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Living the Light

Sermon – 10/02/05
Daniel E. H. Bryant
First Christian Church, Eugene, Oregon

Ephesians 5:8-14

I made a rather startling discovery last week that was really quite shocking.  I was doing some work for Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon, the Executive Director David Leslie had asked me to write a vision statement for the organization because we didn't have one.  As President of the Board, it fell to me to write at least the first draft for that statement.  I had never written a vision statement before.

We wrote a mission statement for the congregation back in 1994-1995 that somewhere along the way got transformed into a vision statement because that was the nomenclature of the 90s.  So we now have a 'vision' statement that appears in our bulletin (on the inside cover, you can take a look at it there) that began its life as a mission statement.

It's kind of like my Toyota.  You know what a Toyota looks like, right?  You know what a Toyota really is down underneath?  If you take the syllables and break them up:

To = To B or not to B
Yo = Y, O, why, oh, Wyo
Ta = an airline without the

So what Toyota really is, is a BMW under the skin!  And don't try to dissuade me otherwise because my poor vehicle will have its feelings hurt J.

But my experience in writing vision statements is about as deep as my experience in automobiles.  So I decided I needed to do a little research of just what is a vision statement.  That's when I made the rather startling, shocking discovery that just because we call something a vision statement doesn't make it a vision statement.

And I realize this must come as a terrible shock to most of you, but you see that statement in our bulletin is really not a vision statement.  Don't be terribly disappointed, go out and do something awful, we'll manage to survive this J.

A mission statement identifies what our purpose is.  Our reason for existence.  And that's what that statement [in our bulletin] really is.  A vision statement describes where we are headed, our destination.  John F. Kennedy uttered the clearest vision statement for our nation when in 1961 he said 'By the end of the decade we will put a man on the moon'.  Very clear destination, goal to be achieved by the end of the 60s, and we did that.  That powerful vision captivated the nation for that decade.

Martin Luther King Jr. gave us an incredibly powerful vision from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in 1963 that had enormous impact on the shape of our nation when he articulated that dream, that there would come a day when little black children and little white children would be able to join hands as brothers and sisters.

Scripture is full of vision statements.  The vision of Revelation with its new Jerusalem where God dwells with humanity and there shall be death no more.  That's a vision.  The vision of Jesus of the last judgment when the sheep will be separated from the goats and the Lord says to the goats 'I was hungry and you did not feed me, so part from me'.  And says to the sheep 'I was hungry and you did feed me, so come into my Kingdom'.  It's a vision.

And the vision of Paul articulated here in Ephesians (scripture below) of the children of light who don't just live in the light but who are the light.  

‘For once you were darkness, but now in the Lord you are light. Live as children of light— 9for the fruit of the light is found in all that is good and right and true. 10Try to find out what is pleasing to the Lord. 11Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. 12For it is shameful even to mention what such people do secretly; 13but everything exposed by the light becomes visible, 14for everything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says, ‘Sleeper, awake! Rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.’.

That image has been the basis of our vision/mission statement, but it's a little lacking in specifics.  It really doesn't describe what it is we seek to achieve, where we want to go, so I'd like to flesh that out a little bit this morning of what I mean when I talk about us being a light to the world in the heart of Eugene.  What is that destination that we seek to reach, the moon for which we are aiming?

[For reference, here is the First Christian Church 'vision' statement as printed in our weekly church bulletin]:

God has called us to be a light to the world in the heart of Eugene.  W commit ourselves to live as spirit filled, Christ-like people, growing in the community of God as envisioned by Jesus, strengthening our relationships with God, with each other, with our families and with our world.


Six years from now, we will be celebrating the centennial of the building of this wonderful historic structure.  1911 this was built, dedicated in January of 1912.  So I'd like to articulate six things, one for each year, that I would hope we would achieve by that celebration in 2011.

