Elder Son

Preached by Elder Ryan Tang.

Scripture 

Luke 15:11-32

The Parable of the Prodigal

11 Then Jesus said, “There was a man who had two sons. 12 The younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.’ So he divided his property between them. 13 A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and traveled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living.

14 When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need.
15 So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs. 16 He would gladly have filled himself with the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything.

17 But when he came to himself he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger! 18 I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned ll against heaven and before you; 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.”’

20 So he set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion;  he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him.

21 Then the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned //against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy ll to be called your son.’

22 But the father said to his slaves, ‘Quickly, bring out a robe—the best one—and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23 And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; 24 for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!’ And they began to celebrate.

25 “Now his elder son was in the field; and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing.  26 He called one of the slaves and asked what was going on. 27 He replied, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has got him back safe and sound.’  28 Then he became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and began to plead with him. 29 But he answered his father, ‘Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!’’

31 Then the father said to him, ‘Son ll, you are always with me, ll and all that is mine is yours. 32 But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.’”

The word of the Lord.
Thanks be to God. 

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A Father’s Love

Luke 15:11-32

The Parable of the Prodigal

11 Then Jesus said, “There was a man who had two sons. 12 The younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.’ So he divided his property between them. 13 A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and traveled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living.
14 When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need.
15 So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs. 16 He would gladly have filled himself with the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything.

17 But when he came to himself he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger! 18 I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.”’

20 So he set off and went to his father.
But while he was still far off,
his father saw him
and was filled with compassion;
he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him.

21 Then the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’

22 But the father said to his slaves, ‘Quickly, bring out a robe—the best one—and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23 And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; 24 for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!’ And they began to celebrate.

25 “Now his elder son was in the field; and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing.
26 He called one of the slaves and asked what was going on. 27 He replied, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has got him back safe and sound.’  28 Then he became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and began to plead with him. 29 But he answered his father, ‘Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!’

31 Then the father said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. 32 But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.’”

The word of the Lord.
Thanks be to God.

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Look to God

Scripture:
Philippians 2:1-13 – Imitating Christ’s Humility

1 Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, 2 then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. 3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, 4 not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.

5 In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

6 Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
7 rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
8 And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death–
even death on a cross!

9 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.

12 Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.

The word of the Lord.
Thanks be to God.

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MBCC Goes Camping!

Picture

We were getting excited in anticipation of the weekend retreat at Big Basin National Park.  It had been a very long time since our last camping trip, and our first with a three year old, so many questions arose: Was the tent going to work?  How far are the bathrooms?  Will we disturb our neighbors with toddler crying in the middle of the night?

Despite our doubts, we packed up our car.  Within an hour and a half, the scenery changed from city to suburban highway, then to windy roads among giant redwood trees.  The setting of the great outdoors was refreshing and set the scene for a weekend of communing with our church family.  On Friday afternoon, people began to set up campsites, and it was exciting to see everyone in a totally different context—under the redwood trees, instead of in a formal church setting.  We got ready to roast hot dogs and marshmallows, and while we had to make sure all of our food was secured in bear lockers so we didn’t attract any animals, we did attract a lot of hungry mosquitoes.

We began our Saturday morning with a devotional moment where we reflected on the upcoming day and how “play” fit in with worship.  Each person received a chunk of homemade play dough and we were encouraged to allow our hands to freely shape the dough as we reflected on the words of a devotional prayer and bible passages.

The theme of play continued after the morning meditation and took a more physical form.  About 25 people gathered in a circle and engaged each other in about seven or eight well-planned games.  We learned fun facts about each other, got to run through the clearing to avoid “seaweed,” danced, and sang.  In the afternoon, as some of us took naps, the more intrepid members of the church went on a six mile hike!  We heard that a couple of our campers “accidentally” fell into a stream.  The kids explored and played, climbing trees and rocks.

On Saturday night, we continued getting to know one another while preparing hobo pockets, and eating S’mores!  Our family was not able to camp a second night, so unfortunately we missed the morning church service in the woods.

