A congregation of the United Church of Canada
Yr C ~ Pentecost 9 ~ Luke 12:32-40
I’m spending the month of August doing something called ‘topical’ preaching. That means instead of diving deep into scripture texts I’m using them as a springboard to talk about other issues and things. Last week we looked at the components of our worship service, and next week we’re going to talk politics (what could possibly go wrong?). Today we’re going to talk about our Faith United Mission Statement – something that’s in our bulletin every single week, but we rarely, if ever, talk about it.
But first, let’s look at this reading from Luke 12. Jesus packs a whole bunch of teaching into these short verses.
There’s great fodder for multiple sermons in here: do not be afraid; God wants us to have the kingdom; sell your possessions(!); give to charity; worry less about your money than your spirit; where your treasure is, there is your heart!
And that’s just the first three verses!
That “where your treasure is, there is your heart” line gets all the attention (deservedly so), but the very next thing Jesus says is what I want to focus on today.
Luke 12:35 “Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit.”
I’m a big fan of the old sitcom series called “How I Met Your Mother.” There’s a character in it named Barney who’s a successful business man (and whose morals are highly questionable, yet he is surprisingly endearing). Barney’s always encouraging his friends to join him in whatever crazy escapade he has planned for the night, and without fail he always tells them to “suit up!” You see, Barney always wears a suit – always (even to bed!) – and he’s convinced that it conveys a sense of power and purpose and presence, and that if you “suit up” like him you’ll be ready for action, and you can achieve whatever you want.
Now, if you happen to know the show I am certainly NOT suggesting that we should be involved in any of the things Barney likes to suit up for!
But he didn’t make that suggestion up.
He stole it from Jesus!
Again, here’s Luke 12:35 “Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit.”
The rest of this reading from Luke 12 is all about being ready.
Don’t wait. Don’t get caught unawares. The time is now. What are you waiting for?
Don’t sit on the sidelines. Get in the game.
So what shall we do? What are we suiting up for?
Well, we already have a plan!
We have a detailed explanation outlining what our task is as followers of Jesus, and how we should practice our discipleship.
And no, it isn’t just love, love, love.
Although, that in and of itself should be enough! Love God, love people, love one another – love, love, love – that’s the whole ball game right there.
That’s discipleship. And it’s all present tense – love, as in love NOW!
Don’t wait! Suit up!
But one can be forgiven for saying that even though it’s perfectly clear it remains more than a little ambiguous in how to go about actually living it out.
So we created something specific, clear, detailed, and localized. Love, love, love is scriptural, but we didn’t write the scripture!
And what I’m talking about didn’t come from the denomination, or some theologian, or even some minister!
It came from you.
If you haven’t figured it out yet I’m talking about this church’s Mission Statement.
A mission statement is supposed to guide the core actions and values of an organization. Sadly, too many places take great care to craft a statement and then never pay any attention to it. We have ours in the bulletin every week. Just out of curiosity, how many of you actually do more than glance at it? And by that I mean to read it really slowly and carefully and pay significant attention to what it is actually challenging us to remember to do? Well, that’s what we’re doing today!
[Our Faith United Mission Statement]
We believe in a loving and forgiving God, shown to us through Jesus Christ, creation, the bible, and the community of believers.
Therefore we will:
strive to provide a spiritual home that is openly welcoming, nurturing and safe whatever a person’s ability/disability, age, ethnicity, exceptionality, gender identity, sexual orientation, or social or economic circumstance;
seek to become disciples of Christ growing in faith through worship, study and prayer;
risk sharing our resources with local and global neighbours in response to God’s call;
be committed to the responsible use and care of all that God has entrusted to us;
encourage all who gather here to participate freely in the life and work of this church.
Let our actions reflect our faith.
It begins with a statement of belief. It doesn’t go into much detail here, but certainly enough to give us the sense that we are in a church and not a service club.
I hope you remember that the word ‘believe’ is more about trusting in something than agreeing with some set of statements.
It begins: We believe in a loving and forgiving God
What kind of God do we trust we’re dealing with? – A loving and forgiving God. ‘Loving’ suggests our view of God’s core nature – and ‘forgiving’ is a word that makes us confront, right from the very start, that we’re not perfect – that we are people who despite the fantastic words that are going to follow that we frequently fall short of these lofty ideals – and while we shouldn’t dwell too heavily on our falling short neither should we shrug it off. We’re always called to try, and to do better. I love that the word ‘forgiving’ is there.
How do we say that we know about this loving and forgiving God?
We say that God is shown to us through Jesus Christ, creation, the bible, and the community of believers.
We see and get a sense of God in the person and teachings of Jesus, in the natural world around us, in the diverse writings found in our bible, and in one another. The fancy theological word for that is revelation. We could probably go on for several paragraphs worth of ways in which the Presence of God is revealed to us, but this is a good core list.
Therefore we will:
This is a really important part. Therefore.
Because we sense God in all these ways, because God is Present, because that makes everything and everyone sacred, because God is here, there, and everywhere, because that truth resonates within us and inspires us and animates us, THEREFORE we will…
Strive, seek, risk, be committed, and encourage.
What a great collection of verbs! Let’s look at each one.
The first is about what kind of community of faith we see ourselves as. Last year we added some language to this section because we wanted to communicate something more.
We wanted to go above and beyond what you and I might know in our hearts and say out loud – publically, intentionally, and explicitly – that we really mean it when we say we’re welcoming of everyone who wants to journey ever deeper into the Way of Jesus.
