LAITY SUNDAY MESSAGE: Living Our Membership Covenant
Back in May of 2012, I completed the Lexington District of the Kentucky Conference’s Lay Academy of Church Excellence program and received my Local Church Lay Speaker certification (hold it up?). See the signature on the lower right? (Laugh) None other than Mark Girard who was our District Superintendent at the time. Who could have imagined that over three years later I would be in this position and Mark would have to listen to me deliver a message? If you ever needed proof, you have it, as to why God doesn’t reveal all of His plans for our lives too far in advance – He knows we would fight tooth and nail against some of them! But I am in this position this morning and you are here with me, so God willing, let’s make the best of it.
Pastor Mark reached out to me, as Lay Leader, a couple of months ago to inquire as to whether St. Luke had observed Laity Sunday in the recent past and I affirmed that we had and it always seemed well-received. Once he had me boxed in like that, he asked if I would organize it! I’m reminded of Matthew 10:16 – “…Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.”
Still, I thought it was a good idea and we met to discuss the theme and Mark suggested we focus on our membership vows to the church and I thought that was a great idea. I’ve advocated for years that we all ought to renew our vows on an annual basis and truly reflect on what it is we are committing to when we take them. Well, today is that day. When we joined this congregation we committed our presence, our prayers, our gifts, our service and our witness.
We’ve already seen beautiful examples of people living out these vows in our wonderful music, drama and testimony. Whether my message deserves to be included in that list will be up to you to decide.
Now, as a former pastor here used to say “Please pray with me and for me.”
Holy Spirit be with your servant now and in spite of my limitations; open the ears, the minds and the hearts of Your people to Your Truth in a way that meets each one exactly where they are in their faith walk. It’s in Jesus name that I pray, Amen.
Even before I knew I would be delivering a message today a piece of Scripture captured my mind and heart and I believe it will be of value to us in light of today’s focus on living our membership vows. Because when we take those vows, it’s not just to St. Luke that we are committing ourselves but more importantly, we are committing to God to live in the way He has called us to live. It just so happens that at this season in all our lives we are doing so here at St. Luke.
I’ll be reading from Paul’s letter to the Romans, chapter 12 and I will be using The Message. Let me say right up front I know some may question The Message interpretation of Scripture for various reasons. But here’s why I’m using it: Over the years I have read nearly all the books of the Bible one at a time as part of various studies and classes. Several years ago, inspired by the example of one Brother Joe Farmer, I committed to reading the entire Bible in a year. I did that using my NIV straight through from Genesis to Revelation. The following year I did it again but used a different approach, reading from both Old and New Testament each day. The third time I read through the Bible in a year I used a chronological Bible that places the Scripture in order of when the events most likely occurred.
Each reading gave me different perspectives and forced me to truly consider what I was reading as opposed to just putting it on auto-pilot and checking it off my list. This year I decided to focus on the New Testament and chose The Message to again challenge me to really consider what I’m reading and I have to tell you, for me, it has been such a blessing to visit once again God’s eternal Truth through contemporary language.
For those that have read Romans in different translations, open your ears and listen for God’s Truth in this familiar passage. So, with your indulgence, here we go:
So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering.
Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.
Let’s pause to consider that: Is the church today (and who is the church – us!) really all that different from the culture in which we live? Does culture have a greater influence on us than we do as Christ-followers on the culture? I’m sure some of you have read the various research and surveys that reveal the attitudes of self-identified Christians to not be all that different from non-believers in terms of the entertainment we avail ourselves of and social norms, how we spend our time and money. Even folks who say they attend church regularly give at around 2% of their income, well below a tithe.
And on this issue of giving, I’ve also thought C.S. Lewis says it very well in Mere Christianity:
I do not believe one can settle how much we ought to give. I am afraid the only safe rule is to give more than we can spare. In other words, if our expenditure on comforts, luxuries, amusements, etc., is up to the standard common of those with the same income as our own, we are probably giving away too little.
If our charities do not at all pinch or hamper us, I should say they are too small. There ought to be things that we’d like to do but cannot do because our charitable expenditure excludes them.
