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God's People

“GOD’S PEOPLE”

-a sermon preached by Terry McGinley 10-21-2018

(Jeremiah 31:31-34 and Acts 2:44-47)

 

 

     Businesses, organizations and churches, including ours, have a mission statement.  Shouldn’t all churches have the same mission statement?  Well, I suppose if all churches were exactly alike, then one mission statement would suit everyone.  But all churches are not alike…just like all donut shops and plumbers and car dealerships aren’t alike.  We’re going to dig a little deeper into our church’s mission statement today and in the next two weeks because there is some neat stuff in there.  You can find our mission statement on our website.  It’s also printed in our monthly newsletter.  And this morning, it’s in the worship service.

     There are a couple of things that make for a good mission statement.  First…it should be concise.  A good example of this would be the Casper Mattress Company.  You may have seen their commercial on TV…it comes rolled up in a box!  Their mission statement?  It’s four words:  Great sleep, made simple.  Hard to get more concise than that.  Concise is important so that an organization’s mission statement is easy to remember.  A less than favorable mission statement well…isn’t concise at all.  The Avon Company’s mission statement is almost 250 words long.  Try memorizing that!

     A mission statement should also say what you do.  I know this sounds like the most basic of ideas but not every company understands this.  Consider this acceptable example from Google:  To organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.  That sounds like exactly what they do.  Amazon has a good one too:  To be Earth’s most customer-centric company where people can find and discover anything they want to buy online.  But there are bad ones too.  See if you can figure out what company’s mission statement this is:  Our mission is to operate the best specialty retail business in America, regardless of the product we sell.  If you guessed Barnes and Noble, who sells mostly books, you are a genius!

     The beauty of a mission statement is that it helps any organization, even a church, measure its activities against what the organization says it does.  As a new product or project is suggested, leadership asks themselves, “Does this fit our mission?”  If it does…full speed ahead!  We’ll all have the opportunity to say our mission statement during the worship service this morning.  And over the next three weeks, we will explore specific areas.  Today’s section is “a caring community of God’s people.”  Next Sunday, it will be “living by Christ’s teachings and reaching out to others to share the love of God.”  And we’ll close by pulling apart “celebrating the good news of Jesus Christ.”

     We heard passages from both the Old and New Testaments this morning about communities.  That means God’s people have been around for a long time…even longer than the 160 plus years this congregation has!  In all that time, the term “God’s people” has come to mean more than one thing and that’s okay.  In this morning’s scripture readings, we have examples of two ways we can be called God’s people.  One of those ways is by belonging to the largest group possible of those who claim God as creator, redeemer, and sustainer.  That would be all of God’s people…and I mean all!  This is what Jeremiah was talking about.  Now, admittedly, Jeremiah had a tough job.  I mean, Israel has been invaded by the Babylonian army.  Everything was ruined.  The temple was in pieces.  Many of the people have been taken off to live in Babylon.  Jeremiah did his best to warn everyone…tried to get them to change their strategy.

     The approach the Jewish leaders decided on, in the face of a possible attack by a powerful neighbor, was to protect their future by forming contracts with other countries for mutual aid instead of placing their faith in God.  When Babylon first came to Israel, they were not interested in attacking the country.  They were looking for an extortion payment to help sustain their own kingdom.  The offer was something like, “If you pay us an annual amount of money, we won’t destroy your country.”  Israel had a little time to think it over.  When the Babylonians returned for their money, Israel self-assuredly told them, “We’re God’s chosen people.  We don’t owe nothing to nobody!”  Hence…the hullabaloo!  Babylon had little trouble overpowering the army of Israel.  Jeremiah wasn’t taken to Babylon though.  He stayed in Israel and shifted his message from “bad things are going to happen around here” to one of hope, telling his people that God was still around and that God would bring those now in exile home.

