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Message for Heavenly Host Sunday

The audio for this message can be heard by clicking the embedded player below.

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Message for Heavenly Host Sunday, 2015

slideshow2_6Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

In the Gospel reading for this morning Jesus is walking along the Sea of Galilee and announcing that the kingdom of God is at hand and calling disciples to follow Him. These are all present tense verbs. The kingdom of God is happening, right now.

Today is a good example of how a good idea can snowball. It was born in our staff meeting when we were talking about doing something to highlight the school because of the beginning of National Lutheran Schools Week. But as we rolled the idea around, it began to grow. Why not have the school kids come and sing? It would be easier for school parents if there was one service. Why not pray for our school board members? But it kept growing, as I said, “As long as we have one service, we should really capitalize on this opportunity and install the new congregation officers and that way the first service people could see the officers from second service and vice versa.” You get the idea. But it also became a part of a solution to a challenge we have as we look toward the future of the congregation and our school and the start of a new building. We have a number of challenges and we’ll go into some of those, but when I announced the council voted to establish the new building committee was formed it became clear to me that there was a perception challenge, that maybe right now we don’t yet have what we need, the critical mass we need to see this project to the end.

This time of year we all love a nice fire. A couple weeks back, I was at Cracker Barrel sitting in the same room as the big fireplace admiring the fire. At one point, a server came by and just chucked a few logs on the fire. The server didn’t have to fuss with the fire and add more kindling and get out the bellows. He just chucked more logs on and fire grew warmer and burned a little brighter because the fire was already going strong. We don’t really think about it too much but fires are pretty formulaic. They burn because the three elements are there, fuel, oxygen, and heat. Take away any one of those three, they told me in firefighting class, and the fire will go out. It’s actually a great picture of our life together in the church.

With two services, half of us don’t see the other half. How do we know there’s enough to keep it going? How can we burn together? The church has grown over the past 10 years to the point where we outgrew the hall originally built for the church’s social activities. That’s a good problem to have, but it’s still a challenge for us going forward. Now we’re still missing some folks today but I still hope we can see something of the critical mass that the Lord has gathered here to accomplish the kingdom work He’s given us to do in His name.

So let me tell you about some more good things happening here. The first is structural. I’m trying to change the way we think about the work of the kingdom we share. I see us, you and I, at work together in the work of the Gospel in this place for the sake of our community. I believe our Scriptures and so I believe that I was sent by the Lord Jesus to equip you for the work of kingdom service, for the building up of the body of Christ. (Eph 4:12-14) We just had Chaplain Danielsen here yesterday to talk to us about a great ministry idea for supporting and reaching out to military service members and veterans and the whole idea behind this ministry is that it’s not led by the pastor; it’s an area where a group of equipped saints can participate in meaningful Christian service. How exciting! This past fall I’ve been active training our new Stephen Ministers in the first half of 50 hours of training. But already, we have active caring ministry happening in our congregation and this program is only going to grow. And a core concept behind Stephen Ministry is that it doesn’t have to be led by the pastor; it’s an area where well-equipped saints can participate in meaningful Christian ministry. Our school is a continuing expression of what we mean when we say we want our children to be brought up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord (Eph 6:4) and grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. With Mrs. Illian on board now for a year and a half, we have leadership that is not only handling the day to day issues that arise but setting a course for the future. One more. Our assimilation group has been working toward smoothing the process for new people joining our congregation. The concept was already in place, so after only some fine tuning from me, we’re ready to give our greeters more specific training so that they know what to do and how better to help a first-time guest feel welcome on Sunday morning. By the way, we’re actually going to need more greeters and we’re going have a greeter training session coming up soon and I’m looking for a captain to be in charge of greeters so that the next training can be led by a greeter and that’s one more area of our work together that you can participate in. We have our elected officers here today. These are the people who said yes not just to the members of the nominating committee but to the Lord when He said, please serve in this way. And yes, we’re still looking for a director of Christian Education to facilitate the congregation’s teaching work like Sunday School and Vacation Bible School. I’ve been praying that the Lord will show us the person He has in mind for this work but so far this hasn’t happened. Maybe today is the day. It is not an overly romantic notion of our life together to think of all these people serving in the church today, the called workers and our elected volunteers and our contracted staff and faculty as fellow workers with Andrew, Peter, James, and John. To think anything less is to think less of the Lord’s own calling to follow after Him .

