Tuesday, August 31, 2010
Tinney Talk, September, 2010: Definitions of church!
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Observations by Joe Dan Boyd
A DEFINITION OF CHURCH might not be an easy thing to come up with, at least not for most of us. Not the dictionary definition, please! Rather, your own personal idea of just what it is that makes church. All of us know, instinctively, what church is not. It’s not our impressive family life center. It’s not our historic sanctuary. We’ve seen too many kids form a double handful of fingers to know that a child’s definition of church includes at least a sanctuary, a steeple and a bunch of people.
THAT CHILD’S DEFINITION OF CHURCH does, however, provide a not-so-subtle hint for what all of us are looking for. A full and true definition of church must somehow involve the people, those who have chosen to worship here at Tinney Chapel UMC. I’m not entirely certain that all of us could even agree on why we choose to worship, but I think it has something to do with an inherent need to experience the presence of God. If we come here to worship, and don’t encounter the Divine Presence, we leave unfulfilled.
HOW WE EXPERIENCE GOD’S PRESENCE may vary widely among the church family at Tinney Chapel. For some, it may be as simple as obeying the command of Jesus for us to love one another. After all, the best definition of God in the New Testament may very well be that single, four-letter word: LOVE. If one accepts Love as the very definition of God, then perhaps that simplifies an otherwise complex pursuit which is detailed in an ancient book titled, Practicing The Presence Of God.
AT LAST MONTH’S MEETING of the Native American Fellowship, held in our Family Life Center, Cherokee Steve Silcox presented a brief lesson on the meaning of certain words and phrases in the Cherokee language. One of those Cherokee phrases translated into English as something like “lifting each other up,” which strikes me as an acceptable definition of church.
BUT THE BEST DEFINITION I’VE HEARD recently came during our joyful fellowship at this month’s fourth Sunday lunch at Tinney Chapel, when we all shared home-cooked food, great humor, spirited table conversation and so much overflowing LOVE that Georgia Goggans was moved to observe: “This must be what church is all about!” No one disagreed. Do you?
Sunday, August 29, 2010
The Cross Of Love sung today by Tinney Chapel Choir
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Gifts Of The Spirit preached @ Tinney Chapel by Lay Speaker Roger Schneider & Pastor Sue Gross
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Gifts of the Spirit, talents of the heart!
Worship at Tinney Chapel, the quintessential country church, was a very mixed bag today: a bag of gifts, talents and a few stories.
The day began with the usual announcements, call to worship and an opening hymn, This Is My Father's World, led by song leader Angela Wylie, followed by the standard recognition of guests, a pastoral prayer and a hymn of proclamation, O Worship The King.
Lay Reader David Stanton read the Old Testament account of the burning bush, Exodus 3:1-15, followed by the offering, Doxology, Apostles' Creed and Gloria Patri.
All rather standard inputs so far, right?
What followed, however, was a powerful rendition of an amazing song, The Cross Of Love, by the famed Tinney Chapel choir, highlighted with a bit of solo and brief narrative by baritone David Stanton. (See separate Weblog post, with audio-video, titled The Cross Of Love.)
It was at this point that the day's worship service took an unexpected turn.
The next scheduled Scripture reading was Romans 12:9-21, intended to set the stage for the sermon, Gifts Of The Spirit, by Certified Lay Speaker Roger Schneider, who was actually scheduled to follow a church-for-children sermon by Georgia Goggans, who had to decline on this occasion.
Pastor Sue Gross decided to fill in for Georgia, and followed the lead suggested by Lay Speaker Roger Schneider's sermon title, Gifts Of The Spirit, but the Pastor emphasized another Scripture about the Gifts, 1 Corinthians 12:4-11, causing her to put major emphasis on wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, miracles, prophecy, discernment, speaking in tongues and interpretation of tongue speaking.
The Pastor also compared Spiritual Gifts with certain talents, which she had selected on the basis of some known to exist among the children who made up part of today's congregation: math, love, science & research, teaching, singing, baseball, soccer, history and nurturing.
All this resulted in an exchange between Pastor Sue and Lay Speaker Roger, who joked that the Pastor had stolen much of his intended thunder for the adult sermon. But Roger recovered well and segued into his primary Scripture, and added Scripture from Romans 11:12-13, John 3:16, John 14:15-21, Romans 12:6-8 and referred also to the Scripture that Pastor Sue had used, 1 Corinthians 12:4-11.
Roger began by emphasizing two points from Romans: Love must be sincere and Paul's directive to live in harmony with one another. But his primary emphasis at this point was Paul's command to be kind to our enemies by providing food and beverage when they need it, and thus "heap coals of fire" on their heads.
But, Roger asked, rhetorically: Who is my enemy? To which he replied that it might be those who make it possible for some non-Christian kids in public schools to be provided rooms for prayer, while Christian kids are not allowed to have prayer around the school's outdoor flagpole. But, Roger cautioned about seeking vengeance for such situations because Paul also admonishes us not to seek vengeance, since that is for the Lord alone (Romans 12:19).
