Monday, November 28, 2016

Sermon: A Holy Invitation

The Holy Places of Advent: A Holy Invitation
Isaiah 2: 1-5; Romans 13: 11-14 by Rev. Carson Overstreet
Van Wyck Presbyterian Church
November 27, 2015
First Sunday of Advent

In days to come
the mountain of the Lord’s house
shall be established as the highest of the mountains,
and shall be raised above the hills;
all the nations shall stream to it.
Many peoples shall come and say,

‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
to the house of the God of Jacob;
that he may teach us his ways
and that we may walk in his paths.’
For out of Zion shall go forth instruction,
and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.

He shall judge between the nations,
and shall arbitrate for many peoples;
they shall beat their swords into plowshares,
and their spears into pruning-hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war any more.

O house of Jacob,
come, let us walk
in the light of the Lord!
- Isaiah 2: 1-5

Besides this, you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; let us live honorably as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy. Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires. - Romans 13: 11-14

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was America’s poet in the nineteenth century. He had the gift of crafting words to reveal what was held in the heart of the nation and within his own. It was in 1861 that Abraham Lincoln had served as President for one year and the Civil War began. As the war weighed upon the country, Longfellow felt the weight of it all compounded with personal hardships.

As months turned into years, Longfellow wondered if Christmas still changed the world. On December 25, 1863 Longfellow felt his faith reframing his emotions with incredible hope. He put his pen to paper and wrote the famous poem which was later put to music, “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.”

I heard the bells on Christmas Day.
Their old familiar carols play.
And wild and sweet their words repeat
Of peace on earth good-will to men.

As the words flowed he came to the sixth stanza and wrestled with God’s promise of peace in the face of the Battle of Gettysburg. But his honest faith moved him to press on through the darkness:

And in despair I bowed my head.
There is no peace on earth I said.
For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on earth good-will to men.

And then like a choir singing, Longfellow heard the most profound message speak into his heart. He became acutely aware of God’s eternal promise breaking in as he wrote the last stanza:

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep;
"God is not dead; nor does he sleep!
The Wrong shall fail,
The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men!"[1]

It is a hope that had sounded nearly impossible to Longfellow in the nineteenth century. It is also a hope that sounded nearly impossible to those hearing Isaiah’s prophet words.

In Isaiah’s time God’s people were torn into the Northern state of Israel and the Southern state of Judah. God heard the longing of humanity to be rescued from dark and difficult times. Corruption pulsed among the powerful. Oppression seized the most vulnerable. As the fibers of the states, communities and families unraveled between the tensions of judgment and grace, despair seemed to have the last word for many years.

But Isaiah spoke into the darkness with a light of hope. God could be trusted to establish the Lord’s house on the highest of the mountains. God’s dwelling would be recognized as a place where peoples of every nation will gather to learn God’s ways and to walk in God’s faithfulness. God’s eternal promise will embrace humanity in such a way that swords and spears would be turned into instruments to cultivate the peace which only God provides.

O, to see a world where unity is the anthem of the people and the seeds of hope grow in a bountiful harvest to satisfy every need is quite an image, is it not? And as lofty as this dream sounds, it is God’s vision for all humanity and creation.

Isaiah’s words are a beginning point for you and me to navigate through the Advent journey this year. God invites us to look upwards to see where God’s promises are breaking into our lives. When we hear the word ‘Advent’ we know what time it is, for we are waiting for God’s actions to be revealed in the Christ Child once again.

Our human reality, no matter how bleak or broken it may seem, is cradled in the womb of God’s deliverance. Salvation is drawing near to us in this season of waiting. Faith is pregnant with hope. And we are to actively wait for God’s grace to be born again with great expectation.

Jesus Christ is the reason for the season but as we prepare for Christmas we easily forget to call on God’s name. This season brings excitement and joy to the ears and eyes of young ones, but there is often a sense of stress and tension for us adults. We carry burdens of loss and strained relationships. Finances get tighter. Divisions weigh us down. The forecast for world peace looks bleak. And some of us fight against the temptation of just being cynical about it all.

