GCI Equipper

The Blessing of Being Teachable

One of the greatest characteristics of a leader is to have a teachable spirit.

Full disclosure: I love to be right, and I love to have the answers for people. No surprise to anyone: I am often wrong and am sometimes too quick with an answer. This is why I continually pray for a teachable spirit.

One of the leadership acronyms we introduced a few years ago was the acronym FATE. We encouraged pastors to look for leaders who are faithful, available, teachable, and enthusiastic. It’s not difficult to find someone who fills three of those characteristics. Teachability is where we often find challenge – in others, and most importantly, in ourselves. I believe teachability begins with leaders – denominational leaders, pastoral leaders, and ministry leaders. When we show a spirit of teachability others become teachable as well.

A phrase my good friend Mark Mounts often uses when counseling and teaching leaders is this: You don’t know what you don’t know, and you don’t know that you don’t know what you don’t know. The first time I heard this was an epiphany. Most of us can admit when we don’t know something, but we become teachable when we realize we do not know that we do not know what we do not know. Yes, that is written correctly; read it again and think about it.

One of the best ways to be teachable is to realize there is much you do not know. This leads you to make an effort to listen better, read more, and ask more questions.

When I finished my graduate studies, my daughter asked me, “Dad, what was the most important thing you learned?” She was surprised when I told her my greatest lesson was learning how much I don’t know. I never want to stop learning, and I want to always have a spirit of teachability. Here are a few lessons the Holy Spirit is teaching me about teachability that can prove to be a blessing to you:

Learn from multiple sources

I am often amazed during a townhall meeting with pastors in my area how much I can learn from pastors and ministry leaders. Recently we were talking about our proclivity to judge others because of their beliefs, their decisions, their life choices. I made the comment that I am always asking God to help me see others the way he sees them. I was thinking in terms of seeing their hurts and their pain so I can better understand. My friend Ron Washington said, “Yes, because he sees Jesus in them.” Mic drop! That summed it up better than I ever could and changed the way I pray for others. It was a teachable moment.

I’ve learned a lot from members and friends. There are times when someone you least expect may have something to teach you because he or she understands it better than you, or simply has an insight you don’t have. Can we trust that God might be teaching us through someone else? Sometimes people with no theological background are given insights that are profound. Think of the disciples/apostles – fishermen, tax collectors, zealots, teaching profound theology.

Like most in ministry, I read widely, and I have learned that just because I might disagree with one or more aspects of someone’s theology doesn’t mean I cannot learn from their personal journey with Jesus. I may disagree with Billy Graham, or Richard Rohr, or N.T. Wright, or T.F. Torrance on certain things, but I acknowledge that God is in them, and I have great respect for what these writers and many others have taught me. Most theologians spend their life learning and are attempting to share what they’ve learned to be a blessing to others.

Truth be told, I don’t even agree with my own theology all the time; I am constantly going to Scripture to understand something better. It’s part of growing in grace and knowledge. I believe the more we grow in knowledge, the more we should be practicing grace, because we just learned something we did not know, and did not know that we did not know.

This leads me to the next point.

Think back in order to look forward

Sometimes it’s good to look back at what we have learned in our journey with Jesus and realize that he is not finished with us. For example, think back to when you learned that the Sabbath was a mirror shadow of what it means to rest in Jesus. That changed your world and got you focused on Jesus, rather than on days. That’s when you understood what he meant when he said the Sabbath was made for humans not humans for the Sabbath. (We will talk more about shadows vs reality next month.)

I’ll never forget when I learned the truth about God being triune in nature. That changed everything. Prior to that learning, I believed I had the truth of who God was. I did not know that I did not know; I had to be taught and I had to want to learn – teachability. I used to believe my relationship with God was transactional. If I did this, God would do that; if I didn’t do this, God wouldn’t do that. I had no idea what relationship with God meant. I’m still learning much about that. I used to believe women should not be in ministry. I have learned so much from my sisters in the faith. They have insights I could never have. Praise God, he taught me how wrong I was.

All of us can look back at what we thought we knew, and all of us can praise God for bringing us more clearly into the light of his truth. There is much yet to learn, if we continue to be teachable.

Be willing to surrender control

One of the teaching tools we latched onto from GiANT is the tool, Know Yourself to Lead Yourself. We stress knowing your God-given talents and gifts and then using them as you participate with him in ministry. But knowing yourself also means admitting you don’t know things, and that’s OK. It also leads to understanding you don’t always have to be in control. This is an important lesson for pastors. Richard Rohr talks about having a surrendering spirit.

Surrender will always feel like dying, and yet it is the necessary path to liberation. Surrender is not “giving up,” as we tend to think, nearly as much as it is “giving to” the moment, the event, the person, and the situation. – Richard Rohr, Breathing Under Water

Rohr talks about the “incestuous cycle of the ego.” I’d phrase it this way:

  • I am the pastor and supposed to have everything under control.
  • Because I am the pastor, I will take control.
  • I have to be right because others expect me to be right.
  • Since I am the pastor and I am in control and I am right, I am powerful.

I have exaggerated this to illustrate a point of view that is the opposite of being teachable. A teachable spirit comes from realizing that only Jesus is in control, and he tells us to renounce the self and follow him (Mark 8:34; Luke 9:23; Matthew 16:4). Jesus also illustrated a teachable spirit in always going to the Father for direction, for comfort, for support, for what to say and teach. Jesus set an example of true leadership by demonstrating a love that was always seeking the spiritual good of others. Never do we see Jesus seeking superiority, admiration, or control for himself.

Be willing to engage reverse gear and apologize

A big part of being teachable is being willing to admit when you are wrong, or when you handled a situation poorly. This often happens when we act or react without having the full picture. Have you ever made a decision based on your emotional response to a story, only to find out later you should have listened to both sides of the story first? Most of us have. This is a teachable moment. This is when we go back and apologize for making a rash decision. This is when we acknowledge that our decision, action, or non-action caused hurt to someone else.

Being teachable is being able to apologize even when we aren’t necessarily wrong. We can apologize for the hurt others felt. We can apologize because the impact of our decision caused pain – even when we were in the right.

The beauty of being teachable is to have an attitude of always trying to do your job better for the sake of others. If I am a teachable regional director, I’m going to ask pastors how I can be a better regional director and then listen to their response. If I am a teachable pastor, I’m going to ask my ministry leaders and members how I can be a better pastor, and I’m going to listen to what they have to say. If I want to be a teachable minister leader or Avenue champion, I will ask my team how I can better serve them, and I will listen. This teachable spirit helps us to become the healthiest expression of church we can be.

Perhaps you will join me in this prayer, Lord, help me have a teachable spirit, so I can participate in more effective ways with you, and I can be a liberator among those you have called me to serve and to lead. Amen.

Questions for reflection:

  • When was the last time I prayed for a teachable spirit? Can I pray that today?
  • Am I willing to admit when I don’t fully understand something, or when I realize my understanding is erred?
  • Have I given up control as a leader? Am I practicing under the old paradigm of Pastor-led, team-based, where I have hands on in most areas of the congregation?
  • Does my team believe we are following the leadership model of Team Based — Pastor Led, where I have eyes on and hands off?
  • The article talked about reverse gear. Is there someone I need to apologize to? Am I willing to humble myself to do so?

May we always be teachable,

Rick Shallenberger
Equipper Editor

Tis the Season…Really

Christmas is coming. The Advent season is coming. And like the diminutive workers at the North Pole, NOW is the time to begin preparing in earnest.

By Tim Sitterley, Regional Director, US West

I dropped by the small department store near where I live the other day to pick up some hornet spray. We had discovered a basketball-sized Bald Faced Hornet’s nest in one of our shrubs. Judging from the number of hornets going in and out, how aggressive they were when approached, and how allergic I am to hornet stings, I figured a case of spray cans should do the trick. After all, you can never be too safe.

I noticed a couple of store employees pulling summer garden supplies off the shelf to make room for new product, and I assumed they would be putting out Halloween or possibly Thanksgiving items. I was wrong. They were stocking the shelves with Christmas lights and decorations. I’m writing this in early September, but my quest for instant hornet death took place in August. Christmas…in August.

Having just played Santa at my congregation’s Christmas in July engagement celebration, I guess I shouldn’t have been too taken aback. All the visitors to the event had a great time, and everyone wanted their picture taken with Santa and his elves. My experience playing jolly old St. Nick might make me the right person to write this article. Because while you may be in the “No Christmas displays till after Thanksgiving” crowd, I will argue that Christmas sales in the retail world should sound a planning alarm to every pastor and avenue champion out there.

Christmas is coming. The Advent season is coming. And NOW is the time to begin preparing in earnest.

There is no question that the Christmas season is the best time of the year to engage the community surrounding your congregation. And by community, I’m not only talking about the immediate neighborhood surrounding your meeting location, I’m also talking about the friends and family in the immediate sphere of influence of your current members. There is no easier and less threatening event to invite an unchurched individual to than a Christmas Eve candlelight service…or a children’s Christmas pageant…or literally any excuse to eat tree-shaped cookies and drink spiced cider.

If you are a Hope Avenue champion, now is the time to start planning your Advent and Christmas services with your team, your pastor, and with the Love Avenue champion. You Love Avenue champions should be planning your promotion campaign. If you wait until after Thanksgiving for either of these avenues, you have seriously shot yourself in the foot. So let me give you some ideas of what you should be starting to do right now.

What will your theme be this year? Just knowing that the four weeks of advent are represented by hope, faith, joy and peace is not really a theme. Rather, it’s a platform you build a theme on. Do you use a wreath with representative candles? If so, who will light them? Do you have advent readings prepared for each week? Who will read them? I know there are some who are resistant to candles for some reason. But if you are looking for ways to integrate your members into a worship service, there are few things that work as well as an Advent wreath. From children to the elderly, everyone can participate in some element of the weekly lighting of the Advent candle. And the fact that there are dozens of online sites providing scripts and outlines for your weekly lighting ceremony makes the Advent wreath something to seriously consider.

Then there are decorations to consider. Very few of our congregations own their building, so decorating the room you meet in each week may pose a challenge. One of the congregations in my region meets in an American Legion Hall. A few years ago, they offered to decorate the hall for the Legion. The members of the Legion were so impressed that it is now expected that our GCI group will handle all the Christmas decorating. But let’s assume that you meet in a facility that requires you to set up and take down each week. Vertical banners on stands are a wonderful way to bring a seasonal vibe into your worship venue. They set up and take down in minutes, requiring very little storage space. And you can order them specific to almost any theme imaginable. The key word here is “order.” There are many companies that provide banners and banner stands, but the closer you get to the Advent season, the longer it can take to receive your order. And depending on the company, you can often find advent programs with cover art to match. But again, you want to place your order well in advance of the need.

In 2022, Christmas is on a Sunday. Many congregations will cancel services to allow members to be with their family on Christmas Day. I know in the Sitterley household, pajamas are required on Christmas morning – whether you are a grandchild or a guest. By noon we have lost the dog in a mountain of crumpled wrapping paper. But whatever your Christmas day tradition is, Christmas Eve is the perfect time to invite friends and family for a short service of songs, readings and candlelight, followed by wonderful seasonal treats. And if you haven’t ordered those single-use candles by the first of November, you may be out of luck. You’re competing with almost every church out there. Asking people to turn on the flashlight setting on their phone only works in concert stadiums.  just an FYI, make sure you order the little paper holders that go with the candles. “Silent Night” loses something when you have molten wax dripping on your wrist.

For Love Avenue champions, how are you preparing to promote you congregation and events during the Advent season? Encouraging members to personally invite family, friends, coworkers and acquaintances is certainly a start, but why not provide them with printed material to go along with that invitation? Perhaps that same printed invitation can be distributed to the homes surrounding your meeting location. To take promotion a step further, does your church send out Christmas cards to everyone on your mailing database? If you don’t have the equipment, most print shops can help you personalize your cards with your church name and logo. Just don’t hand them a box of cards covered in glitter. Nobody wants to be cleaning glitter out of their printer for the next week. And if you do send out Christmas cards, have your pastor, pastoral team members, or facilitator physically sign each card. None of our groups are large enough to make that much of a burden.

The song may tell us “it’s the most wonderful time of the year,” but we all know that is not always the case. The stress level around the Christmas season can become almost unbearable. And for those who may have recently lost loved ones, Christmas is hard. But if you properly prepare to celebrate the Advent season, you not only help your members make the connection between the music blaring at the shopping mall with the scriptural narrative of the most significant story ever told — Emanuel, God with us — you can also invite those who struggle to understand the real “reason for the season.” You can help those who are struggling, and those who would not normally darken the doors of a church on Sunday morning, to encounter the incarnation in a new light. John tells us at the beginning of his Gospel that “The true light that gives light to everyone” has stepped down into the darkness of our world. A white candle in the center of a wreath is a poor attempt to symbolize that light, but for someone who has yet to experience the source of that light, it’s a start.

Advent is not something you want to throw together the weekend after consuming massive amounts of turkey. Now is the time to begin preparations. Now is the time to order printed materials and supplies. Now is the time to begin reviewing the scriptures, with the intent to bring alive the birth story of God in flesh.

In the congregation I used to pastor (and still attend) we established the tradition of a Christmas candlelight service almost two decades ago. They were not always on Christmas Eve, but they were sometime during the week before Christmas day. One year I realized I hadn’t assigned anyone to light the Christ Candle, the white candle in the middle of the Advent wreath. Looking out at the darkened room it hit me that this needed to be something more than just carrying out a tradition. I said a quick prayer, and my eyes were drawn to an elderly and long-time member. Commenting on the significance of what this candle represented, I felt it fitting that the honor would go to someone who had faithfully served in sharing the gospel. The tears on this woman’s face as others helped her come forward to light the candle confirmed this was a Holy Spirit moment.

Since that evening, there is a clear anticipation to see who will be honored to light the Christ Candle. Young, old, new — it has become an opportunity to recognize members of the congregation. There is a clear anticipation each year. And after stepping down as lead pastor, I too was brought to tears when my name was called to come forward. I had to play Silent Night on the guitar immediately afterward (another required tradition in our congregation), and I’m glad I memorized the chords. I never would have been able to see the sheet music through leaky eyes.

May your congregation grow in their anticipation for the Advent traditions that you develop and adopt. May others be drawn into your celebration and find true hope, faith, joy, and peace. And as you and your avenue champions prepare for this year’s services, may you find yourself humming “Joy to the World” well before Halloween. It tis the season after all, regardless of the month. If anyone questions that, tell them Santa told you.

Building the Love Avenue

Here are some practical steps shared by pastors and Love Avenue champions for building the Love Avenue in your congregation or fellowship group.

Role of the Pastor: Linda Sitterley – Pastor, Junction City, OR

  • Recognize that all members of your congregation/group have gifts for ministry. God is faithful and has given each member a gift; there are no exceptions.

To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good… All these are empowered by the one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills. (1 Corinthians 12:7, 11 ESV)

  • The members have different gifts – we are not clones of each other. Help your members discover their gifts by talking to them about their passions, what they enjoy doing, what blesses them while participating.

Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them. (Romans 6:8 ESV)

  • The different gifts come to life in the context of the whole. Much can be accomplished when we encourage members, and when they use the gifts they’ve been given.

As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace… in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 4:10-11 ESV)

  • Discuss the following with your teams:
    • How do we best use the gifts God has given us?
    • How do we support the Love Avenue and be missional to our church neighborhood?
    • How do we best support the Love Avenue champion?

Mapping Your Neighborhood: Dishon Mills – Church Planter, Charlotte, NC

  • Discern what God is doing. Gather a small group of missional minded members in your congregation to pray and do the mapping. Look around and see what God is already doing in your neighborhood. What needs are being met by other groups? What needs still need to be met? Ask God where he desires your participation.
  • Learn about the characteristics of your neighborhood and your neighbors. Get out and talk to people. Ask them their stories. Ask what they look for in a church. Visit the parks and sports activities. Be an active participant in neighborhood events.
  • Learn the rhythms of your neighbors. What is important to them? How do they spend their evenings? Their weekends?
  • Discover the assets and needs of your community. Talk to non-profit organizations, community police officers, local business owners, school administrators to discern more about your neighborhood. What are the strengths? What are the challenges? How can your group be of service?
  • Participate in your neighborhood. Coach a sport, tutor students, join a local board, volunteer at a non-profit, attend town/city council meetings.
  • Identify your target audience. Observe and pray, seeking where the Holy Spirit is leading your group to serve the community. Identify who you can serve and how you can serve.
  • Discuss the following with your teams:
    • Are we falling in love with our neighborhood?
    • How well do we know our neighbors? Are we connected with them?
    • What are some first steps we can do to help us learn more about our neighbors?

Making Friends in Your Neighborhood: Tamar Gray – Pastor, Cleveland, OH

  • Never forget who is in you – Jesus – and he loves the people in your neighborhood. So pray, asking him to help you have his love for others. Ask him to lead you to someone who needs a friend, needs some attention, needs to know they are valuable.
  • Be genuine. People need to know you are interested in them as a person and that you care about them, not about filling a seat in your congregation.
  • Don’t rush; making friends takes time. Relationships are built over time, can get messy, can be challenging and inconvenient, but so rewarding.
  • Do not fear mistakes. Don’t be afraid you will say something wrong, that someone won’t like you, or that you aren’t “friendship material.” You are a beloved child of God and sharing his love and life with someone else is always worthwhile.
  • People need friends. They may resist initially or be suspicious of your intentions. But keep showing up, keep caring, and keep smiling. If nothing else, you are letting them know you care enough to keep smiling and keep showing up in the neighborhood.
  • Expect to see Jesus in your encounters. This is another opportunity to practice place-sharing.
  • Discuss with your teams:
    • Why should we make friends in the neighborhood?
    • How do we best represent Jesus in our neighborhood?
    • How can we join in with what is already happening in the neighborhood?
    • What is the best way to start?

Role of the Love Avenue Champion: Terri Westerhaus – Love Avenue Champion, Cincinnati, OH

  • Characteristics of a Love Avenue champion:
    • Being organized
    • Having a love for people
    • Having a heart for evangelism
  • The champion looks for and creates spaces for the congregation/fellowship group to engage and share the love of Christ with their target neighborhood.
  • Develops new leaders
  • Looks for ways to connect with Hope and Faith Avenues in the congregation
  • Oversees the team that coordinates neighborhood engagement events.
    • One coordinating mapping the neighborhood
    • One coordinating making friends in the neighborhood
    • One coordinating connecting church and community with a variety of activities
  • Focuses on team care:
    • Pray together
    • Dine together
    • Be in a small group together
  • Discuss with your teams:
    • What are some best practices for building the Love Avenue team?
    • What is the next step for making us a stronger team?
    • How do we connect with the Hope and Faith Avenues?

A Conversation with Paul About Unbelievers

By Michael Morrison, President Grace Communion Seminary

Paul, God loves everyone, so is there any real difference between people who believe and people who don’t?

Yes, and no, depending on what respects you are talking about. He loves them all, yes, so they are the same in that respect. People are equally loved by God, but in other respects are different – some are strong, some are not. Some are male, others female. Those are real differences.

Your question asks about whether there’s a difference with respect to belief, and your question implies that there is a difference: some believe and some don’t. Is there a difference between belief and unbelief? Of course. We want people to believe, not to reject Christ. It’s important.

OK, let me try to clarify the question in my own mind. What am I actually concerned about? Is there a difference in their relationship with God?

“Relationship” has several meanings. Everyone has a relationship with God in the sense that we are created by him and sustained by him; everyone is dependent on him even if they don’t know it. There is what we might call a legal relationship – he is the owner, and we have obligations to do what he says, in compliance with his purpose for giving us life. We could also describe it as a familial relationship – he is the father, and we are the children. All humans have that sort of relationship with God, whether they know it or not.

But I suspect that you are asking more about a mental and emotional relationship, what we might call a personal relationship. As you said, God loves them all, and he loves them equally. But they don’t all return the favor, do they? Some ignore God out of ignorance, others respond to him with resentment. They do not have a personal relationship with God, because that kind of relationship requires two parties, with interaction and response.

In this respect, humans are alienated from God, alienated from his life.[1] Their life depends on God sustaining it, but they are not participating in his life in the way that he wants. They are alienated not because God has cut them off – the door is open, so to speak – but they have not yet come inside to enjoy the celebration. (My friend Luke told me about how Jesus used that analogy.[2]) I’m not criticizing them – it’s just that some don’t know anything about the celebration. Others do, but for various reasons are reluctant to enter.

There’s an important difference there – people who don’t believe are not participating in what they’ve been created for.

Well, if it’s done out of ignorance, is there any harm in it? Isn’t it just a matter of time until they learn that they have already been included in the love of God?

You don’t mean it that way, but that question seems like a depersonalized way to analyze it – as if it’s a transaction of some sort, simply moving objects from one basket to another. We are talking about real people here, not just numbers. Just like belief has benefits for us, so also unbelief has unpleasant consequences for people in this life.

In its mildest form, it’s a matter of ignorance. It’s like they are living in a makeshift shelter under the freeway overpass, when unbeknownst to them, their uncle has died and left them a nice house and a steady income from an oil well on the property. You happen to know about that inheritance, but don’t seem to care much about whether they get informed. Oh, well, they’ll find out eventually, won’t they?

There are various ways to put it: unbelievers are not enlightened; they are in darkness.[3] For many, there’s a veil over their minds; they cannot understand.[4] They don’t have the mind of Christ and are asleep.[5]

So it’s just a matter of being uninformed? All we need to do is to tell them the good news: they have an inheritance waiting for them?

Oh, I wish it were that easy! But it’s worse than simple ignorance. They are corrupt – rotten – bent toward evil; they are deceived by their own lusts.[6] That sounds harsh, but I’d have to include myself in that, since I was one of the worst.[7] Although I thought I was serving God, I had badly misunderstood what he wanted. That was because my mind was leaning in the wrong direction – I could see only the things I wanted to see, and I too easily adopted a religious framework in which I could consider myself “blameless.”[8] I had heard about Jesus before my conversion, but that just caused me to be angry, not to be thankful!

Often it’s a downward spiral. People desire wrong things, and their desires cause them to misunderstand, and then the wrong beliefs invite them into more sin, just as they did for me. Sin has power over people, and it enslaves them.[9] Their bodies and minds want wrong things and actions that cause harm to themselves and to others.[10] In one metaphor, we could say that unbelievers are dead, and in another metaphor, we can say that sin lives in them.[11]

There is something going on behind the scenes. People are being led by an evil spirit, who somehow rules the air.[12] People need to be liberated, not just educated. That is one of the reasons that prayer is important – we have to ask the Lord of the harvest to open their eyes.

When I was knocked to the ground on the road to Damascus, I was blind for a while. When Ananias laid his hands on me, something like scales fell from my eyes.[13] These were visible symbols of my invisible problem: I had been spiritually blind, and I needed to be liberated. So when we teach about Jesus, we also pray that he will enable people to respond, and we don’t know when that may be.

But eventually it will happen, right? Instead of calling these people unbelievers, as if that’s a permanent category, maybe we should call them “not yet believers”? Is that a better term?

It’s a hopeful term, and that’s good. I have hope for them. God has not rejected them, and he has already acted in Christ to reconcile them to himself.[14] But even though God has made peace with them, some of them are still enemies of God, enemies of the cross.[15] People are still deceived, thinking wrong thoughts, going in wrong directions; they have not responded to what Christ has done.

However, some people might use that term to ignore what the people are right now. Rather than talk about something that isn’t yet true, at least part of the time we need to say what is currently true: They are unbelievers, alienated from God, led astray by evil spirits and selfish motives, showing disrespect for God. Some of us may use the language of “not yet” as an expression of hope, but others might hear those same words as a message that it’s not an important difference and we don’t need to be concerned about them.

I agree that the people are missing out. They are living in a shanty when they actually own a very nice house. But the things we call shanties today are not much different than what people have been living in for millennia, and many people around the world still have pretty rudimentary houses. Mesopotamian palaces used to be made of mud bricks. They had no toilets or electricity. Why should we be upset when people today don’t have those things?

Mike, this is a metaphor. I’m not talking about houses. What I’m trying to say is that the people have impoverished spiritual lives, when spiritual riches are available in Christ. They might live in a very nice house, physically, much better than what the Mesopotamian kings had. Things on the outside might look good; they might have good behavior and children who are academically successful, but inside their lives are empty.

I have no physical proof of that, but that’s what I believe. Humans had such a serious problem that Christ had to die for them. People need more than nice grass in the front yard and a shiny car to park in front of a garage that’s so full of stuff that there’s no room for the car.[16] They need something spiritual – and they aren’t just “missing out.” They are suffering. Many wealthy people are trying to numb their suffering through alcohol, drugs, and amusements; many poor people do it, too. There’s something wrong inside.

Without God, people don’t have hope.[17] Science can offer them better cars, better grass and better drugs, but it can’t bring them peace, either internally or internationally. Science can offer them better weapons and better amusements, but not better marriages. Now, believers have problems, too – we have marriage problems, drug problems, anger, and anxieties. I addressed things like that in my letters because these things were problems in the churches I worked with.

Faith in Christ does not automatically cure all our bad thinking and bad habits, but it points us in the right direction. We may struggle with some of these things for the rest of our lives (and suffer from the consequences, too), but we have hope that we will eventually be set completely free. In the flesh we are slaves of sin, yet we can also say that in Christ we are freed from sin.[18]

It is a great mystery, a great miracle, that Christ will take this sorry lot and fix it all in an instant. I don’t have physical proof of that, but I have faith. Christ is re-creating us, and our future lives are hidden in him.[19] We need him; unbelievers need him, too, and we can tell people about him and pray that he will open their eyes at the right time.

[1] Ephesians 4:18, NRSV; Galatians 5:4 and Colossians 1:21, NIV; Romans 9:3 implies that it’s possible for people to be “cut off.” Ephesians 2:13 says “far off.”
[2] Luke 15:28.
[3] Ephesians 1:18; 4:18; Romans 10:2; 1 Thessalonians 5:4.
[4] 1 Corinthians 2:14; 2 Corinthians 3:15; 4:3.
[5] 1 Corinthians 2:17; Romans 13:11
[6] Ephesians 4:22. The corruption or rot that Paul is talking about is not a physical one (though that is true, too), but an ethical corruption.
[7] 1 Timothy 1:15.
[8] Philippians 3:6.
[9] Romans 3:9; 6:17; 7:25; Galatians 4:8, 25; Titus 3:3.
[10] Galatians 5:17.
[11] 1 Timothy 5:6; Ephesians 2:1, 5; Romans 7:17.
[12] Ephesians 2:2; 1 Timothy 5:15; 2 Timothy 2:26; 1 Corinthians 10:21.
[13] Acts 9:18.
[14] Romans 11:1-15; 5:10; 2 Corinthians 5:18-19; Colossians 1:20-22.
[15] Romans 11:28; Philippians 3:18.
[16] 1 Timothy 6:9.
[17] Ephesians 2:12.
[18] Romans 7:25; 6:7.
[19] Colossians 3:3-4.

Church Hack: Welcoming a New Person

Our welcome and acceptance of a new person into our local expression of the Body is bearing witness to the reality of their membership and inclusion in God’s family. We are not the gatekeepers of Jesus’ kingdom. Inclusion doesn’t equal assimilation, total agreement, nor uniformity. Communicating inclusion is giving affirmation to that person: you are loved, you are worthy of belonging, you are an image-bearer of God.

Check out this month’s #GCIchurchhacks for practical and applicable ways to welcome new people to your church.

https://resources.gci.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/09/2022-CH9-WelcomingNewPeople.pdf

2022-2023 (Year A) RCL Pericopes

One of the identifiers of a healthy church is its focus on the Christian calendar, which follows the birth, life, death, resurrection, ascension and return of Jesus. Worship services, church events, and missional outreach revolve around this calendar.

The Christian calendar reminds us of God’s redemptive acts toward humanity. Jesus is at the center of the calendar because he is the embodiment of God drawing humanity to himself. In GCI, including our Equipper writers, Speaking of Life scripts, and sermon contributors, we plan ar0und the Christian calendar.

We follow the Christian calendar not out of obligation, but because rhythms and reminders form and shape us. This is just one reason why GCI pastors and ministry leaders plan their sermons around the Revised Common Lectionary (RCL). Not only does this enable a congregation to go through the Bible in a three-year plan, it also helps all GCI pastors be unified in keeping Jesus the center of everything we do and say. We believe so strongly in this, we have made preaching from the RCL at least three times a month part of a GCI pastor’s job descriptions.

To better serve our pastors, group facilitators and ministry leaders, we provide the following resource, which lists the focused pericope for each week of the Christian calendar year A, which begins November 26 with Advent 1. Click here.

How does Place-sharing Reflect the Ministry of Jesus?

Listen as Tamar explains how place-sharing reflects Jesus’ ministry. She continues to share her stories and experiences on why place-sharing is significant in missional living.

Do you have any questions about place-sharing?
Please send them to us at gci.org/psurvey.

Love in Action – Inclusion & Belonging w/ Elizabeth Mullins

Video unavailable (video not checked).

In this episode, Cara Garrity, interviews Elizabeth Mullins, GCI Publications Coordinator and Update Editor. Together they discuss why the love of Christ compels us to create inclusive communities.

