This Sunday we will explore the fifth practice of fruitful congregations, the one that supports and makes possible the other four – Extravagant Generosity. Robert Schnase says that “FRUITFUL CONGREGATIONS PRACTICE EXTRAVAGANT GENEROSITY. They teach, preach, and practice proportional giving with a goal toward tithing. They encourage people to grow in giving as an essential practice of Christian discipleship, and as a faith community they practice generosity by their extraordinary support for missions, outreach ministries, and organizations that change people’s lives. They thrive with the joy of abundance rather than starve with the fear of scarcity.” (p.133) May we all experience the joy of giving generously as we have been blessed.
Soon you will receive a letter from your stewardship committee that includes an invitation to our stewardship luncheon on Sunday, November 17, a brochure describing the Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations that we are working on together, and a pledge card for 2020. Then “Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that by always having enough of everything, you may share abundantly in every good work.” (2 Corinthians 9:7-8)
The church, according to 1 Peter 2, is A House Built with Living Stones. This All Saints Sunday, November 3, we will gather around the Lord’s Table mindful of the great communion of the saints. And we will remember and give thanks for beloved members of the family of faith who have finished their earthly journey and now dwell in God’s eternal presence. God’s love encompasses and connects us all, both the living and the dead. Thanks be to God!
This Sunday, October 20th, we will gather at 10 a.m. in the sanctuary for prayer and singing a few songs, then we will “rise against hunger” and all go to the Celebration Center to pack 10,000 meals to feed hungry children around the world! This is a wonderful event where we can make a difference in our world. Volunteers from the community are welcome. Please join us.
This Sunday, we come to the fourth essential practice of fruitful congregations, what Schnase calls Risk-Taking Mission and Service. He says that “Risk-Taking Mission and Service includes the projects, the efforts, and work people do to make a positive difference in the lives of others for the purposes of Christ, whether or not they will ever be part of the community of faith.” (p.109) And he warns us that “Risk-taking Mission and Service is so fundamental to church life that failure to practice it in some form results in a deterioration of the church’s vitality and ability to form disciples of Jesus Christ. When congregations turn inward, using all resources for their own survival and caring only for their own people, then spiritual vitality wanes and the mission of Christ suffers.” [p.110] St. Andrew’s has a rich history of mission and service. May we continue to find new and effective ways to make a difference.
The third practice of fruitful congregations builds on the first two. Schnase says, “Christ’s gracious invitation through Radical Hospitality embraces us and nudges us to open ourselves to forming relationships, and God’s transforming presence in Passionate Worship opens our hearts to Christ’s pardon, love and grace, creating in us a desire to follow. Growing in Christ requires more than weekly worship though, and it is through Intentional Faith Development that God’s Spirit works in us, perfecting us in the practice of love as we grow in the knowledge and love of God.” (p.77) Intentional Faith Development includes all the times and ways we gather together to consider what it means to be a Christian, and to grow in our knowledge of God, ourselves, and God’s will for our lives and our world. We make it our intention to never stop learning, questioning, searching, and growing in our faith.
We have a new adult class exploring a ProFuture Faith beginning Oct 9 on Wednesday evenings (see the description on the Learning Tab on the menu above, or the Upcoming Events). And if there is interest, I can reprise the class on Sunday mornings later in the year. Offering opportunities for people to explore, learn and grow in their faith is one of my favorite activities as a minister. Come, let us learn together.
This coming Sunday through Thursday, I will be in Winchester, Virginia visiting my parents and our youngest son Pauly who will be driving down from New York. My wife Carol will preach this Sunday in my absence. Her message is titled Our Work Is Loving the World, from a poem by Mary Oliver. Scriptures and special music will be featured that direct our attention to the beauty of God’s creation, and encourage us to care for the earth.
Last week we focused on Radical Hospitality, the practice of freely sharing God’s love with others, and warmly welcoming people into this family of faith. The second essential practice of fruitful congregations is Passionate Worship, for worship is where we take in and celebrate the good news of God’s love for us and for the world, and allow that love to change us. According to Bishop Schnase, “Passionate Worship fosters a yearning to authentically honor God with excellence and with an unusual clarity about connecting people to God. Whether fifteen hundred people attend, or fifteen, Passionate Worship is alive, authentic, fresh and engaging. People are honest before God and open to God’s presence, truth, and will. People so desire such worship that they reorder their lives to belong. The empty places in their souls are filled. They experience a compelling sense of belonging to the body of Christ.” (p.53) Worship is so important that need to regularly ask ourselves how can we improve our experience of worship to help people connect to God and God’s will for our world? Let us commit ourselves to the life-giving practice of Passionate Worship!
The first and utterly fundamental practice for BECOMING A FRUITFUL CONGREGATION is RADICAL HOSPITALITY. Radical Hospitality is rooted in our awareness of God’s love and grace and flows from a desire to share freely that love and grace with others. Schnase says that “Faith communities practicing Radical Hospitality offer a surprising and unexpected quality of depth and authenticity in their caring for the stranger. People intuitively sense that ‘these people really care about me. They genuinely want what the best for me. I’m not just a number, a customer, a target in their strategy to grow their church. I’m welcomed along with them into the body of Christ.’ This is Radical Hospitality. Such faith communities surprise people with a glimpse of the unmerited gracious love of God that they see in Christ.” (p. 3) This Sunday we will begin to explore ways that we can truly welcome people into God’s love for all.
Becoming a Fruitful Church – This past summer we examined together the nine qualities that the Spirit of God desires to grow in each of our lives, the fruits of the Spirit listed by the apostle Paul in Galatians 5:22-23: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. This Fall we are going to explore how to apply this idea of fruitfulness to our life together as congregation. How can we become a more fruitful congregation?
In a book that the Session and I have begun reading and studying, Bishop Robert Schnase describes Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations – Radical Hospitality. Passionate Worship. Intentional Faith Development. Risk-Taking Mission and Service. Extravagant Generosity. In coming weeks we will explore each of these fundamental practices in sermons and feedback sessions. Together we will seek to find new ways to grow in each of these practices to strengthen our ministry as a congregation.
Schnase warns that “These five practices are so critical to the fruitfulness of congregations that the failure to perform them in an exemplary way leads to the deterioration of the church’s mission. Ignore any one of these tasks or perform any of them in a mediocre, inconsistent, or poor manner, and the church will eventually decline, turn in on itself, and die away.” (p.163) But the opposite is also true. These practices show us what we can work on to flourish and be more fruitful. By God’s grace, I believe we will find ways to faithfully live out our calling to be a fruitful congregation in service to God and the world.
This Sunday we will explore the question DO WE REAP WHAT WE SOW? This is what the apostle Paul states in Galatians 6:7-9 and this is what many religious traditions also teach. You may, for example, have heard of the Eastern notion of karma. How does this work? How do we sow? When do we reap? What does it mean to sow to the Spirit rather than the flesh? How is this related to God’s grace , mercy, and steadfast love? Notice that the apostle ends with an encouraging admonition, ”Let us not grow weary in doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.” And he continues: “So then, whenever we have an opportunity, let us work for the good of all, and especially for those of the family of faith.”