A Local & Faithful Presence
RCL - Eastertide • Sermon • Submitted • 27:37
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Well it’s hard to believe that this is our family’s last Sunday here at Wilmore Anglican church.
True story, as I was dictating this several days ago Wilmore Anglican came out as Walmart Anglican, so there you go.
As you can imagine we have a whole range of emotions right now. Before I dive into the homily I will give you a brief update on what’s going on in our lives.
After looking for academic, pastoral positions, and adjunct teaching for the last couple of years, I took a job with Humana that requires us to relocate to Warsaw, IN, near my hometown of Bremen.
Amy’s last day of work was Friday and she’s going in for surgery for the 3rd time to take care of her stage 0 breast cancer diagnosis.
We will be leaving Wilmore on June 5 and once my training is complete, I’ll be selling health Medicare.
This has, no doubt, been a very stressful time, but we are so grateful for the way the Lord has cared for us in large part through you. So thank you.
If you want to know more about what we’re up to, feel free to connect after the service.
Well, I’m curious, what would you share on your last day with the congregation that you love so deeply and poured your heart and life into, and who likewise poured their hearts and lives into you?
What would rise to the top for you?
This last homily will be a continuation of the message that my wife, Amy, shared with us last week.
She focused on how the Lord has restored her in ways and in areas that she was not even aware that she needed restoration work.
And God did this through you. It was only possible through you.
This morning, I’d like to unpack a little bit more of the “you” part, or better, the “us” part.
The Lord has laid on my heart to encourage and challenge you with the philosophy that led us to this church in the first place and that has kept us here all these years.
This philosophy, besides being biblical if I may be so bold, was born in part out of our missionary and prior church experience at Life on the Vine in Illinois.
Now, when you hear two of the principles I’ve chosen, they may not sound all that impressive, but they are powerful when put into practice.
In fact, most, perhaps all, spiritual “advances” are experienced through ordinary practices, but they are often the most difficult to do because of the work and commitment involved in doing them and the slow but subtle results that flow from them.
Since we live by a train line, they are the tracks upon which the work of the Spirit flows.
So here they are: when Amy and I were looking for a home church here in Wilmore, we were committed to being local and faithful.
Liturgical was another significant piece but I’m not going to go into that right now.
Notice that I emphasized what we were committed to.
You’ve probable heard or used the phrase, “church shopping.”
We have certainly done that in the past but I’ve come to discover that this is a dangerous phrase.
For, as a metaphor is designed to do, it frames the way that we think about involvement in a church.
It is a product sold by a business that should clamor to meet my needs as a consumer.
When I’m not happy with that product, I can return it or junk it, and buy something else.
Many churches operate under this way of thinking because they know this is how the average church attender thinks.
Instead of approaching our search for a church home in this consumer driven way, we instead adopted one inspired by covenantal love, and two components of that are local and faithful.
That is, be committed no matter how desirable the people, leaders, or programs are, and give your best self to whomever are the people of that place.
To do that requires the exercise of love and the fruit of the spirit.
Before I go on, let me make an important caveat.
I am not exhorting you to commit mindlessly to an abusive person, place, or institution.
Covenantal love is predicated on the idea that all parties have one another’s well-being in mind.
Abusive contexts are not based on Covenantal love but abusers co-opt the covenant concept for exploitation.
With that caveat aside, local and faithful are intertwined with one another.
To be local is to be fiercely committed to whomever is local and this can be very challenging as you can imagine.
When we were missionaries, we didn’t get to choose with whom we worked, we had to figure out how to foster deep relationships with whomever was there.
Our effectiveness in mission was dependent upon that because it demonstrates God’s power to the world.
We see this intertwining of local and faithful reflected all throughout Scripture.
But just notice it’s prevalence in our scripture readings today.
In Exodus 28 we have this beautiful picture of Aaron, the high priest, adorned with God’s people over his heart, always before him and God.
Think about it, this is one of the most predominant pieces of the high priestly garb and it concerns God’s people represented by the 12 stones, one for each tribe, on the ephod.
The additional Urim and Thummim stones, which related to discerning God’s will in certain occasions underscore that the well-being of the people was so important to God that he wanted that visible to the high priest and people at all times.
Psalm 68 is a litany of God’s faithfulness to his people whom He gathers from Egypt.
The fatherless, the widow, the solitary, the prisoner, they are the congregation, the righteous.
The end of this Psalm is cited by Paul in Ephesians 4:8 in connection with Jesus’s bestowal of spiritual gifts through the Spirit to us.
“But to each one of us [a gift] grace was given according to the measure of the Messiah’s [bestowal] gift. Therefore it says, “When he ascended on high he captured captives; he gave gifts to [people].” . . . And Jesus himself gave some as apostles, some as prophets, some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, [to feed and please the whims of every desire of anyone coming to church] to equip the saints for the work of ministry, that is, to build up the body of Messiah, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God—a mature person, attaining to the measure of Messiah’s full stature.” (Ephesians 4:7–13 NET)
Friends, do you see here that these gifts are for doing work, for helping others grow in maturity, and they are only exercisable in the context of your local community.
Gifts are not for me, they are for us.
This is why our family was so impacted by you.
In Acts 1:15-26 we see again the corporate dimension of God’s work.
