10/25/2015 Sermon – Trusting in the Promise #4: “If We Build It…”

For the last couple of weeks, we’ve been thinking about the promises of God and this series is called “Trusting in the Promise.”  Just to refresh, here are the promises of God we’ve talked about.  When the Hebrew people were in exile, God spoke through the prophet Jeremiah to say…

For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare… to give you a future with hope.  Jeremiah 29:11

Those words came to that situation when it was hard to have hope.  In your own life, you might not think that you have much reason for hope.  But God has a plan.  God always sees a bigger picture.  God says, let me take you to the new place.  Let me take you there.  But you’re going to have to trust in the promise I’m making.  Which brings us to the next promise…

My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.  2 Corinthians 12:9

God’s grace (God’s love that we can never do anything to earn), enters your life through faith, and is confirmed by the power of God flowing through you.  That can only happen when there is room for God to work in your life, that is, when you recognize how weak you are, and how much you need God.  When life is derailed, you have a promise from God that when you find yourself at the weakest place, God’s power is about to kick in.  Believe. Trust in the promise.  Let God be God.

The power of flows through us for a purpose – to make the world a different place, to make a difference, and to help others believe in God.  For that to happen, we need to surrender ourselves to God:

unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.  John 12:24

Do you see the power shift happening?  Successfully living into the promises of God means more of God and less of us.  Another way to say it is there is more to us when there is more of God.

Those are the promises that prepare us to hear the scripture for this morning.  To set the stage…

WallIt’s about 450 years before Christ, and against all odds, the Hebrew people have come home to Jerusalem from exile, fulfilling the promise God made through Jeremiah, and the place is a wreck.  At first glance, this fulfilled promise didn’t look so awesome. There was a lot of work to do.  It was a work in progress. The fulfillment of these promises takes time.

Let’s see what we can learn from their experience.  Listen for the promise of God in this story.

Southern wall of Temple Mount, Jerusalem; Al Aqsa mosque above.  CN - 2011.
Southern wall of Temple Mount, Jerusalem; Al Aqsa mosque above. CN – 2011. Remnants of Nehemiah’s building projects are probably not visible, but this is the area.

Nehemiah 8:1-12.  1all the people gathered together into the square before the Water Gate. They told the scribe Ezra to bring the book of the law of Moses, which the Lord had given to Israel. 2Accordingly, the priest Ezra brought the law before the assembly, both men and women and all who could hear with understanding. This was on the first day of the seventh month.3He read from it facing the square before the Water Gate from early morning until midday, in the presence of the men and the women and those who could understand; and the ears of all the people were attentive to the book of the law. 4The scribe Ezra stood on a wooden platform that had been made for the purpose; and beside him stood [the elders of Israel].

5And Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people, for he was standing above all the people; and when he opened it, all the people stood up. 6Then Ezra blessed the Lord, the great God, and all the people answered, ‘Amen, Amen’, lifting up their hands. Then they bowed their heads and worshipped the Lord with their faces to the ground. 7[And men of] the Levites, helped the people to understand the law, while the people remained in their places. 8So they read from the book, from the law of God, with interpretation. They gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading.

9 And Nehemiah, who was the governor, and Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who taught the people said to all the people, ‘This day is holy to the Lord your God; do not mourn or weep.’ For all the people wept when they heard the words of the law. 10Then he said to them, ‘Go your way, eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions of them to those for whom nothing is prepared, for this day is holy to our Lord; and do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.’ 11So the Levites stilled all the people, saying, ‘Be quiet, for this day is holy; do not be grieved.’ 12And all the people went their way to eat and drink and to send portions and to make great rejoicing, because they had understood the words that were declared to them.

…all the people wept…  (so) Ezra said…“do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”

BibleDid you pick up on all the emotion in that story?  First, there was weeping.  All the people wept… when they heard the words of the law.  When they heard the reading of the law, which would have included things like the ancient stories from Genesis and the ten Commandments in Exodus, they started to weep.  Their hearts were open to God, and they understood what God had to say to them.  They understood that God loved them.  And they realized how far they were from living the way God wanted them to live.  Hearing what God has to say doesn’t always feel so good.  Sometimes you weep.  But it’s a good hurt, because God cares, and this – God’s Word – is an expression of love for God’s people.