So we should consider this morning the point Paul makes: Are we so well-adjusted to our culture that we fit into it without even thinking? Do we spend our time, our money, our focus on the very same things non-Christ followers do? Is everything in our lives worthy of placing before God as an offering?
Continuing in verse 3
I’m speaking to you out of deep gratitude for all that God has given me, and especially as I have responsibilities in relation to you. Living then, as every one of you does, in pure grace, it’s important that you not misinterpret yourselves as people who are bringing this goodness to God. No, God brings it all to you. The only accurate way to understand ourselves is by what God is and by what he does for us, not by what we are and what we do for him.
The Christian is in a different position from other people who are trying to be good. They hope, by being good, to please God if there is one; or — if they think there is not — at least they hope to deserve approval from good men. But the Christian thinks any good he does comes from the Christ-life inside him. He does not think God will love us because we are good, but that God will make us good because He loves us; just as the roof of a greenhouse does not attract the sun because it is bright, but becomes bright because the sun shines on it.
Do we truly understand ourselves by what God is and by what He does for us? Or is our identity more of what we are and what we do for Him? I will confess to you that this is a danger for me: To see myself as who I am and what “I do for God” through my service, my public prayers, my gifts. I must fight against that self-centeredness. I can bring nothing of any worth or goodness to God that He does not already possess except one thing: Me, my surrendered soul to His love, grace, and mercy.
So how do you see yourself?
(I think you’ll find this section very familiar even with different language)
In this way we are like the various parts of a human body. Each part gets its meaning from the body as a whole, not the other way around. The body we’re talking about is Christ’s body of chosen people. Each of us finds our meaning and function as a part of his body. But as a chopped-off finger or cut-off toe we wouldn’t amount to much, would we?
So since we find ourselves fashioned into all these excellently formed and marvelously functioning parts in Christ’s body, let’s just go ahead and be what we were made to be, without enviously or pridefully comparing ourselves with each other, or trying to be something we aren’t.
Christianity thinks of human individuals not as mere members of a group or items in a list, but as organs in a body–different from one another and each contributing what no other could. When you find yourself wanting to turn your children, or pupils, or even your neighbors, into people exactly like yourself, remember that God probably never meant them to be that.”
Try to find Nickey Gumbel story about all the church volunteers quitting
And here is the section that really captured my attention for all of us living and serving together as a church body.
If you preach, just preach God’s Message, nothing else; if you help, just help, don’t take over; if you teach, stick to your teaching; if you give encouraging guidance, be careful that you don’t get bossy; if you’re put in charge, don’t manipulate; if you’re called to give aid to people in distress, keep your eyes open and be quick to respond; if you work with the disadvantaged, don’t let yourself get irritated with them or depressed by them. Keep a smile on your face.
Love from the center of who you are; don’t fake it. Run for dear life from evil; hold on for dear life to good. Be good friends who love deeply; practice playing second fiddle.
Don’t burn out; keep yourselves fueled and aflame. Be alert servants of the Master, cheerfully expectant. Don’t quit in hard times; pray all the harder. Help needy Christians; be inventive in hospitality.
Can I get an Amen to that?! I’m not saying that many of us don’t live our vows this way but can you imagine if all of us did? Or if each of us did better in our areas?
Many years ago, a believer who had become discouraged from the weight of great sorrow and adversity in his life, gradually quit attending church, withdrew to himself and even avoided visits from concerned friends and family members. He began becoming defensive when anyone suggested he should come back into fellowship, responding that the last thing he needed was people judging him. He began to feel like Job, with suffering he felt was undeserved, and rebuffed efforts by his Pastor and members of his congregation to talk about the problems.
One day, his Pastor paid a visit, and because he respected him, the man reluctantly let him in, though warning him he would not be very good company. During the visit, the Pastor said very little, mainly keeping him company, as they sat before the man’s fireplace, letting him know he was loved, was being prayed for, and that a lot of people were there for him. The Pastor knew that he had to avoid sounding “preachy,” yet desperately desired to see his friend realize how far he was slipping away from the Lord–and the inevitable consequences that could bring. Finally, the Lord spoke to the Pastor, and told him what to do.
