and there’s nothing wrong with being different!

When I arrived in the church parking lot this morning, I pulled into my usual space and sat for a few minutes admiring the sunrise.  The sun was not far above the horizon, and the colors radiated beautifully throughout the early morning sky.  As I enjoyed the view, I was reminded of a couple of important truths – no matter how bad things might be today, the sun will come up tomorrow, and it will come up tomorrow because God is still in control this vast universe.

There are many things we can legitimately pray, and one of those is the fear of being different.  But let us also remember that, because God is in control, we really do not need to be afraid.  But if you are, pray.  If you are afraid of being different, pray.  If you are worried people will reject you because you are different, pray.  When you are afraid, pray.  In all things, pray!

Monday, September 21, 2015

September 20, 2015 Judge Not

September 20, 2015
Matthew 7:1-5

Watch the following video, and notice that you will make some judgments that are not correct (Hilarious Church Invitation)

It’s okay to admit to yourself that you probably made a few incorrect judgments as you watched that video.  It reminds us of the dangers of making judgments about other people.

If you were to ask people inside the church to quote a verse of Scripture, you would probably get one of two responses.  Can you guess what they might be?  The top choices would probably be John 3:16, for God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life, or John 11:35, Jesus wept.  John 3:16 is a verse we all memorized at some point in life, most likely in Sunday School or Vacation Bible School, and John 11:35 is one we learned because of its brevity.

If you were to ask people outside of the church to quote a verse of Scripture, what do you think it would be?  Most likely, it would be Matthew 7:1 – Do not judge.  There is, of course, more to that verse than just those three words.  The remainder of the verse is an important qualification – (do not judge) so that you will not be judged.

Jesus tells us not to judge, but we all do it anyway.  In fact, judgment seems to be the default position of the human condition.  It’s almost as though we can’t avoid making judgments and being judgmental.  It is often our gut instinct, our knee-jerk reaction.  It fills social media and nobody wants to read comments on web pages because of the harsh judgments that our levied there.

This morning’s message is Judge Not, and it is taken from Matthew 7:1-5 –

1 Do not judge so that you will not be judged.
For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you.
Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?
Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ and behold, the log is in your own eye?
You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.

Among the important lessons in this passage are –

Some judgment is good.

We make judgments every day, and not all judgements are wrong.  In fact, we often speak positively of people who exercise good judgment.  That person demonstrated good judgment, we will say.  Or, we might say that person is a good judge of character.  In those instances, we understand that judgment is not a negative, but a positive, aspect of life.  Used in this way, then, judgment might best be defined as discernment. 

Discernment is defined in several ways, but perhaps most importantly it refers to the ability to choose wisely between several options in life.  It is not always clear, for instance, how one should decide in regards to a vocational choice in life, but a person gifted with discernment is one who can ask the right questions and make a choice that demonstrates good judgment when it comes to such an important decision.

Over my years of ministry, I’ve been asked countless times the question how do I know God’s will for my life?  When they ask that question, they never ask it in terms of morality; it is always asked in relation to what vocation they should choose, who they should marry, or whether or not they should accept a particular job offer.  I can’t answer those questions for people.  To answer those questions, people must use good judgment – discernment – to find an answer.  They must ask themselves questions and utilize prayer as a way of discerning what is the direction for them to choose.  I wish God answered those kinds of questions with words blazened across the sky, but he has never done that for me, but what God does is place people in our lives who can help us discern his will and he can, through prayer, lead us to make a good decision.

Judgment is wrong when we seek to decide who is righteous or unrighteous and who is acceptable and who is unacceptable to God.

While we might wish to be described as people of good judgment we would all bristle at a description of being a judgmental person.

The kind of judgment Jesus was speaking about was most often reflected in his oft-used target – the Pharisees.  The Pharisees began as a movement to reclaim a sense of devotion and personal righteousness in one’s daily life.  It was, certainly, a very laudable attitude on which to found a movement, but it was not long before it devolved into a caricature of their lofty ideal, and they soon came too reflect an attitude of harsh and unyielding judgmentalism.  Most people turned away from the Pharisees, believe they were far too harsh in their attitudes toward, and treatment of, other people. 

There are, unfortunately, plenty of such people around today, and it’s a sign of how judgmental religious people are viewed to be that Pope Francis made worldwide headlines simply for saying who am I to judge?  That kind of attitude should not be a surprise, and it certainly should be common enough that it doesn’t make worldwide headlines when a religious leader demonstates a non-judgmental spirit.  The pope was, after all, only reflecting what Paul writes in I Corinthians 5:12 – What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church?  Isn’t that an interesting verse, and one that is very much overlooked.

