Monday, May 9, 2016

"In the Meantime"

Here's my sermon for Ascension Sunday, May 8 (also Mother's Day):

Yesterday Lorie and I were at the drug store buying Mother’s Day cards for our moms. We were pushing through all the other last minute shoppers, when Lorie found a beautiful well-crafted card that had only three copies left. I said, “Perfect. Buy all three: One for your mom, one for mine, and one for me to give to you.”

Looking around the greeting card aisle, I noticed there were tons of Mother’s Day cards. There were graduation cards, because that’s happening this time of year. There were even wedding and anniversary cards, because a lot of people get married in May.

But I didn’t notice any “Ascension Day” cards! This is a special day that’s only celebrated in the church. It hasn’t been commercialized in the least. There is no “Ascension Bunny” who comes down from heaven to deliver chocolate eggs. I guess this is one holiday that’s all ours.

Look with me at Acts 1, verses 1-11:

In my first book I told you, Theophilus, about everything Jesus began to do and teach until the day he was taken up to heaven after giving his chosen apostles further instructions through the Holy Spirit.During the forty days after he suffered and died, he appeared to the apostles from time to time, and he proved to them in many ways that he was actually alive. And he talked to them about the Kingdom of God.
Once when he was eating with them, he commanded them, “Do not leave Jerusalem until the Father sends you the gift he promised, as I told you before. John baptized with water, but in just a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”
So when the apostles were with Jesus, they kept asking him, “Lord, has the time come for you to free Israel and restore our kingdom?”
He replied, “The Father alone has the authority to set those dates and times, and they are not for you to know. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
After saying this, he was taken up into a cloud while they were watching, and they could no longer see him. 10 As they strained to see him rising into heaven, two white-robed men suddenly stood among them. 11 “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why are you standing here staring into heaven? Jesus has been taken from you into heaven, but someday he will return from heaven in the same way you saw him go!”
-          Acts 1:1-11, New Living Translation
Today, on the last Sunday of the Easter season, we celebrate the fact that the risen Jesus spent 40 days with his disciples, and then he was lifted up into heaven before their very eyes.

But what does that mean to you and me? Jesus gets to fly like Superman. How does that help us?

What difference does the ascension make to our ordinary, everyday lives? Three things …

#1- Jesus is now at the right hand of the Father interceding for us

 “Christ Jesus, who died--more than that, who was raised to life--is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.”
                        --Romans 8:34, New International Version

That means that for you to talk to God
-you don’t have to go through a priest
-you don’t have to go through a saint
-you don’t have to go through a pastor like me,

You can go directly to God through the Son, Jesus Christ! 

The story is told of a union soldier during the civil war, sitting outside the white house. A little boy comes up to him and says, “What’s the matter soldier?” The soldier says, “I’ve been wounded and discharged, and they won’t pay me my pension.” The little boy says, “Come with me.”  And he takes the wounded soldier into the White House, past all the guards, right into the president’s office, and there sits Abraham Lincoln … and the boy says, “Dad, this soldier needs your help!”

That’s the power you have in addressing the God of the universe. The ascension means that Jesus is at the right hand of God interceding for you.

#2- Jesus can be everywhere

When Jesus was walking the earth in the flesh, he could only be in one place at a time. Now that Jesus has moved into the eternal realm, he is no longer limited by time or space.

Think of a puddle of water that gathers in a low spot in your yard. As long as it’s a puddle it can only be in one place. But when it evaporates, it’s taken up into the clouds, and then it can cover the earth in the form of rain.

Jesus ascended into heaven so that he could cover the earth in the form of the Holy Spirit. In John 16, he says, “…It is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you.”
                        --John 16:7 New International Version

The ascension means that Jesus can be everywhere.

#3- Jesus is coming back.

 “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why are you standing here staring into heaven? Jesus has been taken from you into heaven, but someday he will return from heaven in the same way you saw him go!”
 --Acts 1:11, New Living Translation

Jesus is coming back to put things right:
-          No more war
-          No more suffering
-          No more death or sorrow or crying or pain , for “God will wipe every tear from their eyes.”

