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January 21, 2018

“So it is With Christ. So it isn’t Without Him.” 1 Corinthians 12:4-18 

Today we begin a two week focus on our current church mission statement- “We are a faith community, centered in Christ, doing justice, loving kindness, and walking humbly with God.” Mission statements are meant to guide a community- to give it direction and purpose. How does this statement guide us, give us direction and purpose? Let’s begin by looking at the first part- “We are a faith community, centered in Christ.” 

 

We are a community of faith- faith in God. This sets us apart from other non-profit organizations who work to better the world in which we live. For example, I am a member of Rotary International. Rotary’s motto is: “Service Above Self.” Their Mission Statement:  “to provide service to others, promote integrity, and advance world understanding, goodwill, and peace through its fellowship of business, professional, and community leaders.” Rotary is not a community of faith. It is a community of business professionals, community leaders and retirees, who unify around the motto and mission statement of the club to do good deeds in the world. That is all that unifies us as Rotarians But our church mission statement sets us apart as something different. We are unified, united as people who have faith in God. 

What does it mean to have faith? Hebrews 11:1 says, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” What do we hope for in faith? We hope for God to be with us in our daily struggles. We hope for God to be active in the world. We hope for answers to our prayers. That hope, that faith gives us an assurance that there is purpose, meaning in our lives and connection to a loving Creator. What about the conviction of things not seen? To have conviction for something is “to have a fixed or strong belief in it.” American Heritage Dictionary). So, even though we have not seen Christ, we have a conviction he was, is and will be. Even though we have not seen the cross, the empty tomb, we have conviction that he died for us and rose again. Even though we have not seen heaven, we have conviction that there is indeed a place for us after this, and that Christ has gone to prepare the way, destroying death forever. That kind of faith is what sets the church apart from a service organization. That kind of faith is what gets us out from behind these church doors and out into the world, bringing hope, sharing God’s love and compassion with others. 

The next section of the mission statement says we are “Centered in Christ.” What does that mean? Today’s passage from Paul gives us an example of what a community of faith, centered in Christ is like. It is like a body, united in Christ. Paul speaks of this body having several different parts all working together for Christ. Verse 12 says, “So it is with Christ.” I believe Paul here is saying the body is, that is exists BECAUSE of Christ. Christ is central to who we are as a body of people of faith. Paul even says in Colossians 1:18 that “Christ is the head of the body, the church.” 

Each part of the body is important, so that we can develop more and more through Christ’s spirit and teachings. That happens only when Christ is central to us in worship, in fellowship and in our Bible studies and meetings.  

I’ll give you a body analogy. 17 years ago I went to my 20th high school reunion for the graduating class of 1980 at Vallejo Senior High school. It was great to see a number of old friends and catch up with people I hadn’t seen for decades. There was one girl in particular I hoped I would see again, named Terry. We dated a couple of times and then I stopped being interested in her, and I pretty much pretended like she didn’t exist. Years later I felt bad about how I treated Terry, and I hoped I could apologize to her if she came to the reunion. Fortunately she was there and I expressed my regret over how things ended and told her I was truly sorry for how I had treated her. She accepted my apology and we had a nice talk at the reunion. 

Fast forward to 2010, and I see a post of another high school friend on Facebook, and she is also friends with Terry. Well she posts a picture of an incredibly fit Terry, who is now a fitness expert and body builder! She wasn’t that at all at the reunion, but apparently felt led to get herself into great shape. Terry focuses on being a strong body, on keeping all of her muscles defined through consistent working out. I wish I was like Terry when it comes to working out, but I am inconsistent, especially after having the flu for the last week. 

As a body of Christ, we are called to be a strong, well developed body. We are called to develop each muscle each part like a body builder through working out our faith consistently. How? By following Christ’s ways, by studying his teachings and doing his works in our church, our community and our world. 

We study Christ’s teachings in worship, and in our church Bible studies. Through time in scripture we learn Christ’s ways to treat others as we want to be treated, to forgive as we have been forgiven, to love as we have been loved. Theologian David Augsburger said, “Seek to live with such lucidity that the clarity of your motives become a lens which projects the image of Christ upon the screens of others’ lives.” When the clarity of our church’s motives are led by Christ, then we project that image of Christ to others. So are we a well-developed body of Christ? It all depends upon our workout routine. 