Do we have some more areas that still need some development. Sure, one of those is outreach. But let me start by asking you a question, when you hear me say “outreach,” what do you hear in your head? You hear “knocking on doors, canvassing,” don’t you? Cold-calling on the telephone. Any salesman will tell you, cold-calling is a special skillset that doesn’t result in immediate sales. You know what does result in sales? Sales. Attracting people by giving them a discount on your product or service. Have you heard of Groupon? It can drive sales for businesses. Well, we can’t offer a sale. We can’t give people 30 percent off their tithe but there are other ways to get people who wouldn’t normally walk onto our campus to come for an event that is less threatening to them than a church service. They’re called entry events. Our Oktoberfest was originally designed to be an entry event, an event where the goal was to see as many people outside our congregation as those from the Heavenly Host family. We probably need to tweak our Oktoberfest so that we really are welcoming folks from outside the church and school but we still need more events like this. Now, they don’t need to be as big as our Oktoberfest, at least not at first, but Jim Groce and Bill Baessler need some help planning some more entry events. Is there a way to partner with our school and expand the fall festival to make it an entry event for the community? Some congregations have sponsored Super Bowl parties at the church. Others have offered Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University not just for their congregation members but for outsiders. Back to our new Operation Barnabas group here. We may have the opportunity to do a community Veterans’ Day event to honor veterans or support military service members and their families. Even if you don’t help directly with the event, the word of mouth publicity for these events is everyone’s job, to invite a friend or family member or help with publicity and advertising. The key is to get the unchurched to participate. I may have to stop using the word outreach until we’ve redefined it by different usage but this could really be an exciting time if we got serious about reaching unchurched people.

I want to talk about one more way you can be a part of outreach. By show of hands, how many of you are on Facebook? How many of you have a hundred “Friends” or more? How many of you follow the congregation’s Facebook page? The world has seen enough cute cat videos. If half of you posted something positive about what was happening at the church or the school and generated some thought around something positive and godly, it would reach tens of thousands of people in less than 24 hours. It may sound trite but it’s true, “Be the change you want to see in the world.”

We have incredible resources here at Heavenly Host. We have you. You are some very smart, dedicated, and hardworking people. Each of us has been given knowledge, skills, and abilities that if stacked in the right way and fed well could blaze well into eternity for those who come to the light of the truth of the Gospel of Christ Jesus.

Do we have challenges? Sure we do. I don’t even have time to outline them but I’ll name a few of them. We’re not reaching out effectively or enough. I’ve already said that, but it bears repeating. While we have a great strength in our school, it presents several challenges for us not the least of which is a perennial financial challenge. We’ll need to support them even as we work toward good stewardship of both people and financial resources. We have also not yet created an environment where equipped saints have the room to take ownership and grow a ministry area. Call me crazy, but I just don’t think I’m the person to lead a young mother’s Bible study, or head the finance committee, or the new building committee. And not only can I not meet with every committee every time, because I am only one person, but I also don’t want to appear like I’m in charge of that committee. We have people in this church who have more experience in many areas or are better educated than I am and/or have more business sense. I’d be a fool to try to be the wet blanket on the gifts the Lord has put in this church. Could that be risky? Maybe a little. But we can put coordination procedures and accountability measures in place far easier than we can clone me or make me smarter. Those are organizational challenges. What about spiritual challenges?

Jesus said the kingdom of God is here. Do you believe that? If we do, the time is now to follow after Jesus and work together to determine what work the Lord is calling us to do. But I’ll tell you, it’s impossible to share warmth of God’s love with someone if we don’t have it for ourselves. It’s not reasonable to expect unbelievers in the community around us to be drawn to what God is doing among us collectively if it’s not happening for us as individuals. And I’ll say this, it’s almost impossible to accomplish anything for the kingdom of God if we believe we don’t really have to. Hey, I know, we’re Lutheran and I know we say all the time, there’s nothing we can do to be saved and that is absolutely true. There is nothing we can do to contribute to our salvation. We are quick to quote Ephesians 2, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” But we sometimes forget to keep reading, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” We can’t do anything to merit salvation. But there is something we can do: we can work to make sure our neighbor hears the message of the Gospel of the cross of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins, the message of God’s pure grace for sinners. This is a unique message in the American church landscape today because here we don’t condemn sinners nor condone sin but confess it and receive the forgiveness Jesus earned for us.

Jesus began His ministry by walking and calling the twelve to follow after Him. He continues His ministry among us today by sending us to make more disciples by baptizing and teaching. He does it through us, often even, even with our weaknesses and failures. He is faithful. It’s His kingdom. The more we keep that in the forefront of our plans, the easier all this is. The kingdom of God is at hand. He has called us all to follow after Him. Let’s get to it. Amen.

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Categories: Uncategorized
  1. Marilyn
    January 27, 2015 at 12:15 pm

    Enjoyed listening to the sermon we missed this past Sunday during the combined service. Thanks for the posting.

    • January 27, 2015 at 5:02 pm

      Glad you enjoyed it. I did get the message and added Ed to the prayer list Sunday. Hope he’s feeling better.

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