Old Model for 21st century ministry
A recent article in the fashion section of the NYT got me thinking.
It was about innovative designers using traditional jewelry making methods
from Sri Lanka, Ethiopia, and the American southwest to create new jewelry and scarves.
The designers fashioned batik prints into scarves,
wove bold patterns of tribal architecture into fabric,
and used Navaho bead looms to create bracelets.
The fashion critics were all aflutter.
I was interested because it seems getting inspiration from old ideas happens a lot.
People rework old ideas in business, art, education, even science to come up with better models,
more effective practices, and greater beauty.
The application of former experiences to new situations is a form of learning
and the results can be revolutionary.
Getting inspiration from older sources has always been a key part Christian ministry.
Our scriptures guide our thinking and shape our imaginative world.
Of course there has been a lot of change over the past 2000 years
some of it a gradual evolution, like the growth of our liturgy—
and some of it has been sudden, like when Constantine made the whole Roman Empire Christian
or when Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door of Wittenburg chapel and unwittingly started the Reformation.
Recently we have entered into another epoch of rapid change.
Our culture has become post-Christian—
that is, our culture no longer conveys the stories and precepts of Christianity on its own.
We all know that Sunday morning is a time for many people to catch up on sleep, have family time,
run errands or go the gym
Those who attend church are making a counter cultural choice.
Churches have responded in all kinds of ways, some strengthening their current practices,
like Roman Catholic church beefing up their instruction for people considering baptism and confirmation (RCIA)
and others using technology and rock concert style worship to attract members.
Yet even in this time of rapid cultural change, old models still have value for us.
The book of Acts of the Apostles’, known as ‘Acts’ for short, is a great example.
It picks up the story where the gospel of Luke left off—
when the resurrected Jesus, having appeared to his disciples off and on for 40 days after Easter,
ascends to heaven.
The cliff hanger at the end of Luke’s gospel is:
What will happen to the disciples, now that they are left to their own devices?
Acts answers the question by telling the story of how the disciples received the Holy Spirit—
Jesus’ Spirit, who will be with them to guide them and show them what to do.
In times of great change, this same Spirit guides and shows us what to do.
In fact in today’s lesson from Acts, there are several ideas which continue to be provocative.
It is in our application of these old stories that we can find a fresh approach.
The first is the role of a “vision.”
Our reading begins with Paul receiving a vision of a man from Macedonia, a Roman colony in Europe,
pleading for help.
Now we don’t know exactly how Paul received this vision—
perhaps it was a spiritual experience, like a waking dream
perhaps it was a sudden inspiration that popped into his head
or maybe it was the result of conversations and prayer and reading scripture
that opened his eyes to the need in Macedonia.
It makes me think of the veteran who stands with a sign panhandling at the off ramp of Rt 9 near Fenn Rd.
Imagine that veteran being a wake up call to someone to see that we need to do something for veterans –
and then organizing the churches of Newington to learn more about the hospital and housing
and the people who live there and do something that really helps—
Perhaps that’s the kind of vision that Paul had.
It’s the kind of vision that Sue S and Gina P and Becky F—Core Team members of Family Promise.
It started with a conversation Kara, a member of one of the RC churches in town, had with a college friend.
The friend was involved in this homeless ministry with families, and it had changed her life.
Kara was so taken with the idea of helping families like hers who had lost their homes
that she couldn’t get any peace until she called the national offices for Family Promise.
Soon our members joined her along with people from other churches, and for the past two years,
the vision that families will no longer have to bounce from relatives to motels on the turnpike
to sleeping in their cars
the vision that children will stay in their same school and live with their parents,
not split up like at shelters—
the vision that these families can get back on their feet, into jobs and a home that will stick—
this vision has kept these incredible team of workers going for the past two years,
finding host congregations –9 and counting right now, we need thirteen—
securing a day center where adults work on job hunting and job skills with a case worker,
where children are picked up for school (it’s in New Britain)
hiring the case worker and purchasing a 15 person van for transport—
This vision has kept this Core Team moving and working and hoping and believing
that they WILL organize, that they WILL open their doors this year,
that they WILL make a difference in the lives of children and families who are pleading, Come over and help us.