For our first camping adventure with a small child, we were very glad that we were able to experience it with our church family. Tyler loved running around with the other kids, and it was a hospitable experience for those of us who are not expert campers. The weekend was an opportunity to spend time with our church family in a beautiful setting. The trip enabled us to strengthen connections with those we were familiar with and develop new relationships with people we those who we did not know. Spending time together renews our relationship with the church. We look forward to future MBCC retreats!

-Cathy & Christina


Acceptance

Scripture 

Romans 15​:1-13
New International Version (NIV)

15 W​e who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves.
2 E​ach of us should please our neighbors for their good, to build them up.
3 F​or even Christ did not please himself but, as it is written: “The insults of those who insult you have fallen on me.”
4 F​or everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope.
5 M​ay the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had, 6 s​o that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

7 Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.

8 For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the Jews on behalf of God’s truth, so that the promises made to the patriarchs might be confirmed 9 and, moreover, that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. As it is written:
“Therefore I will praise you among the Gentiles; I will sing the praises of your name.”

10 A​gain, it says, “Rejoice, you Gentiles, with his people.”

11 A​nd again, “Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles; let all the peoples extol him.”

12 A​nd again, Isaiah says,“The Root of Jesse will spring up, one who will arise to rule over the nations; in him the Gentiles will hope.”

13 M​ay the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

The word of the Lord.
Thanks be to God.

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Finding Sanctuary in a New Place

Picture

I realize that a building is just a building. “The Church” is the people – the life coursing through a living room, the streets, the world; but whenever I enter a place of worship, I love to pause for a moment and imagine all of the things it has witnessed. How many prayers of confession, baptisms, and choruses of How Great is Our God have these walls absorbed? How saturated must these cross beams be – radiating holiness and liturgy, hopes and fears, sin and grace, laughter and tears. While a building is just a building, there can be no denying the weight of tradition and the power of sharing space and humanity.

That is what I love about church. No matter if you have been a member of a congregation since before its first days or whether today is the first time you have been within 2000 miles of this place there is something shared, and safe, and stable about being here. Being in a “church” is a way to physically step into historical prayers. To walk around and feel the unique but communal experiences of joy, heartbreak, peace, doubt, faith, and community that so many before me have encountered, here.

I am so grateful we worship a God that can be accessed everywhere from a wifi-filled coffee shop bustling with YPs to the corner of a forgotten street in a desolate ghost town. I am bursting with excitement for progress being made toward equality and love and for communities learning the unforced rhythms of grace that have long been hidden under tradition and ritual.

But I am also not willing to let all of that tradition go. Like a beautiful old sanctuary – dark cedar beams, rich red carpeting, and warm glass windows – I cannot ignore the mysterious way a place like this makes a deep place in my soul come to life. So let’s not do away with these shared words, prayers, and hymns. Instead let’s dust them off, hang a few new banners in the rafters, and learn to see them in a new light.

The Church still has so much work to do in order to reconcile its past sins, and it can often be disheartening to see the ways in which a place that brings me so much joy, and comfort, and peace can be so hurtful to the people I love and care about – the very people Jesus intended the Church to be for. But having the opportunity to hang those banners and listen to the beautiful outpouring of love and trust during worship on my first Sunday at MBCC was so encouraging. No community is perfect. We have all fallen short. However, I am so excited for the opportunity to spend my summer with this group of people, in this city, doing this work.

-Hannah Sikes, summer intern


What is Church?

Rev. Dawn Hyde

Intro to Scripture Reading
Our scripture passage today describes the earliest Christian church. We pick up reading at the end of Acts 2.  To refresh our memories, a lot has happened in Acts so far. Jesus ascends into heaven in Acts 1.Then Pentecost – the coming of the Holy Spirit and the birth of the Christian church – happens at the beginning of Acts 2. 

At Pentecost, Peter raises his voice and begins to explain what is happening. He explains why people are speaking in various languages and then he continues on to explain Jesus of Nazareth. 
“A man who we saw performing miracles and wonders. A man, who we crucified…
But God raised him up and freed him from death.”