“We can make sure that we have representation in our images. We can make sure we have a wheelchair ramp, that we are using microphones for hearing impairment. We can do a lot of things to be welcoming in our gathering, just kind of surface welcoming. But I really think that the healing that we’re promised and that we can participate in, it comes from these deep connections that we make — the way that we bear the image of God to one another and the way that we reflect his acceptance and his love. I think you could actually have a lot of concrete things in place and have somebody attend and still not feel seen or feel connection.”

Elizabeth Mullins, GCI Publications Coordinator and Update Editor

Main Points:

  • What does creating an inclusive community have to do with the ministry of the Love Avenue? 3:15
  • What are some characteristics of inclusivity? 6:32
  • What mindsets, habits, etc. are we invited to surrender to God as we learn to be a more inclusive community? 16:42
  • What are some ways that you’ve had to learn to be more inclusive as a ministry leader? 24:29
  • How are you learning to share your journey of inclusion with the gathering church community? 31:31
  • What are some challenges of an inclusive community?  44:04 What are the risks of exclusivity? 46:51
  • What are some examples of ways that gathering church can remove barriers to becoming more inclusive? 50:47

Resources:

  • Accessibility – best practices and reflective questions to consider your congregation’s accessibility.
  • A Welcoming Church – a Church Hack shares best practices for developing welcoming Hope, Faith, and Love Avenues.
  • Welcoming a New Person – a Church Hack with practical and applicable ways to welcome new people to your church.
  • Know Yourself to Lead YourselfAn Equipper article on the self-awareness tool by GiANT Worldwide.

Follow us on Spotify, Google Podcast, and Apple Podcasts.

Program Transcript


Love in Action – Inclusion & Belonging w/ Elizabeth Mullins

Welcome to the GC Podcast, a podcast to help you develop into the healthiest ministry leader you can be by sharing practical ministry experience. Here are your hosts, Cara Garrity and Charissa Panuve.

Cara: Hello everyone, and welcome to GC Podcast. I am so happy to introduce you to my co-host for this quarter, Charissa Panuve. Charissa is a GCI member in the Fiji church, and she’s currently based in Thailand because she is a swimmer, and she is full time training for the Olympics while in Thailand. So, she is awesome in that way. And in her GCI congregation, she enjoys youth get-togethers, fellowshipping within the church and sharing with each other both joys as well as burdens.

I’m so happy, Charissa, to welcome you as my co-host on the podcast for this quarter. Thank you so much for being here with us.

Charissa: Hi everyone. And hi, Cara.  So grateful for the opportunity to be here and co-host alongside you. I’m so excited to get into it.

Cara: Absolutely. So why don’t we just jump on in then. In this episode for today, we’re going to be exploring, with Elizabeth Mullins, our guests, what role inclusion and belonging plays in the mission and witness of the Love Avenue.

So, Charissa, when you think about belonging, what comes to mind for you?

Charissa: Hmm, well, I feel like belonging is about comfortability and inclusion. And there are different factors that come to play to feel that, or feel those things, which are attitude of people around you and the environment you’re in. To me, I feel that actions speak louder than words.

So actively being there for people and their needs, I think helps them feel included. And just when you’re not feeling like you’re being judged, you feel comfortable. And I think that helps you feel like you belong.

Cara: Yeah. I really like that point that you make that actions are louder than words when it comes to belonging. So, thank you for sharing that. Let’s go ahead and listen to what Elizabeth Mullins has to share in our interview.


Cara: Hello friends and welcome to today’s episode of GC Podcast. This podcast is devoted to exploring best ministry practices in the context of Grace Communion International churches. I’m your host Cara Garrity. And today I am overjoyed to interview Elizabeth Mullins, who is a GCI elder, and works with the media team as Publications Coordinator.

Thank you so much for being here with us today, Elizabeth.

Elizabeth: Oh, thanks for having me. I’m pretty fond of you. So, this is going to be fun!

Cara: Oh, it is going to be a lot of fun and especially today, we’re going to be exploring what inclusion and belonging have to do with the ministry of the Love Avenue. And so, I’m really excited for that.

So, let’s just jump right on in and start there. What does creating an inclusive community have to do with the ministry of the Love Avenue?

Elizabeth: Everything. Right? Our desire [is] for others to experience belonging with us, particularly in the Love Avenue — so ultimately Jesus is the one making the invitation and he’s invited all. So that’s why inclusion matters. Are we done? Is this shortest podcast ever?

Cara: We could be done right there.

Elizabeth: That’s a lot but seriously, what are we even talking about when we say the word inclusion? I think in GCI, we have this good practice of walking the what question back to the who question. So, who are people included into? We’re included into the life of the triune God.

And I know that our listeners know this; I believe that we believe this. So, then the question becomes, how do we reflect that? How can I welcome in new people? How can I gather with new people whose lived experiences might not look anything like my own and still communicate to that person that you belong, and you’re called into the body. And what in the world does that even look like?

Cara, when you ask me to do this podcast I had doubts, and I told you, I’m not an expert. But I do look forward to wrestling with this topic with you today. I feel like I have more questions about inclusion than I have answers, but if this conversation increases our awe and wonder for an inclusive God, then I think it’ll be good.

Cara: Amen. And there’s something about that posture, Elizabeth, that I think is part of that holy mystery of being the church — Jesus’ church in the world, that sometimes we have more questions than answers, right? But it doesn’t rest on us. As you said, Jesus is the one that’s choosing and it’s in him that we’re included in the life of the Father, Son, and Spirit.

And so, at the end of the day, it’s not that we need these nice clean-cut answers to what an inclusive community, what belonging really even means and looks like, but it’s how are we participating in the belonging that God has already created? And how are we allowing him to bring us deeper into that in real, tangible ways? Like we’re putting flesh on our theology, making it real incarnational, in that sense. Absolutely.

And what you were saying this idea of, we believe this, and we believe the who we’re included in. So, what does that actually mean? What does that look like? Let’s start with, what do you believe some characteristics of inclusion and belonging are?

Elizabeth: First, I just want to back up for a second and say that I appreciate what you just said about putting flesh on it. It does seem like we could talk about belonging, we could talk about inclusion all day, but it has to be experienced. And I was just saying to someone recently that community is like this giant learning lab.

Cara: Yes!

Elizabeth: Yeah. But what are some characteristics of inclusivity? I hope you’ll be patient with me because this first thought that I had might be more abstract than you intended, but I trust that as we keep going, we’re going to get more concrete, more specific.

But the first thought that I had actually speaks to motivation. And I don’t know if some of our listeners are like me, but a lot of times I’m not interested in a bunch of how-tos until you’ve convinced me of the why. So, for me, an important characteristic is witness.

Something I’ve been wrestling with is that inclusion is actually my calling. That if we’re part of the body of Christ, if we are part of the church, that we’re called to bear witness to this reality of belonging. And it’s not always visible. It’s not always visible to other people. So, we witnessed to that.

There’s a quote I heard years ago that I love and I’m embarrassed that I don’t know who said it. I even tried to look it up, but I can’t find it. So, I apologize I can’t source it. But it says the church is the visible manifestation of the invisible reality of the kingdom.

Isn’t that good?

Cara: That’s real good. Yeah.

Elizabeth: Yeah. So, if the gathering church is the thin place, right? Where the veil is pulled back, that’s a responsibility to bear that witness to people that they are included in the triune God. Colossians 1:15 says that the Son is the visible representation of an invisible God. And not that — we’re not God to anybody. Right? We are not Jesus to people because we’re all setting aside that savior complex, right?

Cara: Yes. Amen.

Elizabeth: Or trying to. But aren’t we called to participate in that reality? And I’m convinced that participation holds this kind of holy tension, the way that so much of our Christian life is a paradox, the way that a paradox is two seemingly opposite things but can both be true — like the already not yet.

And I believe that discipleship asks us to live into that tension of paradox. And that paradox says that, because there’s a calling on my life, I do have a responsibility to live into participation with Christ, that I have a responsibility to witness and gather his body.

And yet, I’m not responsible for the outcome. So, the Spirit does a really fine job of convicting people. But man! Whew, holding that tension? It’s difficult sometimes.

Cara: I was just going to comment on what you’re saying. I think what you’ve named is so, so important for a couple of reasons. First, getting to this, why is this even important?

It’s not just, we want sunshine and rainbows version of church, where we’re talking about an inclusivity of “can’t we all just get along? Can’t we all just have fun together and hold hands in a circle?” That’s not what we’re talking about. What we’re talking about I think you’ve gotten right to the heart of, that when we talk about the church, the people of God, the kind of inclusion that we are called to, it’s because of who God is and who we are as the church, the God and his kingdom that we’re witnessing to.

He’s the one doing the including. It’s his kingdom that’s an inclusive kingdom; we’re just participating in it. And so, it’s not just because we think it would be better if everyone [could] just get along, we think it would be easier if there wasn’t just — whatever, or if anyone could just show up and walk in through the doors. It’s like you said, there is a responsibility because of who our God is, because of how he works, because of his ways, because of the kingdom that he is bringing at hand and will establish for all of eternity.

And so, what you name about even sitting in the paradox of that is, we do get called into participating and then also hold loosely that we’re not responsible for those results. So, we don’t want to fall into that trap of it either. But we don’t let ourselves off the hook for taking seriously that if we are taking seriously that our God is who he says he is, and we’re witnessing to a God who has included all people, wouldn’t we bear witness to that and make that a little bit more tangible, make that a little bit more experienced here on earth, on this side of eternity?

I think that’s so important because like you said, before we even get to the how-tos, why? Why should we care? And we should care because God has showed us that he cares.

So that’s yeah, that’s really good. Thank you for naming that for us, Elizabeth. And you can go on. What else were you going to say about some characteristics of inclusivity?

Elizabeth: Yeah. Thank you for your thoughts. I love that phrase of holding loosely, and I think that’s an important characteristic. And it lends to what I was going to say next.

Because it can be difficult to hold loosely and to live in that tension, I believe another important characteristic is courage. Because we will have fear, but we can face our fear with courage because what does the testimony of the Bible tell us? What can separate us from the love of Christ? What can threaten our inclusion in this membership — our full membership as God’s children? Nothing! If our full membership is contingent on Christ and his finished work, then that should fill us with courage and hope. And lead us to ask the next question, which is okay, how do we image this in community now?

Ultimately, we’re not the gatekeepers, right? We’re not the gatekeepers of Jesus’ kingdom. And I think it takes courage to really live into the fact that inclusion doesn’t mean assimilation. It’s not equal to total agreement or uniformity. But we can still communicate inclusion.

I think it’s like holding up a mirror to other people and saying, “You are loved, you’re worthy of belonging. You’re an image bearer.” And calling them up. Because I really think it does call people up to say, “You know what? You are able to receive love and to give love. This is your true self.”

And so, I’m just learning to remember that it’s my calling to witness to this inclusion, and that it’s going to require courage.

Cara: Yes. And I really like that word. That word that you use of gatekeeping just really struck me because if we’re talking about inclusion, as based in, as accomplished in, as given to us and fulfilled in Jesus, we actually aren’t the ones — we don’t create inclusion — God is the one creating and gifting this inclusion to us.

And so really at the end of the day, it’s just responding to that reality of inclusion that we’re invited to, participating in that. And so, I like that image that you evoked of gatekeeping because when we’re not participating in inclusion, it’s not like that inclusion doesn’t already exist in Christ! But we can, as communities of gathering, act as gatekeepers to others experiencing this reality — that we know and should be actually proclaiming and witnessing to rather than gatekeeping.

But it’s not that we create the inclusion or not, because Christ has already done that for us. And so, I think that’s a powerful word to think about. Are we gatekeeping others’ experience of Christ and his kingdom?

As I think about what you talked about with the need to have courage in participating in inclusion as a community and mirroring that, I wonder what other mindsets or habits, ways of thinking or behaving we are invited to surrender to God as we learn to be a more inclusive community?

Elizabeth: For me, this is another question that I feel like addresses spiritual formation and discipleship. Because as Christians, shouldn’t we of all people be open and curious and humble? Aren’t we supposed to be repentant people and eager to learn? But we’re not always. I know I’m not! So, I’m trying to learn to surrender arrogance and certainty by allowing the Spirit to disciple and form me into humility and curiosity and repentance.

I’m not sure that we can discuss inclusion without mentioning bias. And in a lot of the conversations that I have heard around bias, I’ve heard that people will have a fundamental question and that’s, am I good? If they’re pushing back, it’s like they’re thinking consciously or unconsciously, if you say I have bias, am I still good?

And to me, as Christians, as people who are being conformed to a God that condescends, I feel like the answer should be: well, of course we’re bent towards sin! It’s a malformation when I cannot hold the tension that: no, I’m not always good, my actions are not always good, but I am loved. I am valued and I belong.

Those things aren’t mutually exclusive. And my beloved-ness, my valued-ness, it should birth shalom. It should birth a desire for my flourishing to spread out to other people. It should not birth narcissism. I’m special. No. I think it can birth narcissism if it’s not rooted and centered in this story that we embrace that God is a God who defeats evil by self-giving love. He didn’t defeat evil by putting up more walls, by trying to put up walls to exclude. He destroyed the dividing wall of hostility between us and God and between each other.

Yeah, I just am learning that everybody carries a story that I don’t know. And their stories carry much more complexity and more pain and more beauty than I can possibly know. So, it takes me surrendering that I know it all and that I can control everything.

Cara: Yeah. I really like that. It’s a simple, but really challenging thing to remember just that everyone has their own story that they carry. But what would it look like if we remember that and see that in the context of God’s larger story with all of humanity, and just allow that to be — even when we don’t understand — allow that to be enough, that we’re all part of God’s larger story, rather than I think you said that word control.

And I think that can be a big part of when we struggle with creating spaces of belonging, when we don’t understand, or we want to control things, or we feel out of control because we don’t understand. But what if it was just enough that all of our unique individual stories really were part of God’s larger story with humanity, whether we understood it or not, because he’s the one that’s writing the story of belonging. I don’t know. Because coming back to what you were saying, we’re giving up the savior complex. What would that look like if we let God kind be in charge of that? I don’t know.

Elizabeth: Yeah, that’s good. Yeah. I like you using the word understanding. I so often use the word certainty, but that’s good. We can love somebody without understanding everything that’s going on with them.

Cara: Yes. And I think sometimes when we think about, especially in a community context and creating practices as a community of inclusion and belonging, a lot of times it is, in my experience, it’s been that barrier of understanding, because we don’t understand something, then we feel threatened.

We don’t know what’s going on so we don’t know what might happen, or we don’t understand this particular life experience. So, it’s safer to be in a comfortable bubble than to be courageous, like you said, to witness to the fact that whether we understand or not, we all have belonging in Christ. Whether we understand or not, God is in our midst. Whether we understand or not, he is drawing us all into his love and his kingdom and conforming us into his image as we’re always meant to be.

So, it’s more the question of, less of do we understand, and do we feel a little scared, but more are we going to participate in and what God is doing right here and now? Whether we understand with our temporal minds what’s going on or not. I think we can get tripped up over understanding and needing to feel like we can be in in control.

And that’s something that I’ve seen and experience that’s part of that surrendering. And like you said, coming back to spiritual formation, are we allowing ourselves to be formed by God to actually surrender to God? And like you said to admit, maybe we are bent towards sin.

Maybe that is kind of why he came to be one of us and to walk amongst us and to give us a new humanity. And so maybe it is okay to trust him with those parts of ourselves that are ugly. And maybe say, oh, because I don’t understand this person, or I feel a little bit threatened. I don’t want to be near them, maybe our God is understanding enough, caring enough, loving enough.

Maybe he gets it enough that we can trust him with that part of ourselves and say, could you do something with this? Because I know it’s not your desire and your heart for me, you’ve made that clear, but the reality is this is where I’m at. And I think that he’s a God that is so happy and so willing to transform his people into the wholeness and the new humanity that he’s always intended for us. But if we’re stubborn and say, oh no, we could never think that way, we’re not sinful people, I think we miss out a little bit on that beautiful opportunity to be transformed by him in community with others.

Elizabeth: Yeah. So true.

Cara: And I think about that and being transformed in community with others as ministry leaders, sometimes we have a particular influence on the tone of a community or the tone that sets. So, what are some ways, Elizabeth, that you’ve had to learn to be more inclusive, particularly as a leader in ministry?

Elizabeth: I have to admit, speaking of what you just said about turning with confidence that that Jesus isn’t shocked by anything, I don’t always lean into community. I am sometimes plagued by feelings of not feeling like I’m worthy of love and belonging, of not having enough courage to trust.

So, I’m learning myself as a leader that, I can’t be asking people to lean into community if I’m not doing that. And as I do that, I do see that we can be made for belonging. It can be our true selves, our birthright, and we can really long for connection, which I think is what we’re really talking about here is the connection and the healing that we experience in relationship. But I’m learning that just because we long for connection, it doesn’t mean we always know what to do with it once we find it or get it.

Cara: Yes.

Elizabeth: Proximity in a gathering is not enough. It’s not like it’s this chemical reaction, just add a little vinegar to baking soda and voila. We can gather together but it doesn’t always mean there’s going to be instant connection or that we’re going to experience intimacy and trust, which I think is ultimately what we’re hoping for is — I believe Jesus when he says that we’re better together and that he is going to conform us to his image. And the body is one of the ways that happens.

But I am learning as a leader that so many of us, we did not have attuned, empathetic caregivers when we were growing up. We simply did not learn healthy connection developmentally. Like I said, I have a lot of questions, but one thing I think I’m convinced of that it’s a skillset we can learn. That we are being transformed by Jesus’ presence. And that the Holy Spirit is tutoring us to be other-centered.

So, for me, part of becoming a healthy leader is taking stock of my own trauma and the areas where I’m identifying that I lack emotional intelligence, and maybe that means seeking out therapy.

But am I able to identify my own trauma and my own hurts? Do I even know how to identify my own emotions so that I can observe and identify it in other people? I think that’s important for place-sharing. Can I sit in the discomfort of another person’s pain without feeling like I have to fix it or run from it or make a joke. And I’m going to have a really difficult time of doing that, of place-sharing, if I haven’t owned my own pain.

I also believe that a new person’s question will be, whether consciously or unconsciously, am I too much? If we’re sitting with another person in their emotions, whether it’s joy or whether it’s sadness, how are we answering that question of am I too much?

I believe that discipleship has this beautiful circular quality, that I am being formed through the solitary. I am being tutored by the Spirit. I am being changed by Jesus’ presence, but I’m also being formed by the collective.

I want to read a quote from Cole Arthur Riley in her book “This Here Flesh” that I think really speaks to that concept. And she says, “We’re made for belonging and maybe you’ve heard it said that you need to learn how to be alone before you can be with someone. But I say, you have to learn how to be with and part of something in order to know how to be alone. I think it’s only in a deep anchoring in community that one can ever be free to explore the solitary.”

So yeah, I’m trying to learn that the Spirit disciples me in and through community.

Cara: Yeah. And I love that. Just thinking even about that question of, am I too much? So as whether ministry leaders or just members of a gathering church community, part of creating spaces of belonging, is there actually space for us to exist with one another?

And if we’re not tutored and practicing, as you’re speaking to, of just existing alongside one another, then can we feel like we belong? Can we feel like there’s enough space for us if we’re always feeling like we’re bumping up against maybe someone’s discomfort with how I’m feeling right now or things? So that ability to grow and to learn ourselves in community.

Yeah. That’s not something I would’ve thought of, but I really appreciate that you bring that up because how we move through a space and how we even understand and know and are familiar with how we are moving through a space does impact, right? We are communal beings. We are created for connection.

It impacts how that space is received by other people or whether people can be received into that space. And I’m sure we’ve all felt that too, when maybe we’ve felt too much for other people because there just wasn’t enough space for us to belong and just exist in that moment.

And so, I think that you’ve named a really important way, but maybe not right off the bat obvious way, that we as ministry leaders and members of the gathering church community can be intentional about learning and practicing to be more inclusive people, people of belonging.

That’s excellent. So, as you’re journeying in developing what belonging, what inclusion, what these rhythms and practices looks like, how are you learning to share what you’re learning and how you’re growing with the gathering church community so that we can maybe I’ll start to grow a little bit more together?

Elizabeth: Yeah. I feel like this is the question where we — where I can start getting a little more concrete. But I am chewing on what you just said. So, I just want to pause for a minute. I appreciate the affirmation from you because I wasn’t sure that as I was wrestling through this, if it’s too abstract, too ethereal.

But it came to me as you were speaking back what I was saying and mirroring it to me, that we can make sure that we have representation in our images. We can make sure we have a wheelchair ramp, that we are using microphones for hearing impairment. We can do a lot of things to be welcoming in our gathering, just kind of surface welcoming. But I really think that the healing that we’re promised and that we can participate in, it does come from these deep connections that we make, the way that we bear the image of God to one another and the way that we just reflect his acceptance and his love.

I think you could actually have a lot of concrete things in place and have somebody attend and still not feel seen or feel connection.

Cara: Yeah. And as you were saying that that’s exactly what I was thinking of. We can have as community, a lot of accommodations that might seem inclusive and maybe they are tangible actions of inclusion, but without that relational aspect, are we going to fall short of true belonging?

Because, for example, if you have a ramp for somebody with a physical challenge who can’t walk up the steps or something, so they can get into your church building, but then everyone’s too uncomfortable to look them in the eye and greet them because their disability makes them uncomfortable. Yes, your building is accessible, but are they going to feel belonging?

Elizabeth: Exactly. Yeah.

Cara: And yeah, I think what you’ve named is, that’s the real — that’s where the church comes in and I think can mirror the belonging of the kingdom versus just the accessibility that is like pretty standard and a lot of places in the world. Right?

But I think this is where we’re called to that higher calling of the belonging that we find and can participate in God versus just like some architectural feats. Yeah. As you were saying, so you can get in the building without being seen. I think you’re right about that.

Elizabeth: So, to your question, back to your question.

Cara: We’re both like, woo!

Elizabeth: I think this sort of gets to both, maybe it straddles the fence of we’re talking about connection, but hopefully, I was trying to think of some tangible things. I like that you use that word tangible. We’re recording this in August and the podcast won’t be published till October, but I had recently helped work on a Church Hack that we can put in the show notes. It’s not official, but as I was working on it, I jokingly to myself was titling it, Don’t be weird.

I have to explain, give the whole backstory for why I landed on that word, weird. At least for myself, I know that words can be loaded, and they can carry different meaning for different people. When my husband, Anthony and I were replanting or relaunching a congregation in Hickory, my mantra for that fellowship when we would be talking about welcoming guests and welcoming in new people to our gathering, I was constantly saying, we’re going to eliminate the awkward. But I’ve actually had to repent and rethink that phrase because I was thinking about it — can getting to know a new person feel awkward and uncomfortable? Absolutely! It can.

When I say weird, I guess I’m thinking more of behavior that’s not going to be received as courteous. In the U.S., we use the word weird and this fun, loving way to mean unique or eccentric, like Keep Austin weird.  So I don’t mean that I don’t mean unique and eccentric. All of you people out there being unique and eccentric, you just keep trucking on.

So no, but I think of it this way. Cara, have you ever had an encounter that left you feeling uneasy or confused and afterwards you turn to a friend, and you just say, that was weird!

Cara: Yes. That kind of weird

Elizabeth: Yeah, I think we’ve all had that.

We’re trying to connect with somebody and we’re missing each other. We’re always going to miss each other a little bit but like in a way that you’re just left feeling like, that was weird.

Many of our GCI leaders have been through the GiANT CORE training. And that’s an important part of that training, remember, was to ask the question, what is it like to be on the other side of me?

One of the ways that I’m learning — I’m really trying to answer this question. I’m learning to share about inclusion is learning self-awareness. So, when we’re getting to know new people, when we’re welcoming guests, we do want to eliminate the weird, as far as behavior that’s rude or specifically behavior that’s self-centered. I think our gatherings can feel weird if there’s a lot of ambiguity and chaos, and we definitely don’t want to be coercive to people.

And I think we can be received that way, if we over talk, if we’re doing all the talking or we’re asking intrusive questions.

My favorite question for new people when they’re talking to me, is to say something like, oh, that sounds wonderful. Or (maybe it’s awful) that sounds awful. Would you like to tell me more about that? So, then the ball is in their court. They can take the lead if they want to tell me more or if they don’t.

I also think, like we were talking about tension in the paradox of calling but holding loosely to the outcome, I think hospitality invites us to lean into tension also. And I think in pictures and thinking about hospitality, I imagine this like a sliding scale.

And if on the far side, on the far-left side, imagine that as comfort. And you could just picture a member of the existing community that they know they belong. So, on the left side, you’ve got comfort and I know I belong.

And then clear on the other side of the scale, on the right side, you’ve got discomfort. And I don’t know if I belong here. I don’t know if I can belong here. And to me, hospitality looks like if I’m over there on the left side of comfort, can I move towards the other person’s discomfort? Can I have the space to hold their discomfort and my discomfort for a little while? Just so I can join them there in order to bring them along, back over to the left, into comfort.

Cara: That’s a good visual.

Elizabeth: Yeah. So, meeting new people can feel uncertain, especially when we make an idol out of being in control. Including people can feel uncomfortable and awkward, but I think that we can embrace that tension for the other person’s good.

Cara: Yeah. When you bring up that word of like weird and avoiding that, let’s not be weird. I think about that idea of when you’re at the dinner table with your best friends or whatever, you behave a certain way, in a way you maybe might not to a stranger. I think our churches can sometimes be like that.

When in our gathering church community, we do become way on that left side, so comfortable with each other. We know that we belong, we become this inward facing, in our circle. But isn’t it kind of weird when somebody new, when a stranger accidentally gets caught up in that and they don’t know what’s going on or they don’t know what to expect. They don’t know what those inside jokes mean. They don’t really know if they’re even supposed to be there.

I think that’s that kind of weird that you’re talking about where, when we’re thinking about the Love Avenue and witnessing and being engaged in the ministry of Jesus’ mission, we don’t want to be so — some different phrases for it are closed set or inward thinking. Where it’s just about me and my table with my group of best friends that we have all our inside jokes. And it’s really weird if a stranger comes up and we don’t actually welcome them in a way that is reasonable because we’re still acting like it’s just us at the table.

And so, I think that our churches we can sometimes be like that. Because we’re family and that’s great. But sometimes family has guests over for dinner and you probably should act right so that guest feel welcomed instead of overwhelmed a little bit. And that’s where I think you’re saying that hospitality comes in: how do you bring them into the family versus let them feel ostracized, because they don’t know what’s going on in that family dynamic or environment?

Elizabeth: Yeah. That’s a good example. And how often, after you’ve eased somebody into your inside jokes, they do become family or a close friend? But while you’re in that getting-to-know phase, you’re going to be other centered for them.

Cara: Yes. And that idea of other-centeredness, I think, is really key that we warm ourselves up to that. It’s okay to think about others for a little bit and building spaces of belonging and thinking about how does that get embedded in the rhythm and the fabric of our gathering church communities.

And as we’re getting closer to wrapping up our time, just quickly, I know that we’ve been talking about some really great stuff. And I think that it’s really important in how we witness to who our God is. And it’s also challenging. We’ve talked a little bit to that.

And so just what are some challenges that you could name of building rhythms of an inclusive community that you just want to name so that we’re maybe aware of and can be prepared for when we encountered them on the journey?

Elizabeth: Yeah, I think we could do an entire podcast on this but for sake of the listener’s time, I will just drop these in here.

I think a big challenge to an inclusive community is that the existing community will likely have to make some changes. For new people, we will have to make some accommodations for people to feel like they belong. And honestly the opposite of that — can we just name it? That’s cultish. That’s when a church feels like a private social club, when the new members are expected to make all the accommodations to belong. That’s actually cultish.

Cara: yeah. Very closed, yeah.

Elizabeth: I think if you’re going to have, if an inclusive community is an important value for you, your church is not going to look like a monolith. It’s not going to be homogenous, but we can honor the image of God in other people without full agreement.

We can say, I see God in you. I value your belonging without full uniformity and assimilation. And it also challenges us that we’ve got to separate behavior from belonging. Do I know what this looks like? No! This is the stuff, as we were saying.

But I honestly do believe that we can hold up a mirror to people, that it does call people up to say, look, you’re included in this community where we participate in Jesus’ healing. And because he’s healing us, we don’t harm ourselves or other people. And then we trust the Spirit’s work in their life.

Cara: Yeah.

Elizabeth: Is that close?

Cara: Yeah, no. And that is a stuff, like you’re saying, that’s the hard, messy. What is it you said earlier — the lab of community? It’s not cut and dry, but it’s good and sacred work.

Yeah. What are some of the risks? If we don’t meet these challenges of nurturing inclusive community, what’s at stake?

Elizabeth: That the people we encounter won’t see that they’re being called into the body too. This is huge. If the gathering church promises connection and inclusion and healing and — not if, I mean it does. But if what other people have experienced is rejection and exclusion and harm, then gathering is going to feel pretty terrifying to them. So why would we put up additional obstacles?

And this formation that occurs in his body, it counters that narrative of shame and isolation. And that’s the biblical testimony that our belonging to the body of Christ is healing, and we really are better together.

Cara: Yeah.

