Sunday, October 16, 2016

If I could do one more thing for my church . . . .

Scripture:2 Timothy 3:14-4:5    Common English Bible (CEB)

14 But you must continue with the things you have learned and found convincing. You know who taught you. 15 Since childhood you have known the holy scriptures that help you to be wise in a way that leads to salvation through faith that is in Christ Jesus. 16 Every scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for showing mistakes, for correcting, and for training character, 17 so that the person who belongs to God can be equipped to do everything that is good.

4 I’m giving you this commission in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is coming to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearance and his kingdom. 2 Preach the word. Be ready to do it whether it is convenient or inconvenient. Correct, confront, and encourage with patience and instruction. 3 There will come a time when people will not tolerate sound teaching. They will collect teachers who say what they want to hear because they are self-centered. 4 They will turn their back on the truth and turn to myths. 5 But you must keep control of yourself in all circumstances. Endure suffering, do the work of a preacher of the good news, and carry out your service fully.


A friend of mine said the other day, “The clock hates me.”  I carefully pointed out that the clock has no feelings at all, and certainly not toward him in particular.  It was much more nearly accurate to say he hated the clock, since it was moving inexorably toward the time when he had to go do something he wasn’t looking forward to doing.  We both laughed at the idea of clocks having emotions.  With that conversation in mind, I really do think that my calendar hates me.  Every week I look at my Disciples planning calendar to see what we are supposed to be recognizing today.  This is a pretty light week, all things considered.  Today is the last Sunday of Light  a Candle for Children.  It is World Food Day.  It is the 22nd Sunday after Pentecost.  It is the day of the Spiritual Growth Team meeting.  Nationally, it is Domestic Violence Awareness Month and Mental Health Awareness Month and Melanoma Awareness & Prevention Month and Complex Regional Pain Syndrome Awareness Month and Pregnancy & Infant Loss Awareness Month and Breast Cancer Awareness Month and National Disability Employment Awareness Month and Brain Injury Awareness Month and Down Syndrome Awareness Month and Spina Difida Awareness Month and Hispanic Heritage Month and LGBT History Month and . . .  In the church it is Ministerial Appreciation Month and it is Heritage Month, when many congregations have a party to celebrate the history of their church.  And it is Stewardship Month.  How exactly am I supposed to get all of that in one worship service, never mind one sermon?  

In this congregation, although individually we may be paying most attention to one or another of the National Awareness subjects, we are focused on Stewardship Month.  This week each of us received a slip of paper with a statement on it reading:  “If I could do one more thing for my church . . . “   Every one was supposed to think about this and come up with one thing they could do for their church that they are not already doing.   I had some thoughts.

It would be totally great if I could wave my hand and our new building would be in place, ready for worship, with plenty of parking and total access to all parts of the building for everyone.  But I can’t.  
It would be equally great if I could just say Hi! to folks on the street, and they would pour in our doors seeking Jesus, like salmon heading upstream.  But I can’t.

And it would be absolutely awesome if somehow I do the one thing every search committee since the beginning of time has secretly hoped for in a new pastor - attract a couple of dozen young families with children and plenty of time to serve on committees and plenty of disposable income to contribute!   I can’t do that either.  That would be beyond miraculous, as those three things cannot possibly co-exist in the natural order of things.   

So I feel the need to clarify that statement.   Because while it would be great if those seriously improbable things I just mentioned happened, the likelihood is way below slim and fast approaching none.

And some of you already do a lot!  Some are on just about every team or committee.  Some show up at every event.  Some spend hours on Facebook talking about how great this church is. (Not me. I talk about cats.)  Some of you, though, are really busy people in general.  You can’t be on the teams and committees because you have families and jobs and charitable organizations that take up a lot of your time.  You barely have time to breathe.  And all of y’all might be wondering, “What else could I possibly do?”   

