Protected: Bulletin for May 16, 2021

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Go and Tell it On the Mountain

The Christmas story is simply the best story ever told and this for many reasons. 

First, it was written when the fullness of time had finally come round, and all the very best stories of humankind that had been told and retold throughout the ages found their fulfillment in it.  Then too, it was told in a language that all people could understand.  Its glorious message was proclaimed in the heavens by a star of unusual wonder that spoke through divine light to the small, still point in every person’s heart, deep calling unto deep.  The Christmas story came first to the descendants of Abraham who carried its essence in their hearts for hundreds of years, but its promises were for every person of good will, the nations who would find their true blessing through the seed of Abraham.

The first murmurings were heard in Paradise, its veiled glimmer of hope spoken in mercy to a fallen man and his wife as they passed the cherubim with the flaming sword.  It was repeated in the thunder on the cloud on Sinai and echoed in the ram’s horns of the priests and shouts of the people and the rumble of Jericho’s walls falling in upon themselves.  It was given a clear, jubilant voice in the psalms of David and gravely intoned in the halls of Solomon the wise.  It became a melancholy sigh in the breasts of the elders of Israel as they sat by the rivers of Babylon and thought on Jerusalem, their harps hanging still at their side.

The length and width and depth of the Christmas story were established in the highest courts of heaven, yet its working out was upon the earth as thrones and dominions and principalities were moved by the hand of God as characters in its plot.  Angels longed to look into it, and demons trembled at its telling.  Sometimes it was faint, as a small still voice might be upon the winds, other times strong and vibrant as the glory of the Lord bent near to touch the earth.  Yet it was always the same, the glorious promises of restoration, reconciliation, and deliverance. 

It was chanted into the whole world at its creation as the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy.  Yet its universal message was somehow personal, it was as if each man’s, woman’s, and child’s name was somehow written into its telling.

And that brings me to the whole point of what I am trying to say.  If it remains only a story, even the best story which has ever been put into words by the inspiration of the divine Spirit, its words can all too soon fade away as the Christmas season turns, as the wonderment of light and evergreen and celebration gives way to the more pressing concerns of our lives.  It is just then that we must shake ourselves and remember that what gives this story an enduring meaning is the fact that it is true, and that somehow we were always meant to be a part of it. 

The Apostle John said it this way:

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled concerning the word of life….that which we have seen and heard we declare to you, that you may also have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ.  And these things we write to you that your joy may be full.”

-1 John 1:1, 3-4

Only when we wrestle with our doubts and expectations in this season, only when we search to find our own names written by God’s hand in His book of life wherein this story is fully told, only when we empty our hearts and turn them expectantly towards Bethlehem do we begin to grasp the magnificence of God’s promises to us in this season.  Emmanuel is come to us, and He bears gifts for us the like of which we have never imagined.  It is then, on that road to Bethlehem, bathed in a divine light that streams from the very presence of God that we must hear again the message the angels proclaim, “I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people.  For there is born to YOU this day in the city of David a Savior, Who is Christ the Lord…Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace, good will toward me.”  We have no choice but to go with the shepherds to see this thing that has come to pass, which the Lord has made known to us.

And having seen, let us believe.  And having believed, let us handle, and touch, and receive all that this Word of Life offers.  Let us share it with our families, let us instruct our children in its telling with reverence.  And then, when the season draws to a close and we must turn from its glory, let us go on, not forgetting, but carrying the story with us as a word of hope to a world in desperate need of its message.  And so we will become yet another chapter of the story, proclaimed this year with everlasting hope and peace into this time and place in which we live.

Do I Need to Go to Church to Follow Jesus?: A Conversation

The following is a conversation between Pastor Joshua Moore of Red Door Church in South Royalton and Dan Isadore (M.Div.), a recent graduate of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and Associate Director of the Pittsburgh Experiment.  Josh and Dan hope to have regular discussions on various theological topics and important issues facing Christians today.

Dan: So here’s a loaded question for you Josh: do I need to go to church to follow Jesus?

Josh: This is a good question.  Probably the first thing that comes to mind is the need to define what we mean by the word church.  Is the church a building; just brick and mortar?  Or is the church just another 501c3 non-profit organization that specializes in helping facilitate and organize Christian spirituality?  Or is the church something else?

The Bible doesn’t give us dictionary like answers about these sorts of questions–it’s not a book of definitions–but what the Bible does tell us about the church is that it is a body of people who believe on the Lord Jesus Christ.  The apostle Paul uses the imagery of the human body to describe the church in his first surviving letter to the Corinthian church.  He says that we are all members of the same body and each member serves a particular function, namely, to build up the body for the common good.

