Sunday, July 15, 2007

Migrant Workers in God's Field

Dr. Jon Burnham preached this sermon from 1 Corinthians 3:5-9 at Batesville Presbyterian Church on July 15, 2007.

Who do you think Paul is, anyway? Or Apollos, for that matter? Servants, both of us—servants who waited on you as you gradually learned to entrust your lives to our mutual Master. We each carried out our servant assignment. I planted the seed, Apollos watered the plants, but God made you grow. It's not the one who plants or the one who waters who is at the center of this process but God, who makes things grow. Planting and watering are menial servant jobs at minimum wages. What makes them worth doing is the God we are serving. You happen to be God's field in which we are working.(The Message, trans. by Eugene Peterson)  


A minister who was a mentor to me had just left his church to go serve God in another place. I asked him how his congregation had reacted to his departure. He said: "Same as usual. Some are glad, some are sad, and some are mad." I laughed. Because it is true in own experience. Whenever I have left one congregation to go serve another congregation, the reactions of the congregation I'm leaving usually falls into one of those three categories. Some are sad. Some are glad. And some are mad. However you may feel about my leaving is okay with me.

There is a natural grieving process that congregations, members, and friends of the church go through whenever a pastor leaves. This occurs whether the pastor's tenure was a good or bad experience for the pastor and for the church. Let me tell you as clearly as I can that our time in Batesville has been a good time for my family and for me. I have grown tremendously as a person and as a pastor over these past eight years. Many of you have graciously let me into your lives and let me be your pastor. We have journey together through hospital visits, home visits, baptisms, confirmations, weddings, and funerals. We have laughed together and cried together. My pastorate here has been a good experience for me and for the church.

We have been close and we have grown together. I have baptized babies, officiated funerals, taught confirmation classes, taught new member classes, taught the Xyz class, officiated weddings, and visited you in your homes and in the hospital. After the pastoral relationship between this church and me is dissolved on August 15, I will no longer do such things for this congregation. Our presbytery has ethics guidelines that forbid former pastors from performing pastoral function in congregations they have previously served. These guidelines exist to foster relationships between interim pastors and installed pastors and their congregations. Call on your interim pastor or installed pastor to do your baptisms, weddings, and funerals. After August 15, if you call and ask me to perform any pastoral functions I will say no. I will abide by the presbytery's ethical guidelines for pastors and their former congregations.

What we have experienced as pastor and people has been a precious commodity and I don't give it up lightly. I realize that not every experience between pastor and congregation is a good one. There are times when the pastor and congregation are not a good match. Perhaps they don't jell. They don't see eye to eye. Things fall apart. But not with us. We've been good for one another. And that is what we are celebrating here today. Some may wonder why I would even consider leaving here when things are going so well. We seek stability in our lives. We seek order and simplicity. Change, even positive change, can be stressful. Well, let me answer that question. The reason I am leaving you is because that is the Biblical pattern.

You can see it right there in our text this morning. Paul, writing to the church in Corinth, says, "Who do you think Paul is, anyway? Or Apollos, for that matter? Servants, both of us—servants who waited on you as you gradually learned to entrust your lives to our mutual Master. We each carried out our servant assignment. I planted the seed, Apollos watered the plants, but God made you grow." The great Apostle Paul didn't stay in any one place for too long. He moved in, organized a cell group of Christians, and then moved on. He repeated the process many, many times. Much of the New Testament are Epistles, letters written by Paul because Paul did not spend his entire ministry in one place. Neither did Jesus. Jesus, during his three year ministry, moved around from town to town, so much so that he once said of himself, "Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but I've got nowhere to call home." Moving along is in the DNA of Christ's church.

Paul says in our text today, and here I paraphrase him: "The church is not about the pastor. The church is about God. God is the one who makes things grow. Your pastors are basically migrant workers. And you happen to be God's field in which we are working." Wow. What an image. Imagine your life as God's field and your pastor as a migrant worker in the field of your life.

One of the positive things we know about migrant workers is that they work hard. That is true for most pastors. Yes, our schedules are more free. But pastors are on call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. We work on Father's Day, Mother's Day, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. We work every Sunday except a few each year. Pastors work schedule is a bit like migrant workers. And like migrant workers we pastors frequently move. We've got work to do over there, you see. Tomatoes to pick. Orange groves waiting to be picked. Chicken houses to clean. You name it. There is work to be done. We do the job. Then we move on to work somewhere else. In the power of the spirit. There are exceptions to this rule. There are so still some decades long pastorates. But that doesn't happen much these days. People are more mobile and so are ministers. Let me tell you why I'm leaving here. I'm not leaving because you did something wrong. I'm leaving because we both did something right. We accomplished the mission for which God sent me here. Now God is sending me on to another congregation to work in God's field there. After I leave, God will send you a new servant leader. In the meantime, keep it together. Keep moving forward. God expects you to do that.

From this day forward let's focus on the positive things we accomplished together. This congregation is at a much better place now than when I arrived. You can do even better now. This is not the end for you. This is merely the prelude. Decide today that you will give thanks to God for the time we have had together. And then make up your mind that, with God's help, this congregation will move forward and accomplish great things for God's kingdom. Pastors are spiritual migrant workers laboring in God's field, your lives. Any good that comes from our work together did not come from me. It came from God. As Paul puts it: "It's not the one who plants or the one who waters who is at the center of this process but God, who makes things grow."

To God be glory. Both now, and forevermore.


Sunday, July 08, 2007

Follow the Yellow Brick Road

Dr. Jon Burnham preached this sermon from
2 Kings 5:1-14 on July 8, 2007 at Batesville Presbyterian Church

Follow the yellow brick road. Follow the yellow brick road. Follow the yellow brick road. So said the Munchins to Dorothy and her companions as they sought to find the Emerald City to see the Wizard of Oz. Follow the yellow brick road. That is, in effect, what this congregation is about to do as you begin your search for new pastoral leadership. The yellow brick road for you will require that you navigate the twists and turns of finding your way toward calling a new pastor within the framework of our Presbyterian call system. Follow the yellow brick road. That is a way of thinking about the journey toward healing and transformation taken by Naaman in our Old Testament story today.

That's right, in our Old Testament story today, Naaman learns to follow the yellow brick road. Naaman journey starts when his world falls apart. He is on top of the world. His career is at its zenith. Everything is going his way. Then one day the bottom falls out. He wakes up one morning and notices an itch that will not go away. Soon his body is covered with a debilitating skin disease called leprosy. If left unchecked, this illness will destroy his health, his career and his standing in the community. And there is no known cure for leprosy. Fortunately for him, one of his servant girls, a young war slave from Israel, tells him about a prophet of God named Elijah who lives in the land of Israel. She claims God may work through Elijah to cure Naaman's leprosy. Naaman is desperate enough to give it a try. Thus begins Naaman's journey down the yellow brick road from Syria to Israel.

Naaman's test along the yellow brick road, his price for personal transformation, is whether he will put aside his pride and follow simple, but seemingly stupid, instructions from the Prophet Elijah, who represents God's will and God's power. Elijah's prescription is for Naaman to wash himself seven times in the Jordan River. Naaman initially balks at this seemingly nonsensical suggestion. He does not see how washing in a river can leprosy and he is right. Washing in a river cannot cure leprosy. It doesn't matter whether you wash in a river one time, seven times, or seventy times seven times, bathing in a river will not cure your leprosy. Thus God tested Naaman. For God also knew washing in a river will not cure leprosy. But God also knows that faithful obedience can transform a person. When Naaman followed God's prescription and washes seven times in the Jordan River, his leprosy is healed and his life is transformed as he comes to have faith in the powerful God of Israel.

Now, from the Bible story about Naaman, I would like us to transition to another story about the yellow brick road. This is the story that is told in the movie called The Wizard of Oz. In the movie, the main character, a young girl named Dorothy, begins her journey toward personal transformation when a cyclone throws her and her dog, Toto, into the land of Oz. Dorothy never expected a cyclone to hit her in her small town in Kansas. Yet, as with Naaman, it is an unexpected tragedy that triggers the events that set Dorothy along a path that will eventually become the yellow brick road and lead to her personal transformation.

Here is how it happens. When a nasty neighbor tries to have her dog put to sleep, Dorothy takes her dog Toto, to run away. A cyclone appears and carries her to the magical land of Oz. Wishing to return, she begins to travel to the Emerald City where a great wizard lives. On her way she meets a Scarecrow who needs a brain, a Tin Man who wants a heart, and a Cowardly Lion who desperately needs courage. Dorothy and her traveling companions are convinced that all their problems will be solved and all their dreams will be answered if they can just speak to the great Wizard of Oz in Emerald City. Some Munchins tell them how to get to the Emerald City. Follow the yellow brick road. Follow the yellow brick road. Follow the yellow brick road. Dorothy and her motley gang follow the yellow brick road to Emerald City. When they finally find the great Wizard of Oz, he turns out to be an impostor. But in the end, their journey succeeds despite the wizard, as they discover within themselves the very gifts they thought only the wizard could give them.

