Encourage, Nurture and Communicate

Luke 18:15-17 (18:16), Mark 10:13-16 – August 6, 2017

Luke 18-16 Jesus, children, stained glass

“Compassion: Encourage, Nurture and Communicate”

Encourage, nurture and communicate. These are three strong action words! Why on earth do I have these three verbs, or action words, as the title of my sermon today? Especially in the middle of a summer sermon series on compassion?

Our gospel reading is from the Gospel of Luke, chapter 18. This is a situation where the disciples are being really thick-headed. By forbidding young children and babies to get close to “their” Rabbi Jesus, the disciples are definitely not being compassionate. In fact, this is an unkind and unfeeling act. Sadly, we know this kind of unkind, unfeeling behavior is typical of the disciples on much more than one occasion. It might even be typical of followers of Jesus today—this behavior may be even typical of people we know in our own neighborhoods.

Encourage, nurture and communicate. Those are action words that sound like Jesus. What’s more, I suspect the disciples might chase us away from Jesus if we act in that way, too. Encouraging others; nurturing and communicating to others, in love and friendship, showing others the love of Jesus. Are the disciples really so thick-headed and dense that Jesus has to rebuke them? I am afraid so.

We are going to go back two months, to the middle of June. In the Wednesday midweek bible study, we took the opportunity to begin crafting a revised mission statement for St. Luke’s Church. Using the excellent book The Path by Laurie Beth Jones, the bible study members and I went through a series of exercises and steps to winnow through the different types of words and phrases which might often be listed in mission statements.

Our first puzzle piece in the revised mission statement was to find some action words, or strong verbs, that describe what we as a church have been doing among ourselves in the past, and what we wish to do in the present for those inside and outside the church, for outreach.

In other words, we focused on our church’s unique gifts and background, on our passion. What are we passionate about, as a church? If our mission holds no passion, we won’t go much of anywhere. The word “enthusiasm” comes from the Greek words “en” and “theos,” which mean “in God.” What are we enthusiastic or “in God” about? [1]

Let us take another look at our Gospel reading for today. What were the people in our Gospel text for today excited about? Reading from Luke 18: “15 People were also bringing babies to Jesus for Him to place His hands on them.” The parallel passage in Mark also mentions people bringing “young children” to Jesus.

Do you hear? Parents and even grandparents were excited to have the Rabbi Jesus place His hands on their children. They wanted Jesus to bless their children! That’s what they were passionate about! That’s what they were enthusiastic about!

How can we—as a family of faith—take what most excites us and use it to change things in our neighborhood—in the nation—in the world?

Every mission requires action. Action words are verbs. The bible study looked at a long list of action verbs. We kept our church and what we are good at in mind, and, what we wanted to see our church do in this neighborhood, too. We figured out the three most meaningful, purposeful and exciting verbs out of over 200 action words that referred specially to our particular church and what we are good at. That is puzzle piece number one.

And, yes. That is where encourage, nurture and communicate fit in. These action words are the words we chose as meaningful, purposeful and exciting words for St. Luke’s mission.

Turning back to our Gospel reading for today, we need to examine the thick-headed disciples and their hasty halt to the babies and children who wanted to come to Jesus. What were the mistakes the disciples made? How can we do better, today?

Let’s take our three action words. I would like to ask you: can we as a congregation encourage people to come to Jesus? Can we encourage children, young people, adults and seniors to come to Jesus? Our second action word is nurture. Can we nurture each other in the love of God within this church building? How about nurturing others who are not in this family of faith? And third, we can all communicate God’s love, every day. Not only within the church, but outside. On the street. In our homes. To everyone we meet.

To continue with the story of how we built the mission statement piece by piece, the bible study examined what we stand for, as a congregation—as a family of faith. What principle, cause, value or purpose would we be willing to defend…devote our lives to? For example, some people’s key phrase or value might be “joy” or “service” or “justice” or “family” or “creativity” or “freedom” or “equality” or “faith” or “excellence.” What is St. Luke’s Church’s CORE? What is the most fundamental value/purpose for St. Luke’s Church?

Again, we went through a whole list of meaningful and worthwhile phrases and values. The bible study talked about a few of the ones we found most important, and came up with three finalists: integrity, faith and welcome. This is puzzle piece number two in our mission statement.

