Wednesday, November 24, 2010

invite, share, grow (christ the king)

Christ the King is the last Sunday in the year on the Christian calendar. If the year begins with Advent and the anticipation of the birth of Jesus, it concludes with his enthronement at the right hand of God, who has highly exalted him and given him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus Christ every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that he is Lord to the glory of God. The Lordship of Christ is of course the personal decision that is the doorway into the Christian faith; the simplest creed contains three words, “Jesus is Lord”.

It is one thing to give honor to a ruler or a king. We stand when someone comes into a room, or we cease our conversations and pay attention or we applaud. It is a way of showing respect or even gratitude. To say Jesus is Lord is to kneel in reverence, to stand in awe, to sing Joy to the World, the Lord is come, let earth receive her king.

But the Lordship of Christ, and Christ the King has another meaning: to conform our lives to his, to spread the influence of his love and life upon this earth. In the gospels this is called the kingdom of God. In the passage I quoted from Philippians 2, where every knee shall bow and every tongue confess, we catch the second meaning earlier in the passage, when Paul writes, “Have this mind in you which was in Christ Jesus, who emptied himself and took the form of a servant, and became obedient unto death, even death upon the cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and given him the name that is above every name…

I have been reflecting on Christ the King Sunday and what it might mean to us in a few practical ways. What does it mean to have the mind that was in Christ Jesus? How can we become more Christ-like? How can the church be a foretaste of the kingdom of God? And what does all of this mean for this season of the year?

I want to focus on three words: invite, share, and grow.

This is a season of invitation for us. We receive invitations to parties, celebrations, gatherings of various sorts. These are fun. When we receive an invitation we feel included. I want you to think of the coming weeks as a particularly appropriate time to invite. An invitation can happen in subtle ways: a friend or a relative comes for an out of town visit. You might say, “you know, this is a great time of year for our church, you can come as you are, plan to go with me, afterwards we will have brunch”. That is an invitation.

Or someone new has moved into your neighborhood. You tell them about our choir concert or lessons and carols service, or the food we are collecting for the hungry. That is an invitation.

Your child is a college student and comes home for Christmas. We have a reunion for college students and their friends an hour prior to the eleven o’clock pm Christmas Eve service, the last one of the evening. Some of them have sung in our youth choir and they are invited to sing in that service. That is an invitation.

Or someone at work has been through a difficult time. We are going to have a “Service of the Longest Night”, literally the shortest day of the year, and John Arey is going to speak in practical ways about how to make it through the long nights, the dark nights of the soul, especially during the holidays, when, the words “all is calm and all is bright” are not true for everyone. That is an invitation.

I am asking you to invite someone to our church in the coming weeks. You’re thinking about it, but already the little obstacles are crossing your mind. You say, “but I don’t want to be pushy” (you wouldn’t be). Or, everyone I know already comes to this church (maybe you need to get out of the house!) Or “everyone already has a church home” (statistics say this is likely not true).

A simple invitation is powerful. It is an expression of radical hospitality.

So, a first question: who will you invite? Of course, there is a deeper question: why should you invite someone? A great question, and a sermon in and of itself, but, short answer----in the Advent and Christmas season they will receive a gift, the hope, peace, joy and love of God, for them, and it will come at them from every direction---the music, the messages, the visuals, the warmth of other people. What a gift for someone in your life! Invite!

Another word for the coming weeks: share. It is the season of giving. As of the end of the week we had pledged almost 72% of our mission for the coming year. That is a very strong start and our next goal is to be at 80% by Thanksgiving. If you can make a pledge this morning and place it in the offering plate that would be wonderful.

I also want to highlight three very practical ways you can give in the coming weeks to address basic needs.

• Our Advent for Hunger initiative is a collection of food for the hungry of our community. Last year we collected 9.5 tons of food. In a difficult economic climate many of our neighbors are hungry, and we hope to surpass last year’s contributions.

• The Star Tree is a way to provide gifts for a 3-4 year old child in Charlotte. Each donor provides one outfit, one gift and one book. This is a project led by the Children’s Council in partnership with the Bethlehem Center, and we hope to help 110 children!

