Summary: The church as God intended it will be affirmative of one another’s gifts, evangelical in spirit, inquiring in mind, comprehensive in compassion, and empowered by Christ.
I have two requests to make of you this morning as we continue. Two things I need for you to do:
First, I am going to ask our ushers to distribute a little document that I have prepared for you. It is something of an outline of today’s message, but it is also a starter kit for your vision of church. I’ve already spent a lot of time this morning just identifying the need for a vision of what our church could be. But all of us need to get involved and stay involved with that vision-making process. What we are doing today will by no means finish the job. And so I am going to be encouraging every one of you to keep working at the task of creating your vision for your church. This document will give you a Biblical outline with which you can work. Use it today to make notes if you wish. Take it home to mull over and write on. I think you’ll see this statement coming back over and over again as in the coming months we face decisions that will test our dreams for our church.
Second, I am going to ask you to turn to Ephesians, the third chapter. You’ll find it on page 950 of the pew Bibles. You are going to need this text in front of you this morning. This is going to be what is sometimes called an "expository" sermon; that is, I am going to work right through the text and pick up on several ideas you’ll find in it. So it will mean a whole lot more to you if you have the text before your eyes as we move along.
Look up here for a second. What does this gesture mean? (One thumb up) If I take one hand, fold in the fingers, and lift up one thumb, what does that mean?
Well, actually, there are two possibilities.
It can mean I am testing which way the wind is blowing. If I wet that thumb and stick it out, it means I am trying to find out where the winds are blowing.
But it can also mean "victory." "We did it." "We won." "Success." One thumb stuck up is a gesture of victory. We tried to accomplish something, and we did it. We tried to achieve something, and, look here, we did it.
A thumb stuck up can, then, mean either I am testing the wind to see which way it is blowing; or it can mean, "We won, we did it, we are successful."
But now under that thumb are four fingers. Let me try a little image with you this morning. The thumb and the four fingers stand for the ingredients in our dream. Follow me on this.
One finger stands for the things we say we believe. We all bring a lot of official doctrines here. We say we believe these things. Whether we do anything about them is another matter. For example, a recent survey of more than 200 churches revealed that 89% of those responding agreed with the idea that Christ is the only way to salvation. That sounds good and we will agree to it in principle, and then just park it. One finger on my hand stands for our official doctrines.
A second finger stands for the things we will actually act on, the beliefs we will really put into action. A second component of the life of this church are the things you really do believe. We’ve found out, in a wide variety of interesting ways; that you really do believe in racial understanding. Anything that comes in here and seems to suggest any form of racism you are very quick to jump on. And so one component of the church’s vision are the things you will respond to, the things you not only say you believe but you act upon.
But now there is a third finger, and that has to do with leadership. There are certain ideas, certain themes, that have been taught from this pulpit and in my work with lay leaders arid in my pastoral visits and counseling; there are certain things that I have said over and over and over again. I do not always know whether you take them to heart. Every now and again someone will tell me of the power and the meaning of something I have said, and that is truly exciting. And then every now and again someone will tell me how meaningful it was that I said something or other, and to me it doesn’t sound like anything I ever said or could say. So who knows how important this one is? But nonetheless as you have called me to be your pastor, that means that I am going to inject, constantly, certain ideas and values and visions that I have.