As the two men sat in silence before the crackling fire, the Pastor slowly reached out, and picked up the tongs next to the fireplace. He reached into the embers, and took out a single glowing coal, setting it on the stone floor. Puzzled, but remaining silent, the man sat staring at the coal. Gradually, the coal began to lose its color, finally growing dark and cold until it died. The effect was not lost on the man, and he looked up at the Pastor with tear-filled eyes, realizing he was that coal.
Sorrow and burdens will visit all of our lives sooner or later. We’ve all seen it, our sisters or brothers who pull away from their church family for various reasons during this low points in their life. It seems counter intuitive, doesn’t it? That one would pull away from those who are committed to loving them and lifting them in prayer and offering to do anything that can be done. What is it that drives that wedge between us and our faith family? I don’t think it’s God.
So when we have a friend or family member go through this “dark night of the soul” we must be the fire that keeps them that faint glimmer of faith aglow until the Holy Spirit can reignite that flame in them.
This is also what it means to be part of the church; to share our prayers and our presence.
In finishing this chapter, Paul provides guidance on how we should relate to others both inside and outside the community of faith
Bless your enemies; no cursing under your breath. Laugh with your happy friends when they’re happy; share tears when they’re down. Get along with each other; don’t be stuck-up. Make friends with nobodies; don’t be the great somebody.
Don’t hit back; discover beauty in everyone. If you’ve got it in you, get along with everybody. Don’t insist on getting even; that’s not for you to do. “I’ll do the judging,” says God. “I’ll take care of it.”
Our Scriptures tell us that if you see your enemy hungry, go buy that person lunch, or if he’s thirsty, get him a drink. Your generosity will surprise him with goodness. Don’t let evil get the best of you; get the best of evil by doing good.
This is a challenge, isn’t? Will anyone join me in confessing that this is a big challenge? I mean, heck, it’s hard enough to get along with our brothers and sisters in the faith let alone those who do not share our beliefs!
I’m afraid because this challenge is so great, so far above what the vast majority of us can even imagine being able to do in our hearts, we simply don’t like to dwell on it or spend much time thinking about it.
When we see something on TV or read it on social media or hear on the radio people denigrating our faith, our Lord – what is our initial response? Forgiveness? Sorrow for them? Praying for them?
Or do we get our dander up and does our blood boil? I know mine does. And I have to pray myself down off my high-horse.
And then I witness people who seemingly are able to do this; to forgive the murderer of a loved one, the person whose drunk driving took away a family member of friend, or a nation, an ideology, that destroyed lives.
I am so humbled by those examples and wonder if ever I can reach that level of Christianity maturity to think the way my Jesus thought on the cross “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
Two things I do know: I’ll never be able to forgive the “big things” if I can’t forgive the “little” and I am certainly not the man I want to be, nor the man I’m gonna be, but thank God I’m not the man I was. Amen.
To wrap up this message about living our membership covenant vows, and with apologies to Jeff Foxworthy, I present “You might be a Christian”
If you pray, as Paul encouraged us to do, continuously and not just when you want something from God and you pray that His will be done in every situation all the while knowing that may not be what you think you want – you might be a Christian.
If you are present to worship and fellowship and learn and grow in your faith on a regular basis and put yourself in places and situations to not only help others but to reflect the love of Christ to God’s glory – you might be a Christian.
If you give of your time, your talents, and of your finances not just in the “Safe Auto” way, you know – minimum coverage, but sacrificially and joyfully – you might be a Christian.
If you serve whether inside the church or in the community, on local or distant mission trips and if you actively seek ways to serve others rather than being served – you might be a Christian.
And if you are willing, even if you’re uncomfortable or unsure of yourself, to share your witness as to what Christ has done for you and what God means in your life – you might be a Christian.
If you have confessed your sin and need for a savior, surrendered your life to Jesus, repent and accept God’s unmerited grace and love then strive with the help of the Holy Spirit to live a Christ-centered life – you ARE a Christian.
May God bless you and continue to bless St. Luke. Amen.