We get to join in making this vision come to reality today.
We gather after worship today for a celebration meal—everyone is invited.
We will celebrate the work of the Core Team and especially our members who have been working on it.
The theme is “Open Your Hearts,” and you will have the opportunity to do just that –
to open your heart to being a part of helping these families.
See the pictures of the congregations that involved.
Learn about how the program works, pray about how you will be involved when the ministry starts this fall.
And consider opening not only your heart, but also your wallet.
Because today, our Core Team members have promised to match dollar for dollar up to $2500.
With your generosity, we can give $5000 today to make the vision that there will be no more homeless families
Old models can be inspiration for new things.
The book of Acts is full of ideas that people today are trying in new ways:
just as Paul goes to the place of prayer – the place where the people are already gathering—
some Christians have been offering bible studies in coffee houses.
Just as Lydia becomes a leader of a church in her own house,
some Christians regularly invite new people to join them for small groups that meet in homes.
Just as the first disciples gathered over a meal, other Christians are starting dinner ministries
which reach out to millenials who enjoy gathering for a meal and conversation and spiritual practice—
the most famous one is called “St. Lydia’s” in Brooklyn NY.
The most important thing to keep applying to our current context from the book of Acts
is that the Spirit is always working—always leading, guiding, agitating for greater acceptance and open hearts.
The Spirit will work through whatever means present themselves, through whomever is willing
so this means the Spirit often uses unofficial channels
An openness to the Spirit’s work requires a flexibility to work in these unexpected spaces and places
and a healthy dose of trust that even in unchartered territories, it will all work out.
One more story to finish, that has to do with the way the Spirit leads from one vision to another.
Three years ago, my parents’ church in Ohio started a food pantry in their basement.
They worked in conjunction with a local social service agency,
but the volunteers were to come from the church.
My parents and other long standing members said,
“but we already work in the food pantry downtown—we’ll be spread too thin.”
To which the pastor replied,
“This ministry is for the new people.”
Not to be left out, my parents signed up to see what this ministry was all about.
And they found out that it wasn’t like the food pantry downtown where you stand behind the counter—
this ministry invited people to sit and have cup of coffee, to do their own shopping in the pantry,
and to ask for prayer if desired.
Gradually other ties were formed—Wednesday food pantry guests were invited to Lenten soup suppers
Saturday pantry guests joined in the hot dogs after the clean up day.
And lo and behold, guests of the pantry became workers.
Neighbors and girl scout troops heard about the pantry and started to volunteer.
Now three years later, my parents have to sign up two months in advance to get a slot to serve.
And people from the pantry are joining the church—
it’s totally changed the ministry from one of giving TO other people, to serving WITH other people.
And it so affected my parents that they are one of the contributors who are matching funds today.
They are giving a substantial gift today because they want to see our church experience
the same work of the Spirit that they did.
In the end it is the Spirit’s work to transform the old and to make all things new.
That’s what the book of Acts is all about.
That’s what the Spirit is doing among us today.
May we too catch the vision, open our hearts, and let the Spirit make us and our world new.
Reduce, Reuse, Recycle
Last week we talked about how the book of Revelation ‘recycles’ old elements of creation into something new—the new heaven and new earth. We said we’d come with ideas about to reduce, reuse and recycle our items from our daily life. Did anyone come with an idea?
I brought with me:
folded pair of Jeans
plastic ziplock bags
See if you can decide how they could be used to reduce, reuse, or recycle.
God cares enough about the earth to include it and refashion it. God doesn’t throw anything away. All will be made new! We can care about the earth, too—and reduce, reuse, recycle is a great place to start.