Practicing Our Faith Sermon Series – #5: Practicing Healing

SCRIPTURE – James 5:13-16 – 13 Are any among you suffering? They should pray. Are any cheerful? They should sing songs of praise. 14 Are any among you sick? They should call for the elders of the church and have them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord. 15 The prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise them up; and anyone who has committed sins will be forgiven. 16 Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective.

Practicing Our Faith Sermon Series
#5 – Practicing Healing
March 18, 2018
Rev. Kory Wilcoxson

I’ve never told you this before, but I was once on the receiving end of a miraculous, super-natural healing. No, a TV evangelist didn’t smack me on my forehead or slay me in the Spirit. I was miraculously healed by a chicken poppyseed casserole. This happened right after our first child was born. We were living several hours away from our family, we had virtually no support system, and we were beyond exhausted. And then a little old lady from the church I was serving as a youth pastor showed up at our apartment door with a steaming hot pan of chicken poppyseed casserole. And the Lord said, “It was very good.” It was absolutely the cure we needed for what ailed us at that moment. Does that count as a healing?

For our Lenten sermon series, we’ve been looking at how to grow in our faith through the ways we practice living it out. We’ve learned that practicing things like saying yes and no, honoring our bodies, and offering forgiveness help us take the next step on our faith journey. We never expect to master these disciplines, but by practicing them, we can hope to gradually get better at them and honor God in the process.

Today, we are talking about practicing healing. The first challenge we have to overcome is trying to come to a common understanding of what it means to heal, because that concept means different things to different people. For a lot of folks, healing means a physical cure from some malady or illness. That’s certainly one aspect of healing, but it in no way defines its totality. What does it mean to heal or to be healed? And does healing have anything to do with our faith?

Early believers thought so. Healing was very much a part of the early Christian understanding of a life of faith. We know that Jesus healed many people during his time on earth, including the 10 lepers we read about earlier. When Jesus sent his disciples out into the neighboring towns, one of their marching orders was to heal every sickness and disease. The early church picked up on that, making rites like anointing the sick with oil and the laying on of hands an integral part of their wholistic ministry. To this day, the Catholic Church has as one of its seven sacraments the anointing with oil for the purpose of healing.

But somewhere along the line, the sacrament of healing lost its cultural value. It was most likely around the time of the Enlightenment, when spiritual reality and material reality were separated, and the role of human knowledge took precedence over the role of faith. You no longer needed to be anointed with oil when you were sick, because new discoveries were providing scientific cures for diseases. That has proliferated down through the centuries, to the point where the concept of healing is relegated almost exclusively to the world of medicine.

Of course, healing does still exist in religion, but only as a caricature. You probably know of folks like Benny Hinn, who’ve made a fortune off of performing theatrical “cures.” You’ve probably also heard about the dog who was sent to Christian obedience school. On graduation day, he was asked to sit, and he sat. He was asked to speak, and he barked. He was asked to heal, and he raise his paw and said, “Lord Jesus, I command you to remove the squeaky demon from this chew toy.” There’s a good reason we Christians are skeptical about healing as a spiritual practice.

So, healing is either something done with medicine or something to be made fun of in religion. And yet, healing has so many more layers and dimensions to it than a physical cure. As John Koenig says in the book Practicing Our Faith, “Healing events are daily signs of the divine mercy that is surging through our world and guiding it toward its final perfection. This is true whether they take place by the sharing of chicken soup, the performance of delicate surgery, or the laying on of hands in a service of worship.” All these acts, and many more, are ways of practicing healing.

In our passage, James tells us praying is one of those ways. He says, “Are any among you sick? They should call for the elders of the church and have them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord. The prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise them up; and anyone who has committed sins will be forgiven.” One of the most effective ways we can practice healing is through intercessory prayer, praying for someone who is sick to be made well (which may be different than being physically cured).

Right after I was diagnosed with MS, a staff member at my seminary came to me and said, “Kory, a group of us have a prayer meeting every Wednesday morning, and we’d like to invite you to attend so that we can lay hands on you and pray for you.” I liked this guy, but I was still coming to terms with my this next chapter in my life and skeptical of what sounded like evangelical revival tactic, so I didn’t go, because that’s not how healing happens. I had just learned I had multiple sclerosis; what good could they do for me?

I have since learned two things about that invitation. First, what he was offering was solidly grounded in scripture. And, second, healing absolutely does happen that way, but maybe not the kind of healing I was looking for. If we think of healing only as a physical cure, then we are limiting our understanding of how God works in our lives, and we’re setting ourselves up with unreachable expectations. If our only form of practicing healing is an intercessory prayer that says, “Lord, take away my grandma’s terminal cancer or else,” then we’re missing the ways God can bring about healing that transcends the physical realm.

Healing, in its most divine form, is not about curing. It’s about restoration. It’s about restoring wholeness to what is broken. That can be a broken bone, or a broken heart, or a broken society. Theologian Paul Tillich said that, “Healing is an element in the work of salvation.” Often, Jesus combined a physical healing with a spiritual one, telling the person who had been physically cured that their sins were forgiven. And remember, James says the prayer of faith will save the sick. Salvation, not curing. So, to practice healing is to practice restoring something to its original, God-ordained state.

Because of this more holistic way of seeing this practice, I believe healing is making a comeback, returning from its banishment to the outskirts of religion to take a central role in the restorative process. I believe, after centuries of thinking religion didn’t have anything to offer in the way of healing, people are coming to see the power of prayer in a different light. When I started in ministry, whenever I was visiting someone in the hospital, I would have to wait until the doctors and nurses and staff were done before I could spend any time with them, and my visits were frequently interrupted for the more important work of attending to the patient’s physical needs. But several times in the past few year, I’ve been visiting with a patient when the doctor has come in the room. I have introduced myself as the person’s pastor, and the doctor has said, “Oh, don’t me interrupt. I’ll wait until you are finished.” The power of prayer is being accepted as part of the healing process for a patient.

So how do we practice this? First, we have to expand our understanding of healing. Trust that God can bring about healing in all situations, even if a physical cure doesn’t take place. Wounds can be healed and wholeness can happen even as bodies give way to sickness and death. Practice having the eyes to see the healing power of God that goes beyond our limited expectations of a person receiving a super-natural cure.

A second way to practice healing is to trust that your prayers for healing make a difference. It can feel helpless to see a friend or loved one suffer, and sometimes prayer can feel like busy work or last-ditch effort to do something, although we don’t always believe it matters. But James tells us the prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective. When I laid in the hospital bed with my new diagnosis of MS, I could feel the power of people praying for me, and that brought me a sense of peace, that God could work through this curve ball my body had thrown me.

So, who can you pray for today? Who needs healing? Who needs peace, assurance, guidance, a cure? How about praying for our country to be healed from violence and division? We can pray for all of those things, and then trust that God hears those prayers. I believe healing is happening all around us, in some of the most unorthodox and unexpected ways, through whispered words of forgiveness and steaming hot chicken poppy seed casseroles.

I want to close with this story, my most memorable experience of the power of healing. I was once asked to come see a man in a coma so that I could anoint him with oil. Now, you may not know this, but I’m not Catholic, so this was something new to me. Thankfully, I had some oil in my office we use on Ash Wednesday, so I grabbed it and headed to the ICU unit at UK hospital.

The scene when I arrived was tense. The man in question, an athlete in his 40s, had fallen and hit his head and was not expected to survive. The family included a 10-year-old son and the man’s ex-wife and his current girlfriend and his parents and his ex-in-laws and his current girlfriend’s parents. The mood was chaotic and turbulent and contentious. So I gathered the family in the room, and I anointed the man’s head with oil and said a prayer. Then, I invited each family member to anoint his head with oil and speak a word of love to him. And then, completely by the Holy Spirit’s leading, I asked if any of the family members would like to be anointed with oil. Almost all of them stepped forward. Instead of doing all the anointing myself, I anointed the first person, then handed them the oil and said, “Now, anoint the person behind you.” I watched as the son anoint his mother, the ex-wife, who then turned and anointed the current girlfriend as all the various in-laws looked on. The best way I can described what happened was that air in the room softened. Although the man died the next week, I know healing took place in that room, thanks be to God.

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On a Mission from God sermon series – Invite Questions about How Faith and Life Intersect

SCRIPTURE – Luke 10:25-37 –Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus.[j] “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 26 He said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” 27 He answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” 28 And he said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.”

29 But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” 30 Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. 32 So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii,[k] gave them to the innkeeper, and said, ‘Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.’ 36 Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” 37 He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”

On a Mission from God sermon series
Invites Questions about How Faith and Life Intersect
March 8, 2020
Rev. Kory Wilcoxson

When I was a seminary student serving as an intern at a church, I had a member of the congregation ask me to lunch. Darrell, who was usually friendly and talkative, said very little until after the food was brought. And then, with a shameful look, he said to me, “I have some concerns.” Realize that’s not a minister’s favorite thing to hear. It ranks right up there with “Who picks these hymns, anyway?” and “You know, people are saying…” I told the man I was all ears and over breadsticks and pizza he said in a hushed voice, “I have some questions about the Bible. I don’t know if I believe all of it.” I assured him that he was not alone and I encouraged him to talk to the senior minister, who was much better trained to handle these things. He said, “Oh, no, I can’t tell this to a real minister! That’s why I wanted to talk to you.” I asked him why he wouldn’t go to the senior minister and he said something that has always stuck with me: “I can’t let anyone know I have questions.”

We continue our sermon series taking a look at our Vision and Mission statements to see how well we have lived them out over the last five years. Our plan is to do a self-evaluation as a congregation, then let the Strategic Planning Team use this information to help discern where God is calling us to go next. When you get home today, there will be a short survey in your inbox asking for your feedback on this question. If you’d rather have a paper copy, you can find them back at the sound board. Last week, we had over 100 surveys filled out. Thank you! Please continue to let your voice be heard.

Today we look at the line that says we connect people to God and each other by “inviting questions about how faith and life intersect.” Is it OK to ask questions, to express doubts, to challenge the words we read in the Bible and the practices of the church? A lot of us grew up in churches and households where the answer was an emphatic “No.” God was to be worshipped and obeyed, but never questioned.

But that’s not the example the Bible has set for us. If you have questions, you stand in a long line of famous people who didn’t quite understand this whole faith thing. Abraham, Moses, Jacob, Job, all of the prophets – every one of them had serious questions they weren’t afraid to ask directly to God. Hear these words from the prophet Habakkuk: “O Lord, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not listen? Or cry to you ‘Violence!’ and you will not save? Why do you make me see wrongdoing and look at trouble?” Or how about these lines from the psalmist, who asks, “Why, O Lord, do you stand so far away? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?”

In the New Testament, Jesus is peppered with questions as he goes about his ministry. Today’s scripture is a great example, when a lawyer tests Jesus by asking him, “Who is my neighbor?” and Jesus responds with a story about a foreign Samaritan man who demonstrates compassion and care. Other questions asked to Jesus carry the same kind of urgency: “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” “What is the greatest commandment?”  “Are you the one who is to come?” The Bible is full of rich examples of people questioning Jesus to get a greater understanding of who he is.

But somewhere along the way, questions went from being a necessary step of faith to a spiritual no-no. I think this had a lot less to do with God welcoming our questions and a whole lot more to do with the church not knowing how to answer them. When the Protestant Reformation put the Bible in the hands of the people, an amazing thing happened: they read it. And when they read it, they found that the God the church had been selling them was different than the God they read about in scripture. So they started asking questions. Many of the most prominent question-askers were rewarded with excommunication or a backyard barbecue with them tied to the stake. The message? Don’t ask questions.

