This is an ending of a sermon Craddock gave at a Princeton Seminary graduation. You can search the first 2 parts if you like it. But there is a TON of great Craddock sermon stuff here. Enjoy!
Lately I have found God pushing me towards a different line of theological musing. I have made no bones about being an advocate for various ideas and persons I feel the Church leaves out of its activity. I have also been fairly outspoken about my feelings for the Church of the 21st Century to be more inclusive in its community. I want to write a short post-one that will surely be followed by many others as my research and thinking progresses.
I feel we spend a lot of time today advocating for the inclusion of many types of people who find themselves on the outside looking in on Sunday mornings. However, there is one group I feel does not get enough attention and is surely not included in the life of the Church as much as they could be. Persons with disabilities and, more specifically, those with mental disabilities are often left out of the life of the church. From the outset worship is set up for those with a basic working amount of cognitive abilities. I fear because of that the Church is often not a place for those with mental disabilities to feel welcome.
Over the next few months in my free time I want to further explore this notion. I want to explore whether Church can indeed be a place where those of ALL abilities can find a voice. God surely works in all of us and whether we can express this awesome working or not does not prohibit it. Surely God is big enough to overcome all levels of disabilities. Further, I wonder what our working definition of “normal” is and whether such a definition is truly faithful in light of the Kingdom of God. Also, I want to explore practical notions and highlight actual ways congregations are being inclusive of the mentally disabled.
I hope these posts will get people talking. I hope we will delve into areas of discussion we often neglect. I’m afraid we neglect these areas because, in the end, they expose how unfaithful we as the Body of Christ can be. Most of all, I hope that through these thoughts and conversations the Living God will move and remind all of us that it is good for everyone, even those who can’t always speak for themselves, to go to the house of the Lord (cf. Psalm 122:1).
Recently a friend posed a question as her Facebook status where she asked, “What does it mean to say your churhc has open doors?” This question got me thinking. I, like many I am sure, want to immediately answer that it means simply that church is to be welcoming of all. But I hesitate and find myself questioning that automatic response. What is the true meaning of being “open to all?”
The United Methodist Church has affirmed through media adverstisements the need for “Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors.” Now I think as good Methodists this slogan is classically as ambiguous as some of our doctrine. But let’s unpack the reality of this statement a bit. In word we proclaim the doors of our churches to be open. But practice tells us something different. Actual practice sees many churches in decline and dying. And when the congregation is asked about reaching new people they answer uniformally that “there’s no one left where we are.” Now in a country with a fairly decent population density one should find this hard to believe. The truth is, if we are truly honest, the real response is that the people we want are no longer around our churches. The powerful, the prominant, and the influential have left for other parts of town. And now we are left with those we don’t really want in our church. But this shortcoming does not lie solely on the congregation. Well-meaning and capable pastors recognize the need for powerful, prominant, and influential persons in church because we need to pay our bills and apportionments and, even more directly, our salaries. There is inherent risk in building church around a congregation of homeless and poverty stricken people. It ‘s just not practical.
So if this notion of Open Doors is a value judgment what are we saying we value? Quite simply, we value accessibility to resources. We are a production-oriented, Westernized culture that places ultimate value on the productive capabilities of a body. And is this wrong? If one is measuring value by the value system that runs our culture there is absolutely nothing wrong with this value judgment.
But does this reflect God’s system of value judgment? This becomes a much more difficult question. Scripture tells us that God values that which is least among us. One need to go no further than many of the parables, miracles, and teaching of the Gospels to find such a value judgment. But does this mean, in turn, that God does not value the rich and powerful? I would say absolutely not.
So here is the crossroads I feel the Church stands at in terms of what it means to have open doors. God values the poor. This value judgment is plain and simple. Further, and even more general, God values all human life. This includes those who may be of different race, ethnicity, background, life experience, sexual orientation, and any other measuring stick we place in front of those who dare desire to walk through the doors of our churches. Further, God values the least among us. And make no mistake, this least often applies to that which we may regard as the most. If we have all fallen short of the glory of God then how dare we, as the Church, place arbitrary value on any person?
If the worship and the life of the Church is meant to be holy ground then there is no room for value judgments to keep particular persons off such holy ground. The truth is, many of us who act as the gatekeepers are less deserving of such inclusion than those who we exclude. And yet, by the grace of God, the holy ground can be and is extended even beyond the walls of the church-sometimes in spite of the walls of the church. And we are humbled before a God who dares to remove all value judgments we hold in the name of a redeeming love and grace that says all are welcome in the holy place of worship. Thanks be to God.
What Really Matters?