What exciting possibilities are open to us, as a congregation?  Someone asked Laurie Beth “What if I come up with the wrong mission statement?” When she asked him what his current mission statement was, he didn’t have one. She told him, “Well, whatever you come up with will be 100 % more accurate than the one you have right now.” A good mission statement will be inspiring, exciting, clear, and engaging. It will be specific to our congregation and our particular enthusiasms, gifts, and talents. [2]

Let’s go back to the thick-headed disciples, who just did not get what Jesus was trying to get across to them. As Luke mentions, “15 People were also bringing babies to Jesus for him to place his hands on them. When the disciples saw this, they rebuked them.” Can you imagine a follower of Jesus kicking someone out of the youth group? Or telling someone they are not welcome in a bible study or a men’s breakfast? Or, at service on Sunday morning? Can you imagine someone at our church doing something like that?

This is one big reason why integrity, faith and welcome were so important to our mission statement. We considered integrity, faith and welcome to be St. Luke’s Church’s CORE, or the most fundamental value or purpose for St. Luke’s Church.

Which brings us to puzzle piece number three. Who is important to us, as a family of faith? Which group or cause excites us? Who do we want to come alongside? We in the bible study chose three groups that we most want to reach, or feel the most empathy for. We can impact these in a positive, meaningful way: children, families and individuals.

What was our Lord Jesus’s response to the disciples? “Jesus called the children to him and said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.” Jesus valued children and young people. Society as a whole did not think very much of children at all. Certainly not in His time, and not so much in ours, either. Worldwide, the position of children and young people is not high—especially of pre-teen and teenage girls, and women, too.

It is imperative that St. Luke’s Church reaches out with the Love of God to children, families and women, too.

How can we reach out in love, to those inside the church, and out?  Reach out with God’s Love, that overarching, undergirding base, the end-all and be-all to everything? We can reach out through loving words and actions, good works, food pantries and other service projects.

Jesus had a compassionate, one-sentence mission statement, which He states in Luke 19:10. 10 For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” That is what He gave His entire life to. St. Luke’s Church’s compassionate mission statement is: to ENCOURAGE, NURTURE and COMMUNICATE in INTEGRITY, FAITH and WELCOME to children, families and individuals through loving words/actions, good works, food pantries and other service projects.

Are we serious about our mission? God willing, we shall be. Now, go and do likewise. Encourage, nurture and communicate God’s love in integrity, faith and welcome. To everyone we meet.

 

[1] The Path, Laurie Beth Jones, (New York, NY: Hachette Books), 49.

[2] The Path, Laurie Beth Jones, (New York, NY: Hachette Books), 64.

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2017: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!)

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Hear Creation’s Cry

“Hear Creation’s Cry”

Psalm 24-1 creation picture

Psalm 24:1-2 – July 10, 2016

Have you ever had a family member, or a friend, go out of town? Or how about go on vacation? Your friend, your family member, asks you to take care of something of theirs. It may be a dog or cat, sometimes houseplants indoors or a garden outside. Asking you to be a good steward for them. Taking good care, being responsible for your friend’s property. That includes all the stuff in your friend’s house or apartment, all their valuables and beloved possessions.

Let’s go on a tour of Scripture today. Think about the earth God created. Creation is the handiwork of a loving God who saw all that was made and in Genesis pronounced it “very good.” Scripture tells us that God delights in creation and creation delights in praising the creator.  A great example is Psalm 150:6. “Let everything that breathes praise the Lord!”

One of the oldest forms of expression of Christianity today is Celtic Christianity. Coming from the British Isles, it carries within it the deeply Celtic understanding that nature itself is a testament to God. One of the Celtic holy men, Saint Columbanus once said, “If you want to know God, first get to know his creation.” [1]

That is exactly the case with the earth, the world, today. The earth belongs to the Lord. God created it—all of it. The dogs, the cats, the other animals, things that swim in the water and fly in the air. All the plants, and trees, and other growing things. All the valuable things on the earth and underground.

God wants us, expects us human beings to be good stewards of the earth, to take excellent care of it, nurturing it, loving it. Exactly how you’d expect someone to take care of your dog or cat while you were away on an extended vacation.

Let’s look at the UCC Statement of Mission. Which sentence are we on this week?

“Empowered by the Holy Spirit … To hear and give voice to creation’s cry for justice and peace.” We are to listen and respond to this wonderful gift God has given to all of us.

Our next stops on our tour of Scripture are the books of Genesis and Numbers.  We have seen that God has given humankind a special responsibility to care for creation. Genesis 2:15 says the Lord God took humanity and put them in the garden of Eden to till it and to keep it. A form of the Hebrew verb “shamar,” meaning “to keep,” is also used in Aaron’s blessing from Numbers 6:24. Lacey closes our services playing Lutkin’s arrangement of that blessing each week as Al extinguishes the candles. “The Lord bless you and keep you.”