The questions didn’t stop with the Reformation. Ever since, we’ve been reading the Bible, listening to sermons, going to Sunday School, and watching what’s happening around us in the world, and responding with “Huh?” How do we reconcile what we know about God and what we see in the world? How do we make sense of starving children, genocide, holy wars, and broken families in light of God’s promise of goodness and protection? In other words, how can we claim to have faith and NOT have questions?

Sometimes these questions are about God. Sometimes they are about the church and how it does or doesn’t reflect the love and grace of God. And sometimes those questions are much more personal. I asked people on Facebook this week to name some of the questions they have when they come to church on Sunday. Listen to the genuine searching here, some of it from life-long church members: Am I loved? Do people care? How can I really experience God’s love in my life? Are these people going to judge me? Can I fit in? What’s the difference between free will and God’s will? Can I make change out of the offering plate? Never let ministers respond to your Facebook questions. Do you hear the deep, soul-level longing in those questions? Whether people have questions about God or questions about themselves, people come here each Sunday with questions.

And still, churches have told their congregations that God is not to be questioned. “God’s ways are not our ways,” they say. So the church has developed a reputation as a place where assent to belief is expected and where questions represent weakness and aren’t welcomed. “The Bible says it, I believe it, that settles it.” But the Bible says a lot of stuff I struggle with, or that doesn’t mesh with what I experience in my day-to-day life. Are we supposed to just blindly accept that this is the way it is, or is there space for questions, for conversations, for wrestling with God to find a blessing?

Not only do I think questions should be welcomed, I believe they are essential for a growing faith. Diana Butler Bass says these questions have less to do with doctrine – “What should I believe?” – and more to do with the experience of faith and life – “How am I to live?” For example, she writes that “Do you trust in the resurrection?” is a much harder question to answer than “Do you believe that Jesus was historically and scientifically raised from the dead?” People are wrestling with the hard questions, and for the church to tell them that they can’t ask those questions is a sure sign that we are out of touch with people’s lives and hearts. We as a church need to create space for them to be asked.

I believe the questions people are asking are indicative of a larger change going on in our culture, one that will determine the future of the church. People are hearing one thing from the church but are experiencing something quite different in real life. What should they believe? If the church has been telling people that God is all-powerful, and yet we see planes flying into buildings and children dying of hunger, we start to wonder: Is God all-powerful? And if so, why isn’t God doing something about this? These are the kinds of questions people are asking, and if the church doesn’t allow them to be asked, the church’s authority erodes and those folks will go somewhere else. And in our world of overwhelming choice, one of the options is to go nowhere with those questions.

I believe Crestwood’s future depends on how open we are to these questions. Every year in the Pastor’s Class I offer the youth an opportunity to ask questions. I have this huge chalice, called Chalice of Awesomeness, and anytime they have a question, they write it on a post-it note and put it in the chalice. Then, at the end of the class, we go through the questions. Sometimes, there are enough questions to fill up the whole class time, and their questions are just as theologically deep and searching as yours. And sometimes they are questions like, “Do ministers have real lives?” We have to let people know it’s OK to ask questions.

I’ve seen this in action here at Crestwood, and it’s amazing to watch. I’ve sat in Sunday School classes as people have expressed doubts and in fellowship gatherings where guests have asked about why we don’t do infant baptisms or why we have women ministers and Elders. I’ve had email and text exchanges with people wanting to know where God is in the midst of their mess. And behind all of that is the fundamental question: Is it OK for me to ask questions? Are we at Crestwood open to people asking us their deepest questions about how faith and life intersect?

This may sound daunting to us, as if people are going to start quizzing us on our theology or our understanding of God’s authority. But here’s the great thing about all of this: you don’t have to have the answers! And no, that doesn’t mean you can just say, “Go ask Kory.” Because, honestly, can any of us answer why bad things happen to good people or who really is our neighbor or what it truly means to love God with all our heart and soul and mind and strength? I know I can’t. But I believe we are not called to provide pat answers; instead, we’re called to give people the space and the community in which to ask the questions. Because I believe people will find that their questions and our questions are the same questions! We are wrestling with the same kind of knotty stuff they are, and they are not alone in wondering how what we hear on Sunday intersects with what we experience Monday through Saturday.

Ultimately, I believe Jesus is the answer to their questions, so it’s our job to connect them with Jesus. Am I loved? Do people care? Will I be judged? I believe Jesus is the definitive answer to these questions, and those answers are embodied in how we welcome people into this space, as they place their spiritual baggage alongside ours and say, “I have questions.” As we sit next to them in the pews, as we pass them the communion trays, as we invite them to Sunday School or a fellowship dinner, we are saying, “Yes. You are loved. You are welcome. You matter.”

When we answer those basic questions, we create room for the deeper ones, questions about God’s power and the existence of evil and why churches love committees. I don’t know that we’ll ever have answers to those on this side of Heaven. But I believe transformation is found, not in finding the answers, but in asking the questions. As Rainier Rilke says, “Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves. The point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”

From biblical times until the present time, we have questions. How can we not? I believe our questions are answered for us each Sunday when we come into God’s presence, when we are reminded of God’s goodness, when we are welcomed into a community. Sometimes, during the course of the week, we forget those answers. And so we are welcomed back, welcomed again to the table, welcomed to ask what’s on our minds and hearts. We are invited to ask, and then to experience the presence of Christ among us and within us, who walks with us as we live into the answer.

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This Week’s Sermon – A House Divided Pt. 2

SCRIPTURE – Romans 12:9-18 – Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; 10 love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. 11 Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord.[e] 12 Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. 13 Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.

14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. 16 Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly;[f] do not claim to be wiser than you are. 17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. 18 If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.

A House Divided Pt. 2
Romans 12
Feb. 23, 2020

Today, we’re going to talk some more about politics. Ushers, please lock the doors and don’t let anyone leave until the sermon is over. That includes the preacher. Why in the world would I step into the minefield of politics? Wouldn’t it be easier just to stand up here and remind you that God is good and if we just have faith we’ll go to heaven and Jesus loves you this I know? Yes, that would definitely be easier. And safer. And ensure my church key will work tomorrow. But I don’t believe Jesus called me to the ministry to be safe, and I don’t think you have faith just so you can coast into the afterlife. If we want to put this faith thing into action, we have to be willing to wade into the deep end of the pool.

But is there a more treacherous topic these days than politics? I thought I would lighten the mood with a few funny quotes about politics because God knows there is plenty of material to work with. Let’s start with Mark Twain, who said, “Politicians and diapers must be changed often, and for the same reasons.” Henry Kissinger said, “Ninety percent of the politicians give the other 10% a bad reputation.” And the inestimable Bill Murray is quoted as saying, “If I lie to the government, it’s a felony. If they lie to us, it’s politics.”

That’s not what politics is supposed to be, but that’s what it has become. Steve Chapman of the Chicago Tribune said, “American politics is a bicycle with a rusty chain, flat tires, and no brakes. It’s broken, and it’s not taking any of us where we want to go.” And yet, if I ask five of you what you think needs to be done to fix it, I’ll get seven opinions, 10 jabby finger-points, and at least one sternly worded email tomorrow morning. So how do we talk about fixing our broken political system without contributing to the very divisiveness that defines our broken political system?

That’s what we’re talking about in this process, and I want to let our scriptures today provide the guardrails for how we go about doing this. As you know guardrails are helpful because they let you know the boundaries that separate the road from the weeds. Our goal is to stay on the road toward a productive conversation and out of the weeds that so easily derail us from civil discourse. As tempting as it may be to saddle up our high horse and strap on our righteous indignation, let’s focus on staying on the road.

In the first scripture, Peter encourages his readers to seek peace and pursue it. I like that because it states implicitly that peace is not something easily attained. It’s something we must seek and pursue, over and against the other things we are tempted to seek and pursue, like proving we’re right and the other person is wrong. Someone once said, “You can be right or you can have friends.” I would say, “You can be right or you can have peace.” So, in our conversations, let’s seek peace and pursue it.

The quote I read from Paul is even more poignant for our discussion. First, he encourages us to love one another with mutual affection and to outdo one another in showing honor. We try to outdo other people in so many other ways – with our knowledge, our opinions, our claim to know what God thinks. What if we sought to outdo the other person in showing honor, in being humble, in being willing to admit we might be wrong? How would our conversations about political issues be different if our goal was not to see who can shout the loudest but to try and outdo the other person in showing honor?

Paul closes his words with this beautiful phrase: “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” Do you hear the disclaimers there? “If it is possible.” So far as it depends on you.” Paul knows that living in peace with all isn’t always possible. Some people thrive on conflict and aren’t happy unless they are making others unhappy. Peace isn’t always possible. Sometimes the most peaceful thing to do is walk away from a conversation. But, as long as you have something to contribute to the conversation, make sure it is peaceful. Yes, that’s possible, even when talking about politics. So, let’s wade into the deep end.

Two weeks ago, I preached a sermon setting up this process of dialogue about our political system. I grounded this conversation in scripture and Jesus’ willingness to deal with the corrupt politics of his day. I then said that, as Christians, it’s our job to model for our culture what it’s like to disagree about controversial topics while still maintaining a foundation of respect for the other person. Finally, I invited us to practice what I preached by joining in a dialogue about our political system. That dialogue was last Sunday.

I had asked for RSVPs to the dialogue so Warren and I would know how many people to expect. The last time we did this on the topic of food insecurity, we had a bunch of RSVPs had 24 people who participated. For this dialogue on our political process, I had six RSVPs. One person RSVPed to say they were coming and five people RSVPed to say there’s no way in Hades they would be coming because they were afraid the dialogue would be too conflicted. So, Warren and I were prepared to lead a dialogue with one person, which I guess is more like a monologue.

Last Sunday, 28 people showed up. Twenty-eight. I don’t know everyone’s political affiliation, but it’s fair to say both sides of the political chasm were well-represented. We started by going around the room and asking each person why they showed up. What was important enough about this topic that they would give up two hours on a Sunday afternoon to talk about it?

The answers were indicative of the tumultuous times in which we live. Here are some of them: “I’m concerned about relationships breaking down over politics.” “We’ve moved away from the ability to talk civilly.” “We are moving into uncharted waters in our country.” “My mom was a Republican and my dad was a Democrat and that was never a problem.” “I’m concerned about the world my grandkids will grow up in.” “I don’t want Crestwood to be divided.” “I want to know how to disagree with someone without putting them down.”

Two particular answers really caught my attention. One person said, “I want to learn how to have a less divisive ear,” which I think highlights the importance of listening in this process of creating civil discourse. In the Bible, the letter of James says, “Let us be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger.” But too often, we are reluctant to listen, quick to speak and way too quick to get angry. How can we listen with less divisive ears? The other response was one I appreciated for its honesty: “I’m not convinced that civil discourse is even possible but I’m here to support Kory and Warren.” You know what? I’m not convinced, either. But if it’s going to happen, it’s got to start in the church.

We divided into two groups and talked through three options of how we might begin healing the political divide in our country: Reduce dangerous, toxic talk; make fairer rules for politics and follow them; and take control and make decisions closer to home. In the group I led, we had a lively conversation about each of these options, weighing the pros and cons and consequences. There was often disagreement, sometimes stated with passion, and yet no one was ever disagreeable. We asked questions like, “What words need to be eliminated from our vocabularies in order to seek peace?” and “How can we seek to learn the truth rather than only expose ourselves to one stream of thinking?” People spoke with vulnerability and honesty. It was a beautiful thing to watch unfold.

