MY MISSION FOR GOD-BLOOMING WHERE PLANTED
February 2, 2020
13-14 On the Sabbath, we left the city and went down along the river where we had heard there was to be a prayer meeting. We took our place with the women who had gathered there and talked with them. One woman, Lydia, was from Thyatira and a dealer in expensive textiles, known to be a God-fearing woman. As she listened with intensity to what was being said, the Master gave her a trusting heart—and she believed!
15 After she was baptized, along with everyone in her household, she said in a surge of hospitality, “If you’re confident that I’m in this with you and believe in the Master truly, come home with me and be my guests.” We hesitated, but she wouldn’t take no for an answer.
Back when I was pastor at Chestnut Hill UMC in the early-mid 90’s, Lynchburg General Hospital was undergoing a massive renovation. It was a highly stressful time for the employees, to say the least, as they tried to work around all the work going on.
I remember walking through what remained of the gutted nursing station on the 3rd floor Medical/Surgical unit.
There, in the midst of open ceiling conduits and dangling wires and drywall dust and staff members rushing around chaotically was an old white message board nailed precariously to the wall.
An on this message board someone had scribbled with a green magic marker this serendipitous quote: “Change is Inevitable, Growth is Optional.”
And it is.
When it comes to the practice of the Christian faith in the Church and what all this has to do with you and me, I believe we are at a hinge in history. We are in the midst of a massive renovation where some very sacred cows are being demolished and others are being repurposed.
And although the message of God’s amazing grace is unchanging and eternal, the means of how that grace is carried to a hurting world is in a constant state of flux in this 21st century. This is not your father’s proverbial Oldsmobile. In fact, they don’t make Oldsmobiles anymore!
Where do I fit into all of this change? What is my personal mission for God?
MY MISSION FOR GOD….
You and I have been on a journey, seeking to discover our personal mission for God. And it all begins with recognizing we don’t go to Church; we are the Church! The Church exists wherever and whenever we are striving to be the hands, the feet, the voice of Christ in this world, reaching out to someone in need of our Lord’s healing, hope-filled grace.
So you ask then, what is the purpose for this building at 1723 Port Republic Road that I walked or drove to this morning? Well, this structure is not primarily the home of some glorified community center wasting heat and electricity to provide an endless array of not-so-meaningful programs. Rather, it is the greenhouse where folk find a transformative relationship with Jesus Christ, and then the seeds for mission are planted and incubated in their hearts… seeds that will sprout into all sorts of dynamic influences serving the world.
We then gather here in a worshipful reunions to celebrate how we have seen the Lord at work in our serving, and to also share our struggles and frustrations when it appears we have come up short.
We find support in one another and the impetus to improve our service of God and neighbor in the week ahead. Perhaps we find networking – ways in which we can team up to better make God’s grace known.
In being God’s Church in the world, each of us has a unique calling – that which God intends for us to be and to do. Remember how passion + aptitude enables us to discover that calling.
What is your passion? What animates you? What gets you all energized, excited? What do you consider most worthy of your time and focus? What do you enjoy doing the most?
What is your aptitude? What are the God-given skills in your wheelhouse? What do you do well? What do you have a knack for?
Throw your passion and aptitude into the blender, and you get a good inkling of what your calling might be.
Then comes the question: How do we pinpoint when and where our Lord would have us employ that calling.
We need divine triangulation to help us discover that overlapping area where our calling comes to life and converges into focus–triangulation between God’s Nudges, God’s Word and God’s People. All three are vital in developing our calling.
That particular calling then becomes our personal and unique mission for God. But all of this is for naught if we do not take
THE FINAL STEP…
And this final step is to simply bloom in the outpost where we are planted.
Let me tell you about Lydia…
We heard a bit of her story earlier in Luke’s account of Paul’s missionary journeys in the Book of Acts, chapter 16.
Paul, Silas, Luke and Timothy have been led to take the good news of Christ to the European province of Macedonia, across the Aegean Sea. And when they reach shore, they head to Philippi, the largest city in Macedonia—a very hipster, cosmopolitan kind of place.
Whenever Paul and his cohorts arrive in a new town, they like to go visit the local synagogue where they share their faith with the local Jewish citizens. Philippi has no synagogue.
Instead, they hear there’s a group of women with some religious leanings who are holding a prayer meeting down by the river on the Sabbath Day.
The group is led by a well-heeled, highly-influential merchant by the name of Lydia. She’s a mover and shaker in the local business community. She trades in purple linen, a precious commodity in the ancient world, and, as such, she is a leader in the fashion industry.
Lydia and her prayer group welcome Paul and his missionary friends. They listen to Paul’s message. They come to see that Christ is the true lens that brings their murky view of faith into true focus.
Lydia especially embraces this Good News, and becomes a staunch believer. She is the first Christian convert on the continent of Europe. She and her household are baptized. They become new creations in Christ.
Then she graciously offers hospitality to Paul, Silas, Luke and Timothy…they can use her spacious, well-appointed home as a base of operations from which the Gospel can be spread while they are in the area. Lydia has found her calling. She blooms where she is planted. She envisions her home as an outpost of the gospel. This will be her personal mission, leading the first house church, the Church at Philippi. Yes, thanks to Lydia, the gospel now has a foothold in Europe! People will be blessed!
Where is your outpost? To where and to whom is God calling you to be in mission? What might that mission look like?
Let me tell you about Rhonda…
Early in the morning of January 31, 2005, Rhonda Winfield had a brief conversation with her son, Jason. He was so glad his tour of duty was coming to an end in just nine more days. He was missing his mom, his stepdad Scott, his brothers and friends. He was so looking forward to seeing the Shenandoah Valley once again.
