Here is the talk from this morning’s Faith Community. This one came out about how I wrote it (which either means I’m getting better at this, or that I was off my game…)
Our opening Psalm of Worship was Psalm 18, a story sung by David to celebrate how God came through for him when he was in an impossible situation and fearing for his life. Check it out first–it’s inspiring.
Calling all Superheroes
One of the most interesting aspects of starting something new like this faith community is how many chances it gives Steve and I to choose:
- Do we share what goes on behind the scenes of this creative process, as we try to listen to God and figure out just what it is we’re creating here;
- or do we show just the final product, in the unspoken hope that you’ll think we have it all together?
We tend towards the first option—the open, behind the scenes approach. It makes the story more interesting, I think. We prefer interesting stories to perfect pictures (partly because perfect pictures are just beyond us). And we’ve learned that in this creative process, as we interact with God, things always turns out differently than we expect.
This week, I spent my study time working on a sermon that sussed out what we mean when we talk about “faith community” and being part of a larger “spiritual family.” These are phrases that could be taken a number of different ways, so it seemed worth defining our terms, both for our own purposes (it’s hard to say if you’ve built what you were aiming for if you’re not clear in the beginning what the plan is) and for anyone who might wonder if being part of this might be for them.
I prepared a lovely, stirring talk. It began with Genesis and the first moments of creation, went through the first family (Adam, Eve, Cain, Abel, Seth) and even gave a brief nod to Noah, his son Shem, and how they were in the linage of Abraham and ultimately, Jesus.
It talked about this miraculous ways God creates families—biologically, and through people he “grafts in” to our lives through faith in Jesus. There were thoughts about how we work within these family or community dynamics, about things like love and acceptance, encouragement and honor.
It was lovely, and true, and FINE. But as I looked it over yesterday, this talk made me itchy & unsettled. As I stepped away from it to run some errands, I realized why:
All that stuff is true about family and community, generally. But it’s not THE truth about what we’re hoping for in THIS community. What I really want is NOT a group of people being nice to one another and cheering each other on.
I want to surround myself with people who are excited about God – not because that’s a proper thing to do to get to heaven. But because it means we get to be catalysts and witnesses as God brings hints of heaven here to earth.
Like the Psalm of David we used in our worship today, we want to be the people who say: “Let’s respond to God, and expect something cool.” And then point at the miracles and say, “That right there? That was God.” Because when you carry with you a real story about God being true and ACTIVE here now, today, you have the power to change the world, every time you share it.
We don’t change the world with our attitude or our positive thinking.
We change the world with our stories.
The Apostle Paul wrote about this in a letter to his friends in Corinth, a group of people who were building their own faith community. They were having some difficulties figuring out who was in and who was out, and just generally how to be and what to do. There were lots of questions. Paul had provided some answers in an earlier letter. But here, Paul reframes the whole conversation:
“From now on,” Paul says, “we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!
All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
As God’s fellow workers, we urge you not to receive God’s grace in vain. For he says,‘In the time of my favor I heard you, and in the day of salvation I helped you.’ I tell you, now is the time of God’s favor. Now is the day of salvation.” -2 Corinthians 5:16 – 6:2
I read this, and think, This is the commissioning of spiritual superheroes.
Every part of this gets me excited –
- the crazy idea that change IS possible;
- that we CAN be different, better versions of ourselves;
- that our lives can make a huge difference to others;
- And that there’s a way to see glimpses of heaven, here on earth.
We have the ability to look at circumstances – even where things are dire and frustrating and impossible – and see something different than anyone else sees.
Ever since I was little, I’ve been into the Super Friends Superheroes. Superman and Wonder Woman, Batman & Robin, Aqua Man, the Wonder Twins: Men and women and even kids with special gifts and superpowers, banding together at the Hall of Justice to receive assignments and form teams to thwart the bad guys and save people who need help.
I’ve blogged about this; I’ve written about it in my books. It’s still a live dream for me, as silly as that sounds.
I don’t want these gatherings to be about being polite and encouraging. I want this faith community to be a Hall of Justice. Where we come together to seek God for our assignments:
- new missions,
- further instructions for ongoing ventures
- getting patched up and healed when we’ve taken some hits. Because we’ll take some hits.
I believe that faith in God is the only way we’ll see justice, here on earth.
This all sounds ridiculous, of course. Until you read the Bible. The Bible is filled with exhortation to believe exactly this sort of thing is possible when God brings people together.
