Sunday, September 3, 2017

Way to go! Or No way!

September 3, 2017
Romans 12:9-21; Matthew 16:21-28

How ironic it is, and how like life itself, that one week, Peter gets it right. Jesus asks, Who do you say that I am? And Peter responds, You are the Messiah, the Son of God. Way to go, Peter! 

And today, in the next few verses, Peter gets it wrong. Jesus begins to say he is about to be arrested, tried, tortured, killed, and then raised from the dead. And Peter’s response is, No way, Lord. Not that!

Had we been there, we probably would have said the same things. We would have gladly shared our hope that Jesus was indeed the Messiah. We would have imagined him leading an army against the Romans. And we would have boldly declared that Jesus would not be arrested, tried, and killed.

But, God had a much bigger vision. Jesus came to bring in change, radical change. He came to tell the world that obedience to the law is not as important as loving and caring for others. What is in the heart trumps the law, every time. Unfortunately for Jesus, this leads to the cross. Fortunately for us, the cross leads to the resurrection beyond death.

Today, I want to use this theme of one day you’re right, the next you’re wrong to talk about the possibility of entering into the redevelopment process. In general, whether a congregation is in redevelopment or not, some things a congregation tries will work, others will not. When planning to try a new service project, a new way of worshiping, a new way of arranging the tables, some folks will say, Way to go!, and others will say, No way!

After a week in Denver in training, I have a better sense of what happens and how to make it happen during redevelopment. Whether you vote to enter into the redevelopment process, continue to have a pastor 2 days a week, or choose a third option, there will be change.

Why will there be change? Because change happens. You already know that different pastors do things differently, because they are different people, went to different seminaries, and had different professors. A classmate and I had some fun talking about this last week.

Change happens all the time. In a congregation, someone dies, or joins the church, or gives a bunch of money. These events all cause changes: someone else needs to set up the altar; a new person wants to start a worship service with camp songs; the council has to decide what should be done with the money.   

Just as Jesus came to bring about radical change, and the disciples liked some of what Jesus said, and disliked some of what he said, and didn’t understand some of what he said, so it will be at St John. In order for the congregation to grow, there will be change.
You already know and practice one change: I ask you every week, who has talked about St John this week. Some of you say, Way to go! And talk about St John with a neighbor, and others say, No way, I can’t do that!

… Here a couple more possibilities for change:
One thing I have observed at every congregation is a tendency for people to sit with the same people at coffee hour every week. So, Kate and Harry, and Susan and Matthew, and Shelly and Carl all know each other pretty well. But how well do they know Patrick and Diana and Joe and Maggie? Not as well.

When we don’t know each other well, it can be hard to accept when Diana wants to change the rules in the kitchen. But, if Diana sits with Kate and Harry, and Susan and Matthew, and Shelly and Carl, and gets to know them, she has a chance to explain why the kitchen rules need to change. Otherwise, they are going to grumble and say, “Why change? That’s the way we’ve always done it.”   

So, we need opportunities to get to know others in the congregation better. When we know each other better, it will be easier to make changes. Still, some will say, Way to go!, and others will say, No way!

… We need to know better who lives around here and how to best reach the people who live here. For example, there are lots of folks 55 and older around here. While there are occasionally children at St John, and there is a school in the neighborhood, perhaps the best target audience, for starters, is older adults. That doesn’t mean we don’t want children, it just means that older adults may fit in better right now. Some of you will say, Way to go!, and others will say, No way!

… Change is always a challenge, perhaps especially in congregations. When I worked with Women of the ELCA in the Churchwide office, I got to meet a lot of women, and I heard a lot of stories. Here are two stories about accepting change.

Janice told me of the first time she joined the women in the kitchen to serve a meal. She was about 25 years old and she asked Betty what she should do. Betty said, You can put these sandwiches on the plate. Janice began to set the sandwiches on the plate. She was about half way through when Betty returned. Oh, no way, Dear. Not that way. We always put them on the plate this way. There was no way Betty was going to change.

Surprisingly, Janice didn’t walk out of the room. She stayed and learned to place the sandwiches “the right way.” Many other women would have taken this as rejection and never returned, but Janice stayed. Way to go, Janice! Years later, she was a Synodical Women’s Organization President.

… Another kitchen story:
One year, the youth group was asked to help with the beverages at the dinner following the congregational annual meeting. They said they would, but wanted to move the beverage cart to another location.

No way! the women said. It’s always been here next to the food tables. The youth replied, yes, and it’s always so crowded that it is hard to get through there with the food and even harder to get something to drink.

Then the youth added, How about this? We’ll move it to that corner, away from the food tables, for just this one time. If it works, great. If it doesn’t work, we’ll agree to move it back to where it has always been. … The beverages cart has been in its new location for many years now. Way to go, youth!

… People of St John, no matter whether you vote to enter into the redevelopment process or continue to have a part time pastor, you are a mission outpost for Jesus.

It is essential to have a good sense of humor, a lot of patience, and a sincere trust in Jesus if you are to be a community of faith on God’s mission.

It is crucial that you practice believing the best about each other instead of assuming the worst about each other. It is crucial that you speak respectfully and carefully about each other.

Good communication practices are an absolute must. Those who make a decision must always ask, Who else needs to know about this decision?

You need to be adaptable, flexible, and willing to accept the gifts and ideas that new people bring. You need to be wise and open to new ideas. Every week there are opportunities for some to say, Way to go!, and for others to say, No way!  

So, … Are you willing to listen to the Spirit’s guiding? Are you passionate enough about the Good News of Jesus’ death and resurrection to tell others about him? Are you courageous enough to try new things in the name of Jesus? Are you able to make a commitment to working hard and working together to focus on God’s mission in Summerfield? If you answer yes, then redevelopment is a good plan or St John.

Please pray with me. Jesus, most of us don’t like change. We have grown accustomed to the way things are. Yet, we hear you calling us. Guide us as a congregation into the future. Guide each of us as individuals into doing our part in sharing you with our neighbors, with our community. Teach us to say, Way to go, as we enter into the next phase of our life as your gathered children. Amen