Sunday, January 1, 2012

God’s Abundant Family and…You!...

How big is God’s family? Perhaps you’ll say, “It’s huge! Abundantly, gargantuanly, ginormously HUGE.” And that’s about right. The basic claim of Christian belief, I think, is that the God of Creation, our Divine Parent, is best defined with one word: Love. Which applies eternally. To all.
So the family table at God’s house doesn’t lack for people! The question for Christian churches, then, can appear simple, deceptively so- Does God’s eternally abundant grace and love set the places at our tables? Or are we limiting the invite list, removing chairs for people we don’t deem…acceptable?
The honest answer for most churches is no and yes, respectively. Even if we wish otherwise. Part of that’s our human penchant for sin and fear. But another part is that we’re human, i.e. limited. We simply don’t have God’s eternal stores of compassion and forgiveness. In God’s world, there’s “no Jew nor Gentile, slave nor free, male nor female” (Galatians 3:28), for Christ opened his arms wide to all, reconciling the world to God. In our worlds, however, we’ve doctor’s appointments, family matters, differences of opinion and values, all of which sap our energy for including everyone into our family of faith, or estrange us from folk who don’t like us.

Nevertheless, Plymouth Creek decided last January to become “a beacon of Christian openness and service in the Northwestern Suburbs”; to shine bright the light of eternal love Christ offers to everyone. And a year into making that vision a reality, the results are exciting! A community garden. New ministries to one another (the bus) and with the community (IOCP Service Night). Higher worship attendance. What a year 2011 was! What a year 2012 will be!! Yet there’s only so much we can do, only so wide we can open our hearts and arms. Not because we want less. It’s just we’re limited; we’re human. So while God’s family may be HUGE, our task is to focus our efforts, to decide what “open” and “service” means for us.
Because it could look different in different places, right? I’ve been to church-sponsored homeless dinners where, before eating, everyone had to listen to a sermon. It was service, sure, but felt needlessly underhanded. I’ve also been to churches who opened their communion table for people to receive God’s bounty, but only if you recited their preferred Creed, voted for their designated candidate, married the right person their designated number of times, or received baptism in their sanctioned way. I couldn’t stomach the elements of Christ’s body and blood in those churches, though I’m sure they’re included in God’s family. It’s just, I wanted something different from where I worship and serve God.
So as your pastor, I wonder what ‘Christian openness and service’ means to you? All year, in fact, I’ll ask that question in a variety of ways. Which may not always be comfortable, alas. After all, we’re not the same; we think differently about some things. But what makes the Disciples branch of the Christian Family Tree so powerful is our commitment to unity, while honoring differences. Nevertheless, to focus our limited resources for ministry, our church should decide what ‘openness’ and ‘service’ means to us. And, therefore, what we’ll teach to families and children we welcome to our church.
But it won’t only be uncomfortable. Indeed, it should be spiritually enriching, even fun! And to begin, we’re doing another Cinema Sermon Series. Starting January 15, and for the following three Sundays, my morning message will pair scripture with a movie. First up- The Help, then On the Water Front, Babette’s Feast and finally, How To Train Your Dragon. And I chose these movies because each speaks about family. Particularly, they’ll challenge our understandings of the boundaries and blessings of God’s Abundant Family. Then, hopefully, help us better define our personal roles in making that family a good one. So please join me for the series, and in more urgently extending God’s love to all. For many beyond our walls don’t know how great that love is, how deep and wide, open and eternal. But they can- will- if we do our part, and shine!

Grace and Peace,


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