~ Colossians 3:12-17/Psalm 133 ~
Vision Statement: Noe Valley Ministry Presbyterian Church is a welcoming, inclusive community of faith, inviting seekers into deepening relationships with God and Christ, with each other and the community.
I’m in the middle of a book that has me doing a lot of thinking, or re-thinking, if truth be told. It’s a book about human nature. Or more to the point, is human nature basically sinful and evil? Or are humans, deep down, really kind of decent? The book is Humankind: A Hopeful History by the popular Dutch historian and author, Rutger Bergman. It is an audacious deep dive, delving into ancient history (15,000 years ago), reviewing centuries of philosophical and religious views, and questioning some rather famous psychological experiments that I assumed were legit. Bergman’s bottom line is that, yes, humans really, deep down, are not motivated by selfishness and greed, but by friendship and compassion. And you are probably thinking right now, “riiiight!” Just look at how bad humans are behaving these days. And have always behaved. Seems pretty dark and selfish to me. So, I’ll get back to you later when I’ve figured out his solution.
In the Letter to the Colossians that we just heard from, the apostle certainly appeals to the decency angle. Although he does feel the need to urge and compel his Colossian brothers and sisters to live that way. “…clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience.” “Bear with one another…” “…clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.” In other words, work at it. Work at living together by paying attention to each other. Take care of each other. For it is a good thing, a very pleasant thing when “God’s people live together as one,” as Psalm 133 that we heard at the beginning of the service extolls.
I believe this is the kind of people, the kind of community, we want to be. That desire is expressed in our Vision and Mission statement that we’ll be exploring over the next several Sundays. Written and adopted by this congregation back in 2014, they are a statement that describes the compassionate, kind, and loving community we desire to be. So, it is good to revisit them and build upon them. Today, our Vision statement that I read earlier. There is a lot in that sentence. Let’s unpack it a bit.
Welcoming: Just a few weeks ago I talked about what it means to be a welcoming church. And, in a nutshell I said, a welcoming church invites people to experience God’s grace. As people of grace that means no judgment, no barriers, no insider lingo or behaviors, no conditions. It means looking carefully to see if there might be barriers and conditions we’ve unintentionally allowed to happen. Indeed, as we engage in the hard work of addressing structural racism in our society and in our own lives that is one of the important ways we pay attention to those barriers and conditions that get in the way of being truly welcoming. And, which affects the next word…
Inclusive This congregation desires to be inclusive for in doing so we are modeling Jesus. We believe that to follow Jesus is to be inclusive, not exclusive. However, none of us have it all figured out. All of us are blind in one way or another. But we work at it. Here at Noe Valley Ministry we do not rely on theological distinctives to determine who we are as a community. We do not rely on a common culture or race to determine who we are as a community. We do not even rely on all of us agreeing who we are. We are community because Christ has called us to be God’s people in this place. To that degree we are in mission together – a mission that is all-inclusive, that find’s validation in diversity, not despite diversity. But we have work to do, don’t we?
Community of faith We have chosen to identify ourselves as a faith community. We’re not a club or social program; we are a faith community. We intentionally embrace spirituality. We are seekers of God. That is how we are.
Inviting seekers And so it is we desire to invite other people who might also be seeking. But we must admit that is not easy. There seem to those in Noe Valley who don’t appear to be seeking anything spiritual. Yet there are those who do, who are seekers even if they don’t acknowledge that about themselves. Our challenge is to figure out a way to let those potential seekers know that Noe Valley Ministry is a place where they can join us in that spiritual journey. But we also need to remember that diversity and inclusiveness don’t translate into uniformity. Each of our spiritual journeys will be different. To be a welcoming church is to allow people to live out their faith journeys in their individual messy ways. We invite people to live out their faith journeys in their individual messy ways.
Deepening relationships with God and Christ We invite them into the journey of relationship with God because it is also our journey. That means learning intentionally what that takes, adopting spiritual practices, paying attention to God’s work in our lives and in the world. And looking to Jesus as the model for that life.
Deepening relationships with each other That means being vulnerable in face-to-face relationships (OK, not right now but someday). But there is always the danger of slipping into exclusivity. Just because we are friendly with each other does not mean that outsiders will experience that friendship. Our warm, loving experience of relationships with each other might be a barrier to an outsider. They might not believe they fit in. Indeed, our close relationships might actually be too intimidating to outsiders. That is something to be careful about.
Deepening relationship with the community What constitutes a relationship with the community? What does it mean to invest in the welfare of the community? Maybe, just maybe, it means engaging in the tough issues that affect our community, such as structural racism. Even as we engage in self-examination about the complicity of our racism, individually and as a church, maybe that will lead us to be an example for the community.
We are called to be the place and the people that welcome and include and embrace as necessary out-workings of our faith in Christ. We do it proudly and with determination. Maybe, just maybe, there will be those few out there who will say, “I want to be a part of that.” May we continue striving to be that kind of church.