Now, let's make a connection to this congregation. Like Naaman and Dorothy, this congregation started down the yellow brick road this week week with my announcement that I have accepted a call to serve as pastor of St. John's Presbyterian Church in Houston, Texas. The journey down the yellow brick seems always to begin with a shock that jolts us with a seemingly tragic event. Now this congregation finds itself, like Naaman and Dorothy after their intial shocks, in a strange land, in a place that is somewhere we think we'd rather not be found, in a sort of no-man's land with a pastor who has announced he's leaving and yet is still here for one more week.

The yellow brick road for this congregation is the path that will lead toward finding a new pastor. It is a long journey. It normally takes a few years for a Presbyterian Church to find and call a new pastor. That is why the normal procedure is to hire an Interim Pastor and I recommend you do that first. Then, when you start down the yellow brick toward calling a new pastor, do not assume that God has one and only one special person already chosen by God to serve as your pastor. Do not think the job of your Pastor Nominating Committee will be to go out and find that one special person whom God has already chosen to serve as your next pastor. A healthier way to think about finding a new pastor is to realize that that there are many pastors who may be a good match for this congregation. Your task is not to find a perfect preacher. If that is your goal then you will fail. For there are no perfect preachers. As you may have discovered about me after our eight years together, I am not a perfect pastor. In fact, your PNC, the one that called me to come here eight years ago, seemed reluctant to call me, as I recall. Perhaps they did not think I was the one person whom God had ordained to serve Batesville Presbyterian Church. But thanks be to God, they did finally extend me a call to serve as your pastor. And while I may not have been their first choice, or a perfect choice, I think I have been a good match for this congregation.

The congregation has grown over these past eight years. We have increased in membership and in spirit. When I came here, the congregation seemed to be at a low point. There were some young adults and some children but nowhere near the number there are today. My own children were young. Jennifer was 2 1/2 years old. Jackson was 6 months old. They have had a terrific early childhood here. We love this place. I appreciate your generous support of me and my family financially and emotionally and in so many ways. I appreciate the teachers who have taught my children in church and in school. The staff people I have worked with have been tremendously helpful and excellent leaders. I think this congregation has been a good match for me. Your task is to find a good match.

Now back to the yellow brick metaphor. Like Naaman, your test as a congregation, will be whether you will follow the guidelines for finding a new minister within our PC(USA) call system. Speak to someone who has served on a Pastor Nominating Committee, and they likely will tell you about all the hoops you have to jump through. The mission study. Writing the church's information form. Reviewing pastor information forms. Interviewing prospective pastors. Hoping the person you want to come serve as your pastor also wants to come be your pastor. It is a long, time intensive, process to call a pastor through our system. And there are no short cuts. There is no easy way out. When the Presbytery Executive says you have to go wash yourself in the Jordan River seven times you will simply have to follow his directions. You will have to put aside your pride and follow simple instructions in order to find a new pastor. The good news is that although it is a cumbersome process, our call process does work. If you stick with the program and follow the rules and guidelines, you more than likely will find a good match between your church and a new pastor. In the end, if you find a good match then you will agree that it was worth the effort. I believe this congregation will find a good match in your next pastor. This church is extraordinarily young and blessed with excellent lay leadership in every age group. Due to your size and your gifts, you will be attractive to prospective pastors.

So, as did Dorothy, the Scarecrow, the Tin Man and the Cowardly Lion, you will make your way down the yellow brick road and it will eventually lead you to find new pastoral leadership. But you have more to look forward to than merely calling a new pastor. There is a possibility for real transformation for this congregation through following the yellow brick road. Here is the good news I have to share with you today. When you finally get to the point of calling a new pastor, you may, as did Dorothy and her companions, discover that it doesn't matter nearly so much what kind of wizard of a pastor you find. The key to your future will not be determined by the nature of your new pastor. The key to your future comes from the hidden strength, gifts and talents you discover within yourself along the yellow brick road. The fact is that this church already has everything it needs to be successful. You already, right now, possess, inside yourselves, everything you need to succeed. You will find and call another pastor. You will find a good match. But the real key to your success will be the discoveries you make about yourself along the yellow brick road.

Along the way, I hope you will make the greatest discovery of all. I hope, like the Tin Man, the Lion, the Scarecrow, and Dorothy, that you also will discover at the end of your journey that all the time you already had the essence of what you were looking for. The courage of the lion. The brains of the tin man. The heart of the scarecrow. It is hidden away inside yourselves. The essence of what you are looking for in a new pastor is Christ, who is the true head of the church. And Christ already dwells in you and among. And you already know this. Yet you will come to know the Christ within yourselves in a deeper, more intimate and more authentic manner as you follow the yellow brick road in your search for a new pastor. My prayer for you on your journey is that you will discover the gift of God that lays hidden within you. So do what the Munchins tell you to do. Follow the yellow brick road. Follow the yellow brick road. Follow the yellow brick road.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Spiritual Freedom

Dr. Jon Burnham preached this sermon
from Luke 8:26-39
on June 24, 2007
at Batesville Presbyterian Church

Our shadow selves lurk around and leave a corrosion effect on our inner lives. Sometimes our shadow selves break through to the surface and manifest in unhealthy behaviors and activities. Let us take as an example a 26 year old Grammy Award winning pop singer, songwriter, dancer, actress, and author. She was born in McComb, Mississippi, and raised Southern Baptist. She was an accomplished gymnast, attending gymnastics classes until age nine and competing in state-level competitions. She performed in local dance revues and her local Baptist church choirs, and was auditioning for the Disney Channel's The New Mickey Mouse Club by the time she was eight. Her career skyrocketed during her teenage years and she has now sold over 76 million albums worldwide according to TIME magazine. The RIAA ranks her as the eighth best-selling female artist in American music history, having sold 31 million albums in the United States alone. Recently, she has been in the press for less flattering reasons. In January, she lost an aunt with whom she was very close, after a long battle with breast cancer. That shock sent her into a nosedive. Since January she has checked in and out of a drug treatment center, shaved her hair with clippers in a possible show of solidarity with her aunt, and now is back in treatment.

This week her lawyers have demanded a Florida radio station remove "offensive" billboards which feature her with a shaven head. The billboards, meant to advertise a Florida radio station, included the slogans: "total nut jobs", "shock therapy" and "certifiable", which ran across a picture of a bald Brittney Spears. Due to our jealousy at her success, we may join the throngs who now look down on her. But the truth is, if we look deep enough inside ourselves, we all need treatment. Thomas Keating refers to centering prayer as divine therapy. We all need divine therapy to rescue us from the shadowy mob that inhabits our inner lives. We all need spiritual freedom. Jesus dishes out spiritual freedom.

One day Jesus and his disciples sail to the country of the Gerasenes, directly opposite Galilee. Apparently they have not landed right at the town, since the first person they meet is a man with a disordered mind who lives among the tombs. Tombs where Jesus lived, in Palestine, were often caves, where an outcast could find shelter. This distraught man, who lived in the cemetery caves, hadn't worn clothes for a long time. When he saw Jesus he screamed, fell before him, and bellowed, "What business do you have with me? You're Jesus, Son of the High God, but don't give me a hard time!" (The man said this because Jesus had started to order the unclean spirit out of him.) Time after time evil energies threw the man into convulsions. He had been placed under constant guard and tied with chains and shackles, but crazed and driven wild by the cryptic energies, he would shatter the bonds.

This story raises the question of how we understand malicious energies. In our Book of Confessions, part of our Presbyterian constitution, we find a belief in rebellious angels. The Second Helvetic Confession, written in 1563, says "Consequently we teach that some angels persisted in obedience and were appointed for faithful service to God and men, but others fell of their own free will and were cast into destruction, becoming enemies of all good and of the faithful ..."1 The Larger Catechism, written about 100 years later (in 1647), warns against "all compacts and consulting with the devil."2 Of course these confessions were written before the scientific age that we live in. Later Presbyterian creeds and confessions do not mention such specters. We prefer to focus on the love of God expressed in Jesus Christ. But our Bibles can not be tamed, nor can they be silenced, and our Bible story today finds Jesus speaking to the demons who are infesting a man.

Jesus asks a very important question: "What is your name?" The man can only answer, "Legion," and Luke explains that many demons had entered him. "Legion" is an interesting name. The Roman army occupied the Jewish state of Israel during Jesus' lifetime. A Roman legion consisted of 6000 foot soldiers. The demon-possessed man says his name is "Legion." Perhaps that means he is possessed with 6000 demons. Eugene Peterson, in The Message, suggests the man's name is Mob. "Mob. My name is Mob," he said, because many demons afflicted him. And they begged Jesus desperately not to order them to the bottomless pit. (Luke 8:30-31, The Message) Our false selves fear transformation. Our shadow selves shirk from recognition, remaining hidden from us if possible, so they may continue to drag us down and hold us back from a fuller life of freedom in Christ.

