Monday, September 30, 2019

Sermon on Sin

Yeah, no foolin' a sermon on sin.

Go here for a starter, begin at the 7:45 mark and play till the 8:25 mark.

Background - this is a series that is both about revitalizing the church and our four working groups: Climate Justice, White Privilege, LGBTQIA+, & Youth Experiencing Homelessness.

Repeat, Repeat, Repeat
Acts 4:23-27
September 29, 2019
Judson Memorial Baptist Church
Minneapolis, MN
Rev. G. Travis Norvell

Prayer: Living God, you’ve been with us up till this point...dont leave us now.  Amen.

One day my grandfather asked a coworker at the Post Office if he wanted to join him and his son for a day of trout fishing.  The next day everyone arrived at the stream for a day of fishing. The co-worker got out of his car looking like he just stepped out of the Orvis showroom, my grandfather was wearing his old green shirt and pants (you want to match the foliage).  My father looked at the co-worker and his dad and the crow functions of his brain took over, he wanted to be with the shiny person.  

So the shiny one and my father took off splashing, hopping, running, slowshing, and ruckusing up the stream so they could fish all the good holes first.  Meanwhile my grandfather finished his coffee, ate an apple, then prepared his rod and flies for the day. But the time he stepped into the stream the water had settled and the trout had resumed the ready position.  

At the end of the day the three of them met back at my grandfather’s International Scout.  The shiny one and my father had nothing to show, my grandfather had a kreel full of brook trout.  

Dad told me that story because he wanted to illustrate that I didn’t need any new things in life to be successful, but I absorbed the story as the beacon for my vocation.  When we center on racial justice or overcoming white privilege we have be single-minded and focused and trusting. This is the kind of work where we might not see measurable goals achieved, instead we are looking for observable goals achieved.  

Over the last few years of our national life racial justice has been front and center in our collective conscience.  It seemed the themes of racial justice and racial reconciliation were everywhere in the movies, on the radio, social media, in print, on the bust in the park, at coffee shops, in pews and elsewhere - everyone was talking about this in some form or manner.  I heard unthinkable conversations about white privilege, black lives matter. Standing Rock took its place as a national symbol along with Selma, Seneca Falls, and Stonewall.  

But where are we now?  

2020 Oscar Black Panther, no Blackkklansman, Colin Kapernick is still not in the NFL, when was the last time those who kneeled during the national anthem made the news? will Beyonce wow us again at Coachella?  

Being single-minded, staying focused, trusting the work, observable not measureable

The church is still involved, but you can feel the energy shifting to electoral politics.  We are now in the realm of 24-7 cycles of impeachment, elections, hearings, leaks, breaking news, & etc.  This power and principality will try to consume us. These issues are important but they are not omnipotent - they are like shiny temptations begging us to pay attention.  And if we are going to center on racial justice, confronting white privilege, racial reconciliation we have to prove we are not crows.  

I hear many conservative white churches approach racial justice with this simple refrain: we are all brothers and sisters, we do not see color.  I hear many white liberal churches approach racial justice with this simple refrain: I’m not racist. What happens next is that liberal carry conservative aspects of sin with them into the realm of racial justice.  They internalize I’m white, I’m racist, I’m a sinner. And so right then the conversation shuts down, folk get defensive and some pretty bad behaviors start emerging.  

And so we wonder why this issue gets shoved under the rug and not dealt with on a broader and deeper scale.  

So here it the possibility of a new way forward.  We are sinners because we live and participate in a racist system.  This doesn’t mean in your heart of hearts you are a racist, but it does mean that living in this racist system has affected your heart and effects that way you live and benefit in this world in conscious and unconscious ways.  

Years ago a member of the church I served in Athens, WV asked me to join him and his wonderful wife for pecan pie and coffee.  As we ate pie and talked about life he told me about his time as a young school superintendent for Marion County Georgia. In the blink of an eye history was thrust upon him when Marion County became the first county in Georgia to integrate schools.  Marion County is next to where Jimmy Carter grew up, where baptist preacher and New Testament scholar Clarence Jordan had his inter-racial Koinonia Farms. My parishioner told me about the threats and calls and the harassment but he said I knew what was right and we were going to do it.  He then shifted gears on me, “Now Preacher, I’ve been going to church all 85 years of my life and I’ve been listening to sermons for the past 115 years. Here’s the deal: We all know we are sinners, but we need help to know what to do about it. Now eat up.”  