God’s word is huge in this story.  When the destruction came, there was a way to help the people find there way back to a spiritual and moral center, and this is still true.

In a culture that demands entertainment and convenience, the word from God can be so inconvenient and so easy to ignore.  It’s easy for us to move away from God.  Being God’s person, being God’s people, being the church, has never been easy. Anybody who tries to make you think it should be easy and convenient isn’t being truthful or realistic.  Sometimes there are hard choices and weeping on the way back to God.

But the story doesn’t end there.  The end result of a connection with God isn’t a funeral.  It’s rejoicing.  Ezra tells them to go have a party.  Celebrate.  You’re free.  You are fulfilled. God is in control.  You have a new future.  Have some fun!

“And all the people went their way to eat to make great rejoicing… because they had understood the words that were declared to them.”

There is a time for serious reflection.  Life is not easy, we think and pray about the things of real life here, together.  We worship together, we hear God and understand.  The Hebrew people stood on their history to face the future.  We ask God to give us the wisdom to be the people God needs us to be in the towns where we live.  It’s serious stuff.  We stand on our history to face the future.

HandsBut if this moment of serious connection with God doesn’t produce joy in our faith, we’ve missed the point.  The product of listening to God and responding to God produces joy.  God’s people are commanded to have joy.  Seriously!  If our faith doesn’t produce fulfilled enjoyment, what’s the point?  The joy of the Lord is our strength!

Sometimes we start over by choice.  Sometimes we start over because of the consequences of things we do.  Some turning points are what the insurance companies call an “act of God.”  We have no control.  Any control you thought you had is an illusion.  All problems, all crises, have one thing in common: they give an opportunity to trust in God.  It’s all about faith.  God gives you permission to start over, to be restored, to move ahead.

In this story, God says to the Hebrew people, essentially, “If you build it, I will come.”  That’s the promise. Their mission, their assignment, was to restore the city of Jerusalem and the Temple.  What they built was faith, together. Out of every challenge, there are enormous possibilities when we trust the promises God makes, when we build faith together.

The more we trust God, the more God might just give us some things to work on to test our faith in order to deepen it. And together as God’s church, if we step out in faith to build new things for Christ, if we plant new flowers in God’s garden, God will do new things in us and with us that we never expected.

Prayer

O God, you are the Lord of all our beginnings and all our endings. Give us the vision to see the new beginnings you’ve prepared for us. Bless these intentions, and give us courage to face the unknown challenges ahead. Help us learn from the mistakes we have made in the past. Help us forgive ourselves, that we may go on to write new chapters with confidence.  Keep us secure in your peace. For Jesus’ sake. Amen.

10/18/2015 Sermon – Trusting in the Promise #3: “Back to our Future”

DSC_5383For the last couple of weeks, we’ve been thinking about the promises of God and this series is called “Trusting in the Promise.”  God makes promises to us, and a few of the promises that we’ve focused are these:

For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare… to give you a future with hope.  Jeremiah 29:11

You might not think that you have much reason for hope.  But God doesn’t see things the same way.  God has a plan.  God always sees a bigger picture.  God says, you might feel like you lost me, but I never lost you.  God says, I have a new life for you; let me take you to the new place.  With me, you always have a future.  Let me take you there.  But you’re going to have to trust in the promise.  Which brings us to the next promise…

My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.  2 Corinthians 12:9

God’s grace (God’s love that we can never do anything to earn), is confirmed by the power of God flowing through you.  That can only happen when there is room for God to work in your life, that is, when you recognize how weak you are, and how much you need God.  When life is derailed, you have a promise from God that when you find yourself at the weakest place, God’s power is about to kick in.  Believe. Trust in the promise.  Let God be God.

Today’s promise from God goes like this:

unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.  John 12:24

Let’s hear that promise in its context:

wheatJohn 12:20-26.  Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. 21They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, ‘Sir, we wish to see Jesus.’ 22Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. 23Jesus answered them, ‘The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. 25Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor.

