Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Very Good News Going Forward: How Additive Manufacturing will Change Our Experience of Church

We stand face to face with the First Sunday of Advent. This new liturgical year heralds a new beginning in our church. Things are going to get very creative over the next ten years as we make the transition to a new system of production. A Renaissance is in the works during our lifetime. The link below presents a brief overview of 3D Printing and will be my source document along with the text of Isaiah 64:1-9. Churches such as ours that intentionally incorporate the principles of additive manufacturing will prosper.

Isaiah 64:1-9

64O that you would tear open the heavens and come down,
   so that the mountains would quake at your presence—
2 *as when fire kindles brushwood
   and the fire causes water to boil—
to make your name known to your adversaries,
   so that the nations might tremble at your presence!
3 When you did awesome deeds that we did not expect,
   you came down, the mountains quaked at your presence.
4 From ages past no one has heard,
   no ear has perceived,
no eye has seen any God besides you,
   who works for those who wait for him.
5 You meet those who gladly do right,
   those who remember you in your ways.
But you were angry, and we sinned;
   because you hid yourself we transgressed.*
6 We have all become like one who is unclean,
   and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy cloth.
We all fade like a leaf,
   and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.
7 There is no one who calls on your name,
   or attempts to take hold of you;
for you have hidden your face from us,
   and have delivered* us into the hand of our iniquity.
8 Yet, O Lord, you are our Father;
   we are the clay, and you are our potter;
   we are all the work of your hand.
9 Do not be exceedingly angry, O Lord,
   and do not remember iniquity for ever.
   Now consider, we are all your people.

There are two primary ways a sacramental object such as a communion cup may be manufactured. One way is to take things away from it. This is the pottery method of construction. Remove every part of the clay except that which is the form you want to create. The subtractive manufacturing technique is the metaphor Isaiah uses for the relationship between God and God's people when he says, "We are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand." (Isaiah 64:8) Yet there is another form of manufacturing called additive manufacturing and that is what Isaiah has in mind when he talks about a powerfully disruptive experience of God, "O that you would tear open the heavens and come down,
so that the mountains would quake at your presence." (Isaiah 64:1) Another other way to manufacture is the tinker toy method. You add this piece to that piece to that piece until you have created the object you desire. This is the additive or 3D method of construction.

The Hanging of the Greens is an additive process. You don't just snap your fingers and the sanctuary is magically decorated. It is a process. First you gather the supplies. Then you put up the greenery. Next you add the decorations to the greenery. Then you put the chrismons on the tree. Hanging the greens is similar to working with Lego blocks. This part adds with that part and another part to make something that was not there before. The green wreaths added with the red bows added with the Chrismon tree creates a beauty that before was not present.

We saw a similar manifestation of this principle in the Community Thanksgiving Service here in this sanctuary last Sunday afternoon. The St. John's Handbell Choir plus the adult choir plus our ladies who produced the reception plus the Cantor from Temple Beth Israel plus the preacher from Westbury United Methodist plus the Director of BIM plus the youth choir that sang plus all the other worship leaders and participants created a sense of unity of purpose in this community that was more than the sum of its parts. It felt so good look around at faces you know and some you've never seen and know that we are united in providing food for the hungry in our community. Additive spirituality creates opportunities and provides results.

Beyond the church in greater society, the way things are made is undergoing a fundamental transition that will lead to a Renaissance in human productive capacity. Yes, that is a big claim but it is true. When you think of transformative technologies you think of the steam engine, light bulb, atomic energy, or the microchip, to name just a few. These technologies transformed our world. Such breakthroughs take decades to develop from the time when they are invented to the time when they become ubiquitous. 20 years ago, I doubt the Defense Department had any idea how the World Wide Web would transform the communications system of humanity. Repeated small, incremental improvements have a big benefit over time. We feel the sense of such a change in our text today as the prophet recalls a time when God "did awesome deeds that we did not expect."

Now another new technology is coming along that will change the world. Additive Manufacturing (AM) is a revolutionary new technology that could change the the way we design and manufacture products from cars to combs. It has massive implications in the world. For instance, production of goods will move away from nations such as China back to the United States.

Additive manufacturing will change the world by adding rather than subtracting. It is amazing what a difference that can make. Say goodbye to assembly lines full of parts shipped from dozens of factories from around the world. Products will be printed on demand at a location near your home. Instead of your car being built in a factory in Detroit or Tennessee, it will be built in a lab in Downtown Houston or even closer to your house.

Today you can email a document from your house to your child in Africa. He can then print a paper copy of your email and hold it his hand. Ten years from now you will be able to email a design to your son in Africa. He will be able to take a copy of that design to his local maker space and they will print a 3D copy of your design. That design may be anything from a new cell phone to a set of legos. Any physical object could be delivered and produced that way. What has happened in terms of words (type anywhere and email anywhere and read anywhere you have internet access) will happen with object (design anywhere, email anywhere, print anywhere).

