ST. PETE BEACH, Fla. (PNS) – We are living in the between of the beginning and the end. Because of our tendency to want to control time—to want to know when things begin and end—life and ministry can be hard.
This was the essence of the opening sermon Monday night, and plenary talk Tuesday, from the Rev. Juan J. Sarmiento at “Living, Dying, Rising,” the 2017 national gathering for 1001 New Worshiping Communities (1001 NWC).
Speaking on the conference theme from John 20:19-23, Sarmiento, associate director for mission with The Outreach Foundation, said the disciples were dealing with “shattered expectation” when Jesus showed up.
“When it is difficult for us to control [living in the between] it is important for us to remember there is a beginning of God coming into the reality of our lives,” said Sarmiento.
Sarmiento believes this matters to new worshipping communities because they are entrenched in the incarnation—helping people touch, smell and see the experiential reality of God’s glory, grace and truth in Jesus Christ.
“It is beyond what we can comprehend,” he said. “But never the less, day by day you are bringing the realities of God’s grace to the tangible realities of our communities.”
Because God makes possible the reality of the church coming alive, Sarmiento said “life matters.” Suddenly the world is not just a detached, random place. The world is now a place where God is at work—the world in which Jesus came to dwell. With God implanted in the church’s midst, life will never be the same, as we come to understand that we are not the initiators of mission, and not the ones planting churches.
“God is the initiator,” said Sarmiento. “God has already done the planting, our job is to find where God is embedded in our lives and in our communities.”
As we deepen our understanding that matter and life matter, Sarmiento hopes it becomes personal to new worshiping communities. By recognizing that people matter, because life comes from God, we show up where God is with people facing difficulty or injustices.
“God sent Jesus into the world and the spirit to move wherever it may be,” said Sarmiento. “Where are people—who might be uncertain and afraid—sensing the presence of God in community?”
Sarmiento encouraged those gathered to join in where the Sprit is, to recognize that while matter and life matters. “It is a matter of the Spirit,” he said of the work in which communities join and are sent out, to participate in the work of Spirit of nurturing children of God.
“This 1001 NWC is a wonderful movement, but it is not about our power to have better musicians, or create more appealing worship,” Sarmiento said. “Instead it is about creating space for people feeling beat up, broken, rejected and excluded, for those appreciated only for what they own or the status they have attained.”
Sarmiento has seen how, in-spite-of these difficulties, it is best time ever for the church that “is thriving around the world.” He’s been present in African churches that celebrate God’s grace and rest for those who are weary; in Latino and Asian churches that are attentive to God’s creative mission in ways that move people beyond themselves, and their own common experiences of loss or pain.
“Our worshiping communities are truly ‘new’ when people are finding new life in them,” said Sarmiento. “May we respond with confidence and urgency and come together to be re-created in Christ, and be sent as ‘missionaries of God’s shalom’ in both our ministries within our communities and around the world.”
by Paul Seebeck, Presbyterian News Service