a sermon for Desert Mission Anglican Church on November 5, 2017 (All Saints – Vision Sunday)
Passage: Revelation 7:9-17
A brief history of mission at DMAC
When DMAC was formed in 2005, it was constituted as a missional community. By missional I mean a community that adopts a missionary mindset. A community that doesn’t assume that people will come to us, but is ready and willing to be sent out, to go, and meet people in need of Jesus where they are.
We see this in our foundational document, our bylaws. The very first section, number one, is Mission.
We see this in the name that was chosen for this church, Desert Mission Anglican Church.
We see this in the broader organization that we have chosen to affiliate with, the Anglican Mission in the Americas, a missionary society that exists to revitalize the church in the United States and reach the lost.
We see this in our actions. For the first seven years, from 2005 to 2012, we did not have a building or property to call home, and yet we found ways to be on mission for Jesus, by meeting in homes for Alpha courses and marriage courses, by mentoring and releasing leaders to start other churches, by various service projects and by just being a safe place for many people (myself included) to find rest and healing as part of a welcoming and kind church community.
Now, DMAC didn’t have a specific place in mind when we were first formed in 2005, but it didn’t take long to see that God was planting us here in Sunnyslope. Even though we didn’t have a building, we always found a place to meet on the Slope. In 2012 the building we are worshipping in today became available, and shortly thereafter, a group of us found ourselves touring this property, joining hands in the parking lot, and praying together that God would continue to shine a light in this part of Sunnyslope.
God answered that prayer in the affirmative, and so we have been worshipping and fellowshipping in this place for nearly five years. During that time our awareness of the level and kind of need in Sunnyslope—physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual—has grown tremendously.
Our roots here have grown deeper and stronger as we have developed ministries of faithful presence and mission like our ongoing bread delivery to section 8 housing.
Every Wednesday morning a team of DMAC parishioners gathers to bring loaves of bread, bagels, and other baked good to apartment complexes across the street. Not only is our church providing an important food staple for people that need it, but we also have many opportunities for social interaction for those that have limited mobility, and prayer. Many of the residents consider us their church even though they may never make it to a Sunday service.
In August, we became a founding member the Sunnyslope Faith Based Collaborative and helped to launch the i-HELP Sunnyslope program, which is a joint effort across Christian denominations to provide food, shelter, and healing for the homeless. We are one of 6 churches that open our facility at least one night per week for our homeless friends so they have a place to stay, a warm meal, Christian fellowship, and support toward getting into permanent housing.
We have also provided a safe place for children and families to come and have fun with movie nights in the summer and our Trunk or Treat event just this last week. In addition, we’ve opened our facility to another non-profit to provide classes for caregivers for children.
I’m excited for what’s happening in our children’s Sunday school right now through the Atrium materials. If you don’t know about it this, talk to our Minister of Children & Youth Jen Anderson, but it is a very creative and hands-on approach to teaching our kids all about our core-activity and calling, worship! Our children are learning about the liturgy, sacred space, and the meaning of our traditions.
And of course, we worship God here and offer our prayers for Sunnyslope every Sunday morning. We’re about two months into having two Sunday services each week, and I want to thank you all for hanging in there though this pretty big shift in our communal life. I know it’s not necessarily been easy, but it is a positive, missional step toward making more room for others to join us on mission.
As we look back over this past year and beyond, we are grateful to witness to God’s faithfulness to us, and through us.
How to find the vision and define the mission
Today is Vision Sunday, so we are not just remembering what God has done but we are seeking to learn from the past—and our present—so we can look forward as a missional community to the mission we believe God is calling us to this upcoming year.
Listen: Whenever we talk about mission or vision as a local church, we don’t want to start with our own ideas, our own preferences, or even our own passions. We want to start with God’s vision, and find how we fit into that. God’s vision always defines our mission.
God’s vision & our opportunity
I think our Epistle reading today from Revelation 7 beautifully shows us part of God’s ultimate vision for his universal, catholic church.
First, we see the church is a diverse community.
