State of the Church

Scripture:  1 Corinthians 1:1-9

Before I had kids, I played a lot of video games.   I was on a first name basis with the employees at my local Gamestop.   There was a time between purchases and trades, I was probably getting a new video game every week.   I would write about these games, and for a short time I fulfilled a life goal and even got paid to review video games for a website.   Having children really changed this because I could no longer stay up late playing games, and it is nearly impossible to play a game online when a baby could start crying at literally any second.   This was actually all for the best, because I play video games in a much more balanced way now.   When I was at the height of my involvement in that hobby though one of the highlights was E3.  This is a large electronic entertainment trade show where many of the new upcoming games were announced and shown off.   One of the real highlights out of E3 were the press conferences.   Microsoft, Nintendo, and Sony would have these elaborate conferences where they highlighted their accomplishments of the past year and talked about what their plans were the future.   During that time there was a video game podcast that I loved to listen to, and one of the host reflected these press conferences were valuable to the hobby, because even though they only emphasized the positive, it is still important to take time to pause and reflect on the current state of things.    Pausing and reflecting on the current state of things is vitally important.   That is why many businesses do annual reviews of everything from minor policies to employees to big strategies.    That is why the state of the union address has become an important tradition in American civics.   Pausing to reflect on the current states of things is important in the church as well.    It is good to take a moment to consider where we are collectively as disciples of Jesus Christ, how we are doing at fulfilling our mission to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world, and how we are going to better fulfill that mission in the months to come.  

            As I read the Bible, especially the letters that the apostle Paul wrote, I am struck by the idea that one of Paul’s real spiritual gifts was encouraging others.   His letters always start with these incredible and encouraging thanksgivings he offers up for the people he is writing to.   Today, as we take time to pause and reflect, I am struck by how much I resonate with the reasons Paul gives thanks for the church in Corinth.   My first Sunday here was three years ago on the first Sunday in February.   Since that time, I have experienced Edinburgh UMC to be a church of God sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be his holy people.   Like Paul said to the Corinthians, I also always give thanks to my God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus.   I give thanks because I have experienced grace and patience from you.  When I came I know that I was the fourth pastor in a short time period, but instead of being cynical about that you showed me and my family grace and acceptance.   I give thanks, because like Paul wrote about the Corinthians, I have found Edinburgh UMC to be a church where you do not lack any spiritual gift.   It has been my experience that the spiritual gifts such as faith, wisdom, knowledge, and generosity are all in abundance here.  In the same way, my heart is warmed by how I see this congregation cultivate spiritual fruit such as love, joy, kindness, and compassion.  Over the past year, this has played out in a variety of ways.  

            The mission of the Edinburgh United Methodist Church is to make and nurture disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of our world.   We can celebrate that we have sought to do this over the past year.   We have especially focused on transforming the world, and we have focused on doing this through trying to serve and invite in children and teenagers.  We can celebrate that last summer, we served food, weekly in partnership with the town park and recreation as part of a summer feeding program.  Every week, many of you lovingly served nutritious, hot meals to children.   Also over the summer, for the third year we hosted a school supply carnival.  Once again, our building was full of children that we got to be a blessing to.  For the past several months as a church we have been hosting and working with a community group that is seeking to provide parents resources and help prevent drug usages among young people.    One of the greatest needs in this community that this group has identified is that teenagers need things to do in safe places.   We are on the leading edge of that with our 5th Quarter events and youth ministry.   At the past few 5th Quarters we have had over 100 teens in our building.  One hundred.   That is only possible, because many of you have seen this need, and you have given your time to meet this need.  Our youth group is blessed in that we have averaged over thirty students a week in the past month.  

            All of this ministry that reaches out to and serves children and teens should absolutely be celebrated.   All that we accomplished was possible because the church family, you all, were willing to serve.   However, it is also possible because even those of you who may not have been physically present helped make all that we have accomplished happen.   We can only serve God with the help of God, and prayer is a vital part of that.   I am so thankful, that as a church family Edinburgh UMC values prayer.   The only way that we will continue to make an eternal difference is if as a church we are firmly rooted in prayer.    The other way that as a whole we supported fulfilling our mission, is that you all put your money where your heart is.   In 2016, we collected more funds in tithes and offerings than we had in any of the past eight years.    The trend across the country is that people continue to give less and less to support church ministry, so the fact that you have all chosen to give more speaks highly to your generosity, your faith, and your commitment to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.   

