Never lose hope!

by jacobjuncker

This message was offered at Wesley United Methodist Church (Culver, IN) on Sunday, October 20, 2013.

 Jesus was telling them a parable about their need to pray continuously and not to be discouraged.He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor respected people.  In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him, asking, ‘Give me justice in this case against my adversary.’  For a while he refused but finally said to himself, I don’t fear God or respect people, but I will give this widow justice because she keeps bothering me. Otherwise, there will be no end to her coming here and embarrassing me.” The Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. Won’t God provide justice to his chosen people who cry out to him day and night? Will he be slow to help them?  I tell you, he will give them justice quickly. But when the Human One comes, will he find faithfulness on earth?”

Luke 18:1-8, Common English Bible

I don’t know about you, but I’m tired.  It has been a long few weeks of meetings, preparing for the all-church meeting held last Monday, and then traveling to be with family after the death of a close uncle’s mother.  I don’t know if you can relate or not, but I’m tired.

And, so, perhaps, this morning Gospel lesson is timely for me—and I pray, for you too.  It’s a reminder to keep going, be persistent—tireless—in pursuing the things of God.

This morning I’m tired.  But, I think there’s an important message here that we all (and, perhaps, most importantly, I) need to hear so that we might refuse to lose hope.

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Let’s pray.

Gracious God, in the moments to come, give me the words to speak and they the ears to hear so that together, we might be inspired to live your Word in the world starting today.  Amen.

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Every time I get exhausted and am searching for the inspiration to keep going, I think of Coach Blair who, every fall during preseason basketball training would encourage me to keep running by clapping his hands and yelling to me: “Stride it out big man.  Stride it out.”

In our lesson for today, Jesus is reminding his disciples to “stride it out.”  He’s been teaching them about (and we’ve been reviewing over the last several weeks) the difficult demands of discipleship.  And, in our lesson for today, Jesus reminds his disciples—and us—that even though we will get tired; we shouldn’t give up; we shouldn’t get discouraged.  In fact, we should be as persistent as a widow who stands up to an unjust judge.

1-3 Jesus told them a story showing that it was necessary for them to pray consistently and never quit. He said, “There was once a judge in some city who never gave God a thought and cared nothing for people. A widow in that city kept after him: ‘My rights are being violated. Protect me!’

4-5 “He never gave her the time of day. But after this went on and on he said to himself, ‘I care nothing what God thinks, even less what people think. But because this widow won’t quit badgering me, I’d better do something and see that she gets justice—otherwise I’m going to end up beaten black-and-blue by her pounding.’”

6-8 Then the Master said, “Do you hear what that judge, corrupt as he is, is saying? So what makes you think God won’t step in and work justice for his chosen people, who continue to cry out for help? Won’t he stick up for them? I assure you, he will. He will not drag his feet. But how much of that kind of persistent faith will the Son of Man find on the earth when he returns?”

Luke 18:1-8, The Message

That last verse is actually my favorite Scripture.  It’s one I think about often, “And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth” (Luke 18:8, New Revised Standard Version)?

As a person who seeks to follow Christ, I want to shout back at Jesus, “YES!”  Yes, Lord, when you return you will easily distinguish those who follow you, carrying light into a dark world.  Yes, Lord, you will find faith.  You’ll see it in the way in which your people love not only one another, but all persons, even their enemies (Matthew 5:43-48).  Yes, Lord, you’ll find faith among your people.  They are “quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry” (James 1:19).  Yes, Lord, you’ll find faith on earth as the church performs miracles (bigger more magnificent miracles than even you performed)—healing the sick, releasing the prisoner, and setting the oppressed free (John 14:12-14).  As, a Christian, I want to answer the question the disciples left unanswered by shouting loudly, YES!  Lord, you will find faith on earth when you return; in fact, we’re going to be so faithful that when you return you’ll see a reflection (though imperfect I’m sure) of yourself in your church (1 Corinthians 12-13).

But, as a pastor, as one who feels called by God to lead God’s people, I sit back and answer with a bit more reservation and say, “Dear Lord, I pray so.”  The Church—global and local—often fails to live into even its most basic of beliefs.  With internal fighting and division we often seem to be seeking our own interests rather God’s will “for us to become mature adults—to be fully grown, measured by the standard of the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:13, Common English Bible).  Our proclamation of the Good News of Jesus Christ often sounds more like Divine damnation than an in-breaking of Divine Love.  And, so, as a pastor, I sometimes look at the church and plead with God in the words of the disciples who said, Lord, “Increase our faith” (Luke 17:5, Common English Bible)!  Help us, Lord Jesus.  Increase the church’s faith so that we might have a vibrant, life in you that will be recognizable when you return—a faith that turns the other cheek, that points out and nurtures the image of God present in every individual, a faith that moves the mountains that divide people.  Increase our faith, O Lord, so that the hurting world in which we live might find a healing peace in You so that when the Human One—the Son of Man—returns he might find faith on earth.

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Over the past four weeks, I and a group of leaders, called together by the church’s Administrative Board, have met to discuss the current reality of the Wesley Church and how we might structure ourselves so that, in the words of our lesson for today, when Christ returns he might find faith on earth.

There are many misconceptions about our church and community that the Structuring Committee discovered.

First, we found that since 2003 worship attendance has decreased by 50% (157 to 80) while our membership has remained relatively constant (240 to 227—5% decrease).  We learned that over the last five years, we’ve been focusing on the administration of the church instead of empowering everyone for ministry (the  numbers were staggering in 2008 there were 156 committee roles with over half of them being administrative in function; and, in more recent years the proportion of administrative to ministry roles became even more disproportionate.

But, perhaps the most interesting and hopeful discover was that while Culver has experienced a drop in population, projections indicate that in the last three years the population has and will continue to increase; and, in that increase, the fastest growing age group in Culver is projected to be 25-34 year olds (outpacing the rate of growth among seniors by nearly 3 times).  We learned that the population of our zip code has been on a steady increase over the last decade.  And, these things gave us hope.

So, last Monday, the Church gathered to hear the proposal of the Structuring Committee which recommended we restructure in such a way that more people would be empowered for ministry so that the several thousand unchurched and dechurched people in our area might come to know the Good News of God’s love found in Jesus Christ.

This new structure will streamline the administrative functions of the church into a single Church Council (and it’s subgroup, the Executive Committee) so that more people can be empowered for to continue Christs work through one (or more) of five ministry teams: Prayer Team, Worship Team, Education Team,  Mission & Outreach Team, and Nurture & Care Team.  A flowchart illustrating this new structure and describing the responsibilities of the Church Council, Executive Committee, and ministry teams can be found here.

Here’s the thing: in order for this new structure to work, the church will need your participation in the various ministry teams.  Christ needs you in ministry at Wesley Church so that when the “Human One comes, he will find faithfulness on earth.”

Christ needs each and every one of us to do our part in helping proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ.  And, so, I want to encourage you not to get discouraged, don’t lose hope, but pray continually so that all 200+ people might find their place, join in ministry, and help us live into God’s Kingdom so that when the Son of Man returns, he might find faith not just in our church, but in the whole of Southern Marshall County and the world.

 

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