Series on the Foundations
Elizabeth M. Deibert
You know what was so frightening about 9/11 was that we did not know where we were going. This unprecedented act of terrorism on our soil ushered in a new world for us, a world in which we were not safe. We always knew some parts of the world were not safe, but we thought over here in our piece of the world, we were secure. This sudden attack left us feeling very vulnerable, so we have spent the last ten years trying to make our part of the world a safer place. In these ten years, I hope we have also come to a deeper appreciation of the value of helping make the whole world a safer for all people, no matter their race, country, their culture, or their religion. We do not have control everywhere, but we can do our part to build trust and harmony with nations whose leaders are open to that. And we can listen carefully to those leaders who blame us for some of the world’s problems, because great as our country is, we are far from perfect, and like any other great world power in history, we have our blind spots and failures. But we are thankful to live where we live.
Where are we going as a nation? The last ten years have been challenging, compared with the 80’s and 90’s, where many of us enjoyed security, stability, and success. I cannot answer where we are going as a country. That’s not my job. In fact, I cannot always say where we are going as a church. But I can say with confidence that God is with us, and that we Christians need to keep our focus on living lives worthy of Jesus Christ.
This requires stepping back to examine where we are going. Here at Peace, we’re in the fourth week of a five week series on the Foundations of the Church, because for the first time in thirty years, the Presbyterians have a new form of government, affectionately called the new FOG. And because I don’t want us to be lost in the FOG, we have spent this time on its very significant opening.
And since most of you could be counted new members of this church, as we’ve only been a church two years, I am taking you on this journey of theological inquiry, using this Foundations statement, grounded by scripture. We have looked at the mission of the church, asking “What are we doing?” We have remembered Jesus Christ is the Head of the Church, asking “Whose in charge?” We pondered last week through readings and song the ancient marks of the church, asking “What makes us who we are?” And today we examine the great ends, the goals of the church, asking “Where are we going?” Now even if this intensely theological, doctrinal journey has seemed long or winding to you, I hope that you will find yourselves more acquainted with the path of the Presbyterians and of Peace Presbyterian in particular.
Yes, sometimes, in order to get perspective on where you’re going, you have step back and examine your past, you have to think about why are you who you are. You have to wonder where am I going? What are my priorities or goals? Are you a person who likes to make a task list and then check things off, that you’ve done or are doing reasonably well? That’s easy if it’s a grocery list, or a packing list, or a simple household task list, but a little harder with broad goals. One of my broad goals coming out of seminary as a new mother was to balance my calling as a mother with my calling as a minister. Some weeks, months, and years, when I stop to consider this, I say, “Okay, not bad.” Other times, I say, figure out a new way to balance. Make adjustments. A more recent goal is to spend more time exercising and in faith-building prayer. Thus the prayer walks, which I invite you to do with me on Saturday mornings at 10.
Are you a goal-setter? Or are you one who floats along, thinking only occasionally about the chief aim of your life. How many of us have set new year’s resolutions, only to ignore them by January 15 because it was too hard? Goal setting is not helpful unless you make a commitment to keep getting up every day and trying to do some little thing to achieve your goal. The tragedy in life is not in failing to reach your goals, it is failing to set them or set them high enough.
One of the first things we did as a new church development back in 2006 was establish what we then called “Core Values” and later we named them goals. The Presbyterians one hundred years ago wrote some goals which are still at the heart of our denomination’s identity today. Two thousand years ago, the Apostle Paul had some goals for his new churches.
The Gentile Christians who comprised the Colossian church were a little insecure about their status before the God of Israel. They were not certain about what Christ had accomplished for them and the fundamental change which had taken place in the created order by his life, death, and resurrection. Paul’s goal for them was that the good news in them would bear fruit. He badly wanted them to fully comprehend the grace of God. Paul prayed for them daily, asking that they would be filled with God’s wisdom, strength, patience, endurance, and thanksgiving, so that their lives would be worthy and pleasing of the Lord Jesus Christ, who is the before all things and in him all things hold together. Hear now Paul’s encouragement to the Colossians to grow toward maturity in Christ:
In our prayers for you we always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, 4for we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints, 5because of the hope laid up for you in heaven. You have heard of this hope before in the word of the truth, the gospel 6that has come to you. Just as it is bearing fruit and growing in the whole world, so it has been bearing fruit among yourselves from the day you heard it and truly comprehended the grace of God. 7This you learned from Epaphras, our beloved fellow servant. He is a faithful minister of Christ on your behalf, 8and he has made known to us your love in the Spirit.