Earlier in this same letter to the people in Corinth, Paul acknowledges how self-aggrandizing this all can sound: “Are we beginning to commend ourselves again?” he asks, after sharing an experience he and his team had in their travels, how they were led by God to in a “triumphal procession in Christ,” spreading the knowledge of Jesus. “Such confidence as this is ours through Christ before God,” he says. “Not that we are content in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves, but our competence comes from God. He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant – not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life….Therefore, since we have such hope, we are very bold.” -2 Corinthians 3
These passages are representative of two powerful themes in the Bible:
- That when we say yes to Jesus –when we are “in Christ,”– a transformation happens. We are a new creation; the old is gone, the new has come. It’s the offer we’ve been dreaming of, the chance to start over and be the “real” us we’ve sensed was inside but couldn’t quite get to.
- This experience of living out our “new creation-ness” is what bonds us as a family. We live our lives as “Christ’s Ambassadors,” whose “confidence comes from God.” And “since we have such hope, we are very bold.” WE get to be the ones who can say, “Can I pray for you?” or “I feel like God is saying XYZ” because of a picture or sense we get. We get to be part of what God is doing, to bring his Kingdom to bear, here on earth.
We NEED each other as we live this out.
If we live in a spiritual world where there is this GOODNESS, it stands to reason that there is also spiritual BAD out there, and the Bible tells us that we’re not just imagining it: there is actual, personified EVIL trying to block us and pull us away from God’s best for our lives.
In any superhero mission, there are bad guys to fight. But when we band together and share our skills and knowledge and talents, we can win and save the day. It may take awhile, but the triumphal procession in Christ always trumps the harassed at every turn.
We see each other through these battles, and then remind each other IT’S WORTH IT. We LOOK for victory, because we know that it is coming.
Two “Superheroes” for Steve & I are our friends Gavin and Emily. They used to live here in Boston; now they live in DC. We get to see each other every couple of years.
I mention this because Emily and I talked yesterday, and it was exactly this—we weren’t just catching up on each other’s lives, but at every step, our ears and our spirits were asking, “God, what are you doing here?”
For example, I shared about the heartache of saying goodbye to our foster daughter last summer, and how awful it is to hear reports that she is suffering and struggling, Emily said, “But you KNOW God must have incredible plans for her, right?”
She didn’t just mean it as a feel good platitude. She was actively wondering about that future, because she’s seen God bring miracles out of severe suffering. She KNOWS that this is how it works. So she holds that vision for me, helping me remember. Her story of God coming through makes belief not only possible, but reasonable. It changes the whole conversation.
This is what we do for each other.
As superheroes, there’s also what we do out in the world.
Paul calls us “Ambassadors for Christ.” Think about it: what is the role of an ambassador? It’s not just a PR professional. The role of an ambassador is to navigate the early rumblings of war, to communicate clearly, “This is who we are & what we’re about” so that at least no one blows things up based on misinformation. They try and keep the lines of communication open.
As Jesus’ Ambassadors, that’s our role: we communicate clearly who he is and why it matters. We show that it’s reasonable to expect God to come through for us, just as he did for David in Psalm 18. We say, “This is the good news of the Gospel.”
If there were a “Mission Statement” on the wall of our Hall of Justice, this is what it would say, that THIS is the good news of the Gospel:
- There is a GAP between us and God. Whether you feel it or not; it’s there
- As long as it’s there, you can’t live the full life you were created to live.
- Jesus is the bridge that spans this. He is the missing puzzle piece.
- We can cross that bridge or accept this gift (pick your metaphor) at any time. We can say, “Jesus, I want your help. Please come and set me free.”
- This freedom comes with a rather astonishing benefits package.
- We can’t really know what any of this means until we experience it–but we can experience it at any time.
That is the mission statement I imagine, what brings us together here at the Hall of Justice.
One of the things I love about my faith is that Jesus is such a gentleman: he doesn’t storm the gates of your life. He waits to be invited in.
And once he is, he is SO VERY EXCITED to get to work with you. He’s like one of those contractors you see on home improvement shows, walking through what looks like collapse and rubble and pointing out, “We’ll do this here, and move this wall, and open this all up to let in the light!” The rubble that overwhelmed us is no big deal to him; he just clears it away.
This is what makes us Spiritual Superheroes: this experience of having said yes to Jesus, experiencing his remodel. This is our foundation. “The cornerstone,” as the Bible calls it, the piece that goes in first and sets the orientation of the project.
We are the projects under construction, and the contractors Jesus uses in each other’s lives.
In closing, I’ll admit: I don’t really buy that our job is to convince anyone else to sign up for a Jesus remodel. We’re here to help each other figure out how to respond once God brings us to a place of saying, “Yes Jesus – that applies to me.”
When you say yes, you become part of the family. It’s the path to becoming a superhero. As the Apostle Paul said, I tell you, now is the time of God’s favor. Now is the day of salvation.
Praise be to God. Amen.