The ascension means that Jesus is coming back.

So there are three things the ascension means to you and me. BUT—there’s one more thing. As we remember and celebrate Jesus ascending into heaven, I have one big question:

WHY DIDN’T HE TAKE US WITH HIM?

Why does he get to go to heaven, and we have to stay down here?

The Bible and Christian tradition tell us that the purpose of our existence is to be in relationship with God. Couldn’t we do that better if he’d just take us on up?

Why did Jesus leave us on earth? He makes that incredibly clear in Acts 1:8—

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
                                                --Acts 1:8, New International Version

Jesus is coming back – but in the meantime, we have work to do:

There’s a world out there drowning in sorrow—and they need to know the One who said, “Peace I give to you.”

There’s a world out there drowning in hatred—and they need to know the One who said, “Love your enemies and bless those who curse you.”

There’s a world out there full of starving people and sick people and forgotten people who need to experience FROM US the one who said, “Whatever you did for the least of these, you did for me.”

Jesus is coming back – but IN THE MEANTIME, he’s given us a MISSION:

-          Be my witnesses
-          Preach the gospel
-          Share the good news
-          Make disciples

That’s our mission. The question is, “What’s our Vision?”

If you’ve been here the last couple of Sundays, or if you’ve read our Newsletter, you know that we at Main Street are currently in a Vision Process. And it’s important to understand the difference between Mission and Vision.

Our MISSION was given to us by Jesus. He says it five different times in all four Gospels and Acts.[1] The mission never changes. It is the same for every church, at every place, in every time.

Our VISION, on the other hand, is a picture of God’s future for our church. Our vision becomes clear when we understand how God is calling our church to make disciples in this place, at this time. I think of Jeremiah 29:11, where God says, “I know the plans I have for you.” When we begin to understand those plans, we get a picture of the future to which God is calling us. That picture of the future is our VISION.

So:

-          Our Mission is to be witnesses, to share the good news, to make disciples. That is always the same, and it will never change.

-          Our Vision is a picture of how God is calling us to be witnesses in this particular place at this particular time


You know, what Main Street did in 1837, is not what Main Street was doing in 1937. And what Main Street did in 1937 is not what we’re going to be doing in 2037 (which, by the way, is only 21 years away!).

The mission is always the same, but the way we carry it out changes. And what we at Main Street are doing right now is saying, “God, show us YOUR vision for how you want us to carry out the mission next.”

So, how do we figure that out? How do we discern God’s vision for us?

Here’s how you find your vision. It works for churches, and it works for individuals. You take your two hands. With one hand, you get a firm grip on who you are—your gifts, talents, strengths, abilities, experiences, resources—everything you have to offer the world—everything that makes you, you.

With your other hand, get a firm grip on the needs of the world—especially the ones in your own backyard. What’s going on out there? What are the needs that tug at your heart and keep you awake at night? You know, experts are telling us that our area, the Piedmont Triad, is the number one area in the country for food insecurity. Apparently, we’ve got a lot of neighbors who need food. I also think of all the school kids who need mentoring, tutoring, and supplies. And there are plenty of other needs as well.

So, with one hand you get a grip on who you are. With the other hand you get a grip on the needs of the world. And then you bring your hands together in prayer. And you ask God to show you the intersections between the needs of the world and what you have to offer. And your vision—or better said, God’s vision for you—will emerge.

The Main Street Vision Team is divided into two groups who are studying each of the two “hands.” Later this month, the internal team—the team that’s studying who we are—will be sending out a survey that you can take online, or on paper if you don’t have internet access. Please take ten minutes and fill it out. You’ll notice that it’s not a “wish list” survey that asks for all the things you wish the church would do. That’s not what we’re looking for. We’re trying to discern GOD’S VISION for the future of our church. This survey is about getting a grip on who we are as a congregation.
           
