Through the month of September, as we begin our program year, we are focusing on Mission – God’s Mission for Us and our response. Last week we heard Gospel stories of the lost that were found – and were reminded that Jesus seeks out the lost and seemingly forsaken. We were also reminded that, despite the challenges of this world, God’s love is stronger than evil, God’s goodness is greater than hate and God’s plan – although foolish to the world -- is wiser than all of the world’s wisdom – and it involves you and me. That’s God’s plan A - and there is no plan B.
Today, building on that theme, we read from the Gospel of John that God has sent Jesus into the world – why? Because God LOVES the world.
Pastor Kelly Fryer tells the story in her book, “Reclaiming the ‘L’ Word” that on a warm beautiful day, she was sitting in a seminary classroom – wishing she was outside. Apparently the rest of the class also looked bored because the professor suddenly slapped his notebook shut, took a piece of chalk and went to the board and drew a big down-pointing arrow.
He said, “If you understand that, you understand everything you need to know about what it means to be a Christian... who also happens to be a Lutheran.” Then he left.
That got the class’ attention. The next time they gathered for class, the professor again drew this arrow. But then he said, “Here’s what this means. God always comes DOWN. God always comes Down. There is never anything that WE can ever do to turn that arrow around and make our way up to God. God came down in Jesus. And God still comes down, in the bread and the wine, in the water and in the fellowship of believers. God ALWAYS comes Down.”
John 3:16 and 3:17 tell us why God would do that for us. It’s because God LOVES the World. God loves you and me. God wants relationship – God does not want to condemn people – even though we mess up… a lot. It is because God wants a relationship with you that God sent Jesus – in the flesh – with skin on – to be one of us.
In Philippians chapter 2, we hear again the story of how Jesus came DOWN to earth, humbling himself, emptying himself and dying a shameful death on the cross. But that’s not the end of the story. God raised Jesus – so that, Paul writes, “every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.”
We aren’t there yet. When you hear someone say, “Jesus” on the street, they probably aren’t praying.
There was a time in which people thought of America as a Christian nation. Scholars can – and do – debate whether that was true or not but regardless of how “Christian” our country was in the past, now we live in a time in which, like the first Christians, we have a counter-cultural message. And much of the world does not know the Jesus that we proclaim. The Grace-filled message of Christ that we proclaim is overshadowed by other messages of hate – not love and judgment, not mercy.
This makes our message even more important – for the sake of a world that needs to hear Good News! So again – the Jesus we proclaim is a God who:
Would you please draw this arrow on the
back of your bulletin? Write beside it: GOD CAME DOWN.
Jesus the Son of God Came DOWN because God Loves US – and sent Jesus. And it was Jesus who became like us, suffered, died and then defeated the power of death by rising again. And this is why we proclaim: Jesus is LORD.
Jesus is LORD. That was the first confession of the church – before we had the Apostles Creed or the Nicene Creed or any other creed. It’s the simplest creed – and yet the most essential. Because without proclaiming “Jesus is Lord” – a group can be a nice club or a bunch of good-willed people– but it is not Christ’s church, it isn’t the body of Christ.
This is why Jesus is LORD needs to be the first Guiding Principle for every Christian church. “Guiding Principles” are the central, non-negotiable elements of our Christian faith. They remind us who we are and what is most important in our life as followers of Jesus” and helps us answer the question: “What is it that God wants to be doing in us and through us”. And so I want you to write next to your arrow: “Jesus is Lord.”
That’s number 1. Rev. Dave Daubert in his book, Living Lutheran, suggests that Churches come up with five to six “Guiding Principles”. They should be based on the core vales of the church and on God’s mission for the church. But they should be short, memorable, and act as an intersection between Biblical values and today’s choices.
Kelly Fryer’s church came up with five guiding principles:
1) Jesus is Lord.
2) Everyone is Welcome
3) Love Changes People
4) Everybody has Something to Offer
5) The World Needs What We Have.
Another Lutheran church’s guiding principles were:
1) Jesus is Lord.
2) Deepening our faith strengthens our discipleship.
3) Everyone is a minister.
4) God sends us as Gifts to the World.
5) We love to tell the story.
6) We invite all to join us in God’s work.
Of course, “Guiding Principles” are only helpful if they are used. Pastor Dave shared the story of a church that adopted Guiding Principles and hung them on the wall. And then… they kind of moved on. But one night, the council was debating whether or not they should open their doors to a homeless shelter. The church that had been hosting was under reconstruction due to water damage and so they asked this church if they would be open to hosting. The council debated the pros and cons. It was an opportunity for mission. But it would be hard on their church building. They seemed kind of stuck. But then, one of the council members looked up, read the Guiding Principles and then said, “Look at Guiding Principle #2: ‘All are Welcome and Invited.’ That includes homeless people, right?” The council quickly agreed to open their doors to the shelter.
It’s not always that obvious – it wasn’t obvious for that council at first. But the idea of having Guiding Principles is that they come out of the Biblical Core values of the church and help the congregation to live into the Mission of God.
Now… it’s Your turn.
Take a look at the purple insert on the Core Values side. Circle what you would consider the 4 Core Values that are most central to God’s work at Faith-Lilac Way. There are a lot. But in summary:
#1 values being a welcoming community;
#2 values Equipping people to put their gifts to work
#3 values Stewardship, managing the gifts entrusted to us
#4 values Discipleship
#5 values Participation
#6 values communication – being a community
#7 values Learning
#8 values being a Safe community
#9 values collaboration with others
#10 values the greater church
#11 values relationship with God and each other.
I know it’s hard to choose. I’ll give you just a few moments – and then please offer your input by placing your lilac sheet in the offering plate. I’ll be sharing the results with the council this Thursday and with you next Sunday as we continue to explore God’s Mission for us in this place and as we go.
For as a congregation, we are Going in Grace, Growing in Faith, and Serving the Lord. Thanks be to God!
Pastor Pam Stalheim Lane
Faith-Lilac Way Lutheran Church,
September 18, 2016