The first step toward spiritual freedom is to name whatever has us tied with chains and shackles. We may name it addiction. We may name it gluttony. We may name it greed, jealousy or anger. We may name it bitterness. We may not even know what to name it. Even so, we can identify something in ourselves that is not holy, something that is fragmented and in need of healing. Then Jesus can provide us with spiritual freedom even as he did with the tormented man in our Bible story today.

A large herd of pigs was browsing and rooting on a nearby hill. The demons begged Jesus to order them into the pigs. He gave the order. It was even worse for the pigs than for the man. Crazed, they stampeded over a cliff into the lake and drowned. (Luke 8:32-33, The Message)

Those tending the pigs, scared to death, bolted and told their story in town and country. People went out to see what had happened. They came to Jesus and found the man from whom the demons had been sent, sitting there at Jesus' feet, wearing decent clothes and making sense. (Luke 8:34-36, The Message) Jesus' response to the man is not only to make him whole again. He finds the man some clothes as well. A small, simple, necessary gesture that there is a human being worthy of respect. Jesus even commissions the man as an evangelist—a gentile evangelist: "Go and tell." It was a holy moment, and for a short time they were more reverent than curious. Then those who had seen it happen told how the demoniac had been saved.

Later, a great many people from the Gerasene countryside got together and asked Jesus to leave. He had brought too much change, too fast, and they were scared.

So Jesus got back in the boat and set off. The man whom he had delivered from the demons asked to go with him, but he sent him back, saying, "Go home and tell everything God did in you." So he went back and preached all over town everything Jesus had done in him. (Luke 8:37-39, The Message)

Jesus has power, power even to defeat our ultimate enemies. He boldly confronts those forces which bind us and commands them to come out form us, to leave us, to unbind us, and let us be free. Jesus is more powerful than any addiction, any shadow self, any false self. Jesus would not let demons control the Gerasene demoniac, and he will not let negative forces "get" us. When we name the negative energies that hold us back, and ask Jesus to heal us, we are healed. Jesus grants spiritual freedom from the negative energies that would bind us. Let us claim God's free gift through Christ and begin living a fuller and richer life today.

Spiritual freedom means seeing clearly whose we are and the nature of the world in which we live. We belong to God, whether we live or die, according to Paul. We are children of God redeemed from sin and death. Jesus freed the Gerasene demoniac from the mob of demons that bound him. We have our own issues that web us up and tie us down. Jesus furnishes spiritual freedom when we are willing to confront our shadow selves.

1The Book of Confessions, 5.033

2The Book of Confessions, 7.215

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Lift Off!

Lift Off!

Dr. Jon Burnham preached this sermon from Luke 7:36-8:3 on June 17, 2007 at Batesville Presbyterian Church

"Do you want to ride in my beautiful balloon? We can fly! We can fly!" We were flying high at the church this week in our Vacation Bible School. The ceiling of the Recreation Room wsa filled with rainbow colored hot air balloons the children made in their crafts class. The sanctuary was filled with cries of "Lift Off!" as the children sang the VBS theme song. "Soaring to new heights with God; everybody elevate up off the ground. Lift off!"

We want to soar in our spritual lives. We want to soar to new heights with God. We want to elevate up off the ground. Our scripture this morning teaches us how God's love will lift us up! Lift us a little bit higher. Jesus is the wind beneath our wings. The key to lift off is falling out of our ourselves and into God's love. Without the heavy baggage of our false selves, our true selves lift off. As Jesus said, "My yoke is easy and my burden is light." Jesus invites us into a relationship that will lift us up to God.

We need to be lifted up out of the bondage of our cultural conditioning. That was certainly true of the religious leader at whose home Jesus was eating. He went to the religious leader's house and sat down at the dinner table. Just then a woman of the village, the town harlot, having learned that Jesus was a guest in the home of the Pharisee, came with a bottle of very expensive perfume and stood at his feet, weeping, raining tears on his feet. Letting down her hair, she dried his feet, kissed them, and anointed them with the perfume. When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, "If this man was the prophet I thought he was, he would have known what kind of woman this is who is falling all over him."

Then Jesus does something extraordinary. He says, "Simon, I have something to say to you." That sounds like such a simple thing but it is very profound when we reflect upon it. This shows us that Jesus wants to communicate with us. He calls us by name and he has something to say to us. This is a radical message indeed. Jesus wants to speak to us. He calls us by name. Jesus invites us into a relationship that will lift us up to God.

Of course we want to respond to Jesus' special invitation to us. Our story tells us how to respond to Jesus' invitation. We repond as did the religious leader, we say, "Teacher, speak." Jesus then tells a story that carries a heavy punch.

Jesus says, "Two men were in debt to a banker. One owed five hundred silver pieces, the other fifty. Neither of them could pay up, and so the banker canceled both debts. Which of the two would be more grateful?"

Simon answered, "I suppose the one who was forgiven the most."

"That's right," said Jesus. Then turning to the woman, but speaking to Simon, he said, "Do you see this woman? I came to your home; you provided no water for my feet, but she rained tears on my feet and dried them with her hair. You gave me no greeting, but from the time I arrived she hasn't quit kissing my feet. You provided nothing for freshening up, but she has soothed my feet with perfume. Impressive, isn't it? She was forgiven many, many sins, and so she is very, very grateful. If the forgiveness is minimal, the gratitude is minimal."

Then he spoke to her: "I forgive your sins."

That set the dinner guests talking behind his back: "Who does he think he is, forgiving sins!"

He ignored them and said to the woman, "Your faith has saved you. Go in peace." (The Message)

Your sins are forgiven. If Jesus could say that to a woman of ill repute, surely he says that to us as well. Without our sins, we soar to new heights with God. Lift off! Whenever we get serious about entering into a relationship with God, the Lord throws our sins overboard like a bunch of unnecessary sand bags and we soar up and away with Christ. Lift off!

And the fun thing is that we do not travel alone. There are other folks on this journey with us. Our story finds Jesus continuing according to plan, traveling to town after town, village after village, preaching God's kingdom, spreading the Message. The Twelve were with him. There were also some women in their company who had been healed of various evil afflictions and illnesses: Mary, the one called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out; Joanna, wife of Chuza, Herod's manager; and Susanna—along with many others who used their considerable means to provide for the company.

This is not merely an individual enterprise. We are called to support the community of Jesus which is the church. We are called to provide for the church out of our resources. (Luke 8:3) It is amazing what we can do as a Christian community when we provide for the church of our resources.

If you've read our church newsletter in the past few weeks you've seen lists of names of people who have been providing for Christ's church out of their resources. This week, once again, we have blessed by the gifts of many people. Thanks to all the volunteers who helped make our VBS a huge success this year! The list includes members and friends of the church.

Directors: Debi Honnoll, Teresa Brasell

Pres-school: Susan Hardy, Hunter Brock, Jade Henry, Brittany Long, Karlee Woods

Kindergarten: Cathryn McKee, Sarah Ashton Baker, Will Dickins, Ty Ferguson

1st & 2nd Grade: Beth Garner, Paulette Norman, Calvin Hawkins, Lindsey Henry, Jake Rogers

3rd & 4th Grade: Amanda Lee, Chris Cummins, Austin Smith

Recreation: Beth Honnoll, Beth Little, Michelle Mundroff, John Hendren, J.J. Kilpatrick

Decorations: Jana Burnham, Nicole Risner, Debi Honnoll, Teresa Brasell, Beth Garner, Paulette Norman, Andrew Garner, Rob Henry

Music: Susie Van Dyke, Mary Lynn Lewis, Emma Pittman

Bible Story: Fred Henry, Haley Williams, Scott Honnoll, Jon Burnham, Nicole Risner, Mary Lynn Lewis, Emma Pittman

Refreshments: Andrea Staten (Director), Susan Lewis, Christy Waldrup, Teresa Myers Suzan Graves, Brennan Baker, Jade Henry, Adam Cummins

Snack Providers: Christy Waldrup, Teresa Myers, Susan Lewis, Billie Garner, Meg Woods, Paulette Norman, Alison McCord, Mandy Henry, Sara Helen Ware, Connie Baker, Jake Kidder, Margaret Nix, Lucille Monk, Rita Herron, Rebecca Reed

DVD Operators: Brennan Baker, Adam Cummings

Stairmasters: Adam Cummins, Will Dickins, Levi Wilson

Assembly: Jade Henry, John Hendren

Crafts: Jana Burnham, Jennifer Burnham, Daniel Lightsey, Charley Ann Nix

As you can tell, we had a lot of support at Vacation Bible School. And that is merely the latest example of how we work together in Jesus' name. By working together and providing for the common good, we can soar to new heights with God. That was true of Jesus' original followers and it is true for us today. When we work together in the church we soar to new heights with God.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Conversion Community

Dr. Jon Burnham preached this sermon from Galatians 1:11-24 at Batesville Presbyterian Church on June 10, 2007

"Since my baby left me, I found a new place to dwell ... It's down at the end of Lonely Street, that Heartbreak Hotel ... I get so lonely baby, I get so lonely, I get so lonely I could cry." Elvis sang many gospel songs but this was not one of them. Yet, the theme of broken relationship is a valid Biblical theme. For Christianity is a relationship between God and people. Conversion is the key to both starting and continuing our relationship to God. So, I suppose we could say that the church is a conversion community.

