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Rebuilding

My forehead is missing through most of the sermon video (but its not my best feature, anyways).  Oh, and I SING near the end, as the congregation and I celebrate Holy Communion (singing is not even close to being a talent I have mastered).  Still, the sermon from August 2, 2015 from The Patterson Avenue Baptist Church is included in this blog post (both the video and the manuscript).   The sermon is titled:  “Rebuilding

Those familiar with our congregation’s recent story know:  We have buried more than 1/2 our active membership in the last 2-3 years.  So, what do we do?  We aim to keep doing what God has called us to do.  We will worship (love) the Lord God with our heart, soul, mind, and strength.  We will nurture and care for one another as we grow as disciples of the Lord Jesus.  We will make connections with our community in Spirit led mission and ministry.

Anything that follows is up to God…but this is what we will DO and BE.  Below you will find the video…and after that, the manuscript.

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You can watch the video below and/or read the manuscript.

 

Rebuilding The Church – Ephesians 4:1-16

 

I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called,  with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love,  making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.  There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling,  one Lord, one faith, one baptism,  one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.

 

But each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift.  Therefore it is said,

 

“When he ascended on high he made captivity itself a captive;  he gave gifts to his people.”

 

(When it says, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower parts of the earth?  He who descended is the same one who ascended far above all the heavens, so that he might fill all things.)  The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers,  to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ,  until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ.  We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people’s trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming.  But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ,  from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.

 

I noticed a mom and daughter in the field near the church playground. The mom was teaching the girl how to ride a bike.

 

She wore a helmet and other protective garb (the daughter, not the mom).  The training wheels had been removed.  The girl was nervous; her hands shook and the bike wobbled as she made her way in a circle.

The mom walked behind her daughter, holding up the bike.   Occasionally, the mom let go of the bike and the girl rode by herself for a moment or two.  Then she lost her balance and almost fell.  The mom would catch her in the nick of time.  Then the scenario was repeated.

 

I went back outside about an hour later.  The mother and daughter were leaving, walking in the alley behind the education building.  The daughter was pushing her bike.  Mom was walking next to her.

“I saw you out there riding your bike,” I said.  “You were doing a good job!”

“She’ll get there soon,” the mother said.  “She just needs a little more practice.”

“I don’t like riding bikes,” the little girl said.

A few days later the little girl and her mom were back.  The girl was successful riding her bike in circles as mom stood to the side.  The expression of the girls face was pure joy.

 

When was the last time you tried something new?  Maybe you started a new job, moved to a new community, learned a new skill, or enrolled in a new school.  You might have felt like that little girl learning to ride her bike.  You start something new and don’t like it at first.  Still, you have to move on, venture out, and expand your horizons.  As you do, you discover the joy of living life on the edge.  You find the strength of courageous faith.

In about a month, Richmond will be hosting the Union Cyclist International’s Road World Championship.  I can assure you that none of those participating will have training wheels on their bikes.  None will have a mom or dad following behind them to make sure they don’t fall.  Yet each probably learned how to ride a bike the same way as that little girl.

 

When was the last time you start over or start something new ?

 

I have seen folks start new careers after experiencing the disappointment of a job loss.  I have seen people return to school late in life to gain a new skill so they could begin again.  Sometimes folks start over after failure and disappointment.   At other times, people begin again because they just can’t stand the sameness of their lives.  When we start again there is a mixture of fear and apprehension that comes before the surprising joy of renewal.

 

That mother was providing a great service to her daughter.  She was being a leader, an encourager, a resource for strength.  We need that sort of thing when starting something new.

 

Guy Sales writes:

 

… all of us need leaders–people who envision our possibilities and encourage us to claim them, who nurture our potential and help us to realize it, and people who teach and model the joy which comes from being authentically oneself and fully alive.

 

Who’s been that sort of person in your life?  A parent or grandparent, aunt or uncle?  A teacher, a coach, a band director?    A Sunday School teacher or pastor?  A sibling, best friend, or a supervisor at work?  Who’s been that person whom you trust when it’s time to start over again?

 

Here’s an equally important line of questions:  For whom have you been this kind of leader?  Who is that person (or people) who look to you for encouragement, inspiration, and wisdom?  Whom doyou walk beside when they are trying something new?

 

Sometimes we are like the little girl on her bike.  We need somebody to walk beside us and cheer us on as we venture out into a new phase of living.

 

Sometimes we are like the parent running alongside her child.  We find ourselves being the mentor and cheerleader for those who are trying something new in their lives.

 

Guy Sales, again, writes:

 

We nurture and are nurtured.  That’s as it should be; after all, we need help, even after we become helpers.  We’re seekers and guides, learners and teachers.  We’re wounded and we are healers.  We lead and we follow.

