given on Sunday, April 17, 2016
For eight years I have walked a tightrope. Balancing my call to teaching at-risk students and following God’s call to the ministry was tough. Completing the 20 years in alternative education, I felt it was time shift from one call to the next call. The personal transition has been difficult, but at the same time renewing.
The question now is how to continue following the call in ministry. Changing my style is not a requirement in ministry, but due to my career shift, I can reallocate time and methods to change how I fulfill God’s call. I find myself hearing God’s direction to make a shift in ministry or to find different methods of ministry.
First, the sanctuary in which we meet for Sunday worship does not define God’s mission field. The community surrounding the church’s building defines God’s mission. The at-risk students in our schools are now at-risk adults living in our communities.
God is heart broken that those living on the outside of the church are suffering, often all alone. John Wesley saw this happening in the early 1700’s and stepped away from the Anglican high church to take God’s message to those in the coalmines. We live in the same culture—even on top of defunct coalmines.
Are we, sitting here in this sanctuary today, sharing God’s story in a missional way to reach the suffering of the at-risk adults and children in our very own community? What are we doing to help others meet the basic needs of food, shelter and clothing? Do we work to develop relationships with those outside the church doors? Do we need to re-identify (not redefine) the mission of this church right now?
Each one of us sitting here at this moment—and that does include me—must complete an honest analysis of what we do to participate in God’s mission. We must be able to identify what we do in our own community and in our own way. Do we really serve one another? This is painful and it is hard to define what we believe and what we do with that belief. Sometimes we cannot even put it into words, but we must try.
Spring provides us a sense of renewal but this year it is coupled with a threat of impending drought. This places our rural community in a vulnerable position to face challenges nature hands us. The struggle forces us to confront the negative effects that might strike the community. We may be concerned about the number of bodies in the pews, but it is difficult to harvest those bodies when the real crisis in the community is the number of bushels the fields are able to produce.
God’s mission is our mission. We live in God’s world right here. His address is our address; your address is my address. We must look at our spot in the world and decide if we are living Christ-like lives or not. In our community God’s mission may mean finding ways to aid the local farmers and their families during a difficult farming year.
The next critical step in our self-analysis is to determine what must change in our lives if we are to honestly serve as God’s disciples here and now. For the eight years, my tightrope began looking like handcuffs or fetters (not quite a noose) because God’s Holy Spirit was restricted by the school year’s calendar. My change has loosened that limitation.
This church is your church, but the church is here to do God’s work. As pastor, I have a responsibility to maintain God’s mission. I listen to your concerns, your fears, and your history. I know you do not want to see the church that has always been your source of comfort and your heritage change, but God needs us to be in mission much like Wesley wanted his followers to be in mission. The truth is that our world has changed and the church must address the needs that develop from the evil influences that come with that change.
Wesley established class meetings to hold followers accountable to God’s mission. Small groups of followers met wherever they could each week. The meetings fueled the work of the faithful through scripture and prayer, but also provided spiritual support by asking if all was well with their own soul and to learn what they did to carry out God’s mission.
God asks us to use all we can to do all we can. In order to do this, we must know what our community needs as well as what we are capable of doing. Honesty about what we are doing and what we can do often is painful. The fellowship with other Christians helps manage such pain, and that same fellowship develops teams who build on each others’ strengths to carry out God’s mission.
God does not see our age or any other condition as a limitation or weakness; but we do. Each one of you has a passion or a skill that someone else needs to meet a need. Working together, the weaknesses of one is removed by the strengths of another. God’s mission depends on that ability to work as a team to do just that.
Our goal is to pool resources; work to identify community needs or the needs of individuals in our community. When we do, we are looking to develop healthy relationships within the church and within the community. Relationships are the key to successful ministry and the key to sharing God’s word with others.
How do we meet the needs we find in our community? Once relationships are established, the teams goes into action feeding, clothing, tutoring, cleaning, or providing transportation as needed–and the list continues to grow. As a team, we find ways to meet needs and to establish the relationships missing in our community. Developing positive relationships meet others’ needs faster than monetary donations or gifts.
Change must happen if God’s mission is carried forward. Sunday morning worship is an act of piety. We do come together to hear scripture, to pray, to sing praise, and to hear a message; but most importantly Sunday worship refuels and refreshes us for a new week of living Christ-life lives in relationship with a world in which evil has many faces such as poverty, greed, bullies, abuse, loneliness, and more.
The church is more than one hour on Sunday, it is the mission that we carry forward each day we live Christ-like lives in our community. This week analyze how you live your faith. List the needs in the community including the people hungry for healthy relationships. The next step is meaningful conversation. I will be here Tuesday and again on Thursday. Come, let’s have a class meeting.
Closing prayer: Prayer for Enlightenment, a Franciscan prayer
Almighty, eternal, just, and merciful God,
grant us in our misery [the grace] to do for You alone what we know You want us to do, and always to desire what pleases You.
Thus, inwardly cleansed, interiorly enlightened, and inflamed by the fire of the Holy Spirit, may we be able to follow in the footprints of Your beloved Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.
And, by Your grace alone, may we make our way to You, Most High, Who live and rule in perfect Trinity and simple Unity, and are glorified God all-powerful forever and ever. Amen.