Annual State of the Flock Address
February 20, 2011
Good Morning and Welcome
As I thought and prayed about this most formal speech of the year… As I read past addresses… I realized that this address, at least this year isn’t about what we have done. It’s about what God has done. And looking forward, about what God seems to be doing, not so much what we wish He would do. Or what we think we can do! If one thing has come home to me and I believe to us as a church this year, it’s the truth of the scripture where Jesus said, “Apart from me, you can do nothing.”
In 2009 and 2010, in the midst of the deepest recession our country has seen in nearly a century, God has kept us in the palm of His hand, certainly with a tight budgetary leash, but after some cuts in 2010, once again we have come through, in the black. I described our place like being in an ‘eddy’ – a quiet place at the side of the river, while the torrent rushes on. 2010 was a time for us to gather our strength and get our raft back in the flow of the river.
But what we’ve discovered in this quiet place is that God is here! That God continues to work among us and through us for the transformation of the lives we live and those of our family, friends, neighbors and the world around us. And that transformation is not a result of our programs or expertise, of our business acumen or strategic plans, but because of His Grace, … and most of the time in spite of us! Transformation of lives is linked to prayer and to His Presence in the midst of His people. US!
As I look around this morning, and in my mind go over the past year, I see faces. Faces of men and women who’s lives have been radically changed by their relationship with Jesus, in the midst of this people of God! Would what has happened in and through them have happened in another place? Maybe. But it didn’t. These transformations are happening here – at little REZ – a place of connection to Jesus Christ, really. . . a place of hearing and doing His Word, really . . . a place of committed and loving life together, really . . . and a place of mobilization through willingness, availability & obedience… REALLY.
As I see these faces, I am reminded of Paul’s relationship with his favorite church, the church in Philippi, as he wrote them and said to them, “… you are my joy and the crown I receive for my work.” Paul was seeing faces as he wrote those words, just as I see faces this morning. What God did then He is doing now! This is the business God is in: the transformation of individual lives through His touch in the midst of a loving community of Christ-followers, who are walking this walk together, seeking to grow more and more into the image of Jesus, by hearing and doing His Word, by Prayer in unity and by celebrating Jesus alive in their midst, in the Eucharistic celebration week to week, and in the hospitality of God’s Table, in their homes day-to-day. This was the mission of the early church, and it is our mission today. This is the power-filled Church of Acts that took that power to witness and moved by it out to their Jerusalem, to Judea, to all of Samaria and to the ends of the earth. This is our charge and our on-going mission today.
An ACTS TWO moment
Repeatedly we have heard the echo of the description of the early community in Acts 2 during this past year. “And they devoted themselves to the Apostles’ teaching, to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to the prayers.” I believe that we find ourselves, once again today, in such a moment in our own culture. We wring our hands at the struggle of the church with its own relevance to our modern world – we look to political power for solutions and cry out when that power fails us and the political world turns against the Name of Jesus, even in America. We have seen these things developing and I believe, will continue to see this battle raging around us. It is not unlike the world that the early church found itself in.
We are coming to the end of “easy believe-ism.” It’s time for Christians, who are willing to stand, to stand! We are no longer the “state” religion. In many ways we are no longer protected. What is true of 90% of the world is becoming true for us too, that there is a cost for naming the Name of Jesus in public. The fact is that “unchristian America” is looking for a Church that will witness to our Lord’s power, apart from its sanctuary and its status in society. The world is still looking for a savior… and for a living witness to the loving power of a living God.
The Acts 2 model has long been a template for the life of the covenant people of God. We have it in our baptismal creed and the promises that we have made and reiterate each time there is a baptism in our midst. So this is the charge and the model for our life together:
They Devoted Themselves
Our age is an age of infatuation. So many things come down the pike, day-after-day, week-after-week, month in and month out, year in and year out, that we have cultural A-D-D! And the church is no different. I’m no different! But God has called us to be different! To be settled and focused on what matters, not what is peripheral – not given to fads, but to be devoted to a deeper expression of Christian living than perhaps we see around us. The early Church was characterized by DEVOTION TO JESUS, the only begotten Son of the Father and the Only Way to come to Him in relationship. And their devotion to Jesus took specific forms:
To The Apostles’ Teaching . . .
We want to create a love-affair with God’s Word here at REZ. We talk a lot about the Bible; we refer to it in our sermons and lessons in Sunday School; we give it away on occasion; we say that we need to live by its tenets and precepts. But I know, even in my own life, I don’t spend nearly the time I should in this Word – sure I read it, often, but I question how much more there is – what could be possible, if we were “devoted to the Apostles’ teaching?” What could happen, if, as we pray, we would “read, mark, learn and inwardly digest” this Word of God on a daily, even an hourly basis? Would we hear God speaking to us in ever clearer tones throughout our day? Would we have the words of God hidden in our hearts, so that we might not sin against Him? Would we be able to speak His words, instantly, in-season and out-of-season, giving the reason for the hope that is in us? Yes. Yes to all!
To The Fellowship . . .
I joke a good bit about the community life that we share. Look at one another - Smile –
Say, “It doesn’t get any better than this!”
Or you’ve heard my favorite poem:
To live above with saints we love
Ah, that will be the glory!
To live below with saints we know…
Now that’s another story!
But the word for fellowship used here and throughout the New Testament, KOINONIA, is one that has occupied my vision for over 35 years now. It is the word that describes a life together – a life lived by those who are committed to Jesus and to one another, at a depth and with a continuity that is hard for us in mobile America to get our minds around.
