Commissioned

18 Members of our church will be leaving on Thursday morning for Tuscaloosa, for our Tuscaloosa III adult mission trip.  They were prayed over and commissioned last Sunday.  I’m proud of their willingness to get up and go- serving in Christ’s name where they are needed.

On Sunday, FPC will welcome 26 new members- the confirmation class of 2012.  These eighth graders will profess their faith and become full, voting, adult members of our community.  They will confirm their faith and be commissioned for a life of service to Jesus Christ.  Confirmands are required to memorize the answer to question 4 of the Study Catechism of the Presbyterian Church.  It is one that explains well the Christian vocation- one that I think we all should learn and work to live. 

Q:  How do you live in the communion of the Holy Spirit?

A:  By the Holy Spirit, I am made one with the Lord Jesus Christ.  I am baptized into Christ’s body, the church.  As a member of this community, I trust in God’s Word, share in the Lord’s Supper, and turn to God in prayer.  As I grow in grace and knowledge, I am led to do the good works that God intends for my life.  

…Whether acknowledging our faith or living it in service, members of our church family are showing that they are following God’s call and commission for their life: stepping up and stepping out in faith as servants of the Living God.  

In the 1500’s, John Calvin wrote this prayer of commissioning, entitled Since Thou Has Chosen Us to Serve Thee (language updated). 

Almighty God, you have seen fit to take us to be your priests, and have chosen us while we were not only in a lowly condition but even profane- and strangers to all holiness, and you have dedicated us to yourself by your Holy Spirit.  Grant now that we may offer ourselves to you as a holy sacrifice.  

 

Let us remember your charge and call.  

Let us consecrate ourselves to your service and so present to you our effort and our labor.  

 

May your name really be glorified in us and may our ingrafting into the Body of your only Son be truly evident.  May your Name perpetually be praised by the entire Body of Christ, the church.  Amen.

Let us all hear our commission, the same one as our mission team and our confirmands:  “May your lives be blessed and your labors fruitful, as your offer yourself, gladly, in the service of Jesus Christ.”

 

Painting is “The Great Commission” by John Larsen

Looking for Life in All the Wrong Places

They said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but is risen.”(Luke 24:5)

You’ve probably seen them — those tall, brightly-colored, fan-driven balloon figures waving and bouncing in front of a car lot or pay-day check cashing company. They bob and weave curbside with lots of herky-jerky movement in an effort to grab our attention. These balloon people are really animated, but they are not alive.

Sometimes, our lives are like that. We fill our days with frantic, even frenzied, activity to convince ourselves and others that we are really living, but no matter how lively we try to appear, we are just going through the motions. This can be our malady; what Tony Campolo calls a pervasive “deadness.”

Do the words of Shakespeare’s cynical, disheartened Macbeth describe our days? Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player That struts and frets his hour upon the stage And then is heard no more: it is a tale Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, Signifying nothing.

The world is full of sound and fury, and folks looking for meaning and purpose through relationships and activitites that are shallow, self-indulgent, even self-destructive. We can look for life in all the wrong places — we can fill our days with lots of noise, entertainment, emotional fireworks, achievements and awards, intoxicated excess, adrenalin-inducing stunts and relationships, on and on, yet we cannot fill the emptiness at our core. So we keep looking for something that will make us feel really alive.

Even churches can go through the motions, engaging in ministry and worship filled with self-focused noise and motion, or repetitive rituals and traditions, but empty of Spirit-given life and liveliness.

The angels’ question to the women at Jesus’ tomb that first Easter is directed to us every day: Why do you seek the living among the dead? Why do you look for life in the wrong places?

Neither lots of “sound and fury” nor going through the motions signfies life — looking anywhere or to anyone other than the risen Christ is ultimately a dead end. Rather, if we look to “take hold of the life that really is life” (I Timothy 6:19), we look to Jesus Christ and the power of his resurrection.

Sheltered

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As the days grow longer and the weather gets better, I find that instead of feeling like there’s more time in the day, I feel like there is less.  I optimistically look to spring as a time to start something new and a time to get back into those things that I let winter serve as my excuse to slack off from. I begin, and I start, and I do– until I find myself moving ever faster, trying to do even more things at once, and feeling even more out of control.

 What’s happened?! Why am I running in 3 directions at once?  What did I need at the grocery?  I start making lists in my head, trying to outline what is expected of me that day- and in my frustration, the Spirit of God breaks in and reminds me to pray.

            I pray, “God, what’s going on here?  Where am I?  Where are you?”

God acknowledges my frustration and gives me answers in the voice of the Psalmist:

From the ends of the earth I call to you,

I call as my heart grows faint;

lead me to the rock that is higher than I.

For you have been my refuge,

a strong tower against the foe.

I long to dwell in your tent forever

and take refuge in the shelter of your wings.    

-Psalm 61:2-4

 It’s as if God is saying, “Settle down and come to me.  Let me shelter you under my wings.  Put your fears and worries aside.  Remember, I can use even the craziest day to do incredible things in and through you.  You may have a chance, today, to do something for me that your calm and ordinary life doesn’t allow.  Instead of complaining about life being out of (your) control, just say yes to all that I’m up to.”  

And so, with joy-even in my frustration- I cry out, “Blessed be the name of the Lord!”

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Faith and Easter

Every year between Good Friday (the day we remember Jesus’ death) and Easter Sunday (when we celebrate with joy his resurrection) I find myself asking questions.

How did Jesus’ body resusitate- how does that worK?  Was he really dead- all the way dead?  How do we know that he came back to life?  What did it look like?  Was he the same as before he died, really?  When this happens, I remember something written by author and pastor Frederick Buechner:

“Almost nothing that makes any difference can be proved.  I can prove the law of gravity by dropping a shoe out a window.  I can prove that the world is round, if I’m clever at that sort of thing- that the radio works, that light travels faster than sound.  I cannot prove that life is better than death or love better than hate.  I cannot prove the greatness of the great or the beauty of the  beautiful.  Faith cannot prove a damned thing.  Or a blessed thing either.”

Paul Tournier, the Swiss physician turned theologian once put the point this way:

“Faith knows itself to be weak and uncertain, and yet like a reed it will survive the storm better than the proud oak. It knows that in this world it can never penetrate all the unfathomable mysteries of God, and yet, however tiny the light it receives from the Lord, this is the only light that can really show the way.”

These days aren’t about they questions; they aren’t about the answers.  They aren’t about how it worked.  They aren’t about proof.  Christ’s death and resurrection are about shouting from the rooftops the good news of salvation.  Christ’s death and resurrection are about embracing this witness in our lives and living as servants of a servant Lord.  Death has lost its sting.  The world is alive because he was. 

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.

-Hebrews 11:1

Thanks be to God that I don’t have to ‘get it fully’ to get what God has done for me in Jesus.  Thanks be to God that I don’t have to ‘get it fully’ to get IT (grace) fully.  Thanks be to God, even on this, darkest day.