And it’s almost — and I’m hesitant to say these words. So, I want to bring us back to what you mentioned about this paradox of tension, that we’re invited into the responsibility of participation, but we don’t shoulder the responsibility of results. But it almost seems, after our conversation today that in some way, what’s at stake is the witness of the church.

Because if we’re not living as the church witnessing to the belonging of God’s people, what are we witnessing to, right? Who are we witnessing to? And so, I say that not to, and the reason I hesitate is it’s not in a scary way of, oh, now we got to hurry up and get our witness, get our act together. But to say, this is not just a cute, little ministry hack, right?

This is how, are we faithfully responding to what God is doing in our midst and who he is?

Elizabeth: Mmhmm. Years ago, I used to love a Christian artist named Jennifer Knapp. And one of her songs that I loved was like an allegory about the bride of Christ. And there was a line in there that said, how dare you say that she’s broken and used. [Guest used a paraphrase. Song title: Hold Me Now.]

And that makes me emotional just saying it, but it came to mind with what you were saying — is that the church is his spotless bride, and he adores her. Jesus thinks she’s beautiful. So, man, we got to participate in that beauty!

Cara: Yeah. And it’s a wonderful thing. It’s a wonderful thing, as messy as it is, as we’re learning, it’s a beautiful thing.

In our last few minutes, I do want to give us the opportunity to get maybe even more practical about what this can mean in the day-to-day living of the church body. And I do want to name too, that we, on this side of eternity, we have limits, we have temporal limits individually, collectively.

And so, there is discernment that is important when we’re part of building what inclusivity, what belonging looks like for each particular gathering church community. For example, I have particular limitations by the languages that I speak at this current place and time. And that’s just a reality on this side of eternity.

But given that kind of context, what are some ways — let’s just brainstorm quickly before the end of our time together, what are some examples of ways that the gathering church can think of, can take seriously removing barriers to become more inclusive to God’s people?

Elizabeth: I like what you said, because we can’t be all things to all people. Because actually that’s what we were saying about if you get underneath inclusion, it’s really about the connection. If you can’t connect? And Heber Ticas has done such a great job in helping us see the difference between missional and missionary. And if there’s no commonality, then you’re probably being a missionary.

There are things that we unintentionally, barriers we unintentionally erect particularly for folks with disabilities. We have a church hack on accessibility, and we can link that and then show notes here.

Here’s what I want to say too, about what we can do. And I hope this is concrete.

Cara: Go for it.

Elizabeth: I feel like another question a new person is going to be asking consciously or unconsciously is, am I too different?

So, we’ve really got to think about how we’re answering that question. Because we can say with our mouths and with our signs, all are welcome, but what are others experiencing with us?

Because we do experience belonging in our bodies. We want to be fully seen and fully loved. We want to show up with our full selves and the incarnation teaches us that our embodied experiences matter. Therefore, we do see, we see race, we see gender, we see disability, we see family and marital status.

We can acknowledge the differences. And because the society elevates certain identities over others — it just does. We see able-bodied, married, educated, folks without intellectual disabilities, folks that aren’t neurodiverse, elevated all the time. So, we have to, I think as a church we have to ask, are we elevating certain people groups? Or do we have a diversity in the images that we use and in our leaders? If only one type of person is being represented, who might be erased? Who’s being erased by this?

I think our language matters, just to give a few examples. I have been in far too many settings where multiple people use the phrase elders’ wives. So, who’s erased by that. We have elders that are unmarried. We have elder that have husbands. I’ve been in church settings where people prayed for a particular political candidate, because there was an assumption that everybody there must be voting for the same person And that’s getting back to that assumption of uniformity.

I have witnessed messages and prayers for someone to have children or praying for someone to find a spouse. And that’s making an assumption that they want to have children or that they’re they want to get married. I’ve been in a setting where the speaker said in speaking about what our priorities should be, they said it should be God first, spouse second, and then your ministry work. And I just think we don’t stop to think about who’s erased by that. What about the people who don’t have a spouse?

Because here’s the thing about uniformity. We shouldn’t expect uniformity, but we should assume that we all have the same needs. And by that, I mean, what does it mean to be human? And it’s safe to say that we’re dehumanizing another if we fail to recognize that they have all the universal needs that all humans have. So, it made me feel like when I heard that statement that — I wish that speaker had said, God, then important relationships, then your ministry or something like that. Because [otherwise] it makes the assumption that people who aren’t married don’t have the same need for community and connection. They do. Everybody has! Assume we all have the same needs for that kind of connection and community.

Cara: And when you think about in, and even those examples you’ve given, when we think about communities of belonging, if you were to put yourself in the shoes of somebody who didn’t fit the assumed criteria or life circumstance, then there’s this uncomfortability that you can imagine you may experience of, oh, then is this space for me if this is what is assumed? Do I actually belong here?

And so, it’s those ways that we actually undercut belonging through our language and the assumed status quo or uniformity because casual language that we might use, it sends a signal. Oh, this is what the expectation or the standard is. And then if you don’t meet that, it’s oh do I actually belong here? Is this space for me? And not just that is this space for me, but it can even be as serious as, is this good news for somebody like me? Is Jesus for somebody like me?

Elizabeth: Yes. And that’s huge. Isn’t it?

Cara: Yeah. Yeah, sure is.

Elizabeth: I think most of what I’ve learned, I learned from making mistakes. And here’s an important lesson that I learned, and listeners are probably going to laugh, because it’s duh. But I’m going to just tell on myself. And that’s ask the person! Go to the person. You can say, we want you to belong here, so how can we help you experience that?

Let’s say somebody shows up who’s never been to your gathering before, whether it’s Love Avenue or your Hope Avenue and they have an accessibility need. Well, you don’t convene a meeting with your team to talk about them or discuss what you can do for them. Talk to them, subject to subject. We want this gathering to be accessible for you. What do you need?

If that scares you as a ministry leader, look, I understand that we may not be able to accommodate everything that a person asks for, but that’s where the courage comes in, I think. That’s why we work these things out in community.

I honestly believe that avoiding conflict, it’s doesn’t get us to deeper relationship. Research from social scientists is showing us that relationships that have no discord, that demonstrate no conflict, aren’t actually the strongest relationship, because people are probably repressing, hiding. Conflict is normal.

Research that’s coming out from psychologists and therapists like that, they’re saying that, when people face up to conflict or acknowledge that there’s been a rupture and then they intentionally make repair, that those are actually the relationships that have the most resiliency and have the most trust. I just don’t think we can muscle our way into inclusive belonging by pretending that no differences exist.

Cara: Yes. And what you’ve said is actually a very practical, if not one of the most practical pieces of advice that can be given, because we can’t be all things to all people, we can’t know all things. And even if we were to be a quote unquote expert on a particular life experience, every person’s actually different.

And so even if you had a PhD in disability studies, the person who showed up to your event might have different needs than the next person that shows up to your event. And so, to assume, or to make decisions without somebody is actually not creating that belonging in community, but it’s just this idea of doing something to or for which is, it’s like baby inclusion, right?

But we want to, again, to go a step beyond into that belonging of the kingdom. And so, I think that really is the most practical thing is ask questions and be curious and go to the place that might be uncomfortable. But that is relational because even with that particular example, you can meet all ADA requirements, but every person might need a different thing in order to fully be able to participate and you don’t know, unless you ask. And you don’t know what you can or cannot accommodate until you ask what that person may need.

And that’s the same with any kind of matter of belonging when somebody is bringing their full self, no two people are exactly alike. And so, to just make an assumption of, oh, that person’s got a disability and so this is what we’re going to do for them, because all disabilities are alike. Hello, that’s not belonging. And so yeah, I think that’s incredibly practical, even more practical than here’s the checklist of things that we should do to be an inclusive church because that’s the advice that’s going to get us to be a relational church that fosters belonging together as a community.

Do you have any final words as we wrap up? We’ve been having too much fun talking; it’s about time to close up for today.

Elizabeth: No, I just appreciate the opportunity. So, let’s keep going.

Cara: Yes, it has been such a pleasure having this conversation with you, Elizabeth, you’ve shared a lot of really meaningful insights that I will continue to chew on and that I hope our listeners do too.

But before we wrap up fully for today’s episode I have a couple of fun, random questions for you, if you are game. Just whatever first thing comes to mind, it’s like a lightning round—just shout it out. Are you ready?

Elizabeth: I’m ready.

Cara: All right. What fictional family would you be a member of?

Elizabeth: Umbrella Factory [Academy.]

Cara: Oh, Ooh. That’s a good choice.

What is your favorite seasoning?

Elizabeth: Oh, garlic.

Cara: Ooh, also a good choice.

If you could invent a holiday, what would it be? And what would you call it?

Elizabeth: You stumped me on that one. It would be a national beach day where you get paid to go sit on the beach and relax.

Cara: I would celebrate that holiday.

If you were an action figure, what two accessories would you come with?

Elizabeth: A magic lightweight coffee brewer so you could have coffee whenever you wanted and a translator so I could speak any language.

Cara: Ah, I like it. I like it.

What’s something that always gives you childlike joy?

Elizabeth: I think just singing and dancing and joking around with my two daughters and my granddaughter and family.

Cara: Yes. I love that.

And then last question. Would you rather be able to run at a hundred miles per hour or fly at 10 miles per hour?

Elizabeth: Fly. Bird’s eye view.

Cara: Ah, fair enough. Fair enough. Oh, thank you for sharing some silly insider knowledge with us, Elizabeth. And thank you for just being with us here today. I have had a lot of fun chatting with you.

And it is our practice with the pod to end with a word of prayer. So, would you be willing to pray for our churches, pastors, ministry leaders, and gathering church members here with us today?

Elizabeth: I sure will.

Father, Son, and Spirit, we love you. We love your church. We love the way that you have included us. We’re just so grateful that you are who you are and that we are called to participate in that love. We ask for wisdom in knowing what that looks like. We often feel like we don’t know what we’re doing, but we are grateful that you are constantly with us and bringing us along and that you don’t lose patience with us, that you gave us your Spirit, that you, Spirit, are constantly tutoring us and showing us who God is, that you are reminding us that we are rooted and grounded in Jesus, who is the ultimate unanxious presence. And because we are rooted in him, that we can learn to reflect that to the people that we’re ministering to.

I thank you for Cara and for the work that she does. She makes it look so easy, but we know it’s not. So, we’re grateful for her love for you, for her discernment, for the way that she images you and includes new young ministry leaders as her co-host. We’re grateful for the people that she reaches out to and gives a platform to share their voice.

Because I’m on the media team, I know all the behind-the-scenes work. So, I just pray for Reu who is going to be mixing this, who is recording it now. Be with him. Bless the whole media team; give them wisdom and discernment.

We love you, Jesus. And we’re grateful that you do hear our prayers and you’ve included us in your life. In your name, Jesus. Amen.


Cara: Amen.

One of the things that really struck me in this conversation that I had with Elizabeth was the importance of relationship and creating spaces of belonging. It’s not just like a checklist of, okay, now everyone’s included or now we’ve created a sense of belonging, but it’s really grounded in how we’re building relationships with one another.

What was something that stood out to you, Charissa, from our conversation?

Charissa: Oh, I think the list is shorter, if we talked about what didn’t stand out to me,

Cara: Amen.

Charissa: There were so many points that were brought up that were really great and that I could personally relate to, but if I had to highlight one thing, I think it would be the quote of the unknown sayer. Which is the church is the visible manifestation of the invisible reality of the kingdom, which really struck me at how simply put it was said, but how deep and true it actually means.

Cara: Yeah. Oh, I loved that as well. Oh, thank you for bringing that back up as a highlight. And when we think about living out that visible manifestation as one of a person in our younger generations in GCI, what is something that you’ve experienced that maybe has helped create intergenerational sense of belonging and inclusion for you or in your local congregation in GCI Fiji?

Charissa: Oh, well, back at home, I feel like intergenerational belonging and inclusion is very strong. And that really stands out to me because our family days and teachings and when the older generations come and teach the younger generations how-to, whether it be [to] minister or something simple like flower arrangements. I think is very good to help everyone feel belonging and feel included that they want to share that knowledge on how to spread the love of Christ through everything that we do.

Cara: Yeah. I really love that. The passing on of knowledge and mentoring for discipleship, right? The discipling amongst generations is something that can really nurture that sense of belonging and inclusion intergenerationally. That’s a beautiful thing. I’m really glad to hear that. So, thank you so much for sharing that, Charissa, and that insight and experience of yours.

Showing up in mission is a big part of just getting started, and how we show up, I think is another thing that is just as important. And so, the GCI Place-sharing series explores our posture as we show up in relationships with others. Can you tell us a little bit more about the GCI Place-sharing series, Charissa?

Charissa: Sure thing. The GCI Place-sharing series explores a practice of place-sharing through interviews, teachings, and a Q&A panel. Visit www.gci.org/placesharing to check it out and learn what place sharing is, why it’s valuable, and how it reflects the ministry of Jesus.

Cara: Thank you so much. And until next time, everyone, keep on living and sharing the gospel.

We want to thank you for listening to this episode of the GC Podcast.  We hope you have found value in it to become a healthier leader. We would love to hear from you. If you have a suggestion on a topic, or if there is someone who you think we should interview, email us at info@gci.org. Remember, healthy churches start with healthy leaders; invest in yourself and your leaders.

Models of Christ

We do not need to be sinless to be examples of Christ.

Paul was bold. The outspoken apostle confronted his opposition seemingly fearlessly and continued to preach the gospel, despite very real threats to his life. He publicly chastised Peter when the leader of the disciples was caught turning his back on Gentile Christians to show favoritism to Jewish Christians (Galatians 2). Paul was not afraid to speak Christ’s truth to dignitaries and rulers, and he demanded to be brought to stand before Caesar himself. Yet I believe Paul was at his boldest when he wrote:

Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ. (1 Corinthians 11:1 NIV)

Paul was so confident in the transformative power of the Holy Spirit working in him that he held himself up as an example for others to follow. In declaring himself a model for other Christians, he, to a certain extent, increased his responsibility to live righteously. Paul submitted his actions and behavior to scrutiny, believing that the more a person looked at him, the more Christ they would see.

I do not know if I would have that same boldness. I think about how I’ve responded when an unscrupulous salesman tries to swindle me, or when someone cuts me off on the highway — do I want people following that example? Or the times when I was short with my wife or lost my patience with my children — do I want people taking a closer look at that? Not at all. If you are anything like me, you hesitate to call yourself a model of Christ because you know that you fall far short of his glory.

Those who work with children and youth know that they watch us. They follow our example whether we want them to or not. At times, we may feel pressured to put on a holy mask, so they do not see our imperfect example. We are tempted not to mention the struggles of the Christian life because we do not want to discourage those who are looking to see Christ reflected in us. The good news is that we can unburden ourselves from the weight of the holy mask. We do not need to be sinless to be examples of Christ. In fact, the opposite is true. Paul says later:

But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. (2 Corinthians 4:7-10 NIV)

In inviting people to follow his example, Paul was not saying that he was a perfect Christian. Rather, he was saying that Christ can shine even through his imperfections. Are we inviting our children and youth to see Jesus shine through us? Are we letting them see that he can shine even through our imperfections?

We are models of Christ for our young people, which is a natural consequence of our relationship with them. Therefore, we should ask ourselves, “What kind of model am I setting?” Am I setting the example of a good churchgoer who follows the Christian rules, but has little to say about the challenges facing our young people on a daily basis? Am I showing them an image of a Christ-follower who frequently quotes scripture but ducks difficult questions? Or am I showing them the model of a Christian who sometimes struggles to figure out how to follow Christ in this fallen world? Am I showing them an authentic Christian who does not have all the answers, but who – moment by moment – looks to the One who does? Am I allowing Christ to shine through — even through my imperfections?

I pray that you live in such a way that your young people will see “that this all-surpassing power” that is at work in you is from God, who began a good work in you and will finish that work to completion (Philippians 1:6). It is not you they should follow, but Christ in you.

Dishon Mills
US Generations Ministry Coordinator

Gospel Reverb – Left Behind? w/ Stephen Morrison

Video unavailable (video not checked).

Listen in as host, Anthony Mullins and Stephen D. Morrison unpack this month’s lectionary passages. Stephen calls himself an “amateur” theologian who has authored 13 books including the Plain English series, example, Karl Barth in Plain English, T.F. Torrance in Plain English, James Cone in Plain English and other books like We Belong: Trinitarian Good News. Theology is the central passion of his life however he does have other pursuits and one in particular – coffee.

You can find these books on Amazon or his personal website at sdmorrison.org.


November 6 – Proper 27
Luke 20:27-38 “The God of the Living”
11:40

November 13 – Proper 28
Luke 21:5-19 “Opportunity to Testify”
21:09

November 20 – Proper 29
Luke 23:33-43 “Father, Forgive Them”
32:16

November 27 – Advent 1
Matthew 24:36-44 “Stay Alert!”
46:11


If you get a chance to rate and review the show, that helps a lot. And invite your fellow preachers and Bible lovers to join us!

Follow us on Spotify, Google Podcast, and Apple Podcast.

Program Transcript


Welcome to the Gospel Reverb podcast. Gospel Reverb is an audio gathering for preachers, teachers, and Bible thrill seekers. Each month, our host, Anthony Mullins, will interview a new guest to gain insights and preaching nuggets mined from select passages of scripture, and that month’s Revised Common Lectionary.

The podcast’s passion is to proclaim and boast in Jesus Christ, the one who reveals the heart of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And now onto the episode.


Anthony: Hello, friends and welcome to the latest episode of Gospel Reverb. Gospel Reverb is a podcast devoted to bringing you insights from Scripture found in the Revised Common Lectionary and sharing commentary from a Christ-centered and Trinitarian view.

I’m your host Anthony Mullins. And it’s my delight to welcome this month’s Stephen D. Morrison. Stephen calls himself an “amateur” theologian who has authored 13 books including the Plain English series, for example Karl Barth in Plain English, T.F. Torrance in Plain English, James Cone in Plain English and other books like We Belong: Trinitarian Good News. You can find these books on Amazon or through his personal website at sdmorrison.org. That’s S as in Sam, D as in David, morrison.org.

Theology is the central passion of his life however he does have other pursuits and one in particular – coffee. He is a coffee roaster who appreciates the subtle delights of java including the tactile experience of roasting, brewing and drinking it. Stephen, you’re my kind of guy!

And I am learning to appreciate coffee. I didn’t start until I was 33 years old. I’m 51 now, but I’ve made up for some lost time through the years. And I’m glad to know that you really appreciate the delights of coffee. Thank you for joining us today and welcome to the podcast.

And for those in our listening audience who may not be familiar with you and your work, we’d like to know you. So, tell us a little bit about your story.

Stephen: Sure. Yeah. Thank you so much for having me. I really appreciate the invitation. Speaking of coffee, I am drinking a nice Burundi this morning, which I’m enjoying quite a bit, so can definitely relate to the shared love of coffee. So yes, appreciate that.

But yeah, my background, I grew up in Columbus, Ohio. I still live here with my wife. I’ve traveled around a little bit, but I am a writer and theologian. I’ve written, like you said, several books now. The Plain English series, being the main one.

For me, I grew up Methodist and charismatic and really started to find a passion for theology as I discovered the doctrines of grace. And for me, that was a big revelation, a big moment of really falling in love with the experience that theology can bring you to the depths that it has. And that was coming from reading TF Torrance, Karl Barth, and just opening up this whole new world of intrigue and interest.

And yeah, I love theology. I love reading. I’m a big reading guy. My wife and I also like to travel and watch good movies, stuff like that. So, we do all of that, but yeah that’s me a little bit personally.

I still love doing theology. I’m always reading something new and considered it a great adventure. Yeah, I love it very much.

Anthony: Let me put you on a spot, Stephen. Two questions. One book recommendation, maybe something you’ve read recently? And then secondly, one locale, location you’ve traveled to with your wife that you’re like, man, if you haven’t been, you’ve got to go?

Stephen: It’s hard. We lived in Europe for a few years. I actually lived with her in Tallinn, Estonia, which is where she’s from. And if people haven’t heard of Estonia, it’s a very beautiful country. I would recommend visiting there and traveling there.

Their old town is one of the best preserved in Europe. So, if you’re into history, it’s a very beautiful place to be. The nature’s really great. I would definitely say that’s the place to go visit if you have the chance, off the beaten path. People don’t typically plan trips there, but it’s definitely worth it.

As far as book recommendations I have a lot. It’s hard to say. I’m always read new things.

I recently reread parts of Gustavo Gutierrez’s Theology of Liberation. I always recommend that one. That’s a great book. For many reasons, that one’s quite good.

I always can go with some of the classics, some of the ones that are closest to me as well, like something like, Dogmatics in Outline from Barth.

But that’s recently one that I reread and enjoyed quite a lot.

Anthony: Yeah. I hear you. And it sounds like you’re a bit like me. It’s not that you’re reading one book at a time. It’s multiple and I’m a slow reader, so it takes me a while to get through them.

Listen, Stephen, I sometimes hear Christians ask why we need to listen to or read theologians since we already have the Bible. You’ve written several books about theologians we admire on this podcast Barth, Torrance, Moltmann, to name a few. And of course, you’re a theologian yourself. So, what would you say to those who push back on the work of theology and theologians?

Stephen: Yeah. I’ve heard this phrase a lot. The idea that, oh, I don’t need theology; I just have Jesus.

It’s a phrase I’ve heard thrown around and especially, I think it’s an ironic phrase because I do think that being, doing theology is unavoidable. And theology is just our God talk. And Barth talks about that. How theology is for the church. It is a critical reflection for the speech of the church when it, when we speak of God.

And so, this phrase that, “Yeah, I don’t need theology. I just have Jesus,” in and of itself is a theological statement. Cause I always want to come back with people who say that and say which Jesus? The moment that you’re talking about this Jesus person that you’re saying that you have – which whatever that means, a dubious statement – I would say, to say that you have Jesus, but you’re already making a theological claim when you’re saying these things.

And so, the question isn’t doing theology or not. Everybody is having a theology. It’s whether or not you have a good theology. And that’s why it’s necessary to have critical reflection on what it is to speak of God and why people like Barth are important.

Because what typically happens – Barth has this great kind of turn of phrase, where he talks about – he’s critiquing SLI marker. (I’ve written before where I think he’s maybe not doing the best job of critiquing SLI marker, but he’s critiquing S marker.)

And he says, “That one cannot speak of God by speaking of man in a loud voice.” And I think that’s such a great phrase because that’s a tendency that is very easy to fall back into, where if we just don’t critically examine what it means to speak of God, we’re going to just be talking about ourselves. And we’re going to be amplifying what it is to be human and think that’s what God is like. Or we’re going to project our own fears, our hopes, our own insecurities up into the heavens and we’re going to call it God.

And so critical reflection on theology is essential for understanding God’s revelation in Jesus Christ. It’s essential for proclaiming the gospel. And so, it’s unavoidable to do theology. Everybody’s doing it, like I said.

And then really the other point is that not everyone’s doing it well. And the existential side of it as well is that one of my favorite definitions of theology is from Anselm – and others have said it as well, of course – but he defined theology as faith seeking understanding. So, the moment that, you’re talking about faith and that you have faith, you are doing a theological act and it is a natural thing to pursue the understanding of faith.

And so, I think it’s unavoidable, and I think it’s just a part of what it is to be a people of faith in a community that’s trying to all speak of God. It’s necessary to have this critical reflection. And so, theology for me is an adventure in that sense.

I do think that there’s a Latin phrase [unintelligible], which means theology of pilgrims. And I think that’s an apt description of how I think about theology as well. Nobody’s arrived at perfect theology. And I think that’s some of the pushback people have with theologians. They see them as these kind of, snobby white, old guys telling you what to think about God.

And that’s not what it is. That’s not been my experience. Maybe you’re reading the wrong theologians, but it really is an adventure of discovery. It’s an adventure with God that he can take you on with, the help with other theologians. But really, it is this adventure and it’s a pilgrim – we’re always theologians still on the way.

I think for the rest of my life, I’ll be pursuing that question of what it means to speak of God. And I think that’s the task of theology, that any person of faith is going to still go on. And so, I do think that there’s a bit of that humility that comes into it, that sometimes is lacking for theologians.

Someone like Karl Bart, that was writing enormous amounts of work and still wasn’t able to finish it and still felt like there was still more to be said. It’s, I think, a good example of what a healthy theological approach is. And this is pursuit I think is beautiful and it’s essential to what it looks like to live out our faith in a practical way and to critically reflect on speaking of God.

Anthony: That’s well said, and I appreciate how you came at it from a posture of humility that there’s no perfect theology, no theology that is airtight, that has all the answers. And that’s why I appreciate what Barth said that no active man can claim to be more than an attempt, not even science. And theology, even though it’s the sweetest of sciences, it’s still just an attempt to talk about this God. Capon says, to try to describe God is like throwing analogies at a mystery. You just attempt. That’s all you can do.

Friends, it’s that time! Here are the four bible passages we are going to discuss:

Luke 20:27-38                                                                                              The God of the Living

Luke 21:5-19                                                                                                Opportunity to Testify

Luke 23:33-43                                                                                              Father, Forgive Them

Matthew 24:36-44                                                                                      Stay Alert!

The first passage of the month is Luke 20:27 – 38 from the Common English Bible. It is the Revised Common Lectionary passage for Proper 27, that is November the 6th.

27 Some Sadducees, who deny that there’s a resurrection, came to Jesus and asked, 28 “Teacher, Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies leaving a widow but no children, the brother must marry the widow and raise up children for his brother29 Now there were seven brothers. The first man married a woman and then died childless. 30 The second 31 and then the third brother married her. Eventually all seven married her, and they all died without leaving any children. 32 Finally, the woman died too. 33 In the resurrection, whose wife will she be? All seven were married to her.” 34 Jesus said to them, “People who belong to this age marry and are given in marriage. 35 But those who are considered worthy to participate in that age, that is, in the age of the resurrection from the dead, won’t marry nor will they be given in marriage. 36 They can no longer die, because they are like angels and are God’s children since they share in the resurrection. 37 Even Moses demonstrated that the dead are raised—in the passage about the burning bush, when he speaks of the Lord as the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. 38 He isn’t the God of the dead but of the living. To him they are all alive.”

Stephen, like the Sadducees, many people today deny that there is resurrection. Why does a sound eschatology, including the resurrection of the dead matter? And how should it impact our lives?

Stephen: Yeah. The resurrection’s the most radical claim of the Christian faith. I believe it’s such a –hope against hope is a phrase Moltmann uses to talk about eschatology. This eschatological coming of God is such a profound hope, that really it either doesn’t mean anything or it means everything. And I think it’s the latter.

And I think having this hope, having this faith in the resurrection of the dead is so important, not only for our lives here, but really for our engagement with the world. I think Moltmann’s theology of hope is something I immediately come to with a lot of this, where he stresses that from the beginning. Eschatology isn’t just a part of faith, but it really is the essence of what it is to be a Christian today — is to yearn and to hope for the coming of God in a profound way.

And yeah, the resurrection, that is such a radical part of our faith and it’s sometimes difficult. And so, I sympathize with the people that struggle with the resurrection. I think it is a hope beyond hope.

It’s something that transcends, it’s not something I would think of for myself, if I’m just relying back on myself. But that’s the reality of what faith is – it’s being pulled and compelled by something bigger than myself. And it very much matters for our daily lives.

I think hope for the future challenges our engagement with the world today. Moltmann talks about how this hope puts us in conflict with the present because we hope for the kingdom that’s to come, the justice that will be established through the reign of God.

We’re put into conflict with the situations of this world that contradict that, that aren’t kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven. And so that prayer that Jesus taught us to pray is so essential for this. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven, is really the orientation for much of what we do and how we engage with the world.

And so, it’s essential to be able to have this hope, not only on a personal level, but on a church level where we feel we’re not going to hide away from the world. We do believe that this world will be a part of the resurrection and the resurrection that comes, the new heaven and the new earth.

And so, I think sometimes eschatology can have a negative spin where we’re just escapists. We’re just hoping that, oh, everything’s going to burn and we’re just going to escape on the spaceship or whatever. And it’s very anti-human.

But I think there’s a way to believe in the resurrection of the dead that is very humane. And it brings us back to the hope that we have for this world and the hope that we have for the people in our lives and pushes us out into the world and out of our safe little Christian bubbles into, what does it look like to proclaim kingdom come in this situation?

And these sorts of social situations – political, whatever it may be – and impacting not only our lives and how we hope but giving us the courage to proclaim that kingdom anew and proclaim the fruit of Jesus’ words.

Anthony: Hope against hope. That’s well stated, when we come to scripture, Stephen it’s so important that Jesus is our hermeneutical principle, the lens in which we read, but often we’re reading through our fallen minds, and we need to recognize that. So, with that in mind, I want to ask you the next question in this passage.

It says, those who are considered worthy to participate in that age. Who are those people that Jesus describes in verse 30?

Stephen: Yeah. Like you said, any text, I think takes a bit of critical thought to analyze. And I think it’s important for something like this to step back and ask, who even are the Sadducees? Who’s Jesus responding to and could Bible [unintelligible] tell you that Sadducees are the elite class within Jewish society?

They were the privileged, landed, powerful, and rich of the time. And so, I think that helps contextualize this a little bit because a big motif of Luke’s Gospel is this critique of the powers that be, as you might say.