We try to put aside the unresolved parts of our lives in order to pursue the ideal story we wish we could live. It is easier to get caught up in the story we imagine for ourselves than the story that is trying to break in and change our lives. We confess our human need is to fill the empty despair residing in our hearts and minds. But our human nature reaches towards the comforts of the culture instead of the hope of God’s coming kingdom.

And yet God invites us to mark this time of Christmas preparation differently this year. We are called to see glimmers of hope unfolding among us today. “The future belongs to God and the first step towards that future belongs to those who have glimpsed God’s light and are willing to trust that enough light lies ahead.”[2]

Our Lord and Savior is the source of this light. Jesus Christ himself says, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life” (John 8:12). The light of the promised Christ Child shines along Advent’s path to lead the way ahead for us.

Notice that as a candle shines into the darkness its flame wildly reaches out in many directions to illumine all that surrounds it. In the same way, God’s promise of hope longs to shine into every corner of our darkness and into every situation of impossibility. It is a promise that is already here but not yet completely fulfilled.

As the light of Christ shines, it reveals the next steps we are to take to learn from God’s ways and to walk in the paths of God’s faithfulness. With each step we take on this Advent journey, we encounter holy places where hope breaks into the broken spaces of life. We are to make room in our hearts and minds to pause each day to take in the landscape of God’s steadfast love.

And maybe – just maybe in these still small moments - we will experience something amazing. Hope will break in like a choir singing, for in our hearts we will hear a profound message that reframes life’s impossibilities. Like bells ringing more loud and deep, we are reminded that God is present with us. God’s faithful presence is still at work to bring about the hope of redemption for you and I are still in need of a Savior. His reign upon God’s mountain will make the wrong fail, and the righteous prevail with peace on earth, good-will to men. Even if this hope is a glimmer of light, it is nothing short of God’s grace.

Does Christmas still change the world? Over the course of these next four weeks we have the opportunity to ponder this question. As we walk along the holy places of Advent we are listening and watching for God’s promises of hope, peace, joy, and love to reframe our lives.

May we lift up our countenances towards God’s dwelling place. Let us walk in the light of the Lord for we know what time it is!

In the name of God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Sources Referenced:

Advent Thematic Series "The Holy Places of Advent: A Holy Invitation" adapted from "A Preacher's Guide to Lectionary Sermon Series"(Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2016), pp. 3-5.

[1] The Christian Post, “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day,” Greg Laurie Dec 21, 2013.
[2] Stacey Simpson Duke, “Feasting on the Word: Year A, Volume 1” (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010). p. 6.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Sermon: Who Is Jesus?

Who Is Jesus?
Luke 23: 33-43 by Rev. Carson Overstreet
Van Wyck Presbyterian Church
November 20, 2015
Christ the King Sunday

33When they came to the place that is called The Skull, they crucified Jesus there with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. [[ 34Then Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.’]] And they cast lots to divide his clothing. 35And the people stood by, watching; but the leaders scoffed at him, saying, ‘He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Messiah of God, his chosen one!’ 36The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine, 37and saying, ‘If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!’ 38There was also an inscription over him, ‘This is the King of the Jews.’

39 One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding him and saying, ‘Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!’ 40But the other rebuked him, saying, ‘Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 41And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.’ 42Then he said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’ 43He replied, ‘Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.’
- Luke 23: 33-43

If Jesus walked among us today I wonder if we would recognize him? Rev. Jonathan Smith accepted a call to serve as Senior Pastor of a large urban church in Atlanta. The first Sunday he was to lead worship, Smith disguised himself as a homeless man. His beard and hair were unkept; his clothes were dirty; he had not bathed for days.

Smith wandered off the street into the church before worship started. As hundreds of people began to gather, only a few church members spoke to him. When Smith walked into the sanctuary and sat down the ushers asked for him to sit towards the back of the church. Some people avoided making eye contact with him. Some scoffed under their breaths. The liturgist opened worship and after the opening hymns were sung, hearts were being prepared to receive the Word.

And then an elder stood before the congregation to introduce the new pastor. While the elder was in on this, the congregation was not. Smith stood up and walked up to the front of the church to look upon his flock. The congregation was shocked. Not in a million years would these people have expected their shepherd to look as a homeless man, even if it was just a disguise.

