Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Baptismal citizenship

As I write this in my office, I hear the sound of U.S. Census worker training taking place upstairs. It’s the rustling of tables, moving of chairs. It is the sound of good stewardship. I love that our space can be used by the community. When Cub Scouts or a homeowner’s association uses Amazing Grace property as a meeting place, it shows our neighbors that something is going on here. It also provides an evangelism opportunity. The more people who have some sort of contact with Amazing Grace, the better.

Having census people at Amazing Grace reminds me that I need to fill out a census form and get counted. I am amazed at the effort and work that it takes to count everyone in the United States. If the government can collect that information about us, imagine how well God knows the billions and billions of people who have ever lived. A psalmist writes:

O Lord, you have searched me and known me. You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from far away. You search out my path and my lying down, and are acquainted with all my ways (Psalm 139:1-3).

With the U.S. Census going on, and with recent legislation in Arizona about immigration, there is a lot of talk in our cultural and political milieu about who has what papers when and who is a citizen where. I’m reminded of what Paul tells the congregation at Phillipi: “But our citizenship is in heaven, and it is from there that we are expecting a Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Phil 3:20).

When it comes down to it, our citizenship in heaven is what matters. We are all children of God, but I wonder how might we prove this citizenship if we got pulled over? By our love? By how we treat our neighbor? By a baptismal certificate?

My own baptismal certificate is on my office wall. It’s a white piece of paper with blue ballpoint pen writing. It’s not beautifully illustrated with handsome calligraphy like some of those I’ve seen from a generation or so back. I know people who have lost their baptismal certificates, but they are still loved by God.

On May 9, we will welcome another person into the Body of Christ. When I pour water on that baby boy’s head, we will witness again God’s love being poured out.

Our citizenship in the Kingdom is sealed by the cleansing waters of baptism and by what God does for us.
Papers—we don't need no stinking papers.
We're all documented by God, even without a baptismal certificate.
We're all a part of the reign of God.
We're sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked with the cross of Christ forever.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Radical hospitality radio

I know that I talk about welcome and hospitality very frequently. Apparently, some people are hearing what I’ve been saying. Jackie, a long-time member of Amazing Grace and regular reader of this blog, functions as a guest blogger and shares a story about radical hospitality from this past weekend:

Ever since Pastor Paul arrived here (18 months now) he has talked and written about "radical hospitality"—about our church becoming a more welcoming and inviting church, and for us old timers (of which I am one) to see where just maybe others don't see us as we see ourselves. Likewise, he told us this story: his uncle was visiting him here in SA, came to our church and we were happy to meet him, and then they visited another larger church in our area and he said no one came up to offer assistance, or even acknowledge their presence in any way. Get the picture?

WEELLLLLLL This Sunday morning on my way to church between 7:30 and 8 o'clock a.m., I had WOAI 1200 on my car radio, and I believe it was a Baptist church broadcasting at that time, when I heard the Preacher say, "Radical hospitality. You are going to be hearing that phrase a lot in the near future: "radical hospitality." I just about drove off the road! Then he went on to say that some visitors had recently been to their campus, and no one offered any assistance or even made eye contact (sound familiar?) AND the Preacher was sure there would be those in the congregation that had been there longer than he who would disagree and say, “Oh but we are a friendly and welcoming church,” and maybe needed to take another look at things (maybe?) WEEEEELLLLLL by this time I had pulled over to the side of the road, listened carefully to see that this was not my pastor's voice and message coming through my car radio!!!! I just KNEW that God was channeling him just for me and about then the preacher gave an altar call to close the program and I KNEW then Pastor Paul was NOT being channeled thru my car radio. I, and I mean I, got the picture!!!!. AMEN.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

“Welcome” or “Go Home”

At Amazing Grace, we often have kids from the neighborhood wander on to church property, often to use our playground. I struggle with issues of liability and supervision, but I think it is a great opportunity for young people to feel welcome. I pass on this wonderful story about congregational hospitality from a member of Amazing Grace:

