(Message given at Newberg Friends Church on September 7, 2014)
My dad would sometimes, out of the blue, say: “Brylcreem: a little dab’ll do ya!” I don’t really know why, other than I know he heard that slogan a lot listening to the Lone Ranger radio broadcasts he loved while growing up.
Company slogans, company jingles. We like to think we’re immune to advertising, but I’m guessing if I give some slogans, you’ll be able to name the company. Well, some will be age dependent, but I’m guessing with our combined wisdom we can get them all.
How about “Breakfast of Champions?” (Wheaties). “Just Do It.” (Nike) “Give me a break, give me a break, break me off a piece of that ___________”. “Good to the last drop.” (Maxwell House) “Melts in your mouth, not in your hands.” (M&M’s)
This is going back there a ways… “The Pause that Refreshes” (Coca-Cola)
Slogans are about branding-trying to find a phrase that describes what an organization does, and have you feel better or more connected to that organization because of it.
We finished Matthew chapter 5 in the Sermon on the Mount, and we’re going to take a break for a month or so before we continue with chapter 6.
We want to take some time over the next few weeks to look again at our vision statement as a church. Our vision statement is more than a slogan and actually has a different purpose. We didn’t create it so that you’ll feel better about our church; it’s something designed to challenge us to live more like Jesus, to become the church God intends for us to be. The four lines of our statement say important things about who we are and who we strive to be.
Being a church with a lot of families and a church in a college town, we are significantly shaped by the school year calendar…so September feels like a beginning. And with a beginning, we want to take some time together to remind each other of who we hope to be as a community. We want to encourage each other to be intentional-what things are we each doing to try to live out the truths found in this statement? For those of you new in the last several months, this will give you an idea of what we are all about.
We’ve said for over 10 years that we want to be: “a growing community/listening to Christ/changing in the Spirit/living out love.” What’s brand new is this. Our own Brandon Buerkle took the statement and used his artistic skills to letter this beautifully for us as a community. I love it!
Why are these lines important? How do they somewhat uniquely describe us? And how do we take this off of words on a page and make them living actions in life? That’s what we want to look at for the next month or so.
As a staff, every time we look at this simple statement we notice how it sums up our hopes for life with God so well.
The group that worked on this statement in 2003 was trying to find a way to boil down an earlier Mission Statement into something a bit shorter and easier to remember. When we worked to create the statement, back then, we didn’t have a particular passage from the bible in mind.
If we did what we were hoping to do, summing up the essentials of following Christ in a specific “Newberg Friends” kind of way, we should find lots of places in the bible that connect. For the next few weeks, we will use some parts of the book of Colossians as ways to go deeper with what our statement says. Turn with me to Colossians chapter 3. We’ll read verses 12-14.
Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. (TNIV)
There’s a flow and a cycle to our vision statement that we see here in Colossians as well. “God’s chosen people,” Paul says in Colossians. We are God’s chosen people, “holy and dearly loved.” Because we are loved by God, says Paul, we clothe ourselves with characteristics that look like God.
When we say we want to be a growing community, we have several things in mind. The community we are and want to be is exactly what Paul says in Colossians, a community chosen by God, gathered by God, brought together by God and set apart as holy out of God’s deep love.
So not just community. Not just friendship. Not just a gathered group of people interested in something, like a club. We are a community that God is making, that God loves, that God is making holy. We are part of what Paul calls Christ’s body, the people of God around the world in Christ’s church.
The “growing” part refers both to growing in numbers, because we believe that God wants the whole world to be brought into right relationship with God…and it also refers to the community characteristics Paul describes here. We want to grow in our relationships with each other, practicing compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. In other words, our goal is grow our community, and to grow AS a community, in how we relate to each other.
Next week, when we spend the whole time looking at this line from our vision statement, we’ll explore some of the opportunities and practices to do just that. Finding connection points and relationships where we belong is such an important part of life!
The next line in our statement isn’t found explicitly in this section of Colossians, but it’s implicit throughout the book.
And this next line is the one line that is out of the ordinary, not one you find in many other churches’ vision statements.