Here are three things for us to do.

  1.  Don’t ignore the concept of sin in this manner.  This is not a theology of personal sins, you lied, you cheated, you had bad thoughts.  We need a robust and broad definition of sin that includes unjust systems and powers of oppression.  Me confessing my sin of racism isn’t enough, me linking arms with others to root out and cleanse the existence of racism in our society is what is needed.  

  1.  Observable not measurable.  Look for changed hearts, look for broken hearts, look for mended hearts.  In a like manner I want us to do this work with soft hearts. Too many times liberal churches want folk to be where we are immediately while ignoring the reality that it took years for us to get to the place where we are.  We are on a continuum in this work, I pray to be where some of you are, and I am helping others get to where I am. This is not a competition. We are here to encourage, lift up, pick up, and nudge one another to be the people God is calling us to be in this time and in this place.  Remember, we are not in the judging business. So let us come up with ways to help people along. Some churches have even started 12 step programs for racism.  

Let this number wash over you for a moment: every year megachurches experience ⅓ turnover in membership.  ⅓ where do they go? We have to be a place to help absorb some of those folk - and we cant do it if we expect them to automatically think and behave and fit into to our program; we have to create some space for them to enlighten us and for us to enlighten them.  We need to be a place where folk from all over the spectrum and continuum who are trying to move forward in their lives to overcome racism.

  1.  We are in this for the long-haul.  We may not see measurable results, but we are already seeing observable results.  Beth Waterhouse’s personal reflection for one, the language shift I hear in your conversations, the books you are reading, the movies you are watching, the people you are seeking out, the experiences and exchanges you are having.  We are only into our third 100 days of action/reflection time period.  

I read the other day about a person who wrote one page a day.  One page of stories, one page of reflection, one page of poetry.  At the end of the year some of the pages find their way into a book, other pages into essays, and some are just wood shavings.  This person reveals how just doing something little each day can add up to something big within a year’s time. In this work it is just a simple commitment to do something small each day and trusting over a year, over a life time you work will have shifted the balance more toward a just, sustainable, and more beautiful world.  

Now I want to end with the story from Acts.  You may or may not have noticed I have been preaching from the book of Acts these past few weeks, and I’ll continue.  It stands to reason, Acts is the birth of the church and we are trying to rebirth, refound, revitalize Judson. Plus Acts gives us a blueprint of the Spirit of God in action. My hope is to someway throughout this Fall to weave together the themes of Acts and our four working groups.  Because when I meet with people and they ask me to tell them about Judson...when I start telling them about racial justice, climate justice, LGBTQIA+, and youth homelessness their eyes light up and they want to know more. One person only knew the church as a place that was closed to LGBTQIA+, one person wanted to talk and talk about composting, one person wanted to tell me everything about the mission of Butter Bakery, one person had a grocery bag full of contacts concerning the re-linking of the Kingfield and Bryant neighborhoods once the 40th St pedestrian bridge opens back up.  It’s been amazing to have these conversations.  

And yet it’s been humbling, because I know for sure that our work will go unnoticed and unrecognized.  And we have to be fine with that. At the end of our lesson this morning there was one name, do you remember it?  Joseph the Levite from Cyprus whom the Apostles called Barnabas (the son of encouragement). What else do we know about Joseph the Levite from Cyprus?  Nothing. Not one more thing.  

What if years from now when the history is being written about this time the only mention we, as a church, get in the books is that Judson Church was a congregation that encouraged.  That would be enough. And by that everyone knew this as a congregation full of nameless people who did small acts everyday for the betterment of the common good. People who stayed the course, who remained faithful, who hand single-minded vision, courage and were risk takers.  That would be awesome.  

Your friends need someone like that in their lives, your neighborhood needs someone like that, your co-workers, this city, this state and nation, this world...God needs someone like that.  It just takes one person, be that person; it just takes one church, let us be that church. You can do that, we can do that. Let us do it. Amen and Amen.

Monday, September 23, 2019

Three Parables

It's been awhile since I've preached using parables, since 2008 to be exact.  Here they are (character voices not included).

Three Parables:
The Parable of the Climate Denier
The Parable of the Misguided Pastor
The Parable of the Forgetful Church
Acts 3:1-11
September 22, 2019
Judson Memorial Baptist Church
Minneapolis, MN
Rev. G. Travis Norvell

Prayer of Illumination
Divine Wisdom, Breath of Life, be with us as we hear your word, your stories, your world changing possibilities.  Amen.

