Growing into our Spirit-inspired identity as individual believers and as a family of faith.
This is so much more than “becoming a member of the church.” Within our community of faith, ‘becoming’ has everything to do with the dynamic process of learning and growing together, encouraging each other to be actively involved in one’s own unique faith journey, and affirming how valuable everyone’s personal spiritual development is to our true identity as a church. At OUC, we take becoming seriously.
Sermon 3: BECOMING THE FAITH COMMUNITY GOD IMAGINES US TO BE or TRUSTING THAT SOMETHING WONDERFUL IS ABOUT TO HAPPEN
August 28, 2016
I love reading and reflecting on the Bible. It’s one of the genuine blessings of the past 40 years of my life and work; and I’ve come to trust the Spirit’s power to breathe wisdom and inspiration into every passage on which we focus as a community of faith. I’ve also come to appreciate that what God may reveal through these human expressions of our faith in Christ is not always obvious, and often surprising – the wider we open our hearts and minds, the deeper and broader the possibilities become, to find God’s goodness for our everyday living. It’s one of the ways we become the people God imagines us to be.
Over all these years, one of my favourite Bible readings is Ephesians 3:14-21, and I humbly choose it to focus this concluding reflection with you. I read it from the Good News Translation, which first captured my attention in the 1980’s and made me realize that this was a prayer for every faith family, in every place and generation, like OUC, who follows Jesus as our brother, and who trusts that together we are children of a loving God. It’s a prayer for us today as we imagine growing into our tomorrow.
314 For this reason I fall on my knees before the Father, 15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth receives its true name. 16 I ask God from the wealth of his glory to give you power through the Spirit to be strong in your inner selves, 17 and I pray that Christ will make his home in your hearts through faith.
I pray that you may have your roots and foundation in love, 18 so that you, together with all God’s people, may have the power to understand how broad and long, how high and deep, is Christ’s love. 19 Yes, may you come to know this love—although it can never be fully known—and so be completely filled with the very nature of God.
20 To God who by means of his power working in us is able to do so much more than we can ever ask for, or even think of: 21 to God be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus for all time, forever and ever! Amen.
This is my prayer for you today.
So I couldn’t decide on a title for this final sermon … I had two ideas but I just couldn’t decide. Seems like a heck of time to become indecisive, don’t you think? Anyway, I couldn’t decide; so I thought I’d preach both and you can decide which one you want to listen to.
Here’s the first: Becoming the faith community God imagines us to be.
Over the past 5 years we have been identifying ourselves to each other and to the wider neighbourhood as a faith community shaped by these spiritual values: BELIEVING. BELONGING. BECOMING. We say that we believe by trusting God, having confidence in God’s faithfulness, and relying on God’s goodness as we grow in faith. We profess that we belong by living in meaningful relationships with other followers of Jesus as partners of a dynamic faith community. And we claim that by God’s design, we continually become by growing into our Spirit-inspired identity as individual believers, yes, but and as a family of faith as well. Today we’re focussing on BECOMING.
In a conversation yesterday with my two sisters about becoming, Sharon observed it’s like what dog-people say (I see some of you nodding out there): “be the person your dog thinks you are.” And Ticia quickly responded, “and you know what dog spelled backwards is.”
I think it’s fair to say, your dog and your God both think the world of you. They think of you as someone who deserves love, affection, and loyalty. They see you for whom you actually are and still love you unconditionally. What if you saw yourself through God’s eyes? What if you tried to be what God thinks you are to the rest of the world? — imagine what difference you might make. (JW Stephens, alt.)
God’s Spirit of becoming animates us when we accept and trust the simple idea that we have within us a sacred capacity, a power, strong and deep inside our inner selves … it’s like Christ has made a home in our hearts … it’s like we’re rooted in love and grounded in God’s goodness. And when we remind each other that this is how God sees us … how pervasive this potential is in us … how broad and long and high and deep Christ’s love is for us, then we have discovered our life’s true work as people of faith. Our work – in whatever profession, vocation, labour, hobby, pastime, volunteering we choose – our work is to become what God imagines us to be. At least, that’s what I hear in our Ephesians reading this morning.
I’m grateful to say that over these few years that we have journeyed together, I have heard and felt God’s invitation and encouragement to be the most caring minister I can be, the most cooperative teammate, the most willing partner in ministry with you – all because of you. You invited me to help build an equal collaborative ministry team here, and with your support we’ve done pretty well. You asked me to help you re-imagine the idea of stewardship and together we have been discovering that the heart of stewardship is our partnering with each other to support all of the ministries here (not only the one you might be interested in). You encouraged me to be more than a manager of this congregation and to become more of a spiritual entrepreneur who initiates new ways of experiencing and expressing God’s goodness. You inspired me to be the best I can be here, and I thank God for your generosity.
What I’ve also discovered during these grace-filled years with you, is that who we are becoming together in this faith community influences who I am growing up to be. We all have wondered at some age in our life what we will be when we grow up. But it’s not just a children’s activity. We’re all still growing up; and this place where we gather every Sunday, these people with whom we worship, they will have a powerful influence on what kind of Jesus’ follower you will grow up to become, no matter how old you are right now.
What I’ve realized anew is that what this faith community is becoming is worth investing your resources in – your time, your money, your participation. Because Orleans United will give it back to you in spiritual encouragement to be best you can possibly be as a follower of Jesus. I stand among you as living proof. But I’m not alone. This place is filled with living examples of what your faith family can offer. And because you’re here together striving to become the faith community God imagines you to be, each of you is a beneficiary. By trusting God’s presence with each other here, God is able to do so much more than you can ever ask for, or even think of. That’s God’s sacred promise.
So, if you prefer, here’s the second sermon: Trusting that something wonderful is about to happen.
Last summer, when we were first starting to talk seriously about my retirement, Lynn and I were walking down Bank St. and slipped into a little stationery store there. I saw this card, and knew instantly it was going to be included in my final sermon. The card read, “Always believe that something wonderful is about to happen.” I’ve carried it with me ever since.
Now there’s a perspective that would shake its head at such schmaltzy sentimentality, and dismiss it immediately. But it struck a chord in me, mostly because Molly and I set out from the beginning to build up our church community so it could look forward to bright, hopeful future, believing at the beginning of every new season and every new year together that something inspiring, something good, something inspiring was about to happen. And we were rarely disappointed.
So in the Spirit of the letters of faith we have read from and reflected on together as a family, I share this personal note with you.
(from the card, ALWAYS BELIEVE THAT SOMETHING WONDERFUL IS ABOUT TO HAPPEN)
My dear friends and Orleans United family,
From that very first, cold February Sunday back in 2010, I began to believe that something wonderful was about to happen with us. I trusted God would help us do a good thing together; and I knew I was not alone.
Today I give thanks to God who has inspired the many caring and compassionate acts we have accomplished together; and I give thanks to God for all of you who have trusted in the possibilities here, and in the leadership of this ministry team to guide our faith family on the pathway of discovery and becoming; and most especially, I give thanks to God for your future, which even now is emerging, filled with promise and potential, guided by Christ’s Spirit, who “is able to do so much more than you can ever ask for, or even think of.”
May you continue to become the faith community God imagines you to be! And to God be the glory.