For most of us, it is shocking to read Luke’s story of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior – as a marginalized man hanging on a cross just like the two criminals who were to be put to death with him. Luke remembers the leaders scoffed at him. The soldiers mocked him. One of the criminals derided him. No one would ever expected a righteous king to hang like a criminal. It was even offensive to imagine the Son of God publicly humiliated as an outcast. But the people who stood by watching, they were seeing the meaning of all this unfold.

Over the centuries people have asked why did Jesus die on the cross; what is the meaning? Since the middle ages three different theories surfaced to answer the question. However none of them are truly sufficient alone to explain the mystery of the cross.

The first theory is that Christ died on the cross as a Victor. God worked through Jesus’s obedient love to conquer the powers of sin and death (1 Corinthians 15:54; Colossians 2:15). While Scripture tells us we have victory through Jesus Christ, this theory is limited. Although the battle is won we continue to struggle with the human condition of sin. We long to fully experience the freedom from sin which we will fully know in God’s eternal presence.

The second theory is that Christ died as a ransom to pay a debt in which humanity cannot repay (Matthew 20:28; 1 Timothy 2:6). Humanity has incurred the debt because of sin. Although the debt is paid to satisfy God’s honor, the redeeming love of God is overpowered by image of a wrathful God. For many individuals this is problematic because the emphasis on God’s wrath makes God seem like a tyrant and unrelational.

The third theory is that Christ’s sacrificial love empowers moral influence (Luke 7:47). God reconciles the world through the life and ministry of Jesus Christ. And Christ’s example moves us to follow in Christ’s faithful obedience but this theory is limited too. While we strive to have the same mind of Christ, taking our eyes off the cross diminishes the seriousness of sin.

You and I are children of the Enlightenment era and we search for answers with logic and reason. But that was not Luke’s context. Nor did Luke go into great detail of the suffering Christ endured on the cross. The greatest meaning of Luke’s story is revealing who is Jesus from the very beginning of the Gospel to the very end. Knowing the One we confess as Savior is primary over the way we explain Jesus’ saving death.

For Luke, Jesus ushers in an upside down kingdom. When the Son of the Most High came into the world, he was to be recognized by his humble poverty (Luke 2:7). God worked through him to scatter the proud, bring down the powerful, and lift up the lowly (Luke 1: 50-53). This King did not search out the righteous ones but came kept company with the sinners and outcasts to the very end of his life in order to seek and save the lost (Luke 19:10). Jesus did not seek out his own interests to save himself because he was willing to lose his life for our sakes in order that we might experience salvation. (Luke 9:24).

As Jesus fulfills the Scriptures as Messiah to reveal God’s upside down kingdom, he does not assert his divine authority as might. Jesus does not seek vengeance or retribution upon all who are culpable of his death. Jesus humbles himself yet again with nothing short of mercy. Jesus prays forgiveness for the ones who do not know their need for it (Luke 23:34). Jesus extends eternal forgiveness to the unlikely one who boldly asks for it (Luke 23:43).

Today we gather around God’s Story and the Lord’s Table. And we are seeing new meaning as all this unfolds. Each time we break the bread and share the cup we remember that we are claimed in God's forever family and in the forgiveness of Jesus Christ. The cross moves us to see our actions as God truly sees them. Even though the human condition of sin condemns us, God loves us too much to let us live in bondage to it.

There is only One who is able to condemn; that is Jesus Christ our Lord. And yet Christ came and lived among us; Christ died for us; Christ rose for us; Christ lives in power for us; and Christ prays for us. Anyone who is in Christ is indeed a new creation. The old life has come and gone and new life begins because of God’s gift of forgiveness.

As Christ’s forgiveness changes our lives, we are also to live into the power of God’s mercy with others. We are to forgive as Jesus forgives. C.S. Lewis says, “To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable in others because God has already forgiven the inexcusable in you and me.” That kind of mercy is needed today more than ever before in a culture that prioritizes the assertion of power over humility and meekness…. in a culture where many are still scoffed at, marginalized, and voiceless.

