Sometimes when you get thrust into a new situation, you’re often given 2 choices: operate by what you do know or operate by what you don’t know. As I finished up my first year of ministry with you all, I realized one thing: I don’t know what I don’t know. What I did know for sure is that I didn’t know a lot about the past in this place, but what I did know made me queasy, at best. So I want to start by being honest. I know that you’ve been hurt in the past. I also know that when I make broad statements like that that not everyone will feel the same way. I know that there are people in this place who love and miss previous leadership. But, I also know that there are people in this place who were hurt by previous leadership.
After I left my initial interview to be your pastor, I called Chris and talked it through with him. And after going on and on and on about the interview, I said, “they just so badly want the chance to be loved and I so badly want the chance to be the one to love them.” In our last year together, several of you have told me that you thought you were the problem; you thought you were unlovable; you thought you were dysfunctional. Maybe you even thought “can anything good come out of Elvira Zion?” If you weren’t at last week’s annual meeting, or if you haven’t gotten a chance to read my annual report letter, I want us to spend this next year together thinking about one central question: “why Elvira Zion?”
I want us to ponder what makes us different; what makes us unique; why people would want to make the drive to come out here. As I said last week, we’re more than just a cute, quiet, little country church. Do we have the band, lights, contemporary music, and some hipster-like pastor? Nope, but that may not be our call. Do we have the hand waving, dancing, 3 hour long service? Nope, but that also may not be our call. As I’ve thought about this text, the two phrases that keep coming back to me over and over are found in verse 46 “‘Can anything good come out of Nazareth?’” and “Come and see.”
Come and see. These seem like really simple instructions. In fact, we use this phrase so much that it almost has lost its effectiveness. “Come and see” the new cars, our new garden, the pool, this great movie, and on and on. Come and see. When we say “come and see” we put the owness on the person we are talking to. We say “come and see” as the invitation, but we really leave it up to the other person to take us up on that offer. And I know many of you have said “Pastor, we’ve been talking to people, we’ve been inviting them, we’ve been telling them about what’s going on here.” You’ve probably even said “come and see.”
If you have been a member of this church since you came out of the womb, you probably think someone being scared or apprehensive to come to church may seem a bit strange. But trust me when I tell you that there are people in this world, in this country, even in this county that so badly long for a relationship not only with Christ, but for a relationship with other people that are Christian and they are intimidated. Somewhere along the way these people have been told that they are not worthy to set foot in a church. I’ve got news for them, and for all of us, friends. None of us are worthy to set foot in this church or any other church for that matter.
“Come and see” isn’t just an invitation, it’s how we share the story of Christ. It’s how the story of Christ was shared with us. Our faith is a faith of an oral tradition. We hear the Gospel being read, we hear the story of Christ being sung in songs and then we share these stories with others. “Come and see” should also be followed by “come and hear” and “come and taste” and of course, “come and be changed.” But that invitation isn’t just for those who have never been to church, that invitation is for us every single week after week.
If you’re not coming here expecting to hear the Gospel, expecting to be fed, expecting to be forgiven, expecting to be changed, then we need to do two things: we need to address your expectations and I need to do a better job of making sure that you are getting those things week after week. Can anything good come out of Elvira Zion? Yes. Can anything good come out of Faith in Andover, or Immanuel in Camanche, or St. Pauls, Zion, Chauncy, or St. John’s in Clinton? Yes. Can anything good come out of First Baptist or out of St. Luke’s Methodist, or Prince of Peace Catholic church? Yes. Do you want to know why? It has nothing to do with the people in the building. It has everything to do with God and what God is doing in those places. God is just as much at work in those places as God is at work here.
And by no means is this place perfect. I am the first to admit that I am a sinner, in need of God’s redeeming. You all fill these pews and you sometimes bring the weight of the world with you. Perhaps you worry that people are judging you “what are they doing here?” Perhaps you are worried that people will find out that you work really hard to put on a good show on Sunday, but the other 6 days of the week you barely function. The Christ we come here to worship hung out with prostitutes, lepers, the diseased, adulterers, the outcast, and as he hung on the cross, he hung next to robbers. What makes us think that we need to be perfect in order to present ourselves to Christ?
Christ knows the “real” us. Christ knows the woman whose perfectionist tendencies just about drive her mad on a daily basis. Christ knows the man who feels like he is failing as a dad, despite everything he tries to do. Christ knows the married couple that barely speak to one another at home, yet come here and share a pew. Christ knows the widow who still hasn’t slept on the “other” side of the bed but tells everyone he or she is doing “quite well, thank you.” Christ knows the teen who is bullied and criticized yet goes back for more because they just want to be accepted and have friends.
There is this great hymn called “The Summons” and there is a line in there that I just love. It says “will you love the you you hide if I but call your name?” And I think that is all Christ is asking of us: love the you you hide. So while we ask “can anything good come out of Elvira Zion” perhaps the better question is “can anything good come out of me?” Maybe you’ve had your share of cracks and weaknesses, but you are not shattered and you certainly aren’t broken. I’ve said this before, this is a hospital for sinners, not a museum for saints.
If you would, please allow me a moment to speak to your heart. Allow me a moment to speak to you as someone who loves you. You there, you that are hurting. Come and see. You there, you that mourns so much that there are days you can barely breathe. Come and taste. You there, you who is ashamed of your past, by what you have done to yourself, to your spouse, or to your family; come and drink. You there, you who try so hard to make everything perfect and right but then chastise yourself; you, come and be healed. You there, you who abuse yourself with your words, your self harm, your constant critique of yourself; you, come and be welcomed–just as you are: perfect in God’s eyes. You there, you who sits near someone who you love but really just don’t like; come and see and experience what life giving love feels like at the foot of the cross.
We are all broken. Can anything good come out of us? God created us. God filled us with good things. God filled us with good things! Can anything good come out of us? Yes. Can anything good come out of Elvira Zion? Yes. Come and see.