Easter 4, b, 4/29/12
1st Sunday of Spring Stewardship Emphasis
Our University Christian Church Board met this past Tuesday evening and made some important decisions. The Board decided to authorize the spending $30,000 to repair the roof, to tuck point walls and to otherwise take care of this building that we have inherited from the hard work and the committed stewardship of two previous generations of Christians here and including Disciples from all over Texas who together built and worshiped here in this sacred space. Though $30,000 is a lot of money, it is important and right for us, as the contemporary community of faith here, to take care of the of the facility that is our gathering place and it is a part of our witness to the glory of God now, on our watch, so we can pass it on.
But what I am really excited about is that in that same meeting the Board made a decision to engage us as a congregation in a discernment process known as New Beginnings. New Beginnings has been developed by elements of our General Church to serve congregations just like ours interested in remaining faithful to our calling as witnesses of Christ, and at the same time also relevant to a rapidly changing world around us. You will hear more about the New Beginnings process over the course of the coming weeks, but suffice it to say for now that it is nothing less than as a whole congregation our taking a serious and prolonged look at ourselves and what it is that we believe God is calling us to do and to become. Now, I suspect that whole notion of making any kind of important change may rock some boats amongst us, but I think as you learn more about the procedure and its track record in helping sister congregations around the country you will become as excited as I am about the prospects of our careful study over the next half year or so.
So with today’s scripture in mind and the news of our adoption of the New Beginnings study, I have been thinking and praying for a clearer picture of what our specific calling might be. First, what is the calling of the church with a C in the early 21st century. And secondly, what is the calling of University Christian Church:
- So fortunately positioned as close as is possible to the heart of a great research university,
- in the shadow of the capitol of a most prodigious state,
- near the heart of the city to which thousands are thronging. With these gifts …what might be the specific core missions of University Christian Church in the decades ahead?
Now I've come up with a few provisional contenders in my own thinking for those missions, but we are a congregation that makes decisions of such important in a very democratic process, seeking the influence of the Holy Spirit in every phase. I sincerely look forward to what we as a congregation will come up with together and I do firmly believe the process itself will build up our faith and deepen our community. So let me share with you some beginning thoughts with respect to the question:“what is our mission? “
The Bible is a great place to start when speaking of mission. Because the great clear message that resounds throughout all of the Scriptures beginning in Genesis and straight through to Revelation is that the mission that is central in the biblical message is not our mission as individuals or even our mission as a congregation, or even the mission of the capital C Church together. No the Bible’s emphasis is on God's mission. The Bible is all about God fulfilling God’s mission, and how people challenged by the mission either aid or impede God. So, what, you may ask, is God's mission?
If we were blessed with only the Hebrew Scriptures, what we commonly call the Old Testament, the answer would be God's shalom. God's peace. God's desired harmony among families and communities and nations; a world of justice and mutual caring that expresses God's design for human community; and as we said last week, humans acting appropriately with respect to the rest of the natural realm.
But, thanks be to God, we don't have just the Hebrew Scriptures, we also have that decisive entry onto the world stage of a certain man of Nazareth who turned everything in his path right side up where ever he
traveled, and taught, and healed, and set people free from ever kind of bondage including bondage to the fear of death itself. In the earliest gospel record, the Gospel of Mark, the very first words of Jesus come after he returned from his 40 days in the wilderness and the words are” ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.’ The kingdom of God has come near.
Jesus teaches his disciples how to pray, “your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.“ He is constantly, incessantly talking about the kingdom!
“The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.“ Matthew 13:44.
-Or “ the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls and finding one pearl of great value he went and sold all that he had and bought it. “ Matthew 13:45.
-like yeast the woman took and mixed with three measures of flour,
-like someone who sowed good seed in his field,” It's everywhere.
The good news is that the kingdom of God is near that the fulfillment of God's mission is near.
As it is stated in this morning Scripture, the 70 disciples are being sent out of the world, He said to them, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest…. I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves. Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals….and say to them, “The kingdom of God has come near to you.”
There 70 disciples are traveling light, defenseless, with no provision, depending entirely upon the generosity of those to whom they are sent. In a world that is built on power they have no power other than the power of the message that they are carrying. There will be many who will reject the message that they bring, Jesus says, but some in those villages to which they are being sent who will respond positively because the work of God's pervasive spirit is already active among them. Let's call them children of peace, shalom. They will recognize the messengers of peace, receive them, welcome them, work with them..
What that 70 will discover is that God was there before them. God's work didn't begin with the 70 sent in the mission. And those to whom we are sent does not depend on us as if we are the be-all and end-all, either. No, God has been at it for thousands of years. What has God been working at? What is God's mission?
The nurture and enhancement of life,
in what appears to be the Kingdom of Death.
The Kingdom of Death may seem too strong a characterization of our world, but take look around. What do you see? Fear and Greed ruling in decisions made in stock markets and Corporate Board Rooms; in corrupt and jaded leaders whose cynicism betrays the loss of both hope and courage. But even with such losses we citizens of planet earth haven’t foresworn self-aggrandizement at every possible turn.
No, let us confess that this is been one of the most difficult times on planet Earth, the 20th century- certainly the bloodiest. Heretofore people have been able to hurt one another, but now we are increasingly able to do so with more and more powerful military and economic weapons. And as we said last week as a byproduct of our incessant, grandiose, and insensitive domination of the natural world, we are clearly ransacking the only space station we have. The struggle described in the book of Revelation between the forces of life and death, light and darkness, shalom and annihilation is perhaps more transparent in our time than any previous time in history.
So let me suggest that Prof. Douglas John Hall[i] has it right when he says that the mission of the church with a capital C and the mission of individual congregations such as University Christian Church is
the stewardship of this nurturing and enhancing of life,
bringing a foretaste of the Realm of God,
into what seems the dominance of the kingdom of death.
In the broadest sense of the word, Christian stewardship means taking care of God's world, all of it. The environment, people – all people, the flora and fauna.[ii] Christian stewardship means taking care of the home and the resources that God has provided us and using our time, our talent our money our political power, our persuasive energies in ways that nurture and enhance life.
Jesus said that the kingdom of God was near. Jesus ministry and then the disciples following him were evidence of the realm of God is already at work in the world, but it was then and still is a proleptic reality meaning that while it is real already in the world, is far from complete in its work. Already, but not yet. Our work, our mission is to be an agent of the completion of God's realm.
What will that look like here at UCC. This much at least:
>We will provide a wealth of Christian education, spiritual practices and worship opportunities for the nourishment of the minds and spirits of the people that call this church home as well as those who visit;
>In our relationships here with one another we will strive to model how brothers and sisters treat each other with respect, kindess, compassion and justice all indicators of the presence of the Realm of God;
>in true Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) fashion, we will embrace those religious understandings different from our own, in the spirit of Jesus’ prayer that we might be one in Christ.
>As the great stained glass window behind you with Jesus standing in the midst of students and scholars attests, our evangelistic mission must needs be responsive to and relevant to the spiritual needs and the spiritual quests of University of Texas students, faculty, and staff.
This is just a beginning, but it is already clear that we as a congregation are gifted intellectually, financially, geographically, and in so many other ways for this mission. May the Realm of the Living God come near to us and may each of us in the spirit of faithful Christian stewardship be found ready to share of these gifts in order to further God’s mission here. Amen.