A United Methodist Pastor's Theological Reflections

"But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory (nikos) through our Lord Jesus Christ." - I Corinthians 15:57


Monday, October 8, 2012

October 7 Sermon by Pastor Cheryl Foulk - "Extravagant Generosity: Visions & Hope from the Heart"

All of us like to dream: to imagine, to think about “what if ” , to wonder how our lives, our world could be better.  God works within our dreams, our hopes, and inspires us to act.  The prophet Joel speaks of God's Spirit touching everyone, the old and the  young. We are all dreamers for God ! When you think of the year ahead, what are your hopes for our church?

Let's listen to Wanda as she shares her vision for our church.

Good morning- my name is Wanda Shaeffer and I am here to share my HOPE and VISION for our church with you. I am one of 11 children and grew up in a Christian family. My great grandfather served as a circuit rider and after participating in tent revivals my parent saw the need for a permanent place to worship.They gave a portion of our farm on which we financially and physically built a sweet country church.
 
My mom and dad and each of us children hammered on the roof-puttied in the windows- painted- sanded and varnished the floors. The doors were open to everyone in our little village. What a wonderful labor of love that was !The church was deeded in 1948- free of charge- to the Christian Union Church whose congregation worshiped there for 61 years. When the deed was returned back to our family, we deeded the church over in 2011 to a new praise worship congregation named "The Bridge."
 
The church that my parents envisioned many years ago , and became a reality through their extravagant generosity continues to be a church bringing people to Christ. My family also participated in the Billy Graham crusades. We continued to share and give generously of our time, gifts, and love while spreading the good news to all those we met.
 
So it was not unusual for me to be excited about our "Unbinding Your Heart" Bible study in Lent and share the project with others during our winter stay in Fort Myers, Florida. We formed small groups there where we met, studied, shared and prayed. It was so rewarding to know that God's messages would be carried back home with the participants to be shared with their families, friends, and churches. This included Wisconsin, Indiana, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, New York, and even that "state up North" as well as across the ocean to Greece and Sweden!
 
Oh what awesome results were realized during this mission!
 
Our mission this fall is "Extravagant Generosity". We all know that HOPE is wishing or wanting things to be better in our church and community and VISION means seeing where we will be in the future. The best way for our church to continue to stay strong, grow and reach more of God's people is to be generous with all of our talents: gifts- time- love- and God's words. So using HOPE and VISION plus our experiences through our church's ministries, studies and projects, we know our spirits continue to grow and be healthy as a result of our good works. We know our faith and our church and our leaders have given us all the tools we need. We all have the vehicle to touch lives and make a difference, and help bring others to Christ! AND, we all know WHO is driving that vehicle!
 
Let's all jump on that vehicle; be generous and trust that wonderful things will happen. Lets all try and with a little "umph" to it, we will have triumph and we will get God's work done!!
 
Let's just take a moment and:
Close your eyes, know that God is smiling down on each of you. Feel his warmth as he wraps his arms around you. And let his pure Agape unconditional love fill your hearts.
Carry his peace and love with you as you continue on your faith journey. Shalom.
 
I an grateful to Wanda for both dreaming and acting upon the visions of her heart.

Remember  Lucy? In the Peanuts comic strip  she is constantly handing out  opinions. In one episode, Charlie Brown seeks guidance from Lucy.

Lucy tells Charlie Brown that life is like a deck chair on the cruise ship of life.

What you have to decide, Lucy says, is whether you want your deck chair to face backward so that you can see where you have been, or if you want your deck chair to face forward so you can see where you are going.

Frustrated Charlie Brown responds, “I'm having trouble just getting my deck chair unfolded!”

I believe that we are  a congregation with our deck chairs facing forward!

What is ahead for us?  What do we hope for in the year ahead?

In the devotional book, Practicing Extravagant Generosity , there is a description of people who exhibit such generosity:  “They pray and hope and dream about the good they can accomplish through their gifts.”     We have been in that process.

In conversations, in meetings, in small groups,in prayer,we have been thinking  and talking about how we can fulfill God's mission for our church. Thank you for sharing your hopes  because that is how we gain an understanding of how God is speaking through all of our  hearts.

