Another of Father Ron’s Ramblings

                                                                           February, 2019

Brothers and Sisters in Christ

In recent weeks I have addressed in my sermons the question, ‘What is the Church?’ and, ‘What is its mission and purpose of the Church?’ Another aspect of the Church’s identity is that it is indeed a family, a family in Christ. Jesus called his disciples ‘brothers and sisters.’ That sounds like a family to me. My eyes continue to be more and more opened to what ‘church as family’ truly can be.

If we look at scripture, the Church is so much more than a Sunday morning ‘event.’ When we begin to look at the church as ‘family’ and all that entails, it has huge implications for our personal spiritual development as well as our church’s understanding of mission, evangelism, worship, hospitality and discipleship.

Unfortunately, a lot of the language we use presents and reinforces the idea that church is an ‘event’ where religious goods and services are dispensed. We celebrate the Eucharist, we baptize, marry, and conduct funerals. We come to Bible studies and spaghetti dinners. These are all wonderful things and essentials of being the church, but they are also ‘events.’ We talk about “going to church” more often then we talk about “being the church.’ People say they are “shopping around“ for a church. That sounds more like a business or secular organization than a family. ‘Being the church’ is much more than attending the events of the church.

I recently read a story of a man from a Muslim background living in the US who had not long ago become a Christian. As a result of his decision he had been thrown out of his family, which is quite common among Muslim families, and was ultimately forced to flee for his life. He sought sanctuary in a church that welcomed him with open arms. They gave him a corner of the building to live in, with the mattress on the floor and food generously delivered on a daily basis.

The man was extremely grateful for their hospitality, but he said  the hardest part of his week was on Sunday morning after the church service when everyone went home to their families and their Sunday lunches, leaving him alone. Although he was welcome to make his home inside the church building, he did not actually feel welcome inside the homes of the church family. He was a welcome visitor but not really part of the family.

This church was so near and yet so far from Christ-like hospitality. The church building provided shelter, the church members provided sustenance, and the church event provided sacraments and spiritual teaching, but none of these were a substitute for the lifelong intimate commitment of being part of a family.

Yes, we are called to attend Sunday worship, study the Bible, pray regularly and be in fellowship with our fellow church members, but we are also clearly called in scripture to have a family responsibility. Church members are called to ‘love one another,’ ‘carry each other’s burdens,’ ‘encourage one another,’ and ‘spur one another on’ toward love and good deeds. Those things happen more often between Sunday mornings than on Sunday mornings.

Here’s the challenge for us in the Western world. In our country families tend to be closed groups. We build individual homes on lots the size of small villages in some parts of the world. We like our space. I visit my neighbors but I would never call them ‘family.’ So, when we think of the church as a family, it calls to mind a small, cozy huddle with strong boundaries between those who are welcome and those who are not, members vs. visitors, those who are ‘inside’ and those who are ‘outside.’ But that isn’t the Bible’s model of family at all!

In New Testament times there was a width and depth to families that crossed many generations that included slaves, in-laws, and house guests. For example, when there was a wedding to be held, it wasn’t just family and close friends that were invited, it was the entire town or village. With the call for God’s people to show compassion to the most vulnerable people through protection, provision and care, for the widows and the orphans, it changes our Western understanding of family.

Understanding the church as family transforms our preconceptions and expectations of church, but also all preconceptions and expectations of what a family is. The church is to be a non-nuclear, welcoming, diverse family that can make a difference to all sorts of people and give an increasingly divided and isolated world a glimpse of the kingdom of God. Church families welcome new members to the family, they don’t have a filter at the door screening out some, allowing in others; but rather a wide welcome mat and an open door.  Families look out for one another. Families are committed to each other for the long haul. They support one another through triumph and tragedy. They are committed to one another for better or worse, richer or poor.

Here at St. Thomas we often use the term “our St. Thomas family,” and we really mean what we’re saying. We are a church blessed with the gift of hospitality and a sincerely welcoming attitude to all who come through our doors. As we go forward this new year, almost one month already gone, let’s together strive to be more like the family God intends, not just for those of us here but also for those we will be meeting for the very first time. 

Praying all God’s blessings for you and your family,

Ron+  

Posted by St. Thomas Administrator in Announcements, 0 comments

March 2018 Message By The Rev. Ronald J. Baillie

March 18, 2018

SOME LENTEN THOUGHTS:

Good people of St. Thomas,

In the years that Sue and I have been at St. Thomas, 1978-99 as parishioners and 2011-present with my serving as your Rector, one of the hallmarks of this church has been the commitment and sincere dedication of our congregation. Yet, I know maintaining that sort of deep commitment is a challenge giving the culture in which we live and into which we are called to be ‘salt and light.’

It raises questions for all of us. Ever wondered why your faith doesn’t mean more to you than it does? Why so many professing believers’ lives seem no different than anyone else? Why such a small number of Christians appear to really be “on fire” for Jesus? I mean, if God is so great, why aren’t of His own people more passionate about Him? When the world sees a Christian, why can’t they tell them from anyone else in the community, an atheist, for example?

