A man named Carl Bates wrote the following words: There came a time in my life when I earnestly prayed: “God, I want your power.” Time wore on and the power did not come. One day the burden was more than I could bear. “God,” I asked, “Why haven’t you answered that prayer?” God seemed to whisper back this simply reply: “With plans no bigger than yours, you don’t need my power.”
How would you measure our congregation’s spiritual impact? Do we clearly demonstrate our church covenants in compelling ways? Is there an irresistible quality about us? Sometimes I think we have low expectations of what we can be spiritually. Sometimes we forget that there is are God-sized plans for us.
I hope you are sensing a new wind blowing at CCC. I’m getting that sense that some of you who’ve been coming here for years want more out of church than a place of Sunday morning worship and education with a whole bunch of church board meetings in between. It’s not so much dissatisfaction with the church, but a yearning for something more. People want to re-commit themselves to acts of service. People want to release worship from its strict formality. Hearts want a place where we can come as we are and know we will be accepted and wanted. Some want a church that calls every single person, younger and older, man or woman, gay and straight, single, married or committed, to be inspired and sent out to impact our community for Christ. People want a church known for its quality of caring, and its uncontainable eagerness to reach out to those in need. I think it’s exciting.
Here’s the challenge. People come up to me and say, “Pastor Matt, wouldn’t it be great if our church had a way to reach out to shut-ins or college-age kids, or unchurched youth, or people who are down on their luck, or those who are trying to explore and understand their sexual identity? And we could really use a way to greet and follow up on visitors, and reach out to new potential members. We could also use more adult Bible studies and new volunteer opportunities to engage our membership.” Many of you have great ideas for how to reach out with God’s love . . . to which my response is, “That’s a great idea! Go ahead and start your dream ministry, and I will do what I can to support you.” And the great, God-sized ideas remain a dream.
I think some of you have a gnawing desire to reach out to others. God has placed a certain person or a certain group on your heart and mind. You can picture the God-sized transformation that can take place. But, at the same time, many feel unprepared or unequipped. Insecurity and doubt creep in, and the vision gets set aside until someone more experienced or talented comes along to start it up. I feel the same way sometimes. I get into situations where I feel way over my head, beyond my expertise and knowledge–beyond my life-experiences. Yet God still asks me to minister to people in those situations. It can be scary. We have all these spiritual gifts that we heard about in our first Scripture reading, but we don’t always practiced them. In our congregation, there are people with gifts of wisdom and knowledge. There are some with gifts of faith and others with gifts of healing. There are some with the gift of generosity and others with a talent for taking prophetic stands for justice. And many of us are too uncomfortable to put these spiritual gifts to use.
At those moments, I find it helpful to look at the life of Solomon. Solomon was heir to the throne of King David, and responsible for building a Temple to God in Jerusalem. Listen to this story from the book of 1 Kings in the Hebrew Scriptures.
Solomon made an alliance with Pharaoh, the king of Egypt, and married one of his daughters. He brought her to live in the City of David until he could finish building his palace and the Temple of the Lord and the wall around the city. At that time the people of Israel sacrificed their offerings at local places of worship, for a temple honoring the name of the Lord had not yet been built.
Solomon loved the Lord and followed all the decrees of his father, David, except that Solomon, too, offered sacrifices and burned incense at the local places of worship. The most important of these places of worship was at Gibeon, so the king went there and sacrificed 1,000 burnt offerings. That night the Lord appeared to Solomon in a dream, and God said, “What do you want? Ask, and I will give it to you!”
Solomon replied, “You showed faithful love to your servant my father, David, because he was honest and true and faithful to you. And you have continued your faithful love to him today by giving him a son to sit on his throne.
“Now, O Lord my God, you have made me king instead of my father, David, but I am like a little child who doesn’t know his way around. And here I am in the midst of your own chosen people, a nation so great and numerous they cannot be counted! Give me an understanding heart so that I can govern your people well and know the difference between right and wrong. For who by himself is able to govern this great people of yours?”
The Lord was pleased that Solomon had asked for wisdom. So God replied, “Because you have asked for wisdom in governing my people with justice and have not asked for a long life or wealth or the death of your enemies— I will give you what you asked for! I will give you a wise and understanding heart such as no one else has had or ever will have! And I will also give you what you did not ask for—riches and fame! No other king in all the world will be compared to you for the rest of your life! And if you follow me and obey my decrees and my commands as your father, David, did, I will give you a long life.”
