Saturday, February 17, 2018

Our Vision and Why it Matters (Preparation for Tomorrow's Sermon)

Tomorrow we begin a new sermon series that looks at how "The Jesus Creed"--Love God, Love Others--is the key to achieving our Vision at Main Street. In preparation, please read this sermon from last year that introduces our Vision Statement and WHY IT MATTERS:

Many of you know that we’ve had a Vision Team working to discern God’s future for Main Street. And as a result of their work we’ve got a new vision statement.

But first let’s talk about a statement we already had, that’s actually more important than the Vision Statement. Look at your bulletin and you’ll see our mission statement. This is what we’re doing. This is why we exist.

Our Mission:
To make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.

And we didn’t choose that. These are marching orders from Jesus himself, based on Matthew 28:

“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations…”

So, the mission is what we’re doing. The VISION is our dream for what’s going to happen as we carry out the mission.

The mission is the same for every church: “Go therefore and make disciples” – that’s what Jesus said.

The mission is the same, for every church in every place, in every time. But our vision is the unique way that God is calling this church to carry out the mission in this place, at this time.

So how did we discern that? Well, first, the church council appointed a vision team with balanced representation by gender and age. And then, the Vision Team used a two-handed process:

On one hand, they got a grip on who we are as a church. They did a survey, they did focus groups, and they figured out this church’s gifts, strengths, passions. 

On the other hand, the team got a grip on the needs of the world around us. They did demographic studies. They talked to community leaders. And they figured out what’s happening out there and how it impacts the church.

And then, they brought their hands together in prayer, and they looked for the intersections between who we are and the needs of the world. And they learned A LOT, but here’s how they summed it up in a statement:

Our Vision
Fostering vital communities through love and life-changing experiences

Today we’re going to focus on the first three words of that statement:

“Fostering vital communities”

Pastor Craig Groeschel tells the story of the time when he was eating in a restaurant with his family. He noticed another family, a family of four, who all had their heads bowed. Craig thought, “Now, that’s something you don’t see much anymore.  A family praying in public.  Saying grace before they eat. That’s really wonderful.”

Then Craig looked again, and he realized that the family wasn’t praying—no, they were all four sitting at the table and staring at their smart phones!

That story is a symptom of something that’s happening in our society that’s hurting all of us. Electronically, in terms of computers and cell phones, we’re more connected than we’ve ever been. But when it comes to face-to-face relationships, we’re more isolated than ever. We can connect instantly through our phones, through our computers. We can put something on Facebook, and 500 people will see it. But studies are showing that our face-to-face relationships are deteriorating. We’re losing the ability to truly communicate. We can’t seem to understand each other on a deep level. Our relationship skills are going down, not up.

Vision Statement in MSUMC Narthex
I heard a story on the radio just this week that said that researchers have found that the more people use social media like Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest – the more isolated they feel. We’re more connected than ever, but we’re more isolated than we’ve ever been.

And you see the evidence of this in society:
-          We volunteer less
-          We give less
-          We join service organizations less
-          We go to church less
-          We have guests over for dinner less
-          We get married less
-          We have fewer children
-          We have fewer close friends.

Studies show that for most Americans, our circle of close friends is getting smaller. And those same studies show that our level our levels of happiness have gone down -- and depression and suicide have gone way up. We’re more connected than ever, but we’re more isolated than we’ve ever been.

And this trend towards isolation is literally killing us:

-          Studies of elderly people showed that those without adequate social interaction were twice as likely to die early.
-          Social isolation impairs immune function and boosts inflammation, which can lead to arthritis, type II diabetes, and heart disease.
-          The increased mortality risk [from loneliness] is comparable to that of smoking and twice as dangerous as obesity.
We need relationships! It’s a life-or-death deal:
-          A study of 3,000 women with breast cancer found that those with a large network of friends were four times more likely to survive as women with fewer social connections.

-           A study that monitored nearly 17,000 utility workers revealed the degree of their social interactions was a predictor who would still be alive by the end of the decade.

-          A study involving almost 3,000 Americans found that people with close friendships are far less likely to die young.

