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.”
This Sunday we come to the ninth fruit of the Spirit listed in Galatians 5:23, translated SELF-CONTROL (or TEMPERANCE in the King James). The Greek word egkrateia is composed of en = in and kratos=strength, so means “inner strength.” We all like to believe we are in control of our lives, and for the most part we are. But if we are honest, we will admit that there are areas where we struggle or lack self-control; it may be with eating, drinking, exercising, sleeping, or how we spend our time or money. Controlling what comes out of our mouths is often a problem too.
When we struggle with self-control we often resolve to just try harder. But from a faith perspective, self-control is in the end a grace or gift of the Spirit’s work in our lives. Jesus invites us to lay down our lonely struggle for control of ourselves and to allow him to lead us into God’s life-giving way.
From one perspective the dog in the picture above has developed the self-control not to immediately gobble down the treat resting on his nose, but in the bigger picture we know that the control is from following his Master’s command. As we yield our lives to the will of God in trust, we will experience all the fruits of God’s Spirit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and yes, self-control.
The eighth fruit of the Spirit mentioned in Galatians 5 is Gentleness (a better translation than “meekness”). To me gentleness is strength under control, strength carefully and tenderly applied to comfort, heal, and encourage, not hurt. This is the strength of our loving God and our good shepherd Jesus. I agree with the parenting author L.R. Knost who says, “Gentleness is not weakness. Just the opposite. Preserving a gentle spirit in a heartless world takes extraordinary courage, determination, and resilience. Do not underestimate the power of gentleness because gentleness is strength wrapped in peace, and therein lies the power to change the world.” May we allow the Spirit of God to make us gentlemen and gentlewomen, able to change the world!
As I was backpacking through Yosemite this past week with Rick Oldenkamp and his friends, I was thinking many times about faithfulness, the seventh fruit of the Spirit named in Galatians 5. What does it mean to have faith? And what does it mean to be a faithful person, one who exemplifies faithfulness? Two weeks ago, I described goodness as love in action. Similarly, I believe that faithfulness is love that endures all things as I Corinthians 13:7 puts it. The faithful person is dependable and trustworthy even when things are difficult. We are blessed to have such people in our lives. For the faithful ones in our midst, let us give thanks. With God’s help, may we all be faithful people!
When you receive these eNotes, I will be on my way to Yosemite where I will be backpacking for six days with Rick Oldenkamp and four of his friends. I’ve never been backpacking before and have never been to Yosemite, so I am looking forward to this adventure and to experiencing this astoundingly beautiful part of God’s creation up close and personal.
This Sunday when I’m away my wife Carol will preach and serve communion. She brings a wealth of experience as a Presbyterian minister and seminary professor, having served on the faculties of Union Presbyterian Seminary in Virginia, Princeton Theological Seminary, Claremont School of Theology, and Candler School of Theology at Emory University. Come, hear her message titled, “It was the best of advice; It was the worst of advice.”
Goodness is the sixth fruit that the Spirit of God wants to grow in our lives. How is goodness related to the other fruits of the Spirit we have looked at so far – love, joy, peace, patience, and kindness? What does it mean to be “good”? Actually the better question is: how can we be a source of goodness in the lives of those around us? For goodness is an active quality that does good, and creates good in the lives of others. According to Ephesians 2:10, “We are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God has prepared in advance for us to do.” I invite you to think about that!
p.s. And don’t forget that we will be singing the songs and hymns that you all requested this Sunday.
When the apostle Paul is describing what love is in 1 Corinthians 13, the first thing he says is “Love is patient. Love is kind.”Last Sunday we looked at patience.This coming Sunday we will explore kindness.Kindness is a gift we can give to others that usually costs us very little.And no matter what our life situation, simple human kindness makes it better.So I invite you to Try a Little Kindness.