Colossians 3:12-17 (click to display NIV text)
June 3, 2012
Pastor Dwight A. Nelson

“Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.”

As we enter a process of church vitality, our Council has selected a few guiding statements that form a Covenant for Loving Relationships. Over the next three weeks we will explore these statements. The first one is, “We love one another, recognize our brokenness, practice forgiveness and seek reconciliation.” The Council seeks to live by this statement, and invites other committees and members of the church to enter this Covenant as well. Our goal in this process is to grow as a church that is becoming missional and vital. A missional church is one that intentionally brings Christ to the surrounding community. A vital church is one that is healthy and growing, especially as people are added who are coming to faith in Christ.

What did this process of church vitality look like in the New Testament? A good model for us is found in Acts 11, in the experience of the church at Antioch. The church began when some of the believers from Jerusalem moved to Antioch after the persecution that broke out when Stephen was killed. These believers  began to spread the word about Christ to people like themselves, to Jews living there. The reality is that the Gospel most often spreads when people are compelled to move or when their lives change drastically. The Christians living in Jerusalem did not carry out the Great Commission until they were scattered around the known world by persecution. In the new setting they spoke to people who were most like them.

This is the experience of the immigrant church in America. People over the generations have come to America from many countries. They began churches with people like themselves and only gradually did they reach out to a wider population.

Today we tend to remain in our churches with people most like ourselves, until circumstances change our lives and provide opportunities for us to reach out to people who have encountered a similar change in life..

A man at the Presbyterian Church in Libertyville recently found himself in a bewildering situation. His adult children had been convicted of an illegal practice in their business, and sent to prison. He felt completely lost in that world and did not know where to turn. So, he began a support group for people with incarcerated family members, with help from a local counselor. Support groups are based on the shared experiences of people, and they become missional when they include a presentation of the Gospel. This is the first step in reaching out to a community.

The next thing that happened in Antioch is that some began to speak also to Greeks, telling them the Good News. This is the second stage of missional activity. This means moving beyond people who share your experience, to some type of cross-cultural ministry. These ministries are not based on our experience, but on an observed need. The Jewish believers in Antioch reached out to Greeks, to people of a different culture. This is a ministry focused on welcoming, inviting and proclaiming. Examples today are churches that adopt schools in poor neighborhoods, perhaps providing tutoring or a safe place for children to be after school. Some churches begin ESL programs, or AA recovery groups.

When the church in Jerusalem got wind of what was going on in Antioch, that they were proclaiming Christ to Greeks and welcoming them in fellowship, they became concerned and sent Barnabas to find out what was happening. But Barnabas did not give the Christians in Antioch a stern lecture. He was encouraged when he saw what was going on. In fact, he stayed and helped.

Whenever a church engages a cross-cultural group, especially if that group has no church background, there will be issues. Barnabas realized that the church in Antioch needed sound teaching, with all these people with pagan influences coming into the church. So he went to Tarsus and sought out Paul and brought him to Antioch.  The issues in Antioch were idolatry, sexual immorality, greed, and anger. Paul learned about pagan behavior in Antioch and so he was able to speak to it in his missionary journeys. The church in Antioch no doubt had to practice forgiveness and reconciliation as they accepted a former persecutor of Christians into their fellowship.

In Colossians, Paul speaks of what Christ has done for all people. He writes to the new believers of their need to renounce the practices of the old life. Then he writes of the virtues needed to live a new life in Christ. At the center of these virtues is love. He says, clothe yourselves with compassion and kindness and then at the end he says to put on love. The new life begins with love and then you add more love. In our culture, with its many immoralities, love is central to becoming a Missional and vital church. So we begin our statement, “We love each other.”

But we do not stop there. “We love each other” connects with “we recognize our brokenness.” Some churches think, “If we do everything just right, if we create the right programs and act in a friendly and welcoming way, surely we will grow and become vital as a church.”  But most often, churches that grow are ones that admit their brokenness and struggles. We can try very hard to project just the right image to our community, and hide or deny any struggles we may have, or we can admit our brokenness and discover how to love and how to be healthy.

This year we have been telling our stories in Sunday School and Bible study. Those who have told their stories have been honest, admitting brokenness. This is the true path to a deeper love for one another and a way of connecting with our community.

I have a cousin who writes poetry. He has been sick with a cold lately so he wrote a poem about how hard it is for him to admit he is sick and needs rest. He wonders about his faith when he is sick:

Where is my faith now?

It’s showing off my weakness in the midst

Of a go, go, go world.

Realizing how attached I get to my competencies

And how much I enjoy, and need,

The feedback and glowing reports

And I find that faith lets me see

My own misplaced connections to power

Faith lets me be wrong about myself

Faith lets me be (and see) my weakness.

We love one another, recognize our brokenness, practice forgiveness and seek reconciliation.

Amen.

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