Conversion is a word we don't hear too much about in the Presbyterian Church. We tend to think of conversion as a word that belongs in other churches who cajole people in the pews to walk down the aisle and profess their faith in Christ at the conclusion of a worship service. Although we do not ask people to respond to Christ by walking to the front of the sanctuary we do provide other opportunities to demonstrate our conversion to Christ. For instance, after the sermon we stand and confess our faith by saying the Apostle's Creed. Then we respond to Christ by giving our tithes and offerings to Christ's mission through the church when the ushers walk the aisles passing the plate. When we confess our faith and when we give our offerings, we are demonstrating our conversion to Christ every time we gather for worship. The very nature of our liturgy suggests that conversion is something more than a one time event. Conversion is a continuous part of our Christian journey.

Our understanding of conversion hinges on our interpretation of the conversion of the Apostle Paul as described in our text this morning and in other New Testament texts. Let's reconsider the story of Paul's experience on the road to Damascus. Paul, a Pharisee, was an activist for the Jewish faith to such an extent that he persecuted and tried to destroy the fragile Christian church of his day. But one day, as he was riding the road to Damascus, Paul was confronted by the risen Christ. Paul, whose name at this time was Saul, heard a voice from heaven saying, "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?"

"Who are you?" Saul cried.

"I am Christ, whom you are persecuting," replied the unseen voice.

The voice from heaven was accompanied by a glaring light that left Saul blind for some days. This dramatic event led to such a significant change that Saul's name was changed to Paul to signify the new mission he had been given by the risen Christ. Paul would take the good news about Christ to the non-Jewish world. Paul would be the apostle to the Gentiles.

The event that we ordinarily think of as the conversion of Paul was more accurately God's calling of Paul to be an apostle to the Gentiles. Friends, Christ called Paul in a way that Christ does not call us. We all have a calling from Christ. Some of us are called to work with our minds and some of us are called to work with our hands but none of us are called to be an apostle to the Gentiles such as Paul. Paul's calling to be an apostle to the Gentiles was unique to Paul himself. So let's not confuse the Paul's calling with Paul's conversion.

It's hard to make a distinction between Paul's calling and Paul's conversion because they happened at the same time. Christian churches who emphasize walking forward at the conclusion of the worship service as a sign of your conversion tend to interpret the story of Paul's conversion as God's plan for us all. These churches tend to emphasize a one time emotional experience with Christ as a sign of true conversion. But I believe we can make a distinction between Paul's call and his conversion. That may come as a relief for us Presbyterians, for not many of us have undergone such a dramatic conversion experience as Paul had on the road to Damascus. Our conversion stories are more mundane. Some of us speak of having a mother or father who brought us to church when we were babies and had us baptized when we were too young to know it. Then at some point when we were older children or teenagers, we confirmed our faith in Christ. Our church provides for conversion by baptizing babies and confirming teen agers. The confirmation class gives us an opportunity to come out of the closet and publicly confess our faith in Jesus Christ. Ordinarily, that is how we Presbyterians express our conversion. Our way is not enough for some people but it works well enough for us. Some of us were reared in other faith traditions and professed our faith in Christ and were baptized when were older children or even adults. However we came to be in Christ's church, we are glad to be here now. As the song says, "Different strokes for different folks."

When we limit our conversion experience to baptism and confirmation, we tend to think of conversion in the past tense, as something we have already done. We have already been baptized. We have already been confirmed. Or, if we have joined this church as an adult, we have already reaffirmed our faith in Christ. All of these conversion experiences are in the past and we do not think of conversion in the present tense.

Yet conversion, as understood by Jesus, was always in the present tense. Now is the acceptable time of salvation. The Greek verb tenses that describe salvation or conversion in the New Testament are in the present tense. Jesus used the phrase "Kingdom of Heaven" interchangeably with the term "Kingdom of God." That phrase, kingdom of heaven, projects us into future tense because we think of heaven as a destination after we die. In reality, "Kingdom of Heaven" is a technical term Jesus employs to refer to a conversion experience that leads to a new way of being in the world. This conversion is available now. This moment and every moment we are to be converted to Christ.
Conversion is our choice and responsibility in every moment we live. Conversion is not a one time experience. Conversion means to change the direction in which we are seeking our happiness. We may be converted to Christ millions of time within our lifespan for each second is an opportunity to seek our happiness in God through Christ.

Conversion implies a change of perspective. This is clear in our text from Galatians. Note the stark contrast that occurs in verse 15. Verses 13–14 have Paul as their subject: "I was violently persecuting . . . I advanced . . . I was far more zealous . . ."  Verses 15–16, by sharp contrast,
begin with the action of God: God "who had set me apart before I was born and called me through his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me. . . ." When God reveals Jesus Christ to Paul (Gal. 1:16), God does so, not to glorify Paul or allow Paul to wallow in that exalted experience, but to lay before Paul a commission. Paul is called to be an apostle to the Gentiles.

Based on his conversion experience, Paul understands transformation as vital for the Christian community. All Christians must be part of an evolving, transforming, redeeming community. So consider your church a conversion community. If your church is not converting you, perhaps you should examine your relationship to your church. The purpose of the church is to continually convert us to Christ. This is a scary way to think about the church because we fear change. Yet, change for the good or for the bad is inevitable. As Bob Dylan put it: "He who is not busy being born is busy dying." Conversion is a process of being busy being born. Conversion is a process of changing the direction in which we seek happiness. Conversion means turning away from our programs for self glorification. We exhaust ourselves seeking happiness in the false security that wealth provides, or wear ourselves out, as the song says: "Looking for love in all the wrong places." Christ invites us to take a break from running ourselves crazy looking for love in all the wrong places. Conversion means resting in Christ even while we are in motion. Christ invites us to be converted in every moment by turning away from our false selves and tuning in to our true selves.

I hope your church challenges you to change the direction in which you are searching for happiness for each church is called by God to act as a conversion community. If your church is not converting you, something may be wrong with the church or with you. If no one in your church feels they are being converted by your church, then the problem may lie with the church. If one or more people feel they are being converted by your church, but you feel you are not being converted by your church, perhaps the problem lays with you. Consider this question in thoughtful prayer and see how God may lead you and your church to become a more effective conversion community.

As the song says, "You better stop, listen, what's that sound? Everybody look what's goin' down." Evaluate the role of your church as a conversion community. Then ask yourself whether you are open to being continually converted by Christ. Each moment is another opportunity for conversion to Christ. To quote the Beatles famous song, "The long and winding road that leads to your door ..." And another Beatles song goes, "Somebody's knockin' at the door, somebody's ringing a bell; Somebody's knockin' on the door, somebody's ringing the bell, do me a favor, open the door and let them in." Let's do ourselves a favor. Even if we've been renting a cheap room in the Heartbreak Hotel, let's open the door to our heart and let Christ in.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Order of the Day

Dr. Jon Burnham preached this sermon from Romans 5:1-5 at Batesville Presbyterian Church on June 3, 2007

Martin Luther felt a keen attraction to the Biblical phrase "justified by faith." This is the phrase that started the Protestant Reformation. He meditated on that phrase and over time it started to speak to him. "Justified by faith" spoke to Martin Luther about how it is that human beings come to know God. Always before, Martin had been taught that the church is the vehicle for human salvation. We are saved by our relationship to our church. But now, this phrase, "justified by faith" was telling him something different.

We are justified by faith. In theological parlance, "justified" means to be put into right relationship with God. For too long, Martin had felt a sense of alienation from God and other humans. He had been taught the church could cure the itch he felt. The church could bridge the gap between him and God. This notion of the church's power led to great abuses of the church's power. Martin had seen the luxurious dwellings of the religious leaders in Rome. He had been to one of their lavish dinner parties. He had heard of their greed and he was afraid their greed had led them to establish the program that he felt was robbing the people of their money and their best chance for salvation. The new idea out of the church's headquarters was that the more money you gave to the church the better chance you had of freeing your dearly departed loved ones from the confines of purgatory or the fires of hell. Money could buy your salvation. That was the church's teaching about salvation. Martin felt uneasy about it. That phrase, "justified by faith" pointed him in a different direction.

