Thursday, April 29, 2010

Dead Raising Church, Part 2

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Originally uploaded by paynehollow
The rest of the sermon...

Katie Huey, at her excellent website, tells us that “Joseph Harvard suggests that the story ‘challenges our assumption that we are left to our own devices to fix our predicaments – or, more to the point, that our predicaments are not fixable at all.’ He says that we live in a ‘Humpty Dumpty’ world in which we are convinced that things can not be put back together again, but the book of Acts tells a different story, about people who were empowered to 'turn the world upside down.'”

And the so widows call for Peter, and Peter comes in, and wades through the widows, through their stories and their tears, and then goes in to where Dorcas is, and raises her from the dead, and presents her to them alive.

I love that! He presents them to her alive. Have you ever met someone who used to be dead, and I’m not talking physically dead, I’m talking spiritually or emotionally dead, someone without a spark of anything in their eyes, and then later you meet them again, and you see that something has happened to them, that they’ve been made alive? Or maybe you see them as they’re being made alive.

I remember there was this man who used to come to our Hospitality Program. He was there every morning for years, and he never said a word to anybody. He just sat there, long beard, long fingernails, dirty face and hair, just sat there and drank his coffee. We’d say hi to him, “Hi, Doyle,” every morning, and he’d just sit there.

Then one morning, and this was after he’d been coming for years, he said, “Hi.” You coulda knocked me over with a feather. He eventually warmed up to the point that he taught me how to play spades one morning, if you can believe that. I saw that man with my own two eyes go from dead to alive.

William Willimon tells the story of a church that he once pastored in rural Georgia. On his first visit to the church, he found a large chain and padlock on the front door. It had been put there by the Sheriff the week before when the church members got mad at a board meeting and started ripping up the carpet and dragging out the pews that they had given in memory of their mothers. (Hopefully that won’t happen at our business meeting today.) The Sheriff said that he’d keep the lock on the door until the new preacher could come in and settle everything down.

Willimon says that that rather typified his whole time at the so-called church, what with the arguments, the pettiness, the fights in the parking lot. He spent a long, hard year there, and on his last day, as he drove away, he muttered, “You call yourselves a church!”

A couple of years later, he ran into a young man who told him that he was pastoring the same church. Willimon’s heart went out to him. “Remarkable bunch of people,” the young man said. “Yes, remarkable,” replied Willimon.

“Their ministry to the community has been a wonder,” he continued. “That little church is now supporting, in one way or another, more than a dozen of the troubled families around the church. The free day care center is going great. Not too many interracial congregations like them in North Georgia.”

Willimon could hardly believe it. “What happened?” he asked.

“I don’t know. One Sunday, things just sort of came together. It wasn’t anything in particular. It’s just that, when the service was done, and we were on our way out, we knew that Jesus loved us and had plans for us. Things fairly much took off after that.”

Willimon says, “I tell you what I think happened. I think that church got intruded upon. I think someone greater than I knocked the lock off that door, kicked it open and offered them peace, the Holy Spirit, mission and forgiveness. And now, they are called ‘church.’”

Church, how sweet it is to be called church, church, with the power of the Risen Christ behind us. Church, with the courage to wade into each others’ lives and into this world in transforming ways. Church, with the power to love people into a whole other space, to grace people into new life.

Church, locks knocked off, doors kicked open, life-giving, dead-raising church. Church, God-blessed, Christ-peaced, Spirit-blown church. That’s Peter and Dorcas and her widowed friends, that’s Mabel Mitchell and Mary Burgess and Larry Burke, that’s you and me, folks. Church, life-giving church. Church, dead-raising church.

Sermon by Pastor Cindy


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