The bread and the cup nourish our bodies, hearts, and minds to work as the body of Christ to bring about God’s upside down Kingdom. We are to let go of our personal agendas and lose our lives for Christ’s sake in order to find true life. God’s gift of mercy empowers us to step out of our comfort zones to work for God’s justice. Let me just tell you on behalf of the Isaiah Bible studies here at the church - that it is not enough to just love Jesus.

God uses the cross to open our eyes to the injustices around us in our neighborhoods, our state, our country, and our world. Seeking justice for individuals, groups, and communities who have no voice is not easy work. It is not popular work. But following Christ’s compassion to lift up the lowly is the grit of the gospel. It is the mark of holiness, character, and integrity of our Savior.

Today we take the feast to the streets. We have an opportunity to bring a glimpse of God’s upside down kingdom today as we deliver Thanksgiving meals to neighbors in need. Just imagine the countless ways God might lead us in the ways of justice this upcoming year.

Today as we touch, taste, and experience God’s mercy again this morning, let us remember who Jesus is. May the bread we break and the cup we share strengthen us to boldly follow him.

In the name of God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Sermon: An Example to Imitate

"An Example to Imitate"
Isaiah 65: 17-25; 2 Thessalonians 3: 6-13 by Rev. Carson Overstreet
Van Wyck Presbyterian Church
November 13, 2016
Stewardship Commitment Sunday

17 For I am about to create new heavens
and a new earth;
the former things shall not be remembered
or come to mind.
18 But be glad and rejoice for ever
in what I am creating;
for I am about to create Jerusalem as a joy,
and its people as a delight.

19 I will rejoice in Jerusalem,
and delight in my people;
no more shall the sound of weeping be heard in it,
or the cry of distress.
20 No more shall there be in it
an infant that lives but a few days,
or an old person who does not live out a lifetime;
for one who dies at a hundred years will be considered a youth,
and one who falls short of a hundred will be considered accursed.

21 They shall build houses and inhabit them;
they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit.
22 They shall not build and another inhabit;
they shall not plant and another eat;
for like the days of a tree shall the days of my people be,
and my chosen shall long enjoy the work of their hands.

23 They shall not labor in vain,
or bear children for calamity;
for they shall be offspring blessed by the Lord—
and their descendants as well.
24 Before they call I will answer,
while they are yet speaking I will hear.
25 The wolf and the lamb shall feed together,
the lion shall eat straw like the ox;
but the serpent—its food shall be dust!
They shall not hurt or destroy
on all my holy mountain,
says the Lord.
- Isaiah 65: 17-25

6 Now we command you, beloved, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, to keep away from believers who are living in idleness and not according to the tradition that they received from us.

7For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us; we were not idle when we were with you, 8and we did not eat anyone’s bread without paying for it; but with toil and labor we worked night and day, so that we might not burden any of you. 9This was not because we do not have that right, but in order to give you an example to imitate. 10For even when we were with you, we gave you this command: Anyone unwilling to work should not eat. 11For we hear that some of you are living in idleness, mere busybodies, not doing any work. 12Now such persons we command and exhort in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living. 13Brothers and sisters, do not be weary in doing what is right.
- 2 Thessalonians 3: 6-13

From a young age we are drawn to mentoring figures. They are people who live their lives in such a way that we want to follow their example. A parent’s work often captures a young mind to imitate their parent’s persona by wearing the tool belt or suit and briefcase too. A pastor makes a lasting impression while making time to be present with children and youth in their developmental years. A neighbor or family member is cherished by the way she or he endures life’s hardships with nothing less than grace and gratitude. The examples we follow shape the ways in which we interpret the story of the world and the story of ourselves.

Paul speaks to his flock in Thessalonica and lifts an example for them to follow. He wants the community of faith to look at the example of the apostles and their spiritual leadership. Remember Paul is not lifting up himself alone but rather the model of Jesus Christ which has completely convicted Paul’s conscience. Paul strived to teach, preach, and live out the gospel in the community and in his own life. And Paul strongly encouraged his followers to imitate his example in Christ not in a pious way but in the practical matters of life, particularly in their work.

