Tag Archives: The Mission of the Church

Not Alone

A Sermon for 21 May 2017 – 6th Sunday of Easter

A reading from the gospel of John 14:15-21 (NRSV).  We continue to hear portions of Jesus’ words to his disciples at their last supper together the night before his death.  Listen for God’s word to us in this message recorded on Jesus’ lips:

“’If you love me, you will keep my commandments.  16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever.  17 This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him.  You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.  I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you.  19 In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live.  20 On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.  21 They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.’”

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

 

Have you ever taken on a project that ended up being too big for you to accomplish alone?  Maybe you’ve gotten yourself in over your head on a project at work and needed to call upon a few colleagues to help.  I’ve heard some of you speak of enlisting help to clean out your parent’s home after their passing – a difficult task made a little easer with the help of friends.  If being honest, I’m pretty sure anyone who ever has attempted to raise a child has said:  “Help!”  . . .  One spring a few years back when I was serving in a specialized ministry to children and their families; we came up with the idea to take old crayons, melt them down, then make new big crayons for the preschool children at the Martha O’Bryan Center.  This was a project intended for the fifteen or so first through sixth graders who attended the church’s Wednesday Night missions ministry.  The kids were all about hands-on projects to serve others.  The plan was to do a crayon drive opened to the whole 1,400 member congregation.  After about three weeks of that, the Wednesday Night kids would sort the crayons into like colors, then unwrap ones still rolled in that crayon paper.  As the project progressed, the children would be assisted by an adult experienced in such crayon-making who had some sort of hot plate for melting the wax and cute molds of letters, animals, and fun little shapes just right for the hands of pre-school colorers.  Perhaps you see where this is going.  . . .  The children of Wednesday Night made posters to put all over the church facility:  “COLOR DRIVE FOR MARTHA O’BRYAN PRE-SCHOOLERS!  Bring in your old ones; we’ll make them into new!”  We set out a small box beside my office door.  Sunday morning when I arrived, I already had to push through bags of crayons overflowing from the small collection box we had prepared.  And the crayons just kept coming.  Week one, week two, week three.  Even though we hadn’t seen 1,400 people in a week for ages, I think every last member of that church dug out the old crayons tucked back in their cupboards used by children who since had had children and some even grandchildren too!  By the time we called a halt to the crayon drive, I had like three large storage tubs filled to the brim of old crayons eager to be made into new!  After about a month of Wednesday nights, we finally had them all sorted, much to the exhaustion of the children who were excited to work on the project the first week, but pretty tired of it all by the end of week two!  And that was just the sorting.  Peeling off that tight paper glued by like super-glue around each crayon took forever!  We finally enlisted all the children’s Sunday School Teachers to make crayon peeling a project in the church’s ten children’s classrooms for a few weeks later that summer.  The adult assistant for the project and I each spent hours late at night at home for weeks trying to get at least a reasonable amount of crayons ready to take to Martha O’Bryan.  I still remember someone a year after when they were bored to tears recovering from surgery at home asking if I had any little project they might be able to do while they were laid up at home.  I returned the next week to their house with two huge plastic bags full of sorted crayons still needing to be peeled!  Eventually we gave up trying to complete the project – which is why I still have a two gallon plastic bag full of unpeeled crayons – which I could have brought to give out to you all today to enlist your help in the effort too!  . . .  Needless to say, the project ended up being WAY bigger than anyone anticipated and even WAY bigger than a small group of children and two overly-optimistic adults could accomplish!  It happens sometimes that we take on projects that are way too much for us to handle on our own.

