What helps, what gives the people confidence and assurance that they can change, is that they sense [the pastor’s] own willingness to change, to be flexible.
Kennon L. Callahan
A New Beginning for Pastors and Congregations, page 83
If you want to read a nuts-and-bolts vision of how to create a loving and missional spirit within a congregation, Callahan provides great counsel through his use of personal experiences, of common sense, and of biblical references. This text is intended to be read every three years so pastors and church leaders may continue to grow into their faith. Callahan provides reading that is relevant for a pastor or church leader in any stage of his/her faith development.
This congregation has changed quite a bit from January 23, 2014 when I delivered my first sermon. The work of the Holy Spirit is obvious to me; so many of you are relating your personal experiences that clearly indicate how God is shaping your lives. Worship is alive in Word and Sacrament. Our number of ministries – both local and beyond – is growing because our commitment to being God’s hands and feet in the world is growing, too. Holy Week this year brought in members, long time visitors, and strangers off the street; attendance numbers were astounding. Also, we have adopted a comprehensive stewardship plan that keeps resources growing for future in-house uses all the while giving us the opportunity to more fully demonstrate our trust in God as we gradually increase our tithe to our Synod. We are now a handicapped-accessible building. All this – this loving expression of faith in God – happens every day here as little by little our memories of Hurricane Matthew and its fallout fade.
At least, that is my perspective. Callahan notes that one person’s view of change can be that of a developing faith, while with someone else the change can be perceived as scary or even as unnecessary. It is common for some church folks to share, “Things are moving along quite nicely, don’t you think?” while they may present the conflicting response, “Things are changing too fast and I cannot adjust.”
What is your response? Are you satisfied with the spiritual growth of this congregation over the last three years? Does the church council act in ways that are accurate representations of what you expect from your church leadership? In your observation, am I growing spiritually? I am asking you to share your thoughts about congregational, leadership, and pastoral growth.
Throughout the summer please take the opportunity to write down your thoughts and ideas about worship and the life of this congregation. Your comments will be directed to the proper council member or will remain with me. Expect a return contact soon; the council and I stand ready to hear your ideas about expanding spiritual growth and about improving leadership development. Why? Because in all we say and do as a congregation, we do so to the Glory of God.
To God be the Glory for all God has done,
After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. 2 And suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. 3 His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. 4 For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men. 5 But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. 6 He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. 7 Then go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.’ This is my message for you.” 8 So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. 9 Suddenly Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshiped him. 10 Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”
In Matthew’s account of the Easter morning story, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary are met at the tomb first by a “great earthquake,” and then by a descended angel who rolled away the stone in front of the tomb. It will be this same angel who will announce the risen Lord to the women, and it will be this same angel who will give them their assignment: Go tell the fellows that Jesus is risen and, oh, since Jesus is already there in Galilee, he will meet you there.” Yet, Jesus meets Mary and Mary before they arrive at the place where the disciples are hiding.
Three surprises in one morning: an earthquake, the appearance of a messenger angel, and the early arrival of Jesus. You know, if I didn’t know better, I’d say something pretty special was intended to happen three days following the Crucifixion of Jesus…
Sometimes I think my life is missing those cosmic events. I go about my business (almost all of which ya’ll know about!), yet nothing is really out of the ordinary. I read, I write, I visit, I listen, I plan, and then I go home. “How was your day today?” Kris asks, and my response is generally something like “Nothing earth- shaking.” There was no cosmic event, no angel dropped in to give me direction for the day, and most certainly Jesus did not show up…
Uh oh. I forgot. Jesus DID show up today. In fact, Jesus has shown up every day of my life.
We keep waiting for the cosmic events. We keep waiting for that sign from above. We act as though our day could not have possessed any Christ-like connection because our day was ordinary. Ordinary. Yet, I challenge you to consider this.
Every day is Easter. Every day is a new day in Christ. Every day is a new day in your baptism by the Holy Spirit. And, every day presents you with the opportunity to witness to the One who met Mary and Mary on the road to Galilee.
And he met them before they had expected to see him. Jesus is cool that way, isn’t he? Here it is, just another ordinary day, and in the busyness of your day you take a deep breath of fresh air and you take the time to notice that hummingbird flitting from flower to flower. You clear your mind of all your troubles from work or school, and suddenly the smell of the nearby swamp reminds you of your days as a youngster when Grandpa took you fishing. Suddenly, by stopping and taking the time to pay attention to God’s Creation, you realize that there is nothing – absolutely NOTHING – ordinary about any day that we have the opportunity to live in Christ in the world created by God.
You know, when you think about it, this is earth-shaking news.
To God be the Glory for all God has done,
“…conversion is not about seeking or embracing an ideology; it is about bringing one’s religious behavior into alignment with that of one’s friends and family members.” — Rodney Stark in The Rise of Christianity, pp. 16-17
In our time together 72 people have come to the Foot of the Cross or to the Water of Baptism and have joined this congregation. Our weekly attendance numbers have jumped from 63 in 2013 to 77 in 2016. More and more folks are discovering that the message of Grace is more attractive than what they have heard in other sanctuaries, or is certainly more attractive than having heard no message at all.
So, it is time to thank God for bringing new people into our midst, for blessing us with new babies, and for the inspiration of the Holy Spirit that has brought both infants and adults into communion with God in Baptism. It is time to thank God for inspiring the families of small children to come week after week, thus introducing Jesus to the next generation of this congregation. It is time to thank God for the veteran members whose volunteerism has kept this church running smoothly (most of the time!) and without whose dedication to giving of their time would result in higher budgets and much, much less fun! During the last three years some members have passed away, some have moved away, and a few have found more comfort in a different message of the Gospel; however, our numerical growth is nothing compared to the spiritual growth we have experienced in the sustainment of ongoing ministries and the creation of new ministries.
