Sunday, August 23, 2009

Spirit of Consumerism 8.23

Smyrna & the Spirit of Consumerism

About a week or so ago, Bree and I watched a cute film. It was well done. But for the first several scenes, I was pretty frustrated with the main character, and not sure if I was going to be able to finish the film.

You see, the main character, She has an addiction to shopping. She loves to shop. It’s her curse. She can pretty much think of nothing else; the smells, the new cloth, the adrenaline of a new purchase. She is upside down in credit, and doesn’t know where to go, what to do, or how to get out of the habits she’s in. The film starts with her in route to a job interview, seeing a new green scarf in a store front window, rationalizing the need to buy it and wear it, to ensure her ability to get the new job. She decides she needs the scarf so badly that she pays for part of it in cash, and part of it on 3 different credit cards – because they’re all nearly maxed out!

Our text this morning from Revelation 2:8-11 is written to the church in Smyrna. We are looking at it in light of a Spirit of Consumerism. It might not be relevant right off that the church in Smyrna is caught in a spirit of consumerism, but as we look at their situation, we can’t help but wonder, how are we - here in Seattle, wherever we are, in our own lives - caught in a spirit of consumerism.

To give a little background, the city of Smyrna was located adjacent to a deep gulf which made it a desirable location for nearly every major political power. The city was in constant turmoil, destruction and rebuilding. Author/Pastor Scott Daniels says Rome takes most of the credit for Smyrna’s resurrection.

In the minds of the first-century citizens of Smyrna, it was because of their allegiance to Roma and the gods of the empire that their life as a major city had been restored. Even the buildings that surrounded the city during this time were symbolic of the gods’ favor. As one approached the city by boat, the great buildings looked like a crown or garland adorning the cliffs; it’s said, to encourage poets to speak of the spectacular skyline of the city as ‘the crown of Smyrna.”

The city was in a place of prestige with the Roman Empire. However the church was not. The church in Smyrna faced threats from two directions. The first was Rome, with the people becoming increasingly willing to worship the great empire. It became the practice of the people, like their patriotism, to once a year go to the alter and burn a pinch of incense, doing so gave the citizens a certificate that verified they had participated in their civic duty. The second and more challenging came from the Jewish community of Smyrna, who had developed a co-operative understanding with the Romans to worship their God freely as long as they were willing to participate in various civic aspects of the city’s life. Although many of the Christians in Smyrna were certainly Jewish, gentiles were also converting to the Christian faith. So, as new believers sought affiliation with the Jewish faith, hoping for the ability to no longer participate in the cultic worship practices of the empire, they were openly rejected by the Jewish citizens of Smyrna, leaving them outside the umbrella of protection afforded the Jewish population and thus vulnerable to persecution.

This brings us to the poverty of the Smyrna church. It is probable that this poverty is a literal material poverty and not a spiritual poverty. The economic welfare of the believers, we may assume was not due alone to their normal economic condition but to confiscation of property, looting, and the difficulty of earning a living in a hostile environment.

From the perspective of earth, the city of Smyrna is rich and powerful. The city wears the crown bestowed on it by the empire. From the perspective of earth, the Christians of Smyrna are not only poor and foolish, but also suspicious outsiders who refuse to participate in the systems of power that make the city great. From the perspective of heaven, however, the city of Smyrna is poor because it has placed its hope and trust in powers that cannot survive “the second death”.

It’s interesting that of the seven churches spoken of in Revelation, the church of Smyrna, with its empirical poverty, is the only one to still exist. It remains a vibrant center of Eastern Orthodox worship and education.

I was watching this film “Confessions of a Shopaholic” with Bree the other day, and here I am, discussing the Spirit of Consumerism. The girl in the film, had a spirit of consuming about her. She wouldn’t think to look in the closet for an outfit to wear to a special occasion; the mall was the only place to look.

This is pretty common of our society isn’t it! We have a spirit of consumerism. I do it, and I know you do too. I did it this week. Perhaps this is my “confessions of a consumerist.” Anyway, Bree and I went to the bookstore on Thursday and a book popped out to us. As I flipped through it, it made me laugh and I bought it.

The book I bought is titled: Little-Known FACTS about Well-Known PLACES – Disneyland.
Here let me highlight a few of my favorite random facts about Disneyland.
Did you know: There is a regulation-size half-court on which employees can play basketball inside the Matterhorn?
Did you know: The most popular food item at Disneyland is ice cream. Main Street’s Gibson Girl Parlor alone sells enough yearly to build a life-size replica of the Matterhorn.
Did you know: The gold decorating the exterior of It’s A Small World isn’t paint but, in fact, 22-karat gold leaf.
Did you know: The ground at the entrance to the park is red to simulate a red carpet, and to make every guest feel like a V.I.P.; and on entering Main Street, the pavement becomes black, because black gets hot and “hot” keeps crowds moving – not just into the park, but directly into Main Street shops.
Did you know: To encourage guests to buy sweatshirts and warm clothing, the Disney Clothiers, Ltd store is kept several degrees cooler than the other shops on Main Street.

