The Candle of HOPE

First Sunday of Advent – The Candle of HOPE

advent-1-candleFaith is the assurance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. This means that hope must precede faith. Our faith in God revealed in Jesus is rooted and grounded on the deepest hopes of our hearts and minds. The dreams of a better world that stir our imagination. These are the dreams of Abraham and Sarah, the dreams of King David, the dreams of the prophets, the dreams of Joseph and Mary and the Shepherds and the Wise Men. These are the dreams of Jesus and the Apostles – the dreams of God’s kingdom manifest on earth as it is in heaven.

You and I, by virtue of our calling and baptism into Christ, are co-creators with God of bringing this dream to reality. This church exists so that we can hear the dreams of old, have our own imaginations stirred, and invite our neighbors to work alongside us for the healing of the nations – the way of God’s shalom.

As you enter into this Advent season, what are your dreams? What is your hope, of which your faith in God will be the assurance?

As a prayer for God’s fulfilling these hopes and dreams, we light the candle of Hope.

(The first purple candle is lit as the hymn is sung.)
_______________

Text (c) Ken G. Crawford 2016
Photo credit – stmatthiaschicago.org

Thanksgiving 1

#Thanksgiving 1

I’m grateful for the new opportunity for partnership in congregational ministry with Central Christian Church. There are so many great things about this congregation that intrigue me. Most importantly – They are hopeful, eager, even hungry to grow their ministries in ways that deepen and broaden the life-transforming impact of the gospel of Jesus Christ alive in and through them by the power of the Holy Spirit. In addition:

They have strong participation from their members in programming and events outside of Sunday morning – both on campus and in the community. They celebrated 10 years of hosting Dallas’ best dog park on their campus – providing space for their neighbors to create and experience community. They have partnered with Hispanic and Ethiopian Christian congregations on their campus. They are open and inclusive across all aspects of congregational life and leadership. They have a traditional service with great music – and have already incorporated AV technology into their sanctuary. They recognize the equal partnership in ministry between clergy and laity. They have partnered with @Connecting Point of Park Cities – a ministry that provides weekday programming for adults with severe physical and developmental disabilities. They provide a safe meeting place for one of the region’s strongest LGBTQ welcoming AA groups. They have organized and hosted theatre productions that included professional directors, crew and actors. They are a congregation of multitalented individuals who seem eager to see how God might use them in new and expanding ways. They have a building and campus ready for innovative ways to extend their ministry beyond its current reach.

#CountYourBlessings

More to come…

                              Sermon Study Thoughts for 100216
Text: 2 Timothy 1:1-14;

Also: Habakkuk 1:1-4; 2:1-4; Luke 17:5-10

Even when things in our lives look bleak, we can trust that God is not finished with us.
There is yet a word from God for us and work yet for us to do.
Even a little faith in these promises can move mountains.

+++++++++++++++++++

It is easy to become discouraged. Life is hard. Bad things happen, even to good people. Bad people seem to get away. Justice is often left incomplete.

These are of course oversimplifications of complex situations, but the sentiments nonetheless ring true. Life is hard, and frustrations are sure to come. Whether at work, in our personal relationships, or with our community and society on a larger scale, things often don’t go as we think, feel and believe that they should. We imagine that if we were in charge things would be better. (Forgetting in the process the many times we have failed, fallen short, let ourselves and others down.)

On the landscape of our national consciousness several things loom particularly large right now. In particular, the presidential election process between two polarizing candidates, and the long-simmering and now growing and increasingly public tensions between “the police” and “the African-American community”. In both situations, it is easy to become discouraged, even fearful. It is easy to develop growing mistrust and cynicism toward “the other side”. Again, we think if only we were in charge we could make things better. But we are not, and feel that things may not get better.

First a reality check. Things are so much better in almost every conceivable measure of health, wealth and prosperity. The poorest of the poor in the USA enjoy more comforts than working class families of a century ago. Life expectancy has increased. Access to simple necessities and creature comforts has widened dramatically. Racism, oppression and related violence have decreased dramatically from a few generations ago. The conversation has shifted, but perhaps we’ve been lulled into complacency within the majority culture – absence of violence has been mistaken for peace and harmony.

