New Love and New Mercy Lives On
I love a good mystery story. Many of them start out the same way: the hero, the detective arrives on the scene of the crime and begins to look around. Often the place is a mess; he is looking for clues. He is asking himself one question: what has gone on here?”
He looks at the scene in two ways – he looks for small things – footprints, fingerprints, things missing – a hook on the wall with no picture; small clues. He also looks at the big picture – who was home? Who had a reason for wanting the crime to happen? Who is missing? It starts out confusing, even contradictory.
The crime itself is a small story, set in the context of a much larger story. All of the individuals, the suspects, the witnesses, the victims, all have their part of the story, but only a part. In the end, it will all make sense. All the little clues and small stories will finally be understood in the big picture, the large story that makes sense of it all.
What is going on here?
What we are doing here today is like a mystery story. We all have our own stories – our own piece of a much larger story. In fact our own stories only make sense, finally, in that larger story.
How did you get to Gulf Shores? Not many of us were born here – we came here from somewhere else. We had our reasons. How did we end up here at this church? How did we end up here today, on Dedication Sunday, the culmination of Stewardship season? Each one of us has our own unique story to tell; but what is the big picture? What does it all mean?
We will not look at a typical stewardship text this morning. We will not hear about loving God or mammon, or treasure in heaven. We will not read about the widow’s mite nor a call to bring the tithes into the storehouse. Those are all excellent texts, and we have heard some of them this past three weeks as we have reflected on the theme of biblical, Christian stewardship, but not today. Those texts are like the smaller individual stories that comprise the mystery. Today, however, we are going to ask the question: what does it all mean? How do each of these small stories make sense in the big picture?
This congregation is in the middle of some significant work right now. As you know we are participating in the program of church transformation called the Acts 16:5 Initiative. The name of course is a verse – a very simple and short one that says:
5 So the churches were strengthened in the faith and increased in numbers daily.
The Acts 16:5 Initiative has two goals: to strengthen our faith and increase our numbers. The first task that this program sets out for a church is to pray, reflect, and finally to be able to say in one brief, memorable phrase, why we exist as a church: what is our mission statement? We have concluded that the Gulf Shores First Presbyterian church is about “Loving God, Growing in Faith, and Sharing Christ’s Love.”
Everything we are and everything we do can be summed up in those three short phrases. From beginning to end, it is all about love: loving God, our Creator, our Redeemer, our Sustainer, our Heavenly Father, our Comforter, Counselor, our very source of Being, our dearest, closest Friend. We gather to worship out of love for God, to express together our love for God; in other words, to worship. A worship service is nothing less than organized love.
It’s all about continually growing in our faith – increasing our capacity to keep in step with the Spirit, deepening our grasp on what God wants to do in and through us, widening our understanding of our place in God’s world.
It’s all about sharing Christ’s love – in every imaginable way: sharing his love with each other, his comfort, his nearness, his joy; and sharing his love with others – people in our community, people in need, people we become aware of who need someone to come along with a reason to love them – people who need food, kids who need help with homework, kids who have gotten in trouble with the law, and even men on death row.
The three phrases of our mission statement, Loving God, Growing in Faith, and Sharing Christ’s Love are helpful in getting at the question of why we are here – the meaning of why we exist as a church, but they too are part of an even larger story.
I think that the Apostle Paul would have completely agreed with our mission statement. In fact, he might have even said, “that’s my mission too.” But he understood that there was a bigger picture, a larger story that answered they question, “why are we doing this?” at an even deeper level.
The Biggest Picture: what God is doing
The text we read from 2nd Corinthians is precisely Paul’s description of the meaning behind his mission, and it is the reason for ours as well. God is doing something in the world – something big! It is world-wide in scope. It encompasses every corner of the world, it affects every person who ever lived:
19that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them,
It is amazing enough that God is reconciling the world to himself – after all that the world has done – from Cain’s murder of Abel to what just happened at Fort Hood, not to mention all of my own personal complicity in evil, but that is not all. God is not only doing this amazing work of reconciling a world of trespassers to himself, he has even given some of those trespassers – like us – a role in that huge project.
19that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us.
We are part of what God is doing in the world – we are part of that biggest of all big stories that makes sense of all the small stories. We have been entrusted with the message of reconciliation. It is through us that God’s huge project to reconcile the world through Christ’s love is going to be accomplished.
Why are we committed to “Loving God, Growing in Faith, and Sharing Christ’s Love”? What gives meaning to all of the small stories that make up our life as a church? It is that we are a part of God’s big story: God is at work through us here in Gulf Shores, accomplishing his purpose of reconciling the world through Christ.
Getting the Big Picture
The only reason that the prophet Jeremiah could look at the destruction of his city, the temple, and consider the horrors of what just happened, and say what he did:
The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases,
his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness
was that he understood that there was a bigger story being told than the story of that moment; even bigger than the story of his own nation.
One of Jesus’ biggest challenges was to convince people that the story that gave meaning to their lives was a big one, not a small one. The story Jesus taught was not a little national story like so many people in his day wanted to tell, a story of new days of freedom and independence for their “own kind” and their “own country.” Rather, Jesus wanted them to understand that they were part of something far more significant than a new kingdom of David; it was the kingdom of God.
Our part in the Big Story
Our biggest problem is thinking that we are involved here in a small story instead of a big one. What we are doing here today, and what we do when we meet for worship, for study, for fellowship, what we do in mission is not a little story about us here in Gulf Shores, it is about our participation in God’s great story of world-wide reconciliation!
God’s work in the world has a final goal: it is going somewhere; it is leading to something. There is a goal and purpose that is being achieved. We all read together in unison the text from Revelation which says
“See, the home of God is among mortals.
He will dwell with them as their God;
they will be his peoples,
and God himself will be with them; (Rev. 21:3)
That great vision of the end of time is the vision of a reconciled world: God who was with humans in unbroken fellowship in the Garden of Eden, but from whom we have spent our lives alienated by evil, will finally and completely be able to “dwell with them as their God; …and God himself will be with them;”
The Culminating Vision
This is why this is our culminating stewardship text. This is what finally gives meaning to our existence as a church. This is what gives meaning to our individual stories. This is what gives meaning to the marks on our Time and Talent surveys and meaning to the numbers on our pledge cards.
This is not, finally about Gulf Shores First Presbyterian Church, our budget, the light bill, or anything small; this is about the reason for all of it.
What we do today is affirm that we are a part of that Big Story of God’s work in the whole world – the story that will culminate around of the throne of the lamb, the one that ends with the God of all Creation, finally and completely dwelling with his people whom he has reconciled through his son, Jesus Christ.
What we are dedicating to God today on Dedication Sunday is not our money or even our money plus our time and talent. We are renewing the dedication of our entire selves, our beings, our present and our future because we are convinced that we are part of that largest story. We know that God’s love and mercy live on today, and will continue to live on until his world-wide story is complete.
God is reconciling the world to himself! We are here to participate!