I remember going to a church to do some guest preaching.  I was all prepared, the time came in the service for me to stand up and start talking, and at the top of my side of the pulpit was this little message:  “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.”  A little daunting.  When I read the Gospel of John I see those words as a kind of pivotal moment in the story that lead to us being here today.

Let’s do a quick Bible study:

There are Greeks at the Jewish Festival of Passover, non-Jewish people who have come worship the God of the Jews.  You might think, okay, so?  The people following Jesus think he has come as the Jewish Messiah. When they told him that these non-Jewish folks have come to see him, that they are asking for him, he has this amazing response:

The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. John 12:23

There’s so much wrapped up in that, and this is what the story hinges on:  Jesus has come to die for sins and then to be raised back to life – to be glorified.  And not just for the Jewish people, but for the world, for you and me.  It was the moment he was waiting for.  “The world” came seeking him.

So, I think you get what he’s talking about when next, he says…

unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. 

Jesus intends to bear fruit.  Amazing new life is about to explode. And this new life he wants to give away will spill everywhere.  It’s coming to somebody like you, people like us.  The new life looks like a crop that spreads everywhere and nourishes the world.

But the fruit won’t happen unless there are those who serve.  This is not about joining some organization because it’s a good thing to do.  It’s about surrendering to Jesus so that his promise of new life can grow in you and spread to the other people in your life.

Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor.  John 12:25-26

Believing in Jesus means surrendering yourself to God so that God can live in you, and the power of God will flow through you.  The power of God flowing through you looks like serving; eternal life living in you looks like serving.  Following means serving Jesus.  God honors people who serve.  This local field of wheat, bearing fruit, serves.  Do you think that the ministry we do together, this bearing fruit, is what Jesus had in mind?  That should always be question for us.

If you were going to the Back to the Future movies back in the 80’s, you might remember this little piece of trivia.  In part 2 (1989), the farthest point that Marty McFly went into the Future was October 21, 2015.  Back to the Future day is this week!  This is what the future looked like 30 years ago…

It’s interesting that people in the 1980’s thought we might be using flying cars and hover-boards.  There is some pretty cool stuff in cars that I never thought would be in cars.  But cars are still basically cars.  We’ve got computers and smartphones and lots of helpful gadgets, but they really don’t fix the needs we have inside; they don’t fill the empty place that God wants to fill.

What we do here is not about being a better person; this is about being God’s person.  It’s about saying, “God, I give myself to you.  All my successes and all my problems, all that I am, I am yours.”  But in order to experience the life God wants to give us, we have to let go.

The way into the future might look more like this (from another movie released in 1989!) :

Trying to live into the future is a crazy thing if you’re trying to predict the way things will be.  But the faith God calls you to looks more like… trust.  The future we live into as God’s people is about remembering that we have a strong God who will hold us when we take… that… step.  Each of us has a different step to take.

But together, we are that wheat-field.  Together, God is calling us to do new things to serve in a new world. We need to include more people, new people, doing new things, reaching out to the community, serving Christ in the world.  It all means change.  All of us, in one way or another, are having to decide:  Who are we?  Why are we here?  What does it mean that Jesus Christ is head of the church?  What does God want us to do?  And so we pray….

Prayer

God, we hear you saying to each one of us, “You have stayed long enough where you are, it is time to move on.”  We hear your words, but we’re afraid. We don’t know if we can do this.  Help our unbelief.  As we die to ourselves, help us live for you.  Renew our minds, help us step out boldly, following you, living for you.  In the name of the one who died for us.  Amen.

10/11/2015 Sermon – Trusting in the Promise #2: “Post-traumatic Growth”

rowboatThis is an easy exercise:  Can you think of a time when life was good and you were really happy?  Now, do the best you can to connect that to your spiritual life.  Have you ever had a moment when you felt like God spoke to you and was truly with you?  How long did the feeling last?

Now, can you think of a time when the bottom dropped out?  A time when you weren’t really sure if you could face another day, but then you did?

