Tuesday, September 2, 2014

The church part 1: Loving God and each other 8/31/14

I drew extensively from sermons by Dr William O. (Bud) Reeves
First United Methodist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
His sample sermons are posted at Bishop Schnase's http://fivepractices.org/ website.
Thank you Dr Reevs and Bishop Schnase for the inspiration


THE CHURCH PART 1: loving God and others
Reinbeck UMC
·                    While we were in Charlotte, we worshipped in a 4000 member United Methodist church with 6 worship services every Sunday. When I was in seminary, I served a church with an average attendance of 15 older adults.
·                    I have worshipped in the church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem, and in a thatch roof pavilion in Haiti.
·                    I have lead worship with a band and smoke machine and gobo lights. I have participated in silent unprogrammed Quaker worship.
·                    I have worshipped in a Greek Orthodox church in downtown Chicago, and of course I love our small town church in rural Iowa.
You know what?
No matter how large or small, no matter how formal or informal, no matter how loud or quiet, each one of those places is still the church. The church of Jesus Christ transcends buildings, and attendance statistics, and locations, and music style, and language and race, and time. The church of Jesus Christ transcends almost every human category or classification we can imagine.

The church of Jesus Christ is greater than any of these categories except one. THERE ARE FRUITFUL CHURCHES AND THERE ARE UNFRUITFUL CHURCHES. There are churches that are living by Jesus’ mandate to “Go therefore into all the world and preach the gospel,” and there are churches that are not doing that. There are growing, and there are churches that are dying. There are churches that are making disciples, and there are churches who are driving disciples away. Believe me, it has nothing to do with their building, location, attendance, worship style, language or race.
You could read a book a week for the rest of your life analyzing why some churches work and others don’t. However, I think United Methodist Bishop Robert Schnase of Missouri has hit the nail on the head. Bishop Schnase wrote a book that identifies five practices that are present in every fruitful church. Some fruitful congregations are large, and some are small, some are in the city, and some in the country. Whatever the context might be, however, excellent churches display some common characteristics. I think our congregation here does pretty well with these 5 qualities, and I think our fruitfulness shows it. Occasionally, however, it is good for us to step back and look at who we are and what we are doing. Today and for the next two weeks, I want to look at the five practices of fruitful congregations and compare them to our ministry here at the Reinbeck United Methodist church, so we can think together about ways we can improve and be an even better community of faith helping people to know Jesus, grow more like Jesus, and go for Jesus.

