Five Practices of a Fruitful Congregation: Risk-Taking

    01.14.24 | by Jennifer Parks-Snyder

    I want to begin by thanking all of you for behaving last week, there were no emergencies or special services that needed tended to, so it allowed me time to have a little get away with my husband, Scott.

    It wasn’t really a planned getaway until Pastor Lew felt guilty for missing Christmas Eve he volunteered to preach last week, so long as I went away with my husband. So we did, we went to where the mighty Susquehanna empties out into the Chesapeake Bay. It’s a nice drive to there, only about an hour and a half, and it’s interesting to see the history of that area. We stayed in Perryville, MD, whose origins date back to 1608 when Captain John Smith became the first European explorer to navigate the Susquehanna River and visit the area. Perryville was settled later in 1622.

    During the Revolutionary War, Perryville’s tavern, run by Colonel John Rodger, was a common stopping ground for General George Washington. Together with Rodger, they developed the idea of creating a flying camp, that is militia troops who were local men willing to fight along the side of the Continental Army. This would lead to the turning point for us in the war. And in the 1800’s Perryville was the central point for the Wilmington to Baltimore Railroad line. So neat old buildings, neat old history.

    However, in our travels in the area we came across another historic place called Havre de Grace, which in French means Harbor of Grace. It was named so by General Lafayette, who while on his way to meet General George Washington in Philadelphia in 1782, admired the lovely view of the broad Susquehanna River as it opened into the Chesapeake Bay and it reminded him of the French Port city Le Havre de Grace and so it was named. What is amazing is how this town lived up to its name as it survived a ruthless attack from Britain in the War of 1812, and later in the 1800’s  became a vital part of the Underground Railroad. Despite the challenges, Havre de Grace remained, and welcomed the tired, the worn, the imprisoned, the suffering, where they could find rest in its beauty and local hospitality. More recently, it became a harbor of grace for two Pennsylvanians who had a flat tire, but found a safe place to change it, on a dark cold winter’s night, that led to a beautiful downtown lit up, offering warmth and hospitality including a local tavern that had the best cream of crab soup.

    We never know where are travels will take us, and when we do go, isn’t it nice to be met with grace?

    The last time I stood before you to preach a sermon, I preached on the Word becoming flesh and living among us. And when we look at this passage from Matthew, we recognize it sums up what that Word did:

    - He found the hungry and thirsty and he fed their souls.

    -He embraced the strangers and called them friends.

    -He clothed the naked with mercy and kindness.

    -He visited and healed the sick, and he saw the imprisoned, knew them by name, invited them to God’s grace and understanding for new life.

    This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.

    But for you and I, these Words must live on, they must take on meaning for the here and now, for today. They must be the inspiration we desire to emulate, to repeat, because there are still those who are hungry, those who are thirsty, sick, lonely, and imprisoned and the Spirit of God whispers in our ear, go and do likewise, be my instrument of grace.

    It’s up to you and I, because as our church’s new mission statement offers, We seek to grow as disciples of Jesus, to be God’s agents for transformation from the town square to the ends of the earth. We do so knowing it is God’s answer to the troubles of the world, the punishment that feels eternal or never-ending to so many who do not know otherwise. We do so knowing it is what God requires us as God’s church as stated in the book of Micah:  to do justice and to love kindness and to walk humbly with your God For this is what makes a church healthy and what we call productive, we say fruitful, all this is called risk taking service.

    As we continue our new sermon series during Epiphany, the season that calls us to shine the light of Christ to all, we recognize shining and sharing that light means we are called to service, just as Jesus served us, we must serve others in his name. Further we need to recognize that, just as Jesus took risks to serve others, so must we. What risks did he take?

    -He spoke out when others were quiet and challenged ways that were unjust and produced suffering.

    -He went into the back allies, the leprosy colonies, the tax collector booths, places most avoided, and he shared God’s mercy and healing.

    -And when the going got tough, he pushed on, to the point of his arrest and conviction.

    And yet, through that and all his work, God’s redemptive work overflowed and blessed.

    In his book, Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations, Bishop Robert Schnase states that God strengthens the body of Christ through mission and service and God empowers the body of Christ through witness. That means just as you heard last week that God nudges us to worship, so too does God nudge us to be in service, because it “bears witness to our faith by exemplifying the compassion, mercy, and justice of Christ in the world.” For those who question the viability of the church, when people see us at work providing compassion, mercy, and justice, they see the church is needed. And for those who question is God still here? Is God still speaking? The answer is yes, when people see God at work and in and through our service that God has gifted us for.

    You and I both know we are not a social club, no offense to our hospitality team, but we do not come here for the coffee and treats, right, nor is this a place to stop for cream of crab soup