Discerning God’s Intended Purpose for Resurrection
Pastor Jim Kniseley presented this sermon at Resurrection on September 12, 2010. This sermon is part of the launch phase for the congregation-wide process of discerning God’s purpose and priorities for Resurrection for the coming years. The gospel reading is Luke 15:1-10, Jesus’s parables of the lost sheep and the lost coin.
Dear Friends in Christ,
Something new and exciting is about to happen here at Resurrection, and I really want you to be a part of it. We as a community of faith are turning our eyes to the future and asking a most important question of God, “Lord, what do you want us to do and be as a congregation?” Why now are we asking such a question? Two reasons come to mind for me: We seem to have fulfilled just about everything on the list the last from the last time we did this discerning (we built a new building, re-started the preschool, expanded the parking lot, are beginning to use this facility for community outreach, we got rid of the old trailer and now our Christian Education has wonderful space ). The second reason is that we have been through a time of turmoil as a denomination and as a congregation, and we need to move on in a positive way.
“What do we do next?” is the sort of question that needs to be asked of every relationship in life. A married couple says, “We’ve been married for 20 years, what can we do now to renew our love and commitment to each other?” One of you might say, “I’ve been in this job for 10 years, what now do I do to remain vital and productive and satisfied in my work?” So, we at Resurrection are doing a very healthy thing: we are looking at where we have been, where we are now, and where we want to go in the future.
How do you know God’s purpose and priorities for a congregation? What do you do to figure that out? Is there some secret formuIa? Is it like running a business? Is it just guesswork? Is there any outside help we can get?
Our process for discernment (that’s the biblical term for seeing and knowing God’s heart) includes three vital things: reading the Bible in order to understand what Jesus says is God’s mission and priorities, praying as individuals and as a community that God will open our hearts and minds to his mission and priorities, and asking as many members of our congregation as possible to state and then discuss what we see as God’s purpose and priorities for this congregation.
Your Congregation Council, I think in a stroke of wisdom, determined that this process would be a congregation-wide process. They could have decided to just do it themselves or give it to a small committee, and then simply report back to us what we should be doing for the next 10 years. The Congregation Council knew instinctively that we all need to be a part of discerning God’s purpose and priorities for Resurrection. This process is a good reflection of our theology of the priesthood of all believers. We all have gifts and talents and abilities. We all are called to be a part of the body of Christ.
I commend to your reading the Book of Hebrews. We’re studying it in the Adult Forum. Hebrews presents a wonderful understanding of Jesus as the exalted Lord, one who deserves our praise and everlasting thanksgiving. Hebrews also reminds us that we serve a God of compassion, hope and invitation. God has always been this way and we can depend on that. That is God’s nature. We as members of God’s family are called to lives of faith in the one who controls the universe. I like how faith is described in Hebrews 11:1-3, Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. Indeed, by faith our ancestors received approval. By faith, we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was made from things that were not visible.”
The outstanding example in Hebrews is Abraham and Sarah. They were told to set out on a journey to a new land that God would give them. How would they know when they had arrived, they asked. God simply said, “start walking and I will tell you when it’s time to stop”. They believed God and God kept his promise. In their old age, Abraham and Sarah were told they would be the forebears of a great nation and that Sarah would have a child. Their first reaction was to laugh and when the child was born, they named him Isaac, which means “we laughed.”
Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. Martin Luther said this about faith, “Faith is God’s work in us, that changes us and gives new birth from God…It…makes us completely different people. It changes our hearts, our spirits, our thoughts and all our powers. It brings the Holy Spirit.” (Introduction to St Paul’s Letter to the Romans).
What is God’s purpose and priority for Resurrection? I hope you’ll pull out your Bibles today and read what Jesus said at the Last Supper and just before he ascended to heaven. You’ll find those thoughts at the very end of Matthew’s Gospel and you will find his thoughts in the 13th chapter of John’s Gospel. It has to do with sharing the good news of Jesus, and showing the love of God to all people.
Today as you are driving home from worship, I invite you to do something. Be aware of the homes and businesses that you pass. Be especially aware of the people you pass and their circumstances. Try looking at these people and places through the eyes of God. What do you see in our community that makes God sad? And, what can we as the Resurrection community do to make a difference? This may give you some clues about what God’s purpose and priorities might be for us. I’m reminded of the ELCA signature slogan: God’s Work. Our Hands.
Some weeks ago we had a visit from Karen Sumner who works for the ELCA Mission Investment Fund. Our Finance Team was picking her brain about refinancing our mortgages. We didn’t think Karen knew us well, but she surprised us by really doing her homework. I asked her to write down some of her thoughts from an outsider’s perspective, one who has worked with several thousand congregations over her 20 year career. Here’s a little of what she wrote this past week to us:
I had an opportunity on August 25, 2010, to visit at Resurrection…Prior to my visit, I spent some time reviewing the congregation’s website. This is a congregation that is very open and shares on their website more about their ministry, including financing and congregational reports of meetings than any other congregation I have seen. The history of the congregation, their strong leadership, the excellent use of facilities and maintenance of those facilities clearly shows a congregation that, even in times of difficulties and dissension, continues to believe that they are serving the community that God has sent them into and that this is where they are called and will continue to serve. There is a spirit of strength and energy here. There is a spirit of God’s presence that guides them as they continue to reach out with the love, peace and hope that is ours in Christ….Resurrection appears to be a congregation focused on the future possibilities. How apt is it that they are: Resurrection Lutheran Church.
Our bulletin cover today presents a wonderful image of Church. Something was lost and is now found. The parable is about a woman who searches with great diligence to find the lost coin and when she finds it, she calls all her friends together to celebrate. Jesus gives us an insight that is powerful: there is joy in heaven when a lost person is found, when one who did not know the saving grace of Jesus has now come to a knowledge and faith in Jesus. Resurrection people, what must we now do to bring joy to God in heaven? What shall we be and do that will bring a smile to God’s face?
Those are the sort of questions that will be presented to you in the short survey to be handed out today at the end of the service. I invite you to respond prayerfully and thoughtfully. This will be the first step in a process that will lead us, as a congregation, to understand God’s purpose for this church. That understanding will be expressed in a succinct statement that will be voted upon during our semi-annual Congregational Meeting. During each step of the process leading up to that, the Council will provide you updates. This begins with an update on Sunday, October 3rd, when you will hear back on the results of the survey. Again, I invite…and urge you…to participate in this process beginning with the surve