Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.” And the one who was seated on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.” Then he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give water as a gift from the spring of the water of life. Those who conquer will inherit these things, and I will be their God and they will be my children
As I sat down this past week to think about what could I preach to a people that I know so very little about, I began to think to myself, hmm…what am I experiencing God doing in these last few weeks. And so I began to think to myself about all these “new” things that have been happening recently. You see, this has been kind of a season of new things for Jackie and I. Let me list for you just a few: I am a new graduate from my seminary and Jackie is a new graduate from Mary Baldwin, I am new at being a full time pastor, well a full time anything for that matter. For the longest of times I have been part time something and part-time something else, while still being full time something on top of those other part time things. For the first time since High School I am focusing on only one thing. Living in a house as a married couple is new, living in this house behind us is new and oh it’s beginning to look much like home, this community that I have become a part of is new, and this faith community is a lot of new! New people to get to know, new programs to learn, new roads to navigate. Trust me when I say Jackie and I found an interesting way over to Route 220 this past week when we went to the pet store. I’m not sure if any of you know this road, but Webb Mountain Rd. That was a new road to learn. Anyways, as I began to think about all of this newness I immediately thought about our Epistle lesson today as it deals with this new community called the Church.
A few weeks ago, we as a church celebrated the Day of Pentecost. For the Christian church, this is the day of a Jewish festival called Pentecost that the Holy Spirit had anointed the disciples to preach and teach in many languages. Well from this preaching with the Spirit’s authority a new thing had been birthed, a new community. That first community began what we now understand to be the Church. This scripture from Acts brings about many important teachings about what it means to be the church. Last week we talked about the identity of the individual believer, this week and over the coming weeks I want us to begin to look at what the identity of the church looks like.
The first teaching that I want to talk about is the beginning of this community. How does one enter into this community? Our identity with this community begins primarily with our baptism into the church. It is in our baptism that we receive the gift of the Holy Spirit and it is by the work of God through the Spirit do we grow in the likeness of Jesus Christ. The Spirit begins its work in our lives when we are just born, well alright even before we were born. Wesley understood this to be God’s Prevenient Grace. In our passage from Acts, the giving of the Spirit is linked or tied to the act of baptism. We, as Methodists tend to understand this sacrament of baptism to be a sign act of God’s working in our lives, even though we do not deserve it. It is our baptisms that mark a new beginning in our lives, a life that is lived under the grace of God. A life as a child of God.
As we continue reading in the passage from Acts we see the foundation of this new community. You could call them the four pillars per se of the Christian community. Verse 42 says, “They (referring to those who had just been baptized) devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.”
I find as we look at what makes a church vital these four components always are present. A vital church is a church that firstly devotes themselves. Church is not something that takes no work, actually it is just the opposite. Anytime that you put people into a room together for an extended period of time it takes work. What I mean by that, is group dynamics begin to come into play with any group that regularly meets for any extended period of time. Let me give you an example. One of my experiences of the church, probably one of the places that I felt most like a church was when I was a counselor at Camp Overlook. It probably had something to do with the fact that we were a body of people that had come together with Christ being our center and living together in community. Did this mean that we had no problems and that there was no work involved in our relationships? Absolutely not. We experienced many issues, and after working there summer after summer I always knew about week 4 or 5 there would be a big blow up between two people on staff because it was about that long of being in that close of a group together did it take for someone to finally say something that they didn’t want to from the beginning because they didn’t know them well enough yet. But we, as disciples of Christ had devoted ourselves to the ministry of camp and sharing the Love of Christ with the kids that came there. That devotion, when taken seriously, often overcame any division that ever became present. Last week we talked about this devotion to Christ in our understanding of taking up the cross, the understanding that we would die alongside of Christ for the mission of God’s Kingdom.
With this devotion, they devoted themselves to four distinct things. The first of these were the apostles teachings. Today we understand that apostles teachings to have been kept preserved for us in many of our scriptures. The Gospels, the letters of Paul, and the many other letters are teachings of the early apostles. Our reading today from the prophetic letter of Revelation was a teaching that we understood to have been from the Apostle John. And so today we still rely on the reading of the Word to inform who we are as a church, who we are as individuals. But our identity is never something that stands on its own, but is always in reference to who we understand God to be. And it is through the reading of scriptures do we continue to discern who we understand God to be and thus trying to understand who we are.
