ENGAGE IN THE MISSION OF CHRIST
“Faith as Gift and Task”
Our reading this morning comes from the letter to the Hebrews.
The original intention of the letter was to connect the story of first century Hebrew Christians
who were struggling in faith to the long and rich story of faith from those who had gone before them.
Those early Christians were facing extremely difficult times and they were sorely tempted,
in the face of loss and persecution, to abandon the Christian faith altogether.
Some had even gotten into the habit of not worshiping with other Christians.
The author encourages them to be steadfast in their faith, especially in challenging times.
The author encourages them to connect their individual stories
with the larger story of faith that goes back for generations,
and perhaps to see that struggling in faith is nothing new. Throughout the ages,
even great heroes of faith struggled and even suffered at times.
And the larger faith of the people overcame tremendous odds
and was passed from one generation to the next.
The word “faith” that we use so often in church is closely related to “relationship”.
Like the relationship with a loved one, faith in God is both gift and task.
We cannot have a relationship with anyone without it being in a sense a gift to us.
The other person must in some way gift us by relating to us.
Yet every couple that is married knows that marriage is not simply gift, but also task.
Every healthy marriage requires so small amount of work and diligence
in order for that marriage to be strong and well.
Any relationship, including our relationship with God, is both gift and task.
Hear the Word of God from Hebrews 11:24-12:2.
By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called a son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to share ill-treatment with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. He considered abuse suffered for the Christ to be greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking ahead to the reward. By faith he left Egypt, unafraid of the king’s anger; for he persevered as though he saw him who is invisible. By faith he kept the Passover and the sprinkling of blood, so that the destroyer of the firstborn would not touch the firstborn of Israel.
Moses had received the gift of faith, a relationship with YHWH,
and the understanding that the slavery of the Hebrews was not to be tolerated.
By faith, he left a comfortable life to respond to the compelling call of God. As a result…
By faith the (Hebrew) people passed through the Red Sea as if it were dry land, but when the Egyptians attempted to do so they were drowned. By faith the walls of Jericho fell after they had been encircled for seven days. By faith Rahab the prostitute did not perish with those who were disobedient, because she had received the spies in peace.
Rahab had received the gift of faith. Perhaps she had heard about this God of the Hebrews,
this God who expected, no demanded, of his people, justice and righteousness and compassion.
Though Rahab is called prostitute in the ancient text, today we might call her a “trafficked person”,
one whose body has been bought and sold for the pleasure of others.
By faith, Rahab risked her life to participate in a movement, in a theology, far larger than herself.
And what more should I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets— who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions, quenched raging fire, escaped the edge of the sword, won strength out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight.
By faith, these heroes of the Bible accomplished mighty deeds for the sake of the will of God,
and their stories are not to be forgotten.
Women received their dead by resurrection. Others were tortured, refusing to accept release, in order to obtain a better resurrection. Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned to death, they were sawn in two, they were killed by the sword; they went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, persecuted, tormented— of whom the world was not worthy. They wandered in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground.
The litany of faithfulness includes those who, by faith, suffered for the sake of the gospel.
They gave up the comforts of this life, even life itself,
for the sake of something much larger than themselves, for the sake of the gospel.
Yet all these, though they were commended for their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better so that they would not, without us, be made perfect.
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.
As many of you know, the stated mission of the Decatur Presbyterian Church community is
“to share Jesus Christ’s love for the world.”
At the heart of this mission is that Jesus Christ, the pioneer and perfecter of faith, loves the world.
Jesus communicated in word and deed that he loved his disciples, who would become the church,
his very body on earth, his hands and feet and mouth, but he also made clear that he loves “ton
cosmos”, as John’s gospel declares, “the world”.
This old world has seen far too much violence, too much death, and destruction and abject poverty.
Jesus came that the world might be saved from all that.
He came so that you and I and all our neighbors may not live in fear.
He came so that we would not have to live in conflict and division.
He came so that we do have to live as though every person who looks different from us is out to get us.
He came so that none would have to live in hunger, in body or in spirit,
deprived of the basic necessities of life.
Jesus came that the world may have life and have it abundantly.
He came that all may learn to live together by the fruits of the Spirit:
love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, generosity, and self-control.
Whether you realize it or not, you are here this morning because you have been called
to help fulfill this mission. And we are so glad that you are a part of it.
The other pastors and I are very excited about start of this school year!
There is renewed energy around here; fresh winds of the Spirit are blowing.
We are being encouraged and inspired in our ministries every day.
And this encouragement begins in worship.
We worship God because we have an innate need to give thanks to God
and to sing praises and to hear a Word from above, and as we do so, we are changed.
Worship changes us, melds us, molds us, fills us,
so that we may be vessels for sharing the love of Jesus Christ for a world in need.
If we are going to share the love of Jesus Christ, first we must be steeped in that love.
We seek to abide in his love daily, so that love will be our first thought in the morning
and the first word from our lips when we speak to those with whom we live.
