Altars Everywhere!

Defiant Praise – John van de Laar
There are many doorways to cynicism, Jesus,
Many reasons for despair,
May causes for fear;
But there is no excuse for giving them ultimate power;
Not if we really believe what we claim to believe.

Resurrection is real, Jesus;
We have touched it, and seen it;
Our own lives bear witness to it,
And it constantly reveals itself in our world.
And so, in spite of the fear that nags at us,
In the face of the despair and cynicism that taunts us,
In denial of all that would seek to steal life away,
We offer you our love,
Our devotion,
Our lives,
As an offering of resurrection faith
And defiant praise.

Over these past few weeks, we have been talking about what it is like to live in Scare City.
Our fear of not having enough or being enough made us want to build tall towers and make a name for ourselves.
Our fear of the unknown and what lurks around every corner kept us from stepping out in faith.
Our fear of those who are different – who live on the other side of the tracks – caused us to miss opportunities to share our gifts with them or to receive blessings from them.

Fear, scarcity, cynicism… these are all things that limit our ability to fully experience the life God has given us.
In our attempts to cling to what we have, we don’t allow ourselves to take hold of what is truly life.

Our scripture this morning comes from a letter written by Paul to a young minister named Timothy.
Timothy was having a tough time in his work. In many ways, he was living in Scare City, perhaps facing fears that he wasn’t good enough, he was too young and unexperienced; maybe he didn’t feel brave enough for what God was calling him to do.
Or maybe, he was a young pastor, sent to a church where everything was hunky dory and he was having a hard time helping the church to grow – both in numbers and in faith.
So Paul sent this letter as a form of encouragement that young man’s ministry and as a reminder of what was really important… and I’m finding it helpful and encouraging as well.
I think its important for all of us to hear this call to move out of our attitudes of scarcity and to move into a sense of God’s abundant grace and love in our lives.

Because, friends, that is our call.

We are called to dismantle all those symbols of fear and scarcity in our lives so that we can embrace God’s abundant, joyful, overflowing life.
In our worship space this morning, we have literally dismantled the scaffolding that symbolized over these past few weeks the towers we build, the corners, and the walls…
Instead, all of these pieces are now altar spaces of their own… filled with signs of God’s hope and love and mercy that pours out into our lives.
They are symbols of OUR resurrection faith and defiant praise of God in the midst of a world that so often seems scary and uncertain.

Paul’s letter to Timothy was filled with reminders of how he could shed those fears.
The instructions were meant to help him fight the good fight of faith and to take hold of the eternal life to which he was called and for which he made his confession.
Confession isn’t a word that we use every day in our faith tradition.
We confess when we have done something wrong or when we are sorry, but the way it is used here also means to confess what we believe to be true.
Jane Anne Ferguson reminds us that this likely referred to the confession that Timothy made in his baptism.
A confession that he was God’s child.
A confession that he would serve God and love his neighbors.

A confession not unlike the one that we make in our baptisms…

I’ve been thinking about those promises that we in fact made during our baptisms and how they connect with the fears and the scarcity that lurk on the edges of our lives.

[slides for baptism]
So often, the feeling that we are not enough and that we have to build towers to make a name for and protect ourselves… that desire to have more and more and more… well, those are the powers of consumerism and nationalism run rampant.
When our desire to earn and spend and save money becomes idolatrous… when our patriotism blinds us to our kinship with brothers and sisters of other nations… then it is time for us to remember our confession.
Will you let the Spirit use you as prophets to the powers that be?
We accept the freedom and power God gives us to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves!
That is resurrection faith. That is defiant praise. That is how we build altars everywhere in this world!

When our world is filled with jealousy, conflict, abuse, and rumors… when there is a constant state of bickering and violence shows up on our news every single day… when the threats of war and destruction loom over us… then it is time for us to remember our confession…
Will you turn away from the powers of sin and death?
We renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness, reject the evil powers of this world, and repent of our sin!
That is resurrection faith. That is defiant praise. That is how we build altars everywhere in this world!

