Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Our Daily Work Matthew 16:24

A painting by the twentieth century artist, Stanley Spencer, conveys the truth that sacrificial loving is our daily work. Spencer lived in the small English village of Cookham and did all of his religious paintings there. Cookham became the location, for instance, of his painting, "Christ Carrying His Cross." The usual shops line the main street -- bakery, butcher, tea room, and others. People are all around, going about their business and there, walking up the street is Jesus, carrying his cross.

The striking thing about the picture, says Daniel Taylor who saw it in a London show of Spencer's paintings, is that no one in the street is looking at him. "All are going about their business, including two workmen following behind Christ carrying ladders that intersect each other in a way that mirrors Christ's cross ... . Spencer depicts Christ as he does -- walking through the streets of an ordinary village with his cross, like the workmen with their ladders -- to show ... that 'sacrificial loving is daily work, and joyful work at that.' Jesus is just doing his job (or the job, as Spencer insists), the thing he came to do ...." (Daniel Taylor. In Search of Sacred Places, 51-52).

Jesus had a job to do. Even as a boy he knew this, for he told his parents when they found him in the temple, "I must be about my Father's business." Later, on three different occasions, he told his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and be crucified. Then, in Luke 9:51 we are told that "He set his face (or was determined) to go to Jerusalem" -- and to the cross. Sacrificial loving was his work. He had a job to do.

And so do we. In the painting two workmen follow Jesus carrying ladders that intersect to look like a cross. Its as if they are following his admonition in Matthew 16:24, "If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow me."

In the painting all of this takes place in the center of human activity -- on main street -- amidst the busyness of ordinary pursuits. This is where living by the cross becomes meaningful, not just in church or in a separated place, but in everyday life. On the job, in the home, on the playground -- sacrificial loving is our daily work.

We are reminded of this each Sunday at the Lord's Table when we take the stuff of everyday life, the fruit of the vine and bread and hear once more his words: "This is my body ... this is my blood ... for you."

Thursday, August 23, 2007

His Broken People 2 Corinthians 6:9-11

If this seems a little strange at first, bear with me. I want to begin with one of Shel Silverstein's humorous poems, but one that leads to a profound concept:

Hector the Collector
Hector the Collector collected bits of string
Collected dolls with broken heads and rusty bells that would not ring.
Pieces out of picture puzzles, bent-up nails and ice-cream sticks,
Old chipped vases, half shoelaces, Gatlin' guns that wouldn't shoot,
Leaky boats that wouldn't float and stopped up horns that wouldn't toot.
Butter knives that had no handles, copper keys that fit no locks,
Rings that were too small for fingers, dried-up leaves and patched-up socks.
Worn out belts that had no buckles, 'lectric trains that had no tracks,
Airplane models, broken bottles, three-legged chairs and cups with cracks.
Hector the Collector loved these things with all his soul --
Loved them more than shining diamonds, loved them more than glistenin' gold.
Hector called to all the people, "Come and share my treasure trunk!"
And all the silly sightless people came and looked ...
and called it junk.
(Shell Silverstein. Where the Sidewalk Ends)
Jesus tended to collect broken people, people who were marred and scarred by failings of all kinds. Peter the impetuous, Simon the insurgent, Matthew the tax collector, a woman of the streets, and many others. Later when Paul looked at the composition of the church in Corinth he said to them:
"Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor male prostitutes, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you." Sounds a little like Hector the Collector. God gathered a bunch of broken people, sinners, and called them saints, for as Paul went on to say: "But you were washed, ... sanctified ... justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God." As much as Hector loved his collection, God loves us more -- and the "silly sightless" world doesn't understand.
But here we are, washed by the blood of Christ and in the waters of baptism, gathered at this table as his broken people made whole by the power of Jesus Christ. If I may quote Paul again, "Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift" (2 Corinthians 9:15).

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

'GO -- YOU ARE SENT OUT" John 20:21

On the first day of the week, after the resurrection, Jesus met with his disciples, very likely in the upper room where the Last Supper took place, and reminded them of their commission: "As the Father has sent me, I also send you."

That commission was uppermost in my mind last week because I attended the Week of Missions at Winema, a beach-front conference center on the central coast of Oregon. Among the missionaries were Bernie and Kelly Bledsoe from Kansas who serve with the Christian Missionary Fellowship in the Ivory Coast, West Africa. He is a Doctor and she assists in the clinic they operate. He moved us deeply with his passion for working with those infected with HIV and Aids. Mike and Lida Sweeney, with Pioneer Bible Translators in Papua New Guenea, are truly pioneers in a sometimes hostile environment. He is now the professor of missions at Emmanuel School of Religion in Tennessee. We also heard reports of work among Russians and Mongols in Irkutsk, Russia, among Chinese in Hong Kong, and new church planting in New England.

As I thought about the missionary messages at the conference it occurred to me that the Lord's Supper is missionary in nature. Not that everyone who partakes is meant to go off to Kenya or some other place. Rather, in the generic sense, as we partake we receive the benefits of God's missionary action in Sending Christ, and we are reminded once again that we are God's "sent out" people.

One of the names that came to be used for the Lord's Supper when Greek replaced Latin reflects the missionary significance of the supper. Sometime late in the second or early in the third century Latin replaced Greek as the language use in the church. Tom Wright explains, "...the end of the meal would be signaled by the person presiding saying, 'Go -- you are sent out.' This ... is a powerful part of the whole event, as those who have fed upon the death and risen life of King Jesus are equipped to serve him in the world. The Latin for this phrase is, 'ite -- missa est.' From this there developed the word 'Mass', the meal that ends with this sending-out, this commissioning" (Tom Wright, The Meal Jesus Gave Us, 36).

While we do not call this event by a Latin name, we recognize its connection to the great commission of Jesus to "go into all the world and preach the gospel." Each time we partake we are involved in and commit ourselves once more to God's mission in some way.

However, I fear that we have lost this sense of being sent out -- commissioned -- perhaps by moving the Lord's Supper away from the end of the service and highlighting the sermon. It might be well for us at times to have the Lord's Supper last and recapture the sense of mission it contains.

On this first day of the week as we meet with him at his table, may we also hear him saying to us, "Go -- you are sent out" -- to be my people in this world.

(Used at Twin Oaks Christian Church, August 12, 2007).