These notes are intended for distribution to members and friends of the Kirk of Kildaire, Presbyterian Church family. While effort is made to give credit for work done by other, the notes may use material for which appropriate credit is not given. Also, the notes may differ from the actual sermon as it was delivered. Remember, sermons are meant to be preached and are therefore prepared with the emphasis on verbal presentation; the written accounts occasionally stray from proper grammar and punctuation.
When I was a young minister, I kept looking for a church that I never found except in one place. I attended a church in Auburn during college that was a fine church- and later served that church for two summers as an intern-and don’t get me wrong-great church– but it was not the church that I was looking for. When I graduated from seminary and was ordained… I went to First Presbyterian in Bristol… and it was a fine church too-caring people, good Wed. night… they talked about some things more than I had heard of growing up in my church-about spirituality… and I’m embarrassed to tell you this, but I remember the day when I went into the office of the Sr. Pastor and asked-"What do you mean by "spiritual?" He was kind and patient… as I explored that new idea. This was a fine church, but there was something just not right… Then I went to Red Springs… and again… great people… small town… wonderful care for one another… but I kept thinking… something doesn’t feel right… this is not the church I was looking for… but it was there I discovered the problem…
I was looking for my home church. I was looking for the church that had the same goals and mission and ministry as the church that raised me. It was then I learned a very important lesson-there is no church like your home church. Never will be.
And all churches are different. Just as there are people with different personalities, gifts and goals– so churches come in a variety of personalities and gifts and goals. The key I discovered to managing my discontent was to stop looking for my home church and to ask these very simple questions: Who is this church I’m serving and what has God called this church to be and to become? It was then I loosened up a bit and sought to discover who God was calling a congregation to be. Sure, the gifts and passions that God has given me may inform the conversation… but the main thing was to sense who and what God wanted the church to be. That’s what I’ve been wondering about and listening for these past four years.
Almost two years ago we entered into that conversation in an intentional way as a gifted and committed group of members led us on a journey that began to be known as a holy conversation. Leaders and members of the congregation conversed with God and one another as we basically were asking some very simple questions: Who are we? Who is God calling us to become? What is God calling the Kirk to be and to do in the coming years?
And the result was the report from the Long Range Planning Committee with a vision statement to guide us: The Kirk will be a congregation that is : Spiritually Guided, Faithfully Following and Joyfully serving. We also developed six goals to pursue for the next four years to help us flesh out that vision.
One of the fears I have heard is that all this work will end up in a file somewhere. I understand the fear because all of us have seen that happen. It is my intent and the Session’s intent to keep that vision before you and for all of us to continue our conversation as we develop those goals.
This summer we will be unpacking what it means to be a congregation that is Spiritually Guided, Faithfully Following and Joyfully serving through our worship services and our study of Dorothy Butler Bass’s book, "Christianity for the rest of us." You could describe that book as a book of stories from congregations who are headed in the same direction. I hope you will join in the reading of it.
Today we start off with "spiritually guided."
That is a good place to start because frankly, that’s where the Bible starts … the world was created when the Spirit of God brought to birth the world out of chaos… the spirit or breath of God is what brought to life human beings…it is the spirit of God that spoke to prophets like Ezekiel and others to try to guide people when they were off track or to comfort them when they needed mercy…When God decided the time had come to make a personal appearance to earth, it was the Holy Spirit that came to Mary that led to the birth of Jesus…. And after Jesus was gone, it was the Holy Spirit who gave birth to the church… We have always been a spiritually guided people you see.
Most people forget that you know. In fact, let me give you a trick question to ask your friends…. Here’ s the question… "What was the defining moment that gave to the church its birth? Many will tell you Easter when Jesus rose… most may say Christmas… the birth of Jesus is when the church was born. And yes, the birth of Jesus was the time when God revealed his character and who he was in person… and yes, in Jesus God came among us teaching us how to live in God’s kingdom and presence… Still, Jesus birth was not the defining moment… the defining moment of the Christian church was Pentecost… when the spirit of God that created the world, spoke to the prophets, gave birth to Jesus… was given to the church…
So when the church is being the church… when we are being true to God and who we are… we are a people who are born of the spirit and guided by the spirit… always have been and always will be when we are being faithful followers.
