Saturday, November 12, 2005

my sermon for sunday nov. 13, my last sunday at blakemore/west nashville umc

1 Thessalonians 5
1I don't think, friends, that I need to deal with the question of when all this is going to happen. 2You know as well as I that the day of the Master's coming can't be posted on our calendars. He won't call ahead and make an appointment any more than a burglar would. 3About the time everybody's walking around complacently, congratulating each other--"We've sure got it
made! Now we can take it easy!"-suddenly everything will fall apart. It's going to come as suddenly and inescapably as birth pangs to a pregnant woman. 4But friends, you're not in the dark, so how could you be taken off guard by any of this? 5You're sons of Light, daughters of Day. We live under wide open skies and know where we stand. 6So let's not sleepwalk through life like those others. Let's keep our eyes open and be smart. 7People sleep at night and get drunk at night. 8But not us! Since we're creatures of Day, let's act like it. Walk out into the daylight sober, dressed up in faith, love, and the hope of salvation. 9God didn't set us up for an angry rejection but for salvation by our Master, Jesus Christ. 10He died for us, a death
that triggered life. Whether we're awake with the living or asleep with the dead, we're alive with him! 11So speak encouraging words to one another. Build up hope so you'll all be together in this, no one left out, no one left behind. I know you're already doing this; just keep on doing it.

(around the altar have tall chicken wire fence encasing it with a sign on the front of fence that reads, "KEEP OUT")


There was a little girl who lived in a small town not a lot unlike where we live. Next door there was a neighbor girl about the same age. They enjoyed playing together almost every day after school and in the summers. One day the little girl's grandfather began building her a tree house. He cut the wood and began building. Pretty soon she had a little treehouse in her back yard that was just her size. She had furniture and posters, a table with a tea set and her favorite toys in the tree house.

One day the little girl next door noticed the treehouse and yelled up into it to the little girl, "hey, can i come up and play?"

A voice from inside the treehouse yelled back, "No, this is my treehouse, keep out!!!"

The neighbor girl went away sad while the little girl continued to play with her favorite toys in her new treehouse. A few days later at the neighbor's house, hammering could be heard. The little girl looked in the yard next door and to her suprise, right next to where her tree house was, another treehouse was being built by the neighbor girl's dad.

In a couple of days,there stood next to one another TWO TREEHOUSES. And on both treehouses there were signs on the doors- MY TREEHOUSE- KEEP OUT!!

Early one morning both girls were outside playing in their treehouses- one having a tea party the other cooking breakfast for all her favorite dolls. The little girl realized that she and "her friends" were pretty hungry. Tea was good but it didn't satisfy their hungry bellies. "Oh man", she said.

"What's wrong" came a small voice from inside the other treehouse. "I have just had tea but now I'm hungry and I don't have anything to eat or to feed my friends."

"That's funny", said the neighbor girl, "I just fed my friends breakfast and now we're thirsty and we don't have anything to drink."

The little girl thought for a moment, "do you want to come over and have some tea?"

"I can't", said the neighbor, "you have a "keep out" sign on your treehouse."

"Oh", said the little girl. "Well I could change it. I could change it to "WELCOME".

The neighbor thought for a moment and said,"I could bring over the leftovers from breakfast and you and your friends could share it."

So that day the little girl took down the sign that was on the door of her treehouse that said "KEEP OUT" and replaced it with another sign- one that read, "WELCOME". And on that day, two little girls enjoyed tea and breakfast together and after they were finished, they asked the dad and the grandfather to help them build a bridge that would connect their treehouses so
that they could always visit each other when they wanted to.


There's a lot that I want to say to you as a congregation- as friends and family. I want to say things like- for the last 5 years I have felt less like a staff person and more like a friend and family member to a beautiful church and beautiful people.

