Community Day 2005: Authentic Community

It’s great to be with all of you today at the Shaver’s Creek Community
Building where the six United Methodist congregations, representing
hundreds of years of ministry here in the Juniata Valley, are gathering for a special day of worship and fellowship.

Community
From early on in our planning, we knew we wanted to focus on community.
But we didn’t just want to talk about community; we wanted to
experience it. That’s certainly our hope and our prayer for us today.

What makes community “authentic”? Sometimes, our idea of community
can be pretty superficial or “surfacy.” But “authentic community” goes
much deeper; it’s about being fully connected to God and with one
another.

God has always been interested in authentic community!
God has always existed in community. God himself is a community, a
community of Three-in-One (Trinity). And there’s a wonderful Greek word
that has been used to describe God’s sense of community: perichoresis, which means, "envelopment" (or literally, “dancing around”). It’s a great image of God existing in community.

God invites us to be in community with him, to join the dance! I think of  …

Creation
When God created the world, he created man and woman, because it wasn’t
good for the man to be alone. He put the man and woman in a world full
of life. God created us to be in community: with God, with others.

Israel
God called the people of Israel to be God’s chosen community, to be God’s light to the world.

God sent Jesus to restore community!
But because of sin, the community was a broken community. But God sent
Jesus to restore community between God and humankind. Jesus suffered,
died, and rose from death so that we might spend eternity with God and
our brothers and sisters in authentic community.

Church
And now this restored community is the Church. God has chosen the
Church to share this message, and this authentic community, with the
world. Not only to tell the world the good news, but to show them and
invite them, to embrace them, in the context of loving community.

Snapshot of the Early Church
At Pentecost, God sent the Holy Spirit and empowered the Church for such a
purpose. At the end of Acts 2, we get a snapshot of what authentic
community in the first years of the Church’s existence looked like: Acts 2.42-47

In this snapshot, there are two primary actions that we want to focus on today …

1 – Disciples Learn
“They spent their time learning from the apostles
…” Disciples learn. In fact, the word “disciple” means: student,
learner, apprentice. They were engaged in discipleship and spiritual
growth. Spiritual formation was at the foundation of who they were and
what they did.

Spiritual Formation
When I think of spiritual formation, I think of three verbs …

Know – getting to know God (Scripture, prayer, in community)
Be – that shapes we are
Do – that determines what we do (our actions)

The process of being spiritually formed is the process of being
transformed into the image of Christ. It’s the process of living like
Jesus, looking like Jesus, talking like Jesus, thinking like Jesus, and
acting like Jesus! In fact, the word "Christian" means “little Christ.” We’re
being formed into “little Christs.”

That’s why there are places in the Scriptures where God is talked about
as being a “potter,” and “artist,” and “builder.” God is shaping us; he
is creating a work of art; he is building his church.

Questions for Group Time

  • What do you do to grow spiritually? What is your daily routine?
  • What one thing could you add to help you grow spiritually?

2 – Disciples treat each other like family

Joleen talked about this point. I’ll try to post a link soon. Joleen also talked about a couple results mentioned in the passage:

  • They influenced others
  • They bore fruit

Then I picked up with the conclusion …

Bottom-line …
God’s power was manifested among them!

Reading Acts, it’s clear that God’s power was at work among his people.
At Pentecost, the disciples were gathered together and the Scriptures
make a very important observation — they were “in one accord.” I think
the phrase “one accord” describes authentic community. They shared a
common purpose; they were headed in the same direction; they put the
best interest of the community above their own personal agenda.

I’m also remind of Jesus’ words to his disciples (using grapevines and
branches, in John 15): “apart from me, you can do nothing.” We must be
connected!

Acts tells the story of how God worked through people who were fully
surrendered/connected to God and one another. They learned (were
spiritually formed); they treated each other like family. As a result,
they influenced others, and they bore much fruit.

May God unite our hearts in such a way that God’s Spirit will flow
freely through us, overflowing into the neighborhoods throughout our
valley so that God’s kingdom will grow!

Get Focused: Christ First

Colossians 1. 1.15-23

What moves you?
Do you have a passion for something? A hobby, sport, …
Do you have something that moves you emotionally: that gets you excited, pumped up, (or triggers disappointment, anger?)

