Missional Communities

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S (Scripture): 1 Corinthians 16:19 The churches in the province of Asia greet you. Aquila and Prisca greet you warmly in the Lord, together with the church that meets in their house. 20 All the brothers and sisters greet you. You in turn should greet each other with a holy kiss. 21 Here is my greeting in my own handwriting—Paul.

O (Observation): Paul’s letters – making up a large portion of the New Testament – are a treasure for us. These letters help us to catch a glimpse of the goodness of God. God’s Spirit flows through Paul, who goes on mission. God’s Spirit flows through Prisca and Aquila (and their whole household).

The household was the setting for the early church. Followers of Jesus were not worshipping in cathedrals or pews or temples. Instead, God was with them on their journeys and in their homes. The home would host 30-50 people. They would read what Scriptures they had. They would all share food and eat together…including bread and a cup of wine.

A (Application): More congregations are extending the Sunday conversations by having people meet in one another’s homes. There, they share personal stories, read Scripture, and rally around a mission (volunteer at a local school, work with a homeless shelter, connect with Muslim folks in our community).

The mission is the core identity marker, as God’s people serve in the community. Having the mission as the identity marker allows us to ensure that the group does NOT become just a club. Instead, the mission drives the community and the worship this community does.

And it can all be done from someone’s home.

Where relationships can be built, and hopefully, thrive.

P (Prayer): Lord, guide us into mission work we can be proud of. Amen.

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Stewardship is FAITH FORMING

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S (Scripture): 1 Corinthians 16:1 Concerning the collection of money for God’s people: You should do what I have directed the churches in Galatia to do. 2 On the first day of the week, each of you should set aside whatever you can afford from what you earn so that the collection won’t be delayed until I come. 3 Then when I get there, I’ll send whomever you approve to Jerusalem with letters of recommendation to bring your gift. 4 If it seems right for me to go too, they’ll travel with me.

O (Observation): As Paul continues to make his missionary travels, he is sure to help the churches care for one another. This looked practically like collecting the offering in Corinth to financially support the church in Jerusalem. So he told the church in Corinth to do what he told the church in Galatia to do: gather a weekly collection of financial gifts so that Paul might share those gifts with the other churches he serves.

But why? Shouldn’t they fund their own ministries? Well, ideally, yes. But sometimes the act of letting go of money to help another cause is a great reward…for it lays the ground work to increase one’s faith.

A (Application): What do we do with our offering? Good question! In a congregation, most of the money covers the staff salaries. After that, it depends.

Utilities and maintenance usually get the next biggest chunk.

But don’t let that be discouraging.

For what are the staff doing? Preaching, teaching, leading youth, leading music in worship, leading faith formation events, reaching out to neighbors and building relationships, visiting the sick, coordinating staff duties, overseeing stewardship practices, making more disciples, and much, much more, all in the name of Jesus Christ!

Where does this happen? Much of it happens in the facility owned by the congregation. Worship, youth group, bible study, communications, Sunday School.

Outside groups may also make use of the church’s building.

The rest of the budget supports the ministries we provide. Materials for faith formation, mostly.

But then another chunk is designated for what some churches call “missions.” Since the congregation I serve is part of the ELCA (ELCA.org), we give to “Mission Support.” That money (8% of our regular offering, in our case), is sent to the ELCA. The ELCA uses these funds to organize worship and learning resources, leadership development, missionaries around the globe and in the U.S., and much more.

Letting go is the hardest part. As individuals, we consume SO MUCH! And we typically give at the end of the month, instead of at the beginning! If we always wait, we will NEVER have enough to give. Yet if we give on the front end, we will be amazed at the fact that we will have enough at the end.

P (Prayer): Lord, give us peace in regards to our finances. Amen.

God is More Than…

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S (Scripture): Psalm 67

1 Let God grant us grace and bless us;

    let God make his face shine on us, Selah

    so that your way becomes known on earth,

    so that your salvation becomes known among all the nations.

Let the people thank you, God!

    Let all the people thank you!

    Let the people celebrate

        and shout with joy

        because you judge the nations fairly

        and guide all nations on the earth. Selah

    Let the people thank you, God!

    Let all the people thank you!

The earth has yielded its harvest.

    God blesses us—our God blesses us!

Let God continue to bless us;

    let the far ends of the earth honor him.

O (Observation): God was always meant to be a blessing for the whole world. Yet humanity has found ways to make God ethnocentric – tied exclusively to a people or religious structure.

A (Application): First, the Jews did it with their laws. Then the Roman Catholic Church did it with the role of the priest and the sacraments. Then, the Protestants did it with the Bible.

What is sacred? Rules? Sacraments? The Bible? In each case we have replaced God with the particular. Not that God is not in the particular…But God is more than just Law. God is more than just Sacraments. God is more than the Bible.

If God is more than these things, God is open to serve and exist in ALL of creation, which shouts for joy at the blessings God brings to the earth.

P (Prayer): Lord, finds ways for us to look past our gods and to securely set eyes on you.

Plenty

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S (Scripture): Proverbs 11

24 

Those who give generously receive more,

    but those who are stingy with what is appropriate will grow needy.

25 

Generous persons will prosper;

    those who refresh others will themselves be refreshed.

O (Observation): Proverbs are snippets of wisdom. Sometimes a few verses run together to develop a theme. Wisdom here looks like good stewardship practices.

What happens to your state of mind when you are generous? You are in a position to receive! You see that there is plenty to go around!!! Money or gifts may go out, blessing comes in.

What happens when you are stingy? You are perpetually in a state of scarcity. You only see how little there is in the world, and if others have stuff, that’s less for you! It’s a win-lose scenario.

