Part 1: What You Can Expect from Me
John 10:10; James 2:14-17
Pastor Morris Brown
Good morning! It’s great to see you! And it is such a privilege to finally be with you at Christ Church! And I can’t tell you how excited Pam and I are about beginning what we hope will be a very long journey with you! Now, at the risk of sounding like I’ve won an Oscar, there are some folks I’d like to thank before I share today’s scripture and message.
First, I want to thank Bishop Paul Leeland, and Nancy Rankin, our DS. When Nancy called and told me I’d been appointed to Christ, I was stunned. I said, “No way!” She said, “Way! We feel you’ll be a great fit!” Well, I hope I will be! But even if I’m not, I want to thank Bishop Leeland and Nancy for the opportunity to serve this amazing church!
Second, I want to thank Susan Purser and our Staff Parish team. From our first meeting, Susan and her team have done everything they could possibly do to make Pam and I feel welcome and make our transition to Christ Church as smooth as possible! So, Susan, SPRC members, if you’re in here this morning, “Thank you for all you’ve done!”
Third, I want to thank our staff team. After I found out I was coming to Christ, a friend of mine called and said, “You know, Morris, Christ has the best staff in the conference!” Well, after meeting the folks on our staff, I have to tell you—my friend was right! As you know, we have an incredibly gifted and hard-working staff team at Christ Church!
And they’ve made me feel so welcome! I wish I could thank them all individually, but with so many of them that would take too long. So, to everyone on our staff team, I just want to say, “Thanks! I’m honored to have the opportunity to serve with you. And the truth is, I think much of my role will be to simply stay out of your way and cheer you on!”
Fourth, I want to thank Mike and Lauralee Bailey. I know how much you all loved Mike and Lauralee. I know that Mike had a tremendous ministry here. I know that many of you experienced shock and sadness when the news of his promotion to DS was announced. What I didn’t know was how helpful Mike would be to me in this time of transition. For example, when Mike contacted me to welcome me to Christ he asked if I had any questions. I sent him an email with a list of 21! Now I certainly didn’t expect him to respond to all of them, but he did—in detail! Then, he set aside a whole day to let me delve into his responses on a deeper level. So, Mike thank you for your kind and gracious help!
Fifth, I want thank the children of our church! On Monday, my first official day in the office, I was greeted by a “red carpet” and beautiful “Welcome Banner” that that had been prepared by some of our boys and girls. On the banner they wrote so many wonderful things, like, “Welcome to Christ!” “We’re excited you’re here!” “You are in our prayers!”
There were two messages on the banner, however, that caught my eye! The first was from a little boy who wrote, “I hope you’re a Cav’s fan!” Now, if he was talking about the Cleveland Cavs, we’re gonna be best buds because Pam is from Cleveland and we love the Cavs and Lebron James! On the other hand, if he was talking about the Virginia Cavs? Well, we’re gonna have a problem cause I’m a Carolina Tarheel all the way! The other message that caught my eye was from a little girl who, in the middle of my “Welcome Banner,” simply wrote the word “Goodbye!” Now that’s a little girl who’s thinking ahead! She knows I won’t be here forever. But I do hope it’s a long time before I have to go.!
Finally, I want to thank all of you. When word got out that Pam and I were coming to Christ many of you flooded us with texts and emails of welcome! Those of you we’ve met have been incredibly warm and gracious. And those we haven’t met yet? Well, you look pretty darn nice too! So, thanks for your hospitality! Okay, enough thanks!
As you are able, let me invite you to stand for the reading of this morning’s scripture. Our first text if from the gospel of John, John 10:10, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” Our second text is from a letter James, the brother of our Lord, wrote to the early church. It says,
“What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,” and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So, faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.”
So, today is my first Sunday at Christ Church. And I’ve got to tell you that over the last few weeks I’ve been struggling with what I wanted to talk about as we begin our journey together this morning. One day, however, I remembered a conversation I had a few years ago with a friend of mine who happens to be a marriage and family therapist.
We were talking about some of the things she does in premarital counseling. And she said, “One thing I do to help couples prepare for marriage is have them talk about expectations. I have them talk about things they expect as they begin their journey.” She said, “I find that doing this helps them get their marriage off to a healthy start.”
Well, I got to thinking about that. And the more I thought about it, the more I came to the conclusion that talking about expectations is not only a great way to help couples begin their journey; it’s a great way to help pastors and congregations to begin their journey. So, this morning, I want to begin our journey by sharing a three-part worship series.
I’ve entitled this series Great Expectations. Today I’d like to talk about some things you can expect from me as your new senior pastor. Next week, I’ll talk about what I hope I can expect from you as my new family of faith. And finally, the last week, I’d like us to consider some things I believe God expects from all of us. So, let’s get started.