God’s shalom is not simply a cease-fire. It is universal flourishing and a balance of wellbeing rooted in shared rhythms of work and rest. We are a long way from that, however far we have come. By many accounts we are disconnected from our own bodies, from one another, from the earth that provides our nourishment, and from the God who created us, sustains us, and redeems our sufferings.

So we have both reason to give thanks and reason to hope for more. If we focus too much on either our blessings or our challenges the result is a distorted view of reality undergirding ill-fitting and unproductive actions.

As Paul writes to his student Timothy, we do not know the full extent of the circumstances that have prompted the letter. Timothy has become discouraged by some series of events in his life and ministry. He’s gotten distracted perhaps by the headlines, or by the shiny things in the culture around him.

Paul comments Timothy toward several things that are also instructive for us:

  1. Remember the faith of your ancestors – the faith in which you were raised. This is similar to parents calling out toward their children who walk out the door for a night or weekend away, “Remember who you are and where you come from…!” Again, we lack specifics, but it was apparently enough for Timothy simply to recall the faith of his mother and grandmother.
  2. Remember the gifts of God that you have already received and expressed. God has already blessed you and worked through you to bless others. Whatever is going on right now is neither the beginning nor the end of your story. AND, you have the ability and responsibility to stir up that gift, to call it forth and put it to use – to exercise those muscles.
  3. Remember the power of God that was at work in Jesus Christ, that you have seen at work in me, and that is at work in you. The things which have been done are not by your strength alone. Yes, you are a participant, but not a solitary agent acting on the world. You are interdependent with God to fulfill the Gospel call.
  4. Remember that the hardest part is already done! Death has been conquered. There is nothing left to fear. There is nothing of which to be ashamed. No limitation that remains is greater than the love of God that is already at work in you.

Everything Paul suggests here is encapsulated within the brief text from Luke 17:5-10 in which Jesus invites us to exercise faith as small, humble and simple as a mustard seed, trusting that even this much true faith might move mountains in our life and world circumstances. The promise is not that all of our problems will evaporate immediately. “Every valley lifted and every hill made low” is a promise for a future time of kingdom fulfillment (Isaiah 40:4). What seems to be at work here is that “Yes, the struggle is real, but God’s power is greater. Strength and courage are available to you to persevere and overcome the obstacles before you for the sake of the Gospel – so that all people might live in the truth that “our Savior Christ Jesus, … abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel…” (2 Timothy 1:10).

In order for others to believe and receive this promise we ourselves must first live and walk in it. This means that we will no longer be held back by fear or shame. We will not cower before things that seem too difficult for us. Perhaps we have tried before and failed. The crucifixion looked like failure in the short term also. But God redeemed the suffering and life conquered death. The promise is that this same power is at work in us by the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. Whatever has been, and whatever now is, let us rest in the promise of God that there’s more to come.

The Church is Open for Business

The Churchis Open for BusinessWe spend the majority of our waking hours at work between the ages of 20 and 70. Jesus was constantly entering into people’s work places and spaces – the fishing  pier, the market, the town square, the tax office. When we fail to show up and engage in the work place, we are missing an essential aspect of Jesus’ ministry strategy, and missing the opportunity to bless and be blessed by our neighbors.

Sometimes we can go to them, but we also have an opportunity to create a space where they will want to gather for work and community building.

Congregations have several elemental strengths when it comes to incubating small businesses:

  1. They are already physically present in communities.
  2. They are geographically close to individuals who are longing for greater meaning in their lives and a rewarding way to financially support themselves.
  3. They historically have a web of relationships with which to engage and collaborate
  4. They have property (buildings and land) which are often underutilized resources that can be leveraged for new and innovative projects.
  5. They may also have a tradition and a theology that encourages helping people to flourish and thrive in a holistic way – in every aspect of human life.

For more on this topic:
Small Business Incubators, Community Development, and the Church
Social Entrepreneurship on KenGCrawford.com

Jesus transforms our familiar places

Sermon Notes for 041016
Title: Jesus transforms our familiar places
Text: John 21:1-19     Also: Acts 9:1-6

Jesus meets us where we are, as we are, but does not leave us or the place unchanged.
When we encounter the resurrected Christ, we will be transformed, if we don’t run away.

The notes below are prepared in advance in a process of reflection on the text.
They do not represent a manuscript of the sermon.

Listen to the sermon audio here.

