June 23, 2013

June 23, 2013

June 23, 2013 – First Baptist Church Edmonton – Rev. Dr. Ryan Sato

Text: Jeremiah 29:1-10
Title: “Listening…Moved…Seeking”

Today we use these words from the GodStory, framed in the words of a letter from the prophet Jeremiah to God’s people…we use these words as a way to keep us “oriented” as a people on a journey of faith together….
For 120 years this church has sought to be a place of Christian witness and mission in the city…started as a home church by Louise Bellamy (yes, related to Anne Bellamy!) in 1893 and now 120 years later we are still standing…

But perhaps you might ask: “What are we standing for?” in these days? What is the present call and present story of FBC Edmonton?

Today seems to be an appropriate day to spend some time renewing/re-orienting ourselves with our mission and vision in the city….and I’ve put these under today’s sermon title:
Listening – Moved – Seeking.

If you grew up in “churchland” in the 80’s there was this growing trend to market your church…it was the CEO-era of the local church in North America and churches were busy thinking of ways to get people back to church…one of the big trends of the 80’s in church was a “seeker-sensitive” approach. We will make church so relevant, non-threatening and comfortable, that people will come to a place where they can’t help but be drawn to the church….

I can remember in this era as a 20 year old at FBC Lethbridge…hearing about Willow Creek Community Church in Chicago (Bill Hybels) and hearing how they didn’t sing hymns or chorus’s in their church, they sang contemporary pop songs like Bette Midler’s “The Rose” and people were streaming in by the thousands and getting converted to this new brand of Christianity.

Well, in the late 80’s, we here at FBC Edmonton were also re-thinking of what it meant to be a church in North America. Our numbers were fairly small, and the church was wondering if they ought to sell the building and re-new themselves or continue to “hunker down” and find a way to exist and serve the city.

In the midst of this time of discernment, FBC decided to call Rev. Gary Nelson to be the Senior Minister…and Gary served and thrived as the Senior Minister here from 1989-2000. It was in this era that our church celebrated it’s 100th year anniversary (see the banners, see the art in the chapel, some of you were here!) but it’s also in this era that Gary brought to us the vision/mission statement that we currently use today… “Seeking the Peace and Well-being of the City.”

[pause….this is Ryan’s historical perspective….can I get a witness….or a correction?]
And for a vision statement to be still going after 20 years is quite the feat!
And today, as we re-visit the scriptural & foundational text, I’d like to share more about how this vision statement plays out in our church for such a time as this…

How many of you knew that our mission statement came from Jeremiah 29?

And out of all the scriptures that Gary & Church Council could have chosen for a mission statement….why Jeremiah?

Well, the background info is that in the late 80’s, Gary wasn’t being influenced by Bill Hybels and Willow Creek Church in Chicago….Gary was being influenced by theologians like Leslie Newbiggin, Walter Brueggemann and Ray Bakke. These were the voices (prophetic voices I might add) that were saying/writing that the glory days of the church of the 50’s & 60’s was fading….Church is no longer at the centre of society…people don’t go to church like they used to….the church is moving to the margins (borderlands) of society!

And Gary looked around FBC Edmonton in the late 80’s and said….hmmm, it’s true!

So now what???
[pause: how do I know what Gary was thinking??? Gary has been a ministry colleague of mine since 1998…Gary taught me in one of my DMin courses on re-visioning the church for the 21st century….and he talked about this church as an example of a church that had re-visioned itself!]

So, Gary looked around FBC Edmonton and said….now what?

Should we sell the place, move to the suburbs and start singing Bette Midler tunes?

No….the prophetic voices of Newbiggin, Bakke and Brueggemann were saying…the church is in exile just like it was 2600 years ago when God’s people got yanked out of Jerusalem and were forced to work and toil in Babylonian captivity for ____ years.

And what were God’s people called to do while they were in exile?
Complain and wail about how they got ripped off…how they got the short end of the stick….woe is us….we’ve lost our place of worship, we’ve lost our place of livelihood, we’re no longer at the centre of society!! Waah, waah, boo hoo.

NO! Instead, God raised up prophets like Jeremiah who said:

Don’t sit around and have a pity-party, longing for the glory days of the past!!
v. 5: [look at all the exhortation words here]
– build
– live
– plant
– eat
– give & take

God said to his people…hunker down. Live into the place where I have placed you for such a time as this.

