Brothers & sisters in Christ with everything going on in our world and in your lives – thank you for making time for worship this morning. We are a month out from Christmas, January has come & gone & I’m wondering here…maybe a show of hands, who here made a New Year’s resolution this year? Don’t worry I’m not going to ask you to stand up and share it. Or how about, who here has EVER made a New Year’s resolution? Maybe you’ve resolved to eat better or start working out more, do daily devotions, less screen time? We make all kinds of resolutions, and I’ll give us all the benefit of the doubt. I think we do so because we truly believe we have the power to change.
Did you see this commercial from Peloton that was out over Christmas? It was about a husband who bought his wife exercise equipment as a present! But Peloton got virally crucified, our modern version of crucifixion. Because of the sexist way it portrayed the role and personalities of the husband & wife. And if you’re someone who comes to church to get some practical applications of faith in your daily life… (And I’m pretty sure this rule of thumb is somewhere in Leviticus)…here it is: don’t buy your spouse – whether you’re a man or woman – don’t buy your partner exercise equipment for Christmas OK!? And I know, ALL the sensible reasons… just trust me OK, don’t do it!!! There you go, there’s your take home today! But if you HAVE ever bought a piece of exercise equipment (Which by the way is one of the best things to buy, “gently used.” which means never used…) How many of you have ever used a piece of exercise equipment in your home as a glorified laundry rack, or storage unit? I mean look at this picture, that’s cross training right there, so versatile!
Belief that Change is Possible
We all believe we can change our lives, but we don’t DO anything to change the habit patterns that make up our lives. For example, the first year I ran with Team World Vision at the Madison marathon. I followed their training plan as precisely as I could. Because I knew I had a program that was tried and tested. And if I just followed it, I could get there- get to the point that I could go out and run 26.2 miles. But that first Monday, week 1 of 26, I didn’t start by running 26 miles. That first Monday was a 20-minute run, Where you were supposed to run for 2 minutes and then walk for one. And do that until you hit 20 minutes… that’s where I started. See I believed that I could do it, but if I would have just sat on the couch trying harder to believe, trying to visualize myself running the race. I would have never made it, I had to act.
Believing alone won’t make a difference if you don’t act upon that belief and DO something about it. You know the Bible talks about God’s faithful people as believers on many occasions. The apostle Paul talks about believers & giving & believers & baptizing & many more. But he also talks about how belief is private, & faith is found in community.
God is Commited to Us
We know as Lutherans that faith, what we believe about what happened on the cross…about what was done for us on the cross is important, it’s everything. And Matthew believes fundamentally… we hear from Matthew’s gospel (Matthew 4:12-23), That the world as we know it was dramatically changed on Christmas Eve. That God is now present with us in the person of Jesus unlike ever before. And Jesus begins his ministry in our story this morning saying exactly the same words we heard from John the Baptizer. Wake up! It’s time to make a change! It’s time to believe! The kingdom of Heaven is here, and the only geographical restrictions of this Kingdom are the limits or expansiveness of your heart.
And Matthew describes this amazingly diverse community following Jesus, In our story it’s the lepers and the crippled and the unclean, people from all walks of life, Jews & even Gentiles. This is a radical behavior in the first century and a dangerous message of belief that would have been terrifying to those in power. In ancient Israel just as it would be in America today. Imagine if you could get all people from all walks of life, all colors and classes and creeds and abilities, joining together in a common belief that All are welcome, & all are forgiven, & all are worth serving. Can you imagine… How in the world would the powerful ever stay in power if they didn’t have the power to divide us?
But this is what’s happening in our story today, and Jesus describes it not as the Kingdom of God, but as the Kingdom of Heaven… here on earth. It’s beautiful… & fascinating… & scary… & dangerous all at the same time. So, in our Lutheran Churches what we believe is vitally important. But that doesn’t mean we have altar calls during the service. We don’t call people to come down and commit their lives to Christ. Our faith stories don’t include the date we “Committed” our lives to Christ,
We remember our baptism! Because on the cross Christ committed his life to us! On the cross GOD committed his life to us! Not the other way around, There is nothing we can do to earn God’s grace and mercy, But in RESPONSE to God’s love and grace.
- We WELCOME as we have been WELCOMED
- We FORGIVE as we have been FORGIVEN
- We SERVE as we have been SERVED.
