How many of you made New Year's resolutions this year? I saw on one news report that the percentage of Americans making New Year’s resolutions has declined to 40%. I fall into the 60% who do not because the success rate for resolutions is so low. Only 9% of those who make resolutions will keep them more than one month. For me, it was more like 3 days. I think that is because many New Year’s resolutions are too big to tackle. You know like,
· I’m going to exercise every day for an hour, or
· I’m going to stop spending so much money at Starbucks, or
· I’m going to get straight A’s in school.
I think, if we were more realistic like starting at 2 days a week at the gym, or skip one Starbucks a week, or raising our grade just in math we would be a lot more successful.
As a pastor, there are always some things I have saved to start at the first of the year after the Christmas rush is over. More than that, however, it is a time when new officers have taken office, a new budget is in place, this year a new choir director and bell director will be joining us, and we still have a whole series of firsts to enjoy as I lead you through our first lent and Easter together. It is an exciting time.
Today I want to think about the new year together. Where will our church go and how will we get there. Napoleon famously said, “Leaders define reality and give hope.” That’s what I want to do today. I want to start by defining the reality of who we are as a church.
Our scripture today is one of those scriptures that really defines the nature of the church.
Jesus asked the disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?" They talked about some things that people were saying. Then Jesus got personal… “OK who do YOU say I am?” That is the impetus for Simon Peter’s famous confession, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." . This is one of the greatest confessions of faith in all of scripture. It is the confession of faith that we are all asked to make. It is also a turning point in the Gospel of Matthew and from here on everything seems to start moving toward Jerusalem.
Now, I should say that scholars argue over the authenticity of Jesus’ response to Peter. There is a pretty clear divide between Roman Catholic scholars who see this as the institution of the church, and Protestant scholars who argue that it was added by the early church, perhaps by Peter’s disciples themselves in order to strengthen his authority and the authority of his successors in the early church. (His successors, of course being the popes).
Be that as it may my practice is to know the historical context and literary debates but still approach scripture for what it says with the belief that everything in scripture can teach us something.
So, setting aside the debate we read Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. 18 And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.”
I want you to notice 3 things about the church. The church is designed by God, built by God, and powered by God.
Flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven The church is not Peter’s idea, or your idea, or my idea. It is not your church, my church or the bishop’s church. It is God’s idea, God’s design, Gods church. Period.
Second, Jesu says, Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, Popular thinking put the emphasis on the words “Peter, on this rock” but I think the important part of that sentence is God saying “I will build my church.” It is not we who build the church, but God. God is both designer and builder.
Finally, “the gates of Hades will not overpower it.” Hades is a Greek word for the place of the dead. It is not really hell because it was where all people, good and bad, went when they died. No human can escape the power of the gates of Hades. Not you, not me, no one…. …except for one. Jesus, our savior and son of God who died a real death, went to the place of the dead and came back to offer eternal life to all who will make the confession of Jesus as savior and son of God. Not even the power of death can stop God. There is no power great enough to stop God. There is no gate strong enough to hold God’s power back. There is no fence high enough to stop God’s power. There is no hate great enough to stop the power of God. And the church is not powered by any human idea or ministry… it is powered by God’s power.
God’s idea, God’s labor, God’s power… Gods church. Period.
But listen to this. Jesus says “ I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven. “ It is God’s church but we have a job to do. The image is one of a steward entrusted with the keys to the house to care for it.
The steward is hired by God, works for God, and does things God’s way. But the role of the steward is important. We are the stewards of God’s church.
It is like dad handing you the keys to his favorite little red Camaro that he never lets anyone drive in order for you to take it to prom. He is trusting you to care for it well. The same is true for God handing us the keys to the kingdom.
I wanted to give that introduction to make clear that I am not saying that the future of the church is on us. Clearly, it is not. It is God’s church and God’s future. Just as clearly, we must be good stewards of the church with which God has entrusted us. We have a role to play. So how will we make this the best year ever in the First United Methodist church of Carroll? This church has seen 150 years go by. Some good, others not so good. I think more good than bad. But “Leaders define reality and give hope.” What are my hopes?
