Before we left with the youth for Columbus, OH for the General Assembly, I did a sermon series asking, “Who Are We?” Who are we as members and guests of Providence Christian Church, as Disciples of Christ, as followers of Christ – 2000 years after Jesus walked the earth? Who are we as Christians in the U.S. where churches are closing by the dozens and more and more people identify as having “No Religion”? Who are we in the year 2015 in Central Kentucky in a culture of consumerism and materialism, where racism is literally killing our brothers and sisters of color, where violence seems to be winning in movie theaters, on bases, on city streets and in churches? Who are we in a climate that is warming to a point where extreme weather is becoming the norm and island peoples are losing the ground right out from under them?
As we try to figure out the future, we must look back to our past – to our beginnings. In order to figure out where we are going, we have to know where we have been – and we have to remember who we are.
Who are we? We ARE the People of the Book, grounded in Scripture. The Bible is the foundation of our mission and vision, it is the roots for every worship service. The Bible connects us to ALL Christians of all times and places. Through Scripture we learn the stories of our faith. Disciples used to be known for how well they knew the Bible, but we have become the People of the Book we do not know. Moving into the future – we must open those Bibles and read them. We must once again be the People of the Book.
We are the people of the water. Disciples were founded on the idea of Christian unity. Baptismal waters unifies us. Although the “One Baptism” has also divided us Christians, here at Providence we know that all baptisms are valid and sacred – no matter when, where, what age or how they were performed. We continue to be called to the one hope of our calling,5one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all. We are people of the water.
We are the people of the Table. The Lord’s Table is located in the center of our sanctuary. It is the climax of our worship services. It is how we define ourselves – connected us to each other – to all Christians of all times – to the earth through grain and fruit – to Jesus’ self-emptying sacrifice; body broken and blood spilled. We are Disciples of Christ.
Being at General Assembly worshipping with 3,796 Disciples, listening to excellent preachers and teachers, reminded me – once again that I am a disciple through and through. Disciples are organized from the congregation and out– the power is in the congregations. Disciples are organized into 33 regions across the U.S. and Canada for support and nurture. Disciples’ congregations and regions support a General Church Ministry that is located in Indianapolis. Through the General Church – missionaries are sent out, relief and recovery happens in the U.S. and abroad, Men’s, Women’s, Young Adult, Youth, and children ministry is supported, Racial and Ethnic ministries are supported, Peace and Justice ministries are supported, Higher Education Ministries, Stewardship and Creation Care Ministries are supported.
I believe in Disciples of Christ because we are encouraged to question and struggle in our faith – because we are not required to agree on political, social or even theological issues. I believe in DOC because our only creed is Christ and how we understand and experience the Holy varies. I believe in Disciples because we have a long history of Justice Work – because our faith has always called us to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the prisoners and care for widows and children. I love that Disciples were founded on the idea of unity in Christ and have always worked with other denominations in the name of Jesus to care for the least of these and to seek justice on their behalf. Disciples were founding members of the National Council of Churches and Christian Churches Together – two national ecumenical organizations. I am a Disciple because we welcome ALL people to the Table of the Lord as Jesus did and I strongly believe that we have a message that needs to be shared in this very broken world in which we find ourselves.
The theme of the General Assembly this year was Isaiah 40. It is a beautiful chapter that I encourage all of you to read today or this week. It begins with words of comfort from God to God’s people who lived during the Exile in Babylon. Life was difficult, the people were uncertain of their future and they needed reassurance of God’s abiding presence. “Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God….The glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all people shall see it together.”
Of all the prophets, Isaiah is quoted more in Christianity than any other, especially this section. The words from Handel’s Messiah comes from Isaiah, some of it from this very chapter.
Isaiah 40 says, “Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand and marked off the heavens with a span…, Who has directed the spirit of the Lord…, Whom did he consult for his enlightenment, and who taught him the path of justice. Who taught him knowledge, and showed him the way of understanding?”—
“Have you not known? Have you not heard? Has it not been told you from the beginning? Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth?”
“The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth.”
Those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.
—The various translations of this text enhance its meaning for us. “Those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength. Those who hope in the Lord shall renew their strength. Those who trust in the Lord shall renew their strength.” We are to wait for the Lord but it is not a passive waiting. Waiting for the Lord is active – it is prayerful – listening to, watching for, searching for God to lead us so that, as partners with God, we can Soar like Eagles.