Some words on broken syllogisms

You remember syllogisms: Major Premise, Minor Premise, Conclusion

God loves everyone,
I am part of everyone,
God loves me.  

But most of life is not a neat syllogism but a series of broken syllogisms

God heals the broken
I am broken
God has not healed me.

The story in Acts is a story of a healing, but the healed person will eventually die like the rest of us.  So instead of concentrating on the healing I ask you to concentrate on the exchange of looks in the story. Because in those exchanges is the power of this story, for us this morning.  We have power as people of faith, but oft times we forget it.  

Acts 3:1-11

Okay the ground rule for all parable preaching - you must resist the temptation to think I am talking about you in the parable.  You will think that I wrote this parable with you in mind as one of the characters, I did not. Example: in the Fall of 2008 I played golf once a week with X, the UCC pastor in town.  Xwas a great guy, but a terrible golfer. He thought all of his golfing problems were related to his equipment (external), not his skill (internal). I used a real life instance where X walked up to the tee box and said this hole is set up for a low-flight ball with medium spin, I have just the ball.  He reared back and swung (there was not one thing redeemable about his swing) and hit the ball and it traveled all of six to seven feet. I told this story to illustrate how many times we think an external solution will solve an internal problem. After the sermon, three or four people came up to me and had these responses: “that was me, wasn’t it? I knew my swing needed work, but is it really that bad?” OR “why didn’t you just say you didn’t like golfing with me”.  I shelved parable preaching that Sunday, until this morning because I know you are a mature, reflective and self-differentiating congregation…

This week, however, as I wrote this sermon parables kept emerging off the margins of the page.  I said, go away parables, but they kept pestering me. Sometimes while writing I can sense a poem in the prose, and sometimes I write a poem off the margin of the page.  But this week as I listened to youth (both excited and downcasted) prepare for the Global Climate Strike, as I participated in the Council Meeting where our moderator unveiled an amazing plan for the work of the council, as I watched kids racing one another on tricycles at the preschool, as i watched a preschool parent laugh and laugh at the pumpkin spice sermons note on the sandwich board sign as I listened to stories of care and compassion during the Congregational Care meeting, as I talked to Judson neighbors and blessed dogs, shook hands and read emails and talked on the phone and answered texts...these parables kept emerging.  

Second note, maybe you read A Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan, an allegorical tale about the Christian life.  In the book there are no characters with normal names, each character is a metaphor with names such as Love, Perseverance, Mr. Worldy Wiseman, and Obstinate.  I’m following his lead...

Here they are, parables of faith-power.  

The Parable of the Climate Denier

One day there was a Climate Denier who said things like, “Why would God give us oil if He didn’t want us to burn it?”  And, “If the earth burns up, so what? That will just usher in the return of Jesus.” And so three upright, faithful, well-meaning people, Data, Persuader and Awe from Judson Church went to pay Climate Denier a visit.  

Data knocked on Climate Denier’s door and of course Climate Denier let Data in.  Data plopped down a six inch binder of spreadsheets on dot matrix printer paper. Data showed Climate Denier there was no logical reason to deny climate change because you cannot argue with the science.  But Climate Denier did not like Data insinuation that they were stupid so they said, “That binder looks and sounds like alternative facts”. Data became furious, grabbed the binder, stormed out the door and yelled, “ignorant fool, it’s because of people like you…”  As Data stomped down the sidewalk Persuader was coming up. Data said to Persuader, “If you’re going to see Climate Denier, it’s no use that person is stubborn as two 5 gallon buckets stacked tight together. But Persuader just smiled and said to theirself, “Oh Data, when will you ever learn, just hide and watch”.  Persuader knocked on Climate Denier’s door. Persuader could tell Climate Denier was shaken and troubled but they went ahead with their plan anyway. “Dear Climate Denier you know that CO2 levels are at an all-time high. If you do not reduce them now it will be too late. You must change now.” Again Climate Denier felt as if they were being insulted, why was it only Climate Denier who must change?  Climate Denier replied, “What about when a volcano explodes doesn’t that spew CO2 into the atmosphere? Besides what harm is it that I drive my car to the grocery store every now and then?” Persuader coolness quickly melted as they got in Climate Denier’s face and yelled, “You dumb as sledtracks SOB don’t you get it? The Climate is changing and it’s your fault. Get with the program. Why don’t you just leave Judson and join X or someplace like that”  Then Persuader stormed out of the house and down the steps and down the sidewalk. Just at that moment Awe was coming up the sidewalk. Persuader was so mad and frayed they just spit and screamed. Awe slowed down and gave Climate Denier some time before knocking on the door. When Awe knocked on the door they did not come in when invited, instead they invited Climate Denier to walk with them. So they walked, sometimes in silence, sometimes chit chatting.  They talked about their aches and pains, they talked about nieces and nephews, and grief and trouble paying the bills, they talked about God and prayer and the unfairness of life. Then they came to a bench overlooking Lake Hiawatha and sat down. They watched in silence as the sun set. After the orange orb dipped below the horizon, Awe pulled out of their bag two glasses and a bottle of Pinot Noir from the X McMinnville, Oregon vineyard owned and operated by an American Baptist family.  As they sipped their wine their faces relaxed even more and they realized how much they needed each other.  

