1 Cor 3:11, Joshua 14, Psalm 1
What is our goal? What is our dream for ourselves? The end we strive towards, our telos? What are we reaching and working and hoping and praying towards? What picture do we have swimming in our heads about who we can be, who we want to be, who God is calling us to be? Annise Parker this week gave us a great example of this. At her mayoral inauguration she was asked what other big cities she compares Houston to. She said something so profound, so inspiring.
The only comparison she could make, she said, was “the Houston in my imagination.” That city, she said, was a city of neighborhoods “where the police are known and recognized, and they in turn know the neighborhood, and we are all safer … a city where mass transit really works … a city with clean and safe air … a city safe from the ravages of flood water … a city where the high school dropout rate is insignificant.”
She urged her fellow Houstonians to join her “as I continue to continue to imagine all the possibilities of our great city. A great city is a kind of ideal. A symbol for other cities.”
Likewise, the prophets Nehemiah and Habakkuk urge us to have that kind of a vision for ourselves. Habakkuk 2:2 says we are to write it down on tablets so that a runner can read it. Today, we are writing down our own dreams, our own covenant of who and what and how we as a faith community can become. And then, our task in 2010 is simple: it is to live as if we have already arrived, and to live in such a way that we will arrive.
God has given humanity an incredible ability to change. But “commitment to a preferred future does not come randomly. They are intentionally established at times when you are thinking clearly and closely to God.” Wayne Cordeiro. Last Sunday School Joel led us in a great discussion. We were talking about being outsiders or resident Aliens, strangers in a new place. He asked us if it’s possible, as the outsider, to welcome those of the host culture. In other words, when we are the ones who are uncomfortable, how can we help others feel at home? What followed were stories of how we are capable of pushing beyond our comfort zones, capable of all kinds of behaviors we typically wouldn’t engage in: if there is a sense of inner calling. If we deeply believe that we should do something, we can do it, even if it doesn’t fit our personality. And so we heard about Twila singing boldly as a young youth on a mission trip; Judy boldly introducing herself to people in large groups because she thinks relationships are important. There are stories of famous preachers (Moses, Charles Spurgeon, Paul Tillich) who bristle at the thought of standing in front of large gatherings to talk, and who yet plowed ahead knowing that was God’s call for them, and that it needed to be done.
But more is needed for us to change than just deciding we want to change. “An act of commitment does not change our reality. We are still overwhelmed by the negative inertia of our ‘un-evangelized zones.’”(Michael Casey). In other words, more is needed than just a vision. Although nothing will happen without that! It is necessary but not sufficient.
To be the kind of people we want to be, and to be the kind of church we feel called to become, we will have to do more than commit to it: we need to train ourselves to become that kind of people, that kind of church. Paul often uses images of physical training and exercise to get this message across, “Train yourselves in godliness (1 Tim 4:8),” he says. “Run in such a way so that you will win,” (1 Cor 9:24), in Ephesians 4:20 he speaks of us “learning Christ.”
I love what Brian McLaren says about this training, or practice. He says it may not make us perfect, but “it does make currently impossible things possible. The one who tries to run a marathon can’t do it, but the one who trains eventually can. The one who tries to lift a heavy weight can’t do it, but the one who exercises his muscles on lighter weights eventually can. The one who dreams of playing Mozart on the violin can’t actually do it, but the one who practices –doing various finger exercises, melodic warm-ups, bowing drills, and so on – eventually can. And the one who wants to be patient, kind, forgiving, courageous, just, joyful, peaceful, and resilient can never do it; the harder she tries, the more frustrated she will become. But the one who trains and exercises herself becomes what she was incapable of being before.” (McLaren, Finding our Way Again, 46-47)
The next step in reaching goals, then, is adopting certain practices that will form us to become the kind of people we want to be. We want to be closer knit community? Then be a good friend. We want to be larger? Then we need to practice inviting people we know. We want to be bursting at the seams with people? Then we need to practice making room for people now. We want to be financially sustainable? Then practice giving extravagantly. We want a vibrant children’s ministry that attracts new people and helps them to stay? Then practice being healthy children’s ministry today. We want people to see us who have driven past our building for years? Then practice care of our facilities just like you care for your own home. We want to be known as being hospitable and welcoming? Then practice hospitality at home. We want peace and nonviolence to be the norm in Houston? Then practice nonviolence with your children, and practice it in your workplace. We want to be a church that sees God? Then testify to and celebrate what God is doing in your midst.
Last week I spoke about the gifts our magi are bringing us, and I said that Wal-Mart gives us the gift of knowing how to “change.” Had Wal-Mart simply said they wanted to reach a new constituency, but done absolutely nothing differently, they would never have reached their new goals. Instead, they planned their changes, they worked at it. They even took the step of closing their store, so they could re-open in a new way. Like Wal-Mart, we need to be intentional, make plans, and work to achieve them.
Power of God
As beautiful as Mayor Parker’s vision is for our city, there is one thing she doesn’t have that we do: Jesus. The picture of what we can become is Jesus, not some nice image we conjure in our heads. It is always to become more like Christ. Imagination can too easily lend itself to personal opinion and preference (and pits my desires against yours); our end result is built upon the foundation of Jesus Christ alone! We know how to treat lonely woman at the well. We know what to do with hurt strangers on the side of the road. We know how to turn over corrupt tables. We know how to love until it hurts. We know what the truth is and when to say it. We know who are broken, and how to give hope. We know when people are ready to be pushed and when they need to go away and rest. We know what to say to both the haves and the have nots. There are many pictures of whom and what we can become (Maybelline, Be like Mike, etc…), but there is only one example of what we should become: Jesus.
But, thankfully, that is not the only role that Jesus plays for us! There is more. There is an empowerment that comes with Jesus, utterly indispensible, variously identified as the power of God, the grace of God, and the Holy Spirit.
“Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to act according to his good purpose.” Phil 2:12-13
· “I worked harder than all of them – yet not I, but the grace of God that was in me.” 1 Cor 15:10
· “So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature.” Galatians 5:16
· “To this end I labor, struggling with all his energy, which so powerfully works in me.” Colossians 1:29
· “I have been crucified with Christ, and it is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me.” Gal 2:20
· “Without me you can do nothing.” John 15
Only Jesus, and not our imagination, has the ability to transform us into entirely different people. The power of God can actually change people. Jack Suderman, leader of Mennonite Church Canada, says, “The most important ingredient of the coming kingdom is that people can actually change their behaviors, habits, and self-understanding. They are given the power to do so.”Jesus Matters, pg 204. “The power of God that was mighty enough to raise Jesus from the dead is now available to change our lives too!”
When it comes to social groups, the good news is: “Behold, there is a new creation.” Suderman says that when God’s kingdom comes into a community, “life is not the same.”
Vision, training, and the power of God. For all three, there is no other foundation other than that which has already been laid, which is Jesus Christ! Jesus, Jesus, it’s all about Jesus! We long to be like Jesus, we train ourselves to learn Christ, and we open ourselves to the power and grace of God already at work in our lives!
Let us re-member ourselves to Jesus. Re-connect yourself to Jesus, and corporately let’s re-connect to Jesus through communion.