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Friday, October 10, 2014
“Therefore since we are surrounded by so greata cloud of witnesses...."
-- Hebrews 12:1
We hear the term “cloud computing” more and more these days as more and more of our information is handled on devices that we pick up and take with us. The idea is that the same information can be stored in a “cloud” that can be accessed from your phone, your laptop, your tv, and who knows what else these days. For instance, I can go to and change my calendar from my phone or my laptop, which is very convenient for keeping track of my appointments and my “honey-do” list. It’s nice to know that if I drop my cell phone into Gulf of Mexico, all my information is still up there in the cloud.
The author of Hebrews talked about a different kind of cloud, but one that has our back just the same. This is the “great cloud of witnesses,” the giants of the faith who have gone before us and who teach us how to love God and connect to the Spirit. No matter where we are or what we do, that cloud is all around us, supporting us in our struggles and leading us in faith.
With the summer far gone, time is passing quickly and a lot is happening. This year we have both our boys in college and both working, Su continuing with her job cleaning houses, and all kinds of changes going on at church.
Stepping out of summertime, we’ve hit the ground running here at Atonement. We have new groups using our church building, including job training classes for those with disabilities on Mondays, and three new Girl Scout groups. We have new people in charge of ministries, such as Robin Boyd who is doing Time and Talent and Dick Lambert, who put together this month’s newsletter. We have new ministries taking shape, such as our columbarium which is now ready to be used, and the reconstituted Building Team, led by Terry Martin. Our asset mapping session has shown that there is great interest in developing more fellowship and caring opportunities. Along with all this, we are firing up confirmation, getting oriented to our new praise team director Kenneth Watts (and getting him oriented to us), and wrapping up a new Vision which will be our launch pad into 2015 and beyond.
With all the growth in the Wesley Chapel area that’s happening now, this is an exciting time and place to be serving the Lord. With all that’s happening at Atonement, this is an amazing congregation to a part of the body of Christ. There was a time years ago when Atonement nearly disappeared off the map, but today we are growing like never before. Please remember to greet new people, make new friends, and pray for the needs of your fellow members and for the needs we discover in our community. We are here to keep hope alive, and it happens as we gather, worship, pray, serve, encourage, and share.
So it doesn’t get forgotten in the bustle and shuffle of Fall activities, I just want to take a moment and say thank you to all the volunteers, leaders and faithful attendees and supporters of Atonement. Our little congregation is growing, to the point where no one person can do it all, know everyone, or be involved in everything. This is a good thing — and it’s due exclusively to the Holy Spirit working through the goodwill of everyone who has had a hand in what’s happening. In a very real and physical sense, I am constantly aware of being surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses who pray for me and are there to help me when I need it (and boy, do I need it!). Not just the saints in heaven, but those living, breathing, active and caring individuals that we can lean on when we’re tired, listen to when we’re lonely, and follow when we’re lost. Thanks for being “in the cloud.”
“To all those who have, more will be given
and they will have an abundance...
-- Matthew 25:29
Are you a “glass half full” or “glass half empty” kind of thinker? Are you filled with gratitude for the abundance of things you have, or are you always complaining about what you wish you had? Most of us go both ways — some days we’re the optimistic type who feel blessed beyond our needs; some days we think we could be happy “if only” we had this or that.
Truth be told, whatever your perspective on life, God has given you resources and assets which you could use to improve the quality of your life and others’. These are things you already have which God has entrusted to you: not just your possessions but also the people you know, your friendships and other relationships, your knowledge and abilities, your reputation and the trust people place in you. As a symbol for all of this, consider the money (called “talents”) entrusted to the slaves by their master in Jesus’ famous “parable of the talents.”
In Matthew 25, Jesus tells the parable of the talents in between two other parables — it comes after the ten bridesmaids waiting for the bridegroom and before the sheep and the goats. All three of these are stories are about the return of Jesus. All three are also about living in anticipation of the last days and of our final judgment. And they are all about stewardship—what we’re doing now with what God has given us. The story of the bridesmaids warn us that if we wait too long to turn on our lamps (or let our lights shine), we are likely to miss the party. In the last parable, with its imagery of sheep and goats, Jesus warns us that if we neglect using our gifts to help others, we might find ourselves playing on the wrong team. And through the parable of the talents, Jesus is telling us that now is the time to use those gifts — because time is short and now is the time we can expect the biggest returns on our investments in the kingdom of God.
We invest in God’s kingdom in many ways. We invest with our hearts by trusting God’s promises, believing his commandments, attributing all that is good in our lives to his grace, by doing our best to love what God loves and make time for the opportunities he presents us with. We invest our hopes and dreams in the future that God is creating in, through, and around us. We invest our time in prayer and worship, and by working for the good of God’s people in and through the church. We invest our talents by sharing them with others, helping those in need, encouraging those who feel like they have no place by showing them that God makes room for us.
So much is happening this year at Atonement, now is the perfect time for you to make a new investment.
The opportunities are ripe for getting involved, sharing your hopes and dreams, and finding a way you can bring about something new in God’s kingdom by sharing your gifts. September 7 is God’s Work, Our Hands Sunday — a day ELCA churches around the country will be celebrating the work and ministries of their local congregations. Wear the gold t-shirt, if you have one. The praise band will be leading worship—come ready to sing, pray, hear God’s word and reflect on how God is moving in you and your life and in the life of Atonement Lutheran Church. And come ready to join us after the service for a delicious luncheon and, well… a Post-It Note party.
Actually, what we will be doing after the service is a fun, creative activity called asset mapping. The process for asset mapping came about as neighborhoods and towns were looking to improve and develop, but kept finding they always got stuck. The list of things they wanted but didn’t have grew into unmanageable “to-do” lists, with no clear path from point A to point B. Asset mapping turned it all around. The idea is not to focus on the half-empty part of the half-full cup, but to look at what’s already there (the assets), and to brainstorm new ways of applying already available resources.
And that means Post-It notes — lots of them. At the asset-mapping luncheon, you will be getting your own pad of Post-It notes to help come up with a list of assets we have here at Atonement. These assets are the gifts God has given us. They can be:
Å Physical (things you can touch and see): they can be concrete (such as a building or a couch) or abstract (such as the beauty of the building or the capacity of the couch)
Å Individual (talents, skills, experiences that people have)
Å Associational (relationships and partnerships, networks and groups)
Å Institutions (companies, corporations, organizations, agencies, businesses, etc.
Å Economic (spending power, investments, capacities to raise funds or produce goods or services to sell)
As we brainstorm and share the assets we come up with, we will also work together at “connecting the dots” between them to see what new possibilities God has placed in our midst.
The whole process comes down to recognizing our blessings. Jesus recognized every person as an asset — he thought the sick were worth healing, that women and children had a place in God’s kingdom, that foreigners were worth telling the Good News. He looked at a ragtag group of fisherman and saw leaders of God’s future church. He looks at us and sees, not what we lack but who we are and what we have been created for by our loving God. “I am the vine, you are the branches, and my Father is the vinedresser,” Jesus said in John 15. “Every branch that does bear fruit he prunes that it may bear more fruit.” By recognizing and appreciating the people and resources in our lives as assets, our eyes become opened more and more to the limitless opportunities God has put all around us.