Sunday, February 01, 2009

Doesn't happen often, but...

Today I went to church at a local congregation. The Covenant Presbyterian Church is a new building housing a mature community of faith. The new church was built in a nook of two major roads that pass by our house, and I have been driving past it for nearly four years as the site was claimed, as construction began and finished and finally as the place "opened" for worship not too long ago.

It was a treat to simply walk into church as a participant, and the gift of just being able to sit, worship and pray as a citizen of the kingdom was a blessing as well. I do love the gift of service as a priest to the church, but as one of my professors said it best-"You strive as a person of faith to get to this place of leading worship, only to realize that your opportunity to simply be in church has now been given up to that service." Having the rare moment of being one who worships instead of being one who leads is not to be missed. Today was that rare moment.

The church I visited was quite different in its practice from my tradition. The gathering of people in the church's greeting area was similar, but instead of hearing organ music coming from the sanctuary doors, I heard the sounds of a praise band warming up. Guitar, bass, piano and drums...backup singers and mandolin, all doing their thing as I moved from the front doors to the usher to pick up a bible and service leaflet.

The service kicked off with a few songs of praise, after a welcome from the worship leader. We then moved into a confession of faith-with the leader inviting us to recite with him the Apostle's Creed. After an offering, a pastoral prayer, more songs and the dismissal of the kids to Sunday School, the head pastor came up to preach/teach.

His passage was from the first section of Paul's letter to the Colossians. Again, it is good to sit and listen, rather than to be tasked with preaching nearly every Sunday. More words from mentors came to mind, "You can't preach with integrity if you aren't also listening to good preaching." This was good preaching.

Several things stick out from his sermon. One was a slant on Colossians that I had not heard in a very long while-and not from a Christian, but from a Buddhist teacher. The preacher focused on the idea that Paul's mission to Ephesus was the first seed of the Church coming to Colossae. A teacher by the name of Epaphras was the vehicle of transmission. Paul preached to him in Ephesus and thereby the Gospel came to Colossae. Paul's greeting to the Church in that community is one in which he recognizes children in faith who have come to Christ not through his direct teaching, but by the good seed of the kingdom laid down by him in another. Transmission is paramount in Buddhist teaching, but often lost in Western Christian thought. To hear such a strong depiction of this concept of transmission was like a breath of fresh air on a humid day in summer.

He didn't stop there with the image. He challenged us with an invitation to understand ourselves as heirs, not just of the kingdom, but also of the Church as it descends through time. "Do you know of Billy Graham?" Of course, and hands went up. "How about Mordecai Ham?" Two or three...he was the preacher who witnessed and received the conversion of Graham when he gave his life to Christ. "How about the farm hand who convinced Billy Graham to go to the service that day?"

We too often forget that the see cast into us is something to be passed along. We also forget too often the many, many people who have been our teachers-who have given us that transmission of faith that Paul talks about in his letter to the Colossians. At least, until he reminds us.

I caught myself thinking back to the many people who have witnessed the faith to me through my years on this planet. Some have been teachers in the Church. Others were my "students." All were apostles, and some were even aware of that gift given them by the Holy Spirit.

The preacher culminated the sermon with the, well-only one way to say it, the accusation that we accept our status as saints, as heirs of the kingdom. Good news, but with a twist, because now our status puts us under an obligation-to live in a hope founded in Christ. That hope creates radical change in us, and through us. It opens us up and does more through us than we can "ever ask or imagine." It will also, the preacher promised, offend how we-and the church around us-is naturally configured. Hearing, receiving and then proclaiming the Gospel is a challenging thing. As John Wesley used to ask his preachers, and as the preacher before us recounted: "When you preached, were people saved? Was anyone angered?" If the answer to either of these was "no" then the preacher had not lived up to the Gospel. Salvation and the unsettling of our "normal" existence in the face of the radical and transforming nature of the Good News of Jesus Christ is our inheritance.

What a gift to hear today. Thank you, God, for tomorrow.

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