On our way home from a youth event, we stopped at a McDonald’s for dinner. The last 5 minutes of the Penn State game were on. While I walk by the tv making a beeline for the restroom, someone says the Penn State game is on and I do glance and see the score, saying “Umh, we haven’t seen a score like that in a long time. Others of the youth group cannot pull themselves away from the tv – the are entranced.

What moves you? What gives you both the height and depth of emotion? What captures your attention like nothing else?

In this passage … it is Jesus.

The Firsts
Jesus is first, he is the center, the focus, the meaning, the purpose. Jesus is at the center of the Gospel. He is God. He is the firstborn, the head, the first in all things. The only thing he is not is "created", for through him all things were created.

Jesus is the “image of invisible God,” pre-existent one. For everything else there was a time before it existed. With God, he has always been. And Christ being the image of God, God made visible, Christ always was. It is through Christ that God chose to reveal his very nature and character – this so that we could know God better, we could know him more intimately.

Jesus is “firstborn over all creation” – all things were created by him, through him, for him. He is before them and “all things are held together in him.” Their continued existence depends on him.

This discredits any religion that would uplift the worship of nature. As Christians we stand in awe of nature, but nature points us to worship the One who created nature, Christ who is the Creator. (OT – idols are made from wood and then nailed it down so it doesn’t fall over. They are not living; they are made.)

“He is the head of the body, the church” As he holds all things together, he holds the church together. He created the Church, he sustains the Church.

He is “the beginning, the firstborn from among the dead” He is the first to be raised from the dead and to live forevermore. Enoch: never died, but God took him. Elijah: never died, but went in a chariot to be with God forever. King Hezekiah’s life was spared, he was healed but 15 years later he died. Christ’s strength and power was displayed in raising Lazarus from the dead, but he died again. None live in this fleshly form forever. But all who have died shall be raised again. And Jesus Christ is the first. Just the same as he was raised, all shall be raised. Just the same as he lives; all who know Him, believe in him and are in relationship with him, shall live forevermore.

“first in all things”
Christ is never second.

Why is Christ first? “God’s fullness dwells in him” He is God.

All creation suffered separation from God: reconciliation, “making peace, through the blood of his cross”. All things are reconciled. The separation is bridged through the work of Christ on the cross.

Personalizing the Message
Colossians, all Christians, were strangers and enemies.

Look at your pre-Christian past. Even if you grew up in the church, there was a time or must be a time when you give your life to Christ. A time when you recognized your sin, you recognized your need, your humanness, when you realized your reliance upon Christ, his blood, his cross.

Remember from where Christ has brought you. Remember what he has done. Remember the work of the cross. Remember his sacrifice.

See the gravity of what Christ has done for you.

The Test of Faith
Remain. John 15
Remain in the faith
Established and firm
Without shifting from the hope

What moves you?
This is the Gospel that moves Paul. This is the message of Christ that moves Paul and he appeals to the Colossians to once again be moved. It has moved Paul to thanksgiving, praise, humbleness, unworthiness yet acceptance. Paul owes his life and his life he gives as he calls himself a servant of this Gospel.

At the altar offer your prayers of thanksgiving and praise. Prayers of dedication. Repentance. Laying our all. Make Christ first – he is never second.

  • What does Jesus mean to you?
  • What has Jesus done for you? From where has he brought you?
  • Be moved to thanksgiving, praise, humbleness, steadfastness, and to service.

Get Focused 2: Christ First

Colossians 1.15-23 [New English Translation]

Is Jesus first in your life now? If he isn’t, what’s keeping him from being first in your life? Paul’s letter to the Christ-followers in Colossae has a lot to say to us about putting Christ first in our lives.

Colossians 1.15-20 is believed to have been a hymn that Paul simply
incorporated into his letter to the Colossians; it’s something of a
creed. It’s a beautiful piece that says Jesus is above everything else.

Jesus is the image of the invisible God
If you want to know what God is like, look at Jesus. See Hebrews 1.1-4

Jesus is the firstborn over all creation
Jesus is not just before, but over. He’s supreme.

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all
creation, for all things in heaven and on earth were created by him—all
things, whether visible or invisible, whether thrones or dominions,
whether principalities or powers—all things were created through him
and for him. He himself is before all things and all things are held
together in him.

Jesus is the head of the body
He is the head of the
body, the church, as well as the beginning, the firstborn from among
the dead so that he himself may become first in all things.

