Tuesday, December 29, 2015

God showing up in 2016

Mindy and I didn't go to a new church this past Sunday. Instead, we went back to Healdsburg Community Church, which we attended from 2001 to 2013, and where I served as a part time staff member. (We wrote about the church in September, during Old Home Month.) In lieu of a church post this week, here's a summary of the sermon I preached Sunday -- which doubles in the program as a mission statement for our travels to a church in every state in 2016. (I've changed the sermon a bit to include it as a post; the original, complete with Mindy's coughing fit, is posted on the church website.)

Have you ever been stood up? I'm not just thinking of romantic situations, though that has certainly happened to me. I'm  thinking of those times when you think you have a set time and place to meet someone, and they don't come. You start questioning: Were we were supposed to meet today? Is this the right place? Did I say or do something that hurt the other person's feelings?

I believe a lot of people go to church and think God has stood them up. They hear He was supposed to be at the 11:00 am service at the First Whatever Church of Someplaceorother, and they go, and He isn't anywhere to be seen. It can be discouraging.

And yet, Mindy and I expect God to show up at churches in 2016. We find encouragement for that expectation in Luke 2: 22 - 39. In the passage, Mary and Joseph go to church (okay, they go to the Temple), and see God show up in surprising ways -- particularly through two individuals.

All of the people in this passage model practices that make seeing God more likely. First, Mary and Joseph set a model of spiritual discipline by following commands given in Leviticus chapter 12 that acknowledge God's authority over their lives (and the life of their Child) through circumcision, purification and sacrifice. Taking these steps required time and devotion. Following these practices also allowed the couple to encounter two amazing people who spoke to them with blessings from God.

As Christians, we no longer need to practice Law of Moses, with its ritual cleansings and sacrifices, but there are other spiritual disciplines we should practice, like prayer, fasting, studying Scripture, and meeting with God's people. Hebrews 10:25 teaches us that we must not neglect the gathering together of believers (i.e., going to church).  Some people say, "I don't need to go to church, I see God in the forest." Of course you can see God in the forest, but you can see God in the garden as well, so why go to the forest? God speaks to us in unique ways in different places and times, and church should be one of the places we go to find Him.

In the Temple, Mary and Joseph meet a man named Simeon, who is described as righteous and devout. Luke notes that God had revealed to Simeon that he wouldn't die until he had seen the Messiah. We modern people are pretty skeptical of people who claim a revelation from God, which I think is fair. There are a lot of people who claimed to speak for God when they were speaking for themselves, or repeating what the voices in their heads (that were not at all divine) said. The time when Jesus was first brought to the temple was during what church history calls the "Silent Era" because it had been nearly half a millennia since the last prophet, Malachi, spoke for God.
And yet, God did speak through Simeon. God is free to speak when and through whom He chooses, and we should be ready to listen, just as the Holy Spirit spoke to Simeon and then Simeon spoke to Mary and Joseph.

Finally, we come to Anna. She was an old widow without children in a time and place when such a condition was considered a curse from God. Her life was difficult, full of suffering, but such suffering can draw a person close to God.  She too speaks for God to Mary and Joseph, assuring them that their Jesus is indeed God's anointed.

We need to recognize that God can speak through pain. We shouldn't try to cover over our own spiritual pain or ignore others who suffer, since God may speak through our pain as we bring it to Him or speak to us as we minister to others.

So that's what we hope to do in 2016. We want to be faithful like Mary and Joseph, which for Mindy and me means going to church every week. We want to listen for God like Simeon did. And we want to be willing to reach out to those who are hurting, knowing that that's just one more way God may choose to show Himself.

We trust God will show up in 2016. In our journey and in yours.
-- Dean

Statistics:
Service Length: 58 minutes
Sermon Length: about 20 minutes (Mindy can't find her notes in the confusion of moving)
Snacks: leftover Christmas goodies including lots of different cookies, tangerine wedges, pears, coffee, decaf, tea, water
Songs: Angels We Have Heard on High
            Joy to the World
            He Shall Reign Forevermore
            We Three Kings of Orient Are
Miles to place: 47 (it's only 12 from our house, but we had to make several trips to get everybody)
Total California Miles: 17,735