This is not a political message from the pulpit, he added with a smile. Neither am I a Bible-thumper, he said, adding that if anyone questioned his message, they should go to the Scriptures to check him out, a point which prompted several Amens from the congregation.
Roger told the story of his dad, who suffered from emphysema, prompting his mom to take a home nursing course, during which one of her written tests asked the question: When do we start to die? Her answer has been wrong, he said, because she said that death begins after we become sick. Roger told her that the process of death begins immediately after life begins.
This story was intended to set up Roger's question for the congregation: When does Eternal Life (John 3:16) begin? I'm saying that Eternal Life begins the moment we decide to accept Jesus Christ into our lives, said Roger, prompting more Amens from the congregation.
We are living in Eternal Life NOW, he repeated!
Getting back to Gifts of the Spirit, Roger recalled moving to Dallas in 1969, a time when charismatic, Pentecostal movements were strong in that area, he said, recalling that most such movements in that time and place emphasized the Gift of Speaking in Tongues as the number-one Gift of the Spirit.
Here, Roger referred to John 14:15-21 as he explained Jesus' description of the Holy Spirit to His Disciples: The comforter that He and the Father would send to them after His Crucifixion and Ascension. That's something that we also receive as Believers, Roger emphasized, hence the Gifts that the Spirit also brings to us, equipping us for service in the Church.
Here, Roger stressed a few individual Gifts of the Spirit: faith, teaching, leadership, mercy.
This was Roger's introduction to what appeared to be his main point: That not all churches were instructed by Paul in the Gift of Speaking in Tongues. He said that Paul emphasizes Tongues in his letter to the Corinthians, but does not mention it in his letter to the Romans, suggesting to Roger that Tongues was not a Gift practiced in the Church at Rome, but was practiced in the Church at Corinth.
It seems so simple, said Roger: If a church did not practice Tongues, then Paul saw no reason to instruct them in that Gift. It's that way for us at Tinney Chapel, where this Gift of Tongues is also not practiced.
So, there's really no need for churches to be in conflict over the Gift of Speaking in Tongues or the Interpretation of Tongues, concluded Roger. In fact, there's no need for churches like ours to worry about it at all, he added.
As Roger wound down his sermon on this day, he mentioned that he is on the church Nominating Committee, and invited anyone who has received a Spiritual Gift to alert this Committee to a willingness to serve in 2011.
And, added Roger, if you feel called, don't worry about your ability to serve: If you are not already equipped, the Holy Spirit will take care of that.
Sunday, August 15, 2010
"Dorothy In A Circle" preached @ Tinney Chapel
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Dorothy In A Circle or God's ever-widening circle of Grace
Today's sermon on the 12th Sunday after Pentecost at Tinney Chapel was based mostly on Ephesians 2:1-10, somewhat less on Luke 15:1-7 and perhaps even less on the character of Dorothy Gale in The Wizard Of Oz, the well-known production which enjoyed an anniversary this past week, said Rev. Sue Gross.
In that classic movie, we all remember Dorothy, accompanied by three imperfect and incomplete friends, however loyal they might have been: a cowardly lion, a scarecrow and a tin man. Still, they--along with her dog, Toto, formed a defensive circle of sorts for each other during Dorothy's search for home.
The Pastor made it clear that Ephesians is one of her favorite Bible books, easily in her top 5 and perhaps in her top 2.
In the course of Pastor Sue's delivery, she told a story of a teacher, whose real name was actually Dorothy, who kept wandering away from her group of tourist friends, who feared they might lose her, and that Dorothy might become lost in a very real sense.
To prevent this, they formed a kind of unofficial circle as the group toured the sights, and as long as they could keep Dorothy within that circle, she would be safe. It required keen observation and attention to detail, not to mention some real love, but they made it happen. Pastor Sue compared this kind of care to that of Christ in His role as the Good Shepherd, who does not lose any of His sheep. After all, reminded the Pastor, while we were still sinners, Christ loved us enough to die for us on a cross.
Before we were old enough to know God, He knew us, said Pastor Sue, who described Christ's outreaching love for us and just how that kind of love figures into the theological concept of Grace--prevenient, justifying and sanctifying, which always manifests itself as a protective circle around us. It is through this Grace that God saves us and sustains us.
In that same way, we ourselves are called upon to treat our fellow believers in the church: to love them, to encourage them, to protect them, to guide them by forming a protective circle of the Body of Christ. We could say that our mission is to gather, nurture and equip others for ministry in the Name of Christ. Anytime one of us wanders away or gets lost, the others will round us up and bring us safely back into the circle.
God claims us and names us, reminded Pastor Sue. Once we were nobodies, but through Christ we become somebodies, part of the Body of Christ. How comforting it is to know that each of us is known to God, actually known to Him by our names.
