Today is going to be the day of sermons! I preached at a service tonight as well and will be posting that sermon shortly.
This sermon was from this morning. I did something wrong with the recording (whoops) so there is no audio. Sorry! Sometimes my brain doesn’t work on Sunday mornings.
My Prayer For You
This morning’s scripture comes to us from the New Testament. It was a letter written to the church at Ephesus. The language of the letter is extremely powerful and poetic; it celebrates the vision that the author – most likely the apostle Paul – had for the church. “New Life” is a theme that permeates throughout this letter. At the time, it was believed that what happened on the cross gave an irrelevance to Jewish law. There was this thinking, this realization, that human beings have this innate quality within them, this imperfection, that makes them human. And the conclusion was that we saw on the cross that the quality, the imperfection, has been redeemed through God’s grace.
There is a lot of conflict in this book over that humanness that is inside all of us. The people had seen just how badly communities can be hurt by human nature and human conflict and Paul wanted so desperately for them to allow God to establish a healing presence in their lives. The scripture that we read this morning is actually a prayer. It has been called “Paul’s Prayer”; it has been called “Thanksgiving Prayer for Wisdom and Power”; it is Paul’s hope for the church at Ephesus – but it speaks to all of us.
Paul had a lot of hope for the church at Ephesus – and I have a lot of hope for this church. And maybe it is the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday or the fact that I really feel like we are starting to settle into a new ministry here, but I have really taken the time to reflect on my hopes this week.
On Thursday afternoon I was in Weymouth participating in the New Clergy Group that I am apart of once a month. And while we worshipped together, we did an activity called “Float Your Hopes And Sink Your Fears.” Our leader had put four bowls out in front of us – two of them had water in them, one had rocks in it and one had cranberries in it. We went around the circle and shared our hopes and our fears; when we shared a hope we dropped a cranberry in one bowl – and it floated – and when we shared a fear we dropped a rock in the other bowl – and it sunk.
It was really interesting to watch the progression of the activity – and I cannot wait to try it with small groups here at the church. What started off as a very somber activity – because we all do have stressors and fears within our churches – evolved into laughter about both our hopes and our fears, joy about where we are and more floating cranberries than sunken rocks. We truly do have hope for our churches and for each other’s churches.
And so I thought that this week, in light of Thanksgiving, in light of this week’s scripture and reflecting on Paul’s prayer and hope for the church and in light of my experience this past week that really ignited a hope and passion within me, I would share my prayer for you, for us, for the Rehoboth Congregational Church.
I pray that, first and foremost, we will always keep God at the center of everything that we do. I pray that we will keep the focus on God in our worship, in our mission and outreach and service, in our educational programs, in our Church School, in our Youth Group, in our music, in our rehearsals, in our meetings and in our fellowship with one another. I pray that we will always keep God at the center of everything that we do.
I pray that we will grow. And I do not say that as a way of diminishing who or where we are right now. I think we are a vibrant church right now; I think we are a supportive and loving church right now. But I pray that we will grow so that others can experience that as well. And I pray that as we grow we can experience the vibrancy, the support, the love and the new ideas of the people that we are meeting along our journey. The possibilities of where we could go and who we have the potential to be as a community are endless! I pray that we will grow.
I pray that we will shift our focus from church to faith – and from structure to nurture. The rumbling – the fear – in the theological academic world right now is that the church is dying. And it’s true – numbers are dwindling, finances are tight, families are finding it difficult to balance their busy schedules with being part of a church and people are, to put it frankly, wary and suspicious of the church.
And yet – people want to learn and grow in their faith. People are seeking balance in their lives and looking for something or someone to nurture them as they seek that balance. There is a craving right now not to be part of a church community, but to be part of a community of faith. As a whole, people are identifying as “spiritual, but not religious” and we have the ability to come together as a community and meet some of those spiritual needs – and grow in our own spirituality as well! What would that look like, not just for this church, but also for the Rehoboth community? For the world? The church is on the cusp of something incredible and I truly believe that we stand at the front of that. I pray that we will shift our focus from church to faith – and from structure to nurture.
I pray that we will become, through our community and through our physical property, a place a refuge and nourishment. I pray this prayer not just for the people in our community, but also for the people who are new to our community or are visiting our community. What if this building was never dark? What if there was so much going on that we needed to – and were able to – expand our staff to meet those growing needs? What if people came here or into an event with our community feeling depleted and left feeling full? What if coming to church or doing something at church wasn’t something stressful on top of a busy schedule, but rather it was something people craved for their spiritual and emotional well-being? I pray that we will become, through our community and through our physical property, a place of refuge and nourishment.
I pray that we will use the resources that are available all around us – and not try to do it on our own. I think it is easy to see the tasks that are in front of us and to feel overwhelmed as we try to put it all on our shoulders. But we do not have to put it all on our shoulders. There are people in this community who care about us; people in the Attleboro Council of Churches who care about us; people in the United Church of Christ who care about us. They want to see us grow, thrive and be vibrant – and they are ready to help. I pray that we will use the resources that are available all around us – and not try to do it on our own.
I pray that we will learn from both our mistakes and our successes. I pray that we will enhance our old ministries and begin to explore new ones. I pray that others will look to us working together in love and in faith and see us as an inspiration. I pray that we will continue to heal. I pray that our relationships will be strengthened; that we will offer grace instead of criticism, love instead of frustration. I pray that we will leave a legacy that will last a lifetime to come.
I am so very thankful to be a part of this community of faith. I pray that you are too.
These and all my prayers, O God, I offer them to you.