Monday, January 23, 2012

Report of the Pastor, Mark 1:14-20

Report of the Pastor
Mark 1:14-20

Five Hundred Twenty-Five Thousand Six Hundred Minutes. Five Hundred Twenty-Five Thousand Moments so dear. Five Hundred Twenty-Five Thousand Six Hundred Minutes. How Do You Measure - Measure A Year? In Daylights - In Sunsets, In Midnights - In Cups of Coffee, In Inches - In Miles, In Laughter - In Strife, In - Five Hundred Twenty-Five Thousand Six Hundred Minutes. How Do You Measure a Year In The Life? How About Love? How About Love? How About Love? Measure In Love. Seasons of Love.
You might recognize these lyrics from the song Seasons of Love from the musical Rent. The words ask us how we can assess the value of a year in our life. Is it just seconds and minutes, or more than that? Is it expressions of love? I have been wondering the same thing about our year here at First United. How do we measure it? Like the song suggests, I hope what all of our actions add up to are expressions of love for God and one another. You may remember my January newsletter article for the Contact, where I talked about the concept of a Year in Review. At the end of 2011, you could find a lot of Best of 2011 lists – the top 10 movies or books or albums. A review of important people and events. And I wondered what that would look like for our church. How would we characterize the life of our church in 2011? What was our year together like? And where do we see ourselves going in 2012?
One of the many blessings we have here is that Cee Cee Andrew and some occasional helpers provide us with beautiful photographs of church events. You can find these on our church facebook page, or on the digital picture frame after services, or in the scrapbook Connie McEvers put together, or on the monitor before worship begins. I spent some time this month looking through the pictures to remind me of all the places we've been this year.
Here is just a snippet: Our youth completed a challenge course, something they will do again soon, and played laser tag with youth from Fayetteville and Manlius. From our church alone we are seeing 15-20 youth at some of these events, with youth inviting other youth. They also threw Valentine, Halloween, and Christmas parties for our children. We celebrated Camp Sunday, and sent our young people to camps, retreats, and events. We were serious about mission and connecting to people we serve. We followed up on a commitment to the people of Haiti – we had a special breakfast, donated money, collected items, and became participants in Dress Our People – sewing clothing for the children of Haiti. We are seeing our physical church space transformed bit by bit, under the leadership of self-proclaimed non-leader Cee Cee Andrew. We've seen our nursery go from dull to bursting with color, classrooms redecorated, walls painted, bathroom cleaned and refreshed, curtains hung, kitchen drawers cleaned and repaired, office supplies and coffee hour supplies and kitchen supplies restocked through gifts and hours of service. We welcomed new members and celebrated baptisms, just as we entrusted some of our family into God's care. We added new bricks to our beautiful Memorial Garden. We put on a Mother's Day breakfast. We CROP walked. We put on a fantastic carnival for the second year in a row, when I really thought we couldn’t outdo our first attempt, and found our yard filled with so many happy smiling faces of children. We celebrated Laity Sunday. Our children read the scriptures throughout Advent. We gave out more food baskets than usual because we had received so much. We collected more shoeboxes than usual for Operation Christmas child. We actually ended the year, through a number of surprising happenings, with a small surplus. We filled up our giving tree with items to help us in our ministry. We had an exceptionally successful cookie walk. We touched people who really needed it while Christmas Caroling. We had mission moments from community agencies with whom we partner, and during Lent we heard from folks here who service in mission beyond the local church. We have about twenty people stepping into new roles this year, serving in new ways, in new areas. We had too many volunteers show up at once for the Rescue Mission, so they barely knew what to do with us. That is a year in our life, and it is just, as I said, a small piece of our life together.
This year we had four goals for our life together: increasing our emphasis in hands-on mission and justice experience, working to invite people to First United and better welcome visitors, understanding how our stewardship relates to our relationship with God, and experiencing enriching worship. All of these are meant to help us consider and explore ways to deepen the role and relevancy of the church and faith in their lives. Now, there are some ways we can numerically measure some of these items. I can tell you how many visitors we had and how many new members we have, and how many folks increased their pledges, and how many people participated in mission for how many hours, and how many people attended worship services or studies or our Lenten or Advent groups. But what I have found most compelling are the stories behind some of the numbers. For example, this year when we were serving at the Rescue Mission, the head cook complimented Nikole Metz as a really hard worker. And the head cook is not known to hand out compliments very easily. But Nikole, and her brothers, and the rest of the volunteers put their all into serving with a smile. That is just one story, but to me, they are the heart of the second and minutes and hours of our year together.  
