Monday, December 31, 2012

New Year Sermon at Highlands: “It was a very good year”

“It was a very good year”
Highlands Presbyterian Church
December 30, 2012

Just as Paul wrote letters to the churches about whom he cared, my sermon this morning, on the last Sunday of the old year, is a letter to you, the faith community at Highlands.

To the saints and faithful brothers and sisters in Christ at Highlands, Grace to you and peace from God our Father. In my prayers for you I always thank God that our paths have crossed, for the friendships of the last years and for the way we have grown together in our faith.
You have tolerated my preaching from the pulpit and my outspokenness in the community. I know that you have not always agreed but you have been willing to listen and consider and we have learned from one another.
Your work and your faith are bearing fruit and growing in the community. Each of you join one another in seeking the knowledge of God’s will even as you bear fruit in every good work and as you grow in the knowledge of God.
As a community of faith, you remind me of the early church as they gathered to read the stories of Jesus, pray together, uplift one another and share that which they had with one another and people in need throughout their communities.
Your story is told in the second chapter of the Book of Acts where it is written of the early church, “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people.
Brothers and sisters…is that not a description of our little church? We have devoted ourselves to the teachings…here and in the community. We have gathered as the body of Christ and we have reached out to others through a far from traditional Bible study, Bibles and Beer, to share the stories with those who seek a different way to learn.
You have lifted one another in prayer during a year of joys and concerns, of celebrations and sorrows, always there for one another…not a person among us who has not been supported by the people who are a part of this community. Highlands has been intentional in making its mission about those within these four walls even while we have also cared about those who may never sit in these pews yet are in needs of God’s love.
The list of community ministries to which you have given meaningful financial and personal support in the last year is blessedly long. I am going to name each of those ministries. After each name I will say “God has no hands” and you’ll say “but ours.”

I don’t know about you but my heart swelled with pride on Christmas Eve when there were people form all over the community at our candlelight service learning about the mission work of this little band of Christians.

Aspen Winds Visitation (say it God has no hands…)
Connections Corner (Circles)
Highlands Community Garden
Interfaith Family Support Services, or Family Promise Needs, Inc.
Meals on Wheels
Recover Wyoming; and
The Wyoming Family Home Ownership Program

There are those of you who devote yourselves to prayer ministry, to publishing the newsletter that keeps us in touch with one another, who volunteer to greet and provide coffee and treats for fellowship, who care for the property, spend time doing the business of the church, visiting those who are ill…day by day…spending time in your faith…at times not even recognizing that is what you are doing…as it comes natural to do God’s work.

This year we stopped worrying about how many people came to church on Sunday and began concerning ourselves with how many lives we touched in the community…there may be 35-40 people here on Sunday, but Connie and her volunteers touched the lives of that many this week at Family Promise, add to that the folks you visited at Aspen Wind, those whose recovery was supported by you at Recover Wyoming, the families who had food on the table because of what you gave to Needs, the homeless men and women who enjoyed a hot cup of coffee and ate meals with fresh produce from our community garden…because of you, the families coming out of poverty because you give time and money to Connections Corner and the Wyoming Family HOP, the Boy Scouts whose lives are nourished in this building…those who are hearing the Bible stories some for the first time all in a new light at Bibles and Beer.

Everyone of them is as much a part of the Highlands faith community as those who come to worship with us on Sunday morning…they may never know us, they may never hear the name of this little church…but they know the presence of God through your faithful work in the community because you know that God has no hands…BUT OURS!

Paul’s letter to the Colossians reminds me so much of you. Paul’s list of the five virtues he says characterizes their relationships with God and one another also characterize you and your relationships with God and each other. “Compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.”

For the Apostle Paul, these "virtues" describe the character of active Christians, living as God's people who are called out of their ordinary lives to be a community especially dedicated to God and those with whom they share the community. This small Christian community is very much alive because it embodies the very gospel by which it was called and that it proclaims.

Paul’s letter to the Colossians is not speaking about individuals but about communities-communities of faith. Paul is saying, “This is what a church looks like. It’s not a building, it’s not a membership, not a group of people satisfied with themselves and their piety. Paul envisions a community in action. As the community lives in Christ putting on the godly virtues of “Compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience,” the work of the Lord is manifest in the community through love.

Highlands is a community of faith very much alive in Christ Jesus. Today…on this last Sunday of the old year let’s celebrate the gift of God through Jesus Christ and the call answered by this small community of faith to care for one another and for those outside of the walls of this building. You have done that and I give thanks to God for your work and for your love.
Indeed…it was a very, very good year. AMEN

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