Tested by the Spirit
This sermon was presented at Resurrection on February 28, 2010, the Second Sunday of Lent. Pastor Jim Kniseley’s text is Philippians 3:17-4:1.
Dear Friends in Christ,
Last week we remembered how Jesus was pushed by the Spirit into the wilderness, for a time of testing. He felt utterly alone and when he was weak and vulnerable, Satan came to tempt and taunt him. It feels like our Resurrection family of faith has been pushed into the wilderness for a time of testing. The word “pushed” seems appropriate. I am not sure that any of us really chose to go into this time of testing.
It felt so good these past several years to be growing, with lots of new members, great ministries of music and youth and Christian education, and increasing income from offerings and building a wonderful addition. In the eyes of many, Resurrection was a success. By the standards of the world, we had all the outward trappings of worldly success. Then, like a thief in the night, came issues and disruption that have caused about 46 families to stop participating in the life of this congregation. Though about 180 families continue, we have to face some hard realities. We had stretched ourselves even with all of us in place, and now we who are here want to know about our future.
That’s what I want to talk about today. Our future and our present. For they go together.
On Friday I met with leaders from two Christian groups that are interested in renting some space from us here at Resurrection. It was a bit humbling for me to share with these groups that frankly, we need to partner with folks who can help us with our mortgage payments. Let me tell you a little about what I observed in these folks. Guillermo told me of his strong conviction that God wanted him and his wife to gather immigrants from central American countries for Bible Study, Prayer and Worship. They have been meeting in their home with about 15 adults and 10 children. Let me tell you about Bill who has a mission congregation of about 75. A mainline denomination, not ours, sent him here to start a mission congregation, that is aimed at folks who like a most contemporary form of worship. I was further humbled by each of these leaders when they asked to pray with me and included Resurrection in their prayers, that we would have hearts open to others and that God would bring healing to us. Wow!
In the March issues of our Lutheran magazine, Michael Cooper White, president of Gettysburg Lutheran Seminary, writes about “Keeping a good Lent.” I think he is speaking directly to us at Resurrection. He quotes Anglican theologian H. A. Williams that so much of what we do in Lent, like giving up chocolate or losing weight is “mere charade.” The true Lent, lies in following Jesus into a wilderness place, going somewhere one has never gone before. In doing so, we just may find renewal and inspiration, being filled by God’s Spirit.”
We at Resurrection are going places many of us have never been before. The future is not in our sight. We now must work as if everything depends on us, and pray as if everything depends on God. Someone has pointed out that for some, becoming a member of Resurrection has been like joining a civic organization, such as the Rotary or Kiwanis Clubs. You pay your dues, you show up when you can, you occasionally participate in some service project and social gathering, and that’s about it. How different that is from the call to discipleship that is the mandate in scripture. And now, we here at Resurrection, are called to discipleship and all that being a follower of Jesus Christ entails.
In our second lesson for today, Paul is writing to the church at Philippi. Talk about being humbled, Paul is under house arrest, for preaching the gospel. He is writing to Christians who are being tested in ways that should sound familiar to us. The Philippians were tempted to judge success by worldly standards. Success means money and fame and power. Paul dares to burst their bubble by declaring that people who have this are “enemies of the cross of Christ.” He says that we Christians are not citizens of this world, but of heaven. We are here temporarily, but we shall be in heaven forever. Our life now should reflect what we believe and cherish about our life in heaven.
Paul gives them some further advice, which is good advice for us also. Look to good role models as patterns for how you are to live such a life. Paul says you can look to him, for he is doing everything he can to live as Jesus wants him too. He advises that we just look in our community to see what folks are living this way that we may learn from their good example.
Can we get back on track here at Resurrection? The answer is “yes” if we are willing. It will take all of us working together. It will not happen because of us, it will happen because God has the power to give us the gifts to make it happen. But I believe that we must be willing partners. It will start with us getting back to basics: prayer, Bible Study, worship, volunteering. We have notified our janitorial service, Tim, that we are letting him go. That means we need lots of volunteers and our Property Team will be putting together a chart for us. We will do the same thing this summer for mowing our lawns.
Let me pause for a moment, to have you consider these questions: For us at Resurrection, is our cup half full or half empty? Will this time of challenge turn out to be a good thing or a bad thing for this community of faith? Are we up for the challenge?
Let me share with you where Pastor Carol and I are in all this. We have agreed to take a 30% reduction in each of our pay packages. I think you can understand our first thoughts about this: how can we pay our bills? Will we lose our house? That sure doesn’t feel good. But then we did some praying and thinking along with our Congregation Council. We will do some things to supplement our income; we are assessing what things we can do without these days at our house. Just looking at our expenses and prioritizing our budget is a good thing. And we are finding that helping our church family in this time of need is bringing us more joy than we might have expected.
Let me conclude with some thoughts about us being a mission church again. Some of you have heard us say that and wondered what it means. We began as a mission congregation, one that had few resources but lots of enthusiasm for planting a church and sharing the good news of Jesus. Lo these 21 years later, we are a full-fledged congregation with hundreds of members, significant income, and a wonderful facility. It is the spirit of being a mission congregation that we need to reclaim. In a mission congregation, everyone has to do their part. That is the nature of mission congregations. Another word for what we need to be about is “missional.” Folks who have a “missional” understanding of church have the sense of being sent for a purpose. The purpose is to be a part of God’s mission here on earth.
I gain inspiration from some of you who are charter members. You are the ones who allowed God to use you to plant a church and reach out. It is you who remind us that God continues to have a mission in this part of his world and he really wants us to share in that mission. That is what makes what we do so important. Resurrection is part of God’s mission.