1 Corinthians 12:1-6
I vividly remember talking with a friend at school when I was about 13 about the Holy Spirit. This friend explained to me the Holy Spirit was a source for great and dynamic worship. The Holy Spirit could make someone sway and clap, testify and speak in tongues, shake and even fall out. Now as a young United Methodist kid this was amazing to me. You see I didn’t know much about the Holy Spirit. Sure I knew it existed but don’t ask me to explain it. At least tradition calls God male and we know Jesus to be an actual human being from Nazareth. But the Holy Spirit-I had no idea.
Now please understand that I know wonderful faith communities where the attributes my friend described are real elements of vibrant worship where the Holy Spirit is real and active among them. But for me, at 13 years old, from a faith community that didn’t really talk about the Holy Spirit it was easy to begin to think the only way the Spirit worked was through dynamic worship and nothing else.
This morning we find ourselves in the midst of a discussion between Paul and the Corinthian people over the actual function of the Holy Spirit in the life of the Church and the individual Christians. For the people of Corinth, they thought the purpose of the Holy Spirit was simply to inspire the gift of dynamic worship-the worship like at my friend’s church. The Greek word they attest to the work of the Spirit is kharisma. This is where we get the term for charisma and we can understand their interpretation of this type of gift by thinking of charismatic worship. In other words, the church in Corinth believed the work of the Spirit lie in the context of worship and was measured by the extent to which one could speak in tongues, among other charismatic traits. Even more simply, the church in Corinth understood the work of the Spirit to be limited to worship like I did when listening to my friend.
But Paul does something very interesting in the Greek translation. He uses their term but uses it in the plural charismata; a variety of gifts. You see, Paul is seeking to broaden their understanding of the work of the Holy Spirit by defining it beyond worship. Paul explains the work of the Holy Spirit isn’t just limited to worship. It isn’t just about feeling and intensity of emotion. It’s about all gifts and graces. It’s about being empowered for the work of the Kingdom of Godà something that is much greater than we are as individual people. All too often we take for granted the need for spiritual gifts when there is work to be done for the Kingdom of God.
Bishop John Taylor puts it this way:
I have known projects abandoned for lack of funds, but not for lack of gifts of the Spirit. Provided the human resources are adequate we take the spiritual resources for granted.
So if we recognize the Holy Spirit being the source of all gifts and graces we’re led to recognize two dangers of using these gifts in the life of the church. If the work of the Spirit is something individual only like we treat it in the context of worship then it has no outside reference point. Paul addresses this by reminding us that though there are a variety of very diverse gifts they are all empowered by the same Spirit. Further, if Paul tells us that all workings of the Spirit lead us to confess Jesus is Lord then that is our reference point as to how and why we use our gifts. These are gifts to be used to build the Kingdom of God. They are gifts not to make us famous or noteworthy, but rather they are gifts we use for the benefit of others. As Christians we are often guilty of being so caught up in how all of this is to be processed in our own hearts. We think the Christian life is to be lived in the personal realm of our own hearts. We “ask Jesus into our hearts.” We sing in the hymn “you ask my how I know he lives, he lives within my heart.” All of this is fine but we can’t leave Jesus in our hearts. We are an extension of Jesus’ ministry and we are called to give ourselves to the world as we live a life worthy of the call of Jesus Christ. In other words, if we leave Jesus in our hearts then we can “talk the talk” but we aren’t too worried about “walking the walk.” And to live such a life we can’t hide within the safety of our own hearts when there is a world that so desperately needs witnesses to Christ.
In that same Spirit we have to guard from going too far the other way. If we have a tendency to hide Christ in the safety of our hearts then we can also risk the same misunderstanding if we get too caught up in the greater need of the world. We have all seen or been a part of church programs that simply fold because they feel the needs of the world are so much greater than we are able to meet. We have to be careful not to forget that which we may call little can be very, very large. We can’t forget that a simple glass of water, or a meal can help to transform the life of another. And not only that, but our seemingly small activities can also give us small glimpses into what the Kingdom of God really looks like. There is no such thing as a gift, or an offering, or a ministry too small. What we see as small, with the Holy Spirit for the service of other in the name of Jesus Christ can make for great outcomes.
The story is told: A little girl stood near a small church from which she had been turned away because it was “too crowded.”
“I can’t go to Sunday School,” she sobbed to the pastor as he walked by. Seeing her shabby, unkempt appearance, the pastor guessed the reason and, taking her by the hand, took her inside and found a place for her in the Sunday school class. The child was so happy that they found room for her, and she went to bed that night thinking of the children who have no place to worship Jesus.
Some two years later, this child lay dead in one of the poor tenement buildings. Her parents called for the kindhearted pastor who had befriended their daughter to handle the final arrangements.
