Salt and Light | Bob Reid

 Matthew 5:13-20 | Salt and Light

 

“You are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world…let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in Heaven.” –Jesus

What is the nature of Christian witness? What should Christianity’s witness look like? The images that Jesus uses in Matthew (city on a hill, light in the darkness) have inspired some bizarre applications. The United States has, throughout its history, borrowed the language of Jesus as a rallying cry. Churches have applied Jesus’ words in myriad ways, sometimes in self-sacrificial ways, at other times, in order to justify violent hegemony.

On Sunday, Bob preached a sermon about the nature of the church’s witness. Here are three points I found most significant:

1.     Not you, but y’all.  Bob made the point that Jesus is talking to the church. In other words, Jesus’ audience is not a group of people who are unfamiliar with each other and who will therefore have to go off and apply these truths on their own. Jesus is talking to the community who is following him. He is telling them what their community must look like. Jesus is creating a new community. In his life, death, and resurrection, he redefines what it means to be the people of God. Here, he is telling that community what they will look like. This statement about salt and light isn’t for the context of a you-God relationship. It is for a community of faith wrapped up in the life of Jesus.

2.     Not imperative, but Indicative. Strangely enough, Jesus doesn’t say, “You should be like salt. Or, you should be a light. Or, you should be a city on a hill.” He says that it is simply a matter of fact that the community who follows Jesus IS salt, light, and a city on a hill. We should not deceive ourselves, thinking that we have a choice in whether or not we are light or salt. Being the church necessarily implies that we are witnesses. What there seems to be some variance in is to what extent we point people to God’s love for the world rather than to our own glory.

3.     Following Jesus Visibly. Bob closed his sermon referencing Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Bonhoeffer is a German theologian who was killed during WWII for being a part of a resistance movement against Hitler. Bonhoeffer had a rich understanding of what the community of faith ought to look like. Being a city on a hill took on significant meaning for German Christians during WWII. He insisted that the church be a visible sign of God’s coming kingdom. Bob mentioned Grace Chicago’s partnership with Breakthrough Urban Ministries as an example of how we practically and visibly seek to live out the gospel.

As the church, we are called to “live in a way that draws all to God’s love for the world.” We do that as we embody God’s love in our own community and as we engage our city in ways that point back to God’s love.

Prayers of the People

We pray for those who have lost family members recently. Many in our community are mourning losses. We pray that you would pour out your Holy Spirit upon them that they may know your presence in this difficult time.

Our prayers go out to the family of a youth who was killed over the weekend to the violence that continues to plague our city. The young man was from the southside and was a former farm worker at the Gary Comer Youth Center. We pray that city leaders can continue weaken the gangs in our communities and that both state and federal leaders can work together in a manner that truly seeks the best for all people in our community.  May we all seek your wisdom to how we can be a part of your vision in this time.

We pray for Andrew, Amy and Irene Fields in Columbia.  We pray for Andrew as he teaches and takes on some new responsibilities.  We pray especially for the students in his class, many of whom are new and adjusting to seminary life. We also want to lift up to you Amy as she has been in poor health since they returned to Columbia.  We thank you for her continued improvement and ask that she can return to full health soon.

Lord in your mercy....Hear our prayer

 

 

 

 

Fishing For People | Pastor Bob Reid

Matthew 4:17-20

“From that time Jesus began to proclaim, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea-for they were fishermen. And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” Immediately, they left their nets and followed him.”

As a child, I found the idea of “fishing for men” odd. In Sunday School we sang the song, “I will make you fishers of men…if you follow me.” That never sounded like an enticing proposition. If I follow Jesus, I will get to fish for people?I will get to cast out nets in order to catch as many people as I could? No thanks. As a child, the idea of fishing for people was unappealing. It hasn’t grown in appeal over time.

The church’s interpretation of Jesus’ proposal to Simon and Andrew to make them fishers of people has taken on some dangerous forms in the church’s history. I've seen evangelism tracts that 'fish for people' by expounding upon the terror of what might happen if you don't jump into Jesus' net of salvation. Entire centuries have been dominated by Christian crusades that seek to convert through violence and manipulation.  Subtler versions of guilt and coercion can be found in Christian churches all over the world, justified by the command to fish for people. 

On Sunday, Pastor Bob reframed Jesus' command. What is Jesus truly inviting Simon and Andrew to be a part of? What is at the heart of Jesus’ missional longing to fish for people? Bob suggested that what Jesus is interested in is flourishing joy for his disciples and for the world.  Jesus teaches his disciples “the true value of a human life.” The ministry of Christ and his disciples is not characterized by aggressive evangelism or coercion. It is characterized by Jesus’ great love for each person he comes in contact with.

Joy, Bob suggested, was at the heart of Jesus’ ministry. Christ came that human beings might have life, and life to the full. The joy of the flourishing life is at the core of what Jesus and his disciples are about. 

Two weeks ago, Miroslav Volf preached on two infinities that keep us from true joy. On Sunday, Bob talked about two nihilisms that we must avoid in order to experience true joy.

Nihilism is simply extreme rejection. The first rejection, or nihilism, that Bob mentioned is the rejection of this world for an eternal and spiritual world. American Christianity has offered a brand of this nihilism. People with this posture view the world as a sinking ship. The world is going to “Hell in a hand basket.” The Christian's task is to save as many souls as one can before the ship goes down. Jesus is the life jacket of salvation that keeps us floating.

The second nihilism is a complete rejection of God or meaning. The earth and all that is in it has no purpose beyond the sensations of pain or pleasure. This nihilism leads to complete self-absorption. Since there is no purpose beyond my own experience, I should eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow I will die. This nihilism leaves victims in the wake of its selfishness. It leads to restlessness and anxiety that can be masked for a moment but can never be quenched apart from God.