I want to say something like- I have been part of a youth group that has made it easy for me to feel like I've suceeded because my youth have taught me and given to me as much if not more than I feel that I have given to them. The youth of this church and West Nashville have embodied the kind of community that we all dream about- one that says "Welcome" and not "keep out". I have seen kids from all walks of life show up through the doors to the youth room and not get turned away but embraced with open arms and listened to.

Where did these kids learn that remarkable ability to say "WELCOME" instead of "KEEP OUT"? Well, from those who model it- THIS CONGREGATION.


We are living in a time when it is very easy to get caught up in playing the game of who gets to be in and who gets to be
left out. Our political leaders play that game, decision makers play the game all the time. And yes, even in the church, our UM church- we play that game- way too easily sometimes.

And as I look at recent events- some events even made by within our own denomination, I wonder why fear has to be such a motivator to build walls and exlcude.

It's real easy to say he or she doesn't talk like we do, look like we do, dress like we do, have the same skin color as we do, so I'm not sure this would be the right place for them to be. And in very subtle ways we create invisible fences around the "table", around our church and in God's eyes, we've just denied someone grace, the chance to experience and receive God's grace.


It's funny but one of the things that I'll take with me from Blakemore and West Nashville is the memory of two pastors with very different preaching styles but two very similar messages, who standing at the table with bread and cup in hand look out at us and one says- "IN THE UNITED METHODIST TRADITION THIS IS NOT OUR TABLE- THIS IS GOD'S TABLE- AND SO ALL ARE WELCOME" and then I think of the other pastor who says, "THIS IS AN OPEN TABLE, YOU DON'T HAVE TO BE A BAPTIZED CHRISTIAN TO PARTAKE- IF YOU ARE SEEKING A RECONCILING RELATIONSHIP WITH GOD AND NEIGHBOR THEN THIS IS FOR YOU."

You may hear about leaders and decisions in our denomination who try and put fences around the table, around the doors. We as a congregation, youth group, sunday school class, etc... may even from time to time struggle with or be tempted to put up a fence and hang a sign that says "keep out".

But today the gift and story that I take with me is of a church, a youth group, a group of frends, a family who strives to make sure that the fences are never put up and the sign that hangs out front always says, "WELCOME" not to our house, but God's house.

when you came in this morning you should have received a piece of string. This string represents God's presence in our lives here at Blakemore and God's desire for us to be people who welcome all God's children. So I want you to spend some time
thinking about those places in your life where you have created fences seperating yourself from others. And if you'd like to invite God into that place and bring healing then come to the fence and tie your string to it- as a sign that God is at work on those fences that we create. If you feel led, you are invited.

("It's Only Fear" by Alexi Murdoch plays while congregation comes forward to tie strings on fence)


(facing the altar with fence around it; take the KEEP OUT sign down)

I think I'll take this down- this isn't us... does anyone think that this is us?

(youth come up and take the fence away; turn sign around and it says "WELCOME"; and place sign on altar.

Thank you for 5 wonderful years of ministry, partnerships, and frienships. Jen and I will be leaving our membership here cause we know where home is.

And as I travel on down the road let me leave you with words that Paul left with the thessalonian church , "speak encouraging words to one another. Build up hope so you'll all be together in this, no one left out, no one left behind. I know you're already doing this; just keep on doing it."

In other words- you've got a great treehouse here, invite everyone over for tea and breakfast.




Zoomdaddy said...

Wasn't aware you were leaving your current ministry position. God's blessing on you as you move into the next stage of your ministry.

St.Phransus said...

thanks lenny, i appreciate. i'll need it. it's gonna be a great move for the family but its tough to leave two very loving congregations.


Andy B. said...

Beautiful message, Jonathon!

Scott said...

You will be in our thoughts and prayers tomorrow as I am sure it will be a bittersweet day. I pray that God will bless your congregation with His presence at this time of sending and departure.

Grace and Peace,

TN Rambler said...

I know I'm a day late and a dollar short, but that was a beautiful message. Thanks for sharing it with us.

May God's grace be with you in your new assignment.