HOPE Point @Wesley Memorial UMC
August 21, 2016
Colossians 2: 6-10 (CEB)
So live in Christ Jesus the Lord in the same way as you received him. 7Be rooted and built up in him, be established in faith, and overflow with thanksgiving just as you were taught. 8See to it that nobody enslaves you with philosophy and foolish deception, which conform to human traditions and the way the world thinks and acts rather than Christ. 9All the fullness of deity lives in Christ’s body. 10And you have been filled by him, who is the head of every ruler and authority.
Matthew 7: 24-25 (CEB)
“Everybody who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise builder who built a house on bedrock. 25The rain fell, the floods came, and the wind blew and beat against that house. It didn’t fall because it was firmly set on bedrock.
Today marks a special day in the life of this church. This morning, we are celebrating “Come Home Sunday”! In one respect, today marks a homecoming celebration. Many of you are here because you consider this your church home; you grew up here, you served here, you made life-long friends here. But today is more than just a homecoming; it is also a celebration of what Wesley Memorial will be—a point of HOPE in this community for years to come. And so it may be that some of you are here today not because this was once your church home, but because you are looking for a new church home. Whatever it may be that brings you here today, know this; God is doing amazing things in this place right now, and I am so glad that we are all gathered here today to see and to celebrate God’s continuing work in this place.
So let me tell you a little about what’s happening around here these days. Wesley Memorial has a rich history in this little Chattanooga suburb. For more than 70 years people from the neighborhoods around this church have joined in worship, plays, meals, sports, concerts, and so much more through this church. But as happens everywhere, things change; cultures change, neighborhoods change, people change. So back in January, a call was made down the road at Christ United Methodist Church for urban missionaries to partner with the congregation here at Wesley Memorial. Just a few weeks later, a Leadership Team began meeting to consider how Wesley Memorial might continue as a vital, relevant congregation in this place and this time. From very early on, our primary goal was to identify and address the needs and concerns of the people living in these neighborhoods around us. As the Leadership Team worked together, the word that God kept putting before us was HOPE. Beyond any shadow of a doubt, we knew that God was (and is!) calling this church, on this little point, to be a place of HOPE for this community.
I share that story with you all because I want you to know where we were, and where we are now. But the thing is, it’s one thing to discern that God is calling us to be HOPE Point @Wesley Memorial, and it’s quite another thing to actually be a church that offers the hope of Christ in the community and the world. So as the Leadership Team focused on this work of HOPE, the next step was to identify the attributes that would truly make this church a place of HOPE. And here’s where God led us: HOPE Point @Wesley Memorial UMC is: Rooted in Christ. Grounded in Hope. Growing in Grace. Giving in Love. So as this church begins our journey into God’s future, we will spend time over the next few weeks looking at each of these virtues, and what it means to be: Rooted in Christ. Grounded in Hope. Growing in Grace. And Giving in Love.
We begin this morning by thinking about what it means to be Rooted in Christ. When I preached my first sermon here a little over a year ago, I told you all that I wanted it to be the perfect sermon. And there were so many things I wanted to say, but that I finally came to the realization that I had many more sermons ahead of me and I would be able to share so many of those thoughts in the right time. I have to admit to you that I felt much the same struggle as I wrote this sermon. Because being rooted in Christ. That’s it. If we are not rooted in Christ, then nothing else matters, nothing else will work. Friends, I can try and say it a thousand different ways, but the message we need to hear today is that the most important thing in our lives is being rooted in Christ.
So let’s think about this for a minute. Has anyone ever asked you, what’s most important in your life? At some point in our lives, we’ve probably all given some thought to this question. And I imagine that if we were to go around the room this morning and each offer our personal responses, we’d actually find that we all have pretty similar answers. If we’re being pious, our list would probably go something like this: Christ, family, work, and so on. But if we’re being honest, our answers might rank in a different order. If our time is a reflection of what is most important in our lives, then the observable answer is probably work. But if our money is the reflection of what is most important in our lives, then it might be shopping, or nice cars, or big homes. The thing is, what we say is most important in our lives, and what is actually most important in our lives might not always line up.
But the simple fact of the matter is; there is only one thing that is truly important in our lives; only one thing that really matters. If that one thing is in place, then all the other pieces will fit together. If that one thing is at the forefront, then we can face everything else. If that one thing is our foundation, then we can stand firm through all of life’s ups and downs. Now, the fact is, most of us probably have the head knowledge to know what that one thing is, but do we live accordingly? As I said early on, we might name Christ as most important in our lives, but the question for us today is: is Christ really first in your life?