Sitting on the Amazing Grace patio is always a spiritual adventure. The other day, as I was talking with someone ordering Angel Food, I noticed a small head peeking around the side of the building. It would peek and duck, peek and duck. I walked over to see to whom it belonged and was asked, “Are you a go home person or a welcome person?” When I answered that I am a welcome person, he said, “Good” and went running across the lawn. I hope I will always be a welcome person.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

A week of weeks

Here we are in the season of Easter. It’s more than just a day of jelly beans, lilies, and fancy hats. It is a whole season from Easter to Pentecost. At 50 days, it’s a week of weeks. During these weeks, I plan on focusing my preaching on the book Acts and lessons from the early church. To help us keep celebrating Easter, here are some photos from this past weekend:

In my white chasuble, I light the new fire for the Vigil of Easter. It was a bit windy, so our individual candles didn't work as well when we processed with them. The fire was made from past Advent and Christmas greenery, reminding us of the cycle of Jesus' birth, death, and resurrection.

The pulpit with our new gold parament for Easter.

A banner with "alleluia" and handprints created at the Fast Night Lenten kick-off in February.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

This is the night! What is the Easter Vigil, anyway?

This is the night!

This is the night we remember what God has done. This is the night we will light the Pascal candle. This is the night we will again hear about what God has done. This is the night that we sing Alleluia once more. At Amazing Grace, we will hang up a banner with handprints and alleluias that was made at a church event before Lent started. This is the night that Christ has triumphed over the tomb.

Some of you might be wondering, “Why are we singing Alleluia now? Is this too early? Didn’t Jesus rise on Easter Sunday? Why Saturday night?”

In the ancient Jewish and early Christian calendar systems, the day begins not at sunrise or at midnight, but at sundown the night before. That’s why Sabbath-keeping Orthodox Jews start their Sabbath on Friday nights. So, for us, in this ancient calendar system, we are entering into Easter.

The service we celebrate tonight might be unfamiliar to some Lutherans. There has been a strong movement in recent years by Lutherans in the United States to reclaim the Easter Vigil from the inner bowels of liturgy and theology books. For example, it was only in the minister’s edition of the 1978 Lutheran Book of Worship, but is in the pew edition of the 2006 Evangelical Lutheran Worship.

But in the early centuries of Christianity, this was the night. This was the one time for new Christians to be welcomed into the life of the community through the waters of Baptism. So tonight, we get wet. We will remember our baptism and get sprinkled with water dripping from an evergreen bough. Still soaking from the sacramental rite, those early Christians would then share the feast of Holy Communion. We, too, share this sacred meal tonight.

While practicing for last year’s Vigil, some of the children noticed that we left out a verse from Rise and Shine—the “floodie, floodie” song about Noah and the flood. We did not sing:
This is the end of our story, story. Everything is hunky-dory-dory.

We left it out because it is not the end of the story. God’s story of promise and love does not end when the animals come onto the landy-landy. It is a new beginning—a fresh start.

God’s story does not end when the children of Israel trod with unmoistened foot across the Red Sea waters. It is a new beginning—a fresh start.

God’s story does not end when Jonah gets puked onto the shores on Ninevah. It is a new beginning—a fresh start.

God’s story does not end when Jesus shares the meal and washes his disciple’s feet.
God’s story does not end when Jesus gets betrayed and arrested.
God’s story does not end when Jesus hangs on the cross.
God’s story does not even end when Jesus says “It is finished.”
God’s story does not end when the women find that Jesus has risen.

It is a new beginning—a fresh start.
God’s story keeps on keeping on.
God’s story is the Resurrection.
God’s story is new life.
God’s story becomes our story.

As Christians we gather on Easter because we know that in a broken world, we need the promise of a God who breakes into our story.
Christ is Risen. Alleluia.
Amen. Amen.