"Justified by faith" would eventually lead Martin to post his 95 thesis on the door of the Whittenberg Cathedral. The thesis' were a list of everything Martin claimed was wrong with the church of his day. It was a very precise and detailed list. Martin's 95 thesis led eventually to Martin's being excommunicated from the Roman Catholic Church and lit a fire that would eventually burn all over Europe. New churches would be established based on the groundwork Martin laid. The Lutheran Church in Germany would be named after Martin Luther himself. The Presbyterian Church in Scotland would arise from the Reformation. The Reformed Church in France and the Netherlands would emerge during the Reformation. Even the Church of England would trace it's root to that phrase "justified by faith."

"Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ ..." Our faith comes from God and leads us toward peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is the bridge between God and humanity. Jesus Christ is the way, the truth, the life. We are not saved through the church. We are saved by faith through our Lord Jesus Christ. This simple idea that we take for granted changed the political and religious landscape of the world. Great suffering would come to the world through Martin's interpretation of that phrase, "justified by faith." Nation would rise up against nation. Protestant would fight Catholic. Catholic would hang Protestant. Protestant would burn Catholic at the stake. Religious warfare is not a pretty sight. Look at Iraq today and you will see a modern version of religious warfare. Shia bombs Sunni mosque. Sunni sends suicide bomber to blow up Shiite standing in line to get groceries. Religious warfare calls forth some of the most brutal violence humans can dish out.

Never think for one minute that the Bible is an impotent book. This book is not dead. It is very much alive. Fortunately, Christianity has passed through the moderating influence of the Age of Reason. We have learned to read and interpret our holy book with some measure of reason. We have learned to tolerate people who interpret the holy book differently than we do. So it is that America was established on the basis of freedom of religion. Our prayer is for our Muslim neighbors is that they too may experience the moderating influence of reason upon their religion. We cannot make this happen. We cannot force it to happen. This moderation must come from within not from without. We cannot bomb them into reason. It will not work. We must pray for our Muslim brothers and sisters and especially for the moderates within their ranks. They need courage to stand up to those who threaten to kill them if they speak their minds. It is not easy to speak up when speaking up means you may pay for what you say with your life.

Martin Luther had a choice. He could take back what he had written in his 95 thesis. He could say he was mistaken in his criticisms of the church. He could repent of what he said. Or he could die the death of a martyr or try to flee his country to save his life. Martin chose to flee his country and live to see another day. Over time his ideas took root. Changes began to occur in his society. People came over to his way of thinking. People began to protest against the church. That is where the name "Protestant" originated. This was a protest movement. The purpose of the protest was not just to complain. The purpose of the protest was to reform the church. This is the meaning of the term "Reformation." The people wanted to reform the church. They protested against the church in order to reform it. This was the intention of the Protestant Reformation.

Throughout the centuries from the Protestant Reformation until now, God has been working through the power of the Holy Spirit for the peace, unity and purity of the church. The recent PUP report at the last General Assembly was named PUP because it was tasked with coming up with a plan for the peace, unity and purity of the church. Throughout their months together, a theologically and politically diverse group, called the PUP Task Force, learned to listen to one another. Conservatives listened to liberals. Liberals heard conservatives. Over time they learned to respect one another even though they disagreed about some things. The gift the PUP Task Force gave the Presbyterian Church was not a report that was written on paper. They gave us the gift of demonstrating how the Holy Spirit can work within a diverse group of Christians in a way that makes them respect one another and listen to one another.

Respect for the other is what our world desperately needs today. We need respect in the Presbyterian Church's debate between liberals and conservatives. We need respect in the dialogue between Christians of different denominations. Presbyterians need to respect Baptists. Protestants need to respect Catholics. We need respect between Muslims and Muslims. Shiites need to respect Shia's. Sunni's need to respect Shiites. We need respect between Christians and Muslims; and between Muslims and Christians. Too much blood has been shed in the name of Christ and Mohammed. We pray that our human societies may move toward a time of renewed respect among people. This respect may only come when God's love has been poured into our hearts.

Every presbytery meeting has an agenda. The agenda begins with the opening prayer. It moves throughout the day with each different committee making their presentation at a certain time on the agenda. For instance, the Committee on Ministry may be scheduled to give their report at 11:30 A.M. The Missions Committee may be listed on the agenda for 3:00 P.M. But at each presbytery meeting, there is also what is known as the "order of the day." Often the order of the day is scheduled at 11:00 A.M. That means that 11:00 A.M. whoever is speaking will stop speaking. Whichever committee is reporting will conclude their report and sit down. Whatever is scheduled to occur at the order of the day takes precedence over everything else on the agenda at that specific time.

My modest proposal is that the order of the day for every religion in the world, and specifically for us, is respect. Now is the time for the order of the day. Now is the time for respect. If we do not honor the order of the day, all bets are off as to how this meeting will conclude. We are treading on dangerous, hallowed ground. Let us turn now to the order of the day. Respect. It may be the key to our salvation.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Turn Your Radio On

Turn Your Radio On

Dr. Jon Burnham preached this sermon from John 14:8-17, 25-27

at Batesville Presbyterian Church on May 27, 2007

Roy Acuff may have been referring to our gospel reading when he sang: "Get in touch with God; turn your radio on." Two things are required in order to turn the radio on. First, we must be able to see the radio in order to turn to the power radio on. Second, we've got to be able to hear the radio in order to listen to the Master's radio. Jesus addresses spiritual hearing and seeing in our text today.

First, he talks about spiritual sight. Although we tend to taken our vision for granted, there are 174 million visually impaired people in the world  accounting for approximately 2.6 percent of the population, with around 0.6% being completely blind. From what I have heard from people who are visually impaired, the worst aspect of blindness is not being able to read. To solve that problem, Ray Kurzweil recently invented a digital camera that can take a photograph of a book or any object such as a list of ingredients in a can of soup. The camera searches for words in the photo, organizes them, then reads them aloud. This camera/scanner/talking device, called the Kurzweil National Federation of the Blind Reader, is helping the blind to better function in the world. Ray Kurzweil wants to help cure people who are physically blind. I'm sure Jesus is applauding for Ray Kurzweil's reader. In fact, Jesus' healing interest encompasses both physical and spiritual blindness.

It would be helpful if someone would develop a tool to assist with spiritual blindness, for spiritual vision helps us to see reality and our place in the world. Philip seems to sense this truth, when he says to Jesus, "Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied." Jesus responds: "Look at me and you are looking at the Father." The best way to get a clear picture of what God is like by looking at Jesus Christ. This truth is embedded in the spiritual song whose lyrics invite us to: "Turn your eyes upon Jesus. Look full in his wonderful face. And the things of the world will grow strangely dim, in the light of his glory and grace." Jesus is the splitting image of his Father, but some folks cannot see Jesus' resemblance to the Father. They are spiritually blind. Jesus wants to cure people who are spiritually blind. That is what Jesus meant when he said his mission was to restore sight to the blind. We see God best when we look at the person of Jesus Christ.

Similarly, we hear God best when we hear Jesus Christ. Hearing is the second aspect of discipleship Jesus addresses in our text. Jesus says to Philip: "Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do, and, in fact, will do greater works than these..." (John 14:12) Jesus tells us that our belief in him opens to door to miracles in our lives and in the life of the world. He tells us we will do greater works than these. The secret to spiritual power is listening to what Jesus says. Basil Penington describes human beings as "a certain listening." We are a certain listening and in order to develop as human beings we must develop our spiritual hearing apparatus.

Bill Moyers Journal presented an illuminating interview with Maxine Hong Kingston, acclaimed author of many books including the her latest book Veterans of War, Veterans of Peace. For the past 15 years, Kingston has been working with veterans — more than 500 soldiers from World War II, from Vietnam, and now, from Iraq — as well as other survivors of war to convert the horrors they experienced into the words and stories that Kingston believes will help them cope and survive. The routine at Ms. Kingston's retreats invites veterans to write their stories in the morning and share them, if they are able, in the afternoon. Some veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress syndrome, after 30 years of silence, were finally able to share their war stories. Some experienced a tremendous liberation and freedom from sharing their stories and being heard. Healing comes when we share our stories, when we listen to one another.

Hearing impaired persons may depend on both hearing-aids and lip-reading. They admit to it being important to see the speaker's face in conversation. Jesus alludes to the connection between seeing and hearing when he tells Philip: "Look at me and you are seeing God." Jesus then speaks to Philip and invites him to believe that Jesus does the very things God does. Jesus says, "Look at me and watch what I do and you will see God and discover what God does. Listen to me and you will hear God speak to you."

Hearing and seeing are both vital aspects of Christian discipleship. God's birthday gift to the church on Pentecost, and to each of us during our baptism, is a spiritual radio receiver called Holy Spirit. Our challenge as Christians is to see and hear God's radio. We see God's radio in the person of Jesus Christ. We hear God's radio when we hear the Holy Spirit speaking to us in nature, other people, or even a song on the radio.