Where there is division and anxiety over those who look different or speak different or come from different places. When we look out in judgment upon those who don’t have the things that we have or when we hesitate to see and name and celebrate the gifts of people we think are below ourselves. When we forget that we, like Paul, are completely unworthy of the love of God for us… well, then it is time for us to remember our confession…
Will you proclaim the good news and live as disciples of Jesus Christ, his body on earth?
We confess Jesus Christ as our Savior, put our whole trust in his grace, and promise to serve him as our Lord, in union with the church which Christ has opened to people of all ages, nations, and races!
That is resurrection faith. That is defiant praise. That is how we build altars everywhere in this world!

And we do so by going back to the basics. By remembering the faith of our ancestors. By using their struggles and blessings to guide and shape the way that we live our lives. We turn to those pages of scripture, like this letter to Timothy, to remind us of the calling that is at our roots. And so, we make our confession…
Will you receive and profess the Christian faith as contained in the Scriptures?
We affirm and teach the faith of the whole church as we put our trust in God, the Father Almighty, in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, and in the Holy Spirit, one God now and forever.
That is resurrection faith. That is defiant praise. That is how we build altars everywhere in this world!

Like Timothy, we, too, have been called to a different kind of life.
We are called to “pursue righteousness, faith, love, endurance, and gentleness” (1 Tim 6:11) –those fruits of the spirit that we talked about all summer long.
Fight the good fight of faith…
Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called and for which you made your confession.
Remember your baptism and be grateful.
Remember your baptism and be grateful.
Remember your baptism and be grateful.

Be grateful.
As 1 Timothy 6:6 reminds us, we are called to a life that combines godliness with contentment,
Gratitude and contentment are key and perhaps the only way we can truly move from a spirit of scarcity to one of abundance.
It is a reminder that we brought nothing into this world and we will take nothing out of it.
Paul urges Timothy to remember that those who desire to be rich and to have more get caught up in a cycle of self-destruction. Their lust brings nothing but trouble.
On the other hand, those who have wealth can become so full of themselves and obsessed with their money that it becomes a stumbling block to their faith.
As the Message translation puts it, “a devout life does bring wealth, but it’s the rich simplicity of being yourself before God…. If we have bread on the table and shoes on our feet, that’s enough.”

Bread on the table and shoes on our feet.
Friends, that is all that we really need.
That is what is important.
These are signs of God’s abundance that will transform this world.

Bread and shoes…

Bread on the table… a sign of the great thanksgiving and a reminder that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us.
A reminder of the abundant grace that has been given to us.
And a sign of the Body of Christ and how we are all united in this common mission.
And a loaf which is meant to be broken so that not just we… but others may be fed.
Bread symbolizes the ministries of our church where we praise God in our worship and we connect with one another around tables.

Shoes on our feet… because we have places to go!
Just as the first disciples were sent out into the world to baptize and teach and spread the good news, so we have been called to go from this place out into the world. After we have been fed by God’s word, we are supposed to share it.
We are supposed to carry it with us from this sanctuary so that we can transform this world.
Shoes symbolize the ministries of our church in which we teach and share the faith with young and old and in which we go and serve in places near and far.

Today… we have the opportunity to make our commitments for next year.
As a church, we have been deepening our vision and we believe that our love, service, and prayer in this world is meant to make an impact.
Just like bread is meant to be shared and shoes are meant to go out, when we deepen our engagement in this church and when we partner with others out in the world, things are going to happen!
You and me, right now, today, we are laying the foundation for the future ministry of our church.
And it will take all of us, making the commitment to personally engage in just a slightly deeper way for our church to grow and flourish and thrive.

If we are honest with ourselves… the foundation that we are laying today is not for us.
It is for the church of our children and grandchildren.
Some of us won’t be here in 10-20 years as our dreams for this place are being realized.
But for the sake of our children, for the sake of our grandchildren, for the sake of the neighbors all around us who are hungry and yearning for hope… we are called to this work.
We are called to fight the good fight.
We are called to do good.
We are called to carry this worship and word out of this place and bring light and hope and grace and mercy to all we meet.
We are called to be generous and to share.
And when we do so, we will take hold of what is truly life.

