Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Sunday's Sermon: How Well Do You Remember Our/Your Mission?

How many of you who were here remember last week’s sermon word for word? Quite a few hands. That’s not surprising considering the length of the sermon. It was only four words, "Do what Jesus says."

I know with a few folks it caused some consternation. I received comments from "That sermon was great!" to "Next week’s sermon better be fantastic." To "Why in the world would pastor do that to us?"

Let me begin by asking this question: I’ve been serving as your pastor for eight and one-half years. Can anyone here this morning honestly tell me you’ve remembered even one sermon in it’s entirety that I have preached in those eight and a half years except for last week’s? I didn’t think so.

So, in effect, in eight and a half years, those of you who have heard me preach before can only remember one sermon in its entirety that I’ve preached, and that sermon was only four words long; didn’t dig into any long biblical or theological scholarship; didn’t include any cute or funny stories; didn’t have any profound new insights into the Christian faith, or what have you. Is that what I’m hearing this morning?

Now, before you start feeling guilty or something or wonder if we should even have preaching in church anymore, let me say that I don’t even remember any of the sermons I have preached in their entireties. I can remember bits and pieces. I can remember stories I have told, but I cannot recall them totally. In fact, the words of this sermon are written in my computer over at the office, and I am quite sure that if you went over there and read that sermon, there would be quite a few differences between what is on that computer and what is coming out of my mouth right now. So, don’t feel bad. It’s hard to remember such things, and there is a reason why.

Recently, in a continuing education class, I was taught that our brains have difficulty remembering any sentence or saying longer than four words. Sure, if we take the time to memorize something over and over and over, it might stick; but the reality of our world in this technologically driven society is that our brains can’t handle anything more than four words or less without really focusing. This is why many corporate brands these days have very short vision statements. You can see this on the list I included in your bulletin this morning. Many of those names and statements are probably very familiar to you. When someone says, "Wanna get away?", your brain probably flashes to Southwest Airlines. If someone says, "I’m lovin’ it," and you have children, you probably groan because the kids are probably wanting to go to McDonalds. If you hear "Just do it," even in the midst of regular conversation, you probably think of Nike. These four word or less vision statements become ingrained in our brains, and they stick with us–just like that four word sermon stuck with many of you this past week.

Which brings me to the next question. Without looking at the bulletin before you, can you tell me right off the top of your head, quoting word for word, our vision/mission statement? Can you tell it to me in it’s entirety?
If someone asked you what we were trying to do and be and accomplish in our congregation, could you answer them without missing a beat? If someone asked you what our purpose was as a church, could you respond, "Oh, we are actively reaching out as a strong Christian influence in our community by showing God’s love through kindness, caring, and involvement with others inside and outside our community of faith." And do you think that other person would remember that?

Now, I’m not knocking our mission statement. Not in the least. In fact, it’s a doggone good one. It’s one that governs me in the decisions I make as pastor of this congregation. It governs me when I deal with those making requests to our community care fund. It governs me when people ask me what ministries we should do. It gives me the parameters of how I believe I am called to operate and function as your pastor. And I don’t think we should change it. But is there a way to get across who we are and what we do as a congregation in a simpler manner? Is there a way to convey our mission so that others can remember it as easily as those of you who were here last Sunday remember my sermon?

You see, we are not as fortunate to be living in the time that Jesus was preaching and proclaiming. In our gospel lesson, He stands in front of the congregation in the synagogue He grew up in. He is handed the scroll from the prophet Isaiah, and Jesus reads, "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, 19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor." Now, hear me when I say this, in Jesus’ day, when He began reading, nearly everyone in attendance that day knew the rest of the text. For when Jews received their religious education, they were required to memorize large chunks of scripture.
They knew their Old Testament texts much better than we know the Bible today. Because they lived in an oral culture, they could remember better.

The people gathered knew this text was about the coming Messiah. They knew it was about the year of Jubilee. They knew it was something every Jew hoped and longed for. And Jesus, after reading it said, "Today, this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing." Jesus in not so many words said, "Listen up folks, this is my mission. This is why I came to earth. I came to institute these words from the book of Isaiah. I will bring release to the captives, sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf, and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor."

And we know that Jesus followed through on that mission. When they remembered Jesus’ saying these words and then saw the work Jesus did, there was no mistake. The people knew that Jesus had a mission and that He was working to accomplish it.

We are not lucky enough for people these days to remember 51 words exactly. We are not lucky enough for people and even ourselves to remember 10 words exactly. Our brains are programmed for four or less.

So, what does that mean for us? What does that mean for our congregation? Here’s just a thought and an experiment. On the same insert of all those company names, on the back you will see two questions: one regarding this congregation’s mission and the other regarding your personal mission. Take a few moments now and give those two questions some consideration. Before the end of the service, fill them out. Tear those pieces of paper in half, and please give me the one about the church. The other, keep. Put it in a place where you will see it often in the coming month. Then, after that month is over, see if that vision and mission you have for your life has had any impact upon how you live. The results just might be surprising.

Jesus was clear about His mission and vision, and it changed the world. Perhaps we might not change the world, but what impact do you think we as a congregation might have in our community if we had such clarity of our mission and could articulate it as easily? What impact do you think we might have in our daily lives if we had such clarity on what our mission and vision for our lives was? As the Taco Bell sauce label says these days, "If you never do, you’ll never know." Amen.

1 comment:

Kathy said...

Very interesting. Even though you were born late, you understand the direction of our society: Dumb down.

There are a gazillion things I could say. I doubt anyone would read them.

Have you ever seen a Lutheran Sunday School pin? It's enamel on gold, with little bars for each year. I had all 12 bars. I was taught to memorize Scripture. (When I started Graduate-level Theology at a Catholic University, I knew more Scripture than my teachers.)

My Lutheran Confirmation exam was this: The class (about 15 eighth-graders) had to stand up in front of the church, near the altar, on a Sunday morning. The pastor asked us random questions and we had to answer publicly. I got: "What is the Second Commandment?" I rattled it off by memory, in its entirety.

I'm not bragging. That's just the way it was in 1958.

This morning Bishop Michael Rinehart wrote something about not teaching children to be good. That's just great. I'm buying a gun.