Who is The Church? What is our purpose? How do we fully live into being, as Paul called the church, the body of Christ in the world?
These are all questions we’re attempting to answer in this focus on The Quest– becoming the church God has created us to be. To start this work, we took a look at the Pentecost story in Acts 2 and identified that at its rawest, most foundational level, the church is gifted by the Spirit to go forth into the community to proclaim the goodness of God. Here at Washington Street, we define this call – this mission – as Making a Place for Everyone to Know God’s Love. Many a church have struggled to keep this community-focus at the forefront of their work.
As part of The Quest, we named that in our failure to keep the community central in our work, many churches have become hierarchical institutions that do little more than fulfill what the pastor, staff, and committees deem necessary. Instead of asserting Paul’s proclamation, and the Reformation’s affirmation, that everyone is capable of engaging with God and sharing God’s good news in the world, many churches have de-emphasized the role of the laity in discernment. In replacement, we have called on church members to do little more than be the worker ants who march at the pastor’s beckoning call.
When the proclamation of God’s love in the community remains at the focus of our work, the work of the church is driven by the engagement of the church (the Body of Christ) in the world – not of the ideas and visions of a single pastor, regardless how enlightened the pastor may be. The small groups we offer, the missional opportunities that are created, they stem from the engagement of the whole – not the prayerful insights of the one.
Last week, Kim called us to a better understanding of what this work of the church looks like in the community. She called us to understand what more authentic engagement looks like in the world – where we don’t deem for others what they need to improve their lives, but how we are called to gather in relationship with others throughout the community to proclaim the love of God in Christ, offered as the living water. I love how Kim laid out the vision at the end, using the story of the Samaritan woman at the well, that it was not Jesus himself who taught the woman’s community about God’s love – but it was the woman herself, who, after meeting Jesus, went forth to proclaim God’s goodness to her own community. Because of his authentic, humble, graceful, and loving engagement at the well, she was led to proclaim God’s goodness beyond even Christ’s direct reach.
Through Jesus’ witness, and through the gifting of the Holy Spirit, God has set up, prepared, and formed the Church to go forth to proclaim the goodness of God in the world. That is our call and our mission.
It is only after God has done the hard work of creation, defining our mission and purpose, that we see Paul’s writings in the Biblical text. The apostle offers leadership and guidance to the early church – identifying the places they are getting it wrong, and offering theological insight as to how to do it better. Paul’s letters are primarily offering guidance to the early churches that were forming all around the Mediterranean as to how they could best live into God’s vision for the Church – how they could better live out God’s desire for the church to be proclaiming God’s goodness in the world. Among these instructional letters is this one to the church at Philippi. From it comes our reading today in chapter 2.
The focus of this text is, perhaps in too simplified a manner, about selfless unity. Paul uses the directing “if” to begin his text. “If,” he says, “there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, then make my joy complete.” Now understand, Paul is not questioning if these things exist. He’s notasking, “Are these things true? Because if they are …” No. What Paul is stating is that “These things are true, and therefore …” … He might have better used the word, since.
“Since,” he is saying, “since there is encouragement in Christ, and consolation in love, and sharing in the Spirit, and compassion and sympathy … since these things do exist, make my joy complete, and be of one mind. Have the same love. Be in full accord with one another.”
The apostle is directing the new church at Philippi that because all of these things are true of God, we should live as God desires – we should be unified in our focus on proclaiming the goodness of God in the world. Paul isn’t redirecting God’s mission, he’s giving instructions on how the church can best live that out. “Be of one mind, have the same love, be in full accord, and be of one mind.”
That’s not a typo. Paul says, “be of one mind” twice.
Paul then takes the time to explain what being of the same mind means – what does it to be in full accord and having the same love with one another? Beginning in verse 3 we read, “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interest of others.” … Paul says that what it takes to be of one mind, to live into our mission as the church, is to humble ourselves before one another and the community at large. We have to name that this isn’t all about us – it’s not all about me, or you. “Humility makes you celebrate the fact that we all need each other, that we’re all important in God’s kingdom. And when that is your basic attitude toward other people, you will be naturally inclined to lend them a hand in service if they need help or just to lend them your love during ordinary times.”[i] It begins with acknowledging the God-gifted humanity in everyone, and treasuring each person, even above yourself.
To emphasize this humility, Paul looks to Christ as our example. Beginning in verse 5, Paul writes, “Have the same mind as Christ, who, though he was in the form of God,” that is, though he is fully divine, “did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited. Instead, Christ emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And as a human, Christ humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death.”
Paul offers that the reason we are to be of one mind, the reason we are to humble ourselves, the reason we are to empty this love out to others is because this is the example we have been given by Christ as to how we might succeed in God’s named purpose for us as the Church. This is how we succeed in proclaiming God’s goodness and love in the world. To do this – to be successful in this mission – we have to, in one accord, humble ourselves and look to the interests of others, not worrying about selfish ambition, but about the goodwill of the whole. Our work is not about how grand a building we have, how many people fill our pews, or how revered we are as a Church in the conference. This is not about our interests or selfish ambition. Our work is defined by how well we live out our purpose of making God’s love known in the world.
This guiding word by Paul sounds quite similar to his explanation of the body of Christ in 1 Corinthians 12. Paul believed that the focus of the work of the church was on no one person, but on the shared work of the whole. The emphasis is not that any one person, or any one subset of people, take on the work of the Church, but that together – all of us – come as one body – one mind – one accord – being of the same love – to use all that we have for the work of proclaiming the goodness of God in the world. It takes each of us offering for the work of God – for the wholeness of the community – for the care of humanity – all of the gifts that God has provided, for they have been provided for this very purpose.
This kind of call to serve a greater purpose invites not only dedicated stewardship, but also asks for flexibility in humility.
