Given by Pastor Jonathan Friesen
It is really good to be back. I very much enjoy the holiday season with all the special traditions and activities – and who couldn’t have enjoyed and appreciated the story re-told in our pageant two weeks ago, or been fired up by Tammie’s version of Go Tell It On the Mountain.
But I also have to say, I am ok when the holidays over and we turn our attention to the new year. For we know that God has done a powerful thing, for Christ has come, is with us, and is always coming toward us, reaching out to us. And then we get to focus on what exactly that means for our daily lives.
I am not disappointed one bit that we return back to quote on quote ordinary time. In fact, this is one of my favorite seasons of the church year – this period between Advent and Lent Christmas and Easter when we focus in on the life and teachings of Jesus. And just as a side note, this period of time this year will be quite short as Easter is very early this year – coming in March.
And as a last side note about our trip, I requested that we sing this morning, Somebody Prayed for Me after our communal prayer time. That is in honor of Kristin’s grandmother who we were able to visit over the holiday – celebrating her 97th Christmas. For we know that she has prayed for us for so many of those years and is still praying for us. And we too are praying for her. And that is a powerful witness. Don’t underestimate the power of 97 years of prayer and faithfulness and service to lift up the kingdom of God and change the world.
So, now, 2016 is upon us. We can continue to operate in a similar way as we did at the end of last year, or, as I find meaningful, we can take stock of the year that was, do some reflecting, and then set some goals and vision for the year to come.
Now as I thought about this in the context of our church life, the two scriptures that kept coming back to me were the two we read this morning, the Pentecost text where we learn about the coming of the Holy Spirit, and the text where Jesus teaches us the Lord’s Prayer during his sermon on the mount.
In the Pentecost text from Acts we find out that when the first followers of Jesus gathered together by themselves – that the Holy Spirit came rushing in like a mighty wind. The spirit was moving and empowering them to do Jesus’ work on earth. And I found myself thinking about where did the spirit move in our midst in this past year. Where did we experience that mighty rushing wind of God’s presence?
And there were too many places for me to list here so I just identified a few:
I felt the spirit moving, gathered together in a van with 8 others of you making the trip to Birmingham and Selma Alabama this past spring for the 50th anniversary of the march for Voting Rights, the so-called Bloody Sunday event that was such a critical turning point in the Civil Rights movement.
The spirit was rushing in, when we stood in the rotunda of the Civil Rights Museum in Birmingham, watching the first African-American president give a speech marking this anniversary, just having walked through the museum – and been reminded of all those, many of them motivated by a deep faith in God, who worked, endured, suffered, and helped make the president’s speech a possibility.
I felt the spirit move another time at our church retreat. As we had our annual talent show, there was a moment where Akosua came forward to sing, a brave thing for someone quite new to our community, having moved here in recent months from Ghana via New York City.
And who was there to welcome her to the stage and encourage her but Hill, someone who moved here 47 years ago via UofC from Georgia. Now set aside the fact that Hill was in a Mouse suit as our Talent Show emcee for a minute and realize the spirit was moving in that moment of courage and hospitality and diversity in action.
And then I felt the spirit move through the summer as we celebrated the ordination of Kathryn, as we blessed and sent her out to serve the Church. She is preaching in Spanish and drawing together diverse congregations in powerful ways at North Shore Baptist.
And I felt the spirit move when we welcomed back former summer interns and heard from Joey and Ginny and others about how important EAC was to their own faith development. And Joey is rolling through seminary, having received the calling to ministry when he was here, the place he said he felt the closest to God of any place he had been. And Ginny has recently left I believe for Tanzania where she is serving with the Peace Corps.
And then this fall, the spirit moved and rushed in again, with the arrival of Jorja and Sarah to our pastoral team, proving the fact about God’s economy that if you raise up and send out disciples God will raise up some more.
We have gotten to experience their many gifts and see the Spirit at work in their ministry and their special contributions including but definitely not limited to Youth Sunday, Women’s Day, and of course our All Saints Day Service where we packed this house and remembered and honored the three former members who we have been grieving and missing. I could feel the spirit moving that day, how about you?
The Acts passage reminds us that indeed powerful things can happen when we have the audacity to gather together and to discern together how to live our God’s vision.
Ok, but how about moving forward. What about 2016? Where is God calling us?
And to this, the text that I kept returning to over and over was Jesus’ teaching us the Lord’s Prayer, and especially one line, which is Give us this Day, Our Daily Bread.
And there are two important points I want to make about our daily bread as it pertains to the year to come. The first is that it is daily. It is not sometimes, it is not just on special occasions. It is not just when we feel good. Our faith is a daily discipline.
Each day we need 2,000 calories. 6-8 glasses of water. 6-8 hours of sleep. We should spend 30 minutes getting exercise. We spend 8 or 9 or more hours of work or school. Daily. And we have to do most of these things if we want to remain healthy and strong. And make a living.
And yet we also need to feed our spiritual life daily. Yes, there are big events, powerful moments. We just mentioned some that we experienced in 2015.
But much of the mature, real, active faith journey is about day to day, week to week, continuing to worship, reflect, live intentionally, study. We have to keep connecting to God’s story and keep participating in God’s story, and keep helping to write God’s story.
The mature Christian faith that we seek and need to pursue in 2016 is consistent, that is why we so often use the imagery of a rock. And we become a rock of faith by attending to our faith daily and gathering with our Christian community each week.
Now the other important thing about this line of the Lord’s prayer is that we are called to partake in daily BREAD. The bread represents something substantive, something filling.
It is not a daily feast – for feasts like we had at Christmas and Thanksgiving are wonderful no doubt – but expensive and time consuming too. We couldn’t always eat like we do at the holidays. Physically or spiritually.
It is also not daily fast food. Where we seek out the power we need at the lowest cost and lowest effort but it comes at a cost to our health as we try to take a shortcut.
It also not daily champagne like we might have had on New Year’s Eve – celebratory indeed but in the end empty calories and we will have to pay for the celebration later.
It is daily bread. It is not fancy. It is not flashy. It embraces simplicity and is easily shared. It is sustainable. It fills us. Gives us long-term energy and power and strength.
Pursuing our spiritual life as daily bread this year gives us the freedom to let it be 10 minutes of devotions, or 15 minutes of Bible Reading. Or 20 minutes of silence and meditation and prayer, simply being in the presence of God. And coming to church each week to reflect and re-energize and take part in a larger meal than what we can create on our own.
But daily faith takes discipline and making it a part of your regular routine – you can’t skip your regular spiritual meals in 2016 and expect to be as healthy as you want to be.
And I want the church to help us to focus on our daily bread in 2016. We need to know our food. Now we already do this some with our physical food, with our terrific organic gardens and vegetable sharing. But we also need to know our spiritual food – which for us Christians is the Bible, the story of God’s people, the teachings and life of Jesus, the examples and lessons of the Early Church.
And so, in 2016, I am proposing that we undertake several projects where we read specific sections of the Bible together over a period of time. And then we will coordinate our preaching to follow on with our congregational reading and exploration of the text together.
So, I bring 2015 to its conclusion knowing that God was with us, and the Holy Spirit was amongst us in so many ways. And I am looking forward to 2016 with great energy – for God has given us each and every day – as our daily bread. And I am ready for us to keep finding and filling ourselves with that daily bread. Amen.
As we transition to communion, let us begin 2016 with indeed our daily bread. A piece of the bread of life, that is sustaining, strengthening, and empowering us. Simple in nature. But consistent and easily shared.