As your new senior pastor what can you expect from me? First, you can expect me to focus on one PERSON. And that person is Jesus Christ. I love the story of the little boy who went to Sunday school for the first time. On the way home, his parents were curious to learn how things went. So, they asked the little boy what his teacher’s name was.
The little boy said, “I don’t know! But I think she’s Jesus’ grandmother.” “Why do you think she was Jesus’ grandmother?” his father asked. “Because,” the little boy replied, “all she did the whole time was hold up a picture of Jesus and brag on him!” Listen, as your senior pastor you can expect me to be a lot like that little boy’s Sunday school teacher. You can expect me to hold up Jesus Christ and brag on him! Why? Because I believe what Jesus said in the passage we read this morning from the gospel of John. In this passage, Jesus says, “The thief comes to steal and destroy! But, I have come that you may have life! I have come that you may have a life that is incredibly full and abundant!”
I believe Jesus came to show us the way to an abundant life.” By that I mean:
- He came to give us a world view, a value system, and a way of treating other people, ourselves, and the earth that will bring healing, wholeness and peace to our individual lives, our community, and the world.
- He came to assure us of God’s unconditional love for us!
- He came to remind us that when we “sin,” fail, make a mess of our lives, God does not give up on us. Instead, God helps us pick up the pieces and begin again.
- And finally, he came to give us hope—to remind us, to assure us that this world is not all there is, so that when we face the darkness of death we do not need to be afraid, for there is more!
In 1789 John Wesley sent Frances Asbury and Thomas Coke to start the Methodist Church in America. When it came time to leave, Asbury asked Wesley if he had any advice. Wesley said, “Yes! Offer them Christ!” As your new senior pastor , you can expect me to follow Wesley’s advice. You can expect me to focus on Jesus, to “offer you Christ.”
Second, as your new senior pastor you can expect me to offer you a PRACTICAL approach to living out your faith. What I mean is each Sunday as we gather to worship God and grow in our understanding of the wisdom and way of Jesus, I will strive to point out how the truths of scripture and wisdom of Jesus can be applied to our everyday lives.
Why? Because, as beautiful as Christ Church is, most of our life does not occur inside the walls of this building. It occurs in our homes, in our neighborhoods, in our offices, and in our schools. So, what I will strive to do each week is talk about how we can put our faith into practice so God can use our daily lives to transform God’s world for love.
As a result, one of the greatest compliments you can give me is not, “Pastor Morris that was a great sermon!” Instead, one of the greatest complements you can give me is, “Hey Pastor Morris, do you remember what you talked about on Sunday? Well, it helped me deal with a situation I was facing at my office or at school or at home on Monday!”
In his letter to a group of early Christians, James, the brother of the Lord, said, “Faith without works is dead!” I believe that. I believe that if our faith is nothing more than head knowledge it’s pretty useless. So, as your senior pastor you can expect me to do my best to help us learn how relevant our faith is, and how we can put it into practice in our daily lives.
Third, as your senior pastor you can expect me to strive to keep my priorities in order. What are my priorities? My first priority is to nurture my relationship with God. I’ve been a pastor for 27 years. And over the years I’ve learned an important lesson: I can’t offer you what I don’t have. I can’t talk to you about your relationship with God, I can’t talk to you about God’s love for you, and I can’t talk with you about how you can experience God’s power and God’s peace in your life—if I have not experienced it in my own life. So, following the wisdom of Jesus, I will “seek first the kingdom of God”. I will make my relationship with God a top priority in my life. How will I do that?
First, I will intentionally open myself up to the presence of God each day through the practice of centering prayer, a practice I’ve engaged in for 30 years. Through this practice I will invite the Holy Spirit to speak, direct, shape me, and mold me into the kind of person God created me to be. Through this practice I will also hold you in God’s light.
Second, I will read, study, and meditate on scripture each day. John Wesley, who owned more than 1000 books, called himself “a man of one book.” For in that book he said we find “everything that is necessary for our salvation.” And by salvation he doesn’t just mean eternal life. He meant everything we need to live a life that is healthy and whole.
Finally, I will seek to find ways to spend time building relationships with downtrodden and marginalized people in our city. Why? Because Mother Teresa said, “It is through the downtrodden and marginalized people of the world that God often chooses to speak to us!” All these practices will help me keep my relationship with God a priority in my life.
Another priority will be my family. Pam and I have been married 32 years. We have two sons, two wonderful daughters-in-law, and a grandchild due next month! I need you to know these six people are the most important people in my life. Without them I’m toast! You can expect me to do what I need to do to nurture my relationship with them. So you need to know that one night each week, Pam and I have “date night.” If you ask me to do something, and I say, “I’m so sorry, but I can’t, it’s date night,” I hope you’ll understand.
You also need to know that when I get the call that my new granddaughter is arriving, I’m going to drop whatever I’m doing and head to Durham as fast as I can. The best advice I can give you when that happens is to simply “get out of my way!” Seriously, family is a priority in my life. So, you can expect me to do whatever I have to do to keep it that way.
