Announcements Welcome. Thank you for zooming in. Just a couple notes as we start. Remember to keep supporting your local church through mail, online banking or, if it is possible for your church, the church’s web-site.
This is the day that Houghton Grace would normally host the Camp Michigamme Fund Raising Meal, and there have been a few ideas kicked around, but nothing confirmed yet. But if you would like to donate for scholarships for our children -- above and beyond your normal giving -- that would be great. I know most of the camping season has been cancelled, but this 2020 breather might give us a chance to help rebuild a fund that has been diminishing a little each year.
Opening Prayer Lord, we have gathered online today to thank you for saving us from our sins and delivering us to full life and eternal life. It is by your grace and love that we experience the joy of your presence, so draw us close, listen to our gratitude, and build us up for the days in which we live. Amen.
Song Intro: Some might see these as dark times… we may feel lost, but Christ does find us. Now is not the time to lose faith because the times are fickle. When things were getting tough, and many people went away from Jesus, he turned to his disciples and asked them if they wanted to leave to. Peter replied, “Where else can we go? Only you have the words of eternal life.” At that point, they were determined to stick with Jesus even though others were abandoning him.
Our first song also reassures us that our only hope is in God’s presence. His power in us is what gives us purpose as we proclaim, in good times and bad -- that he brings freedom through his redemption in Christ, so we should stick with him whether our days are bright or dark.
Music Light Up the Darkness
We’re breaking the silence
with the sound of forgiveness
What once was lost is found in you
Your Spirit inside us
is cause to be fearless
what once was lost is found in you
You light up the darkness
There’s hope in your presence
nothing can take your place (2x)
We’re finding our purpose
from your power within us
Our only hope is found in you
proclaiming our freedom
with songs of redemption
Our only hope is found in you
Your name is lifted higher
Jesus we desire
nothing can take your place (2x)
In the midst of the chaos
let your peace speak louder
In the midst of our failure
let your grace bring freedom
In the midst of the hurting
let your love reach further
in the midst of the darkness
let your light shine brighter
Refrain (2 x)
Message Fickle and Faithful Friends
I mentioned recently that I have an interest in language, how the meaning of words change over time, words that are new to me, and interesting words. One of those words is to burgeon -- meaning to quickly grow and burst forth to new levels -- as in “The hockey team is a burgeoning success, moving from the joke of the league to serious championship contenders in just one season”.
In psychology’s social identity theory, there is a similar sounding word; BIRGING, but it is actually an acronym. BIRGing stands for Basking in Reflected Glory. Working it backwards -- glory means recognized accomp-lishment, success, reflected means it is someone else’s success, we did not participate or earn it, and basking means to revel in, to enjoy the pleasure of (such as when people lay out at the beach, basking in (enjoying) the warmth and light of the sun. Put together, then, BIRGING means we seek to improve our self-esteem and worth by identifying with something or someone else’s goodness and success.
So when the hockey team becomes great, their jerseys and caps fly off the shelves because everyone wants to be on the winning team -- even if they haven’t contributed to their success by as little as buying a ticket to cheer them on. Studies shows that on the Monday after a winning weekend, college students are much more likely to wear their school’s apparel than after a weekend their team loses.
It isn’t just sports. As a native Michigander, when someone outside Michigan criticizes our state - fairly or unfairly, I can feel my fight-flight hormones kicking in…
Some radio stations announce well-known people who are born each day. Sometimes it is interesting. But if it happens to be our birthday, we listen even closer, and we celebrate their accomplishments because we have “ a birth connection” with those people. Or if there is a good news story about someone with our name (Chuck in my case), I am kind of happy when they succeed.
And the same is true with any organizations with which we are connected, including our church. If a decision or policy or program is created of which we are pleased and proud, even if we had nothing to do with it, we will talk about it and say, “Do you know what “we did?”
Throw the term into ancient times, and we’d see it in the Bible too. BIRGERS spread the word about Jesus wherever they went, proud of their experience and association with him. BIRGers flocked to Jesus bringing the lame and sick and possessed to be healed. BIRGers crowded around to hear his authoritative teaching -- so anxious to do so that at times they didn't pack their lunches, but if they had been available, they probably would have remembered their "I Love Jesus" witness wear. One of the most prominent examples was the week before Easter, when we hear the BIRGing crowds gather in Jerusalem shouting “Hosanna” and “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!” anticipating God was going to bring a great victory over Rome and they wanted to be a part of that.
When we experience the glories of God, the wonderful things he is doing, the joys of music and nature and family and friends and health and eternal life -- when we recognize what good gifts we do have from the hand of heavenly Father, our hearts are warmed and we feel close to him, basking in his Reflected glory. We BIRG, and we should! As God’s people, we should, more and more, -- connect ourselves in humble appreciation to the God who does so many things of which we are happy and proud. And when things are going well, it is easy to BIRG and live out what Jesus says in Matthew 10:32, "Whoever claims to others that they believe in and belong to Me, I will say the same to my Father in heaven about them.” Who wouldn’t BIRG with God showing himself in so many wonderful ways?
Of course, where there is a positive, there is also a negative. What if, like my daughter’s high school football team, wins the division one year with a lot of talented but graduating seniors, but then plummets to the cellar the next year? What happens when our associations drag us down in their lack of success?
The psychological acronym is that we tend to CORF, Cutting Off Reflected Failure. We don’t need to explain this one word by word. In an attempt to preserve our self-worth, we separate, or at least try to distance ourselves from what we perceive as the sub-par; or what we fear others may think is sub-par.
