Isaiah 43: 16-21 Ps. 67 Luke 10:38-42
In my years here as pastor, I have been blessed with committed leadership in our church. In preparing for this, my 15th Annual Meeting with you I came across a dialogue on ministry which Cindy Bartholomew and I did way back in 2004. It was a dialogue, based upon our Fall Planning Huddle of that year which asked the question:
“What Kind of Business Are We In, as a Congregation?”
Now 10 years later, Cindy is once again our moderator and I’ve asked her to join me in a bit of an update on that theme:
Keith: So Cindy, What Kind of Business Are We In?
Cindy: I think that we, in some way, like all religious communities, are in the GETTING CLOSE TO GOD Business.
Keith: One of my favorite texts on this theme is from the book of Isaiah: “As I went to the temple to pray, I saw the Lord high and lifted up on his throne.
Around him were flaming creatures with great wings and they were calling out to each other:
“Holy, Holy, Holy! Lord God Almighty, All thy works do praise thy name in earth and sky and sea.” Isaiah 6
The prophet received not only the comfort of God but a vision for a new or different future.
He not only felt close to God he received a Word of Inspiration for the new day which lay ahead.
In fact, God gave him some new traveling directions and Isaiah responded by saying: “Here am I Lord, send me!”
The task of our church in the future is to be ready and open to new directions. We need to listen closely for a new word from God which is already among us: “like a bud about to open” as the text read earlier from Isaiah proclaimed.
Cindy: I hope that we will always be a congregation which takes seriously the need for worship and spiritual growth. Worship is at the center of what we do. You have told us that: “It is in worship that the church becomes what she was intended to be.” It is one way in which we offer opportunities for people of all ages to experience the love of God in their life.
When we think about the future we may want to explore new ways of worship and sing new songs of faith for a new generation!
Keith: Isaiah learned to sing a new song and so can we! He went to church and it changed his life! He listened to God and became a new person.
While he took his worship responsibilities seriously, he did not leave his experience at the altar.
I think that, in many ways, this is a mark of our congregation, we come to this place not just to receive of God’s blessings. We come to this place that we might leave refreshed to serve others. We seek to blend “worship with deed, praises with service to need” Winifred Garrison “God of our Fathers”
Thus, the second answer to the question we asked at our huddle so long ago: What Kind of Business Are We In?
Cindy: It is clear to most of us in this place that this congregation is in the SERVICE Business:
We are active in our community. Our members volunteer in a wide variety of helping organizations: from Peace luncheons, blood pressure and the Peddlar to caring for the environment around us.
In fact, to maintain our life of Worship, Witness and Service we need many people to assist in our work. Not just the board members who serve so faithfully - we invite each of you to join in our work.
So we thank you in advance for your willingness to help out!
Keith: Our Gospel reading for this morning was a passage which I feel offers a good description of our congregation.
Mary and Martha were faithful followers of Jesus and they were two people who expressed their discipleship in two distinctive ways. Luke 10:38f.
When Jesus came to visit at their home Mary did a most unusual thing. She decided that she wanted to take her seat in the company of the disciples as Jesus taught them.
This was unusual because generally speaking, women were not welcome at the table of teaching. They were to stay in their place and prepare a table for a meal - which is exactly what sister Martha set about doing.
Mary however took on the man’s role as scholar and learner. She felt that it was important to learn from Jesus and to worship God. Martha kept to her role of Service in God’s name.
May we continue to grow as a Mary and Martha kind of place, celebrating a great diversity of gifts in this fellowship.
In many ways Mary reminds me of the disciple Nathaniel in the Gospel. He was recruited to service while sitting under a fig tree studying the scripture.
Like the Buddha under his Bo tree he soon found enlightenment through study and learning. John 2:48
The stories of Mary, Martha and Nathaniel remind us of yet a third “business” that the church can be involved in…
Cindy: I think you must mean the LEARNING Business:
The membership of our congregation also desires to grow in our understanding of the faith. We want our children to learn and to be nurtured in the vital message of God’s love.
We like to discuss the Bible, dimensions of faith and issues of the world around us, in an open and affirming atmosphere.
Keith: In the Book of Acts we read that the early church was a fellowship of people who cared for each other and reached out to the world around them with the message of God’s Love in Jesus. There we read that as they gathered for worship:
“They kept a close knit fellowship - sharing their belongings with one another, selling their possessions and distributing them according to each ones need.
Day after day they met as a group, sharing meals together, eating with glad and humble hearts, praising God and enjoying the good will of all.” Acts 2: 44f
We seek to live up to that wisdom of the apostle Paul who reminded his congregations that: “You are the people of God, who loved you and chose you for his own.
Therefore you should live up to the standard God set when he called you… You should clothe yourselves with Compassion and Kindness, Humility, Gentleness and Patience.
