In our scripture for this week the apostle Paul thanks the Philippians for their generous care and support of his ministry. And then he shares: “Not that I am referring to being in need; for I have learned to be content with whatever I have. I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:11-13)
The practice that undergirds and supports all the other practices we have been exploring is Extravagant Generosity. Bishop Schnase says “generosity supports the other four practices, helping the church fulfill its ministry to make disciples of Jesus Christ in robust and fruitful ways, opening the message of God’s love in Christ to more people now and for generations to come.” (p. 150) Being able to give freely and generously is a joyful experience. And this ability comes from the secret Paul shares above, the contentedness that God provides us with all we need. We can do all things through Christ who strengthens us!
This Sunday we will baptize my grandson Callen, and my message, Baptized for Service, will highlight the connection between our baptism into Christ (see Romans 6:1-14 and Galatians 3:27-29) and our calling to practice Risk-Taking Mission & Service. It has been rightly said by many that “The Church does not have a mission. The Church is a Mission.” As those who have been baptized into Christ we are called to share his light and show his love through acts of caring and service, large and small. Schnase writes, “Never underestimate the transforming power of small actions. God uses caring and effective people in every circumstance to improve other people’s lives in a multitude of ways. We are each made to serve the other.” (p.107) Think about that!
The second essential practice of fruitful congregations Bishop Schnase describes is PASSIONATE WORSHIP. So this Sunday as we gather around the Lord’s Table, we will reflect again on how and why we worship, and what worship is meant to do to us. Authentic worship, practiced over the course of a lifetime, has the power to transform our lives. In preparation, ponder these verses from Romans 12:1-2, “I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. 2Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.”
RADICAL HOSPITALITY – “I was a stranger and you welcomed me.” (Mt.25:35)
Last fall we began exploring the Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations suggested by Bishop Robert Schnase in his book by the same title. This year we will continue to work on strengthening each of these vital practices. It is not enough for us to just know about them; we must incorporate them in our lives, in what we say and what we do, both as individuals and as a congregation. This Sunday we will focus again on Radical Hospitality, specifically on how we can Welcome the Stranger as scripture bids us to do (see Deuteronomy 10:18-19 and Matthew 25:31-40). May God help us grow in the breadth and depth of our hospitality as we welcome people into our church home.
This coming Sunday we welcome the Rev. Mark Burnham to our pulpit. He will preach on the wedding in Cana (John 2:1-11) and the title of his message is Abundant Wine, Abundant Faith. In the weeks that follow my messages will explore further The Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations: Radical Hospitality, Passionate Worship, Intentional Faith Development, Risk-taking Mission & Service, and Extravagant Generosity. Concerning the last, we thank you for your generous financial support of St Andrew’s. Unfortunately we are experiencing a shortfall in our pledges and running a deficit. If you haven’t yet turned in a pledge for 2020, please do so. And consider if you are able to give more. Every contribution helps sustain our ministry and mission.
This coming Sunday is Baptism of the Lord Sunday. In the church’s liturgical calendar, we just had Christmas, where we celebrated the birth of Jesus. This was followed by Epiphany, where we remembered the mysterious Magi who visited the infant Jesus and gave him gifts. This Sunday we immediately jump from the infant to the adult Jesus, a grown 30 year old man, being baptized by John the Baptist in the Jordan River. We will ponder what that experience was like for him (see Mark 1:4-15), and what it means for our lives.
Matthew chapter 2 tells the story of the mysterious Magi from the East who brought gifts to the baby Jesus. On this Epiphany Sunday, January 5th, we will ponder who the Magi may have been and what their journey to see the Christ child means.
The waiting is almost over. Christmas will soon be here. Once again we will celebrate the wonderful good news that God’s light has shown into our world through Jesus, God’s Word become flesh, the Light and Life of the world. As the gospel of John proclaims, “The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” (John 1:5) That is a great reason to rejoice!
Christmas Eve Candlelight Service, Tuesday, 12/24: Our candlelight service will begin at 7 p.m. Join us for candles, bells, carols, beautiful music, scripture and a message by Pastor Ernie, The Light Shines in the Darkness. Following the service join us in the Celebration Center for coffee and cookies.
Christmas Morning Worship Service, Wednesday, 12/25 we will have a 10am service in the Sanctuary with fellowship, cookies and coffee following in the Celebration Center. Please join us. Everyone is welcome!
On this final Sunday of Advent, on the darkest day of the year, we will light the candle of HOPE in expectation of the coming light of Christ. Christ is coming. Christ is always coming, always entering a troubled world, a wounded heart. And so having lit candles of love, joy, and peace, we light the candle of steadfast HOPE. When things look dark, we will CHOOSE HOPE.
To listen to a drama of the shepherds’ story and my message, click on “Choose Hope”
p.s. I hope to see you on Tuesday night at our 7 p.m. Christmas Eve Candlelight Service, one of my very favorite moments of the year.
This Sunday we light a candle for PEACE. We light it knowing full well that peace is elusive, and in many parts of the world, it is almost completely absent. Yet, like God’s people have throughout the ages, our hearts yearn for peace. In this season of Advent, we look once again to the light of Christ, trusting he will guide us into the way of peace. This advent season, let us CHOOSE PEACE.
To listen to the dramatic monologue and message, click on “Choose Peace”