Tuesday, October 30, 2012

God of Heaven Come Down - Into Our Homes

On September 30, I was given the opportunity to preach in worship, for the first time in several years.  I've given talks, read devotionals, and lead a lot of worship in public, but this was the first time in a long time I'd been given the opportunity to preach the word.

Several weeks back, I wrote a post on the new mission statement we were rolling out as a church family and that I was tasked with the second Sunday, bringing heaven down to earth - in our homes.

I had high hopes for the content of the message, but my outline set the bar pretty high in the time-consuming department.  I wasn't ready to give, nor was the congregation ready to hear, an hour long message dealing with my limited experience in the marriage/dad department.

So, I took some advice from Gospel Lesson for the day and focused on the one thing: dinner.

Before going any further, pull out your favorite translation of the Word, and read Luke10:38-42.
Lord God, steady our hearts this morning.  There's so much to be worried about, so much to do.  Help us at this time, to settle down and listen.  Help us to know what you would have us do, right now.  In your son's precious name we pray, amen.

You may have heard that we’re launching a new mission statement for our faith family … As we’ve been listening and praying for discernment in the way forward for FUMC Duncanville, we chose to get back to the basics of the faith, the reason Christ came down among us to begin with … to usher in the Kingdom Time, to come down as the incarnate Word of God and bring heaven down with him.  The new vision for our church family is the same vision that Christ laid down before us when he taught the disciples to pray that night, “Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven …”  As we seek to do the Lord’s will together here, to bring down the Lord’s will into this place, we’ve broken down the goal of what it means to bring heaven down to earth in five ever-widening and interconnected circles – starting with ourselves, then to our families, to our church family, our community, and then to the ultimate goal, the transformation of the world in which we live.  Today we bring our focus to the family, families that come in all shapes, and all sizes. 
The story of Mary and Martha is one that often comes to mind when I’m in my own home.  Spend five minutes in our house on a normal day and it won’t be hard to guess who in our home has tendencies towards being Mary or Martha.
I’m not going to lie here … Much of my day is geared towards getting back to my couch, putting my feet up, turning on the TV, and chilling out.  I especially love my Fridays, my day off, my time for me and me alone.  Time to catch up on the DVR, all those that I don't have time to get to during the week … I should say though, that changed a lot when I got married, and then changed again when Wesley came along.  I feel like I’ve adapted pretty well along the way, though.
But there was no time more evident that Leanne and I had different takes on relaxation then a certain Friday, about six months into our marriage. 

A little background is necessary here ...  After I graduated from Perkins in 08, I didn’t have anything holding me back from doing something crazy with my life.  I had worked at my home church in Farmers Branch for three years, and as I was wrapping up my Masters studies I was interviewing for the Music Directors job at my church as my boss and mentor was retiring after 25 years in ministry with my church family.  I was brought in to learn the ropes in Farmers Branch, but then an opportunity came up in Slidell, Louisiana and when the job in Slidell was offered, I took it.  It was an opportunity to get out on my own and have fun.  I had no girlfriend at the time and my family was supportive, so I made the big move.  And then, Leanne and I connected back in Dallas. 
Long story short, as soon as Leanne and I got started, we knew that this was it.  Even though we had known each other for a couple of years, circumstances had never lined up for us to get to know one another.  Between her having a boyfriend when she came to seminary, to my frequent naps in the basement of the seminary library, things just hadn’t come together for us.  We reconnected before a friend’s wedding, started talking non-stop, and next thing I know she’s visiting Louisiana.  Two dates, an evacuation, a Halloween party, and a change in my phone plan because I kept running out of minutes and text messages, and I asked her to marry me. 
And then, here's the real magic, I somehow convinced her that moving to Louisiana was a good idea.  She wasn’t too happy about it at first.  My career was just getting started, so I needed to stay put for a bit.  As she was just finishing seminary, she had a little bit more career flexibility than I had, but she knew no one in LA beyond my circle of friends.  We settled into our new life together after we were married, but the first job she landed wasn’t the best fit for our family.  Happy wife, happy life, right?
After a hard couple of months at that first job, we talked, argued, and eventually prayed together – we knew she needed to quit it.  In the following months, Leanne made work for herself – putting together 3 or 4 part time jobs during a bit of an in-between time.
It was during that time that we had to have little come-to-Jesus meeting regarding our Fridays.
One of the jobs Leanne worked was out of the home, taking customer service phone calls out of our home office in the morning.  It was all good Monday through Thursday while I was in the office, but things got a little hairy when I was home on Fridays.  Like I said, I need my chill out on the couch time.  Leanne, however, is a mover.  She’s always on the move during the day.  That’s not to say that she doesn’t know how to relax, but she took a little offense to my sitting on the couch while she worked.  In between calls Leanne would do chores, cleaning the kitchen, vacuuming, putting things away.  So of course, I needed to be doing that too.  Which of course, I didn’t.  That’s not to say that I don’t pick up after myself, but clutter does tend to follow me around.
One day things came to a head.  Things got heated.  Big time.  But when things cooled off we sat and hashed things out.  You see, we had competing sets of expectations.  I expected to get my Sabbath time in on Friday, my time of rest.  And she expected not to do all of the housework on her own.  So how do we deal?  One night a week we take 30 minutes and do our chores, clean the bathrooms, really clean the kitchen, vacuum and pick up the house.  Her Martha, and my Mary (I guess), coming together to peacefully coexist.  That’s not to say it’s not a lot of crazy hard work, but we prayerfully work as a team.  I’m of the thinking that bringing heaven down into our families looks like teamwork.
And I tell you what, it’s good that we had these debates early on, because bringing a baby, even a baby as good looking and happy as Wesley has further turned our life on it’s head.  I mean that in the best possible way.
To bring it back to Mary and Martha, I know that there are probably a lot of moms, and dads if you like to cook as much as I do, that would probably raise their hands and say, “Well, Jesus, who’s going to cook dinner if I don’t?”  And I would say that that’s not necessarily the point here … In speaking to Martha, he offers words like ‘distracted’ and ‘worry’.  He’s not saying that offering hospitality isn’t important, but that here at his feet, Mary is learning how to be a disciple.  He wanted Martha to join them. 

