A Matter of Proximity

Life Notes—January 28, 2010 

“…and you will say, ‘Do here also in your hometown the things that we have heard you did at Capernaum.  And he said, ‘Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown.’”   Luke 4:23b-24 

When I was in high school and college I played in rock bands.  Although the bands were mostly based in Topeka, most performances were out of town.  We were much better known and popular in areas outside of Topeka than we were in our hometown.  The band Kansas, which had huge national success in the 1970s and 1980s, was also from Topeka.  Until they hit the ‘big-time’ they also had a relatively modest following at home, paling in comparison to their following across the country.  I often wondered why it seemed so difficult to obtain the same level of appreciation and notoriety at home as was experienced elsewhere.  I think it might have something to do with familiarity. 

Jesus, too, had problems establishing legitimacy at home.  The powerful words he spoke drew cynical comments like, “Is not this Joseph’s son?”  Does being familiar with one’s lineage automatically disqualify them from being recognized as something special?  How often do companies hire in-town consultants?  In my experience, not very often. There seems to be a bias that someone from out of town will be more knowledgeable and worthy of attention, as if distance and credibility were directly related. 

Of course the bias against my bands of old, if it actually existed, worked to our advantage out of town where local bands probably scratched their heads wondering what we had that they lacked.  It’s a matter of proximity.  Can Jesus and his message become too close and familiar?  Perhaps we become blinded because we’ve lived around them so long, when we need to be living with them, internalizing them.  Familiarity can make something seem so commonplace we lose our sense of urgency to experience it, our sense of wonder and our sense of appreciation.  We become complacent cynics, rather than zealous participants.  Unfortunately, it happens in families, too. 

This Sunday’s theme is The Power of God’s Word.  Tom’s sermon will be drawn from Luke 4:21-30.  Life service is at 10:45 in Brady Hall.  Traditional worship in the sanctuary is at 8:30 and 11:00.  Contemporary worship at the west campus is at 9:30.  Does the fact we worship together every week make it less valuable?  Hopefully, through regular participation, weekly worship becomes more vital in our lives, not something made easier to overlook. 

Come home to worship this Sunday! Good fellowship in close proximity is awesome!

Greg Hildenbrand, Life Music Coordinator

Members in the Body

Life Notes—January 21, 2010 

“For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ…If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it.   1 Corinthians 12: 12, 26 

One of the rights of passage of parents of 8th graders in Lawrence is watching, coaching, assisting and otherwise supervising the construction of a Rube Goldberg machine as a part of their child’s science project.  In the Hildenbrand basement we have the remnants of two such machines, each painstakingly crafted over a period of days, and tested and adjusted, tested and adjusted, and tested and adjusted again.  Much praying and crossing of fingers occurs on the day it is finally tested at school. 

Wikipedia defines a Rube Goldberg machine as a “deliberately over-engineered machine that performs a very simple task in a very complex fashion.”  For my children the rules included having at least 20 separate steps leading to the task completion, with the inclusion of each of the six types of simple machines: an inclined plane, pulley, wedge, wheel and axle, screw and a lever.  The final result was to pop a balloon, in Grace’s case, and turn on a light for Reid’s machine.  Through a complicated and mostly unstable maze of popsicle sticks, wooden dowels, rubber bands, string, mouse traps and other cheap and available materials a “machine” was assembled.  If any of the various parts of the machine fell out of adjustment, decided not to participate or otherwise faltered, the entire machine failed in its designed task.  And there was much weeping and gnashing of teeth. 

Paul’s words to the Corinthians about everyone being different members of one body makes me think of a Rube Goldberg machine.  We are all given different gifts, some more public than others, but all critical to the proper functioning of the body of Christ.  If one of us suffers, we all suffer; when the body succeeds, we all celebrate. 

Do you know your place in the body of Christ?  Membership in a community of faith can help.  When we associate with a group working towards a larger purpose we find areas of need we are suited to fill.  We help cover tasks others are not suited for, and others cover our weaknesses.  Working together we are much stronger and more productive than when we try to accomplish tasks alone.  It is the way we were created. 

This Sunday’s theme is Celebrating Diversity.  Tom’s sermon will be drawn from 1 Corinthians 12: 12-31a.  Life service is at 10:45 in Brady Hall.  Traditional worship in the sanctuary is at 8:30 and 11:00.  Contemporary worship at the west campus is at 9:30.  Whether you are an inclined plane, a pulley, a wedge, a wheel and axle, a screw or a lever, your specific gifts are needed at First Church! 

Come home to worship!  Find your place in the machine that is the Body of Christ!