So let me quickly retrace this rambling journey on which I’ve taken you this morning. (How did we get from Mother’s Day to an online survey?) Today is Ascension Sunday, and the ascension of Jesus means three things:

1. Jesus is interceding for us.
2. Jesus can be everywhere.
3. Jesus is coming back. 

But IN THE MEANTIME – we have work to do! Jesus has given us a

MISSION
“Be my witnesses”

And because we at Main Street are committed to that, we’re praying to receive God’s

VISION
A picture of God’s Future

Let’s close by praying a prayer that the Vision Team is asking us to pray every day at 7:00 am. Set your alarm clock, set a reminder on your phone, or write yourself a note, and let’s all join together every day saying,

“Lord, help us to be all that you want us to be. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.”



[1] See Matthew 28:19-20; Mark 16:15; Luke 24:47; John 20:21; Acts 1:8

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Celebration Sunday: Stories of Life Change

These "snippets" of notes and testimonies were shared last week as part of our Celebration Sunday. 

I would like to thank each one who participated in sending Christmas cards to shut-ins. I think I have enjoyed this gift from my fellow church members as much as anything else in my life.
               -Thurman and Ruth Hinson
Thank you for the wonderful prayer shawl given to my wife Melody. I can’t tell you what a comfort it has been to her as she undergoes treatments.
-Jack Johnston
WOW! 50 units of blood were collected at the Blood Drive, and our goal was only 39 units!
-Eloise Anderson and Libby Bond
I am very grateful for your cards, flowers, food, calls and visits during my hospitalization and recovery. To say that our church family is a caring congregation is an understatement.
               -Henrietta Barrett
We had made two trips to Florida in two weeks—one to see mother, and one for her funeral.  It meant so much to us for you to share your love through a meal.
               -A Bereavement Meal recipient
Thank you so much for Gavin's prayer shawl.  He’s been sleeping with it at night.  Your prayers will keep him strong.
-The Hills

We had a member facing hardship who had received an eviction notice.  We were able to bring her rent up to date and keep her in her home.
               -A UMW Circle
My daughter was leaving for college. My husband’s dad was declining rapidly. My life was chaotic. But Tim and I found that, rather than adding to our stress, Disciple Bible Study helped us through it.
               -Sandra Hemphill
Disciple Bible Study is habit forming. During my Disciple studies, I learned to read the Bible not just to understand the words, but to live in those words.
-Chadwick Stamper
Seventy plus years ago we were called to serve and protect our great country; we proudly answered the call.  Seventy years later God has called the "Never Forget Ministry" to encourage us. Your gifts of cards, banquets, concerts, and more give us something to look forward to.  Your love makes us walk a little taller in our senior years.
-Harold & Faye Redding
The goal of children’s ministry is to help children learn about God and put their faith in action. We have around 175 children involved across all events, with 40% of them being guests and visitors.
               -The Children’s Council
Sometimes we have said that our youth choir is not about singing, but about fellowship.  We do outreach in the community, and mission projects on our trips to the beach. We build each other up in Christian love. Oh, and we sing too!
               -The Alpha and Omega Youth Choir
Our music ministries include 15 different groups. Our mission is to facilitate worship that both honors God and builds up the church so that the church can go out into the world and share the good news.
               -Main Street music ministries
At the awards ceremony at Piney Grove, every one of the Main Street Preschool kids got their reading and math award.  Also, several received a good citizenship award.  This preschool is not only turning out children with strong academics but also teaching them to be good people.
-The Sammons family
Last year we had a preschool family that suddenly became homeless. When we learned of the situation, we bought the children clothing and immediate supplies.  The mom is now happy in her new home and was extremely thankful for a preschool that was able to help them.
-JoAnn Clifton, Preschool Director