What does all this say to us? What does it say about us? Several of these little known facts about Disneyland speak to the amount of consuming we do as a people. It talks about our empires structure to encourage us to spend, buy, take, and consume.

Every year, when I was growing up, when we would have Nazarene Night at Disneyland, I had to have a new hat. I had quite the collection of Mickey baseball caps. I never ate ice cream, I didn’t buy sweatshirts, or t-shirts, but you better believe I came home with a hat!

Doesn’t it seem like our culture encourages us to consume. We are encouraged to upgrade our tv to digital. We’re encouraged to switch out our DVD player for a BlueRay. We’re encouraged to take advantage of the Cash for Clunkers while there’s still money available. Get rid of the old, upgrade, renew, and buy the new! There is always this desire for more, to have, to posses. Our culture spurs it on. Our North American culture actually thrives on it. It thrives on our spending. Remember the $600 bucks we got from the government to spend last year!

Even our popular television shows sometimes poke fun at our consumerism, while at the same time encouraging us to continue to spend. Take the show Chuck for example. Chuck works for the BuyMore, which is next to Large Mart. When we watch shows, sports, anything on the ol’ tube, (and now even the internet) we’re inundated with commercials seeking to lure us into supporting the shoe, food, car, and dotcom industries.

But what do we do with this as Christians? How do we balance our understanding of Christ’s call on our lives with the empirical message to consume?

That’s a hard question because we have our own tendencies and forms of consumerism in the Church don’t we? We always hear the term “Church Shoppers.” There are people out looking for the church which meets their stylistic, emotional, personality, and esthetic needs/tastes/ and flavors, just as they would a new car, shirt, or restaurant.

We live in a pluralistic religious society, much like that of the city of Smyrna, where there are many faiths to choose from. We have Buddhist, Mormon, Hindu, New Age, Jewish, & Christian – which contains how many denominations? Catholic, Lutheran, Anglican, Episcopal, UCC, Baptist, Methodist, Congregational, Brethren, Nazarene, Wesleyan, Presbyterian… The list goes on and on. We have choices, doctrines to choose from and ways we have structured even the Church to fall into the trap of consumerism.

In the book Shaped by God’s Heart, Minatrea says “Research reveals that we prefer engaging in experiences rather than passively receiving goods or services. The more immersed and actively involved one is in an experience, the more memorable that experience is. Should church be any different?

Most people would agree that many worship services do not actively engage people. Worshipers sit in pews watching those on the stage. From this perspective, what many call ‘worship’ appears more entertainment than involvement. Authentic worship invites participants, not spectators. Worship is not learning about God; it is encountering God. It is not hearing about him, but hearing him. Worship is not standing some distance away and looking on; it is entering his presence. Worship is experiential and participative. It is active. The experience of worship changes us.”

This quote makes me wonder what the difference, if there is one, is between consuming and participating. We are asked to participate in the Kingdom of God. We are asked to pick up our cross. We are asked to step out of the norm, out of the empire, and into the kingdom.

So, what does participation look like? How do we, as the people of God, participate in his plan of redemption for his people? How are we stepping out to serve the hurting, the broken, the disenfranchised? How are we engaging all of our senses in worship? How are we looking to the graces of yesterday and enabling them to ignite the smoldering embers of our faith to burn boldly into tomorrow!

How are we mimicking the first century church, the church of Acts 2, in stepping out of the consuming norm of the empirical standards? The end of Acts chapter 2 says: 42 They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. 46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold their stuff, they gave to anyone, male female – I believe believer or not, who had need. They began living in God’s Upside Down Kingdom.

God’s Kingdom is not one where we buy and buy and buy, having, needing and wanting the latest trend. God’s kingdom is one where we give and give and give, loving those who are entrapped in the deteriorating system which falls at the second death.

You see, we are called to something much greater than the consumption of material goods. If we are to consume, we are to seek the cup from which we will never thirst again. If we are to consume, we are to break from the living bread which sustains. If we are to consume, we are to soak up the words of our loving father that we may perpetuate their truth to this dry and thirsty land.

It is not in our consumption that we are defined as followers of Christ, but rather by our giving. We are called to give. We are to give love when love is not found. We are to offer peace when hostilities abound.

The consuming nature of the empire found in Smyrna did not define the church. And the consumption of our state must not define us. We are called to be people, like the church of Acts 2, who look out for one another. We are to support the unwed 15 year old mother. We are to come around her and offer her love and encouragement. We are to be Christ where hurt and sorrow foster. We are to give in light of the societal call to consume and toss away.

