Imagine for a moment the possibilities of God’s Word in shaping the future of the Ventura Church. What do you see? Through understanding and obedience we can be all that God would want us to be! Matthew 13: 16 and 17 tells us, “… blessed are your eyes because they see, and your ears because they hear. For I tell you the truth, many prophets and righteous men longed to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it.” If you did not see any possibility, verse 15 of Matthew 13 warns us, “For this people's heart has become calloused; they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts and turn, and I would heal them.” We have experienced a lot of change this past year, and I realize many are uncomfortable with that. I am convinced there is a bright future here because we are God’s people. I realize there is much to do, and like you, I sometimes grow weary. Yet, Galatians 6:9 assures us with the words, “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” We can never give up!
The future does not lie before us in some imaginary daydream. Nor is it a storm of uncertainty; the future is in our midst. The signs are all around us. If we have the eyes we can see them; if we have the ears we can hear them! The signs are in us, they are around us, they are before us and behind us.
The future in our heart is not static. It is not a thing. It is dynamic. It is possibility. It presents us with choices, many choices. I really like Robert Frost’s poem
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I--
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
We are on a journey from birth to death. The road before us forks, and we must choose. We cannot turn back on this journey. We do not have an option. We must choose. One road is well traveled. The other seems little more than a path. The first road is fear. The second is the road of hope.
We see signs of fear all around us; fears we are afraid to name, fears that chill our hearts,
Fears we suppress, and fears that awaken us in our dreams.
Fears of terrorists,
Fear of war,
Fear of environmental pollution,
Fear that jobs will be eliminated or outsourced,
Fear of meaningless or demeaning work,
Fear we will lose our pensions,
Fear of rising medical costs,
Fear of natural disasters; tornadoes, hurricanes, floods;
Fear of strangers,
Fear for the safety of our children,
Fear of helplessness and dependency,
Fear of failure,
Even the fear of fear!
If we have the ears to hear and the eyes to see, we encounter fear at every turn.
I hear political candidates using fear to gain votes.
I see fear in the eyes of mothers on the evening news, watching their children starve to death.
I hear fear in the voices of families concerned over loved ones in Iraq or Afghanistan.
I see fear in the eyes of people who live in gated communities.
I hear fear when people reject people with whom they disagree.
I see fear in the eyes of the homeless standing on the corners of the streets near my home and in the eyes of those who pass them by.
I hear fear in our children wondering what the future holds.
I see fear in the quest to consume: in excessive eating, over-accumulation of things, oversized houses, and gas-guzzling vehicles.
If we have the eyes to see and ears to hear we see fears in both our personal decisions and in Church decisions about our faith, our direction and our ministry in this community.
Christians nurture hope. The signs we carry are not new; they are as old as the writings of Moses. As Christians, we carry signs of hope for the future. We all know the command in Matthew 28:19-20, “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age."
I am the church. You are the church. We are the church together!
We cannot hide behind our fears. We must move to the streets and proclaim good news! We must tell the stories of Jesus to our children, and to this community. But first, we must learn the Word.
Hope is fostered in congregations that tell, sing, and embody the gospel stories over and over and over again until they are imprinted upon our hearts and shape our sensitivity to all relationships, situations, and circumstances. Why? There is no hope when there is no memory of the stories of hope. I love working with our children preparing them to participate in worship. They memorize hymns. We study mini-sermons; they rehearse until they know them by heart. Sometimes these children lead the congregation in several of the acts of worship. These children have taught me something. If a story or a hymn is familiar, it is not boring.
Christianity nurtures hope in fearful communities when it creates an environment that responds to the questions those stories raise in all dimensions of life. The stories of faith are God’s gift, the underpinning of grace. Stories fill our collective hearts with the possibility of living with the fears of this age with trust and hope in our unchanging God. Questions are the gift of God’s inquiring grace. They challenge our redeeming grace. Study equips us to discern and respond to the workings of God in our human experience. A changing world is not something to fear with God as our focus.
Bible study that does not lead to deeper worship and a more vital relationship with God is like “a noisy gong, or a clanging symbol.” A shallow approach to one’s study of God’s Word neither benefits the individual, nor their fellow Christians. It certainly does not please God. We gather every week to study God’s Word; nonetheless many choose not to take part. Our children meet to study and we encourage them to share their faith with friends. Our teenagers prepare for leadership in the Church, yet witness adults who choose not to meet more often. What are we demonstrating to our children? Teachers strive to provide classes to help the participants grow in the knowledge of God; yet participation is necessary! Service is something Christians have long known. Hope occurs when Bible education equips people of all ages and circumstances for active participation in worship, and for continued and sustained service.
Paul, following his powerful description of the church in his first letter to the people of Corinth closes by noting the necessary interdependence of faith, hope, and love and then concludes that the greatest of these is love. Love is the force that binds us into a community across all our differences. It is because we love that we tell stories that reveal evidence to the power of love. It is love that is revealed when we take up the task of loving others. And why not, the source and end of that love is God! And in God, hope trumps fear; remember, God is love! 1 John 4:18 teaches us, “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.” That is the promise of the future in a Church where Christian education is faithful to its purpose.
Imagine for a moment the possibilities of God’s Word in shaping the future of the Ventura Church. If the education of our congregations is built on the promises of God, why shouldn’t we embrace the future with hope?