Transformative Gratitude

As of the 1st of June, I have been at FUMC for 12 years. In that time, you have allowed me the space to make mistakes, to learn, to grow, and to heal. For me, this has been a transformational space (which is why it is not hard for me to imagine and hope that it will continue to be for many others in the future). You have guided and taught me on my journey to be a good father and a good human being (ok at least better). I think being ‘good human being’ is just letting the potential God has within you come out. And I don’t believe that can truly happen apart from connection to God and to a community of faith.
In much the same way Paul did in his letter to the Philippians, I want to thank you not so much for what you have done, but for how ‘who you have chosen to be’ has encouraged my girls and me to become more than we could have imagined apart from the grace and love we experience among you.
One year ago, Scott described how wonderful it was for his family to have the blessing of growing up in New Iberia, I realized what an honor it is for him to have hired me, knowing I would be his children’s youth director. I acknowledge that sometimes we ministers can get lost in ‘the job’ and lose sight of the organic nature of this diverse eclectic group called our family of faith. As I journey back on the pastoral road, with greater passion because of you, it is important for me to remind myself and you of your importance to me, so that the power and passion of the following words are clear … “it has been an honor for me – for you to be ministers to my children.”
I tell you this for three reasons (and I am happy to step on my own toes in reminding you of the three).

First, you need to understand and accept the power you have as a body of believers to change lives, impact destinies, and influence families for Christ. In my years of service, I have come to recognize that ‘shame’ has never built a healthy church or healthy people. It divides the soul of the individual and the church – a thumb pushing down on the spirit within us and among us. I have seen peace, joy, and confidence – in a nutshell, ‘gratitude’ – build transformative communities of faith – places where people are “converted, convicted, and consecrated by the Holy Spirit.” This power to be a transformative community cannot be confined to any building or controlled by anyone’s agenda. It flows through us as we chose to open ourselves to God’s transformational power – “to see visions … and dream dream” is the way Peter put it on Pentecost (quoting Joel).
Second, I believe the gospel. I believe it is ‘good news’ and at its core, it is about honesty. Personally, it about acknowledging who we are, who God is, and what he says he will do for us. Corporately, it about knowing what we are capable of, what he is capable of, and being open to his transforming power. The Good News is our job, our responsibility, and our calling … and I hope our passion and our pleasure.
Lastly, as you think of who you are in this community of faith or who God may be asking you to be here, remember the words of the passion shop keeper in You’ve Got Mail:
“Whatever else anything is, it ought to begin by being personal.” (Meg Ryan)

While business has to be done within this community, this is not a business. It’s a church and the church is about praising a personal God and in the process ministering to the personal needs of those outside and inside of the community of faith. Focus on the end not the means to it, for often we look back and note “all roads lead to where you are” (Don McLean).

