Faithlife Sermons

The Next Bend in the River

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With a vision of our ultimate destination, we can focus on charting a course to the next waypoint on our journey,

The book of Proverbs is a collection of short, pithy sayings about a particular way of living. Whether they were all the product of a King Solomon, as tradition holds, or a compendium of ancient sources remains up for debate. But whether there was one or many contributors, this much can be agreed upon. Far ranging as the instructions for a happy life are in this book, they remain tied to the notion that wisdom comes from God and that the wise person seeks to know and follow God's law for the ordering of human life. The goal of understanding and following the covenantal statutes was the paragon of virtue to the author or authors and such a life is held up as a vision of successful living. "Successful living". That happens to be a class that both of our girls have taken as part of their home school program and it is one that is based on the framework of Proverbs. This morning we heard read a single of the pithy sayings from the book, one that does, I think, an admirable job of summarizing the theme of the collection of advice on successful living. This snippet is about vision, and the author touts the vital role it plays for not just the life of an individual person, but also for the whole community - the people. Again, the reference is to a vision which begins with a knowledge of and obedience to God's word. And to quote, as a more contemporary author has lyrically written, the beginning is a very fine place to start. I had announced a few weeks ago now that I was going to be devoting many of my upcoming sermons to the basic tenets of the faith and there are very few I can think of that are more basic than this. For, as a people of God, the knowledge and consequences of being a people of God has been for us a most fundamental part of our identity since the days of Abraham. And that's going back further even than Makemie! In the opening chapter of the book of Proverbs, our ancient teacher notes that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge. When, in this morning's Old Testament reading, he speaks of a necessary vision for the people, this is that which he refers. Without a focus on God and his laws, humanity is lost. Without vision, obviously, we are blind. We are lost and wandering sheep. No less true than it was back then, the people need a vision. When Jesus came on the scene, he knew that things had not changed since the days of Adam. We read how his mission and ministry sought to heal, to save, to reconcile people with God. God was still to be the focus in their lives and now here was a new self-revelation of that God which people could re-focus their vision on. He reiterated that love for and obedience to God was paramount and he directed the people to love others by inviting them into the fellowship of those who shared this vision. It has been 50 weeks now since I stood here and invited us all to begin a season of prayer and discernment, seeking a re-formation of this historic and steadfast church and her present congregation; asking God to direct us to new understandings and dynamic expressions of our ministry and mission. I guess you could say, though I didn't at the time, what I was petitioning for was for a fresh vision for this community of faith. And, while I wouldn't say that there has been tremendous clarity all of the sudden on this front, either on my part nor on the part of the session, nor on the part of those of you who have been in communication with me in any number of ways, what I can say is that the historic vision of this church has not changed with the times or the circumstances around us. As far as I'm concerned, that's a good thing. We are still in the business of making strong disciples and caring for folks both nearby and neighbors at a great distance. Some of the ways that we go about doing these things have changed, even as the gospel message at their core has not. As we entered the second decade of the second millennium the pace of change in our world seems to have increased exponentially. Our prayers for discernment and direction may have become even more fervent as the social, financial, political, and healthcare structures and norms have come under intense pressures. As we watch, we continue to wonder, "what do we do?"; "how do we respond in faith?" Crucial to a way forward is the power and action of the Holy Spirit. But also vital, I believe, is the ongoing clarity of vision on God's word and our faithful response. In the days of the 50 weeks since we entered into this season of prayer and discernment, one thing is becoming clearer to me. And that is "A Long Obedience in the Same Direction" is more than just the title of a book by Eugene Peterson that was required reading in my seminary days. It is a way of life for the people of God which binds us both to God and one another, despite the forces that would work to weaken our resolve. Another thing that is becoming clearer to me is that the manner in which we engage in the mission and ministry of this church must - and is indeed - beginning to change. Where it will ultimately take us, I don't know, but as I noted last week, all we really need to know is what the proximal goal is. To use a nautical metaphor, we just need to get to the next waypoint along our charted path. And the next waypoint doesn't have to be far distant. It can be as close as the next bend in the river. There can be very many waypoints plotted for the passage. We have a vision of the safe harbor to which we are headed, so we can focus our attention on the vision necessary to take each of the immediate steps along our journey. Now I have not had a Damascus Road experience lately, where the Risen Jesus has knocked me off my donkey to have a little face to face chat. In fact, I haven't even a Coventry Parish Road experience lately, whatever that might look like. But what has been happening is that I have felt some stirring, some persistent sense of pull, or push, toward paying attention to - and an increasing awareness of - how other Christian bodies are adapting in their own settings to the unexpected array of challenges that face us now 50 weeks into our season of discernment. I know that the vision of God front and center is non-negotiable to the Church, Holy, Apostolic, and Universal. I know that Jesus is the one who has saved us and who has commissioned us for service in His name. I know that this congregation has done some remarkable things in her 348 years together. I know that we are doing some remarkable things too. With all this in mind, I would ask all of you to walk with me toward a vision leading to the next waypoint on our shared journey. I know that it might sound like the opening to a capital campaign kickoff event, but I assure you, it isn't. What it is, is simply an attempt to provide that which the author of Proverbs deemed essential for the health and well-being of the people of God - vision. We've been over the firm foundation that grounds us and the faithful history which girds us, so let's consider what lies ahead. One thing I can see ahead is a whole lot of change. That can be a scary thing, especially within the context of an organization that has been in the faith business for three and a half centuries. But I suspect that since the time of Makemie some changes have taken place here at Rehoboth. I can name a few: We have stained glass windows, which came in during the Victorian era and add beauty to the sanctuary. We have electricity, which was added in the last century and is a wonderful convenience. We have an organ, which is a relatively recent and welcome addition to our worship services. We have changed hymnals more than once. And, of course, you have changed ministers. Something on the order of more than 40 times now. And still, the church has survived and even thrived over the ages. What we face in our time is still more change - going on within and around the church, so, whether we like it or not, we are left with little choice but to adapt some more of our practices. Some of them have already been altered and more are going to be. Both our worship practices and our mission and ministry practices are beginning to evolve and there will be more of it to come. We are on the cusp of introducing electronic giving as an option to our members and friends as well. We are communicating with our mission partners in new ways and those methods will continue to evolve. We are moving away from a reliance on word of mouth on a Sunday morning to communicate important information to the membership, as they are more dispersed than ever before. We are learning ways of reaching out to more brothers and sisters than ever before with the words and especially the music celebrating the Good News of the Gospel. So I am beginning to sense a vision of this church as holding firm to our identity in Christ, while adapting means and methods to build community and foster mission and ministry in His holy name. As the congregation and/or as friends of this church, I invite each and every one of you to inquire of the Spirit of God a clearer vision for this church, as what I have sketched out is the most basic of frameworks for getting this ship to the next waypoint, the next bend in the river. But it is for now, I hope, sufficient. Along with our vision of who God is and what He has made us for, even if we don't live to see an arrival at the Promised Land of the Church at Rehoboth, the people will not perish. And for that we may truly say, thanks be to God. 2
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