Each of us still has a need to expand our horizons, grow in our faith, test our wings in many ways. In other words, we want the freedom to be ourselves and we may need to explore in order to do that. We may need to make a few mistakes, in the knowledge that we have a loyal, tight circle of friends in the church and a Savior who will keep us on track, encourage us, forgive us when we need it. We need our church family to surround us in that protective circle where we can always find forgiveness.
There is Grace, reminded the Pastor, that is sufficient for all our needs: A circle of Grace for all of us.
Finally, Pastor Sue told the story of Garrison Keillor (of Prairie Home Companion fame) and his assigned "storm home" while a schoolboy in Minnesota. It was a family at whose home he could find shelter during unexpected storms that blew in while school was in session. As Pastor Sue remembered Keillor's story, it seemed very much like the promise inherent in the old hymn, Amazing Grace. The church, said Pastor Sue, is our "storm home," through God's ever expanding circle of Grace. It's all inclusive, as God claims us, names us, helps us.
Sunday, August 08, 2010
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You Have Outwitted Me (God Will Take Care Of You)
I asked for riches that I might be happy;
I was given poverty that I might be wise.
I asked for all things that I might enjoy life;
I was given life that l might enjoy all things.
I was given nothing that I asked for;
But everything that I had hoped for.
A combination of the above anonymous poem, scripture from the Old Testament prophet Hosea (11:1-11), passages from the Apostle Paul (1 Corinthians 13:8-13), and references to Brother Lawrence, a monk from the 1600s, who is perhaps best known for a still-in-print book about practicing the presence of God, all came together during Pastor Sue Gross' insightful sermon at Tinney Chapel today.
Brother Lawrence's conversion experience was helped along by his own understanding of viewing a tree with neither fruit nor leaves, a perfect example of the need for new birth, something that Brother Lawrence realized as part of the job description for God. During the monk's monastic and menial kitchen service, he discovered a happiness much deeper than anything he had ever before imagined possible, prompting his profound observation: Lord, You have outwitted me! You can learn more about Brother Lawrence by clicking on the live-link title at the top of this post.
What God provides is not always what we expect, emphasized Pastor Sue, who suggested that Brother Lawrence's observation, coupled with the poem above, assists us in understanding the nature of providence, which may include more than a little irony when examined carefully. But, irony in the hands of God is generally a positive thing, in that what He has in store for us usually exceeds our expectations.
As for Hosea's continued education in his prophetic role, Pastor Sue described one of the mission statements of a prophet as interpreting history and commenting on life itself, remembering that God is considered in charge of life and is assumed to be positively inclined toward us, perhaps inclined to bring abundance and affection in return for righteousness and goodness in a kind of contract relationship.
A covenant of law is often viewed as one which demands righteousness to retain God's favor, but otherwise involves divine punishment.
The Old Testament book of the prophet Hosea has provided grist for two of Pastor Sue's recent sermons, during which she has described God's relationship with Israel as one of husband and wife as well as that of parent and child. During the first example, husband and wife, one of the potential punishments for an unfaithful wife (Israel) would have been divorce or even stoning.
Yet, Hosea, in his real life relationship with an unfaithful wife, Gomer, displays mercy, suggesting that perhaps God will do the same with Israel. That is, God will never abandon us and will always remain faithful to us. It is perhaps an example of grace from the Old Testament.
At another point, Pastor Sue reads Hosea--and God--switching the relationship analogy to that of parent (God) and child (Israel). What to do with a wayward child? Out of Egypt I called My Son, quoted Pastor Sue, which puts a Christian's mind on steroids, fast-forwarding to Jesus the Christ, who fulfilled that prophecy before His ministry, crucifixion and resurrection, all of which eventually led to an outpouring of Grace and the Holy Spirit.
God is determined to keep His covenant promise to us, declared Pastor Sue. God does always keep His promises, a concept that is itself the very essence of faith. This is even true when it sometimes appears that God is not keeping His promises. But, faith, said Pastor Sue, is not about having answers to such questions. Rather, faith is courage in the face of no answers at all, security in the knowledge that God is always with us, even in time of great trial. And, that someday innocence will be justified.
It is as Paul said in his letter to the Corinthians: We sometimes see through a glass darkly. That is, things are not always clear to us, and we may see things only in part.
Fortunately, in the New Covenant, the Cross is itself a Covenant, perhaps even a renewed Covenant--like the Covenant revealed in the final chapter of the Old Testament book of Hosea, one which might be summarized by a simple question and answer:
Question: What is more inevitable than death?
Answer: Overcoming death through the Cross of Christ.
Click on the arrow below to view and listen to Pastor Sue preach part of this sermon.
Wednesday, August 04, 2010
District Laity Celebration is September 12 @ Wesley UMC in Greenville
Sunday, August 01, 2010
God's Unfailing Love Preached Today @ Tinney Chapel
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