Hi, everybody. So. What brought you here this morning? Curiosity? A need for prayer? A need for community? A need to picnic? Are you here out of habit? Because your mom–or spouse–said so? Or to avoid going somewhere else? Have you come this morning to see Michael, Devon, or Maddie…or the colors? Why have you come to church this morning?
If you’ve been coming here a while, what keeps you coming back? Prayer time? Service opportunities? Commitment to social justice? Music? Sermons? Spirituality? Small groups?
Do you ever wish we had a few more people? Man! With a few more people we could staff Family Promise like that! And we could get those 3 R’s knocked out lickety split. With more people, replacing the Next Generation House would be a simple task. If only we had a few more people!
So, how do we get more people? If we follow the lead of the first communities of Jesus’ followers, the first step in getting more people is to stop worrying about getting more people. From the get-go, the Jesus community has attracted newcomers. We see it at the beginning with Pentecost, when God’s Spirit swoops in, Peter preaches, and 3,000 people join the Jesus movement in a single day.
At the end of all the excitement of Pentecost, the new faithful join together in smaller communities. House churches, they’re sometimes called. And wouldn’t you know? People join those communities, too. Listen.
Ann/Kathleen: They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.
Kim: And people fell all over themselves to join the community!
Ann/Kathleen: Um, that’s not what it says here.
Kim: Are you sure?
Ann/Kathleen: Yes. I’m sure. Mind if I continue?
Kim: Oh, sure. Please.
Ann/Kathleen: Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles.
Kim: Wonders and signs! That must have done the trick, right?
Ann/Kathleen: Nope. Don’t think so. May I? (Kim nods.) 44All who believed were together and had all things in common; 45they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need.
Kim: Come on! Where are all the new members?
Ann/Kathleen: Have patience, Pastor. 46Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts,
Kim: Yeah, yeah, yeah…
Ann/Kathleen: Praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.
Kim: Well, Hallelujah! At last!
Ann/Kathleen: If you respond to these words, then for you they have become the word of the living God. Thanks be to God!
We looked at this passage on Visioning Day Saturday before last. I hope it’s beginning to sound familiar. As we engaged our theme of “Building a Stronger Community” this summer, we often came back to these verses. On Visioning Day, someone shared this insight. According to this text, people didn’t just come up to one of these house churches, knock on the door and say, “Hey! I want to join!” The passage doesn’t begin with people joining the community.
In fact, people joining the community happens almost as an afterthought, or a P.S. The main event is everything that comes before—studying, praying, worshiping, fellowshipping, eating, taking care of one another’s needs. Following the structure of this passage, it’s not a matter of join the church then do these things. It’s a matter of the church being church, of church doing church, then the energy created by the church doing and being these things spilling over into the wider community. When people see what’s happening at the church on the hill, they want whatever those Jesus followers are having….
I feel like things are starting to happen here at Pilgrimage. Do you feel it, too? An energy…a hopefulness…a renewed belief in wild possibilities… It feels like we’re waking up to the realization that people in our north metro area are eager, desperate to experience God’s love in authentic ways. They’re longing for a place just like Pilgrimage.
I believe we are on the cusp of something new and exciting and potentially life-changing. We’re on the verge of a seismic shift into doing and being church in new and profoundly creative ways. Like the Egyptian mothers whose labor midwives Shiphrah and Puah attended, I sense that we are in labor, about to give birth. Like Jesus in his encounter with the Canaanite woman, we’re getting a glimpse of just how far God’s love extends. Like Peter in the midst of the storm, I sense that we are poised on the rim of the boat, almost ready to step out onto the sea and do something we’ve never done before, something we’ve thought impossible, something our faith in Jesus is just beginning to help us imagine.
We’ve been doing good work here at Pilgrimage for nearly 4 decades. Hospitality is in this congregation’s DNA. The fact that we will celebrate the 20th anniversary of our decision to become ONA is testimony to that. In the decade and a half that I’ve been here, we’ve continued to grow by leaps and bounds in extending an extravagant welcome to others in Jesus’ name. We have so much to be proud of in our efforts to live God’s love in the world, to act others into wellbeing in God’s name.
But I sense in this moment, at this time, in this place that God is calling us to something new… something energizing…something exciting…something that will help us help the world to know of and come to believe in God’s love for them.
So, how do we figure it out? How do we figure out to what new thing God is calling us? The short answer is simple: “Be the church.” Continue doing the things communities of Jesus’ followers have always done—study, fellowship together, break bread together, pray, worship, take care of one another’s needs, extend God’s love to those outside the community. If we want to find our way forward as a church, the place to begin is to focus again on being church.
In your bulletins, you’ll find a worksheet I created for Visioning Day. It includes the “being church” activities listed in Acts 2:42-47 and two columns—(1) what we do and (2) what we might do. We weren’t able to fill in those blanks on Visioning Day, so I sent it out in an email a few days later. One saintly person responded. Sigh. In just a second, we’ll have a few minutes to reflect and offer responses.
Or you might prefer to work on the other side of the sheet. The visioning process we’re using was designed by Kennon Callahan. “12 Keys of an Effective Church,” it’s called. The planning team has been working since May on this process. As part of that process, a survey was sent out a couple of months ago asking you to rate the 12 keys in terms of how strong each is in our community. The six strengths we identified and that helped focus our Visioning Day process are listed on the back of the Acts 2 worksheet: (1) One mission outreach and one major program; (2) High visibility; (3) Stirring, helpful worship; (4) Significant relational groupings and shepherding; (5) Generous giving; and (6) Strong leadership Team and Solid decision process. As you came in this morning, you saw some of the brainstorming sheets from our conversations about each area. We hope you’ll add your thoughts and ideas to the sheets.
Central to the 12 keys process is focusing on the positive. It’s a little counterintuitive. If you’ve got a weakness, the tendency is to throw all your energy into fixing the weakness. For us, that probably would mean focusing all our energy on improving our facility.
Callahan’s approach is to identify our strengths then build on them. “Grow them forward,” is the language he uses. The thinking is that focusing on our strengths will have the happy benefit of also shoring up areas in which we’re less strong. I will say that on Visioning Day, focusing on the positive was very energizing. And hard. It’s so much easier to complain, to rush to fix what’s broken. But when we focus on things we’re doing well, ideas for tweaking areas that aren’t as strong begin to emerge. And those ideas emerge with tremendous energy, even excitement. When we only focus on what’s wrong, coming up with ways to “fix” those things can be very dispiriting.
So, we’re going to take a few minutes to do some reflecting on either side of worksheet—remember to focus on the positive! If something emerges, an idea or action that you would like to offer to the community in the service of being and strengthening the church, I invite you to tear off a small piece of paper, write down your offering, sign it if you want to (though that’s not necessary), and put it in the offering plate as it is passed in just a moment. (5 minutes)
In the name of our God, who creates us, redeems us, sustains us, and hopes for our wholeness. Amen.
Kimberleigh Buchanan © 2017