Jesus is not only the firstborn over all creation; he is also the
firstborn from among the dead. Jesus rose from death; therefore, we
have hope, too. We will be resurrected from the dead, if we center our
lives around Jesus in this life. Jesus said, "seek first the kingdom of
God and his righteousness" (Matthew 6.33).

Jesus reconciles creation to God
For God was pleased to
have all his fullness dwell in the Son and through him to reconcile all
things to himself by making peace through the blood of his
cross—through him, whether things on earth or things in heaven.

Getting reconciled with God

Realize that you are hopeless without Christ
And you were at one time strangers and enemies in your minds as expressed through your evil deeds …

Put your hope in Christ alone for your salvation

but now he has reconciled you by his physical body through death to
present you holy, without blemish, and blameless before him—if indeed
you remain in the faith, established and firm, without shifting from
the hope of the gospel that you heard.

John 15.5-8

God
has offered reconciliation: have you been reconciled to God? Christ
deserves to be first in our lives: will you make him first in your life?

May
Christ, who has reconciled you with himself, make you holy in every way
so that he may present you holy, without blemish, and blameless before
God. He will do this if indeed you remain in the faith, established and
firm, without shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard! Amen.

Get Focused: Looking Back, Looking Forward

Colossians 1.1-14

Bible Basics
Paul, the author
Wrote 13 letters (epistles) etters to the churches. The churches were located in different cities and the letters take their name from the people of that city. This letter is to the city of Colossae, and the people of that city are know as Colossians. The letter is ddressed to “church” or “saints”.

Usually there is some problem to be addressed in these letters.

Letter form: greets the church in the beginning; ends with greetings to or from specific people
Today we deal with the greeting and introduction to the letter.

Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ …
Acts 9 Damascus Road experience: called apostle because of his face-to-face encounter with Jesus Christ. Paul had a specific call to the Gentiles, rather than the Jewish peoples.

Paul does not know these people; he has never met them. So he is establishing his authority by explaining who he is, by his title “apostle.” He has authority to teach; to deal pastorally with the congregation.

Grace and peace to you …
is a common greeting. Thick with meaning.
Grace: central concept of Christ’s work of salvation as gift (free and unearned) as opposed to any idea of work or merit. Indicates deep prayerful concern (element of intercession). Paul desires that the Colossians apprehend more fully the grace of God in which they already stand.
Peace: Shalom. Sense of general well-being, the source and giver of such peace is God alone. Includes everything given by God in all areas of life. Peace as wholeness, in particular in reference to relationships. Paul prays that they may comprehend more fully the nature of that relationship of peace which God has established with them.

Looking Back: Thanksgiving
Working Together
Timothy is mentioned and v.1 states, “we give thanks” – indicating Paul is not alone in ministry. Epaphras is mentioned as "fellow slave" and "faithful minister on our behalf". There is a teamwork that exists in the work of Christ. None of us is lone rangers. We work as a team at a local church level. I work as a team with fellow pastors. It is important that I develop relationships with my colleagues – that we grow together, that we are accountable to each other, that we encourage one another, and learn from one another. That has to happen here in the local church, from church to church in our charge and through the local ministerium. Our District Superintendent emphasizes the importance of pastors getting out of our own little box, and going to seminars outside our District and even outside our denomination – to broaden our horizon, to learn from others.

Epaphras
Epaphras is the one from whom the Colossians learned the Gospel. “Fellow-slave” is a title of honor. (Tri-city area of Hierapolis, Laodicea, and Colossae) Epaphras is lifted up as a good teacher. One who knows the Gospel and is linked with apostolic authority – from a direct source of the Gospel, even to Jesus himself, through Paul. This is important because there has been some false teaching that has crept in. And that is what Paul is going to address. And he emphasizes that they know the truth: “the message of truth”, “the gospel”, they have “heard and understood the grace of God in truth.”

Prayer of Thanks to God
Paul, Timothy and Epaphras are giving thanks for the faith, hope, and love that the Colossians have. That they know this message of truth. That they are bearing fruit and growing: good deeds, numerical growth, spiritual character. From the first day you heard it you have taken hold and have been growing. And he gives the Spirit the credit for this. They are doing acts of love that only can be credited to the Spirit of God at work in them. This message is being heard and bearing fruit around the world, and you are a part of this, a very vital part of this.