We called that an ‘affirming’ process, and we tried to be as clear as we could.
Therefore (because everyone is sacred) we will: strive to provide a spiritual home that is openly welcoming, nurturing and safe whatever a person’s ability/disability, age, ethnicity, exceptionality, gender identity, sexual orientation, or social or economic circumstance;
Some people like to call that ‘radical welcome’. It probably just feels like what’s obvious to us – but then if you watch or read the news these days there seems to be a pretty clear reason why we need to be public, intentional, and explicit about things that we may think are obvious – because clearly, they ain’t!
So our first conviction is about our community and our values.
What’s next? The things we’ll actually do.
Our second ‘therefore’ is about discipleship.
Therefore (because God is revealed in Jesus and the bible) we will: seek to become disciples of Christ growing in faith through worship, study and prayer;
Disciples seek to learn from their teacher. Our great teacher is Jesus.
And this conviction says that just being a member of a church isn’t enough for us.
Being baptized and making a profession of faith at some point in your life are vital parts of our journey, but they’re not the whole journey.
You don’t get a membership card and stop.
We say that we’re all about growing.
Does anyone remember being a kid or going through puberty? You know, those days when suddenly your body changed and you were seemingly two inches taller overnight, or suddenly seemed to be a different shape. As parents many of us remember having to buy our kids new clothes every few months. We call them growth spurts. And they actually hurt!
Growing physically can hurt.
And growing spiritually can hurt too – because you grow out of the person you once were – having certain ways of understanding the world or seeing your place in it – and you form (or are transformed) into new understandings – hopefully deeper, fuller, ever more compassionate, ever more loving. And when you see things differently and more deeply than those around you there can be friction – and pain.
How do we achieve all this amazing growth?
Our mission statement says: we will: seek to become disciples of Christ growing in faith through worship, study and prayer;
Worship (like now), study (like in our program calendar, for example), and prayer (like you do here and on your own).
Friends, these things are not optional!
None of the stuff in this mission statement is optional.
That’s what we all signed up for. And it’s awesome!
So, we’re open, we’re disciples, what else do we commit to here?
Therefore (because of God’s ever-presence) we will: risk sharing our resources with local and global neighbours in response to God’s call;
Risk sharing our resources.
That language is perfect, because it does feel risky to share the stuff that our society tries to convince us is so scarce that we have to hold on with every ounce of strength.
This is a pretty affluent community of faith. I know you probably don’t feel like you’re living the high life, but comparatively, we’ve got it pretty good.
So to voluntarily commit to sharing our resources – our money, our time, our abilities – is really quite counter-cultural.
It’s risky, because unless someone understands our “therefore” part they aren’t going to understand our willingness to risk sharing ourselves and our stuff.
And with whom might we be willing to share?
Our local and global neighbours, in response to God’s call.
That means we need to be constantly listening for and discerning what God might be calling us to do with our resources.
One last thing here: to risk suggests that sometimes we’ll ‘lose’ – sometimes we’ll get it wrong, sometimes the risk won’t pay off and our resources won’t accomplish what we’d hoped. That is a sad reality, but it doesn’t relieve us of the call to risk!
This is probably the hardest thing on the list.
Next is our commitment to creation.
Therefore (because everything is sacred) we will: be committed to the responsible use and care of all that God has entrusted to us;
Part of that is covered in our risking our resources, but I think this one is probably more pointing to what we will do with this world around us.
Think about all the things that have been entrusted to us: this ministry together, this physical church building – and then how about the environment we live in, the world we share. Those are the obvious ones.
But we’ve also been entrusted with certain privileges and advantages based on what we look like, and where we live.
We have a responsibility to use that power faithfully – and it’s probably a far greater responsibility than we realize.
Our final conviction is about how we participate. Not only is everyone welcome, they are also encouraged to dive in and do.
Therefore (because God is revealed in community) we will: encourage all who gather here to participate freely in the life and work of this church.
There’s no pecking order. We don’t have junior and senior members.
We don’t limit leadership based on things like one’s gender or sexual orientation.
That doesn’t mean we never discern about leadership; it just means that things like ‘if you’re a woman you can’t preach’, or ‘if you’re gay you can’t lead’, or ‘if you’re young you can’t be on Council’, don’t apply here.
We encourage everyone to participate freely in whatever way they feel called. Sometimes we might need to have the community discern with you whether something’s a good fit, but we do that for every single person, not because of who you are.
The expectation is participation. And that means you!
And then we wrap up our mission statement with this affirmation and challenge to ourselves:
Let our actions reflect our faith.
That means, these are all nice, pretty, faithful words – but they don’t mean squat if we don’t put them into action.
A mission statement is worthless if all it does is sit there on the page. It has to be lived out.
Verbs are action words, and our verbs are:
to strive to be open,
to seek to grow as disciples,
to risk our resources,
to be committed to creation care, and
to encourage participation here.
You can’t do those things without effort.
And one last time I’ll say that these ideas didn’t come from the denomination, or some theologian, or even some minister!
They came from you. The people of Faith United Church.
They’re your words. They’re your convictions.
They’re your way to say what you aspire to be all about as followers of Jesus in this time and in this place.
They’re your way of saying where your treasure is, and where your heart is.
Remember our friend Barney?
Always ready for action, ready to achieve whatever you want.
Well, we want to achieve love, love, love.
And if that mission statement in that bulletin that you’re holding really is yours, then I have only one thing left to say to you: