Thursday, October 18, 2012

Where 2 or 3....

Sermon given Oct 14, 2012 as Second Congregational and First Presbyterian were about to vote to become one unified church!

Where Two or Three are Gathered

Isaiah 43:16-19
16 This is what the Lord says—
    he who made a way through the sea,
    a path through the mighty waters,
17 who drew out the chariots and horses,
    the army and reinforcements together,
and they lay there, never to rise again,
    extinguished, snuffed out like a wick:
18 “Forget the former things;
    do not dwell on the past.
19 See, I am doing a new thing!
    Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the wilderness
    and streams in the wasteland.

Luke 5:27-32
27 After this, Jesus went out and saw a tax collector by the name of Levi sitting at his tax booth. “Follow me,” Jesus said to him, 28 and Levi got up, left everything and followed him.
29 Then Levi held a great banquet for Jesus at his house, and a large crowd of tax collectors and others were eating with them. 30 But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law who belonged to their sect complained to his disciples, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?”
31 Jesus answered them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. 32 I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”

This morning, I was on the internet, (shocking, I know) and on Facebook, one pastor friend was unintentionally funny because of a typing error. He posted, “All are welcome this morning in celebration of a baptism, with gratitude for the TIRES that bind us.”   

We are working through series on “Natural Church Development”. According to author Christian Schwarz, there are 8 characteristics of growing churches. Schwarz says that instead of asking 'how do we get more people to come to church?” we need to ask “how can we grow in each of these 8 quality areas?” Today we discuss Holistic Small Groups.

So what does that mean. First, small groups means yes, our Bible study groups, Sunday morning, Friday Prayer breakfast, women's groups, Youth groups certainly. But 'small groups' certainly encompasses more. Small groups can be any group that gets together regularly. This can include...Carl's Coffee, choir! about, church boards and committees? Of course! our work groups and teams who have been leading the process of the coming together of 2 churches?! You bet!--so, Are these holistic small groups? Well, what does that mean?

Holistic” defined according to Merriam Webster online...: relating to or concerned with wholes (W-h-o-l-e-s-not a hole in your sock but the entirety -the complete being) or with complete systems rather than with the analysis of, treatment of, or dissection into parts. 
e.g. holistic medicine attempts to treat both the mind and the body. 
Holistic medicine knows that your emotions and spiritual life affect the physical being, and how you feel physically affects your mental, emotional and spiritual state.
holistic means to understand that we are more than just the sum of our parts, and also that we are integrated with all that is around us. In the body of Christ lesson Doug gave us last week, we learned that each single part of a body is important, we NEED every single aspect, even the baby toe, right? And holistic theory helps us integrate and celebrate the WHOLE, not just the parts! Holistic small groups deal with the whole person, caring for needs of all participants,  So that we remember –Re-Member...get it!? That each member of a small group is a key part of that group and each group is an integral part of the church, therefore a part of the WHOLE. And that the whole church is a part of, and key, to the larger community, and so on.

Holistic small groups in a church are groups in which the work of Jesus is evident. it's evident in the people and in what they do. The Love, the compassion, the hope of the future, and the knowledge that God is with us through the present. Holistic groups are made up of people who are following Christ. The groups are intentional about keeping Jesus at the heart of what is being done. These groups incorporate prayer, even bible time, discussion of how God is working in our lives, and where God is leading the group, and especially-- recognizing consensus in the group as being the leading of the Holy Spirit! Each of us can be a part of understanding where God is leading, but we really learn and grow together in a group. Each of us brings our own experience and understanding, which is a PART of the whole understanding and experience of God. So we can then complement each other and grow together.

How can we be sure a group we are in is a “holistic” group? Do you enjoy being a part of the group? Are Godly priorities part of the group? Or is there complaining, or other negativity? Recurring negative talk and feelings are a sign that this is NOT holistic, it is not about the work of the Lord! If you are feeling this, please take even a moment to pray within your heart, if not aloud, for people to remember that we are gathered IN Christ, and may the Spirit of Christ be a presence in your midst. The group may even need to refocus, to make a new commitment to Following Jesus.

I believe that our transition work groups and teams have been holistic small groups. The meetings that I attended always started at least with a prayer for guidance. Some incorporated a short bible reading or devotion, to help us focus on the mission of that meeting. To remind us that we are here for a much larger purpose. This transition isn't just about us. In this process, we have recognized that we are doing something new. That God is doing a new thing, right here. We started off thinking this change would be something special, but we've come to realize that there is much more than what we perceived at the very beginning. In this process, we began to realize that God is indeed doing a new thing. We are coming together, not just 2 mainstream churches, but we are becoming a new entity! We of course honor our roots, our history, but we are much more than that! Together we have an amazing capability to reach out in the Name of Christ. Just look at what we have done together just the past several months!

Together we are working with Hands of Faith, helping families on the path from homelessness to a stable lifestyle. We hosted a beautiful music concert, attended by well over 200 people- the donations from which went to Project 16:49 to help homeless teens. Our Vacation Bible school helped 30 some kids get a better grasp of what it means to follow Jesus. We hosted a book bag bash, getting bags full of school supplies to 162 needy kids! And giving many more lunch and time to relax and play in a safe, structured environment. Some of the kids who were there and at VBS have come on Sunday morning! Just think how much we are accomplishing already this year, and we haven't even formally merged yet!
How much more can we do together, if we are committed to following Jesus, and reaching out in His name?!
Our 2 churches proudly come from the tradition of the Protestant Reformation, with its emphasis on the Bible. Our 2 churches have this long history of compassion and caring for others. It is after all, what the Bible tells us! Our churches have thought long and hard about our sense of purpose and our vision for the future. A few years ago, both churches did vision statements. 1st's was at the beginning of their transition process. 2nd's was as we were moving into our 150th anniversary celebration. Both vision statements tell of churches who emphasize worship and music. Both statements tell of churches with a love of fellowship, coming together to share coffee, a meal and good company, churches who holistically care for our members and our community. Both statements tell of a commitment to reach out in the Name of Jesus, as the Bible tells us. We are honoring the long traditions of our churches, as we are forming a new one! We will continue to honor our history, but right now, in this merger process, we need every member to renew our commitment to Follow Jesus! This is the only way we will discern the vision that God has for this new church. A couple days ago there was some discussion of what our vision for the future is. And I believe that we are so entrenched in this immediate process that we have not seen a precise vision for the future. God has not revealed it yet, or we are not quite perceiving it yet! But a few years ago, during the process of crafting our vision statement, I was praying about the future of our church. And this image came to my mind...a beautiful image, it was there for just a moment, but I certainly remember it. It was this church building with beams of light shining out from it. You know how light from a lighthouse can be seen from miles and miles away..there's a light on Cape Cod that can be seen 30 miles out to sea! This is what that light looked like, but shining in every single direction! Bright, warm light, glowing, it could be seen shining over our community for miles! It was the Light of Christ. Emanating from this very place. It was light that tells of love, hope, peace, and healing, from our Lord Jesus.

These 2 churches coming together are the beginning of this vision coming true. There is more to be revealed, the light will only shine as it is meant to when each of us is fully committed to following our Loving Lord. Then this new Unified Church will indeed be a new thing for Christ, perceived far and wide, fulfilling God's dream for us and for the generations to come!

Please pray with me:
Holy Lord God,  we are here in Your name, yearning to better follow You. Help us today and every day, to Live in the love and light of Jesus. Help us to follow You more today than yesterday, and even more tomorrow! Help us to care for the whole person, the whole church, the whole community, as YOU would have us do. Guide us to help the Light of Christ shine ever more brightly from this place into the world. In Jesus' Holy Name, amen.

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