This is why we offer Mosaic in terms unfamiliar to the empirical structure. Rome cannot define who we are and how we live. We will provide a place for all to come together. We will provide a place where God’s Upside Down kingdom is displayed. As God’s people we will not be defined by the consumeristic empirical spirit of this broken world. We will be a Spirit filled, loving community, open to the wonders of God’s work. We will embrace those who wander; seeking to help the disenfranchised find hope in the community of God’s love.

You see, we are called to something much greater than the consumption of material goods. If we are to consume, we are to soak up the words of our loving father that we may perpetuate their truth to this dry and thirsty land. If we are to consume, we are to seek the cup from which we will never thirst again, we are to break from the living bread which sustains.

As we come to the table today in remembrance of the sacrifice of the body and blood of our Lord, consume that which was freely given to you in love so you too may love as God loves.

As you go, go not with a spirit of consumption but rather of giving.
Go and Love.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

apathetic faith 8.2

This week as we gather together we are looking at the Church of Sardis in Revelation chapter 3. Throughout these summer Sundays we have been looking at the churches of Revelation and seeking to understand who they were and what they have to say to us. And so it is today that we look at the church of Sardis.

One of the things I’ve found interesting lately is facebook. You know about facebook right? Let me tell you something about facebook, you are either on it or you have an immediate relative who is. Facebook is the number one social networking group worldwide. What is interesting about facebook is that it can connect you with people in your neighborhood, your city, your school, whatever group, or location. It is a way to connect. One of its most prolific tools of connecting is with friends from the past. Just this week I was able to connect with three friends from high school who I haven’t talked to in over 10 years. It’s been fun to talk with them, find out what’s going on in their lives, and laugh about the past. When we connect with old friends we’re able to laugh at the stupid and silly things we did, while also remembering the times where we came around one another and supported each other through the tough times.

The past is vital to us. It helps define who we are doesn’t it? The past gives us mile markers, events to point to, times where change happened. It points to times where the unexpected took place and surprised us. Joy, tears, sorrow, and bliss all scatter the pages of our past.

We all have interesting stories from our pasts. We, as a church, have an interesting story. We started over 100 years ago, in a small church building down town. We’ve gone through 3, or more, fires. We have seen some amazing God things happen.

And this is what I want to do, I want us to share some of these amazing things God has done to us and through us. Cuz they are there!

So, turn to your neighbor, and share something God has done to you or through you.
Ok, who wants to share what God has done in your life to all of us?

You know, the Sardis church is interesting. It’s said that the city of Sardis had never been taken captive by direct assault. But twice in its history, in both 549 and 195 BC, the city was conquered by its enemies. You see, Sardis sat atop a great cliff with only one access route, so it was easy to defend its gates. Yet, each time Sardis was attacked and taken over it was by enemies who during nightfall scaled their way up the sides of the cliffs to find a small access hole in the wall of the city. The history of Sardis demonstrated the need to be aware of enemies who come “like a thief in the night.”

To the church of Sardis, chapter 3 says “I know your deeds; you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead. 2 Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have found your deeds unfinished in the sight of my God.” Like so many churches, the church in Sardis had learned to coast on its past glories and achievements. It became a picture of a church that is proud, bored, and living off its memory – and not moving forward. It was stagnant. It wasn’t going anywhere.

One writer says the church of Sardis was a church of apathetic faith. It was a pathetic faith, one where nothing took place. It was dead, dormant, bored. It was one which was a sleep – filled with slumber.

It’s easy to understand how this can happen isn’t it? We all like to look back on the past. We often have shiny well painted pictures of the way things were, the way things have happened, and the way things should be. And so it was with the church in Sardis.

Alright, so, I’ve got a question for you. Who here knows what happened on March 31, 2007?

That’s the day we opened our coffee house. That’s the day we set aside space for our community to use. That’s the start of our mission to allow friends to come together, neighbors to know one another, relationships to be forged and renewed. March 31st is the day we began, on a regular basis, to feed homeless people and give them a place to be loved. It’s a day we chose to step forward in faith. Through Mosaic we have hosted great events, we have made amazing friendships, and we have shared God’s love with Wallingford.

And I dare say, we’re not done there! Amen? We’re not done with Mosaic. Mosaic is not history. It has made history, but it is not history. But we cannot rest in the good times of the grand opening of Mosaic. We cannot rest in the memory of the great flood of 2006 which enabled God’s grace to transform an old basement. We can not!

We cannot rest there! For when we begin to rest, we begin to fall into the pattern set before us by the church of Sardis. We must not become complacent in the success of yesterday. No, yesterday must function as a motivation for us to continue forward. It must allow us to look out into the future and see new possibilities. We have an active God who is always loving, always engaging, and always speaking new life into dry and dying bones.

