Sunday’s Scripture ~ Revelation 2:1-7.
Devotion Focus ~ Matthew 16:17-19.
South Shore’s opening sermon series for the New Year is “Vision 20/20 Church.” For the next seven weeks we will study The Seven Letters to Seven Churches found in Revelation. We will learn from their experiences and practices of church as we attend to the work of reframing and refining our experiences and practices of church.
Through this sermon series, the invitation before us – which is both important and timely! – is to
- Look at our practices of church through the eyes of Christ
- Process what we observe through the mind of Christ, so that
- We will see the vision God is revealing for our church.
Each week of our “Vision 20/20 Church” Series, I will share a devotion focus that lifts up both a Scripture text and a learning from The United Methodist Book of Discipline, which is our book of church governance and order. This book organizes and guides the service we provide as the people called Methodist in the Body of Christ.
In these verses from Matthew 16, Jesus tells Peter that on his shoulders, his name, his legacy, Christ’s church will be built. Wow! What a tall order. And Jesus shares this news with Peter at Caesarea Philippi, which still stands today, as one of the most monolithic sites of pagan worship in the world. Before this towering rock face – complete with idols and statues to foreign gods and even what those in Biblical Israel considered the very mouth of the underworld – Peter confesses Jesus as the Christ – not any of the present idols, but Jesus! – and Jesus confesses Peter as the bedrock of the church – the church which continues in and through us today.
This is one of Peter’s shining moments…but we know that not all his moments were shining. Peter walked with Jesus; he also walked away from Jesus. Peter defended Jesus; he also denied Jesus. Peter pledged his love and fidelity to Jesus and his mission; still, there were moments where his heart, spirit, and faithfulness waivered. Even so, on him and others like him, the church was and is built.
I take courage from the witness of Peter. The church is not made up of perfect people. Neither does the church demand perfection. The church welcomes people that share a desire to be a new creation, to be students and followers of Jesus – which is the definition of a disciple! By being a new creation, by following the teachings of Jesus, by pursuing the heart of his mission in the world, we are transformed. And when we are transformed, we believe that the world is transformed.
God told the Apostle Paul that God’s power is made perfect through weakness (II Cor 12:9a). Our imperfections could definitely be understood as weakness; they can also be understood as a way for God’s power to be displayed through us. When we overcome a weakness, surpass a shortcoming, and especially celebrate forgiveness of sin, let us first and foremost point to and give glory to God for the work God has done and is doing in us, through us, and because of us. This is why Paul said, “So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong” (II Cor 12:9b-10). Paul shares this good word in the context of the church at Corinth, which Scripture tells us was made up of a people far from perfect. And yet they gathered together in order to learn and to become more Christ-like. From this and other New Testament witnesses The United Methodist Church draws our learning that the “local church [and extension ministries of the local church] are the most significant arenas through which disciple-making occurs” (¶120 BOD 2016). It is in the local church that strength is made perfect in weakness and the imperfect is drawn towards perfection through the power of God in Jesus Christ.
At South Shore UMC we worship. We fellowship. We disciple. And I truly believe that each of these, our practices, will be further strengthened in their presence and witness when we align them in response to fulfilling a need in the Kingdom:
- When we align them in response to bridging a gap in our community
- When we align them in response to something that breaks God’s heart breaking our own hearts.
I am hopeful for this work of visioning for South Shore UMC in 2020. It will be the result of our church family praying, listening, serving, and seeing together. And we can do this work. Everything we need to do this work we already have. And best of all, friends, God is with us.
God is with us. Emmanuel.
Prayer: “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you. Allelu, alleluia!”* Amen.
*“Seek Ye First,” The United Methodist Hymnal 405.