Sunday, January 30, 2011

Sermon Notes: State of the Church Address

Dalton Presbyterian Church, 1/30/11
Show of hands: who has seen or heard Obama’s State of the Union address?

Yeah, this will be nowhere near that good.  Not even Joe Biden good.  But I felt like the timing was right to try something - Elder retreat, talking about the present and future of the church lately.

So because I am not a famous public speaker, I’ll need some prayers.


State of the Church address
Thanks to leadership (stand, clap)

Remember the empty seats, and those who cannot be with us because of physical limitations or health (Dan Rudy, Susanna Amstutz, Jodi Smith)

Thankful for differences - we’re diverse (not ethnically - a shimmering rainbow of Caucasian!) in beliefs and politics.  Sometimes this comes out as fear to delve into divisive issues - but I see this as a strength, that we can come together even though we don’t agree on every line-item of a given creed.

Commonalities and continuity; this church, in one form or another, has been here a loooong time.  200 odd years.  From back when the flag didn’t nearly have so many stars.  In a couple years, we might want to think about doing something for our bicentennial.  That’s a long time.  Imagine all those saints who came before us - just in this little place in the world.

History - we’ve known times of flourishing, we’ve also known schism - the split 25 years ago that is still fresh for some of us - a split that is still felt now (I see it impact our live and ministry on an almost-weekly basis - it sneaks it’s way into other issues); and thru it all tremendous change.  We are inheritors, but the church now is almost nothing like it was 50 years ago; even less 100 years ago, or 150.  We’re not suddenly talking about change.  We’re simply continuing to change.

In recent memory, though, the world has moved.  The world always moves faster than the church - Facebook killing the church? - Evangelicalism and conservative politics - Christianity is a third-world movement, and will be for generations to come.  Even if we’ve tried to stand still, the ground has moved out from under us.

The state of the church is always this - the world has moved, and we must be part of it.  

The state of the church is always this - God has remained still, and we must move the world.

THis church doesn’t just have a past - we’ve also got a future.  We are not like any other church, and we are planted  here for a reason, no less now than our predecessors were 200 years ago.  We are called to flourish; we are called to live out our passion; we all have a mission.  Our calling hasn’t changed - it’s just that we have to figure out how to follow God out into the world.  The way we do church will not be the way we’ve done church before.  Until we are perfected, until Kingdom come, we are not finished.

We have this future, but I cannot hand it to you.  I cannot go get it and bring it back.  It isn’t going to land in our laps.  It is possible to run away from our calling.  God is alive and moving in our lives, alive and moving in the world outside these doors - but can ignore that if we want.

This future will not be made clear to us through wisdom - we read that in 1 Corinthians.  If we are looking for a wise, well-considered path, that won’t quite get us to God.  If we are careful and deliberate and discerning - that won’t quite cut it.  

We continue to read, in 1 Corinthians, that this future won’t even come by way of signs and miracles!  If we are waiting for a miracle, even if we experienced a miracle, a sign, here and now, that wouldn’t quite get us to God.  That’s a load off of my shoulders, because I’ve got no miracles.

What will move us into the future is...foolishness - the foolishness of trusting a God we cannot see, trusting a savior who died on a cross, trusting in our own efforts when we know how flawed we are, trusting in the Holy Spirit to strengthen us when we cannot do one more thing.  

Our hope is foolishness to those who are perishing, but it is life to those who are alive with God. If we look ahead with the mindset that we are dying, God’s future for us will look like nonsense.

If, however, we are able to become fools, to cultivate our inner foolishness, then it’ll all make sense.  We’re called to be foolish, and seek God’s wisdom - we are called to be weak, and trust in God’s strength - we are called to be regular folks, and let God be the one who grants us our status.

But these are all just words.

I thought about this passage, and about the Elder retreat we had yesterday.  We talked about a lot of things - including what we thought we as a church, and the Elders in particular, were good at.  What we care about most.  Where we should be headed.

And this is where a President would outline the government initiatives and programs that would bring us into the bright future.  I’m not a President, though.  Being a pastor is quite different from being President.  I can’t really make much happen on my own.  In light of that point of divergence...

I’ve been thinking about what I am called to do.  What it is that I am good at.  What I care about.  What am I supposed to do, in light of this reading, in light of our calling, in light of where we are, who we are.  Who I am.  I don’t want to speak for anyone else.

I will speak for myself.

I like the idea of being a Fool.  Some of the astute and observant among may have noticed - I am a fool.  I am a goofball.  My head is in the clouds.  I am a dreamer.  I log more time in my own imagination than I do in this “real world” everyone keeps telling me about.  Sometimes this is a strength, and sometimes it is a weakness.  Part of me is happy to read that we are called to foolishness.

I don’t have any miracles up my sleeves, and I am only occasionally wise - but a fool provokes.  I will therefore throw down a challenge.  I will call you out, here and now, you, and everyone who isn’t here this morning, and everyone we can convince to come through those doors.

My challenge isn’t to dare you to sit in the front few rows of the church - even though it is warmer up here, and a lot easier to hear.  I’m afraid what I have in mind is even worse. (and let me take a moment to honor the courage of the intrepid few who braved the front row this morning)

This morning, I’m going to use a dirty word in church.  I want you to say this dirty word with me.  Ready?  

“Evangelism”.  Say it with me: “Evangelism”.  

We had our Elder retreat, and do you know what the Elders chose as the highest priority for the church going forward?  Evangelism.  So I am doing something tremendously foolish.  I am calling upon an aging, shrinking Presbyterian congregation to join me in becoming evangelists.

Like fools, like Paul and the first apostles, we are called to proclaim Christ.  Whether we like it or not.  Whether it seems wise or not.  With or without miracles.  Whether we feel strong enough or not.

The state of the church is always this - we are chosen by God, we are called for ministry, and our future is present with us right now.  You remember what Jesus was saying in the hills of Galilee in our reading last week?  The Kingdom of God is at hand.

The state of the church is always this - we are the kingdom of God.  And we are called to carry this good news in our hearts, in our lives, and out into the world.

I’m not going to drop this evangelism thing.  If you ignore it, it won’t go away.

This morning, I dare you to believe it.


Anonymous said...

"we are the kingdom of God. And we are called to carry this good news in our hearts, in our lives, and out into the world." - AMEN

Let's spread the Word of God!

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Doug Hagler said...

Thanks Juan. That's the challenge that I think is before my little church, and we'll see where it takes us.

Ida said...

We can't leave the upper room till the Holy Spirit comes. We're still waiting !!!

Doug Hagler said...

I'm not sure; I think the Holy Spirit is already out there, among the poor and the least. What we need to do is run to catch up!

Ida said...

Oh yea He's out there.
It's whether He's in here.
For example- to have features on your Smart phone yet not know how to utilize it. Activate it.use it, make use of it. Ask and you shall receive.Gal 3:2--Did you receive the Spirit... This is a doctrinal thing. Oh well. DAN