Crestwood Has Talent! Sermon Series – Transforming Congregations

SCRIPTURE – 1 Peter 2:4-10 – As you come to him, the living Stone—rejected by humans but chosen by God and precious to him— you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For in Scripture it says: “See, I lay a stone in Zion, a chosen and precious cornerstone, and the one who trusts in him will never be put to shame.” Now to you who believe, this stone is precious. But to those who do not believe, “The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone,” and, “A stone that causes people to stumble and a rock that makes them fall.” They stumble because they disobey the message—which is also what they were destined for. But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

SERMON
Crestwood Has Talent!
Transforming Congregations
May 11, 2014

It’s good to be back with you after a week away. I know you were in good hands with Robyn last week, who preached an outstanding sermon reminding each of us that we are a gift and that we have gifts. That’s the focus of this sermon series and of this time of year. As we move through our Time and Talent Stewardship Campaign, we’re lifting up the truth that each one of us has been given a gift by the Holy Spirit to use for God’s work. Last week, Robyn helped us see how we can use our gifts to change our lives. Today, we’ll be talking about how our gifts can change our congregation. And next week, the youth will lead us in seeing how our gifts can change the world.

To help you discover what your gifts are, we’ve created a spiritual gifts survey, which you can find on front page of the church website. You can also get a paper copy from the office by request. The goal of the survey is to help you name the gifts you have in order to know best how to use them here at Crestwood. After all, it takes each one of us using our gifts to become the church God has called us to be.

But, what exactly IS that? What are we truly called to be as a church? That’s the real question, isn’t it? Through interviews and events, our Vision Team is trying to answer that very question. Who are we called to be? It’s interesting to note that as we look forward, our denomination’s founders would encourage us to look backward. One of the foundational purposes for the creation of the Disciples of Christ was a return to the church as modeled in the New Testament. They believed we should simply try to be the church of the Bible.

Sounds like a good goal, right? If there’s any example of what a church should look like, it would be those churches closest in proximity to Christ’s presence on earth. I imagine those churches were well-oiled machines, taking in pagans and sinners and spitting out white-robed disciples who glowed like candles and smelled like lavender. Those early churches hadn’t been polluted with modern-day distractions like pipe organs and stubborn people. If we want to truly be the church God wants us to be, then by golly, we should be like the New Testament church!

Only there’s one problem. The churches in the New Testament were just as screwed up as modern-day churches! There’s nothing exemplary about them. For proof, look at the church in Corinth. They were dealing with incidents of incest, church members were taking each other to court, older members were being insensitive to newer members, people were coveting their neighbor’s this and that, and even their website was woefully out of date. I’m not so sure that last one is true, but the others are!

The church in Rome was seriously divided over membership criteria. The churches in Galatia and Philippi were inundated with opportunistic teachers spreading a false gospel. The church in Ephesus was dealing with sexual immorality and greed. The church in Colossae was in conflict over competing theologies of Christ. The church in Thessalonica was growing complacent, not using its God-given gifts. So tell me, exactly which New Testament church should we be striving to emulate? As you read the New Testament, you learn that the early churches were not perfect, but instead were groups of sinful people who had come to Christ for salvation and meaning, and then were trying to figure out – rather imperfectly – what that meant for their day-to-day lives. In other words, they were just like us.

The church is not a well-oiled machine; we are much, much messier than that. And I blame it on you. And me. I heard someone say once, “The church is great! It’s the people I don’t like.” If the church isn’t perfect, it’s our fault. We’re the ones who mess it up with all our agendas and idiosyncrasies and, well, humanness. So answer me this. Why then does Peter, who, as an apostle, would know all about the challenges of the New Testament churches, say this: “You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people”? What on earth would possess Peter to say such nice things about the church? I bet when people read this letter, they began to argue. “Hey, we’re a royal priesthood.” “No, were a holy nation.” No, a ROYAL PRIESTHOOD.” “A HOLY NATION.” And then someone would have to separate these two nice ladies before purses started swinging.

Why would Peter speak of the church so highly? Peter knows a thing or two about seeing the potential in someone. Once, Jesus called him “the rock on which I will build my church,” and Peter went on to deny even knowing Jesus three times. And yet, he became one of the most important leaders of the church. Peter is familiar with the idea of seeing the good in something, even if it’s buried beneath a lot of debris. So Peter looks at the flawed, flailing church and says, “you are a living stone, with which Christ will build his spiritual house.” A living stone. That’s an oxymoron. The concept of a living stone is about as absurd as a risen dead man.

When Peter wrote these words, the people in the church weren’t actually a royal priesthood. In ancient Israel you could be neither royalty nor a priest unless you were born into it. But because God had chosen them, they were elevated. It’s the divine version of being upgraded from coach to first-class. Peter is saying, “This is who you are, not by your own doing, but by the grace of God. So live like this is who you are.” Peter is challenging any church full of imperfect people to live into their calling as a holy nation.

That’s the work of transformation. We come to God as we are, but we’re never called to stay as we are. We’re called to take the next step forward – whatever that may be for us – toward becoming more like Christ. We are called to a constant state of becoming. Each day, we are called to become more like a follower of Jesus than we were yesterday. Each day, we are called to reflect more of God’s grace and love than we did yesterday.

As a church, we are here to help people become, to help them move from where they are to where God is calling them to be. We are here to help them move from being “not a people,” as Peter puts it, to God’s people. What does it mean to be “not a people” today? I believe that has to do with identity. Think of all the ways our society views us: we are potential customers. We are patients with an ID number. We are defined by our possessions and our purchases. Have you ever swiped your frequent shopper’s card and heard, “Welcome, valued customer”? In society, we are often seen as many things, but we are not often seen as people, made valuable by our intrinsic worth as a child of God.

The church is called to help people move from being “not a people” to God’s people. We are called to help people move from being tourists, who journey to places that have something to offer them, to pilgrims, who journey toward a destination with sensitivity and intentionality. We are called to help people move from being seekers to disciples. We are called to help people transform from spectators into participants. We are called to encourage people to move from being individuals to being part of a community, a spiritual house full of living stones. We are called to help people become.

We do this, I believe, by showing people the fundamental difference between how the world defines us and how God defines us. The world says we are consumers. We consume food, we consume products, we consume TV programs. We are encouraged to take in and take in and take in. But the church says we are called to be servants. We are called to serve God. We are called to serve the church. We are called to serve each other.

You are more than what the world says you are. You are more than your social security number, more than your login name and password, more than your rewards card and your cell phone number. Out there you may be “not a people,” but in here, you are God’s people, loved and grace-filled and gifted. Each new person who walks through those doors should not only hear that message in what we say, but should see that message in what we do, in how we are using our gifts to serve.

We are in the business of becoming. When someone new joins us, our church changes because of what that person brings to us. If you believe that, then Crestwood has been doing a lot of changing, because we have a lot of new people in our midst. Isn’t that wonderful? Now our challenge is for each of us, new and not-so-new, to discover where our gifts fit into this spiritual house we are building. That’s the purpose of the spiritual gifts inventory and the ministry fair and our whole time and talents stewardship campaign. We’re not trying to wring a few more hours out of you. We’re not trying to twist your arm to get you involved. We’re trying to help you become the person God created you to be. We want to help you transform into who God is calling you to be.

This church thing can be messy, can’t it? We’ll never do it perfectly. Thankfully, we’re not called to do it perfectly; we’re only called to do it faithfully. May each of us, and all of us, continue to be about the business of becoming. What’s your next step?

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