Monthly Archives: July 2015

God’s Mission

A Sermon for 26 July 2015

A reading from the gospel of John 1:1-14. Listen for God’s word to us.

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of humankind, but of God. And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.”

This is the word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God!


Today we are launching a new way for the session of this church to be organized. It’s a way that takes seriously the reason why this church exists – to be a community growing in Christ through worship, study, and service. It’s a way of being organized for ministry to ensure ALL are In Ministry at least in some way. Large or small, one thing or as many as your plate has room for; the AIM is for every person to be about at least one piece of the collective ministry of this church as a way of growing in your walk behind Christ. And before these new teams and every one of you, we must remember to keep to the difference this church seeks to make in the lives of one another and those of the surrounding community: To support each other and those of the surrounding community through life’s challenges for the grace of God to be experienced by all. It’s not like this is really anything all that new for this congregation – in terms of the reason why you exist and what difference you are trying to make in people’s lives. From all I’ve heard and seen, you’ve been shooting the arrows of your ministry towards this target for a very long time. It just might not have been as clearly articulated as it is now. And isn’t a clear target a lot better to aim at than one that’s just fuzzy or moving or not at all there?

It all reminds me of the beautiful new section of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s Book of Order. Part 2 of our denomination’s constitution. This one’s just out this month. The 2015-2017 edition. Ok: truth be told, the new section of which I speak isn’t all that new. You may or may not be aware that in 2010 this part of the PCUSA’s constitution underwent a radical revision. Book of Order section F was created. . . . It’s not that everything in F was entirely new. Much of it had been in our Book of Order for years – since the days of John Calvin himself. It just wasn’t quite as organized and clear as it now is. It flows from that which we believe to know of God and God’s purpose from scripture. And it’s called section F: The Foundations of Presbyterian Polity. The core of what we believe and value and resolve to do because of the God we have come to know through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. . . . All this may be old news to you. You already might have fully digested and put to memory section F. But on the slight chance that you missed this radical revision to the Book of Order, I want to be sure you’re aware. Partly, it seems my duty to you during this time of pastoral transition. Partly, it seems a gift to keep us grounded and inspired as this congregation sets off intentionally to live according to the reason why you exist and the difference that has been discerned that you seek to make in each others’ and those beyond this membership’s lives. . . . All that we’ve been up to these past several months is not just for your Pastor Nominating Committee to be able to complete the paperwork needed for the search. It’s because of what we hear in the gospel of John and also in The Foundational Principles of Presbyterianism. There are four key principles in the new section F, so I’ve created a four-part sermon series for this summer. Don’t worry, we’ll space them out a little between now and Labor Day. But for now, listen to a reading from section F, Chapter One: The Mission of the Church. This one’s entitled: God’s Mission (F-1.01). Listen: “The good news of the Gospel is that the triune God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – creates, redeems, sustains, rules, and transforms all things and all people. This one living God, the Scriptures say, liberated the people of Israel from oppression and covenanted to be their God. By the power of the Spirit, this one living God is incarnate in Jesus Christ, who came to live in the world, die for the world, and be raised again to new life. The Gospel of Jesus Christ announces the nearness of God’s kingdom, bringing good news to all who are impoverished, sight to all who are blind, freedom to all who are oppressed, and proclaiming the Lord’s favor upon all creation. The mission of God in Christ gives shape and substance to the life and work of the Church. In Christ, the Church participates in God’s mission for the transformation of creation and humanity by proclaiming to all people the good news of God’s love, offering to all people the grace of God at font and table, and calling all people to discipleship in Christ. Human beings have no higher goal in life than to glorify and enjoy God now and forever, living in covenant fellowship with God and participating in God’s mission.”

It’s beautiful. I love it! Because #1: God has a mission! . . . The opening to the gospel of John tells us about it too. “In the beginning was the Word – and the Word was with God and the Word was God” . . . “and the Word became flesh and lived among us” (John 1:1, 14). Because we needed life – the light of all people! As verse 5 states: it’s a light that shines in the darkness of our lives never, ever to be overcome! That’s God’s mission. Simple. Beautiful. The transformation of all things and all people! That we would be the children of – not just the creation of – but the precious, related, intimately connected children of God who are busy reflecting to the whole creation the very same mission of our heavenly parent.