The Parable of the Misguided Pastor

One day Pastor was feeling useless, like all of their work meant nothing - in one ear and out the other.  And so Pastor thought about becoming a politician, but then Pastor remembered the limits of politics and all the handshakes and speeches and crowds - just the thought made Pastor tired.  Then pastor thought I bet I’d make a great organizer. But then Pastor remembered the limits of organizing too and all of the time needed for administrative work, and planning and visioning and phone calling and texting and emailing - the thought of that made Pastor break out in hives.  About the time Pastor was feeling futile the phone rang, it was Broken-hearted they were in the hospital and it didn’t look good, would Pastor come see them. So Pastor pedaled and caught the bus and walked to Broken-hearted’s room. Broken-hearted was about to tell Pastor about their condition when Doctor walked in wearing a white coat, and official lanyard and talking in a velvet voice. Pastor went to leave, feeling useless again but then Doctor started talking to Broken-hearted in a not so kind voice and saying things that weren’t very kind.  So Pastor stopped walking and addressed Doctor, “You can’t talk to Broken-hearted that way. They are a valued member of Judson Church, they are a child of God like you and me. Doctor apologized and regrouped and Pastor never thought again of being a politician or an organizer.  

The Parable of the Forgetful Church

One day three demons, Enormity, Sustained Energy, and Division, came to visit 41st and Harriet Ave. in South Minneapolis.  Enormity said, “I hear you think you’re really doing something with your four working groups: White Privilege, Climate Justice, LGBTQIA+, and Youth Homelessness - well I’m here to remind you of the size of these problems and that one teeny church does, doesn’t matter diddly squat.  And Enormity laughed a wicked deep laugh and stepped away. Then Sustained Energy came forward and said, “Look at you, how long do you think you all can keep this up? Your bones are fragile, your paycheck work will consume you, and your results will never match your expectation Hah!.  Then Division piled on, “You know just for fun I’m going to send my minions of other worthwhile projects to tempt you. They will wiggle and waggle in front of you teasing you, they will make you feel guilty because you are not paying attention to them, they will make others feel jealous because they get all the attention and these issues get none oh it will be so much fun to watch the joy and energy and change drain away from you and watch you shrink back to the size.  As they stood giggling and taunting and mocking Judson their thoughts together said, “nothing more than a pompous mouthful, the best good enough 150 on a Sunday progressive church in America…

And then a person with a walker said, “Hold on.”  And then a youth said, “Yeah, wait a minute.” And then the coveted young family said, “Aren’t we a Resurrection community?”  And at the sound of that the demons shrank, then set of toddler twins went over and squashed the demons and popped them like bubble wrap...

Thursday, August 8, 2019

Tribute for Rev. Dr. William R. Herzog, II (1944-2019)

Dale Edmondson (former pastor at Judson) emailed me this week to tell me a great man had died: Bill Herzog (Dale and Bill were close friends).  Bill was here at Judson when Dale was installed on April 22, 1990.  

Others knew Bill much better and longer than I did. Like many of you I loved Bill Herzog.  But I felt compelled to share some of my experiences with this great man.  He was more than my New Testament professor, more than a mentor, more than someone I admired, he was more like a godfather - someone who revealed how to be an authentic, compassionate, a devoted father and husband, and a loving human being.  He was a divinity school version of Mister Rogers (Rev. Fred Rogers gave the commencement address at CRDS in 1994, this is my favorite picture from that event).