When the groups finished their dialogues, we came back together to talk about what we learned, not necessarily about the topic, but the process. What about this process made people willing to open up about their fears and concerns about our political process? This is where the church should be listening because this is how we set the stage for these kinds of tough talks. Several people said they felt like our conversation was not threatening and was a safe space to talk about such a highly charged topic. There are very few places we feel safe today to express our opinions without being ridiculed or attacked. As the church, we have to create space for people to say things with which we disagree without making them feel invalidated. They hold as strongly to their opinion as we do to ours, even if we believe they are wrong.

Another thing the dialogues did was force people to look at both sides of an issue. Too often, we only look at the viewpoints that support our beliefs, creating an echo chamber that reinforces our ways of thinking and devalues opposing views. One participant said, and this was probably my favorite line of the whole evening, “I saw my own biases.” Part of seeking and pursuing peace means recognizing and claiming the ways we’ve contributed to the lack of peace. When we see our own biases, we acknowledge that we could be just as wrong as we think the other person is. The pursuit of peace starts with the awareness of our own humanity, our own pride, and our own biases.

The last question we asked last Sunday was this: “What does faith have to do with this?” Is it wrong to mix religion and politics? Maybe we should just stick to the God stuff and let the experts handle the politics. How’s that working for us so far? Here’s what we came up with. Our faith should lead us to introspection about our role in the conflict. Our faith should provide a moral compass that helps us continue to discern right from wrong. And finally, our faith should lead us to make a commitment not to be divisive. “If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.”

I don’t think we solved any of the problems in our divided political system. I certainly didn’t walk out more hopeful that this year is going to be any easier. But I did leave with the hope that we are better equipped to talk about it. The 28 of us present realized that you can disagree without being disagreeable, that you can talk about politics without tearing the fabric of harmony and unity that exists. I know, we’re just one church in one city in America. But it has to start somewhere, doesn’t it? Why not with us? Peace will not come easily in our world. But I’m not ready to give up on it. Are you? As we move through this year, let us seek peace and pursue it, not only in our hearts, but in our world.

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SCRIPTURE – Matthew 22:15-22 – Then the Pharisees went and plotted to entrap him in what he said. 16 So they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that you are sincere, and teach the way of God in accordance with truth, and show deference to no one; for you do not regard people with partiality. 17 Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?” 18 But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, “Why are you putting me to the test, you hypocrites? 19 Show me the coin used for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius. 20 Then he said to them, “Whose head is this, and whose title?” 21 They answered, “The emperor’s.” Then he said to them, “Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” 22 When they heard this, they were amazed; and they left him and went away.

Purple Zone Sermon #1
A House Divided
Feb. 9, 2020
Rev. Kory Wilcoxson

If you were here in January, you may remember I preached a sermon on wholeness in which I talked about the importance of punctuation. I said that the slash is used to divide things, while the hyphen is used to connect things, and that God calls us to be hyphens in a slash-filled world. One of the reasons I preached that sermon was because I knew that our country is going to be challenged more than ever this year and that the church has a unique role to play in being the connective tissue that holds us together. If the church isn’t being intentional about drawing hyphens, who else is going to do it? It might be smarter for me to shy away from such topics, but when it comes to sermon topics, I’ve never been accused of being smart.

I recognize that going down this road in a sermon is a bit like walking barefoot into a room full of thumbtacks, and yet, we have to talk about these things. If we bury our heads in the sand and only talk about God’s love and grace and peace in the abstract, we’re missing an opportunity to be a powerful witness to a world sorely lacking in love and grace and peace. This is the church’s time to be the church, to be the body of Christ in our broken world.

But how can we model unity if we’re not unified? How can we show people what it’s like to disagree respectfully if we aren’t doing that? As Christians, we have a powerfully important message to share with our country about being unified in the midst of our diversity through the love God has for each of us and all of us. We know that there is more that hyphens us together than slashes us apart, but that knowledge will be tested in a year when we will be tempted to take sides and see people on the other side as the enemy. We need to find a better way.

You may remember that last November I preached two sermons on food insecurity in Lexington. Those sermons were part of a project called “Preaching in the Purple Zone,” led by Dr. Leah Schade from Lexington Theological Seminary. Crestwood was invited to be part of this project, which helps pastors and congregations learn to talk about controversial topics in ways that promote unity, empathy, and understanding that go beyond Facebook memes and sound bites.

I preached a sermon setting up the issue of food insecurity, and the next week Warren Rogers and I hosted a deliberative dialogue session during which people were invited to explore the topic more thoroughly. We had 24 people participate in what turned out to be a lively and productive conversation. I then preached a second sermon on the topic, incorporating what was talked about during the dialogue and extending a call to action for Crestwood to address the issue of food insecurity in Lexington. Fifteen people came to a meeting on Jan. 23, including three of our youth, and out of that meeting we’re starting to talk about tangible ways we can make a difference on this issue in Lexington.

That process was so successful Warren and I have decided to do another round of the Purple Zone process, this time with a bit more controversial issue. I suggested the topic of when you should start putting out Christmas merchandise in retail stores, but Warren thought it was way too controversial. Warren suggested the topic of whether or not turn signals should be mandatory or optional, but we almost came to blows over that one. So, we decided to go with the issue of our political system. Way less controversial than the other two. And if it doesn’t go well, can I just say it was an honor serving as your pastor.

The official title of this topic is “A House Divided: What Would We Have to Give Up to Get the Political System We Want?” We figured that’s about as timely as you can get right now. Before I introduce the topic a bit further, let me remind you of the goals of this process because the success of this endeavor is predicated on the fact that we all understand what we are trying to accomplish together.

One thing we’re not trying to do is change each other’s minds. This is not a debate and there are no right and wrong sides. What we’ll do in the dialogue, which will be next Sunday at 4 p.m., will be to present three different options on how to heal our political system, and then talk through both the pros and cons of those options. Our hope is that we will be able to establish some common ground and see where our beliefs overlap. That gives us a foundation from which to start building healthier relationships and more productive conversations.

What we hope to do is find ways to talk about the challenges of our political system so that we are talking with each other, not at each other. It’s one thing to listen to someone so that you can craft an appropriate response; it’s quite another to listen to someone in order to truly understand them. Engaging in this project is as much about how we talk to each other as what we are talking about, so I hope that you will join us for the dialogue next week at 4 p.m. to lend your voice to the conversation.

Although it may seem like we’re talking about politics, there’s a strong spiritual dimension to it, and the Bible gives us precedent for this kind of discussion. Jesus never shied away from confronting the political realities of his day, challenging the reign of Caesar and the rule of Pontus Pilate when they conflicted with the kingdom of God. In our passage today, the Pharisees try to trap Jesus with a political question about taxes, but Jesus neatly side-steps the trap, reminding them to give to Caesar what is Caesar’s (that’s the taxes), but give to God what is God’s (that’s everything, including a portion of their money). Jesus doesn’t shy away from talking politics, but he also doesn’t take sides or get divisive.

So we may think we shouldn’t talk about politics in church, but that assumes that politics are outside of God’s realm. As author Phillip Gulley wrote, “The questions is not whether we should mix Christianity and politics. To follow Jesus is to be political.” Every contentious issue and disputed policy are a part of God’s realm, and our faith should inform every corner of our lives, including our politics, so we can’t get away with ignoring it.

So, yes, Jesus dealt with politics, but not with the same challenges we face. Jesus didn’t have to respond to irate social media posts, or contend with the insidiousness of a 24-hour news cycle. The political system in our world today has been indelibly marked by the conduits of communication at our disposal and the avenues with which we can express our own opinions. We’re no longer resigned to over-the-fence pontificating or sternly written op-eds. Now, anyone with an opinion can voice it social media, and most of them do, sometimes without forethought or filter. And we call that politics.

But that’s not politics. The root word “polis” simply means “pertaining to a city.” Politics is the way in which humans organize themselves into a cohesive social unit. One writer said, “There is a process by which a group of people decides how to organize themselves, how to distribute power and resources, how to make decisions, how to live together harmoniously. That process is called ‘politics’.”

Wait! How to live together harmoniously? In the past week, we’ve had impeachment hearings, botched caucuses, ignored handshakes and ripped-up speeches. Is that living together harmoniously? “Politics” and “harmony” have become polar opposites in our modern culture. It seems as if the topic of politics has become a wedge, dividing people into different ideological camps. Politics turns neighbors into red-faced enemies. It divides towns and families and churches. It makes otherwise decent people say terrible things about others who have different opinions. It makes people demonize the candidate of the opposing party. It makes people un-friend each other on Facebook. And, I believe, politics presents a real challenge for us as we try to be Christians first in this world. After all, how do live out the commandment to love your neighbor when they have that other candidate’s sign in their yard?

I dare say that I don’t think any of us want our political system to be this way. We long for a more peaceful time in our political process, conveniently forgetting that such a time really never existed. Political parties have always been at each other’s throats. It’s simply compounded now by the media, the heatedness of the issues, and the widening divide among parties. But even though we want things to be different, sometimes it’s easier just to sit back and complain about the way things are rather than to make an effort to do something about it. Or, as psychologists Jonathan Haidt and Jesse Graham write, “It’s more entertaining to watch people throw rocks at each other over the wall than it is to participate in the slow, difficult process of dismantling the wall and understanding each other’s point of view.”

During this election year, you could argue that the very fabric of our nation is dependent upon our willingness to dismantle the wall between us. While we’ll never end up agreeing on everything – or on most things – we can still hold together as a nation if we are able to see each other, not as enemies or as others, but as people of passion who yearn for their country to be what they can believe it can be, and who yearn even more earnestly for God to be present in that process.

So, next week, we’re going to sit around a couple tables, red and blue and whatever other color you want to bring, and we’re going to talk about how we, as the united body of Christ, can infiltrate this house divided and spread a virus of radical love and acceptance and understanding. The church has a role to play this year and it may be the most important thing we can do for our country. Rather than endorsing a candidate or a platform, let’s endorse the good news of Jesus Christ, which has the power to bring us all together across the aisle to meet at a table, where our divisions are healed and our brokenness is made whole. We are not Republicans or Democrats or Independents or Others. We are children of God. Let’s start there.


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We Are the Disciples sermon series – Welcome

Who are we? “We are Disciples of Christ, a movement for wholeness in a fragmented world. As part of the one body of Christ, we welcome all to the Lord’s Table as God has welcomed us.” That’s who our denomination’s Identity Statement says we are, but what does that mean for us as individuals and as a congregation? That’s the question we’ve been trying to answer in this sermon series. So far, here’s what we’ve figured out:  To be a part of a movement you have to be moving, and that movement should be toward something, like the goal of making God’s Kingdom real here on earth. We concluded that we can reach that goal by being hyphens for wholeness, which connects people together, rather than create slashes of division, which keep people apart. And last week, we named the table as the prime connecting point, where we make companions by breaking bread together and sharing our life-giving sustenance.

We conclude the series today by looking at the word “welcome.” A couple interesting things to note about this word in our Identity Statement. First, it’s the only significant word that is said twice, as it brackets and informs our understanding of the table. And it’s the only verb, the only thing we’re called to do in our statement: to welcome others as God has welcomed us.  The other words say who we are, but this one says what we do. So the concept of “welcome” has an important bearing on how we live as a denomination and as Disciples. But how do we welcome?

