Buckets Lists: Vision and Hope Are Inspirations of the Heart

November 17, 2019

Norwalk First United Methodist Church

Extravagant Generosity: The Heart of Giving

23rd Sunday after Pentecost

Bucket Lists: Vision and Hope Are Inspirations of the Heart

Joel 2:28; Colossians 3:1; Matthew 6:33

            As we continue through our sermon series this month, our stewardship focus is on extravagant generosity. We will have a chance to culminate our personal generosity transformations next week as we prayerfully offer to God our stewardship gifts for 2020. But before that generous outpouring occurs, I want to share with you my vision and hope for the future of this church.

         Have you ever seen the movie The Bucket List, with Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson? Two terminally ill men develop a list of all the things they have always wanted to do. They face their task with a great sense of urgency. Today we will explore our bucket list for the church. Consider now what you would like to see happen in your life in that same time. In what ways do your passions for the church align with your personal desires? Today I want to share a few of my passions for Norwalk First United Methodist Church in this coming year and farther into the future. Would you pray with me?


         In Acts 2:17, we hear Peter using this passage from Joel 2:28 in his first sermon to the repenting multitudes after the Pentecost, the coming of the Holy Spirit. After Jesus’ ascension into heaven the Holy Spirit is poured out on all people who profess belief in Jesus Christ. Where there is repentance, God pours out his spirit. Peter says that in the last days this prophecy from Joel will come true. Ever since Jesus’ ascension, the Church has been in its last days.

         Listen once again to Joel 2:28: I will pour out my spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions. (NRSV)

         Vision is necessary if this church, the body of Christ, is to continue growing and serving this community of Norwalk. Joel offers direction for us, as we consider our vision for the church. Vision comes about as God inspires people to prophesy, dream and have visions. And then the Holy Spirit works within us to bring about fruits of our labor to fulfill those visions.

         A very young child was learning the fruits of the Spirit. Her mom asked her to recite them: “Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and remote control,” was her reply. That might sound funny now, but the truth is, some of us just sit around flipping through the channels of life without actually becoming involved in life or dreaming what the future holds for this church in the future. Our Christian labor in the fields must bear fruit if this church is to continue as a vital congregation in this community.

         My first hope is to increase our average weekly worship attendance to 280 people or more over the next two years. Last year, our average Sunday worship attendance was 246. Unfortunately, the regular worshiper in 2019 only attends church once a month, instead of two or three times a month. We need to recommit ourselves to attending Sunday worship every week that we are in town. After all, that is part of our membership vows. But we need to take one step more and invite one new person at least every three months to worship with us. If necessary, pick them up and bring them. Did you know that the average Methodist today only invites one new person to church every 34 years? Remember, only 18% of our community attends church on Sunday. People are waiting to be invited. And we need those same people that attend Christmas Eve and Easter to be with us every Sunday.

         I dream that our KidVentures on Sunday and 1st Kids on Wednesday for children will continue to flourish and grow as word is spread that we have excellent teachers eager to teach the Word of God to a new generation. I envision each of these with crowded classrooms and a nursery packed full of small children on Sunday morning. We need to make sure that are classroom spaces are attractive and kid friendly.

         I dream that our children’s education programs will become such a vibrant part of this congregation once again that we will have to hire a full-time person to manage them. Folks, God can make all this possible through the work of the Holy Spirit within you and me. The prophet Joel said, “I will pour out my spirit on all flesh.”

         Colossians 3:1 instructs us to set our heart on things above. Listen again: Therefore if you were raised with Christ, look for the things that are above where Christ is sitting at God’s right hand. It is very difficult to focus our attention on God when we are distracted and overwhelmed by the cultural influences in our lives, but that is the call on our lives. We are to keep God foremost on our minds as we navigate the darkness of our physical world.

         Darkness is for bumping into things. But bringing the light of God into our understanding of things should be our mission in life. It helps us to see that we do not have all the answers, but have to rely on God to help us in our journey to spiritual maturity.

         A young woman brought home her fiancé to meet her parents. After dinner, her mother tells her father to find out more about the young man. The father invites the fiancé into his study. “So what are your plans?” the father asks the young man.

         “I’m a Bible scholar,” he replies. “A Bible scholar. Hmm,” the father says. “Admirable, but what will you do to provide a nice house for my daughter to live in as she’s accustomed to?”

         “I will study,” the young man replies, “and God will provide for us.” “And how will you buy her a beautiful engagement ring such as she deserves?” asks the father. “I will concentrate on my studies,” the young man replies, “and God will provide for us.”

         “And children?” asks the father. “How will you support children?” “Don’t worry, sir, God will provide,” replies the fiancé.

         The conversation proceeds like this, and each time the father questions, the young idealist insists that God will provide. Later the mother asks, “How did it go, honey?” The father answers, “He has no job and no plans, but the good news is he thinks I’m God.”

         God will provide for us, but God has created us with freewill and the ability to dream and set visions for ourselves. Because of that, we must put forth an effort to know God better. The questions are, “Are you as excited about God now as when you were first saved? Are you as concerned about spiritual things now as when you were first saved? Do you love the Lord as much now as when you were first saved?”