Which of those memories was the easiest to get to?  Which of those experiences lasted longer?  The agony or the ecstasy?  I’m suspecting that the hard times lasted longer, maybe because it might take time to live through those.  The high points go by quickly, and the feelings are harder to sustain.

A lot of us connect the quality of our Christian faith with how we’re feeling.  The apostle Paul is about to get real with all of that.

2 Corinthians 12: 1-10.  It is necessary to boast; nothing is to be gained by it, but I will go on to visions and revelations of the Lord. 2I know a person in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know; God knows. 3And I know that such a person—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know; God knows— 4was caught up into Paradise and heard things that are not to be told, that no mortal is permitted to repeat. 5On behalf of such a one I will boast, but on my own behalf I will not boast, except of my weaknesses. 6But if I wish to boast, I will not be a fool, for I will be speaking the truth. But I refrain from it, so that no one may think better of me than what is seen in me or heard from me, 7even considering the exceptional character of the revelations.

Therefore, to keep me from being too elated, a thorn was given to me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me, to keep me from being too elated. 8Three times I appealed to the Lord about this, that it would leave me, 9but he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.’ So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. 10Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.

Silver Lake 3This series is called “Trusting in the Promise.”  And the promise you just heard is:  “My grace is sufficient for you.”

The complete thought goes like this:  My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.

God’s grace (undeserved, unearned love), is confirmed by the power of God flowing through you.  That can only happen when there is room for God to work in your life, that is, when you recognize how weak you are, and how much you need God.  When life is derailed, you have a promise from God that when you find yourself at the weakest place, God’s power is about to kick in.  Believe. Trust in the promise.

Just to prepare for that promise, you need to know how Paul – the amazing apostle – got to that point when he was experiencing the power of God.

Five times I have received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I received a stoning. Three times I was shipwrecked; for a night and a day I was adrift at sea… (2 Corinthians 11:24-25)

stained glass 3Paul had an experience of hell.  And that was just part of the list.  This was all a response to Paul’s public life of faith in Jesus Christ.  Something to think about:  None of it would have happened if Paul had just stayed home and allowed his life to be convenient.  I suppose that God could have raised up someone else, but the fact that Paul was willing to endure that punishment, as he became weak and allowed God to make him strong, made it possible for the ministry of the Spirit to enter Europe and eventually come here.

And at the other end of this experience, Paul had a vision of heaven.

“I know a person in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven – whether in the body or out of the body I do not know; God knows.”  (2 Corinthians 12:2) 

To be modest, he’s talking about himself this way – “I know a person.”  Sometimes Bible writers do this for humility – to avoid making themselves out to be heroes when they want God to be the hero.

cropped-2012-01-30-16.24.39.jpgCaught up to the third heaven?  What exactly is he talking about?   He had an experience that brought him so close to God that he didn’t know whether he was alive or dead.  For him, it was his “burning bush” experience.  This thing that happened to him that was so amazing, he can’t find the words to describe it.  Whatever it was, this thing that could make him a spiritual superman, it’s been balanced out by a “thorn in the flesh.”  (v. 7)

Nobody knows what Paul’s thorn in the flesh was.  Some bible scholars think that Paul might have had a problem with his eyesight, or some other physical problem.  He might have had some kind of personal problem, maybe with depression.  Some think what he’s talking about is “problem people” in his life, but nobody knows.

It’s good that he doesn’t say, because you can slip yourself into what he says.   God has been good to you.  Things have gone well.  Maybe people admire you.  But to teach you – and all of us – that Jesus Christ is the hero of our story, not you, God may choose to use something to bring you back to the spiritual place you need to be.  Maybe you have your own thorn – the thing God uses to keep you humble.  Maybe, as you’ve been listening to this, you know exactly what I’m talking about.

Back in the first century, in times and places of warfare, sharpened wooden stakes would be placed in pits, so that that enemy soldiers would fall on them and be impaled. Sharpened stakes were the roadside bombs of the ancient world, and the Greek word for them is skolops — the exact same word that Paul uses for his thorn in the flesh.

So Paul was stabbed — by a messenger of Satan, he says — “to torment me, to keep me from being too elated” (v. 7). He could have given up, assuming that his life as an apostle was over. But instead, he discovered that it was just beginning.