Looking Back
Looking back to who brought them to do the Gospel and to the good works, the fruit and the growth that has been and is among them.

  • From whom did you first learn of Christ and his love for you? Remember and give thanks to God.

Looking Forward
Prayer of Petition (Intercession) for the Colossians:
~Know God’s will
Fill – abundant
Wisdom and understanding as gifts of God.
Live worthily: actions
Please God not self.

~Power to perform
Rely on God, not self.
The only way we have the power to live our lives in accordance to God’s word and to bring forth fruit in our lives (godly character and good deeds) is through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Ephesians 1.18-23

  • What’s the next faithful step? Discern and pray for power to accomplish God’s will.

Get Focused 1: Looking Back, Looking Forward

Read Colossians 1.1-14 in the New English Translation (NET).

Today, we begin a new series called, “Get Focused!” I believe that’s the message from the New Testament book of Colossians. The Christians in the city of Colossae, influenced by their culture, added non-Christian beliefs to their faith and practice. Paul writes a letter in response to heresy.

Paul
From Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus through the will of God, and Timothy my brother …

Paul, as a young Jew, persecuted Christians in what he considered service to God. But he met the One he was persecuting on the way to Damascus. Following that transforming experience, he responded to Christ’s call to be an apostle, and spent the rest of his life serving Christ and spreading the gospel throughout the world.

to the saints, the faithful brothers and sisters in Christ, at Colossae. Grace and peace to you from God our Father!

Paul never visited Colossae, but he had friends (Epaphras and Philemon) there. He addresses this letter to “the saints,” “faithful brothers and sisters in Christ,” which reminds me of the words I hope to hear from Jesus one day — “well done, good and faithful servant.”

Colossae was an important city in Paul’s day. It was very diverse, including people from all backgrounds. It was also a syncretistic city where people tended blends all types of faiths and beliefs.

Faith, Hope, and Love
We always give thanks to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, since we heard about your faith in Christ Jesus and the love that you have for all the saints. Your faith and love have arisen from the hope laid up for you in heaven, which you have heard about in the message of truth, the gospel that has come to you.

Faith – basis of everything, including love, hope
“What is faith? It is the confident assurance that what we hope for is going to happen. It is the evidence of things we cannot yet see.” (Hebrews 11.1)

Love — practical expression of faith

Hope — in Christ alone
We have hope while we’re in this world, but our hope is not in this world, it is in Christ alone! Faith and love flow out of our hope!

Looking Back
Just as in the entire world this gospel is bearing fruit and growing …

"Bearing fruit," it seems to me, refers to both spiritual growth and numerical growth. I believe this gospel is still bearing fruit worldwide. Although the growth appears to be minimal in the Eurpean and North American part of the world, it is growing at a phenominal rate in the Global South.

… so it has also been bearing fruit and growing among you from the first day you heard it and understood the grace of God in truth.

I am struck by the importance of hearing in this passage. One day this week I was praying (unrelated to this sermon), and after the words came out of my mouth, I had to stop and think about what I had just said: "God, I don’t just want to be a doer!”

Now that’s not something I usually pray (especially as a pastor). I tend to downplay the hearing and uplift the doing (be doers, not hearers only).

But hearing is important! “Faith comes by hearing, hearing by the World of God!” (Romans 10.17). Hearing leads to fruit, to action, to doing.

You learned the gospel from Epaphras, our dear fellow slave—a faithful minister of Christ on our behalf—who also told us of your love in the Spirit.

Where did you learn the gospel? Who taught it to you or showed it to you?
I learned the gospel from my family and my church. And along the way there were some key people who modeled for me what living for Christ looked like. I’m grateful for having witnessed a passionate spirituality!

How did the gospel come to this region (central PA)?
Methodism can be traced in central Pennsylvania to an unknown circuit rider who made his way to a small cabin in Adams county in the late 1700s. But it was tough in the early days, due to the American Revolutionary War. Colonists were suspicious of the circuit riders because of John Wesley’s support of the British. But after the war, Methodism began to flourish in this region. In 1788, the first Methodist preaching took place in the area (the ministry here was part of the "Huntingdon Circuit"). The gospel came to this region at great price!

Looking Forward
What is the next faithful step? Where do we go from here?