But even then, there’s a lot to unpack here in these five verses.
Number one being that Jesus really knew this family.  These are the sisters of Lazarus, the one whom Jesus loved, his friend.  He took his lumps from these sisters when their brother died, and he wept for their brother before calling Lazarus out the tomb, foreshadowing Christ’s own mastery over death.  Mary is also the wise one who anointed Christ’s feet with perfume and her own tears, as if anointing him for his own burial.  These women, this family, they knew Jesus.  So it’s not out of the realm of understanding to see the familiar way in which Martha addresses, to Jesus, her problems with Mary.  She knows who he is, teacher, healer, Son of the Most High, but she still speaks to him as if he’s her own brother. 

The part that was missing here, though, the step that Martha didn’t take before getting upset was to take a moment herself and ask Christ, “What should I be doing right now?”  It’s not that she was doing anything wrong, and we know that Christ doesn’t see anything wrong with what Mary’s doing either.  But Martha didn’t take the time to ask, “What does the Son of God need from me right now?”  Jesus needed her to take some time, and chill out, and listen – as family.
Christ wasn’t just an honored guest in her home, he wasn’t just there as teacher, either.  He was there as a member of the family.  And much like for Mary, Martha, and Lazarus, Christ wants to be a member of our family, and a presence in our own households.
So how do we know that we’re keeping Christ a presence in our home?  How do we know that we’re seeking his will for our families?  As a friend in ministry put it to me, “How do I know that I’m living in God’s perfect will for my life?”
Do you pray as a family?  Do you read scripture as a family?  Do you break bread together as a family?  Do you support the church’s mission with your prayers, presence, gifts, service, and witness as a family?  It’s the challenge before us to seek the Lord’s will together as families.
I could spend all day speaking to you of family spiritual disciplines, and as I was discerning a way through this message, I nearly planned a sermon that would have.  But I’ll take a little advice from Jesus on this one, and focus on one thing …
Is there a room in your household that you consider to be it’s heart?  That room is usually the kitchen.  If you’re like Leanne and I, we spend a lot of time in the kitchen.  And when we were looking for a place to live when we were moving here, having a good sized kitchen was high priority, but we were also seeking an open floor plan (like many of you, I’m guessing) where the kitchen, dining room, and living room were all connected and open to one another.  We love having people over, so having a large space to host our family and friends was high on the list.  After moving in the first major purchase we made, after buying the first couch for either of us that wasn’t a hand-me-down from college, was a large outdoor grill to make sure I could grill for the neighborhood.  Gathering as a family with plenty of food to share is our very favorite things to do together.  Our kitchen is truly where the heart of our home is.  It’s a place where we can model Christ’s love for one another, Leanne, myself, and Wesley.
Would it surprise you to know that in households that eat dinner together fewer than three times per week, teens are 3.5 times more likely to abuse prescription drugs and to have use illegal drugs other than marijuana, 3 times more likely to use marijuana, more than 2.5 times more likely to smoke a cigarette, and 1.5 times more likely to try alcohol, according to a recent study done by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University.  In families that eat dinner together fewer than three times per week, teens and children are 20% more likely to have C’s or lower on their report cards.  In households where families eat together at least 5 times per week, teens are 81% more likely to actually tell parents what’s going on in their lives.  With fewer than three dinners per week that stat drops by half*.
I know a lot of parents out there can get out the family calendar on the phone and say, "There’s no way we could eat more together!".  But the stats are what they are.  And parents, it might surprise you to know, but of the 2,000 teens that were interviewed for the CASA study, 60% said they wanted to eat with their families more often.  When you look at statistics, wouldn’t you say it’s worth the time?  They say that especially for young children, family meals are essential to learning how to interact with adults and building their vocabularies.
The family meal creates a time for holy conversation.  It provides an opportunity to get off the spiritual milk that Pastor Josh mentioned last week in his message and move toward the spiritual food that the Lord wants to nourish us with.  I asked you earlier, Do you pray together as families?  Don’t many of us, when we’re gathered at the dinner table, first say grace?  It is at that point that we’re inviting the Lord down to take a seat with us, much as Christ was offered a seat at the table of Mary and Martha’s house.
I like even better how Eugene Peterson translates our lesson for today in the Message:
38-40 As they continued their travel, Jesus entered a village. A woman by the name of Martha welcomed him and made him feel quite at home. She had a sister, Mary, who sat before the Master, hanging on every word he said. But Martha was pulled away by all she had to do in the kitchen. Later, she stepped in, interrupting them. “Master, don’t you care that my sister has abandoned the kitchen to me? Tell her to lend me a hand.”
41-42 The Master said, “Martha, dear Martha, you’re fussing far too much and getting yourself worked up over nothing. One thing only is essential, and Mary has chosen it—it’s the main course, and won’t be taken from her.”
I would challenge us as families not to underestimate the power of the dinner table.  We can find nourishment there, not just for our bodies, but our souls as families.  It’s a place where we can live out the Gospel with one another, to talk with one another, to pray with one another, to dig deeper in the faith with one another – to get to the spiritual food that will grow us into our faiths.  But we can’t also forget to make sure that we invite Christ to that table.  We can’t forget to ask Heaven to come down and dwell with us – because when we ask for heaven to come down to us, it will.