Thanks be to God!


In our gospel reading this morning, we come across some very angry folks in Jesus hometown of Nazareth.

These are ordinary, run of the mill folks. They aren’t Pharisees who have a beef with Jesus. They aren’t disciples – those people who chose to follow Jesus and who should understand. No, these are small town people – a lot like you and me – who are just trying to get by.

Last week in our gospel reading, we remember that Jesus came back to his hometown after being away for a while. He walked in through the doors of the church and everyone was so happy to have him back again. I can imagine lots of handshakes and hugs going around as Jesus was passed from one person to the next. I can even imagine an older lady or two wanting to pinch his cheeks.
Jesus grew up among these folks. They knew him his whole life. And here he returns and they are just waiting for the hometown boy to make good. They are waiting for him to show off all of the stuff that he has learned out there in the big wide world.

So when the time comes for the reading of scripture, the scroll was handed to Jesus. And he found the place in Isaiah where it says: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

Now, Jewish custom in church was not to have one person give a sermon, but the leaders of the church would have the opportunity to comment on the reading and to bring up insights. In many ways, that’s what we do in our bible studies – especially the roundtable pulpit. Every voice is heard and respected.
Well, Jesus finished his reading and he too had a comment to make about this passage from Isaiah. All he said was, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
In Mark’s gospel – just giving that little speech sets the crowds off in a tizzy – they can’t believe his arrogance, they want to know who he thinks he is to claim such things. After all, he is the kid they grew up with, that little snot-nosed bugger from down the street.
In Luke’s version of the story – that is not what the people are upset by. In fact, they are pretty amazed at first. Oh my, could this really be Joseph’s son? Where did he learn so much?
No, what get’s the people mad and upset and full enough of rage that they want to throw him off of a cliff is that Jesus picks a fight with them.
After he’s been gushed upon and praised, Jesus starts to get a little concerned that perhaps the people need to have a little reality check.

“This scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing – but unfortunately, I’m not talking about for you. “

In Luke’s gospel – Jesus has been sent to be a light to the Gentiles. His mission is to bring about the kingdom of God, but he starts not with his own people from his hometown, not with the Jewish people, but with strangers and foreigners…
Maybe to think of a modern parable for this story, it would be as if someone that grew up here in Marengo, someone loved and respected, went off to college and graduate school. And then the came back into town with fanfare and that young woman told everyone – I’m going to lift this community out of poverty and rehabilitate all of the people in the prison, and I’m going to bring jobs and good things to this town, and I’m going to fill the pews of this church. And then, she choses to do so by working only with illegal immigrants in Williamsburg.
The kingdom was still going to come – they were just going to have to wait a little bit longer.

Would you be upset by that? Your hometown hero comes back to raise all of your hopes and then you think that they just dashed them to the ground.

The people were enraged – angry enough to kill – whipped up into a frenzy when they dragged Jesus to the brow of Nazareth Cliff… but it wasn’t his time, and he walked away from the fray without a scratch.

Jesus found himself coming home to a lot of discontented people. They were unhappy about how life had been going in their midst. They were hoping that maybe this one would turn out to be their savior… and he was, and he would be – but since he wasn’t exactly who they wanted him to be, their discontentment kicked in and they kicked him out.

There are people who live in a perpetual state of discontentment. In your bulletins, you may have noticed that that word is typed a little funny. That’s because I really want to focus this morning about the states we choose to live in. The attitudes we choose to clothe ourselves with.

Some people in this world are never happy. They can surround themselves with all of the good things in life and they will still find something to complain about. They can attend the best church in the city and they will still find something to be angry about and they will leave and try somewhere else. They can have the best husband or wife on the planet, and still they will nag and bicker. Do you know any of these people? Have they pitched their disconTENTment near you?

