Heart Healthy: Our Hopes – Pastor Robert’s sermon for Sunday, October 7

All of us like to dream, to imagine, to think about “what if,” to wonder how our lives, our world could be better.  God works within our dreams, our hopes, and inspires us to act.  The prophet Joel speaks of God’s Spirit touching everyone, the old and the  young. We are all dreamers for God! When you think of the year ahead, what are your hopes and dreams for our church?

I’ve asked to ask Steve Sloan, one of our church members to come and share what his hopes are for our church moving forward. Steve serves on our Leadership Board and he’s someone that I have called on many times to get his opinion about things.

Steve is also someone who I have found to have a pretty good sense of the pulse of our church. Like, if we’re in a good place, if we’re moving in the right direction, or if we need to adjust something, or do a better job of communicating. I have really come to appreciate having someone like Steve during my first three years here as pastor.

Many of you have seen Steve getting his cardio workout by running up and down the streets of Athens, so I know that being heart-healthy is important to him. Often times, I see him running by our church which is fun to see.

For all of these reasons, I can’t think of a better person to come and share with us his thoughts on the pulse of our church and the hopes that he has for our church moving forward.

Steve, come and share with us some of your thoughts about the heart-health of our church and where you see God leading us into the future…

Baptize us afresh in the life-giving spirit of Jesus.  Each day, baptize us afresh.  You all heard that prayer last week.  I believe that this simple statement says everything about what it means to be a Christian.  Most of you are here today because you want to be in church.  But why is church important?  Why do we want others, friends, neighbors, and strangers we’ve yet to meet to come to church?


           Because we know that church is a place where there is hope.  We all know that life is tough; the world is a tough place.  Particularly in today’s world, it is easy to be negative. The church shows you hope through prayer, through reaching out to one another such as by small groups, through study of the Bible, in all these and more, we find hope.


           We can debate the reasons but we know doing good makes you feel good.  As human beings we need each other.  We need to communicate, interact, show God’s love to each other, pray for each other – these bring hope to our lives.  Pastor Robert mentioned the pulse of this church.


           When our current Capital Campaign began a couple of years ago, I said that we had an opportunity to renew this church and build a stronger church committed more than ever to reaching out to so many who are looking for what is missing in their lives.  And we all have a chance, through prayer and listening, to discover what God would have each of us do.  We’ve gone from being a church with a pulse that at times was hard to hear to a steady, strong, vibrant beat that everyone wants to be part of.  I pointed out when the Capital Campaign beganthat this church has a long commitment of giving to others.  There is and has been Monday Lunch, working with the Food Pantry, Habitat for Humanity, the Kiros ministry, and the Trimble backpack program.  I said that I believed those were just beginning.


           Since then, where have we ventured?  Our Mission Team is relentless in finding new, exciting, and challenging outreach opportunities.  First Saturday has blossomed to become an avenue for service to others.  Listen to a few of the things we are presently doing as a church: Angel Tree, worldwide mobility – PET, Festival of sharing (where we recently prepared 80 schoolkits and 54 hygiene kits to help others), bottoms up, CROP walk, winter coat and hat drive, making and distributing food to our student neighbors, rummage sale, visitation at The Lindley Inn, litter pickup, flower ministry, blanket ministry, making greeting cards we distribute to many in the county, work at the Conservancy areas, and many more.  Our music program lets us share with many, who might never otherwise enter this church,the love of God. There is our prayer ministry, Stephen ministry, Telecare, and I could go one and on.


           But what most excites me is that I still believe that theseare just the beginning.  I said it before and I will always believe that each person in this church has a gift.  What is yours?  I want each of us to ask ourselves, what do I want to see this church donext and how can I be a part of this?  Will you be the person who greets someone you’ve never met at Connection Time?  Will you show someone where a restroom is or will you walk a new family to the nursery area?  Will you listen to the person who needs someone to talk to? Will you tell someone about a Bible study class?  Will you explain what the rummage sale is all about and how it can be a form of outreach?  Will you be that member who I saw help a student jump his dead battery after church one morning?  I know you can each think of many moreways to reach out and share God’s love.  


           The pulse of this church is strong and steady.  It shows the tremendous heart that this congregation has. It is your generous gifts that will help this church continue to grow and flourish but more importantly, it’s through our generous giving that we express our love of God and we grow in our faith.  So, what do you want next for this church?  My prayer is that you will ask this of yourself and others as you pray that we all be baptized afresh each day in the life-giving spirit of Jesus.

Thank you, Steve!

When I was thinking about the importance of hope, Lucy from the Peanuts comic strip came to mind. Lucy has always been known for being opinionated and wanting to share her opinions with others.