And so I think “those worthy to participate in the age,” it sets up this dialectic between those who have a hope in the material things of this world, that are fixated on these, as you said, human mindsets, fallen mindsets, and those who are anticipating and living in the kingdom that is to come and is still present in us through the Spirit, yet we still yearn for its full consummation in the coming of Christ.

And so, I think, the phrase (who are those who are worthy or considered worthy to participate in that age?) does reflect this sense of being those who anticipate in hope the resurrection and are obviously in Christ – is the key to, I think, understanding this. Like you said, Jesus is always going to be our hermeneutic lens.

But I think it does set up this distinction between those who have their hope in the powers of this world, the systems of this world, the riches of this world and those who have their hope in the kingdom that is to come. And so “the worthy to participate in that age” are those who that, that is where their hope lies.

That is, they are in Christ, in that sense, not just in this positional sense. Not just in this sense of being united to Christ, as we believe all Christians are. But in the sense of, I’ve actively put my hope into this coming of God and that’s my foundation.

And setting up this distinction, like I said, of, where is my faith? Where’s my hope? It’s not in mammon, it’s not the systems of this world, but it’s in the coming of God, the coming of justice in the coming of his reign.

Anthony: Verse 38 states, God is the God of the living and to him all are alive. What should we make of that statement?

Stephen: Yeah. God is living, and God is the one in whom all things have their being. And so even those who have passed have passed in Christ. And Christ is the resurrection and the life.

And I think that God, isn’t someone who I think, accepts the deadness that is in us, but is always calling us to life because that’s who God is. I think that “all those who are live in Christ,” I think is the cord in that. That the resurrection is the new creation of all things that begins in him. And being in Christ is life and being outside of Christ is not.

And so, I think that’s potentially one way to understand it, theologically. But yeah.

Anthony: Let’s transition to our next pericope which is Luke 21:5 – 19. It is the Revised Common Lectionary passage for Proper 28, which is November the 13th.

Stephen, would you read it for us please?

Stephen: Sure.

Some people were talking about the temple, how it was decorated with beautiful stones and ornaments dedicated to God. Jesus said, “As for the things you are admiring, the time is coming when not even one stone will be left upon another. All will be demolished.” They asked him, “Teacher, when will these things happen? What sign will show that these things are about to happen?” Jesus said, “Watch out that you aren’t deceived. Many will come in my name, saying, ‘I’m the one!’ and ‘It’s time!’ Don’t follow them. When you hear of wars and rebellions, don’t be alarmed. These things must happen first, but the end won’t happen immediately.” 10 Then Jesus said to them, “Nations and kingdoms will fight against each other. 11 There will be great earthquakes and wide-scale food shortages and epidemics. There will also be terrifying sights and great signs in the sky. 12 But before all this occurs, they will take you into custody and harass you because of your faith. They will hand you over to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors because of my name. 13 This will provide you with an opportunity to testify. 14 Make up your minds not to prepare your defense in advance. 15 I’ll give you words and wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to counter or contradict. 16 You will be betrayed by your parents, brothers and sisters, relatives, and friends. They will execute some of you. 17 Everyone will hate you because of my name. 18 Still, not a hair on your heads will be lost. 19 By holding fast, you will gain your lives.

Anthony: I don’t know about you, Stephen, but when somebody tells me not to be alarmed, guess what happens?

I immediately get alarmed, right? And Jesus tells us not to be alarmed when we hear of wars and rebellions. And he goes on to say, there will be earthquakes, food, shortages, and epidemics. This sounds very real and scary and relevant to us in 2022.

So, what should we make of it? And those who cry out, “these are the end time signs”?

Stephen: Yeah, very much so. I think the tendency to look at all of these and immediately cry out, “all last days, end of times” misses the point. Like you said, it misses the point of, do not have this fear. Do not have be alarmed by this. Because it sets people into this fear mentality of oh, but we should be afraid. It does the exact opposite of what Christ is saying.

I think you can look at the text a couple different ways. I think one would be to analyze it historically and recognize the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD being a big part of this passage. Potentially that it was a word of courage to those who would go through that.

But it does give witness to us today who will have these struggles. And I think as I look over the passage, rethinking about it, the big impression that I think is meant through it is really the courage that comes from being in Christ during these times and having the Spirit with us as that comfort and wisdom, and to know what to say in the right times.

I think looking in these passages for some sort of secret clue to when everything’s going to end or whatever – the end times fanaticism, I guess you could say, is missing the point. I think the emphasis of this is really that Christ will be with us even in the most tumultuous of situations socially and in the world.

But that not a hair on your heads will be lost. Even that it’s very interesting that phrase comes shortly after he says they will execute some of you, still not a hair in your head will be lost. And you’re like which is it?

And we’re like, in Christ, we are safe and comforted in him. Even if we die, in his death, we join him in death, but that’s the hope of being raised in new life with him as well. And it’s a very interesting parallel there.

But like I said, I think the main part of this is really just the comfort and hope that comes even in the midst of suffering and turmoil and trials and all these things. And the emphasis for this passage for me is that we find this hope because we are in Christ and not to be fixated on the things that happen or to be fixated on Christ.

Anthony: Right on. And you mentioned courage and according to our Lord, being harassed for our faith is an opportunity to testify or to speak courageously. But testify to what exactly, Stephen?

Stephen: Yeah. Testify to Christ and that he has overcome the world through his death and resurrection. He’s taken upon himself the suffering and the sin of human beings and has done away with it in his death and put it aside. And in the resurrection, there is hope for the new creation of all things.

And so, we testify to that by being able to not be overcome by the situations of the world. But to recognize that they have been overcome themself by Christ.

And we testify to the resurrection – we were just talking about the resurrection and that’s a big part of what we testify. But it’s not just a resurrection. It’s the resurrection of Christ which we take part in. Through the scriptures, through baptism as the sign of that, we were brought down in his death so that we’ll be raised in the new life in him.

And yeah, we’re testifying to that hope that’s within us to being able to have the courage to face these trials with hope, with joy even because of what Christ has done for us. And our hope of being in him. And I think that’s such a key phrase for the whole of the New Testament as well is (especially Paul’s letters) that we are in him and in Christ.

Those two phrases and that’s what we’re testifying to is our safety and our protection that our lives, ultimately aren’t ours to be worried about, but they’re God’s and they’re in his hands. And I think that’s a beautiful thing that we’re witnessing to. And it’s the source of our hope and our courage.

Anthony: Yeah, you mentioned that this should lead to joy. And I don’t know if it was Barth or maybe it was Eugene Peterson talked about how theology should lead to doxology. The work of coming to scriptures and reading a passage like this, even with all that surrounds us and the circumstances of this world, Jesus has overcome it. So, we rejoice! That is the response to such good news.

And while we do this work of theology, let me ask you this. What do you think it means that we’ll gain our lives by holding fast? What is that?

Stephen: A big question – if we go back a bit to ancient philosophy and Plato and Socrates and all these – was the question of, what is the good life?

And so, I think the question of what life is, is one thing. There’s the scientific fact of life, being alive, but then there’s that deeper question of, what it is to live? And I think really the Christian answer to this is quite direct: that to live is to be in Christ.

And to have this fellowship with God is what truly is life. And so, I think this phrase can be interpreted by this. The scriptures typically hold together this kind of two-foot understanding of life. There is a life of the current age which is fading away and is dying.

And then there’s the life and the age to come which is the true life, the life of participation in the fellowship of God, of Father, Son, Holy Spirit, and being lifted up into that life, the very source of life itself. And so, I think that’s how we can understand this phrase, that we gain our lives by holding fast.

Because what is it really worth to hold on so tightly to a life that’s rooted in the present age, that’s rooted in the things that are falling away? That’s rooted in the old man, the old Adam, whatever phrase or metaphor we want to use? What is that really worth if in trying to white knuckle, grasp the things that we consider valuable for this age, if we don’t recognize that the true life is the life of being one with Christ, participating in his fellowship with the Father and the Spirit?

And that’s what it is. We gain our lives by holding fast. Because we may lose our life in this age by doing so, but we gain the life that is truly life, the life that is actually the good life. And I think that answers that philosophical question: what is the good life?

The good life for a Christian is fellowship with God, is life in Christ, in participation, in the triune life of God. Life without God is just incomplete. It’s not that true life. It’s not that good life. And it’s seems paradoxical to make this claim that even in death, even in suffering and struggling, that we would find actually what the good life is.

But it’s a big, I think, motif for the scripture is that we hold onto the life that is to come.

Anthony: I like the illustration of white knuckling it. And I’ve got my hand in a fist right now and my knuckles are white. And I’m just thinking about what it looks like to try to hold on to the things that are not eternal, the things of this life that will fade away.

And when my fist is closed, I’m not able to receive, in a sense what God wants to so generously give to me. And I open up my hand and to me, that’s a metaphor of what it looks like in the Christian life. And that is, I can’t bring anything to God’s table. He has accomplished it in Jesus Christ and all I can do is receive. But that is active participation, receiving the good things that God has in store.

So, I appreciate that word.

Let’s transition on to our next pericope, which is Luke 23:33 – 43. It is a Revised Common Lectionary passage for Proper 29, which is on November the 20th.

33 When they arrived at the place called The Skull, they crucified him, along with the criminals, one on his right and the other on his left. 34 Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they’re doing.” They drew lots as a way of dividing up his clothing. 35 The people were standing around watching, but the leaders sneered at him, saying, “He saved others. Let him save himself if he really is the Christ sent from God, the chosen one.” 36 The soldiers also mocked him. They came up to him, offering him sour wine 37 and saying, “If you really are the king of the Jews, save yourself.” 38 Above his head was a notice of the formal charge against him. It read “This is the king of the Jews.” 39 One of the criminals hanging next to Jesus insulted him: “Aren’t you the Christ? Save yourself and us!” 40 Responding, the other criminal spoke harshly to him, “Don’t you fear God, seeing that you’ve also been sentenced to die? 41 We are rightly condemned, for we are receiving the appropriate sentence for what we did. But this man has done nothing wrong.” 42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” 43 Jesus replied, “I assure you that today you will be with me in paradise.”

Father, forgive them for they don’t know what they’re doing. I think it’s impossible to comprehend the magnitude of this statement. All we can do is try to apprehend it. So, I want to give you an opportunity to help us apprehend the reality contained within. What say you?

Stephen: It’s certainly one of the most beautiful and challenging statements in the New Testament, in terms of how it just really hits home. It hits us right in our heart.

And I think when I hear this, I typically think of how Barth understood the doctrine of sin and what even sin is. And I think he got it right when he said that we don’t even know the depth of our sin without first knowing the depth of Christ reconciliation, and that we have to begin with Christ.

And so, what sin is, what it is that we even need forgiven from, we don’t truly know it until we know it in the light of reconciliation. And so, I think Barth uses that to create this beautiful concept — he starts off with the humiliation of the Son of God, that God became humble and became a human being so that the human beings who try to become God see what it is to truly be human and all of these different things.

But I think that just helps us think about this in a different way where we truly don’t know sin. I think we’re very quick to label things in all of this, but I think we don’t know it in the sense where we don’t know the depth of how much it hurts, not only us, how much it hurts our society and the people we love. But how much it grieves God, most of all.

And so not knowing what we’re doing when we do these things is just what it is to be human. But I think we have a sense not only of what those things are, but more importantly, we know them truly as we are forgiven of them. And that’s the beauty of the gospel is that even the things that we don’t know that we’ve done, the sin that we are scarred by is healed and is reconciled in the power of Christ and of his death and resurrection and his life lived on our behalf.

It’s such a mystery as well. I don’t want to ever try to remove the mystery from scripture or from the beauty of what Christ has done for us. Because there is still mystery in this and there is still a sense of awe that we should always have for this.

And I think that’s the first impression that I have, and I would want to impress on everyone listening, is that this is a beautiful phrase, but it’s a terrifying and awe-inspiring phrase. And that we are forgiven in spite of not knowing what we do and the person on the cross with them received this promise of being with them today in paradise and how paradoxical that even feels.

But it really strikes to the core for me of what it is to reconcile to God. It’s not something that we do. It’s purely a gift of grace and how wonderful that is. It just really gets to the heart of how beautiful the gospel can be and how inspiring it is for us. And how challenging as well it can be for us.

Anthony: Yeah. You spoke of the mystery of this beauty. Let’s press in there a little bit more because the criminal asked Jesus to remember him when he comes into his kingdom. It just strikes me, isn’t this really the cry for all of humanity, whether we know it or not? And so, where is the hope for that criminal and all the rest of us criminals out here trying to do this thing called life.

Stephen: Yeah, that really hits it on the head. That is all of us. That’s our cry as human beings, that’s what we cry out.

The cross is such a – not only in this passage, in all the other words of Christ and the cross and the witness to that in scripture – is such a beautiful account of this sense of people crying out and having this, “my God, you forsaken me” for example, being one. And that sense of trust, “into your hands, I commend my spirit.”

All of these, I think have a reflection in what it is to be human. And I think it just is such a beautiful portrait of not only who we are, but really the depths of how far Christ went into our humanity and into the darkness of our fallenness and really met us in our rawness, in our in our ignorance and in our sin and in our evil and met us really at the depths of that.

Calvin has a great phrase where “he became bone of our bone and flesh of our flesh.” He truly met us where we are. And yeah, certainly a cry that is mimicked and echoed within humanity.

And I think the remembrance of God is the hope that we have that Christ does hold us in the remembrance. And I think there’s something really beautiful that I was reading recently about how in the Hebrew scriptures, the act of remembrance is such an important priority. Today, we overlook that. We just think, oh, just memory, it’s just something you have. It’s almost an object.

But, for them, remembering an event that took place was almost an act of remixing it and reliving it. And the remembrance of what God had done — particularly like in the Exodus or in other events of God’s acts in history with Israel — remembering it was almost as important as the actual event itself. The beginning of the 10 commandments states that, “I’m the Lord, your God who liberated you from the Egyptian captivity.” And then the commandments come.

And so, there’s this sense where remembrance has more of a power to it than just, oh remember me, remember that I exist factually, remember who I am. But it’s actually this sense of remember me and being revived and being in that remembrance.

And I think there’s a lot more to this than typically gets understood of just oh, remember me in your book, check me off on the list or whatever. The remembrance is this act of recalling and almost to some extent, more vital than just the factual checking of the box for us.

It’s a big source, a great source of hope for us that we will be remembered in Christ and that he not only has our name, one among billions, but that truly remembers who we are and that remembrance brings us back to back to him. And it foreshadows and points to the resurrection that’s the great remembrance that in Christ we are raised again to new life.

And the kingdom that is to come is that kingdom of new life. And yeah, it’s a very pregnant phrase for sure.

Anthony: Yes. Pregnant, indeed. The word even, remember – there’s so much you can unpack there with the resurrection and the way that Jesus and his Father. Remember us in the triune life. What a beautiful thing.

Now you mentioned the statement that Jesus made, why have you forsaken me? And I’d like to scratch that itch just a little bit more, if I may. Anything that you want to say about some of the atonement theories out there?

Just to let you in on some insight on the way I think. Things like punitive theories, like penal substitution, substitutionary atonement, has done a lot of damage in terms of the way that we see the relationship, the triune relationship of Father, Son, and Spirit, revealed at the cross.

Anything that you want to say about that?

Stephen: Yeah. I have a lot of thoughts on this. I think we could derail the whole full show.

But I definitely agree. I think penal substitution to is one of those things that for me, an early joy in discovery for theology was just the reality that’s not the only way of looking at the cross.

And I think tearing down some of those presuppositions that come with it, the idea of God being this angry father and then Jesus just being the nice guy that steps in takes the blow, the whole narrative of that. And so yeah, there’s a lot of ways where that divides the Trinity itself. Like you said, that’s extremely problematic.

I’ll throw a little plug in. I did do a long video series on penal substitution on my YouTube channel. That’s a good, I think, primer into some of these questions and how they can be addressed.

But yeah, I do think, like you said, the [statement] “my God, why you forsaken me?” I think the first way that I understand it is really it proclaims the depth of how far Christ went into our fallen mind, into our fallen situation. And that he truly touched the depths of what it is to feel forsaken.

Now did the father actually forsake the son? I don’t think that’s possible. The father and the Son are one. Even Jesus said a few verses before that everyone else will abandon me, but my father will be with me. And I think that’s confirmed with the word that “into your spirit or into your hands, I commend my spirit,” at the conclusion of that. And yeah, there’s a lot there.

Reflecting back on how it ties back into Psalms 22 – which is what Christ is actually quoting with this phrase – the end of that Psalm, ends in this triumphant realization that God did not abandon, did not forsake his servant; and so, there’s that aspect as well. Taking just that verse by itself without recognizing the context to it, and the fact that he was declaring something that had a very profound meaning to the listeners who would’ve known instantly, oh, I know that song. I know the way that ends and it’s not this hopeless, pitiful situation.

But it truly is one where even in that depth of feeling so god-forsaken, God has entered into that god-forsakenness and made it his own. And in that sense, redeemed it and found us even in that depth where even if I make my bed in hell, you were there.

And so that’s a beautiful insight too. Where even in the most pitiful in the depth of despair that we can find ourselves in, Christ has even penetrated into that depth and met us there and comforted us in that moment and brought us to a new life as a result.

Anthony: Hallelujah. Praise God.

Stephen, let’s move on to our final pericope of the month. It’s Matthew 24:36 – 44. It is a Revised Common Lectionary passage for Advent 1 on November the 27th. Please read it for us.

Stephen: Sure.

36 “But nobody knows when that day or hour will come, not the heavenly angels and not the Son. Only the Father knows. 37 As it was in the time of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Human One.  38 In those days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark. 39 They didn’t know what was happening until the flood came and swept them all away. The coming of the Human One will be like that. 40 At that time there will be two men in the field. One will be taken and the other left. 41 Two women will be grinding at the mill. One will be taken and the other left. 42 Therefore, stay alert! You don’t know what day the Lord is coming. 43 But you understand that if the head of the house knew at what time the thief would come, he would keep alert and wouldn’t allow the thief to break into his house. 44 Therefore, you also should be prepared, because the Human One will come at a time you don’t know.

Anthony: Jesus said, Stephen, that nobody knows when the day or hour will come for his appearance, only the Father knows. So, tell me this. Why do so many groups get swept up in prediction addiction, trying over and over again, wrongly by the way, to proclaim Christ coming?

Stephen: I like that phrase prediction addiction. That’s an apt phrase. Yeah. I have personal experience with this. I grew up in a situation where that was pretty normal, to predict every big news event that happened, that was the was the line. Oh, this is a sign it’s going to happen this month. Or, the blood moon’s coming in, that’s the reason or whatever the prediction’s going to be.

And I grew up somewhat of a situation like that, and I think I also can speak to the scars that it leaves the kind of, almost celebration of devastation.

And I think that’s a big part of it that’s troubling to me now. Just how much it’s — you almost have this eager anticipation to see destruction happened because then that confirms Christ coming or whatever else. And yeah, it is very clear that nobody knows the time and the hour when Christ is going to come again.

And I think that there’s the dual sense of always being prepared, and this being in anticipation for Christ coming. I do think this prediction addiction — I think I’m going to keep that and use that for it, the phrase. It is a sense of our tendency to prefer escapism to the actual work of the gospel, where it’s easier for us to just say it’s going to all end, so why put in the effort to love our neighbor.

Why put in the effort to build a better world for the poor and for the lost and for the broken when it’s all just going to go up in flames. It’s an escape in that sense. It’s a cop out for the work that we’re called to do because you get hung up on these things and you get fixated on reading the times.

And what is Israel doing this month? That must be a sign, or what is this country doing this month? Or all that was a sign of this. And it really becomes almost an excuse just to occupy our mind with something else other than — as humans we are very much prone to extrapolating from incomplete data, some sort of grand mystery.

I think that’s the root of a lot of conspiracy theories. They talk about how when we look up at the stars, they’re just a bunch of dots, but what do we see? We see connection points between all of them. And so, I think we are wired to look for these connections, but at the same time, it can be that wiring can be turned back and against us and harm us where we are constantly searching for all these signs and constantly searching for this stuff.

We’re so fixated on some hidden mystery that we think we can solve. And we overlook the things that are clear and direct in the scripture. If you feed the hungry, you’re feeding Christ. If you clothe the naked, you’re giving clothes to Christ. And those commands, you don’t need months and months of study to understand what they mean. If you care for the least of these, you’ve cared for Christ.

And so, I think it is a tendency that is very problematic and very troubling, and whatever the cause I think there’s personal individuals will have different reasons for the cause. I think for me it was just a part of my upbringing. And it was a little bit fun. It added some sense of oh, I’m in on the secret kind of deal.

And I think the secret is not so exclusionary. It’s not devastating for other people. I think the secret is that God loves us and calls us to love our neighbor. And sometimes the simple things are — we have to think of something more complex to entertain ourselves, but that’s really just a distraction from doing the work that we’re called to do. And that’s why I think at the bottom, it really is this sense of desiring escape instead of taking ownership over what we’ve been called to do.

Anthony: Yes. Yes. I hear you. And I say, amen. You can keep prediction addiction. If I can use celebration of devastation, because that, to me, that’s a smoke screen. It’s a way for people to hide and not to engage. Like you said, whether it’s neighbor, justice issues, whatever the case may be. It is certainly not a — I don’t think — a faithful expression of the gospel and it’s not in fidelity with the Scriptures.

Some use this particular passage to construct a doctrine of rapture. And I’m just wondering, Stephen, from your perspective, will some be taken while others are left behind what’s going on?

Stephen: No, I, as again I was taught the rapture as some sort of fact that, I just don’t think the Scriptures have actual a concept of and it again is, an escapist mentality and a little bit sci-fi. It scratches that itch for some science fiction and, they made those movies however long [ago]. Those were part of my upbringing, the whole Left Behind movies.

And it does psychologically give us a sense of feeling important in elevation above other people. That we’re the ones that are going to be taken. And, oh, you’re just going to be left behind and you’ll see, you’re going to struggle.

And instead of, like I said, taking the ownership of doing the gospel work here and now you just anticipate leaving it all behind and being able to — it almost gives justification and permission to indifference and to apathy for suffering.

And almost gives you the permission to see people as enemies that you’re allowed to hate. Instead of as people that you’re called to love. And if there’s these people that are going to be left behind and you’re the chosen one, then you’re justified theologically in excluding them.

And you’re justified theologically in hating them and considering them less than. And it really puts that calling off yourself to do the kingdom work and to love those people. But it lets you demonize them. And yeah, there’s a lot I can say about this.

I did do a book at one point on the rapture that I’ve since pulled it off circulation just for various reasons, but I do still think that it’s a really problematic doctrine. I think scripturally there’s really no genuine justification for it. It is a kind of a modern concept. I think a lot of people don’t really understand that it’s something that really wasn’t on anybody’s radar until maybe the last few hundred years.

I think John Darby was the first one to propose it as an idea, and it really took off from the popularity of his commentary. And so, it’s a newer idea. Most of the church fathers had no concept to this. And it’s something I think has had a devastating effect on the Christian Church and on our witness.

And theologically, what does it say about God that God would abandon these people? That God would almost take joy in their destruction, in their fate? And I think one of the beautiful things about Barth’s theology especially is (I come back to) he makes such a point where, God does not will to be God without us.

And that’s the heart of God for the human race, not to leave us behind, not to celebrate destroying many of them. But that God does not define himself as the one who chooses not to be without us. God doesn’t need us. Obviously, God doesn’t need us. He’s not dependent upon us, but out of this greatness of God’s love, God chooses not to be God without us.

And that’s what the incarnation is, that now and forever within the triune life, there is a human being. Jesus Christ who bears the scars of our existence. And that’s the profoundness of God’s dedication to us.

And so, it [the concept of the rapture] completely denies that message and flips it on its head and said that, yeah, it’s for some people, but not for everybody else. That God’s perfectly happy just getting rid of these people and leaving them behind. And I think that just contradicts who God is.

So yeah, there’s a lot there. I’m very much think the rapture is one of those doctrines that has just kept around more because of how it fits already with our own thinking.

It’s not baptized thinking, I guess you could say. It’s not a way of thinking that corresponds to the greatness of God’s love and kindness. It’s something that fits very well within our own fallen approach to the world. And so, I think that’s the reason why it’s persisted for so long, I would say is because it isn’t something that challenges us necessarily to be more Christlike.

If anything, it pulls us away from that. And so, it’s an easy doctrine to accept because it speaks that we’re special. These other people aren’t, and it speaks to this very, like I said, exclusionist — it justifies hatred and all these things I’ve said. And so, I think it’s such an interesting belief that’s persisted.

And I understand that many people still do accept it, but I think I would challenge those people, scripturally and historically and theologically, to really question this. That’s not the way of thinking that Christ has called us to. Being renewed by our mind, doesn’t lead to this sort of approach.

And so that’s one thing for me growing up, it was one of those doctrines that has had a psychological effect more than it had a biblical or a scripture or a theological route. And so, returning to those, I think that can help relieve the doctrine itself.

Anthony: Yeah, well said. It’s rooted in fear. And James Cone wrote that if we cannot recognize the truth, then it cannot liberate us from untruth. And of course, the context in which he’s writing it is different, but I think it can be applied here. That we just can’t see it. And we have to first look at Jesus who is the embodiment and the fullness and totality of truth. And this just doesn’t align with who he’s revealed the Father to be.

Stephen, I’m so grateful for you saying yes to the invitation to be a guest here on Gospel Reverb. It’s been a delight to talk with you and to hear your insights. I think this is going to be a rich blessing to our listening audience. And certainly, we hope that the Father, Son, and Spirit continue to bless you to encourage you, to give you insight as you continue to write and speak that all would come to the knowledge that the truth revealed in Jesus Christ.

As is our tradition here on Gospel Reverb, we’d like to close with prayer. So, if you would be willing, would you please just say a closing prayer over our listening audience and the work of the Spirit in their lives.

Stephen: Yeah, absolutely. But yeah, I just say thanks again to you and appreciate it.

Yeah, happy to pray. We’ve talked about hope in the resurrection and the kingdom a lot, so I think can’t go wrong with the Lord’s Prayer. It’s really the center for me of what it is to pray. And so, I’ll conclude with that.

Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.


Thank you for being a guest of Gospel Reverb. If you like what you heard, give us a high rating and review us on iTunes, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcast content. Share this episode with a friend. It really does help us get the word out as we are just getting started. Join us next month for a new show and insights from the RCL.  Until then, peace be with you!

Love in Action – Inclusion & Belonging w/ Elizabeth Mullins

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In this episode, Cara Garrity, interviews Elizabeth Mullins, GCI Publications Coordinator and Update Editor. Together they discuss why the love of Christ compels us to create inclusive communities.

“We can make sure that we have representation in our images. We can make sure we have a wheelchair ramp, that we are using microphones for hearing impairment. We can do a lot of things to be welcoming in our gathering, just kind of surface welcoming. But I really think that the healing that we’re promised and that we can participate in, it comes from these deep connections that we make — the way that we bear the image of God to one another and the way that we reflect his acceptance and his love. I think you could actually have a lot of concrete things in place and have somebody attend and still not feel seen or feel connection.”

Elizabeth Mullins, GCI Publications Coordinator and Update Editor

Main Points:

  • What does creating an inclusive community have to do with the ministry of the Love Avenue? 3:15
  • What are some characteristics of inclusivity? 6:32
  • What mindsets, habits, etc. are we invited to surrender to God as we learn to be a more inclusive community? 16:42
  • What are some ways that you’ve had to learn to be more inclusive as a ministry leader? 24:29
  • How are you learning to share your journey of inclusion with the gathering church community? 31:31
  • What are some challenges of an inclusive community?  44:04 What are the risks of exclusivity? 46:51
  • What are some examples of ways that gathering church can remove barriers to becoming more inclusive? 50:47

Resources:

  • Accessibility – best practices and reflective questions to consider your congregation’s accessibility.
  • A Welcoming Church – a Church Hack shares best practices for developing welcoming Hope, Faith, and Love Avenues.
  • Welcoming a New Person – a Church Hack with practical and applicable ways to welcome new people to your church.
  • Know Yourself to Lead YourselfAn Equipper article on the self-awareness tool by GiANT Worldwide.

Follow us on Spotify, Google Podcast, and Apple Podcasts.

Program Transcript


Love in Action – Inclusion & Belonging w/ Elizabeth Mullins

Welcome to the GC Podcast, a podcast to help you develop into the healthiest ministry leader you can be by sharing practical ministry experience. Here are your hosts, Cara Garrity and Charissa Panuve.

Cara: Hello everyone, and welcome to GC Podcast. I am so happy to introduce you to my co-host for this quarter, Charissa Panuve. Charissa is a GCI member in the Fiji church, and she’s currently based in Thailand because she is a swimmer, and she is full time training for the Olympics while in Thailand. So, she is awesome in that way. And in her GCI congregation, she enjoys youth get-togethers, fellowshipping within the church and sharing with each other both joys as well as burdens.

I’m so happy, Charissa, to welcome you as my co-host on the podcast for this quarter. Thank you so much for being here with us.

Charissa: Hi everyone. And hi, Cara.  So grateful for the opportunity to be here and co-host alongside you. I’m so excited to get into it.