Our scripture passage today gives us a good example. Three visitors show up at Abraham’s tent flap, so he and Sarah bend over backwards to provide them with a gracious welcome. Abraham isn’t just doing this to be nice; the extension of hospitality was woven into the moral fabric of his society. There were no Holiday Inns or fast-food restaurants; travelers had to rely on the kindness of those along their way, and people were expected to take care of each other, even strangers who showed up at your door. In Jesus’ time, the importance of hospitality was still in place. He lived this sort of all-inclusive welcome and expected others to do the same. In Luke’s gospel, he chastises a prominent Pharisee for not showing Jesus the proper hospitality when he arrives for a meal. And the author of Hebrews draws on the Genesis story when he says, “Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it.”

For us as Disciples, our understanding of welcome is tied explicitly to the table. One of the reasons our founding fathers left their churches and started a new movement was that they believed there shouldn’t be any human-made obstacles placed in front of the table. If you were a believer, you were welcome, regardless of any other criteria that could be used to keep you away. We welcome all – not some, not the righteous, not those who meet our standards. We welcome all to the Lord ’s Table as God has welcomed us.

What should that sort of radical hospitality look like in our lives and the life of Crestwood? In our daily lives, we’ve all had good and bad experiences with hospitality. A prime example is Chick-Fila. This example is not about theology, it’s about chicken. Not only is the food good, but the service is outstanding. If you say “Thank you” to one of their workers, they respond with, “It’s my pleasure.” Every Chick-fila employee in every Chick-fila across America is trained to respond this way. I once tested this by saying “Thank you” as much as I could to the person serving me. I even asked for soy sauce, which they don’t have, and when she told me that, I said, “Thank you for not having soy sauce.” “My pleasure.” I did it so many times that I’m not sure it was truly that person’s pleasure to serve me, but she never stopped saying it. Of course, Chick-fila employees are not hospitable to me because they want to be my friend or think I’m a super-cool guy; they want me to spend more money at Chick-fila. And it works! If only the church were as effective at creating repeat customers. But according to the IRS, the church is not supposed to be in the business of making money. So what is our motivation for hospitality?

Is our motivation to get people to join our church? Notice, the Identity Statement doesn’t say, “As part of the one body of Christ, we welcome all to the Lord’s Table so that we can hand them a pledge card and sign them up for a ministry team.” Hospitality is not a recruitment strategy designed to manipulate strangers into church members. It’s not about meeting institutional goals. As the Identity Statement says, we welcome because we have first been welcomed. It doesn’t say what’s supposed to happen as a result of our welcome; that part is up to God. All we are called to do is let people know they are welcome.

This type of welcome goes deeper than just a mere acknowledging of the other person’s presence. We guys have this thing we do when we see someone we know but don’t want to go all huggy-kissy with a greeting. We have the head nod. We kinda tilt our heads upward and half-smile, as if to say, “I see you there, but I’m only going to minimally acknowledge you so as not to break this cool-guy façade I have going on.” Too many churches only give head nods to people, if they even give that much! But the fragmentation in our world has led to the need for churches to do so much more than just minimally acknowledge the presence of guests. We have to make room, as Abraham and Sarah made room, as in the innkeeper made room for Mary and Joseph.

What we may fail to realize when a guest walks through our doors is that they are looking for something we take for granted. For example, think of how automated our world has become. You can gas up your car, take money out of the bank, check out a book from the library, and buy your groceries without ever talking to a real person. You can cycle through your whole day and never receive a “Hello” from another human being. Before technology started taking over our lives, daily activities spurred conversations and connections because you had to actually interact with other people to complete transactions. Now, for some folks, those kinds of face-to-face interactions, those moments of human touch and connection, may only happen at church. Sunday morning may be their most anticipated time of the week. What will they find when they come here?

To genuinely welcome someone into our midst is to offer them a place to find refuge and rest, but it can also be a place of healing. There are a lot of people out there who don’t come to church because they’ve been told by the church they are not welcomed. I know several people who had a bad experience at church and have vowed never to go back. They were told that if they didn’t dress a certain way or act a certain way or believe a certain way, then they weren’t welcome. And one of those people may build up the courage to give God one more try and come to Crestwood on Sunday. Will they be welcomed here? It is no accident that the words “hospitality” and “hospital” come for the same Latin word because they both lead to the same results, which is healing.

But we are only getting half the picture if we believe that we are the only ones with something to offer when we welcome others. When we join together at the table, making room for the guests among us, we not only offer them a blessing, but we open ourselves to be blessed by them. As you think of the wonderful people in this church, realize that at one time or another, every one of them was a first-time guest. Every one of them! How would this church be different if they didn’t feel welcomed here and decided not to come back? The next person who visits us may be a messenger from God, sent here to have a tremendous impact on Crestwood, and we are called to make sure they know they are welcome here. Yes, our church has something to offer guests, but I believe guests have something to offer us, as well.

We make room at the table for them because God has made room at the table for us. Spiritual writer Henri Nouwen said, “Hospitality is the creation of a free space where the stranger can enter and become a friend. Hospitality is not to change people, but to offer them a space where change can take place.” Some of our guests may come only once. Some may visit while they are passing through. Some may decide Crestwood isn’t the right fit for them. Doesn’t matter. Our job is to create the space and trust the Spirit of God to do the rest. Our responsibility is simple: We welcome all because God has welcomed us.

The early church was a test of hospitality. Fifteen different nationalities heard Peter’s first sermon on Pentecost. Jews stood next to Gentiles. Men worshipping with women. Slaves and masters shared space as equals. Today’s world has similar divisions with similar questions. Can white people live in peace with Hispanics and Asians and African Americans? Can Democrats find common ground with Republicans? Can Christians carry on friendships with Muslims? Can people who are divided socially and culturally still be brothers and sisters in faith?

Henri Nouwen said that we are a world of strangers, separated by geographical distance and ideological chasms and fear-based suspicions. Just let that sink in. We are a world of strangers. And yet, the Bible says that strangers – those estranged from us – should be exactly who we are welcoming into our midst because no matter the differences we perceive on the outside, they carry within them the image of God. By welcoming them, we may be entertaining angels in our midst. The moment we come up with a reason to deny someone a place at the table, we have misused the good news which has been entrusted to us.

Who are we? “We are Disciples of Christ, a movement for wholeness in a fragmented world. As part of the one body of Christ, we welcome all to the Lord’s Table as God has welcomed us.” We are on the move, seeking to make connections with others as we welcome them as companions and share a life-giving meal with them, honoring their intrinsic value as children of God. As a denomination, as a church, as individuals, can this be our identity? Can we be a movement for God’s kingdom in this fragmented world? Can we throw open our arms in welcome, sharing our sustenance with others as we make space for them? This is who we are called to be. May God help us to live like we believe it.




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We Are the Disciples sermon series – Wholeness

SCRIPTURE – John 17:6-11 – “I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. Now they know that everything you have given me is from you; for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours. 10 All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them. 11 And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one. 

We Are the Disciples Sermon Series
#2 – Wholeness
Jan. 12, 2020
Rev. Kory Wilcoxson

“We are Disciples of Christ, a movement for wholeness in a fragmented world. As part of the one body of Christ, we welcome all to the Lord’s Table as God has welcomed us.” That is the identity statement of our denomination, which we are exploring in this sermon series. We’re trying to figure out what this means and who we are, as individuals and as a congregation, in light of this statement. Last week we look at the word “movement” and came to a few conclusions: (1) to be a part of a movement you have to be moving, and (2) a movement is purposeful, it has a goal toward which it is moving.

For us as Christians, as members of Crestwood, and as a part of the Disciples of Christ denomination, the goal of our movement is simple: to make the Kingdom of God real here on earth. The identity statement articulates that goal by calling us a movement for wholeness in a fragmented world, so today we’re going to spend some time on the idea of “wholeness.” I always laugh when I think about this word, because it was quite the buzzword for Disciples leaders when this statement came out. In fact, a few years ago at our national gathering, the word was said so much from the main stage that some of us considered turning it into a drinking game. Every time someone says “wholeness,” we would take a swig from…our communion cup, of course. What did you think we were drinking?!?

A movement for wholeness in a fragmented world. If this is our goal as a denomination, what does that mean? What’s the difference between fragmentation and wholeness? My original training was as a journalist, and in that time I developed both a love for language and a stubbornness for its correct use. I admit I’m a card-carrying member of the grammar police. Most people have their favorite sports team or restaurant; I have my favorite punctuation mark (the semicolon). When I’m driving and I see a sign that says “Homegrown apple’s for sale,” with “apples” spelled “a-p-p-l-e-‘-s” I about run off the road. Not only that, but punctuation can save lives. For example, a simple comma is the difference between, “Let’s eat, Grandma” and “Let’s eat Grandma!”

The punctuation you choose is important, because it can be symbolic. Think about the difference between a hyphen and a slash. A hyphen connects two words or concepts together, like Judeo-Christian or Italian-American. Even married folks looking to hold onto both aspects of their identity while embodying their new connection do so by hyphenating their names. The verbal symbol for a hyphen is “and,” as in Italian and American.

The slash, however, serves the opposite function. It seeks to divide two words or concepts, severing the connection between them. The verbal symbol for the slash is “or.” Male-slash-female. Yes-slash-no. The slash divides, forcing you to make a choice between what’s on one side of the slash and what’s on the other side. You can’t have both, the slash says. There’s no connection here.

So to reword our identity statement in light of this punctuation lesson, we are called to be a movement for hyphens in a slash-filled world. We are called to help reconnect that which the world has severed. And don’t we have our work cut out for us? If I were to ask you to name some of the places where the world was fragmented, you’d never stop. Wars, broken relationships, violence in our communities, tension between governments, tension within governments, animosity between people of different faiths, lack of civility on social and political issues, differing beliefs about how to best care for each other. We live in a slash-filled world.

What, then, should be our goal as a movement for wholeness? What does wholeness in the kingdom of God look like? We start to answer that question by turning to scripture, where a vision of God’s kingdom is spelled out in numerous places. I think of Isaiah 2, which says that in God’s kingdom, God will settle disputes and those in conflict 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. I think of Isaiah 65, which says that in God’s kingdom, the sound of weeping and of crying will be heard no more. Everyone will live out their lives to the fullest, the wolf and the lamb will feed together, and no one will harm or destroy. I think of Jesus praying to God on our behalf that we may all be one together, not a bunch of individual ones. Jesus says the kingdom of God for which we are working is a place were lost coins are found and lost sheep are pursued and lost children are welcomed home. He says the kingdom of God is a place characterized by the innocence of little children, where sinners and tax collectors and prostitutes are all invited to eat at the great banquet table, to satisfy themselves with God’s overflowing abundance of goodness. This is what the Bible says the kingdom of God looks like.

Are we there yet? Sometimes it feels like we haven’t even taken the first step on this journey. Sometimes it feels like we’re going in the opposite direction, like we’re beating pruning hooks into spears and plowshares into swords, ready to harm and destroy with hateful words and destructive actions. Instead of the innocence of children, we live with the hardened cynicism of people whose trust has been betrayed so much that we don’t even know how to look at someone without emphasizing the ways they are different from us. We lead with the slash instead of the hyphen, forgoing the possibility of connection by prioritizing self-preservation.