For the past few weeks, we have been exploring in Sunday school and our special Thursday night study the roots of this discontentment. Yes, we are talking on the surface about finances and money – but underneath all of that are things like greed, and pride, envy and sloth.

Underneath all of our financial turmoil is the simple fact that sin is present in the world.

While there are many ways that we can talk about sin – I think one of the best images for sin is turning our back to God. We turn our back to the good things that God offers us and instead seek our welfare, seek our happiness in things and money or food or alcohol or power or might.

In doing so, we are setting up the poles and laying out the stakes of discontentment. We may be erecting a fine and beautiful tent – it may be expensive and it might keep us warm… but it will never make us content. It will never make us happy.

There is only one thing that can bring us joy and happiness in this life. And we find a glimpse of it in 1 Corinthians.

Paul is writing to a group of Christians who have it all. They have people who are ready and willing to work – they have resources and money and gifts and talents. But they fight amongst themselves constantly. They are always trying to prove who is better, who is the most fit for leadership, they are always arguing about what color the carpet should be in the sanctuary and about who gets to hand out the offering plates and who should count the money.

Okay – well maybe those are a few 21st century things to fight about – but you get the picture. They may be faithful Christians, but they are still living in their old discontentments.

This would most assuredly be a church that would try to kick Jesus out of town if he ever really stopped by. He would probably have something truthful and challenging to say to them – just like he did to the people of his hometown – and they probably would have nothing to do with it.

Our Apostle Paul hears about the mess that they have made of their church and so he writes to them. (note: writing a letter is a whole lot safer than showing up in person sometimes!). He writes a letter to them and wants to encourage them to be their best selves. He tells them that they are the body of Christ and that each of them has an important role to play in the church. He tells them that each of them is gifted and that they should pay attention to and rely upon the gifts of others. He tells them they need to give and accept help and to treat all members with respect.

And then he launches into a beautiful part of his letter that is very familiar to us.

 If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.

And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.

If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing

All of this stuff that you think is so important – Paul writes – all of this stuff that you are arguing about, it means absolutely diddly squat if there isn’t love in the midst of your community. You could have the most money or be the most talented or live in the most beautiful house, or even have the most elegant prayers and the most book knowledge…. But all of it is for nothing if there is not love in your life.

Paul’s not just talking about the romantic love between two people. He’s talking about deep, sustaining love. He’s talking about the love that knits people and communities together. He’s talking about the love that only comes from God.

What if, instead of living in discontentment – we learned how to live content in God’s love?

How would our lives be different?

How would the response of Nazareth have been different if instead of being jealous and full of rage when Jesus went to minister among other people they had love in their hearts for the broken and hurting people of Capernum?

How would the church in Corinth be different if the people stopped fighting with one another and instead worked together to bring God’s love to the people of their city and the world?

How would your life be different, if you stopped working so that you could get things and be happy, and instead, in all things worked with God’s love at the forefront of your mind?

3 ways to be content from the book….
– “it could be worse”
– Count your blessings and give thanks
– Know where your true joy lies – know that only in the ground of God’s love are we sustained – only when we pitch our tent there will we find abiding peace.

Story of a man who was angry with his wife and so he stormed out of the house and grumbled to God. Just like that definition of sin earlier, he turned his back on his wife and the love that was there and he was discontented. But something happened. There was a change in his heart as God worked on him there. He turned around back towards his house – just like he was turning back to God. And he was reminded of all the wonderful things about his wife and began thanking God for them.

In our lives – too often we turn our backs on God and the good things that God blesses us with. We want things our way and we deny the contentment at our fingertips.

But we also have a chance to turn around. Did you know that the literal definition for repentence – the greek word – is metanoia. It means to turn around – to do a 180, to turn from living with our backs to God and instead turn and face him with our faces. To seek him as the source of all our joy and happiness. To live our lives in his love.

Today – that is our blessing. That God’s grace turns us around and we have a chance to face God once more. To lay aside all that has pulled us kicking and screaming into our discontented lives and to rest in the joy of God’s abiding peace.

What tent will you live in?