Sermon: Barrier Free

Rembrandt

Mark 4: 35 – 41
2 Cor 6: 1 – 13

Just as the disciples were being assailed by that storm at sea, Paul’s Corinthian church, and the earliest Christians, were being assailed by an un-accepting and resistant society. In his letter, Paul is encouraging his fledgling Christians, to remain steadfast and faithful in the face of all obstacles.

Over the past year, we have been discussing how we, as church-going Christians, are feeling assailed today…sports and shopping on Sundays, changing ideas about church and religion, increasingly busy work and travel schedules, the daily demands of our everyday lives that leave us exhausted and spent when we wash up, emotionally bedraggled in church on Sunday morning.

Sometimes, it seems there are nothing but obstacles in the way of us being good and faithful Christians in the world today.

Paul encourages his besieged church by reminding them that although they face many obstacles, he commends them for “putting no obstacle in anyone’s way, so that no fault may found with their ministry.”

Paul challenges us not to look at the obstacles we are facing but instead to examine the obstacles we are creating for ourselves and for others. That’s what we have been trying to accomplish with the Crossroads process. To take a look with new eyes at the physical, social, and emotional obstacles that are preventing us from pursuing the ministries we are passionate about and that might be inhibiting others from joining in our life of service together.

We have been evaluating our building, our organization, our skills, our passions, our assets, our communities needs, and our finances, in order to gain insight and perhaps a new perspective on our ministry together.

One of the phrases that struck me when I met with our Crossroads group leaders to talk about what they have been hearing in their meetings, is the phrase “Barrier Free.” In many of the discussions, the groups were asking themselves how we can make our church and our community “Barrier Free.”

That is exactly what we hear in Paul’s message this morning when he commends the Corinthians for, “putting no obstacles in anyone’s way.” No obstacles to God, no obstacles to participating in God’s grace and love, no obstacles to discipleship and ministering to those in need, no obstacles to all gathering together at Christ’s table. No obstacles. No barriers.

So what are some of the obstacles and barriers that have been identified in our small group discussions?

In all three groups, people had trouble even imagining leaving this church that we love, and where we have so much history, but people also feel that the building has become an impediment and an anchor weighing us down. No one will be surprised by the unanimous opinion that the greatest obstacle our building has is the problem of handicapped accessibility.

But there are also the things we might not even notice anymore, like the terrible damp mustiness when you go downstairs that assails our senses. We know we have mold and there are many people today with mold allergies, asthma, and respiratory sensitivities for whom that mold problem, is a huge barrier. The asbestos floors have become a barrier to planning youth and community activities in Memorial Hall. The lighting throughout the building is dim, the rugs are worn, walls are stained, and the bulletin boards are fading.

One discussion questions was, “Does the building serve us or are we toiling in service to a building that impedes the ways we want to serve and minister?” The consensus in the small groups was, If we are staying, let’s do what we need to do to make the building work for us, instead of us working for the building.

Another thing that came up in the group discussions was a desire to move away from a membership model towards a discipleship model.

The basic assumption of membership is that some are “in” and some are “out.” A membership model creates a class system where members are a little bit better and more preferred than non-members, even when those non-members are full participants in the life and service of this church.

A membership model offers privileges and perks for members vs. non-members. Even if they are seemingly small things, such as lower fees for building rentals, or more money for a campership or scholarship, voting “rights”, or certain help or money available for “members” only…these small things, imply that a member is more deserving than a non-member.

Jesus did not require membership for help or healing or love or grace. Jesus offered radical welcome, forgiveness and love to those who were living on the edges of society – the ‘non-members’ who had no standing, or place, or privilege.

Our Communion invitation says, “All are welcome” and we are called to ask ourselves, in all that we do, are they? Are all welcome as brothers and sisters, equals in standing, all children of God, sharing what we have with those who have the greatest need?

The earliest Christians, shared what they had with those in most need. If you had two coats, you gave one to someone with no coat. Paul says, there must be “no restrictions on our affections.” It is natural for us to yearn to belong, to fit in, to be accepted, and to be a part of something greater than ourselves.

But Jesus challenges us to expand our definition of “membership” to include all our brothers and sisters. Paul challenges us to ‘open wide our hearts’ and we must work steadfastly towards inclusion of all people, on a level playing field, with equal access to the gifts of God and God’s abundance in our lives.

We already know that our committee structure has become a barrier and a burden that has finally stopped functioning. It is not due to a lack of care or commitment. It is due to the fact that our committee structure was created for a different time for our church and our culture.

It is now time for us to examine how we can organize to better serve our neighbors and the community and to better enable our service and ministry. We need to identify and focus our ministries and then we need to streamline and organize around how we best support and carry out those ministries.

How might we change if we start with our ministry front and center on the page and we think about how we shape our lives together around facilitating that ministry? That means not organizing around the “business” of the church, but organizing to enhance and facilitate the service and ministry of this congregation.