With Judas having cut himself off from the twelve, the leadership group established by Jesus, Acts recounts not only the process of replacing him
– and here you will note the use of lots to choose Judas’s replacement, which was the purpose of the Urim and Thummim on the high priest’s ephod –
but the importance of doing so.
Peter, like Paul, turns to the Psalms for guidance on the matter (Ps 69:25, Ps 109:8).
God is still establishing his congregation as they cast lots for Judas’s replacement.
Finally, in John 17, Jesus’s final words to his disciples include his prayer for them and us.
As we have heard proclaimed in different ways this Easter season, God is in process of restoring us, his people.
So, what is on Jesus’s heart on his last day with the congregation he loves?
It is that they, that we, become one.
Think about this, the most powerful demonstration to the world around that Jesus is risen and seated on the throne, that the world might believe in him, is “simply” becoming one!
I’m sure you’ve heard the maxim that says, if you were the only person alive on this earth Jesus would’ve died just for you.
While there is an individual dimension in responding to God, but it does not lead us to independence or isolation.
Rather, we join his people, his body, the congregation, at the local level.
It’s not about “me and Jesus” on Sunday morning watching a preacher on TV or reading a devotional.
In that arrangement, we have no way to exercise our spiritual gifts, we are not accountable to others.
Indeed, the verb “love” requires others!
Spiritual gifts requires others!
Your spiritual growth depends on others!
Some are you are looking around and saying, “yikes!”
As I draw to a close, I want to share some wisdom from the great poet-theologians, the Avett Brothers that captures what I’m trying to get across.
They don’t know it, their song, “The Weight of Lies,” is really addressing the perils of “church shopping” and it advocates for local and faithful engagement.
They begin by saying:
Disappear from your home town (or church)
Go and find the people that you know
Show them all of your good parts
Leave town when the bad ones start to show
The weight of lies will bring you down
And follow you to every town 'cause
Nothing happens here that doesn't happen there
When you run make sure you run
To something and not away from 'cause
Lies don't need an aeroplane to chase you anywhere
It is easy for us to disappear and go find the people that are like us.
The problem is, we eventually run into challenges again, because we end up bumping back into ourselves.
Rather than remaining faithfully local, we flit around here and there.
In running from others, we are really running from ourselves, and more sadly, from the formation that God desires to do in us.
As the Avett Brothers remind us,
Nothing happens here that doesn't happen there.
You may find temporary respite by leaving and going somewhere else, but eventually, you’ll be right back to where you started.
What is the solution? As the Avett Brothers advise,
When you run make sure you run
To something and not away from 'cause
Lies don't need an aeroplane to chase you anywhere
If you want to escape what you are trying to run from, the only way is to run to the very ones with whom you are struggling.
Last Sunday Amy mentioned that we have gone through many struggles in our marriage.
Well, this May 27, we will celebrate our 21st anniversary.
We are both very different people from who we were 20 years ago.
We will continue to have struggles, but we “run to something and not away from” and that’s what keeps us growing together.
In both the context of marriage and in serving here at Wilmore Anglican, I have been hurt profoundly by the people I love (and I’ve done my share of hurting others too).
A couple of years ago, I was reflecting on the tension I felt at the pain I was experiencing at the time, and I realized that depth of pain I was feeling was directly related to the depth of the love I experienced with that person.
I could only be hurt that deeply because I was loved even more so.
Now please don’t misunderstand me, I’m not desiring to be hurt or asking you to be either.
Rather, I want you to see that it is covenantal local and faithful love for one another, what makes “us” “us,” that creates the context for God to truly make us one.
Engage and do the hard relational work to know and be known.
There is a certain irony in me exhorting you to commit to faithful engagement here at Wilmore Anglican when we are leaving.
But seriously, as my last word to you, I challenge you to commit yourself to be local and faithful here at Wilmore Anglican.
If not here, then somewhere.
Invest yourself, be vulnerable, serve others and let others serve you.
Don’t run from persons or personalities that grate you or challenge you.
Instead let God do his work in your midst to become one.
Even though we are not fully certain where our next church family will be, I can assure you it will be local and we will be faithful there.
God can only work in you right where you are.
I end with this quote by Ronald Rolheiser in his book, The Holy Longing (108).
“Accordingly, if we commit ourselves to a church community and stay with that commitment, we will at some point, have the experience that Jesus promised Peter would befall every disciple: prior to this kind of commitment you can gird your belt and go wherever you want, but, after joining a concrete church community, others will put a belt around you and take you where you would rather not go. And Jesus is right. What church community takes away from us is our false freedom to soar unencumbered, like the birds, believing that we are mature, loving, committed, and not blocking out things that we should be seeing. Real churchgoing soon enough shatters this illusion, and gives us no escape, as we find ourselves constantly humbled as our immaturities and lack of sensitivity to the pain of others are reflected off eyes that are honest and unblinking.”
Friends, you are God’s people, his body, his congregation.
Lean in, be local, be faithful.
Commit to a life group, serve on Sunday morning, look for ways to engage.
Amy and I will never be the same because of the love we have known through you.
I pray that Wilmore will never be the same because of the local and faithful presence of his people in this congregation.
Thank you for loving us and letting me become one of your pastors.