So, what’s next? What do we do? Where are we to go? Who are we to meet, to love, to introduce to the grace of the kingdom of God? Who, what, where, when, and how?

We all have events in our past, glory days, days we look back on with fondness. The church of Sardis sparks the question: how do we remember these past triumphs, these good times and be impassioned for today?

What’s next? What is God calling us, his church, to? What is God calling you to? What does he want you to do for him? What does he want to do through you? Is God speaking to you? Can you hear him?

God is not sleeping. God is awake, he is speaking. He is always doing, always engaging. It’s his M.O. It’s how he rolls. It’s what he does. He engages with his people. He loves the interaction of the relationship.

If we’re not hearing from God… I don’t think it’s cuz he’s not speaking. I don’t think its cuz he’s asleep. Perhaps it’s because we are.

In his book on Revelation Scott Daniels writes: The church in Sardis is called to, ‘Remembr what you received and heard’ (3:3). The remembering that Sardis needed to do was a special kind of remembering. The kind of memory it had been keeping was a glorification of the past. Living solely in the past often causes the church to become stagnant as it dwells on all that has gone on before. The kind of remembering Sardis needed to do was the recalling of the presence of God that enlivened and gave power in the challenges of the past so that they could have faith to move forward into God’s future.”

I love that last line. The kind of remembering Sardis needed to do was the recalling of the presence of God that enlivened and gave power in the challenges of the past so that they could have faith to move forward into God’s future. Can we substitute Sardis for Seattle First?

Here, listen to this: The kind of remembering Seattle First Church needs to do is the recalling of the presence of God that enlivens and gives power in the challenges of the past so we can have faith to move forward into God’s future. God’s kingdom future.

Wow, Yes! That is what we need isn’t it! That’s why the past is so important. The past helps us to have faith, faith in the future. The past helps us to have hope, hope in the future. The past helps us to put movement behind our desire to follow God into his kingdom future. The past is vital. But we cannot get stuck only looking at the past. When we do that, its death. The past has to be a lens to look into the future.

We, the church, have to begin, continue, always be asking how we can transform the community, how can we hit the streets with the gospel. The church of Sardis had a tendency to believe that if we simply ‘build it, they will come.’ We often are lulled into believing the practices of the past worked for us and so they should continue to work for others regardless of their culture and background. But we know this is not true. We know we must continue to engage with our culture, engage with our neighbors and be willing to step out in faith to be Christ – here and now!

So, again I ask, what’s next? What do you want to see God do in your life? What do you want to see God do next in your community? What do you hope to see happen in the coming days for the glory of the lord? And how will you step out to ensure it happens?
Turn to your neighbor, right now, and share some things you want to see God do next. I want us to share some of these amazing things we hope to see God do through us. What’s next?
Ok, who wants to share your hopes and dreams of what God might do next?

We cannot become like the Church of Sardis – asleep fostering an apathetic faith. We must, continue in passion, proclaiming the good news. Living our lives, our Holy, Sanctified lives, that the kingdom of God might be here on earth as it is in heaven.

You know, there are many churches in North America that are in danger of becoming a vacant reminder of better days. Let’s never become one of them. Let’s use the past to spur one another on toward love and good deeds. For us, the people of God, the best days are always ahead, not because of who we are, but because of who God is, calling us into his future.

Jesus asked us to remember didn’t he? He took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and giving it to his disciples he said, "This is my body broken and given for you; do this in remembrance of me.”

We participate in communion, not because it’s a ritual, but because it reminds us of the past and spurs us on to the future. As we eat the bread and drink from the cup we remember what was done for us. We remember the pain that was suffered, the grace that was given, the power that was wrought. And in so remembering, we are empowered to live today on into tomorrow.

May we not slumber in apathy, holding tightly to things that were, but remember the graces of yesterday and enable them to ignite the smoldering embers of our faith to burn boldly into tomorrow! May we always be people of action, looking for ways to engage love to this hurting world. May we always be ready to move when tomorrow comes calling us to hope.

God is not sleeping. God is always awake, he is always speaking. He is always doing. He is always engaging. It’s his M.O., his mode of operation. It’s how he rolls. It’s what he does. He engages with his people. He loves the interaction of the relationship.

If we’re not hearing from God… I don’t think it’s cuz he’s not speaking. I don’t think its cuz he’s asleep. It might be because we are.

May we not slumber in apathy, holding tightly to things that were, but remember the graces of yesterday and enable them to ignite the smoldering embers of our faith to burn boldly into tomorrow!

As you go, look upon the past as to empower your faith for tomorrow.
Go and Love.