“Answering Three Important Questions”                                      September 15, 2013

John 6:35-51, Acts 2:42-47, Ephesians 4:1-6                                 Stephens City UMC

 

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

 

I.                   For this fall our theme will be “Committed to Fulfilling God’s Will for My Life and the World.”

A.    There are numerous commitments we all make in life.

1.     Many of us have demonstrated our commitment to buying an automobile by making a down payment.

2.     Some of us are committed to learning how to play an instrument or to being a good athlete and both of those require discipline.

3.     On our wedding day our spoken commitment comes in the form of sacred vows and raising children takes a lot of commitment.

B.     And being a disciple of Jesus Christ is the greatest of all commitments.

1.     Let’s be clear – Jesus asks everything of us.

2.      So if we are to be effective in our commitment then we would be wise to reflect and ponder what our Lord is asking of us and the role we are to play.

3.     There are three important questions I can think of to assist us and they are profound questions.

II.                 The first question is “Why do people need Jesus Christ?”

A.    Certainly in our society there are plenty of people who don’t think they need Jesus Christ.

1.     Ours is a culture of rugged individualism.

2.     “I don’t need anybody or anything because I think the greatest sin is to ask for help.”

3.     “Only the weak ask for help and I’m strong.”

B.     Hey, I got news for you – there is no self-made man or woman.

1.     Now one of the most incredible human feats I’ve seen in my life time was accomplished two weeks ago when Diana Nyad at the age of 64 completed her swim from Cuba to Florida, and those who think she legitimately did it estimate that she traveled a distance of 110 miles.

2.     I wasn’t there but her swim helps me to make the points I want to make so I’m going forward and what was one of the first things Diana Nyad said after she walked ashore at Key West?

3.     She said, “It may look like a solitary sport, but it is a team effort.”

4.     None of us gets through life by ourselves and during the course of life you and I are going to encounter some disappointments just like Diana Nyad experienced after her four previous attempts to swim from Cuba to Florida.

5.     In her case she was defeated four times by jelly fish and asthma and lightning strikes along with rough seas and strong currents not to mention the potential danger of sharks.

6.     But in the end with help from others she was victorious.

C.     What are the difficulties, the disappointments, the set-backs you have experienced in life?

1.     Has your life at times been like swimming for mile after mile after mile in a vast ocean wondering “Is this really my purpose, to just wander or muddle through?”

2.     Has sin caused you to feel not only lost at sea but drowning at sea?

3.     Do you realize that that has been true for others and that you are not the only one to have had that experience?

4.     I do and more importantly so did God which is why He sent His Son Jesus to be our Savior because some stuff only Jesus can do.

D.    I would put forth that Jesus is the answer to people’s greatest needs because he not only gives purpose to life but he literally saves us.

1.     When all the sinful, lousy, awful things you’ve ever done in life are weighing you down like a boulder tied around your neck so that you are sinking to the bottom of the ocean, it is by the power of the cross that you are released from that burden and set free to both live and go in the direction God would have you to go.

2.     The Apostle Paul stated it well in II Corinthians 5:17 when he said “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, they are a new creation; the old has passed away, behold the new has come.”

3.     And when the new comes your life has purpose.

4.     Apparently for Diana Nyad it was to swim from Cuba to Key West.

5.     I know that that is not my purpose and I doubt that it is yours, but as we’re going to be saying with the LOGOS intergenerational ministry that Tobye David and Todd Legge are going to head up for us beginning sometime in November “You are a child of God and I will treat you that way.”

6.     And we’re going to keep saying that because as a child of God your life has purpose and it may take multiple conversations before the Holy Spirit makes clear to you your purpose and how you can help this church better understand its purpose, but I believe with all my heart and soul and mind and strength that Christ will help you with that for that is His purpose.

E.     Whatever is your deepest need in life and if you are like me you have multiple deep needs such as for a rescuer from sin, a guide for meaning and purpose, as well as a companion along the way – Jesus Christ is the answer to your and to the world’s deepest needs.

III.               And that leads to the second question which is “Why do people need the Church?” (And here I mean the Church Universal, not specifically our church or any other individual church)

A.    One answer to that question is that the Church is where the sacraments are offered and properly administrated.

1.     It is through the Church, that you are really introduced to the matter of water far beyond the purposes of swimming.

2.     Through Holy Baptism you are initiated into the family of God, called into Christian discipleship, and sent on the journey of being made perfect in love.

3.     You don’t go to the car wash to be baptized.

4.     The waters of baptism cleanse you of your sin as spiritual dirt is a more serious problem than physical dirt; they just kill in different ways.

5.     Moreover, with your sin washed away you are not weighed down which allows the waters of your baptism to become like a current to carry you to where you are suppose to go in order to do what your purpose is to do in the name of Christ.

B.     As we in the Church put things together one place you are to go is to the Lord’s Table to be fed holy food.

1.     McDonald’s is merely fast food.

2.     You will get hungry again.

3.     At the Christ’s Table you receive bread that will feed you for all eternity and it is only here that you can partake of the Lord’s Supper and that spiritual food empowers you unlike any other.

