The time is right

Epiphany 3B 2015

“The Time Is Right”

Jan’s friend Marilyn has a ministry with food.

She owned her own restaurant in the South End of Hartford, specializing in Italian and Jewish cuisine.

She ran a catering business for a number of years,

Working bar mitzphas and first communion parties, weddings and funerals.

She loved taking care of people, and food was a way to do it large scale.

But there came a time when Marilyn was looking for a new opportunity.

Her restaurant was closed and the catering business was winding down

And there was this friend, Jerry, who kept asking her to come and work

at Middlewoods Convalescent Home where his mother lived.

The food is terrible! He would say. You have to come and help us.

Well, Jerry had been asking for four years, and finally, Marilyn said, you know, I think he’s right.

He keeps asking… there must be something in this.

She considered her other commitments, and the time seemed to be right.

So she signed on to be the chef at Middlewoods.

It wasn’t an easy crowd.

The crew before Marilyn really hadn’t attended to the health of their guests—

they had been eating veggies burgers and donuts every day, and had grown used to this.

They didn’t want to change.

But Marilyn went around to every resident and asked what their favorite dishes were.

She experimented until she got the food just right for each person.

The right nutrition profile, of course—diabetic or gluten free, etc

But also, a taste they enjoyed—a way to fill them with care that made them feel like Middlewoods was home.

Marilyn spent extra time with the people who seemed to have no one to visit them

When staff meetings came around, Marilyn knew the residents so well from her time with them

She would speak their concerns and advocate for them.

What Marilyn did was more than food service;

Her work with the people at Middlewoods was a ministry that fed mind, body and spirit.

I think that kind of work is what Jesus was inviting people into in our lesson today.

Jesus began his ministry preaching a simple message:

“The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near;

Repent and believe in the Good News.”

The time was right for God’s kingdom, God’s rule to begin.

Throught Jesus, the power of God would be unleashed in the world—

sending demons packing

Healing people of their sickness and sadness

empowering people to make changes in their lives so they could be all that God called them to be.

God had acted in the lives of God’s people prior to Jesus—we have the whole OT to tell us about it.

There had been many self proclaimed Messiahs before Jesus.

But somehow the time wasn’t right.

When Jesus proclaimed that the ‘the time was fulfilled’

he was saying time for change had finally arrived—

Mark uses the Greek word Kairos for time-- Chronos is the usual word for the times of day and season

But Kairos denotes God’s time.

Jesus was signaling that now God was loose in the world,

And now was the time for the people to respond.

I think this same call happens to us today.

Marilyn’s story is a great example.

When the time was right, she heard within Jerry’s request something important

Something time sensitive

She felt within herself that the time was right for a change in her life.

That knowledge required a response on her part.

And so she took that job at MIddlewoods; it took her life in new directions, and it became a ministry for her.

There are indications that the time is right for change her at OSLC, too.

We have now statistics for worship attendance from the last four years, since I arrived.

And do you know what it looks like? A big curve.

When I arrived in 2010, we averaged 56 in worship on Sunday morning.

In 2011, it jumped to 70. A steep increase!

We enjoyed the energy that of those worship numbers, with people coming back after a hiatus

New folks joining.

People were energized, eager to try new things, eager to tell others about what was happening at OSLC

Feeling that God was working here.

In 2012, the numbers slipped--- 68 in worship on average.

In 2013, 65.

And last year, a bigger drop—59.

We are almost back where we started.

I wouldn’t be honest with you if I said I wasn’t disappointed.

But this kind of curve is typical in churches.

Studies have shown exactly this kind of trend over time in congregations

For average worship attendance, finances, and congregational energy.

It’s called the ‘congregational life cycle.’

And it’s all related to change.

When a change is instituted, it starts the life cycle.

A new congregation, a new ministry that calls forth considerable effort from the congregation,

A change in staff—

All increase energy, enthusiasm, and participation.

As people come through the challenge there is greater confidence, and a sense of wonder.

There is a sense of birth—or rebirth.

That is just the word that kept popping up in 2011 when we did our visioning study—rebirth.

Periods of growth follow a birth/rebirth, as the energy is channeled into new ways of living and serving.

There gets to be a point, though, when a number of challenges are surmounted and goals are met.

There is a sense of accomplishment, and things start to become predictable

Everyone is happy, but that satisfaction sows the seeds for the next part of the life cycle: decline.

Decline is so gradual, at first you don’t even notice it-

Things seem to be going fine, and so people don’t work as hard

The congregation isn’t covering new ground, so new opportunities don’t arise as naturally

And pretty soon, all the marks of reduced vitality begin to show—decreased attendance, dollars and interest.

What is needed at this stage of the life cycle is rebirth

And that means, not doing the same things differently

But doing new things.

Our bishop has been talking about this, because the whole Lutheran church is in decline.

In fact, all religious groups across the board are in decline as our culture becomes more secular.

And while we cannot reverse cultural trends, we can still be vital

We can still experience rebirth.

But it requires an openness to experimentation, and a willingness to tolerate failure.

What is the time right for here at Our Savior’s?

The trends match perfectly: our average weekly attendance patterns, and the life cycle of a church.

We have accepted the challenge to be a supporting congregation of Family Promise

But that is still a year away.

We have visitation ministry and education, and we continue to work on getting out into the community--

But I wonder where the challenge is for us as a community

there’s a lot of business as usual around here

And that business looks to be pretty darn comfortable—not stretching and growing.

Jesus’ call that the time is right required action on the part of his followers.

When he called his first disciples, they immediately left their nets and families and followed him.

It was a time sensitive offer—Mark was clear that Jesus’ call was NOW, not later.

They responded.

Brothers and sisters, it is time for us to respond.

Not just to do what we’ve been doing, but to try bold new initiatives.

We do not need to worry about failure, because we believe in a God who used failure and death

---Jesus’ death---To bring new life.

What we do need to be careful of is complacency,

A self satisfaction that prevents us from hearing the urgency of Jesus’ call:

The time is fulfilled, the kingdom of God is near!

That repentance and change are required on our part.

Jesus called his disciples long ago to ‘fish for people.’

As Christians we believe he still issues the same call to action today, to us.

When Marilyn’s kids were young, she volunteered in a program to bring meals to homebound folks

She brought her young children along and visited with the folks while they ate.

The program was called FISH— Friends In Service Here.

We are called to FISH— to be Friends in Service Here.

Let us not rest on our laurels.

Let us not get so comfortable that this place becomes like a couch.

But rather let our church be the boat that takes us out to deeper waters

So that we FISH—we are friends in service— and take on the next challenge that God has in store for us.

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