Sunday, September 8, 2013

The Rearview Mirror and a Clean Windshield (Philippians 3:4b-14)

If anyone else has reason to put their confidence in physical advantages, I have even more:
5 I was circumcised on the eighth day.
I am from the people of Israel and the tribe of Benjamin.
I am a Hebrew of the Hebrews.
With respect to observing the Law, I’m a Pharisee.
6 With respect to devotion to the faith, I harassed the church.
With respect to righteousness under the Law, I’m blameless.
7 These things were my assets, but I wrote them off as a loss for the sake of Christ. 8 But even beyond that, I consider everything a loss in comparison with the superior value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. I have lost everything for him, but what I lost I think of as sewer trash, so that I might gain Christ 9 and be found in him. In Christ I have a righteousness that is not my own and that does not come from the Law but rather from the faithfulness of Christ. It is the righteousness of God that is based on faith. 10 The righteousness that I have comes from knowing Christ, the power of his resurrection, and the participation in his sufferings. It includes being conformed to his death 11 so that I may perhaps reach the goal of the resurrection of the dead.
12 It’s not that I have already reached this goal or have already been perfected, but I pursue it, so that I may grab hold of it because Christ grabbed hold of me for just this purpose. 13 Brothers and sisters, I myself don’t think I’ve reached it, but I do this one thing: I forget about the things behind me and reach out for the things ahead of me. 14 The goal I pursue is the prize of God’s upward call in Christ Jesus.

Today we celebrate 125 years of ministry as a congregation.  125 years as a faith family joined by grace, 125 years of growing in God’s love.  125 years of ministry and mission.  125 years of God transforming human hearts to build up this little corner of God’s kingdom we call “home.”

Today is a day to look back and reflect and remember.  We remember pastors who have come and gone, each one leading and shepherding in their unique way.  We remember years of faithful and dedicated ministry by the men and women who served diligently and sacrificed generously of their time, talent, and treasure to create a home for generations they would never even meet.  We remember them, and we know that we are standing upon the shoulders of spiritual giants.

We remember potluck suppers and Christmas programs and youth trips, Bible studies and mission trips.  We remember Brunswick Stew and BBQ and Sunday School picnics and hot dogs.  We remember births, baptisms, weddings and funerals.  We remember the people of this church standing as a rock in the storms of our lives, and the ones with whom we have celebrated life’s greatest joys.
We remember all of those things that have been woven into the fabric called Morehead United Methodist Church.  We look back upon all those things, we remember, and we are grateful.

But today, we are not only looking back; we are also looking ahead.  Today we stand at the intersection of “where we’ve been” and “where we’ve yet to go.”  As we give thanks for all that God has seen us through, let us also faithfully express confidence that God isn’t finished with us yet.  As we remember our wonderful history and rich heritage, we look forward to an even brighter future, to the glory of God.

To remember that balance, I want you to remember the rearview mirror in your car.  On this journey called “following Jesus,” we make necessary and even frequent glances in our rearview mirror to see what is behind us, but our focus remains on the road ahead we can see through a clean windshield.

Sometimes we can get so caught up in what’s happening behind us that we lose sight of what is happening in front of us.  Consider the lady who went to our local Christian book store and bought a ‘Honk if you love Jesus’ bumper sticker.

Here’s her story: “I was stopped at a red light at a busy intersection, just lost in thought about the Lord and how good He is, and I found that lots of people love Jesus! While I was sitting there, the guy behind started honking like crazy, and then he leaned out of his window and screamed, ‘For the love of God! Go! Go! Go!’ What an exuberant cheerleader he was for Jesus!

“Everyone started honking! I just leaned out my window and started waving and smiling at all those loving people. I even honked my horn a few times to share in the love!

“I saw another guy waving in a funny way with only his middle finger stuck up in the air. I asked my grandson in the back seat what that meant. He said it was the Hawaiian good luck sign. Well, I have never met anyone from Hawaii, so I leaned out the window and gave him the good luck sign right back. My grandson burst out laughing. Why, even he was enjoying this religious experience!!

“A couple people got out of their cars and started walking towards me. I bet they wanted to pray or ask what church I attended, but this is when I noticed the light had changed. So, grinning, I waved at all my brothers and sisters, and drove on through the intersection. I noticed that I was the only car that got through the intersection before the light changed again and felt sad that I had to leave them after all the love we had shared. So I slowed the car down, leaned out the window and gave them all the Hawaiian good luck sign one last time as I drove away. Praise the Lord for such wonderful folks!!

Always looking behind us can keep us from seeing what is ahead of us, and even create an obstacle to others around us.

So it was for the apostle Paul in words we read from Philippians 3, as he recalls a proud past and a rich heritage.  He basically says, “Now, I’m not going to take up your time bragging about all my accomplishments, but if I were going to brag, here are some of the things I could tell you.  I’m not going to tell you what a big deal I am, but if I were, here’s what you would need to know.”

