Take Hold: The Life that Really is Life - Rev. Michael F. Bailey

Take Hold: The Life that Really is Life
Acts 1:6-8, I Timothy 6:19
Rev. Michael F. Bailey
October 30, 2016

Acts 1:6-8: 6 So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” 7 He replied, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

I Timothy 6:19: 19 thus storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of the life that really is life.

Picture this: a famous, incredibly wealthy, successful businessman runs for president. He’s a straight-shooter, deviating from the norms of political correctness and “telling it like it is.” He attracts voters from the Republican, Independent and Democratic camp. Some, however, think his VP nominee might actually be a better candidate than he is, in terms of qualification.

No, it’s not the Donald. It’s Ross Perot and the VP candidate is war hero Admiral Stockdale in 1992. Admiral Stockdale was the highest level officer ever to be a POW in Vietnam. He served our country with great honor in many capacities. He died in 2005 and his memory deserves our respect and honor. But, in 1992, when he was running for VP as an Independent, he had a defining moment. Note that in 1992 the largest population cohort was the baby boomers, and the youngest baby boomer at the time was 26. The boomers were raised on the mantra of never trusting anyone over the age of 30. So, age became an issue in this campaign. In those days, at the age of only 69, Admiral Stockdale was considered past his prime. (The baby boomers have since changed their tune according to an article I read last week; age hasn’t been raised as an issue even with our candidates now aged 69 and 70). The defining moment in 1992 came when, in a nationally televised VP debate, Admiral Stockade attempted to introduce himself to a broader public not used to a third party candidate, asked the questions:

“Who am I? Why am I here?” The broad, disrespectful at many levels, interpretation in the press was as if the Admiral’s rhetorical questions were rooted in cognition or memory issues! That kind of personal attack was wrong then and its wrong now and sadly, such disrespect seems to only have worsened with the passing of time. I hope we, as Christians, admonished to pray for our leaders, will follow the Bible and pray for all our leaders regardless of what political camp we fall in. 

Really though, Admiral Stockdale’s questions are wonderful questions to ponder for both individuals and congregations of Christians: who am I and why am I here and who are we as a congregation and why are we here? And the answer has all to do with our personal and corporate Christian vision. Many have described Christian vision as: God’s desired outcome or future. Personally, the Christian vision for our lives is: fulfilling God’s desire that is discovered in who we are in God’s eyes - we are God’s beloved, forgiven and sent-into-mission children. 

Congregationally, discovering who we are is: knowing we are the Body of Christ in our community and acting as such. How this affects us in a beautiful way! How knowing who we are and why we are here makes a difference. Someone put it this way: the strongest quality a congregation can exhibit in its community is to love well-within and beyond the walls of the church.

Our stewardship theme passage from I Timothy 6 expresses in so many ways “why we are here as individuals?” Paul gives us a veritable formula for life as God would have us live it: do not to be arrogant nor put your hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, put your hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment…do good, be rich in good deeds, be generous and willing to share. In this way you will lay up treasure for yourselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that you take hold of the life that is truly life.” You see, God’s desired future, God’s dream, God’s vision for you is that you would be humble, trust God instead of money, do good, be rich in doing good deeds, be generous and sharing so that you’ll have a true lasting treasure in heaven. Living like this is taking hold of life that is at it’s best, not mere existence. Such is God’s vision for his beloved children. 

But we’re not designed to go through this thing called life alone. We are to “do life” congregated together as Christians. Along side of asking, “who am I and why am I here” as individuals, we need to ask the same thing for Christ Church, “who are we and why are we here?”

The Bible is clear about our corporate identity. Nearly two dozen verses tell us that we are the Body of Christ: we are his voice for justice and words of love, his arms for embracing, his feet for the journey with others, his eyes to see those often overlooked. Our lesson from Acts lays the foundation for the “why” question: just like that “first” congregation Jesus sent forth in acts, so we are sent forth to transform our city, region and world into God’s Kingdom of God’s will being done on earth as it is in heaven. 

Last week we did the performance reviews of the clergy. Our SPRC chair Larry Cooper captured notes from my review. As the SPRC met, I was startled when he read back to me a quote I’d given. I didn’t know he was taking such exact notes! I was talking to Larry about my deep passion, my desire, my spirit-led view of Christ Church and what we can do if we commit deeply and totally to Jesus; ourselves, our time talent and yes our treasure. I said to Larry, “I have a fire burning in my bones for Christ Church to deeply impact the world, outside our walls, in deep, permanent ways.” I was quoting Jeremiah, 20:9, who said, “If I say, ‘I will not mention the Lord or speak anymore in his name, then within me there is something like a burning fire shut up in my bones and I am weary with holding it in and I cannot.” You see, I’m in a blessed position that allows me to see the full picture of Christ Church – her capabilities, potential, calling and giftedness. I truly believe that as we answer the question, “who are we and why are we here?” God has some dreams for what we are called to be about in Greensboro, the region, and the world. More, my firm belief is that the vision of any local church is birthed around any and every place the heart of God breaks. And there are plenty of those situations and places in our city, nation and world. 