First of all, spiritual vitality.  A little history on that non-vision vision statement there in your bulletin.  If you look at the very last phrase you read '. . strengthening our relationships with God, with each other, with our families and with our world'.   When we originally wrote that statement, we wrote '. . strengthening our relationships with each other, with our families, with our world, and with God'.  Seemed the logical progression to begin with close at hand and to move out into greater and greater circles.  Until someone pointed out that really we should begin with God, that that is the foundation of all other relationships, and we quickly agreed and changed the statement.  

Even though I believe our relationship with God is lived out in our relationship with others, with our families, and with our world, it is certainly true that healthy, spiritual relationships yield healthy relationships with others -- society and our world, both physical and social.  People who have dysfunctional relationships with God are the people we read about in the news who blow themselves up in some misguided belief that they are doing God's will, killing infidels in some misguided holy war, and those who wage war in some misguided belief that they are doing God's will to fight evil using evil, killing terrorists and thousands of innocents in the process, perpetuating that evil.  

You see, we cannot afford the luxury of thinking that a healthy spiritual life is a private affair between us and God.  A healthy, wholesome spirituality is essential in our world today, to not just our personal well-being but to our relationship with all of creation, with all of the world, indeed even for global survival.  

And so I place spiritual reality at the top of my list and I think one of the ways that we will know that we are part of a spiritually vital body of Christ is not by one spirit-filled worship service, or two spirit-filled worship services, but rather three, growing, weekly services filled with the spirit of God.  Our traditional service, offering the best of traditional music and somewhat more formal.  Our new celebration service, offering the best of contemporary music and more informal.  And third, a contemplative service, offering the best of a more meditative, reflective style.  And so my hope and desire is to see such a service as part of our weekly schedule within the year. 

I think one of the strong points of the Interfaith service that is held on the 11th of every month, that fills this sanctuary, is precisely that it has that kind of character to it of a more reflective style of service.  And so I see there a tremendous growth opportunity for us as well.

Second, public worship without private practice is a book without any pages.  It is in our own prayer life and small group work that we go deeper and we build that sturdy foundation that will last a lifetime and will stand any storm.  Therefore, along with our three spirit-filled services, I see by 2011 three times the number of classes, study and prayer groups, engaging others in their spiritual journeys.  Dialogue, study, and prayer is one of the most rewarding and enriching things that any of us can do.  We'll uplift several of the groups we have going on in the life of the church this afternoon in the video that we're going to show after our meal, but just to uplift one -- I had the privilege of participating in the Living the Questions group earlier this year and engaged in some of the most meaningful and thought-provoking theological discussions that I've had since I graduated from Seminary.  Just a very powerful experience, and so I just strongly recommend that if you have the opportunity to join one of our Living the Questions groups (we just started a new one -- 11:00 a.m. on Sunday mornings -- for those who attend the first service, and we'll be having similar groups in the year ahead).

Third, that we will actively practice the art of discernment on key, difficult issues which face our church and society.  For instance, sexuality, war, racism.  And if we solve those, maybe we can move on to the really tough issue -- where to site a hospital in Eugene J.

A few weeks back, there was an article in the Register Guard on the discernment process being used over at Westly United Methodist Church on the issue of homosexuality.  I thought the article was a very honest portrayal of a very difficult issue for many Christians and churches.  And along with it there was a list of congregations which have officially declared that they are open and inclusive, welcoming to all people regardless of sexual orientation.  I was rather surprised why no one asked why we were not on that list.  Because we have a growing reputation of being very open, but we have never made any kind of official declaration.  And I think the perception is that this is the 3rd rail of church politics.  We see it splitting congregations and even entire denominations, and therefore no one wants to bring up the issue for fear that we will alienate good people, friends and families.  And I understand that.  Certainly I have done my share of alienating people (unintentionally).  But is there not a way in which we can be truly open and inclusive to all perspectives among our fellow Christians without alienating one another?  Isn't that what it means to be a community?  To say in love and honesty 'though we may read the same scriptures differently from time to time and have opposing views, we still have 1 Lord, 1 faith, 1 baptism, and we still value and honor and respect one another'.  That's the community I long for.  And it has a name.  You know what we call such a community?  It's called the body of Christ. 