The daily work that we engage in is held within one of two differing frameworks.

One framework is written by the culture’s assumptions. In Paul’s time, work was framed by an honor-shame society. One’s work or business would do anything to elevate the patriarch’s social status, even to the point of shaming and exploiting others. Fear became a powerful motivator. It was an unjust worldview because it sought self-benefit at the expense of others. This framework is still alive and well today as ladders across the economic spectrum are climbed and each step up is made by a fear of loss and a sacrifice of integrity.

The other framework is written by the gospel’s expectations. Tim Keller is a Presbyterian pastor and I share his words: “God is Creator of the world, and our work mirrors his creative work when we create culture that conforms to God’s will and vision for human beings. God does not simply create; but also loves, cares for, and nurtures his creation. God’s loving care comes to us largely through the labor of others. As an extension of God’s providential work, our labor has its orientation toward our neighbor, and we must ask how it can be done excellently and for his or her good.”[1]

Work was given to our biblical parents as a way to join God in a relational way to help God’s creation flourish. When humanity’s work became tainted by sin then God knew creation and humanity could only flourish through the grace of redemption and reconciliation. This is the work God invites you and I to be a part of. Therefore as stewards of God’s grace we are to seek intersections between our work and faith in order to bring about common good that bears witness to God’s renewal.

The Confession of 1967 offers a powerful image of how we are to do this: “To be reconciled to God is to be sent into the world as his reconciling community… The life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ have set the pattern for [our work].”[2]

The life and ministry of Jesus Christ move us to share common life together. We do this by seeking to mend the divisions among us. We look for the common values that unite us, build up shared accountability, and support one another in times of need.

The suffering that Christ endured opens our eyes to the sufferings of humanity. We are given a new lens in which to see the world around us through the compassion of Christ. As we are moved to lift up our sisters and brothers who suffer, we also are given a unique opportunity to see Christ in one another.

The death of Jesus Christ humbles us as we are often complicit to injustice. And yet Christ died for us in order to reveal God’s promise of salvation to bring new life and justice. As we take steps to imitate Christ’s example in our work and faith, we begin to discover God’s steadfast love to right the wrongs and bring renewal in our hardships.

Even as God is at work to bring about a new heaven and a new earth, we are called to find meaning through the work of our hands. Our hands are to join God in building the Kingdom. We find joy in our work even in difficult times as we join God in bringing eternal hope into the broken places of life. Oftentimes we see God at work through our mentoring examples to experience glimpses of this pattern.

The example of Jesus Christ is the only one worthy of imitating. God gives us an important example to follow as we work in uncertain and anxious times. Fear easily causes us to take our focus away from the gospel narrative.

Many of us are perplexed by that medical diagnosis. Fear causes us to feel isolated and alone.

We are questioning if we will have enough financial resources in an unpredictable economy. Fear makes generosity look foolish.

We are stressed about the political landscape. Fear of our political differences has brought conflict on a national level, in the workplace, and even touches our families and friends. And we are uncertain how to bring healing to these divisions in order to move forward.

Fear is an enemy that makes our work counterproductive in God’s vision for us. No matter what the uncertainty or fear is that weighs upon us as we work- we are to strive to reframe our faith and life from a perspective of abundance and flourishing for all.

The biblical texts as us what narrative are we following? The culture’s assumptions or the gospel’s expectations?

It is an important question because as we look ahead into the upcoming year we have a lot of work to do. If you and I are to truly be stewards of God’s grace then we are to prepare ourselves to be sent out into the world as instruments of God’s grace.
The hope is that God will intersect our unique gifts with the community’s needs if we are open to the Spirit. We are to allow the example of Christ’s life, ministry, death, and resurrection to bear weight in the work we do at school, on the farm, in the office, at the hospice bedside, and right here within this community and beyond.

You see, the integrity of the gospel is at stake. God has given us God’s very heart in the person and work of Jesus Christ. And God invites you and me to follow Jesus’ example and work together to build up a community of love as we talked about last week.