C.     Moreover, it is in worship that scripture is read and the Word of God proclaimed.

1.     When we Christians talk about the Word we spell that with a capital W because while we will we use words with a little w to describe Jesus, Jesus is the ultimate Word of God because he both reveals God and makes God known for he is God.

2.     This is why in our Gospel lesson Jesus said of himself that he was the bread of life which means we are to feed on him and one way we feed on him is to hear Jesus proclaimed in sermon and in song and in prayer and in so many other ways during worship and that doesn’t happen in a shopping mall unless there’s a church meeting there.

3.     There is stuff that needs to occur in people’s lives and it is only going to occur in Church because through the Church one will experience the means of grace.

4.     If you were at the worship service last Sunday you heard a significant number of people offer testimony as to how they had seen and experienced Jesus during the past week.

5.     Some of what they testified to required a setting which connects heaven and earth and that setting was the Church.

6.     If it were not for the Church with the large C which is the body of Christ here on earth, those blessings could not have been transmitted and received.

7.     This isn’t well recognized today but people need the Church.

IV.              Now the third and final question for today is, “Why do people need this church?”

A.    I sure hope you’ve got an answer for that!

1.     If you don’t then you probably aren’t going to put a lot of effort into inviting others to be part of our congregation.

2.     If you don’t think we have something special to offer the people of this community then just what do you think is our identity, just what is our unique purpose?

B.     If you are struggling with this let me provide some information to help you understanding how unique we are.

1.     First, as our District Superintendent Larry Thompson noted last Sunday, we are one of the oldest Methodist Churches in this country as we can trace our beginning to 1775.

2.     Only a handful of churches begun in the late 1700’s still exist.

3.     Unfortunately congregations have a tendency to turn in toward themselves over time and they cease to have an outward focus.

4.     The result is that they lose connection with their neighborhood and when they lose that connection they die out.

5.     Hundreds of thousands of churches in this country have died out for that very reason.

6.     Now not only are we still here but we have thrived.

7.     In a recent article in The Circuit Rider which is the United Methodist magazine for clergy the percentage of United Methodist Churches that average over 1,000 in worship is only 0.6%.

8.     The percentage of United Methodist Churches that average between 500 and 1,000 in worship is 1.6 %.

9.     The percentage of United Methodist Churches that average between 200 and 500 in worship is 8%.

10.             Last year this church average 236 in worship.

11.             Your church is in the top 10% of all United Methodist Churches in this country in worship attendance and that doesn’t happen unless there is something unique about you and you are doing a number of things right.

12.             Moreover, studies have been done in a category referred to as “Vital Congregations.”

13.             “Vital Congregations” doesn’t have so much to do with size as with vitality, i.e. is your church alive?

14.             A Vital Congregation strives to do 5 things well: worship, Christian education, mission beyond the local church, financial stewardship and people joining the church on profession of faith which means that they are not transferring in from another church but because they have been nurtured by that congregation they have come to publicly profession for the first time that Jesus Christ is their Lord.

15.             Only 15% of all United Methodist Churches in this country are considered to be a vital congregation.

16.             Every year in January like the other clergy of this district I have a 30 minute meeting with our Superintendent and every year Larry will look at me and say, “Only 15% of the congregations in our denomination are considered to be vital and Stephens City is one of them.”

C.     Folks, we’re not perfect – as your pastor I all on my own have insured that, but the truth is that we are doing a lot right.

1.     At least 85% of other United Methodist Churches in this country wish that they were doing things as well as we are.

2.     We offer a diversity of worship styles as well as times to accommodate people’s needs.

3.     Our Junior High Sunday School class that Rusty David and Boogie Conner teach had 21 students the first Sunday this fall.

4.     We are in mission in our local community with the Food Pantry, providing space for the Frederick Country Senior Center, hosting the WATTS homeless shelter every December, and much more.

5.     We are striving to more profoundly connect with the children of our community by starting up the Just4Kidz after school ministry and to take some major steps to revitalize our children’s and youth ministries and those plans may be imperfect but I’d rather try some new ideas and make adjustments than keep doing the same thing and expect different results.

D.    Unfortunately many churches in this country don’t want to enter the future and so they get stuck in the past.

1.     When they do that they miss out on the uniqueness Jesus to trying to engender in them and Jesus is trying to do that because he has a unique purpose for them.

2.     I think our Lord is trying to do that with us.

V.                So that’s what I think, but what do you think?

A.    What are you willing to say and do?

1.     I invite you now to a time of prayer and as you silently pray to God I would ask you to listen to what God is saying to you about how His Son Jesus Christ is the answer to people’s deepest needs, and how Christ’s Body the Church is necessary to meet those needs and particularly about how God wants to uniquely use you and this church to accomplish His holy purposes.

2.     Let us ask God to reveal that to us and to help us to commit.