Yet, if Stark is correct, it is more than the message of the Gospel placed on the roadside sign each week that attracts people to walk through our front doors here at Redeemer. To my knowledge there is no one talking about the Yankee pastor or the cool Pentecost decorations as what attracted them to come here and to join. No, what I hear from both visitors and new members is their reflection upon YOUR kindness, warmth, love, and friendliness. Even those who have visited only once while on vacation have commented that they wished their congregations back home were as loving as this Redeemer congregation.
This is why my 2017 sermon theme will reflect the growing and maturing faith of this congregation. It is time for us to embrace the wonderful opportunity your loving, strengthening faith has afforded all of us; more than ever it is time for us to encourage the Council, the committees, the task force members and all those who for the first time are considering positions of service as they lead Lutheran Church of the Redeemer into a new and exciting future in the Name of Jesus Christ. This is why the 2017 sermon theme is: Developing Shepherds.
Welcome, shepherds, to 2017. Grab onto your shepherds’ crooks; it is time to lead.
To God be the Glory for all God has done, Pastor Steve
The Gospel According to Luke, Chapter 2, verses 1-7
In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.
Ancient prophecy had been fulfilled. The Messiah had arrived. Have you ever noticed the coincidence that Joseph and Mary had to travel from Nazareth to Bethlehem in order to be properly registered with the census? I’m sure the bouncing animal ride may have prompted Mary’s contractions; certainly, Joseph’s transportation was not equipped with the finest shock absorbers. Yet, what a shock it was that the Lord conceived of a way to get Mary to Bethlehem , right where God wanted Jesus to be birthed. A coincidence?
And what about the absence of any lodging for the happy couple? Most of you know what that was like recently when you struggled to get off Tybee and Wilmington Islands before the arrival of Hurricane Matthew, right? Imagine how difficult it would have been for this young couple to find suitable – and I mean “My wife is pregnant” suitable – at a time when the Emperor just happened to call for a census. The innkeeper’s response was akin to, “Well, you can stay in the garage with all the parked cars.” A coincidence?
When one of God’s prophecies is fulfilled, and as we read about them in the Holy Scriptures, there is no mistaking the clarity with which God speaks to the prophets. Not only Jesus’ birth, but his death and resurrection are shared with the prophets; one wonders why, then, the disciples of Jesus were so confused when Jesus said, “I will die, but will rise again in three days” for this action would not be a coincidence but rather the fulfillment of prophecy.
Every day we all have the opportunity to look at life for what it truly is – a series of events that play perfectly into God’s ideal for humanity and for the world. We grow in excitement and in anticipation when we truly remember the words of God in God’s covenantal prophecies. We can be witnesses to this throughout Advent, through the 12 days of Christmas, and through the Epiphany season.
To God be the Glory for all God has done and Merry Christmas,
When we have a romantic view of discipleship, we imagine ourselves giving up everything for Jesus as the world admires our faith and people express their heartfelt gratitude for our sacrificial service. But the cost of discipleship will likely be the scorn of a world that sees you throwing away your future to help people who can give you nothing in return. Discipleship may mean sacrificing for others who will have no appreciation for what you have done – much like Jesus, who was ridiculed as he died on the cross.
Jon Walker in Costly Grace: A Contemporary View of Bonhoeffer’s The Cost of Discipleship, page 41.
I have to admit that from time to time it’s nice to receive a pat on the back for a job well done. Perhaps it was a particularly poignant sermon or an appropriately astute newsletter article that tripped someone’s trigger, and brought them to share words such as “Wow! Now THAT was a sermon!” or “I cannot remember the last time I read something so deep and meaningful.” Surely, to hear verbal platitudes pleases me, but then the Holy Spirit hits me right between the eyes with, “Come on, Steve. What happened to your daily prayer of ‘All for you, Lord. Today is all for you.’?” It’s so tempting to want to receive credit that we – I – often forget for whom we perform our daily tasks, be they preaching a sermon or writing an article or operating a drill press; every action we make is intended to be to the glory of God.
So, discipleship – our sharing and giving of the gifts and talents received at our Holy Baptism – in part begins with the understanding that there will be times in our lives when no one – not one person – will say, “Thank you” or “Bless you” or “I appreciate so much what you have done.” For those of us who fall on the Touchy-Feely range of every possible personality test, this is not good news. We thirst for the attention. We hunger for the adulation. We would rather die than go unnoticed.
Thirst. Hunger. Die. Oh, yeah. Someone else did that for us, right? Someone whom we attention seekers often ignore, that same one whose very person we fail to praise for our reconciliation, resurrection, and relationship with God. At what point in the four gospels did anyone – ANYONE – come up to Jesus as he was hanging from the cross and simply say, “Thanks”? Even those who wept cried out of their own sense of loss and, while that was certainly to be expected, even his own mother failed to realize that her son – the Son – was continuing to fulfill the covenant made by Jesus’ Father long ago: We are a humanity who needs saved.
For those of us who crave attention even just a little bit, join me today in pledging to God our selflessness and our humility. Shall we be honored to be chosen by God for the tasks that lay ahead for our congregation, synod, and ELCA in such a way that we commit to a purer discipleship? What do you say? I know I need to do so.
To God be the Glory for all God has done,