I wonder if that’s what happened to our denomination as a whole. Right after we chose to become a denomination in 1968, institutions began losing authority and influence. For this new institution call the Disciples, that loss was manifested in shrinking attendance and giving. And when it starts getting smaller, an institution will turn inward to maintain its internal structure and identity. But not a movement. A movement is passionate about going beyond itself to make a difference in the world around it, to connect itself with the movement of God, like a small tributary flowing into a mighty river. That’s a question we as a church have to wrestle with, not just theologically but practically. We have to wrestle with the basic need to sustain ourselves versus the call to embody God’s love and grace beyond ourselves. In other words, as a movement for wholeness, we have to balance keeping the lights on with being a light to the world.

To work for wholeness, I believe we also have to recognize that wholeness starts with each one of us. Our own lives can become so fragmented with busy schedules – slash – financial challenges – slash – relationship breakdowns that we easily become separated from God, our source of strength and hope and connection. So the move toward wholeness starts with us, as we seek to live with patience and grace and openness to others, and then radiates out from there.

Wholeness for the world starts within us, then continues in how we relate to others. Wholeness means recognizing the person on the other side of the aisle or the other end of an argument is a whole person, not defined only by what they believe or how they live. Seeking wholeness means beginning conversations with the assumption that the other person is a child of God just like us, rather than seeing them as an adversary on the “wrong” side of an issue or as a stranger with different skin, clothes, and beliefs. To move for wholeness means seeking common ground, not a place to draw a line in the sand. That starts with each one of us. And if we each strive for this in our own lives, we’re going to look an awful lot like a movement that is changing the world.

We may not be able to personally erase the slashes that have been drawn in our country and in our world, but we can still make a difference. Our efforts to draw a hyphen between ourselves and other Christians, between ourselves and people of other faiths, and between ourselves and people of no faith may mean the difference between someone knowing they are loved by God and hating God because people have told them that God hates them. And that lack of love leads to acts of hatred, acts of violence, acts of fragmentation. That person you seek to connect with today could be tomorrow’s addict, tomorrow’s abuser, tomorrow’s news headline. It may be your connection that makes all the difference.

A movement for wholeness. Another word for “wholeness” is “shalom,” the Jewish word which means a sense of peace, completeness, and harmony. A synonym I like for “wholeness” is “unity.” Now, that word is often confused with “uniformity,” but they mean different things. To seek unity is to seek connection in the midst of our diversity, to recognize that there is so much more that hyphens us together than slashes us apart. To move toward unity means forging relationships at the personal, congregational, and institutional level with those who are different from us as a way to model to this fragmented world of ours that we were created to be together, not apart.

Ps. 133 says, “How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity.”

God is not in the slash. May we seek to be hyphenated people, connected to those like us and unlike us through our mutual respect and love, working for the well-being and provision of all God’s people, inviting everyone to God’s banquet table. That’s what the Kingdom of God looks like. What’s the next step we can take in our lives to make that happen? What hyphen can we draw today, not with someone who already looks and thinks like us, but with someone who has previously been slashed apart from us? A movement for wholeness in a fragmented world. Changing the world starts with us.

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We Are the Disciples sermon series – Movement

SCRIPTURE – Matthew 28:16-20 – 16 Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”


We Are the Disciples sermon series
#1 – Movement
January 5, 2020
Rev. Kory Wilcoxson

I’m a bonafide church nerd. I love talking about the church, especially about Crestwood. When a visitor or someone interested in joining our church family says to me, “Who are the Disciples of Christ?” my heart flutters like someone just set a big ol’ plate of brisket in front of me. I think our denomination has a lot to offer our conflicted world, so I savor the opportunity to share it with others. We are the Disciples, and we should be proud of that.

Before coming to Lexington, I spent eight years pastoring in the Chicago area. Before that, I was in seminary in Indianapolis, which is also the general headquarters of our denomination. Both Indy and Lexington are big Disciples towns, with a rich history and vibrant presence. In fact, you may know that our denomination was founded right here in Lexington in 1832, making it the oldest American-born denomination. Both Indianapolis and Lexington have Disciples seminaries and a multitude of Disciples churches.

Chicago? Eh, not so much. Disciples never made much in-road in Chicago. In fact, the church I served was only one of two Disciples churches in the whole county, and the other one was about a half-hour away. So, imagine trying to be a Disciple in a very non-Disciple area. I always dreaded the moment in a conversation when someone would what denomination I served. I would say, “We’re part of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).” Long pause. Then the person would cock their head like a dog that’s just heard a high-pitched whistle and say, “What’s THAT?” One person furrowed their brown and said with great concern, “Is that a cult?” To which I responded, “Why do you ask? Have you seen our spaceship?”

            So, who are we? To be honest, it may be easier to say who we’re not. We take communion every week, so we’re not Presbyterian or Methodist. We don’t baptize infants, so we’re not United Church of Christ. We ordain women, so we’re not Catholic or Southern Baptist. But you see, there’s a problem with defining yourself using only negatives. Not only does it create a sense of separation from other Christians, it doesn’t answer the original question. Who ARE we?

“We are Disciples of Christ, a movement for wholeness in a fragmented world. As part of the one body of Christ, we welcome all to the Lord’s Table as God has welcomed us.” That is our denomination’s Identity Statement, crafted in 2006 by a group called the 21st Century Vision Team, which was called together to help our denomination put words of definition to our actions and faith practices. When someone asks about us, we now have something substantial to say. I love our Identity Statement, but my guess is most of you have probably never heard it before. If you have, congratulations! You get to take two pieces of bread during communion. The challenge in writing such a statement is putting it into action, getting it into the hands of the individual congregations who make up this denomination. Because we are not governed in a top-down, hierarchical format, we don’t have a Pope or a Bishop who can say, “Here, take this statement, this is who we are, no arguments.” Each congregation is responsible for living out the statement in their own context.

But even that is made difficult by our congregational style of governance. When the final authority is the congregation, not some denominational executive, then what one church believes can differ greatly from what another church believes. The Identity Statement can be interpreted in a myriad of ways by congregations, depending upon context and leadership and core values. So, this sermon series is our attempt to help Crestwood figure out who WE are in light of this mission statement. It’s meant as a refresher course to remind us who we are and who we’re called to be. We’ll do that by focusing on four of the keywords in the statement – movement, wholeness, table, and welcome.

Let’s start with movement. Is the Disciples of Christ a movement? Is Crestwood a movement? I’d answer “no” to both those questions. When I think of a movement, I think of a loosely organized, somewhat unstructured collection of people who share beliefs and come together to achieve common goals, like three wise men who come together to see a baby King born in Bethlehem. The second part of that sentence fits us: we share beliefs and we seek to live out those beliefs in common ways. But are we loosely organized and unstructured? If you think we are, I have a couple Administrative Board committee sub-groups I’d like you to serve on.

I would say our denomination is not a movement; instead, it is an institution. Is that a bad thing these days? Maybe. But it wasn’t back in the 1950s and 1960s when our collection of churches (at that time called a Brotherhood) made the move to form itself into a full-fledged denomination. We resisted doing so for a long time because we felt that organizing into a denomination would create layers of separation from our Christian brothers and sisters, and we Disciples are all about unity, not division. But we finally realized if it walks like a denomination, and talks like a denomination, and quacks like a denomination, then it’s a denomination, even if you insist on calling it something else. So, in 1968, we officially restructured into our current denominational form.

Notice anything curious about the timing there? Anything important happening in our country in 1968? The Vietnam War, the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy, the election of Richard Nixon as president. Talk about bad timing. We decided to institutionalize at the very moment that institutions in our country were starting to lose authority, and we’ve been dealing with the ramifications of that ever since. So, our Identity Statement is a chance for us to reclaim the essence of why we came together in the first place back in 1832. Our founders didn’t say, “Hey, let’s form an institution with regions and general units!” They came together to form a movement because they shared common beliefs and a common purpose.

So, what DOES it mean to be a movement? How can we recapture the core of who we are as Disciples of Christ? For me, it starts with scripture. Have you ever noticed how often someone in the Bible is told to move? God comes to Abraham and says, “Go!” Abraham says, “Where?” And God says, “Don’t worry about it, I’ve got it covered.” God comes to Moses and says, “Go!” Moses says, “Where?” And God says, “I’ll tell ya, but you’re not going to like it.” So Moses heads off to Egypt to confront the Pharaoh.

Or think about the magi. After Jesus’ birth, they see the star in the sky, which they know is a divine sign for the birth of the Messiah. They don’t form a subcommittee to plot their route and raise money for expenses; they just hop on their camels and go, living out their shared beliefs for the common purpose of worshipping this baby. Later in the gospels, Jesus says to a couple fishermen, “Come and follow me.” Then he says to his disciples, “Go out into the surrounding villages and tell them about me.” And after his resurrection, as he’s about to ascend to Heaven, he says to them (and us), “Go! Make disciples of all nations.” The Bible is full of calls to go, to come, to move, to leave, to seek, to embody the promises of faith through action.

But there’s a difference between purposeful and purposeless movement. God doesn’t call the Magi to ride their camels around a racetrack; that’s movement, but it has no purpose. Instead, when people in the Bible are called to move, they are called to move toward something. Therefore, our movement should be toward a goal. What is that goal for Crestwood? A bigger church? More money in the offering plate? A greater sense of status or more recognition? I hope not. Our goal, as a church, as a denomination, as people of faith, should be to make God’s kingdom real here on earth. We move in faith for the purpose of helping people get a glimpse of what God’s kingdom looks like, a kingdom defined by the wholeness of creation, by the sharing of table fellowship, and by the hospitality of welcoming. Are we moving toward those things in our lives, or are we just moving?

If the Kingdom of God is our goal, how do we get there? Good question to ask as we start the new year. And here’s my answer: I have no idea. I assume we get there the same way you eat an elephant, which is one bite at a time. Or to use another analogy, we get there the same way headlights help us to get to a destination. You can drive great distances in the dark if you have your headlights on. Now, those lights only shine a couple hundred feet at best, but you can go thousands of miles like that. We may not be able to fully see the destination to which we’re moving, but we don’t need to. All we need to see is the next step ahead that God has illuminated for us. What is that next step for you? Is it a step toward service or leadership? Is it a step up in giving or commitment? Is it a step toward reconciliation with someone? As long as you are willing to take that next step, no matter how small or unsure, then you are still moving.

At our essence, at the core of our collective soul, we are not an institution; we are not a building; we are not a bunch of boards and committees; we are a movement with a goal. If we lose sight of that, then we stop moving forward. That happens a lot. Some churches just spin in circles, going around their racetrack the way they always have, until one day they realize they’re not really moving at all. They were so focused on who they were that they forget to pay attention to who they were becoming. But that is not who we are as Crestwood or as Disciples. We’ll talk more in the coming weeks about what we are moving toward. But for today, let’s covenant together to keep moving, to keep following Jesus’ call. What next step is God calling you to take? To where is Jesus beckoning you to follow him? We’ll never know if we don’t keep moving. As we start this new year together, let’s covenant to not stand still. God is calling us into something new and scary and exhilarating and mysterious and holy. Are you ready for it? We are. Let’s go!


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Names for the Messiah sermon series – Prince of Peace

SCRIPTURE – Isaiah 9:2-7 (KJV) – The people who walked in darkness
    have seen a great light;
those who lived in a land of deep darkness—
    on them light has shined.
You have multiplied the nation,
    you have increased its joy;
they rejoice before you
    as with joy at the harvest,
    as people exult when dividing plunder.
For the yoke of their burden,
    and the bar across their shoulders,
    the rod of their oppressor,
    you have broken as on the day of Midian.
For all the boots of the tramping warriors
    and all the garments rolled in blood
    shall be burned as fuel for the fire.
For a child has been born for us,
    a son given to us;
authority rests upon his shoulders;
    and he is named
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
His authority shall grow continually,
    and there shall be endless peace
for the throne of David and his kingdom.
    He will establish and uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
    from this time onward and forevermore.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.

