February 4, 2018

February 4, 2018: Why (Should I)?

  • RECAP: Last week, I began with the question, “Why did you come to church today?” I asked it, because I wanted to know if we held a common understanding of what church is. I offered a list of reasons that people come to church:
    • To be HEALED: Church is comfort in crisis. It is the hospital for the sinsick and the brokenhearted
    • To be HEARD: Many of us see our church as an extended family. We come to be heard by God and also to express ourselves with our family
    • We see it as a place where we can be UPLIFTED. This is where we get inspiration through the music, the prayers, the sermon, the fellowship, just by being here.
  • The original purpose of Sunday morning service is to worship God – to tell God that God carries value in our lives
    • The purpose of the church itself- its mission – is to care for those who are in need of nourishment, belonging, shelter (Matthew 25) and to make disciples of all people (Matthew 28)
  • MOVING FORWARD: These reasons start out as good reasons. However, we have turned this mission for outsiders into a mission for ourselves and those closest to us, which is what naturally happens, but we shouldn’t end with it.
    • We want to be comfortable, and we often insist on our comfort, but comfort doesn’t encourage us to do anything. And we don’t want discomfort, so we avoid it, even if the discomfort is good for us.
  • I have done a lot of thinking about why it is we fulfill God’s calling for the church when we want to, and what stops us, things I hear or feel from myself or from others that push us to not ask “why am I here?” but to instead declare “Why should I be here?,” especially when there is threat that we might be called to discomfort. Here are three reasons I want to cover today:
    • I just want to worship and that’s it. I don’t really care about being more Christian than that.
    • I like helping and serving others, but I don’t want to let them know me
    • This could cost something more than I want to give
    • In short – I’m not ready to do this.
  • EXEGESIS: Isaiah comforts the people returning from exile
    • There was a period of history when God’s chosen people were in exile in far away lands. They have been allowed to return but they feel lost having been gone for so long. Their homeland is no longer theirs, and they don’t know what to do with themselves.
    • That is common. When we are in trouble, our goal is survival. When we are no longer in trouble, especially after having been used to crisis for a long time, we don’t know how to get our lives back together.
      • This happens a lot in our busy lives. When we aren’t having to go from event to event and finally get our time off, what do we do? We start finding other things to keep us busy!
    • The people don’t know what or how to rebuild, so the prophet tells them that God is with them. They just need to focus on what God has called them to their covenant.
      • What is our covenant with God? It is to care for the world and to make disciples. We think of God and worship as something we do when we have time. If we make those things primary, God will take care of our needs and give our lives and jobs meaning. We will look to serve God through what we are and do – not when we feel up to it.
    • THE POINT: We Have to Get to the Bottom of Our Excuses
      • We fear letting others in, so we stick our heads in the sand when we realize their stories can make us see differently. We hate to think we are only a few bad moments away from homelessness, poverty, addiction, or being the victim of oppression.
        • There is a reason God calls us to care for the widows, orphans, lost, and lonely and not the powerful. Have you met someone who has lost everything and is still going strong? They are unstoppable! They have adjusted to reliance on God and are good. As we care for them, they will care for us by showing us even the darkest hours still contain love and hope.
        • Our greatest struggle often looks like we are too busy, but I would imagine it is actually FEAR: fear to be vulnerable, fear to be equal, fear to be like someone else. So we find other things that we would rather do.
        • God blesses us when we allow the discomfort of shared humanity, because then we can better understand Jesus.
      • We struggle with sacrifice because we know that part of discipleship means we may have to sacrifice for people who aren’t our friends and family. Real sacrifice like this adult eagle shedding its feathers for the two babies. We don’t know those are his or her babies. What if it was another grown bird?
        • Getting rid of what we use for comfort and going to necessities means someone else might get a necessity to live. And God blesses us with resilience when we are uncomfortable and sustenance when we find we need little.
        • In reviewing old newsletters this week, I came across a wonderful, succinct summary of what we are called to do by Kenneth Turner. He writes, “God will accept us where we are, but often changes in our lives are necessary. We must be willing to take a step toward God and be prepared for God to take a leap toward us.” What shall we fear if we embrace our faith and run towards the One who is perfect love.
      • Then the saddest yet most pressing problem. People in church may care about the church staying open, or keeping its traditions, but by and large, we just don’t care.
        • I don’t have an answer. God calls each of us to contribute. My job is to lead you to say “yes” to God and lead us to the land where we cannot see the future. This is where we find we most need Isaiah’s words of comfort to navigate uncharted lands.
      • What if we tell God “yes”?
        • Churches operate local missions – we can help keep our church as a place where people can have their spiritual and material needs met (community garden in city)
        • Churches fund international missions – there are parts of the world that depend on the donations and efforts of people who will help them build wells and stop disease outbreaks (water tower in Zambia)
        • Churches can mobilize to offer a witness for creation care, civil rights, and other witnesses to God’s justice (Filipinos plant 3000 trees)
        • You can save lives of those without hope. You can reverse addictions and give orphans homes. You can demand we focus less on war and more on saving lives through faithful action. You can declare the coming of God’s righteousness.
      • SUMMARY: Our calling matters. When we ask “why am I here?” God answers. When we ask “Why should I do this?” God shows us a hurting world and a desire to be in relationship with us. When God asks us why we wait, we offer reasons and excuses, and Jesus responds with “follow me,” so that’s what I’m doing.