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Jesus transforms our familiar places.

Where do you go, in reality or in your imagination, when you feel lost and don’t know where to turn? What are your safe places, your happy places, your sanctuaries? Where do you feel most comfortable, most at home?

For the earliest disciples, one of these places was on the water, in their fishing boats. Here they knew what to do – so well they didn’t even have to think about it. You know how it feels to get into that zone where muscle memory takes over and your subconscious can guide you while your conscious mind takes a break from everything? This is what happens when we drive down the highway and realize we don’t remember the last 10 miles. Often it is engaging in some kind of physical activity – gardening, yard or house work, a hobby like playing an instrument, painting, wood working. So there is a physical location, and often an activity of some kind. And there are the relationships that exist (or not) in these places and activities. The people you know, with whom you work or play, with whom you share memory, story, history.

When we don’t know where else to go, we go there. How often do people journey back to their childhood homes, in person, in memory, and in dream, to rehearse, recall, and relive formative moments? “Perhaps,” we think, “the people, places and activities that formed me once will re-form me now that I’m feeling dis-integrated.”

Encounters with Jesus, and with the God we encounter through him, can be disorienting. They can dis-integrate our self-understanding and the values that provide a foundation for our lives. The messages around and within us say to build walls and separate good from bad. God says all that I have made are good. We are taught to distinguish friend from enemy – to love the one and hate the other. God says to love our enemies and bless those who persecute us. We behave as though we can, should, or must perform with righteousness and perfection so that God will love us. God says that we are beloved because God made us, and that any good actions flow from within us out of this reservoir of knowing we are loved.

Disorienting.

And our world tells us Y.O.L.O.  – You Only Live Once! Get everything you can here and now, because this is all that counts. God tells us that death does not win, that life and love are bigger than death. We live in fear. And the Risen Jesus invites us to live in hope and faith instead.

Disorienting, indeed.

And so we go fishing, because we don’t really know what else to do. We stay busy, doing what we know, what is comfortable and feels concrete and solid.

And today’s story tells us this is absolutely OK, because Jesus will come and find us there.

It also says that Jesus will not just leave us alone. Jesus will transform us, and our familiar places.

The 4 resurrection encounters between Jesus and the disciples occur in familiar places. First Jesus appears to Mary Magdelene among the tombs where they had laid Jesus’ body. Mary thus becomes the “Apostle to the Apostles”. Next Jesus appears behind locked doors in an unspecified but familiar home (perhaps the home of the Upper Room in Jerusalem). Then eight days later Jesus appears to them there again, this time with Thomas present. And the final story takes place in Galillee, at the Sea of Tiberias where Jesus first met Simon, Andrew, James and John at their fishing boats and called them to follow him and become “fishers of men.”

All three locations were places of comfort, places of history with Jesus and with one another. They were the places that these disciples might be reminded of their previous encounters with Jesus and the way things used to be.

What are those places for you? Where might you go to remember the way things used to be? What places represent and remind you of your previous encounters with Jesus? Perhaps it is a church campground. Or your childhood church home, or your grandparents’ house, or even here, in this very space. When you arrive in those places, in this place, are you transported to an earlier time and suddenly surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses? Do you see, hear, smell and touch the familiar and have your faith undergirded and your heart comforted during times of distress because of the great heritage and legacy that enfolds you?

IF so, then you understand what the apostles were doing. They were going back to what they knew. Even after they encounter the risen Jesus twice, these guys still don’t really know what to do with themselves, so they, perhaps in stereotypical guy fashion, go fishing.

Let’s pause for another moment and consider this.

These are people who have journeyed with Jesus for three years. He has been in their homes. They have heard and believed his teaching. He has given them power over forces of darkness – power to support healing and transformation in the lives of their neighbors. They witnessed his crucifixion, saw his body laid in the tomb, and now have met him, touched him, eaten with him risen from the dead. And they go fishing. Granted, many a true angler will say that few places bring them closer to God than on the water, focused and attuned to the rhythms of nature. Be that as it may, I don’t think this is what’s going on here.

They have yet to capture (or be captured by…) a vision for their future life and ministry together. And in the absence of a new vision, they just keep doing what they’ve always done. In their previous relationship with Jesus, they were accustomed to him leading the action, and then delegating specific assignments to them. “OK, Peter, I want you to go north, while James and John go south.”

