Sunday’s sermon: Speak Life

thrive

Texts used – Psalm 133; 1 Corinthians 13:1-13

  • Last weekend, I was at the presbytery meeting up in the cities. The presbytery had brought in Rev. Dr. Danielle James – an ordained minister in the United Church of Canada who specializes in religious organizational leadership.
    • According to Rev. Dr. James’ own description: “Dynamic, multi-passionate, change leader … with a passion for helping leaders navigate the creative, complex and challenging territories of their personal and professional lives.”[1]
    • Presentation at presbytery: “How is Your Church Doing, Really, and How Do You Know?” → all about engagement
      • Definition: level of enthusiasm, emotional commitment, and dedication
      • Engagement = #1 accelerator of congregations that are thriving → engaged congregants care about their work as the church
      • Talked about how we often spend time focusing on the INPUTS in a congregation (number of people that come in, number of dollars that come in, etc.) → engaged congregations focus more on OUTPUTS (mission, outreach, etc.)
    • Interesting discussion to have on the presbytery level
      • Discussion for individual churches – no surprise/secret that many congregations across the presbytery (and across the country) are in phases of decline
      • Discussion for the presbytery as well – facing some fairly large and important changes on an organizational level → Just as the church cannot continue to function the same way it did back in the 1950s – or even the 1980s – neither can the presbytery. We know we are in a place and time in which we need to change, and we’re starting to explore what that change may look like. Inviting guests like Rev. Dr. James is a part of that exploration.
    • Spent time during her presentation talking in small groups about how this topic made us feel/what it made us think about → answers, as you can imagine, were wide ranging
      • Some positive: words like hopeful, excited, eager
      • Some negative: words like anxious, concerned, uncertain
    • So there I was sitting in that pew listening to the people around me talk about where their congregations were at and where they were going and where they thought they needed to go, and do you know what I was thinking? I was thinking, “Wow. You know, I’m feeling pretty darn good about our little white church on the hill. We’re doing okay. In fact, by these standards, we’re doing more than okay. We are THRIVING.”
      • Dr. James: you need at least 10-12 engaged people in your congregation in order to really get momentum going and keep it up and to thrive → And while I know our membership is small – “we are a small church with a big mission”! – I’d say we’re way beyond 10-12 engaged people. We’re way beyond 10-12 people that care enough about what we’re doing here in this place to invest their time, their talents, their resources, and, most importantly, their heart. So y’all, my basic message this morning is one of congratulations because we are indeed thriving.
  • Scripture readings this morning are all about thriving communities
    • Ps 133 = psalm celebrating the goodness and blessing of community
      • Obvious – text: How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity![2]
      • Also conveys the message in images – speaks of precious oil poured on the head and running down the beard as well as the dew of Hermon falling down Mount Zion.[3] → Both of these are images of overflowing abundance.
        • Anointing the head with precious oil = way of extending hospitality to someone when they entered your house as well as the way to consecrate new priests and kings
          • Mark of honor
          • Mark of welcome
          • Mark that you were valued/treasured
        • Dew = blessing of the morning – refreshes the world, making everything clean and revived and even sparkling (when the sun hits it just right) → How many times have you been out early in the morning – early enough that the dew hasn’t burned off for the day yet – and looked around at the quiet stillness and beauty around you, and thought, “Wow … what a blessing?” Something that small … something that simple … yet something as critical to our lives and life on earth as those tiny beads of water can convey such powerful, overwhelming feelings of blessing. Hmmm … small, simple blessings. I wonder what other blessings in our lives might be categorized as small and simple?
      • Notice no caveats/requirements listed for receiving that blessing → And that is what a blessed, thriving community does – it welcomes people in, saying, “Come! Sit with us. Be with us. Not because of what we think we can get from you, but because of who you are: treasured, valued, seen.” In her presentation at presbytery last week, Rev. Dr. James spoke of thriving communities as being REAL – Relevant, Experiential, Active, and Loving/grounded in love. Communities that are REAL engage people where they’re at – wherever they’re at – but also invite them to come along and discover something new … something new about the community, something new about themselves, something new about God.
        • Ways that we do that here
          • Engage with each other before, during, and after worship – sit down, have a cup of coffee, share our lives together, genuinely care about what’s happening in each other’s lives → And it doesn’t matter if you’re someone that just walked in the door this morning or someone that’s been walking through that door every Sunday for the past 52 years.
          • Engage with the community around us
            • Mission giving (locally, denominationally, globally)
            • Participating in the community (National Night Out, Gold Rush)
            • Home base for the Food Shelf → welcoming volunteers from this congregation and the wider community into our midst
    • NT reading this morning is all about what that REAL – Relevant, Experiential, Active, and Loving – community is grounded is
      • Familiar passage, I’m sure – read most often at weddings → And yes, it’s certainly an appropriate wedding passage because it speaks of the power and potency of love … obviously something that you want in a marriage. But a marriage is just a category of relationships, and these words that Paul wrote to the church in Corinth are just as applicable to other categories of relationships as they are to a marriage.
        • Text: If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.[4] → It’s about being REAL – Relevant, Experiential, Active, and Loving – in your actions. It’s about being REAL – Relevant, Experiential, Active, and Loving – in your faith. It’s all about being grounded in love – love for each other and love for God.
          • Scripture: One of [the Pharisees], a legal expert, tested [Jesus]. “Teacher, what is the greatest commandment in the Law?” [Jesus] replied, “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: You must love your neighbor as yourself.”[5] → Engaged community. REAL – Relevant, Experiential, Active, and Loving – community. Straight from the mouth of Jesus.
      • May not always know where exactly we’re going in this relationship together, but that’s okay. GOD KNOWS. – text: For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.[6] → It’s not about the knowing. It’s about the believing. It’s about the trusting. It’s about being engaged for the sake of what’s happening right now and what we hope it will become.
        • Text: And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.[7]
  • Today is our annual meeting day, friends. We spend time looking at the year that we’ve had and planning ahead for the year that lies in front of us. There are a lot of technical bits to today – committee reports, financial statistics, budgets, and so on. But we do all of this procedural work of the church in the midst of worship to remind ourselves that even the most tedious church business is still part of the mission that God has placed before us: to spread the good news of the gospel. And as this congregation – this little white church on the hill – in this mission and in our lives together, we are indeed thriving. And to that I say, “Well done, good and faithful servants.” Alleluia! Amen.

 

In addition to the sermon, we used tobyMac’s “Speak Life” during our offering, so here it is!

[1] https://www.linkedin.com/in/the-rev-dr-danielle-ayana-james-99347029.

[2] Ps 133:1.

[3] Ps 133:2-3a.

[4] 1 Cor 13:2-3.

[5] Mt 22:35-39.

[6] 1 Cor 13:9-12.

[7] 1 Cor 13:13.

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