Sunday, July 15, 2012

“Now What?”
Matthew 28:19-20
Pentecost 10
Pastor Mark Neumann

I want to share with you a big question I asked myself on Monday morning.  Monday morning I sat at the desk in, I guess you could say “my office” over there in the corner.  I sat at the desk and asked, “Now what?”  It was an honest question.  I had no idea why I was doing there and at that time.  I just sat there and said, “Now what?”  I had a sermon all figured out—pretty much—and I scrapped it right then and there.  I redid everything, so I could have a different message.  A message that dealt with that question, “Now what?!  Here we are!”

So, I’ve put a sermon outline in your bulletin.  There’s a “Now…” column and a “What…” column.  That’s how I attempted to answer the question earlier this week “Now… What…?”  I have three observations I made about “Now…  Now we’re facing an interim; now we’re facing some challenges; now we’re facing some uncertainties.  Now what?

What I decided to do was to just look at those three things with an emphasis and a focus on either ourselves or the work of God, because that really helps me—at least for now—answer the question “Now what?”  You see, it feels like we’re sitting at an intersection, looking at the signal.  What do we do now?  Do we go, do we wait, do we use caution— what happens now?  I feel like we’re at a little crossroads, and each of these responses in the “what column” can either be viewed from our self-focused perspective or from the perspective of God.


Now we face an interim.  It’s a time in-between.  When congregations face interims, they do one of two things.  They either find themselves waiting—that’s one choice—or going.  So, the “what?” is a choice. Wait or Go!  Now before we start answering the question of whether we should wait or go, the Bible seems to say quite a few very good things about waiting.  Psalm 40:1 says, “I waited patiently for the LORD; he inclined to me and heard my cry.”  Hebrews 6:15 tells us, “Abraham, having patiently waited, obtained the promise.”  Isaiah 40:28-31 says these beautiful words about waiting “Have you not known?  Have you not heard?  The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the heavens and the earth.  He does not grow weary or faint, his understanding is unsearchable.  He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he exercises strength.  Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted; but they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.”  See, the Bible says some really good things about waiting.  So, should a congregation take interim time to wait? 

The Bible also says some pretty good things about going too.  Genesis 6:14, God said to Noah, “Build an ark.”  God approached Abram in the land of Ur—Genesis 12:1 and said, "Go from your country and your kindred and your father's house to the land that I will show you.”  In Exodus three we read how Moses caught sight of a burning bush and from that burning bush the voice of God spoke to him and said, “Moses, I want you to go and set my people free.”  In Matthew 4:19 Jesus approached some fishermen and said, “Come, follow me and I will make you fishers of men.”  And then, of course, a portion of Scripture which I want to meditate on today, Matthew 28:19 Jesus said, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”

Brothers and sisters, as we look at an interim time, a space of time that we are pretty uncertain about, we need to ask ourselves, “Well, should we wait or should we go?”  As I look at these Scripture passages I’ve just shared with you, and others in the Bible, it looks to me as though the Lord encourages his people to be patient and to wait for the things that pertain to them personally.  Did you notice that when I read it?  Those verses seem to imply that we’re waiting for the Lord to act for us.  But, the verses that talk about “going and moving and obeying” all tend to be about God and his will and his ministry.  So I want to encourage you to day to think about how we look at this time for ourselves, and how we look at this time for the Lord and the work he has for us.  I think he’s saying “Go!  Go!  Go and make disciples.  Follow me and I will make you fishers of men.”  These are words of action!


The other thing I noticed about “now” was that we face some challenges.  We face challenges.  All churches everywhere face challenges.  There are different kinds of challenges.  We can look at those challenges either as obstacles or opportunities—that’s the next choice—either obstacles or opportunities depending upon your focus.  If our focus is on our self-intrests then these challenges become obstacles because they get in our way.  James 4:1-3 says, “What causes quarrels, and what causes fighting among you?  Is it not this that your passions are at war within you?  You desire and you do not have.   You kill and covet and cannot obtain; so you fight and quarrel.  You do not have, because you do not ask.  You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.” 

And who could forget, when Peter was chastening Jesus for tell his disciples that he must suffer and go to the cross?  Jesus turned to Peter and said, in Matthew 16:23-24 "`Get behind me, Satan!  You are a hindrance to me; for you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but the things of men.’  Then Jesus told his disciples, `If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”  You see, my friends, challenges that get in our way, that personally block our pleasures and our passions and our happiness, they become obstacles.  Or, they could be opportunities—to deny ourselves, and point the way to others. 

In Matthew 5 Jesus said to his disciples, “You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored?  It is no longer good for anything but to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.  You are the light of the world.  A city on a hill cannot be hidden.  Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house.  In the same way let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.” 