We are not only to nurture, sustain and care for creation, but we are to follow God’s example. We can see how God nurtures, sustains and cares for us—each one of us. This interconnected aspect of creation helps all of us remain aware of the joys and concerns encountered in the world around us, and of their impact on all of our lives each day.

However, there is a problem. A huge problem.

Our relationship with God, with each other and with creation are all part of the same multi-colored fabric. Pull any one thread and the whole piece begins to unravel. Human selfishness, ignorance, fear and mistrust have ecological consequences. Add some territorial urges, and feelings of animosity and xenophobia. A basic name for all of this is sin.

The Bible is not hesitant to make connections between human sinfulness and the degradation of creation. Two telling examples come to us from the prophets Isaiah and Hosea.  “The Earth lies polluted under its inhabitants; for they have transgressed laws, violated the statutes, broken the everlasting covenant” (Isaiah 24: 5). “There is no faithfulness or loyalty, and no knowledge of God in the land. . . . Therefore the land mourns . . . even the fish of the sea are perishing” (Hosea 4: 1-3).

What is to be done? People will not stop being selfish, or territorial, or fearful, or displaying hatred. But it’s also much bigger than that. Going clear back to the fall, to Adam and Eve’s disobedience in the garden, we learn that broken relationships are costly.  Lord, who will deliver us from this horrible state of sin?

We could throw up our hands, and say that saving the world is a lost cause. The earth is too far gone. The scales have been tipped, and it’s all downhill from here. But—it is not true!

When all else seems totally dark, God steps in.

I have talked about this before. Remember? God the Son became incarnate in Jesus Christ. He was born as a baby in Bethlehem. Jesus became part of the “stuff” of creation to heal and restore the relationships broken by human sinfulness.

The apostle Paul tells us “God was in Christ reconciling the world” (2 Corinthians 5:19). An early hymn praises Jesus Christ, the firstborn of creation, the firstborn from the dead, through whom God was pleased to reconcile all things, whether on Earth or in heaven (Colossians 1:15-20). The resurrection of Jesus Christ, God’s great victory over sin and death, is a pledge and sign not only of our resurrection, but also of God’s promised redemption of all creation.

Can I hear an “Amen” for that? Jesus and His resurrection means that we will be redeemed, just like creation. Just like the world will be. We all have had experience with God and how incredibly stunning this creation is, right now.

However, let me remind you. Andy Wade tells us something so important: “God’s creation is not somehow separate from God’s plan of redemption. When we forget that God’s very good creation also gives testimony to God, we can begin to think that it’s ours to trample on, ours to exploit, and ours to use for our own selfish purposes.” [2]

This selfish, self-centered kind of attitude and way of dealing with the wonders of creation and the great gift God has blessed us with? Thank God that God has made a way for creation to be made new, just as much as God has made a way for us to be made new!

The next question is simple: what is the next step? Where do we go after realizing God has plans to make all of creation new?

We as followers of Christ are called to witness to the resurrection of Jesus Christ. In our words and actions we are called to reflect the love of the one whose victory over sin and death was a victory for the whole of creation.

It is all very well to simply talk about being a witness. But, how can we do that, right here and right now? I’m glad you asked.

Some years ago, Solana Beach Presbyterian Church, near San Diego, received one of six “2000 Energy Star for Congregations Awards” from the US EPA. Following an energy audit, the congregation invested in energy-saving measures, including new lighting fixtures and energy-efficient light bulbs. The Solana Beach Church witnesses to Christ’s redeeming power every time they turn on the lights!

Just like this church! We can praise God that Kids Academy got all of the light bulbs in St. Luke’s Church building changed to energy efficient light bulbs. This is a wonderful start! Every time anyone here turns on the lights, we, too, can witness to Christ’s redeeming power.

Let’s not stop here. Let’s continue to keep looking for ways to hear creation’s cry, and to respond in loving ways. Ways to witness to the world around us that we are striving to be good stewards. Ways to celebrate God’s goodness, too. Alleluia, amen!

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2016: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!)

My sincere thanks goes to the National Council of Churches’ great resources. I borrowed liberally from the Earth Day 2001 Sermon Notes and Worship Resources.

http://web.archive.org/web/20110706140053/http://www.nccecojustice.org/earthday/PastEarthDayResources.php

 

[1] http://godspace-msa.com/2016/07/07/creations-sacrifice-gives-testimony-to-god/

[2] http://godspace-msa.com/2016/07/07/creations-sacrifice-gives-testimony-to-god/