     Both the people who had been carted off to Babylon and those who had stayed behind were confused by recent events.  Some of them couldn’t even accept that such a thing had happened.  Others thought that being God’s chosen people was unconditional.  They didn’t understand why God had let this happen to them.  Furthermore, it begged the question, “Does this mean we aren’t the chosen people?”

     One of the ways that Jeremiah tried to comfort his people and bring them a renewed sense of hope lies in the passage we heard this morning.  Jeremiah brings the people good news about a new covenant that God has proposed.  A covenant, in Old Testament times, was not a contract negotiated by both parties and entered into willingly.  It was much more unilateral.  The more powerful of the two groups, in this case God, set the terms for both participants in the covenant.  The weaker group, the chosen people, did not need to consent to the terms.  This is why God speaks as God does in this passage.  “I will put my law in them.  I will write it on their hearts.  I will be their God.  They will be my people.” That’s the covenant we share with God to this very day.  God will be our God and we will be God’s people…all of God’s people.  When God proposed this covenant, it changed the way that the creator and the creation interacted.  Laws no longer needed to be posted on the wall or carried around in the Ark of the Covenant.  Laws would instead be instilled into the people’s hearts, as part of their nature.  In the same way today, as we remember this story and continue to build our own connection to God, we can move from commandment to conversation, from rules to relationship.  It is a much more connected way for God and God’s people to work together.

     But there’s another way to describe ourselves as God’s people.  It’s a much smaller group even though we’re still a part of all God’s people and we’re still a part of God’s people that live in John Knox Presbytery.  In this smaller group, we have the unique opportunity to be God’s people right here in Pardeeville.  The story we heard from the Book of Acts this morning is closer to what we think of as a church today.  It tells of ways these early followers acted like a community of faith…how they pooled their resources in order to be able to help anyone in their community who was in need.

     This early group of followers devoted themselves to four things:  the teaching of the apostles, the members of their own community, breaking bread together, and prayer.  You can’t tell me that doesn’t sound like a church!  The Bible is central to any community of faith.  It’s how we understand our heritage.  It’s the account of failure and redemption in the Old Testament.  It’s a chronicle of what Jesus did and the example he set for us to follow.  It’s also that weird part in the Book of Revelation but most people don’t read that far anyway!  A community of faith also takes care of each other.  The early Christians took it to an extreme but we do the same thing today, don’t we?  We share each other’s ups and downs.  We don’t just gather on Sunday mornings.  We cultivate a relationship with each other and we seek to include everyone.  It’s a special level of hospitality that we have for one another. 

     That leads us to the next activity that the people of the early church shared.  They broke bread together.  This meant two things in the early church.  It meant sharing meals together and it meant celebrating the sacrament of Holy Communion as a community.  In the very same way, we continue to do both today.  Finally…prayer.  Those early Christians prayed for each other.  Our community of faith prays for each other.  We share prayer concerns during Sunday worship but it doesn’t end there.  We continue to remember the needs of others in our community of faith throughout the week…those who are travelling…those who are struggling…and those who are celebrating.

     The chosen people of Jeremiah’s time failed to realize what it means to be God’s people.  They treated the title as a privilege rather than a responsibility.  That attitude caused big problems!  So we’ve learned that a community of faith should act in ways that reflect the laws that God has written on our own hearts.  But there’s one other thing about being God’s people and including those words in our church’s mission statement.  As God’s people, gathered here on Sunday mornings, we understand that this is where it all begins.  So we place the words “God’s people” early in our mission statement because here is where our faith is nurtured, regardless of our age.  Here is where we learn about God…where we discover how Jesus treated people…how a small group of people started something that’s gone on for two thousand years…and how we fit into that continuing narrative.  We begin by caring for our own, just as those early Christians did. 

     We are ultimately able to reach out to our community and far beyond because of our experiences when we’re here.  It’s the guidance and understanding we get from worshipping together, sharing meals together, and praying together that sends us out to fulfill the rest of our mission statement.  More on that next week.  For now though, for all that God has done for us and through us…thanks be to God!

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