God’s Story

God’s Story

TEXT: Psalm 150; John 1.1-4; Matthew 5.17;
Jeremiah 29.11; Luke 4.18-21; Ephesians 4.1-6

FULL SERVICE VIDEO w/sharing time (LINK)

I want to do something different this morning for the sermon. I decided that I wanted to reflect on what I’ve seen God do at and through all of you during my time here. I want to remind you of your story, at least as seen from my vantage point. And ultimately I want to tell God’s story as I’ve been blessed to witness it. So I’ve chosen a number of scriptures this morning because each of them reminds me of chapters of that story in this place.

Jesus and Scripture (Jn 1:1-4; Mt 5:17)

Back in the late Fall of 2001 three men showed up to worship at First Presbyterian Church in Lenoir, NC. That wasn’t suspicious at all, nor was the one who kept saying “Amen” loudly during the service. 😊 That was George Houston, David Butler (Matt’s dad), and Melvin Graham (Billy’s brother). Long story short, we talked and they invited me to visit Charlotte to talk to the search committee that included Angela Hinton and the chair, Quay Youngblood.

I only start this far back in the story because my conversations with them highlight a foundational truth about Good Shepherd that was what drew me here in the first place. It became clear that they loved Jesus and God’s Word and they wanted a pastor who did too. I asked them if that described the elders and the congregation of the church and they assured me, yes, it did. I asked about some of my interests around music and worship and they said as long as I taught and followed the scriptures and served Jesus I could do whatever I wanted and the congregation would enthusiastically participate. It seemed too good to be true, but I believed them and trusted the Lord’s leading, and it indeed did prove to be true then and on through to today.

The beginning of the Gospel of John calls Jesus the Word of God and makes it clear that the Incarnate Word that is testified to in the written Word bring light and life to the World. Later, once Jesus began teaching, he made it clear that he wasn’t doing away with the Hebrew scripture, but was in fact fulfilling and explaining it to us. This is our core and it at the heart of God’s story: the Word made flesh, come to dwell among us in grace and truth.

Worship and Music (Psalm 150)

Worship and Music were at the front of my mind and heart when I first came to Good Shepherd. They still are, but it was one of the places I first focused. We introduced a praise team and hired Cathy Youngblood a few months later. I was also in the middle of my studies on worship and music and developed an approach to worship that used all the musical tools available us to proclaim God’s worth and explicate the scriptures I was preaching on. We’ve continued and expanded that approach on through to the music ministry under Eric VanderHeide today.

While there are many, many scriptures that relate to this, I can’t think of a clearer one than Psalm 150 which we used for our Call to Worship today. The Psalm exhorts us to praise God everywhere, with every instrument, with all our life and breath. And as I think back on those first five years or so I see us diving deep into worship and music in a way that has continued to blossom in our worship life together.

So many talented musicians – and other kinds of artists – have found a home here, whether short-term or long-term. It has truly been glorious to see the range of ways people have offered artistic gifts to the Lord and blessed all of us in leading us into worship in so many different ways.

People marvel that a church our size generates so much artistic worship and witness. But it is never a “look at us” kind of thing, but a “look at God” kind of thing. That brings me such joy as I know it does the Lord.

Lighthouse and Searchlight (Jeremiah 29)

As I reflect back on it, I believe all that heartfelt and intentional focus on worship led us out into the world. We were focused on God and God’s heart is for the world He loves. And so in the late 2000s we started talking more and more about getting outside the walls of the church and into the neighborhood and community. Our Wednesday nights moved from the Katibah Rm to Barnes and Noble, Caribou, neighborhood walks, and more.

During that time I was captivated by Jeremiah 29. I mainly knew about it because of the “graduation verse” about God knowing the plans He has to bless a future and a hope. But after challenging one of our graduating seniors to really dig into the context of that verse, I discovered the rich, rich context of that verse. It was written to an unfaithful and exiled people of God who had lost their homes, livelihoods, and place of worship. Seemingly they had even lost God. But God hadn’t left them! Yet that promise to bless and not to harm, for a future and hope, was not just out of nowhere. They would discover it and experience it as they prayed for their community of exile, as they sought God’s blessing for their captors and enemies.

