Following Christ’s Path Together

2 Corinthians 5:16-21

We’re a week into the New Year – 2018.  The New Year is an occasion when many people make resolutions.  They want to improve their lives, change something about themselves, or become more intentional, so they make promises to themselves to move forward.  So they establish New Year’s resolutions.  According to an online survey, the top three resolutions for 2018 are eat healthier, exercise more, and save more money.[1]

New Year’s resolutions involve reflecting on the past year.  They also involve looking forward to the future and imagining what life can be.

Christians have often used the New Year as a time to thank God for past blessings. They have also prayerfully looked forward to commit themselves to following the path God is inviting them to journey.

I invite us to take a moment right now and reflect on 2017.  Look for ways God blessed you or times you knew Christ was present. We’ll do that right now.  (After a pause, continue)

I trust you were able to identify reasons to give God thanks in 2017.  Have we at St. Andrew’s any reasons to give God thanks this year?  You may think of some others, but here are a few reasons for our church to give thanks to God:

  • Celebration of God’s grace in baptisms, weddings and through the lives of the saints who have passed
  • Serving God and our world through the Community Dinner, Habitat for Humanity’s Apostle Build, mission trips through Appalachian Service Project, Backyard Mission Trip or other ways we gave of ourselves
  • Faithful leaders and members serving Christ through the life of the congregation

We have many reasons to give God thanks individually and as a congregation for 2017.  So I invite you to join me in giving God our thanks right now.  Let us pray.

For all the blessings of the year,

For all the friends we hold so dear,

For your own Love, which never tires,

We thank you, Lord.  Amen.[2]

Our stated mission at St. Andrew’s UMC is this (read with me):  “Love God, Love Others, Serve the World … Change Lives.”  With this brief statement, we say, “This is what we at St. Andrew’s do in response to God’s grace in our lives.”  We acknowledge that we will follow Jesus.  He said the Greatest Commandment is “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, and you shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:30-31).  Another time, he told his disciples that they were to serve one another, because even he himself came to serve and to give his life up for others (Mark 10:43-45).  After the Resurrection, Jesus commissioned his disciples to “Go and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19-20).  Our statement encapsulates these core teachings and says, “This is the focus of everything we do.”

The mission also helps us clarify what we do.  If we discover that we are doing something that does not fit into this mission, we have two choices.  One, we can decide if that item is essential, and if so, change it to accomplish the mission.  Or two, we can stop doing it altogether, in order to focus our energies and resources on the mission Christ has given us.

As we look into 2018, I want to identify two key movements along the path Christ calls us to as we seek to live out our mission together.  Our mission begins with “Love God” because that is the foundation of every Christian and congregation’s life.  In creating us, God took the initiative by making us for relationship with God.  Further, God reaches out and offers every person a relationship of love and grace. God even gives us the ability to respond as a gift, but we must open ourselves to receive and experience the gift.  Discipleship is what we call growing in our relationship with God and our ability to follow Christ.  Every believer grows in their relationship with God by receiving God’s grace through corporate and private worship, individual and group prayer, study and service. Toward that end, we will continue to offer and promote small group opportunities so everyone can connect with God and with other people.

Another main focus is related to the signs among the pews today.  For those listening on the radio or later online, scattered on pews throughout the Sanctuary are signs that say “Reserved.”  You have probably been wondering about them.  Some of you may even have been displaced by a sign placed in your regular seat.  Our second movement along the path with Christ is reaching out to our community and our neighbors. There are 50 Reserved signs, and each one represents one person who is not already part of St. Andrew’s or any other church, someone God is calling us to build a relationship with and invite to life in Christ.  Can you imagine what it would be like to have 50 more women, men, young adults, teenagers and children among us in worship, journeying on Christ’s path with us?  But how well do we know the people around us?  For instance, did you know that, within a radius of 2.5 miles of the church, the average age of people is 35 years?  Or that 60.3% of residents claim no religious affiliation or involvement?  Or that the three largest demographic segments around us are Families and Empty Nesters, School-age children and teens, and singles and young families? If we want to connect with people in our neighborhood and in the downtown area, we have to listen to them and know them, so we can offer them Christ and they can respond.

Why do we do this?  Our scripture helps us understand that.  In 2 Corinthians 5, Paul continues his defense of his ministry. Paul helped shape the church at Corinth and helped them grow in their faith.  However, others came after him and argued that his ministry was not legitimate.  Paul says that his ministry is motivated by the love of Christ which “urges” he and his colleagues on and they no longer live for themselves (2 Corinthians 5:14-15).  His ministry is reconciliation, which God began in reconciling the world to himself through Christ (2 Corinthians 5:18).  Paul is an “ambassador” for Christ (2 Corinthians 5:20).

As we listen to Paul, we discover the focus of our own ministry.  We have received God’s love; therefore, we are called to be ambassadors for Christ, through whom God reaches out to others.  We do this, not to glorify ourselves or even to grow the church, but because the love we know through Christ urges us on.

Christ invites us to join him and commit this work of offering Christ to our neighbors. Will we commit ourselves individually and as a congregation to the path Christ calls us to?  I invite us to respond in the modernized words of a covenant prayer by John Wesley.  Let us pray together.

Lord Jesus, please accept me as your servant.

Put me on whatever task you will; rank me with whom you will.

Put me to doing; put me to suffering.

Let me be employed for you, or laid aside for you,

exalted for you, or trodden under foot for you.

Let me be full; let me be empty.

Let me have all things; let me have nothing.

I freely and heartily resign all to your pleasure and disposal. Amen.

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[1] https://www.statista.com/chart/12386/the-most-common-new-years-resolutions-for-2018/. Accessed 01/06/2018.

[2] Albert H. Hutchinson, “For All the Blessings of the Year” (1909), adapted. http://www.hymntime.com/tch/htm/f/a/t/b/fatbotyr.htm.

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