Finding our Purpose, Part 2: What We Do

Jeremiah 1:4-10         Now the word of the Lord came to me saying, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.” Then I said, “Ah, Lord God! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy.” But the Lord said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am only a boy’; for you shall go to all to whom I send you, and you shall speak whatever I command you, Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you, says the Lord.” Then the Lord put out his hand and touched my mouth; and the Lord said to me, “Now I have put my words in your mouth. See, today I appoint you over nations and over kingdoms, to pluck up and to pull down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant.”

1 Corinthians 13:1-13           If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.

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Last weekend I was at a place called Transformations Spirituality Center, up in Kalamazoo Michigan.  If you are wondering to yourselves:  Why Michigan?  When you have a chance to go somewhere in January, who chooses Michigan?  You are not the only one who wonders.  I wondered myself, why I couldn’t find something useful down in Florida, for example.  But no, it was Michigan.

I went to this place to practice a type of prayer called centering prayer.  The idea of centering prayer is to open your mind and heart, your whole being, to God; to a place beyond thoughts, words, and emotions; to enter into communion with God.  Yes, it is as hard as it sounds. 

The idea of going to a place beyond thought – what is that?  Because, you know, your mind is always racing around, here and there and everywhere; between your mental to-do lists and replaying the conversation you had earlier in the day and figuring out how you are going to solve this problem or that.  The mind never shuts down. 

Those of you who practice yoga or meditation probably know what this is like.  Letting go of all these things is hard, but it’s what we need to do to be fully present with God.  The biggest problem I keep running into is my effort to make my centering prayer time productive.  I want to make it work for me.   I have that good old protestant work ethic in me that aims to never waste a minute, to always kill two birds with one stone if possible, to be useful, productive.  Unfortunately, this constant desire for productivity is the enemy of centering prayer.

I was reminded during this retreat that even though we are creatures who do many things, we are sometimes just meant to be – not do.  Just be. Taking the time to just be is worthy, indeed.  Not only because we are deserving of rest sometimes, but also because being, resting in the presence of God, is a partner to our doing.  Being in God’s presence will inform and direct our doing.  And what we do is very important.  If we want our doing to reflect our purpose, we need to spend some time being in God’s presence.

As a session, when we began to think about our purpose as a congregation, we though of the many things we do – our worship, our learning, our love and support for one another; our service to the community and the world.  All these things served as a starting point for us to reflect on the purpose we believe God has given to us, the gifts we believe God has bestowed on us. 

You might recall that when I talked about finding our purpose a couple of weeks ago, I said our purpose statement is both descriptive and aspirational – what we do and what we aspire to do. We considered all the things we do, and the things we believe God is calling us to do that we may not yet be doing, and at the end of the day we came to the consensus that God is calling us to –

Be Christians growing in faith by caring, connecting, and serving community. 

It begins with caring.  This might sound like a feeling more than an action. Perhaps feeling is where caring starts, but the feeling of caring leads to actions, and the act of caring is what we see among the congregation of Faith.

More than any other place, we see it in our expression of joys and concerns during worship.  Not a lot of congregations I have known treat the joys and concerns the way Faith does.  You share everything with one another, because you trust that your sisters and brothers in Christ actually care about the joys and sorrows of your life.  And you are right to believe this.  I see it in your faces as you listen to one another, and I hear it in conversations that go on throughout the week.  It’s not gossip; it’s true concern about the needs you have heard expressed and a true desire to help where you can.  I see it as Maria diligently writes down everything she hears during the time of sharing, and sends it out to the congregation by email so we can continue to be in prayer for one another throughout the week. 

The caring begins in worship, in prayer, and moves out from there to wherever God may lead you to respond.  Through our care, God calls us to strengthen our connections to one another.  But our connection to others is something we might become complacent about. 

It is very easy to always sit with the same people, talk with the same people, and never bother to get to know someone new, because we already have friends; never bother to reach out to someone who is alone or suffering because we don’t know them very well.  Our faith challenges us to grow more connected to all our brothers and sisters – the young and the old, the new members and the old timers, the regulars and those who rarely attend. 

This ability to connect is actually a great strength of this congregation, a strength we should be very conscious of using to the fullest.  It is something that can actually help us grow as a congregation – and here I mean growth at all levels: personal spiritual growth, which is where all church growth starts; growth in the vitality of our communal spiritual life; and finally, growth in numbers.   If we reach out of our comfort zones and strive to make strong connections based on love with those members who might feel disconnected from this family of faith, amazing things might happen: a vibrant, multi-generational family might grow.  This congregation has the potential to do excellent care and connecting among the membership of this church, knitting us together in love.

There’s something else.  There’s one more thing that needs to be said about the care this congregation can express.  It isn’t limited to the members of the congregation.  There is also care for what goes on in the community, in the world, beyond our walls.

This is an area with great potential, and great necessity.  The call to connect with those outside our walls is clear in Christ’s commission to the church.  Some of our members take care to bring before us the needs of the community and the world, and ask for our response.  We are reminded that in this community there are children who go to school poorly clothed for the weather because their families simply cannot provide everything they need.  We are reminded that there are families in our community who cannot give Christmas gifts to their children, and there are families who cannot even keep their cupboards stocked with food to eat.  And this congregation responds – not because there is something in it for us, but because Jesus calls us to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, care for the sick and the lonely.  We care because we must, and we do it because God has laid the desire on our hearts.

This congregation supports the preschool in our building because of the need in our community – there are many young families who benefit from the love we can share with them, the prayers we can make for them, the smiles we can give them to show we remember what it is like to raise children and we want to encourage them.  Again, we don’t do it because there is some payback in it.  We do it because Jesus calls us to love one another and welcome the little children in his name.

In loving care, we seek to connect with the community in which we have been planted, and reach out to all our neighbors in the world.  Caring, connecting, and serving in our community.  These are the things we are called to do, the things we must do as we call ourselves followers of Christ.  It all grows out of love.

The scriptures tell us in so many ways that God is love, that God’s love for us is unconditional, and that we are commanded to love God and our neighbor.  Paul’s words to the Corinthians in chapter 13 say it beautifully.  Every congregation finds their unique way to live out this love, and at Faith we have ours.  Our caring, our connecting, and serving our community is the gift we have been given at Faith.  It’s what we do.  We may not do it perfectly, but we seek to do it better today than we did yesterday. 

There is something else.  There is one thing that gives us the desire to love one another in all these different ways.  It is the thing that both empowers us to do what we do and grows stronger when we do what we do.  It is what we will talk about next week.  For today and this week, let us seek to do well these things we have been called and inspired to do: to care, connect, and serve our community – in Jesus’ name.  Amen. 

 

Verses

"Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you."

Matthew - 7:7