The people listening to Peter are “cut to the heart” and ask what they can do in response.
Peter says, “repent and be baptized.”

So those who welcomed his message were baptized and that day three thousand persons were added.
Hear now the word of God for you…

Scripture: 
Acts 2:42-47
New International Version (NIV)

The Fellowship of the Believers

42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. 46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

The word of the Lord.
Thanks be to God.

Sermon:
Today we begin a new sermon series on church. This month, we’ll explore questions like: What is church? What can we expect from each other in the church community? And when must we look instead to God?

So, first we’ll explore the concept of church. What is church?

Well, churches are a lot like non-profit organizations in that we seek to do good in our community. Churches organize events and fundraise for mission activities. We help those in need. 
Churches are also a lot like social clubs. We get together and hang out. We laugh. We eat. A lot. 

So what sets us apart from other organizations? 
[pose to congregation] 

What do you think makes church unique?

  • we worship
  • we’re grounded in God. Our thoughts and actions are of God.
  • sing
  • pray
  • communion and baptisms
  • we are intentional about our fellowship being inclusive for others
  • we do mission/service out of our faith. 

When a new organization is formed, it’s important to articulate what it does and why it is needed. 

Our scripture passage is doing just that for the church. It describes what set the first Christian church apart from all other organizations. 

Four basic things:
(1) Teaching
(2) Fellowship
(3) Breaking of Bread
(4) Prayer

It’s important to note that these early Christians did similar activity as Jews. They still went to temple courts. They “broke bread,” which was a customary way to begin a meal in the jewish tradition.

The unique difference is the centrality of Jesus’ death and resurrection

When they shared teachings, those teachings were about Jesus’ life and ministry. His death and resurrection. And when they broke bread they repented of their sins and turned to Christ for forgiveness. When they prayed, they prayed to Jesus. 
These early Christians went to the temple courts, but they also began to gather and worship in their homes. At each gathering, they did these four core things:
(1) Teaching
(2) Fellowship
(3) Breaking of Bread
(4) Prayer

As we think about this first church gathering in people’s homes, focusing on these four practices daily,  I wonder how far we have come today… Do these practices still look the same?

Today instead of walking into someone’s home for a meal and sharing scripture and prayer, most of us go online to shop for churches. In fact, most people who come to our church find us on yelp, reading about other’s experiencing and then coming for themselves to check us out.

And in addition to these four core practices (teaching, fellowship, breaking bread and prayer), here are a lot of other things we fit into being church.

For us in particular, we like this homey space. With a fireplace and bright colors. Warm, intimate. We like music – a variety of music – as a way we express our prayer. We like technology and bulletins to keep people connected and prepared for what is coming next. We like having our candles to light and offering so that we can give back to those in need. 
We like our coffee and tea….

But all of these things exist to support what is key in worship. What is key in church – an intentional connection to God. 
A connection that happens through 4 practices Christians have been doing for thousands of years…you guessed it:
(1) Teaching
(2) Fellowship
(3) Breaking of Bread
(4) Prayer

These four practices have become the core essentials of the church. The “marks” of a true church. 

And we do all of them on Sunday.

We teach during the sermon.
We fellowship by greeting each other and sharing dinner afterwards.
We break bread in communion every Sunday.
And we pray, lots. All throughout the service. 

We do all of these on Sundays when we come together as a church….but the challenge is to bring this into our daily lives. 

Beyond Sunday…how are you dwelling in scripture? In the teachings of Jesus?
Beyond Sunday…how are you fellowshipping with the community. Nurturing relationships with those God has called? 
Beyond Sunday…where and when are we breaking bread together? Not just meals with each other, but intentionally remembering who Christ is and what he has done for us…together?
Beyond Sunday…when do we pray? On our own, with those around us, for those around us?
—-

The honest truth is that we’ve fallen a bit from these earnest early Christian worshippers. We’ve relaxed our standards of reading scripture, praying, breaking bread and fellowship to once a week in worship together. 

And we’ve suffered.

We all have. Because these practices aren’t for God’s good. They are for our own.