We know we are tuned in to God's radio when w are receiving Christ's peace. The Mater's radio leads us in the way of peace. Over time, when we keep our hearts tuned to the Spirit's frequency of peace, we come to embody peace and express peace in the world. Jesus referred to his peace as the "peace that passes understanding." This peace is the primary gift Jesus gives us. As he says in our gospel reading this morning, "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give as the world gives." Christ does not give peace and then take it away. Christ's peace is an abiding peace. So he says, "Do not let you hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid." There is nothing to fear.

Let's look to Christ and listen for Holy Spirit. And while we're at it, let's follow Roy Acuff's advice: "Turn the lights down low and listen to the Master's radio. Get in touch with God. Turn your radio on!"

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Cosmic Christ: Force Above & Energy Within

Dr. Jon Burnham preached this sermon from Luke 24:44-53 at Batesville Presbyterian Church on May 20, 2007

Twinkle, twinkle, little star. How I wonder what you are. Up above the trees so high. Like a diamond in the sky. Twinkle, twinkle, little star. How I wonder what you are. For as long as we remember, humans have been gazing at the stars. The oldest astronomical observation ever recorded occurred around 4000 BC in Egypt and Central America. Around 2000 B.C., Pythagoras and Thales of Miletus speculated that the Earth is a sphere. In the 1960s, that theory was proven when we saw on TV the now familiar picture of the blue round orb known as planet earth. The pictures came courtesy of NASA.

Our exploration of space did not end with the walk on the moon. On April 25, 1990, NASA and the European Space Agency launched the Hubble Space Telescope. The information collected daily by Hubble is stored on optical computer disks. A single day's worth of observations would fill an encyclopedia. Hubble's Ultra Deep Field is the most sensitive astronomical optical image ever taken. The Hubble Telescope is our best effort at gazing ever more closely into the sky beyond our sky -- into the black void of space beyond our atmosphere. The results are breathtaking. We put our hand over our mouth and stare in wonder at the mysteries of outer space.

So may have the disciples of Jesus put their hands to their hands and dropped their jaws in amazement when they witnessed his ascension into heaven. Luke records: "They were gazing up toward heaven" (Acts 1:10). And if Christ hadn't yet blown the disciples minds with his teaching and miracles, he certainly expanded their minds -- and our minds as well -- when he ascended into heaven. The story of the ascension challenges our limited views of Christ. It lifts our eyes beyond the tunnel vision of our one-storied, flattened, ranch-style universe to see the love of God in cosmic terms. It stretches our minds, expands our souls, and lifts our vision. It enables us to see farther than we have ever seen before and gives us a whole new understanding of Christ. I do not understand the ascension any more than I understand the Hubble Space Telescope. But I know that when we catch a vision of the ascended Christ we can see farther and more clearly than we have ever seen before, and it gives us a whole new way of understanding our own existence.

Christ, our hope, is raised to heaven. Yet we do not seek his face in the skies. For he comes to us on every shore of humanity. He comes to us and abides with us, inside our bodies, in our secret heart. The same Christ, who created the billions of galaxies revealed by the Hubble Telescope, lives inside us. Abides within us. Leads us and guides us. Through the risen Christ who dwells within us, we ourselves act as an intersection between heaven and earth. By virtue of our baptism, we are so full of God we cannot even imagine the power contained inside us. The power of God inside us is equal to or greater than the sum total of all the energy of every star in every galaxy in all of creation.

Today we celebrate the ascension of our Lord Jesus Christ. The same Christ who created the galaxies dwells inside us. Our task as Christians is to become ever more conscious of the ascended Christ who dwells within us. God has given us this joyful task. Let us proceed with our spiritual journey toward an ever greater recognition of the ascended Christ who dwells within us. Now, after his ascension into heaven, Christ is the force above us and the energy within us.

Let us set our sails to the wind of the Spirit and soar with Christ to new levels of human consciousness. The cosmic Christ has ascended into heaven. His transformation from human to divine points the way home for all of us. Ashes to ashes. Dust to dust. Death is a transition that we all will face. Yet our ultimate destiny is not in the ground. For our spirits will soar like the ascended Christ. Up into heaven with the Holy Trinity and all the saints in light.

We have this power within us even now. We have the energy of Christ within us. Hubble shows us outer space and we recognize the beauty and majestic of God's creation way out there. Centering prayer shows us inner space and we recognize the energy and power of God's light dwelling within us even now. We are so full of God that we would be frightened if we knew the power we contain. God is out there and God is in here. The theological terms and transcendence and immanence. The physical reality is that the Holy Trinity dwells as far out in space as Hubble has ever seen and then some. The Holy Trinity also dwells as close in our bodies as the smallest quark or corpuscle inside our secret hearts. The cosmic Christ is the force above and the energy within. Let's recognize and claim our destiny which is to united with God in heaven. We will ascend with Christ into heaven one day. Let's get ourselves ready for that spiritual rocket ride.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

City of Hope

Dr. Jon Burnham preached this sermon from Revelation 21:10, 22-22:5 at Batesville Presbyterian Church on May 13, 2007

"There is a church in the Northeast with a stained-glass window problem. High above the chancel, set in glass, is a picture of the Holy City, the New Jerusalem, dipping out of clouds toward the earth. Some of the church members want to tear the window down: 'it is,' they claim, 'too otherworldly.' Well, perhaps they're right. After all, with terrorism and the soaring price of gasoline, we've enough on our hands without hankering after some make-believe town in the sky. Perhaps like the stained-glass window, we should dump the book of Revelation and stick to the here and now. Yet, there's something about the vision that grips us: 'And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down...from God...And I heard a loud voice ... saying ..., "Death will be nor more; mourning and crying and pain will be nor more."'

What a wonderful vision for we who live in a world where the mortality rate runs 100%.
We could all use a new heaven and a new earth. The very thought of it brings hope to our hearts. And yet the city of hope portrayed here is more than a personal talisman ... a symbol to get us through this weary life so we can have our pie in the sky by and by. For this apocalyptic vision has a universal scope. The nations will walk by the light of the city of hope, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it. Bob Dylan pegged us in his song "Political World,"

We live in a political world
Where peace is not welcome at all,
It's turned away from the door to wander some more
Or put up against the wall.

There is an American primitive painting entitled The Peaceable Kingdom. It shows a lion lying down with a lamb, a barnyard cow and a grizzly bear nuzzling each other, while in among the animals children laugh and play. The picture's a little romantic for our tastes. Apparently the artist had never heard of Al Queda or torture prisons. Perhaps the lion and the lamb will declare a truce, but what about the Middle East? The fact is we live in a world of power politics, not in zoological society! So at least the Bible is realistic; the Bible knows there can be no peace until national power—including American power—bows down before the throne of God. Then, and only then, will we see a new heaven and a new earth and a many-gated city of God.

And this city of hope is so God-occupied that there are no churches there. That's right. In God's city of hope, there are no churches, synagogues or mosques. Imagine a place in which there is no need for the moderating influence of religion. No priests, ministers or rabbis. Unemployment runs at 100% for all clergy in heaven. There is no need for human intermediaries in the city of hope for God Himself dwells in that city. The city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God is its light.

I know, it sounds too good to be true. If the Christian vision of God's city of hope is too far removed from reality, then perhaps we should tear it down and face reality, knock down the stained glass vision and replace it with the hard reality of life in this world as we know it. Albrect Durer has a famous woodcut. He pictures a woman sitting dejectedly on dry ground. in the distance is a city waiting to be built, and beside her is a box of tools for building, but she doesn't move. She has no hope. Without hope, nothing is possible, and therefore, nothing attempted. We cannot live without hope.

Of course, it all depends on what hope you have, on what kind of vision you cherish. We've seen so much death in the past five years from Baghdad to Virginia Tech. Unless we can be changed we'll dream a Holy City but end with death and pain and a warring of nations, everytime. The Revelation writer envisions "A new heaven and a new earth." What we need is nothing less than a whole new human race.

Of course, that is what we celebrate during the Easter season, a whole new human race. Jesus Christ, the firstborn from the dead, the new Adam, the firstfruits of a new creation. The resurrection means God has power to overcome the old order of sin and death, manipulation and greed, to make something new--a risen Christ and a new humanity.

Hear's the good news for today. God is busy creating the city of hope right now. According to the verbs in the Greek text, the vision of the city of hope is in the present tense. Yes, we live in a political world where might makes right. Yes, we live in a world where the color of your skin still means something. Yes, we live in a world where our nation has been at war every day for the past five years. Even so, God is busy building the city of hope. And if we have the eyes to see, we can get glimpses of that holy city every now and then. We get a glimpse of the city of hope being built when we see global warming becoming a matter of concensus even among conservative religious people in this country. We get a glimpse of God's city of hope being built when we hear a growing clamor for peace, not just among left-wing types, but among people of goodwill everywhere. Yes, there are still pockets of rural povery pounding our counties and there are still ghettos festering in our cities but God's people are getting geared up to work for justice for the working poor, the migrant workers and the hungry in our land of plenty.