This week at Parish Council, we had a lot of issues to deal with, a lot of conversation that we will continue at our annual meeting after worship. I was talking about making sure that we know how to answer the question: Why do we want to continue to be here as a church? Why does it matter to us that we, First United, are here? And Paul Spero, in response, mentioned Jesus calling the disciples to fish for people. What Paul probably didn’t realize is that that passage is today's gospel lesson – when things like that happen, I consider that God at work.
Today, our gospel lesson is full of a sense of immediacy and urgency. Our lesson opens still in the first chapter of Mark. John the Baptist has just been arrested – aside from his unwelcome words to the religious leaders about repentance and them being a brood of vipers, John had also managed to upset King Herod by calling him out publicly on his immoral actions. So John wound up in prison. The time was ripe for Jesus to step in and continue and expand the work John had begun. He arrives in Galilee and beings to proclaim the good news. As he is passing by the Sea of Galilee, he sees Simon and Andrew, fishermen, casting their nets. Jesus greets them with provocative words: “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” And, we read, “immediately” they left their nets and followed Jesus. Farther down the shore, Jesus sees James and John, the sons of Zebedee. And “immediately” he calls them, and they leave their father and the other workers, and follow him.
So what’s all the rush about? What’s the significance of the repeated “immediately” in these texts? I think our answer has two parts. An immediate message and an immediate response. Remember, our passage begins with Jesus talking about the good news. And what is the good news? We read that Jesus began teaching and preaching right after John’s arrest, and here was his message, which Mark calls the good news of God: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” Jesus’ message of good news is that God is immediately present in our lives. Instead of coming at a later time, instead of something we have to wait for, the time is already fulfilled – God is here, God is present – God’s reign, God’s will, is right here and right now. An immediate message.
Likewise, because of Jesus’ immediate message, there is a need for an immediate response. “Repent, and believe the news,” Jesus insists. Repent – change the direction of your life. And when? Now. Right now. And so when Jesus calls the disciples, he doesn’t tell them to think it over. He doesn’t ask them to meet him later. He doesn’t ask for applications which he’ll review. He doesn’t negotiate terms with them, or revise his message to something they’re more willing to support. He says, “follow me.” And they do – immediately. An immediate message and an immediate response.
A few weeks ago, I shared with you an excerpt from Richard Rohr's book, Falling Upward. He wrote, ╩║Merely to survive and preserve our life is a low-level instinct that we share with [animals], but it is not heroism in any classic sense. We were meant to thrive and not just survive. We are glad when someone survives, and that surely took some courage and effort. But what are you going to do with your now resurrected life? That is the heroic question.╩║ It is so tempting to focus on our survival. Our world is changing, and people place being part of a faith community in a different place than they once did. And in the midst of uncertainty about our role, it is tempting to bunker down and do everything we can to hold on to our little piece. But the good news of Jesus Christ isn’t about a life where we are just surviving. Jesus said he came to bring us abundant life. And God offers us that life right now. We may have to make changes, significant ones, to do the ministry that Jesus calls us to. We may have to think anew about what it means to do ministry, to serve, to be in mission, to worship, to be a church. But some things don’t change: God calls us and offers us life, and is waiting for us to respond.  
Over the next several weeks, I will share more with you about where and how I think God is calling us. And I want to hear from you – what would it mean for this community not to survive, but to thrive? What does that look like? What does that look like in your life? Or for us, here? Immediately Jesus called them, and immediately they left their nets and followed him. What will we do? Amen.

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