The first week of a new year has just been completed here at First Olympia United Methodist Church. Our bishop was here on Sunday and she referenced an experience where a group of church leaders engaged in planning the future of the church and suggested a benchmark: Five percent of the clergy at the event would engage in something new in the coming year. (Not new choir robes or new hymnals or new computers in the office, but new MINISTRY.) I looked at Pastor Ruth and smiled. Here at First Olympia, new is happening all around us all the time. Right now, we are launching a new database for membership records, introducing a new method of financial record-keeping more attuned to non-profit organizations, bringing in a new bookkeeper to help us fully embrace the new accounting method the new, launching a new version of the church website, writing a new set of policies for many of our church procedures. While all of this feels new in some ways, none of this is NEW ministry. It’s all just new ways of doing existing work more efficiently and effectively.
But there are some new things, truly NEW ministries, dawning in the coming days of 2017. Next week, we will welcome a family to our community here in Olympia, sponsoring a new life for them in a new place. Rayan Dahoud Mahmoud and her son Radwan will arrive at Sea-Tac airport next week, coming to America after three years as refugees in Egypt, having fled the violence of their home in Somalia. Pause for a moment and contemplate this journey from the perspective of this 23 year old mother and her 2 and half year old son. Pray for them in this time of newness.
There are more new ministries planned for the coming year, and 2017 will surely be an exciting time to be a part of this faith community. As important as new things are, I don’t want us to forget that we are a people who celebrate an old, old story and we follow some time-honored traditions that serve us well.
We are followers of Jesus Christ. We seek to live lives consistent with the teachings of Jesus as we’ve discovered them in the Word of Life handed down to us in the Scriptures of the New Testament. We try to do what Jesus asked us to do: to love one another as God loves us. We hold one another accountable to this ethic of love. There’s nothing new in this task, and yet it is something we each must continually learn anew, for we live in a world that discounts the centrality of love in favor of the centrality of self-interest. We are so often tempted to follow other, lesser things, but disciples follow Jesus.
We are members of a family. The family of faith, the Church, is a body of believers who covenant with one another to care for each other through all of life’s ebbs and flows. We have been baptized into a community of caring. It is a community that transcends the labels the world tends to place upon us as individuals. In Christ there is neither slave nor free, Jew nor Greek, male nor female. We may not be united in theology or politics, but we ARE united in caring for one another. There’s nothing new in the idea of finding community in the church, but in a time of divisiveness all around us, the idea sounds novel, doesn’t it? May we truly care for one another in the coming year, despite the differences that abound.
God is with us. Once again, this affirmation is not new, but ancient. What is new is a culture of rapid change. Change is hard and requires our attention to navigate well. In the midst of change, ancient and new prayer practices are necessary to remind us that God is still with us, always with us. God is in the very breath we take. Our life is centered in this ever-present God. The church calls us back to this center when we are wont to wander away. There is a reward for living in this center. When we stay grounded in this center, God does great things in us and in the world around us.
I’m so looking forward to following Jesus Christ with the members of this great big family of faith, as together we remember that God is with us. Happy 2017!