         One of Satan’s tactics that he uses very well against the “more mature” Christians is the lie that says, since you have grown in your faith, there is no need to be as concerned about spiritual things as you once were. He will tell you that it’s alright as a baby Christian, but now that you have arrived, you can just sit back and let others be concerned about such things as witnessing, or passionate worship, or risk-taking mission and service, or intentional faith development.

         And here is another vision I have. I would like each of you over the next year to become involved in a Bible study, Sunday School group, or mission group or start a new Bible study group or mission-oriented project. Remember, just because you may be mature in your faith, Satan never stops trying to worm his way into your spiritual journey and put himself between you and Jesus Christ.

         We currently have four excellent Bible study groups. A study just for men on the Book of Romans on Tuesdays at 7:00 p.m. in the rotunda. The Fellowship of Believers women’s group on Tuesdays at 7:00 p.m. in the Chapel. The Common Grounds class for men and women on Sundays at 9:30 a.m. in the kitchen nook, and the Prayer and Bible Study group for men and women on Thursdays at both 10:00 a.m. and 7:00 p.m. in the UMW Room in the Education Wing.

         If you enjoy young people, volunteer to help chaperone the Youth Group, or be a table parent at First Kids on Wednesday afternoons, or work alongside one of our Sunday School teachers, or volunteer to help in the nursery, or be a mentor in faith for a young man or woman in our confirmation class. The faith of many of our young people will fire up your soul once again.

         Volunteer to help with the monthly Free Community Dinner or be a part of the “Stiches of Love” ministry, or help make prayer shawls and baby afghans, or be a part of the monthly Book Club. There are so many ways to become involved in our worshiping community and to be the hands and feet of Jesus Christ.

         If any of those things do not appeal to you, then I pray that the Holy Spirit will be urging you to start a new ministry group. It really isn’t that hard and there are many experienced teachers in this congregation, including our Christian Ed Director and me, who will help you get started with ideas and materials. I have only scratched the surface of what is offered through this church. Remember, scripture is not only for our hearing, but for our doing. Therefore if you were raised with Christ, look for the things that are above where Christ is sitting at God’s right hand.

         Lastly, Matthew’s Gospel sets our personal and community priorities. Matthew 6:33: Desire first and foremost God’s kingdom and God’s righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Together in community, we help one another to seek God first in all things, to strive for righteousness, or right standing, with God.

         We help one another and others seek God when we show them the love of God in action. We always need to see ourselves as servants and laborers in a vineyard that does not belong to us, but belongs to God. As a church, we have to be conscious of the fact that Jesus said, “Go into all the world.” And so, we continue to witness to our faith in service beyond ourselves. We fulfill our mission “to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.”

         First, I want to thank all of you for your generosity over the past years as we continue to support local and worldwide missions, not only through our apportionments that we pay each year to the general denomination, but through your gifts to local ministries and community outreach, such as the Love Fund, the Norwalk Food Bank, the Salvation Army, Abigail Pregnancy Center, and Athletes in Action to name a few. Your generosity is outstanding, and my hope is that we increase our missional support in the years to come.

         But secondly, my biggest long-term vision and that of the Trustees is to see this sanctuary renovated and restored to its once great splendor. It has not been renovated in over forty years. We have begun that process through our architect and the work of the Trustees. This is an exciting new opportunity as we seek to build upon the rock of Jesus that we’ve established in our community.

         We can dream and we can dream big. One thing I have learned over the years is not to limit what God can do given the right spirit and the right resources. We need to dream and act out of our abundance and not out of an attitude of scarcity. God can always out give us.     I think we have entering another exciting time for our church and an opportune time for transforming our community.

         The three scripture verses we looked at today give us the starting place for understanding what God has called us to do and be as a church in the coming year and into the future. As we conclude the third week of our stewardship focus on Extravagant Generosity, Bishop Robert Schnase’s devotional guide, Practicing Extravagant Generosity. has a devotion in which he tells of the apostle Paul’s own battle with aligning his priorities with God’s, which Paul describes in Philippians 4:

         Generosity derives from a profound reorientation in our thinking about how we find contentment in life. Paul writes, “I have learned to be content with whatever I have,” but Paul was not a slacker, lacking in initiative! He was industrious, competitive, and ambitious for the work of God. Paul realized how seductive our activity and our appetite for more could become.

         We begin to believe that happiness depends upon outward circumstance and material comforts rather than deriving from inner spiritual qualities – love, peace, compassion, self-control, gentleness, prayerfulness. Possessing greater wealth does not mean that we experience contentedness. We can still feel panic, emptiness, striving, and isolation. We feel needy, and our appetites become insatiable. Surrounded by water, we are dying of thirst.

         Breaking the cycle of conditioned discontent requires courageous soul work. Abundant living derives from generative relationships, from mutual support, and from knowing how to love and be loved. Contentment arises from seeking that which satisfies. (pp. 58-59)

         Next week we will each make a critical decision about how we will express and grow in our generosity. When you receive the Commitment to the Church card this week, please be in prayer and seek God’s direction for your expression of generosity toward the life and vision of God’s ministry through this church.

         Proverbs 29:18 reminds us that 18 Where there is no vision, the people perish. This church has a vision for the future. We cannot perish in this community. This church is God’s missional outpost to those who have not come to Jesus Christ. But it requires each one of us to generously use our spiritual gifts and abundant resources so that future generations may come to know God and be saved just as we have come to know God and serve his kingdom. That is my vision. That is my hope.

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