But, to some extent, judgmentalism is reflected in all all us, at some point, whether religious or not, so I should note that a judgmental spirit is certainly not confined to religious people.  As people of faith, we are sometimes as seen – without good reason – as being intolerant and bigoted, and we are sometimes lampponed with what is little more than a caricature or cartoonish version of what it means to be religious.  I get some interesting reactions from people simply because I’m a minister, and some of the reactions are very judgmental and assume things about me that are simply not true.

Judging others makes us blind to ourselves and our own failures.

Humanity has an amazing capacity at self-delusion.  Generally speaking, we are not always self-aware.  When Tanya and I were traveling back in May, we were on a train that was traveling from Holy Head, Wales to London.  At one stop, in northern England, a group of six or seven 30-somethings boarded the train and sat with us.  They were on their way to the horse races at Chester, England, so they were very interested to know we lived between Louisville and Lexington, and they were very familiar with both Churchill Downs and Keeneland.  One of the young ladies remarked that she loved listening to our accents, so I told her that she would love visiting America, as we very much enjoy listening to a British accent.  She had a very pronounced British accent, but looked at me rather quizzicly and said, I don’t have an accent.  We were speaking the same language, and I’m of British descent so I should have been able to easily understand her, but I almost needed subtitles!

By judging others, Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote in The Cost of Discipleship, we blind ourselves to our own evil and to the grace which others are just as entitled to as we are.

John 8:1-11 contains the classic story of the woman caught in adultery.  In verse 11, Jesus tells the woman go now and leave your life of sin.  It’s a fairly simple pronouncement, and could, actually, be said to every person, as sinfulness is the reality of every person.  I think that verse bothers some people, as they believe it lets people “off the hook” for what they have done.

The real tragedy of a judgmental attitude comes into view when we make a judgment about someone without knowledge of their true character or their circumstances in life.  It is making an assumption about someone when you might not have the full story or enough information to make such an assumption.

Years ago, when I was doing youth work, we had a young man who was very good at reaching out to young people in difficult circumstances.  He befriended a young man who was in his later high school years and was living alone.  For various, and sad, reasons, his parents were not in the home and the young man was trying to take care of himself.  He was working in a fast-food restaurant and trying to keep up with his studies at school, but obviously, was struggling under the circumstances.  The young man in our youth group managed to get him to come to our youth meetings a couple of times and then convinced him to come to church on a Sunday morning.  Because of his circumstances, the young man didn’t have nice clothes to wear, so he wore what was available to him – a pair of tattered blue jeans and a T-shirt.  As he walked into the sanctuary, he nervously walked down the aisle to find a seat.  As he passed by one of the pews, a member of the church looked him over and then said, rather disdainfully, well, look what the cat dragged in.  The person did not approve of his appearance, and thankfully, the young man did not appear to hear the other person’s comments. 

But I heard them, and it made me both sad and angry.  The person had no comprehension of this young man’s circumstances or of the content of his character.  He was doing the best he could, and under the circumstances, he was doing pretty well.

I am grateful that God does not judge us in such a way.  While we can be so hard on one another, God judges us with mercy, grace, and love.  Thank God for his mercy!

Monday, September 14, 2015

September 13, 2015 A Biblical Community

Galatians 3:26-29

If you take I64 west of Shelbyville for about 160 miles you will come to the community of New Harmony, Indiana.  Have any of you been to New Harmony?  New Harmony was the site of two attempts at a utopian society in the early 19th century.

In 1814 a group led by a man named George Rapp settled there, and, believing that the second coming of Jesus was immanent, sought to achieve Christian perfection in all areas of their daily living.  The community of New Harmony was sold in 1825 to Robert Own, who also desired to establish a utopian community, but his so-called Community of Equality dissolved only two years later, in 1827.

John Calvin, the famous reformer of the 16th century, sought to build a utopian society in Geneva, Switzerland, but a man named Michael Servetus would probably have argued that it was anything but a utopia, as Calvin had him arrested and burned at the stake in 1553.

