Today marks my sixth weekend preaching at Grace UMC. I am enjoying getting to know the church and the Sioux City metro area. Today I preached from John 6:1-14, the gospel lesson for today from the Revised Common Lectionary. Most of the time in my preaching I follow the RCL though I do take occasional side trips away to preach a sermon series or two each year.
My sermon today was about having a a theology of plenty rather than a theology of scarcity. I won’t reprise my entire sermon for you. If you want to hear the whole thing you can surf over to the sermons page on Grace’s website. But I wanted to share with you some ideas I have about Church and our attitudes about church that make a difference.
When I was Associate Pastor at First UMC in Cedar Falls Pastor Steve Williams chose as a means of working on strengthing possitve attitudes to use the catch phrase “be positive, patient, and prayful” on a regular basis as we talked about the needs of the church, the work we were doing to grow, and our building program. It became so common that all of us began to use this phrase to describe the attitude we wanted to see in our church.
Today in Sioux City I talked about the importance of what Jesus taught the Disciples in the feeding of the five-thousand about looking at the possibilities through Jesus eyes and his vision of plenty rather than through our own abilities and our own eyes and seeing everything as a problem of scarcity.
I’m too new to the United Methodist Church to lecture the UMC about anything. But I have been a long time observer of the church in the more than twenty years I’ve been in ministry. And I believe that many of the problems we are dealing with in our current culture with the church revolve around a theology of scarcity.
The culture has been shifting around us rapidly for several decades and the church is struggling to keep up. Most of the mainline churches have lost membership and with that constant loss of membership we have developed a negative attitude about ourseles. This negative attitude feeds into even into how we plan for the future assuming their will be less and so we plan on less and even expect less. This theology of scarcity creates a negative attitude that actually makes decline self-fullfilling prophecy.
I remember joining a local organization in which the first week I was a member someone came to me and said, “well welcome, you have joined a dying organization, I don’t think we’ll be around long, but I’m glad you here.” I was tempted to go ask for my membership dues back. What this well meaning member of a volunteer organization had done was sell me a negative attitude about the very organization he would hope to promote, grow, add members to, and see prosper.
Now take this same attitude and look at the Church. Yes when you look at all the statistics the Church is struggling. Yes we have a lot to do to learn to be more relevant to our culture. Yes we need to engage young people in the church, we need to involve them, and we need to listen to what they have to say about the church. Yes every pastor and every church needs to seek to be the best that we can be for the Jesus Christ, for Christ’s ministry and mission in this world and we need to be accountable to that task.
But we have to stop the negativity. We have to stop dwelling on what is wrong and start dwelling on the gospel we have to offer. We have to stop rehearsing the downward decline stats every time we gather, we have to stop the “Woe is me” sermons about denominational and/or Christian decline. And we have to instead focus our eyes on Jesus Christ the author and finisher of the faith, take our cares on him, and thing about, dwell on and fix our faith on the opportunities we have for sharing our faith.
We need to share the stories of how God has touched our lives with this world, we need to share how a supportive church or pastor helped us in times of crisis, we need to share about the grace that God offers us through Jesus Christ. And as United Methodists we should be sharing about what is powerful, meaningful, and life changing about United Methodist Wesleyan theology and discipleship. We need to stop dwelling on our shortcomings and instead focus on our graces and gifts!
We need not to be negative, down in the dumps, and looking backward but we need to be joyful, grace filled, and forward looking. We have been given a great gift. We have been given the gift of the grace of Jesus Christ, salvation by grace through faith. We have that great gift to offer this world. What in heaven and on earth is there to be negative about?
“Joyful, joyful, we adore Thee, God of glory, Lord of love;
Hearts unfold like flowers before Thee, opening to the sun above.
Melt the clouds of sin and sadness; drive the dark of doubt away;
Giver of immortal gladness, fill us with the light of day!”