The children helped us to see a glimpse of this vision earlier this morning. We all receive God’s gift of grace through many blessings. And God has called us to stretch out our arms and hands to share the gift of God’s grace and even God’s own heart with others. Just as it takes a number of hands to make a circle of hearts, it takes all of us to reach out the doorways of our homes, our workplaces, and this church to share our blessings that work together to build up a community of love.

Stewardship means that together we are God’s reconciling community at work in the world. We give to God our time, our talents, our treasures, and our very selves. This giving is rooted in making generous sacrifices of grace as Christ made the ultimate sacrifice of grace for us. Let us join our hearts and hands in this holy work to imitate Christ’s example.

If we are intentional in our efforts then we will have the opportunity to create moments of grace that will be spiritual examples for others in life changing ways. Christ leads us to interpret the world and our very selves with nothing less than grace and gratitude. That kind of framework will not let us be weary from doing what is right.

In the name of God our Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer. Amen.

Sources Referenced:

[1] Timothy Keller, “Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God’s Work” (New York: Penguin Group, 2012), p. 184.
[2] The Confession of 1967 (9.31, 9.32) The Book of Confessions (Louisville: The Office of the General Assembly, 2002).

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Sermon: Moments of Grace

"Moments of Grace"
2 Thessalonians 2: 13-17 by Rev. Carson Overstreet
Van Wyck Presbyterian Church
November 6, 2016
Stewardship Sunday

But we must always give thanks to God for you, brothers and sisters beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the first fruits for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and through belief in the truth. For this purpose he called you through our proclamation of the good news, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. So then, brothers and sisters, stand firm and hold fast to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by our letter.

Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and through grace gave us eternal comfort and good hope, comfort your hearts and strengthen them in every good work and word.
- 2 Thessalonians 2: 13-17

I want to take you back to another time and another place. We are going to my hometown in Virginia. The skies are bright and the Blue Ridge Mountains wrap around the town in glorious peaks of fall color. We are all in the high school – I know this may be a stretch but stay with me!

The afternoon bell has rung early to dismiss the classes for the big pep rally. Of course you remember the feeling of absolute joy to leave class early! Everyone has gathered into the gymnasium and we are filling the seats of the bleachers on both sides. The cheerleaders are facing each side of the bleachers and they are cheering the best cheers of the season.

These young adults are building the excitement of the student body for the BIG GAME! Not only are we lifting our voices but we are also clapping our hands and stomping our feet. As we get louder and louder the cheerleaders throw more and more candy and streamers our way into the stands. Just imagine 20 teenagers tossing out candy like Jay Jones hands out here every Sunday!

That kind of excitement is just contagious. All of this momentum is causing us to focus on what matters. It’s not just focusing on the big game, although a win would be awesome –especially if it were as big of a win as the Cubs winning the World Series!

The focus is to believe in something bigger than ourselves! We are not just groups of students, adults, clubs, or sports teams. When we are all united as one then we feel the strength of community. And that energized strength we feel together in that pep rally transfers out into the hallways, the classrooms, the football field, out into the streets, and even in the way we see ourselves.

Paul’s second letter to Thessalonica was to rally the community of faith. Paul celebrated the good work of the body for the congregation was steadfast in its faith during hard times. Paul wanted to motivate and rally the community to keep the main thing the main thing. And that was to build up the kingdom of God.

God has called each and every one of us for a purpose. That purpose is bigger than ourselves. Paul says God has chosen us for the purpose of being changed by God’s amazing grace. The ways in which the love of God, the grace of Christ, and the guidance of Holy Spirit are at work in our lives is not for our sakes alone.

You and I are not the sole benefactors of faith. We are to let God take our moments and our days and let them flow as ceaseless praise. We are invited to let God take our hands and let them move at the impulse of God’s love. As God works through our lives the gift of faith moves among us to rally, encourage, and motivate others. And these moments of grace are something to behold because they invite us to experience the strength of being in community with God and one another.

Grace changes us as we are touched by God’s hospitality to know we belong to God. Grace claims us.

Grace draws us closer to the cross as we sing it, confess it, pray it, and proclaim it. We even touch grace with tangible expressions like boxes filled with hearts, water in the font, and the feast at God’s Table made with homemade bread and juice.