The incredible people at Bethany Café get there bright and early to prepare a special meal. They offer a three-course meal served in stages so that we all receive royal treatment. This program has changed our lives and the lives of many in our community.
-The Lorenz Family
As one who helps prepare and serve the food, nothing touches your heart more than to know you are feeding people physically, emotionally, and spiritually.
               - A Bethany Café Volunteer
We’ve had many classes where we were brought to tears by sharing stories of serving the least, the last and the lost.  The most wonderful gift we‘ve received is knowing that God's love became real and life-changing to others.
-The Seafarers Sunday School Class
The giant Advent wreath on your church property helped to beautify our town. Thank you.
-Kernersville Community Appearance Commission
We had one individual who really did not want to deal with multiple sclerosis, but was dragged to our support group.  After some time, this person decided to ride with our “Bike MS” team.   Last year this individual trained hard and rode 35 miles.  Our group helped this person understand that you can live a full life despite living with MS.   
               -Multiple Sclerosis Support Group
If our group had to rent a rehearsal space, we probably would not be able to exist.
               -Heart of the Triad Chorus
We are so grateful to Main Street for making it possible for Lidia's children to have school clothes.  They simply would not have had the required school uniforms without your help. Your generous gift also allowed each child to get casual clothes and shoes.
- Vickie Sigmon, Open Arms Community, Winston-Salem
Each winter New Story Church opens its doors to the homeless of Winston-Salem. And every Wednesday, Main Street brings an amazing meal to feed our hungry guests. But it doesn’t stop there, because your folks stay around to serve the meal with grace and kindness.   
-Pastor Steve Smith, New Story Church
Rick was living on the streets of East Winston.  He had a drug problem.  His family had little to do with him. Rick began coming to feedings at Rupert Bell Park, and he started asking questions about Jesus. Rick discovered he had cancer while living on the streets. We prayed that Rick would get off the streets.  He is now in his own apartment.  He has gained weight and looks good. Now Rick comes to church every chance he gets and he calls me his pastor. 
               -Carol Fulton, Children of Zion Ministries
 Main Street is changing the lives of prisoners through Kairos Prison Ministry. The prayer strips, the monetary support, and yes, the cookies. They call us the Kernersville Crowd, and many times they have told us that if it wasn’t for your support, this ministry would have ceased to function long ago.
               -Don Stutts
 You guys have done big work in Egbe, Nigeria over the past year, touching many, many lives. Egbe Hospital aims to care for every patient with the compassion of Jesus Christ.  People walk for as long as three days to reach the hospital, making this place the center of one of the largest evangelistic movements in western Africa! Thank you for allowing us to be here, sharing in this with you.
               -Nick and Katie Riddle
 We are seeing lives changed through Bible teaching in the Ukraine and central Asia. Last weekend we ran a two day camp for children from refugee families. They played games, had plenty of food, and heard the gospel.          
               -Esther Mueller
 Redeemed Girl Ministries has traveled across the country to eight college campuses. We’ve seen 518 young women commit their lives to Christ! I wish each of you could have been there to hear the stories of changed lives on each campus.
               -Emily Wilburn
We received this note from a woman who listens to Trans World Radio: “Through your radio programs, I have learned to praise God in every situation, and to be a person with firm faith. May God bless you all at Trans World Radio!“
               -Grant and Jenna Hodgins
After serving 9 years in the Domincan Republic, God began a new church and I became the founding pastor.  Now we have four services a week.
-Connie DeLeo
We are on a team of 4 missionary families working among an unreached people group in Mozambique. When our teammates first came to this area there were no Christian believers. Today we are hosting Bible studies and seeing lives changed through Christ.
               -Daryl and Leah Burnette
And there you have just a few of the ways that God is changing lives through you. And this is just a taste. I’m sure that for every story we read there are at least 5 others that could be told.

Not to us, Lord, not to us
But to your name be the glory! 
       Psalm 115:1

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Celebration Sunday Sermon: "Changing Lives Together"

On Sunday, May 1, the people of Main Street United Methodist Church gathered for “One Big Service” in the Sanctuary to celebrate all the ministries of Main Street and the successful conclusion of the first phase of  our recent capital campaign. The theme of the campaign is "Building Up, Reaching Out: Changing Lives Together." This is my sermon...

Please turn with me to Acts 2:42-47. This is a description 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 at home and ate their food with glad and
generous hearts,  praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.

If anyone ever asks me, “Claude what’s your vision for the church?” I take them to this passage.

This is the church at its finest. They were devoted to God. They were devoted to each other. They were outrageously generous—it says they sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need.  And God was in their midst! They saw signs and wonders every day!

And the best part of all is what it says in v. 47: “And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.”

In other words, lives were being changed. They were changing lives together!