Greg Hildenbrand, Life Music Coordinator

Loving and Liking

Life Notes—January 14, 2010 

“I give you a new commandment, that you love one another.  Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.  By this everyone will know that you are my disciples…”   John 13: 34-35  

Jesus uttered these words as his Last Supper with his disciples was coming to a close.  They had eaten; he had washed their feet and was spending what only he knew to be his last moments trying to prepare them for what was to come. 

One of Jesus’ central themes throughout his ministry was loving one another.  In fact it is not a stretch to say Jesus’ life modeled what loving one another is all about.  He often raised eyebrows with his choice of companions.  He seemed drawn to the unpopular and the outcasts—the sick and lame, tax collectors, prostitutes, lepers.  He gave his critics much fodder for their attacks.  But he consistently reached out to the unloved and needy, no matter what their other circumstances. 

Strange as it may sound, I am thankful Jesus commanded us to love one another rather than to like one another.  Loving someone requires action and can be forced by an act of will, if necessary.  Liking someone is an emotion and is subject to the ups and downs of hormones and other less-than-stable factors.  Perhaps loving another is easier when we also like them, but it is not required.  Love requires attention to a need—feeding the hungry, arranging shelter for the homeless, providing a shoulder for the brokenhearted—and does not expect anything in return.  Liking usually involves the expectation of some desirable return for our attention.  For me, some people in need are not people I easily or quickly like—they often smell, look or act differently.  Through loving attention to their needs I may or may not also grow to like them.  However, it is through our loving, not liking, deeds we are recognized and distinguished as followers of Christ. 

Does loving someone mean we never encourage them to alter their life path?  Loving a drug abuser surely includes trying to get them into treatment.  As a father, my love sometimes requires corrective action and intervention.  If a dear friend is headed down a path I believe to be dangerous, love demands I let them know.  Husbands, if our wives need loving correction we mustn’t hesitate to…we most certainly…we would simply…well, bad example.  Truly loving interventions are based in uncommon knowledge and wisdom, and are applied carefully and prayerfully. 

This is Reconciling Sunday and will deal with homosexuality, inclusiveness, acceptance and love for all.  Life service is at 10:45 in Brady Hall.  Traditional worship in the sanctuary is at 8:30 and 11:00.  Contemporary worship at the west campus is at 9:30.  

Come home to worship!  Love is action, like is emotion—experience both this Sunday!

Greg Hildenbrand, Life Music Coordinator

Baptism by Fire

Life Notes—January 7, 2010 

“…He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.  His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”   Luke 3:16b-17 

Following one of my recent forays into the cold, white abyss Kansas has become to battle the snow invading our driveway and sidewalk, I came inside tired and sore and sweaty and sick of the winter wonderland I generally admire for its pure, simple beauty.  I was not in good spirits and was not happy with the prospect of more snow and more cold for the foreseeable future. 

Once inside I took my dirty body and bad mood to the shower for a long, hot cleansing.  Drying off I realized I had not only washed away the sweaty grime of the physical work, but the emotional grime was gone, too.  All rinsed away and flushed back into the earth where it could be recycled into something more useful.  I felt like a new person, reborn and purified, with a much healthier attitude for the remainder of the day. 

Baptism is a rite of purification.  John the Baptist baptized with water, fully immersing people into the Jordan River, symbolically washing away their sins and dirty old selves, leaving a new creation, unencumbered by trespasses of the past.  Many of us received a formal baptism with water as infants or youth. But John said Jesus would baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire. Baptism by fire takes this rite of purification by water and elevates it to its ultimate extreme. 

Now, I am no expert on alchemy.  What I recall of readings from years ago is the purification of metals, particularly gold.  Gold was purified by fire, burning off the impurities in temperatures hot enough to vaporize the bad, but not so hot as to damage the good and pure which remained.  The purification of gold is a metaphor for God working in our lives.  Sometimes we are thrown into troubling fires, burning so hot we wonder if we can endure.  But those fires have yet to consume me.  Many, probably all, have changed me in significant ways.  In retrospect, all have revealed the presence of God throughout, faithfully and skillfully controlling the heat. Were these times of Christ wielding his winnowing stick on my life?  Troubling times, even a long cold winter, are more easily endured when we believe there is a purpose and a worthwhile end.  Our earthly experience surely requires the preparation of our soul for eternity. 

Tom’s sermon this Sunday is, “What Should We Do?” utilizing the scripture passage in Luke 3:15-17 and 21-22.  Life service is at 10:45 in Brady Hall.  Traditional worship in the sanctuary is at 8:30 and 11:00.  Contemporary worship at the west campus is at 9:30. 

Come home to worship this Sunday!  Celebrate the purifying presence with us.

Greg Hildenbrand, Life Music Coordinator