So this gets back to the way you phrased the question: if the church is mainly a collection of believers, then what do we mean when we say “go to church”?

The phrase “go to church” is couched in an understanding of what the church is that may be unbiblical. That’s not to say that there aren’t ways to use the phrase that are appropriate, of course, but for most folks (at least in my experience), the statement is a reflection of what they believe about following Jesus and is therefore problematic.  Because for so many today, following Christ is not really following a person but rather adhering to a list of rules one of which is attending this thing we call church on Sunday morning.

What this means is that they aren’t really following Jesus at all.  They are trapped in man-made religion which is always works oriented; do this and don’t do that and you’ll achieve salvation or enlightenment or you’ll have good Karma or whatever.  “Going to church” for these folks is just a part of the do-this-do-that system.  But this is the very antithesis to the teaching of Jesus.

However another important aspect to this question is context.  In New England where I am stationed at the moment, most people take it for granted that church is not a rule on the list that must be followed if one is to be saved. Up here what you find is that people struggle to see the purpose of church altogether.  Gathering together with other believers on Sunday morning or during the week for public worship, the reading of Scriptures, prayers, and the celebration of the sacraments, is in many cases seen as an unimportant footnote in the Christian life.  The hard part up here is convincing people of the importance of “going to church.”

Dan: Why is it like that in New England?

Josh: Well I’m not entirely sure. I’ve only been here a short time, but here’s my hunch: One of the most deeply rooted values in New England is independence.  People don’t want to believe or recognize that they have a need for others.

And as I understand the teaching of Jesus, I think a healthy realization of our need for other people is one of the core, proper motivations for weekly, or at least regular church attendance. Its not to believe that in gathering with other believers I’m somehow “saved” in a legal sense, but its the deeply rooted belief that without the help of other believers and the grace bestowed upon me in the exercise of the sacraments and the public proclamation of the good news week after week and the blessing of hearing others pray and so on, I simply will not persevere to the end.

To try and condense what I’m saying for you: When a person believes deep within their spirit that they need other believers and that having others believers involved in their lives intimately is one of God’s ordained means of working out our salvation and granting us the ability to persevere until the end, I think they will begin to find Church a very significant part of their lives.  In that sense I think that “going to church” is an indispensable part of following Jesus.

Dan: It sounds like you are saying that we need to be intimately connected to other people if we are to follow Christ; that the Christian life is not something that we are able to do on our own?

Josh: Yes, that’s what I’ve been saying in a nutshell.

Dan: So what if I’m not connected to others? Is that even possible in our own day when connectivity seems more readily available than ever?  Is there a “bare minimum” in this walking alongside of each other?  Or is the search for a bare minimum misdirected?

Josh: This is a legit question. In today’s world where real connectedness seems to evade us.  Despite the fact that more and more people are living in major cities and despite the preponderance of social media, intimate relationships are harder and harder to find.  So, good question.

When we look at the Bible what we see is a God that works in the context of human relationships.  From the very  beginning God made man in His image.  God is relational (Trinity), so we are relational.  The Trinity shows us that relationship is a very part of the being of God.

So relationships are not optional; they are indivisible from our design after the image of God our maker. This is true of all humans whether believers in Christ or not.  Believers, however, make it their life’s goal to conform to God’s design and not to contradict it.  So I would argue that a life of ongoing, intentional, reclusiveness and isolation is contrary to the design of God.

Dan: Believers, in other words, are those who embrace their design as relational persons and seek to live accordingly.

Josh: It’s no less than that anyway.  Speaking of the bare minimum question, that’s tough because each human is different and requires a different measure of real connectedness to thrive and to fulfill God’s calling upon their lives.

Dan: Could we say this then, that relationships are not optional for Christians, not because they get you a box checked off, but because they are more like a door?  In other words, relationships are the very stuff of Salvation, of living life with God.  To forsake relationships is to forsake Christianity, because Christianity is about embracing who God has made us to be: His image, which is persons in relationship sharing deeply in each other’s life in God.

So maybe the better question might be something like, “How do I connect with others and with God in my unique circumstances?”

Josh: Yes, because the God-man Jesus coming to earth reveals to us the intensity with which God desires relationship with his creation; relationships are fundamental to Christian faith.

Dan: That really is why he came: for relationship.

Josh: Amen.