And this is so important I just want to stop for a second and make sure everyone is tracking with me here. Because this is the difference between a failed New Year’s resolution and making it to the finish line. Because belief alone, belief in and of itself, having faith in ourselves that we believe all the right stuff about God, that being a Christian is all about my personal relationship with God; when that’s all that’s important, we don’t need community. We don’t need a training plan. We can spend one hour each Sunday & be fine. And if that were the recipe for life-changing faith, churches across America would be overflowing. But it’s not… and they’re not…
We Can’t Do This Alone
Today Jesus shows us what a recipe looks like. Did you notice how Jesus starts his ministry? He begins by calling a small group of disciples to share life together. He had 3 that he was deep in relationship with, people he could have told anything, that he let share in even the most challenging aspects of his life. He also had the 12 that he prayed with, shared meals with and brought with him to experience firsthand his life and teachings. Yes, he sent out the 70… Yes, he fed the 5000… But Jesus started with a small group, he started by forming relationships! It was the very model he chose to change the world!
During our Beyond campaign we launched a ministry called Tables of 8. It’s a small group ministry asking people to commit to getting together; to build community, to sharing stories, to recognize that there’s more to be found in this life of faith than just sitting in the pews on Sunday morning. We grow in faith by growing in relationship with one another. And many times, if were not involved in something, and we’re asked or we think about getting involved and making time for a small group, whether it’s Tables of 8, or a 13-week small group Bible study, or volunteering in the pantry once a week or once a month, the thought of adding another thing to our schedule makes our head spin. We can’t imagine doing that.
But for people who have been able to drop something that wasn’t important in their life, that wasn’t helping them to grow in faith and love…. When you talk to those people who are involved, most say they can’t imagine their life without their small group, or their ministry. And I can say without a doubt, I have been moved by certain worship experiences in my life. There are a handful of instances while sitting in a pew where my life was changed by the Holy Spirit. But I’ve grown in my faith because of my participation in small groups. Whether it was groups focused on community or service doesn’t matter. Hanging around & being around people of faith has changed my life. You can’t do this alone.… Its like that New Year’s resolution. If you joined a gym, or if you got the Peloton bike in the divorce settlement, and your resolution is to start working out every morning, you’re a lot more likely to go if someone is there waiting for you.
The Impact of a Community Responding to God’s Love & Grace
You’re a lot less likely to hit the snooze button if you’ve made an appointment with a personal trainer. It’s one of the core practices of Team World Vision. Every Saturday morning the entire team gathers for a group run together. To pray together and share stories together. And we’ve been talking about our Mission Statement in this sermon series. Today we are talking about how we Serve as we have been Served. But that mission statement begins with “As a response to God’s love & grace we will: Our belief elicits a response, our gift back to God for all we’ve been given. And in our SERVICE together in our Life Together we grow in faith & Love It is a core tenet of Matthew’s gospel, that you get a relationship with Christ through the ecclesia, through the community of believers. This morning we watched a video about our Adopt A School partnership with Orchard Ridge Elementary. Well, because of our relationship with ORE, two new ministries have started up this year.
One is a Friday food pantry called Weekend Wellness Wrap where we work with the school social worker to identify the kids and families that are the most food insecure and we send them home with food each weekend. The second is a collaboration between local churches, our Joining Forces for Families office and all our area school social workers called Keeping Neighbors Connected The goal is to pool our limited resources to make a long-term difference in housing solutions through the relationship that school social workers have developed with some of our most at risk youth. So, throughout our time in Matthew this year. If you can keep one thing in mind, every time you walk into or walk out of Good Shepherd, I want you to say these words. God is present in Jesus, Jesus is present in the Church, the Church is present in the world. Belief in Christ as God Incarnate… that leads to action in the world as God’s children. And through action, through our service together we grow in faith & love. Say it with me one time:
- God is present in Jesus…
- Jesus is present in the Church…
- The Church is present in the world.
It’s Time to Exercise
And Jesus calls us today to make a resolution to follow him, to change our lives and become more than we are. To do that we have to exercise our Spiritual muscles more than once a week. Get plugged in, get involved… & throughout this year & as we quickly move into Lent there will be new training opportunities. And Lots of training partners to workout with. Not to add something your schedule, But because this is something that we believe has the power to change your life. And that’s it! That’s all I have for you this morning. I had about 8 pages to talk about the importance of service with you. And I’m currently halfway through page 3 of my notes. But that’s it, & that’s enough for today. Say it one more time with me please:
God is present in Jesus, Jesus is present in the Church, the Church is present in the world.