When we seek to engage with Christ’s teachings, breaking bread, fellowshipping and praying daily, our spiritual life flourishes. We become intimately connected with our Savior and with one another.

These early followers were so eager to be together, to remember the story, to hold on to the power and love they felt in Christ… that they practiced these things every day. Every single day, in order to hold close to each other and Christ. 

The question for us becomes, how do we fix this? How do we get back to the basics?
…..

We practice. 
We find more ways to get together beyond Sunday and support each other in these four practices.

Look around the room.
I challenge each of us to find someone to have coffee with…or lunch. Start small. Start simple. 

Before you leave this sanctuary today, get someone’s contact information. Their email address.  Set up a time to meet during the week. 

I promise you all four of these practices – breaking bread, teaching, fellowship and prayer – can all happen in a 30 min meeting in a coffee shop. 

In this challenge, the particular goal is to be specific about our intention. 
We’re not just getting together for coffee or a meal to get to know each other and enjoy each other’s company – as important and worthwhile as that is…

We are getting together to glorify God. 

So when you get together:
– Open a bible. It will make a difference, I promise.
– Say a prayer. At some point. Out loud. To each other. 
– Pray for each other, lift each other to God. 

It’s in these practices – praying, reading scripture, communing over a good beverage or meal…. that our faith is enriched. We are enriched.
It’s in practicing these four “marks of the church” that we truly know we are alive.
——

I left the Clendenin’s house Monday night after small group with such joy in my heart. Together, we shared a meal. A delicious meal. We embraced Beth and Dylan’s hospitality. We got to hang with their kids before they went to bed. We prayed for the meal and for our time together. After we had eaten, we opened the bible. To 1st Kings. To the story of Elijah becoming known as a prophet and the miracles of abundance he was able to share in the name of God.

As we reflected on the scripture together, the words took on such deeper meaning. We learned from each other what it means to trust in God in our times of need. We pondered why we don’t share what we have with those in need…opening ourselves to the miracles of God.

The Holy Spirit moved in that space to include personal sharing of our stories. Many of us shared how we came to faith in Jesus Christ. Where God has showed up in our lives that has given us new life and hope…

I left that gathering thinking…THIS is church. And I want more of it. Like every night, I wish I was connecting to God and to my community in this way.

Growing up in a Christian household, it was important to my parents that we share a meal together each day. It didn’t matter the time – usually shifted as we grew older and juggled more extracurriculars with my parent’s work schedules, but without fail… I remember being around that table. And before we could begin, we took turns to pray. 

Prayer and being together set the meal apart from the other meals in my life. This one was sacred. With family. With people who know me most intimately and love me no matter what. This meal is with people who are promising to love and support me. Showing me, through their presence and relationship with me, what Christ’s grace and forgiveness and love looks like. 

It wasn’t a perfect meal every night. You can be sure of that. Many nights my sister stormed off in tears, upset that we had joked too far, my parents argued with each other, showing us that even the family you choose can be hard company to keep. My siblings and I rivaled with sports and school and social lives…and yet, when I look back on it, I realize they were the best embodiment of Christ’s love and acceptance for me. Even as imperfect as it was.

Still, to this day, we all speak the language of prayer. It’s not weird for us as siblings or parents to open a bible together and share a story or offer to pray for each other in times of fear and need. We trust each other. We support each other. And it’s all based off of faith. Off of the spiritual practices given to us in Jesus Christ. 

This church – Mission Bay Community Church – has the ability and the power to be Christ’s light and love for each other. We have the ability to do this for each other beyond when we are together like this on Sunday…

But it takes some work. Some scheduling of meetings and making time. Some intentionality and overcoming embarrassment to pull out our bibles in the coffee shop and close our eyes to offer a prayer. 

What I promise you is that this challenge is worth it. The challenge to practice your faith will only end with more intimacy and connection with God for you. 

So, let’s get back to the basics of church.
Teaching 
Fellowship
Breaking Bread
Prayer

And see how God grows your discipleship. 
Amen.

