Flying Forward Reaching Back

Author’s note:  This sermon was preached with theme and content  specifically crafted for a worshiping community going through a pastoral and missional transition.  As a guest preacher, one can step into such situations and offer insights peculiar to the journey being faced.  Our prayers go out to you as you move into this time of discernment.

Scripture: Luke 15:1-10

Let us pray:

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be like seeds sown in fertile ground. O Holy Spirit, nurture us to grow into who you want us to become. Amen.

Today begins Christian Education Week for the Presbyterian Church, USA. What better way to begin the week than with a celebration of Christian Education? Please note there are directions for a Group Lectio Divina exercise included on a bulletin insert for your Christian Education toolbox. Lectio Divina is a good exercise to do as a devotion before important meetings and deliberations, today’s Session meeting after church would be an example.

Flying forward, reaching back; 8 years ago, the Association of Presbyterian Church Educators used this concept as the central theme for their annual national convention. The African word from which it came is Sankofa. Your congregation is in the unique position to be able to practice some intentional Sankofa. To elaborate on the meaning, it is the art of moving in a forward direction while recognizing and claiming the past.

As you fly forward into your next chapter together, look backwards at where you have been, whom you have welcomed with the hospitality of Christ, and how you have expressed your mission to the community and the world around you. Recognizing both who you are, and why and how you came to be will help you become stronger and give you the foundation for growing into who you will become.

As with all transitions, there may be some fear and trembling about change; there usually is. There may be a sense of loss. There may also be a sense of anticipation for new hopes and dreams. I invite you to embrace both. Amidst the fragility of change, there are always opportunities for new ways to witness to Jesus Christ as Lord.

I’d like to encourage you to practice a little bit of Sankofa with me right now. First, let us reach back and remind ourselves who we are as Christians. You undoubtedly know your own story far better than anyone else. Perhaps you were once lost, and someone led you to think about your life in such a way that you became interested in church. Perhaps you are currently searching for something you can grasp. Here, in the community of faith, know that you are welcome, and you have been found. Being Christian, our goal is to live out the reign of God, embodying Jesus Christ as much as we can, following in his ways, and teaching others find their way in Christ.

Second, for those of you who have a history here, reach back and remember who you were as Mt. Scott Park Presbyterian Church. Then think about the time just past as you claimed a new name, Sanctuary Presbyterian Church. As a community of faith, do you see any long-term patterns? Is there something from your earliest memories, or maybe something handed down from your founders that has remained true to who you are all along? What motivates you today? What are your actions in the world that proclaim the reign of God? Have you identified your essential core and claimed it as your own?

Third, as a follower of Christ, you are called to be connected to God and to one another. You are called by God to build a community of believers, covenantal in nature, and intentional in practice. In community, you worship together, study scripture together, pray together, fellowship together, witness together, and reflect on your community’s experiences in light of God’s Word. As Christ-followers, you are also called to go and make disciples, even as you deepen your own relationship with God. These disciplines of Christian Education are designed to help you grow in your journey of faith, both individually and corporately. Hold those thoughts in mind for a moment.

In today’s scripture lesson from Luke chapter 15, two stories of lost and found remind us exactly what it is like to have lost something near and dear to us…what Jesus is doing with these two stories, besides setting us up for the story of the Prodigal – or the Father and Two Sons, if you want my name for it, is subtly teasing out his real reason for setting his face toward Jerusalem back in chapter 9…and also subtly reminding the teachers of the law what they should be about. By extension, we are also reminded what we are to be about.

It isn’t so much what they, and by extension, we have lost and are searching for, but what God is searching for. In all three stories: the lost coin, the lost sheep, and the lost sons, we can, with the right lens, find our own selves. But was it God who lost us? Or, was it we who became lost as we wandered far from God?

Let me give you an example some of you may relate to. I have three small children, the youngest just shy of her second birthday. We were at the school ice cream social Thursday evening this past week; our first social function at the school where my oldest is now a Kindergartener. My wife, who is a pediatrician, left me a message just as we were finishing our ice creams and setting out to play on the play ground equipment. She had just gotten home, and the hospital was calling her to come back in to check on a fragile newborn. I bet you can guess what happened next.

I looked up from my phone to let the children know Mommy wasn’t going to make it, and, you guessed it, my toddler had wandered off out of my sight. My kindergartener was zooming around on his younger sister’s bicycle; she was hanging from the monkey bars, but my toddler was just…gone. Can you imagine what that felt like? For some of you, that memory may be all too vivid.

Tongue-in-cheek, I have to wonder: is that what it is like for God whenever one of us “strays out of sight,” so-to-speak? No matter our physical age, I have to wonder, are we like toddlers sometimes; intent on our own exploration, on experiencing life and following our bliss until – all of a sudden we followed it too far from our loving parent for us to realize it?

Now return with me to our process of Sankofa. We’ve reached back. Are you ready to fly forward? Then now is the time in which to focus on the unique gifts you have in service to one another, the community, and the world. Now is the time to identify, to commit, and to expand your gifts – including financial ones so you will adequately take care of the pastor you call to serve with you in your ministry together. Now is your defining moment to determine how you will best act out the love of God in your next chapters together.

In all of this, the good news of Jesus Christ is this: You are not alone. The Apostle Paul reminds us that God is for us and not against us. You are a member in a whole family of churches all with the same goal in mind: to make known the love of God and the reign of Christ on earth, sharing in the fellowship of the Holy Spirit together.

As your transitional process unfolds, you will discover what kind of leadership you need to take upon your own shoulders. When you have found the pastor that best fits this congregation for your next chapter of faith and witness in the world, you will find that together, in partnership, with a solid ministry team, you can carry out the ongoing and future mission of this community of faith. All that remains is for you to go ahead, spread your wings and fly.

Let us pray:

May all glory be to the One who lived, died, and rose again for us, even Him who is the Christ. Amen? May it be so.


About Scottrick

Parent ~ Pastor ~ Poet ~ Author
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