In worship, we receive a spark of the love of Jesus Christ for all,
the amazing love that surpasses understanding,
and, in worship, we are encouraged, through the way that we live, and the things that we do,
and yes occasionally, through the words that we speak,
to share that spark of love with all whom we meet.
Alex Rodgers received the gift of faith, that spark of love, as a child of the church in Dallas, Texas.
She and her brother were taken to church by their parents almost every time the doors were opened.
Music was a particularly important part of her early life.
Today, by faith, Alex Rodgers keeps up with members of this congregation.
She shows up and provides warm pastoral care when people are in need.
She considers carefully engaging adult programs which will teach and inspire.
She loves you.
Allysen Schaaf received the gift of faith, that spark of love, first in Nebraska, alongside her
grandparents, then in North Carolina, participating fully with her brother and her parents in her
Today, by faith, Allysen Schaaf now plans events and Bible studies for young people.
She loves each one of our youth and encourages them to grow in faith, to live in hope,
to love their neighbors as they love themselves.
Emily Wilmesherr received the gift of faith, that spark of love, in middle Tennessee.
She grew up in a loving and supportive congregation; she was a leader at a young age.
Emily discovered inspiration and unexpected gifts and a call to ministry during her college years.
Today, by faith, Emily Wilmesherr is doing exactly what this congregation needs her to do.
She is building relationships of love and encouragement with children and their parents.
She is involving new people and initiating helpful changes in our ministry with children.
Matt McMahan received the gift of faith, that spark of love, in Anniston, Alabama.
He and his twin brother, also a church musician, grew up worshiping in a congregation where their
mother was the music leader.
She taught Matt and his brother at a young age to practice hard
and always to glorify God through their music.
Today, by faith, Matt continues to practice his organ diligently.
Matt is extremely talented, but he does not rest on his laurels.
He pushes himself and pushes the choir to make beautiful music,
in order to enable us all to love God through participating in music worthy of the praise of God.
By faith, you have showed up today.
Some of you showed up with some anticipation of what you might give or receive today.
Others may have shown not expecting much of anything,
not expecting to receive or share that spark of love, that gift of faith.
Look around you in these pews. There are many here willing to share that spark of love,
who are seeking to nurture themselves and their children in faith, hope, and love.
By faith, they are giving generously of their time and talents.
By faith, they are ensuring that this congregation has the financial resources to support the mission.
By faith, they are learning more and more what it means to love God
with all our heart, soul, mind and strength,
and what it means to love our neighbors as we love ourselves.
We have a tremendous opportunity to do something really special, something very important,
in the city of Decatur and the greater Decatur community.
God has blessed this congregation with the gift of faith, with the spark of love.
It is ours not to hoard or simply to celebrate among ourselves;
faith/relationship/love is both gift and task.
Our theme for the 2019-20 school year is “Engage”, engage in the mission of Christ.
This is directly related to DPC’s bicentennial goal:
Every child of God belonging…engaging…being transformed.
DPC desires for every child of God who participates with DPC
to grow in their Belonging to God and others,
to Engage in the mission of Jesus Christ,
and to Experience Transformation through the power of the Holy Spirit.
As printed on the cards in the pew racks, the first of our core strategies to fulfill this mission is:
“Engage persons of all ages in high-quality experiences of worship and faith formation”.
If we desire that the world may be re-formed by the love of Christ,
if we desire that the world learn to abide in the love of Christ daily,
if we desire that we all work together to begin to meet the sea of overwhelming human need,
then one of the best things that we can do is to nurture the Church’s love
through worship and faith formation.
Christian worship has never been meant solely for the edification of those gathered.
Christian worship has never been intended as righteous entertainment,
nor as a place where all our biases and prejudices may be reinforced.
The purpose of Christian worship is the healing of the world.
When you and I worship, what we receive in this place is not simply to help us live a moral life
in our current circumstances, though that can be helpful.
What you and I receive here – the knowledge of the heighth, breadth, length, and depth
of the love of Jesus – is meant for the transformation of the world!
You may have noticed something different on the pulpit today.
Related to the logo on your bulletin today,
we ordered a bucket of gears to illustrate this theme.
One of our reception volunteers, Ron Johnson, a retired Emory professor,
did me the great favor of creating a structure for us to enjoy today.
As you can see, when you turn the crank, all the gears turn together in harmony.
They are not all the same color nor do they have the same role in the structure,
but they all have an important part to play.
But there’s a problem with this structure – not all of the gears have been engaged!
There are more gears in this bucket that need to be plugged in.
So I need a volunteer. I need someone to take this structure home,
rebuild it however you like, and bring it back next week.
Who will be our engineer for the coming week?
And what might we all learn from your experience?
Alex Short! Wonderful Alex! Thank you Alex!
We’ll see you next week and see what we can all learn from your experience.
Remember, faith is both gift and task.
God has granted us some measure of faith, some spark of love,
some measure of trust in promises of God.
Along with that gift comes task – our grateful response.
Just as these gears are created for tasks, to be part of the larger whole,
to accomplish something significant for the good of the whole,
so are we created to be engaged in the mission of Jesus Christ.
Rev. Dr. Todd Speed
Decatur Presbyterian Church