Let me describe the technique of additive manufacturing then we'll consider the implications of this method for the church. Additive manufacturing adds layer upon layer of material until a final object is printed. Additive manufacturing adds and adds and adds, layer by layer, until a product is complete. For example, in 3D printing you take a raw material such as tiny plastic pellets, load them into the printer, insert a software design of an object you want to produce such as a wrench or hammer, push a button to start the process, and the printer uses the plastic to print the hammer layer after layer until you have a finished project. When the print is finished, remove the hammer from the printer and it is ready to nail a nail. In time you will be able to print not just a hammer but a car or cellphone or computer chip or replacement part for any object in your house or business.

Churches who are able to apply the principles of additive manufacturing will prosper. Here is how this will look in the church. For centuries the church has operated under the idea of subtractive manufacturing. If we are doing one thing in a church - such as hanging banners in the sanctuary - then we cannot do another thing - such as project images on a screen. Subtractive manufacturing led us to believe there are a limited number of things we can do. If you have one wall you can either put a banner on it or project an image on it. It's either - or. This is based on the idea of limitation. Beyond the church this expresses itself in society as the idea of limited resources. Additive manufacturing teaches another way to look at things. In additive manufacturing you add and add and add and add until you get what you want.

Here is another example of the principles of additive manufacturing in the church. In the old way of making a church budget, ten years ago and older, you had a unified church budget. Everyone was asked to give to that budget. Everyone agreed what the budget was going to be for each item and some items were not included (they were subtracted from the budget) because they were not affordable based on the pledges received. The additive model of making a church budget is to say here is what we agree we want and here is how much money we have to spend on that and then here is what we want to do but we don't yet have the money for it. But rather than subtract that from the church we will add it to a "Wish List" and ask people to give for that specific thing. We did that recently with several items from new cribs in the nursery to a new church sign and people gave - in ADDITION - to their regular pledge. This is additive budgeting. Another way we do additive budgeting is through our various memorial funds. We have certain memorial funds such as a college scholarship fund. People may choose to give money to that fund in addition to their regular pledge and offering and those monies will be used That is our version of additive budgeting. Although we primarily rely on pledges, we have income that we receive in addition to our pledges.

Finally, additive technology will vastly multiply our mission efforts. We now take a few months to gather needed materials to build a water system and then have to pack all the parts in an airplane. We then take a week long trip to Cuba or Haiti to install a clean water system. Ten years from we will take a week long trip to install a 3D printer in a village and teach them how to use it. They will then be able to use the 3D printer to build the parts for a clean water system right there on site. In addition to that, they will be able to use the 3D printer to manufacture any number of useful items that will increase their standard of living. Imagine being able to create solar panels right on the mission site. Imagine being able to create dental implants right on site. Or perhaps a surgeon is present and needs a leg implant. She can create is on site on the 3D printer. And someone is there to teach the villagers how to use the 3D printer because it stays behind after we leave. This will multiply our mission efforts a thousand fold for the same amount of money which will be the cost of a 3D printer and plane tickets for the missionaries.

Additive manufacturing teaches us to say, "Yes, and this ..." rather than "Either this or that." There is a profound difference between those two. It is as profound as the difference between subtractive manufacturing and subtractive manufacturing. This slight shift is transformative in the life of a church.

Subtractive thinking says that each person - each member - must participate in each activity. So if we don't have a sizable crowd at a particular activity then that activity is considered a failure. On the other hand, additive thinking says that each person is not expected to participate in each activity. So if we have an activity in which only a few people participate we may still consider that activity a success.

One of our members who returned from a mission trip to Cuba was struck by all the activities they have going on at a very small church. There are guitar lessons during the daytime, English lessons at night, choir practice, lectures, mission projects, the church building is always buzzing with activity. That is an example of additive thinking. Not every participates in every activity in that small church and that is okay with them. By having a large number of small and smaller groups they add up to a total number of people blessed than if they had fewer activities that were attended by a large group of people.

We are moving toward the additive model here. Look at what happened last Sunday morning. We had several church school classes at 9 am last Sunday. There was a Session meeting to receive the confirmands at 10 am. The choir and handbell choir were practicing at 10 am. During worship we recognized the confirmands, remembered Lee Shoemake and then had a reception for the confirmands. The choir had a prayer of dedication for Lee's brick in the columbarium after worship too. Then at 4 pm we hosted the Community Thanksgiving Service here. The church was literally packed with people. After the service we hosted a reception for the community. The day before several people had spent time preparing for the reception and the Harvest Sunday and everything else. Sound exhausting? If you participated in every event it could have been. But the way it works with additive thinking is you add and add and add activities and then let people pick and choose which ones they want to participate in. Then you don't judge success by numbers. If an activity has 3 people involved but it transformative for those three people then it is a success.

What we don't want is to wear people out with too much activity but that will happen only if people feel like they have to participate in every event offered.

This is the most energetic, creative church I've ever been around. We have SO many great ideas. Each of them is free to live and prosper if someone makes it happen. Our challenge is how to be free and creative and additive in nature and still do things "decently in order" as is our Presbyterian inclination. The foundation for that is TRUST. The more we build trust within this congregation the more additive we can be and the more successful we will be at making disciples and meeting human needs.

