Sunday, January 18, 2009

Sermon, Epiphany 2B, John 1:43-51

Sermon for the Christ Church Annual Meeting
Last week I preached about new beginnings: the beginning of physical life, the beginning of mission, and the beginning of a new life found in Christ. And it is certainly appropriate to be talking about new beginnings at this time, because, in general, a new year is just beginning and we will gather after service for our annual meeting. So this is indeed a time of new beginnings.

I had someone stop by my office this past week and ask, "If I'm not running for an elected position, is it necessary for me to attend the meeting?"

The answer, of course, was and is, "Yes." This meeting isn't just about electing people. We certainly do that, and people must be present to nominate and vote. But there is more to it than that. We will look back on 2008 and discuss 2009. We will give thanks for those who have served and welcome those who will take a larger role in the parish. And we will discuss the ever popular budget.

We will review more in detail at the meeting, but in short, 2008 was a fairly good year. Our income was up. We are enriched by the presence of several new people. The building is 3/4 painted and the south window has been re-framed. We have interest in the beginnings of a youth group, and we are beginning an adult ed class revolving around contemporary issues. We experienced the joy of seeing three people confirmed by the Bishop. And we survived a hail storm and got two new roofs out of it.

We also have room for improvement and opportunities that challenge us. With regards to the building, we need to have the paint job completed, we should think about new carpet at some point, and the foundation needs repairing. At this point in time, stated pledges are down and don't begin to cover the anticipated budget. And after 4-1/2 years, we are still looking for our niche in the community. Our niche, by the way, is not to compete with the church at the other end of town. We need to find what we are passionate about, as a community or as individuals, find a way to make that happen, and then let God handle the details.

We do have a start to that; we are not just foundering around. The point at which we begin is our five-point mission statement: Invite, Include, Inform, Proclaim and Rejoice. I certainly believe that we do that, and I believe that our success of last year and our opportunities of this year can be tied directly to that mission statment. A mission statement too often becomes something that doesn't mean anything, is too vague, and is often too big to remember. Overall, our mission statement might be too big, but it is five easily identifiable ponts that we can be specific about. More imporantly, we can take our five point mission statement and tie it directly back to the gospel; and I'll use today's passage as an example.

In today's gospel, the first thing Jesus says is, "Follow me." He is inviting Philip into his midst. In John's gospel, the first thing Jesus does after being baptized is to invite people to join him. The majority ofpeople who walk through our doors will do so because they have been invited. Whether we are talking about Sunday service or a program of some sort or a special event, we must invite people to join us. You are all evangelists. When was the last time you invited someone to join you for church? Or when was the last time you offered to bring someone to church? Maybe you invite people on a regular basis and they decline the invitation; there's nothing we can do about that. We may not grow by leaps and bounds, but one thing is certain: if we don't invite people, then this parish and the mission of the church will certainly fail.

The second point, to include people in the life of the church, can be seen at the very end of today's passage: And Jesus said, "You will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man." This vision wasn't for everybody to see. This vision was directed at Nathanael. Jesus is specifically including Nathanael as an apostle in the kingdom of God assuring him of his heavenly place. We may not be able to make the heavens open and assure people that they will see the angels of God ascending and descending, but think about how we can include people in God's kingdom here on earth. We ask them to bring food to receptions, sign up for coffee hour, read, be on the vestry, participate in worship, and the list goes on. We include people by first extending an invitation and then showing them the path of servanthood; it may not be opening the heavens, but that doesn't mean it is any less amazing.

The third point of our statement is to inform people. Jesus informed Nathanael that he had seen him under the fig tree before Philip had called him. Jesus told him where he had been in the past and that information shaped his future. We inform people in a variety of ways. One way is through the sermons and coffee hour discussions. It happens during TEC101 class, and it will happen during TEC200 classes. But it also happens when we tell people why we attend church and how this place has shaped our lives throughout the past and into the future. And it happens when we sit with visitors and show them which book to use and when.

Our fourth point is to proclaim the gospel. Philip proclaimed the Messiah to Nathanael when he said, "We have found him . . ." How do we proclaim him? When we invite people, do we mention that God is doing something different and important in our lives? I certainly believe so. We have made great progress in the last 4-1/2 years. Attendance has increased, new roofs on the buildings and paint jobs are just some of the visible signs that we are alive and well. There are a lot of reasons for our continued suceess, but I think the most important reason is that we have proclaimed the gospel of Jesus Christ. We are willing to say, "Christ is alive." We proclaim the gospel when we invite people. We proclaim the gospel through our various liturgies. And we proclaim the gospel when we frame our lives around what it means to live in Christian community. Proclamation isn't simply standing on a street corner with your Big Floppy Bible yelling, "REPENT!!!" Proclamation is our response to the questions, "Why do you go to church?" and, "Why are you a Christian?" Ponder those questions and find ways to proclaim the gospel by your word and example.

Finally, we rejoice. Nathanael rejoiced that he had found the Son of God. How do we rejoice? Do we rejoice? Are we excited about a new life found in Christ? Are we happy to be at church? Can visitors pick up on our joy? Can the people you invite to church sense that you gain joy from being here? Or is showing up just an old habit? Maybe we need to remind ourselves that our liturgy is a communal celebration. It is through our liturgical worship that we are divinely united with Christ. Our worship is not a task for the individual but a celebration by the community. The rubrics regarding Holy Euchrist are titled, "Concerning the Celebration." What we do here is a joyous occasion. What we do here is celebrate and rejoice in our new life as found in Christ. This means, among other things, that we don't mumble our way through the responses. True, we like to do things "decently and in order," but try not to forget tht this is a CELEBRATION of the Holy Eucharist. Show some enthusiasm. And show some enthusiasm when talking to people out there about life in here.

So here we are on annual meeting Sunday. Yes, we have business to attend to. No, it's not always fun. But we need to remember that doing the business of the church does not mean that the church is a business. Let's take this opportunity and give thanks for what we have, pray for guidance, and live as if "thy kingdom come" will be tomorrow. Let's remind ourselves why we are here and let's work on Inviting, Including, Informing, Proclaiming and Rejoicing. We continue to make progress, but we also have a lot of work yet to do. It's going to be an interesting and exciting year.

My question to you is this: are you up for the challenge?


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