How is Jesus guiding us in these days? How is Jesus hooking us and pushing us along? How are we resistant and scared? How are we eager and excited?
How Christ is looking compassionately at us too, walking around at times like “sheep without a shepherd”! Yes?
Of course, Christ is our shepherd, we just wander around sometimes like he’s not. Like we don’t have one. Or like we’re our own shepherds...
I want to tell you a bit about how I got here to BLC, Fairfax.
For the last 10 years I served Shepherd of the Valley in La Mesa, about 20 minutes outside of downtown San Diego.
We did a lot of ministry together over those years. When I came there, they promised me that they’d never build, and yet about 5 years later, we were dreaming about a modest expansion, that led to a $1.3M project, including a big capital campaign. All a lot of fun, actually!
Through it all, ministry continued, and growth continued, people were generous, others continued to join the church, and yet, I continued to feel a nudge of the Holy Spirit, that my time may have been coming to an end, and I might be being called somewhere else. I do think that was God nudging me.
I decided (did you catch that “I” decided) that if I was going to leave this wonderful congregation for a new call, it would be something very different, and to make a long story short, after interviewing and getting very close to accepting calls in both Boston and Seattle — 2 very different calls from where I was currently serving (urban, diverse, ultra-liberal, tons of kids at one, tons of street ministry in the other) — one thing led to another and I started to think, you know, maybe God is calling me to stay put here at SVLC. And then Bethlehem called.
Bethlehem looked a lot like where I was in San Diego. Not exactly the same, but...suburban, bedroom community, just outside of a major metropolis, upper-middle class families, smaller but solid core.
I wanted something vastly different. But through the process, I learned, that’s not where my gifts are, and maybe God needed something different from what I wanted. Maybe a place like where I’ve been is “in my wheelhouse,” maybe Bethlehem is a perfect fit, because a place like Bethlehem is what God has created me to serve...(Time will tell, right?) Well — you know the story from there — things just kept falling into place with you all here. Heather and I felt very good about this congregation—very familiar, despite the great distance from what was familiar—the opportunities that were before all of us here felt very exciting. One thing led to another, and now, here we are!
I don’t like to talk this much about myself in sermons, but we’re still getting to know each other, so hopefully it’s helpful to hear a little more about me...AND I couldn’t help but think of this most recent chapter in my life as an illustration, as we consider the Gospel text today, and the way the people are described wandering around like sheep without a shepherd...
There were certainly moments in my own discernment these last few years...as there are for all of us at times, I imagine:
We too, like the people in Mark’s gospel get sick, anxious, angry, nervous, scared, even just bored and uninspired, wondering if there’s something more that God needs.
The text says they ran out to meet Jesus — some because they wanted something from him, others, I think, because there just wasn’t a whole lot going on in their lives...I mean, they had jobs and lives and those things were rolling along ho-hum, but in terms of ministry that was meaningful, faithful, risky, radical even, life (vocation) was pretty empty. Just going through the motions. Ever feel like that?
So they were coming out from the hill country and small villages to meet this Jesus, who had big things in store for them, things they had never imagined, things across the country and across the globe, new partnerships and new challenges, new bridges to build, new people to welcome and care fore, new love to share—radical, mercy-drenched love.
Friends, Christ has things in store for us that we might not have ever considered or even wanted. But God needs us.
And I’ve come to believe that it’s in the caring and reaching out, that we are cared for and ministered to. Do you know what I mean? It’s as we pick up a hammer (or a paintbrush) and work together that we connect and even receive. In our giving we ironically receive even more. Anyone involved in charity work knows this amazing dynamic! My dad likes to say, when it comes to church financial stewardship, “Ever known a grumpy tither?” In other words, the ones who give faithfully and generously are also the most joyful and most excited about life and Gospel ministry! How is that?
It’s because we’ve been touched by Christ. In the divine contact that we receive — at this holy table, through this holy book, around this holy bath and in this holy community (“I see the face of Christ in you”) — it fills us with new life! New hope, new breath, new challenges, and hew energy.
Christ’s healing is alive here. Something is starting, as I claimed this week, as all these beautiful and diverse coverings for our pews started pouring in from the outside community!
Christ’s healing is alive here. Something is starting, as we explore new relationships, perhaps with LSS, perhaps with other communities, as we pray about what God is calling us to do with God’s church, down in the basement.
Christ’s healing is alive here. Something is starting, as we renew partnerships that may have gone awry. Perhaps more profound than striking up new friendships is mending old ones. Who are people in your own life and family, maybe here at church where Christ’s healing can enter and transform?
Christ’s healing is alive here. Something is starting, as (you) — every single one of us — is met, forgiven, fed at the manger that is the Bible, fed at the table of mercy, filled with new wine and now sent out. Something is starting. Christ is alive and we emerge strengthened, unified. (Ephesians — to sum up — shines a laser beam on Christian unity, on tying the old guard Jewish-Christians, who had been around for years and years to the new Christians who were just arriving. Conflict brewing, and yet Paul’s letter to them drew everyone back to the center, which was Christ — who draws us all together. Peace to those far off and near.) Christ is alive here, he unifies our mission and gives us vision to see, not what we want (as I had to learn), but rather, what God needs.
God needs us to rise up and be the church for this world. And sisters and brothers in Christ, God hooks us now, slows us down, calms us down, gives us new breath and heals us today so that we can indeed go out, rise up and be the church for this world. Thanks be to God, who is our peace. AMEN.