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First and Last (Mt. 28:16-20)
(This is a summary with minor revision of what I preached on July 7th, 2019)
I was so moved by your generous hospitality on our arrival at Martha’s Vineyard. Welcome hugs, welcome messages and packages including muffins, jams, fruits, salads, drinks and so on. I also appreciated your welcome visits, fans and smiles. I can’t imagine how much time and energy you spent improving the conditions of the parsonage. I see the big change from what I saw when I visited on Island with Andrew Foster III, D.S. On Saturday, I also enjoyed listening to the beautiful sound of the Island Community Chorus at the Tabernacle. Thank you, Thank you, Thank you all!!!”
I am smiling. Because of your hospitality, I am smiling and I would like to invite you to smile too. Smile is God’s precious gift. When you smile, it generates “the same level of brain stimulation as up to 2,000 bars of chocolate.” (Ron Gutman, the hidden power of smiling, TED 2011) As we worship together, let us smile at God because God is smiling at us. Let us smile at each other too and share the Good News “smiling” in our daily lives.
I am still unpacking things and my sermon won’t be fully unpacked until I know you -- until I understand who you are and whose you are. What is grateful is that God is with us all the time. Just like John Wesley’s last words, that is hung in the Tabernacle, “the best of all is God is with us,” we are invited to continue to unpack and reflect on who we are and whose we are in the midst of God’s presence.
First and last’ means ‘altogether’ and ‘above all else.’ The Great Commission is one of the most important “First and Last.” The great commission is also the first and last of the community of faith. In the Book of Discipline, it says, “the local church provides the most significant arena through which disciple making occurs.”
The risen Christ appeared to the eleven disciples in Galilee. The disciples worshipped him, but some doubted (just like us). Jesus came and said to them, “…. Go therefore 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 that I have commanded you.” Jesus comes to disciples. Jesus comes to us even today, asking us to go and make disciples.
In order to teach and make disciples, we need to learn/practice and become disciples first. We need to live out what Jesus has commanded us: loving God, yourself, and others. I believe that Jesus is still calling us to go and make disciples. You have served God, this congregation, and the MV community sincerely and diligently. Let us be grateful for God’s guiding presence and each other’s faithful prayers and works. Let us be more sensitive to God’s ongoing, creative callings in each moment of our lives. Without having sense of God’s presence, without respecting each other’s presence and works, we can be easily exhausted, losing sights and directions. The good news is that Jesus, the self-giving love of God, is with us here and now and always to the end of the age. Amen!
--Five Hallmarks of a Declining Congregation—
(1) People focus on growing the church rather than witnessing to their faith.
(2) Efforts focus on running the church rather than forming disciples.
(3) The congregation is people-led rather than Sprit-led.
(4) The congregation participates in mission projects but doesn’t have a mission.
(5) People focus on fixing rather than creating.