Jesus teaches Nicodemus

Scripture: John 3:1-17

Now there was a Pharisee, a man named Nicodemus who was a member of the Jewish ruling council. He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.”

Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.”

“How can someone be born when they are old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!”

Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”

“How can this be?” Nicodemus asked.

10 “You are Israel’s teacher,” said Jesus, “and do you not understand these things? 11 Very truly I tell you, we speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen, but still you people do not accept our testimony. 12 I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things? 13 No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven—the Son of Man. 14 Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, 15 that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.”

16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.

The word of the Lord.

Thanks be to God.

Sermon

Picture this:

You’re in a classroom. Students filling the chairs all around you. 

The teacher at the front of the room – talking on and on…. until it stops. 

Oh no! The teacher is looking right at you. 

Your eyes connect…

And your name is called.

Silence fills the room. 

Heads and bodies shift to face you.

All eyes…. on you.

Silence.

You blank. You do not know the answer. 

You flush red. Blood pounding through your body.

Your heart races. 

You know that normal amount of time has passed that you could wait. 

You have to say something.

You blurt out… a word, some word, not the right word. 

You can sense it. Disappointment all around. The bodies and eyes slowly move back up front. Just in time for everyone to see the teacher’s look of disappointment in you. 

* * *

This is a recurring dream for me — nightmare, I should say. 

Being in this particular moment. Heightened energy. My nerves and heart racing. 

Unable to come up with the right answer. The one the teacher expects. The one the whole room expects.

My heart goes out to Nicodemus in this story. In the moment when Jesus says to him:

“You are Israel’s teacher and do you not understand these things? 
“How can this surprise you?” Jesus says.

I imagine the look of pain in Nicodemus, acknowledging his failure, his wrong answer…. and Jesus’ disappointment in him. 

Nicodemus is a Jewish leader after all. People look to him for the answers. They follow him. He’s used to asking the right questions and giving the right answers.

It’s a good thing Jesus, the teacher, keeps talking after such a low blow. Going on to explain the right answer.

I imagine Nicodemus needed some time to recover. Time to pick his ego up off the floor. Dust it off a bit. 

* * *

What do we know about Nicodemus?

We know that Nicodemus is a wise and careful Jewish leader. 

He has heard about Jesus’ signs – healing people and performing miracles. Maybe he has even seen a few from the crowd himself…

And he decides to go meet Jesus. To see for himself if it’s possibly true… That this man is the Messiah.

I say Nicodemus is cautious and wise because he goes by night – when it’s dark – so that no one will follow him. Or worse, judge him. 

Nicodemus as a Pharisee, a Jewish leader, takes quite a risk to meet Jesus. Meanwhile the other Pharisee leaders are busy gossiping and conspiring against Jesus in the temple.

And when he meets Jesus… he barely gets a word out affirming Jesus’ connection to God when Jesus pushes him further than he expects to go.

Instead of confirming Nicodemus’ inquiry if he is the Messiah…

Jesus responds with bigger plans.

Jesus wants Nicodemus to see and understand the FULL picture of who God is and what God is doing for him. 

And Nicodemus fails to keep up.

Jesus says,

Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.”

Nicodemus questions him:

“How can someone be born again? … when they are old?”

It doesn’t fit our world experience. This idea that we are born more than once.


But Jesus is pointing to birth in the spirit. What is offered to Nicodemus and to each of us through the triune God. 

I wonder if Nicodemus was an older leader in the church… wanting to get it right, but scared at the change it might entail. Perhaps wondering and confused as to if even he could be birthed anew. 

Its a lot to think about when Jesus goes on…

“Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit.”

Flesh births flesh and spirit births spirit. 


Wind blows where it will.

Only those, only those, Jesus says, who are born again, birthed by the spirit can see the kingdom of God. 

It’s no wonder that Nicodemus stumbles in this theology. 

Nicodemus, a leader of the Jewish synagogue, knows about  God the father. “Abba.” Creator, God of Israel. 

And he knows his scriptures well enough to expect a Messiah. God born into the flesh. 