I am indebted to you for the grace you have shown, the support you have given, and the transformation to have cultivated in my life and the life of my girls, I am also so very thankful for the hope you have given us. And it is because of that hope that I must do the job I am here today to do …
So FUMC here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.
I’m speaking to you out of deep gratitude for all that God has given me, and especially as I have responsibilities in relation to you. Living then, as every one of you does, in pure grace, it’s important that you not misinterpret yourselves as people who are bringing this goodness to God. No, God brings it all to you. The only accurate way to understand ourselves is by what God is and by what he does for us, not by what we are and what we do for him.
In this way, we are like the various parts of a human body. Each part gets its meaning from the body as a whole, not the other way around. The body we’re talking about is Christ’s body of chosen people. Each of us finds our meaning and function as a part of his body. But as a chopped-off finger or cut-off toe we wouldn’t amount to much, would we? So since we find ourselves fashioned into all these excellently formed and marvelously functioning parts in Christ’s body, let’s just go ahead and be what we were made to be, without enviously or pridefully comparing ourselves with each other, or trying to be something we aren’t.
If you preach, just preach God’s Message, nothing else; if you help, just help, don’t take over; if you teach, stick to your teaching; if you give encouraging guidance, be careful that you don’t get bossy; if you’re put in charge, don’t manipulate; if you’re called to give aid to people in distress, keep your eyes open and be quick to respond; if you work with the disadvantaged, don’t let yourself get irritated with them or depressed by them. Keep a smile on your face.
Love from the center of who you are; don’t fake it. Run for dear life from evil; hold on for dear life to good. Be good friends who love deeply; [try] practice playing second fiddle. Don’t burn out; keep yourselves fueled and aflame. Be alert servants of the Master, cheerfully expectant. Don’t quit in hard times; pray all the harder. Help needy Christians; be inventive in hospitality.
Bless your enemies; no cursing under your breath. Laugh with your happy friends when they’re happy; share tears when they’re down. Get along with each other; don’t be stuck-up. Make friends with nobodies; don’t be the great somebody.
Don’t hit back; discover beauty in everyone. If you’ve got it in you, get along with everybody. Don’t insist on getting even; that’s not for you to do. “I’ll do the judging,” says God. “I’ll take care of it.”
Our Scriptures tell us that if you see your enemy hungry, go buy that person lunch, or if he’s thirsty, get him a drink. Your generosity will surprise him with goodness. Don’t let evil get the best of you; get the best of evil by doing good…
But make sure that you don’t get so absorbed and exhausted in taking care of all your day-by-day obligations that you lose track of the time and doze off, oblivious to God. [Look to the sky] The night is about over, dawn is about to break. Be up and awake to what God is doing! God is putting the finishing touches on the salvation work he began when we first believed. We can’t afford to waste a minute, must not squander these precious daylight hours in frivolity and indulgence, in sleeping around and dissipation, in bickering and grabbing everything in sight. Get out of bed and get dressed! Don’t loiter and linger, waiting until the very last minute. Dress yourselves in Christ, and be up and about!…
Welcome with open arms fellow believers who don’t see things the way you do. And don’t jump all over them every time they do or say something you don’t agree with—even when it seems that they are strong on opinions but weak in the faith department. Remember, they have their own history to deal with. Treat them gently.
So where does that leave you when you criticize a brother? And where does that leave you when you condescend to a sister? I’d say it leaves you looking pretty silly—or worse. Eventually, we’re all going to end up kneeling side by side in the place of judgment, facing God. Your critical and condescending ways aren’t going to improve your position there one bit. Read it for yourself in Scripture:
“As I live and breathe,” God says,
“every knee will bow before me;
Every tongue will tell the honest truth
that I and only I am God.”
So tend to your knitting. You’ve got your hands full just taking care of your own life before God.
Forget about deciding what’s right for each other. Here’s what you need to be concerned about: that you don’t get in the way of someone else, making life more difficult than it already is. I’m convinced—Jesus convinced me!—that everything, as it is in itself, is holy. We, of course, by the way, we treat it or talk about it, can contaminate it….
Those of us who are strong and able in the faith need to step in and lend a hand to those who falter, and not just do what is most convenient for us. Strength is for service, not status. Each one of us needs to look after the good of the people around us, asking ourselves, “How can I help?”
That’s exactly what Jesus did. He didn’t make it easy for himself by avoiding people’s troubles, but waded right in and helped out. “I took on the troubles of the troubled,” is the way Scripture puts it. Even if it was written in Scripture long ago, you can be sure it’s written for us. God wants the combination of his steady, constant calling and warm, personal counsel in Scripture to come to characterize us, keeping us alert for whatever he will do next. May our dependably steady and warmly personal God develop maturity in you so that you get along with each other as well as Jesus gets along with us all. Then we’ll be a choir—not our voices only, but our very lives singing in harmony in a stunning anthem to the God and Father of our Master Jesus!
So reach out and welcome one another to God’s glory. Jesus did it; now you do it! Jesus, staying true to God’s purposes, reached out in a special way to the Jewish insiders so that the old ancestral promises would come true for them. As a result, the non-Jewish outsiders have been able to experience mercy and to show appreciation to God. Just think of all the Scriptures that will come true in what we do! For instance:
Then I’ll join outsiders in [praise];
I’ll sing to your name!
And this one:
Outsiders and insiders, rejoice together!
And again:
People of all nations, celebrate God!
All colors and races, give hearty praise!
And Isaiah’s word:
There’s the root of our ancestor Jesse,
breaking through the earth and growing tree tall,
Tall enough for everyone everywhere to see and take hope!
Oh! My dear brothers and sisters, FUMC … May the God of green hope fill you up with joy, fill you up with peace, so that your believing lives, filled with the life-giving energy of the Holy Spirit, will brim over with hope! … (end)

(at benediction)
Two disclaimers:

  1. I realize those were hard words, but if you think about it, I was only reminding you of things you already know.
  2. If you didn’t like what I had to say. I need to let you know they were not my words, but Paul’s (Romans 12:1-21; 13:11-14; 14:1, 10-14; 15:1-13, The Message)
    As you go forth on this Pentecost Sunday, Look up to the sky and think about how big our world is and little we are … we are born from above, may today be more than the birthday of the church … May it be a transforming rebirth of our community through the creativity of God, the power of the Holy Spirit, our calling in Christ Jesus. Amen.

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