His point in talking about it is that it reminds him of his own need to rely on God.  The self-sufficient Christian who operates on their own strength, who needs to boast about who they are, is a weak Christian.

My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.  So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.

 Just to review: God loves you.  God’s power in your life is finds its roots in the midst of your weak moments.  What you’ve been listening to is the answer to anyone who wonders why Christians have problems, the answer for anyone who wonders why God doesn’t make things easier for us.

If there is anything to be learned from problems, from weaknesses, it’s that in order for God to accomplish anything with us, we have to rely on God.  We have to come to a point where we see that there is no other choice than to give ourselves to God.  We have to say, “God, I can’t handle this; I can’t do this on my own.  I need you.”  If you are a believer, you may have learned, or you will learn, that just when you think your life has been derailed, that is precisely the kind of situation God loves to work with.

Believers need to learn this over and over again.  When we come to worship, what we do here is not about us; it’s about God and our need for God.  We need God.  We need each other.  We are weak people who need God and each other.  That’s why we are here.  I truly believe that power of God will flow through us in ways we never imagined when we put out expectations aside and confess to God how weak we are.

Think of that issue, that problem, that crisis that has you captive.  The thing that you can’t stop thinking about.  Let that be the subject of the prayer God needs to hear from you.  Say it silently.

Lift up your prayer for our (your) church, that we find the power of God in our weakness.

Let’s say together God’s promise and Paul’s response to that promise:  “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.”

Prayer

 O God, help us understand our weaknesses. We don’t want to be weak. We want to be strong, competent, in control.    So we are easily tempted by things that we think will make us strong.  We are deceived by money and position.  But you, God, know more than all of us that weakness is part of who we are.  It’s in our weakness that we discover your strength and your healing.

So help us pay more attention to those things that build up our families, our church, and our relationships with you.  Those are the things that build strength.  As we lift up our prayers, give our weakness to you, and place ourselves in your loving hands, and claim the promise of your strength.  Amen.

10/4/2015 Sermon – Trusting in the Promise #1: “Onward!”

Silver Lake 3For the next few weeks we’re going to be thinking about the promises of God and this series is called “Trusting in the Promise.”

Can you think of a time when you’ve made a promise?  A commitment?  How did that go?  Or should I ask, how is that going?  There are informal promises we make – Okay! I’ll be home by 10:00, I promise!  And then there are more public promises.

From the wedding ceremony that I typically use…

wedding handsGroom (men in the room):  __________, do you take (say her name) as your wife; to join with her for life and for love? Do you promise to grow with her, share with her, and stand by her no matter what your life together may bring?  Do you promise to love and communicate with her openly and totally?  Do you pledge to respect her as your wife and as an individual in her own right, and try with affection and tolerance to bring out all that is best in her?  If this is your intention, please say “I do.” (I DO.)

Then the partner in that relationship responds by saying “I do” to the same promises.  Promises are always about relationship.  The relationship has strength at the moment a couple is speaking vows like those.  Of course, you can promise, but if you don’t work at keeping the promise, that relationship can suffer.  It might even become a burden to the people who were making the promises.  I think everybody knows what I’m talking about.  Toward the end of the ceremony, I make a few comments about working at the relationship, allowing room for forgiveness, when the promises are showing a few cracks, a few weak spots.

Most everybody here (at St. Paul’s United Church of Christ) has made a public promise that goes like this:

DR Hands (2)Do you promise to participate in the life and mission of this family of God’s people, sharing regularly in the worship of God, giving to its support, and enlisting in the work of this local church as it serves this community and the world?  (I PROMISE WITH THE HELP OF GOD)

What were the key phrases for you?  Life and mission?  Worship of God?  Community and world?  Like every other promise, this is something we all work at.  But the key was in the response:  I promise with the help of God.  God makes promises too.

On the little stewardship flyer in your bulletin today is a quote from Jeremiah:

”For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.”

I wonder if you needed to hear God say that to you today.  Did you need to hear that?  Let’s fill in around that verse so that we have a better idea of how God wants us to hear those words.