But he doesn’t know about the spirit. The Holy Spirit. He doesn’t quite understand how Jesus being here and about to be resurrected will have huge implications for his life. 

It will indeed make his life brand new. Different. Not the same as before.

* * *

The second to last verse – John 3:16 – is for most Christians the summary of the gospel.

16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

We memorize it and say it as the truth. 

But I’ll tell you, it’s become watered down. Most Christians just glaze over it without holding onto its great meaning and depth.

We have to pay attention a little more  – like Nicodemus – to what Jesus is saying to understand how God is taking root in our lives and hearts and rebirthing us. Making us new. 

Theologian George Stroup says this:

“In John’s gospel… being born from above or believing in Jesus has less to do with our mind as it does with our life and our heart.”

When we are truly born again of the spirit, we live completely new lives. Our personalities and lifestyles aren’t just tweaked by coming to church every once in a while or volunteering. 

What God has done and is doing for us in salvation is making us a completely new person.

Being born again is just that – a fresh start – a completely new life in which we are centered on Jesus Christ and enlivened by the Holy Spirit. We start over again and we intentionally live for God in our new life and not for ourselves. 

The gospel – our salvation – is not and cannot be a mental exercise. An attribution to a theological doctrine memorized in one verse. 

In order for the gospel to take root in us, to TRULY believe in Jesus – we have to live it out in our lives. In our actions. 

* * *

This week I heard a musician on the radio talk about his reason for writing a song. He shared that his teenage son was diagnosed with a rare kidney failure. In just 6 months his 16 year old lost half of his kidney function. 

The onset of the disease put his whole family in turmoil. The greatest questions of life came to the forefront. 

How will we spend our time?
What do we value?
What are we currently taking for granted?


Those questions helped his family see that they wanted to put all their time left toward being together, laughing, hugging, saying “I love you.” Those moments were what he was taking for granted…and they were the most important – of most value – to his life. 

The song he wrote is about taking time every day to show our love. To not take it for granted. To give a hug, or a smile. In each decision, in every day to ask whether it is worth your time and energy because there are so many things and people worth that precious time and energy.

This man’s story got me thinking about what life anew looks like.

What this rebirth Jesus talks of is really like….

It made me consider what the joy of new life in Christ looks like for me and why I wouldn’t do everything in my power to live into it today.

* * *

Living for Christ means worship. Not just once a week or once in a while, but worship every day. Giving thanks and praise to my creator. For my life. 

Living for Christ, life anew,  means caring for creation. For my neighbor. For my family. For myself. It means seeking to help those in need because Jesus says so.

Living for Christ, life anew, means seeing the kingdom of God. Looking for the ways the spirit is birthing new life. Expressions of joy and creativity. Within us. Around us.  

I see us reclaiming this new birth in baptism. 

In water and spirit, we are born from above and welcomed into the family of God. 

In baptism, we claim each other as God’s claims us and we open our eyes, our minds, our hearts, our ENTIRE LIVES to Christ.

We proclaim this biblical truth:

For God so loved the world, 
For God so loves US
that God gave us God’s very self. 
So that we would not be condemned, but saved through him.

Beloved, 
Let us truly believe in the gospel by living our new lives found in Christ. Let us be born of the spirit and see the mystery of God’s kingdom with us now and forever. 


Amen.


Pentecost

As four of us sat in a car last Sunday evening, looking for an escape from the harsh, bitter, piercing, San Francisco wind, I couldn’t help but think we had made a huge mistake. Holding worship outside in the park sounded like such a great idea. The sun would be shining, we would have a nice little picnic complete with cake, and we would be present in the community that surrounds us. What could possibly go wrong? While setting up the area, the wind began to pick up and we quickly discovered that everything we brought would need to be weighed down or we would have to chase it. Tables were flipping, balloons flying away, and our chairs decided to try and cross the street. After an incident with a dog that was very interested in the communion elements, we finally asked the question, should we just go back inside?