First, I want everyone to stand up. This may be uncomfortable for you but go out of your pew to the next pew in front of you and sit down. Now, you may not like that I made you do that, but I’ll bet that you’ll remember that if every one of us takes one step closer to Jesus this year, it will be the best year ever. I am not talking about anything as hard as changing pews. I am talking about…
If you pray once a day, try praying twice.
If you read one verse of scripture a day, try reading two.
If you attend worship 2 times a month, try for three.
If you don’t attend Sunday school or Bible study. Try it just once and see what God does.
If you give 2% of your income, try 3%.
If you usually say no to anything you are asked to do, try saying ”Yes” just one time this year.
Baby steps. But steps. I am not asking you to make yourself a different person overnight. I am asking you to do one thing different over the course of a year and let God make you a different person.
Every person take one step closer to Jesus this year. And this will be the best year this church has ever seen.
Second. I have a hope for every person to be in ministry.
No, I am not wanting any of you to take my job. I like it here. But pastoral ministry is only a very tiny percentage of the ministry we do. I have a hope that every person in this church would be in ministry. I am not asking for anything hard. What I mean is I want you to do one thing for others because of Jesus.
There are two important parts here: FOR OTHERS and BECAUSE OF JESUS. If you do something for Jesus but it doesn’t make any difference to anyone it is not ministry. If you do something to help others, but neither you nor they recognize that you did it because of Jesus, it is not ministry. I want you to do one thing for others because of Jesus.
Some ministries are obvious. Teaching Sunday school, leading the youth group, liturgist, singing in the choir, or media operator. Other ministries are not so obvious.
· Taking care of the neighbor’s dog while they are in the hospital and not accepting pay but just doing it because that is what Jesus would do,
· spending time with a child who thinks no one cares about them just because that’s what Jesus would do.
· Volunteering in any number of places from the food pantry to the monthly meal at St. Johns but not doing it so people say thank you or because you want to prove how good you are… but only doing it because it is what Jesus would want you to do.
· Those of you who are on committees, that is close but sometimes we in the church fool ourselves into thinking that sitting on a committee is ministry. Maybe it is depending on that committee, but just going to a meeting doesn’t quite get to the point of helping anyone…so take responsibility for one of the committee projects, coordinate something, teach something, love someone, give someone a ride, make a difference in someone’s life because of Jesus and you are in ministry.
· If you are already comfortably in ministry add a second small ministry. Stretch yourself just a little.
Every single person in this church should be in ministry. No matter what your limitations are, you can be in ministry. If you can’t figure out how to be in ministry, let’s sit down and talk about it. But my hope for the year is that every person in this church would be in ministry… and if we are we will have the best year ever.
Finally, when I was introduced to the SPRC they told me that wanted me to help the church figure out the next step. I don’t know what that is. I suspect you don’t either or they wouldn’t have asked for my help. Or maybe you do know, and you just don’t know how to get there.
My hope is that this year we can dream God’s dream for this church together. You know by now that I am not likely to come with the next step chiseled in stone like pastor Moses. My style is for us to dream together, hope together, work together, most importantly pray together, and maybe even cry together until we come to discern God’s preferred next step for this church. Will we make a mis-step… maybe… but at least we will have done something. God’s plan for us, unfortunately, doesn’t include step by step directions except for love God (as in: come one step closer to Jesus) and love others (as in: every person in ministry). I don’t know where God will take us. But I would sure love to find out together. Dream with me. Hope with me. Pray with me. Seek God’s guidance with me. And we’ll find out together. And in the meantime we’ll have the best year ever.
I don’t know where we will be a year from now. I do know that with all of us taking one step closer to Jesus, every one of us being in ministry, and every one of us dreaming together …praying together and … hoping together we will be in a different place one year from now than we are today. Even if we try something and it flops. Even if we have a dream we can’t quite pull off. Even if the dream is bigger than we can accomplish in a year. Journeying together we will look back and say “That was the best year ever because we were together and God was with us.”