And we can do it. We might often sell ourselves short. We might hear the truth that we are having challenges with giving this year; we might reflect on the fact that I’d estimate in the last five years we’ve had some 200-plus “every Sunday traditionalist folks” who are no longer able to be with us due to health, relocation or death. We might appraise who we are and go to a place of despair and fear. And we’d be right to do so, if we were a human-only institution. But we’re not. We’re the living, breathing, Body of Jesus Christ. This church isn’t our idea and ours; this church is God’s idea and belongs to God. And God has all the resources here at Christ Church to shape this city after the Kingdom of God. The only problem is that God’s resources are in your hands and mine and God gives free will. It’s up to us. Be we can do it. 

I’m a fan of Vivian Howard and her PBS show about her restaurant in Kinston, the Chef and the Farmer. The show, A Chef’s Life has a theme song by the Avett Brothers, who started their musical career influenced by their UMC clergy grand dad in Concord. They have a verse in their song, “Will You Return” that says, “I wish you’d see yourself as beautiful as I see you. Why can’t you see yourself as beautiful as I see you?” I really think that would be God’s song to each of us and to Christ Church. I really believe that God sees us in our full potential individually and as a great church. Maybe if we could adopt God’s view we couldn’t be held back from giving in such a way that we’d shape this city. 

You see, something’s happening in Christianity and I believe also at and through Christ Church. Phyllis Tickle a wonderful Episcopal theologian who recently died, maintained something I think is really coming true. She said that, “every five hundred years or so the Church has a Rummage Sale. Every five hundred years there is a critical change or shift in history that necessitates the Church going through its “stuff” and reevaluating what we’re keeping and what we’re letting go.  The Great Schism, Gregory the Great, the Great Reformation … every time the Church goes through this crisis, though, three things happen:  1) something dies; 2) something new is birthed; and 3) Christianity grows.” (Martin Luther theses, 499 years ago tomorrow).

About a month ago, I found myself in my office visiting with Elaine Heath, the new dean at Duke Divinity School. Elaine said that spiritually she believes there is a whole new reformation starting now. And if you ever meet Elaine, you know she is a person of the Holy Spirit and she says what the Spirit leads her to say. And this is where the fire burns in my bones for Christ Church. As Elaine and I spoke, I shared with her that I had a deep passion to lead CUMC to make a real lasting difference, with a real lasting presence with those who are hurting in our city. By that I mean, not just driving in from Starmount and doing a couple of hours of work among the tough areas of our city (as valuable as that is), but CUMC having some kind of permanent presence with hurting people. Dean Heath pointed out to me that this was a move of the Holy Spirit and just asked me to hit the pause button. She said something to the affect of, “Think a minute. Here you are the senior pastor of the largest UMC in GSO and you’re thinking about how to reach out to the poor and the needy in a permanent way. If this was 25 years ago, you’d be talking about doing demographic studies to find where the upper middle class Caucasian people were moving, so you could reach out to them and start another Christ Church. Something new is happening. There are senior pastors all over the country that are being led in the same way you are.”

What will this look like exactly, I don’t know. I have some ideas to seed the vision with, but I’m convinced that any move must belong to all. Both secular and church studies in leadership now taut that greatest, most effective way to realize vision is NOT with one big, strong personality telling people what to do. Indeed, that can be counterproductive, limiting the institution to one person and having people operate out of guilt rather than pursuing a mutual vision. So, toward this end, one of our own CUMC family participants, Rev. Steve James will be leading our Ministry Lead Team and Church Council in defining, articulating, focusing and sharing with you our shared vision and next steps. 

It will be different. It won’t be just building another structure like some leaders believe church’s always need to do. It will be a stretch into mission in our city making the kind of impact God wants us to make. 

Dean Heath has a wonderful book about all these changes, entitled, God Unbound: Wisdom from Galatians for the Anxious Church. She says that the great 500 year changes will cause some anxiety; it means giving up shallow traditions – the way we done things before at and getting to the “tradition behind the tradition,” that God loves all and is reaching out in that love so all have the possibility to be saved. She gives great advice for the church universal and for us. As a matter of fact I think God wants us to do this so strongly that some things miraculously aligned. 

For Spark worshipers, you experienced it. For others here’s what happened. Dean Heath so believes that the only way we can fulfill God future for our church and live through the anxieties of the changes is with prayer. If you’re in Spark you saw it. She calls us to 4 levels of prayer and being present for God. I was reading this section of the book and at the very same time Louis sent me a video of Dean Heath sharing the same 4 points. That means something to me. Here’s what we ask of you, engage in deep prayer for CUMC, her vision, her Ministry Lead Team and the Council, now and through those two retreat mornings early next year. We’ll let you know where it happens and I hope can even organize a pray where you are prayer vigil. In your praying I want to call us to begin to adopt Elaine’s contemplative stance: “1. Show up to God, ourselves, our neighbors, and our world. 2.Pay attention to what is there, what is going on inside and outside ourselves. 3. Cooperate with God as God invites, instructs, corrects or encourages in the situation at hand. 4. Release the outcome of cooperation with God. Consciously let go of the outcome, recognizing that God is God and we are not.”

Next, know that your commitment today supports a daring, impacting vision that God is shaping as well as supports the incredible ministries happening now. Don’t just give till it hurts, give until it feels right in your soul and with God. When we do this together, we can and will be His witnesses in our city region and world. 

 Discussion Guide for October 30: Take Hold of the Life That Really Is Life

1. Share with your group what you believe breaks God's heart about Greensboro.

2. Share with your group what you believe breaks God's heart about our nation.

3. Share with your group what you believe breaks God's heart about the world.

4. Share with your group ways you are willing to make a difference in these situations as a Christian.