They lacked not only the vision, but the power and the organization to carry out the vision. They had not as yet received the Great Commission about which we read in Matthew 28. They do not understand themselves to be empowered to take initiative in bringing the kingdom of God about which Jesus preached so frequently and for which he taught them to pray. They are still relying on Jesus to initiate and guide all of the work. The Holy Spirit’s anointing, though mentioned by Jesus in John 20:22, has not yet fully come upon them.

In some ways we may be like these disciples just a few weeks after Easter. We have had experiences of Jesus. He has taught us and led us, but we are not sure how to take the initiative. We lack the confidence to forge ahead, trusting that God’s power of resurrection and transformation will be available when we need it. We have celebrated, rejoiced, and worshiped the risen Christ, and now we so easily slip back into our old familiar places, with their activities and relationships still intact.

But the good news and the bad news is that Jesus transforms our familiar places, and the activities and relationships we know there. Jesus does not leave us alone once we have given our lives to him. He makes these old places new, and in the process seeks to make us new.

Perhaps we are like the disciples in another way. We return to the old and familiar, but things don’t work for us the same way anymore. Now that we have encountered the Risen Christ, we simply aren’t able to go back to the way things used to be. We are different, and we now recognize that the world is different, even if we don’t quite know what to do about it. We cast our nets like usual, but catch nothing. Jesus has ruined us for the old ways of being and doing. They no longer satisfy as they once did. The familiar places are transformed, because we are transformed.

And now what? I wish there were three simple steps we could take that would put things back in order. We won’t go back to how things were. The past is gone, never to return. What we do have is practices that can put us in a better posture to receive what God has for us next.

  • Keep showing up. That sounds simple because it is simple. As we saw earlier, it is ok and good and right to return to those familiar places, just don’t expect things to be as they once were. Which brings us to practice #2.
  • Open your heart and mind to something new, or to doing the old things in new ways. If we keep expecting the old ways to work, we will continue to be disappointed. Jesus calls us to something new. He proclaims, “I make all things new!”
  • Do some new things, even if they don’t seem to make sense, or even seem silly. This story represents the second time in the gospels that these professional fishermen had worked all night but caught nothing. Along comes Jesus, who is not a fisherman, and tells them, “Try casting your net on the other side.” Try the opposite of what you’ve been doing. Try it upside down or backwards. Risk failure. Risk looking foolish.

We find ourselves on familiar ground, doing familiar things, but not getting the results we need or want. We look around and realize that though we may not know fully how to walk forward into the future, we cannot go back to the past. That is at times unsettling and even scary, which is why we return to the familiar places. The risen Christ will meet us there. He will meet us here, and he transform our familiar places, and us along with them, so that we can work together to usher in God’s kingdom on earth as it is in heaven, right here in our own communities.

What do you most want to do? What will you do?

My goal in life is to read and write – and through these activities to make a difference. And along side this WORK, to be near or on the water, with my beloveds.

I think I’m wired the way I am for a reason – all pathology aside. My personality and my gifts and my strengths and my abilities and my experiences and my education and my connections and my unique point of view all somehow work together to make me who I am. (perhaps there’s other stuff in there too…)

A colleague and friend asked me several years ago, “What do you most want to do?”
My answer: “Sit on the porch overlooking the water and write.”
“Well,” he asked after a pregnant pause, “What do you need to do in order to do that?”

What indeed.

I also recognize that the VAST MAJORITY of the world’s population have, do, and probably always will work at things to feed and shelter their families that are in no way connected to their passions and dreams and personality. They do what needs to be done. Perhaps it is expressly western privilege that leads me to think I can and should do otherwise.

And, there is plenty of other meaningful work that I find very rewarding. I LOVE congregational ministry. Sermon preparation and delivery, worship planning and leadership, leadership development, teaching, strategic planning, community engagement, pastoral visitation, EVEN MEETINGS. I find meaning and purpose in all of it. The casual conversations at a Thursday morning men’s breakfast coffee klatch at McDonalds are enjoyable and important. This week I led 16 octogenarians and above in a brief service of Eucharist and Ashes. I could tell by their expressions that this was incredibly important to them, and thus an immensely important way for me to spend an hour of my time.