Good questions.

We all know a lot of people who think of themselves as “Christian”. But other than a few moral standards and the fact that they occasionally attend a church, there’s not a huge contrast between them and their non-Christian neighbors. Deep down inside, their hearts are just as empty, their families just as dysfunctional, their lives equally without direction and meaning.

So why are these modern-day disciples so mediocre? Why so bland? So uninteresting? So B-O-R-I-N-G?

I suspect many factors contribute to this phenomenon, but here’s Ten Reasons developed by Christian author, Jeff Kinley, that I have been pondering in my mind this Lent. See if any of these reasons ring true with your experience:

1. While most Christians struggle with the challenges of life, many live defeated lives, never achieving the “more than conquerors” victory that Scripture claims is the normal experience of those who have been redeemed.

2. Many professing Christians simply stop growing after an initial burst of interest and enthusiasm. Bibles gather dust. As a result, the process of becoming like Jesus is often short-circuited, fueled by sin, Satan or self. These people end up as spiritual children living in adult bodies. Churches are FULL of these folks.

3. Many have never taken the time to really understand salvation – studying what actually took place at the cross, contemplating their dark, sinful condition and future outside of Christ, and learning to regularly bath in the infinitely deep ocean of God’s grace and love. Understanding how and why God saved you is the key to contentment and joy in life.

4. Most Christians have little clue about how great their Lord is. I mean, how could they? They rarely, if ever, crack open the only Book God wrote to reveal Himself to them. Ignorance of the mind-blowing truths in Scripture concerning who God is and how amazing His attributes are, is a guaranteed one-way ticket to Bland Land. Bank on this: true theology and doctrine is never, ever boring. Rather, it infuses our hearts with awe and wonder, inspiring pure, explosive heart-worship.

5. Face it. We like comfort and often choose the path of least resistance when it comes to our faith. Living for Jesus is hard, and few American believers have the lungs for the long, uphill race. So, we rest comfortably by the wayside, occasionally admiring those “Super Christians” who run by on their way to maturity.

6. We refuse to exercise faith in the daily challenges of life, and almost never branch out and trust God for something truly supernatural, especially if it could cost us a bundle. We treat sacrifice and suffering like tax season – with a sense of dread and avoidance. Instead of faith, fear rules many of our life decisions. Safety and security becomes our style, influencing everything from friends to finances. And that makes Heaven yawn…and grieve.

7. We love the idea that God is loving and compassionate, but fail to grow past those sentimental attributes. Godly discernment, on the other hand, may lead us to actions that others may interpret as unloving. So, out of fear they ‘won’t like us’ we continue enabling people in their immaturity and sin – and do it all in the name of love. But in reality, hidden behind this “love” is simply a weak and impotent heart. Boring.

8. We ignore the direct application of God’s Infinitely-Wise Word where it really matters – on the job, at home, in our marriage and in our parenting. And we wonder why we’re so screwed up. We trust in ourselves because having faith seems too complicated and intangible. We settle for “what works” – expediency, pragmatism and peace. And when we do look for advice and counsel, it’s usually from someone just as messed up as we are. Logical?

9. The average American Christian checks into church 2x a month, way too little for it to ever have any real, life-changing impact on their lives. Like working out in the gym 2x a month, there is never any real progress or growth. Truthfully, there’s always a “good reason” to prioritize something else over gathering with your spiritual family – sleep, work, friends, fun, movies, sports on TV, etc.

10. Honestly, we want a God who entertains and serves us. We prefer that He act like we want Him to, and at the time of our choosing. And when He fails to deliver or meet our expectations, we lose interest and become bored with His “ways”. 1

Kinley’s list is challenging to me and should be to you. He’s blunt, but his reasons that many would be considered lukewarm Christians ring true. And what also concerns me, is that lukewarm Christians don’t mean that God Himself is boring, but it sure does scream that message to the world.

But what if you could reverse the above trends in the only life that really matters – your own? What if you could re-boot your understanding of Him and, as a result, revolutionize your devotion to Jesus?

At St. Thomas we strive to provide meaningful and uplifting experiences in worship every Sunday, time to speak to God and allowing him to speak to us; a time to be refreshed, renewed and reinvigorated for the week ahead. The rhythm of the church seasons is designed to keep our Sunday mornings from becoming rote and boring. St. Thomas provides a host of opportunities to learn more about the Father who loves us, the work of His Son, Jesus Christ, in the world and the Holy Spirit’s work in us. And as a church, St. Thomas reaches out in many different ways to serve the needs of the community locally and across the world.

But more than all we do at St. Thomas, the most important thing is for us to be the church. To be a place where God’s love is lived out day to day, lifting up one another and spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ through word and deed. St. Thomas is a place where brothers and sisters in Christ will rejoice with you and weep with you as we together experience life in Christ. And there is nothing at all, boring about life being the church.

Blessings!

Ron+

1 ‘Ten Reasons Why Many Christians Rarely Experience True Worship,’ Jeff Kinley, 2017.

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