09 May 2016

Four Ways NOT to turn 1.2 Billion Christians into One and One thing that will Never become Obsolete

I need a new smart phone.

I got the Nexus 6 some 18 months ago. I still owe $150 on it. The battery is weak. I need to replace the phone. Because I can just change the battery. The phone was made to become obsolete in a matter of months. Say a couple years after buying the device you need to buy a new one. That's the way it's designed. The Christian religion seems to me dated. Sometimes it feels like were trying to become obsolete. Phyllis tickle said every 500 years the church has a garage sale. Where having a garage sale now. My bad she means and I agree we are setting out over. Try to find new ways of being church and doing Christ mission in the world.

This also happens the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. We celebrate the man who started the Protestant Reformation in Germany. Start with the Lutheran Church. We like to celebrate all good things the Reformation brought about. Intended to be like. Howard took some the power away from the priesthood and get back to the people. I can go on list other ways the Protestant Reformation was a blessing to the world. We don't talk about as much as the ways it was not so much a blessing to the world. We don't talk about how it divided the church from two brands into thousands of brands. We don't mention how we Protestants threw out the contemplative dimension of the gospel. The way we over emphasized left brain rational thinking. The way what it set in motion would 500 years later become a virulent strain of atheism. We don't talk about how the Reformation downplayed the mystery of the gospel.

Let's look at the last century. One of the remarkable things we see in the past century is the Christian growth in Africa. Africa is home they 8.7 million Christians in 1900 and 542 million Christians today. Africa will perhaps be home to 1.2 billion Christians by the year 2050. Thirty years from there will be as many African Christians as there are American and European Christians combined today. Africa is the future of the Christian church.

So we are so fortunate to have African members in our church. We have a beautiful African members here who contribute so much to the life and leadership St. John's. We have already nested and help them birth a Ghanian Presbyterian Church in the past 10 years. Now we're in conversation with a Ethiopian Christian church. Our future in this presbytery hinges on growth in the African church. So I'm excited about a new opportunity to partner with an African church. Join us in praying for God's guidance in this. The Session and our committees need your prayers for discernment.

It is remarkable to look at the fragmented nature of the Christian church. The number of Christian denominations grew from 1,600 in the year 1900 to 35,000 today. Projections call for 70,000 Christian denominations by the year 2050. As the church continues to fragment into splinter groups, how can we be one in Christ? For clues, let's turn to the apostle Paul in his writings in the New Testament in 1 Corinthians 13. There we learn what working toward Christian unity is NOT.

First, it's not being able to speak in other languages without learning them. If we can speak in every language there is in all of heaven and earth, we would all sound like clanging cymbals. We'd be making noise. Along these lines one thing I've noticed in the past few years is the way text is perceived in social media. If you send someone an email and the letters in your sentences are IN ALL CAPS, you are screaming. That is considered to be screaming and yelling at the person you're sending your email to. It works the same way on Facebook. If you make a comment in ALL CAPS that's considered to be yelling.

Notice our church sign. All letters are IN ALL CAPS. People who see our church sign in all caps, especially young people, think we are yelling at them. Why are we yelling at them? Are we afraid? Do we not like them? Because the letters on our church sign are all in caps. Yelling at people driving by the church is not a way to bring about Christian unity and growth in the kingdom of God.

Paul lists a second way of NOT creating unity in the church. Knowing the future is not all it's cracked up to be. If we were the greatest futurists in the world that will not help us to create unity in church. Are you familiar with the term futurists? There is a whole course for Futurists at the University Houston. It is one top programs for that in the country and in the world. I follow several futurists on Twitter and Facebook. They project social and technological trends. They project what will happen in the next 5 to 20 years. If we were masters of futurist thinking that's not be enough to bring unity to the Christian church. That's still not be enough to be successful in mission.

Paul lists a third way we will NOT bring unity to the church. According to Paul, the key to Christian unity is NOT in having the gift of faith. If I was a faith healer that would not create Christian unity. I could touch someone on their forehead and heal them and that would not create Christian unity. If I could speak to a mountain and make the mountain move that would not create Christian unity. Such dramatic displays of faith do not achieve Christian unity.

Paul then lists a fourth way that will not bring Christian unity. He says Christian unity is not giving away everything we have. If we gave everything we had to the poor that would not create Christian unity. That would not prove our discipleship. That would not change the world.

Likewise, imagine if I were burned at the stake for preaching the gospel. That would not create Christian unity. If you became a martyr for Christ that would not create Christian unity.

The apostle Paul says the key to unity is our love. He goes on to describe what love is. Love is patient. Love is kind. Love isn't envious. It doesn't boast, brag or strut about. He says there's no arrogance in love. It's never rude, crude, or indecent. It is not self absorbed. Love isn't easily upset. Love doesn't keep score. It doesn't tally wrongs or celebrate injustice. Truth is love's delight! Love puts up with anything and everything that comes along. It trusts, hopes, and endures no matter what. Love will never become obsolete.

Notice that last line in particular. Love will never become obsolete. You see, as the church has a 500 year rummage sale, we find some things are obsolete. For example, a church sign that displays all capital letters is obsolete. A church that focuses only on the left brain and rationalism and scientism is obsolete. We can no longer afford to neglect the mystery of the gospel.

A church that focuses only on white people in Europe and the United States, that is an obsolete church. The one thing that will never be obsolete is love. Agape love. The kind of love that puts the interest of others before my own interest. The kind of love Christ showed for the world. The kind of love that lays down our life for our brother and sister. They will know we are Christians by our love, by our love. Yes, they'll know we are Christians by our love.

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Sermon from Mother's Day, May 8, 2016

by The Rev. Dr. Jon Burnham

John 17:20-26

”I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.

Father, I desire that those also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory, which you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world. “Righteous Father, the world does not know you, but I know you; and these know that you have sent me. I made your name known to them, and I will make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.”

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