In the 60s, a time of great idealism and hope, there was a movement that led to the creation of communes, which, in their own way, were attempts at creating a utopian society.  Some of which are still in existence, such as The Farm, in Summertown, Tennessee  ( and Jesus People, USA, in Chicago (

There have always been, I suppose, a quest to build the perfect community, a place where individuals and families can live in complete harmony, but it never quite seems to work.  Our own heritage as Disciples churches has proved that somewhat.  A movement that sought to unite churches together and to heal the denominational divisions led not to unity, but to the creation of three new and distinct groups of churches.

The word community is quite the buzzword in our society, perhaps because there seems to be so little of it remaining in our society.  But a genuine sense of community seems to be lacking, doesn’t it?  
Think for a moment about what comes to mind when you hear the word community.  And what would be the marks of a Biblical community?  What does a Biblical community look like?  How does a Biblical community act?  What are the values of a Biblical community?

Building a sense of community is one of the most important concepts that we find throughout the Scriptures.  Old Testament Israel, for instance, was a founded upon several principles, one of which was that they were called by God to form a community that would reflect his values.

There are many Scripture passages that teach us about community, and the one I chose for our text this morning is Galatians 3:26-29 –

26 For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. 27 For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.
28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
29 And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s descendants, heirs according to promise.

How do we develop a sense of community, a sense of connectivity, in such fractious times?

A Biblical community is not a place of perfection.
We are a messed-up group of people.  What a glorious, wonderful mess we are!  But who isn’t?  Find me a group of people anywhere that isn’t full of a mixture of sinners, hypocrites, and maybe a few saints thrown in for good measure.

Some people have the idea that the church should be a place where people always get along, where everyone is happy, where there are no problems, where everyone’s lives are perfectly together.  We need to pop a hole in that balloon.  I don’t know how that idea ever got started.  We are not a gathering of the perfect, but a gathering of those who are wounded, those who are imperfect, those who are nursing hurts and failures, those who are beset by doubts and worries and fear, those who struggle in so many ways.

The Scriptures certainly prove that the gathering of God’s people is never an exercise in perfection.  In I Corinthians 11:18 Paul writes these words – I hear that when you come together as a church, there are divisions among you. Talk about an understatement.  The church at Corinth was a mess.  There were enough problems in that church to be evenly distributed to many other churches and still have some left over.  Why was it a mess?  Because there were people there, and that’s what happen with people! In fact, here is an interesting point to consider – much of the writings of Paul found their genesis in addressing problems.  The only people in the Scriptures who believe they had it all together were the scribes and the Pharisees, and they were deluded into thinking they had it all together.

Read through the Old Testament and you’ll find plenty of stories of people with problems, failures, and struggles.  You’ll find the same in the New Testament.  The disciples didn’t always get along.  The disciples didn’t always reflect the kind of thinking and actions that Jesus taught them to exhibit.

A Biblical community is one that extends beyond normal human barriers and division.
How many of you remember the consolidation of school systems?  Do you remember how painful it was to communities?  My home county consolidated in 1973.  I remember so many of the parents talking about their fear of violence in the schools because of the competition between the different communities throughout the county.  They were worried that the kids from Wellsburg and Follansbee wouldn’t get along.  They worried about what would happen when kids from Weirton were thrown into the mix.  And those poor students from the little community of Bethany – they would be overwhelmed by it all!  None of this happened, of course, and the fears seem silly now, but consolidation did change the communities a great deal, because the loss of neighborhood schools was a loss of something that held together a community.

When you cross a county line or enter a different community you travel across boundaries that in various ways remind us that as people we are separate and different from one another.  Things can change a great deal in such a short distance.

I realize I’m a bit of a broken record on this theme of overcoming barriers and divisions, especially of late, but the more I read the Scriptures the more this theme jumps out at me.  Perhaps it’s because of the times in which we live, but I seem this theme pervading almost all of the Scriptures.

Take some time and read the second chapter of the book of Acts.  In the first verses of that chapter we read of the day of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit was poured out on the church.  Verse six tells us that all of the people gathered together that day heard the gospel in their own language.  If you read verses 9-13 you find there were a lot of different nationalities gathered in that one place.

That’s a lot of languages.  I was eating lunch recently at a restaurant and found it interesting that I could hear four different languages being spoken in that one place – there was Chinese, Spanish, English, and Kentuckian.  And Kentuckian is the one that was hardest for me understand!  (I know, I’m from West Virginia, so what right do I have to say anything about how people talk)

Listen to what the people ask in verse 12 – What does this mean?  It meant that God was undoing what took place at the Tower of Babel where people were separated by language.  God was communicating something very powerful – while human communities are defined by boundaries, his kingdom transcends human boundaries.  There may be differences of language among God’s people, but those language differences do not divide us into separate communities.