As her poor little body was being moved, a worn and crumpled red
purse was found which seemed to have been rummaged from some trash dump. Inside was found 57 cents and a note, scribbled in childish handwriting, which read: “This is to help build the little church bigger so more children can go to Sunday School.” For two years she had saved for this offering of love. When the pastor tearfully read that note, he knew instantly what he would do. Carrying this note and the cracked, red pocketbook to the pulpit, he told the story of her unselfish love and devotion. He challenged his deacons to get busy and raise enough money for the larger building.
But the story does not end there…
A newspaper learned of the story and published it. It was read by a wealthy realtor who, in turn, offered them a parcel of land worth many thousands. When told that the church could not pay so much, he offered to sell it to the little church for 57 cents.
Church members made large donations Checks came from far and wide. Within five years the little girl’s gift had increased to $250,000.00–a huge sum for that time (near the turn of the century). Her unselfish love had paid large dividends. When you are in the city of Philadelphia, look up Temple Baptist Church, with a seating capacity of 3,300. And be sure to visit Temple University, where thousands of students are educated. Have a look, too, at the Good Samaritan Hospital and at a Sunday School building which houses hundreds of beautiful children, built so that no child in the area will ever need to be left outside during Sunday school time.
In one of the rooms of this building may be seen the
picture of the sweet face of the little girl whose 57 cents, so sacrificially saved, made such remarkable history. Alongside of it is a portrait of her kind pastor, Dr. Russell H. Conwell, author of the book, ”Acres of Diamonds.” You see, there is no such thing as a gift or grace, when given for the service of the world in the name of God that is too small.
The need of the world is indeed great. And we are given the formidable task of working to address such a need by helping to build the Kingdom of God right here. But take heart, that gift that seems small can be used. That glass of water will quench someone’s thirst if only for a day. That meal will feed a hungry belly if only for a day. That visit will lift someone’s spirit if only for a short time. God is at work in this world even if it sometimes seems to be in small increments. And God has trusted us, even us, to offer whatever we can that this world may know God more fully. It is daunting but we can do it. We can do that which is little because it can turn into that which is so much bigger than we expect. And this is what really matters!
“Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me” (Matt 25:40b). These words of Scripture have surely experienced their share of analysis and proclamation over time. I was surprised to learn this text (Matt 25:31-46) is the Gospel passage for all three years of the Revised Common Lectionary on New Year’s Day. What does this mean to make it the text for all three years? And why for New Year’s Day? One must wonder if this is a subtle effort to call people into new attitudes, in the name of Jesus Christ, towards those who may be different. And what better time to do so than when people are making New Year’s Resolutions and analyzing their life in a more conscientious way than they might do any other time of the year? I would like to offer a couple of concerns over the interpretation and application of this passage in the modern, American church. In other words, I wonder if we get it a little wrong every year.
It goes without question that for many this passage is a call to arms for everything from political policy which benefit the poor to calling the church to be more active in charitable giving. I think this is a very effective and right use of this passage. This is especially so for Western and, more specifically, American churches where our addiction to consumption all too often invades the Church from the outside in. We need to remind people that God wants us to do something for the poor. We need to be reminded that God has a special place for those who help the poor. But this, I fear, is as far as we are willing to take this passage. “Help the poor and you can gain eternal life,” we say. ”If you want to be part of the Kingdom then do something for the least of these,” we preach. The recurring theme here is, at its very core, self-serving in nature. The poor become nothing more than a pawn in my pursuit of eternal life. I don’t care about them any further than offering something to drink or giving them some clothes from time to time. After all, my place with God for eternity is what’s at stake here. Helping the poor are but a means to that end.
This leads us to wonder: what if this were a parable about God and not about us? What if this this were a story where we get a glimpse into the kind of God we are dealing with and not about a prescription for us to gain eternal life? In other words, what if, at the heart of this story, we find God and not ourselves?
A couple of things jump out if we look more carefully. First of all, the statements of the king being “hungry, thirsty, naked, a stranger, sick and in prison” were not mere metaphors that lead us to a deeper truth. They are factual statements about Jesus. Too often (as I have argued before) we, in the West, try to disconnect Jesus from his actual status as a homeless Jew from Nazareth (see Matt 8:20). It’s almost as if we can’t comprehend or even stomach the fact that Jesus was not at least a middle-class guy who had the same hopes and dreams as middle-class people trying to get ahead today might have.