After last weeks’ lunch I am not so sure I need to do much preaching on convincing us of the importance of fellowship. However, we have lifted up that we are in need of cooking teams for Wednesday Alive this coming year. I want to say that this opportunity to have a planned fellowship with your brothers and sisters in Christ at least, and I say at least, once a week is truly vital to being a community of believers. You may have heard the joke that where there is chicken, there the Methodists will be. This is somewhat true and hopefully for good reason. How do we intend to be a community of believers if we do not know each other. And how do we get to know one another if we do not get together. I would like to challenge us to try and learn something new about someone who you don’t know very well in this community each week. I know this task is easier for me as I know so little about each of you, but I believe this to be not an impossible task.
They devoted themselves to the breaking of bread. This as we understand is the Lord’s Table. It is in the taking of this sacrament do we remember all that God has done for us and is doing with us now and what God promises to do in the future. Simply put, we recall God’s grace, God’s actions in our lives past, present, and future. Many you last week may have noticed that our youngest member here at Red Valley, Abigail Clay, was not excluded from the Lord’s table. We understand that God even works in the lives of those who may not be able to comprehend all that adults do. Jesus had said let the children come to him, and as we understand communion a significant channel by which we come to Jesus, we invite children to come to experience Jesus at the table. So I believe that it is important for us to devote ourselves to Christ’s Table as often as we can. This will certainly be something that we as a community will need to continue to study as we look at being a vital faith community.
And finally, they devoted themselves to prayer. You may notice on our table today a new candle. It is a candle that I would like to introduce to you today. It is a part of a ministry that takes place in Taybeh, Israel. There is a pamphlet in your bulletin today that will go into further detail of its purpose. But the goal of this ministry is that every church around the world would have this candle lit during their worship services as a continual reminder that we are needed to be in prayer for peace for Israel/Palestine and for that matter for peace around the world. There continues to be so many conflicts that arise throughout our world and so often it is because we are a fallen and broken people. I am reminded of a story that I once heard.
A man went to a barber shop to have his hair and his beard cut as always. He
started to have a good conversation with the barber who attended him. They
talked about so many things and various subjects. Suddenly, they touched the
subject of God.
The barber said: “Look man, I don’t believe that God exists as you say so.”
“Why do you say that?” – asked the client.
Well, it’s so easy, you just have to go out in the street to realize that God
does not exist. Oh, tell me, if God existed, would there be so many sick
people? Would there be abandoned children? If God existed, there would be no suffering nor pain. I can’t think of a God who permits all of these things.”
The client stopped for a moment thinking but he didn’t want to respond so as
to prevent an argument. The barber finished his job and the client went out
of the shop. Just after he left the barber shop he saw a man in the street
with a long hair and beard (it seems that it had been a long time since he
had his cut and he looked so untidy).
Then the client again entered the barber shop and he said to the barber: You
know what? Barbers do not exist.”
“How come they don’t exist?”-asked the barber. “Well I am here and I am a
“No!” – the client exclaimed. “They don’t exist because if they did there
would be no people with long hair and beard like that man who walks in the
“Ah, barbers do exist, what happens is that people do not come to me.”
“Exactly!”- affirmed the client. “That’s the point. God does exist, what
happens is people don’t go to Him and do not look for Him that’s why there’s
so much pain and suffering in the world.”
We must continually rely on God in all things if we want to see God’s reign here on this earth. Which gets me now to the point of our message today. God is continually making ALL THINGS NEW. This begs of the question of what does God need to make new here at Red Valley in order for his Kingdom to be seen when people think of Red Valley? I would like to tell you from the little that I have seen of Red Valley what this means to me. After last week I left worship with great expectations of the ministry that we have before us. These four pillars that we have been discussing are just the beginning of what God wants to make anew. It is my vision of Red Valley to be a worshipping body that comes together for the purpose to build one another up, to get to know one another personally so that we can hold one another accountable to being kingdom people. I would love to not only see a second worship service but a community that gathers daily to come and renew our faiths at the table of Christ each morning. It is my hope that we will be able to mature in our faiths, our spiritual disciplines, and our knowledge of God and that these things would become a part of who we are as a people In order that we may be able to go out into the community and better communicate the gospel of Jesus Christ. This is my vision of Red Valley, and I want to encourage you today to take a moment after this sermon to write your number one vision for the church on a piece of paper and place it in the offering plate.
And today is an opportunity to recommit ourselves to exactly that. It is exciting times when we “Let go and Let God” as the slogan goes. But at the same time it is a scary time because it might just mean that we leave here differently than when we came. For every new thing that happens, something old passes away. Are you ready to let God recreate and renew the ministry God is calling us to? Are we ready to open our eyes to what God has in plan for us here?
I will now give you a moment to collect your thoughts on what you envision for the ministries of Red Valley UMC.