“After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands,” (Revelation 7:9, ESV)
Every ethnicity and culture is included in the people of God. Without giving up the gifts of their unique culture, no people group is siloed off from the rest the church. They all come together around the throne of God.
God has given us an incredible and rare opportunity to manifest the power of the Gospel to transcend language, culture, ethnicity, and age. We find ourselves in one of the most diverse neighborhoods in Phoenix. Sunnyslope is 30% Latino, 30% White, and 30% other. We are in a community with both retirees and elementary school kids right across the street. We have a God-given opportunity to continually work toward a truly multi-ethnic, multi-generational expression of the church in this place. Since God’s vision is for a diverse community, our mission over the next year will be to develop closer relationships with diverse communities of faith in our area, and to consider deeply together how we can be even more hospitable to everyone that we bring the Gospel to. We will continue reach out to neighborhood kids and spend time with the elderly.
Second, we find the church is a worshipping community.
“…[the people are] crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.”” (Revelation 7:10–12, ESV)
This is core of what this called out people of God from every language, people and nation does. They worship God for all he has done and all he is.
God has equipped us with a robust framework for worship and spiritual formation. We have a special way of approaching our common life in Christ, guided by the three streams of the authority of Holy Scripture, the rhythms of our sacramental and liturgical life, and a sensitivity and openness to the Holy Spirit. These are all part of our Anglican heritage. The three-streams keep us grounded in the belief and practice of the historic church, train us to orient our whole lives around Christ, and allow us to experience the power of the Spirit in real and profound ways. Since God’s vision is for a worshipping community, our mission is to continue to worship faithfully as a three-streams Anglican church every Sunday and many other times throughout the year. We will keep on meeting for catechesis (ongoing instruction in the faith) and we will look forward to bringing in more trusted guests from many backgrounds to teach us as well.
Third, this passage shows the church is a community that has endured suffering.
“Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, clothed in white robes, and from where have they come?” I said to him, “Sir, you know.” And he said to me, “These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” (Revelation 7:13–14, ESV)
The church has gone through challenges and pain, yet their suffering has been joined with the suffering of Christ as they trust in his sacrifice for their sins. That trust amid the troubles of the world is how they are purified, and ready for what’s next.
God has taught us much through our own trials, both individually and corporately. Many of us have endured church splits, church closings, great personal loss, grief, and health crises. Some of you are currently going through intense times of suffering and challenge even now. Yet as the Church of Christ we know that Christ is with us. He is shepherding us, and he has walked with us though these things before and he will walk with us even now. Your pain is not pointless because God will use it bring you and others to greater knowledge and love of him. We know that when we lay down our lives for the Gospel in service to others, God brings new life. We don’t always know how, but
“…we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28, ESV)
We have a calling in this to share with those are hurting. Since God’s vision is use a church that has endured suffering, our mission is to be place where the hurting can come, not so we can fix them, but so we can be with them, sharing how God has been present in our own trials, serving them, and sharing the love of God so he can do the work of healing. We will continue to be a place of help and hope for those that don’t have a home, for those that don’t know where their next meal is coming from, for those that have been left behind by society or burned by the church. And we will keep on caring for one another, in small groups and ministry teams, one-on-one conversations, and gatherings around the dinner table.
Fourth, the church is a restored community.
““Therefore they are before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his temple; and he who sits on the throne will shelter them with his presence. They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”” (Revelation 7:15–17, ESV)
God restores every aspect of life for his community through the resurrected Christ. He restores their proper vocation, or calling, which is to serve him. He restores their place which is continually in his presence. He restores their bodies, providing everything needed to sustain them physically, and he restores their hearts, so there will be no more tears. Only the joy of the Lord will remain.
We have been entrusted with a testimony of God’s faithfulness. Our little church has gone through so much change over the years, and we’ve endured our share of difficult transitions, financial trouble, and uncertainty, but God has always come through for us. We have a testimony of God’s goodness and provision over nearly 12 years, and we see God leading us deeper into what he is doing here in the neighborhood.