Is it any wonder that one of the most important ways in which we remember Christ is to join together in the Holy Supper that Christ instituted?  He calls on us to remember him in simple foods of bread and wine, things that are staples of the dinner table.  Christ reminds us through the sacrament that he is an essential part of our lives and he is meant to be shared with the family, as a family.
I would be missing an important opportunity if I didn’t share with you one more important way that we, as families in the faith, can make sure that Christ is front and center and supported with our prayers, presence, gifts, service, and witness.
When we were first married, Leanne and I went through a pretty lean time financially.  But we felt convicted, even during that tough time to tithe to the church of which we were members.  The Lord taught us that, and told us of the requirement in the Holy Word.  Giving a tenth of our income, from our first fruits, is part of being a member of Christ’s Own Body.  We worked our way up to that tithe over the first few months of our marriage, making it a budgetary priority.  And now that tithe is a non-negotiable part of our budget.  When we sit at the table to chat about the budget each month, the tithe is one thing that we don’t need to talk about – that 10% of our income isn’t even ours.  It belongs to the Lord.  It’s not a tax, it’s a requirement of the Lord.  We give it up to the Lord, to the faith family of which we’re a part to make sure that the Lord’s work of bringing heaven down to the earth is able to be sustained.  But, this isn’t a sermon about tithing, so I’m going to prayerfully leave it at that.
You may have been wondering during this time, “What’s the music guy doing giving a sermon?”  Well, a couple of months ago I let Reverend Marie know that if there ever was a time that she needed a break, and Josh or Jim weren’t available, I wouldn’t mind the opportunity to preach the message.  It’s been since then that Leanne and I, and the rest of my family have been doing a lot of praying together and doing some call discernment.  It’s with great joy this morning that I get to share with you some good news – God has put a new call on my heart and I’m now a candidate for ordained ministry in the United Methodist Church as an Elder.
God has been working this on me quite a while, and you never know what can happen when you turn yourself to God and say, “Lord, here I am, what would you have me do?”  I did that 10 years ago when I first felt my call to ministry, and as a musician I’ve had wonderful opportunities to live out the Gospel and share God moment’s with people of the faith.  But as I’ve asked the question of the Lord again, I feel God calling me to seek out people that aren’t of the faith, people of my generation who don’t know that healing touch that Christ can bring to our lives.  People who don’t know that they need the Lord.  As I’ve felt out the candidacy process for the last several months, Leanne and I know that we’re called to do church in new ways, through church planting.  The UMC is waking up to the needs of the local community, to meet the needs of the world block by block if necessary.  We don’t know what the future holds, we’re just beginning the process as a family, but we’re so excited to see what the Lord has in store for us, here at FUMC Duncanville and abroad.
Leane and I, with Wesley, are in constant prayer with one another, praying for the Lord to show us the way to give God the Glory through our life together.  Our families goal is to join with God in bringing that Kingdom Time to pass, to help God in bringing that heavenly, peaceful, kingdom down to earth.  It starts in our own hearts, and then it takes us working together as one, keeping Christ in the family to keep things on track.  Our deepest desire is to aid God in making disciples for the transformation of the world, and God’s desire for us is to work together as a family to make that happen.  It’s hard work to make sure we’re keeping Christ as a member of our household, and from our family to yours, we give thanks to God that we have a church family to help us along the way.
Thanks be to God, Amen.

I'd love to hear your thoughts!  How do you bring heaven down into your home?

*for more information on these stats, check this out