Whether they realized it or not, Jesus knew.  Mid-way through the gospel of John, as Jesus gathers with his friends for that final meal; he gives them a project he knows will be way too much for them to handle on their own.  We heard it last week, and Thursday night of Holy Week too:  “a new command I give unto you, that you love one another.  Just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.  It’s how the whole world will know you follow my way!” (paraphrase John 13:34-35).  This is the way the gospel of John tells of Jesus instructing his friends to make an impact in the world:  being like a light that shines for others to see as the diverse group of folks he’s pulled together show his kind of love to one another.  Imagine what it was like for Peter, who history tells us perpetually was jealous of Mary Magdalene.  Imagine what it must have been like for him to show self-giving love for her.  How would it have been for someone like James or John who once worked really hard for a living as fishermen now asked by Jesus to extend the genuine hand of brotherhood to someone like Matthew, a tax collector who likely had cheated his fellow neighbors out of their hard-earned money as he lined his own pockets in an endeavor for the Romans.  And that was just in the inner circle.  What was going to happen when once this movement spread to those like Saul who used to hunt Jesus’ followers for the religious leaders, and those like the eunuch of Ethiopia who wanted to know about the One who freely gave his life, and even those like Lydia whose business in purple cloth far exceeded any wealth the rest would ever know.  They were going to need help, all right.  They would need the Spirit of God living in them if they were going to follow Christ’s command to make an impact in the world by loving one another.

In the past few weeks, I’ve enjoyed hearing from many of you in our Listening Sessions.  We’ve still got lots of decisions to make as we navigate the way forward into this congregation’s future.  But I heard so many of you tell stories of your most meaningful ministry experiences in loving others.  In serving for God as you did everything from take care of homeless strangers, to be with children in need in short-term mission either as a counselor for the summer or as those ensuring they’d get clean water.  Some of you spoke of sitting with those of a different race as early as the 1960s to hear what life was like for those long-considered second class citizens in this nation.  Others of you told of ways you really want to make an impact in the lives of families who bring their children downstairs each week – whether or not those families ever end up upstairs in this sanctuary with us.  And still others want to ensure the needs of the surrounding community’s older adults are met – not necessarily the financial needs, but needs for human connection – breaking the isolation that aging alone at home too often brings.  It’s been wonderful to hear the passion you all really do have for the mission of this congregation:  for Serving God by Serving Others!  Someone even brought up the idea in a recent meeting of thinking about this congregation’s ministry as a concentric circle.  Like a pebble dropped into water having an outward ripple effect, it’s as if caring for the members of this congregation is the first ring of the mission, making a positive impact in the lives of the families and staff of the pre-school downstairs is the second ring, making a positive impact in the 1-5 mile radius of the local community is the next ring of mission, and making an impact in the word internationally through the mission of Living Waters for the World is the fourth ripple of impact in the mission of this congregation’s expression of Serving God by Serving Others.  It’s an interesting way to think about it, which certainly needs additional refinement as it rolls around in your thoughts and hearts.  And one thing’s for sure:  if this congregation is going to fulfill Christ’s command to make an impact in this world through love, then the Spirit of God surely will be needed among us.  The Spirit that guides into a new future.  The Spirit that revives when we’re weary.  The Spirit that persists in pushing us forward when we’re afraid or overwhelmed or just not wanting to go.  The Spirit of God is needed to fulfill the mission of Serving God by Serving Others!

The good news we hear from the gospel of John today is that Jesus has promised that this Spirit will be with us.  Wherever his people love one another, there God’s Spirit dwells!  We’re not quite to Pentecost Sunday yet, just six weeks into the season of Eastertide; but the gospel of John assigned in the lectionary for this Sunday wants it to be known that the church of Jesus Christ has not been abandoned.  We may be aging and this building may need a little repair – like a new HVAC.  We may not yet know exactly how to make a positive impact in the community living a stone’s throw from this sanctuary.  But we are not alone in this project Christ has given of Serving God by Serving Others.  The Spirit of God is with us.  And if it feels like the Spirit is missing then we better get busy loving one another to re-experience the Spirit with us all over again.  It’s a high calling but we do not undertake this endeavor alone.  The Holy Spirit of God abides with us.  Together, a little blood and sweat from us, a dash more reviving Spirit from God; together the Way will be made.  Trust the words of our Lord:  “I will not leave your orphaned.”  The Spirit of God abides with us today and evermore!

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

© Copyright JMN — 2017 (All rights reserved.)

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.)