The additive process is a trend in the Presbyterian Church (USA). You can see it in the new Book of Oder that was passed. The book is shorter and meant to provide for greater flexibility in how we operate. We are already moving toward the model of additive manufacturing in church and society. Once this technology takes hold in the world we will all benefit beyond our dreams. Truly, additive manufacturing is a game changer for the good in both society and the church. Let us embrace it and prosper. For you see, God is not out to get us. God is out to change each of us, the church and all human society for the better through additive manufacturing.

The Rev. Dr. Jonathan L. Burnham preached this sermon on November 27, 2011 at St. John's Presbyterian Church, 5020 West Bellfort Ave, Houston, TX 77035
Phone 713-723-6262 | sjpresby.blogspot.com
 | November 27 - 1st Sunday of Advent / YEAR B

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Christ's Church in Transition: Moving Beyond People and Place

One of the topics we cover in our Confirmation Class each year is "What is a Christian?" We often answer that question in one of two ways. We say the church is the people of God or we say the church is the facilities where the people of God gather. According to modern theologian Jurgen Moltmann, there is third way of viewing the church. The church is the body of Christ. It sounds esoteric but it has practical implications. You will learn more about his view of the church today and how it changes everything. Now let us turn our attention to the reading and hearing of God's word to us today, from Ephesians 1:15-23.

I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love towards all the saints, and for this reason I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers. I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power. God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come. And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.

When I was a child we would drive an hour in our brown station wagon to go to Grandaddy's house on Thanksgiving Day. When we arrived there were many cousins, aunts, uncles, dogs, cows, chickens, squirrels and crickets on my grandaddy's farm. The food would fill a three big tables to overflowing. Grannie's chicken and dumplings were always a big hit and her black bottom pie for dessert was unstoppable. Before lunch the women would be preparing the table while the men sat in the living room and watch the Dallas Cowboys play the Detroit Tigers. No one cared who won the game. There was not much small talk. Just an occasional, "Look at him go!" Or "Did you see that?!"

After lunch the men would get their guns and go tromping off into the deeply wooded forest in search of squirrels. A couple of squirrel dogs would be set loose to tree squirrels and let us know where to look. I felt proud to be walking with this group of cousins and uncles. One Thanksgiving Day when we were walking through the deep woods I saw large pieces of tin that had flown off the chicken house miles away and wrapped themselves around an oak tree. Other trees had fallen there where a tornado had touched the group. The power of that tornado on display made a big impression on me.

We Christians tend to think of the church as being the hunters in the woods or the trees themselves. But really, in this analogy, the church is to be found in the tornado. Gods Holy Spirit gives life like the very air we breath. Sometimes that air is stirred up into an overwhelming storm that causes destruction wherever it touches down. Yet that power that caused the damage in that storm is often only evident in retrospect. So it is in the church. We come to this sanctuary and see the evidence that God has been here before. Yet we have lost contact with the power of God which is the very church. So Moltmann would say the Church exists in the power of the Spirit. Wherever the Spirit of Jesus is moving, there is the church. So let's never get puffed up thinking that WE are the church. We are NOT the church. This building is not the church. The power of the Holy Spirit is the church.

Just like that forest that was damaged by a tornado, so you've been through tough times that changed the way you viewed the world. That is what the church is going through now. This is nothing new. Israel went through a transition in how they viewed themselves after they were exiled into foreign countries. The Old Testament prophets helped Israel understand God in a new way in that time of transition. Today, in this time of transition for the church we have theologians who are leading the way in helping the church re-imagine who we are and who God is during this time of transition and decline. One such theologian is Jurgen Moltmann. His book, The Church in the Power of the Spirit, shares his understanding of the church.

Jesus said God's kingdom is not of this world. Moltmann says the church is not of this world. The power at work in the church is the power of God that raised Christ from the dead and exalted him to heavenly places. Do you see what this shift does? It changes the question for the church. We no longer question why the church as an institution is losing influence in society. Instead, we wonder how we can get ourselves into alignment with Christ because Christ is the church. That is what we mean when we say the church is "the body of Christ." We know what happened to the body of Christ. The body of Christ was ripped and torn and crucified on the cross. So the present decline of the church becomes a symbol of the suffering Christ bore in his own body. Moltmann's view helps us reconstruct our image of the church in a way that fits with our exile from influence in society.

You belong to something greater than yourself when you belong to this church. You will see this principle in even greater detail at the Community Thanksgiving Service this afternoon. God is at work in this community through Salem Lutheran Church, Westbury United Methodist Church, Southwest Church of Christ, Temple Beth Israel, Willow Meadows Baptist Church, Corpus Christi Catholic Church, St. John's Presbyterian Church and all the other churches that compose our Southwest Houston Ministerial Association. God is at work among the people of this community. We are part of God's work in this place. That is what we will celebrate this afternoon.

Remember the Triumphant Entry of Jesus into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. He did not ride into the city inside a taxi cab or a limousine. He rode into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey. Small children threw palm branches on the path before him. Old men and young women threw their cloaks on the ground to pave the wave for his entry into the city. Yet three days later this same crowd who welcomed him with open arms will vote to have Jesus arms stretched out on a cross, naked, on public display. Remember the suffering of the King of Jews. That is the key to understanding Christ's Kingdom that is not of this world. This is a kingdom where suffering leads to glory. This is a kingdom where it is better to give than to receive. This is a kingdom where those who mourn will be comforted. This is a kingdom in which those who are persecuted will rejoice. This is a kingdom which is not of this reality. This is an alternate reality to which we belong. We must learn to view reality with the eyes of Christ. This is a different way of seeing. It takes practice to see things in this way. It does not happen overnight. We must develop our spiritual eyesight through spiritual practices such as prayer, study, meditation, and service to others in Jesus' name.

Last Monday my wife's van needed to have the wheels aired up and rotated. We drove to a repair shop and left her van there. We wondered whether the tires would need to have an alignment. The mechanic said you'll know you need an alignment on your car when it starts veering off course. Have you ever had your tires go out of alignment on your car? You find your car veers to the right or to the left when you are driving on the freeway. When your wheels are out of alignment you can set your steering wheel straight ahead and remove your hands and your car will move off of dead center and start veering to the left or the right depending on how your wheel is out of alignment. You take your car to a mechanic and he will put your wheels back into alignment. You want to get your wheels back into alignment because driving when your tires out of alignment is dangerous and costly. It is dangerous because by veering off course the car could cause a wreck. It is costly because a tire that is out alignment requires more gasoline to make it run. An out of alignment tire will also wear out a tire faster. Our role as Christians is to align ourselves with Christ. When we get in alignment with Christ it takes less energy to get more done in the church. When we get in alignment with Christ we are all going in the same direction as Christ. There is no veering off course such as happens when we are out of alignment. Moltmann wants to get the church back into alignment. Confirmands, and all Christians, keep your life in alignment with Christ and you will stay in alignment with Christ's church.

As our text tells us, right here in Ephesians 5:22-23, "the church is Christ's body." To the extent that our lives are in alignment with Christ, then we are part of the church. To the degree that our lives are out of alignment with Christ, we are not part of the church. Even when we are in alignment with Christ, we do not own the church. To think that we somehow "own" the church is to think that we somehow "own" Christ. Of course, that is a silly thought. We do not own Christ. We do not own Christ's church. Christ is the head of this church. This church is Christ's body. If you are joined to Christ, you are part of Christ's church. Today we celebrate three young people who are wanting to live their lives in alignment with Christ's vision and mission. Take this service as you invitation to rededicate yourself to following and obeying Jesus.

The image of the church as the body of Christ relieves us of the responsibility of saving either the world or the church. That is beyond our ability to accomplish. Yet it leaves us with a clear responsibility. We must follow and obey Jesus. We live our lives in alignment with the vision and mission of Jesus. That is how we know we are part of the church. Those who make the daily effort to obey Christ are the Church. Your efforts at following and obeying Christ are either sincere or they are not. Today let us rededicate our lives to Christ. Thus will we be joined with the suffering body of Christ, the Church.

The Rev. Dr. Jonathan L. Burnham preached this sermon on November 20, 2011 at St. John's Presbyterian Church, 5020 West Bellfort Ave, Houston, TX 77035.
Phone 713-723-6262 | sjpresby.blogspot.com

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Wield the Power of Life and Death - Stewardship of the Tongue

You recognized the sound of  your mother's voice while still in your mother's womb. The sound of her voice spurred your growth and accompanied your birth into this world. The tongue is a powerful force that may be used to bring death or life. Jesus demonstrated the power of the tongue to kill when he destroyed a fig tree with his words. God demonstrated the power of speech when God created the world through speaking it into existence as described in Genesis. Our text today challenges us to use our tongue for building up rather than tearing down. Listen for that message in this reading from 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11:

Now concerning the times and the seasons, brothers and sisters, you do not need to have anything written to you. For you yourselves know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. When they say, "There is peace and security," then sudden destruction will come upon them, as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and there will be no escape! But you, beloved, are not in darkness, for that day to surprise you like a thief; for you are all children of light and children of the day; we are not of the night or of darkness.

So then let us not fall asleep as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober; for those who sleep sleep at night, and those who are drunk get drunk at night. But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, and put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation. For God has destined us not for wrath but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, so that whether we are awake or asleep we may live with him.

Therefore encourage one another and build up each other, as indeed you are doing.

- - -

Frank is sitting in his car in a large mall parking lot, and nobody is coming near him because he's holding a shotgun to his throat. The SWAT team and the hostage negotiation team are called in. The SWAT team takes positions behind other cars and vehicles, trying to not agitate the man. As they wait, they fill in the background details.

They're looking at a man in his early thirties who lost his customer service job at a large electronics store six months earlier for yelling at customers and coworkers. He'd interviewed for several jobs, but didn't get any of them. He was abusive verbally to his wife and two young children. A month earlier, his wife and kids moved in with her parents in another city. She told him that she needed a break, and he needed to get his act together. The landlord of their apartment kicked him out at the same time because they hadn't paid the rent. He moved into a shabby room in a poor section of the city. He stopped bathing and shaving and ate next to nothing. The last straw was the restraining order he'd received the day before he ended up at the mall parking lot.