Then Solomon woke up and realized it had been a dream. He returned to Jerusalem and stood before the Ark of the Lord’s Covenant, where he sacrificed burnt offerings and peace offerings. Then he invited all his officials to a great banquet.1 Kings 3:1-15
I get the sense that Solomon must have felt the same way we do. In this story, Solomon has a God-sized task to do. He’s called to rule with justice over God’s chosen people, succeeding his father David, the highly popular and adored king of Israel. Leadership is a God-sized task that Solomon feels unprepared for. What does Solomon do? Let’s look more closely at the text.
Solomon acknowledges his need. He’s honest about his limitations and his lack of human ability to properly fulfill what God had calls him to do. At this point he could have given up, “Thanks, but no thanks God. Maybe you should find someone else more capable. It’s not that I’m unwilling. I just don’t know what to do. Call me in a few years.” But Solomon never backs down from his responsibility to obey God. Instead he does something decisive...
Solomon prays. In a dream God says, “Ask whatever you want, and I will give it to you.” He could have said, “God, give me money so I can expand my influence. Give me power so people will respect me. Kill all my enemies so we will have peace.” But no, Solomon says, “Lord God, please give me wisdom to govern your people and lead them in doing right.” Solomon prayed for exactly what he needed to fulfill the God-sized task he had been given. As a result...
Solomon received what he needed from God. And because he aligned himself with God’s aims for the world, God gave him the money and power as an added bonus. And then something important happened...
Solomon worshiped. Solomon’s response to God’s goodness and generosity is to publicly praise God. Unbridled worship is what one does when one experiences the grace of God.
Healthy churches have an experiential quality about them. They use their varieties of gifts to live out the good news. So, if you feel like God is leading you into a specific form of outreach through this church, don’t be afraid. The ministerial staff and I are actually praying for it to happen. Amy, Nae, Sue and I want everything we do as a church to reflect a commitment to worship and mission. We hear the call, we respond to God’s aims, and we respond in worship. And I’m not just talking about Sunday mornings. We want everything we do as a church to be infused with mission and worship: every gathering, every board and committee meeting, and even our office work. Everything.
It is time for us, at CCC, to reclaim our place as the church that's known for it’s compassionate, prayerful response to the world around us. We allowed ourselves to become inward looking over the past few years. It’s not a bad thing, but it’s not who God called us to be. It may have been necessary to do all that organizational introspection, but it’s not what we were put here for.
Perhaps you feel God calling you to begin a neighborhood support group, but every time you think about it, you get a nervous, queasy feeling. You feel like you don’t know how to talk about your faith to other people. Maybe you have felt the Spirit nudging you to get involved in a social justice issue, but you are afraid of the consequences. Maybe you have a great new of way of connecting church members to small groups. Do it! I want this church to be a place where you are resourced to fulfill your mission. I’m not going to do it all for you. God already has a big list of things for me to do right now. If God has given you vision for a way to reach out, then I’m guessing that God wants you to do something about it. Be strong and courageous, and follow up on it. We get so busy funding programs and maintaining traditions. But, tradition serves no purpose unless we are also willing to step outside of that tradition to think about what kind of church this need to be.
Here’s what I recommend:
Like Solomon, acknowledge your need. Don’t be afraid of your limitations. You are a human, and you are limited, but God can do awesome thing through you as you yield to the Spirit.
Pray and ask what God wants from your life. Ask specifically, because I believe God will answer specifically.
If you see God moving in your life, if you hear God speaking to you, or of you feel God calling you for a specific purpose, don’t do anything. As someone once said, “Don’t just do something, stand there.” Before you plunge in, sit on it for two weeks. If, after a couple weeks, you are still thinking about what God would like to do through you, or if you need help discerning what God is saying, make an appointment to come talk with me or Amy and we will listen together
And if God is moving in your life in the way I’m describing, I’m going to be excited with you, and celebrate God’s goodness to the church.
Be the church in which all who enter in know of God’s consuming love that will never let us go. Be the place where we can come and be reminded that God knows us each by name. Be the church that experiences the Spirit equipping you for service.
Be the church that’s not afraid of change. Be the church that is able to see where God is moving and knows how to join in. It’s a church where people are encouraged to reflect God’ s Spirit at school, work, and home. . . the church that sends adds value to the lives of other people.
Be the church that is so vital to the community that it would be missed if it was no longer around . . . a church so blazing in its worship, its quality of caring, it’s eagerness to reach out to those in need, that it can be seen by all and not contained.