I first met him via VHS tapes: the famous 1996 homosexuality debate he did at Green Lake with Manfred Brauch (I'll try to find a copy and upload them to youtube). I thought this guy is amazing and this guy needs to grow a beard. I believe he told me his wife said the same thing about the beard. Later, I would discover not only did he like the American League, but he was a Boston Red Sox fan. If I had known this...

After college I was too afraid to venture too far from home in West Virginia for seminary, so I attended BTSR in Richmond, VA for two years. But at the end of my second year I knew I needed to transfer to CRDS. I cold called Bill Herzog (he didn't know me at all) and said, "I'd like to transfer to CRDS". He replied, "Sure thing, when do you want to come up for a visit? We'll pay for your flight up." I said, "no need for that Lori and I will drive up for the weekend." to which he added, "Sure thing, and if you all want you can stay at my place."

We didn't stay at his place, but we did meet him that weekend. When I told the admission office Herzog said the school would pay for our flight they nearly fainted. I told Dale Davis (then director of admissions at CRDS), no worries, we drove.

I wouldn't say he was a great administrator, why was he a perpetual dean? But he had a great sense of style (great wool suits). He excelled in the classroom. As a professor he was giant; he would push you but not to the breaking point. He demanded quality work, but he also wanted to know you as a person. I once turned in a paper to him and he gave it back to me saying, "It's a good paper, but it's not a social gospel paper. If you're going to write like a social gospeller then you've got to write clear for both the person sitting at the bar and the person sitting in the pew."

I took two independent studies with him on the historical Jesus and social justice. For two semesters I got weekly private one hour sessions with Bill Herzog! It was amazing. We would not discuss his work, he had ethics! A book a week, it was brutal but well worth it. I think he had a theology book in him but it never came forth. It would have been a book that combined liberation theology, with New Testament social sciences and ecclesiology. He hinted at this in his books, but during the private sessions he really became animated about this idea.

He had a wicked sense of humor, he loved to laugh. He loved to tell stories (usually, they were too long). A classmate of his in seminary, David Bloom has a picture of Herzog wearing a sweatshirt with Snoopy on the front. Bloom said,  "On the occasion that we would meet going in opposite directions while changing classes, he would say to me out the corner of his mouth, "There's no excuse for you, Bloom!"

He was also a great preacher. During chapel services he would take on a biblical character and preach from their perspective. He loved doing Peter. Most Sundays one would find Bill working as an interim at local American Baptist congregations or teaching Sunday school (especially the great gig he had at the Episcopal Church). I once asked him about the balance between the pulpit and the academy. He said, "you have to incarnate the tension". I thought at first that was just divinity school bs, but I think better of his advice now.

Every year he would have the Baptist students over to his house for an end of the year cookout. During my senior year I recruited him to be the pitcher for our divinity school slo pitch softball team (terrible team, but great fun). Herzog threw a curve, a knuckle and a quick pitch. He said there was no way Chris Evans (Chris Evans was then professor of Church History at CRDS, he is now at Boston University; they also co-authored/co-edited a book on baseball, see below for more info) could hit his curve, I believed it. The loser of each game got a pitcher of cheap Genesee beer, we had all the Genesee we wanted that season.

Bill left CRDS and took one final position as Dean of Andover Newton Theological School in Newton Centre, MA. At the time I lived in Lincoln, RI, so I would drive up from and see him every now and then. He loved it at ANTS, well he loved getting his Red Sox clergy pass at least. :)

Most see Herzog's influence in the work of his former student Ched Myers. But I see his influence in the 100s of alums, friends and associates - people of integrity, those who think pastoral scholarship matters, those who don't take themselves too seriously, those who genuinely listen to you and don't look through you, those who enable you to see the kingdom of heaven for just a few bright moments.

When he was in New Orleans for the SBL annual meeting I invited him to come to the church I was serving to preach and teach.  He had the congregation in the palm of his hand, they were in awe of him.  As I drove him out for lunch he started asking me questions about pastoral life then said, "Aha, you're a problem solver, you're officially a pastor!"  I made a face and said, "I guess so."  He just smiled.

God bless you, Rev. Dr. William R. Herzog II

the picture is from my graduation from CRDS in 2000. as you can tell from the look on my face (and from Bill's) he just said to me, "And now for the rest of your life you get to be an American Baptist pastor!" (i told you he had a wicked sense of humor)

Parables as Subversive Speech: Jesus as Pedagogue of the Oppressed, 1994
Jesus Justice and the Reign of God: A Ministry of Liberation, 2000
The Faith of Fifty Million: Baseball, Religion, and American Culture, 2002
Prophet and Teacher: An Introduction to the Historical Jesus, 2005

plus other articles in many academic journals.  