Cara: Absolutely. So why don’t we just jump on in then. In this episode for today, we’re going to be exploring, with Elizabeth Mullins, our guests, what role inclusion and belonging plays in the mission and witness of the Love Avenue.

So, Charissa, when you think about belonging, what comes to mind for you?

Charissa: Hmm, well, I feel like belonging is about comfortability and inclusion. And there are different factors that come to play to feel that, or feel those things, which are attitude of people around you and the environment you’re in. To me, I feel that actions speak louder than words.

So actively being there for people and their needs, I think helps them feel included. And just when you’re not feeling like you’re being judged, you feel comfortable. And I think that helps you feel like you belong.

Cara: Yeah. I really like that point that you make that actions are louder than words when it comes to belonging. So, thank you for sharing that. Let’s go ahead and listen to what Elizabeth Mullins has to share in our interview.


Cara: Hello friends and welcome to today’s episode of GC Podcast. This podcast is devoted to exploring best ministry practices in the context of Grace Communion International churches. I’m your host Cara Garrity. And today I am overjoyed to interview Elizabeth Mullins, who is a GCI elder, and works with the media team as Publications Coordinator.

Thank you so much for being here with us today, Elizabeth.

Elizabeth: Oh, thanks for having me. I’m pretty fond of you. So, this is going to be fun!

Cara: Oh, it is going to be a lot of fun and especially today, we’re going to be exploring what inclusion and belonging have to do with the ministry of the Love Avenue. And so, I’m really excited for that.

So, let’s just jump right on in and start there. What does creating an inclusive community have to do with the ministry of the Love Avenue?

Elizabeth: Everything. Right? Our desire [is] for others to experience belonging with us, particularly in the Love Avenue — so ultimately Jesus is the one making the invitation and he’s invited all. So that’s why inclusion matters. Are we done? Is this shortest podcast ever?

Cara: We could be done right there.

Elizabeth: That’s a lot but seriously, what are we even talking about when we say the word inclusion? I think in GCI, we have this good practice of walking the what question back to the who question. So, who are people included into? We’re included into the life of the triune God.

And I know that our listeners know this; I believe that we believe this. So, then the question becomes, how do we reflect that? How can I welcome in new people? How can I gather with new people whose lived experiences might not look anything like my own and still communicate to that person that you belong, and you’re called into the body. And what in the world does that even look like?

Cara, when you ask me to do this podcast I had doubts, and I told you, I’m not an expert. But I do look forward to wrestling with this topic with you today. I feel like I have more questions about inclusion than I have answers, but if this conversation increases our awe and wonder for an inclusive God, then I think it’ll be good.

Cara: Amen. And there’s something about that posture, Elizabeth, that I think is part of that holy mystery of being the church — Jesus’ church in the world, that sometimes we have more questions than answers, right? But it doesn’t rest on us. As you said, Jesus is the one that’s choosing and it’s in him that we’re included in the life of the Father, Son, and Spirit.

And so, at the end of the day, it’s not that we need these nice clean-cut answers to what an inclusive community, what belonging really even means and looks like, but it’s how are we participating in the belonging that God has already created? And how are we allowing him to bring us deeper into that in real, tangible ways? Like we’re putting flesh on our theology, making it real incarnational, in that sense. Absolutely.

And what you were saying this idea of, we believe this, and we believe the who we’re included in. So, what does that actually mean? What does that look like? Let’s start with, what do you believe some characteristics of inclusion and belonging are?

Elizabeth: First, I just want to back up for a second and say that I appreciate what you just said about putting flesh on it. It does seem like we could talk about belonging, we could talk about inclusion all day, but it has to be experienced. And I was just saying to someone recently that community is like this giant learning lab.

Cara: Yes!

Elizabeth: Yeah. But what are some characteristics of inclusivity? I hope you’ll be patient with me because this first thought that I had might be more abstract than you intended, but I trust that as we keep going, we’re going to get more concrete, more specific.

But the first thought that I had actually speaks to motivation. And I don’t know if some of our listeners are like me, but a lot of times I’m not interested in a bunch of how-tos until you’ve convinced me of the why. So, for me, an important characteristic is witness.

Something I’ve been wrestling with is that inclusion is actually my calling. That if we’re part of the body of Christ, if we are part of the church, that we’re called to bear witness to this reality of belonging. And it’s not always visible. It’s not always visible to other people. So, we witnessed to that.

There’s a quote I heard years ago that I love and I’m embarrassed that I don’t know who said it. I even tried to look it up, but I can’t find it. So, I apologize I can’t source it. But it says the church is the visible manifestation of the invisible reality of the kingdom.

Isn’t that good?

Cara: That’s real good. Yeah.

Elizabeth: Yeah. So, if the gathering church is the thin place, right? Where the veil is pulled back, that’s a responsibility to bear that witness to people that they are included in the triune God. Colossians 1:15 says that the Son is the visible representation of an invisible God. And not that — we’re not God to anybody. Right? We are not Jesus to people because we’re all setting aside that savior complex, right?

Cara: Yes. Amen.

Elizabeth: Or trying to. But aren’t we called to participate in that reality? And I’m convinced that participation holds this kind of holy tension, the way that so much of our Christian life is a paradox, the way that a paradox is two seemingly opposite things but can both be true — like the already not yet.

And I believe that discipleship asks us to live into that tension of paradox. And that paradox says that, because there’s a calling on my life, I do have a responsibility to live into participation with Christ, that I have a responsibility to witness and gather his body.

And yet, I’m not responsible for the outcome. So, the Spirit does a really fine job of convicting people. But man! Whew, holding that tension? It’s difficult sometimes.

Cara: I was just going to comment on what you’re saying. I think what you’ve named is so, so important for a couple of reasons. First, getting to this, why is this even important?

It’s not just, we want sunshine and rainbows version of church, where we’re talking about an inclusivity of “can’t we all just get along? Can’t we all just have fun together and hold hands in a circle?” That’s not what we’re talking about. What we’re talking about I think you’ve gotten right to the heart of, that when we talk about the church, the people of God, the kind of inclusion that we are called to, it’s because of who God is and who we are as the church, the God and his kingdom that we’re witnessing to.

He’s the one doing the including. It’s his kingdom that’s an inclusive kingdom; we’re just participating in it. And so, it’s not just because we think it would be better if everyone [could] just get along, we think it would be easier if there wasn’t just — whatever, or if anyone could just show up and walk in through the doors. It’s like you said, there is a responsibility because of who our God is, because of how he works, because of his ways, because of the kingdom that he is bringing at hand and will establish for all of eternity.

And so, what you name about even sitting in the paradox of that is, we do get called into participating and then also hold loosely that we’re not responsible for those results. So, we don’t want to fall into that trap of it either. But we don’t let ourselves off the hook for taking seriously that if we are taking seriously that our God is who he says he is, and we’re witnessing to a God who has included all people, wouldn’t we bear witness to that and make that a little bit more tangible, make that a little bit more experienced here on earth, on this side of eternity?

I think that’s so important because like you said, before we even get to the how-tos, why? Why should we care? And we should care because God has showed us that he cares.

So that’s yeah, that’s really good. Thank you for naming that for us, Elizabeth. And you can go on. What else were you going to say about some characteristics of inclusivity?

Elizabeth: Yeah. Thank you for your thoughts. I love that phrase of holding loosely, and I think that’s an important characteristic. And it lends to what I was going to say next.

Because it can be difficult to hold loosely and to live in that tension, I believe another important characteristic is courage. Because we will have fear, but we can face our fear with courage because what does the testimony of the Bible tell us? What can separate us from the love of Christ? What can threaten our inclusion in this membership — our full membership as God’s children? Nothing! If our full membership is contingent on Christ and his finished work, then that should fill us with courage and hope. And lead us to ask the next question, which is okay, how do we image this in community now?

Ultimately, we’re not the gatekeepers, right? We’re not the gatekeepers of Jesus’ kingdom. And I think it takes courage to really live into the fact that inclusion doesn’t mean assimilation. It’s not equal to total agreement or uniformity. But we can still communicate inclusion.

I think it’s like holding up a mirror to other people and saying, “You are loved, you’re worthy of belonging. You’re an image bearer.” And calling them up. Because I really think it does call people up to say, “You know what? You are able to receive love and to give love. This is your true self.”

And so, I’m just learning to remember that it’s my calling to witness to this inclusion, and that it’s going to require courage.

Cara: Yes. And I really like that word. That word that you use of gatekeeping just really struck me because if we’re talking about inclusion, as based in, as accomplished in, as given to us and fulfilled in Jesus, we actually aren’t the ones — we don’t create inclusion — God is the one creating and gifting this inclusion to us.

And so really at the end of the day, it’s just responding to that reality of inclusion that we’re invited to, participating in that. And so, I like that image that you evoked of gatekeeping because when we’re not participating in inclusion, it’s not like that inclusion doesn’t already exist in Christ! But we can, as communities of gathering, act as gatekeepers to others experiencing this reality — that we know and should be actually proclaiming and witnessing to rather than gatekeeping.

But it’s not that we create the inclusion or not, because Christ has already done that for us. And so, I think that’s a powerful word to think about. Are we gatekeeping others’ experience of Christ and his kingdom?

As I think about what you talked about with the need to have courage in participating in inclusion as a community and mirroring that, I wonder what other mindsets or habits, ways of thinking or behaving we are invited to surrender to God as we learn to be a more inclusive community?

Elizabeth: For me, this is another question that I feel like addresses spiritual formation and discipleship. Because as Christians, shouldn’t we of all people be open and curious and humble? Aren’t we supposed to be repentant people and eager to learn? But we’re not always. I know I’m not! So, I’m trying to learn to surrender arrogance and certainty by allowing the Spirit to disciple and form me into humility and curiosity and repentance.

I’m not sure that we can discuss inclusion without mentioning bias. And in a lot of the conversations that I have heard around bias, I’ve heard that people will have a fundamental question and that’s, am I good? If they’re pushing back, it’s like they’re thinking consciously or unconsciously, if you say I have bias, am I still good?

And to me, as Christians, as people who are being conformed to a God that condescends, I feel like the answer should be: well, of course we’re bent towards sin! It’s a malformation when I cannot hold the tension that: no, I’m not always good, my actions are not always good, but I am loved. I am valued and I belong.

Those things aren’t mutually exclusive. And my beloved-ness, my valued-ness, it should birth shalom. It should birth a desire for my flourishing to spread out to other people. It should not birth narcissism. I’m special. No. I think it can birth narcissism if it’s not rooted and centered in this story that we embrace that God is a God who defeats evil by self-giving love. He didn’t defeat evil by putting up more walls, by trying to put up walls to exclude. He destroyed the dividing wall of hostility between us and God and between each other.

Yeah, I just am learning that everybody carries a story that I don’t know. And their stories carry much more complexity and more pain and more beauty than I can possibly know. So, it takes me surrendering that I know it all and that I can control everything.

Cara: Yeah. I really like that. It’s a simple, but really challenging thing to remember just that everyone has their own story that they carry. But what would it look like if we remember that and see that in the context of God’s larger story with all of humanity, and just allow that to be — even when we don’t understand — allow that to be enough, that we’re all part of God’s larger story, rather than I think you said that word control.

And I think that can be a big part of when we struggle with creating spaces of belonging, when we don’t understand, or we want to control things, or we feel out of control because we don’t understand. But what if it was just enough that all of our unique individual stories really were part of God’s larger story with humanity, whether we understood it or not, because he’s the one that’s writing the story of belonging. I don’t know. Because coming back to what you were saying, we’re giving up the savior complex. What would that look like if we let God kind be in charge of that? I don’t know.

Elizabeth: Yeah, that’s good. Yeah. I like you using the word understanding. I so often use the word certainty, but that’s good. We can love somebody without understanding everything that’s going on with them.

Cara: Yes. And I think sometimes when we think about, especially in a community context and creating practices as a community of inclusion and belonging, a lot of times it is, in my experience, it’s been that barrier of understanding, because we don’t understand something, then we feel threatened.

We don’t know what’s going on so we don’t know what might happen, or we don’t understand this particular life experience. So, it’s safer to be in a comfortable bubble than to be courageous, like you said, to witness to the fact that whether we understand or not, we all have belonging in Christ. Whether we understand or not, God is in our midst. Whether we understand or not, he is drawing us all into his love and his kingdom and conforming us into his image as we’re always meant to be.

So, it’s more the question of, less of do we understand, and do we feel a little scared, but more are we going to participate in and what God is doing right here and now? Whether we understand with our temporal minds what’s going on or not. I think we can get tripped up over understanding and needing to feel like we can be in in control.

And that’s something that I’ve seen and experience that’s part of that surrendering. And like you said, coming back to spiritual formation, are we allowing ourselves to be formed by God to actually surrender to God? And like you said to admit, maybe we are bent towards sin.

Maybe that is kind of why he came to be one of us and to walk amongst us and to give us a new humanity. And so maybe it is okay to trust him with those parts of ourselves that are ugly. And maybe say, oh, because I don’t understand this person, or I feel a little bit threatened. I don’t want to be near them, maybe our God is understanding enough, caring enough, loving enough.

Maybe he gets it enough that we can trust him with that part of ourselves and say, could you do something with this? Because I know it’s not your desire and your heart for me, you’ve made that clear, but the reality is this is where I’m at. And I think that he’s a God that is so happy and so willing to transform his people into the wholeness and the new humanity that he’s always intended for us. But if we’re stubborn and say, oh no, we could never think that way, we’re not sinful people, I think we miss out a little bit on that beautiful opportunity to be transformed by him in community with others.

Elizabeth: Yeah. So true.

Cara: And I think about that and being transformed in community with others as ministry leaders, sometimes we have a particular influence on the tone of a community or the tone that sets. So, what are some ways, Elizabeth, that you’ve had to learn to be more inclusive, particularly as a leader in ministry?

Elizabeth: I have to admit, speaking of what you just said about turning with confidence that that Jesus isn’t shocked by anything, I don’t always lean into community. I am sometimes plagued by feelings of not feeling like I’m worthy of love and belonging, of not having enough courage to trust.

So, I’m learning myself as a leader that, I can’t be asking people to lean into community if I’m not doing that. And as I do that, I do see that we can be made for belonging. It can be our true selves, our birthright, and we can really long for connection, which I think is what we’re really talking about here is the connection and the healing that we experience in relationship. But I’m learning that just because we long for connection, it doesn’t mean we always know what to do with it once we find it or get it.

Cara: Yes.

Elizabeth: Proximity in a gathering is not enough. It’s not like it’s this chemical reaction, just add a little vinegar to baking soda and voila. We can gather together but it doesn’t always mean there’s going to be instant connection or that we’re going to experience intimacy and trust, which I think is ultimately what we’re hoping for is — I believe Jesus when he says that we’re better together and that he is going to conform us to his image. And the body is one of the ways that happens.

But I am learning as a leader that so many of us, we did not have attuned, empathetic caregivers when we were growing up. We simply did not learn healthy connection developmentally. Like I said, I have a lot of questions, but one thing I think I’m convinced of that it’s a skillset we can learn. That we are being transformed by Jesus’ presence. And that the Holy Spirit is tutoring us to be other-centered.

So, for me, part of becoming a healthy leader is taking stock of my own trauma and the areas where I’m identifying that I lack emotional intelligence, and maybe that means seeking out therapy.

But am I able to identify my own trauma and my own hurts? Do I even know how to identify my own emotions so that I can observe and identify it in other people? I think that’s important for place-sharing. Can I sit in the discomfort of another person’s pain without feeling like I have to fix it or run from it or make a joke. And I’m going to have a really difficult time of doing that, of place-sharing, if I haven’t owned my own pain.

I also believe that a new person’s question will be, whether consciously or unconsciously, am I too much? If we’re sitting with another person in their emotions, whether it’s joy or whether it’s sadness, how are we answering that question of am I too much?

I believe that discipleship has this beautiful circular quality, that I am being formed through the solitary. I am being tutored by the Spirit. I am being changed by Jesus’ presence, but I’m also being formed by the collective.

I want to read a quote from Cole Arthur Riley in her book “This Here Flesh” that I think really speaks to that concept. And she says, “We’re made for belonging and maybe you’ve heard it said that you need to learn how to be alone before you can be with someone. But I say, you have to learn how to be with and part of something in order to know how to be alone. I think it’s only in a deep anchoring in community that one can ever be free to explore the solitary.”

So yeah, I’m trying to learn that the Spirit disciples me in and through community.

Cara: Yeah. And I love that. Just thinking even about that question of, am I too much? So as whether ministry leaders or just members of a gathering church community, part of creating spaces of belonging, is there actually space for us to exist with one another?

And if we’re not tutored and practicing, as you’re speaking to, of just existing alongside one another, then can we feel like we belong? Can we feel like there’s enough space for us if we’re always feeling like we’re bumping up against maybe someone’s discomfort with how I’m feeling right now or things? So that ability to grow and to learn ourselves in community.

Yeah. That’s not something I would’ve thought of, but I really appreciate that you bring that up because how we move through a space and how we even understand and know and are familiar with how we are moving through a space does impact, right? We are communal beings. We are created for connection.

It impacts how that space is received by other people or whether people can be received into that space. And I’m sure we’ve all felt that too, when maybe we’ve felt too much for other people because there just wasn’t enough space for us to belong and just exist in that moment.

And so, I think that you’ve named a really important way, but maybe not right off the bat obvious way, that we as ministry leaders and members of the gathering church community can be intentional about learning and practicing to be more inclusive people, people of belonging.

That’s excellent. So, as you’re journeying in developing what belonging, what inclusion, what these rhythms and practices looks like, how are you learning to share what you’re learning and how you’re growing with the gathering church community so that we can maybe I’ll start to grow a little bit more together?

Elizabeth: Yeah. I feel like this is the question where we — where I can start getting a little more concrete. But I am chewing on what you just said. So, I just want to pause for a minute. I appreciate the affirmation from you because I wasn’t sure that as I was wrestling through this, if it’s too abstract, too ethereal.

But it came to me as you were speaking back what I was saying and mirroring it to me, that we can make sure that we have representation in our images. We can make sure we have a wheelchair ramp, that we are using microphones for hearing impairment. We can do a lot of things to be welcoming in our gathering, just kind of surface welcoming. But I really think that the healing that we’re promised and that we can participate in, it does come from these deep connections that we make, the way that we bear the image of God to one another and the way that we just reflect his acceptance and his love.

I think you could actually have a lot of concrete things in place and have somebody attend and still not feel seen or feel connection.

Cara: Yeah. And as you were saying that that’s exactly what I was thinking of. We can have as community, a lot of accommodations that might seem inclusive and maybe they are tangible actions of inclusion, but without that relational aspect, are we going to fall short of true belonging?

Because, for example, if you have a ramp for somebody with a physical challenge who can’t walk up the steps or something, so they can get into your church building, but then everyone’s too uncomfortable to look them in the eye and greet them because their disability makes them uncomfortable. Yes, your building is accessible, but are they going to feel belonging?

Elizabeth: Exactly. Yeah.

Cara: And yeah, I think what you’ve named is, that’s the real — that’s where the church comes in and I think can mirror the belonging of the kingdom versus just the accessibility that is like pretty standard and a lot of places in the world. Right?

But I think this is where we’re called to that higher calling of the belonging that we find and can participate in God versus just like some architectural feats. Yeah. As you were saying, so you can get in the building without being seen. I think you’re right about that.

Elizabeth: So, to your question, back to your question.

Cara: We’re both like, woo!

Elizabeth: I think this sort of gets to both, maybe it straddles the fence of we’re talking about connection, but hopefully, I was trying to think of some tangible things. I like that you use that word tangible. We’re recording this in August and the podcast won’t be published till October, but I had recently helped work on a Church Hack that we can put in the show notes. It’s not official, but as I was working on it, I jokingly to myself was titling it, Don’t be weird.

I have to explain, give the whole backstory for why I landed on that word, weird. At least for myself, I know that words can be loaded, and they can carry different meaning for different people. When my husband, Anthony and I were replanting or relaunching a congregation in Hickory, my mantra for that fellowship when we would be talking about welcoming guests and welcoming in new people to our gathering, I was constantly saying, we’re going to eliminate the awkward. But I’ve actually had to repent and rethink that phrase because I was thinking about it — can getting to know a new person feel awkward and uncomfortable? Absolutely! It can.

When I say weird, I guess I’m thinking more of behavior that’s not going to be received as courteous. In the U.S., we use the word weird and this fun, loving way to mean unique or eccentric, like Keep Austin weird.  So I don’t mean that I don’t mean unique and eccentric. All of you people out there being unique and eccentric, you just keep trucking on.

So no, but I think of it this way. Cara, have you ever had an encounter that left you feeling uneasy or confused and afterwards you turn to a friend, and you just say, that was weird!

Cara: Yes. That kind of weird

Elizabeth: Yeah, I think we’ve all had that.

We’re trying to connect with somebody and we’re missing each other. We’re always going to miss each other a little bit but like in a way that you’re just left feeling like, that was weird.

Many of our GCI leaders have been through the GiANT CORE training. And that’s an important part of that training, remember, was to ask the question, what is it like to be on the other side of me?

One of the ways that I’m learning — I’m really trying to answer this question. I’m learning to share about inclusion is learning self-awareness. So, when we’re getting to know new people, when we’re welcoming guests, we do want to eliminate the weird, as far as behavior that’s rude or specifically behavior that’s self-centered. I think our gatherings can feel weird if there’s a lot of ambiguity and chaos, and we definitely don’t want to be coercive to people.

And I think we can be received that way, if we over talk, if we’re doing all the talking or we’re asking intrusive questions.

My favorite question for new people when they’re talking to me, is to say something like, oh, that sounds wonderful. Or (maybe it’s awful) that sounds awful. Would you like to tell me more about that? So, then the ball is in their court. They can take the lead if they want to tell me more or if they don’t.

I also think, like we were talking about tension in the paradox of calling but holding loosely to the outcome, I think hospitality invites us to lean into tension also. And I think in pictures and thinking about hospitality, I imagine this like a sliding scale.

And if on the far side, on the far-left side, imagine that as comfort. And you could just picture a member of the existing community that they know they belong. So, on the left side, you’ve got comfort and I know I belong.

And then clear on the other side of the scale, on the right side, you’ve got discomfort. And I don’t know if I belong here. I don’t know if I can belong here. And to me, hospitality looks like if I’m over there on the left side of comfort, can I move towards the other person’s discomfort? Can I have the space to hold their discomfort and my discomfort for a little while? Just so I can join them there in order to bring them along, back over to the left, into comfort.

Cara: That’s a good visual.

Elizabeth: Yeah. So, meeting new people can feel uncertain, especially when we make an idol out of being in control. Including people can feel uncomfortable and awkward, but I think that we can embrace that tension for the other person’s good.

Cara: Yeah. When you bring up that word of like weird and avoiding that, let’s not be weird. I think about that idea of when you’re at the dinner table with your best friends or whatever, you behave a certain way, in a way you maybe might not to a stranger. I think our churches can sometimes be like that.

When in our gathering church community, we do become way on that left side, so comfortable with each other. We know that we belong, we become this inward facing, in our circle. But isn’t it kind of weird when somebody new, when a stranger accidentally gets caught up in that and they don’t know what’s going on or they don’t know what to expect. They don’t know what those inside jokes mean. They don’t really know if they’re even supposed to be there.

I think that’s that kind of weird that you’re talking about where, when we’re thinking about the Love Avenue and witnessing and being engaged in the ministry of Jesus’ mission, we don’t want to be so — some different phrases for it are closed set or inward thinking. Where it’s just about me and my table with my group of best friends that we have all our inside jokes. And it’s really weird if a stranger comes up and we don’t actually welcome them in a way that is reasonable because we’re still acting like it’s just us at the table.

And so, I think that our churches we can sometimes be like that. Because we’re family and that’s great. But sometimes family has guests over for dinner and you probably should act right so that guest feel welcomed instead of overwhelmed a little bit. And that’s where I think you’re saying that hospitality comes in: how do you bring them into the family versus let them feel ostracized, because they don’t know what’s going on in that family dynamic or environment?

Elizabeth: Yeah. That’s a good example. And how often, after you’ve eased somebody into your inside jokes, they do become family or a close friend? But while you’re in that getting-to-know phase, you’re going to be other centered for them.

Cara: Yes. And that idea of other-centeredness, I think, is really key that we warm ourselves up to that. It’s okay to think about others for a little bit and building spaces of belonging and thinking about how does that get embedded in the rhythm and the fabric of our gathering church communities.

And as we’re getting closer to wrapping up our time, just quickly, I know that we’ve been talking about some really great stuff. And I think that it’s really important in how we witness to who our God is. And it’s also challenging. We’ve talked a little bit to that.

And so just what are some challenges that you could name of building rhythms of an inclusive community that you just want to name so that we’re maybe aware of and can be prepared for when we encountered them on the journey?

Elizabeth: Yeah, I think we could do an entire podcast on this but for sake of the listener’s time, I will just drop these in here.

I think a big challenge to an inclusive community is that the existing community will likely have to make some changes. For new people, we will have to make some accommodations for people to feel like they belong. And honestly the opposite of that — can we just name it? That’s cultish. That’s when a church feels like a private social club, when the new members are expected to make all the accommodations to belong. That’s actually cultish.

Cara: yeah. Very closed, yeah.

Elizabeth: I think if you’re going to have, if an inclusive community is an important value for you, your church is not going to look like a monolith. It’s not going to be homogenous, but we can honor the image of God in other people without full agreement.

We can say, I see God in you. I value your belonging without full uniformity and assimilation. And it also challenges us that we’ve got to separate behavior from belonging. Do I know what this looks like? No! This is the stuff, as we were saying.

But I honestly do believe that we can hold up a mirror to people, that it does call people up to say, look, you’re included in this community where we participate in Jesus’ healing. And because he’s healing us, we don’t harm ourselves or other people. And then we trust the Spirit’s work in their life.

Cara: Yeah.

Elizabeth: Is that close?

Cara: Yeah, no. And that is a stuff, like you’re saying, that’s the hard, messy. What is it you said earlier — the lab of community? It’s not cut and dry, but it’s good and sacred work.

Yeah. What are some of the risks? If we don’t meet these challenges of nurturing inclusive community, what’s at stake?

Elizabeth: That the people we encounter won’t see that they’re being called into the body too. This is huge. If the gathering church promises connection and inclusion and healing and — not if, I mean it does. But if what other people have experienced is rejection and exclusion and harm, then gathering is going to feel pretty terrifying to them. So why would we put up additional obstacles?

And this formation that occurs in his body, it counters that narrative of shame and isolation. And that’s the biblical testimony that our belonging to the body of Christ is healing, and we really are better together.

Cara: Yeah.

And it’s almost — and I’m hesitant to say these words. So, I want to bring us back to what you mentioned about this paradox of tension, that we’re invited into the responsibility of participation, but we don’t shoulder the responsibility of results. But it almost seems, after our conversation today that in some way, what’s at stake is the witness of the church.

Because if we’re not living as the church witnessing to the belonging of God’s people, what are we witnessing to, right? Who are we witnessing to? And so, I say that not to, and the reason I hesitate is it’s not in a scary way of, oh, now we got to hurry up and get our witness, get our act together. But to say, this is not just a cute, little ministry hack, right?

This is how, are we faithfully responding to what God is doing in our midst and who he is?

Elizabeth: Mmhmm. Years ago, I used to love a Christian artist named Jennifer Knapp. And one of her songs that I loved was like an allegory about the bride of Christ. And there was a line in there that said, how dare you say that she’s broken and used. [Guest used a paraphrase. Song title: Hold Me Now.]

And that makes me emotional just saying it, but it came to mind with what you were saying — is that the church is his spotless bride, and he adores her. Jesus thinks she’s beautiful. So, man, we got to participate in that beauty!

Cara: Yeah. And it’s a wonderful thing. It’s a wonderful thing, as messy as it is, as we’re learning, it’s a beautiful thing.

In our last few minutes, I do want to give us the opportunity to get maybe even more practical about what this can mean in the day-to-day living of the church body. And I do want to name too, that we, on this side of eternity, we have limits, we have temporal limits individually, collectively.

And so, there is discernment that is important when we’re part of building what inclusivity, what belonging looks like for each particular gathering church community. For example, I have particular limitations by the languages that I speak at this current place and time. And that’s just a reality on this side of eternity.

But given that kind of context, what are some ways — let’s just brainstorm quickly before the end of our time together, what are some examples of ways that the gathering church can think of, can take seriously removing barriers to become more inclusive to God’s people?

Elizabeth: I like what you said, because we can’t be all things to all people. Because actually that’s what we were saying about if you get underneath inclusion, it’s really about the connection. If you can’t connect? And Heber Ticas has done such a great job in helping us see the difference between missional and missionary. And if there’s no commonality, then you’re probably being a missionary.

There are things that we unintentionally, barriers we unintentionally erect particularly for folks with disabilities. We have a church hack on accessibility, and we can link that and then show notes here.

Here’s what I want to say too, about what we can do. And I hope this is concrete.

Cara: Go for it.

Elizabeth: I feel like another question a new person is going to be asking consciously or unconsciously is, am I too different?

So, we’ve really got to think about how we’re answering that question. Because we can say with our mouths and with our signs, all are welcome, but what are others experiencing with us?

