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!)

Participate in God’s Mission

“Participate in God’s Mission”

mission word cloud

John 20:19-21 – June 5, 2016

The Morton Grove Community Peace Vigil happened last Wednesday night at the Civic Center on Dempster Street. This was a wonderful opportunity for the larger Morton Grove community to get together, pursue peace, and celebrate the diversity that is Morton Grove. The people who attended did their part to promote peace, harmony, hope and friendship.

I have not been saying much about the negative side of this Peace Vigil, or the Peace Project, either. I haven’t wanted to focus on all the negative stuff, and highlight the down side. Instead, I want all of us be positive and hopeful! To pursue peace and promote harmony. However—I do not want anyone to be naïve.

We see and hear reports on the news about the negative side, regularly. Alienation, dissention, fear, and even the threat of violence. That was very much a part of what the followers of Jesus felt immediately after the Crucifixion.

They were afraid for their very lives, and for good reason! Since their leader and Teacher had just been arrested, tried and crucified, it is not beyond possibility for the Jewish or Roman authorities to also come after the close associates of the upstart, rabble-rouser Rabbi Jesus. I suspect I might be very much afraid, if I happened to be in their shoes. (or, sandals)

Let me set the stage. Our Gospel writer John opens the scene in the Upper Room, where Jesus and His friends met for the Passover Supper. The time is immediately after the Resurrection. The horror, shock, fear and anger of the last few days are still overwhelming the disciples. And John has Jesus entering a locked room—the Upper Room. Jesus just died on the cross, a couple of days ago, for goodness sake!

Imagine the intense fear at seeing what everyone suspects to be a spirit, a ghost.

Jesus does not stop there. He gives His disciples a normal, conventional greeting of the day: “Peace be with you.” Just as two friends might say to each other on the street, the marketplace, or in the synagogue. Except—I think Jesus was reminding His followers of the promise He had just made a few days before. The promise of peace. The gift of His peace. Peace be with you. What’s more, He repeats it!

I would like to interrupt for a moment. Give a bit of background. St. Luke’s Church is taking the exciting and historic step of rejoining the United Church of Christ.

In order to help prepare this congregation to rejoin the UCC, I recently enrolled in the course the denomination offers on the History, Theology and Polity of the United Church of Christ. In the past two months, I have read books, written research papers, and had several intensive all-day sessions of class time. Several weeks ago, I received a whole packet of information and material from the UCC.

The UCC has several formal statements—statements of purpose for the whole denomination. One of these includes a Statement of Mission, which is straight-up biblical in every point, every expression. I was fascinated by this particular statement, which includes a preamble, followed by different expressions of Christ’s mission.

Which brings me back to our Gospel reading for today. Here, the resurrected Lord Jesus gives His followers a command, an exhortation: Reading from John 20: “Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 20 After He said this, He showed them His hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord. 21 Again Jesus said, ‘Peace be with you! As the Father has sent Me, I am sending you.’”

Jesus gives us a succinct statement of mission in John 20. “As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you.” This is how Jesus sent His followers out into the world.

I’d like for all of us to turn to the insert in our bulletins. We will look at the UCC Statement of Mission now. In particular, I want us to concentrate on the preamble: “As people of the United Church of Christ, affirming our Statement of Faith, we seek within the Church Universal to participate in God’s mission and to follow the way of the crucified and risen Christ.”

This is as clear as clear can be: a clear command for everyone—all of us—to participate in God’s mission. Just as the risen Lord told His disciples in John 20:21, we are commanded to bring people to God. To introduce them to our Lord.

Participation. How does that work?

For that, we need to look at the reason Jesus came to this world. He loved humanity, and gave Himself for them. Jesus had compassion on people. Jesus loved people so much, He wanted to reach out and introduce them (or, reintroduce them) to the Lord. And here in the Gospel of John, he gives us the same command.

Do we love the Lord? Can we introduce people to our God? If we do, we are following Jesus, participating in the mission of the church.

Wait a minute! Participate in mission? But, how? When? Can anyone help me? Going out and doing things? Talking to other people, people I don’t know, sometimes? That’s scary!

There are lots of ways to tell other people about God. Another way to introduce people to God is through action, by doing things for God. Common things. Everyday things.

Dallas Willard, an important Christian writer and professor of philosophy, had this to say about doing things for God: don’t think we have to reinvent the wheel. He advised Christians to get on board with a ministry or mission that already was moving. There are so many places and missions already started. Just think of what this church, St. Luke’s Church, is involved in. One big thing is the Maine Township food pantry. That is certainly a mission. Giving food and finances to hungry people? Hunger never stops, no matter what the time of year. It is always a great idea to give to food pantries. And—giving food is a common, everyday thing.

Our church financially supports two missionary couples, too. We pray for Bundled Blessings (the diaper pantry ministry) and for the Rev. Dan and his work with Presbyterian Frontier Fellowship. Those are all outside of the church. Inside our church, we have the Good Shepherd fund, and the St. Luke’s email Prayer Project, our weekly ministry of prayer through email.

            Participate in God’s Mission. Show God’s love to others. Isn’t that what Jesus is commanding all of us to do here in John 20? Seems pretty straightforward to me.

Today, as throughout the past 2000 years, Christians strive to follow Jesus’s command.

As many of you know, this church is in the process of rejoining the UCC; the denomination has formulated its mission—to do what Jesus said. Just like Jesus did, love one another. The mission of the church is often showing that love in everyday ways. Concrete, helping kinds of ways.

For our Summer Sermon Series, we are going to take a closer look at what the UCC denomination says about Jesus’s command. Each week this summer we will be looking at a different aspect of Mission, as set forth in the UCC’s Statement of Mission.

This church—St. Luke’s Church—is on a Mission from God. Will you participate?

@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!)