On Exuberance and Matthew 25, July 13, 2006
To be called to faith in Christ is to be called to a wild unbridled
revolutionary radical way of living and thinking. There is a great song
by Big Daddy Weave, called Fields of Grace, the lyrics are:
There's a place that I love to run and playExuberance is a Great!!!! Thing. Do not apologize for it.
There's a place that I sing new songs of praise
Dancin' with my Father God in fields of grace
There's a place that I lose myself within
There's a place that I find myself again
Dancin' with my Father God in fields of grace
There's a place where religion finally dies
There's a place that I lose my selfish pride
Dancin' with my Father God in fields of grace
I love my Father, my Father loves me I dance for my Father, my Father sings over me
And nothing can take that away from me
In the gospel story (Matthew 25:14-30) concerning the three servants who are entrusted with the property of the owner five measures to one, two to another, and one to a third the servant who is given the one measure goes off and buries it in the ground and waits for the owner to return. When I recently came back to this story, it occurred to me that no other image or action from scripture so perfectly reflects the reality of life, both personal and communal, in mainline denominations today. It isn't enough to say that there is a malaise in the church today. It's way more than a malaise; it truly is a willful burying of talents and gifts, a turning away from all that needs to be done in response to God's call to us to be engaged effectively in the mending, healing, and stewardship of God's creation.
Like the third servant, we know that we are doing it. These are not unconscious or merely neglectful acts. We know that we are spending an inordinate amount of energy and resourcefulness in creating talent-burying distractions, which keep us from being engaged in God's real transformative work. The distractions are numerous: church governance and restructuring, fundraising, preservation activities for buildings no longer suited to 21st-century ministry, decision-making processes that take more time than they require or deserve, protracted conflicts over inconsequential issues, and, sometimes, courses or programs of study that don't actually deepen our sense of mission and ministry. This massive denial of call, this collective act of burying in the ground the mission that has been entrusted to us, is becoming too much for people to bear. On several occasions recently, I have been present for conversations in which people not only owned their participation in this massive! act of distraction, but also shared their profound disappointment and sadness about their involvement. "Let's get to the real things, " I hear them demand. "Let's stop playing church' and be about what really matters, what will truly make a difference. Enough of this fiddling while Rome burns! "
This is the beginning of transformation. This owning up to what is going on, this describing of what ails us is the seminal place of holy change. Just watch. Something is being born out of the shame and frustration of taking a shovel to the earth and concealing that which has been entrusted to us. In his gospel, Matthew heaps judgment on those who have participated in the cover-up, but in the vision that fuels the emerging way, after the owning up to what is real we are invited to the path of transformation. Rather than participate in a theology that scares people into pseudo-faith with threats of judgment and banishment, we need to hold up the way of transformation that holds the promise not only of dealing with what ails us, but also of carrying us into deeper relationship with the God who whispers in the ear of embrace, "Good work! You are doing your job well. From now on you really are my partner. "
At Westgate Tabernacle Church, we are a church of Red Letter Christians. We are a church part of the Body of Christ. We do not embrace the moniker of Service Provider, because we are a church. We have been in litigation with the Palm Beach County Commission for going on 5 years, defending the rights of churches to practice the mandates of our faith. We believe that if we also ourselves to require permitting from a government agency for doing what the Gospel calls us to do, we will have began an unstoppable descent down the slippery slope. If they can tell us when we can shelter or feed, what's next? telling us when and how we can celebrate communion and break bread? The County Zoning Boards recent attempts to cap church sizes at 250 rural, 500 suburban, and 750 urban shows that the County Commission has declared war on the church. The county commissions budgetary actions and its support of gentrification and lack of commitment to funding healthcare and shelter to the least of these also shows it has declared war on the poor. We believe in the literal truth of Matthew 25 Goats & Sheep, we do not think following it is optional behavior.
The Sheep and the Goats
31-33 "When he finally arrives, blazing in beauty and all his angels with him, the Son of Man will take his place on his glorious throne. Then all the nations will be arranged before him and he will sort the people out, much as a shepherd sorts out sheep and goats, putting sheep to his right and goats to his left.
34-36 "Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Enter, you who are blessed by my Father! Take what's coming to you in this kingdom. It's been ready for you since the world's foundation. And here's why:
I was hungry and you fed me, I was thirsty and you gave me a drink, I was homeless and you gave me a room, I was shivering and you gave me clothes, I was sick and you stopped to visit, I was in prison and you came to me.'
37-40 "Then those 'sheep' are going to say, 'Master, what are you talking about? When did we ever see you hungry and feed you, thirsty and give you a drink? And when did we ever see you sick or in prison and come to you?' Then the King will say, 'I'm telling the solemn truth: Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was meyou did it to me.'
41-43 "Then he will turn to the 'goats,' the ones on his left, and say, 'Get out, worthless goats! You're good for nothing but the fires of hell. And why? Because
I was hungry and you gave me no meal,
I was thirsty and you gave me no drink,
I was homeless and you gave me no bed,
I was shivering and you gave me no clothes,
Sick and in prison, and you never visited.'
44 "Then those 'goats' are going to say, 'Master, what are you talking about? When did we ever see you hungry or thirsty or homeless or shivering or sick or in prison and didn't help?'
45 "He will answer them, 'I'm telling the solemn truth: Whenever you failed to do one of these things to someone who was being overlooked or ignored, that was meyou failed to do it to me.'