What about the church with the stained-glass window problem? "Too otherworldly," the people complained. Well, they decided to keep the window after all. For they discovered that through the years the glass had faded so that through the golden image of the new Jerusalem they could see the towers of their own town; one city seen through the vision of another. We are meant to live in the world with a vision of God's promises, judging injustice with hard truth, but taking hope where hope is sure, and trusting the power of God that raised up Jesus. See, our God is making things new! The vision of the new Jerusalem, that Holy City, God's city of hope, is our guiding light. Let's march on—toward the guiding light—until the time comes when God makes all things new and there is no more night.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Revitalized and Ready

Dr. Jon Burnham preached this sermon from Revelation 21:1-6 at Batesville Presbyterian Church on May 6, 2007

David Buttrick tells the story about the Black woman deep in the bayous of Louisiana who had raised over a dozen children, most of them adopted and foster children. When a newspaper reporter asked her why she had done this, she replied, "I saw a new world a'comin." She saw a new world a'comin' and she is not the only one. The author of our scripture reading today from Revelation writes, "Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth." We, too, have witnessed a new heaven being built in the past couple of decades. This new heaven, called cyberspace, has demonstrated the law of accelerating returns.

Five years ago, no one had heard of Google. Today, the Google company is worth $100 billion. Today corporations have to be quick and nimble. Sony launches a new product once every twenty minutes and Disney launches a new product once every three minutes. When we examine the accelerating rate of change and imagine where it may lead us we find that Revelation's vision of God creating a new heaven and a new earth does not look as improbable as it did even a few years ago.

In his book, The Singularity is Near, inventor and futurist Ray Kurzweil claims we are heading toward an event called a singularity some time around the year 2040. At that time the pace of technological change will be advancing so rapidly that ordinary humans will be unable to keep up with it. Kurzweil notes how the pace of change is accelerating exponentially. We've had 18% growth in constant dollars in information technology for the past 50 years. Take this 18% growth in constant dollars in information technology forward and things start to get really interesting. For instance, Kurzweil predicts that three years from now, by 2010, computers will disappear. They will be so small they will be embedded in our clothing and in our environment. Images will be written directly to our retina, providing full immersion virtual reality. We will be interacting with virtual personalities. The pace of technological change is speeding up as we move toward Kurzweil calls the singularity.

In the past several years we have experienced some exponential growth in our church as well. Batesville Presbyterian Church is not the same congregation we were seven years ago. Several years ago we didn't have many young families with children. Today, our church is predominantly young families with children. We are a young church with a bright future. We have been revitalized and we are now ready to move forward.

A couple of weeks ago the Long Range Planning Committee met with an architect to look at the layout of our church facilities. Over the course of our conversation I became convinced that we need to acknowledge how our church has grown younger by rearranging our current facilities to better reflect the church that we are today rather than the church we were several years ago. Our vision includes putting all the children on the Church Street side of our facilities and adding an elevator to make the upstairs accessible for youth and adult education. The Long Range Planning Committee hopes to display these plans and seek your input in the next few months.

I had always heard that God would create a new earth when I read Revelation chapter 21. What I hadn't noticed as much was that God will also create a new earth. In many ways, the book of Revelation, the last book in the Bible, compliments the book of Genesis, the first book in the Bible. In Genesis, God created the heavens and the earth. In Revelation, God creates a new heaven and a new earth. In due time, God will revitalize heaven and earth. We are ready for that to happen. In fact, more and more people are beginning to work toward revitalizing the earth with green technologies and practices that conserve, reduce and reuse. This is an old practice with new terminology. Our ancestors on the farms of this county and others practiced a kind of frugality that we have forgotten. We need to reclaim our past in our to prepare for our future. By taking responsibility for our actions and changing them as needed, we can reverse the current tide of consumption and leave our children a healthier planet.

As we look to the future, let's not forget the present moment. Someone once said, "The future is now," and I think that is how Jesus viewed the new heaven and new earth. Eternity begins in the present moment. Jesus said, "The kingdom of heaven is within you." In a mystical sense, Revelation 21 is about the inner transformation that occurs when God begins to disrupt our emotional programs for happiness. We are not amused when we learn the way of the cross means dying to our false self programs for happiness. We are not happy to know that God is not interested in our project for personal glorification. But as we work with the Spirit and deny our flesh, our sarx, our false self systems for emotional gratification, then the Spirit carves out more and more new space in which to operate. Little by little the Spirit cleanses us of the emotional wounds of a lifetime. It is as if our inner lives were a cramped and close attic in our house. As we clear out useless old stuff from the attic, we create more space to be filled with useful items. As we clear out the false self's system for happiness we find we have more room inside ourselves for God's light and love to flow.

"Revitalized and ready" is a term that applies on macro and the micro levels. On the macro level, God is already at work creating a new heaven and a new earth and God seeks our cooperation and assistance in this mighty project. We have a role to play in the greening of this planet and the more we learn and practice how to conserve energy then the more we can help God in creating a new earth. On a smaller macro level God has revitalized our congregation and we are ready to consolidate our gains by remodeling our facilities to better enhance our ministries. On the micro level, God's Spirit is ever working in our hearts, wills, and unconscious minds to bring about revitalization and make us ready for greater service.

God is ever busy creating a new heaven a new earth. God calls us to participate in this great project. The vision in Revelation says it well, "And the one who was seated on the throne said, 'See, I am making all things new.'" God is in the business of making things new. God is revitalizing the heavens and the earth, this congregation, and each of us as individuals. Let us participate in God's great project of revitalization. We are revitalized and ready to move forward. Let us open ourselves to God in the present moment and go forth with God into the future.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Let it Shine

Dr. Jon Burnham preached this sermon from John 10:22-30

on April 29, 2007, (Senior Sunday) at Batesville Presbyterian Church

Our scripture this morning begins by pointing us toward the significance of a Jewish festival. John's gospel tells us: "At that time the festival of the Dedication took place in Jerusalem." Many of us are not familiar with Jewish festivals. I turned to wikipedia and learned this Jewish festival is now called Hanukkah. Hanukkah is celebrated during the winter around Christmas. Whereas we put lights on our Christmas trees, the Hanukkah ritual is to light a single candle each night for eight nights to celebrate the miraculous survival of the Jewish people through the ages. Jesus once said: "I am the light of the world." Perhaps he got this idea from observing the lighting of the eight candles during the celebration of Hanuakah.

In our scripture this morning, it was the season of Hanukkah, and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the portico of Solomon. Jesus' opponents gathered around him and said to him, 'How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.' Here is a question of identity. These are two of the most important questions for teenagers such as our graduates this morning. One of your tasks for the next four years, and indeed for the rest of your lifetime, is to determine who you are. According to our Biblical faith, our identity is revealed not so much by who we are as by whose we are. Like the Jewish people who celebrate Hanukah, we also are children of God not only by genetics by also by faith. All humans are made in the image and likeness of God and in that respect all human beings are children of God. We are children of God in that respect but also in a more radical way. We are part of God's family not only by genetics by also by choice. God has chosen us to be part of God's family and we have chosen to be part of God's family. So we are twice blessed, by birth and by choice. This is what we mean when we say we, along with the Jewish people, are members of God's covenant people.

Jesus' opponents demanded that he tell them whether he was the Messiah. The next step after discovering our identity as children of God is to express that identity through our words and actions. We can say we are God's people by the work that we do as well as by the words we say. Part of our Christian vocation is to discover, claim and express our identity as children of God.

It was winter, and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the portico of Solomon. Our graduating seniors have been walking in the temple for some years now. They have been walking in the temple of this sanctuary, the temple of our youth house, and the temple of their own bodies. Young people, take good care of your temple. Your body is the temple of your soul so take good care of your soul's temple by taking good care of your body. Feed your body good food and give it plenty of rest as enough physical exercise to keep it toned up and ready for service. Jesus walked through the temple in Jerusalem and you are walking today in our version of the temple, this sanctuary here in Batesville. As you walked the center aisle during the processional this morning to the sound of the organ playing Pomp and Circumstance, you passed a milestone in your human development. You have crossed over this morning from the land of childhood into the land of young adulthood. As you enter young adulthood you will likely find yourself in another congregation, or perhaps for a time, not active in weekly worship. Even so, the roots of faith have been rooted deep within your souls and you will return to worship in the congregation of your choice in due time.

Jesus answered his critics who wanted him to tell them he was the Messiah, saying, 'I have told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father's name testify to me; but you do not believe, because you do not belong to my sheep.