I Peter 3, Peter tells the Christian church that we should be ready—ready to give an answer.  God gives us opportunities to share his love and his grace with others, so that when we face challenges we can personally say, “Boy, this is just getting in my way.  It’s getting in my way of being happy and content and at peace.”  Or we can say, “No, this is an opportunity to share the love of God with others.” 


Now, probably the biggest observation I made on Monday morning was uncertainty.  Right now, we face—some uncertainty.  And again, we can look at uncertainty either from ourselves or from the perspective of God’s amazing grace.  There’s a choice to embrace either fear or faith when we face uncertain times.  I think, you and I are quick to face fear when we look at our own resources, when we look at our own strength.  We read the book of Ecclesiastes—the whole book seems to be saying over and over again, “There’s nothing new under the sun.  Life is empty; it’s a struggle.  Just go about your business.  Try to make it the best you can.  That’s depressing isn’t it? 

Romans 7, Paul goes over and over again, “Oh, I wish that I could do well, but I seem to be making more mistakes.  I want to do righteous things, I want to serve the Lord but sin is right there.”  This big struggle is just making a mess of things.  At the end he says, “Who will rescue me from this mess that I’ve made.  What a wretched man I am.”  When you look at your own strength and your own resources and you face uncertainties, the most natural thing is to be fearful about the future.  But when we focus on God and his provision, we are amazed that he increases in us faith and love.

In II Corinthians 12, Paul is writing to the people in Corinth about a problem that he had—it was a weakness that he had—and we’re not sure what it was.  He calls it “his thorn in the flesh.”  He writes to the Corinthians, “To keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan, to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited.  Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me; but he said to me, `My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’  Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.  For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities; for when I am weak, then I am strong.”  Paul realized, as the Lord shared with him this amazing gift of grace, that it was more than enough to help him with the uncertainties he faced. 

The prophet Isaiah wrote in the forty-first chapter of that book, “Fear not, for I am with you, be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”

And Jesus, in Matthew 28, the last part of verse 20 says, “Behold, I am with you to the very end of the age.”  As we ask ourselves the question, “Now what?” we can have a distinct focus on who’s going to answer that question.  Is God going to answer that question?  Or are we going to answer it out of our own weakness and shortsightedness?  If we let God answer that question I have a feeling he would tell us, “To Go!  Make the most of every opportunity and grow in our faith and our trust.”  I’m afraid if we listen to ourselves we might be stuck saying, “Well, let’s wait.  Let’s realize that there are a lot of things in our way—there are a lot of obstacles.”  Might even say, “The future looks fearful--now what?” 

Our tendency is to look at things “now” from the weaker perspective of our self interests and limited resources.  Thankfully, Jesus showed us something very different.  He denied himself, and took up a cross.  By his grace, we are offered forgiveness for our self-centered focus and given the strength to see a different vision, one that comes from him.  Brothers and sisters, I say we open our eyes and our ears and our hearts and say, “Lord Jesus, lead on.  We will follow you with great joy—with faith and with hope. 

Gracious Lord, thank you for giving us this time together.  May we remember Lord, that you set before us kind of an in-between time—an interim—with challenges and uncertainties.  Lord help us to look to you to seek direction from you and to rejoice when you clearly give us your Word and blessing.  Fill us today with a sense of your nearness to us, and give us your peace for Jesus’ sake."  Amen.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Now What?

It looks like I'm the NEU mann at Berea Lutheran Church in Richfield Minnesota!  As of July 1st, I am serving the congregation as their full-time Interim Pastor.  I am so excited to be back in ministry full-time!  Driving semi-trucks and big motorcoaches was cool for a little while but not really what I wanted to do with the rest of my life.  Since the time I was about three years old, I've loved the church and I've loved being a part of its ministries from the time I was a choirboy at my home church in Roseville, Michigan.
Berea offers me the opportunity to work with a well, established congregation that is in the midst of major transition.  It is a congregation that is looking for what they are calling, "missional leadership."  That amazing word is one of the popular buzz words in the Church today.  It has as many definitions as there are Christians who are willing to discuss it.  Since two pastors have declined their call to serve Berea, the call committee is returning to the drawing board and the leaders have asked that I spend this transitional time as their pastor.  So, over the next few months we are going to seek the Lord together and discover the movement he is making in this group of Christian brothers and sisters.  I bet we'll make more headway on the definition of "missional", in the process.  Friend's, I covet your prayers.  My role is to prepare the congregation for its next pastor.  Earlier this week I sat at the desk in "my" office and began with the question, "Now what?"  I had not anticipated this part of my life or this strange new role.  But, I want to start answering that question this week, on the basis of God's Word.