Now the lead negotiator is talking calmly to the man. "Frank, this is Lieutenant Evans, I'm going to be talking with you, because there is another way out of this besides hurting yourself. I know you don't think you have any choice, but you really do."

Frank exclaims: "You don't know anything. You're just like everyone else. Leave me alone!"

Lieutenant Evans replies: "I don't think I can do that. You're here in the middle of a mall parking lot with a gun to your throat, and I need to help you find another way out of this situation."

"Go away! I don't need anyone's help!" Frank replies. And so the conversation proceeds for an hour, with stretches of silence lasting several minutes or more.

As the information about Frank comes in, it becomes clear that he's not an evil person, just a very disturbed and angry one. The SWAT team is poised to "take him out" if he threatens anyone else with his gun, but everyone except Frank would like to end this peacefully. However, the odds of that don't look so good.

After an hour and a half, another negotiator, Detective Kramer, arrives. Kramer is a graduate of one of the hostage negotiation training sessions I've delivered to police and FBI hostage negotiators. Detective Kramer's been briefed about Frank's background and the status of this negotiation and offers Lieutenant Evans a different suggestion: "Here's what I want you to say to the guy: 'I'll bet you feel that nobody knows what it's like to have tried everything else and be stuck with this as your only way out, isn't that true?'"

Evans replies, "Say what?"

Kramer repeats the suggestion: "Yeah, go on, say this to the guy: 'I'll bet you feel that nobody knows what it's like to have tried everything else and be stuck with this as your only way out, isn't that true?'"

Evans complies and when he says that to Frank, Frank too replies with: "Say what?" Evans repeats it to Frank, who this time responds: "Yeah, you're right, nobody knows and nobody cares!"

Kramer tells Evans, "Good, you got a 'Yes'; now you're in. Let's build on that." He adds a second question for the lead negotiator to ask: "Yeah, and I'll bet you feel that nobody knows what it's like to start every day believing that there's more chance that something will go wrong than go right, isn't that true, too?" To that, Frank replies: "Yeah, every single day! The same thing happens."

Kramer tells Evans to repeat what he's heard and get an additional confirmation: "And because nobody knows how bad it is and nobody cares and because nothing goes right and everything goes wrong, that's why you're in your car with a gun wanting to end it all. True?" "True," Frank replied, his voice showing the earliest signs of calming down. "Tell me more. What exactly has happened to you? When was your life last okay, and what's happened since then to turn it to crap?" Evans invites. Frank starts to recount the events since he was fired from his job. When he pauses, Evans responds with: "Really . . . tell me more." Frank continues describing the problems he's had.

At some point, with guidance from Kramer, Evans says: "And all of that's caused you to feel angry? Or frustrated? Or discouraged? Or hopeless? Or what exactly?" Evans waits for Frank to pick the word that best fits how he feels. Frank finally owns up to: "Fed up." Evans follows up with: "So you felt fed up and when you got that restraining order, that was the breaking point?" "Yeah," Frank confirms. His voice, once hostile, is quieter now. In a few sentences, Frank's gone from refusing to communicate to listening and beginning to have a conversation.

What just happened? The most critical step in persuasion—the step I refer to as "buy-in"—has begun. That's the step where a person goes from resisting to listening and then to considering what's being said. What caused Frank to start listening and begin to "buy in" to what Lieutenant Evans was saying? That shift was no accident. The secret lay in saying the words that Frank was thinking but not saying. When the lieutenant's words matched what Frank was thinking, Frank leaned into the conversation and began to say, "Yes." [Goulston M.D., Mark; Keith Ferrazzi (2009-09-15). Just Listen: Discover the Secret to Getting Through toAbsolutely Anyone (p. 5-7). AMACOM. Kindle Edition.]

Our role is to encourage one another in Christ. We are to build one another up. We do that through our words and deeds. How we speak and what we say are the ammunition we use to strike one another or the power we use to heal one another.

Jesus demonstrated the negative power of the tongue when he cursed a fig tree that did not produce good fruit and the fig tree withered and died. So did he symbolically illustrate the power of the spoken word to have effect on material objects.

On the positive use of the tongue, in Genesis we read God created the night and the day and God said that it was good. We try to escape the night, the darkness, our shadow selves. But there is much power there inside us. Our shadow selves may be binding us. Our shadow selves may cause us to sleep walk through life unaware of what is going on in our lives or how. For example, share story of my mom and dad laughing when I asked why they needed another child other than me? They thought it was a funny question from a child but I took their laughter as mockery which is not how they meant it. That moment was a significant one in my development and left a scar in my shadow self that only recently have I been able to recognize and heal. The little things we say and how we say them are the things that will replay before our eyes when we see our life relived before we die. So let us be mindful and awake to how our words and actions effect other people. That is the message of our text.

On this Stewardship Sunday the most significant gift we may give God is control of our tongue. No other body part may be used for such good or such evil. No other body part is harder to control than our tongue. Self control is a foundation for Christian living. We cannot encourage one another is we do not have control of our tongues.