Our passage from Galatians lifted this up. It seems that some Christians began to backslide on the spirit… they began to say that it was following the law… that was what the church was all about. [Their version of the Book of Order]
This sets Paul off on a long argument about the role of the spirit in their life together. Do you get the spirit by following the law or by believing? Later he would remind them that when we do not live by the spirit, we are living by the flesh-we are living without regard to God. This leads to all sorts of trouble as we basically become functional atheists…
In contrast Paul wants to remind us that we are called to live by the Spirit and be guided by the spirit… Don’t let your conscience or even your common sense be your guide… let the Spirit of God be your guide. If you do, you will enjoy the fruits of the Spirit directed life: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, self control-just to name a few things.
That’s why I am glad that we have been led in our conversations with one another and with God to be a spiritually guided congregation. If you are like me, I have a lot to learn about what that means for us… but I’m going to enjoy learning as I hope you will.
While I don’t know everything it means for us, let me tell you that it means at least this for us: We are going to seek to become as individual followers of Christ and as a congregation of believers people who seek first what God wants for us and where God is leading us in our life. Let’s all confess-preacher included here-that we do not always do this in our personal life or our life together.
Graham Standish is a Presbyterian minister who has led a congregation in the direction of being spiritually guided. In his book on "Becoming a Blessed Church- forming a church of spiritual purpose, presence and power"-he pretty much had me looking in the mirror when he described a meeting in a church he knew. The pastor had asked a member of the church, a man whose business was real estate development and construction, to draw up tentative plans to build an addition onto the church. The plans addressed the needs of the church in a well thought out way. The space was well assigned for to meet the needs of a growing congregation. They were going to build this expansion on the side of the church with a parking lot and 16 acres of wooded property. Well, the proposal was presented at the board meeting… questions were asked and everyone pretty much agreed. Then one man said, "I agree we need to build this, but I don’t agree with where it is to be built. I think it should be built on the other side of the church facing a large field and park. So, the argument began with the Session dividing into two camps… for the next few meetings the arguments would continue with no resolution. Both sides dug in their heels. To end the arguments, they decided to form a taskforce to refine the proposal and settle the dispute. The commission worked for eight months, and ended up being somewhat divided itself. Eventually, the Sr. Pastor left the church, partly because of the ego-driven stalemate. 13 years later the addition remains unbuilt. In fact, the church has since had more conflict and has shrunk in size.
Graham says that the reason he tells the story is not to be critical of the people because he thinks all the people involved were good, honest people. He says the problem was that the spiritual dimension was just too weak in that church and its board. No one ever considered stopping the discussion and saying, "What do you think God wants?" In fact, he says, once I led that board in an exercise designed to make the board members more aware of the need to follow what God wanted. One board member said to him,"I don’t like this at all. It is much easier to make a decision when you don’t have to figure out what God wants. I would rather decide what I want" (1)
If I hear Graham Standish right, if we continue to grow in becoming a spiritually guided congregation, we will hear a lot more people ask, not, "What do I want, but what does God want?"
Does that sound familiar to you? It should. On the night before Jesus was crucified he asked that very question. He said, God I want you to take this cup of suffering away from me… you can do it, I know… But, not what I want, but what you want."
That is the essence of a spiritually guided congregation if you ask me. It’s the beginning of a congregation of people alive in the spirit who are equipped to faithfully follow and joyfully serve.
There is a song I’ve learned that captures the essence of such a people and a congregation. We’ll be using this song this summer. I hope it will serve as a guide for us. I learned it from our Scottish friends in Iona. It reminds me of how blessed we are and what a blessing we can be when the Spirit guides us.
It’s goes like this:[ let’s close the sermon today with it]
(Refrain) The God of heaven is present on earth
In word and silence and sharing,
In face of doubt, in depth of faith,
In signs of love and caring.
1. Gentler than air, wilder than wind,
settling yet also deranging,
the spirit thrives in human lives
both changeless and yet changing.
2. Far from the church, outside the fold,
where prayer turns feeble and nervous,
the spirit wills society’s ills
be healed through humble service.
3. From country quiet to city riots,
in every human confusion,
the spirit pleads for all that leads
to freedom from illusion.
4. Truth after tears, trust after fears,
God making everyone wiser:
the Spirit springs through hopeless things
transforming what defies her.
(1) P.39, Becoming a Blessed church