Many of you might be familiar with the author and speaker, Brennan Manning, the writer of The Ragamuffin Gospel. Manning has an amazing story about how he got his first name, Brennan. While growing up, his best friend was Ray. The two of them did everything together: bought a car together as teenagers, double-dated together, went to school together and so forth. They even enlisted in the Army together, went to boot camp together and fought on the frontlines together. One night while sitting in a foxhole, Manning was reminiscing about the old days in Brooklyn while Ray listened and ate a chocolate bar. Suddenly a live grenade came into the foxhole. Ray looked at his friend, smiled, dropped his chocolate bar and threw himself on the live grenade. It exploded, killing Ray, but Manning’s life was spared.
When Manning became a priest he was instructed to take on the name of a saint. He thought of his friend, Ray Brennan. So he took on the name “Brennan.” Years later he went to visit Ray’s mother in Brooklyn. They sat up late one night having tea when Brennan asked her, “Do you think Ray loved me?” Mrs. Brennan got up off the couch, shook her finger in front of Brennan’s face and shouted, “What more could he have done for you?” Brennan said at that moment he experienced an epiphany. He imagined himself standing before the cross of Jesus wondering, “Does God really love me?” And Jesus’ mother Mary pointing to her son, saying, “What more could he have done for you?”
Friends, Christ is our salvation. The most important thing for each of us to know, and understand, and claim in this life is the love that Jesus Christ has for us. Christ loves us so much that he gave all of himself for us. If we can root our lives, all of ourselves in that love, in Christ himself, then Christ stands in for us at every turn. It doesn’t mean life won’t be hard sometimes, but in the toughest of times, Christ offers to us all that we need to “make it through,” and even to experience abundant life. This is what we call grace, and it is only because of Christ’s grace that when the rain and winds come, the house still remains; because it has been built on the rock of Christ, rather than the sand of our flawed priorities. If we can sink our roots deep into the love of Christ, then when will have all we need.
A colleague tells the story of visiting an orange grove where an irrigation pump had broken down. The season was unusually dry and some of the trees were beginning to die for lack of water. After finishing the tour, the guide took a few of the visitors to his own orchard a short distance away, where irrigation was used sparingly, even in the severest of droughts.
As the guide proudly showed off his healthy orange trees, he explained, “These trees could go without rain for another two weeks. You see, when they were young, I frequently withheld water from them. This hardship caused them to send their roots deeper into the soil in search of moisture. Now mine are the deepest-rooted trees in the area. While others are being scorched by the sun, these are finding moisture at a greater depth.”
Without question, the most important thing in our lives is being rooted deeply in Christ. This is our connection to God’s grace. This taps us into the living waters of our Lord. When we are rooted in Christ, we receive the nurture we need to grow as Christ’s disciples, and the strength we need to withstand all of life’s ups and downs. Nothing else can do that for us; nothing—not our jobs, not our families, not money; nothing gives us the strong foundation we need except for Christ.
And yet, we resist sinking our roots deep in Christ, don’t we? It seems like there’s always something standing in the way; some other more important matter that needs to be addressed, and our attention is diverted. There’s a strict deadline approaching that requires more of our time. There’s constant worry about the stressful financial situation. There’s the family member that’s fighting addiction. Or maybe we are facing a dire health diagnosis. These are the sorts of events that can rock our world and throw our lives off balance, making us feel as if we need to extend our roots in other directions to accommodate the latest challenge. But when we spread ourselves thin and things start getting rough; when the storms roll in, or the drought strikes, we completely lose it, we just topple over because there’s nothing sure there to provide the support we need. We think we can go it alone, but we can’t. We need Christ, and we need one another.
We are here today celebrating a church, which has for more than 70 years, been helping people sink their roots deep in Christ. So many of you are here today because this is your ground; this is the place where it all started, where seeds were planted and nurtured as they took root. But that work is not just something of the past. The people of this world still need to live lives that are rooted in Christ. And this church stands here so that we can continue to plant and nurture seeds in this community. God is calling us to be a Point of HOPE for everyone who lives in the neighborhoods around us, for all who drive by this building everyday, for those who eat lunch at the sandwich shop across the street. And the way we offer hope my friends, above all else, is to offer Christ, our one sure foundation.
Ages before we even entered this world, God had a plan for how he would offer life to all people. Long before he knew us, or all the countless mistakes we would make, Christ threw himself over all the powers that threaten to take our life because he loves us so much. He gave his life for us; the work is done, everything is taken care of. We are offered new life in Christ, and all we have to do is root ourselves in the Lord. Because Christ is all we need.
Will you receive this amazing gift? Will you root your life in Christ’s power alone? Will you accept Jesus as Lord and Savior? Christ is calling you. Come and root your life on Christ’s love.