Rhonda remembered how her son had always wanted to be a soldier from the time he was a kid. defending his country.
When 9/11 struck our nation, his decision was ratified.
The Stuarts Draft native who loved riding horses and farm work, had finished high school at Stuart Hall in Staunton, working 3 jobs to pay his tuition, one of which involved cleaning out chicken coops.
And upon graduation Jason had enlisted in the Marine Corps. He survived boot camp and was doing quite well, moving up through the ranks. He was offered the opportunity to join the White House Honor Guard. But Jason felt that should be a position for older, married Marines with children. He felt called to serve his country in the thick of action, and so this 19-year-old turned down the assignment and instead boarded a plane to Iraq with the 1st Battalion, 2nd Marine Expeditionary Force out of Camp Lejeune, NC.
Arriving in July 2004, during the height of Operation Iraqi Freedom, his unit was often in the midst of hostile fire. It was a tough, grinding tour of duty. He was a good Marine, believing that what he was accomplishing there would protect lives here. While on patrols, Jason often would find moments of grace when he could talk with an Iraqi family and play with their kids.
Jason respected the people there, and felt sorry they were caught in the midst of a war. He wanted nothing more than to bring freedom to people there and ensure our freedom here.
On that early morning of January 31, 2005, Jason told his mom how he couldn’t wait to get to get home and ride his horse. She heard an excitement in his voice she had not heard for several months. He told his mom he loved her and would see her soon.
Later, on that afternoon of January 31, 2005, Rhonda Winfield’s knees would buckle as she looked out her living room window and saw the official government vehicle carrying two Navy chaplains come driving up the lane to their farmhouse.
It was her and Scott’s worst nightmare come true.
Just a few hours after having spoken to his mom on the phone, Lance Corporal Jason Redifer’s lead humvee had been destroyed by a roadside bomb, an IED. He was killed in action.
I had the honor of being a part of the clergy team that conducted Jason’s memorial service at Arlington National Cemetery, among rows of freshly-sodded graves in a newly-opened section of that hallowed burial ground. All interred there gave their lives in service to their country, in service to you and me, in the deserts and cities and mountains and roadsides of Iraq and Afghanistan. Jason’s memorial service was one of seven being carried out that day in that one section of Arlington National Cemetery.
Over these passing years, I must admit I’ve grown jaded over the years about the shifting politics of the war that claimed Jason’s life. But I stand in nothing but awe and admiration of the courageous convictions of that young man and so many others that led them to serve their country.
The next few years were a winding road of grief for Rhonda. There were good days and bad days and simply numb days as she remembered her son. She prayed for God to help in coming to terms with the aching pain.
In 2013, God planted in Rhonda’s heart a totally illogical dream. An old hole-in-the-wall, abandoned seedy diner in downtown Waynesboro was available for lease. She and Scott had no experience in the restaurant business. It took months just to scrape all the layers of grease off the walls and floors.
And yet, Rhonda envisioned a cozy, western, family-style bar and grill that would pay tribute to her son, Jason Redifer. They would call it Jake’s Place, in honor of his nickname – and it would serve locally-sourced juicy hamburger from their cattle farm. Jason loved burgers…in fact, he would often ride his horse through the drive-thru at the Stuarts Draft Hardees!
As you walked in the restaurant, you immediately noticed the huge photo of Jason on his horse, with his saddle beneath it.
And that wall became a shrine of sorts, not just to him, but to many others who served our country.
The restaurant became a second home to many veterans who would drop in and share their stories. They not only appreciated the great, stick-to-your-ribs home-cooking – they also found a healing place to talk about experiences of war they had kept hidden in dark recesses of their lives.
Rhonda found her personal mission for God – offering a listening ear, a supportive hug, even a shoulder to cry on. And in carrying out that mission for God for others, she also found much healing for her own journey of grief.
This Gold Star Mother’s mission outpost, Jake’s Place, closed at the end of 2019 after a six-year run. Rhonda and Scott have felt God leading them to a new chapter in their lives.
She remarked in an interview with a local reporter, “For me, the key to surviving the loss of my child seems to have been in constantly reinventing ways to find a positive outlet for the pain. Here, at Jake’s Place, something very special was born, and the past six years have been an amazing chapter in my life. Now, though, I feel the restlessness of needing to move on. My story’s not done. Jason’s story isn’t done. I will certainly cherish the life-long friends I’ve made here and will stay in touch. But my heart says it’s time.”
Hmm… Lydia’s mission outpost ended up being her home.
Rhonda’s mission outpost was a hole-in-the-wall burger joint.
And as these two women bloomed where they were planted, the Lord raised a garden full of good grace for others surrounding them.
Where is your outpost? To where and to whom is God calling you to be in mission?
When God awakened me and gave me the vision for this sermon series last October at 3 am on a Saturday morning , I had been struggling with a decision about retirement. I was totally frustrated with the United Methodist Church in general. I felt like a dinosaur with nothing left to offer.
But then I began to reimagine what Vision of Hope might look like. I did not see a strange, tent-like building. Rather, I visualized a huge, detailed map of the Shenandoah Valley.
And I saw your faces on that map, attached to your home addresses, as well as the places you work and go to school. And I saw you involved in all sorts of personal missions for God in these neighborhoods – serving on a rescue squad, providing accounting services for a food pantry, coaching a Little League team, fixing a meal for a shut-in, raising a child, patiently listening to a lonely customer at your cash register. I saw you living out the Lord’s mandate to love others as He has loved you.
And that, my friends, is where we primarily impact others for Jesus Christ. Not here in this bulding…but out there – in the midst of the daily mess of life.
That’s where we are planted. That’s where we’re called to bloom.
Our outpost is somewhere – out there!
Will you join me in finding our personal mission there?