We began talking about our church not only as a beacon lighthouse for people to come here and find the hope of the Lord, but as a searchlight shining the light of Christ out into the neighborhood and community as we went out into it, as WE prayed for our community and sought God’s blessing on them. That’s how we might ourselves experience God’s hope and future for ourselves.

That chapter continues to shape my deep understanding of being God’s person and people in the world God loves.

Building Interlude

Are you ready for intermission? That’s kind of how I would describe what happened next in the early 2010s as we engaged in a necessary capital campaign to replace the roof, the HVAC, and other things that were failing. It was necessary and important, and I believe we practiced good stewardship of our resources.

And yet, perhaps because of the size of the church, it also engaged most of our time and attention for a couple of years. Much like ancient Israel had to do more than once, we would need to rediscover our purpose and vision.

We would later face a similar challenge with COVID, where everything seemingly was put on pause. I think we bounced back from COVID a little more quickly and with more intention. Perhaps we had learned something from the last interlude.

Kingdom Vision (Luke 4:18-21)

A year or two before COVID, I took part in a presbytery event for pastors that put 25 white pastors in conversation with 25 black pastors. In the context of studying God’s Word and hearing the personal lived experience of each of black pastor colleagues and friends, I realized how blind I had been to race and systems of race in our culture. I began to hear more clearly how all of scripture calls out injustices and creates a vision for beloved community in Christ.

While there are many passages to point to, I can think of none clearer than Jesus beginning his public ministry by reading from Isaiah in the synagogue. He read of God’s promise to pour out His Spirit for the poor, the captive, the blind, and the oppressed. It is clear that God’s heart is for those suffering injustice. And Jesus doesn’t just read and teach on it, but claims it all in himself: “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” God HAS poured out His Spirit; God HAS initiated the Kingdom of God on earth through Jesus’ person, teaching, and ministry. It is therefore our mission and ministry as well if we follow him.

I’ve seen this Kingdom vision begin to take hold here at Good Shepherd in the past five years or so. I’ve seen it in the SERVE team in several different ways they are engaging our neighborhood. I’ve also seen it in various classes and groups we’ve had at the church. Racial justice is a hard and challenging topic for many of us, and one that is easily politicized, but it is at the heart of God and one of the core teachings of God’s Word in both testaments and in the teaching of Jesus. I can think of no better place to learn about it than in the church and in the scriptures.

I’ve also seen Kingdom vision take place through what Christy has brought to children and youth ministry as she not only cares for the young people we already have in the church, but also goes out into the community to build relationships. This is a fresh expression of the kind of neighborhood and community focus we had in the early 2000s and encourages me greatly.

Unity and Community (Eph 4:1-6)

And all that brings me full circle to where I started, with Jesus and the scripture. The last scripture I chose to use is from Ephesians 4:1-6. It speaks of the unity and community we find in our shared faith in Christ, with one Lord, one Spirit, one baptism.

This is the subject of our life together in this place. It is what will continue to bind you together even as you tackle tough issues and this period of transition between pastors. It’s the answer to almost every children’s sermon question. It’s Jesus.

Keep your eyes on Jesus. Look to God’s Word for truth, direction, and vision. Welcome the Holy Spirit that unites you, empowers you, and binds you to Christ.

That passage from Ephesians also gives pastoral encouragement that I’d end with as my exhortation to you as well:

Walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. (Eph 4:1b-3)

God IS with you! We will think and pray for you often. Amen.

Some Music Used

  • CHOIR: Ubi Caritas (Dan Forrest)
  • Hosanna/Praise is Rising
  • Revelation Song
  • Here I Am, Lord (Schutte)
  • The Blessing (Jobe)