A.      Let’s start at the front door with hospitality.
Hospitality is the ministry of loving people as God loves them. What is the goal of God’s love? To draw people to love him.
 Hospitality is loving people in a way that they will be drawn to love God. It has to do with loving those outside our walls as well as those inside the walls of the church. Hospitality has to do with communicating to EVERYONE who is here and who might come here that God so loved them that he has already given his only begotten son for them. God has already prepared a place for each and every person, and we, as the church, are the welcome mat for God’s kingdom.
There’s a story about a man who had to go to a farm to talk with the farmer about a business matter. Driving up the dirt road leading to the farm, he encountered signs that said things like: “Trespassers will be shot,” “Beware of Dog,” “Keep Out …This Means You!” Arriving at the door, he was a little worried about what he might encounter. But he was greeted by a smiling, congenial farmer. When the man was ready to leave, the farmer said to him in sort of a wistful way, “Come and see me again sometime. I don’t get many visitors up this way.” Well, no wonder. The entrance to his farm did not indicate that the visitor would be greeted with much in the way of hospitality.[i] That farmer reminds me of some churches.
I haven’t seen any “no trespassing” signs around here, In fact I think this is a pretty hospitable church.  I think we do a great job with the basics, but think about this…
·                    Our church sign can‘t be read as you drive up to it from either West Street or Spruce Street.  Try it. It can only be read from the corner. It is in disrepair and just generally not very welcoming. It doesn’t say no trespassing but it doesn’t say “y’all come in” either.
·                    Do you know where our name is on our building? Most people don’t even know it’s there on the West side of the entry way. Do you know what it says? It says First Methodist Church. No one knows us by that name… especially since we have been UNITED Methodist for 47 years now. It doesn’t say “get out” but it doesn’t say welcome either.
·                    We fixed up the women’s restroom, but the men’s is an embarrassing mess. It might not say we don’t want you, but is certainly says we don’t care very much.
·                    If you are in a wheelchair, do you want to sit in one of the aisles where you feel like you are in the way? That is the only option we have given them, even though there are possible solutions.
Hospitality isn’t just the building…
I went to the Hubbard UMC when I was on retreat one time, and not a single person talked to me… not even the pastor. I don’t think that would every happen here, but are you one that makes a special point to greet strangers, or are you one who sits with your arms crossed and whispers, “who is that?”
Hospitality is not just for guests. It has to do with the way we treat everyone.
We generally treat each other very hospitably, but… I know that some of you really look down on other people in this congregation. I know that some of you gossip about others. I see unkind things that you write on facebook. You might not be saying “trespassers will be shot,” but you words are lethal weapons. I know that some of you don’t want anything to do with the handicapped ramp because you don’t know Beverly… but how many times have you made the effort to see her? She’s been a home bound member since April 25th,  2010. That’s 4 year and 4 months if you are counting.
Paul writes in Romans 15, “Welcome one another, just as Christ has welcomed you” And he was talking about welcoming what the Jews thought of as “those dirty gentiles.” I am talking about friends and neighbors.
Now don’t get me wrong. In the big picture, we are one of the most welcoming churches I have ever seen. We have most of the basics down cold. We have each of you to thank for that…
Hebrews tells us “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.” You can all hopefully think of folks who have come to be part of us in the last few years who are just angels. They stay because you showed them hospitality. Thank God for them and keep up the good work.
 However, we aren’t perfect. There are still things we can work on. Fruitful churches practice RADICAL HOSPITALITY and are always trying to be better welcome mats for God’s kingdom.

B.       Once we are in the door, the first stop for most of us is worship. Bishop Schnase says fruitful churches have passionate worship.
Some would say that passionate worship is an oxymoron. (Words that are inherently contradictory  like: military intelligence, congressional action, or pretty ugly.) Some argue that worship is at best a time to see some friends and catch a few Z’s. I’ll admit I have been known to get a little nap between the prelude and the postlude from time to time. (Fortunately not when I have been leading worship!)
Bishop Schnase says, “Vibrant, fruitful, growing churches offer Passionate Worship that connects people to God and to one another.”[ii]
Great worship is passionate worship. What do you think of when you hear the term “passionate worship?” A televangelist with a big show? Africans drumming and dancing? Pentecostals shouting and speaking in tongues? A high mass in a cathedral? A Taize folk service with a guitar for accompaniment and everyone seated and singing? Or do you think of Reinbeck United Methodist Church?
Which of these are passionate worship? All of them can be!
·        Passionate worship has nothing to do with the style of worship. There is as much variety in passionate worship as there is in the people of God. Passionate worship can be traditional, contemporary, liturgical, high, low, gospel, ethnic, you name it. It’s not about the style.
·        Passionate worship is not about the leader. Some leaders are more capable than others, but it is not the pastor that makes worship passionate.
·        Passionate worship is not passionate because of the music, the order of worship, the choir, the sermon, or the communion.
·        Passionate worship doesn’t depend on what vehicle you take, as long as you arrive at a personal encounter with the presence of the living God
If we can’t rely on the music or the pastor to give us passionate worship, how do we get it?
·    First, SAY YOUR PRAYERS. Great worship is undergirded by prayer. We have to be spiritually prepared to worship. Trying to worship without preparing in prayer is like trying to run a race without stretching your muscles first; you could pull something! Do you pray for the pastors, the music ministry, the Sunday Schools, and your own openness to God before you ever show up on Sunday morning? If you pray to have great worship, God will hear those prayers, and you will be filled with a spiritual expectancy when you enter this place. The result will be better worship.
I come over here every Saturday night. Do you know why? Partially to print things off and practice the sermon. But just as importantly I walk around this sanctuary and pray for each and every one of you. I lay my hand on every pew, and pray for whoever will be sitting there tomorrow and since you are creatures of habit, I often know who that is going to be. I pray for open hearts and spirits that will be vulnerable to God’s movement in worship.
When was the last time you prayed for great worship? Or do you come and plop yourself down and dare me to entertain you? Great, passionate, worship happens when it is undergirded with prayer.