-          And another study found that fifty-year-old men with active friendships are less likely to have heart attacks than solitary men.

We need relationships! But today relationships are breaking down:

-          Marriages are falling apart

-          Families are breaking apart

-          Cities and neighborhoods are rife with violence and division

-          Our country is tearing itself apart.

We’re more connected than ever, but we’re more isolated than we’ve ever been.

Here’s the Good News: WE AT MAIN STREET CAN BUCK THAT TREND! We can reverse the trend towards isolation, and move people towards vital relationships. OUR VISION is to make disciples of Jesus Christ in such a way that we foster vital communities--vital communities where people come together and truly communicate with each other, understand each other, and form relationships with each other. Vital communities where people are connected face-to-face, and isolation becomes a thing of the past.

Right now you might be asking a question: In our Vision Statement, when we say, “Communities,” do we mean…

o   Towns, like Kernersville?

o   Churches, like ours (our website says, “We are a Christ-centered community where disciples are made…”)?

o   Small groups, like Disciple Bible studies, where people form a community as they study and pray together?

o   Communities based on common interests and needs, like the business community, the arts community, the recovery community, the MS community?

THE ANSWER IS YES. We mean all those things. We want to “foster” vital communities of every type and description:

-          We want to help Kernersville be a community that’s just and fair,
o   where the hungry are fed,
o   where the schools are healthy and vibrant
o   where everyone has equal opportunity

-          We want to foster communities based on interest and need,
o   by loaning them space,
o   by helping them succeed,
o   by encouraging our members to participate

-          We want to develop communities within the church—
o   small groups where people form deep relationships

And most of all, we want to continue making Main Street itself a Christ-centered community that makes disciples.

And we believe that as we make disciples of Jesus Christ in this time and place, we will foster vital communities where people can…
-          Know and be known
-          Love and be loved
-          Serve and be served
-          Celebrate and be celebrated

Those are 4 of the most basic longings of the human heart--and those are the 4 marks of vital community. Let me say that again: A vital community is a group where people can…
-          Know and be known
-          Love and be loved
-          Serve and be served
-          Celebrate and be celebrated

In today’s Scripture we see a beautiful model of a vital community. Please open your Bible and look at Acts 2:41-47. It starts with Peter doing what Jesus said—he goes out into the world and makes disciples. He stands up in Jerusalem in the middle of a big festival (sort of like Spring Folly). And he preaches a powerful sermon. And look at what happens in v. 41:

41 So those who welcomed his message were baptized, and that day about three thousand persons were added. 

So Peter has made disciples, like Jesus said. He’s baptized them like Jesus said. And as soon as he does that, what happens? THEY FORM A VITAL COMMUNITY. Look at verse 42:

42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.
And look at the things that happen in this vital community. Number one: God is at work among them – verse 43:

43 Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. 

Number two:  They meet each other’s needs – verse 44:

44    All who believed were together and had all things in common; 45 they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. 

 Number three: They spend time together, building relationships – verse 46:

46 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

And number four: Because this was such a vital community, people wanted to be a part of it! –verse 47:

47 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.

The bad news is that the trend in our society is towards isolation and away from community.

The good news is that we can buck that trend--not only by being a vital community as a church--but also by fostering vital communities of every type and description.

And listen— God is all about community. Some theologians have said that all God has ever been doing since the beginning of time is forming a community:

-        Starting in the Garden of Eden when God looked at Adam and said, “It is not good for this human being to be alone.”

-          And then continuing with Abraham and Sarah, who became the ancestors of God’s people

-          And then the nation of Israel

-          And then the church

And finally the community of people who will live together forever in the new heaven and the new earth.

God is all about community. In fact, GOD IS a community: Father, Son, Holy Spirit – one God, three persons, existing together forever in community.

Today we celebrate the Sacrament that shows how much God wants community.  Did you realize that the word, “communion” comes from the same root word as community? It means oneness. The death and resurrection of Christ makes us one. As we come to the table, we put all our differences aside. Whatever else we are, when we come to communion, we’re all just hungry sinners.

As long as we stay focused on Christ, we as a church will be a vital community. And as long as we follow Christ in mission, we as a church will foster vital communities.

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