One way to think about this is in the first essential tenet of Reformed Theological faith. Hopefully you know this one: the sovereignty of God! It’s the belief that it all begins and ends with God and it is THEE quintessential Reformed idea. That God is #1. The Alpha and Omega. The initiator. The One from whom all flows. . . . Why do we baptize babies who can’t understand one iota about God’s grace? Because of the sovereignty of God. Why do we welcome all to the table of our Lord – no matter who or how they are? Because of the sovereignty of God. God initiates it all – a plan to create us all. To love us all. To be with us all everyday and throughout eternity. God is the One that works to transform us all into the blessed creation God intends us to be. God has a mission – a purpose. A work on which God never shall give up. It’s God’s mission into which we are invited. Foundation #1 of Presbyterian Polity reminds: We are invited to “participate in God’s mission for the transformation of creation and humanity by proclaiming to all people the good news of God’s love, “offering to all people the grace of God at font and table, and calling all people to discipleship in Christ” (F-1.01).

It has been said that Christianity is “a demanding, serious religion. (And that) when it is delivered as easy and amusing, it is another kind of religion altogether” (Joseph D. Small, ed.; Proclaiming the Great Ends of the Church, Introduction, p. ix). We know that. Because Christianity is about what God wants – not us. It’s about God’s mission and God’s invitation to enter into a life of glorifying and enjoying God now and forever as we live in covenant fellowship with God by, like Christ, “announcing the nearness of God’s kingdom. By bringing good news to all who are impoverished, sight to all who are blind, freedom to all who are oppressed, and by proclaiming the Lord’s favor upon all creation! That is the mission of transforming the whole world through the goodness of God’s love! (F-1.01)

There’s a wonderful song of the Iona community of Scotland. It’s called “The Summons.” It’s our invitation into the mission of God. The words of the song are: “Will you come and follow me if I but call your name? Will you go where you don’t know and never be the same? Will you let my love be shown, will you let my name be known, will you let my life be grown in you and you in me? Will you leave yourself behind if I but call your name? Will you care for cruel and kind and never be the same? Will you risk the hostile stare should your life attract or scare? Will you let me answer prayer in you and you in me? Will you let the blinded see if I but call your name? Will you set the prisoners free and never be the same? Will you kiss the leper clean, and do such as this unseen, and admit to what I mean in you and you in me? Will you love the ‘you’ you hide if I but call your name? Will you quell the fear inside and never be the same? Will you use the faith you’ve found to reshape the world around, through my sight and touch and sound in you and you in me?” (Glory to God; The Presbyterian Hymnal, 2013, #726, Text by John Bell and Graham Maule, © 1987; WGRG, Iona Community, [admin. GIA Publications, Inc.])

It’s a lofty summons indeed, from a God that’s in the business of re-making you and me and the whole wide world – all things new!

In the name of the life-giving Father, the life-redeeming Son, and the life-sustaining Spirit, Amen.

© Copyright JMN – 2015  (All rights reserved.)

The Pit Stop

A Sermon for 28 June 2015 (Ruling Elder Installation Sunday)

A reading from Ephesians 4:11-13. Listen for God’s word to us.

“The gifts (Christ) gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ.”

This is the word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God.

And one more reading for today. From the gospel of Matthew 28:18-20. Words recorded on the lips of the Risen Christ. Listen for God’s word to us.

“And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 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, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

This is the word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God.

Early this week, I returned from something called CREDO: a conference for mid-career pastors that is organized and funded by the Board of Pensions of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). Considering the long view of ministry, from the time a pastor is ordained until the time we retire; it was the perfect pause for personal reflection on what this whole call to professional ministry has been and will continue to be about. I am grateful to you for the time to attend CREDO and I am grateful that our denomination is providing such a mid-life assessment for pastors to come away with renewed intention regarding everything from our personal health to our spirituality to our home life to our finances. As you support the Board of Pensions through the dues you submit each month, CREDO kinda is an extension of your care for us pastors – for the one stationed here at any given time and for the other clergy, families, and churches who end up benefitting from 30 or so pastors being a part of one of Presbyterian CREDO’s six sessions each year. So THANK YOU for being about this level of care – even if you weren’t previously aware that you have been doing this!