And that’s what FBC Edmonton did…we built on the heritage of our past, the faithful witness and devotion of generations of Christians who had served before us…

Gary told me that Tom Millman put it this way in that era: “As Christ laid down his life for the church, so we as the church are called to lay down our lives for the city.”

And so we read v. 7 which is echos Tom’s quote and is the basis of our present mission – –
“Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.”

The NRSV translates the Hebrew word “Shalom” as “welfare”….not sure if that works for you…I like to use the word “Shalom” which in the Hebrew means “peace.” But peace can have such narrow connotations…so I like Brueggemann’s expanded definition of shalom:

He describes shalom as the central vision of the Bible in which “all of creation is one, every creature is in community with every other, living in harmony and security toward the joy and well-being of every other creature.”
…the joy and well-being of every other….this is the broader image of “shalom”…

And thus my hunch is that the Brueggemann influence, influenced what we have on our church bulletin and letterheads today here at FBC:

“Seeking the peace & well-being of the City.”

And the hope and the promise for us as the people of God who continue in joining in on God’s good and restoring work in the world is that…

“As we week the peace and well-being of the city….we will find our own peace and well-being.”

And THAT is why we exist as a FBC Edmonton. This is our purpose and destiny and hope as a local church!

We’re not here to simply feel nice and safe as Christians who pat each other on the back and feel good about ourselves VS that big bad world that is “out there.”

Instead, we are called to embrace the place where we are planted…..AND to interact and get involved with the places that God calls us to day after day, week after week…
We are called to build, to live, to plant, to eat, to give & take…

To seek Shalom in this city….for in the discovery of shalom with our neighbour, our colleagues, our friends, our families, our enemies, the beggar we see on Jasper Avenue, the multi-millionaire CEO or hockey player that we meet in the streets of our city…. In helping them and the created world to discover shalom…. We find our own shalom….

I want to read the Brueggemann shalom definition again:
“ every creature…in community with every other, living in harmony and security toward the joy and well-being of every other creature.”

Now lest we think we can just end the vision there with lots of ambition and a desire to be “do gooders” (do-shalomers) in the world…I want us to also pause to reflect on how “being” relates to “doing”….

Yes, we can “do” the seeking of peace & well-being in our city…

But one of the ways that I have tried to help us reflect on & live out our mission as your Senior Ministry in the past 5 years is to gently remind us that we are also called to “listen to the heart of God” and most recently to be “moved by the story of God.”

Thus if I had a hope for how my pastoral influence might be helping to shape the mission of FBC in this current era, I hope that it will be the part of helping us to also pay attention to the journey inward as it relates to the journey outward…

Yes, we journey outward each day, each week, each year as a community of faith who are seeking the peace & well-being of the city…

But I am also urging us and calling us to the holy, slow and sometimes messy work of journeying inward…with Christ and with one another….

And that is why we are a community of faith together….gathering Sunday to Sunday in worship and spiritual formation…. We pray, we sing, we listen, we speak, we think, we reflect, we wrestle, we agree, we disagree, we worship, we confess, we forgive, we share in eating and drinking around the Lord’s table and tables in the fellowship hall…

And I hope that in the midst of all this holy and messy activity we are:

And thus being MOVED, animated, empowered by the STORY OF GOD.

Because I am convinced that our doing of good works…our seeking shalom, needs to be animated and enlivened by something bigger than us and our good intentions…

So, FBC Edmonton…let us do as the Apostle Paul and early church preachers exhort the church to do…pressing into promises like – –

“God who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Phil. 1:7)

Or the words of the letter/sermon to the Hebrews:

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses…let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.”

But let us not do this in our own strength, by leaning on our own understanding or clever ideas…

Let us do this holy work as we:

Listen to the heart of God.

Allowing ourselves to be moved by a living God who speaks to us through the Living Story of our Scriptures.

And the promise for ALL of us is that: we discover our own shalom in seeking the shalom of our city.

Carol Dyck and Daniel Coleman arranged it beautifully for us in the hymn
“We have seen God’s loving kindness”…

Where we read & sing:

Praise to God we sing the story of Yahweh’s faithful constancy
Gathering us all together here in this busy urban heart
Celebrants of life abundant, bearers of well-being and peace.

Lord in your mercy, hear our prayers and the songs of our hearts. Amen.