Heart Healthy: Our Ministries – Pastor Robert’s sermon for Sunday, September 23


As we begin our new church-wide focus called “Extravagant Generosity,” we’re going to be focusing on our spiritual health.  The phrase, “heart healthy” is something we hear a lot.  We know that it’s important to eat heart healthy foods and take care of ourselves.  During these four weeks, we’re going to be focusing on our spiritual heart health.

What’s your pulse rate like today?  Do you know how to take your pulse?  Go ahead and let’s try it.  Can you feel your heart beating?  That’s always a good sign!

In our scripture reading from I Timothy, the Apostle Paul provides a way for us to take our spiritual pulse.  Paul writes that a healthy spiritual life includes extravagant generosity which will be our theme.  He writes, “They are to do good, to be rich in good works, generous, and ready to share.”

And right before this verse, Paul explains why people who are spiritually healthy are generous and ready to share.  It’s because they understand that God is the original generous giver.  They give in response to what God has done for them.  And when spiritually healthy people are consistently conscious of God’s many gifts, they can’t help but to do good, be rich in good works, be generous, and be ready to share.

I’ve been thinking about this scripture from I Timothy a lot and asking myself, “Does this scripture describe me?  Does this scripture describe our church?”

Recently, we have been invited to respond to the question, “What do you love about your church?”  We received many responses from that questionnaire and I want to thank you for taking the time to let us know your thoughts. Over the course of the next three Sundays, I will be sharing several of your responses to the various questions from that questionnaire.

But first, I want to invite one of our members, Stephanie Gyasi to share what she loves about our church.  Stephanie and I got to talking at a school event and I asked her what she likes about our church since she attends every Sunday. What she shared with me melted my heart and I asked her if she would be open to sharing her story with you.

Stephanie, thanks for being willing to share what you love about Athens First.

     My name is Stephanie Gyasi I grew up in Logan, Ohio and have lived in Athens for the past six years. I will be sharing a little bit about what brought me to the church and what made me feel welcome here. I was raised in a Methodist church my whole life in Logan. After my daughter was born I decided I wanted to look for a church in the area, so I turned to the internet and googled United Methodist Churches and chose to try the one that was the closest to my house. 

     In April 2013 me and my daughter Laikyn who was 2 months old at the time came to First United Methodist for the first time. For me being a quiet, shy introverted person it can be hard coming somewhere new. The first Sunday we came to church there was a lot of things that reminded me of my previous church in Logan. After the service I was approached by a woman that introduced herself to me as Wendy Merb Brown. She was very welcoming, Shared things about the church, and talked to my daughter. She made me feel very comfortable and welcome in the church. 

     Following that first Sunday me and my daughter continued to keep coming to church and meet other wonderful people and Wendy would always introduce me to many people. In November 2014 when my daughter was baptized Wendy stood up front with me and my family this made me feel like me and my family were part of the church. If Wendy would not have introduced herself to me that first Sunday I may never have come back. 

     This is one of the first memories of coming to church here, this one person made a difference in my faith journey by making me feel so comfortable and welcome at a new place. This motivates me to want to be that person for someone else and make sure they feel comfortable and welcomed. I want you all to know that your gifts to the church are what enables us to touch lives like mine was touched but more importantly it’s through our giving that we express our love to god and grow in our faith.

Thank you, Stephanie!

Let me share some of the responses that you provided to this statement, “Things I love about my church.” Here’s a brief sampling of what you shared.

“The emphasis on prayer and trusting God.”

“The people.”

“The many opportunities for church fellowship and our music ministry is awesome!” By the way, several people commented on how much they love our music ministry.

“Inclusive hospitality.”

“The worship services and our beautifully remodeled sanctuary.”

“Members are accepting of other people.”

“The church is my family.”

“It is so welcoming and inclusive.”

“I enjoy and applaud our church’s participation in the community.”

“All that we do for others. God is here.”

“Our Growing Tree preschool. The location. Monday Lunch.”

My two westie dogs even made it into the top reasons why people love our church when this person wrote, “Our church’s mascots, Lulu and Blu.”

Monday Lunch was mentioned several times.

“We are made up of very kind, giving folks who truly feel like family.”

I love this one! It says, “The first thought that popped into my head when I read that question was Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s poem, ‘How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.’”

“The joyfulness of gatherings on Sunday mornings. Our Leadership Board. Friday Email Communications.”

“I feel at home here. We are a haven of blessing and peace for college students. I love that we can write down prayer requests and know that our Tuesday prayer team will pray over these. I receive so much encouragement here.”

“I love the people, the staff, and yes, even the pastor.”

“Our new elevator!”

And here’s one more from your many responses.  “I just love every single one of Pastor Robert’s dad jokes. They are so funny, especially his puns. He obviously spends a lot of time on these. These jokes really bless my heart and have drawn me closer in my relationship with Christ. Keep them coming! Can’t get enough of them!”

The pastor was allowed to fill this out, right?

But seriously, I want to thank everyone who took time to fill out this questionnaire and for letting us know what you love about your church. It was so heart-warming to read all of the responses.

Penny and I were eating out at a restaurant here in Athens.  When we were about done, the waitress said, “Somebody took care of your check.” She pointed over at a booth and said,“It was them.”

A couple of months later, we were in the same restaurant. Same thing happened but different family. They picked up our check.

This is now our favorite restaurant!

There is so much generosity in this church.