Paul’s prayer for the Christ-followers at Colossae: For this reason we also, from the day we heard about you, have not ceased praying for you and asking God …

Know, Be, Do
In Paul’s prayer, knowing, being, and doing are interwoven masterfully throughout. We must know God, be Christ-like, and live our faith in the world.

to fill you with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding so that you may live worthily of the Lord and please him in all respects bearing fruit in every good deed growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might for the display of all patience and steadfastness, joyfully 12giving thanks to the Father who has qualified you to share in the saints’ inheritance in the light.

Good news …
(God) delivered us from the power of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

Journey through the Psalms 5: The Lord is My Shepherd

Today, we wrap up our journey through the Psalms. We’ve been talking
about psalms of orientation, psalms of disorientation, and psalms of
new orientation.

Psalms of new orientation express a confidence in God as the source of
new orientation. The experience of the past causes the rejoicing of the
present which leads to confidence of the future. That’s why many of the
psalms of new orientation are thanksgiving psalms — they express thanks
for God’s actions in great times of need!

We wrap up this journey with a message that I think is very timely with
the hurricane disaster this past week. Psalm 23 is a psalm about
provision and protection.

Psalm 23 incorporates two metaphors: 1) shepherd/sheep, and 2) a royal banquet hosted by the Lord.

Psalm 23

The Psalmist makes three "I" statements that will guide our talk today. The first is …

A sheep’s greatest need: “I have everything I need.”
"The LORD is my shepherd; I have everything I need. He lets me rest
in green meadows; he leads me beside peaceful streams. He renews my
strength. He guides me along right paths, bringing honor to his name."
(Psalm 23.1-3)

God provides the essentials! Because the Lord is my shepherd, I lack
nothing, I have everything I need. My greatest need – my only need – is
to follow the shepherd.

"Jesus is the great Shepherd of the sheep by an everlasting covenant,
signed with his blood" (Hebrews 13.20). Jesus is called a "chief
shepherd" (1 Peter 5.4). And in John 10.11b-16, Jesus talks about the kind of shepherd he is.

God leads us to resting places (lush meadows) where allows us to eat an
rest. There God renews our strength and refreshes us. God also leads
us along right paths (ones that lead to pastures, wells, or the fold)!

Our response: Follow the shepherd!

The second "I" statement is …

Rough terrain ahead: “I will not be afraid.”
"Even when I walk through the dark valley of death, I will not be
afraid, for you are close beside me. Your rod and your staff protect
and comfort me."
(Psalm 23.4)

The image here is of a shepherd leading his sheep through a dark ravine where predators may lurk.

Sometimes life can get pretty rough. Sometimes it’s our own doing. For
example, about two months ago, shepherds were taking a break for
breakfast while their sheep, about 1500 of them, were grazing in a
field. One sheep decided to go off on its own, and went off a cliff.
That was bad enough, but the other nearly 1500 sheep decided to follow.
450 of them died, but they provided a soft pile for the others to fall on.

But sometimes, the rough road is not our own doing, but a sad part of
life (e.g. hurricane Katrina this week). Fact is, we don’t know what’s
around the next bend in the road, where the next dark ravine will be.
We must live ready for whatever comes our way.

“Live ready. If you have to get ready when opportunity comes your way,
you are too late. Opportunity does not wait, not even while you pray.
You must not have to get ready; you must live ready.” (Smith
Wigglesworth)

Thankfully our shepherd leads us in the way we should go. A shepherd’s
implements include a staff, used to guide and control, and a rod, to
club to fend off wild beasts, to protect.

Our response: Don’t fear, the shepherd is near!

God’s love chases us down: “I will live in the house of the Lord forever.”
The image shifts here to a royal banquet hosted by the Lord.

"You prepare a feast for me in the presence of my enemies. You
welcome me as a guest, anointing my head with oil. My cup overflows
with blessings. Surely your goodness and unfailing love will pursue me
all the days of my life, and I will live in the house of the LORD
forever."
(Psalm 23.5-6)

God’s loyalty and devotion not only follows us, it pursues us, it
chases us down. That’s grace. God’s grace keeps chasing after us, never
giving up on us.

Our response: Return to God!
Our response to God’s commitment to us ought to be commitment to God. "I will live in the house of the Lord forever."