 

In his book:  Consider the Lobster and Other Essays David Foster Wallace describes authentic leadership, saying:

 

A real leader can somehow get us to do certain things that deep down we think are good and want to be able to do but usually can’t get ourselves to do on our own.  It’s a mysterious quality, hard to define, but we always know it when we see it, even as kids . . .  . Deep down, you almost always like how a real leader makes you feel, how you find yourself working harder and pushing yourself and thinking in ways you wouldn’t be able to if there weren’t this person you respected and believed in and wanted to please . . . . In other words, a real leader is somebody who can help us overcome the limitations of our own individual laziness and selfishness and weakness and fear and get us to do better, harder things than we can get ourselves to do on our own.

 

In today’s scripture lesson, the author begins a discussion about this kind of leadership.  Ephesians 4 contains a kind of shift of sorts that we see in most of Paul’s epistles.  In the first few sections of this Epistle, a theological foundation is laid.  We hear about  the goodness of God; the lavish riches of God’s grace; the all encompassing nature of God’s love.  We hear about Jesus Christ as the supreme revelation of God’s nature and character.

 

With this foundation is laid, a shift takes place toward a discussion about the Christian lifestyle.  We move orthodoxy (right thinking) into orthopraxy (right living).  .

 

The Christian lifestyle is built upon a proper Christian theology.  We do not live for God so that God will bless us.  Rather, God has blessed with Jesus (with grace) so that we are equipped to live a godly life.  We do not live for God, but from God.

We have been graced by God’s goodness – and that goodness is transformational.  We have been and are being changed.  There is a new calling and focus to our lives.  Paul writes:

 

I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, 

 

Notice the word “therefore.”  I know it sounds trite, but it is true.  Whenever we see the word “therefore” in the scripture, we have to ask:  “What is the therefore there for?”

The “therefore” points back to what we have previously heard on the letter to the Ephesians.  It points back to the theology – back to the richness of God’s grace, the unity of the church built upon the cornerstone of Christ Jesus, the presentation of the all encompassing love of God revealed in Jesus Christ.

 

Because these things are TRUTH, Paul says “therefore” – “…therefore, lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called.”  Such a life will be marked by “humility….gentleness (and) patience, bearing with one another in love,  (and) making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”  

 

Next the author references the grace gifts God gives so that the church can look and act more and more like Jesus.

 

These are Divinely given leadership resources:  gifts that help us move forward when we start something new; gifts that help up equip others in their discipleship and ministry.

 

“The gifts Christ gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers”

 

Let’s look at these gifts.

 

Some are “apostles.”  The word speak of those who have such a deep and intimate first-hand experience with Jesus that they can’t help but radiate his warmth.

 

Some are “prophets.”  They are like eyes and ears, able to discern God’s movements and hear the whispers of God’s voice.  They are also God’s mouthpiece, putting those Divinely inspired visions and discernments into words that will benefit the entire church.

 

Some are “evangelists.”  This references those people who are the embodiments of grace.  People whose words and deeds attract people to Jesus.

 

Still others are “pastor-teachers.”  This is not a person paid to stand in a pulpit on Sunday and visit the homebound on Monday.  A “pastor-teacher” is person who instructs, guides, and equips those under his or her care, somebody with a tender heart and tenacious wisdom who offers truths tempered with love and love strengthened by truth.

 

These gifts are given, the epistle says, in order to equip the saints of God for the works of ministry.  These gifts are given to build up the body of Christ and help people to become like Jesus.  These are the gifts of leadership that motivate, inspire, and encourage people to start over, reach farther, and do better, because God’s grace is at work in their lives.

 

These gifts are given to help us fulfill the mission of the church to BUILD CONNECTIONS.

 

Upward toward God (in worship and praise);

Inward toward one another (in nurturing discipleship);

Outward toward our world (in mission, ministry, & evangelism).
I know that we are at a crossroads.  The last several years have been tough.  More than ½ of our membership has died. Others have relocated in new communities, left high school for college and college for the next stage in their lives.  We have experienced a decline in ministry participation and resources.  STILL our purpose is unchanged.  We exist to worship God, equip one other, and evangelize the world.

I know it is a scary time…but it can also be a potentially exciting place.  We need to keep moving forward.  We must continue to live life ON PURPOSE.  Or as our scripture lesson says, as people captivated by Jesus Christ, we must “lead a life worthy of the calling to which (we) have been called.”

It’s time to rebuild.  It’s time to start over.  It’s time for a bold new expression of faith.

 

We need caregivers like our deacons to contact those under their care, discover their needs, and provide loving ministry.

We need those gifted with the ability to inspire to step forward, sing a song, offer a testimony, teach a class, maybe even preach a sermon.

 

We need visionaries to buck the trend to fall back to the good old days. Instead, we need them to push and prod us forward to be the body of Christ in today’s kind of world.

 

We need folks dedicated to outreach who will be passionate about finding new bridges that connect us to our community so that we will have increased opportunities to share God’s love.

We will NEVER be the congregation we once were. We can never go back.  But we can and must move forward.  We’ve been given the gifts of God to become the congregation God is calling us to become; to live out the calling to which we have been called; to represent and present Jesus to the world.

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