So some of the fruits of our Crossroads discussions have been the following: recognizing a desire to eliminate the limitations of our physical space to better support our ministry; recognizing a desire to move towards a discipleship rather than membership way of being church; and recognizing a desire to organize not for “business,” but for service and ministry in the community.

There is, however, one more obstacle we face together as a faith community… and that obstacle is fear: fear of change, fear of spending money, fear of touching our endowment, fear of doing the wrong thing, fear of failing, fear of the storms swamping our little boat, fear of going under…..

In the midst of the storm, Jesus peacefully sleeps, seemingly indifferent. The disciples run and wake him saying, “Don’t you care that we are perishing?” That is the fear that still has us paralyzed…is this church perishing? Is the Christian church perishing?

Jesus asks us, “Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?”

We can’t see what the world or what this church will be like in 1 year, 5 years, 10 years, or 20 years from now…and we can’t let that stop us from acting today. We don’t know what the future holds, and that is why Paul says, “see, now is the acceptable time; see, now is the day of salvation!” The time for us to act is now…to help people today, not yesterday…not in the distant future…the time to step out in faith, and act, is now!

Stepping out in faith means moving ahead not knowing where we will end up.

Stepping out in faith means getting in the boat and shoving off in the direction that Jesus is sending us.

Following Jesus means, ensuring that we are not creating obstacles for ourselves or for others to relationship with God, to ministry, to full participation in our lives together, or to service in Jesus’ name.

Stepping out in faith means, “having no restriction in our affections…and opening wide our hearts to all people.”

Stepping out in faith means sailing into the unknown, pushing into unchartered waters – and even if there are storms ahead, remembering that we are all in this boat together, and we need to trust and have faith and confidence that Jesus is in the boat with us.

Let us step out in faith and “Open wide our hearts until we are barrier free.” It is time to hoist anchor and set sail in the direction that Jesus is pointing us, so that we can deepen our service to God and to others in Jesus name.

Now is the acceptable time! Now is the day of Salvation!

Sermon: Groans and Sighs

Mildorfer, Joseph Ignaz
Mildorfer, Joseph Ignaz
Acts 2: 1-13
Romans 8: 22 – 28

Paul says, “We know that the whole of creation has been groaning in labor pains until now…and not only creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly, while we wait…”

Here is a text that seems easy to relate to…Don’t we spend a lot of our time, groaning inwardly, especially when we are waiting for something? Waiting for the light to change, waiting for payday, waiting for a job opportunity, waiting for test results, waiting in the doctor’s office, waiting for the bus to come..

We often moan and groan with frustration and complaint…just getting out of bed some days, sets me groaning…hitting Westwood at the wrong time of day and seeing a line of cars as far as I can see…makes me groan…getting home late knowing I need to walk in the door and start dinner, or drive someone somewhere, or make calls, groan..groan…groan…the list never seems to end…

Paul says, “the whole of creation has been groaning…” and there are so many things happening in the world right now that it seems that the whole world is still groaning…the earthquakes in Nepal…the tornados in the mid-west…the terrible, relentless droughts in California and other parts of our country, and all around the world…

The earth is groaning from pollution, changing climate patterns, our reckless depletion of resources…it can be overwhelming, and like every generation before us…it seems as if all we know and understand is coming to an end.

How do we have faith in the face of all the turmoil and chaos we see in the world today?

Paul reminds us that even in the midst of all our worldly groaning, There is Hope.

Paul says, “For in hope, we are saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.”

Paul says it’s hard to hope in what we see because it is easy to be overwhelmed by the vastness of ‘The big Picture” the list of things “going wrong”, the things “beyond our control”, It makes us feel defeated and inadequate.

That is why Jesus had the disciples wait together. United…together – listening with their hearts for the sighing of the Spirit in a place too deep for words.

When we consider that in those days, news only spread through word of mouth, it continues to astound me how Jesus’ message spread out into the world…think about it, the Good News of the Word made flesh travelled only by word of mouth…the Holy Spirit speaking through those earliest disciples…sharing the message of God’s deeds of power and spreading the Good news to people through the ages.

Today, we have instantaneous methods of communication that connect the entire world and yet the Good News about God at work in the world, too often seems to get pretty garbled.

We need to listen carefully, to hear the sighing of the Spirit at work these days amid all the media noise, amid the rumbling of our doubts and fears, amid the noisy gongs and the clanging cymbals…that still, small voice is often silenced by our own weary groaning.

After yet another tragic and suspicious death of a young black man in police custody, Baltimore is groaning under the weight of years of oppression, prejudice, bitter hatred, resentment, and grinding poverty.

We are all aware of the riots and violence that continue to erupt in that city and it seems an unlikely place to find a message of hope or a place where we would expect to discover the Holy Spirit at work…but I think we would be wrong….

The following interview took place on the *Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore this past week. He went to Baltimore and sat down with 5 gang members to talk with them about what’s happening in their city.

