Monday, September 29, 2014

God Is at Work in You!

Hi friends,

What follows is the manuscript for a sermon I preached yesterday at Messiah Lutheran Church, the amazing, spirit-filled faith community following Jesus Christ in Rotterdam, New York where I'm blessed to serve as pastor. It's primarily on one of the appointed texts for the Sunday, Philippians 2:1-13. It'd love to hear some feedback and thanks for reading!

In line with the style of this week’s children's sermon, this sermon will be a bit participatory adventure as well… So if you could take out your bulletin, open it, and focus on the right inside panel, where it has all the announcements and those sort of things. Now look near the bottom of the page in the box that says Messiah Lutheran Church and lists our contact info. Who here could read for me that first sentence below our wonderful sexton Nicole’s name? Just the first sentence… Thank you! Now there’s a bit of a typo there, but it’s pretty close… Our mission is “to be a spirit filled church following Jesus Christ.” So if you wouldn’t mind, repeat after me… Our mission is “to be a spirit filled church following Jesus Christ.” Our mission is “to be a spirit filled church following Jesus Christ.” Alright, awesome!!! Now say it one more time so you can keep it in you head while we chat for a few more minutes… “Our mission is to be a spirit filled church following Jesus Christ.”

Members of our busy kitchen crew last night @ Messiah.
So as you all know, it’s been a pretty busy time in the life our faith community, and frankly in my own life as well this past week. There was a lot of time spent preparing for the roughly one hundred folks showing up later this afternoon for a beautiful evening vespers, to celebrate all the amazing stuff we’ve achieved together over the past couple months, followed by an equally celebratory, awesome and I’m sure to be delicious ham dinner organized by our very own Kitchen Committee. Some of my family members are of course coming up to Rotterdam in a couple hours for the festivities, most of them for the first time, so I had a whole lot of house cleaning to do, which my increasingly mischievous pup Willy Bear has been making pretty difficult. Our new bishop in the Upstate NY Synod, Rev. John Malcholz, visited Messiah for the first time this past Thursday as well… he loved the new paint job in my office by the way. And on top of all that, you might be aware that I got engaged this past weekend to the beautiful Ms. Jessie Morton. Two of her closest friends, Ms. Brooke and Ms. Hailey, who are joining us this morning in what I think is both of their first Lutheran services, even flew up to spend this special weekend with us.

So given all this, I gotta confess I was pretty much running on fumes all week, not really on my “A game,” a fact that became most apparent when it occurred to me about ten minutes before I was scheduled to lead our first adult education class this past Wednesday evening that I had completely forgotten to plan anything, not even the briefest devotion, for the class at all. Given that I’m the pastor and all here I felt pretty irresponsible, kinda angry and really disappointed with myself, and definitely frustrated about how nuts things have been lately at Messiah, even though all that craziness has stemmed from pretty much all good, and in fact amazing things… new faces and returning old faces joining us during Sunday worship, a new girl scout troop and Home Bureau group using our building, new classes and programs galore… even plans for creating a whole new youth room in the works. We’ve indeed experienced growth in every way over the last couple months here at Messiah, and you’ve all contributed so much to this process, and on top of all that I was just about to celebrate some truly amazing moments in my own life, but no matter, I really upset and even angry about how busy and worn out I was feeling.

Our wonderful volunteer servers last night @ Messiah.
Luckily I had a copy of this week’s bulletin on me, as I was starting to think about today’s sermon, and that’s when I first spied that powerful mission statement of yours… our mission is “to be a spirit filled church following Jesus Christ.” Now mission statements are something folks usually argue over in various committees every five years or so and then promptly forget about, but I figured, hey, that sounds like a pretty good one to describe the mission of folks here at Messiah, so let’s talk a little bit about it and your accompanying dove symbol at the beginning of our adult education class. And guess what folks, we ended up having a fabulous conversation… we spoke about how when first coming here as prospective members looking for a new faith community, it was apparent how the Spirit was truly moving amongst the people of Messiah. We reflected a bit deeper about the how Holy Spirit works as well, about how we experience the Spirit in passion, in emotion, in movement, in making things happen, yet how the Holy Spirit’s presence is also one of indescribable stillness of the soul, and yes, of peace.

