Gospel: John 14:23-29
1st Reading: Acts 16:9-15
2nd Reading: Revelation 21:10, 22-22:5
The current mission statement of our congregation goes like this: “Doing justice, loving kindness, walking humbly with God (Micah 6) Trusting in God’s love and grace, King of Kings affirms the gifts of all God’s children, honors the wisdom of all generations, is a safe, caring community where you’re freed to be yourself, joyfully welcomes new ideas and encourages creativity, provides opportunities for personal and spiritual growth, reaches out boldly in response to the needs of each other, the community, and the world, joyfully reflects faith in Christ through lives of stewardship and discipleship, looks to the future with hope and meets the challenges before us with courage.” I’ve been interested in working on our church’s mission statement for several years now. Lately, some of you who were there for the process of writing the church’s current mission statement have asked me why we should write a new one.
Let me start by saying that this mission statement is beautiful and includes so much of what any church would want in their mission statement. From what I understand, a lot of prayer and effort went into making sure that the Holy Spirit as well as all the voices in the congregation were participants in the process of writing the current mission statement.
Yet, I still believe that there is something to gain from working on a new one. A Mission statement is about God’s vision for our congregation. And the way we tap into God’s vision for the congregation is through prayer, conversation, and Bible Study. Once we are grounded in prayer, conversation and Bible Study, God speaks God’s vision to us. It is a collective vision that we all contribute to. It emerges a little bit at a time rather than fully formed. We each only catch a glimpse of God’s vision, but we share that with each other and eventually we get more of a complete vision that speaks to our hearts about where God is calling us as a congregation.
This morning’s readings are all about visions. Some come in times of trouble, like in Revelation, when you need that hope pulling you forward. Some are more ordinary visions of where to go and what to do next. Jesus is leaving the Disciples with a vision of the future where he will be with them in a different way. They won’t be able to see it with their eyes, but with another kind of vision. He tries to capture their imagination, to help them see through different eyes the presence of God that will continue to be with them. Jesus is trying to paint a picture of what it will be like when he is gone. It isn’t like what they are expecting. They feel abandoned. They feel alone. They feel rejected. But Jesus is showing them to expect something else. Expect God’s presence always with you. Expect peace. Expect to rejoice. Expect us to be reunited.
They probably had trouble remembering Jesus’ vision of peace for the disciples by the time Revelation was written. Christians were being arrested and killed. Families were turning on each other. Into this chaos, John the Revelator receives a vision and shares it with the churches in turmoil.
He saw heaven coming to earth. The presence of God was not confined to a building, but was everywhere, making the city shine. Instead of the kings wreaking havoc on the Christians, they walked peacefully through the city, sharing their light. There were no times of darkness—of suffering, but everything was always and forever bathed in God’s glorious light. Water is abundant. Life is abundant. Healing is abundant. Vegetation in abundant. God is central. The people will see God so clearly. They will walk in God’s light forever. It is truly a picture of world peace.
This vision is to give hope to those who are being persecuted. A vision can help you move forward when you are afraid. It says there is more to this story than what you are seeing right now. There is a bigger plan that you are a part of.
Paul relied on his vision to help him decide where to minister next. He was chased out of city after city as he went preaching the good news. He was shipwrecked twice, arrested and faced many other dangers. You’d think he’d just want to go home. But he had a vision driving him. He knew how miserable his life had been before, when he had been picking on Christians. When he was struck blind on the road, simultaneously he could see all too clearly what he had been doing was wrong. He, suddenly, had vision. He could see with the eyes of God the vision of community that Jesus was teaching. He experienced, first hand, the forgiveness of a community that he had persecuted, because those same Christians welcomed him. I’m not saying they didn’t keep an eye on him. But they fed him and eventually he earned their trust and became the one most eager to spread the good news.
Today, I’m afraid we equate visions with crazy people. Visions can be frightening because we are not used to trying to see with other eyes. In Jesus’ time and until recent times, people were using their imaginations more and using their inner vision. Now we don’t develop that muscle as much because we have TV and movies to tell us what our vision is—taking up much of the visual space in our minds. Yet God is still speaking to us through visions, and we can open ourselves to receive them. At all times, God is moving us forward, through visions, glimpses of the Kingdom, moments when we see through God’s eyes where God is leading us.
You wrote this mission statement 12 years ago. It is a pretty comprehensive statement. Yet, God’s vision for us is always emerging. The world we live in is different than it was when you wrote this. This church is different. The leadership is different. God’s vision for us is based on the world we live in, which has changed. God might be saying new things through the new people all around us, through the circumstances of world events, through the environment.
Let’s say you read the Bible 12 years ago. Should you never read it again? The Bible is God’s living word. The words might not change, but we change. The meanings for our lives change. We see things in there we never saw before because we are different. The same is true when we interpret God’s vision. God’s vision is the same. But we change. We see it differently. We have different eyes and people with different experiences to help us see it more clearly. We have a different context we’re coming from. You’re all 12 years older and wiser. Don’t you think God wants you to look again at God’s vision and see if there is anything helpful there? Maybe the 45% new people who are here who weren’t here last time you interpreted the vision have something to add that you might not have seen.
The goal is not the mission statement, really. It is the process of helping the whole congregation catch the vision again. I was not there for this process. I don’t know what you saw. I only see this end result and it is helpful, but it is only a description and not the experience. I want this congregation to have the chance to be in deep prayer about where God is leading us next. I want us looking for the Holy Spirit everywhere we go. I want us opening our eyes, listening to each other, listening to God, and tapping into a vision so amazing that we will struggle to put it into words.
I am actually following our current mission statement when I advocate working on a new one. It says, “King of Kings joyfully welcomes new ideas and encourages creativity, provides opportunities for personal and spiritual growth, and looks to the future with hope.” That is what writing a mission statement does.
I don’t want to change you from all the nice things this mission statement says that you are and do. I want that fire of God’s vision to re-ignite so that you can live your mission more fully.
So I ask you first to pray and open yourself up to God’s vision. A perfect prayer to begin is “Thy will be done.” A good prayer for congregations. A good prayer for individuals. And be not afraid to see the vision God is putting before us to lead us forward in hope and love.