In one episode, Charlie Brown seeks guidance from Lucy. Lucy tells Charlie Brown that life is like a deck chair on the cruise ship of life.

“What you have to decide,” Lucy says, “is whether you want your deck chair to face backward so that you can see where you have been, or if you want your deck chair to face forward so you can see where you are going.”

Frustrated, Charlie Brown responds, “I’m having trouble just getting my deck chair unfolded!”

Well, the good news is that I believe that we are a congregation with our deck chairs facing forward!

What is ahead for us?  What do we hope for in the year ahead?

In his book, Practicing Extravagant Generosity, Robert Schnase writes that there is a description of people who exhibit such generosity:  “They pray and hope and dream about the good they can accomplish through their gifts.” Our church is going through that process during this fall series on having a heart healthy church.

Throughout our Heart-Healthy sermon series, we have been thinking and talking about how we can fulfill God’s mission for our church. Thank you for sharing your hopes for our church because that is how we get a better understanding of where God is leading us.

In reading and reflecting on your responses to this past summer’s congregation-wide questionnaire, what stands out most for me is in how positive we are as we think about the future. Not every church has that sense of hope and enthusiasm for the future. We are blessed to have that king of spirit here at Athens First.

Here is a sampling of your responses from the questionnaire which asked, “What are your hopes and dreams for your church?”

     “That our church continues to be welcoming to all, and to reach out to invite others in the Christian faith.”

     “That is will be the Light of Christ and bring the Light of Christ into the darkness, sharing the love of Christ and his salvation and grow, bringing life, hope, healing, peace, purpose to the broken and lost.”

     “I hope we continue to find ways to reach out to the homeless, mentally ill, and those we see different than ourselves.”

     “Ministries where we can get to know other members more intimately.”

     “That we would proclaim God’s Word and that it would be transformed and renewed into His image.”

     “I hope that we can continue to make students and other newcomers feel at home. I hope our church, and the rest of the denomination can welcome all people regardless of their sexual orientation.”

     “That we remain a loving place. That people feel welcome. That it continues to be a place for community events. And that we continue to have the best potlucks.”

     “That we seek to be the church outside of these four walls.”

Some other more specific ideas included to continue to offer more service projects, ministries with the college students, continue to grow in our emphasis on prayer, add more small groups, focus more on our children’s and youth ministries, continue to reach out to our community, encourage more people in our church to be involved in ministry, share in ministry with the other churches, and continued support of our Honduras mission trips.


One of you offered this comment which I think sums up what this whole “Heart-Healthy” series is about when you offered this hope for our church…

 “That our hearts grow bigger.”

A little over three years ago, when I first came here to serve as your pastor, our church held six get acquainted sessions. These gatherings were held in people’s homes and here at the church.

It was a great way for Penny and me to get to know your names and what it was that drew you to this church. I didn’t say a whole lot at these gatherings because I wanted to hear what your hopes were for the church.

Some of you might remember this pink wand that I brought with me to those gatherings. I invited each person to hold up this light-up wand and then take a minute or two to share a hope that you had for the church. And by the way, this wand was a big hit. It’s kind of fun how it lights up! Watch!

I took careful notes at those six gatherings. Over the span of those six listening sessions, you collectively shared 78 hopes with me during that time a little over three years ago. Wow! I learned early on that you are a hope-filled church!

Those hopes gave me something to pray about. Obviously, it would have been a little much to get all 78 of these hopes off the ground, so here is where I put my focus as your pastor.

My first goal was to make sure we were all on the same page regarding our purpose and mission. It’s always at the top of our Sunday bulletin. Our mission is to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of our community and world. Make disciples so we can transform our community and world. That’s sounds simple, but how do you do that? What does that look like?

And that led us to developing a strategy to help that to happen. And our discipleship strategy is also at the top of our Sunday bulletin. It’s for every single person in our church to have a Loving Faith, a Learning Faith, and a Living Faith.

A loving faith would be ministries where we love God and love each other. Sunday worship, small groups, and Stephen Ministry are some examples of our Loving Faith ministries.

A learning faith would be ministries where we expand our thinking about God, about the Bible, and about our faith. Some examples of our learning faith ministries include Sunday School classes, bible studies, and of course our Growing Tree preschool.

A living faith are ministries where we live out our faith and serve our community and world. It’s where we like someone shared in the recent questionnaire, ‘that we continue to be the church outside of these four walls.”

Examples of living faith ministries include our monthly Athens First Saturday community involvement, our Trimble Backpack ministry, and our Christmas Angel Tree ministry.

So, that’s our strategy in making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of our community and world. It’s when we are intentional in being involved in Loving Faith, Learning Faith, and Living Faith ministries of the church. It’s all about emphasizing all three of these important dimensions of our faith.

