by Joel Beachy
March 4, 2007
Today’s sermon starter suggested that the purpose for the person preaching this Sunday “is to both disturb and console the congregation.” So what are the barriers that may disturb this congregation and to begin a conversation that might find ways to overcome those obstacles. What consolation do we need? It is not too hard to look around us to find ways that the world throws up devastating barriers that could be troubling to this congregation (the death and sickness that has been shared about during sharing time over the last months), but at times, it can be very difficult to find the areas of hope that give us the reassurance that God is truly in control. Struggling with the divorce of my parents over the last eight months has forced me to look at the painful and ugly places in my life. I have also become more aware of the fragility of life and our inability to be in command of our own futures. Each of us has some reminder of this fact, whether it is through the death of loved ones, the frustration of sickness or disease to our bodies, or the incapacity to recognize God’s leading presence in the world around us. It is easy to find negative consequences for a world that turns a blind eye to God, but we as Christians, we must illuminate the world to the good that prevails in the work that Jesus Christ started and continues in the lives of the people of this church and churches around the world.
So today we want to continue a conversation in this congregation. A conversation that, I believe, started at the inception of Jubilee Mennonite Church. I believe that it is a conversation that must never cease taking place among a church, lest we become stagnate. We must continue to identify the areas where this life and this world hold us back from accomplishing the mission that Jesus laid out for us as His disciples. This is a mission that overcomes barriers we cannot control, through our embodiment of God’s hope, faith, and love. Consider with me the spaces in our personal and our congregational lives where we may not be reaching our individual potential in this undertaking. I believe strongly that God’s potential for us is much greater than we perceive. And knowing that we might not be reaching that aspiration should disturb us.
Let us relinquish today then, any complacency to simply do what has been done before. This congregation has already demonstrated its willingness to strive for new and uncommon outreaches in many of its ministries such as: two New Believers classes, new small groups, Community of Hope Tutoring, what I would call a ‘rejuvenated’ praise band, and a diverse congregation. There are not many churches in the Mennonite church that can face the complications of such a unique congregation with the fervor of a Jubilee. But I also believe we must open our eyes further to see what God has laid on our hearts to do to meet the needs of the people that are with us today and coming to us in the future. And I believe that means every person at Jubilee must take a look at what he or she can offer to further God’s kingdom. Where are the areas that we as individuals need to sow even more hope, faith, and love?
One of the dilemmas for a church like Jubilee is its size. We are church that is growing by leaps and bounds, but anyone can still feel the strain from the work that is required of us to make a church like Jubilee a success. It is too easy to begin to feel that you are already taking on as much responsibility as you can handle. And if you know anything about the Gift Discernment Process, I think it is easy to see that everyone in this church has taken on many roles. Everyone in the church has to be doing something to make a church of this size and diversity a safe and welcoming place to be.
Another barrier is the weariness seems to track us down in this existence at every turn. We are consistently bombarded with yet another task at our work, church, or even our hobbies. It sometimes feels like it takes a tremendous amount of work just to find time to relax. How then can we support each other at Jubilee?
One of my favorite quotes over the last months has been from the book, The Road Less Traveled, by M. Scott Peck. The quote comes from the first line of the book, “Life is difficult.” How do we triumph over this difficult life? We must unite in a congregation like Jubilee, desperate to show each other hope, faith, and love in every situation.
Isaiah 40:31 describes the hope that we need to overcome our weariness.
But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.
In my Bible’s dictionary/concordance it describes hope as, “the anticipation of something good.” Now Isaiah is talking about that hope coming from the Lord. Too often, however, we anticipate the good that will come from our own strength and our own ingenuity. We begin to look around at the many wonderful things that have been created at Jubilee, and we want to give credit to ourselves or to others in our congregation. But we become weary when the task of continuing those projects that we started like Community of Hope Tutoring Program or Pine Lake Fellowship Camp seem to overwhelm us. Our ideas of how to keep these programs viable begins to wane. But we do not need to rely on ourselves to come up with the plans of the future. God goes before us and will sustain us by providing the hope. (Art project Dr. McDowell) (PLFC workday). And when we begin to lose sight of that hope in the Lord, we must be ready to pick each other up. We must be willing to offer strength to our brothers and sisters in this congregation even when their cause or struggle is not our own.
In a church and conference that are growing as quickly as Jubilee and the Gulf States Mennonite Conference are, it is important to keep faith that God will provide the resources necessary to sustain that growth. As followers of Jesus we are called to tend to his flock, and those people that are being drawn to this church and our conference represent that flock. We must seek to encourage those new members of this church. We must support each other in the ministry of outreach that has been laid before Jubilee.
In Mark 12:22, Jesus is talking to the disciples after they have noticed that a fig tree withered and died in the night. Jesus is encouraging the disciples in their faith as I believe we need to encourage each other in our ministries at Jubilee. Jesus says in Mark 12:22
“Have faith in God. I tell you the truth, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in their heart but believes that what he says will happen; it will be done for them. Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.”
Our faith will allow us to reach the potential that God has for us, and the faith of the people of this church will sustain us when we are uncertain. Each of us must understand the worth that he or she holds for the growth of this church. Everyone in this church is a valuable resource. Without the continued efforts of the leadership and congregation this church cannot sustain itself. The challenge today is for each of us to look for the ways that we can be an encouragement to each other. Look for the opportunities to help carry the burden that someone else in our church is struggling with. Look for the encouraging words that will let them know that God is still present and working in their life today.
Every church must work at reconciliation, and Jubilee is no different. Attending any church takes a certain amount of concession from its members to understand that not everything at that church will look like, sound like, or feel like the church they want it to be. Jubilee is a church that will inevitably not meet the needs of every single person who attends every Sunday. Whenever I feel like maybe my own needs are not being met for some reason, I have to remind myself of all the concessions that are made by other people of this church to make me feel comfortable. We come from many different backgrounds, yet we are called to be together at this Jubilee. Therefore we must invite love to overcome those differences when they seek to build barriers between us. In Ephesians 4:25-27; 4:31-5:2 the bible talks about the way we need to love each other even it is difficult.
Ephesians 4:25-27; 4:31-5:2
- Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to their neighbor, for we are all members of one body. In your anger do not sin. Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
God requires us to speak truthfully to each other. We must always speak our minds at Jubilee in a respectful manner. We must not let any anger fester or the devil will get a foothold. We are compassionate to one another, but we must forgive each other and love each other as deeply as Christ loved us.
In conclusion, we are disturbed by the ways that the world tries to hinder our mission as Christians. We recognize the barriers that our church size, our weariness, or our differences may present. We search for consolation from each other as we struggle with these barriers. We seek opportunities to give hope to those who are struggling with being overburdened or weary with life. We encourage each other in our faith and remind one another that God will answer our prayers. We love each other as Christ loved us. And we strive to be compassionate, realizing that when we forgive others, Christ is forgiving us.