Good evening and a very happy Mothers Day to all of the amazing mothers out there!
My confirmation class led worship today and this sermon really worked well with my final words to them before the are confirmed next week. I hope you enjoy it!
Rehoboth Congregational Church
May 8, 2016
My Prayer For The Church
I recently read a book called Beyond Resistance: The Institutional Church Meets the Postmodern World. It was written by the Rev. Dr. John Dorhauer, the General Minister and President of the United Church of Christ.
Beyond Resistance talks about some of the changes that the Church, as an institution, is experiencing right now; it hypothesizes why some of these changes are taking place and explores some of the challenges that the changes are presenting.
This book was informative and insightful; but it was also extremely hard for me to read. Not in a challenging and dry kind of way; but it was hard for me, as a young(ish) pastor, to read about the number of churches that have closed or will close within the next few years. It was hard to read about how many churches are being forced to cut their budgets and reduce their staff. It was hard to read that, for the first time in a long time, there are more clergy than jobs available, particularly full-time positions. It was hard, both as a pastor and as woman of faith, to read that the Church is just not a part of people’s lives the way that it used to be.
And here is something about me that you might not know: I have a tendency to go from zero to disaster in about 3.5 seconds. Which is how I found myself out with friends one night, telling them about my newly-devised plan to become a funeral director when the Church, as an institution, goes crashing down when one of them stopped me mid-sentence and said, “You need to stop reading this book!”
But I kept reading; and it was a good thing that I did. Because what is the one foundational truth about Christianity that never changes?
It never ends with death.
There was hope in this book – I just had to be patient and wait for it.
And I believe there is hope in the Church – whatever it might look like in the future.
This book got me thinking about something that I often forget to shine light on, especially when I get caught up in the busyness of the day to day life of church leadership: I believe in the Church. I believe in the Church as an institution and I believe in this church that called me as pastor and teacher five years ago, a church that I love, a church that is changing lives.
The first scripture that we heard this morning is a letter written to the church in Ephesus sometime in the first century. More than that, however, it is a prayer; it is a prayer written by someone who, like me, loved and believed in the Church. It was written by someone who knew that the Church was not perfect, but who believed that, by the grace of God, the Church would find unity, wholeness and strength. It can be read as a prayer for the Church of the past, the Church of the present and the Church of the future.
And so it got me thinking: What is my prayer for the Church?
I spend my days working for the Church and praying for the people in my Church, but how often do I actually pray for the Church itself?
So that is what I am going to do today. I am going to put to words something that is in my heart; I am going to pray for a Church that I love, a Church that I believe in and a Church that is changing lives. I am not only praying for our church, the Rehoboth Congregational Church, United Church of Christ, but also for the Church as an institution throughout the country and around the world; a Church that came into the world through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ; a Church that generations upon generations have been commissioned to protect, sustain and grow; a Church that, time and time again, has proven to us that love always wins.
I pray that the church is a space that is safe for all people to come and gather. I pray that, wherever someone is on their journey through life, they are able to retreat from the craziness of life in the sacredness of worship, service and learning. I pray that the Church is a space where conflict can lead to transformation, darkness can lead to light and cries can lead to answered prayers.
I pray that the church is a place where families can come and be together. I pray that everyone in your family feels comfortable and loved in this building and by the people who are in it. I pray that coming to worship and being active and involved in the community will become a part of your family’s regular routine, something you are proud to be a part of.
I pray that the church will facilitate worship that is meaningful, relevant and accessible to everyone who walks into our sanctuary, whether they are old or young, new in their faith journey or walking along a worn-down path.
I pray that the church is a place where we all learn how to be humble and kind, where we learn how to love unconditionally and where we practice reconciliation.
I pray that the church is both a space and a community where people can find joy. I pray that we will see the Holy Spirit alive and at work both in our tears and in our laughter, in our words and in our silences.
I pray that the church is a place where people can make friends that become their family; that everyone shares in one another’s joys and heartaches, challenges and successes. I pray that we are always rooting for one another, even if we do not necessarily agree with one another.
I pray that the church can help people find balance in their lives. I pray that, through worship, learning and service, everyone is able to find perspective, recharge themselves when they are feeling depleted and know that they are never alone.
I pray that, within the Church, people see tangible and outward signs of an inward and unexplainable grace.
I pray that the church is a supportive atmosphere where your questions, fears and doubts will not discourage you, but inspire you. I pray that you will feel the courage to step outside of your comfort zones and grow in your faith. I pray that you will learn from others and allow others to learn from you.
I pray that the church will be a place where you can share your gifts; for these are not just hobbies that you do to pass the time, but blessed ministries that God has called you into. These are ways that you can care for other people.
I pray that the church allows, enables and encourages you to have a direct and personal relationship with a God; a relationship where you ask questions, wrestle with scripture and share real difficulties that you are experiencing.
I pray that when you come to church, you will know, without a doubt, that you are undeniably and unconditionally loved by God.
I pray that the church will change your life.
Jesus said to his disciples in the Gospel of Luke:
You are witnesses of these things.
This was Jesus’ final prayer before he ascended into heaven, a prayer not only for those who were with him that day, but also for us, today. You are witnesses of these things – we are witnesses of these things; we are witnesses not only to what God did in the time and space of Jesus’ life, but also to what God is doing in our lives today. We are witnesses to what God is doing in this church; we are part of this Christian story that is still being written. We are the disciples of our generation, called to care for the Church and spread the Good News of God’s love in this world.
I pray that we bear witness to Jesus’ prayer for us in our words, in our actions and in the imprint that we leave on this earth.
Beyond Resistance ended with case studies; stories of churches and postmodern communities of faith that are living and thriving. As I read these case studies, I could not help but think about our church and the life and vitality that we are uncovering every day. And so today I leave you with this charge: Pray for this church. Pray for the Church around the world. Pray that doors will be opened, differences will be embraced and lives will be changed.
These and all our prayers, I offer in the name of the one who creates us, redeems us and sustains us; who conquers death, resists oppression and demands justice; whose grace always appears in the most unexpected ways and places, whose light always shines and whose love always wins.
Thanks be to God!