Names for the Messiah Sermon Series
Prince of Peace
Dec. 22, 2019
Rev. Kory Wilcoxson

During Advent, we’ve been looking at different names for the Messiah as prophesied by Isaiah. Isaiah was talking about a king that would come to power, eradicate the enemies, and re-establish the throne of King David, Israel’s most successful king. The prevailing wisdom among Christians is that the king Isaiah was predicting was Jesus Christ. So far, we’ve talked about “Wonderful Counselor,” “Mighty God,” and “Everlasting Father.” Today, just a few days before Christmas, we’re going to talk about what it means for the coming Christ child to be the “Prince of Peace.”

The title itself is problematic because it juxtaposes two antithetical concepts. The first concept is the idea of royalty. In Isaiah’s time, kings ruled tribes and nations and did so by providing protection for their subjects and overseeing the general welfare and well-being of the kingdom. Back then, kings and princes made their fame through conducting successful wars. The more people you conquered, the safer your kingdom was. So, a title like “prince” carries with it some of the violent, strong-armed symbolism in Isaiah’s time.

Contrast that with the word “peace.” The Hebrew word here is “shalom,” which goes so much further than our simple understanding of peace. For us, peace is the absence of conflict, but “shalom” is a much more holistic word, encompassing our relationship with God, each other, and God’s creation. It denotes a harmony, a divine symbiosis, an ethos of serenity and prosperity for all God’s children.

This kind of peace is not coerced but happens organically. In Isaiah’s and in Jesus’ time, the peace that was experienced was imposed. Think about the Pax Romana. There was peace because if you weren’t peaceful, you’d feel the full pressure of the Roman Empire. It’s like when I would act up as a kid and my PawPaw would get out his yardstick and lay it across his lap. There was no more acting up after that. Talk about coercing peace! In those days, peace was imposed on the losers by the winners. That’s a far cry from the shalom about which Isaiah is talking.

Isaiah’s peace is not won with the use of force but exists because of the absence of it. As long as there are instruments of violence in our midst, peace will only be a restless, unstable possibility. More weapons may make for peace, but it’s an uneasy peace built on easily shifting sand, not on the rock of God’s shalom. Isaiah’s peace is forged by turning swords into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks, not by making more swords and spears.

So in this title, we combine the implied military might of royalty with the shalom of God’s peace and then place the title on a little baby lying in a manger, trusting that he’ll be the one to bring peace to our world, that he will be the king in our lives who protects us and helps us prosper. Each year we hope that will happen, and each year there are more school shootings and terrorist attacks. Is Jesus really the Prince of Peace?

As I understand it, this is one of the major sticking points for Jews in not believing in Jesus as the promised Messiah. As they read the Old Testament prophecies, the Messiah would come into the world, vanquish all the enemies of God’s people, and restore Jerusalem to the vision of the peaceful kingdom God intended. I once asked a rabbi about his understanding of the Messiah, and he said, “Every day, I wake up and look out the window. I see shootings and pain and violence, so I say to myself, ‘No, the Messiah is not here yet.’” He then said, “Kory, you and I are waiting on the same thing. You’re waiting for the Messiah to come a second time, and I’m waiting for the Messiah to come the first time.” For the rabbi, because the world was still broken, the promises of the prophets had yet to be fulfilled.

For us Christians, we believe Jesus was the Messiah, and his coming did more than conquer an earthly foe. He conquered sin and death, paving a way for us to experience God’s forgiveness and to have eternal life with God in Heaven. And believe me, those are some really cool Christmas presents! Life-changing, in fact. But there’s still the sticking point of the fact that the peace Christ promised us is not present in our world. In fact, you could argue our world gets more violent, more divisive every year. Is Jesus really the Prince of Peace?

I believe he is, but he doesn’t bring the kind of peace we expect. In our world today, peace makes for a better political slogan than a credible reality. Peace seems so elusive that it’s easy to give up on hoping for it. Just the other night, I was showing two of our younger Boy Scouts the meaning of our stained-glass windows. We got to the window with the olive branch, which I explained was a symbol for peace. One boy thought the branch was from an oak tree and another thought it was part of a grapevine. They argued back and forth a bit and then – as young boys sometimes do – the actually starting throwing punches at each other. In the church sanctuary. Over the meaning of a symbol for peace. So I got out my Pawpaw’s yardstick. The struggle is real, y’all. Peace is hard.

But that doesn’t mean we should give up on its presence in our world. As followers of Christ, we must keep talking about peace because, as Bible scholar Walter Breuggemann says, “The rhetoric of peace serves an important function in keeping available a vision of an alternative society in an alternative world.” We have to keep talking about peace so that we don’t forget what peace looks like, or else we’ll start to accept the violence and conflict in our world as normative. This is not what God created the world to be.

So when is God gonna fix it? Many of us wonder when Jesus will fulfill this promise to be the Prince of Peace. How much longer will God let us go on hating and killing each other? Surely, Jesus has the power to bring peace, right? I want to pose a different theory about that. At the end of John’s gospel, after the resurrection, the disciples are huddled together in a locked room for fear of the Roman soldiers doing to them what the soldiers did to Jesus. The risen Jesus appears to them and says, “Peace be with you,” and shows them his pierced hands and side. He says to them a second time, “Peace be with you. As the father has sent me, so I send you.” He then breathes on them and says, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”

Here’s my theory: when Jesus did that, he gave his followers – that includes us – what we need to enact the peace that God has promised us. Rather than waiting for Jesus to come back and set things right, maybe Jesus has already given us what we need to bring peace to our world. We have the power of the Holy Spirit at our disposal to make peace, using God’s love and grace and forgiveness and hospitality to restore God’s shalom to this fractured world we live in. Easy, right?

A little girl was drawing a chart on a piece of paper. Her dad asked her, “What are you working on?” She said, “I’m making up a plan to create world peace.” The dad said, “Wow, that’s a pretty big job!” She replied, “Don’t worry, two other girls in class are working on it, too.” Maybe what we need to make Christ’s peace a reality isn’t more guns and missiles; maybe we need the innocence of a child to help us see how absurd our violence is toward each other. I believe Christ isn’t coming as a child this year to bring peace; I believe he’s coming as a child to remind us that we have been called to be peacemakers in his name.

That peaceful innocence is subversive because it undoes the evil of the ruling empire, which tells us that we are only at peace when we have subdued those who threaten us. Therefore, we need an enemy to combat, an “other” to hate so that we can make ourselves feel safe. Buddhist nun Pema Chodron said, “The way to stop war is to stop hating the enemy.” But we need enemies, don’t we? That’s how we know who to fight in order to make ourselves safe and impose peace in our world. And yet, that’s not the kind of peace Jesus promises.

The peace Jesus promises us is the kind that connects us to each other at the deepest human level. It’s easy to hate someone who is a stranger. It’s much harder to hate someone who is a fellow human, a fellow sufferer. But if we have someone to hate, then hate becomes more acceptable and our expectations for peace are lowered. As Richard Rohr writes, “Hate makes the world go around. Once you have a specific thing to hate, it takes away your fear.” We’ve bought into the lie that life is more peaceful when we have an enemy we can fight against because then peace is defined by an absence of conflict, not by God’s shalom.

And yet, in the midst of the hate and conflict and divisiveness in our world today, we can’t let go of that alternative vision of peace, because it’s from that vision that we draw hope for God’s peace becoming a reality. Author Ryan LaMothe tells the story of Gerda Klein, a Holocaust survivor. As the war was ending, her Nazi guards were intent on killing as many Jews as possible before the Americans arrived, so they gathered all the remain Jews in their camp into a warehouse filled with explosives. The guards fled, thinking the building would explode, but the rain had shorted the electrical connections. Gerda was able to squeeze her frail frame out of the building just as a jeep pulled up and an American officer jumped out to greet her. She explained the situation and the two of them went to the warehouse to free the rest of the Jews. When they got the warehouse, the American officer reached out and opened the door for Greta. She said that, in that small act, when set against atrocities she had endured, her faith in humanity was restored.

There’s nothing heroic about opening the door for someone, is there? And yet, peace will not come to this earth in one large, supernatural act. It will come through thousands of simple acts, done daily, done for each other, done for those not like us. Peace will not come through force or coercion; it will come through sacrifice, something as small as letting someone else go first in line or paying for the person’s drink behind you or loving someone even when they’re being a grinch. When the resurrected Jesus said to his disciples, “Peace be with you,” his next act was to show them his wounds, his pierced hands and side. We are all wounded, aren’t we? Christ’s peace will not come from inflicting more wounds, but from helping each other heal. It’s hard to hate a fellow sufferer.

As we’re about to enter what promises to be a difficult year for our country, this Christmas may be more important than ever. We need to be reminded that Christ is coming to show us what peace looks like. It’s not finger-pointing and name-calling. It’s opening doors for each other, joining hands together, looking past ideological and political differences to see the fellow sufferer in each other. Is Jesus really the Prince of Peace? Well, I guess the answer to that question depends on us, how we choose to live our lives. Peace be with you. Merry Christmas.

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This Sunday’s sermon – Mighty God/Everlasting Father

SCRIPTURE – Isaiah 9:2-7 (The Message translation) –

The people who walked in darkness
    have seen a great light.
For those who lived in a land of deep shadows—
    light! sunbursts of light!
You repopulated the nation,
    you expanded its joy.
Oh, they’re so glad in your presence!
    Festival joy!
The joy of a great celebration,
    sharing rich gifts and warm greetings.
The abuse of oppressors and cruelty of tyrants—
    all their whips and cudgels and curses—
Is gone, done away with, a deliverance
    as surprising and sudden as Gideon’s old victory over Midian.
The boots of all those invading troops,
    along with their shirts soaked with innocent blood,
Will be piled in a heap and burned,
    a fire that will burn for days!
For a child has been born—for us!
    the gift of a son—for us!
He’ll take over
    the running of the world.
His names will be: Amazing Counselor,
    Strong God,
Eternal Father,
    Prince of Wholeness.
His ruling authority will grow,
    and there’ll be no limits to the wholeness he brings.
He’ll rule from the historic David throne
    over that promised kingdom.
He’ll put that kingdom on a firm footing
    and keep it going
With fair dealing and right living,
    beginning now and lasting always.
The zeal of God-of-the-Angel-Armies
    will do all this.

Names for the Messiah sermon series
Mighty God/Everlasting Father
Dec. 8, 2019
Rev. Kory Wilcoxson

One of the things I love about Jesus and that I really don’t like about Jesus is that we can never fully know him. There are so many names for Jesus in the Bible that we mortal humans are incapable of knowing him like we can know each other. I’ve told you before about how I remember knowing Jesus for the first time. I was in college, a bit adrift in my faith, not really sure who I was or what I was supposed to be doing with this one wild and wonderful life I’d been given. Then, while visiting a church, I heard a sermon about Jesus as the good shepherd who guides his wayward sheep down the right path. And I responded with a hardy, “Baa!” which is sheep for “Amen!” I got to know Jesus as the good shepherd.