They had been in the news because they had declared a truce and were working together to end the violence. The young men belonged to the Bloods, the Crips, and the Black Gorilla Gang. For the interview, they were all sharing a meal together in a local diner. Rather than paraphrase their discussion, I have a volunteer that is going to re-enact the Interview with me.

I want you to listen for the sighing of the Spirit between the lines….

I: So, You guys have called a truce or a treaty?

We didn’t have a truce or a treaty…we just had men respecting men, coming together. We’re making sure there is no looting. We were walking down the street together, and one of the Blood homeys stepped on my shoe..and I said, “you know, three days ago, I would have punched you in the mouth for that.” And he smiled. He knew…we were good…

I: Three days from now, when things go back to normal, you can punch him in the mouth again…

…no…we’re good, he’s good, it’s forever now, right?…we can’t speak for anyone anywhere else but this is it for us here…from now on.

Let me explain what’s happening here…there is only so far into a corner you can push me before I push back..how would you like living in the hood getting pushed….if you’re in a million dollar house, you can’t relate. Just like I can’t relate to property taxes…I never owned property…and you get to call a lawyer to push back..

I: Have you stopped somebody from doing something?

Sure! The people that came weren’t even from around here…it was little kids, high school and middle school, coming here doing stuff.

We were standing in front of a store protecting it, and the police pulled up in a tank they jumped out with their assault rifles….they jumped out and pointed their guns and out of nowhere I got hit with a percussion grenade…they threw it right at us and we were protecting the store!

I got holes all up the side of my favorite jacket. So we ran away through the alley, checked through the projects, made sure everyone was ok…and then we went back and linked arms and made sure that nobody got in that store.

I: Anything else?

They set one police car on fire and we stopped them from setting another police car on fire.

I: Would you guys ever meet with the police?

Oh, we talk to the police…they ask if we’re good, if we need water…they bring us food sometimes.

I: What is the most surprising thing that has come out of this?

All the positive people coming together. We was all together for one common cause. It was beautiful.

I: Do you guys have hope?

Of course. Of course we have hope…What else do we got?

That’s the only thing you have to have if you want to progress.

I: Any other thing you want to say? Anything you want to say to the people listening?

I want everyone to keep the hope and stay peaceful…don’t give up…keep the hope.

[End interview – Interviewer sit]

“I want everyone to keep the hope and stay peaceful…don’t give up…keep the hope.”

Can you hear the sigh? Can you hear the sigh of the Spirit interceding in a place too deep for words?

How can we not see this as the spirit of God at work in this world?

When we hear a message of hope, that’s Jesus. When we hear a message of peace, that’s Jesus. When we hear of sworn enemies reaching out to each other with respect and joining together in a common purpose to bring justice and stop violence…who does that sound like?? Doesn’t that sound like people united as one mind, in Christ???

That’s where I see the God’s spirit at work in this world..when out of the midst of hate, riots, and, oppression, there comes a message of justice, respect, compassion and unity…a message of hope and peace…

I would go so far as to say that can ONLY be God’s Spirit at work!

Jesus tells us again and again to wake up! To awaken Spiritually to the world. To awaken to the Spirit in action IN the world.

Watching these feuding gang members lay down their swords and take up the plowshares of peace, watching them setting aside blood feuds, bitter history, and violence as their way of life, ….and become peacemakers…

….filled… me… with… HOPE!

Paul says, “The Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.”

Paul says that we and creation are Groaning, groaning in labor pains…we need to remember that the pain and groaning in labor leads to new life, it leads to giving birth to something new… the groaning and moaning of labor, eventually gives way to sighing with relief and sighing with delight when your beautiful baby is laid in your arms.

We need to listen in the midst of all the chaos and noise for that sighing of Spirit in our lives…

The sigh of relief to have made it through another day.

The sigh of satisfaction in a job well done.

The sigh of contentment with having enough.

The sigh of basking in the sun or resting in the cool shade.

The sighing whisper of cooling rain on hot pavement.

The sigh of the Spirit at work in the world.

Giving birth to something new…something we can’t see yet…

Something we must wait for with patience, trusting in God.

We must wait… United…together – listening with our hearts for the sighing of the Spirit in a place too deep for words.

And everyone needs to keep the hope and stay peaceful,

…don’t give up…

Keep the Hope.

Let us pray,

God of love, who sent Jesus, the Prince of Peace, to rule our hearts, let us be your instruments of peace. Fill us with the Holy Spirit, fill us with love divine, unite us in your Spirit and purpose.

*The Nightly Show with Larry (Week of May 20, 2015) This is transcribed verbatim from Larry Wilmore’s Interview with members of the Bloods, Crips, and Black Gorilla Gang. A few lines of the segment, such as when they were ordering food, were deliberately omitted for time constraints.

If you are interested, this is the link for interview segment – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WrKEFF3sLfk