KOINONIA is the antithesis – perhaps even the antidote – to American Consumer Church-ianity. I was deeply touched by the words this past year of Eugene Peterson in his book, Practice Resurrection, as he described the Body of Christ.
God chooses to do all this through ‘embarrassingly ordinary people’ – you and me. (Look around you and smile knowingly!) God does not work apart from sinful and flawed – forgiven men and women – who are mostly without credentials! Us!!
I was reminded at the beginning of this past year of my call to the Bride of Christ, warts and all. And our life together – our KOINONIA – is a deeply honest and loving fellowship of travelers on this road of becoming like Jesus. He has called us and given us the power to become, but we do it in the midst of a company of ordinary men and women, set on a path where extraordinary things can happen, all of which are by His Grace and for His Glory. As Paul said to the Corinthian church, “We have this treasure in vessels of clay, so that we and the world know that the power is from Him, not us.”
To The Breaking of Bread . . .
Every home, every temple has a focus and a center – ours as followers of Jesus is the feast of His Body and His Blood. How important is this weekly celebration? How important is your daily bread? Not many of us will forego eating for long periods of time, nor can we! Just as physical survival is dependent on our consistent intake of food, so our spiritual well being is predicated on our consistent intake of what our prayer book calls “The Means of Grace.”
We are a “sacramental” people. As such we have an understanding of the weight of this meal and its power in our lives – a place for us to meet, by faith, the grace of a living savior, who supplies us with all things necessary for our life and godliness. The Table of the Lord is such a place for us, week-by-week, and we should not take it lightly or come to it occasionally. Just as we eat natural food regularly to maintain our strength we are required to come and take spiritual food regularly to maintain our spiritual strength and be fed by Him in this sacramental meal. We stand in the presence of mystery, not magic.
And God extends this mystery into our homes as we “break bread” in the temple and from house to house, just as the first Church did. This year I have used the phrase “Eucharistic Hospitality” to describe this welcome to God’s table, that we are then asked to and enabled to extend beyond these walls. The Table of the Lord goes with us, friends; it extends into our homes as we welcome one another and other guests and strangers at our own tables, as they are His Tables. Our meals together, from Sunday’s after church to our family times to our REZZERs’ dinners, are extensions of this Table and of the welcome that Jesus gives us week-by-week as we come to Him.
And To The Prayers.
Finally, we are continually called to be a people of Prayer. Friends, I want us to be known as a people who will pray “at the drop of a hat.” I want you to pray together here, in the coffee hour, in the hallway, in the parking lot, in the restaurant, for the waiter or waitress, in the grocery store, at your office, at the dry cleaner or hair dresser. Paul tells us to pray continually. That is holding an on-going conversation with the Living God about the details of yours and all the lives of those around you as you go. The simple question, “Is there anything I can pray for you about?” is an invitation for people to connect with a God who answers prayer. If we have learned anything this year at REZ I hope we have learned that! GOD ANSWERS PRAYER! Not always as we imagine or wish for, but God hears us and is engaged with us in the work of His Kingdom.
The simplicity of childlike prayer is a wonder to behold. We don’t have to figure out God’s will – just ask! We don’t have to know all His ways – just seek! We don’t have to be on the inside all the time – just knock! GOD ANSWERS PRAYER! We have seen it over and over and over in our life at REZ this past year. We’ve seen amazing healings, clear direction, specific words from God for situations in individual lives, dreams, visions, and all this is for God’s glory as it has nothing to do with us or our worthiness, nor our ability. God is at work in our midst, and we get to come along, to watch and to work with Him in all that He is doing.
Three Steps Ahead
Over and over this past year you have heard me say the three little words that we live by here at REZ. Not “I Love You” though that is true too, but the three words that form our inner attitude of heart and mind - to take up our own part in the call to work with Jesus in the transformative work of the Kingdom of God:
Willingness . . .
What are you willing to do for God … with God? Have you set limits? Does your lifestyle or circumstances limit what you can do for Him? Are you willing to go beyond what you can see and seek what He sees for you? Are you willing to press into all the ways He might speak to you: His Word, The Sacraments, His People, and your Prayers?
I pray that you will come to know His love and the limitless power He has for you, as you take Him at His Word, step out in faith, and stretch out in action for Jesus and His Kingdom.
Availability . . .
Are you available to Jesus today? Tomorrow? This week? This year?
Once willingness is established, we must become available to Him – “Lord, Here Am I. Send Me!” We are discovering that we are all called and we are all candidates to be sent: to Jerusalem (our family), to Judea (our neighbors and co-workers), to Samaria (to those who differ from us, in color or culture or lifestyle or faith) and to the end of the world (to missions around the world.) Jesus calls us to be ready to GO, at any moment, wherever He purposes to send us. Are you available?
Now for the hard part… doing the work and doing it His Way! It’s really not about what we think is the right way, the right method, the right vision. It’s all about Jesus. And following Him means staying attentive to Him and becoming obedient in the details of what and how we do the work we are called to do. This is where the rubber meets the road. This is why all the other pieces are so important: The Word, by which we know His will; The Fellowship, people among whom we do His will and who keep us accountable to it; The Table of the Lord, where we find the power to obey and the grace to do His Will, day-by-day; and the Prayers, by which we keep a hand-in-hand, step-by-step relationship alive and well.
So let us set our eyes on Jesus, the Author and the Finisher of our faith. Let us devote ourselves to His Word, His People, His Table and pray moment by moment to be in the flow of His power and purposes in our every day, as we work in partnership with him for the glory of His Kingdom and the fame of His Name.
Amen and Amen.