Verse 28 of our text this morning reminds us there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
The early church struggled to develop a sense of community that transcended boundaries.  As people from the Gentile world began pouring into the church there were some who were uncertain about this influx of new and different people.  Even Peter and Paul had quite a disagreement over how to deal with these very different people (When Peter came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he was clearly in the wrong – Galatians 2:11).  The point is this – when we begin drawing boundaries within the kingdom of God about who should be in and who should be out we destroy the sense of Biblical community.  Biblical community exists when boundaries between people are removed and all become one people under the name of Jesus.

God, very purposely, I believe, brings together people across human boundaries of language and geography and outlook to demonstrate that a Biblical community is a gathering together of people under his name, restoring a community that has been broken and shattered since the Fall.

A Biblical community is a faithful community.
Paul sometimes addresses his letters to the saints in a particular place.  How would you define a saint?  Most people think of a saint as someone who is extremely righteous, perhaps the closest a human being can get to perfection.  Did you know that’s really not the definition Paul gives of a saint? Paul often used the word saint to designate someone who is faithful (see Romans 1:7, I Corinthians 1:2, II Corinthians 1:2 – the people at Corinth were certainly not saintly in the way they lived – Ephesians 1:1, Philippians 1:1, and Colossians 1:1).  If you are a saint it doesn’t mean you are more righteous or better than other people, but that you are faithful.  And it means someone who is so faithful they will remain so even if it leads to the loss of their life.  Think of the saints in your life.  There have certainly been quite a few in mine.

The early church was an extremely faithful group of people, faithful to God and faithful to one another.  It is to faithfulness that God calls us and that we are to call one another.  We live in a world where the idea of faithfulness is a dying concept.  Think of the power the body of Christ can demonstrate by faithfulness – faithfulness to God and faithfulness to one another.

If you read the second chapter of II Corinthians (verses 1-11) you find Paul pouring out his heart to that church.  Evidently there was a problem with someone there and it had caused quite a division among the people and Paul writes passionately about the need to affirm their love for one another.  Near the end of that chapter he writes this in verse 15 – For we are a fragrance of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing.  Paul says our faithfulness to one another is not only an example to one another, but even more importantly, to those who are outside of the church.

A Biblical community is a place to where people can come home.
My hometown is Wellsburg, West Virginia.  It is the second oldest town on the Ohio River and is due west of Pittsburgh about 25 miles.  I wanted to leave Wellsburg from the time I was young.  For most of my life I have not spoken kindly about my hometown.  Perched between the river bank and a mountain it was a place covered with the soot and grime of steel mills all of my growing up years.  Like many young people, I wanted to get out of my hometown at the first opportunity.  During my high school years, as the steel industry started to collapse, Wellsburg – and the surrounding area – began a long economic downturn that has resulted in a sad decline of the towns.  Watching the town decline just made me more certain that I wanted to leave.  In more recent years, I have come to realize that I have been too hard on my hometown.  Wellsburg is a part of me because it is the community that helped to raise me, to influence me, to educate me, and where a lot of people have loved me all of my life.  Though I have been gone from Wellsburg for a long time and only make it back a few days each year, there are people there who still love me and, I’m convinced, always will.  It is, and always will be, in many ways my community.

We need a place to which we can return.  For some, it is our hometown; for others, it is the family home place.  Several years after my father passed away, my mom sold the little farm where I grew up.  I vividly remember my final walk through the house, a walk that I somewhat regret now.  The house was empty, except for a few tools that still remained in my dad’s garage workshop.  As I walked through each room of the house memories came rushing back to me and overwhelmed me.  My bedroom, where I would play my guitar and listen to records; the living room, where my family celebrated many holidays; and the kitchen, where we all gathered around the table for many meals and for late night talk and card-playing sessions when we all came home on breaks from school.  It was hard to think that though I could continue to visit with my family, there would no longer be the same home place to which I could return.

We need a place where we can call home, a place to which we can return.  There is, deep within the heart and soul of each of us, a longing for a place to which we can return.  When I speak at funerals and memorial services I often speak about the longing we have for “home,” for that time of being reunited with those who have gone before.  This is part of the longing we have because of the God-created need for community.

Thank God for this community of believers at First Christian Church!