For us to fully live in to the call of God on the church … for us to really work at Making a Place for Everyone to Know God’s Love …we need everyone to be of the same mind, of the same love, of one accord, of the same mind. For us to do this work well, and right, and faithfully, we need to look not at our own interests as primary, but to let the interests of others be lifted up. This is the whole focus of the inverted triangle, right? The community, and our work of proclaiming God’s goodness in the community … these take the priority. Our call is to empty ourselves, to humble ourselves, so that God might use our call as stewards to offer the gifts we have received for the greater vision – for the work of proclaiming God’s amazing love.
As we live in to this vision, as we respond to the call of the Scripture to live in to this purpose, I want to name one big change the Leadership Board is finalizing, and then I want to extend an invitation.
First, the big change.
We’ve had a number of financial planning conversations this year as a Board, many of which stemmed from a change in staffing at the end of 2018. As we began to look more closely at the financial accounts, what we found was that, outside of our annual budget, we had over 30 dedicated funds on our balance sheet, some of which dated back over 20 years. These dedicated funds ranged in value from $1.55 up to nearly $8,500. The money in these accounts were all given in faithfulness at different times for different purposes. For example, we had a computer replacement fund that was used to replace office computers. The funds had all but been depleted from that account, allowing the fund to remain on the balance sheet. We had one fund for flowers and foliage in the sanctuary and second fund for seasonal flowers in the sanctuary. We had one fund for “feeding the hungry,” a separate fund for “bag lunches,” a third fund for “the breakfast ministry,” and a fourth for “food baskets.”
The Board and I are well aware that each of these dedicated funds has some history to it. They were each created for a specific purpose at a specific time.
The problem we acknowledged as a Board was that many of these funds no longer serve a purpose. We no longer send funding to a missionary, and so the $400 in the missionary fund is doing nothing but taking up paper space on the monthly financial reports. The $12.48 in the computer lab fund are not sufficient to do any real work, and so shy of asking for more direct gifts to be able to utilize this money, those funds just sit on the sheet.
In response to their call as a Board to champion the mission statement of the church, to help offer the support for the church to proclaim God’s goodness in the world, the Board has decided to collapse the many funds into three simplified accounts. As the Open Table Breakfast Ministry is our most vibrant and twice-weekly ministry, the breakfast ministry will maintain its own fund. However, all other external ministry items will be collapsed into a Community Engagement Fund. These funds will continue to support the work of ALIVE!, and the Carpenter’s Shelter. They will be used for backpacks and Christmas gifts. The Community Engagement Fund will be used to support the needs of the community and the work of the church in proclaiming God’s love to all in the community. A third fund will be focused on the internal service and discipleship of the church. This fund will provide for things like Easter flowers, curriculum, special events and retreats, and unbudgeted office needs. So outside of our general budget, we will maintain three ministry related funds – Open Table, Community Engagement, and Church Support.
During the year, we will continue to ask for special gifts to be directed toward events and items, such as the Furloughed Workers lunches we offered in February of this year, or for school supplies, which we provided in August. However, if there are additional gifts given beyond what is needed for the specified activity, the excess gifts will go into the appropriately associated larger fund. For example, if we have more money given for Poinsettias at Christmas than necessary, any additional gifts will go to help with Church Support. If we have extra gifts after we’ve sent the Angel Tree presents to Rising Hope, those extra gifts will go to the Community Engagement Fund.
The Board believes that this change will allow us more flexibility in responding to the needs of the community. When there is a call from the community for support, this change will allow us to respond without having to wait to see how much money we are able to receive in the following week’s offering. We’ll be able to respond without delay if crisis, like the furlough, hits in the future. The Board will regularly and prayerfully review how we are responding to the needs within the church and in the community, and will provide updates on how these specials funds are being used.
That’s the big change that allows us to put the interests of others at the forefront, and to respond in faith to the needs of the community in timely fashion.
Here’s the invitation.
I want to invite you to consider how you are sharing in the work of Making a Place for Everyone to Know God’s Love.
If there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete: let us use the gifts God has blessed us with to be of one mind in our work. Let us use our passions, our talents, our desires, our resources, our knowledge, our time, and our grace to work with one another in Making a Place for Everyone. You’ll find in your bulletin two cards – one is an invitation to consider how your time, knowledge, and abilities may help us in our mission. Following worship, we’ll rejoice over God’s work through the church in the Fellowship Hall in our annual Harvest of Hope celebration. You’ll have a chance to see the many ways your gifts might be shared in service and in community here at Washington Street. You can also take time to pray over these opportunities and fill out the online form to share your gifts as well.
If you don’t see a place where your feel your gifts can be utilized, I want you to seek me or Kim out, and let us know. We’d love to be in conversation with you to help identify something new that may be a faithful step in our shared desire to proclaim God’s goodness in the world.
The second card is a commitment to give financially in the coming year. These financial commitments help direct and guide the Leadership Board in identifying how we can best support the work of the church in the year to come. Your financial commitment helps us plan and discern how to allocate resources in our shared work of proclaiming God’s goodness in the world. You’re invited to leave the card at the altar rail during communion this morning, or again, you can fill out your commitment online.
Your commitments of time, talent, and treasure are a response to Paul’s invitation to do nothing from selfish ambition, and looking not to your own interests, but in humility, to acknowledge that we have all been gifted and called into this body to share with one another in a greater mission, a greater vision, and a greater purpose than any one of us can accomplish on our own. We are called to be of the same mind of Jesus Christ, that the name of God may be highly exalted, that everyone may know that Jesus Christ is Lord, and that everyone may know of God’s great, graceful, forgiving, and redeeming love.
Let us share in community, in mission, and in service with one another, that all may know God’s love. Amen.