I don’t want to be one of those people who delays the pursuit of life’s passions for retirement, only to drop dead of a heart attack the next week. My ow grandfather died at age 59 on the dais during the hymn of preparation for the sermon on the Monday of Holy Week. I never knew him, but by all accounts he lived a rich and full life and did the things he found important, worthwhile and meaningful. That’s what matters. Whether he had unfulfilled hopes and dreams for himself and others, I don’t know. That’ll be a good conversation with my own father and uncle soon. A neighbor of mine lost his wife of 50+ years 6 months after moving into the first home they ever owned together – he was career military so they’d always lived in base or government owned housing. He’s going on to live a rich full life, but I wonder if they’d have done something differently had they known. I’ve seen so many clergy suffer severe health problems within 1 year of retiring, as if their body said, “Finally, I can rest long enough to be sick because you’re not dragging me around every which way.”

The most important impact I make is in the lives of my wife and two children. That is completely clear for me. There is no argument that can prevail against it.

AND, I think I have something to contribute to the larger world, to the church, and to the conversation about how leaders in ministry can flourish and thrive in the coming decades. This matters, because communities’ health and well-being is greatly impacted by the organizations and institutions within them. Individual and grassroots resilience can overcome immense dysfunction in local institutions. Even so, everyone benefits when local congregations, nonprofits, education, government and businesses are healthy.

And organizations can not be healthy if their leaders are not healthy.

And it is incredibly difficult to be a healthy leader in the midst of a dis-eased institution.

Thus, supporting leaders in today’s institutions matters. It creates direct impact in the real lives of individuals and households throughout our communities, regardless of population size or demographic diversity.

If I could find a way to impact that system from my study, I would. At present, I don’t know how to do that other than by pastoring a local congregation, serving in nonprofit leadership, offering coaching and consulting, and showing up in local communities. If you or someone you know wants to pay me to research and write perhaps in an international think tank on leadership impact, please let me know.

Until then, I look forward to seeing you in church, in a coworking space, or at the local coffee shop.

Getting noticed, or not.

I desire to be noticed
not for ego’s sake,
but for the sake
of influence.

I want to made a difference
because I’ve been told
that’s why I’m here.

They’ve told me
that my impact
is measured against
my audience.

“Mine is
bigger
than yours…”

Personally,
I’d just as soon
sit with my books,
my pen and paper,
play with ideas,
and live with words.

I’d walk in the woods,
sit in cafes and pubs
commune
with a few choice friends.

I’d linger over
small batch,
fresh roast,
single malt,
meritage.

I’d think my thoughts,
dream my dreams,
weave my tapestries
of hope and love
and transformation.

“Vocation requires an audience.”
This I believe is true.

But perhaps
the audience could be
a tree
a bird
just one friend
a smallish room
of patient listeners.

Impact.
Deep or wide?
There’s a fountain
flowing deep AND wide.

Some go wide.
Others go deep.
Must we all do both?

Must I do both?
Can I do both?
Is it my burden to bear?

I think
the burden
is to show up
fully
whenever and wherever.

I said it wasn’t ego.
Perhaps I’m wrong.
Perhaps ego wants impact.

“Cast your bread upon the waters.”
…but…
“Don’t cast your pearls before swine.”
…then…
“The swine ran headlong down into the water.”

Can I let go
of the desire
to make a difference?
Should I?

What to do?

I find myself jealous of others
who find success and visibility.
Today its #realclergybios.
Truly, I’m overjoyed for Elizabeth & Mihee
Glad that the stories are being told
and heard.

And yet I’ve been struggling for years
to figure out how
to get an audience
for this very conversation.
And they got one without even trying.
(Yes, I know that’s unfair and untrue.)
Their visibility far outstretched their reach.

I rejoice with them and for them.
AND
I’m left wondering.
Am I supposed to DO SOMETHING
to create broader visibility and impact?

I hustle
for opportunity
that seems elusive.

Because it matters.
Ministry matters.

I really care about the lives of ministers.
Clergy and lay leaders
some well trained, others less so
some immensely gifted, others less so.
All longing to be faithful
to make a difference
to change the world
to see the kingdom and the kin-dom come.

There is so much need
and so few resources
and so little help
or hope.

We can.
God will.

Perhaps I can rest in that.