This brings us to the 2nd part of the Mission statement- to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God. This section is a direct quote from Micah 6:8, a real summation statement on what faith is all about from the Hebrew Scriptures. It is in effect a good workout routine for Christ’s body. What does God require of our body of Christ here at 1st Pres. Ashland? These three things: to do justice, love kindness or mercy and to walk humbly with God. 

I preached on this passage when I first came to the church back in February of last year. First God requires us to do justice. The word is Mispat-Mishpat in Hebrew, and means to uphold what is right according to God’s will in one’s life.  To be just is defined in the American Heritage dictionary as to be “honorable and fair in your dealings and actions”. St. Ambrose wrote, The rule of justice is plain- Namely that a good person ought not to swerve from the truth, not to inflict any unjust loss on anyone, nor to act in any way deceitfully or fraudulently.” Justice for others looks to be a hot topic in America for the next few years. How will we as Christians speak out for justice to the immigrants who come to our shores? Deuteronomy 10:17-19 says, “For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God who is not partial and takes no bribe, who executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and who loves the strangers, providing them food and clothing. You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” How then shall we work for justice for the Syrian refugees fleeing war and terror? How will we speak out for the DACA children? How shall we speak and act out against executive orders that are in opposition to God’s mishpat- deporting fathers who have lived in this country for more than 30 years and separating them from their children?? I know some of you did cry out for justice yesterday on the streets in Medford. Well done! I wish I could’ve joined you. 

This second requirement in our mission statement is tied a bit to the first, although our statement says we are to love kindness, the word in Hebrew really translates better as “mercy.” 14th century mystic and the patron saint of Italy St Catherine of Sienna said, “The pearl of justice is to be found in the heart of mercy.” Notice we aren’t just required to do mercy, or to put up with mercy. We are required to LOVE mercy.  What does it mean for us to love mercy? Mercy is defined as “Compassionate treatment of an enemy, offender, etc./A disposition to be kind and forgiving.”  Our vision statement, which I’ll be focusing upon in a couple of weeks expresses mercy so well-“Open minds, open hands, open hearts, open table.” When we are open to others, we accept them with God’s love and mercy. And Jesus reminds us in Matthew 5:7, “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.” In other words, if you are merciful to others, they in turn shall be merciful to you. 

Finally, at the end of our mission statement, God requires us to be humble, to have humility, and to walk with God in that humility. Humility is defined in the dictionary as, “Showing awareness of one’s shortcomings; not proud; meek.”(American Heritage Dictionary) God wants us to place others before ourselves, and to do so in humble fashion.  

So, by following these three things, the body of Christ here will have a good workout regimen and be in great shape. You’ll see the results of how this mission statement has guided us in the 2017 Annual Report. I would say this body of Christ is in really good, muscle bound shape-- In reflecting our life together and love for one another in worship, caring for each other through Deacons, through our book study clubs and Presbyterian Women;  in sending members of our church body to Jordan, Jamaica and Bangladesh; in serving the least of these through our monthly community dinners; in sheltering the houseless through our Monday night shelter; in helping almost 70 individuals or families last year with rent, utilities, food and transportation through our deacon’s fund; in our mission giving  locally to the Ashland Community Resource Center, OHRA, Peace House, the Food Bank, the Maslow Project and the Rogue Valley Youth Ensemble and globally to  Cascades presbytery and synod mission projects, the Syrian American Medical Association, Smiles, the Congo relief fund, healthy women healthy families and to disaster relief in places like Houston, Florida and Northern California. 

 

 

For all of these ways in which we have worked out this body of Christ over the past year we give thanks to God and give glory to Christ Jesus. For this body IS, it exists only with Christ as our core. So it is with Christ. So it isn’t without him. May this mission statement continue to guide this body as we minister to others locally and globally in the coming year using the various gifts we have been given- We who are a faith community, centered in Christ, doing justice, loving kindness, and walking humbly with God. Alleluia! Amen. 

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