Fourth, cognizant of the fact that we have many adults without children or grandchildren, we still place the highest priority on our children and youth.  Unlike public education where we have to fight for and over every dollar, we will fund and staff our children and youth and young-adult ministries to the fullest extent we are able.  Here in the church, our youth will not be short changed as they are in so many other places in society.  Here in the church our children will know that they are valued and loved.  Here in this church we will double the number of children and youth involved in our ministry by 2011 and that means doubling the number of adults who are teachers and teaching assistants and sponsors in the next two years, in order to build the kind of program we need to attract youth and young families.

Fifth, we will continue to expand our public witness through our community services and social action.  The Good Samaritan Ministry we began earlier this summer is a great example of the good work done by our members and volunteers in the same tradition of the Helping Hand Ministry, the Interfaith Shelter, and the Trailer Ministry that have been going on for some time.  We now have 4 volunteers, working out of our office, for the sole purpose of assisting anyone who comes to the church or calls with a need.  And again, you can learn more about this new ministry in the video that we are showing this afternoon after the dinner.

And then there is the Shawl Ministry in the tradition of our Quilting Ministry. It's another new ministry, begun in the last year, providing tangible witness through deeds of love for hurting people.  Have I mentioned that we have a video that we're going to show? J   You can see all about the Shawl Ministry in that video.

And that's just a sampling of our community service ministries. 

Social Action -- if we are to fulfill the vision of Jesus for the community of God or the kingdom of God, then community service and charity is not enough.  It is never enough.  Such a community that lives out that vision will collaborate to work against all forms of discrimination, oppression, and injustice.  Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon formed a new group last year called Christians for Peace and Justice, which seeks to help individuals at congregations to do just that.  It has four goals:  human rights, economic justice, environmental justice, and democracy.  My goal is to see a Christians for Peace and Justice formed in our congregation with at least a dozen active members by 2011 who will be the prophetic voice of our congregation.  I'm sorry I don't have that one in the video, but I do have a brochure on it.

And lastly, financial stability.  This seems always to be elusive in most congregations and especially in mission-oriented churches.  As Ken Callahan says, churches that are out there on the frontier of the mission are always, always short of money.  Well here are the financial goals I have for our congregation:

  1. That our building will be financially independent through the permanent building endowment and rents so that 100% of our offerings go to the ministries and missions of this church, rather than into the brick and mortar.  And I think we will be able to achieve that goal by 2011, if not before.

  2. This is where I'm really reaching for the moon -- that we will make a guarantee to all of our youth that graduate from high school and go on to college that we will give them through our scholarship program a minimum of the equivalent of 1/2 tuition to a public institution (go Ducks!), or the equivalent of 1/2 tuition to a disciple-related institution like Northwest Christian College (which is considerably more expensive than a public institution).  That we set that goal to provide a 1/2 scholarship for all our youth.  Now, you all know I have two children that are in high school J.  What can I say?  If it benefits them, it benefits everyone else.

  3. We will have three full-time staff in ministry and two full-time staff in administration in order to better equip our members to do all of the above, and I'm not even sure that's adequate.

  4. We will be a tithing church, that we will take our own personal stewardship seriously and support the ministries of the congregation generously.

Now that's not everything we need to do by any means but I hope it's a good start to articulate that vision of what we seek to achieve, our destination.  

In sum, I plan to be here for our centennial celebration in 2011, and January 2012 when we will be celebrating not just 100 years of continual worship here in this place, but we will be celebrating a strong, vibrant community of disciples, known to be a light to the world in the heart of Eugene.

I believe that is a vision to strive for.  [Applause from the congregation]


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