Since then, I’ve come to know Jesus in a plethora of other ways. When I’ve been sick, he’s been the Great Physician. When I’ve been drowning, he’s been my savior. When I felt disconnected from my faith and lost in the darkness, he’s been the Light that has served as a beacon, helping me avoid the jagged rocks of life and guiding me safely to shore. And yet, I still don’t know Jesus as much as I would like.

For this sermon series, we’re looking at some other names for Jesus in the Bible as a way to understand – as much as we can – who’s coming into this world again on Dec. 25. Last week, Trish talked about the name “Wonderful Counselor.” On Dec. 22, I’ll spend some time unpacking the provocative “Prince of Peace.” Today, we’re doing double duty as we look at the names “Mighty God” and “Everlasting Father.”

First, a disclaimer. The names at which we are looking actually weren’t written about Jesus directly but were a prophecy from Isaiah, who was predicting the coming of a king. This king would embody God’s divinity on earth, carrying out God’s edicts and mandates as he cared for God’s people. So, it’s a bit artificial to say that Isaiah was describing Jesus. Isaiah was describing someone who God had promised to God’s people, someone who would establish authority, who would rule with justice and righteousness, who would embody the qualities of the names Isaiah gives him. We Christians believe that person is Jesus of Nazareth.

Let’s look at the first name, Mighty God. Remember, kings were the supreme authority in those days. That may seem strange to us because the only kings we know are Elvis and Burger King, and while I like the Whopper and “Blue Suede Shoes,” I’m not ready to equate either of them with God. But back in those days, it was commonplace to think that the king was the human embodiment of a divine deity. We see this a lot in the Roman empire, where emperors were thought to possess divine qualities. The same is true for other religions that existed around the time that Isaiah would have written this prophecy. So, equating a human king with a divine god was no big deal.

What’s intriguing about this title is the adjective “mighty.” It is defined as “possessing great and impressive power or strength, especially on account of size.” As one of our Sermon Talkback participants said, the word “mighty” makes her think of someone who’s eaten their spinach. We use the word today as a way to express something to an extreme degree. “She’s mighty nice.” “That Whopper was mighty tasty.” “This sermon is mighty long.” But that’s different than what Isaiah meant.

In using “mighty,” Isaiah was emphasizing the kind of authority the coming king would exercise over his people. In our highly militarized and weaponized world today, we would assume that a mighty king would possess a mighty army with mighty weapons and mighty fighters. We picture this king as a divine commander-in-chief who would lead his nation in a crusade of conquest. Might makes right, right?

But that’s not necessarily what Isaiah was saying here. Sure, we have evidence in scripture of God commanding the Israelites to go to war with and conquer surrounding nations, but honestly, those passages are more about what the people thought God wanted than what God actually wanted. Back then, if you went to war and won, God must have wanted you to win. And if you went to war and lost, well, you’ve done something to make God mighty mad at you. There was never any thought given to the fact that God may not have wanted war at all.

But Isaiah and the other prophets paint a different picture of God whom this coming king will embody. The God they show us is a compassionate God who seeks economic fairness toward the poor and needy. This God, as Isaiah says, will rule with justice and righteousness, which has nothing to do with military might and everything to do with making sure the poor are fed and the homeless have a place to live.

This is what Jesus came to show us. People were disappointed that he didn’t swoop down from heaven and conquer the Romans, but that’s not the king we have been promised. Jesus brought with him the kind of might that lifted up the lowly, that loosened the shackles of the oppressed, that told those on the margins that they matter, too. He subverted the might of the Roman empire, not by conquering it but exposing it for what it was: an attempt by government leaders to go against God’s commandments of justice and righteousness for everyone. Jesus’ authority as didn’t come from the end of a gun or a cannon; he didn’t exercise his might in coercive or violent ways. Instead, he loved with a mighty love, he showed his mighty power to heal, he reached out with mighty compassion.

Walter Brueggemann, who wrote the book on which this series is based, said that Jesus exercised his might against the agents of death, both human and spiritual. He stilled raging storms, he drove out demons from people’s bodies, he healed diseases, he stood up to corrupt government leaders. In essence, he came to speak a mighty word to what Brueggemann calls “the agents of uncreation,” which seek to undo God’s creative work in this world. God didn’t create this world so that people could starve and be told they don’t belong and be treated unfairly because of their differences. The might Jesus will bring to us again this Christmas reminds us that we have been called to be mighty in the ways we live out what Jesus taught us. In essence, we are called to be co-creators of God’s new kingdom, which will not be marked by military might, but by the mighty power of God’s radical, sacrificial love shown to us through Jesus Christ.

In light of this, the question we need to ask ourselves is, “Are we participating in God’s re-creation, or in this world’s efforts toward uncreation?” In other words, do our actions and decisions seek to undo God’s creation, which is marked by harmony and respect and justice and righteousness, or do they lend to God’s ongoing creation? This is evident in how we treat each other, the causes we support, and how we put our resources to work. We can do some mighty damage or we can make a mighty difference.

I’m gonna say this right up front about our second title today, “Everlasting Father.” It’s problematic. Remember, this wasn’t written directly about Jesus but was a prophecy which people believe Jesus has fulfilled. But how can Jesus be the father when Jesus is the son? There’s a very deep rabbit hole here around the issue of the Trinity and the relationship between father and son that I’m going to refuse to jump into this morning, or else we might be here until next Sunday. But I want to name that with this title, we have to do some mental gymnastics to get it to fit Jesus.

“Everlasting Father” actually fits with our first title. Just as the king is the human embodiment of God for the kingdom, so the father is the human embodiment of the king for the family. I readily acknowledge the discomfort of the patriarchal language here and to explicit name the fact that any human description of God falls woefully short. There are many maternal images for God in scripture because I believe God contains as many feminine qualities as masculine. But in this example, the father was the ruler of the household and was expected to conduct himself in the same way the king ruled in the kingdom, which was supposed to be modeled after how God ruled over God’s people.

That model is not one of an iron-fisted dictatorship. Instead, it’s the role of protector, of nurturer, of provider. One of the best images I can think of for God in the Bible is that of a potter. Several places in scripture God is likened to a potter who shapes and molds Israel into the people God wants them to be. Likewise, when fathers are true to their parental calling, they are shaping their children and those under there care to be faithful followers.

I can think of many ways my father and my grandfathers have shaped me and influenced the person I am today, and it was always by example. Case in point: When I would go to work with my dad on Saturdays, he always stopped to talk with the security guard at the front gate. He didn’t have to do that; he could have driven his car right on through with just a wave. But I learned from his example that everyone deserves to be treated with respect.

Jesus has set the example for us, as well. It’s an example that is timeless, everlasting, because the needs of the people back then are the same as the needs of people now: to be seen, to be heard, to be loved, to be taken care of. This doesn’t just apply to our nuclear or biological family. Jesus extends this divine provision to everyone who’s a part of our family of faith, those in this sanctuary and those across the world. We are to share parental love with each other, making sure that each has what they need to participate in God’s ongoing creativity.

I hope you learned a new name for Jesus today, or maybe had a familiar name reinforced. Remember, these are just two of many, many names that we have for Jesus. But, in the end, here’s where I find my source of hope. I may never know all the names for Jesus, but he knows my name. And that’s enough.



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This Sunday’s Sermon – More Than Enough

SCRIPTURE – John 6:25-35 – When they found him on the other side of the sea, they said to him, “Rabbi, when did you come here?” 26 Jesus answered them, “Very truly, I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. 27 Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For it is on him that God the Father has set his seal.” 28 Then they said to him, “What must we do to perform the works of God?” 29 Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” 30 So they said to him, “What sign are you going to give us then, so that we may see it and believe you? What work are you performing? 31 Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’” 32 Then Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. 33 For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” 34 They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.”

35 Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.

More Than Enough
John 6:25-35
Nov. 24, 2019
Rev. Kory Wilcoxson

What are you doing for Thanksgiving this year? Some of you may be opening your homes to friends and family, preparing to host a gaggle of folks who will bring a nice side dish, help you clean up after the big dinner, and then fall into a turkey-induced coma during the football games. Others of you may be on the road, traveling to see family so that you can spend this holiday together, eating together and visiting together and falling into turkey-induced comas together. But I would guess, one way or another, just about all of us have Thanksgiving plans. We may not know exactly where we’ll be eating, but we know we’ll be eating, and there will be more than enough. Therefore, it’s hard for us to imagine not knowing where our next meal will come from, and yet that’s exactly the situation for many of our brothers and sisters right here in Lexington.

Two weeks ago, I preached a sermon called “Land of Plenty” in which I talked about the topic of hunger and food insecurity in Lexington. The sermon was a part of a process in which Crestwood has been invited to participate. In September, Warren Rogers and I attended a workshop at Lexington Theological Seminary called “Dialogue in the Purple Zone.” The workshop, led by Dr. Leah Schade and others, introduced us to a process called deliberative dialogue, a method of conversation that invites participants to see controversial issues from different perspectives, thus increasing everyone’s empathetic understanding of how the issue is perceived and how it affects others. In short, we were trying to answer the question: Can we talk about divisive issues without dividing? Can we disagree without being disagreeable?

In that first sermon, I talked about how I hoped that this process would not only help us come up with real, tangible action steps to combat hunger and food insecurity in Lexington, but also help us grow closer and stronger as a congregation as we talked about issues that directly affect us, but about which we don’t all agree. It’s only by talking through these issues – and more importantly, listening to others as they talk – that we can better understand how people hold viewpoints different than ours. The more we understand all sides of an issue, the better chance we have of talking civilly and productively about it.

A week ago, Warren and I hosted our deliberative dialogue about food insecurity. We had 24 people in attendance, so we divided into two groups to talk about this issue more in depth. We shared a discussion guide, which gave us some talking points and options to consider how to address hunger and food insecurity. And then we talked. And listened. And talked some more. And listened some more. And in the midst of it all, the Holy Spirit moved through us to give us a greater understanding of the issue and each other.

The first question was, for me, the most powerful. We asked people to share what personal stake they had in this issue. Why did hunger and food insecurity matter to them? Several people talked about how they had grown up poor and had faced food insecurity themselves. A couple were teachers who had dealt with students who didn’t have enough to eat. And several were simply concerned about the issue and how it affects the well-being of our brothers and sisters here in Lexington. Did you know that one in six Kentucky families experience food insecurity in a given year? We all know someone who deals with this.

The conversations about the issues were rich, robust, and filled with compassion for those who don’t have enough to eat. For example, we talked about the enormous amount of waste that is produced in the US. Someone shared the staggering statistic that 40% of the food produced in the US never gets consumed. Sound unbelievable? Think about the food left over at catered parties, the food prepared at restaurants that never gets served, the perishable food in the grocery stores that doesn’t sell. We have more than enough, but forty percent doesn’t seem so far-fetched. How many more people could we feed with only one-fourth of the food we waste? We don’t have a production problem, we have a distribution problem.

We also recognized that so much of the malnutrition and under-feeding in our community is because of the lack of education and access. If people don’t know the four food groups or what a balanced diet is, how are they expected to eat in a way that helps them stay healthy? And with such a lack of quality grocery stores on the north side of Lexington, even if someone wanted to eat well, getting access to a grocery store can be a challenge. This issue isn’t just about food. It’s about education, transportation, socio-economic disparity, and prejudice.

Once our two groups had finished discussing the issues, we came back together to see where we had common ground. This is such an important part of the deliberative dialogue process because it allows you to connect with people with whom you disagree. Let’s say two people had very different ideas about how we should help people get food. One wants more government subsidies, while the other wants better education. Even though they have very different ways of getting to a solution, they both agree that no one should go hungry.

