Happy New Year, and welcome to 2017! I know that 2017 will be an amazing year for us here at Hereford United Methodist Church. We are still here, we are alive, and we have the hope and the joy that comes from worshipping a RISEN savior! Another trip around the sun means another chance to be the salt and light the Hereford Zone so desperately needs. And our little church here on the hill in Hereford, situated in the center of town, is uniquely situated to be that salt and light, if we are resolved to seize the opportunity God presents us this year.
That is the point of our reading from God’s word this morning: Paul is giving us the blueprint for a perfect New Year’s resolution, and he has given us the plan to see us through. Let’s open our Bibles and go through it again:
First, let’s look at the “resolution”, in verse 12: but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Paul gives his purpose in life here: he wants to “take hold” of that for which Jesus “took hold” of him. What is it that Jesus took hold of him for? What does Jesus take hold of us for?
Because Jesus loves us. If you read the Bible from cover to cover: every begat and begotten, every thee and thou, you will read the greatest love story ever told. It’s the story of an all-powerful God who is so full of love, he creates a university of infinite beauty, and he places in that universe creatures made in his own image: moral individuals, which choice, eternal individuals. He calls them man and woman.
And when they choose to disobey Him, he doesn’t destroy them. He doesn’t wipe everything out and start over. He has a plan. He will become one of them, and take their disobedience and their shame and their humiliation upon himself. He will pay their debts and take their place, so they can be restored to a relationship with Him.
God pursued us to love us—and took hold of us (meaning literally to chase us down and grasp us) — so that we can have a relationship with Him for all eternity.
So Paul is saying that our resolution – as individual believers, and as members of Hereford United Methodist Church – should be to pursue Christ with that same passion and to take hold of him the same way he took hold of us. We should want to love Him as much as he loved us.
John Wesley said, “Light yourself on fire with passion and people will come from miles to watch you burn.” I wonder what our little town would look like if I could do that. Can I burn with that passion for Christ? How about you? What about us as a church? What if when people drove by on Sunday mornings and saw all these cars in the parking lot, they didn’t ask “What are they all doing there this early?” What if instead, they said, ” I want to be part of that. Those folks know what they are doing, and I want to be on that team!”
In verses 13 and 14, Paul has laid out a plan for us to live up to that resolution – to light ourselves on fire with passion: Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.
Paul lays out two things that we all need to do here:
First, we need to leave the past in the past. Paul is telling us to leave our baggage at home. We cannot change the past. We cannot undo what is done. If we been forgiven for our sins, we should not carry them around like some heavy piece of oversized luggage. We can’t be weighed down by what could have been, should have been, might have been.
And we may need to leave some of our victories behind, too: we might need to set down our successes, our accomplishments and our achievements to make room for what God will do with us next!
We need to leave room for God to do great things in our lives to set us on fire for him!
Having left the past where it is – behind us – Paul says we then must press on toward the goal. We must move forward in our faith – as believers AND as a community. And that goal is our resolution: to love Jesus Christ as much as He has loved us, and to make that love known to the world. Paul knows this will be controversial among some, he says so in verse 15, stating emphatically that any mature Christian would certainly take this view. And in verse 16, he wraps everything together by exhorting us to simply live up to the reality of what Jesus Christ has given us: He gave us a relationship through salvation, we should only want to see it grow and prosper and bear fruit. So how do we press on toward the goal? What do we do? I think there are three key things we can do to press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called us heavenward:
First: Connect with God You cannot have a relationship with another person without really getting to know them: getting to know how they think, how they feel, what is on their heart. You cannot have a relationship with God – a real, passionate, loving relationship – without getting to know his heart. Spend time in his Word every single day. Learn how all these threads in the Bible are woven together by the Holy Spirit into this amazing tapestry that tells of the greatest love story ever told. When you begin to see the whole Bible has His Story, you will realize its YOUR story. Its your story of how God reached out to take hold of you for all eternity.
And don’t forget to pray. And once you dive into God’s word, you will feel driven to talk to him. You’ll have questions that only he can answer. You’ll need clarity that only He can provide through the Holy Spirit. Nothing will be build your relationship with God more than learning his heart through his Word, and learning his love for you through prayer.
Second: Connect with People Fellowship with the “brothers and sisters” — in worship, bible study, discipleship—is a key part of the Christian life. We are many parts of one body, but we are One Body. As iron sharpens iron, we strengthen one another. We lift each other up, we hold each other when we mourn. When we come together on Sundays for worship, our own voices are multiplied a thousand-fold in holy unison with one another. Whenever two or more are gathered in His name, he will be there—even at Casa Mia’s after church on Sunday! Its important for us as Christians to meet and congregate to feed each other, but also to shine a light in the dark places, and to literally bring Christ into the world.
If you aren’t part of a small group or an affinity group or ministry here at Hereford, I encourage you to prayerfully consider that. Connect with your brothers and sisters to share the hope, the joy, the love and the great reward!
Third: Connect with the Community We cannot forget that our church is not a might fortress on the corner of York and Monkton Roads, but a welcoming home of God. We have a magnificent facility in both this sanctuary and the Family Life Center. We can – and do! — serve Hereford mightily, but there is always more to do. When we step out in faith into our community – or invite the community in to be served by us in this incredible place – we are the hands and feet of Christ. We can be the heart of Christ. We can be his comforting arms, and his soothing voice. We can serve Christ by serving the least among us; we love Christ by loving the least among us; We lift up Christ by lifting up the least among us.
If we as Hereford United Methodist Church spend 2017 Connecting to God, Connecting to People, and Connecting to Community