One Sunday morning when we were already into our worship service, a new family entered the front entrance of our church and I could see them come into the church since I’m facing that direction.  It was crowded that Sunday and I remembered wondering if they would find a seat for the several people in their family.

A church member who was sitting at the end of his pew noticed this them looking for a seat. And God bless him.  He gave up his seat so that this family could all sit together in the same pew.

Whenever there is a need, it seems like you are ready to help.  If you take the time to check our church’s pulse, you can easily see that our church has a strong heart beat.

The Apostle Paul knows that if we are to continue to be a church with a strong and healthy heart, we will need to remember that any good that we do is because of what Christ has already done for us.  The more that we are aware of God’s amazing grace the more that we will be an amazing blessing to others.

I’ve been reading a book on the topic of generosity written by Robert Schnase, one of our United Methodist bishops. In this one chapter, he talks about building nests.  He says how he saw a large Red-Tailed Hawk fly by carrying a long heavy stick.  He smiled as he thought about the hard work that is involved in building nests during the spring season.

Earlier in the day, he had seen an American Crow who had carried some straw for the same purpose.  He had also watched House Sparrows tucking threads of grass into the hole in a convenience store awning.

These birds pour extraordinary effort, time, and ingenuity to the construction of nests, the protection of eggs, and the feeding of their vulnerable young ones.  Every ounce of their effort is devoted not to their own comfort and feeding, but to the survival of the young.

Robert Schnase then makes an interesting point.  He says how we often talk about building a nest in metaphorical terms as a way of providing for our own comfort.  We use the word, “nest” to talk about shelter, security, and being cozy.  But in actuality, nests are built not for the birds who build them, but for their young and the next generation.

This leads Bishop Schnase to ask these important questions:  The buildings, programs, ministries, job descriptions, and gatherings that we build – are they for our own comfort and coziness?  Or are they to further the faith and provide for future generations?  Does our giving serve us and our needs or serve God by supporting the mission of the church to reach new people?

I would hope that the nests we are building here at Athens First are for others and not just for ourselves.  What is the purpose of the nests that we are building and maintaining?

For this first week in our four-week focus on what it means to be heart-healthy and have a heart-healthy church, we check our pulse to make sure that our ministry flows from our heart and into the lives of others.  Being generous begins with a heart check and it becomes a lifestyle.

I like how Paul describes this kind of extravagant living in our I Timothy passage.  He refers to it as a lifestyle by saying that we are to take hold of the life that really is life.  I like that!  We are to take hold of the life that really is life.

Have you ever noticed how easy it is to just go through the motions in life?  It’s easy, isn’t it?  The same is true in the church.  We can so easily just go through the motions of doing things in the church and forget why we do what we do.

I can’t tell you how much it meant to me to read your many responses to the statement, “What I Love about My Church.”

 

My heart melted as you shared what our church means to you.  It gave me a new perspective on who we are and why we do what we do.  It’s not just about going through the motion of doing good things for people.  Ministry is a matter of the heart.  It’s taking hold of the life that really is life, like our scripture says.

I really like this way of describing our faith.  It’s a lifestyle.

We are building nests not for our own comfort but for the sake of the people who are in need of God’s hope and love.  Church isn’t just a thing to do in what is already a busy schedule.  Church is taking hold of the life that really is life.  It’s leading us to be extravagant givers in a community that has so much brokenness and pain. I praise God for our church’s strong heart beat.

There’s a contemporary Christian song that’s called, “Going Through the Motions” which I think speaks to this first week’s focus in what it means to be a people of extravagant generosity.  The song was written by Matthew West.  Here are the words:

This might hurt, it’s not safe

But I know that I’ve gotta make a change

I don’t care if I break

At least I’ll be feeling something

‘Cause just okay is not enough

Help me fight through the nothingness of life

I don’t wanna go through the motions

I don’t wanna go one more day

Without Your all consuming passion inside of me

I don’t wanna spend my whole life asking

What if I had given everything

Instead of going through the motions?

No regrets, not this time

I’m gonna let my heart defeat my mind

Let Your love make me whole

I think I’m finally feeling something

‘Cause just okay is not enough

Help me fight through the nothingness of this life

‘Cause I don’t wanna go through the motions

I don’t wanna go one more day

Without Your all consuming passion inside of me

As we think about this first week of our Heart-Healthy sermon series, how’s your spiritual pulse?  I pray that it is strong. I’ve noticed that you’re not the kind of church that just goes through the motions. Thanks be to God!

 

Heart Healthy: Our Ministry

Small Group Questions

I Timothy 6:17-19 & Mark 9:30-37

September 23, 2018

We invited people in our congregation to offer their responses to the question, “What do I love about my church?”

What do you love most about your church?

In his book, Extravagant Generosity, Robert Schnase makes the observation that the phrase, “building a nest” usually refers to how people save money for themselves. In contrast, the nests that birds make are for their young and the next generation. 

In what ways do you see the church “building a nest” for the next generation and for those who are not already part of our church family?

This week, we began a sermon series on the importance of being “heart healthy.” In our scripture reading from I Timothy, the Apostle Paul provides a way for us to take our spiritual pulse.  Paul writes that a healthy spiritual life centers around our degree of generosity.  He writes, “They are to do good, to be rich in good works, generous, and ready to share.”

Brainstorm ways that you or your small group can have a healthy spiritual heart by being generous and serving others.