Once we had some clarity with our purpose and discipleship strategy, that has led us to realize many of the hopes that you all shared with me a little over three years ago.

Hopes like increase in worship attendance, an increase in new members, building renovations, new small groups, more college outreach ministries, restarting ministries in a new and fresh way, increasing our giving, and more local outreach, just to name a few.

And yes, there are some of your hopes that have not taken off yet, like somebody mentioned the hope of having water fountains that actually work. We’re still working on that dream!

The fun part about naming our hopes for the church is that it reminds us to be open to how the Holy Spirit is always leading us into new ways of being the church that God is calling us to be.

Here are some of the hopes that have been on my heart as I think about where the Holy Spirit is leading us. And again, any of our dreams need to be a team effort. Let me share six hopes I am sensing for our church.

-Continue to offer generous hospitality in every way possible. Greeting people outside the church and inside the church for Sunday mornings, concerts, and all of the events that we host. Being a church where we all welcome people to experience God’s love in this place. Being an inclusive church.

-Prayer walking groups for our church events and in our community. Getting out and walking in our neighborhoods, praying for those who live and work there.

-Give more attention and focus to strengthening our family ministries.

-Form more small groups where people have the opportunity to be encouraged and supported in their faith. And particularly invite persons who are not part of our church to be in these groups. The best way to include more people in the church is to help people form relationships and strong spiritual bonds with each other.

-Here’s another important hope for our church. What if each one of us consistently invited our friends, neighbors, family members, and co-workers to join us for worship services or attend one of our outreach events, or another ministry of our church?

-Expand our ministry involvement with college students to help them to become more connected in the life of our congregation and to be a church away from home for them.

These are big dreams to dream, but not impossible ones.

We give because we love our church and we want our ministries to prosper. We are aware of how we greatly benefit from the ministries here. We also support this church so that others can receive what we have received, the people who are not already here.

Today is Bishop Desmond Tutu’s 87th birthday. Many of you know that Bishop Tutu is a South African Anglican Bishop, theologian, and Nobel Peace Prize recipient who has spent his life helping to dismantle apartheid in South Africa.

Bishop Tutu has written a small book entitled “God has A Dream.” A book full of hope as he recounts how he has seen God’s dreams amazingly come true in his country of South Africa.

This is a passage from his book:

“I have a dream, God says. Please help Me to realize it. A dream of a world whose ugliness, squalor, and poverty, its war and hostility, its greed and harsh competitiveness, its alienation and disharmony are changed into glorious counterparts…where there will be justice and goodness and compassion and love and caring and sharing…that My children will know they are members of one family, God’s family.”

That’s a good reminder about the importance of hope especially on this World Communion Sunday.

There are many folks here in Athens County who are yearning to be part of God’s family.

We can share that they can find a place at God’s table here.

Over the last few weeks, we have considered what we love about our church, the persons who have made a difference in our spiritual lives, and today, our hopes for the next year and beyond.

First United Methodist people, let’s work together and be generous so that God’s dreams can come true!

Heart Healthy: Our Hopes

Small Group Questions

Joel 2:22-28 & Matthew 6:26-33

October 7, 2018

We are in the 3rd week of a four week series on what it means to have a “heart-healthy” church. We’ve focused on being heart-healthy in our ministries and in our relationships. This week, our focus is on our hopes for the church.

Share one of your hopes for our church.

In the sermon, Pastor Robert shared the importance of our church knowing and living out our church’s mission and strategy to fulfill the mission. Our mission is to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of our community and world by having a loving faith, a learning faith, and a living faith. A loving faith relates to how we love God and each other. A learning faith helps us to grow in our faith. A living faith is what helps us to live out our faith. All three of these are important for a healthy, vital, and growing church.

Reflect on your involvement in these three areas of having a loving faith, a learning faith, and a living faith through the life of our church. Which one(s) might need more focus in your life?

In his sermon, Pastor Robert listed several hopes that he has for our church. These include 1) Expanding our hospitality ministry for every event that we host at our church. 2) Offer prayer walking opportunities where we pray through our town, the campus, and neighborhoods. 3) Give more focus to strengthening our family ministries. 4) Form additional small groups where people support and encourage each other in their faith journey. 5) Consistently inviting friends, family, neighbors, and co-workers to join us for worship and church events. 6) Expanding our outreach to college students.

Which of these hopes for the church excites you the most and why?

We have been invited to pray what we are calling a “4/57 Prayer” every day at 4:57 pm. This is a shortened prayer from our church building’s cornerstone dedication service that was held in April, 1957. As we pray this prayer as a congregation every day at 4:57 pm, think about how God will continue to help us reach our hopes and dreams for the future.

O God, baptize us afresh in the life-giving Spirit of Jesus. Amen.