To wait for the Lord, we must have trust and hope. But, in this country, we are not good at waiting. We have the world at our fingertips: fast food, up to the minute news, and speedy cars. And yet Scripture commands us over and over to wait for the Lord (see Genesis 49, Psalm 25, 27, 33, 37, 62, 130, Hosea 12, Micah 7, Galatians 5). Even James says, We are to wait patiently like “the farmer waits for the precious crop from the earth.” Farmers are not passive sitting around waiting for God to do the work. Farmers are active – preparing, planting, tending and weeding. While they wait for precious crops, they protect, repair and plan. Farmers pay attention to the weather and the seasons, to insects and critters, to the wind and the sky and the phases of the moon, they search for God.
If we Disciples want to Soar like Eagles we have to wait on the Lord, we have to partner with God.
The preacher for the last worship service of the Assembly was Rev. Adam Hamilton, the founding pastor of The United Methodist Church of the Resurrection outside Kansas City. The church began in 1990 with four people and a dream of creating a congregation where thinking people – non-religious and nominally religious people – would become committed followers of Jesus Christ. The church has become the largest United Methodist Church with over 20,000 members. Rev. Hamilton believes with all his heart that churches like Providence are key to reaching people of all ages who have been turned off by more fundamental expressions of Christianity. He believes that churches like Providence are key to reaching people who have been hurt by the church, who have been turned away from the church, who think that Jesus is judgmental and exclusionary. Rev. Hamilton believes churches like Providence can Soar like eagles in partnership with God.
The Disciples of Christ movement began in August of 1801 at a weeklong revival at Cane Ridge in Bourbon County, KY. More than 20,000 people of all ages, economic levels and cultures attended the revival and heard great spirit-filled preaching about Jesus, about inclusion and forgiveness and love. There were Presbyterians, Methodists and Baptists present and together they shared the Lord’s Supper. The people present were changed and they went out from that place and told their friends, neighbors and family members about Jesus and the Christian movement Soared like Eagles through the new nation.
And since that time, generations of disciples have enjoyed the fruits of the Holy Spirit that was so powerfully present at Cane Ridge. As the United States developed, Christianity in general and Disciples of Christ specifically thrived. Everybody went to church – it was where you made your friends, it was how you served the least of these, it was where you worshipped and prayed and learned about Jesus. And maybe because the spirit of those first disciples was so strong or maybe because we took the words “wait for the Lord” too literally but at some point we stopped talking about Jesus and people stopped coming to church.
We disciples have continued to serve God by caring for the least of these. We continue to do justice. We continue to invite all people to the Lord’s Table. We continue to celebrate one baptism. We continue to work with other Christians and other people of faith. But we have stopped talking about Jesus – people say that Disciples of Christ are the best kept secret. But we should not be a secret and neither should Jesus.
To soar like eagles takes two strong wings – made of Works and Faith; made of Justice and Evangelism; made from a Personal Relationship AND communal relationship with Jesus; made from silent prayer and spoken testimony.
Providence Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) it is time for us to speak and to soar like Eagles. The broken world needs our work for justice, of unity, forgiveness and love and hope.
Saint Francis of Assisi said, “Preach the gospel at all times and when necessary use words.” Rev. Hamilton said it is now necessary for us to use words. Our culture no longer teaches the faith. Kids do not learn about Jesus in school, shows like the Waltons no longer on television and most music is anything but sacred. Preach the gospel at all times with your actions and for heaven’s sake use words as well.
You do not have to ask people if they have been saved. You do not have to ask them if they are right with the Lord. If you happen to be somewhere near, you might say – hey, I attend Providence Christian Church up the road here. We are a great community learning about Jesus and trying to serve God. We welcome all people and if you do not have a church home, I would love for you to come and worship with us this Sunday at 10:45.
Give them a card and they can look at our website or give us a call. I am going to challenge you all today. Pick up 3 church business cards as you leave worship and this week find 3 people to give them to; share them with people in your neighborhood, with someone in the grocery store, at the gas station, at Panera and then wait like a farmer waits for the precious crops. Plant the seeds, invite and welcome new people and I promise some of those seeds will grow and flourish.
Preach the gospel Providence with your actions AND with your words.