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Heaven at Your Fingertips
by Gary Roth
based on Matthew 4:12-23
Today is the day of our Annual Meeting, so I guess today's message is sort of a "State of the Church" message. I've been trying, for the last couple of weeks, to decide exactly what I want to say to you about our congregation - where it has been, where it is now, and where it is going. I had promised, when I came here, that for the first year I would just try to watch what was happening, then make some recommendations. So we are about at that point.
I'm not going to outline a "Program for the Twenty-First Century." Actually, at our Church Council Retreat this past week, we did do a little envisioning, we rewrote our mission statement, and talked about some specific things we felt that we need to see happen. But today, I really want to talk a little about who we are, and the direction in which we're being called. And, I believe, our text leads us in that direction, so we're going to begin there. The text starts by talking how Jesus' ministry began on the footsteps of John's arrest. Paul says that his entrance into the European mission field began when other doors were closed to him - as he was trying to regroup, he heard the voice of a Macedonian calling to him, "Come here!" A lot of times ministry begins that way - something happens, a door is closed, something shakes us up, causes us to re-examine our selves, and we are led in a new direction. That happens to us as individuals - my older son's mother-in-law had breast cancer, and has gone through surgery, chemotherapy and all the rest now, and she's still not done. But she says that it's the best thing that ever happened to her - it forced her to take account of her life, and now she's doing some things, with a new focus and vision that she didn't have before. This congregation has also been through some tough times. There have been times of conflict that have caused us to reassess who we are. We lost some folks who were central to the mission of this congregation. Now, in our 50th year, we are looking back at our past and trying to determine where God is leading us. It is important for us to realize, though, that God is leading us in all of this - he is preparing us for our future in him - which is another point of our text. Matthew links John' demise to an old prophecy, as if to say, "Even here, God is fulfilling his purpose. He has no "Plan B." This was always his intention."
Next it talks about his message, "Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand." Where is God leading us? Toward his Kingdom. He is shaking things up because, on our own, we get too settled. It's too easy to keep doing things the same way, day after day, week after week, and year after year. We used to have the brown hymnal. Then the red. Then the green one. Each time we change, you would think it was the end of the world. Change anything in church and folks get angry. Now, I don't believe by any means that all change is for the better, but now and then we have to allow ourselves to get shaken up, or we become complacent. We are not here to be comfortable. We are here in response to God's call: "The Kingdom of God is at hand." "Repent!"
That word, "repent," is a great word. Wesley said it was, "godly sorrow." Wesley was wrong. "Repent" is a picture word. It is a picture of someone going down one road, then something happens, and he changes his mind, and goes down another one instead. It has nothing to do with feelings.
Now, I have to ask you a question: If you knew that Jesus was coming again next week to set up his kingdom here on earth, that from that day on you would be a citizen, not of the United States, not ruled by its economy or laws, but would be a citizen of the Kingdom of God, and ruled by God himself - how would you live out this week? Do you think you would be doing a little practicing? Do you think you would look at others differently? Do you think you might let go of some grudges you hold? Do you think you would worry about some of the things you worry about now? Do you think some of your activities would change?
Jesus' message is "The Kingdom of God is near." He is present among us. In the bread and wine, in one another, in our neighbor, in the people who live in this community. The Kingdom is near. He is staring us in the face. Heaven is not somewhere far away - Jesus is as close as your fingertips. So we need to change, to bring our lives in harmony with that fact.
That is where we begin to understand the ministry of this church today. In light of that information - that his kingdom is present - he calls the disciples. He calls us. The text ends by saying that the disciples followed him, and watched as he proclaimed the good news of the kingdom, and cured diseases and sickness among the people.
That is where he is taking us. Into the countryside, into the community, to heal disease, to cast out demons, and the sickness that engulfs our world - and to proclaim the Gospel - the good news about God's love and care for all people.
As you listen to our committees share what they are doing; as you hear them share a vision for this church, I hope you will hear the Macedonian calling Paul, "come over here!" I hope you will hear Jesus calling, "We need some change! The Kingdom is near!" I hope you will hear God calling you, "Come, follow!" Heaven is not far away - it is at your fingertips!
Frank Schaefer, for JavaCasa Resources and the Desperate Preacher's Site, 1999