This leads to a second observation, one that does have a call to response for the reader. We are to do more than reach out to the poor-we are called to invite them in. We often leave the message at reaching out because then we can preserve a safe distance from those who may be different and still feel as though we are living up to the call of Christ. But we find here this passage is more than a mere call to increase charitable giving. This is meant to mean more than inspiring a little more of a giving attitude after a holiday season centered around consuming as much as we can. Now I am well aware that for many, more giving is a crucial first step. And I would say that for many in our churches we should encourage and praise such activity. This type of activity can and should, with the help of the Holy Spirit, lead to a transformative change in even our most selfish attitudes. But we can not treat this as the end-game. We are to stretch ourselves more and more when it comes to how we relate and give to the poor. This is not to be merely financial-that is too easy. We are to stretch and give of our time and our very selves. One must even ask the very difficult question-at what point do we consider giving until we become one of the poor? I do not have an answer to that besides the fact that we must take very seriously Jesus’ other calls to us to take up our crosses and give away all that we have in order to follow him. I admit I can not do that. This is a great example of how we, as pastors, can only point to the example of Jesus in the text as a call to ALL of us.
And finally, what if we expanded the implications of this text beyond the financially poor? It is often an easy way out for us to limit the call of Christ to reach out if we can contain it within a certain demographic. Our human nature then leads us to make that demographic beholden to the fact that we reached out in the first place. We are always the stronger and they are the weaker and we don’t hesitate in reminding them of that. But what if this text calls us to reach out and welcome the stranger who is a CEO? And what if we are to reach out to and visit the actual prisoner who hurt another person? And what if we care called to break bread and share the cup with those who have hurt us and those whom we even hate? After all, they need the bread and cup of life just as much as we do.
This is not an easy text because it does not limit who we are to reach out to as much as we might want it to. This text calls us to stretch our notion of what reaching out to the poor means and whether it means we are actually to become poor ourselves in the process. The text also calls us to reach beyond the poor and touch those we may resent, those we don’t think need such a message of salvation, and even (and especially) those we dislike. But more importantly, this text reminds us to take such notions seriously because we have a God who was a homeless Jew from Nazareth that, by the very grace he embodied, came to us that we, in our poor and impoverished state, may know what salvation through such a Christ might look like. It is VERY different from what we may know as life. And thank God for that!
NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: This is my last post of 2009. I started this blog in September and have fallen in love with it. I hope to continue my musings and questions in 2010. I wish you all a very happy and healthy 2010! May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship and communion of the Holy Spirit be with you in the New Year.
I am writing this not because I am someone who hates Obama. I really like him. I voted for him in both the primary and the general election. I worked at my local Obama headquarters during the primary. I am a registered Democrat and a member of the national party. I am writing this because, when he gave this speech the other day, I was greatly disappointed on many levels.
If you are looking for a link for the speech here it is. In seminary I find rich and very mixed discussion on the issue of politics and faith how the two mingle. So here are some thoughts on how I see them mingling in light of President Obama’s speech in acceptance for the Nobel Peace Prize.
First of all, I feel the main complaint I have over the speech is not that is was counter to my Christian faith but rather that is was counter to all that the Nobel Peace Prize stands for. This award has been given to the likes of Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Nelson Mandela, and Mother Theresa. These are giants in the movement of peace around the world and have served to help form a worldview on not only what peace is in thought, but more importantly, what peace actually looks like. They have all in their own way served as beacons of hope that the world doesn’t have to be a place filled with nothing but violence and hatred and that we can actually find terms to love one another on. A speech given in acceptance of such an award that is used as a tool to justify war and advance specifically American ideals is just plain wrong. I understand he is the President of the United States first. But this is an award that expands one notion of world beyond national borders and into the global community. If this is to be an issue the committee should have thought about this before awarding this pretigous award to a sitting President. I hold them equally responsible for the travesty of this event. I believe that is why it’s difficult to name a sitting President as Nobel Laureate-they are always judged by what they do for national interests and that stage should be taken by someone who can talk about peace from a human perspective and not from and American perspective.
This speech served to better articulate how poltics and faith do not line up. This is an obvious fact but, as recent history has served to show, people continue trying to merge the two. Republicans have since the early 80s used social issues such as gay-marriage and abortion to advance the case that they are the party that best encapsulates the Christian faith. By the turn of the century the Democrats decided to use faith in their politics as well. Probably the most shameful aspect of this for both parties is how faith is merely a utility, a means to an end, and we, the people, buy it hook, line and sinker. I know many of us who supported Obama did so out of deep religious conviction because of his stances on issues such as healthcare, the economy, jobs, racial relations, etc. But to argue he (or any politician from any party) has a better angle on the essence of the Christian faith does nothing but show they we think so because they embody not the essence of THE faith, but the essence of OUR FAITH. These are often very different things.
The Christian message has been, is now, and will be forever one of peace and not war. I know this is not reconcilable in politics and issues of national interests as other things must take priority. But, as a Christian, I must say I was very disappointed in my President for his words on one of the few stages left in this world that actually promotes an idea of peace.