January 29 Sermon

“What does the Lord Require?”
A Reflection by Rev. Dr. thom Bower
for January 29, 2017, the Fourth Sunday after Epiphany and Annual Congregational Meeting
Based on Micah 6:1-8 and Matthew 5:1-12

What have you expected to receive from God? What would you expect if you were told you were blessed by God? Our gospel lesson this morning is one of the best known passages of the New Testament. This translation uses the word “happy instead of “blessed”, but both are valid meanings of the Greek So imagine now how to live this life of blessed happiness that Jesus describes, and imagine the programs that might be provided if this were the template for ministry at Lyonsville.

“Happy are people who …” Jesus says 11 times. I’d like to add a twelfth: “Happy are people who call a Pastoral Search team.” One of the things I look forward to as an interim minister is the calling of a Pastoral Search Team. This is a milestone of transition, so I don’t want to delay that unnecessarily with a lengthy oral report. My written report comments on multiple transitions for Lyonsville.

The Pastoral Search Team will be entrusted with the task of discerning on behalf of the congregation a pastoral candidate. They will also be entrusted to consensus and mutual accountability. Those three tasks – discernment, consensus, and mutual accountability – are essential practices for a healthy congregation.

While those practices are raised up for the Pastoral Search Team, their work reminds all of us who invest in congregational life that we too are also called to those practices. The success of a Pastoral Search process is not measured by the quality of a candidate presented to the congregation: the success of this process is how well the entire congregation embraces discernment, consensus, and mutual accountability, how well the entire congregation integrates discernment, consensus, and mutual accountability into the regular activities of being the church: council meetings, mission programs, fund raising, even trivial events like book clubs and game nights.

I know you are anxious to know the members of your Pastoral Search Team. I hope even though you have not known their names that you have been praying for them. They have a significant task in front of them. The UCC breaks this process into 6 stages: you’ll get to know these well, because a poster will be hung and we’ll be remarking on this process in newsletters and other communications. I want to emphasize: it is a process, not a timetable. The office of Local Church Ministries in Cleveland has said it currently takes a congregation 12-24 months to call a pastor from the time a congregational profile begins to circulate.

Today you are commissioning the Pastoral Search Team. They need to be trained, and then they begin to work on the profile which itself may take months. I’m not telling you that to quash your enthusiasm. I want your expectations to be realistic. Today is a significant milestone, but you are not yet near the end of the transition process. And as the Pastoral Search Team begins their process, Lyonsville continues the process of engaging transition: of identifying and addressing practices that have impeded health and growth, of constructing strategies for more effective ministries given your present resources, of working together in the name of Christ – sometimes in familiar ways, sometimes in new patterns – in order to renew your community and the community beyond these walls. In other words, Doing what God requires: to do justice, to love kindness, to walk humbly with our God – practicing discernment, consensus, and mutual accountability.

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