·    The second key to passionate worship is, ENGAGE YOUR HEART. John Wesley constantly had to defend himself against charges of “enthusiasm,” or inappropriate emotionalism in religious services. The early Methodists were called “shouting Methodists” because of their exuberance in worship. I’m not saying we should go crazy with emotionalism. But I am saying that passionate worship has to engage the heart as well as the mind.
Matt Redman is a contemporary Christian songwriter who has reached people around the world with his worship music. But early in the 1990’s, he was leading worship in his church in
England called Soul Survivor church. The band was of course good, but the worship was flat and uninspiring. So one day their pastor, Mike Pilavachi, confronted the band and declared a season of no music. They would sing a cappella until they got the right spirit back in their church. His point was that even thought he quality of music was excellent,  they had lost their way in worship. He believed that the way to get back to the heart would be to strip everything away. He wanted to challenge his church to be producers of worship, not just consumers.
Well, the band was insulted and left the church. All except Matt Redman. He looked deep inside himself and came up with a song, which has become one of the best-loved songs in contemporary worship. It’s called “The Heart of Worship,” and some of the lyrics say, “I’m coming back to the heart of worship, and it’s all about you, all about you, Jesus. I’m sorry, Lord, for the thing I’ve made it, and it’s all about you, it’s all about you.”
That is a song from the heart. And when we engage our hearts, we can experience passionate worship

·    The third key to passionate worship is to KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE. I’m not talking about marketing surveys here. We have a tendency, in our consumer culture, to view the worship service like religious entertainment.
o   God is the producer; he is in control of the process.
o   The pastors, musicians, ushers, and others who move around are the actors,
o   and the congregation is the audience.
If we’re not careful, we end up with the attitude reflected in the Dennis the Menace cartoon from several years ago. Dennis was walking out of church, and says to the pastor, “Pretty good show for a quarter!”
In passionate worship, we have to know who our audience is. YOU are not the audience. In spite of the way we have you sitting, YOU are definitely NOT the audience for worship. The only audience in worship is God. Passionate worship, is not for us. It is directed at God.
o   The pastors, musicians and others are the stage hands,
o    helping YOU, the actors, to get everything you need. You are the actors
o   And the audience of our worship is God. Passionate worship is directed toward our heavenly Father. We do this for Him. We have an “audience of One.” And the only ultimate criterion of good worship is that it please our audience.
It doesn’t matter if I am happy with our worship, or if you are happy with worship. All that matters is whether God is happy.
Passionate worship -- worship that is surrounded with prayer, comes from the heart and is given to God will CHANGE YOUR LIFE. This is what Paul was talking about when he wrote to the Romans: “I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed…” Be transformed by passionately worshipping God with all that you are. Your head, your hands, your heart. Be transformed by worshipping the God who is the God of all that was … all that is new… all that is to come.

Let me close with a quote from Annie Dillard that I think speaks powerfully to where we, as the church, are today.
 “ Many churches today are like children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets, mixing up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning. It is madness to wear …(our fancy clothes to church; we should all be wearing fireproof suits) … and crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews. For the sleeping god may wake someday and take offense, or the waking god may draw us out to where we can never return.”[iii]

Radical Hospitality- loving others into God’s love.
Passionate worship- loving God with all we are.
That is what being church is about.

[i] King Duncan, “What’s Your Hospitality Quotient?” Sermons.com.
[ii] Robert Schnase, Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations (Nashville:
Abingdon, 2007), 33
[iii] Annie Dillard, Teaching a Stone to Talk (New York: Harper& Row, 1982),
p. 40.

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