Jesus once told a crazy parable about a wedding banquet. A king invited his courtly, wealthy friends to his son's wedding banquet and none of them showed up. So he sent his servants out to invite people from the streets, anyone they could find, to come to the wedding banquet. Then when these common people showed up, pulled in from the street, and they were having a great time eating and drinking. Then the king spotted a guest who was not wearing the proper attire and he went ballistic. He demanded this inappropriately dressed guest be thrown out of the banquet feast.

This is a parable about us. We come to church dressed in our church clothes because we know on Sunday morning that is what we are supposed to wear. We come to church with our Sunday language and nice words to each other. Then we go home and deconstruct every conversation and encounter we had with someone at church that morning, what the preacher said or did that was wrong, any mistakes we noticed the liturgist make, any wrong note sung by the choir or the person in the pew next to us in singing a hymn. And Jesus says to us, that is wrong. You are not getting it. You are missing the point. You must wear the right clothes at all times in all places. The right clothes refers to your tongue and how you use it as an instrument of healing or destruction.

You must wear wedding clothes every day all day means you must use positive words that build up rather than tear down every day all day. Otherwise, just because you show up on church on Sunday morning and use nice words from 9 am until noon on Sunday does not mean you belong here at the wedding banquet of the king's daughter. It is insane to think that every person on the street should wear their finest wedding banquet clothes every single day just in case the king should on the spur of the moment invite them to his son's wedding banquet. That is absurd. And Jesus uses that absurd image to make his absurd demand that every moment of every day at all times we must be aware, awake, and using our best language to build people up rather than tear them down. That is a tall order. It is just about as hard to do that as it would be to wear your finest dress clothes around your house all day just in case President Obama calls you up to come attend a wedding banquet in the White House. But we must be prepared to get such an unlikely call because that "staying on your toes" attitude is the one that Jesus is after. That is the key to the kingdom. Paul said he was always prepared to preach the gospel whether in a boat or in a jail, whether in winter or summer, in season or out of season, in Rome or in Jerusalem. This is a radical interpretation of the Boy Scout motto: Always be prepared.

Jesus is more interested in what we say than what we wear. He scolded so-called religious people who wore the proper clothes but did not use their tongues to build people up. Remember Jesus in the temple with the publican and the Pharisee. The Pharisee cut the publican down but the publican used his tongue to repent. Jesus approved the publican and castigated the Pharisee.

Our text today says we are to encourage one another. In the New Testament book of James we read the tongue is a raging fire that can get out of control. We also find this advice: "Be slow to speech." I took that literally when I was in Junior High School. That is why I speak so slowly today. We are to think before we speak. That is good advice for everyone.

In 1996, Powell was the keynote speaker at a national conference for a leading residential real estate company's top producers. By that point, he'd achieved tremendous popularity with the American public and was being considered as a presidential nominee. General Powell had the audience in the palm of his hand. He urged the audience to give back to their communities. He spoke passionately of his gratitude for his family, childhood, and friends. And he exhorted us all to "do well by doing good." At the end of his talk, he called for questions. Still feeling the warm glow of his inspiring words, we were totally unprepared for what happened next. "General Powell," the first questioner said, "I understand that your wife once suffered from depression, had to take medicine, and was even in a mental hospital. Do you want to comment on that?" You could hear all 8,000 people in the auditorium gasp at the inappropriateness—not to mention the cruelty—of the question. In the silence that followed, we all wondered how Powell would react to being blindsided. Edmund Muskie had thrown away his presidential hopes years earlier when a reporter asked about his wife's sanity, and he started to cry. What would Powell do under similar circumstances? Here's exactly what he did. He looked at the questioner. He paused for a moment. And then he simply responded: "Excuse me—the person you love more than anyone is living in hell, and you don't do whatever you can to get her out. Do you have a problem with that, sir?"

He reached everyone in the audience and touched them to their core. And I have no doubt he reached the questioner just as powerfully as a fist in the face would have—without having to lift a finger to do it. That's poise under pressure. And if you can achieve that same poise, it'll get you successfully through any stressful, high-stakes encounters that life hands you. [Goulston M.D., Mark; Keith Ferrazzi (2009-09-15). Just Listen: Discover the Secret to Getting Through toAbsolutely Anyone (p. 35). AMACOM. Kindle Edition.]

Watch what you say and how you say it so that you are building people up rather than tearing them down. Wield the power of life and death with subtlety and wisdom. Practice stewardship of your tongue.

The Rev. Dr. Jonathan L. Burnham preached this sermon on November 13 - 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time - Stewardship Dedication Sunday at St. John's Presbyterian Church, 5020 West Bellfort Ave, Houston, TX 77035
Phone 713-723-6262 | sjpresby.blogspot.com.

Sign the Card for the Spiritual Survivalist Society

Sermon Text: Matthew 25:1-13

25"Then the kingdom of heaven will be like this. Ten bridesmaids took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. 2Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. 3When the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them; 4but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. 5As the bridegroom was delayed, all of them became drowsy and slept. 6But at midnight there was a shout, 'Look! Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.' 7Then all those bridesmaids got up and trimmed their lamps. 8The foolish said to the wise, 'Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.' 9But the wise replied, 'No! there will not be enough for you and for us; you had better go to the dealers and buy some for yourselves.' 10And while they went to buy it, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went with him into the wedding banquet; and the door was shut. 11Later the other bridesmaids came also, saying, 'Lord, lord, open to us.' 12But he replied, 'Truly I tell you, I do not know you.' 13Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.

