March 3, 2019
Scripture: 1 Thess. 5:12-24
…but we appeal to you, brothers and sisters, to respect those who labor among you, and have charge of you in the Lord and ask you toesteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves. And we urge you, beloved, to admonish the idlers, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with all of them. See that none of you repays evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to all.
Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise the words of prophets,but test everything; hold fast to what is good; abstain from every form of evil.
May the God of peace himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do this.
Maybe it’s the promise of spring soon to come in the midst of what seems like a very stubborn winter, but something has me looking for goodness and hope in a season that is otherwise often dark and dreary. In any case, I chose the scripture from 1st Thessalonians today because it gives me an opportunity to reflect on our presence here together. To take a moment to reflect on just how deeply blessed we all are.
Truly we have much to rejoice over, much to pray for, and a deep obligation to give thanks for the blessings we receive and by the grace of God, are able to extend to others through our shared ministry.
We can rejoice over the wonderful family our Lord has created in this space. People who truly care for one another and pull together in order that our work together might sustain us as well as be a light of life and promise to our community. And the fact that we are solvent and on a sustainable footing if we continue to work together is a testament to all that the Spirit has been seeking to tell us and empower us to do.
Many churches across the country are experiencing steep declines in membership and feel forced to make the painful decision to close up, depriving their communities of the important place each community used to have to gather, to enjoy, and to spend all of those important life moments with. And as congregations grow smaller and older, faith and true compassionate community grow less frequent and less viable as well.
And in this my tenth year of serving as your pastor, I believe we have together found that special balance of looking inwardly for strength and encouragement which enables us to then look outwards towards our community as we seek to address whatever needs may arise before us. And as a result, you have been able to employ a Pastor full time, which in itself is no small feat, especially for a church of this size, and you have managed to meet our budget goals and even come out ahead. Truly this is a testament not only to how well your Council has listened for the voice of our Lord, but also to the effort you all have put into supporting all that we have been able to do for the community. From Thrift Shops and Food Pantries to dinners, concerts, and farm-stands everyone has found their own place. That place where their gifts and talents fit hand in glove into the needs of the church.
From my vantage point, looking out over the life and health of this church for over 50 years now, it is truly wondrous to watch God at work in a way and in a place many others would have already written off. Truly the work of God’s Spirit is not finished here. In fact, I would contend that the work of the living church is never finished at all, but rather becomes the way of life for all those fortunate to have come under its care. And all of this…the grace of God, the financial health of the congregation, and the way in which all pull together, is surely cause for great rejoicing!
…prayer…Prayer is one thing that has been a foundation stone for this church from as far back as I can remember. So much so that we have become known locally as a church that is willing always to listen to and to lift up the concerns and needs of any within our community in believing prayer. In fact, I would contend that many who have graced our presence and our membership over the years have come to us out of a need for prayer and having found answers to their deepest needs here have stayed on to become dear friends and family. Many are those who have not only experienced incredible grace and healing themselves, but who in turn have become ambassadors of believing prayer in turn for their own friends and family whether or not they are a part of our community.
By grace the Spirit of God has patiently taught us that there is nothing we cannot take to the Lord in prayer, nothing that is either too big or too trivial to lift up. We believe that the Lord truly does want us to ask, and truly does help us to find the answers that are grounded in the Lord’s will, especially as they are rooted in the very presence of God among us. And so, we continue to pray…lifting up new needs as they are expressed, remaining in prayer for those still in search of answers, and remembering that our Lord stands ready every moment we are alive…that Spirit of holiness, ready to whisper guidance and grace into every ear turned towards God. And so, we here in this place…on Sunday, as well as every day…ask and receive, seek and find, knock and find the door opening before us…for that is always the consequence of a prayer offered in grace and truth.
And finally, we offer thanks…most surely not as often as we have cause, and probably for only a fraction of the actual blessings that are directed our way…but we do offer thanks. For, far from our understanding, we have found here in this place a small bit of the witness of true and loving community, the likes of which our Lord Jesus promised we would find should we seek it first in our life together.
And so, as we gather today and reflect back over the past year, we find much that gives us cause to rejoice. And we find ourselves fully in the middle of a flow of answered, recently offered, and as yet to be lifted up prayers for all manner of needs and concerns. And finally, let us stop for just a moment in order to give our deepest thanks…
…that our Lord of Love has seen fit to bless this tiny little gathering of souls seeking only to find the promise of a life of purpose and meaning, a life that shares the outrageous gift of holy joy, and a life that gains strength to carry on as it is buoyed by that peace that truly passes understanding.
…rejoice…pray constantly…and remember to give thanks. For this truly is the will of God in Christ Jesus for each one of us here, in this place and in this time. Let us give thanks that we have been chosen for the purpose of being a light of hope, grace, promise, friendship, and even gracious, heartfelt, and joy-filled life!
…you are blessed, I am blessed, and we are so blessed together…amen?