Our goal is to be people who are listening to Christ. Listening is foundational to who we are and to what we do. Listening is present tense, because we believe God is always speaking. Most Christians assume this, the fact that we would learn what God wants and do it. But we didn’t want to just assume it. We wanted it front and center. We want to be reminded and prodded to be listening, responsive people.
Listening weaves its way through so many of our practices together. Our times of open worship each Sunday morning, these times of silence where we pay attention to God individually and as a community. Our pastoral team and our committees function with the assumption that our job is not to implement “our” strategy, but to listen for how Christ is leading and be fiercely obedient to that. Our business meetings assume that anyone and everyone can hear from God, and help us together better decide which course of action is God’s direction for us.
As individuals, we strive to remind each other that each decision–the big ones like what job to take and where to live, as well as the small ones like who might need a note or phone call from me today–each decision is more likely to join what God is already doing in the world when we take the time and energy to actively listen; not just ask, but actually listen to how God is leading.
There’s the regular practice of using queries, though-provoking questions, which tune our minds, hearts and spirits toward what is important to God.
Discernment, listening, careful consideration…this is at the heart of what we do as a community. This is what I loved when I first started attending here decades ago as a college student, this serious practice of acting out what all Christians say we believe, that God’s Holy Spirit is alive and active still today!
Next up is the line that has been getting most of my attention lately.
Changing. Transformation. We want to shout from the highest rooftops that God loves us deeply exactly as we are, whether we’ve got our act together or whether we fail, whether we serve with humility or stumble with selfish choices. God’s love for us never fails, and it is what draws us into community.
And we want to shout just as loudly that while God’s love is not dependent on our actions, while how we behave and what our character reflects does not earn us any standing before God…it is still true that the power that raised Christ from the dead is always at work bringing new life to each and every one of us! Our God of resurrection wants to bring new life through the Holy Spirit to all of us!
I got a warped message in the churches that I grew up in. Somehow the good news of God boiled down to, “Try harder to get your act together, cause that’s the only way you’ll be accepted in our community.” And that in turn warped how I heard all the messages about things like change and repentance; they sometimes seemed manipulative ways to get me to act in socially approved behaviors so that I would be accepted.
In my right reaction to emphasized instead God’s unconditional love, I had many years where I de-emphasized…maybe I should even say I hid the message of transformation that God wants to bring. But we can never forget…I can never forget that the central fact of all of our faith is Jesus Christ is no longer dead! The personal and social sin that caused Jesus to be crucified, that tore and pierced his broken body, that rejected love incarnate…all of that evil and hate and oppression was swallowed up by resurrection power!
We are not just invited into Christ’s death through our own obedience and suffering. We are invited into Christ’s new, never-ending life! We see it all through Paul’s words to the Colossians; the clothing ourselves with new, Christ like characteristics.
The heart of changing in the Spirit, the heart of transformation, is honest repentance. Paul has it here in verse 13: “Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” Our new way of life doesn’t come because we try harder to forgive others, for instance. The key to changing in the Spirit is humbly telling God we are sorry for our failures; that we accept his love and forgiveness, and we want his resurrection power to live in us.
This is an essential part of the good news of God, and we don’t want to forget it! That’s why changing in the Spirit is here in this vision statement. We want to remind each other that change is always the road ahead of us…not change to be accepted or loved, but change as a gracious gift from a God powerful enough to overcome death with resurrection life!
Finally, living out love.
Being part of a community, listening to Christ, changing in the Spirit all leads to living out love. Embodying the truth that God’s love for each person in the world knows no bounds. Acting in ways consistent with God’s unconditional love for all people.
Paul’s words in verse 14 show this clearly. “Over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.”
I don’t think this is “put on love” as in “pretend to love”. I think it’s more like “slip into this well worn garment of love, this love God has for you and all people, and let it guide and shape and define all that you do.”
As we love, we see the cycle taking place. Our actions of love and justice increase our community and bring new people into it, where we listen and change and love some more.
This is life with God!
May we help each other live it out together.