This week serves as a stark reminder that it is hard to go out. It is hard to leave the comfort of our sanctuaries. It is hard to leave the familiar to go to the unknown. Our original intent for gathering outside, in the community, this week was to emphasize our call to reach beyond our walls. God calls us out into the world to continue the ministry of Jesus. At Pentecost, the disciples were locked in an upper room, hidden, scared, trying to escape the harsh conditions they found themselves in. Jesus, risen from the grave, had been with them again, and left them again. And now they waited…again. The good news is that the story doesn’t end there. The disciples are filled with the Holy Spirit and emboldened to go out. Tongues of fire rest on their head and they go out preaching the good news of Jesus in the languages of everyone gathered. Their previous inhibitions are so absent that observers called them drunk! This is truly an event worth celebrating, but then we have days like Sunday, and we remember the 1st chapter in Acts. We remember that the work God calls us to is hard for so many reasons.

So we ended up back inside. I don’t like calling it the church, because I don’t believe the Church is a building. After all, the passage we read this week doesn’t mention breaking ground on the first sanctuary, and yet Pentecost is known as the birth of the Church. In this case; however, I think I can make an exception. I’ll say we ended up back in the church. I make this exception, because this week the church provided shelter. It provided a place where we could be in fellowship with one another. It provided a place where we could worship God together. It provided a place where we could be comforted. It provided a place where we could hear good news in our lives where there may be none. It provided a place where we could be filled with the Holy Spirit. This is what we do as the Church in the world. We ended up back in the Church because WE are the Church. May we find hope and courage knowing that the Holy Spirit will continue to strengthen and comfort us as we go out to be the Church in the world.



– Christopher Smith, Music Leader

Pentecost

Scripture: Acts 2:1-21

New International Version (NIV)

The Holy Spirit Comes at Pentecost

When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.

[ break for chaotic reading. John 3:16-17 in various languages ]

John 3:16-17
16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.

Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken. Utterly amazed, they asked: “Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language? Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome 11 (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!”12 Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, “What does this mean?”


13 Some, however, made fun of them and said, “They have had too much wine.”
Peter Addresses the Crowd

14 Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: “Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say. 15 These people are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning! 16 No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel:

17 
“‘In the last days, God says,
    I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
    your young men will see visions,
    your old men will dream dreams.

18 
Even on my servants, both men and women,
    I will pour out my Spirit in those days,
    and they will prophesy.

19 
I will show wonders in the heavens above
    and signs on the earth below,
    blood and fire and billows of smoke.

20 
The sun will be turned to darkness
    and the moon to blood
    before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord.

21 
And everyone who calls
    on the name of the Lord will be saved.’”

The word of the Lord.

Thanks be to God.

Sermon

Today is Pentecost! Happy Birthday to the Christian Church!

It’s on this day that we retell this wild story of loud wind and images of fire which symbolize for us the coming of the Holy Spirit into the world. 

The Holy Spirit is certainly wild – more wild and on the loose than even the risen Jesus who randomly showed up and ate with people. The Spirit comes with full force, filling the entire house and the people in it. Causing them to do surprising and weird things. Like speak in other languages. Like drawing together and forming a community movement – the church – that seeks to share the gospel story with the world for years and generations to come. 

There are a lot of similarities between the birthdays we celebrate each year and the birthday of the church.

We gather together, 

we celebrate, 

sometimes there are surprising things that happen… maybe not tongues of fire and violent wind… but there usually is a cake with small candles and fire and we use our own wind – our breath to blow them out. 

Sometimes birthdays cause us to be amazed…

sometimes perplexed and confused. It usually depends on the year we’re celebrating… 

* * *

If you think about it….birthdays are kind of a funny thing to celebrate…

We didn’t DO anything to deserve a party.

Really, if anyone should be celebrated on our birthdays, it should be our parents and loved ones… those who waited, uncomfortable, excited, maybe fearful of the birth that is about to take place. 

I’ve always wondered why birthdays seem to be future-oriented. 

How old are you going to be? What’s coming in the year ahead? How’s that anxiety or fear about getting older? Being considered old?

Perhaps birthdays should be an opportunity to go back to the date of our birth and remember the story of our birth with our parents and loved ones.

This scripture text certainly takes us back. 

