Guided by PrayerPosted: May 17, 2015
GUIDED BY PRAYER
SLIDE 3: LECTIONARY GOOD DISCIPLINE
The lectionary is a good discipline, because it forces us to wrestle with scriptural texts we might ordinarily just as soon skip over. A few weeks ago Bill Chew said of the Vine and the Branches passage, “I don’t like that scripture. I don’t like the air of judgement and the burning of the dead wood.” I didn’t like the Vine and the Branches either, but if we had just skipped over it, we might never have stumbled upon Rabbi Rami’s take on that scripture, and we would have missed an important insight.
Well, once again we find ourselves in the Gospel of John. The community of John created the context and most of these words. So what can we learn from this passage?
SLIDE 4: PRIMARY PURPOSE — MISSION
First, God through Christ has given a mission in the world to the followers of Jesus – love one another as I have loved you. We talked about that last week. Above all, remember that mission is to bring people to the Sharing Table of Jesus. It is so easy for churches to forget their primary mission to be the hands and feet of Jesus in the world loving one another, and sharing the love of God with those outside of the church – offering communion rather than charity.
SLIDE 5: GUIDED BY PRAYER
Second the followers of Jesus must be guided by prayer. I cannot tell you how many times over the years I have heard people say, “We have to run the church like a business.” If running the church in a business-like manner means planning rationally and thoroughly, being good stewards of the resources God has given to us, and accounting for those resources honestly and transparently that is fine. But too often running the church like a business means running the church like a club. The church is a club intended to provide services for its members and we don’t want to go spending the club’s resources on things like mission and ministry, because that detracts from what the organization can do for its members.
SLIDE 6: STORY OF THE LIFE SAVING STATION
Some of you will remember the story of the life-saving station? How the life-saving station was formed to save people from ship wreck. And then over the years the members were less interested in going to sea to save lives, and instead they were more interested in maintaining the facilities and social life of their club. In the end it was still a dangerous seacoast but most of the victims of shipwreck drowned, because the life-saving station had become an exclusive club rather than an organization whose purpose was to save lives.
SLIDE 7: THE CHURCH IS NOT ABOUT US
Over and over again Jesus says, “The church is not about us.” The purpose of the followers of Jesus should be sharing the love of God with people currently outside the fellowship of the congregation. Yes we love one another and take care of one another in the life of the community of faith, I like cooking, sharing food and feeding people, but that is to equip us for ministry in the world.
SLIDE 8: PLAN OUR SERVICE PRAYERFULLY
When we pause from all of our activities within the life of the church to reflect on the future and where might God be calling us to be active in the world we must do so prayerfully. Good stewardship means good planning, but the purpose of the church is not to increase our bottom line, or make a higher profit, or increase the list of benefits for our members. We are called to serve. And so we plan for our service prayerfully.
SLIDE 9: SOMETIMES GOD SPEAKS THROUGH THE LEAST LIKELY PERSON
We begin our planning for our congregation by engaging in prayer. Everyone is invited to pray, because God sometimes speaks through the least likely people. Often when an organization begins brainstorming in a planning process the people with the biggest egos speak up first. They consume all of the oxygen in the room, and so more tentative voices are never heard. Sometimes God even speaks through people who aren’t even members of the organization. So we have to listen carefully. Listen in the silence. Listen to other people. Prayerful listening. The church is the people of God, not a business.
SLIDE 10: FAITHING
The people of God live by trust. Faith is not a set of beliefs. Faith is trust, trusting God to lead and provide what we will need in order to get to where God wants us to go. Faith is a verb. We need to be actively faithing. For when we trust God, the resources God gives to us will be enough. We don’t always want to recognize God’s sufficiency. We pray give us this day our daily bread, but we aren’t content with daily bread. We want tomorrow’s bread today, and next week’s bread and next month. Some people are never content until the church has a mountain of money, an endowment, intended to protect the organization from any and all possible challenges and changes. As if money could accomplish such a thing.
SLIDE 11: THE CHURCHES ON THE GREEN
My senior year at Yale Divinity School I served as the intern pastor at Center Church on the Green in New Haven founded in 1639. That church is almost 375 years old. There were actually two United Churches of Christ on the Green in New Haven. During the New Light Old Light controversy someone got mad at someone else and in 1742 formed the United Church on the Green. When I was a student Center Church they had an endowment of one and a half million dollars, but United Church on the Green had an endowment of over six million dollars, and in 1975 six million dollars was still six million dollars, more money than we can even dream about here at United Church. Both congregations, however, were dying. In fact the pastor of the United Church on the Green made the statement to a group of seminarians that every member of that congregation could die tomorrow and it wouldn’t make any difference to the operation of the church.
SLIDE 12: THRIVING BY BRINGING PEOPLE TO THE SHARING TABLE OF JESUS
When I went on-line this week I was pleased to see both congregations are still alive. And I was particularly impressed that Center Church seems to have thrived by using their position in the Center of New Haven to host a soup kitchen for the homeless and their members also once month prepare and share a meal with poor families. I think this may be an off-shoot from the Community Thanksgiving Dinner they put on when I was there, where the members prepared a Thanksgiving Dinner, and invited the poor to come eat with them in the Parish House. They didn’t just serve a meal to poor people, they ate Thanksgiving Dinner with them and shared fellowship. It wasn’t charity, it was communion. If they continue to answer God’s call to bring people to the Sharing Table of Jesus I think they may enjoy another three-hundred and seventy-five years of ministry.
Now what I am really waiting for is an even bigger miracle, someday those two congregations on the green in New Haven will give up their almost 250 year rivalry and come back together to truly become the United Church of Christ on the Green.
SLIDE 13: WHEN WE TRUST GOD WILL GIVE US WHAT WE NEED
At United Church we don’t have six and half million dollars, we don’t even have a measly one and a half million, but we do have faith. Our God is a God of abundance, and when we trust God we will have sufficient to do what God calls us to do in following Jesus.
SLIDE 14: MIRACLES CAN HAPPEN
In the first week of January we were all nervous, because we calculated a thirty-thousand dollar short fall for the budget for 2015. What were we going to do? Then Bill Tucker showed some courage and said, “Let’s ask people again for additional pledges. Let’s extend the stewardship drive!” If we have a little faith the resources will become available. And slowly but surely people stepped up to the plate, and by the end of February the budget was oversubscribed. When we have the courage to faith it, miracles can happen.
SLIDE 15: BECOME PART OF THE MIRACLE
A year ago I figured, maybe in four or five years enough money will show up to build a Labyrinth. Friends, a Labyrinth is beginning to take shape on the south lawn even as we speak. If we have the courage and the faith God will find a way. A year ago Matt Youngkin started giving Bibles away at the Yard Sale. Giving them away – how un-businesslike is that? A couple of years ago I was really depressed because we gave up on having a Vacation Bible School. Some people thought it was too expensive and too much trouble. You know we have to run the church like a business. Well friends, Vacation Bible School is back – June 17th, 18th and 19th. When we have faith miracles can happen! Become part of the miracle!
At United Church we may not be large. We may not have a lot of money. But as we live our faith Christ prays for us, and with the prayers of Jesus with us great things can happen.