"Fulfilling God's Purposes Together"

Isaiah 55: 6-11 Rev. Dr. Galen E. Russell III

Mark 10: 17-31              October 11, 2015

James 1: 17-18

“In fulfillment of his own purpose, he gave us birth by the word of truth, so that we would become a kind of first fruits of his creatures.”

Prayer:  Pull us and put us together, O God, for your good use, that we may indeed become the fruit of your will.  Amen.

I hope you have found this year’s Stewardship sermon series on Possibilities through Generosity helpful, encouraging, and inspiring as we near the culmination of our campaign.  So, let’s do the math logically of what we’ve been talking about… because of God’s generosity, we become generous.  Because we’re generous, we open ourselves to the wonderful possibilities of ministry God has in store for us.  Every generous act of giving comes from God because God lives all around us and in our hearts.

 These possibilities of ministry are full of wonder, energy, wisdom, and purpose, if we just let ourselves believe in what we haven’t been yet.  I know… you’re probably going, “Wait.  Come again?”  You heard me correctly—I’m asking us to believe in what we have not been yet.

This is a healthy practice, I think.  Visualize the positive outcome of a project.  I’ve heard of athletes the night before the big game imagining themselves making the goal.  Students are advised to “give themselves an A” before taking the test.  So, can we look at where we are headed as Christ Church?  Can you imagine what we haven’t been yet…? where we want to go?  Then claim that in advance, and believe that we are going to achieve it.  Let’s give ourselves the “A” and then, with faith in God’s presence and power, watch us live up to our own expectations.

 Faith in God is the key, friends.  It is God who is with us to guide us in discerning what the purposes of God look like in what we haven’t been yet.  It is God who speaks the word that accomplishes its purpose in us and that word succeeds in the thing that God desires.  So, thank God for foresight… thank God for us to see what we have yet to be.

 Now, so that we can see what we have yet to be, we have to see what we already are, right?  What we already are is a people of God who follow Jesus, who minister to other’s needs in our community and the world using our best abilities and talents, our best use of time, and our best gifts of money and resources.  I see all our paid church staff and our unpaid leaders on Consistory, Commissions, and committees leading us to respond to those needs.  We fulfill God’s purposes together.  Your offerings support this.

Now, what do we see that we have yet to be?  What positive, winsome, wonderful, energetic possibilities of ministry do you visualize us doing and being here at Christ Church?  What purposes do you imagine us accomplishing together as a faith community?

Let me paint some pictures for you of what I see … Our time, talents, money and offerings support all areas of ministry,  but here now are my Top Five areas of ministry that I think are filled with wonderful possibilities for us to fulfill God’s purposes using our generous gifts together.

Number 5, and these increase in importance as we go along… in my opinion.  So, Number 5 … the area of our Buildings and Grounds.  Fulfilling your “Intentions” for this year and the continuation of your contributions to our Capital Improvement fund support our facility and grounds.   Folks, our building is a tool we use for ministry.  Our Property Committee, our Facility Manager, John Witmer, and many others have disciplined themselves to make sure our building is cared for and well-maintained.  You’ve noticed things getting done around here, doors are painted, brass handles are polished and will be put on soon, carpets and pews were cleaned, etc.  And, our utility bills and other monthly bills are paid.  Your gifts take care of all this.

But, did you also know that we are one of the few churches that

have become “Green” in many respects?  With programmable thermostats, with some lights that turn on when you enter, with LED lights in our sanctuary, with insulated windows, and much more, we are caring for our environment.  And, Fred and I met this week with the Administrator of Manor Care across the street.  It is likely that our building will be listed as an Evacuation Center for Manor Care should they need it.  So, you see, your gifts to our ministry support our building as a tool to accomplish God’s purposes.

Number 4.  Your talents, time, and monetary gifts support our Fellowship Ministries.  Basically, Fellowship Ministries involves our relationships with each other.  Isn’t it wonderful to know that not only do we have a good time with each other, but we also care for each other.  We have found ways to socialize with each other both here and beyond our church’s walls and we have great food!  We have large group events like auctions and potlucks.  We have small groups for those who share like-minded interests like Retirees breakfasts, garden group, book group, and so forth.

But, I’m also including our spiritual relationships with each other.  Not only do your contributions support social fellowship, you also support Fred and me in visiting and praying for those in the hospital or at home, but several of you are doing the same things voluntarily. We have a prayer chain in place, and Prayer Shawls are made.  We have visitation teams set up.  We care for one another and strengthen each other spiritually,  Isn’t that fulfilling God’s purposes together?  I think it’s a wonderful thing that our gifts support such ministry.