9For this reason, since the day we heard it, we have not ceased praying for you and asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of God's will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, 10so that you may lead lives worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, as you bear fruit in every good work and as you grow in the knowledge of God. 11May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from his glorious power, and may you be prepared to endure everything with patience, while joyfully 12giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light. 13He has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son,14in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. (NRSV)
Number one Peace goal and fourth goal of the Presbyterians – Worship. Communal Worship is essential to being Christian. Get away from it and you will languish in faith and practice. Paul who twice mentions his own prayers, says, “Be prepared to endure everything with patience, while joyfully giving thanks to the Father,” who has given you this gift of grace and hope. He talks of growing in strength from the power we receive from God’s glory in worship. Worshipping God is first and foremost, acknowleding God’s prime status, as in the first four commandments, and the great commandment: loving God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength.
Number two Peace goal and goals four and five in the PC(USA) relationships that are true and holy and just and peaceable. Faithful relationships mean that we take the dignity of others seriously. We listen to people, even those different from us. We care about their concerns. We live a consistent life of Christian love in all the areas of life: personal intimate relationships, work, school, family, neighborhood, and church. In our private and public life, we are faithful in loving care. Paul calls it the “love for the saints” and “bearing fruit in every good work.” Loving your neighbor as you love yourself, the second half of the great commandment, and the second half of the ten commandments are all related to being in right relationship with other people.
Number three Peace goal and two Presbyterian goal – nurturing discipleship. The shelter, nurture, and spiritual fellowship of the children of God. Growing toward full maturity in Christ and helping others to do the same is a lifelong commitment. I hope many more of you will be involvement Lively learning this year, or maybe you will commit to Stephen Ministry training or the Men’s Group on Tuesday mornings or the weekly prayer walk with me. All God’s children need to be nurtured in faith. Why not give it one more disciplined hour out of your 115 waking hours. I know you have good intentions at home, but it is harder to keep your spiritual growth goals with no accountability, no fellowship.
Number four goal of Peace is compassionate outreach. That fits with the number one great end of the church, proclamation of the gospel for the salvation (the healing, the wholeness, the peace) of all humankind. Paul says you have heard of this hope, this gospel which has come to you. You see the fruit of it in your life, in others’ lives, as we together begin to comprehend the magnificence of the grace of God. What makes you a child of God? Grace – God’s free gift of love that we do not deserve and cannot earn. (Belonging to God: A First Catechism) We reach out because we have been rescued from the darkness and transferred into the realm of God’s marvelous light. This marvelous light is such a blessing, we want all to be able to enjoy it. So we care for the needy with Christ’s love – whether their needs are physical, emotional, or spiritual.
Number five goal of Peace is responsive stewardship. You might wonder how that fits with the Presbyterian goal: the exhibition of the kingdom of heaven to the world. Stewardship is all about how you use the gifts you have been given – gifts of time, of treasure, of talent. When you choose to spend your Thursday mornings packing groceries at Beth-El Farmworker Ministries or one of your evenings or overnights providing hospitality for homeless people in the Family Promise program, then you are exhibiting the kingdom of heaven for the world. When you are willing to drive an old car, or eat more simply or forego expensive trips or entertainment, so that you can give more generously to support benevolent missions of the church, then you are exhibiting the kingdom of heaven, which Jesus said meant the first would be last and least, greatest, and the lost, found. When you give your time at church, and love your neighbors like nobody’s ever seen before, instead of doing what pleases you and yours all the time, then you a demonstrating the realm of God, where self-sacrifice is valued over self-service, where love is found when it is given away.
Do you want to do your part to make this world safer? Then join with me in a recommitment to Peace Presbyterian’s goals, in order to fulfill our mission to make God known by growing as disciples of Jesus Christ, building a community of peace, and caring for the needs of others. That is the best gift we can offer the world – to be more fruitful and faithful, peaceable and respectful Christians.