Momentum for Life: Vision for Immanuel

God spoke:

Write this!

Write what you see!

Write it out in big block letters so it can be read on the run!

 

And when God gives a vision aids our momentum.

It paints a picture of the future that drives us forward because we can’t wait to get there.

God’s vision aches for the future.

It takes our trajectory and pushes us on.

Michael Slaughter writes that “faith is looking forward, living with a forward focus.” (p. 87)

And a vision is big enough and bold enough and so clear that it moves us all forward in the same direction.

 

Friends, we are going somewhere!

As a church, we claimed a vision statement for this church in 2012. You see it in our logo and on the inside of every bulletin:

In Christ, live a life of love, service, and prayer.

Let’s all say that together: In Christ, live a life of love, service, and prayer.

 

I love this statement.

It is clear and concise and talks about our relationship with God and how we live that out. It gives us three very focused things to do: Love. Serve. Pray.

 

But these words alone don’t ache for the future.

They don’t drive us forward.

In fact, they are generic enough that when each of us wrote down our dream for the church a few minutes ago, we probably each had a very different destination described on our slips of paper.

One of the things I am consistently asked is to share MY vision for the church. When I first arrived, I hesitated to answer this question because I think every church is unique and where we are going depends on where we have been. Our congregational DNA, our experiences, our gifts… all of these things shape where God is calling us to go next.

 

Slaughter writes that, “when a leader has a clear picture of God’s destination, the people begin to articulate and live that vision. Over a period of time, that vision begins to penetrate the surrounding culture.” (p. 96)

So today, I want to paint for you a picture of where I see us going. When I turn my heart to God in prayer, this is the vision that aches to be heard. And really, it is a fleshing out of what it means for us to live lives, in Christ, of love, service, and prayer.

 

First, we are called to love by celebrate difference and disagreement.

One of our greatest strengths as a congregation is our diversity in age. Countless churches lament they don’t have any young people, but we are full of young families AND nonagenarians. Unlike other churches, we can truly do intergenerational ministry that helps connect children and elders, youth and parents, retirees and babies.

We could, however, become more diverse in other areas. Within 2 miles of this building, 88% of our community identifies as white. As I look at our congregation this morning, we are far less diverse that the people we live with. Hoover High School, just a bit north of our church, educates students who speak over 100 different languages. Surrounded by that kind of diversity, God is calling us to find new ways of welcoming and making space right here for new people.

Another place we are diverse is in our politics and perspectives. From private conversations, I know that we as a church disagree on countless issues!

But the world around us has never been further divided. The roar of politics might die down for a few weeks after tomorrow’s caucuses here in Iowa, but it will come back just as strong as we head into the general election.

As a church, we don’t let those hot-button issues get in the way of being a family.

But like so many families, we hesitate to talk about the places we disagree… even when it comes to the everyday sorts of things. We hold our opinions in even as we are being asked to share our thoughts and feelings for fear of making ripples in the water.

The world gives us two models for how we deal with our differences. We can scream, shout at those who we disagree with OR we can keep our mouths shut.

There is another way. In the book of Acts, chapter 15, circumcision threatened to divide the church. So the leaders gathered and shared what they had witnessed and what they hoped for. They each spoke their truth. And they listened deeply to one another. They laid aside preconceptions and let God move in their midst. They let reason, experience, and tradition co-mingle with scripture to discover a path forward.

In the United Methodist Church, we call this holy conferencing. In love, this church can be a place that shows the world a different way as we each feel respected enough to speak our truths and we love one another enough to listen and let God, rather than our opinions, create a path forward.

 

Second, we are called to service, by taking Immanuel into our community.

This congregation does incredible mission work. Each year, we report missional giving through monetary and in-kind donations and for 2015 we are reporting $214,763 of outreach into our city, state, and world. Your generosity is simply astounding.

On a regular basis, there are groups in this church that collect items for the food pantry, take produce and bread, milk and juice to local shelters and service locations, read to children, serve meals, visit the homeless and prisoners and more.

What I notice is that this incredible work is often done by a handful of people. We aren’t very good at inviting others to come along with us in the work that we do. And I think that is because we don’t lift up these folks and tell their stories nearly enough. We aren’t painting the picture of what it means to serve in a way that allows every single one of us to find our place.

God is calling each and every one of you to serve in our community this year. And that is a two-sided calling: first, we have to be better about sharing opportunities, but you also have to take some initiative to seek opportunities and to pay attention to that nudging and say yes.

God is calling us to push beyond our traditional models when it comes to service and mission. We can donate money and goods with the best of them and we have done pretty good at doing ministry for people. But the next step is to truly build relationships with the people we are serving.

So many have told me about the warm welcome and love they experience here at Immanuel. Now we are called to take that hospitality and love into our neighborhoods. To get to know the people and their stories. To hear where God is already active in their lives. To allow their experiences to shape how and what we do in the future. And, to open wide the doors to invite the neighborhood into our building and our life of faith.

This year, I’m reading just one hour a week at Hillis Elementary School. And building a relationship with those children and teachers has opened my eyes to the realities of our community in ways I never imagined.

Whether it is in the Merle Hay or Beaverdale neighborhoods, or the neighborhood where you live, you are an ambassador for Immanuel and that you have an opportunity to serve.

 

Finally, we are called to prayer that actively changes the world.

Richard Foster wrote, “Prayer is the central avenue God uses to change us. If we are unwilling to change, we will abandon prayer as a noticeable characteristic of our lives.”

We pray for people who are sick, because we believe that God will bring healing into their lives.

We pray for places of conflict, because we believe that God can bring peace.

Prayer changes the world.

But a life of prayer means a life attuned to the places where the status quo is no longer acceptable. A life of prayer calls us to play our part, to be the hands and feet of God, to listen for where God asks US to be the answer to a prayer.

We can do that by caring for one another, offering meals, knitting shawls, and visiting.

We can do that through letter writing and advocacy, through being agents of reconciliation in the midst of conflict.

We can do that by going to the people and places that are hurting and simply being present.

God is calling us to be people who not only pray for others, but who allow prayer change our hearts, minds, and lives.

 

God spoke:

Write this!

Write what you see!

Write it out in big block letters so it can be read on the run!

 

God’s vision aches for a future where every single one of us are engaged in ministries of love, service and prayer.

God’s vision aches for a community that loves and welcomes all.

God’s vision aches for a people that are deeply embedded in their neighborhoods.

God’s vision aches for a people who are transformed by the power of prayer.

 

Friends, we are going somewhere!

In Christ, let us live a life of love, service, and prayer.

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