Jesus offers us truth and life in between these two worlds. At the heart of Jesus' ministry and his desire to "fish for men" is a longing for human beings to experience true joy in the Holy Spirit. Jesus wants us to be fully human, living profoundly in this present world, seeking its shalom, while also resting in the reality that God holds all things in his hands. Jesus will make his disciples followers who experience true joy, and who point others towards the same joy that can only be found in Christ. 

Prayers of the People

We continue to lift up to you our nation in this time.  As we enter a time of transition and uncertainty we ask that your people would continue to lift up prayers for those in power.  We thank you for our nation of freedoms and pray you would continue to raise up leaders who desire your wisdom, grace and power to be the true guider of our people.  

Gracious God, we lift up to you those who are searching for employment.  May you open doors to new and promising opportunities.  Give wisdom to the search so that each finds fulfillment in the opportunities the job provides.  

Lord in your mercy....Hear our prayer

Miroslav Volf Guest Preaching

*Audio of Volf's homily from Sunday is available here

Grace Chicago was honored to host Dr. Miroslav Volf this Sunday. Volf, the Henry B. Wright Professor of Systematic Theology at Yale, is regarded as one of the most important political theologians in the world today. Few theologians or authors have influenced Grace's mission and vision as profoundly as Dr. Volf. In Pastor Bob's introduction, he specifically referenced the role of Soft Difference, an article Volf authored about how the church ought to exist alongside of culture. If you're interested in hearing more from Volf, we recommend the article mentioned above, his classic work Exclusion and Embrace, or the interview below with Krista Tippett.   

Homily Recap |  Luke 10:25-28 | Written by Caleb Schut

Volf began his homily by quoting Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount: "Look at the birds." Human beings are not much like chirping contented birds. We are, Volf suggested, more like scurrying rats or marching ants. The culture that we live in rewards scurrying and marching. It does not reward the rejoicing contentment of chirping birds. The world that we live in warps our habits and even our desires in such a way that experiencing joy is quite difficult. "Joy crowns a life lived well," Volf suggested. It stands beside righteousness and peace as foundational qualities of the Kingdom of God (Romans 14:17). 

Living the good life (a flourishing life) has everything to do with right action (righteousness), the right circumstances (peace/shalom; Volf pointed out that God is a circumstance. Being love by God unconditionally is the most important circumstance), and joy (inner satisfaction). While there are feel-good pills, there are no feel-joy peels because feeling good and experiencing joy are two very different things. "I can just feel good, period," Volf said, "but I can never just rejoice, period. You always rejoice or experience joy over something." Experiencing joy is related to, and in some ways dependent upon peace (circumstance) and righteousness (acting rightly). But, as Volf sees it, there are two major inhibitors to joy. Volf described them as two bad infinities. 

The first bad infinity is the infinity of desire. Human beings are insatiable. John Rockefeller's famous quote comes to mind. When asked how much money is enough, he responded, "just a little bit more." The story of Adam and Eve not being satisfied with their lot in the garden is another example of how discontent is, perhaps, in our nature. Volf suggested, though, that modern markets also stoke the fire of insatiability. "The more cake you eat today, the more you will want tomorrow," Volf said. Markets do not simply respond to needs and wants, they create them. The market cripples contentment.  This infinity of desire makes joy impossible. We are never content with what we have or how much we have, and we are therefore unable to rejoice at the gifts we have received. We constantly long for more and better. We even ordain this desire and admire it in people.

The second bad infinity is the infinity of responsibility. We live in an intensely competitive world in which we sense a moral responsibility to do more and to be more. We view it as a sin to be doing as little as we are or to be content with amount of good that we are doing. We feel guilty about not doing enough. On the rare day that we don't experience this guilt, we feel guilty about not feeling guilty! We are unable to experience joy because of the pressing moral responsibility of doing more. We cannot find any rest or delight in the idea that what we have done is enough, or in the truer reality, that we are not God and cannot save the world. This insatiable guilt of responsibility "bleaches the color out of life" and "shrivels the muscles of joy." 

The infinities of desire and responsibility keep us from experiencing contentment and joy. The deception that we never have enough nor do we ever do enough constricts our ability to rest and rejoice. Volf commended the practice of Sabbath as a beacon leading towards true joy. However, Sabbath is not primarily rest from work. It is more fundamentally a rest from striving. It is a break from the endless striving that keeps us from experiencing true joy. We live in a world of scurrying and marching, but joy will come from looking at the birds of the air and learning to be a bit more like them. 

Prayers of the People

We pray this week for our country as we have a presidential transition.  We pray for our president elect, his family and for all those who will be seated in leadership around him.  We pray that God would soften hearts and allow grace, mercy and wisdom to seep in at every possible opportunity. We also pray for many who experience fear in this uncertain time.  May you take the burden of our fears, the uncertainty of our hopes and the anxiety about our future into your hands. 

Lord Jesus, we pray for protection to those who have fled their homes because of violence or unrest in their communities. Give them strength on their journey and we ask that they may find places of compassion at which to rest.  Ease their fears as they have thrown their lot with strangers.  And keep alive the vision of having a secure and welcoming home. 

Open our eyes Lord to the world around us.  Show us what we should see but from which we hide our eyes.  Open our eyes to to the shape of our kingdom.  Show us what life should be if only we could see in wisdom.  Open our eyes to the people around us.  Show us what we should see, but we fail to notice. 

Lord in mercy......Hear our prayer