Because we do experience belonging in our bodies. We want to be fully seen and fully loved. We want to show up with our full selves and the incarnation teaches us that our embodied experiences matter. Therefore, we do see, we see race, we see gender, we see disability, we see family and marital status.

We can acknowledge the differences. And because the society elevates certain identities over others — it just does. We see able-bodied, married, educated, folks without intellectual disabilities, folks that aren’t neurodiverse, elevated all the time. So, we have to, I think as a church we have to ask, are we elevating certain people groups? Or do we have a diversity in the images that we use and in our leaders? If only one type of person is being represented, who might be erased? Who’s being erased by this?

I think our language matters, just to give a few examples. I have been in far too many settings where multiple people use the phrase elders’ wives. So, who’s erased by that. We have elders that are unmarried. We have elder that have husbands. I’ve been in church settings where people prayed for a particular political candidate, because there was an assumption that everybody there must be voting for the same person And that’s getting back to that assumption of uniformity.

I have witnessed messages and prayers for someone to have children or praying for someone to find a spouse. And that’s making an assumption that they want to have children or that they’re they want to get married. I’ve been in a setting where the speaker said in speaking about what our priorities should be, they said it should be God first, spouse second, and then your ministry work. And I just think we don’t stop to think about who’s erased by that. What about the people who don’t have a spouse?

Because here’s the thing about uniformity. We shouldn’t expect uniformity, but we should assume that we all have the same needs. And by that, I mean, what does it mean to be human? And it’s safe to say that we’re dehumanizing another if we fail to recognize that they have all the universal needs that all humans have. So, it made me feel like when I heard that statement that — I wish that speaker had said, God, then important relationships, then your ministry or something like that. Because [otherwise] it makes the assumption that people who aren’t married don’t have the same need for community and connection. They do. Everybody has! Assume we all have the same needs for that kind of connection and community.

Cara: And when you think about in, and even those examples you’ve given, when we think about communities of belonging, if you were to put yourself in the shoes of somebody who didn’t fit the assumed criteria or life circumstance, then there’s this uncomfortability that you can imagine you may experience of, oh, then is this space for me if this is what is assumed? Do I actually belong here?

And so, it’s those ways that we actually undercut belonging through our language and the assumed status quo or uniformity because casual language that we might use, it sends a signal. Oh, this is what the expectation or the standard is. And then if you don’t meet that, it’s oh do I actually belong here? Is this space for me? And not just that is this space for me, but it can even be as serious as, is this good news for somebody like me? Is Jesus for somebody like me?

Elizabeth: Yes. And that’s huge. Isn’t it?

Cara: Yeah. Yeah, sure is.

Elizabeth: I think most of what I’ve learned, I learned from making mistakes. And here’s an important lesson that I learned, and listeners are probably going to laugh, because it’s duh. But I’m going to just tell on myself. And that’s ask the person! Go to the person. You can say, we want you to belong here, so how can we help you experience that?

Let’s say somebody shows up who’s never been to your gathering before, whether it’s Love Avenue or your Hope Avenue and they have an accessibility need. Well, you don’t convene a meeting with your team to talk about them or discuss what you can do for them. Talk to them, subject to subject. We want this gathering to be accessible for you. What do you need?

If that scares you as a ministry leader, look, I understand that we may not be able to accommodate everything that a person asks for, but that’s where the courage comes in, I think. That’s why we work these things out in community.

I honestly believe that avoiding conflict, it’s doesn’t get us to deeper relationship. Research from social scientists is showing us that relationships that have no discord, that demonstrate no conflict, aren’t actually the strongest relationship, because people are probably repressing, hiding. Conflict is normal.

Research that’s coming out from psychologists and therapists like that, they’re saying that, when people face up to conflict or acknowledge that there’s been a rupture and then they intentionally make repair, that those are actually the relationships that have the most resiliency and have the most trust. I just don’t think we can muscle our way into inclusive belonging by pretending that no differences exist.

Cara: Yes. And what you’ve said is actually a very practical, if not one of the most practical pieces of advice that can be given, because we can’t be all things to all people, we can’t know all things. And even if we were to be a quote unquote expert on a particular life experience, every person’s actually different.

And so even if you had a PhD in disability studies, the person who showed up to your event might have different needs than the next person that shows up to your event. And so, to assume, or to make decisions without somebody is actually not creating that belonging in community, but it’s just this idea of doing something to or for which is, it’s like baby inclusion, right?

But we want to, again, to go a step beyond into that belonging of the kingdom. And so, I think that really is the most practical thing is ask questions and be curious and go to the place that might be uncomfortable. But that is relational because even with that particular example, you can meet all ADA requirements, but every person might need a different thing in order to fully be able to participate and you don’t know, unless you ask. And you don’t know what you can or cannot accommodate until you ask what that person may need.

And that’s the same with any kind of matter of belonging when somebody is bringing their full self, no two people are exactly alike. And so, to just make an assumption of, oh, that person’s got a disability and so this is what we’re going to do for them, because all disabilities are alike. Hello, that’s not belonging. And so yeah, I think that’s incredibly practical, even more practical than here’s the checklist of things that we should do to be an inclusive church because that’s the advice that’s going to get us to be a relational church that fosters belonging together as a community.

Do you have any final words as we wrap up? We’ve been having too much fun talking; it’s about time to close up for today.

Elizabeth: No, I just appreciate the opportunity. So, let’s keep going.

Cara: Yes, it has been such a pleasure having this conversation with you, Elizabeth, you’ve shared a lot of really meaningful insights that I will continue to chew on and that I hope our listeners do too.

But before we wrap up fully for today’s episode I have a couple of fun, random questions for you, if you are game. Just whatever first thing comes to mind, it’s like a lightning round—just shout it out. Are you ready?

Elizabeth: I’m ready.

Cara: All right. What fictional family would you be a member of?

Elizabeth: Umbrella Factory [Academy.]

Cara: Oh, Ooh. That’s a good choice.

What is your favorite seasoning?

Elizabeth: Oh, garlic.

Cara: Ooh, also a good choice.

If you could invent a holiday, what would it be? And what would you call it?

Elizabeth: You stumped me on that one. It would be a national beach day where you get paid to go sit on the beach and relax.

Cara: I would celebrate that holiday.

If you were an action figure, what two accessories would you come with?

Elizabeth: A magic lightweight coffee brewer so you could have coffee whenever you wanted and a translator so I could speak any language.

Cara: Ah, I like it. I like it.

What’s something that always gives you childlike joy?

Elizabeth: I think just singing and dancing and joking around with my two daughters and my granddaughter and family.

Cara: Yes. I love that.

And then last question. Would you rather be able to run at a hundred miles per hour or fly at 10 miles per hour?

Elizabeth: Fly. Bird’s eye view.

Cara: Ah, fair enough. Fair enough. Oh, thank you for sharing some silly insider knowledge with us, Elizabeth. And thank you for just being with us here today. I have had a lot of fun chatting with you.

And it is our practice with the pod to end with a word of prayer. So, would you be willing to pray for our churches, pastors, ministry leaders, and gathering church members here with us today?

Elizabeth: I sure will.

Father, Son, and Spirit, we love you. We love your church. We love the way that you have included us. We’re just so grateful that you are who you are and that we are called to participate in that love. We ask for wisdom in knowing what that looks like. We often feel like we don’t know what we’re doing, but we are grateful that you are constantly with us and bringing us along and that you don’t lose patience with us, that you gave us your Spirit, that you, Spirit, are constantly tutoring us and showing us who God is, that you are reminding us that we are rooted and grounded in Jesus, who is the ultimate unanxious presence. And because we are rooted in him, that we can learn to reflect that to the people that we’re ministering to.

I thank you for Cara and for the work that she does. She makes it look so easy, but we know it’s not. So, we’re grateful for her love for you, for her discernment, for the way that she images you and includes new young ministry leaders as her co-host. We’re grateful for the people that she reaches out to and gives a platform to share their voice.

Because I’m on the media team, I know all the behind-the-scenes work. So, I just pray for Reu who is going to be mixing this, who is recording it now. Be with him. Bless the whole media team; give them wisdom and discernment.

We love you, Jesus. And we’re grateful that you do hear our prayers and you’ve included us in your life. In your name, Jesus. Amen.


Cara: Amen.

One of the things that really struck me in this conversation that I had with Elizabeth was the importance of relationship and creating spaces of belonging. It’s not just like a checklist of, okay, now everyone’s included or now we’ve created a sense of belonging, but it’s really grounded in how we’re building relationships with one another.

What was something that stood out to you, Charissa, from our conversation?

Charissa: Oh, I think the list is shorter, if we talked about what didn’t stand out to me,

Cara: Amen.

Charissa: There were so many points that were brought up that were really great and that I could personally relate to, but if I had to highlight one thing, I think it would be the quote of the unknown sayer. Which is the church is the visible manifestation of the invisible reality of the kingdom, which really struck me at how simply put it was said, but how deep and true it actually means.

Cara: Yeah. Oh, I loved that as well. Oh, thank you for bringing that back up as a highlight. And when we think about living out that visible manifestation as one of a person in our younger generations in GCI, what is something that you’ve experienced that maybe has helped create intergenerational sense of belonging and inclusion for you or in your local congregation in GCI Fiji?

Charissa: Oh, well, back at home, I feel like intergenerational belonging and inclusion is very strong. And that really stands out to me because our family days and teachings and when the older generations come and teach the younger generations how-to, whether it be [to] minister or something simple like flower arrangements. I think is very good to help everyone feel belonging and feel included that they want to share that knowledge on how to spread the love of Christ through everything that we do.

Cara: Yeah. I really love that. The passing on of knowledge and mentoring for discipleship, right? The discipling amongst generations is something that can really nurture that sense of belonging and inclusion intergenerationally. That’s a beautiful thing. I’m really glad to hear that. So, thank you so much for sharing that, Charissa, and that insight and experience of yours.

Showing up in mission is a big part of just getting started, and how we show up, I think is another thing that is just as important. And so, the GCI Place-sharing series explores our posture as we show up in relationships with others. Can you tell us a little bit more about the GCI Place-sharing series, Charissa?

Charissa: Sure thing. The GCI Place-sharing series explores a practice of place-sharing through interviews, teachings, and a Q&A panel. Visit www.gci.org/placesharing to check it out and learn what place sharing is, why it’s valuable, and how it reflects the ministry of Jesus.

Cara: Thank you so much. And until next time, everyone, keep on living and sharing the gospel.

We want to thank you for listening to this episode of the GC Podcast.  We hope you have found value in it to become a healthier leader. We would love to hear from you. If you have a suggestion on a topic, or if there is someone who you think we should interview, email us at info@gci.org. Remember, healthy churches start with healthy leaders; invest in yourself and your leaders.

Sermon for November 6, 2022 – Proper 27

Program Transcript


Speaking of Life 4050 | False Assumptions
Greg Williams

A friend of mine was taking a web design class and one of the assignments was to find a poorly designed website to improve by redesigning it. One day one of her classmates asked her to look at the website she had chosen. After looking at it she told her classmate, “Oh wow! That is really a terrible-looking website. That definitely needs to be redesigned.” Unfortunately, my friend had made an assumption. She assumed the website she was looking at was the one to be redesigned, but in fact, it was the one her classmate had already redesigned. Ouch!

Have you ever found yourself embarrassed by holding a false assumption? It happens often and can lead to some pretty funny stories. But some false assumptions can be a matter of life and death. The Sadducees for example held the assumption that there was no resurrection after death. For them, death got the final word. This created quite an embarrassing scene for them after they carried this assumption into an argument with Jesus. You can read that story in Luke 20.

You probably don’t consider yourself a Sadducee, but is it possible we sometimes work from the same assumption – that death has the last word? Even if we believe in a resurrection after death, we can still let false assumptions about death work itself out in our lives. For example, we may fear death in such a way that robs us of the life we have. Are we more focused on death than on the resurrection?

While it’s fine to take death seriously, we should take Jesus’ words of resurrected life far more seriously. Death is not the final word, Jesus – who is God’s word to us – is. We can trust that his words of life to us are the final word to cling to and to live from. And this is something we can be thankful for as we see death all around us in our world today. Jesus’ word is truth.

Paul was thankful the church in Thessalonica was not living by the false assumptions about death but was living by the truth of God’s word about Jesus and his return. Here is how he expressed it:

We also constantly give thanks to God for this, that when you received the word of God that you heard from us, you accepted it not as a human word but as what it really is, God’s word, which is also at work in you believers.
Thessalonians 2:13 (NRSV)

God’s word to us in Jesus Christ shatters the Sadducees’ assumption that death has the final word. As we wrestle with our assumptions and doubts, may Jesus, the living present word continue to guide you in his way, in truth, and in life. Let’s celebrate the truth of Jesus’ resurrection and ours.

I’m Greg Williams, Speaking of Life.

Psalm 145:1-5, 17-21 • Haggai 1:15b-2:9 • 2 Thessalonians 2:1-5, 13-17 • Luke 20:27-38

This week’s theme is the God who restores. The call to worship Psalm extols God’s splendor and greatness while proclaiming him as faithful and righteous in all his ways, as he hears and responds to the cries of his worshipers. The Old Testament reading from Haggai has God encouraging his people with the promise that he will restore the former temple to an even greater glory, filling it with his presence. The Gospel reading from Luke recounts Jesus’ correction of the Sadducees’ faulty belief that there is no resurrection to life after death. The epistolary text comes from 2 Thessalonians, which also deals with some misunderstandings about the resurrection and concludes with encouragement that the Lord will bring salvation life for the believers to full fruition.

A Final Word on Death

Luke 20:27-38 (NRSVUE)

As we (in the U.S.) enter the season of Thanksgiving and approach Advent and Christmas, it may seem an odd choice of scriptures for the Lectionary this week to focus on the resurrection. But as we stare in the face of another contentious and unpredictable election cycle, at least in the U.S., perhaps the theme of resurrection is exactly the reminder we need to hear. It’s in the resurrection that we see the risen and ascended Jesus being crowned the Elect, the King, and Savior of all creation. As we are reminded that Jesus is the true King and Savior of all the world, we can hold lightly to any results that come from the authorities in this present evil age, no matter what country you find yourself in.

Jesus is still in charge and it’s his Father’s purposes for us that will have the last word, no matter who is elected to whatever position of authority in our day. In this truth, we can hold lightly to the politics and power struggles we see around us. We can even participate by voting or not voting, engaging in our world in ways we discern the true King is leading us. And we don’t have to fear or fret over the outcomes. Jesus doesn’t allow anything he can’t redeem, and he is working in everything to bear witness to his kingdom where his creation will ultimately come under the Father’s loving rule and righteous reign.

In addition, a focus on the resurrection can prepare us for the upcoming season of Advent, when we celebrate the first and second coming of Christ, along with his continual coming to us in the present by the Holy Spirit. Maybe we need to hear today that the Spirit comes to enliven us. He also comes with the good news that death does not have the final word. No matter how often death seems to push itself into our experience of life, we can live in the hope that death is a defeated enemy. It does not have to set the agenda for our lives. Jesus is the life given to us today that will never run out in the future. On these grounds, we will explore further what Jesus says to us from our lectionary passage from Luke 20.

Some context may be helpful. The story we will be looking at in Luke is grounded in a politically charged environment. We can often relate to such an environment in our world today. Jesus has just “cleansed the temple,” which created no small stir with the religious authorities. He had just messed with their power base, especially for the Sadducees who were in charge of the temple. Our passage is about the Sadducees trying to discredit Jesus’ authority in reaction to having their control threatened. This particular challenge is the third in a series of challenges to Jesus’ authority. Luke 20 begins with the chief priests and scribes along with the elders directly questioning Jesus’ authority. He silences them by asking a question of his own regarding the authority of John the Baptist’s ministry. His challengers were in a no-win spot with that question, so Jesus got the last word in that argument. That was followed up by Jewish authorities sending some spies who tried to trap Jesus with a question regarding paying taxes. Jesus again uses their tactic against them resulting in silencing their challenge – once again, getting the last word. And that brings us to the third story, which we will cover today, another challenge to Jesus’ authority. Let’s see who gets the final word this time around!

Let’s begin the story in Luke 20:

Some Sadducees, those who say there is no resurrection, came to him and asked him a question: “Teacher, Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies leaving a wife but no children, the man shall marry the widow and raise up children for his brother.” (Luke 20:27-28 NRSVUE)

We are introduced to “some Sadducees” who are going to try their hand at questioning Jesus. We are told that the Sadducees say that “there is no resurrection.” Not only do the Sadducees not believe in the resurrection from the dead, but they also do not belief in the existence of angels. In addition, they did not accept the additional writings of the Old Testament outside of the Torah – the first five books of Moses. Watch how Jesus will address some of these other erroneous beliefs in how he answers their question regarding the resurrection.

Before they ask their question, they quote from the Book of Deuteronomy that deals with levirate marriage, which was intended to “raise up offspring” in order to keep the family line going in the event of a husband’s death. They believed that life continued through a person’s name, without a need for resurrection. So, they began from a false conclusion to create a question they believed would mock and discredit Jesus. They are not genuinely trying to seek answers.

“Now there were seven brothers; the first married, and died childless; then the second and the third married her, and so in the same way all seven died childless. Finally the woman also died. In the resurrection, therefore, whose wife will the woman be? For the seven had married her.” (Luke 20:29-33 NRSVUE)

Hypothetic scenarios are like science fiction stories. You get to make up your own rules to operate by. The Sadducees with their hypothetical story are operating from a set of conclusions that are false. Jesus enters their thought-world to disprove them from their own starting point. He corrects their faulty thinking with the reality of resurrection. And it is a needed correction because the Sadducees’ conclusion running through their made-up scenario has a running theme — death! When the hope of resurrection is excluded from our thinking, death will control all our stories. In their attempt to expose how the belief in resurrection is ridiculous, they have exposed that they believe death gets the final word. They have exposed that their hope is grounded in this present life only. And like the old joke goes, that is what makes them “Sad-you-see”!

Consequently, you can probably also see why keeping control in the present would be of supreme importance for them. Considering that the Sadducees were part of the wealthy aristocracy who oversaw the temple, their lives were pretty comfortable. It could be argued that they were content with life in the present and had little concern for any life after death concepts. In their world, a theology of hope that would articulate belief in a resurrection was not much of a priority. Life was good in the present. And, if there is life after death, then that would mean that how they live in the present could have repercussion for the future. They were used to being in charge. Being accountable to an authority over them would crimp their style. So, let’s just keep the status quo, shall we? Why mess up a good thing? Jesus’ answer is going to challenge their assumptions, as well as their fragile authority built upon them.

Jesus said to them, “Those who belong to this age marry and are given in marriage, but those who are considered worthy of a place in that age and in the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage. Indeed, they cannot die anymore, because they are like angels and are children of God, being children of the resurrection.” (Luke 20:34-36 NRSVUE)

Jesus responds by showing them the fallacy of their reasoning. Their argument is built on the assumption that the way things are in this life will just continue for eternity if there is a resurrection. Jesus corrects this assumption by telling them that those in the age to come will not marry or die but be like “the angels.” Remember, the Sadducees did not believe in angels. Jesus shows their lack of understanding is due to their lack of belief. And what a comfort it is to know that the way things are now is not the way of Jesus’ kingdom. Let’s face it, if life were to just continue for all eternity just the way it is now, that would be more like a hell than heaven. Praise God that resurrected life is not fully comparable to our present lives. This doesn’t mean that we will be entering an alien world. Rather, it means that we will finally be at home as God’s children where all the hypothetical worlds melt away. Reality will finally be real!

Jesus also corrects the Sadducees by comparing their faulty understanding to a picture of the life to come. In this coming resurrected life, there is no more death. In this resurrected life we have the Son of God as the “raised-up offspring” that ensures our eternal provision as children of God. This is the life Jesus brings us into. It’s only in Jesus that we truly have our hope, in this life and the next. As we place our hope in Jesus, we do not have to fear, fighting for control in the present. We trust all things to the reign and rule of the King.

Now, Jesus has one more thing to say to the Sadducees:

“And the fact that the dead are raised Moses himself showed, in the story about the bush, where he speaks of the Lord as the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. Now he is God not of the dead but of the living; for to him all of them are alive.” (Luke 20:37-38 NRSVUE)

Jesus doesn’t just leave the Sadducees in their ignorance. He takes them where they are to bring them further in knowing whose they are. Since the Sadducees only regarded the five books of Moses as authoritative, Jesus quotes Moses to establish that God is a God of resurrection. He wants them to know that God is a God of life. Death does not rule or get the final word. In whatever we see going on around us today, we can trust the God who has revealed himself to us in Jesus.

This is important for us today, but it still raises questions, doesn’t it. What does it mean to “be like angels”? What happens to the relationships we have now? Why is there no marriage in heaven? Does that mean there is no intimacy? For many, that makes heaven sound a little less than desirable. We don’t have all the answers to all the specific questions but here’s are a few things we do know:

  • God created us in his image, to be in relationship with him and with others.
  • God created marriage (and sex) as a blessing to be enjoyed in healthy relationship.
  • God created all things for our benefit and enjoyment.
  • God wants us to enjoy the eternal relationship he offers through Jesus.
  • The greatest relationship we’ve been invited to is the relationship shared by Father, Son and Spirit.

I believe it is safe to conclude that the One who loves us enough to send his son to die for us so that we might be with him for eternity, has a life so good we can’t even imagine it. The resurrection isn’t our hope just so we don’t fear death as much, it is our hope because it leads to a life we can’t even imagine.

The resurrection promises us a life of no more pain, no sorrow, no tears. Jesus came so that we can have that resurrection life. We don’t know the details, but we can look at how much the Father loves us, and we can trust that resurrection life is better than anything we can imagine.

The Father is the one who brings us into resurrected life even if that means bringing us through death. We see he is true to his Word as he raised his Son in the Resurrection and anointed him King in the Ascension. We have just a taste of his goodness now. In our resurrected life, we will see the fullness of God’s love and goodness for us.

Left Behind? w/ Stephen Morrison W1

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November 6 – Proper 27
Luke 20:27-38 “The God of the Living”

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Program Transcript


Left Behind? w/ Stephen Morrison W1

Anthony: The first passage of the month is Luke 20:27 – 38 from the Common English Bible. It is the Revised Common Lectionary passage for Proper 27, that is November the 6th.

27 Some Sadducees, who deny that there’s a resurrection, came to Jesus and asked, 28 “Teacher, Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies leaving a widow but no children, the brother must marry the widow and raise up children for his brother29 Now there were seven brothers. The first man married a woman and then died childless. 30 The second 31 and then the third brother married her. Eventually all seven married her, and they all died without leaving any children. 32 Finally, the woman died too. 33 In the resurrection, whose wife will she be? All seven were married to her.” 34 Jesus said to them, “People who belong to this age marry and are given in marriage. 35 But those who are considered worthy to participate in that age, that is, in the age of the resurrection from the dead, won’t marry nor will they be given in marriage. 36 They can no longer die, because they are like angels and are God’s children since they share in the resurrection. 37 Even Moses demonstrated that the dead are raised—in the passage about the burning bush, when he speaks of the Lord as the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. 38 He isn’t the God of the dead but of the living. To him they are all alive.”

Stephen, like the Sadducees, many people today deny that there is resurrection. Why does a sound eschatology, including the resurrection of the dead matter? And how should it impact our lives?

Stephen: Yeah. The resurrection’s the most radical claim of the Christian faith. I believe it’s such a –hope against hope is a phrase Moltmann uses to talk about eschatology. This eschatological coming of God is such a profound hope, that really it either doesn’t mean anything or it means everything. And I think it’s the latter.

And I think having this hope, having this faith in the resurrection of the dead is so important, not only for our lives here, but really for our engagement with the world. I think Moltmann’s theology of hope is something I immediately come to with a lot of this, where he stresses that from the beginning. Eschatology isn’t just a part of faith, but it really is the essence of what it is to be a Christian today — is to yearn and to hope for the coming of God in a profound way.

And yeah, the resurrection, that is such a radical part of our faith and it’s sometimes difficult. And so, I sympathize with the people that struggle with the resurrection. I think it is a hope beyond hope.

It’s something that transcends, it’s not something I would think of for myself, if I’m just relying back on myself. But that’s the reality of what faith is – it’s being pulled and compelled by something bigger than myself. And it very much matters for our daily lives.

I think hope for the future challenges our engagement with the world today. Moltmann talks about how this hope puts us in conflict with the present because we hope for the kingdom that’s to come, the justice that will be established through the reign of God.

We’re put into conflict with the situations of this world that contradict that, that aren’t kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven. And so that prayer that Jesus taught us to pray is so essential for this. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven, is really the orientation for much of what we do and how we engage with the world.

And so, it’s essential to be able to have this hope, not only on a personal level, but on a church level where we feel we’re not going to hide away from the world. We do believe that this world will be a part of the resurrection and the resurrection that comes, the new heaven and the new earth.

And so, I think sometimes eschatology can have a negative spin where we’re just escapists. We’re just hoping that, oh, everything’s going to burn and we’re just going to escape on the spaceship or whatever. And it’s very anti-human.

But I think there’s a way to believe in the resurrection of the dead that is very humane. And it brings us back to the hope that we have for this world and the hope that we have for the people in our lives and pushes us out into the world and out of our safe little Christian bubbles into, what does it look like to proclaim kingdom come in this situation?

And these sorts of social situations – political, whatever it may be – and impacting not only our lives and how we hope but giving us the courage to proclaim that kingdom anew and proclaim the fruit of Jesus’ words.

Anthony: Hope against hope. That’s well stated, when we come to scripture, Stephen it’s so important that Jesus is our hermeneutical principle, the lens in which we read, but often we’re reading through our fallen minds, and we need to recognize that. So, with that in mind, I want to ask you the next question in this passage.

It says, those who are considered worthy to participate in that age. Who are those people that Jesus describes in verse 30?

Stephen: Yeah. Like you said, any text, I think takes a bit of critical thought to analyze. And I think it’s important for something like this to step back and ask, who even are the Sadducees? Who’s Jesus responding to and could Bible [unintelligible] tell you that Sadducees are the elite class within Jewish society?

They were the privileged, landed, powerful, and rich of the time. And so, I think that helps contextualize this a little bit because a big motif of Luke’s Gospel is this critique of the powers that be, as you might say.

And so I think “those worthy to participate in the age,” it sets up this dialectic between those who have a hope in the material things of this world, that are fixated on these, as you said, human mindsets, fallen mindsets, and those who are anticipating and living in the kingdom that is to come and is still present in us through the Spirit, yet we still yearn for its full consummation in the coming of Christ.

And so, I think, the phrase (who are those who are worthy or considered worthy to participate in that age?) does reflect this sense of being those who anticipate in hope the resurrection and are obviously in Christ – is the key to, I think, understanding this. Like you said, Jesus is always going to be our hermeneutic lens.

But I think it does set up this distinction between those who have their hope in the powers of this world, the systems of this world, the riches of this world and those who have their hope in the kingdom that is to come. And so “the worthy to participate in that age” are those who that, that is where their hope lies.

That is, they are in Christ, in that sense, not just in this positional sense. Not just in this sense of being united to Christ, as we believe all Christians are. But in the sense of, I’ve actively put my hope into this coming of God and that’s my foundation.

And setting up this distinction, like I said, of, where is my faith? Where’s my hope? It’s not in mammon, it’s not the systems of this world, but it’s in the coming of God, the coming of justice in the coming of his reign.

Anthony: Verse 38 states, God is the God of the living and to him all are alive. What should we make of that statement?

Stephen: Yeah. God is living, and God is the one in whom all things have their being. And so even those who have passed have passed in Christ. And Christ is the resurrection and the life.

And I think that God, isn’t someone who I think, accepts the deadness that is in us, but is always calling us to life because that’s who God is. I think that “all those who are live in Christ,” I think is the cord in that. That the resurrection is the new creation of all things that begins in him. And being in Christ is life and being outside of Christ is not.

And so, I think that’s potentially one way to understand it, theologically. But yeah.


Small Group Discussion Questions

From Speaking of Life
  • Share a time you were embarrassed because of having a faulty assumption.
  • In what ways do people act on the faulty assumption that death has the last word? In what ways do Christians sometimes act as if death has the last word?
  • In the video we heard, “We can be assured that Jesus, who is God’s word to us, does not hold any false assumptions.” What encourages you about that statement?
From the Sermon
  • In light of the contentious politics and power plays in our world, what comfort do you find in knowing Jesus is the true and rightful King?
  • Identify and discuss some of the faults exhibited by the Sadducees that you see in our world, or even in ourselves.
  • The Sadducees used a hypothetical scenario to argue with Jesus. Do you ever find yourself wanting to argue with Jesus with your own made-up rules?
  • In what ways do we let death control our lives?
  • How does the resurrection of Jesus free us from the fear of death?
  • What are some things in this present life you are thankful will not continue in God’s kingdom? What are some things you look forward to in the kingdom?
  • What did you think about Jesus meeting the Sadducees where they were by quoting from Moses? What did this say to you about Jesus’ character?
  • Jesus gets the final word on death. Does that change the way you want to live?