Back to the chaotic day God breathed life into the church. We remember the wild events, the confusion, the utter excitement of this birth.

What was it like for the disciples? 

We remember from last Sunday that Jesus has ascended into heaven. And right before he does, he tells the disciples to STAY PUT. Stay in Jerusalem… for soon they will be baptized with the Holy Spirit and with fire! 

The disciples obey. The few verses in between the ascension text Acts 1 and todays text in Acts 2 tell us that the disciples used that time to replace Judas with Mathias as the twelfth disciple. They know what they are waiting for – some sort of miraculous event – some kind of baptism with fire. 

* * *

Pentecost, the birthday of the church, is a crazy day! Ask anyone outside the church – or even in the church – and they will say that this is crazy talk. There’s no way it could have happened. 

And yet, it did. This big, beautiful, magic-like moment is how God chose to send the Holy Spirit to the world, to shake us up and draw us together as one…. to BIRTH the church of Jesus Christ. 

My favorite question in this text is voiced by so many:

“What does this mean?”

What does it mean that we are brought together as one – as a church for Jesus Christ? 

What does it mean that we can hear and understand each other despite our differences?

What does it mean that this obscure presence – the Holy Spirit – is now among us?

Peter gives us some interpretation of these events. He looks back to the prophet Joel proclaiming that God has promised to pour out the Holy spirit on all people and ALL will prophesy.

God will show wonders in heaven and on earth, fire…. “and everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

Peter is telling us through Joel, that the Holy Spirit is coming so that the gospel can move. Through the church. 

The Holy Spirit fills each one of us – the church of now – the living church – and enables us to prophesy, to speak the gospel, to communicate in a diversity of ways.

So that others can hear the saving power and grace of Jesus Christ. So others – nay ALL – will hear and believe. 


[enter Sam]

Today we celebrate a birthday. And we celebrate the church’s unity in diversity and chaos.  

At Pentecost, that diversity came through language. There were all sorts of folks from all across the region that for the first time in forever, finally understood God’s message together. 

That hadn’t happened before. 

Language is how we express ourselves. It’s how we understand the world around us. It’s how we make sense of pretty much everything. Language is a foundation for how we think, feel, and act. 

But today I want us to go a bit further than that. If language is how we express and interpret the world, then it goes far beyond just the words we use. 

Think about those moments you’ve had when you’ve said, “Man, that person just finally gets me.” That’s because someone is just speaking your language. You’re connecting. 

So start thinking about those moments. About those languages. There’s lot of them.

What do I mean by this?

I come from a pretty traditional, Midwest household. That’s a language I speak. I’m someone who’s fascinated by and makes a living exploring arts and culture. Another language. I design things so I often think about how people will interact with things. Another language. 

Everyone is multilingual. You might be able to speak from how it feels to be a woman in the 21st century. Or what it’s like to be Latino in California. Maybe you are a businessperson or a lawyer. Those are languages. For others, they might speak different spiritual languages because of their own tradition. Or maybe they have a specific life experience – they’ve moved a lot, they’ve been through a certain crisis, they’ve dealt with an illness. Those are all languages.

And there are countless others. 

All of these languages are valuable. And we can speak and hear God through all of them. 

Today we celebrate the church’s birthday. And today we are going to celebrate and decorate with balloons. Red balloons which symbolizes the fire and power of the Holy Spirit that birthed the church that day. 

As we pass out balloons, think of the languages you speak. Whatever they might be. Write them down with these markers on the balloon, symbolize that those languages have God’s power in them. 

Then I invite you to share your balloon with a neighbor and read their languages. If you’re so inclined, talk to each other about what that means. How have you connected with others with that language? 

[ *PASS OUT BALLOONS* ]

As Dawn said… And as the prophet Joel said… And as Peter said… “All will prophesy.” That means everyone — EVERYONE — has the power to speak the gospel in whatever language is theirs. In business. In speaking to others through your own experience. In music.

You CAN and SHOULD speak to people. 

The language doesn’t matter. The message does. And that message is love.

Amen.

Say Hello!