            As we reflect back on what we as disciples of Jesus have done,  we can find joy in a job well done.   However, it is vitally important that we do far more than that.   We can be thankful and celebrate the ways that God has used us in the past, but we must dwell in the past.   I am convinced that God is not done with Edinburgh UMC and that the flames of the Spirit are still burning brightly here.  As we look to the future, it can be become easy to focus on and get excited about the stuff we are going to do.    It can be easy to let programs and events become a big focus.   However, as we pause today and reflect the 1990’s movie City Slickers as a lot of wisdom for us.  If you do not remember this movie it stars Billy Crystal as a corporate world manager who is dissatisfied with life and attempts to find simplicity out on the range.   It is out on the trail, that a wizened old cowboy shares this wisdom with him:  

 

            That movie came out in 1991.  It came out in an era when most households did not have internet access, and it came out in an era before social media and smart phones.    Even though the world has changed since then, many people are still looking for the secret of life, they still want to find that one thing.   As the children of God, we believe that we figured out that one thing.   As the redeemed who have been forgiven, reunited with our creator, and found new life we have a blessed assurance that we know the one thing.   Brothers and sisters in Christ, that one thing is Jesus.    Our Lord and Savior is the secret to life, an abundant life everlasting.   Jesus is life.  Jesus is everything.   As we move forward into our collective future, it is of utmost importance.   Whatever we do as a church, whatever new things we try, whatever old things we continue to do, we must remember that Jesus is the one thing.   This morning’s scripture reminds us of this.   Our scripture reading for this morning is only six sentences, but Jesus is mentioned eight times.   Our Lord and Savior should be over all, through all, and in all that we as a church to do.   This attitude is well expressed in an ancient Christian prayer that dates back to the 5th century and that tradition attributes to St. Patrick.   The shortened version of the prayer goes like this:   Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me, Christ on my right, Christ on my left, Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down, Christ when I arise, Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me, Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me, Christ in every eye that sees me, Christ in every ear that hears me.”  

            Christ is with us, and we are one with Christ.   Jesus, the one thing, should be the reason, the motivation, and the message to every single thing we as a church do.   We should reach out and invite in, not so we can toot our own horn but so we can make disciples of Jesus Christ.   We should serve and meet in needs in the world not so we can celebrate all of the good we do, but so what we can transform the world to be a more loving place in the name of Christ.    I will say it again and again Jesus is the one thing.   As the one thing Jesus needs to be more important than any other thing.    This means that we have to be willing to lay at the altar everything else.  

            Last month in the adult Sunday school I got to lead the class through a book called Rise of the Nones by James Emery White.  At its base this book is about what churches can and should be doing to share the gospel with those who do not know Christ.  It is about how we let others know that the one thing is the one thing.   In this book the author wrote, “Here is the uncomfortable truth.  Almost everyone who follows Christ and almost every gathering of those Christ followers constituting a church say the same thing:  We want to reach the world for Christ.  Yet most do not do it, what is the breakdown?”    He goes on to answer his own question a few paragraphs later:  “Listen to how we talk:  Of course I want to reach lost people, but I’m not going to let the music change; but I’m not going to park to far way; but I’m not going to risk stirring things up right now in the church; but I’m not going to attend a different service time.  But I’m not going to.  . .you fill the rest.”  

            Often what prevents churches from reaching the world for Christ is a whole list of I’m not going to’s.   If we are being honest, the reason why we say yeah but I’m not going to is simply because to say Yes let’s do it would require sacrifice or inconvenience of some kind.   The good news that God so loved the world that he sent his only son that whoever believes in him will have eternal life and not perish is worth our inconvenience and our minor sacrifice.  

            As we look forward to all that is before us together, may we be willing to make sacrifices and be inconvenienced.  I am happy of all that this congregation has accomplished in the past year, and I am filled with joyful anticipation of the ways coming up that we will get to reach the world for Christ.   May all of us do it together.   May we all be willing to say “here I am Lord, send me.”   Whether it is through our abilities, our time, or our resources may we all be willing to give for the cause of the gospel.  May we work together, as God’s holy people to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of our world.  May we do this with confidence as we claim the promise of this morning’s scripture:  “God is faithful, who has called you into fellowship with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.”