46 "Then those 'goats' will be herded to their eternal doom, but the 'sheep' to their eternal reward. "
from Elder Alan Clapsaddle, July 13, 2006
We turn no one away, August 5, 2006
My Brother In Christ,
Carl, one of the things I say most often is, "We serve an awesome God who has a sense of humor, as evidenced by the fact he has brought Avis and I together". The confession of faith, here at Westgate Tabernacle is Union In Christ. This is the confession that Avis and I were part of adopting at the Presbyterian Coalition Gathering some years ago. Some of the elements of that confession are:
"We turn away from forms of church life that allow human divisions of race, gender, nationality, or economic class to mar the Eucharistic fellowship, as though in Christ there were still walls of separation dividing the human family .
As the body of Christ the Church has her life in Christ.
By our union with Christ the Church binds together believers in every time and place.
We turn away from forms of church life that identify the true Church only with particular styles of worship, polity, or institutional structure. We also turn away from forms of church life that ignore the witness of those who have gone before us.
By our union with Christ the Church is called out into particular communities of worship and mission.
We turn away from forms of church life that see the work of the local congregation as sufficient unto itself, as if it were not a local representation of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church called together by the power of the Spirit in every age and time until our Lord returns.
By our union with Christ our lives participate in God's mission to the world:
to uphold the value of every human life, to make disciples of all peoples, to establish Christ's justice and peace in all creation, and to secure that visible oneness in Christ that is the promised inheritance of every believer
We turn away from forms of church life that fail to bear witness in word and deed to Christ's compassion and peace, and the Gospel of salvation.
By our union with Christ the Church participates in Christ's resurrected life and awaits in hope the future that God has prepared for her. Even so come quickly, Lord Jesus!
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
By our faith, confessions and doctrines we know that God has called different bodies of believers, and since God is Sovereign, we know he can and does call non-believers too, for his purposes, according to his perfect plan. Through much prayer and discernment we know God has called us, at Westgate Tabernacle Church, to live out our faith in the radical, provocative, and confrontational manner of our Lord Jesus Christ. We are Red Letter Christians who believe we are called to speak truth to power. Jesus is that truth.
We see the issue of homelessness' as a civil rights issue whose roots go all the way back to Biblical times. We see the call to "Make Poverty History" and to make people understand that "Poverty is not a family value" as essential tenets of being a follower of Jesus Christ. One out of ten verses in the New Testament and one out of six verses in the Gospels deal with this issue. At Westgate Tabernacle Church, we believe that the Bible is the inerrant Word of God, and our only rule of faith and practice.
We believe we are lead to bring the issue of poverty, and its subset issue, homelessness to the forefront. We seek to follow the example of such faith community leaders as Dr. Martin Luther King, Bishop Desmond TuTu, and Mahatma Gandhi (my bumper sticker quoting Gandhi reads "Poverty is the worst form of violence). I have been blessed and inspired to have met and now claim as my best friend Bishop Avis Hill. Avis was one of the leaders of the Kanawha County Textbook Wars" chronicled in Fire On The Mountain. Avis was the leading voice for non-violent civil disobedience in a movement aimed at allowing the community to have a voice in what their children learn in the public schools. Avis has been arrested and jailed for living out his Red Letter Christian faith, for daring to stand firm and speak the truth of the Gospel to the civil authorities.
I was also blessed to have had the opportunity to serve at First Presbyterian Church of Birmingham. When Dr. King wrote his "Letter from the Birmingham Jail" it was written to Dr. Ramage, the senior pastor of that church. That church, its elders including Dr. Ramage, heeded that call, opened its doors, and went from 800 to 300 members overnight, but God has so blessed that church. It stands today as a model of Christian community, operating a 4 story homeless shelter and a child development center and at just this past month was awarded the "Full Gospel Award" by the Presbyterian Church USA, as the church nationally living out the fullest extent of the gospel. The three churches that did not heed Dr. King's call no longer exist. I was so fortunate their to serve alongside Rev. Finley Patton and the late Rev. Arvin Sexton, who lived through and were intimately involved in this important time In our history. I was also enormously blessed to serve and become friends with the Rev. Eugenia Gamble, Senior Pastor of First Presbyterian Birmingham, whose father Judge Gamble and her, were injured in a car bombing by right wing extremists during this movement, and to come to know her God given faith and vision, the lead to her ordination in a time and place where women in ministry were not warmly embraced. I was inspired to see and experience the "Blessed Community" to use Dr. King's words, that Birmingham, formerly a City symbolizing racism and hatred has become.
At Westgate Tabernacle Church, we have a vision, we have a dream, a God given dream, that in a county where within sight of the richest neighborhood in America, dozens of children sleep on the floor, the Holy floor, of a 60 year old church, sharing three restrooms with 100 other saints, and playing in the dirt, in third world conditions. We dream of a new building where the children, and their parents, and all others of the Blessed Community' find rest and restoration and healing and come to know our Lord Jesus Christ. Our dream is that this building is in a community where people of all socio-economic classes are held in equal esteem, in a County that no longer is fighting a war against the poor, where being at or near the poverty level does not classify you as a blight for the benefit of well funded developers who would use that as a tool to spend their political capital to form a Community Redevelopment Agency to steal your neighborhood and your property from you.
Carl, when I say we are not a service provider, that does not mean we don't appreciate and praise God for the service providers and the amazing work they are doing. It just means that is not who we are. We have been given a prophetic voice. We are heeding our Lord's call to be salt and light. We thank God for the opportunity to sit and speak with others who God has called to serve the least of these' in the other roles that are part of God's perfect plan.
I look forward to meeting with you. Please reconfirm the date and time of our next meeting.
I thank God for all the things you are doing.
Grace and Peace,
Associate Pastor / Teaching Elder
Westgate Tabernacle Church
1722 Suwanee Drive
West Palm Beach, FL 33409