What if that statement said, “If I could do one more, small, doable thing for my church . . .”?   How would we think about it then?  What is a small doable thing each of us could do?  Well, of course, that changes from person to person.  I can’t write a great anthem for the choir, but we have several folks here who undoubtedly could.  I can’t do a new video inviting people to come see what we are about here at First Christian, but I can think of several off hand who can.  I can put some coins in the New Church collection box every week. I’m not doing that yet.  I can share my newsletter with people who don’t attend church, and maybe they’ll be interested enough to come visit.  I’m not doing that yet.  I can wander around town wearing a Disciples T-shirt or a chalice pin on my jacket and tell anyone who asks what it means.  I can invite people to come visit us while having that conversation.  I can be friendly to grumpy people while I’m wearing that shirt.  Although generally speaking I’m not a fan of buying clothing just because it has a Christian message or symbol on it, there’s something to be said for wearing our faith like that.  I had a cross attached to the top of the antenna on my old pick up, and my husband used to say that whenever he was tempted to use sign language in traffic he had to remember that the truck was Christian, so he’d better act like one.  

You all know that I like to research things.  If I know of a quote that’s attributed to a person, I like to make sure that person actually said it before using it.  Today I looked up that famous quote by Saint Francis:  “Preach the gospel always.  When necessary, use words.”  It’s not likely he said it in exactly that form, although one of his longer speeches says that it is necessary to preach the Good News to everyone, everywhere and that “All the Friars … should preach by their deeds.”   So, although St. Francis may not have said these specific words in this particular way, I think we might accept the premise as Truth.  Let your actions preach your faith.  Let your actions outside these doors be one more thing you can do for your church.

This letter was written to Timothy, a preacher of the Word.  It is intended to guide him in his path as an evangelist and church planter.  Unlike most of the letters attributed to Paul, it isn’t intended for the people in the pews.  It isn’t addressed to a congregation or a group of congregations in a particular city.  Consider, if you will, the difference between preaching in the congregation on Sunday and being the preacher at a pastor’s conference.  The writer says, “Correct, confront, and encourage with patience and instruction.”  Don’t go out judging and blaming folks.  Talk to them with patience and kindness.  Help them understand what you are teaching.  Keep control of yourself in all circumstances - don’t blow up at them or give up on them just because they don’t understand.  Although these words were intended to teach a preacher, these are also things we can all take to heart.   

“Continue with the things you have learned and found convincing.”   I had a difficult conversation on Facebook the other day.  I had shared something that originated with a group called “After God,” people who had broken away from churches and the beliefs they grew up with.  Some were atheist, some were agnostic, most were Spiritual Not Religious.  I was told I shouldn’t have anything to do with that group, because they weren’t believers.  I responded that I could identify with those people.  That I, too, had broken away from the God they spoke of - the angry, judgmental, punishing God I was taught in my childhood church - and that it took a long time to find out that God is loving, forgiving, merciful and compassionate.  She insisted that there is only One God, who is loving and caring and forgiving and merciful, and that this is what Christians are taught.  Although our conversation went on for some time, and I am not sure I convinced her that I was, in fact, raised in a Christian tradition, it made me think about the things I was taught to believe about God, things which I no longer believe today.   

“Continue with the things you have learned and found convincing.”  I did not find my childhood lessons about God to be convincing.  I was never convinced that God hated everyone who didn’t believe exactly the way I believed.  I was never convinced that God constantly watched me to catch me when I did bad things, and seemingly rejoiced at my sinfulness.  I was never able to reconcile a judgmental, angry God with “Jesus loves me” when God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit were all one Triune God.  None of that made sense.   

What I did find convincing is that God is love, and that all of us are God’s beloved children. What I find convincing is that God forgives, that God’s judgment is always tempered with mercy and compassion.  What I find convincing is that God’s greatest desire is for each of us to be the best person we can possibly be.  What I find convincing is that this loving God I now believe in is indeed three in one - Father, Son, and Spirit;  Creator, Word, and Breath;  Maker, Savior and Wisdom.  And that is what I preach.  That is how I try very hard to live.  Preaching the Good News everywhere I go, to everyone I meet, using the words of my mouth or the actions of my life, is one more thing I can do for my church.

May each of us do that one more thing for our church, by reflecting out into the world the God of love we worship and adore.  May each of us go out and preach the Good News, by living the way Jesus would have us live. 

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