That’s an important point of overlap to keep in mind as we prepare to pull up a chair to the cornucopia of food at the Thanksgiving table. My guess is none of that food will go to waste; we’ll be eating turkey and dressing and pumpkin pie for days. But it’s important to remember that God not only wants us to have our daily bread, but God wants those around us to eat, as well. If we are fed but others are not, we are falling short of the kingdom of God. We don’t have a production problem, we have a distribution problem.

That feeding is not just physical. In our passage today, Jesus has just fed the five thousand people with just a turkey leg and half a pecan pie and his disciples are trying to figure out what in the world is going on. Jesus tells them that not only can he provide bread to be eaten, but also nourishment for the soul. “I am the bread of life,” he says. “Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”

I went gluten-free about eight years ago, and of all the food I miss, the one I miss the most is a breadstick from Joe Bologna’s. If you’ve never had one, it’s like the Mona Lisa of breadsticks. It’s a huge piece of warm, gluten-y goodness that you can dip in marinara sauce or garlic butter. I think that breadstick is as close to the real bread of life as we can get. And yet, even that doesn’t compare to what Jesus offers us. It’s more than bread for our stomachs, it’s bread for our souls. We are fed when we are following Jesus.

We talked in the deliberative dialogue about how we can do that. We had a feast of ideas about how we at Crestwood can make a difference in our community when it comes to hunger and food insecurity. What makes it difficult for us is that we’re not exactly situated in a place of great need. First, we are located on the south side of Lexington, which tends to be more socio-economically stable and have much better access to healthy sources of food. Think of the number of grocery stores within a five-mile radius of this church.

In addition to that, we’re situated in a neighborhood where I would imagine very few people deal with food insecurity. Because of that, it would be easy for us to get complacent about this issue. I had a number of people come up to me after the first sermon on this topic to say they had no idea this was an issue in Lexington. But one group knew and that was teachers, because they see it every day in their schools. If you want to know the biggest problems in our city, ask a teacher, because they are wiser than anyone gives them credit for. It’s so easy for us to get caught up in our daily lives that we don’t even see the need just a few miles away because it’s not right outside our doorstep. But it’s there.

So, if we’re truly following Jesus, then we’re not just following him to church or to Thanksgiving Day lunch. We’re also following him to the Hope Center food kitchen, to the God’s Pantry warehouse, to the Nest with the 300 food boxes we are putting together. We know for a fact we have people to feed. One in six families in Kentucky deal with food insecurity in a given year. We have the means to make sure people get fed. And that means leaving Bellefonte Drive and heading to Loudon Avenue and Sixth Street and other places where it might be scary for us, but where the real need is. We don’t have a production problem; we have a distribution problem. And that’s on us.

So, what’s next? Well, that’s up to you. I’d like to convene a group of people who are interested in this topic for a discussion of what we can do to make a difference. If you are interested in being a part of that, send me an email or write your name on a piece of paper and give it to me, because I guarantee with absolute certainty that if you just tell me this morning, I’ll forget before I get to my car. We have the resources to make a difference, friends. It’s up to use to decide if we want to do it or not.

In a few minutes, we’re going to come to this table, which is set for us by Jesus Christ. On this table will be bread, purchased for a couple of dollars at a local grocery store. You are invited to take a piece and eat it as a reminder that Jesus Christ is the living bread that sustains us through all of life’s trials. But you are also called to remember that, just as this bread feeds our souls, we are called to feed the stomachs of those who are hungry. Over and over again, God calls us in scripture to feed those who don’t have enough food, and then God gives us the ultimate feast in the person of Jesus Christ. We have been fed. Our cups overflow with God’s abundance. And yet, people are still hungry for the bread of life and for actual bread. I pray that the food we eat this Thanksgiving never tastes as good as it should until we know that everyone is eating. Christ has given us the bread to feed the souls and the stomachs of the world. No one should be hungry.





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This Week’s Sermon – Land of Plenty?

SCRIPTURE – Isaiah 58:6-9 – Is not this the fast that I choose:
    to loose the bonds of injustice,
    to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
    and to break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
    and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover them,
    and not to hide yourself from your own kin?
Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,
    and your healing shall spring up quickly;
your vindicator[a] shall go before you,
    the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard.
Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer;
    you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am.

Land of Plenty?
Isaiah 58:6-9
Rev. Kory Wilcoxson

Last weekend for our Chili Supper, I decided to try my hand at making a pot of this delicious fall delicacy. Since I was the one cooking it, please hear with the word “delicious” in quotes. I drove to the store about five minutes from my house to buy my ingredients, which totaled around $56. I spent a couple hours making the chili, then on Sunday put it in line with the other crockpots at the Chili Supper. It may not have been as scrumdiddlyumptious as the other chili offerings, but it was edible. At this time, I have yet to hear any report cases of food poisoning in the congregation, so I’m thinking that I really nailed this “making chili” thing.

Sounds simple enough, right? I’m sure some of you did the same thing I did. But think about how much we take for granted just in that story alone. I had the luxury of driving to the store, a store which was only five minutes from my house. I had the resources to spend $56 on a recipe for food that would mostly feed others, not my family or me. I had the gift of two hours to prepare the chili and a loving church family kind enough not to tell me if it tasted bad. Do you see how much we take for granted? What if I didn’t have the transportation, the convenient grocery store, the money, the time, the abundance of food to share with others? So many people in this country, even in this city, don’t have those luxuries.

Hunger and food insecurity are economic issues because how we pay people and how we support economic development in our community affects how easy or difficult it is for people to have access to healthy food. They are also political issues because the decisions and policies of our government leaders have an impact on how the government controls or supports feeding those who struggle financially. But these are also spiritual issues because, as we’ll see, God has something to say about our role in making sure the hungry get fed.

Can we talk about this kind of thing at Crestwood? I guarantee that if we dig down into the foundational issues around food insecurity and food inequality in Lexington, toes will be stepped on because it is an economic and political issue. And yet, because it is also a spiritual issue, if we don’t talk about these things, we are ignoring the very voice of God, who says in the Isaiah passage I read that one of the fasts God chooses for us is to share our bread – and our chili! – with the hungry. So, how do we as Christ-followers talk about potentially divisive issues without dividing?

In September, Warren Rogers and I attending a workshop at Lexington Theological Seminary called “Dialogue in the Purple Zone.” The workshop, led by professor Dr. Leah Schade and others, introduced us to a process called deliberative dialogue, a method of conversation that invites participants to see controversial issues from different perspectives, thus increasing everyone’s empathetic understanding of how the issue is perceived and how it affects others.

The “purple” in “purple zone” comes from the combining of the “red” and “blue” colors that divide our country politically. As Christians, we are called to the dichotomous existence of living out our individual beliefs while still coming to the table each Sunday as one family. As Disciples of Christ, we believe that unity is our polar star, a core value that defines us here at Crestwood. But unity doesn’t mean uniformity, and we’re all aware of the political and theological diversity that is represented in this sanctuary today. How can we plant our flag in the “purple zone,” modeling for our community how to disagree without being disagreeable?

One response might be, “We shouldn’t.” I know plenty of folks that believe the church should stay out of controversial issues, that what we say and do on Sunday has very little to do with how we vote on Tuesday. And yet, even a quick scan of scripture shows that the prophets didn’t shy away from what could be considered in our times hot-button issues. In our Isaiah passage, God “gets political,” speaking through Isaiah to upbraid the Israelites for going through the motions of worship without ensuring that justice is in place and that people have enough to eat, clothes on their backs, and safe places to live. In other words, walking the walk of faith means structuring society in such a way that everyone has equal access to the things they need, not only to survive but to thrive. Simply put, we are called by God to care for each other.

Isaiah says, “You can fast all you want, but that’s not what God wants.” What does God want? Isaiah says, “Is not this the fast that I choose: to lose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin?” The Israelites thought fasting meant not eating bread, but God says true fasting is breaking bread with the hungry. That’s just one of hundreds of examples where God calls us to pay attention to the spiritual dimensions of the economic and social issues around us.

So, what Warren and I will be doing is leading you all through a deliberative dialogue process around the issue of food insecurity. Here’s how the process will work. I’m preaching this sermon today to introduce the topic. Then, next Sunday, Warren will host a deliberative dialogue process, where you’ll have the opportunity to look at this issue of food and justice from a number of different sides.  Then, on Nov. 24, the Sunday before Thanksgiving, I’ll preach a second sermon based upon our dialogue from the previous week to hear how God might be calling us to address this issue in our community.

We hope this dialogue will do a couple things. First, we hope it will help us learn more about the issue of food insecurity in our community. On this side of Lexington, we have a plethora of grocery store options, from Kroger and Aldi’s to high-end stores like Fresh Market and Whole Foods. On the north side of Lexington, they have…nothing except gas stations and convenience stores that only sell highly processed, unhealthy foods. Is it reasonable to expect someone to live healthily off a Speedway diet? The north side what sociologists call a “food desert.” What is God calling us to do about situations like these?

But more than just addressing the issue at hand, we also hope this process will help us grow stronger as a community of faith. As we move into a pivotal and potentially potent presidential election, the danger of divisiveness will always be lurking around us. When Isaiah talked about fasting, I wish he had something about fasting from social media during an election year! This next year is going to yank at the fabric that holds many congregations together, including ours. We can’t just ignore what will be going on around us, but we also can’t fall into the trap of our larger society in which people try to convince other people how wrong they are by talking LOUDER and using more derogatory terms. There has to be a better way. My hope is that through the deliberative dialogue process, we can learn how to talk about these pressing issues in ways that strengthen our bonds as members of Crestwood and children of God.

The other hope I have for this process is that we come out of it with concrete actions we can all agree on that will help us address these issues in ways that reflect God’s love and care for others. No matter what the issue is, God can help us find common ground, even among people who are polar opposites. If we can focus on the things upon which we agree, rather than dwelling on the things that divide us, we can better model what God’s kingdom here on earth looks like, and we can work together as the body of Christ to find solutions to some of our society’s more difficult problems.

This is about more than just feeding hungry people. This is about pleasing God. God chastises the Israelites for going through the motions of worship and fasting, doing those things to get God’s attention rather than to make a difference in this world. What happens when we answer God’s call to make sure the hungry are fed? Isaiah says, “Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up quickly; your vindicator shall go before you, the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard. Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am.” In other words, if you want to see God, if you want to know that God is present, look into the eyes of someone who is hungry and offer them bread. That’s where we’ll see God.

Coming here on Sunday to give your praise and thanksgiving and offering is a part of faith, but it’s not all of it. Faith also includes going from this place to make sure what you heard in here is being done out there, things like sharing your bread with the hungry. This land produces more than enough food to feed every single person in our community. We here at Crestwood are blessed with more than enough. Through this process, I pray we are able to see how our abundance can be the solution to someone else’s scarcity so that all are fed in this land of plenty.

Right now, there is a child in our city who is hungry and has no food to eat. Despite our political affiliations and theological leanings, that should make every single one of us visibly upset. Paul says, “When one part of the body suffers, we all suffer.” I would add that when one part of the body is hungry, we all feel those pangs. May our dedication to serving God and our commitment to loving our neighbors compel us to participate in this dialogue process, so that we can build stronger relationships with each other, learn to talk about controversial issues, and, most importantly of all, so that we can find ways to share our bread with the hungry that are in our midst.

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