Sermon for November 13, 2022 – Proper 28

Program Transcript


Speaking Of Life 4051 Life’s Paradox
Jeff Broadnax

I’ve been privileged to attend the births of our four children, and as a result, I have the utmost respect for mothers everywhere. Though I haven’t experienced it in my own body, I’ve witnessed the pain and the great courage my wife Karen endured as she birthed our kids. You may have heard the saying among women that “childbirth is the worst pain you’ll ever experience and the fastest you’ll forget.” This highlights the paradox that is the birth experience: out of great suffering, a new life is born. Great pain and great joy. Two contradictory aspects of the same experience that are both true. In our case, we suffered the grief of losing our second-born daughter in the birthing process but later experienced the euphoria of welcoming our only son and later his baby sister into the world.

We weren’t the first to wrestle with this highly personal family journey nor the more common emotional tension between joy and pain that touches all people in physical, emotional and even spiritual ways. Our world is a world of paradox. Think about the seasons. We witness the beauty and new life of spring and summer followed by the decay and apparent deadness of fall and winter. Yet we have difficulty holding the tension in our lives between the pleasures and joys of living with the inevitable sorrows of disappointment, loss, and grief.

Jesus’s disciples were no different from us. They were looking for some certainty, something to hold on to when Jesus prophesied about the temple’s destruction in Luke 21:5-19. Jesus told them that the temple would be destroyed, but rather than answer their questions about when this would happen, Jesus talked about other troubles they might encounter. Things like wars, earthquakes, famines, and persecution. If the disciples were feeling overwhelmed at the thought of the temple’s destruction, they had to be completely anxious after Jesus’ list of troubles to come.

After telling them all the terrible things that might happen in the future, Jesus invited them to embrace the tension of grief with a certainty of hope when he said:

Every detail of your body and soul—even the hairs of your head!—is in my care; nothing of you will be lost. Staying with it—that’s what is required. Stay with it to the end. You won’t be sorry; you’ll be saved.
Luke 21:18-19 (The Message)

Notice that Jesus did not tell them that their certainty would be found in knowing the exact dates or times of these troubles. Jesus didn’t tell them, “Oh, don’t worry. Nothing bad will ever happen to you.” Instead, Jesus reminded them that life is hard while reminding them that he had gone before and would never leave them.

Jesus’s solution to holding life’s paradox is to know that we are held, lovingly and tenderly by the One who knows how hard human life can be. “Staying with it” means not giving up looking for beauty and blessings in the ashes of sorrow and grief. It means trusting that our salvation will be birthed from living joyfully and participating in God’s love for others whenever we can.

Labor and birth are difficult, but a mother knows that holding the baby in her arms will be worth it. At other times, our life story requires us to endure more than we thought possible, but the Son of God, our elder brother Jesus says, “Sorrow won’t overcome you. Joy will be yours.”

The beautiful tension of life’s joys and sorrows will always be with us on this side of heaven, but we can rest assured that we are always in the care of our triune God.

I’m Jeff Broadnax, Speaking of Life.

Isaiah 12:2-6 • Isaiah 65:17-25 • 2 Thessalonians 3:6-13 • Luke 21:5-19

The theme for this week is the faithfulness of God in a world of paradox. Our call to worship from Isaiah 12 speaks about God’s salvation despite our shortcomings. In Isaiah 65, God’s vision for a world free of suffering is explained. Living faithfully as an example of encouragement to others is expounded in 2 Thessalonians. Our sermon text comes from Luke 21:5-19, where Jesus doesn’t answer the disciples’ questions but offers them something better.

Asking the Right Questions

Luke 21:5-19 (NRSVUE)

You may have heard the saying, “There’s no such thing as a dumb question.” Most of us have heard questions that might make us want to disagree with that statement. But it’s better to ask questions in order to learn. It’s also important to ask the right questions, or the answers you get might not be as helpful as you think.

Here’s an example: there was a Russian entrepreneur who started a nightclub in New York City. He wanted the best chef for his nightclub, so he hired a well-known chef who had cooked for a wealthy family for more than twenty years. It seemed like a perfect match, except the entrepreneur did not ask the question regarding the chef’s ability to scale up his cooking for almost 200 people every night. He also failed to ask about the chef’s ability to manage a large cooking staff. The entrepreneur only asked the question, “Who would be a great cook for the nightclub?” Because he didn’t ask the right questions, his nightclub failed.

There’s another story about asking the right questions from John Scully, who was the VP of marketing for Pepsi-Cola during the 1970s. For several years, the Pepsi-Cola marketing staff was convinced that the reason Coca-Cola was the number one soft drink was because of the shape of its bottle. Pepsi’s marketing team worked and worked to redesign their bottle to try to compete, without success. Scully finally realized that they were asking the wrong questions, and he initiated a marketing study that asked better questions, such as “How do customers use what they buy?” and “What do customers value?” The study results showed that customers would consume more Pepsi if the packaging made it more convenient to transport and store the soft drinks in the home. Pepsi put their soft drinks in cans, and their market position grew.

Asking the right questions is important if you want to get the right answers. Our sermon text today shows the disciples asking the wrong questions and Jesus giving them completely different answers than what they thought they needed to know. Of course, with Jesus, he turned their wrong questions into a learning opportunity.

Let’s read Luke 21:5-19 NRSVA [read sermon text].

Understanding the Context

He looked up and saw rich people putting their gifts into the treasury; he also saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins. He said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them; for all of them have contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in all she had to live on.” (Luke 21:1-4 NRSVUE)

This sets the context for Jesus’ apocalyptic message that appears in vv. 5-19. Rather than providing us with prophetic timelines or signs, apocalyptic language in the Bible encourages us to think differently about the world by challenging our worldview.

For example, Jesus and his disciples had just witnessed the generosity of the poor widow, but then in v. 5, the disciples were going on about the beauty of the temple and the beautiful stones adorning it. They were focused on what seemed to be a solid, permanent structure, one that could endure anything, and Jesus’ words about the temple’s impermanence were jarring. In setting up v.5-19 with the story of the widow’s mite, Luke may have been emphasizing Jesus’ mission of caring for the poor and the oppressed rather than the preservation of a building. He also may have been contrasting the impermanence of humanmade things with the everlasting commitment of God to humanity.

Questions and Answers

The disciples’ reaction (v. 7) to Jesus’ statement about the temple’s destruction in vv. 5-6 is to ask the wrong questions:

They asked him, “Teacher, when will this be, and what will be the sign that this is about to take place?” (Luke 21:7, NRSVUE)

The disciples’ questions are probably similar to what we would ask if faced with making plans, anticipation, or even fear: When will this happen so I can prepare for it? How can I be involved? Or, how can I avoid this?

Jesus doesn’t address their request for times and dates and signs. Instead, he focuses on the paradox of the world: great sorrow exists side by side with great joy and beauty. Believers must learn to hold these two contrasting truths at the same time.

And he said, “Beware that you are not led astray; for many will come in my name and say, ‘I am he!’ and, ‘The time is near!’ Do not go after them. When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified; for these things must take place first, but the end will not follow immediately.” (Luke 21:8-9 NRSVUE)

Jesus talks about wars and false prophets but then encourages the disciples not to be terrified. Jesus lists more bad news, things that could go wrong like earthquakes and famines and persecution, in vv. 10-12, but in vv. 13-15, he seems to change tune and talks about the opportunity these things present.

This will give you an opportunity to testify. So make up your minds not to prepare your defense in advance; for I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict. (Luke 21:13-15 NRSVUE)

Jesus tells us the bad we experience gives us opportunity to share the gospel with the right words given at just the right time. Again, another paradox: the reality of persecution alongside the promise of divinely inspired words and wisdom.

Jesus wasn’t finished; he continues the passage by telling them even their own families will betray them, and they will be hated because they follow him:

 You will be betrayed even by parents and siblings, by relatives and friends; and they will put some of you to death. You will be hated by all because of my name. (Luke 21:16-17 NRSVUE)

Then he finishes with a promise – and here’s the final paradox:

 But not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your souls. (Luke 21:18-19 NRSVUE)

An interesting contrast here – some people will die, but their hair will not. Small consolation, eh? The point here, as in other places, Don’t be afraid – even if they kill you, your eternal life is safe in God.

Note how Eugene Peterson translated this:

Even so, every detail of your body and soul—even the hairs of your head!—is in my care; nothing of you will be lost. Staying with it—that’s what is required. Stay with it to the end. You won’t be sorry; you’ll be saved. (Luke 21:18- 19, MSG)

Jesus is telling the disciples (and us) about how to live in a world of paradox where we experience tragedies and blessings. His advice is to persevere, knowing that we won’t be lost or alone because we have a relationship with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit that cannot be broken. As we are told in Acts,

For “In him we live and move and have our being”; as even some of your own poets have said, “For we too are his offspring.” (Acts 17:28, NRSVUE)

Perhaps the questions we should be asking are questions about how we participate with Jesus through every life situation, how we stay close to him during times of trial, how we stay strong when those around us are hurting or are hurting us.

Application:

  • Recognize our tendency to ask the wrong questions. When we’re in a scary situation, we want to avoid it, control it, or escape from it. While it’s important to do what we can in situations like these, we also need to make sure we’re asking the right questions and not giving way to fear.
  • Realize that life is full of paradoxes and that when bad things happen, it isn’t divine judgment. Too often Christians beat themselves up when going through difficulties, believing that God is punishing them for some unrepented sin. Jesus helps us understand in Luke’s passage that bad things happen to good people, and our role is not to fearfully prepare to outmaneuver any potential catastrophe but to endure with the faith that our God will be with us the whole time.
  • Rest in the embrace of our loving Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Understand that we are going to be OK, regardless of what happens. We can be “strong and courageous … for the Lord [our] God goes with [us]; he will never leave [us] or forsake [us]” (Deuteronomy 31:6, NIV).

Asking questions to get answers is part of being human. Learning to ask the right questions from a position of love rather than fear takes time. There’s a lot we don’t know and will never know, especially about the mystery of God. As we grow in our faith, we learn to live in the paradox of the world with the assurance that our God will preserve us through it all.

For Reference:

https://www.corporatelearningnetwork.com/learning-people-analytics/articles/beware-getting-the-right-answer-to-the-wrong-question-misdirects-and-misleads

https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/ordinary-33-3/commentary-on-luke-215-19-2

https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/ordinary-33-3/commentary-on-luke-215-19

Left Behind? w/ Stephen Morrison W2

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November 13 – Proper 28
Luke 21:5-19 “Opportunity to Testify”

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Program Transcript


Left Behind? w/ Stephen Morrison W2

Anthony: Let’s transition to our next pericope which is Luke 21:5 – 19. It is the Revised Common Lectionary passage for Proper 28, which is November the 13th.

Stephen, would you read it for us please?

Stephen: Sure.

Some people were talking about the temple, how it was decorated with beautiful stones and ornaments dedicated to God. Jesus said, “As for the things you are admiring, the time is coming when not even one stone will be left upon another. All will be demolished.” They asked him, “Teacher, when will these things happen? What sign will show that these things are about to happen?” Jesus said, “Watch out that you aren’t deceived. Many will come in my name, saying, ‘I’m the one!’ and ‘It’s time!’ Don’t follow them. When you hear of wars and rebellions, don’t be alarmed. These things must happen first, but the end won’t happen immediately.” 10 Then Jesus said to them, “Nations and kingdoms will fight against each other. 11 There will be great earthquakes and wide-scale food shortages and epidemics. There will also be terrifying sights and great signs in the sky. 12 But before all this occurs, they will take you into custody and harass you because of your faith. They will hand you over to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors because of my name. 13 This will provide you with an opportunity to testify. 14 Make up your minds not to prepare your defense in advance. 15 I’ll give you words and wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to counter or contradict. 16 You will be betrayed by your parents, brothers and sisters, relatives, and friends. They will execute some of you. 17 Everyone will hate you because of my name. 18 Still, not a hair on your heads will be lost. 19 By holding fast, you will gain your lives.

Anthony: I don’t know about you, Stephen, but when somebody tells me not to be alarmed, guess what happens?

I immediately get alarmed, right? And Jesus tells us not to be alarmed when we hear of wars and rebellions. And he goes on to say, there will be earthquakes, food, shortages, and epidemics. This sounds very real and scary and relevant to us in 2022.

So, what should we make of it? And those who cry out, “these are the end time signs”?

Stephen: Yeah, very much so. I think the tendency to look at all of these and immediately cry out, “all last days, end of times” misses the point. Like you said, it misses the point of, do not have this fear. Do not have be alarmed by this. Because it sets people into this fear mentality of oh, but we should be afraid. It does the exact opposite of what Christ is saying.

I think you can look at the text a couple different ways. I think one would be to analyze it historically and recognize the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD being a big part of this passage. Potentially that it was a word of courage to those who would go through that.

But it does give witness to us today who will have these struggles. And I think as I look over the passage, rethinking about it, the big impression that I think is meant through it is really the courage that comes from being in Christ during these times and having the Spirit with us as that comfort and wisdom, and to know what to say in the right times.

I think looking in these passages for some sort of secret clue to when everything’s going to end or whatever – the end times fanaticism, I guess you could say, is missing the point. I think the emphasis of this is really that Christ will be with us even in the most tumultuous of situations socially and in the world.

But that not a hair on your heads will be lost. Even that it’s very interesting that phrase comes shortly after he says they will execute some of you, still not a hair in your head will be lost. And you’re like which is it?

And we’re like, in Christ, we are safe and comforted in him. Even if we die, in his death, we join him in death, but that’s the hope of being raised in new life with him as well. And it’s a very interesting parallel there.

But like I said, I think the main part of this is really just the comfort and hope that comes even in the midst of suffering and turmoil and trials and all these things. And the emphasis for this passage for me is that we find this hope because we are in Christ and not to be fixated on the things that happen or to be fixated on Christ.

Anthony: Right on. And you mentioned courage and according to our Lord, being harassed for our faith is an opportunity to testify or to speak courageously. But testify to what exactly, Stephen?

Stephen: Yeah. Testify to Christ and that he has overcome the world through his death and resurrection. He’s taken upon himself the suffering and the sin of human beings and has done away with it in his death and put it aside. And in the resurrection, there is hope for the new creation of all things.

And so, we testify to that by being able to not be overcome by the situations of the world. But to recognize that they have been overcome themself by Christ.

And we testify to the resurrection – we were just talking about the resurrection and that’s a big part of what we testify. But it’s not just a resurrection. It’s the resurrection of Christ which we take part in. Through the scriptures, through baptism as the sign of that, we were brought down in his death so that we’ll be raised in the new life in him.

And yeah, we’re testifying to that hope that’s within us to being able to have the courage to face these trials with hope, with joy even because of what Christ has done for us. And our hope of being in him. And I think that’s such a key phrase for the whole of the New Testament as well is (especially Paul’s letters) that we are in him and in Christ.

Those two phrases and that’s what we’re testifying to is our safety and our protection that our lives, ultimately aren’t ours to be worried about, but they’re God’s and they’re in his hands. And I think that’s a beautiful thing that we’re witnessing to. And it’s the source of our hope and our courage.

Anthony: Yeah, you mentioned that this should lead to joy. And I don’t know if it was Barth or maybe it was Eugene Peterson talked about how theology should lead to doxology. The work of coming to scriptures and reading a passage like this, even with all that surrounds us and the circumstances of this world, Jesus has overcome it. So, we rejoice! That is the response to such good news.

And while we do this work of theology, let me ask you this. What do you think it means that we’ll gain our lives by holding fast? What is that?

Stephen: A big question – if we go back a bit to ancient philosophy and Plato and Socrates and all these – was the question of, what is the good life?

And so, I think the question of what life is, is one thing. There’s the scientific fact of life, being alive, but then there’s that deeper question of, what it is to live? And I think really the Christian answer to this is quite direct: that to live is to be in Christ.

And to have this fellowship with God is what truly is life. And so, I think this phrase can be interpreted by this. The scriptures typically hold together this kind of two-foot understanding of life. There is a life of the current age which is fading away and is dying.

And then there’s the life and the age to come which is the true life, the life of participation in the fellowship of God, of Father, Son, Holy Spirit, and being lifted up into that life, the very source of life itself. And so, I think that’s how we can understand this phrase, that we gain our lives by holding fast.

Because what is it really worth to hold on so tightly to a life that’s rooted in the present age, that’s rooted in the things that are falling away? That’s rooted in the old man, the old Adam, whatever phrase or metaphor we want to use? What is that really worth if in trying to white knuckle, grasp the things that we consider valuable for this age, if we don’t recognize that the true life is the life of being one with Christ, participating in his fellowship with the Father and the Spirit?

And that’s what it is. We gain our lives by holding fast. Because we may lose our life in this age by doing so, but we gain the life that is truly life, the life that is actually the good life. And I think that answers that philosophical question: what is the good life?

The good life for a Christian is fellowship with God, is life in Christ, in participation, in the triune life of God. Life without God is just incomplete. It’s not that true life. It’s not that good life. And it’s seems paradoxical to make this claim that even in death, even in suffering and struggling, that we would find actually what the good life is.

But it’s a big, I think, motif for the scripture is that we hold onto the life that is to come.

Anthony: I like the illustration of white knuckling it. And I’ve got my hand in a fist right now and my knuckles are white. And I’m just thinking about what it looks like to try to hold on to the things that are not eternal, the things of this life that will fade away.

And when my fist is closed, I’m not able to receive, in a sense what God wants to so generously give to me. And I open up my hand and to me, that’s a metaphor of what it looks like in the Christian life. And that is, I can’t bring anything to God’s table. He has accomplished it in Jesus Christ and all I can do is receive. But that is active participation, receiving the good things that God has in store.

So, I appreciate that word.


Small Group Discussion Questions

From Speaking of Life
  • In the video, Jeff Broadnax talks about the experience of attending the birth of his children as an example of a paradox where great pain exists alongside great joy at the birth of a new baby. Can you think of other life experiences where sorrow and joy or pain and gladness co-exist?
  • How does it help you to reflect on being held lovingly and tenderly by Jesus, who knows the full depths of human sufferings and happiness? What comfort does it provide, knowing we have an Elder Brother who has experienced what we have?
From the sermon
  • Have you ever had an experience where you asked the wrong question? In hindsight, what could you have done to ensure a better likelihood of asking the right question?
  • Jesus suggests that rather than relying on what appears to be permanent but isn’t (like the temple), we recognize the impermanence of the world and our own bodies and then entrust ourselves to God’s ever-present, loving care. How does our need for certainty and security make it hard to do this?

Sermon for November 20, 2022 – Proper 29, Reign of Christ

Program Transcript


Speaking of Life Script 4052 | A King Worth Celebrating
Greg Williams

We only have six more weeks to the end of another calendar year. Amazing how time flies. You may already be thinking back on all this year has held. Unfortunately, in hindsight, this year has already recorded much destruction and desolation.

But if you are keeping up with the Christian calendar, you don’t have to wait six more weeks to close out the year. Today is the last day on the liturgical calendar which is called “Christ the King Sunday”.  This name indicates what the day is all about – the sovereignty of Christ who is Lord of all lords and King of all kings. It is not surprising that we hear bad news frequently. We live in a broken world, yet we daily pray “Thy Kingdom Come”.  Remembering, just as we will in the next few weeks throughout Advent, that we are awaiting Christ’s ultimate return where all will be set right, where all brokenness will be restored.

Instead of focusing on all that has taken place in our world over the past year, today gives us the opportunity to recount the life and work of Jesus who takes care of all that has taken place, all that is happening today, and all that will happen. Who invites us to join in with him in restoring the destruction we see in the world around us.

We might be surprised to read in Psalm 46 that some of the works of Jesus are to bring desolation to the earth. Yes, Jesus is a king who destroys, but let’s read the middle of this Psalm to see what he destroys.

Come, behold the works of the Lord;
see what desolations he has brought on the earth.
He makes wars cease to the end of the earth;
he breaks the bow and shatters the spear;
he burns the shields with fire.
Be still, and know that I am God!
I am exalted among the nations;
I am exalted in the earth.”
The Lord of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our refuge.
Psalm 46:8-11 (NRSV)

Jesus is not like the rulers of our day who tend to repeatedly lead us into more and more destruction. He comes to destroy that which destroys. He destroys destruction.

Now that is something to celebrate! This King lays desolate the great enemy of death. His Kingdom will not follow a calendar marked by war. Rather, he delivers us into his Kingdom of Peace.

And that is why Psalm 46 begins with such good news:

God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling… The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge.
Psalm 46:1-3, 7 (NRSV)

We may not know exactly how this year will end, but we do know who will reign in the end. Our Lord Jesus is a refuge to us in times of trouble, and is working to bring restoration to our lives and this world. That’s why we celebrate Christ the King Sunday. He is a King worth celebrating.

I’m Greg Williams, Speaking of Life.

Psalm 46:1-11 • Jeremiah 23:1-6 • Colossians 1:11-20 • Luke 23:33-43

This week’s theme is a king who saves. The call to worship Psalm praises God for being our refuge and strength in times of trouble. The Old Testament reading from Jeremiah records God’s promise to Israel to raise up responsible leaders and to ultimately provide a wise and just king from the line of David. The epistolary text in Colossians offers a praise of Christ as the creator and reconciler of the entire cosmos in one of the most outstanding Christological hymns in the New Testament. In the Gospel reading from Luke, Jesus’ forgiveness and mercy are displayed as he is crucified between two criminals while having the inscription over his head, “This is the King of the Jews.”

This is the King of the Jews

Luke 23:33-43 (NRSVUE)

Today marks the last day of the Christian calendar before we start over with Advent. For a while now we have been journeying through the season known as “Ordinary Time” or simply “The Season after Pentecost.” Today, that season comes to an end with a special day called Reign of Christ Sunday or Christ the King Sunday. Our passage for the day will take up that theme. Our whole journey from Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Easter, Pentecost, and everything in between arrives at today’s crowning conclusion. Jesus is King!

Celebrating Christ the King Sunday may raise our expectations to hear a message from a text that deals with regal themes of royalty and triumph. Perhaps we are assuming we will visit a passage displaying the magnificent glory of God’s kingdom. We want a royal celebration with fine wine, a crown of jewels, and cheering crowds. However, today we have a passage in Luke that recounts the crucifixion of Jesus. We must temper our expectations and brace for sour wine, a crown of thorns, and mocking crowds. How can this be? Surely a mistake has been made by the selection of such a text on this triumphant day of celebration. How do we close out the year on such a down note and transition into the hopeful expectation of Advent?

The answer is we celebrate this special day in the same way we have celebrated all the others: With our eyes on Christ! After all, we were not called here today to hear the blast of trumpets and to celebrate crowns and thrones. We were called to gather today to hear the word of God and to celebrate the one who is crowned and the rightful King who sits on the throne—Jesus. This King is the same King who wore the crown of thorns and hung on a cross. This is the same King who faced the mocking soldiers offering sour wine. Jesus was no less a king on the cross as he is on the throne.

All that we must witness today falls under the inscription “This is the King of the Jews.” And that is how we will carry forth. As we look at Luke’s account of the crucifixion, we will do so with our eye on the inscription nailed over him. The inscription was meant to be the charge against him deserving of death. But in reality, it is a proclamation of who he is as the King that brings life. So, that inscription will remind us that all we see Jesus doing on the cross is a window into the very heart and nature of the King we come to celebrate today. We will see that this King is indeed a king worth following. And that will lift our eyes to follow him once again into a new year.

Let us begin!

When they came to the place that is called The Skull, they crucified Jesus there with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. (Luke 23:33 NRSVUE)

Instead of identifying the place of Jesus’ crucifixion by the formal name of Golgotha, Luke chooses to use the nickname of “The Skull,” which was probably given because of the physical appearance of the location. We too must come to places in our life that have the appearance of “The Skull” – places of pain, suffering, and death. What does this passage tell us about our King when we come to such places? We see that this King goes with us. Whatever pain, suffering, and death we come to in our journey on this planet, Jesus goes with us – all of us.

In the passage we read that Jesus went there with criminals on his left and right. Sometimes the “Skulls” in our life find us as innocent victims but other times we have arrived by our own doing. Ultimately, we must all identify with the criminals who are deserving of death. But even there in that place of shame and guilt we find our King present, right in the middle of our sin and guilt.

Jesus is clearly not a ruler we see in our daily lives. The “kings” in our present world, and in most of history, are not so inclined to associate with those who find themselves in places called “The Skull.” We can look around and see that most of our “kings” prefer to retain their elite status and put as much distance between themselves and anyone who may threaten their reputation. But not Jesus. Not this King! He chooses to identify with the lowly, the criminal, the sinner. He identifies with us and takes his place among us. Not because he deserves to be there or because he lost his status. He is there because of who he is as the King of the cosmos. He is a King full of mercy, compassion, and as we will see, forgiveness.

Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” And they cast lots to divide his clothing. And the people stood by watching, but the leaders scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Messiah of God, his chosen one!” The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine, and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” There was also an inscription over him, “This is the King of the Jews.” (Luke 23:34-38 NRSVUE)

What amazing grace we see in all that takes place under the inscription, “This is the King of the Jews!” In all the agony, it is the voice of this King who speaks first. We should be amazed, shocked even, at the words that come from his lips. As an innocent, sinless King, undeserving of suffering the price of sin, we may expect to hear words of blame and anger. After all, haven’t we been taught by the “kings” in our world that one must curse those who curse you? “Tit for tat” goes the rule in our kingly circles. But not this King. Under the excruciating pain and the humiliating ordeal of crucifixion, this King uses what little strength remains to audibly pray to his Father to forgive us.

Don’t miss the order of the story. There is not a single apology offered to Jesus before his prayer. No remorse, no regret, and certainly no repentance. The sinful rejection of this King continues until the end. In fact, as the account goes, people are standing by watching. The leaders however are not silent; they are doing what we expect worldly leaders to do when in a position of dominance. They scoff! With no fear of retaliation, they boldly challenge Jesus’ identity as God’s chosen Messiah. The soldiers who implemented the torturous event now mockingly offer him a pain killer of sour wine. How kind of them! Both the leaders and the soldiers mock Jesus with the challenge to save himself. What pride pours forth in their challenge. Their thinking is that a true king would be able to save himself, just as they undoubtedly thought they just did by crucifying Jesus. They assumed they had saved themselves from the threat of Jesus being crowned King.

Little did they understand that Jesus never came to save himself. He came to save the people, the leaders, the soldiers, the criminals, and all the other sinners like you and me. We resist him! We reject him! We mock and scoff him! Yes, we — you and me — along with all those present at the place called The Skull. We killed him to save ourselves from his rule. Yet, Jesus’ prayer has already been offered for us all. He has already forgiven us. Does this not tell us the heart of this King who now sits on the throne? The ruling Word that goes forth is a Word of grace. Forgiveness for our sins has already been given before we even ask.

The forgiveness from this King has already been given so we as sinners can gratefully receive. We don’t have to work for it or prove we are deserving of it. It’s there for the taking. Repentance follows forgiveness. Not the other way around. Have you ever seen such a king? Not likely in our world, where everything has its price. Contracts reign! But look up and see the one who has chosen to save us and not himself. Hear the one who offers forgiveness under the inscription, “This is the King of the Jews.” How shall we respond?

One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding him and saying, “Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” He replied, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” (Luke 23:39-43 NRSVUE)

Our text concludes with the only thing left to do in light of salvation offered by this King of the Jews. Respond. Luke lets us hear the dialogue that takes place between the two criminals who are hanging alongside Jesus. In this dialogue, we are given to see only two responses left to us by the gracious gift of forgiveness and salvation given to us in Jesus. Rejection or reception.

There is no other option available for us now that this King reigns. As the inscription has proclaimed to us, “This is the King of the Jews.” And to be sure, this King of the Jews is the promised Messiah, the King who would rule over all nations forever and ever. That means he is our King too. There is no other authority we respond to for salvation. So, we must respond! Like the two criminals, we can either reject this King and his gift of salvation and forgiveness that is already offered, or we can receive what the Lord freely gives us, a life in paradise with him.

Left Behind? w/ Stephen Morrison W3

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November 20 – Proper 29
Luke 23:33-43 “Father, Forgive Them”

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Program Transcript


Left Behind? w/ Stephen Morrison W3

Anthony: Let’s transition on to our next pericope, which is Luke 23:33 – 43. It is a Revised Common Lectionary passage for Proper 29, which is on November the 20th.

33 When they arrived at the place called The Skull, they crucified him, along with the criminals, one on his right and the other on his left. 34 Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they’re doing.” They drew lots as a way of dividing up his clothing. 35 The people were standing around watching, but the leaders sneered at him, saying, “He saved others. Let him save himself if he really is the Christ sent from God, the chosen one.” 36 The soldiers also mocked him. They came up to him, offering him sour wine 37 and saying, “If you really are the king of the Jews, save yourself.” 38 Above his head was a notice of the formal charge against him. It read “This is the king of the Jews.” 39 One of the criminals hanging next to Jesus insulted him: “Aren’t you the Christ? Save yourself and us!” 40 Responding, the other criminal spoke harshly to him, “Don’t you fear God, seeing that you’ve also been sentenced to die? 41 We are rightly condemned, for we are receiving the appropriate sentence for what we did. But this man has done nothing wrong.” 42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” 43 Jesus replied, “I assure you that today you will be with me in paradise.”

Father, forgive them for they don’t know what they’re doing. I think it’s impossible to comprehend the magnitude of this statement. All we can do is try to apprehend it. So, I want to give you an opportunity to help us apprehend the reality contained within. What say you?