Along the way in our journey, we will face opposition. Some people will want to influence or control our speech and behavior. Such people and situations call for us to exercise the gift of discernment. Some people we meet will have chosen not to belong to God's covenant family, and we respect these people too, even as we learn to guard our heart. We may experience seasons of doubt in God and ourselves and if we do I hope our parents or family and friends will have enough faith in us to give us time and space to find our way through our doubts. If so, we will come out on the other side with an even greater faith in God and a more secure foundation in Christ.

Throughout the times of struggle and conquest, learn to listen for the voice of the good shepherd amidst the din of doubt and diversity. Learn to hear the voice of Jesus in your own conscience. Learn to listen to the still small voice from within. There is no doubt in my mind that God dwells inside each one of you. Learn the language of silence which is God's first language. Learn a spiritual practice such as centering prayer that teaches you how to communicate with God on the level of spiritual communication. As you learn that language you will learn that there is nowhere you can go where God is not already there. There is nothing you can say that God has not heard before. There is nothing you can do that God will not forgive and redeem. You are, in an ultimate and eternal sense, safe. You are safe in God's heart because God is securely situated in your heart. Jesus says about you what he said about his original disciples: "I know them, and they follow me. No one will snatch them out of my hand."

Jesus said: "The Father and I are one." As we get to know God better, especially through a practice such as centering prayer, we learn that Christ is one with God and we are one with Christ therefore we are one with God. This revelation transforms our lives and causes us to reconsider our priorities. No longer will getting ahead be our primary motivation. Now we are satisfied to rest in God. That rest will recharge our spiritual batteries and propel us into the depths of greater service of God and all people.

As we grow older we will learn the truth that we are one with God. We learn that the kingdom of heaven is not something up there or after we die. The kingdom of heaven is here and now. We learn this when we discover the power of now. The lesson we need to learn is how to live in the present moment. Then we will find ourselves living in heaven on this earth and we will be very happy indeed.

The oil in the Hanukah candles is a metaphor for the miraculous survival of the Jewish people through millennia of trials and tribulations. Persevearance is the key to spiritual growth throughout our adult lives. The Christian journey continues every day that we are alive on this earth and it continues even after we die. Throughout the ages for the past 2000 years God has guarded and guided Christ's church. We are part of a remarkable heritage. Jesus says about us: "I give them eternal life, and they will never perish."

The reason for the Hanukkah lights is not so that passers-by should see it and be reminded of the holiday's miracle. Therefore, lamps are set up at a prominent window or near the door leading to the street. The lights of Hanukah remind us of our graduating seniors whom we honor this mornig. They have the light of Christ within them. They will share the light of Christ with the world. Our graduating seniors are beautiful lamps full of divine light and we bask in the glow of God's love that you cast upon the world. We send them out into the world as living flames of Christ's love.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

More Than These

Dr. Jon Burnham preached this sermon from John 21:1-19 at Batesville Presbyterian Church on April 22, 2007

Once, after his resurrection, Jesus appeared to the disciples at the Sea of Galilee. This is how he did it: Simon Peter and six other disciples were together. Simon Peter announced, "I'm going fishing."

The rest of them replied, "We're going with you." They went out and got in the boat. They caught nothing that night. When the sun came up, Jesus was standing on the beach, but they didn't recognize him.

Jesus spoke to them: "Good morning! Did you catch anything for breakfast?"

They answered, "No."

He said, "Throw the net off the right side of the boat and see what happens."

They did what he said. Note the progression here. Before the disciples recognize Jesus they follow his fishing directions. All of a sudden there were so many fish in it, they weren't strong enough to pull it in.

Then the disciple Jesus loved said to Peter, "It's the Master!" The disciples recognize Jesus after they follow his fishing instructions.

As the story continues we become aware the Jesus is using the fishing incident to teach a deeper lesson. After breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, "Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?" The text doesn't say this but I wonder if Jesus was holding up a piece of fish when he asked Peter, "Do you love me more than these fish?" The fish reminds Peter of his life as a fisherman before he left everything behind to follow Jesus. Peter had discarded many things for Jesus sake. He had left behind his family and his career. Jesus wonders if Simon would like to go back to the life he had know before he met Jesus. Peter responds that he loves Jesus more than anything he has left behind, even more than fish. He is happy he followed Jesus. He would make the same choice again.

Then Jesus has a chore for Peter. If Peter loves Jesus more than these, more than these fish, more than his past life as a fisherman, then Jesus wants Peter to fish for people, to bring people into relationship with Jesus.

Christ is an equal opportunity employer in this regard. Christ extends to each of us the same challenge as he gave to Peter: Become fishers of people! Christ calls disciples to be fishers of people. The purpose of one's faith is to share it, to harvest a catch, to bring others into the net of God's grace. As an old gospel hymn urges: "Bring them in, bring them in."

How do we Presbyterians bring them in? How do we engage in evangelism? How do we share our faith? We share our faith through relationships. We share our faith by inviting others to come and see our church. We share our faith by introducing others to our risen Lord.

A woman was to preach at an African Annual Conference. She was a very bright young woman who had recently receiver her PhD. An African man, who knew fairly good English, was to be her interpreter.

She began her sermon that morning by saying, "I want to talk this morning regarding the relationship of the East and West with special consideration for the psychological and theological implications for Christian Mission."

Many of these words the African interpreter had never heard. He paused for a moment and then turned to the congregation and said, "Mama is glad she is here."

Thankfully, Christ does not call most of us to share our faith with big words and fancy sermons. Christ calls most of us to share our faith through relationships.

We see the relational side of evangelism in the way Christ brings Peter back into the fold. Peter had denied Jesus three times around a charcoal fire in a courtyard near where Jesus' was being interrogated on the night before he was crucified. Now, Jesus addresses Peter in the full light of morning on the beach of the Sea of Galilee. Jesus does not deliver a sermon to Peter on the etiology of ethical behavior towards authority figures. He just shared a down-home breakfast with him and asked him if he loved him more than these fish. That's something we all can do. We can all talk. We can all eat. We can all become fishers of men.

We Presbyterians feel comfortable recommending a restaurant to a friend or family member but we hesitate to recommend our church to them. Evangelism revolves around simple invitations. The reason someone will visit our church for the first time is because we invite them to come. Most of the people who become part of our church do so at the invitation of friends and relatives. Yet we still feel somewhat awkward in extending an invitation to come to church or to meet Jesus. We may believe that such a departure from our usual conversations will strain our friendships.

Yet we Presbyterians have a gift to share with a troubled nation. We have the gift of tolerance and mutual forbearance. We have all kinds in our church. We have people on the left and people on the right of the political issues. Like American society, Presbyterian churches are not in agreement on all the hot button social issues of our day. We sometimes wonder if our church can hang together during these turbulent times. Yet, notice what happens in our gospel story. Jesus tells the disciples, "Bring some of the fish you've just caught." Simon Peter joined them and pulled the net to shore — 153 big fish! And even with all those fish, the net didn't rip. The net didn't rip! One commentator says the part about the net not ripping even with all those fish may suggest that the unity of the early church was maintained even in the face of a diverse and growing company of people. (Texts for preaching. Year C / Charles B. Cousar . . . [et al.]) This story gives us hope for unity amidst diversity in our particular church, in the higher governing bodies of the Presbyterian Church (USA) and for the Christian church at large.

Our church, like America, is a big tent society. We have people of all persuasions in our pews. The diversity of our membership is something to celebrate as Presbyterians. People in our community are hungry to have relationships with people who are like them and with people who are different from them but still treat them with dignity and respect. We know how to make some elbow room in the Presbyterian Church. If we invited people to come, our churches would be growing instead of declining as is in the case in so many of our churches. The fellowship of our church is a gift we can share and it all starts with a simple invitation.

Invite people to come and see what our church is about. How do we invite them? What do you say when you invite someone to church? None of us can promise what a person will come across in our church. We don't want to make promises. Don't say: "Come to worship, and you'll get a lot out of it." Or "Join us for a fellowship dinner, and you'll have a great time." Or "You'll be very welcome in our congregation." Just say, "Come and see for yourself."

Thankfully, you are inviting people and our church is growing. The atmosphere at our recent joint meeting of deacons and elders was very positive. The church officers are excited about the growth in our church. We have experienced growth in numbers and growth in a spirit of fellowship and mission. Attendance is up at services such as the Kirkin' o' the Tartans and our church wide picnics. We have love left over every time we get together and that love is looking for someone to bless. Let's speak to the unchurched friends in our lives and invite them to worship at our church, saying, "Come and see."

The goal of our evangelism is that others may meet our risen Lord. We are learning how to be serious fishers--fishers for people. Take a chance. Invite an unchurched friend or relative to come and see our church. Who knows, with God's help, we might just catch one! We have room in our congregation for all kinds of people. Like the disciples in our story today, Christ challenges us to become fishers for people. Evangelism is part of the package for Christians. As he invited his disciples around the Sea of Galilee, so Jesus invites us, saying, "Come, follow me, and I will make you fishers for people."