Jeremiah 29:4-14.  4Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: 5Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce. 6Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. 7But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare. 

11For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope. 12Then when you call upon me and come and pray to me, I will hear you. 13When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart, 14I will let you find me, says the Lord, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, says the Lord, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile.

In that quick snapshot you see a group of people who are not where they want to be. They are displaced.  They have been deported.  This exile in Babylon has them 800 miles away from their home in Jerusalem and it’s been a few years.  It was a violent moment that brought them to where they.  They lost the war, they lost their homes.  It’s very hard to see the future when you are in exile.  They were beginning to think they had lost God.

Small picture, big picture.  The small picture is that pain and suffering is here.  We have to live in it and walk through it.  Something happens at work that makes life seem hopeless.  Or something at home.  Or something that affects your health, or the health of somebody you love.  You might feel hopeless and tempted to close down.  Shut the door.

But God doesn’t see things the same way.  God always sees a bigger picture.  God says, you might feel like you lost me, but I never lost you.  God says, I have a new life for you; let me take you to the new place.  This is just a small part of the big picture.  God sees things differently and makes a promise.  Into that blackness, into the despair, God gives a way out.  And it’s crazy.

DSC_7868God says, “seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, for in its welfare you will find your welfare” (v. 7). These are people who have every reason to hunker down and only think about taking care of themselves.  No risks.  Keep the doors shut.  Keep to yourselves. These people are not like you.  These people hurt you. 

When God said, “seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile,” can you see what God is asking them to do?  God needs them to embrace the people who hurt them in order to save themselves.  And it’s the way forward.  God said, “I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile.”  It’s a promise.  But you have to care for the people in the community where you are, no matter who they are.

It’s God’s therapy.  It’s not about getting their enemies to like them better.  It’s that they will not be the kind of caring people God needs them to be in their future, if they don’t start living with compassion now, in their present.  In their community, now. Among people who are not like them.

For that to happen, they have to let go of their past and stop being a private club that can only talk about its memories.

Do you see how that works?  Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you.  God says this to people who are beginning to wonder if they will survive.  Just when they might be thinking of circling the wagons…  God wants them to care for the wounded stranger.  Go ahead and love your neighbor, no matter who they are.  There’s a bigger plan at work.  There’s a bigger picture.  In just a few more years, God is going to bring these people home.  They are not staying in this place.  But to get home, they need to go through a kind of caring-for-the-community boot-camp.  God can work with people who do that.

As one of God’s churches in Manheim, our challenge is to find ways to seek the welfare of our city. It means that we see our hometown as a mission field.  In the last two years, the community breakfast has brought a steady stream of community people through our doors.

How is your church seeking the welfare of the city where you are?  At. St. Paul’s, an AA group has begun to meet at St. Paul’s on Thursday nights.  Bible 2 School (faith-based activity for kids) has just started using our downstairs during the week.  We have growing relationships with Teen Central and the Food Pantry.  We’ll be fixing houses with the Manheim Project next summer.  This is just the start.  Call it blooming where you are planted, and we need everyone’s ideas.

God calls us to seek the welfare of the city, because the city’s welfare is ours. There’s no way around it. There’s no escaping the connection. The only churches with futures are the ones who open their doors and live outside their walls.  Our first job is to believe, to bring the presence of Jesus to this place.  The next thing we do is leave our town a better place than when we found it.

Let’s review:

Do you promise to participate in the life and mission of this family of God’s people, sharing regularly in the worship of God, giving to its support, and enlisting in the work of this local church as it serves this community and the world?  (I PROMISE WITH THE HELP OF GOD)

Prayer

God, sometimes we search everywhere for you.  Sometimes, we think you are as far away as the sky.  But you sit right next to us, waiting for us to believe, waiting for us to trust you.  Waiting for us to follow.

We trust in the future you have for us, Lord.  As we walk with you, mold us; shape our attitudes and motives.  As you fill us with your Spirit, help us see your world as you see it, hear what you hear, feel what you feel.  Take us beyond the little chores and distractions we create for ourselves.  Help us to live a life together that truly reflects the presence of Jesus.  Amen.