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Taken For Granted
II CORINTHIANS 12:7-10, MARK 6:1-6
I have postponed the sermon I announced for today. I changed the sermon when I realized the significance of this Sunday. Two weeks ago, as the Annual Conference session ended, Bishop Leontine Kelly reappointed Glenn and me to serve as your pastors. You have already heard and read that Glenn will retire October 15. David Blackburn, who read the Scripture lessons this morning, will retire next April. Glenn and Kay have received an exciting appointment to serve the English speaking Methodist Church in Vienna, Austria. Glenn will preach his last sermon here on October 2.
The further significance of this Sunday is that today I am beginning my sixth year here, which is longer than any senior minister has stayed, since Marvin Stuart left in 1964, after a 22-year pastorate. The record has been broken! I am thrilled to achieve the short-range goal to stay longer than anyone since Bishop Stuart. I am also understanding why our church declined; one reason is because the tenure of ministers was too short. I have been here five years and I am still only beginning. It takes time, so much time, to launch new visions. Ken Callahan, church consultant, says it takes at least three years to get a new program, a new ministry, going. The short tenure of ministers has hurt our church, and I am glad to have broken a record. Let's celebrate!
It is ironic, and certainly the work of the Holy Spirit, that the two scripture lessons this morning suggested from the ecumenical lectionary, deal with boasting and failure! Paul wrote to the church in Corinth and cautioned himself against boasting. He had just enough problems--problems in the church and personal problems which he called a thorn in the flesh--to keep him from boasting. He concluded, "I will boast of my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may rest upon me." In his weakness, he experienced the mercy of God, and God's mercy was all-sufficient. Paul boasted, not of his accomplishments, but of the grace of God.
In the Gospel Lesson, Jesus returned to his home town, and failed miserably. As I begin my sixth year with you, let us look at the two reasons why Jesus failed in Nazareth. First, they took Jesus for granted. They knew him. They knew him from his childhood and adolescence. They exclaimed, "Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?" And, according to Mark, "they took offense at him." They took him for granted. Jesus concluded, "A prophet is not without honor, except in his own country, and among his own kin, and in his own house." Therefore, Mark 6:5, "He could do no mighty works there."
Brothers and sisters, one of our temptations is to take Jesus for granted, to treat the gospel with so much familiarity we lose its power. Non-church people often have dramatic conversions; church people get so accustomed, so familiar, they miss the awe, the relevancy and the power of God. Church people know how churches work, how we squabble, how we play politics, and we are tempted to become cynical. We are tempted to treat the Bible lightly as "just another book," rather than the Word of God. We read it glibly, if at all. We are tempted to treat Holy Communion as a nice time to remember the last supper; rather than a means of grace where Christ is uniquely present to save, forgive, cleanse, and heal.
When Communion is taken for granted, God can do no mighty works. When the Bible is taken for granted, God can do no mighty works. When the worship of God is taken for granted, when we are tempted to take the first-rate music and adequate preaching for granted, God can do no mighty works! Brothers and sisters, we have been given the Good News of Jesus Christ. We have been entrusted with the Bible. We have been entrusted with God's work of redemption. Imagine! You and I! Never treat the church as ordinary. Never take what we do here for granted.
The second reason Jesus failed in Nazareth is because the people had no faith. 6:6, "He marveled because of their unbelief." There was no faith, no vision of what could happen. Their expectations were too small. They had no dreams. They had no hope. They had no sense of what God could do in their lives. They had no sense of what God was calling them to do. Brothers and sisters, catch a vision; a vision for your life, a vision for our church.
Too many of us exist on mediocrity when we could excel. Too many of us crawl like caterpillars when we could fly like beautiful butterflies. Too many of us subsist on a diet of peanut butter sandwiches when we could have steak, salad, and onion rings. Too many of us have a tiny, impoverished prayer life when we could be rejoicing in the very presence of God. Too many of us have only tasted the Holy Spirit when we could be filled with the Holy Spirit.
We need a vision, a sense of expectancy, and faith. I see a vision for our church, a vision that is beginning to take shape in these very days. I see a church with a deep spiritual base, where many more participate in the outstanding spiritual retreats, such as the one of the will of God, July 9. I see the Walk to Emmaus, which begins in October, to be a reservoir from which we tap the power of God to live our lives and do God's work.
I see our church increasingly becoming a church of action, action doing ministry and mission. I see a church where the laypersons are the ministers, and the staff assists. I see a church where laypersons feel God calling you to a mission, and you respond by calling together others who feel the same call, and approach the church committees for help and the staff for resourcing. That approach is why we have a Lytton Gardens today. Lytton Gardens is a model of low-income residence for the elderly. It was the dream of a few laypersons who mobilized and dragged along the cumbersome church bureaucracy.
Currently, a group of persons feel the call of God to establish a Counseling Center in our church. The Administrative Council told them to investigate the feasibility. Soon they will come up with a plan. We now have a full-time Director of Youth Ministry because a group of parents felt the call of God, mobilized forces, and promised the support. I see a church where laypersons minister to one another. We have people who need friends, lonely people who need visiting, shut-ins who need ongoing care and concern, families who need support. Two clergy persons cannot minister to 1,100 people, over 600 family units. Caring ministry to one another must be done by laypersons, by you.
My vision of a church is where laypersons feel a call and mobilize. The church committees assist, and the staff resources. We have been experimenting with the church organizational structure, primarily with a small Administrative Council. The purpose of the experiment is not to put control into the hands of a few people, but to free many people for action. What happens in institutions as they become stable, especially what happens in an institution that is approaching its centennial, is it contracts the disease called Institutional Ennui, where the wheels barely move. Progress and growth become bogged down in the mud of traditionalism. "We've never done it that way" becomes the slogan.
Our church has come a long way these past five years to become an open, responsive church where our committees ask, "How can we help?" rather than give the Institutional Ennui response, "Here are the policies, here are the rules, and here are all the reasons why what you want to do won't work and can't be done." We've come a long way, but our decision-making process is still too cumbersome and slow. Too many committees are involved in making the same decision. My goal is to free up people to do mission and ministry, rather than make policy. We have enough policy, we need more action. The world is crying for help. There is a mission here in this community, and in the far reaches of the globe.
Our church is on the move! Let us not stagnate by taking the gospel and the work of God for granted. Let us catch a vision of a dynamic, growing, serving church, where laypersons are the ministers, each of you doing what God is laying on your heart and calling you to do.
© 1988 Douglas I. Norris