In  reading  your responses on the cards (which asked “What is your hope for the church?”), I have not been surprised by the common theme that has emerged:

The responses speak of   Invitation 

2 out of 3 of the  cards mentioned that you wanted new members, more involvement in the  community, openness to new people.   This certainly fits in with Jesus saying  to go and make disciples - to love our neighbors as we love ourselves- to feed his sheep.

Here are some responses from the cards:

“ (Our church would be) a Leader in caring for the community, effective in being a beacon for Christ”

“Step out of our comfort zone to tell our story, and to share God's word.”

“To nurture and learn and reach out in love.”

“To keep helping others, to share the word of God, to keep growing.”

Imagine if we were known as the  most friendly church in town!

Known as a place where  there's always room for you.

We want others also to enjoy what we love most about about church!

I would like to share with you 6 possible ways that we can continue to reach out to our neighbors.

-Offer generous hospitality in every way possible.  Greeters at the door and in the parking lot- help for newcomers to know where things are.   A new Welcome Center in the parlor.

-Prayer walking groups  for our church events and in our community. Getting out and walking in our neighborhoods , praying  for those who live  and work there.

-Every committee, every group would offer a ministry during the year that would  bridge into  the community. Our VBS has done this very effectively. What if all our groups dreamed about how they too can interact with our neighbors.

-Form many small groups that would meet next  Lent and study “Unbinding Your Soul”.  Particularly invite persons who are not part of our  church to be in the  groups.

-Look for ways where we can be in fellowship and ministry with other UM Churches in the area.

-Next spring/summer,have a celebration of God's grace and  invite the community to come to the party!

These are big dreams, but not impossible ones.                                

We give because we love our church and want our ministries to prosper. We  greatly benefit from the ministries here. We also support this church so that others can receive what we have received.

Who is missing?

I believe that there are many folks that we want to feel welcome  here: family members, friends, neighbors, co workers, people at school.

With all our hearts, we wish that they were here.

Bishop Desmond Tutu has written a small book entitled “God has A Dream.”  A book full of hope as he recounts how he has seen God's dreams amazingly  come true in his country of South Africa.

This is a passage from his book:

“I have a dream, God says. Please help Me to realize it. A dream of a world whose ugliness, squalor, and poverty, its war and hostility, its greed and harsh competitiveness, its alienation and disharmony are changed into glorious counterparts...where there will be justice and goodness and compassion and love and caring and sharing...that My children will know they are members of one family, God's family.”

There are many folks here in Fairfield County who are yearning to be part of God's family.

We can share that they can find a place at God's table here.

Over the last weeks we have considered what we love about our church, the persons who have  made a difference in our spiritual lives, and  today, our dreams for the next year.

Next week we will have the opportunity to express our commitment here in worship.

Members of our Church Council have already responded to the call. Many of them have already turned in their commitment cards and have made their promises to give.  They want our church to reach out and offer a “welcome home” to others.  They want to provide the resources so that God-sized visions can come true.

When you receive your  commitment form this week in the mail, please seek God's direction for how you can be  generous to support God's dreams through this church. What are the ways that you can partner with God through your prayers, presence, gifts, service and witness?

Austin Gutwein was a  9 year old boy in Arizona when he saw a World Vision video about  a little girl in Zambia, Africa  (Maggie)who had only one living relative, a g- grandmother , because of the AIDS epidemic. Austin could not forget what he saw, and that he had  to do something for  kids who are orphans.  That year on World Aids Day he shot over 2000 free throws on his school basketball court. He raised  $3000.

Austin is now 18 years old and the project he began “Hoops for Hope” is participated in by youth all over the U.S and the world. Two and a half  million dollars  has been raised to  help children in poverty.

   Austin, in his wisdom, has said that the world is filled with people who are “Maggies” in their own way.  Some are lonely, some are struggling to find God, some are sick or hungry, some just need a friend.

He continues:  “God wants to use us to make a difference to real people who are in real need right now.

First United Methodist people, let's work together and be generous so that God's dreams can come true!

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