 The Number 3 area of ministry that has an even greater possibility of fulfilling God’s purposes through our generous gifts is…  the ministry of Faith Formation!!  Hah-hah!  You knew that was coming!  I believe Faith Formation is a responsibility of every church!  I’ll just put that right out there.  The church’s future doesn’t exist without it.   Yes, Faith Formation is for our children and youth to hear stories of faith from scripture and personal faith stories from loving adults.  Yes, it’s for our kids and youth to find God’s Spirit forming in them and be confirmed in them; yes, it helps them learn social skills and leadership skills, but truly, it’s for adults to experience all those things as well.  Each of us keeps learning how God in Christ continues to influence our lives.  Each of us can discover anew where faith meets daily life, and we learn from the collective wisdom of others on the journey with us.

In the near future we have ideas of having Faith Formation opportunities on week nights, both here and outside our church walls.  But, the overall goal for everyone, kids, youth, adults is to increase the love of God, neighbor and self in our lives.  In this day and age, isn’t it marvelous that our Faith Formation ministries can grow such high, needed values?  Your gifts help ensure this future.

OK.  We’re counting up the top five areas of ministry that I think are filled with wonderful possibilities of fulfilling God’s purposes through our generous gifts.  Number 2!  Mission, Outreach, and Justice Ministries.  You know, there are a lot of people out there in the world, and some right here in our church who have tremendous need.  Some live in poverty conditions, some without homes, some without clothing.  Some live with aching with hunger, some live with mental illness.  Some live with unfair working conditions and toxic work environments.  Some live with government induced oppression, or officially sanctioned racism.  The needs are great.

But, we follow Jesus.  And we give to the poor by participating in Mission Trips—the next one is to W. Virginia, the next one after that, hopefully overseas.  We give by sorting clothing, we’re buying Christmas gifts for needy and the elderly.  We serve meals tothe hungry.  We’re caring for the least of these.

 A portion of our monetary offerings to our church’s operating budget goes to OCWM… Our Church’s Wider Mission.  Our gifts help the regional and national UCC do its mission work.  Our gifts to OCWM help us be kind of “first responders” to issues of social justice, as evidenced by courageous “firsts” for racial justice, equality for women, and inclusion of gay and lesbian people.  Our gifts to OCWM help us as a local church by providing us support for our pastors, resources for worship, education, fellowship, mission and justice advocacy.  We

help support the structure for all-church offerings like Neighbors in Need, One Great Hour of Sharing, Strengthen the Church, and so forth.  Yes, our gifts even help new churches to get their start!  Wow!  The seed of the fruit is sprouting into a plant, and it’s growing!  The church of today and the church of the future doesn’t exist without the ministries of mission, outreach, and justice.

And, the Number 1 area of ministry filled with wonderful possibilities of fulfilling God’s purposes through our generous gifts—drum roll, please—  the ministry of Worship… which uses Music, the Creative Arts, technology, and all of us!  Yep!  The most basic thing that we do as a church every week is the most important.  Our life as Christ Church begins with worship.  Worship is the fountainhead of all that we do.  What I mean is everything else we do—work on our building, deepen relationships with each other, engage in Faith Formation, reach out to others in mission, all those gets their spiritual energy from spending time with God in worship.

Worship is a verb. It means giving to God our attention, our praise, our prayers.  It’s here that we celebrate the story of God’s presence in history, in our lives, and in the world.  It’s here that we find our individual lives renewed through word and sacrament, through music and art forms.  It’s here where we feel most intimate and relevant connections to God, to each other, and to our world.  It’s here where we grow more deeply in faith, we learn more about following Jesus and working for justice in his name.  Here’s is where we move from dull monotony to energized life in service, where we look beyond life’s routines into their meaning and possibilities.

But, it’s also here where you can receive new hope to live in a chaotic world.  Here you find the hospitality of God and others, you find forgiveness and grace offered freely by God, who loves you and cares for you, no matter who you are or where you are on life’s journey.  Here is where you find others on the same journey as you.

Where else can you go to hear and experience something like that?

So, your Worship Teams, your choirs and choir directors, your lay leaders, ushers and greeters, Pastor Fred, and I and others, strive to make worship a meaningful experience each Sunday, filled with wonder and possibilities.

You can expect new ways to worship with creative possibilities in the near future.  You can expect efforts to acquire expanded technology, like today, so that we can use all our senses and our multiple intelligences in worship.  We worship together to experience the divine, holy God, who is still speaking to us.  The future of the church doesn’t exist without worship.  Isn’t it wonderful to contribute your abilities, your time, your dollars to such efforts of fulfilling God’s purposes in worship?

I invite you to conclude this sermon with me.  Please look up on the screen or in your worship bulletin, bottom of pg. 2, the Prayer of Praise and Purpose.  I will start, 2nd paragraph from the bottom.

Let us pray.

Praise be to you, O God!  May we rediscover that our purpose is in you; may we give ourselves to the exciting possibilities you have for us.

Many: Let your word and your way succeed in the things for which you sent them, O God.  We open ourselves to you; in Christ we pray, Amen.