Sermon by Rev. Deborah Hannay Sunoo
We’re off and running! Our backpack blessing for the kids at the beginning of the school year signals the start of a new program year here as well. We’re kicking off new children’s Sunday School classes even as we speak, adult Bible studies and fellowship groups reconvene this month, and we’re getting ourselves organized for some youth group events this year too. (If you’re in middle school or high school, be sure to talk to me at the picnic today to let me know what you’d most enjoy doing together.)
We’re also excited to be closing in on our 75th anniversary year which is coming up in 2020. You’ll be hearing more about our plans from your Session (your church board) over the next few months, along with talk of 2020 foresight as well as 2020 hindsight. Just as we are each individually works in progress, we’re a community on its way too.
As people on the move, we’ll want to be sure we’re headed in the right direction, and this is where our prayer retreats will come into play this year, the first one just two weeks away onSaturday, September 21st. If you are 12 years old or older, I really encourage you to make that event a priority. Our retreat leaders will teach us how to listen for God’s direction, something that will be useful to each of us as individuals in all kinds of situations, and will be useful to us as a congregation, too, as we look ahead to our anniversary year and beyond.
You’ll notice the theme of movement winding its way through our sermons this year as well. We’ll begin this fall with Old Testament stories of God on the move from day one of creation, through the Exodus from Egypt, through the establishment of the kingdom of Israel, through exile and return. A winter series will have us focusing on movement in the gospels; we’ll try out a new type of Bible study together by verbing our way into the Jesus story. We’ll move around and physically practice some spiritual practices during the season of Lent, and in the spring, we’ll circle back to the time of the early church to discover that every single character, however minor, had an important role to play in the action of the New Testament book of Acts.
It’s been fun to think about how the theme of movement sums up other things happening around the church this fall too. For instance, I know how eager some of you are to get moving again in our church kitchen. And I love the reason for that eagerness. While it will be fun to use it again for church events too, the primary motivation all along for getting it back in shape was so you could cook for our neighbors in the Tiny Cabins community and for others who are hungry. You want to feed others for their respective journeys. I can’t wait to see how that starts to play out in the months ahead.
Of course, when traveling as a group, it’s important to make sure no one gets left behind, so it makes me really happy to see everything from mission projects to fellowship events to worship and music leadership expanding to involve every age group and all sorts of talents. It’s a trend we certainly want to continue. We don’t have any interest here in being an exclusive group. In fact, I like to imagine our movement together less like a train or plane ride with doors securely fastened and more like an informal small-town parade where anyone can join right in and walk alongside us at any time.
And like good little hikers at church camp, we’ll sing as we go. Music Director Rob Jones and I have carefully selected a few new songs to lighten your hearts and bring you joy for the journey this year. We’ll introduce the first one - a beautiful new sung blessing - as soon as Rob returns next week, and I promise you’ll be singing it easily before long, as we conclude worship each Sunday. We hope it will accompany you outside of church too, wherever your own walk with God takes you in the weeks and months ahead.
The longer we’re on the move, the more important it is to travel lightly, which requires us to consider from time to time what we’re carrying with us, and to take stock. Which possessions, which traditions and procedures are worth preserving, and is it time to let any go? So some of you have been helping us physically declutter around the church facility, and some of you have been helping us rethink other aspects of church life – from staffing, to reports, budgets, and activities – all with a view toward simplicity and sustainability. As we head into our next chapter, what’s most important to bring along?
Another thing I love about travel is that it introduces us to people different than ourselves, and the same has been true of our movement as a congregation over the last couple years. Through book group discussions and field trips and guests joining us for worship, it’s been exciting to see this church family embracing your fellow explorers on a grand adventure far bigger than any single faith community. What encouragement it can bring us as we go along, to look around us and see brothers and sisters in Christ from the Hungarian Reformed Church, and from City of Glory Church International (with their wonderful Swahili choir), and from our neighboring Magnolia congregations … and to see devout friends from the Muslim Association of Puget Sound and from local synagogues all making their way down their respective paths as well.
We know there will be bumps in the road from time to time. But they needn’t deter us from moving along in the direction we believe God is calling us. After all, it was frustration over an unusable kitchen that led to the idea of our monthly Sandwich Sundays for our neighbors in the Tiny Cabins. I’m not sure how many of you know that what is now a favorite intergenerational service activity every month actually originated with a problem? We felt stuck – we couldn’t cook the hot meals we wanted to contribute – and that’s what allowed God to get our attention a year and a half ago and give us a whole new calling. So who knows what God can do with the next roadblock we encounter?
If you’re new to the congregation, I believe you’ll find a spirit of openness here at Magnolia Presbyterian – an openness to new initiatives and new ideas, to new ways of doing church. You’ll hear us speak regularly of trying and experimenting as we continue to learn what it means to be Christ’s faithful followers in this place at this time. We’d love for you to experiment right along with us. Help us watch and listen for God’s direction as we go along, too.
In our first Scripture reading today, we met Joshua right on the cusp of leading the people of Israel into the promised land. God urges him to pay close attention to God’s law and to walk in God’s ways, not turning aside from that path either to the right or to the left. That’s the road to success, God says. And the call comes packaged with a wonderful promise: “Be strong and courageous; do not be frightened or dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:9) “The Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” It’s a promise that echoes throughout the Scriptures and it’s been true in every generation since. So we know the Lord our God willbe with uswherever we go. And as long as we keep on looking to God for direction, we’ll have a far clearer sense of where we should be headed.
Our second Scripture text, from the NT letter to the Philippians, reminds us that the life of faith is more journey than destination. Paul points out that even he – famous apostle, leader of the early church – was far from his ultimate goal. “Not that I have already obtained all this,” he says, “but I press on … I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:12-14) Along his way, he’s grateful for brothers and sisters in Christ, and his words to that early congregation in Philippi capture perfectly what I want to say to you today as we kick off this new year: “I thank my God every time I remember you, constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of you, because of your sharing in the gospel from the first day until now. I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion in the day of Jesus Christ.” (Philippians 1:3-6)
Between now and then, I’m glad to be on the move with you. And not just moving any which way. Because simply running around busily as a new school year begins isn’t hard to accomplish. For some of us, busyness has become more like our default setting. I, for one, want to be intentional about what it is that keeps me active and moving.
My new favorite marching orders come from a coffee mug I stumbled across recently that read: “Be the kind of woman that when your feet hit the floor each morning, the devil says, ‘Oh [crud], she’s up!’” That’s the kind of mover and shaker I want to be this year. How about you? Well then … let’s go!