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

One Last Good Chance: Sermon at Judson Memorial Baptist Church. 28.July.2019

Our One Last Good Chance
Leviticus 25:1-7 & Mark 1:14-15
On the Occasion of my Seventh Anniversary
Judson Memorial Baptist Church
Minneapolis, MN
Rev. G. Travis Norvell

One time my brother-in-law asked my father how long it took my him to learn how to become a bricklayer.  My dad replied instantly, “seven years.” My brother-in-law looked skeptically at my dad; my dad sensed this and elaborated a little more, “After two years I could use a trowel, but it took me seven years to master the trowel”.  

The movie The Biggest Little Farm tells the story of John and Molly Chester’s attempt to create a farm utopia on an old, hardpacked, dilapidated, lifeless farm an hour outside of Los Angeles, CA.  They get advice from a permaculture guru who tells them they have to rebuild the soil first until each teaspoon of soil contains one million microscopic lifeforms in it.  So they did just that, they started with the soil and built it up.  

They built a worm composting unit. They composted manure from the animals, they planted a diverse variety of fruit trees, crops, and obtained every farm animal imaginable.  It looked beautiful and it looked like all would come together within a year. But each season brings new problems, coyotes eat the chickens and snails the size of golf balls come from nowhere and eat the lemons and oranges.  The permaculture guru kept telling them, if you’ll rebuilt the soil and diversified the farm all will come together in the seventh year. In the seventh year...

Since my return trip from our racial justice pilgrimage to Memphis, TN last October I have read approximately 20 books on church revitalization/church rejuvenation. Out of those 20+ books I am holding onto this one line from Small Strong Congregations: “Your most productive work will not start until your sixth or seventh year!”  

Seven years ago on July 29, 2012 I began, officially, as your pastor.  

What is it about seven?

Six days God created then rested on the seventh.  Every seven years was to be a sabbatical year where the land rests.  Then every seven cycles of sabbatical years shall be a year of Jubilee where debts are forgiven, slaves are set free, and land is returned.  

So what are we going to do during this seventh year together?

First, how about what we’re not going to do.  No seven year itches.  

I feel like we are, emotionally and spiritually, just now ready for the work at hand.  

In divinity school the Dean of Students would tell us, “5 will get you 10, 10 will get you 20 and 20 will get you life”.  Translated for the pews it means, “If you’re at a church for five years, you should probably stay 10. If you’re at a church for 10 years, you should probably think 20.  And if you there 20, that’s probably the only place for you until retirement.”  

Going forward I am not thinking of my call here as another step of preparation for another call, I am thinking of our situation more like a rabbinical call: this is it for me.  (Think how many times rabbis move around, they don’t). 

What we are going to do together this year.  We are going to seize the moment.  

We have one last good chance to revitalize Judson.  

By last good chance I mean while we can still benefit from the resources at hand.
  1. Our giving increased by 10% from last year.  That is unheard of.
  2. We still have people who can literally move chairs and set up tables.
  3. While we have kids and youth.  
  4. While we have momentum. 

While we still have over 500 people who walk through Judson’s doors each week.  100+ for worship + 200+ associated with Judson Preschool + 100 associated with Meals on Wheels + another 100+ associated with the four counselors who use our building, the Girl Scout group, the opera company who is practicing here, the philharmonic and neighborhood group that has office space here and various sundry outside groups who use the building (and that doesn’t even touch the number of people and families who play on the playground, the people who walk their dogs by, the people that jog by, the people who sit on the steps for a moment).  We still have people who visit Judson because of the sermon title or what’s on the sign out front, The Southwest Journal even did a story on Deadra Moore’s sermon title! What zany world are we living in? We still average three visitors per Sunday. While we still have name recognition.  

This week a counselor called and asked if I would speak to a client of theirs.  Why me? Because years ago they had a positive experience at the Family Life Center that used to be here.  We have to seize this moment now before it disappears...  

Brothers and Sisters and Siblings the time is now, not next year, not five years from now, not ten years from now.  IT IS NOW.

