“A New Beginning!”
Luke 4:14-21, January 27th, 2019
Sermon by Pastor Tim Woodard
“Hear these words from the gospel according to Luke, chapter four, verses fourteen thru twenty-one.”
14 Then Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding country. 15 He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone. 16 When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, 17 and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written: 18 “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.” 20 And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. 21 Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
“Having listened to this ancient writing from the gospel, let us now consider how we can embrace this lesson and learn how to adapt its meaning as we continue our faith journeys.”
“A New Beginning!”
Our scripture from Luke’s gospel account, puts forth a strong proclamation from Jesus as he begins his formal ministry. He takes a bold step as he powerfully puts forth his agenda, reading from the words of the Prophet Isaiah! “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, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” /Luke 4:18-19/ What he has done is risky and bold! We, as a faith community, we follow the lead of Jesus. We, therefore, must be willing to continue forward with courage and tenacity! Half steps are not good enough! If it is Jesus, we follow and look to for guidance then we are compelled to do what is necessary to do the work of Christ in this community! With this basic thought in mind I want to speak about the program that we will begin to implement tomorrow night.
This New Beginnings program which, Margret-Ann, Carol-Ann and Nancy have spoken with you about these past three weeks; it is meant to be the beginning of some new thoughts, new opportunities and possibly some types of ‘new ideas’ on how to continue, expand and possibly reestablish some of the fundamentals of what we as a church are called to be and to do. We as a church shall gain from the work this consultant and his firm shall help us with, as together, we re-envision who we are and possible how we shall continue to live into our mission statement. This will be done based on what they learn from the data we have sent them and what they glean from all of us on Monday. I pray all who are able will be at the meeting tomorrow, so that the journey we are preparing to embark on, I am praying we will all be onboard and represented!
This past week a history of our church, written by Carol Robinson, our Church Historian, was sent out to the Consultant whom will be with us tomorrow evening at seven P.M. to talk and interact with everyone in attendance in some manner. He has been working on an assessment of who we as a church are, and where we are going. We all are praying that this will help to facility our vision, as a church, for the future and some suggestions on how to get there. Carol started her two-thousand-word essay by telling us when, where and how our church was formed. “In the years beginning in 1889 thru 1899, twelve charter members (whom began) meeting for Bible study, were assisted by the Congregational Home Missionary Society in both funding and incorporation as ‘The First Congregational Church of Melbourne.’” /Carol Robinson, Church Historian/ That is how, what we now call “The Riviera United Church of Christ’ first began.
Carol methodically takes us through the major points of our church history. (In follow-up, I will work with Carol, to release this document for all of us to review as well.) Carol takes us through the struggles of a new church as its ups and downs fluctuate with a changing and expanding community in the midst ‘real world’ activities such as war, recessions and political changes bring. As one reads through the document a few phrases ring strong and true, clearly defining some of the basic foundations of this church. Let me just give you a ‘peek’ into this historical writing, as the sentences and paragraphs take us on a journey of one hundred and thirty years. Listen carefully.
“The church became the 3rd church in the town of under 100 people.” “Two services, Sunday and Wed. night were maintained.” “Vocal and instrumental concerts and plays (were) presented for the community at large.” “The Sunday School continued to flourish.” “Monthly Mission Musicals supplemented the concerts and plays.” “The pastor called for Christian social action.” “When the economy failed the Ladies turned more mission efforts to local needs.” “The church turned to new directions with fresh new talent.” “Much of the work was done by volunteers.” “In the early years much effort was made to improve education via teacher training, improved curriculum and sending children and youth to summer camp.” “(The Church) Council (formed) committees, (whom) searched for new directions.” “In balance over these years there were many improvements in church life even though a ‘core of eager people’ seem to do much of the work.” “The congregation continued to be known as ‘a friendly church’”. During 1989 the year of the 100th anniversary monthly special events took place, each reflecting something from earlier days.” “Many of the members volunteered community service beyond our walls.” “The church mission was redefined.” “Riviera UCC became an ONA (Open And Affirming) congregation and welcomed many new members including leadership talents. As new arrive, others leave.”