Now, I look at Acts 2:42-47, and I see some of these same things going on at Main Street:
-      They were devoted to the apostles’ teaching: Where do you find the apostles’ teaching nowadays? In the Bible. And I have seen an amazing commitment to Bible Study here at Main Street:
o   Something like 350 of you have taken Disciple Bible Study. Some of you have taken Disciple 1, 2, 3, 4, Christian Believer, and Jesus in the Gospels!
o   Around 100 of you come to my Bible study on Wednesday night or Thursday morning
o   You have one of the strongest Sunday School programs I’ve ever seen.

-      They were devoted to each other: Main Street is an extremely caring congregation. When somebody’s in need, when we need a meal for a funeral, or for somebody coming out of the hospital, we never have to pull hen’s teeth to find somebody willing to help!

-      They were devoted to the breaking of bread and to prayer : That’s a reference to Holy Communion, which we do once a month on Sundays, and every Wednesday in Oasis.

-      They were outrageously generous: Last year at Main Street, you gave (roughly) $170,000 to outreach over and above the regular outreach budget of $55,000!

-      The Lord added to their number daily: Main Street has grown steadily for 175 years, and last year was no exception—you received 38 new members, 11 of those by profession of faith.

-      Acts 2 talks about evidence that God was at work in the church – and if you haven’t seen that here today, you haven’t been listening!

And then most of all – this passage describes people whose lives are being changed.  And I feel certain that everybody here today could point to some way that God has used this church to change your life:
-      Some of you grew up in this church, and you would say, “Main Street UMC is a big part of who I am today”

-      Some of you found Main Street just recently, and you might say, “This church was there for me when I needed it.”

-      Some of you are from other cities, other states, other countries, and Main Street has become your home away from home.

-      Some of you raised your kids in this church, and you’re so grateful for how they’ve been taught, nurtured, and mentored.

-      Some of you got married here, got baptized here, got confirmed here

-      Some of you met your spouse in this church

-      Some of you would say that your life was changed because of what you experienced in our youth group, or in our Sunday School, or on a mission trip

-      Some of you learned how to build things because of this church

-      Some of you learned how to knit because of this church

-      Some of you learned how to bake cookies that are exactly 2 ½ inches in diameter because of this church

-      Some of you learned how to study the Bible in this church—you’ve gone deeper into the Bible than you ever thought possible, and you have grown spiritually like never before

-      Some of you gave your life to Jesus in this church: Maybe you knelt at this altar, or the altar in the chapel, and you said, “Jesus, I’m going to follow you” – and your life hasn’t been the same since.

Some people whose lives have been changed aren’t here today, because they’ve gone into the world as missionaries—or because they’re among the many members of this church who have gone into Christian service or pastoral ministry. (You know, that’s a real sign of a church’s health, when people leave the church to go into ministry.)

I feel certain that everybody here today can point to some way, big or small, that God has used this church to change your life. And you know what, Main Street? God has used you to change my life! I love being your pastor! You are a positive, active, energetic, committed group of people. You’re open to new people. You’re willing to try new things. I’ve been here two years and I’ve never once heard the 7 last words of the church: “We’ve never done it that way before.”

Lorie and I are in a very important stage of life right now. Shortly after we moved here we became grandparents, and our grandson lives in Durham (oh, and his parents do too.)  And in the last six or seven months my father has not been doing well—and he lives in Greensboro.

Because of Main Street—because you allowed us to come here—we’re living much, much, much closer to these family members than we were before, when we lived way up in the mountains and it took hours to get here!

But even more – the support you’ve given us—the love you’ve shown us—both in the joy of the grandson and the sorrow with my dad—your love and support and caring has been amazing. I am not exaggerating when I say that being a part of this church has changed our lives!

So here’s the question: Who else is out there whose life needs to be changed?

-      Who else in this community is going through some of the hard things that some of you are going through, but they have no church family to support them?

-      Who else in this community needs prayer?

-      Who else in this community needs to study God’s Word?

-      Who in this community is trying to raise children without the support and guidance of the church?

-      Who in this community has a teenage son or daughter who needs a youth group?

