Belonging to Church?! 5 Key Ingredients of a 21st Century Church

Posted on 01 Nov 2018, Pastor: Rev. Dr. Todd Speed

 III. “Sharing Stories”

Several key ingredients will be of critical important to nurturing the 21st century church.

One of the key ingredients for any 21st century congregation will be “sharing stories”.

Sharing stories has always bound people of faith together in community.

Sharing stories of new life, of redemption, can engender hope among all.

Sharing stories moves human relationships beyond surface interactions and deftly reveals personalities, commitments, and values.

Sharing the story of the woman caught in adultery, for example, serves as a powerful reminder

of the grace-filled nature of Jesus of Nazareth,  as well as a reminder of the blindness often present in those so ready to hurl stones at another.

Jesus is the subject of many timeless stories, and he was also a master story teller.

His pithy parables communicate great truths in easily remembered formats.

If you have heard only once the parable of the Good Samaritan, or the parable of the seeds sown among the different soils, the basic message of those stories can easily be recalled.

Today, we are offered a brief, multi-layered story from the 10th chapter of the Gospel of Mark.

Mark recalls the story of Bartimaues, son of Timaeus, a man remembered by name for all time

in this brief narrative that reveals not only the character, compassion, and power of Jesus of Nazareth,

but also the blindness of many who followed him.  

Hear the Word of God. Mark 10:46-52:

They came to Jericho. As (Jesus) and his disciples and a large crowd were leaving Jericho, Bartimaeus,

son of Timaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting by the roadside. When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth,

he began to shout out and say, ‘Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!’

Many sternly ordered (Bartimaeus) to be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly,

‘Son of David, have mercy on me!’ Jesus stood still and said, ‘Call him here.’

And they called the blind man, saying to him, ‘Take heart; get up, he is calling you.’

So throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. Then Jesus said to him,

‘What do you want me to do for you?’ The blind man said to him, ‘My teacher, let me see again.’

Jesus said to him, ‘Go; your faith has made you well.’

Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way.

The Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.

 

I typically listen to NPR, 90.1, while driving in the car,

but, for some reason the other day, the radio happened to be on 94.1 FM.

I discovered that 94.1 FM hosts a weekly morning program called “Crush Reveal”.  

Basically, someone calls in who has had a long term crush on another person,

and they are finally ready to reveal their secret, and they are willing to do so on the radio.

This week, the caller’s name was Sarah.

While Sarah was on the air with the radio hosts, they phoned her long term friend Josh,

the subject of her crush.  It did not go as planned…

When the radio hosts asked Josh if he knew of someone who might have a crush on him,

Josh replied, “It must be Rachel.”  

“Rachel!”, the radio hosts replied. “No, not Rachel. Who else might have a crush on you?”

“Well,” Josh said, “it could be Kylie, or maybe Jennifer? “

“No!”, they replied. “Josh, who else might have a crush on you?”

“I don’t know”, he said…Then Sarah’s voice meekly emerges on the radio…

“Hey Josh, it’s me, Sarah….”

“Sarah!”, he exclaimed, “What the heck?  When I tried to kiss you last weekend, you laughed in my face and ran away!”

“I know!”, she said. “I was nervous, and I didn’t want to ruin our relationship.”

Sarah and Josh had known each other for years. They had been close friends for four years.

Josh was perhaps somewhat aware, but not fully aware, of her crush on him,

especially after she laughed and ran away when he attempted their first kiss!

Sometimes we are blind to what quickly could become so obvious to us.

About the second week or so of my freshman year in college, my roommate, Mark Thomas, and I were walking toward one of the academic buildings.

By this point, we had begun to get to know each other fairly well.

We had shared the same room for two weeks.

We had played Nerf basketball up and down the hallway with our entire hall of rowdy freshmen boys.

We had shared meals together in the refectory and hung out together at social events.

But this entire time, for two weeks, I had been blind to something that differentiated Mark and I.

I suppose I was somewhat aware, but not fully aware, of this difference between us.

I knew that he was from Chattanooga and I was from Marietta.

I knew that he had an older brother and I had older sisters.   

I knew that he was Catholic and I was Presbyterian.

I knew that his foreign language class was Spanish and mine was French.

But there was something about Mark I did not realize.

As we walked toward the academic building that day, we approached a wall of large glass windows.

Given the time of day and the direction of the light, they acted as one huge mirror.

I looked at the wall of glass before us, then I looked up at Mark, and I remarked,

“Hey, you’re pretty tall, aren’t you?”

He laughed and replied, “Yea, and you’re pretty short, aren’t you?”

“How tall are you?”, I asked.  “6-3”, he replied.

“6-3! Wow, I had no idea.”  This was a revelation to me.

I had lived with this person for two weeks, but not until I had to come face to face with a huge mirror

were my eyes to be opened to notice the 8 inch differential in our heights!

Sometimes we are blind to what quickly could become so obvious to us.

Mark and I became fast friends, by the way, and lived together all four years of college.

Our blind spots are sometimes related to what we fail to notice about someone close to us,

or our blindness may be related to some important theological truth,

a truth that we may have heard, but not internalized.

As the disciples and a great crowd were departing Jericho for the twenty mile uphill walk to Jerusalem,

a blind beggar calls out, “Jesus, son of David, have mercy on me!”

Wait, did he say “Son of David”? Is this not the first person to call Jesus “Son of David”?

Why is it that this blind beggar. Bartimaeus, is the first person to recognize that Jesus of Nazareth

is a king in the line of David, the Messiah who was promised to come?

Soon after Bartimaus’ proclamation on the roadside, Jesus entered Jerusalem on the back of a donkey,

and the crowds cried out, “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!

Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David!”

Perhaps Bartimaeus was not the only one to receive “sight” that day outside of Jericho.

From the first century until now, sometimes the closest followers of Jesus can be blind

to what quickly can become so obvious.

 

Neal Davies has a story that I have asked him to share….

(Neal, a long term member of the church, former clerk of session, and choir member,  spoke of an epiphany he had at a Faith in Real Life Bible study recently related to receiving the love of God and how his eyes had been newly opened)

Neal Davies – 

Like a few others in our church, I started my Christian life as a Baptist. My grandmother was an adult Sunday School teacher and I went to church three times a week, and to every service at every revival and Bible camp. I had a string of perfect attendance pins to Sunday School that covered an entire lapel. I was Baptized by full immersion in the early ’50’s – washed in the blood of the lamb – saved from eternal damnation into fire and brimstone. It’s safe to say that I’ve been a Christian for almost as long as I can remember.

Of course, I have always heard that I was a child of God. I have always heard that he loved me, and that he always would, and that nothing could change that. And I’ve always believed it, and I’ve taken great comfort from that knowledge.

But one night a few months ago, I was in one of Vernon Gramling’s small classes on Faith in Real Life, a class that I have now been attending for a few years, and I was suddenly shocked by something that came up in one of our many discussions. Vernon said something about the necessity of receiving God’s love before we would have it or before we could give it away. It’s always there for all of us, but we must accept it. It’s not enough not to reject it, which is what I had always thought. We must accept it.

It’s there for everybody – short or tall, white or black, clean or dirty, rich or poor – it’s always there. But we must take another step before we can own it and give it to someone else. Wow! At my ripe old age of _—_, I had just had one of the most important epiphanies of my life. Why in the world had I never thought of it that way? How could I have stumbled through life being so naïve? Have I been as blind as Bartimaeus by the roadside? Maybe you have listened better than I, or maybe you are smarter than I. Doesn’t matter. Of all of the cumulative years that I’ve spent as a Christian, that night, I added more depth to the base of my faith.

In the months since then, I have thought many times of that night, and I’ve so often given thanks to God for this late revelation. I may be eternally slow, but I do still learn.

Thanks be to God!!

Thank you Neal for sharing your story.

This past June, Neal and I, along with a group from this congregation on pilgrimage to Scotland,

visited the site of the Battle of Culloden not far from Inverness. The Battle occurred in 1746,

when Bonnie Prince Charlie was seeking to restore the Stuart dynasty to the throne of England.

The mostly Scottish forces that he had mustered were brutally defeated by the English on the battlefield.

Following the defeat, special rules were initiated by the English to control the Scottish clans,

including the prohibition of carrying arms and the prohibition of wearing the plaid tartans

that identified one’s family clan.

These prohibitions and their harsh enforcement lasted some fifty years,

 and became the inspiration for the uniquely American tradition of the Kirkin’ of the Tartan service.

Did you know that the Kirkin’of the Tartan is an American and not a Scottish tradition?

The Kirkin’ service of worship originated in Washington, DC, not in Edinburgh or Glasgow.

The renowned Scot Dr. Peter Marshall, pastor of the New York Avenue Presbyterian Church,

was deeply concerned about his homeland and its people during World War II.

So he held prayer services on behalf of the citizens of the British Isles,

and he preached a sermon in 1943 titled “Kirkin’ of the Tartan”,

recalling the oppressive aftermath of the Battle of Culloden and asking God’s blessing

upon all those who faced the dire threat of persecution and oppression.

As Flora McDonald is my mother’s maiden name,  I have always felt a proud sense of kinship with the

oppressed, yet doggedly determined Scots.

What I learned, on a cool and rainy afternoon this past June,

as I walked along the old battle lines at Culloden and read the names of those who fought there,

was that my forebears not only fought alongside Bonnie Prince Charlie,

but others of my forebears, some English, some Scottish, fought against him.

I am descended not only from the proud Scottish clans who were defeated at Culloden that day

and who suffered oppression for many years at the hands of the English,

but I am also descended from some of those who were the victors that day at Culloden

and who became the oppressors.

I am proud of my American heritage, but, like some of you who may have done research

into your family tree, I am become aware that my forefathers fought on both sides

of the American Revolution.

I am proud of my southern heritage, and like many of you, I am aware that my family tree

includes those who fought on both sides of the Civil War.

And I am aware that at least one of the many “clans” in my family tree is the Cherokee clan.

Like the surprises that many have received from their Ancestry.com DNA results,

our family histories are often more complicated and multi-layered than we may have realized.

They say if we go back five generations, we are all far more related to one another than we had imagined.

No wonder Jesus said that they would come from east and west and north and south,

and all sit at table in God’s kingdom.

We share stories to entertain and amuse, but also to learn our identities,

to communicate what’s important to us over time, to send messages to the next generation.  

Sharing stories binds people of faith together in community.

Sharing stories of new life and redemption engenders hope among all.

Stories are able to move human relationships beyond surface interactions

and deftly reveal layers of personality, commitments, and values.

I am thankful for these, the stories of Holy Scripture, that bind us together in faith.

I am thankful for our faith stories, like the story behind the Scots Confession,

that teach us about our past and inform us about how we might act boldly in our future.

I am thankful for Neal sharing one of his stories with us today.

And I look forward in the coming year to hearing new stories, your stories,

personal stories that will help open blind eyes and reveal unexpected truth.

To God be the glory as we tell and hear and receive fresh insights from the stories we share.

Amen.

 

Rev. Dr. Todd Speed

Decatur Presbyterian Church

Decatur, Georgia