A (Application): Umm…See observation. : )

Nothing has changed in this regard.

Try giving. Receive joy.

Giving already? Give more!!!

P (Prayer): Lord, keep us mindful of the plenty you provide for me, for my family, for all of humanity, for the earth. Amen.

Stewardship: Faith and Science

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S (Scripture): Psalm 65

You visit the earth and make it abundant,

    enriching it greatly

        by God’s stream, full of water.

You provide people with grain

    because that is what you’ve decided.

10 

Drenching the earth’s furrows,

        leveling its ridges,

    you soften it with rain showers;

        you bless its growth.

11 

You crown the year with your goodness;

    your paths overflow with rich food.

12 

Even the desert pastures drip with it,

    and the hills are dressed in pure joy.

13 

The meadowlands are covered with flocks,

    the valleys decked out in grain—

        they shout for joy;

        they break out in song!

O (Observation): The psalmist sees God as the one responsible for watering the earth and bringing forth vegetation and life itself. And not just life, but ABUNDANT life!

God’s stream brings sustenance to the earth!

Waters flow – strong or gentle – as needed.

Result? Desert and hills get what they need. Meadows and valleys rejoice.

This is legend AND this is science to the ancient ones who wrote these psalms. Perhaps science and legend are one and the same for this author.

A (Application): We are truly children of the Enlightenment. I’m all for science, but I believe the pendulum has swung too far. We are forgetful of the stories that brought us this far along the way. We fail to see our interconnectedness with other cultures and races. We fail to see how we are one with people who look and speak different from “us.”

Now that we “know better,” we don’t tell stories of the earth crying out or the animals having stories to share.

J. R. R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis have both been influential for me and my family as they bring stories that don’t make sense : ). Odd creatures exist in their stories – both good and evil. Trees walk and talk. Portals to other worlds!

Now, it’s the Marvel Comic Universe that brings stories of far off worlds and odd creatures to light. (And yes, I’m a HUGE fan 🔷.)

But when it comes to our faith, we have very little imagination. We disconnect faith from the earth or the very things we use on a daily basis: soap, water, transportation, air, mountains, and so on.

God is revealed to us in more than just the person of Jesus. And we rejoice in this fact. And we rejoice in the abundant forms of life all around us.

One area I have found to be extremely challenging and equally rewarding: MONEY.

Science and logic tell us one thing. Faith, another. What if we joined these two together? What if we saw paying our bills and giving money away as equally important? What if we let loose of our desire to make it all work out for us, only? What if we gave our money a voice? What story would it tell us?

Would it tell us how we buy more of the same stuff for ourselves, while others go hungry? Would our money tell us we have plenty, but ignore that sentiment and use it more for ourselves?

Or would our money explain how it sustains our faith communities and homeless shelters and food pantries???

Let science and faith work together for the good of all.

P (Prayer): Lord, the stories of what we give to you are distant from our hearts and minds. Wake us up to the joy of giving once again. Amen.

Women in Leadership

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S (Scripture): 1 Corinthians 14:32 The spirits of prophets are under the control of the prophets. 33 God isn’t a God of disorder but of peace. Like in all the churches of God’s people, 34 the women should be quiet during the meeting. They are not allowed to talk. Instead, they need to get under control, just as the Law says. 35 If they want to learn something, they should ask their husbands at home. It is disgraceful for a woman to talk during the meeting.

O (Observation): My first reaction to this text is that somewhere in Paul’s setting, a group of women that were following some other deity were disrupting what was going on at the local gathering of Jesus-followers. He resorted to a general call for women to be quiet. Probably responding to a particular situation in a particular time in a particular place.

Perhaps the worship setting was becoming disorderly and folks had a hard time focusing on worship or hearing the teachings for the day. Perhaps this was a call for orderliness to a particular community. For Paul himself lifts up females in church leadership in other parts of his writings.

Not only does Paul lift up female leadership in the church, I seem to remember Paul writing something else about men and women…

Galatians 3 – “27 All of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek; there is neither slave nor free; nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

A (Application): What are we looking for when we approach scripture? Tradition? New life? Forgiveness? Hope?

We can look for all of these and more.

Yet when it comes to female leadership in the church, we are stuck. And if we are okay with female leaders, we are not okay with paying them fair and equal wages.

God is revealed bit by bit for us. In our leaders – both female and male…and those who are still discovering their identity.

P (Prayer): Lord, guide us towards your perfect light. Amen.

Words, words, words

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S (Scripture): Psalm 64

1

Listen to me when I complain, God!

    Protect my life from the enemy’s terror!

Hide me from the secret plots of wicked people;

    hide me from the schemes of evildoers

        who sharpen their tongues like swords.

They aim their arrow—a cruel word—

    from their hiding places

    so as to shoot an innocent person.

    They shoot without warning and without fear.

They encourage themselves with evil words.

    They plan on laying traps in secret.

O (Observation): The psalmist prays for God’s protection, giving great detail as to how the enemy is preparing for an attack: their tongues will be like swords, cruel words will be their weapons!

The psalmist trusts in God to tangle up the enemy, to ruin the plans of the enemy.

Maybe that is comfort enough.

A (Application): Sticks and stones, right? Our parents always said this…and yet what wars are we in? Word wars!

News cycles consistently quote our nation’s leaders, and on social media we tear one another apart over the words we use to explain ourselves and our positions.

Yet, in the end, the most important issue is relationships. Relationships with friends and those with whom we disagree is the birthplace of peace.

We pray that God would guide our words so that we might establish a constructive path forward towards peace, towards truth-telling, towards forgiveness and reconciliation.

P (Prayer): Lord, guise my words this day into the way of peace. Amen.