And it’s just that sort of thing, the presence of the Holy Spirit, that odd combination of making things happen, of passion yet peaceful stillness amidst it all that Paul’s referring to in today’s passage from the Epistle to the Philippians. Now a couple weeks back we were talking about those troublesome Corinthians… the new rich, people always trying to one up each other and that sort of thing, but the Philippians were a different crew entirely. Acts tells us they were Paul’s first church in Europe, some of the closest supporters of his ministry, and indeed, some of Paul’s closest friends. Paul writes them from what’s probably a Roman prison, in what was probably an extremely difficult situation, and writes predominately to share in the joy of Christian community with his friends and companions in sharing the Good News that is Jesus. And what he write’s them is truly awesome… first he quotes what was probably one of the earliest hymns about Jesus in order to urge the Philippians to be of the same mind as Jesus…
whom though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself, and became obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of the God the Father.
And wow, it sounds like a pretty heavy deal… Paul’s urging the Philippians, and indeed us, to become obedient, even to the point of death, even to the point of death on a cross. We’re to empty ourselves? Just like me nearly panicking amidst the busyness of life this past week or just like us as community scrambling to feed a hundred folks ham dinner from our humble little kitchen and working through the growth happening all around us, or all of us while we’re dealing with all types of difficult challenges in our individual lives, when we hear stuff like that, to be obedient, to empty ourselves, we can’t help but throw our hands up in the air sometimes and yell wow God, how the heck do you think I can do something like that?

Yet all times, and especially in those moments, my sisters and brothers, when we have no idea at all what we’re gonna do, we also need to look at what Paul says to his dear friends the Philippians next… we need to look at what Paul indeed proclaims to us next here at Messiah Lutheran Church in Rotterdam, New York across the millennia… 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 work for his good pleasure. For it is God who is at work in you! It is God, my sisters and brothers, who is at work in all of us, every single day, no matter how imperfect or overworked or worn out we feel like we are… working through that odd combination of passion, of making things happen, and that still sort of peace that is the Holy Spirit. Although it at times may feel like an incredible burden, it’s an incredible promise… God is at work in all our lives, both in what we do here at Messiah and in our wider lives, whether you’re doing big things or seemingly inconsequential things… maybe you’re trimming the bushes outside, or visiting folks who can’t make it out to church anymore or making an emergency repair to the sink in the girls bathroom or volunteering as bartender’s at Proctors or caring for your grandchildren or helping your parents prepare dinner… God is at work in you!

Our Messiah community during Sunday worship.
Whether you’re getting ready to teach a Sunday School lesson or researching the prices of haunted hayride trips for confirmation class or sending out press releases or serving as ushers in worship or struggling to care for your aging parents… God is at work in you! Whether you’re keeping track of church finances or coaching your daughter’s softball team or cooking ham dinner or leading Messiah’s children in singing songs about God or journeying across the country to support a sick loved one, God is at work in you! Whether you’re being silly up in the choir loft or sewing together shopping bags for needy individuals at the SICM food pantry or dropping you kids off at a sporting event or learning more about prayer at our new God Talk series, God is at work in you! In our Spirit filled church following Jesus Christ, and indeed in all aspects of our lives, God is at work in all our lives, moving through that odd combination of making things happen and peace that is the Holy Spirit. In Christ my sisters and brothers, our God has promised to be at work in all our lives no matter who we are, and yes, our God is a God who keeps promises. Amen.

Dustin serves as pastor at Messiah Lutheran Church, a vibrant congregation ministering with the local community in Rotterdam, New York. An evangelist, urban gardener, mountain climber, community organizer, saint and sinner, Dustin spends most of his profession time wrestling with God and proclaiming liberation in Christ. Otherwise, Dustin likes hiking, playing frisbee, hanging out with an amazing woman named Jessie and pretending to know how to sing.

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