CREDO was a great time – though it was an exhausting schedule of 12-15 hour days, depending upon if you chose to get up extra early for optional morning exercise or stay up a little later in order to connect with other pastors from all over the country. . . . But one thing about my experience was disturbing. I heard pastor after pastor speak of how incredibly depleted they are. Burn-out was hiding behind every corner. Some of us are struggling to find time to regularly eat each day. Some of us rarely see our families. Some of us don’t even bother anymore to take time for spiritual disciplines because too many churches don’t value anything but the time they see their pastor sitting beyond a desk in a church office each week. This does not bode well for the present or the future of the Presbyterian Church. I admit, some of it is on us: pastors who need our own egos stroked so much that being everything to everybody all the time is our aim. Almost like trying to jump into the role of God for others instead of modeling behavior that keeps us all remembering that God is God and the primary connection for us all is to be there in that relationship with the Holy – for those in ordained offices as well as for the whole church. At the same time, I’ve been in this business in a variety of settings for two decades now so that I know that some of can be the church. Members who, for whatever reason, have expectations of pastors that not even Jesus himself could fulfill. In-side-out churches that circle up the wagons believing it’s all about them and their own preferences so that the Spirit of God isn’t even welcomed in. It’s easy to get there – either as pastors or as churches until we’re not much good for anything anymore. I think Jesus said it as salt that has lost its saltiness and has to be thrown out under foot to be trampled upon (Mt. 5:13). No zest for the good news of God’s unmerited love for the world. No joy over the ways God continues to bring new life to each of our days. No hope for anything being all that different tomorrow. . . . So just a side note here as your interim pastor: when you get to the point of face-to-face interviews with potential installed pastoral candidates; might I suggest you remember to ask them not only about the professional gifts they have to bring to you all, but also about their personal commitment to their own spiritual, emotional, relational, and physical life. And might I suggest that you all continue to be the kind of wise faith community that encourages intentional attention to each aspect of pastoral life because the health of a particular church is highly dependent upon the overall well-being of the pastor who seeks to lead each week. Ok. Enough sermonizing!

One of the greatest reminders from CREDO came Sunday afternoon at Worship for the Lord’s Day. The Rev. Dr. J. Herbert Nelson gave a rousing sermon speaking to the very concerns we had been vocalizing all week. He had a little suggestion for us all too. Instead of worrying about the fate of the church, he said, why not focus less on serving the church, and more on fulfilling Jesus’ command to seek first the kingdom of God. Everything else will fall into place. Seek first the kingdom of God. . . . Installation of ruling elders couldn’t have fallen on a better Sunday! Because what if all of us understood what we’re about here to be for the point of seeking first the kingdom of God? Empowering and equipping one another in order for all of us to be out in the world living the ways of God’s kingdom. What if we saw this sanctuary and the ministry of this church more as an oasis on the highway of life rather than the destination?

I’m not a regular watcher of Nascar, but I know that in car racing, when a driver needs something in order to continue the race, he or she pulls in for a pit stop. The quicker the better – as long as the time in the stop really is getting the car and driver ready to get back out there to finish the race. What if we understood everything about life together as the church as the pit stop we need in order to be out on life’s highway bringing healing, like Jesus did, to those carrying deep wounds? What if we came together here in order to head back to our daily paths to speak hope, like Jesus did to those who were living in desperately hopeless situations under the reign of Rome? What if we worshipped and studied and served here together so that, like Jesus, we could be makers of peace in this world because our own hearts are at peace in the joy of God’s love for us all? What if we, as the church, worried less about the church and more about living the ways of God’s kingdom? The primary concern that would make our joy complete. That would build us up as the body of Christ until ALL would grow fully into the life-giving ways of Christ? . . . How did it ever get to be otherwise, because the Risen Christ’s final charge wasn’t to come together to build a church building and then gather at least every Sunday if not more often throughout the week in the fellowship hall. The Risen Christ said: “GO! Out into the world! Knowing I go with you always!” (Mt. 28:19-20). There’s a message those out there need to hear. A kingdom-way-of-life they need to see in their midst. . . . Everything the ruling elders do, who are being installed today, and the rest that this church’s session does, should be for that purpose. Building you up as Christ’s body in order for you to be in the world as his hands and his hope. The job is not for everyone. Some of you are better equipped to be out there living the kingdom, while these elected ruling elders hopefully are at a place in life where they can be leading you and seeing to your spiritual needs so that you are ready to go. Ensuring that you, the saints, are properly equipped for your particular work of ministry. Out in the world being the body of Christ. . . . What if, o church? What if?

In the name of the life-giving Father, the life-redeeming Son, and the life-sustaining Spirit, Amen.

© Copyright JMN – 2015  (All rights reserved.)