The Eyes of Our Hearts Enlightened – Aug 19, 2018

The Eyes of Our Hearts Enlightened

A Sermon by Rev. Karen A. Mendes

Ephesians 1:15-19

August 19, 2018

Main Idea: God guides our future.

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable in thy sight O Lord, our strength and our redeemer.  Amen.

As Baptists we are organized with a congregational polity, meaning that we understand that the Holy Spirit is at work among us and together we can discern the Spirit’s leading for ourselves as a congregation.  We have no bishop to tell us what to do.  We have each other and God.  That’s all we need.  In the past we have had envisioning retreats on a Saturday morning.  Those available would gather and we would pray and think and plan together.  This year we decided to incorporate our envisioning into our worship service, for discerning God’s will is holy work, best done with prayer, and praise and singing.  Incorporating our envisioning into worship also strengthens the ties between what we do here in the sanctuary on Sunday and what we do the rest of the week; our various ministries and our “regular” life.

Paul’s letter to the Ephesians is a perfect jumping off point for our discernment of God’s guidance for our future because this letter was written to encourage the communities of the early church and to give guidance about how they (and we) should live and work together.  Today’s text from the first chapter starts by recognizing the communities’ faith in Christ and their love toward each other.  That’s where we start, yes?  Faith in Christ and love for each other and for the world.  Everything we do as a church community flows from our faith and our love.

Paul prays that we may receive “a spirit of wisdom and revelation” as we grow in our relationship with God.  To pray for wisdom is to recognize that not all of our ideas are necessarily good ones! Ideas need to be thought through and considered from more than one point of view.  To pray for a spirit of revelation is to be open to new ideas that have never occurred to us before.  It is to deliberately leave some questions open so that someone else may answer; maybe today, maybe tomorrow, maybe years in the future.  Discernment requires both wisdom and revelation.

Faith, love, wisdom, and revelation lead to “the eyes of [our] heart enlightened”.  Isn’t that an amazing and beautiful image?  This phrase occurs only here and it means “spiritual eyesight”; to see the world as God see it.  In the Hebrew Scriptures and in the early church, the heart was understood as the center of human thought and spiritual life.  For us, the heart is understood as an image of our emotions and of our connections to others.  In both understandings, “the eyes of [our] heart enlightened” lead us to make decisions based on our understanding of God’s love and purposes.  So that, we “may know what is the hope to which he has called [us],  (our Future), what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, ( our Past) and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, (our Present) (1:18b-19a).

The hope to which God has called us undergirds all of our ministries and our plans.  “Sometimes people find it difficult to distinguish hope from faith, but Ephesians makes the distinction very easily.  Faith is “in the Lord Jesus”(1:15); that is to say, faith is entrusting our lives to Jesus today, in the present tense.  Hope is about the future, about where it is that our present trust in Jesus eventually leads.”( Pheme Perkins, NIB, Vol. 11, p. 386)  Hope is not the same as wishing.  “I hope it won’t rain on the picnic next week.”  Hope is about moving into the future, secure in God’s providence.  We can make our plans for the future with hope and confidence that God is with us.

“The riches of God’s glorious inheritance among the saints” are the many gifts and resources that we as individuals and we as a church community have received from God. These riches are the building blocks of our future ministries.   To make plans for the future we must recognize what we have done in the past and what resources are available to us now. Our congregation is blessed with a beautiful building right in the heart of the largest city in Vermont. We have an admirable history of meeting the needs of those in our wider communities.  We were part of the formation of JUMP, the Burlington Emergency Shelter and other social services downtown.  We have supported refugee resettlement for more than 50 years. In 2013 and again in 2016 we gathered to discern God’s guidance for our ministries, much as we are doing today.  In 2013 the ministry priorities that we identified were Worship, Programs directed to the needs of the community, and Generational Diversity. This led us to incorporate new music styles into our worship, to plan activities with our Karen Community, to hire a Director of Youth and Young Adult Outreach, and to update the security and accessibility of our building, to name a few of our ministries and initiatives.  In 2016 our priorities were Intentional Ministry, Raising Public Identity, and a New Model of Church Governance.  This led us to more worship diversity, new signs out front, a new website, and our current process of updating our governance structure, among other things.   We are fortunate to have wealth of gifts among the congregation, both English speaking and Karen.   We are rich in many ways.

All of our gifts and resources are enabled and empowered by “the immeasurable greatness of God’s power.”  All that we have and all that we do is sustained and buoyed by God’s love and grace working in and through us.  This power is available to us at all times and in all circumstances if we but recognize and utilize it.   We sometimes get caught in the fallacies of self-sufficiency and self-help. We become fixated on what we don’t have rather than on what we do.  We can get caught in a cycle of worry, complaining, and despair.  This leads us to feel overwhelmed and all alone.   But actually, there is nothing that we do “on our own”.  God is with us all the time.  Because God empowers our faith and our service, we can step back from our stress and worry to imagine new ministries and new ways of doing things.   We can create space for uncertainty so that new ideas from new people can develop.

Our church has many gifts to share and we have challenges, as we are all aware.  The way we do some things may change.  The way we do some things must change.  But we can trust that God is with us, leading us and sustaining us.

This morning we have the opportunity to reflect on the gifts of First Baptist and to ponder to what God is calling us next.  After we read our Vision Statement together,  Adam will play some soft music while we take a few minutes to write down the gifts of our community.  Then those who would like to, may share what they have written.  We then will take a few more minutes to reflect upon and record our thoughts about what we are called to next.  These ideas will be the building blocks of the work we will do together after lunch as we discern ministry priorities and a theme for the coming year.

As we move into our time of discernment, please join me in a spirit of prayer.

Dear God of our Lord Jesus Christ, Dear God of Glory, we thank you for your presence and your guidance this day and every day.  We pray for your spirit of wisdom and revelation.  We pray that the eyes of our heart are enlightened.  Widen our imaginations and embolden our service.  Encourage us and sustain us.  We ask this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Notes and Quotes

Purpose of revisiting our vision and plans – having “a spirit of wisdom and revelation” with “the eyes of our hearts enlightened.”

what is the hope to which he has called you,  (Future)

what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, 19and (Past)

           past retreats and ministries

what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, (Present)

           God empowers our faith and our service.

           This enables us to step back and imagine new ministries and new ways of doing things.

           It allows us to make space for uncertainty

The way we do things may change.  They must change.  But we can trust that God is with us.

It was the faith and love of the early church which enabled it to survive and grow.  It is the faith and love of First Baptist that enables us to grow and thrive.