The Holy Gospel according to John.
Jesus answered him, “Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. Whoever does not love me does not keep my words, and the word that you hear is not mine but is from the Father who sent me.”
“I have said these things to you while I am still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything and remind you of all that I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid. You heard me say to you, ‘I am going away, and I am coming to you.’ If you loved me, you would rejoice that I am going to the Father, because the Father is greater than I. And now I have told you this before it occurs, so that when it does occur you may believe.
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts, be acceptable in your sight O Lord, our strength & our redeemer (Psalm 19:14)
Many years ago while on internship in MI I was driving to Synod Assembly, I happened to glance off the highway to see a sign that would have a major impact on my life and future. While I wouldn’t necessarily call it a direct sign from God, it at least falls into the “big heavenly hint” category. Painted in big bold lettering on a billboard on the side of the road by a church building were these words: “Where there is no vision the people perish.” You may recognize this statement as the first part of Proverbs 29:18.
For some reason, that sign by the otherwise nondescript church and the way it appeared in my line of “vision” on the horizon stuck with me and even later influenced my vocational path.
No vision, prepare to perish … have vision, prepare for abundant life. There’s plenty to ponder in that comparison.
Speaking of vision let’s take a look at our Acts text for today.
Let’s talk about Lydia. A wealthy woman most likely, a seller of purple, a businesswoman who worked with the most powerful people in Rome. She doesn’t get baptized alone. Lydia is baptized with her “household”. She then invites Paul and his band of merry apostles to come and stay with her. As a wealthy businesswoman it is unlikely Lydia herself was going to carry bathwater, prepare food, and do laundry herself. Who was? Our most supported theory is that Lydia was a slave owner and the household members who were baptized contained servants and slaves given minimal choice in their own baptism.
As justice oriented people who likely fall under some level of progressive banner, we can succumb to the temptation of sanitizing our heroes or removing complicated aspects of their story. The beauty of Moses the murderer, David the lustful, Peter the betrayer, and Lydia the slave owner is that in their flawed and complicated histories, the true miracle of God’s grace is revealed in God’s ‘vision’ for these people. Where would most of us be if God could only work through perfect people to build the church?
Through embracing our own flaws and challenges, we can also strengthen the empathy and compassion the Lord’s Prayer calls us to.
As I said last week, the church is not a place to be loved…it’s a place to learn to love. And as we continue to learn to love one another as God does there are times we fall short. People get hurt by other people’s actions and decisions. I can’t speak for all of you, but when I’m the person doing the hurting I try to learn from that so it doesn’t happen again. Well I also believe the Synod is the same way.
Just as I find people in any church who has been hurt by the leadership or another member, I can also find a Synod that has hurt people or congregations by what they say and decide. Why you ask? Because we are all flawed human beings that are a part of these organizations. We go on what we know and have experienced and some times we’ve made the wrong decisions, but there has been a lot of right, loving, caring decisions in that history too. God knows there are flawed people in GSLC and the SOS, but God continues to do good things.
SOS is a great resource for us and the greater Church. They try different ministries and programs and other Synods may benefit from our example. Just as our Synod, and therefore us, benefit from things going on in other Synods. That’s what a relationship is we learn from each other…we learn from the mistakes and we learn from the successes.
We will be asking you today to go above and beyond your giving to GSLC and use the extra to benefit the Synod in this initiative to directly benefit congregations in our territory. Some of you may be asking yourselves, well what about our Synod Benevolence that we give to the Synod…what does that do? That’s a good question. It’s no different then your offering here at GSLC. Our benevolence goes to support our Synod Staff, the building, and established ministries that are currently happening.
Like our churches, if the budget is met then we have money to pay for the ministries we are already doing, the staff salaries, the utilities, any building and grounds projects we have planned, and all the other normal expenditures we expect during a fiscal year.
But the Thrive! Campaign is part of the new vision of the Synod to fund specific needs that are not going to be met by the Synod Budget. These are ministries that have been specifically identified as needed for our Synod, determined by conversations with churches in the SOS, to carry out God’s call more effectively. A lot of prayer, discussions, and I’m sure sweat and tears have been spilled to come up with this Campaign and now we have an opportunity to be a part of this vision.
Originally this Campaign was to run from 2019-2021, but was extended thru 22 because of the pandemic. The Covid-19 pandemic presented incredible challenges for church leaders, congregations, and our Synod. We all had to learn new skills, new ways of doing worship, and new ways to connect with people. The good news is God’s grace in Christ sustained us and the Holy Spirit provided the power we needed to adapt and continue to thrive.
In this week’s lesson from Acts, Luke reports Paul’s dream as a vision of divine importance, a calling to action and mission to which Paul and his cohort immediately respond. This story once again pulled my mind back to that sign and how it called me to a vision for ministry. It reminded me that God still calls us to dream, to listen for divine guidance, and to go boldly to proclaim the gospel and love and serve our neighbors.
Sometimes I wonder whether we allow our rational minds to supersede the possibility of divine leading. Vision, when it comes to the Creator of the Universe, is less about a program or sales pitch and more about God’s plan and will for us, individually and as the Body of Christ. We go through periodic visioning processes in our faith communities (like we are at GSLC right now) where we pray, think, and dream about our mission and vision in a particular context. This is a very good thing as long as we lead such discernment with prayer and as long as we are willing to let God guide us, even when it takes us far outside of our comfort zones and into difficult and new places.
Human nature and much about the human condition remains unchanged. People need to hear the good news of Jesus and come into contact with the life-saving, life-changing grace of God. Discipleship is not a spectator sport. Who is that “man from Macedonia” in your dreams? Who or what is calling you to faithful action and holy response to this Campaign?
Imagine the courage, the faith, and the audacity it took for Paul and his companions to set out on their mission journey on the strength of only a vision, a dream, and belief in a word from God. Now think about what they accomplished with the spread of the gospel to a hungry world. What will it take for us to listen for God’s vision for us and for GSLC?
Our Synod, through the Thrive! Campaign, is giving us an opportunity to respond to a vision. A vision to look outside the Synod’s Annual Budget and to look at ways to fund specific ministries because they have been identified as important. Whether it is a sign on the side of a billboard or a vision in the night, I pray that we may be as strongly convinced as Paul that God is still speaking, and that we have important work to do. Listen, do you hear it?