-      Who in this community is in the later years of life and feels lonely and needs something meaningful to do?

-      Who else in this community is in desperate need of what God has entrusted to Main Street United Methodist Church?

At this time I’d like to recognize Chadwick Stamper who’s going to say a few words about what’s coming next.


CHADWICK: Today you’ve gotten a taste of all the things going on at Main Street. You’ve had a chance to see all the ways this church is “Building Up, Reaching Out, and Changing Lives Together.”

Now, in case it hasn’t occurred to you yet, let me state the obvious: In the very near future, these ministries are going to need more space. The money you’ve already given to Building Up, Reaching Out is going to go a long way to make that space possible.

Now, listen to this next part very carefully: We need to build more space, We need to build it sooner, rather than later. And we need to make sure that what we build matches the God-inspired vision of the future of Main Street Church.

We’ve been dreaming of the possibilities and potential ministries and missions enabled by additional space for almost 20 years. We’ve imagined different versions of what that new space might look like. One possibility for that additional space is represented in the model on display in the Narthex.  But Tom Vaught, our building committee chair, will tell you that the model was never meant to be a set in stone plan for the next building.

As your church leaders, the Trustees and the Capital Campaign committee, and the Church Council, have prayed over the next steps in realizing our dreams for Main Street, we’ve recognized that over the years, the needs of the church have changed and the needs of the Kernersville community have changed.

Let me say that again: The needs of the church have changed. And the needs of the community have changed.

 For example: The largest demographic moving into this area in the next ten years is going to be people going into retirement. One of the things that people need in the later years of life is Sunday school rooms on the first floor. Do you know how many Sunday school rooms we currently have that you can get to without climbing steps? One.

The second largest demographic moving into this area is people 18-30 – that’s the generation we call the Millennials. And that generation has some different ideas about what the church should be doing; for example, they’re very passionate about making a difference in the world, and less passionate about maintaining the institution.
The needs of the church have changed. And the needs of the community have changed.

So in January of this year, the Church Council decided that we need “to clarify the church’s vision before beginning our next building project.” Last Sunday Marc Engle and Becky Lewis introduced you to the Vision Process that’s going on right now. We have a team of 12 people, working with a consultant from the conference office. Like Becky and Marc told you last Sunday, we’re studying the community, and they’re studying the church.

Please understand that this vision process is not just about the building. It’s a vision for the whole church. It’s a picture of the future. It’s a ministry action plan. It’s going to impact every area of our life as a church. It’s about how God is going to use us to “change lives together.”

So let me repeat:
            The vision process is not just about the building.
            It’s not just about the building.
            It’s not just…what?  (about the building)

That vision process is going to last 4-5 months, and then we’re going to step back and say, “OK, how do we build to THAT?” We may find that the model out in the narthex is exactly what we need. We may find that God is calling us to do something different.

We can’t tell you right now exactly what our new space is going to look like, but we can assure you of three things:
1-      We are going to build something
2-      Your gifts to Building Up Reaching Out will be used for building—we’re not going to divert those funds to something else
3-      Any new plans we come up with will be voted on by the congregation.
Hopefully later this year we’re going to launch another formal pledge campaign like the one that just concluded. In the meantime, the Capital Campaign committee is requesting that you continue giving to the building fund at your current level. You’ve been giving for three years now, and you’ve gotten used to giving a certain amount. We would love it if you would just keep doing that. Because we need more space, and we’re going to build something, and the more we can collect up front, the less we’ll have to borrow, and the sooner we can break ground.

CLAUDE: Main Street is a church that’s rooted in the past, but reaching for the future. We have a past that goes back over 175 years. But with all we’ve talked about today, we are looking ahead to a bright future.

So let’s close this celebration service with a song that’s rooted in the past, but looks ahead to the future. This is a good old gospel song from the past. A bunch of you probably grew up singing it.
But this song looks ahead to a bright future: “To a home on God’s celestial shore;” “To a land where joys will never end.”

Let’s stand together and sing, “I’ll Fly Away,” led by the combined choir, the Jubilee Praise Band, the youth choir, and the children’s choir!

Tomorrow: Stories of Life Change!