Stephen: It’s certainly one of the most beautiful and challenging statements in the New Testament, in terms of how it just really hits home. It hits us right in our heart.

And I think when I hear this, I typically think of how Barth understood the doctrine of sin and what even sin is. And I think he got it right when he said that we don’t even know the depth of our sin without first knowing the depth of Christ reconciliation, and that we have to begin with Christ.

And so, what sin is, what it is that we even need forgiven from, we don’t truly know it until we know it in the light of reconciliation. And so, I think Barth uses that to create this beautiful concept — he starts off with the humiliation of the Son of God, that God became humble and became a human being so that the human beings who try to become God see what it is to truly be human and all of these different things.

But I think that just helps us think about this in a different way where we truly don’t know sin. I think we’re very quick to label things in all of this, but I think we don’t know it in the sense where we don’t know the depth of how much it hurts, not only us, how much it hurts our society and the people we love. But how much it grieves God, most of all.

And so not knowing what we’re doing when we do these things is just what it is to be human. But I think we have a sense not only of what those things are, but more importantly, we know them truly as we are forgiven of them. And that’s the beauty of the gospel is that even the things that we don’t know that we’ve done, the sin that we are scarred by is healed and is reconciled in the power of Christ and of his death and resurrection and his life lived on our behalf.

It’s such a mystery as well. I don’t want to ever try to remove the mystery from scripture or from the beauty of what Christ has done for us. Because there is still mystery in this and there is still a sense of awe that we should always have for this.

And I think that’s the first impression that I have, and I would want to impress on everyone listening, is that this is a beautiful phrase, but it’s a terrifying and awe-inspiring phrase. And that we are forgiven in spite of not knowing what we do and the person on the cross with them received this promise of being with them today in paradise and how paradoxical that even feels.

But it really strikes to the core for me of what it is to reconcile to God. It’s not something that we do. It’s purely a gift of grace and how wonderful that is. It just really gets to the heart of how beautiful the gospel can be and how inspiring it is for us. And how challenging as well it can be for us.

Anthony: Yeah. You spoke of the mystery of this beauty. Let’s press in there a little bit more because the criminal asked Jesus to remember him when he comes into his kingdom. It just strikes me, isn’t this really the cry for all of humanity, whether we know it or not? And so, where is the hope for that criminal and all the rest of us criminals out here trying to do this thing called life.

Stephen: Yeah, that really hits it on the head. That is all of us. That’s our cry as human beings, that’s what we cry out.

The cross is such a – not only in this passage, in all the other words of Christ and the cross and the witness to that in scripture – is such a beautiful account of this sense of people crying out and having this, “my God, you forsaken me” for example, being one. And that sense of trust, “into your hands, I commend my spirit.”

All of these, I think have a reflection in what it is to be human. And I think it just is such a beautiful portrait of not only who we are, but really the depths of how far Christ went into our humanity and into the darkness of our fallenness and really met us in our rawness, in our in our ignorance and in our sin and in our evil and met us really at the depths of that.

Calvin has a great phrase where “he became bone of our bone and flesh of our flesh.” He truly met us where we are. And yeah, certainly a cry that is mimicked and echoed within humanity.

And I think the remembrance of God is the hope that we have that Christ does hold us in the remembrance. And I think there’s something really beautiful that I was reading recently about how in the Hebrew scriptures, the act of remembrance is such an important priority. Today, we overlook that. We just think, oh, just memory, it’s just something you have. It’s almost an object.

But, for them, remembering an event that took place was almost an act of remixing it and reliving it. And the remembrance of what God had done — particularly like in the Exodus or in other events of God’s acts in history with Israel — remembering it was almost as important as the actual event itself. The beginning of the 10 commandments states that, “I’m the Lord, your God who liberated you from the Egyptian captivity.” And then the commandments come.

And so, there’s this sense where remembrance has more of a power to it than just, oh remember me, remember that I exist factually, remember who I am. But it’s actually this sense of remember me and being revived and being in that remembrance.

And I think there’s a lot more to this than typically gets understood of just oh, remember me in your book, check me off on the list or whatever. The remembrance is this act of recalling and almost to some extent, more vital than just the factual checking of the box for us.

It’s a big source, a great source of hope for us that we will be remembered in Christ and that he not only has our name, one among billions, but that truly remembers who we are and that remembrance brings us back to back to him. And it foreshadows and points to the resurrection that’s the great remembrance that in Christ we are raised again to new life.

And the kingdom that is to come is that kingdom of new life. And yeah, it’s a very pregnant phrase for sure.

Anthony: Yes. Pregnant, indeed. The word even, remember – there’s so much you can unpack there with the resurrection and the way that Jesus and his Father. Remember us in the triune life. What a beautiful thing.

Now you mentioned the statement that Jesus made, why have you forsaken me? And I’d like to scratch that itch just a little bit more, if I may. Anything that you want to say about some of the atonement theories out there?

Just to let you in on some insight on the way I think. Things like punitive theories, like penal substitution, substitutionary atonement, has done a lot of damage in terms of the way that we see the relationship, the triune relationship of Father, Son, and Spirit, revealed at the cross.

Anything that you want to say about that?

Stephen: Yeah. I have a lot of thoughts on this. I think we could derail the whole full show.

But I definitely agree. I think penal substitution to is one of those things that for me, an early joy in discovery for theology was just the reality that’s not the only way of looking at the cross.

And I think tearing down some of those presuppositions that come with it, the idea of God being this angry father and then Jesus just being the nice guy that steps in takes the blow, the whole narrative of that. And so yeah, there’s a lot of ways where that divides the Trinity itself. Like you said, that’s extremely problematic.

I’ll throw a little plug in. I did do a long video series on penal substitution on my YouTube channel. That’s a good, I think, primer into some of these questions and how they can be addressed.

But yeah, I do think, like you said, the [statement] “my God, why you forsaken me?” I think the first way that I understand it is really it proclaims the depth of how far Christ went into our fallen mind, into our fallen situation. And that he truly touched the depths of what it is to feel forsaken.

Now did the father actually forsake the son? I don’t think that’s possible. The father and the Son are one. Even Jesus said a few verses before that everyone else will abandon me, but my father will be with me. And I think that’s confirmed with the word that “into your spirit or into your hands, I commend my spirit,” at the conclusion of that. And yeah, there’s a lot there.

Reflecting back on how it ties back into Psalms 22 – which is what Christ is actually quoting with this phrase – the end of that Psalm, ends in this triumphant realization that God did not abandon, did not forsake his servant; and so, there’s that aspect as well. Taking just that verse by itself without recognizing the context to it, and the fact that he was declaring something that had a very profound meaning to the listeners who would’ve known instantly, oh, I know that song. I know the way that ends and it’s not this hopeless, pitiful situation.

But it truly is one where even in that depth of feeling so god-forsaken, God has entered into that god-forsakenness and made it his own. And in that sense, redeemed it and found us even in that depth where even if I make my bed in hell, you were there.

And so that’s a beautiful insight too. Where even in the most pitiful in the depth of despair that we can find ourselves in, Christ has even penetrated into that depth and met us there and comforted us in that moment and brought us to a new life as a result.

Anthony: Hallelujah. Praise God.


Small Group Discussion Questions

From Speaking of Life
  • Considering the Speaking of Life video, discuss how closing out the year with Christ the King Sunday can be different than the typical ways our society closes out the year.
  • What are some things the Lord destroys that we can celebrate?
  • Is there anything in the past year that the Lord brought to desolation in your life that you would like to share? How have you seen Jesus as Christ the King in the past year?
From the Sermon
  • What was your initial reaction to celebrating Christ the King Sunday with a text on the crucifixion?
  • How did reading the story of the crucifixion with the reminder that everything took place under the inscription “This is the King of the Jews” affect how you see Jesus as King? Discuss!
  • What contrast can you make between Jesus as King as brought out in the sermon and what we are accustomed to with our current leaders and rulers?
  • Discuss the claim from the sermon, “Repentance follows forgiveness!”
  • What did you observe from the text that helped you see a little more of Jesus’ heart and character? How does this shape your response to him as your King?
  • Compare the responses you see from the two criminals crucified with Jesus. How do you see your own responses to Jesus reflected in theirs?

Sermon for November 27, 2022 – Advent 1

Program Transcript


Speaking of Life 5001 | Our Coming Hope
Cara Garrity

This week begins the season of Advent, a time when we celebrate the incarnation of Jesus, his arrival into our lives, and his anticipated Second Coming. During Advent, much attention is given to the arrival of Jesus as a baby in a manger. While we should celebrate the incarnation, overlooking the other ways Jesus arrives in our lives will cause us to miss a lot of what Advent teaches us.

You see, while Advent is a season of celebration, it is also a time of self-reflection and anticipation. We are invited to see and welcome all the ways Jesus unexpectedly arrives in our day-to-day lives.

The Advent season also causes us to anticipate the Second Coming of Christ — a time when all that is wrong will be made right. Though the first advent of Jesus established the kingdom of God on earth, we look around and see that our world is still plagued by war, contention, apathy, hate, and other forms of darkness. Advent gives us hope that the darkness will one day be completely chased away by God’s light.

The prophet Isaiah paints a beautiful picture of the world after Christ remakes it at his Second Coming. He writes:

In the last days the mountain of the LORD’s temple will be established as the highest of the mountains; it will be exalted above the hills, and all nations will stream to it. Many peoples will come and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the temple of the God of Jacob. He will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths.” The law will go out from Zion, the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore. Come, descendants of Jacob, let us walk in the light of the LORD.
Isaiah 2:2-5

Isaiah is using the symbol of a temple mountain for the Kingdom of God, when eternal life is freely given to all who follow Christ. All people will be drawn to God and his rule will be marked by justice and peace. There will be no more war and the things that divide us will fade away. God himself will teach all humanity to be like him and his kingdom will never end. In the midst of the darkness that threatens to fill us with doubt, despair, and disillusionment, Christ fills us with himself – the light that destroys darkness. This is the hope we cling to.

As followers of Jesus, Advent encourages us to live like Christ without hesitation. We are emboldened to stand against injustice, corruption, oppression, and every other form of darkness because Jesus is the Light of the world. We are freed to live boldly in the reality of Christ’s Second Coming, knowing that Jesus is our hope, and he cannot fail.

I’m Cara Garrity, Speaking of Life.

Psalm 122:1-9 • Isaiah 2:1-5 • Romans 13:11-14 • Matthew 24:36-44

This week begins the season of Advent, a time when we celebrate the incarnation of Jesus, his arrival into the life of every believer, and his anticipated Second Coming. This week’s theme is put off darkness and put on the armor of light. The call to worship Psalm is a hymn of joy over Jerusalem, God’s holy city. The psalmist is moved to pray for the inhabitants of Jerusalem to be beacons of light, living in peace and protected by God within the city’s walls. Isaiah provides us with a beautiful description of God’s kingdom, which is characterized by peace and justice — a mountain that draws all inhabitants of the world to it. Due to the reality of the present and coming kingdom, Isaiah’s audience is invited to walk in “the light of the Lord.” In Romans, Paul encouraged his readers to lay aside dark actions and clothe themselves in Christ, who is light and protection. In Matthew, Jesus admonished his followers to be continuously prepared for his arrival by doing the things he instructed them to do.

Should We Celebrate Jesus’ Second Coming?

Matthew 24:36-44

We begin the Advent season this week — a time when we celebrate the incarnation of Jesus, his arrival into the life of every believer, and his anticipated Second Coming. Advent means “coming” or “arrival,” so we remember the various ways Jesus comes to us individually and collectively. Most of the imagery surrounding this season focuses on Christ’s first coming, and that makes sense. The nativity story is amazing, with memorable visuals like the manger, guiding star, and wise men. It is easy to turn our attention to such a phenomenal event.

Perhaps it is easy to shift our celebration and gratitude concerning the incarnation to Christ’s advent into our lives. Every believer has some kind of personal history with Jesus; a story about how he arrived in our lives. (At least from our perspective, because in truth he was always there.) So, we may not find it hard to imagine ourselves celebrating Jesus right along with a certain group of shepherds. We may not have difficulty rejoicing over Jesus’ first coming and personal advent, but what about Christ’s Second Coming? Do we celebrate his eventual return in the same way? Of course, the Second Coming brings us joy and hope that one day all things will be made new. But, what about the event itself? Do we hope to bear witness to the return of Christ and the end of this world? For many of us, the answer is no.

For many of us, Christ’s Second Coming is a little scary. At the very least, it can seem a bit strange. Let’s be honest, what we think we know about the return of Jesus does not make most people break out in celebratory singing. Notice that I said “what we think we know” because it appears as though no one really knows for sure. Doesn’t it seem like everyone says something different? Some think a bunch of people disappear in something called the Rapture. Some say that there will not be a Rapture, but a big war when people see Jesus. Maybe both? It could be that believers have to go to a place of safety, but didn’t they already disappear in the Rapture? I think there may be some witnesses or an anti-Christ. There’s definitely a dragon, although no one seems to agree on the identity of any of these folks. Are they even people?

Many seem to believe that Jesus’ return will happen soon, but every prediction of when has been wrong. Do we just need to find the right formula or algorithm? Maybe the bottom line is that at Jesus Christ’s return there will be lots of death, lots of judgment, the end of the world, and it can happen at any time. Right?*

I do not mean to make light of this important topic, but I am trying to show that there is a lot of uncertainty, confusion, and fear associated with our understanding of Christ’s Second Coming. This apprehension can negatively affect how we see Jesus and his return. In many Christian circles, Jesus’ Second Coming is used almost like a threat of impending doom to keep us in line instead of a source of joy and hope. This undercuts two core beliefs of our faith — that the gospel of Jesus Christ is, in fact, good news, and that God is love. Advent season is a great time to get more clarity on what we need to know about Jesus’ return, so we can internalize the truth that we never need to fear the Savior of humanity.

For answers, we will start with Jesus and some of what he says about his Second Coming. Let’s look at his words recorded in the Book of Matthew:

But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left. Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him. (Matthew 24:36-44 NIV)

Before we unpack the passage, we should take note of Jesus’ starting point. All that he shares in these verses is from the perspective of someone who does not know when the events he described will happen. Jesus never relinquished his divinity. He was and is 100% God and 100% human. However, in his incarnation, Christ humbled himself and lived like a human being, except for a few occasions when the Father instructed him to reveal some of his divine power (i.e. the Transfiguration in Matthew 17:1-8). So, in his humanity, Jesus did not know when he would return. Therefore, we have to conclude that the moment of Christ’s return is not important for us to know.

Studying this and other similar passages to devise a detailed timeline and sequence of events of the end of time misses the point. While we should seek to understand Scripture as best we can, it is not important to know the “when” of Christ’s return. We are not even supposed to know the key events surrounding the Second Coming. If we were, the Bible would be far less murky on the subject. We do not need to know these things in order for us to do the most important things, follow Christ, worship, and bear witness to him. We are naturally curious about the future events hinted to in the Bible, however, we should not use prophecy for our own purposes. We need to approach prophecy in the way God intended.

In this passage, Jesus explained what he wants his audience to know. First, he assured his followers that he will return at some undetermined time after his ascension. Next, the Second Coming could happen at any time, so believers should live holy lives, not self-centered lives. Last, Jesus’ return could take time, so we should be prepared to persist in participating in his life and work. Put simply, Jesus told his followers, in light of his Second Coming, to live as if Jesus was coming today, but plan like he would not return in his audience’s lifetime. Not doing so could have unpleasant and lasting consequences for those who do not remain spiritually prepared.

In his compassion, Jesus taught his disciples how to navigate the “now” and “not yet” of the kingdom of God. Jesus ushered in the kingdom (an eternal space where God lovingly rules and people strive to follow him as one), and his followers can experience the benefits of the kingdom now. At the same time, we live in the “present evil age,” and the kingdom is hidden and will one day be revealed in full. Jesus revealed the kingdom, but our brokenness causes humans to experience the kingdom imperfectly. However, he promised to return and make everything new so that we can all experience the kingdom of God in full for all eternity.

Jesus knows us, and he knows the natural tendencies of humans who exist in ambiguous times – like the period of the “now” and “not yet.” In this passage, Christ addressed two harmful ways of being. First, Jesus had the self-indulgent in view. Some live by the saying, “When the cat’s away, the mice will play.” If these folks knew when Christ would return, they would live self-centered lives and only “act Christian” when the deadline approached. The danger of this way of being is that the self-indulgent acknowledge the coming kingdom but do not truly want to be a part of it. The purpose of our faith is not to produce people who look Christian, it is to help us get to know Christ and be changed by that relationship. The self-indulgent worship their appetites and desires and do not prioritize God. They want to look outwardly holy to avoid eternal unpleasantness, but do not see sin as the enemy it is. They want to embrace sin without experiencing the consequences. The self-indulgent show by their actions that they do not want to be citizens of the kingdom, and God will not force them to be otherwise.

Second, Jesus spoke to the self-righteous, those at the other extreme. The self-righteous will be tempted to disengage from the world because they believe Christ’s return to be very soon. In their mind, the world will be destroyed soon so why bother dealing with anyone who is not “saved”? They have an “us” and “them” mentality and are comfortable with others being destroyed as long they and those they care about are safe. The self-righteous do not obey Christ’s imperative to love our fellow humans and make sacrifices for their well-being. They misunderstand the nature of love and show they have not been transformed by their proximity to Christ. They also do not understand that just as Jesus was sent by the Father, Christians are sent by Christ into the world. Loving our neighbors and bearing witness to the reality of Jesus are not optional activities for believers, because they were not optional activities for God. Therefore, the self-righteous reject the King of kings by refusing to follow in his ways, and God will not force them to be otherwise.

So, Jesus explains to believers who exist in this present evil age, that we should live as if Christ was coming today, but plan like his arrival is far in the future. Living like Christ was coming today means that we strive to take advantage of every opportunity to increase our intimacy with him. It means we desperately pursue him as the source of our life and desire to worship him in all that we think, say, and do. We pursue Christ not out of fear of death but because he pursued us to give us life. We have tasted and seen that he is good, and nothing else will satisfy.

Planning like Christ’s arrival is far in the future means that we do not ignore the plight of our neighbor. We are compelled by love to build authentic relationships with others, especially those who do not yet know Christ. We do so not with ulterior motives, but by the Spirit and with the hope that something of Christ will shine though us to spark something in them. Believers bear witness to the King by offering our neighbors opportunities to experience the kingdom with us. In other words, we participate in the work Jesus is doing to recreate the world.

What Jesus is asking of his followers is nothing new. He plainly said in multiple ways that to experience his salvation, we must love God and love our neighbor (Luke 10:27-28). That is what believers are to be doing no matter the times. We were not told the timing or precise circumstances of Christ’s return because that information does not change anything about what Christians are to be doing. What is different about this passage in Matthew is that Christ is warning us that there are consequences to not doing things his way. While some of the descriptions of the end of this age are scary, the inclusion of consequences should only bother those who commit to disobedience. Those who sincerely strive to love God and love others need feel nothing but excitement at Christ’s Second Coming.

The most important thing about this passage is that Jesus said it in the first place. The only reason to warn someone of danger is to keep any harm from happening to them. This reminds us that Christ is a Savior not a destroyer. He is a Savior, not because he is playing a role; it is who he is. It is part of his essential nature. We cannot be so distracted by our curiosity that we forget who is speaking to us. Think about the love Christ showed for all, the way he stood up for the marginalized and oppressed, and how he did all he could to eliminate suffering. This is the one who is coming back. Think about the compassion of Jesus, the care he took in teaching his disciples, and the intimate love he showed for the Father. This is the one who is coming back. Think about how he boldly defeated evil, how he humbly submitted to the leading of the Spirit, and how he bore every indignity for us. This is the one who is coming back.

We should celebrate the Second Coming of Jesus for many reasons, but primarily because of Jesus himself. He is in every way wonderful, and he is coming back for us! He is in every way beautiful, and he is coming back for us! He is in every way worthy, and he is coming back for us! During Advent, we should continue to make much of the incarnation and personal coming of Christ. However, let us equally celebrate that Jesus is coming back. We have nothing to fear because it is Jesus who is coming. Come, Lord Jesus! Come!

*For help untangling and understanding these topics, I suggest a collection of essays titled “Commentary on the Book of Revelation” on the Grace Communion International website.

Left Behind? w/ Stephen Morrison W3

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November 20 – Proper 29
Luke 23:33-43 “Father, Forgive Them”

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Program Transcript


Left Behind? w/ Stephen Morrison W3

Anthony: Let’s transition on to our next pericope, which is Luke 23:33 – 43. It is a Revised Common Lectionary passage for Proper 29, which is on November the 20th.

33 When they arrived at the place called The Skull, they crucified him, along with the criminals, one on his right and the other on his left. 34 Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they’re doing.” They drew lots as a way of dividing up his clothing. 35 The people were standing around watching, but the leaders sneered at him, saying, “He saved others. Let him save himself if he really is the Christ sent from God, the chosen one.” 36 The soldiers also mocked him. They came up to him, offering him sour wine 37 and saying, “If you really are the king of the Jews, save yourself.” 38 Above his head was a notice of the formal charge against him. It read “This is the king of the Jews.” 39 One of the criminals hanging next to Jesus insulted him: “Aren’t you the Christ? Save yourself and us!” 40 Responding, the other criminal spoke harshly to him, “Don’t you fear God, seeing that you’ve also been sentenced to die? 41 We are rightly condemned, for we are receiving the appropriate sentence for what we did. But this man has done nothing wrong.” 42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” 43 Jesus replied, “I assure you that today you will be with me in paradise.”

Father, forgive them for they don’t know what they’re doing. I think it’s impossible to comprehend the magnitude of this statement. All we can do is try to apprehend it. So, I want to give you an opportunity to help us apprehend the reality contained within. What say you?

Stephen: It’s certainly one of the most beautiful and challenging statements in the New Testament, in terms of how it just really hits home. It hits us right in our heart.

And I think when I hear this, I typically think of how Barth understood the doctrine of sin and what even sin is. And I think he got it right when he said that we don’t even know the depth of our sin without first knowing the depth of Christ reconciliation, and that we have to begin with Christ.

And so, what sin is, what it is that we even need forgiven from, we don’t truly know it until we know it in the light of reconciliation. And so, I think Barth uses that to create this beautiful concept — he starts off with the humiliation of the Son of God, that God became humble and became a human being so that the human beings who try to become God see what it is to truly be human and all of these different things.

But I think that just helps us think about this in a different way where we truly don’t know sin. I think we’re very quick to label things in all of this, but I think we don’t know it in the sense where we don’t know the depth of how much it hurts, not only us, how much it hurts our society and the people we love. But how much it grieves God, most of all.

And so not knowing what we’re doing when we do these things is just what it is to be human. But I think we have a sense not only of what those things are, but more importantly, we know them truly as we are forgiven of them. And that’s the beauty of the gospel is that even the things that we don’t know that we’ve done, the sin that we are scarred by is healed and is reconciled in the power of Christ and of his death and resurrection and his life lived on our behalf.

It’s such a mystery as well. I don’t want to ever try to remove the mystery from scripture or from the beauty of what Christ has done for us. Because there is still mystery in this and there is still a sense of awe that we should always have for this.

And I think that’s the first impression that I have, and I would want to impress on everyone listening, is that this is a beautiful phrase, but it’s a terrifying and awe-inspiring phrase. And that we are forgiven in spite of not knowing what we do and the person on the cross with them received this promise of being with them today in paradise and how paradoxical that even feels.

But it really strikes to the core for me of what it is to reconcile to God. It’s not something that we do. It’s purely a gift of grace and how wonderful that is. It just really gets to the heart of how beautiful the gospel can be and how inspiring it is for us. And how challenging as well it can be for us.

Anthony: Yeah. You spoke of the mystery of this beauty. Let’s press in there a little bit more because the criminal asked Jesus to remember him when he comes into his kingdom. It just strikes me, isn’t this really the cry for all of humanity, whether we know it or not? And so, where is the hope for that criminal and all the rest of us criminals out here trying to do this thing called life.

Stephen: Yeah, that really hits it on the head. That is all of us. That’s our cry as human beings, that’s what we cry out.

The cross is such a – not only in this passage, in all the other words of Christ and the cross and the witness to that in scripture – is such a beautiful account of this sense of people crying out and having this, “my God, you forsaken me” for example, being one. And that sense of trust, “into your hands, I commend my spirit.”

All of these, I think have a reflection in what it is to be human. And I think it just is such a beautiful portrait of not only who we are, but really the depths of how far Christ went into our humanity and into the darkness of our fallenness and really met us in our rawness, in our in our ignorance and in our sin and in our evil and met us really at the depths of that.

Calvin has a great phrase where “he became bone of our bone and flesh of our flesh.” He truly met us where we are. And yeah, certainly a cry that is mimicked and echoed within humanity.

And I think the remembrance of God is the hope that we have that Christ does hold us in the remembrance. And I think there’s something really beautiful that I was reading recently about how in the Hebrew scriptures, the act of remembrance is such an important priority. Today, we overlook that. We just think, oh, just memory, it’s just something you have. It’s almost an object.

But, for them, remembering an event that took place was almost an act of remixing it and reliving it. And the remembrance of what God had done — particularly like in the Exodus or in other events of God’s acts in history with Israel — remembering it was almost as important as the actual event itself. The beginning of the 10 commandments states that, “I’m the Lord, your God who liberated you from the Egyptian captivity.” And then the commandments come.

And so, there’s this sense where remembrance has more of a power to it than just, oh remember me, remember that I exist factually, remember who I am. But it’s actually this sense of remember me and being revived and being in that remembrance.

And I think there’s a lot more to this than typically gets understood of just oh, remember me in your book, check me off on the list or whatever. The remembrance is this act of recalling and almost to some extent, more vital than just the factual checking of the box for us.

It’s a big source, a great source of hope for us that we will be remembered in Christ and that he not only has our name, one among billions, but that truly remembers who we are and that remembrance brings us back to back to him. And it foreshadows and points to the resurrection that’s the great remembrance that in Christ we are raised again to new life.

And the kingdom that is to come is that kingdom of new life. And yeah, it’s a very pregnant phrase for sure.

Anthony: Yes. Pregnant, indeed. The word even, remember – there’s so much you can unpack there with the resurrection and the way that Jesus and his Father. Remember us in the triune life. What a beautiful thing.

Now you mentioned the statement that Jesus made, why have you forsaken me? And I’d like to scratch that itch just a little bit more, if I may. Anything that you want to say about some of the atonement theories out there?

Just to let you in on some insight on the way I think. Things like punitive theories, like penal substitution, substitutionary atonement, has done a lot of damage in terms of the way that we see the relationship, the triune relationship of Father, Son, and Spirit, revealed at the cross.

Anything that you want to say about that?

Stephen: Yeah. I have a lot of thoughts on this. I think we could derail the whole full show.

But I definitely agree. I think penal substitution to is one of those things that for me, an early joy in discovery for theology was just the reality that’s not the only way of looking at the cross.

And I think tearing down some of those presuppositions that come with it, the idea of God being this angry father and then Jesus just being the nice guy that steps in takes the blow, the whole narrative of that. And so yeah, there’s a lot of ways where that divides the Trinity itself. Like you said, that’s extremely problematic.

I’ll throw a little plug in. I did do a long video series on penal substitution on my YouTube channel. That’s a good, I think, primer into some of these questions and how they can be addressed.

But yeah, I do think, like you said, the [statement] “my God, why you forsaken me?” I think the first way that I understand it is really it proclaims the depth of how far Christ went into our fallen mind, into our fallen situation. And that he truly touched the depths of what it is to feel forsaken.

Now did the father actually forsake the son? I don’t think that’s possible. The father and the Son are one. Even Jesus said a few verses before that everyone else will abandon me, but my father will be with me. And I think that’s confirmed with the word that “into your spirit or into your hands, I commend my spirit,” at the conclusion of that. And yeah, there’s a lot there.

Reflecting back on how it ties back into Psalms 22 – which is what Christ is actually quoting with this phrase – the end of that Psalm, ends in this triumphant realization that God did not abandon, did not forsake his servant; and so, there’s that aspect as well. Taking just that verse by itself without recognizing the context to it, and the fact that he was declaring something that had a very profound meaning to the listeners who would’ve known instantly, oh, I know that song. I know the way that ends and it’s not this hopeless, pitiful situation.

But it truly is one where even in that depth of feeling so god-forsaken, God has entered into that god-forsakenness and made it his own. And in that sense, redeemed it and found us even in that depth where even if I make my bed in hell, you were there.

And so that’s a beautiful insight too. Where even in the most pitiful in the depth of despair that we can find ourselves in, Christ has even penetrated into that depth and met us there and comforted us in that moment and brought us to a new life as a result.

Anthony: Hallelujah. Praise God.


Small Group Discussion Questions

From Speaking of Life
  • Why do you think God used a temple on a mountain to symbolize the kingdom of God in the book of Isaiah?
  • What are some ways we can testify that Jesus is the end of injustice, corruption, oppression, and every other form of darkness?
From the sermon
  • When thinking about the Second Coming of Christ, have you ever felt confusion or fear?
  • What do you think would happen if people knew the exact time of Christ’s return?
  • What are some ways you would like to live as if Christ was coming today but plan like his arrival is far in the future?