People react in different ways to today's tough economy. Some people take action by protests and political involvement such as joining the Tea Party movement or the Occupy Wallstreet movement. Others become proactive about learning to survive off less money and less things. They are called survivalists or preppers. They stock up on food, gold and guns in anticipation of the breakdown of society. I don't think it's going to happen as they envision it but you have to respect the way they act on their beliefs and try to be self reliant and prepared. If they wrong, so what? What have they lost? If they are right, well, they have saved their lives and the lives of their families. . It is a sign of the times that such people may be considered radical by some. How radical an idea is it to follow the Boy Scouts motto and "Always be prepared?" This is also the main point of Jesus parable of the ten bridesmaids.

The survivalist movement is concerned about the risk of a coming societal meltdown. They prepare for the consequences. The true message of survivalism is to prepare oneself and one's family for dire possibilities. The typcial survivalist lives in the city but seeks a rural retreat for safety and freedom from the coming storm. Rural self-sufficiency requires a lot of hard work and specialized knowledge. Thus, survivalist tend to be seekers of knowledge as well as supplies. James Wesley Rawles is a survivalist from the United States who prefers to live in a rural retreat. Rawles is an outspoken proponent of family preparedness, especially regarding food storage and advocates relocating to lightly populated rural "retreat" areas. His preparedness philosophy emphasizes the fragility of modern society, the value of silver and other tangibles for barter, recognition of moral absolutes, being well armed, maintaining a "deep larder," relocation to rural retreats, and Christian charity. In an interview in The New York Times, Rawles referred to himself as a "guns and groceries" survivalist.

Another branch of survivalist thinks the city is the safest place to be in during a societal breakdown. The reason is that governments in such a case would likely concentrate what resources and security they can muster on the inner core of urban areas in their attempt to maintain power and control.

James Wesley Rawles and Fernando Ferfal Aguirre are recent manifestions of an old idea: Always be prepared. The Mormon Church teaches its members to be prepared spiritually, physically, financially, and mentally for any unforeseen disaster. They are strongly encouraged to live within our means, get as much education as is possible, and prepare for a rainy day. Historically, there have been different levels of preparedness. Each family should have a "72-hour kit" which includes food, water, clothing, medications, etc, which will last the family 3 days. Usually outside help takes 2 or 3 days to arrive in the case of an emergency. Consider when helpers started arriving after Katrina. This kit should be in a place where you can grab it and run. Each family is asked to have food, water, and cash reserves for one year. (Online: http://www.answerbag.com/q_view/2320063#ixzz1cYsOW5rl)

As Presbyterians we do not emphasize such intentional prepareations but perhaps we should. We struggle with this question in the stewardship of our resources. For example, if our budget was based only on the pledges of our members we would have to cut everything by ten percent. In reality, we receive gifts other than what is pledged. In the past few years we have been blessed by significant additional gifts from the estates of a few families. Some people include the church in their wills and that makes a huge difference in how we are able to fulfill our misison of making disciples and meeting human needs. We wonder how much money we should hold in reserve for unexpected expenses such as when the air conditioning system dies. These are the kinds of questions the elders wrestle with each year. And these are the kinds of questions addressed in our text this morning.

Our Christian hope is that one day God will make everything right. God to tie up all the loose ends. Yet, in the parable of the ten bridesmaids demonstrates, Jesus challenges us to tie up the loose ends in our own lives. God calls upon us to take responsibility for our own success. The bridegroom, who represents God, appreciates the self reliance of the five wise bridesmaids. God shuts the five unprepared bridesmaids out of the kingdom. If we think of the kingdom of God as being located within us, the message of the parable is clear. When we neglect to keep our inner lamp burning we shut ourselves out of the kingdom of God. When we block the flow of the oil of Holy Spirit within in, our inner lives run dry. We express that inner lack with a lackadaisical attitude toward life. The purpose of this story is not to scare us about the possibility of being locked out of heaven after we die. The purpose of the story is to wake us up so we live each moment fully awake and in anticipation of the coming of Christ within us.

Even the Old Testament has its spiritual prepper stories. Moses had followed God's call to become the leader of the Israeli Revolution in Egypt. Like the Occupy Egypt group last Spring that ousted Mubarak, the Israelites under Moses wanted to oust the Pharaoh of Egypt. Either the Pharaoh had to go or the people had to go. Pharaoh finally let the people go. But he only did that after a series of ten terrible plagues. The last plague was the death of the firstborn of each Egyptian household. Actually, this plague was to apply to every family living in Egypt. The only way to escape this plague was to paint your doorframe with the blood a lamb so the angel of death would pass by your house. Those who knew about this secret sign and followed it were spared. The other families were not spared. Painting your doorpost with the blood of a lamb is another sign of the concept of being spiritually alert and prepared.

