Who are we? & Why are we here?
October 25, 2015
Beloved Visioning 2015 – Sermon 1 of 3
We did something really remarkable these last few weeks –
we discerned an almost entirely leadership team for Beloved.
We call this team the Guide Group,
because we don’t expect them to the work of the church by themselves,
but rather Guide us into the future that God is calling us to.
This Guiding Group now has 2 sides to it:
On the community ministry side we have Mary, Matt and Laura
helping us develop God’s calling and mission among us.
And on the operations side we have Mark, Grace, Nathanael, and Andrea
to focus on our administration, personnel, and finances.
Two incredible teams!
I can’t tell you how exciting this is to me,
because we have before us an unknown future
with both challenge and opportunity,
but we also have two teams of gifted leaders
who are intent on listening deeply to God’s Spirit and to you,
their community, as we make a way forward.
So – over the next few weeks before Advent
I want to create some space for us to reflect on where Beloved has come from,
where Beloved is at, and figure out where we might be headed.
Now, does anyone have any ideas as to why I chose these two stories to be read tonight?
The one from Exodus and the other one from Acts?
Both of them are really about God’s community of Faith, setting out into an unknown future.
The first reading was about the people who were rescued from slavery, but now they are wandering around the wilderness trying to figure out how to be a people together.
God tells them – make an arc.
Which is basically like a big box… a big suitcase, that will travel with them.
And God tells them to put a few objects in it…
(They weren’t all mentioned in the reading… Does anyone know what they were?)
– Aaron’s Rod: What story does Aaron’s Rod remind us of?
– Jar of Manna: What story does Manna remind us of?
– Tablets of the Covenant: What story do the tablets remind us of?
There could be all kinds of things that God might tell them to put in the suitcase…
But God only picks three because they’re traveling into the unknown future.
They got to travel light. You can’t take everything with you.
It will simply hold you down. But you have to bring something,
You’re going to need it on the journey… So what do you bring?
They bring objects that tell a story…
These 3 objects tell these 3 stories, but they ultimately say one thing to the people of God…
It comes at the end of the instruction for building the arc and the tabernacle… It says:
“And they shall know that I am the Lord their God, who brought them out of the land of Egypt that I might dwell among them; I am the Lord their God.”
God wants to be known –
the saving and indwelling God wants to be known by you.
Objects tell a story.
Think about your home – If your home was on fire what would you carry out with you? Why? Share a few stories…
(1) What about here, in our worship space, in the objects that tell stories here?
Write down one or two objects that tell a story that you would find in Church of the Beloved’s worship space, that you would miss if it were gone. It might not be out right now, we might only bring it out during Advent or Lent, or some other part of the year.
If you could only put one or two Beloved objects in this suitcase to carry along with us into the future, what would they be?
(2) In Godly play often the story teller will ask the children,
“Could we leave any parts of this story out and it would still be the same story?”
It’s a clarifying question… What’s of the utmost importance? What can’t we live without?
The Israelites chose these items to put in the arc because they told a story that was vital to their own personal story.
You couldn’t take them away and still have the same story.
What stories from scripture are vital to your faith?
If you could only put one or two stories in this suitcase from scripture to carry along with us into the future,
what would they be?
In the 90’s, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and Episcopal Church in America decided there was enough that unites them together that they were called to a common mission…
This means that they enjoy a full partnership together – They can exchange clergy and all that…
In the sermon that the Presiding bishop preached at this event, he told the 500 year old churches:
“We’ve got to travel light.”
These are churches with many traditions and customs, and dogmas and doctrines, and treasured hymnal and prayer books, but he told them:
“We can’t take it all into the future that God is calling us. It’s too heavy.
We must carry with us only what will fit into two saddle bags.”
I think that is what the Israelites were doing with the arc.
They were traveling light and bringing with them only what was of the most importance.
And I think that is what the first century church was doing in the reading from Acts also…
They were confronted with a strange new future –
No one expected the pagan Gentiles to start joining this Jewish church…
Now the apostles had ask the hard question:
“What customs and what laws are we willing to let go of now that the Spirit has shaken things up and included these outsiders?”
To put the question another way –
What is your faith at its very core?
This is the question that the martyrs had to answer
with their very lives –
“What about your faith are you not willing to give up?
Will you stake your life on it?
Will you face the empire for it?
Will you face lions for it?”
What of your faith is irreducible?
Write down, in the small space allowed for, what about your faith are you not willing to give up… what you’d pack into a suitcase and bring with you.
Try to articulate what’s of the most importance to your faith – maybe it’s a value, or a belief, or a conviction,
or a spiritual practice… write that down. (3)
It’s like the question, “What would you bring with you if you were stranded on a desert island?”
But actually what we’re talking about is the opposite.
We’re saying, We don’t want the church to be siloed any longer; we don’t want to be hoarders.
We don’t want to be hoarders because all that collecting can quickly become a burden and make us feel like we are stuck on a deserted island of faith all by ourselves.
We want to be a mobile community, able to move about in God’s unfolding and unknown future.
That’s what the apostles wanted.
That’s what the Israelites wanted.
And that’s what we want too.
Not to exist merely for ourselves.
Not to simply be a religious club.
There was something that drew the Israelites and apostles forward, and it changed the world. It changed their world…
God gave them a new purpose, a new calling. It was what something bigger than what they could be individually.
Think about Beloved for a minute…
What mission? What purpose? What calling?
What future might God be calling us to?
What reason for existing here at this moment in time?
Write that down on your last slip of Paper (4)
Holy Spirit, give inspiration to your people again:
Give words to articulate it.
We want to travel light; we want to be unencumbered.
But we also want to travel in the right direction and with the right resources in our box.
Thank you for giving us discernment tonight.
Help our Guides to listen deeply to us and to you, Holy Spirit. Lead us!
Come put your four pieces of paper in the suitcase and I will deliver them to your guides. The musicians will play some music while we pack our suitcase together.