The passage, at first, reads like a brag sheet about everything he has already accomplished in a decorated past.  Just about the time you’re ready to give him the Hawaiian good luck sign for being so full of himself, he goes in a completely unexpected direction.  After waving his religious resume in front of everyone, he crumples it up and throws it into the trashcan, and says, “Oh this?  It’s worthless.  Everything I’ve ever done, everything I’ve worked for, means nothing compared to knowing Christ, becoming like him, growing in his love, experiencing new life in him – THAT’S what this whole thing is all about.”

His choice was to put all his energy into preserving what he already had, or trusting Jesus and boldly stepping out into an unknown future.  Friends, each and every day, we choose whether we are going to spend more time gazing longingly into our rear view mirror, or whether we are ready to look out through a clean windshield at the open road ahead, put our life in gear, and get moving.

Paul chose the open road.  Paul chose a life-giving journey with the living Lord.  It wasn’t that his past no longer mattered, it was that his future was now defined by new life in Christ, and that new definition was so joyous and hopeful that the rest of it seemed, by comparison, like small potatoes.

Hear me carefully: I’m not saying the past is bad, or that it needs to be forgotten.  Traditions and memories and history are important – they are like postcards that remind us of the places we’ve been.  But perspective is key. Bishop Lawrence McClesky once said, “A church can believe its best days are behind it, or it can believe its best days are ahead of it.  Either way, they’ll be right.”

So, do we believe our best days are somewhere behind us, or somewhere ahead of us?  Is the best gone forever, or yet-to-come?  Are our best days lost for good, or just waiting to be discovered?  Which way are you looking – in the rear view mirror, or through the windshield?

Friends, we have a great history here.  I’m proud to be the pastor of a church with a heritage so rich, and a future so bright.  The first 125 years have been great, but by the grace of God, the next 125 will be even better.

You know how people will often say they want their kids or their grandkids to have more than they did?  One of the best ways to honor the contributions of those who have come before us is to build on the foundation they have laid.  As it’s said, the broader the base, the taller the tower.  With the base we have, let us reach for the stars and nothing less.

It has been said, “A growing church is one whose dreams are greater than its memories.”  We have some great memories, but let’s work on dreaming some greater dreams.  The prophet Joel said that when God’s Holy Spirit is poured out, “old men will dream dreams and young men will see visions” (Joel 2:28).  As your pastor, that’s my primary role here – dreamer-in-chief.  As the spiritual leader of this church, it’s my job to stay in tune with the Holy Spirit, to listen, to dream big dreams about who God is calling us to be, and to challenge you to dream some big, God-sized dreams yourselves, and then get in gear to make those dreams a reality.  If anyone here says about me, “That kid is just a dreamer,” I will thank you for the greatest compliment you can give me.

So let me tell you what I’m dreaming.  I’m dreaming that we will be a church that does exactly what Jesus established the church to do: to love God and our neighbor, and to go make disciples of Jesus.   From the founding of this congregation, loving God and our neighbor, making disciples of Jesus Christ is the sole reason we exist – the difference from 125 years ago is that we have a lot more neighbors to love now than we did then.  This week, some of you found out that within 3 miles of our location, there are currently how many people – do you remember?  39,000.  Not only that, but within the next 10 years, that number will grow to 49,000.

Of those 49,000 people, how many of them are people created in God’s image?  Of those 49,000 people, how many of them does God love?  How many of those people does God want a relationship with?  How many of them need to hear that they are loved by God and welcomed into a Christian community where they can grow as followers of Jesus Christ?

So here’s the question: if we don’t tell them, who will?  If we don’t reach out to them with the love and light of Christ, who will?

Do you think there might be any correlation that, smack in the middle of 49,000 of God’s beloved people, there happens to be a church whose sole purpose is to make disciples of Jesus Christ?

I can already hear the objections: What if we get too big, or what if we don’t know everyone anymore?  Let me ask you this: is the purpose of church for us to know everyone, or is it for everyone to know Jesus?  If you’re primarily worried that you won’t know everyone anymore, then you’re not dreaming big enough.

Or, what about the money or the building or other logistics?  If you’re worried about any of those, then you’re not dreaming big enough.  The God who owns the cattle on a thousand hills doesn’t have a cash flow problem or any limit to the resources we need to accomplish what God wants us to do.

My dream is that this church is so in love with God and so in love with our neighbors – all of them – that we stop at nothing to tell them how much God loves them and invite them to follow Jesus with us.  My dream is that we won’t rest until every single one of our neighbors knows Jesus – I’m dreaming it like it’s my job.

Today, we stand at the intersection of where we’ve been and where we’ve yet to go.  Today we remember and we dream.  Our faith is not simply reflected in the rear view mirror.  It is experienced on the open road, following Jesus and sharing his light along the way.  Knowing Jesus, the best is yet to come.

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