In sports, we leave the jersey and ball cap at home. You can’t even find the team logos on any shelves but the hometown or online.
If something in our state bothers us, we may stop talking about it as our native state for a while. If someone is born on our day or goes by our name, and is infamous, a villain of some sort -- studies show we tend to downplay the depth of their villainous-ness. Or personal experience tells me that we may feel like that person who shares our birthdate or name sharing has let the rest of us down by not representing us well.
WE AND THEY
Notice how the language changes to reflect our connection or separation: From the happy BIRG: “We had a lot of good plays and we won the game!” to the sad CORF: “They made some no-brainer mistakes and they lost.”
Or (to use my name) the BIRGing pride that “We Chucks are impressed by our Chuck who is a fine example of who we Chucks are.” to shamed CORFing. “That Chuck does not represent the rest of us “Chucks” at all.
Or “Our United Methodist Committee on Relief” is the best Christian disaster relief agency in the world” to “Can you believe what that denomination is planning to do now?
And in the ancient world, even as some BIRGed around Jesus at the beginning of his ministry, his family heard about the things he was doing and in Mark 3:20-21, they CORFed -- they came to bring him home because at that point they thought he was not in his right mind and wanted to remove him from public ministry because he was embarrassing them. As more BIRGed, others CORFed -- opposition (especially as organized by religious leaders) accelerated. Then came the ultimate “Hosanna” BIRG as everyone jumped on the deliverance from Rome Jesus bandwagon… which was turned later in the week when it seemed religious and political leadership were winning after all -- Judas CORFed, Peter CORFed three times, then arrest, abandonment, beating, suffering, and then crowd gives the ultimate CORF, “Crucify him!”, cutting themselves off from the reflection of the perceived failure of Jesus and the heavenly kingdom.
When we look around and see injustice in the world, when anticipated healing doesn’t come the way we expect, when people struggle in poverty and loneliness and we witness all sorts of natural or human made disasters. And on top of this, we hear some people blaming God for everything bad in the word -- either because he maliciously caused it or is too uncaring or unable to intervene. And in those times when it seems the heavenly kingdom is going the wrong direction, or seems to lose out to other forces, we are tempted to CORF, to disconnect ourselves from being known as his people. Jesus warns in Matthew 10:33, "Whoever denies to others that they believe in and belong to Me, I will say the same to my Father in heaven about them.”
FAIR WEATHER FAN?
The choice is always in front of us: Will we be “fair weather fans”? Will we jump to root for whatever or whomever seems to be winning and separating ourselves from whoever is accused of losing?
Will we BIRG only when others see God as the great winner -- when we see him intervening against brokenness and bringing spiritual and other kinds of healing for us - and when others see us, his people, they will see us at work and they will join us in praising him?
But then do we CORF when others see God as non-existent or failing miserably to usher in his powerful and merciful love in this present moment, leaving him to be seen as a loser too weak to win, to do anything about our problems? And when they see us, his people, at work and they ridicule God all the more. Someone said the difference between the world as it could be and the way it is is like “moths trying to fly to the moon” People can easily see what our world is supposed to be, but just as easily see that we just can’t seem to get there yet.”
OR FAITHFUL IN ALL WEATHER?
Or will we be just as proud to wear the name Christian in the thick as well as the thin times of life? We can be proud because we already know that problems are not sign of failure or weakness on God’s part or ours. In John 16:33, Jesus tells us that a sin-stained world will provide problems, that we will have trouble here, but he also tells us to have hope because he has overcome the world. Jesus tells us this so we can have peace whether we are living in troubling moments or in overcoming moments.
Pray for the present. Do not lose heart for our ultimate future. Maintain a lively, ongoing relationship with our Lord. Keep focused on God and the abundant life he offers, and do not fall to the temptation of BIRGing and CORFing, which is a process of trying to save self to gain our place in the word. For Jesus tells us in Luke 9:23ff that by trying to gain the world, we will actually lose our true self -- and it is in denying our self that we can actually begin to follow Christ -- to the cross -- and it is in the self-sacrificing commitment to him that our selves are truly saved and we can live as we are meant to live. Be faithful in both God’s obvious successes and his perceived failures because he has been faithful to empower you when you are at your best, and he is faithful to gracefully support and restore you when you are at your worst.
Song Intro He did it because he loved us so much in Jesus who came to pay our debt of sin on the cross and overcome every situation we face, and because he gave his all for us when we were lost in sin, we can stand ready to give our all to you whether we feel flush, or flushed.
Music What We Do
God so loved the world
he gave his only Son
our debt of sin now paid in full
oh the cross has overcome
No matter what we face
no matter what the cost
with every single breath we take
we respond to your great love
We surrender in worship
the one who gave it all
with hands held open
we stand ready
it’s what we do because of you
Open up our eyes
reveal your heart to us
let us be known by what we do
as we live for you alone
Look at what you’ve done
Look at what you’ve done here
we’re ready to respond
respond to your love here
Let’s pray. Lord, we turn our faith toward heaven and trust that you will strengthen us to remain faithful and strong in the difficult times, just as the Father held Jesus strong in the garden, the betrayal, trial, passion, crucifixion and right through to the resurrection. By your grace and power, we will remain faithful to you and your work in the world, and we offer to you those who are on our hearts and minds.
Closing Blessing As we prepare to enter another week, do not lose heart. Though we struggle outwardly, we are also being renewed day by day. Our momentary troubles are nothing compared to the eternal glory that far outweighs them all. Fix your eyes not on what is seen and temporary, but on what is unseen and eternal. Amen.