Going Deeper 3/11/2019

From our Epistle reading, Romans 10… The same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him.  For, "Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved."  Thus far our text.
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ.  Amen.
"Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved."  Over much of its history, the Church has focused a lot of its attention on salvation.  However, the vast majority of the focus has been on what we have been saved from, rather than on what we have been saved for.  Yes, we have been saved from sin and death.  Of course that is important!  But it’s also of extreme importance to understand what we have been saved for.
We have been saved for a purpose.  We have been honored and equipped with a calling to each do our part to help in the most important work of all… the strengthening and the extending of God’s Kingdom here on this earth.  We have each been gifted in a variety of ways, and the core purpose of our lives as children of God by grace is to serve in this healing of God’s creation.
This morning I am wrapping up this long sermon series in which I have reflected on how the 12-Step Program of Alcoholics Anonymous relates to all of our lives as children of God.  Much of what I’ve shared was inspired by Richard Rohr’s marvelous book, Breathing Underwater: Spirituality and the 12 Steps.  
I stated my basis for this series in my very first sermon: I think there still remains a lot of untapped potential… potential for growth, potential for healing, potential to move beyond weaknesses, potential to draw nearer to God, to experience His presence and His Spirit more profoundly and more powerfully.  I am grateful to report that I personally have been blessed with growth, and all I can do is hope and pray that the same has been true for you.
Here is the 12th Step: Having had a spiritual awakening as a result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.
At first glance, this seems rather upbeat, but the first couple of paragraphs in Rohr’s chapter on Step 12 contain these heavy thoughts: After trying to teach the Gospel for over forty years, trying to build up communities, and attempting to raise up elders and leaders, I am convinced that one of my major failures was that I did not ask more of people from the very beginning. … Until people’s basic egocentricity is radically exposed, revealed for what it is, and foundationally redirected, much religion becomes occupied with rearranging deck chairs on a titanic cruise ship, cruising with isolated passengers, each maintaining his or her personal program for happiness, while the whole ship is sinking.  Somber words for the first Sunday of the somber season of Lent. 
What Rohr is expressing is a foundational truth: If we are not experiencing spiritual awakening, nothing of true value can be accomplished.  This awakening is not a one-time experience, it is not the same for each of us, and neither is it a smooth and steady journey.  It’s more of a journey of ups and downs, of twists and turns, of sliding a step or two backwards at times, followed by movement upward and forward.  But what is important is that we are growing in grace and in knowledge and in wisdom, and growing more and more in the image of Jesus.
We have emphasized throughout the vital role that repentance plays throughout this journey.  And, of course, repentance is a core focus during this season of Lent.
The main calling of the Old Testament prophets was to comfort the afflicted and to afflict the comfortable.  This ongoing cycle must continue to be at the heart of our mission.  If we are comfortable in our sin, then we need to be afflicted, we need to be called to repentance.  But if we’re afflicted by guilt and shame, and are already aware of how far we fall short of our calling to live in the way of Jesus, then our greatest need is to be comforted by the Gospel of grace.
Our focus today is on what happens beyond that cycle: experiencing a spirit of true repentance, which is then touched and healed by God’s grace and a growing experience of His presence.  That is spiritual awakening.  What is then needed is a rediscovering of our calling, a transfiguration and transformation of our lives as we learn to live more and more fully in the way of Jesus.  
And part of that is understanding our calling—both individually and collectively—to carry our message to others.  As Step 12 calls for both carrying the healing process to other alcoholics and continuing to “practice this principles in all our affairs”, we are called by our Savior to carry the message of the healing of grace to other sinners as we continue to practice His teachings in every part of our lives.
For a while now, I’ve been concerned about our overall lack of numerical growth here at Zion.  We have welcomed a slow but steady number of wonderful new folks and families over the past handful of years, but it has been matched—maybe surpassed—by a decreasing participation, and in some cases total withdrawal, of members who used to be active.  It would seem to be a sign of health if we were growing at the same rate as our town has been growing.  Not even close.
We don’t have time now to consider all the factors involved.  I’d like to hear your perspectives on this.  And most of us know that I am not really a numbers guy.  I don’t tend to judge our ministry effectiveness primarily on the number of rear ends occupying our pews each week.  I suppose we could figure out strategies to increase those numbers… and we probably ought to.
I guess I am kind of old school when it comes to this.  Yes, there are church growth programs and strategies that we can learn from those who are growing numerically.  Yes, we can do a better job of marketing.  Yes, we can continue to figure out how to improve our preaching and how we do worship here at Zion, and add more of the programs and activities that might draw more visitors and seekers.  Again… we probably ought to.
But the point I’ve been building toward in this message is this: if we are experiencing ongoing spiritual renewal—which I believe is at the heart of our mission—then we need to understand that this must lead us to a commitment to invite others to encounter God in this place, and to join us in our mission of strengthening and extending His Kingdom.  If we’re seeking to practice what is taught by Jesus, then part of that must be understood as involving reaching out to those who are unchurched or dechurched, and inviting them to come with us on our journey with God.   
The cover of a magazine Janet had on our table caught my eye the other day.  Perhaps this TV personality looks familiar to some of you.  But what really caught my eye is the title: THE WORLD NEEDS WHO YOU WERE MADE TO BE.  That is so very true for each of us.  The world so very badly needs who we were made—and remade—to be, carriers of the Gospel of grace, who bring the love of God to others in word and deed.  Let’s set a goal: each one reach one.  Let’s all ask God to work through us to bring another person or family into our family of faith, sharing the growing love we have with others who need the same love. Amen.