In the 30th year of Jesus’ life he preached his first sermon with an urgency of now.  “The time is fulfilled”. In the Greek mind (the New Testament was written in Greek even though Jesus and the disciples spoke Aramaic) there were two ideas of time.  There was chronological time (day to day, week to week, year to year time), chronos.  

Then there was special time.  The time you fell in love, the time you found your calling in life, the time you finally stood up for something or somebody, think of Whitney Houston time 

“I want one moment in time
When I'm more than I thought I could be
When all of my dreams are a heartbeat away

Or Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton time, 

But that won't happen to us and we got no doubt
Too deep in love and we got no way out
And the message is clear
This could be the year for the real thing

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That kind of time is kairos time, it is what Jesus meant when he said the time, the kairos, is fulfilled.  And it kairos for Judson.  

I have specifics, you have specifics, but let us center around this metaphor, it’s on the front of your bulletin; it’s simple and it’s straight from theologian Richard Rohr and I think he meant it just for us.  

The Bible gives no comprehensive basis why evil exists, why suffering takes place, why human beings experience tragedy.  The Bible simply operates with the assumption that chaos exists. We all experience chaos. We all respond to chaos. We went through a divorce, we or a family member or close friend came out as gay or lesbian, a parent died, we miserably failed at something, our dreams were crushed, something tragic or tramautic happened, we stopped believing in God, Christianity stopped making sense, our faith seemed hollow and shallow, and on down the line…  Some people respond to chaos with Order. They build safe place amidst the chaos to keep the danger at bay, “Don’t drink, don’t cuss, don’t chew, don’t go with girls that do.” That’s an Order box response to chaos. Some people respond to chaos with Disorder, they define their lives over against the Order they and others built, “Their religion is simple, mine is complex and nuanced”.

Conservative churches are Order Box congregations, Liberal churches are Disorder Box congregations.  Neither are mature congregations. Once you jump out of the Order Box, you cannot go back. And once in the Disorder Box you cannot go on in life simply defining ourselves over against what we used to believe. 

I recently bought a bluetooth speaker that fits on my bike so I can listen to sermons and podcasts while on rides.  I have crossed a threshold of supreme preacher nerdom. Oh the looks I’ve received over the past couple of weeks. While listening to Richard Rohr’s explain his simple metaphor of boxes for the spiritual life I had to pull over.  That’s it. Hallelujah. Over the past few months I’ve been banging my head over and over against the Disorder Box. I kept thinking if we just do it better then we won't need to change, just do it better. But Rohr invited me to another place, to the Reorder Box, to the reorder pastor, to the Reorder Judson.  

Have you seen the movie or read the book A Man Called Ove?  It tells the story of an aging Swedish widow whose life of Order collapsed after his wife died, he was laid off from work, and a pregnant Iranian woman moves next door.  He tries to die by suicide but each time his attempts are thwarted. He quickly moves from Order to Disorder. As he moves moments of tenderness, compassion, humor and grace emerge.  By the end he is in the midst of a Reordered life. The same is true for Best of Enemies the story of desegregation in Durham, NC centered on two people, one the leader of the local Klu Klux Klan chapter and the other is a community activist.  Order is clear, the other is the enemy. Disorder - desegregation and they are ordered by a judge to work together to provide a way forward. Reorder - they both changed and became lifelong friends and worked together for the common good.   

If we are going to live into the new life God has for us in kairos time we will do so in the “Reorder Box”.  There is healing after pain, there is reconciliation after being harmed, there is getting up after failures, there is belief after doubt, there is life after death.  We don't have to apologize for the Bible, we don't have to be embarrassed that we’re a church, we don't have to be ashamed that we’re Baptist (because in a few years folk won’t even know the difference between Lutheran and Baptist anyway).  What we have to do is live honest, compassionate, loving, authentic, vulnerable, Christ-centered lives. Let us take the gifts from the Order Box and the gifts from the Disorder Box and let us pilgrim together to the Reorder Box.  

Brothers and Sisters and Siblings this will be difficult. Another line I’m holding onto, “The experienced church leader has learned that while renewing an established congregation may take only half as many radical ideas as projected, it will take twice as long as anticipated, and be three tims more difficult than ever imagined. We can never underestimate the time and energy required”.  And yes we’re all have to sacrifice our sacred cows, so what? This is our last good chance, while the opportunity is present, while we still have the energy and potential, while folk still harken our doors, while we still have name and recognition to cash in on... What are we waiting for? The time, kairos, is now. Let’s do this.