Finally, I will make it a priority to take care of myself. Do you remember what Jesus said when someone asked him about life’s most important priorities? He said, “The most important priorities in life are to love God and love others, as you love yourself.” Jesus said we should love God and others, but he also said we should love ourselves. Why? Jesus knew that if we don’t love ourselves, if we don’t care for our own physical, mental and emotional health, we won’t be any good to anyone else.
So, here’s the deal. You can expect me to do my best to take care of myself. I will exercise regularly and try to eat right. I will meet with my spiritual director on a regular basis. And I’ll be pretty ruthless about honoring Friday as my day off! Not because I don’t care about you, but because I do care about you, and I want to be the best I can be for you.
Fourth, as your new senior pastor you can expect me to give you my authentic personality. Richard Rohr says, “We can only give away who we are.” I believe that’s true. So, you can expect me to strive to be the person God created me to be—nothing more, nothing less. Over the next few years I hope you will experience my gifts and talents, and I know you will experience my quirks and flaws. I am who I am. I don’t put on airs! As Mike told you a few months ago, “I’m a regular guy!” So, please don’t call me Rev. Brown. Instead, call me “Morris” or “Pastor Morris,” or if you want to be formal, you can call me “The Righteous Right Reverend Morris.” I’m just kidding, of course!
What I want you to understand; however, is this: Even though I’m a pastor, I’m also a regular person on a journey with God, just like you. I’m pretty laid back. I like to have fun. I like to laugh. I like to kid around. Now, that doesn’t mean I that don’t take God seriously or our faith seriously. I take God and our faith incredibly seriously! But, I try not to take myself too seriously. I believe Jesus was the wisest, most spiritually mature, most authentic person who ever lived, and he didn’t put on airs. Whether he was hanging out with religious leaders, poor people, or Jerusalem’s elite, Jesus was who he was. And I believe that’s exactly what drew all kinds of people to him.
So, as your pastor I will strive to be like Jesus—an authentic person! A few weeks ago, I was doing an exit interview with the SPRC at my last church. At the conclusion of our meeting they asked me how I was feeling about coming to Christ. I said, “I’m excited, but I’m also incredibly nervous! I’m not sure I can do this. Do you have any advice?”
A senior adult on the team, who I respect very much, smiled at me and said, “Morris, you’re going to do great! Just be yourself!” Isn’t that great advice? The best I can be for you—the best you can be for me—the best we can be for God—is simply to seek to be our authentic self! So, as your new senior pastor, that’s exactly what you can expect me to be.
One final thing: As your new senior pastor, you can expect me to propose, promote, and sometimes, PUSH for change. Now listen, I don’t like change. In fact, I resist it! I’m like the crotchety old man whose church was going to buy a chandelier for their sanctuary. At the meeting where the chandelier was being discussed old man stood up and said, “I don’t care what anybody says. I’m voting ‘NO’ on this chandelier, and I’ll give you three good reasons why! First,” he said, “we ain’t never had a chandelier in this sanctuary. And if we’ve ain’t never had one in this sanctuary we sure don’t need one now! Second, if we did buy a chandelier no one would know how to play it. And third, what we really need in this sanctuary is more light!” Seriously, as I said, I’ve been a pastor for 27 years.
And if there is one thing I’ve learned it’s this: If we want to be a church that’s continuing to reach people for Christ we can’t always do things the same old way! Instead we have to be willing to get out of our comfort zone. We have to be willing to take risks. We have to be willing to do old things in new ways. Do you remember the gospel story where the disciples had fished all night and caught nothing? The next morning Jesus gets in the boat and says, “Hey guys, you how’d it go? Did you catch any fish?”
“Not a one!” the disciples say. “Well,” Jesus replies, “why don’t you cast your nets on the other side of the boat, into the deep water.” Now, the disciples don’t want to fish this way. It’s not the way they’ve always done it. But, they love Jesus and trust him. And so they do it! And what happens? They catch so many fish the boat almost sinks!
Here’s the point: Sometimes, in order to catch fish, in order to be a community that connects with all kinds of people, from every stage and station in life, we have to take risks, get out of our comfort zone, and be willing to change. Consequently, as your new senior pastor you can expect me to propose, promote, and sometimes push for change.
So, as we begin our journey what you can expect from me as your new senior pastor is this: You can expect me to focus on one PERSON. You can expect me to offer a PRACTICAL approach to faith. You can expect me to strive to keep my PRIORITIES straight. You can expect me to give you my authentic PERSONALITY, to simply be myself. And you can expect me to propose, promote, and sometimes PUSH for change. Now, if I haven’t scared you off, here’s what I would like you to do this week. Think about person you know who doesn’t have a church home. And invite them to come with you next Sunday when we get together we’ll talk about some things I hope I can expect from you.