• Our Haiti Microcredit Team has received a matching gift of $5000. With an additional $5000 we hope to make 50 loans to women in Dondon, Haiti who have been waiting for over a year. A $50 gift will help each of these 50 women, and if we reach this goal we will be directly assisting over 100 Haitian women in employment that supports their families and give them dignity.

Our gifts can alleviate hunger, brighten Christmas morning for a child, and provide work for women in northern Haiti. Sharing our gifts is at the heart of this season; it is an expression of extravagant generosity. So, a second question: how will you share in this season?

When we invite others, we are living in the kingdom of God. Jesus was constantly inviting people to follow him, to listen to him, to share a meal with him. When we share what we have and who we are with others, we are living in the kingdom of God. Jesus gave his life for us, and we give because we have first received.

It is a pleasure to hear Jack Lamour’s story this morning, and as the week has unfolded I have connected him with these three words: invite, share, grow. Years ago Alice White had told me about bright young man, one of our interpreters in our clinic in Haiti, who wanted to come to the U.S. and study and then return and do humanitarian work. As we were talking one evening it occurred to me that we could become personally involved in this. And then, as a couple, Pam and I realized that we could invite Jack to live with us---we were in a parsonage with more bedrooms than we needed. We had the space in our home; the question was, did we have the space in our lives? We made the invitation, a simple invitation to come to the U.S. and attend college.

Jack responded, he came to Charlotte, and began college, and that’s where the next word comes in: sharing. Jack became a part of a congregation that shared with him: you helped him to navigate the streets of Charlotte, hosted him for meals, supported his tuition, became his friend. He started at CPCC, and then a United Methodist college gave him a one half scholarship. Jack’s has two weeks of classes, then his last final exams. He will have graduated in four years with a degree in biochemistry. Many, many of you have shared what you have and who you are with Jack. It is an amazing story, and we are all a part of it.

Invitation, sharing, growth. Jack has made the most of an opportunity to receive an education. He has been the beneficiary of the gifts of others. Now he moves into adulthood, he has grown up, and he will take what he has learned and what he will learn in the future, and who knows: maybe he will change the world?

What does growth mean for us? We anticipate the season ahead as one in which we plant seeds. We invite someone, and they are inspired, they experience the presence of God. We share a part of what we have and who we are with someone else, they are blessed, we are blessed, the world changes a little, and we taste something that seems good and right, and we want more. What does that look like?

Next week is the beginning of Advent, the preparation for the birth of the Savior. Advent is getting started, taking small steps, the story of God emerging for us. Advent culminates in Christmas, the birth of Jesus, the Savior, a celebration, the flooding of this space with life and light, every corner of the sanctuary inhabited with people who are standing in tiptoes, lifting the light into the sky.

But this also leads to something more. The glory of God that visits Bethlehem spreads to all the earth. The moment in time becomes a movement. We pray… thy kingdom, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven…and then we look for the signs.

We are not there now —I talked about this last week, remember our conversation about “it is what it is” ?---but we have been given the vision and as followers of Christ the King we grow toward it. Growth is the season of Epiphany. The kingdom moves, spreads, the light floods not only the space of a sanctuary but all of life.

On Christmas Eve we are going to ask you to grow spiritually in the new year. We are going to offer opportunities to be in small groups in January, February and March. Our hope and prayer is that the crowds that gather at Christmas will become smaller communities of disciples of Jesus Christ in the new year, disciples who will help to transform the world.

• Invite, that’s radical hospitality.
• Share, that’s extravagant generosity.
• Grow, that’s intentional faith development.

In the weeks ahead, and especially on Christmas Eve we will sing the carol, Joy to the World, the Lord is come, let earth receive her king, let every heart prepare him room. Through invitation and radical hospitality, we prepare room, we make space for someone else in our lives. Through sharing, and extravagant generosity, we prepare room, we make space for the needs of others in our lives. And through intentional faith development we grow, we prepare room, we make space for the very presence of Jesus himself in our lives.

What if every one of us invited someone?
What if every one of us shared our gifts?
What if every one of us made a conscious decision to grow spiritually in the new year?
What does it mean to honor Christ as our King?
Could this be the way that God changes the world?

And could all of this lead to the fulfillment of the scripture, when every knee shall bow, every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.


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