Grace nurtures our families, children, and youth to love Jesus authentically in the ordinary spaces of life. Even our youngest disciples like Vivie Lee and Logan spot God at work among us.

Grace moves us to dig deeper into God’s Word to equip our faith and shape our interactions at home, in the workplace, and out in the world. Grace moves us into a new way of being.

Grace opens our hands and our hearts. It gives us courage to take God’s Word seriously to love our neighbors as ourselves by serving them with compassion in times of need.

Grace tethers our relationships with God and one another with genuine concern as we are strengthened in times of intergenerational play, fellowship, and care.

Grace empowers the spiritual leaders among us to discern and encourage our commitment to grow as disciples of Jesus Christ. As we experience the grace of Christ why would we want to follow anyone or anything else?

We have all experienced these moments of grace this past year at Van Wyck Presbyterian through our various teams of ministry. As our teams unite within these key moments of grace we feel the strength of something very special among us.

God is indeed doing something special here. God invites you and me to be a part of building up the kingdom. Not only does God want us to have a special connection with these moments of grace. God also wants us to connect to the vision of the kingdom. God’s kingdom is a community of love.

The children helped us to see a glimpse of this vision earlier this morning. We all receive God’s gift of grace through many blessings. And God has called us to stretch out our arms and hands to share the energy and the gift of God’s grace with others. Just as it takes a number of hands to make a circle of hearts, it takes all of us to reach out and share our blessings to build a community of love.

The kingdom vision here at Van Wyck Presbyterian is to Grow in Christ in Spirit, Service and Number. My pastoral hope in this core vision is this:

(1) To grow in Spirit we grow as disciples. That means we follow Jesus’ trust in God’s Word, prayerful relationship, and abundant provision. I am so thankful for our children, youth, and adults who are growing in God’s Word as disciples here in Sunday School and small group Bible studies. May we continue to make and equip disciples this year!

(2) To grow in Service we put our faith in action. We continue to serve our neighbors here and beyond. I am so thankful for our ministry teams which are reaching out into the community in fellowship and mission. This is bringing excitement and it is contagious! May we continue to nurture servant leadership this year!

(3) To grow in Number we say “Come and See!” We continue to invite others to Come and See what God is doing here. I am thankful for the gifts of welcome and hospitality here among us. May we continue to share enthusiasm for all God is doing here so that others may find the MORE of what they are looking for in a deeper faith journey.

God has called each of us through our proclamation of the good news so that we may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ (2 Thessalonians 2:14). Do you know what is the best part of receiving the gift of God’s grace? The best part is giving it away. God invites you and me to give away God’s abundant grace in order to make the vision of God’s Kingdom a reality.

Your pledge and mine is an authentic response to God’s call upon our lives. A pledge is to affirm that all we have is truly a gift from God. Just as God has promised to embrace us in steadfast love and faithfulness, our pledges are a promise to trust God is making us kingdom people. And kingdom people trust the power of God’s saving grace is working through us more than we can hope, ask, or imagine.

Doug and I pledge to this church because God has changed our lives and we want to be a part of God’s vision to change the lives of others. Years ago when we first decided to pledge at our home church it was a small commitment. However each year God has been faithful as we have grown in our trust of what God can do through our gifts as we increase them.

I am grateful for the growing faithfulness of this church as a handful of new pledges were made last year. And I trust that God will continue to be at work among us to increase our responses of trusting God this upcoming year. There is no pledge that is too small or too generous for God to use in building up the Kingdom.

This is an exciting time in the life of Van Wyck Presbyterian. We are celebrating the good ministries our teams are doing with God’s help. Our spiritual leaders and I hope you feel the energy of God cheering us on! God is at work to reveal the strength of community and I cannot wait to see what is up God’s sleeve in 2017.

Prayerfully consider the ways God is calling you to share your time, passions, and treasures to build up this community of love. Each of us wants to belong to a community marked with moments of grace that touch our lives. I promise you that God will be faithful as we grow in our trust of what God will do.

In the name of God our Provider, Redeemer, and Sustainer. Amen.