We are to be forgiving of one another and allow the Peace of God to guide us and bring us to a perfect Unity in Love…
Let Christ’s message live in our hearts, teaching and instructing one another in all wisdom… singing our Psalms and
hymns to the glory of God with Thanksgiving in our hearts.”
Eph. 4:2 Col 3:12f.
These Scripture texts remind us that the proper “business” of the church has to do not only with Worship, Service and Learning but also…
Because we rightly think of ourselves as a congenial church family we can say that we do pretty well in the Fellowship Business.
But we can always learn a bit more about how to be more welcoming to those who visit us. We should not keep this fellowship to ourselves but find ways to offer our caring community to others.
We need to find new ways to invite a new generation to our fellowship of Prayer and Praise, Service and Learning, Fellowship and Outreach. And to do so, we need to be open and ready to learn from that generation!
Keith: We certainly do, because the final category we talked about that day centered on our need to explore new ways to grow our worshipping congregation.
Once upon a time in our society it was enough for a church to offer times of worship and praise.
Once upon a time we could offer classes in Prayer and Bible Study and there would be enough people around to take advantage of what we had to offer.
Once upon a time going to church on a Sunday morning was as natural as getting up and going to school or getting to work.
Those days are past and the church no longer holds such a central position in our world or in our minds.
The people who come to this church do so, for the most part, out of choice and not simply habit.
And that is a good thing - to develop good discipleship habits of worship and prayer, service and learning.
However in this new day and age, when the church is an ever decreasing priority for many, we need to learn how to attract new disciples.
Cindy: And that is why our final point of looking at the business of the church was: DISCIPLE MAKING:
We need to ask ourselves again and again: “Are we a church committed to the growth of our membership?
Do we seek to be a growing community of faith and witness?
Are we intentional about reaching out and inviting others to come join us in our journey of discipleship?
Keith: In reading the scriptures, we find that the early church practiced a very a simple method of evangelism - of sharing the Good News they had found.
Young Andrew first went to the members of his family - he invited Simon to come and meet Jesus. They spread the word to a young man by the name of Phillip. Phillip then went to find Nathaniel and so it grew.
Cindy: Perhaps you too have friends or family members with whom to share the faith - perhaps a new neighbor or resident in our community?
Keith: Once upon a time you could pretty much count on the fact that your neighbors went to church somewhere. This is no longer true.
Cindy: They may just be waiting for a simple invitation - an invitation from Y-O-U. So the question each of us in this place must ask is:
Keith: Have you found a home within this community of faith?
Cindy: If so then why not invite others to come worship with you?
Keith: Do you find the welcome of God’s Grace and Affirmation when you come to worship in this place?
Cindy: Then why not invite others to experience that grace and affirming fellowship?
Keith: Has your heart and soul found a whisper of new life, purpose and meaning in the context of worship and prayer?
Cindy: Then why not invite others to join you on your Journey and Quest for a new found faith and dimension to living.
Keith: You might ask yourself - in a world of so much Bad News - have you found in this place a word of Good News, hope and comfort?
Cindy: Then you need to consider sharing something of that Good News with someone you know and love.
Keith: We live in a world in which many are seeking to fill the emptiness and brokenness of their lives.
Many are in search these days for a congregation of faith in which they can find Acceptance and Affirmation rather than Judgment and Condemnation.
They are looking for answers that are practical yet sensible, life affirming not life denying, holistic and accessible to us in our superficial sound bite culture.
Cindy: We need to find ways to let people know that we are here and when they come they should find a welcoming place with uplifting worship, accessible music and a challenge to new life.
Keith: Several years ago we adopted a new mission statement which proclaimed that:
Cindy: “The mission of the Tully United Community Church is to be an inclusive community proclaiming the message of God’s love in the teachings of Jesus Christ through worship, teaching and service.”
Keith: In many ways our congregation is fulfilling its mission as a Community Church.
It is Open and Inclusive - welcoming many pathways to God. It proclaims the message of God’s Love in worship, teaching and service.
Cindy: Yet there are always new visions and new hopes as we seek to stretch ourselves to reach out in new ways to welcome more people to inspiring worship, warm fellowship and service to the community.
Now in your bulletin is an affirmation we often use in our planning huddles together. Let us affirm our faith together:
In response to God’s love and care for us we live our lives.
We celebrate God’s spirit among us encouraging, empowering and enabling us to be God’s people in this community.
In this ever changing world, we seek to be open to God, move forward in faith and confidence.
Listening to God in the world around us in our worship, prayer and service to others.
Keith: Now let us sing a hymn of faith and affirmation, printed in your bulletin:
“God of Grace and God of Glory” #577
Winfred Garrison “God of Our Fathers, the Strength of our People…” BHB #178