Tuesday, October 8, 2013

My Message to WorkFaith Connection Graduates

What I appreciate about the ministry of WorkFaith Connection, speaking as a pastor in a local church, is that this is not so much church work, as it is kingdom work. This ministry is about the kingdom of God.

You must know something about me, and how I think about the kingdom of God.

I don’t only think about it in terms of some far off distance future, that exists up there, after we die. The kingdom of God is anywhere that the will of God is done – and so the kingdom is happening all over the place. It has happened in your life this week, and it’s happening in this moment we share together. Jesus said, proclaim the Good News: "Peace! The Kingdom of God has drawn near to you."

Lord, teach us to pray
We know this because when the disciples asked Jesus, “Lord, teach us to pray?” Jesus said, “Well, first, say, 'Our Father, who is in heaven. Hallowed be your name.'”

Then Jesus said, “What comes after that is, ‘Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.'” We have that future of hope to look forward to one day, when all is said and done. But the life of faith is about living today, in such a way, that we are making the will of God happen on the earth, in people’s lives right now, today. Our hope in not only in the future when we get to heaven, but today, tomorrow and the day after as we participate in God's mission and make his will visible.

What Jesus is really telling us about prayer is that prayer brings God’s already-future, into our not-yet present. Looking out at you today, I’m guessing that God’s already-future has happened for you this week in what was your not-yet present.

And this is what I love about WorkFaith Connection.

Well done
And so, it’s in that context that the first thing I want to say to you is simply: “Well done.” These days for some of you, many of you, have been some of the most intense days of your life. You may have started these eight days feeling like you had little to offer, or little hope to hold on to, but you are launching out from this place with that lie put behind you.

Doesn't it feel good?

You have done the hard work
So, well done is the first thing I want to say to you. The other thing is this: The work done by you this week is the kind of work that is often the hardest and most difficult, the work that few people take the time to do or have the courage to do. Perhaps for the very first time, this week you took down the mask behind which you were hiding, you let someone else see you, like you may never have before.

That is often the hardest work of all – being open and transparent, and vulnerable. My goodness! After that finding a job becomes the easier part.

You have done some of the hardest work. You have set the course of your life and faith potentially on a very different path. It is a path that Jesus traveled before you; where he travels with you today. It is a path where your first and most important vocation in life is to make God’s will happen in other people’s lives just as it has been happening in yours.

When we are vulnerable
Any time in the scriptures that Jesus encountered people who were open, transparent, and vulnerable, whether it was,
        The woman who had five husbands at the well of Jacob, or
        Doubting Thomas after the resurrection needing to touch Jesus
        Or Peter the moment he sees Jesus for the first time after his
            repeated denials of knowing his Lord,

        Jesus met them all with the radiant light of his wonderful mercy
        and grace. And it was in those moments that people were
        changed and transformed, into radiant lights of mercy and grace
        for others.

So, again, well done. You've done some of the hardest work that few people have the courage to do.

Transformation has a half-life
But there is something else I want you to hear. Whenever we talk about transformation – that deep, deep spiritual change that comes as a result of encountering Jesus the risen Lord in our vulnerability – we have to talk about the reality that transformation has what has been called a "half-life."

It feels great now.
But like a lot of things in life, it can wane and lose momentum.

Without the ongoing work, and the ongoing engagement in a God-shaped community like what you have experienced this week with your fellow graduates, God’s transformation begins to shrink. The ongoing work for each of you far beyond finding a job is stay on the transformational journey.

Keep connected with the community of God,
  find a church if you haven’t one already,
    engage a Bible study,
      give back in service to the world for the common good in the
      name of Jesus,
        continue to tell this story about this week and what God has
        done in your life again and again.

All of that working together will keep the transformation alive in your life, which God has begun; alive and thriving, growing and blessing others.

I could stop there, because that is a good word from God as it is.
But I want to share one last thing

Keep your transformation alive
We are celebrating an incredible moment in time, to be sure. These celebrations are really important. However, also know that this graduation isn't about crossing the finish line. It is about pushing out of the gate and launching your way down the track of life well.

Picture thoroughbreds bursting out of the gate.
This is the most exciting moment in the race.
    When you see the straining, muscles bulging
    and the veins of the thoroughbreds popping,
    full of wild-eyed drive to run the race as best they can.

What is exciting about that moment – to be sure – is the bursting forth of so much concentrated energy.

That’s what so exciting about being here today. The bursting forth of so much energy is made more exciting when you think about all the work that’s led right up to that moment, the work of God that has led to this moment for us.

You took time in this course over the week, to get clear about who you are in light of who God made you to be, what God made you for – now it is about living into that new found insight and running the race a best you possibly can. You have been given the insight that God is the leader in your life – not that you didn’t see that before you started – some of you have, some of you perhaps didn't, but I imagine all of you see it in a new way in this moment.

I want to end with the words of the Apostle Paul to a community that he saw get one of the best starts he had ever seen in all of his kingdom work. He gave birth to a Christian community in Philippi, who understood that they weren't only a church, but they were a church who partnered with God’s redemptive mission in the world.

Listen to what he said to them – they are words for us all here today:

I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus...And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight (Philippians 1:4-6, 9).