Summary: As people of faith we need to be people of prayer but even more than that, people of breakthrough prayer, asking God to break through in situations where there is nothing else we can do. We need breakthrough prayer in our churches.
It was July of 2012 and was a sad day for me. In my first sermon here I told you about Elwood, my first appointment. Elwood was a nice, quiet, quaint little church in Madison County. A pretty stereotypical white framed country church on a quiet Farm to Market road. In the spring the pastures surrounding the church were covered in blue bonnets. Pictures of the setting look like a “Welcome to Texas” postcard. It was beautiful. In the two years I was there I grew to love that little church. I would like to think they loved me too. I learned so much serving as their pastor. Those folks taught me and they loved my family. I couldn’t have asked for a better place to begin my ministry. I had a Conference Board of Trustees meeting that sad day. In the first order of business I was elected chair. When we finished electing officers we turned to the business at hand, up first, the sale of several pieces of property, closed churches and now the Board had the responsibility of disposing of the property. It wasn’t something new. We review and sell property at most every meeting. But when I looked at the name of the first former church on the list, I froze for a second. Elwood. I felt my heart was being ripped out. We carried out the business before us and with a quick vote, we accepted the offer from the local cemetery association. Now, not only was Elwood no longer a United Methodist Church, its property no longer belonged to the denomination. Over 100 years of ministry now was a few thousand dollars in the Annual Conference bank account. I had closed churches before. Ironically, when I serving at Elwood, I “officially” closed the old Midway Methodist Church. When I was pastor at Lovelady, I “officially” closed the old Shiloh Methodist Church. This was different. I had no sentimental attachment to them. Serving on the Trustees I had been a part of selling closed church properties before but again, I had no real attachment to any of those. This was different. This past week my mind also wandered back to a youth trip. The kids at Canton wanted to go to the Hard Rock Café in Dallas. I was really surprised, and a little sad, when I saw that the Hard Rock Café in Dallas was housed in the former McKinney Avenue Baptist Church building. It had to have been a beautiful old building. It still was, particularly if you could see past the stained glass windows of Elvis and others where the chancel had once been. The bar that in the back of the former sanctuary. As I sat there eating my lunch, I couldn’t help but wonder what happened to the congregation who worshipped there. I’m still not sure but I do know the church no longer exists. When I started contemplating this series, my mind wandered back to these two events. As I was thinking I realized things rarely stay the same. The world changes. Even things change for the Hard Rock Café. The Hard Rock in Dallas moved to a former Mercedes dealership and the old church building is torn down, a high-rise taking its place. I makes me wonder, was anyone praying for the church before its demise? Was anyone at Elwood praying for its future? What about Midway or Shiloh? What about the many other closed churches our Board of Trustees has sold in the past? Here is an equally important question. Outside of the members, did anyone notice when the churches closed? And perhaps the most important question, if this church were to close, would anyone besides us here even notice?
This morning, Pentecost and we are continuing our series on breakthrough prayer. This series was inspired by one of the talks Reverend Sue Nillson Kibbey, director of connectional ministries for the West Ohio Annual Conference, made at Annual Conference this year. She talked about breakthrough prayer defining it as prayer where we ask God to break through in our situation to do work in ways we can’t. Last week we began with asking God to break through in our families. Today we are talking about praying for God to break through in our church. I picked today for this sermon because it is Pentecost. When I think of the story of Pentecost a few things that jump out at me. The disciples praised God every day, God added three thousand people that day and added to their numbers every day, and Peter, quoting the prophet Joel talks about visions and dreams for the future. While isn’t mentioned in the story, I would submit to you the Pentecost story is soaked in prayer. It had to be for anything like this to occur. First of all, I would submit to you, it isn’t possible to praise God, an action the story says the apostles and all the other converts to the first church did, it is impossible to praise God, without prayer! All the people were praising God and God was breaking. These folks had seen Jesus crucified. Many of them saw Jesus the Risen Christ. Many saw Jesus ascend just days before. There was fear there, fear of the Romans, fear of the Jews. But God was at work. The Holy Spirit was present and prayer was real and part of the lives of those gathered. I believe these people prayed and God responded. Can you imagine? 3000 people are saved and come to faith in one day! WOW! Can you imagine what that would be like? Can you imagine what that would look like? Can you imagine what it would be like? Can you imagine what kind of impact that would have today if God broke through that way in Diboll? “Well Keith, there are a couple of problems there. First, there aren’t that many people around here who don’t go to church? Second, even if there are, I like my church just the way it is. If we found 3000 new people it would change my church.” For those who have such thoughts, the population of Diboll is about 5300 but that is just the city. If we go into the surrounding countryside we would add significantly to the number. It might not be 3000 but it could be significant. Do I really think we would add 3000 people? Probably not. But with God’s help we could add significantly. As far as liking the church the way it is? If we aren’t moving forward we are moving backward. In the year I have been your pastor we have taken in one new member and she came with me. We have had no professions of faith. I can count the number of first time visitors we have had on one hand. Folks, none of that is good. Fortunately we haven’t lost members either, but that is only a matter of time. Jesus said to go into all the world and make disciples. He didn’t add to that, but if you like the way your church is don’t worry about it. We are called to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. I fear we aren’t doing a very good job. In the New Testament Jesus didn’t make very many commands of us, but this is one of them. And in it, I fear we are not doing so well.