You know, we won’t see that perfectly restored community until Jesus comes back, but we do nevertheless catch glimpses of it in the present—especially as we experience the presence of Christ in the community of faith—and we can witness to that. Many of you know this is part of my story—I came to DMAC seven years ago broken, tired, and hurting and found a great deal of healing here. You didn’t fix me, God did, but he used your faithful presence as a crucial part of that. We all have stories of God’s restoration and healing happening in this community, of Jesus bringing us to streams of living water here. Since God’s vision is for a restored community, our mission is to share how he is doing this here, not to build ourselves up in any way, but to give the glory to God that he is doing big things through a small church, that he has accomplished the incredible through the ordinary, that he has had a global influence through a neighborhood ministry. We give God the glory because he has freely given us every gift in Jesus.
Our biggest challenge going into to this year is remaining financially stable. Many of you know that we have had an ongoing, very generous monthly gift from an anonymous donor which makes up about 1/3rd of our monthly operating budget. From the beginning this was a time-bound gift, and we expect our last donation to be in January of 2018. I want you to know that our Vestry has been faithfully working to prepare for this responsibly. We are currently in the process of applying for a grant from the Anglican Mission, and are in conversation with our landlord, the Evangelical Methodist Church regarding reducing our rent for a limited time. The Vestry has also been carefully guarding our savings so we have some cushion while we stabilize the finances.
Meanwhile, the Evangelical Methodist Church would like to sell us the building. It’s big dream right now, but we’d like to buy it. Our call and our mission is to Sunnyslope regardless, but this building is a huge asset to that mission—not only does it allow us to keep from spending energy on set up and tear down, but it provides a perfect launch pad for our bread ministry, events, and is a great asset for hosting our homeless friends overnight. My prayer has been and continues to be that God will provide the means for us to stay right here, and I’m asking you to join me in prayer for that.
Everyone has a mission
No matter what happens with the building or this property, if God has called you to DMAC, he has called you to be a missionary in community with the church in Sunnyslope. Of course, we’re not asking that all of you become street evangelists—there are many ways be part of what’s going on in the life of our church and join the mission that we have been called to. Let me give you four general areas of mission and fellowship we can all engage in to some degree.
The first way join us on mission to worship faithfully here with us. This is the core of everything we do. Word and Sacrament sustain us, energize us, and equip us for the work we have been called to do in order to bring others into the worshipping community. The Holy Eucharist has been written about as both “the source and summit of the Christian life.”
The second way to get involved to find a place to actively serve as part of our common mission. You can serve in worship—as an acolyte, greeter, usher, or so on—or in our neighborhood ministries like bread and i-HELP. You can serve by doing repairs around the church. If you want to serve but you’re not sure where or you have a creative idea of something we’re not doing, talk to me or Scott or Amber or Jen, and we will help find the right place for you.
The third way to join the mission is to connect relationally with others on mission to learn, to pray, to fellowship. This is a key way to be encouraged and offer encouragement, to be equipped and to equip others, to be cared for and to provide care for your church family.
We do this during the coffee hour between services, at church potlucks, during Catechesis, and Connect Groups that meet for food, fellowship, and prayer.
We have one Connect group right now that meets at the Brewer residence on Sunday nights. This year we’d also like to have at least one other regular connect group start on weeknight for those can’t make it on a Sunday evening.
- Give & Share
Finally, you can give financially to make sure our mission is financially sustainable. The reality is that we are a small church and for our size, we do a lot. Your ongoing, generous financial support is necessary for us to keep doing what we’re doing and support those that are ministering to us and watching our little ones and providing admin support.
Realistically, we not only all have to give what God is calling us to give, but in order to be sustainable long-term we need to share what God is doing here with others and invite them to join us in God’s mission here in Sunnyslope. We are not in the business of taking people from the churches that God has called them to. I’m not asking you to convince your friends to leave their church and come to ours. That’s not what we’re about.
I’m simply asking you to be bold and courageous in sharing what God is doing in your life, and in our life together, and then let the Holy Spirit do his work.
Make no mistake, the Holy Spirit is at work in our church and he is doing amazing things!
I’m so grateful to be your pastor and priest during this time, and I’m so grateful for the opportunities God has given us together to be a three-streams Anglican church, faithfully present and on mission in Sunnyslope. Amen.