After the people of Israel made it out of Egypt they spent forty years wandering in the wilderness. Then they set about conquering the land. This is symbolic of the inner landscape we must conquer in our spiritual journey. When the Israelites wanted to take the fortified city of Jericho they came up with a plan. They sent Joshua to scout out the promised land and in particular the city of Jericho before the Israelite army attacked it. Joshua recruited a harlot named Rachel who helped the Israelite spies. She opened the gate to the city so they could take the city. Joshua the scout would later follow Moses as the leader of the Israelites. Advance preparation is key to spiritual victory. We see this concept over and over in the Bible in the Old Testament and the New Testament.

From the New Testament comes a Reformed belief called "The Priesthood of Believers." This belief was revolutionary when it was established. It came about in a day and time when the church served as the middle man between God and the people. No one could get to God except through the church. The church and church tradition was more important than the Bible. The church was more important than the state or nation. The church held the keys to eternal bliss or eternal torture because the church could determine whether you would spend eternity in heaven or hell. The local church representative, your local priest, served therefore as a kind of mafia don. Whatever he said went. He (it was never a she) called the shots about who could marry whom for instance.

The Protestant Reformation took the radical step of removing the priest from the equation. The church was no longer the middle man. There was nothing allowed between the believer and God. This concept is called "the priesthood of believers." It meant each believer, each Christian, was his or her own priest. Each Christian was responsible for doing what the Apostle Paul called "Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling." Each Christian was their own priest. So it was that the church was to be run not by a hierarchy of religious mafia dons called the priesthood but by consensus of individual believers that formed a local governing body called a "Session" in a local church. Each church would be connected to other churches in the body of Christ by higher ordering of assemblies of believers called a presbytery and then a general assembly. But the real work, the heavy lifting in the spiritual life, was up to each individual believer. This greatly reduced the importance of the local priest and greatly increased the responsibility of the individual believer. Jesus points to this concept in our parable today as he says each bridesmaid is responsible for her own oil which represents the Holy Spirit. Remember when David was anointed as king of Israel the oil was poured over his head as a symbol of God claiming and sustaining him for this important role. So with the oil in the bridesmaids lamp, it represents God claiming and sustaining each person to be a missionary, a missional person, a blessing to the world. The bridesmaids who do not put oil in their flasks are like Christians who do not fill their lives with the Holy Spirit. Once again we are back to the basics here. We cannot stress enough the importance of the personal daily devotional in the life of the believer. Allow God's Spirit to fill your flask, your body, on a daily basis. Keep your flask, your body, filled with God's oil, God's spirit. Then you will be ready to welcome Jesus when he appears in an unexpected way in your daily life.

It feels good to know that God cares enough about us to give this wake up call. If God didn't care about us, God wouldn't say anything. If God were a trickster, God wouldn't reveal the secret of how to be a spiritual prepper. Yet you must take action today. You need to put more emphasis on developing their spiritual lives. You are responsible for your own spiritual growth. You cannot rely on a priest, preacher, or guru to grant you access to God. You are responsible for your own spiritual life and if you do not give it time and nourishment you will wither away and die like the five bridesmaids who are trapped outside the presence of God and not allowed to enter the kingdom.

Here's my lesson. Here's my story. A lesson from a spiritual survialist. I remember walking my dog around the back yard where we lived way out in the countryside. Walking my dog in the heat of the summer. Walking and praying. Desperate praying. "Here I am, Lord, do you want me?" There was no response. There was just the sound of one dog walking and the heat. It was so hot you could practically hear the heat. I kept walking that dog. I kept praying that prayer. Just like Israel in Egypt. Let my people go! That was my prayer in a nutshell. God's only response was silence. In time, after many walks, after many prayers, after many miles, I learned to enjoy God's silence. Let it cover me. That's all I need now. God is always there for me in the silence. That is how I became a spiritual survivalist.

You have an opportunity this week to make a spiritual commitment with your money. This week you will receive a pledge card in the mail. Take it as a sign of your spiritual commitment to Christ's church, which is the body of Christ on earth. This is a great opportunity for you take a step toward spiritual growth. Some churches require a pledge of ten percent. Our standards are more open. We ask you to give whatever you feel good about giving. Use the question of your pledge as an opportunity to do a spiritual evaluation of where you are and where you plan to go in your relationship with Christ. Use the money you plan to give to the church as a way to plan your family budget. Use this physical method of giving money to serve as a signpost of your spiritual intentions. Are you really committed to God? Are you really committed to Christ? How much? The figure you submit on your pledge will help you to know where you stand. Don't be like the five foolish bridemaids who did not bother to purchase oil for their lamps. Don't depend on other people to provide the oil you need for your own spiritual life. This purchase is between you and God. I don't know how much you give. God does. And so do you. That tells you where you are in your spiritual journey right now and where you want to be in 2012. Seize the opportunity before you to become a spiritual prepper. Your pledge card will help you to do that.

The Rev. Dr. Jonathan L. Burnham preached this sermon on November 6, 2011 at St. John's Presbyterian Church, 5020 West Bellfort Ave, Houston, TX 77035 | Phone 713-723-6262 | sjpresby.blogspot.com