Carol’s closing statement sums it up quite well. Her words hit on our current good fortune, culminating with our recent land sale, and how this has changed our financial picture. But, yet, the challenge of being the church ‘first envisioned by God’ and began as a Bible study group, this church formed a hundred and thirty years ago, is still grappling with the challenge of being the church! In Carol’s own words: “The financial struggles may have eased… but much remains to be done in tending our corner of the vineyard.” /Carol Robinson, Church Historian/ Being a biblical scholar, one can assume Carol’s reference to the vineyard was from one of Jesus’ metaphors of vineyards beginning in the Old Testament, Isaiah chapter five verses1-7. “Let me sing for my beloved my love-song concerning his vineyard: My beloved had a vineyard on a very fertile hill… For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel, and the people of Judah are his pleasant planting; he expected justice, but saw bloodshed; righteousness, but heard a cry!” /Isaiah 5:1-7/ Church’s all have a responsibility to tend to the needs of their corner of the metaphorical vineyard, of which the Prophet Isaiah spoke of; churches are called to serve the needs of the people of God!
The history of our RUCC (Riviera United Church of Christ) is something we can be proud of and something we are called to continue. This morning’s scripture from the gospel of Luke will help our discussion. Let us now turn to our lesson, where we shall learn from this accounting of Jesus, in his home town, and how it quickly moves us away from his birth, his baptism and his preparation for ministry. The core of our writing occurs as Jesus reads from Isaiah, chapter 61, beginning with verse one. “The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn;” /Isaiah 61:1-2/ The call to work with others is a ‘ministerial proclamation’ from ancient times and it is still with us today – in modern times. But, this writing from Isaiah speaks in the second person representing the words which come from the Messiah, the long-awaited Savior. These words were prophesied by the Prophet Isaiah that the Anointed-One, the Messiah would say them when he begins his ministry. When Jesus makes his proclamation it is the beginning, the “New Beginning” of his formal ministry! ‘Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”’ /Luke 4:21/ A theologian named Karoline Lewis points out for us: “Jesus’ sermon in Nazareth is a life-changer. Our (ministries) are life-changing.” /Karoline Lewis/ Yes indeed, “Our (ministries) are life-changing,” as well!
As we pass through yet another landmark in the history of this church, let us be reminded history is a re-cap of events which have occurred. They offer a lesson to be learned. The future is something new which is yet to be. Let us focus on the future as we review and look back at history. Reviewing the history of a church is like reviewing the history of a person’s life, which also offers tools and lessons for the future; of course, let us be reminded that history is made by living well in the here and now. The future is a yet unlived dream. So, as we face into the future let us pick up some tools. First, we need to grasp a few simple concepts to make our learning today, easier to remember. Let us look to the lessons we each learned as children. You know what they are, you and I, we are adults now. You children who are here with us this morning, pay attention, as you too will need to learn these things before you will successfully move forward into your future.
It began, it begins, by letting go of our childhood and childish ways. Children learn as they pass through adolescence into young adulthood that the ways of a child are not the ways of a responsible adult. Churches need to also learn from their childish behaviors. Churches survive to serve the people of God because they give up foolish notions like irresponsibly saying ‘someone else’ will get the work done. There are many stages of development as we grow into adult hood. Just as a child learns dishes need washing every day, as does a bed need to be made, every day. Maintaining a church takes constant vigilance and adult decisions. As a youth Jesus was taught to honor his parents. As an adult he took responsibility for things he said and did, leaving behind his youth but not his heritage, nor his destiny.
One of the things that most of us struggle with, as we move onward in our lives, and likewise churches do as well, is we try to hold onto the comfortable ways of the past. Letting go of things past and gone is a necessary exercise that all healthy adults learn to do. It is like letting go of an old suit that no longer is in style, or like men’s bellbottom pants. Some of you may be too young to remember wearing them! Searching out new ways to do old things is difficult. Churches have always strived to reach out to the needy and the marginalized. Yet, we need to utilize new avenues to do so in order to be effective. Jesus ultimately was not accepted in his home town once he proclaimed, that he was the Messiah. The following verses after today’s lesson tell the story. “When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage. They got up, drove him out of the town.” /Luke 4:28-29a/ Jesus would need to begin in a new way – leaving behind his old home town and the ways of his youth.
The stage is set… and now it begins! In the weeks to come we will learn more about the journey and the ministry of Jesus. Likewise, we shall glean some new tools, a couple new ideas and few new avenues to approach the age-old challenge of being the Church – which God called into being! No matter how things materialize, or come together tomorrow and into the future, we need to be willing to go forth, just as Jesus did! Go forward… it is a New Beginning! Learn from the past but don’t get lost in the nostalgia. New beginnings start in the here and now and move us into the future! The miracle will come in the doing – not in the planning and learning phase. So, let us roll up our sleeves and see what God has in mind for us today!