It’s the start of the year! I’ve come back from holiday, I’ve looked at my schedule, and I’ve got down “Vision Sunday”. Oh what have I done to myself! Why couldn’t I have just started with 6 weeks on the Sermon on the Mount, or that series on Ezekiel I’ve got planned for later in the year. No, I wisely decided last year that I should start the year with a sermon about what we as leaders think God is calling our church to be about this year. A Vision Sermon. A great idea until you have to write it! A great idea until you have to approach the text with some pre-determined discernments. At worst this will be a bit of an anaemic sermon trying to set out a strategic direction that would have been better left in the elders retreat minutes. Or worse it will be some old heresy dressed up in PR spin. I feel tired just thinking about the idea.
But when Jesus stood up at Nazareth, he knew what he was about and he preached his “Stump Speech”. Naturally he was more immersed in the Scriptures than I am, cleverly he appears to have said very little, but evoked a huge response. But any way you looked at it he preached a vision sermon, and it was all about what he had come to do. So I’m hopeful that this particular risky start to the year might be okay. After all those of us who have supped on Bill Hybel’s soup over the years can’t really begin a year without thinking about vision. (I notice if I’d pinned myself to the lectionary I would be looking at Matt 5.)
So what am I preaching in the New Year? Well we sense a particular call to serving our city this year so my text will be from Jeremiah 29. I’ll do a little exegesis of the particular situation of the exiles, and how this was a shocking suggestion to pray for such a pagan place; but I actually want to pick up the word shalom and use it to summarise the gospel. I’ll be talking about the vision of Shalom in Deuteronomy, and the way that Micah so nicely summarises this idea of everyone under their own vine. And then I’ll be talking about the King and his Kingdom, about the Kingdom of Shalom and about being salt and light in our city.
The question I want to pose is what ensures that I am being biblical, for me this is a Mission Sermon coming out of the “The text” rather than “A text”. But what controls will I place on myself? I’ve already found myself trawling through the gospels looking for a connection between Jesus, Shalom and Serving. So I face the dilemma, what am I adding to the gospel, or what am I subtracting? I’ve think the honest way when dealing with these sort of questions is to acknowledge what I am doing, I’m interrogating the text with my vision to ask, ”Is this biblical?” To say I’m searching the text to see whether this adds up. Of course I want to deliver a passionate, emotionally charged plea to my congregation to love the people of our city as Jesus does. But I think there’s always room to ask a question, if we believe Jesus loves our city, what do we base that belief on? I hope as I impassion my listeners I am also inviting them to be co-explorers of the scriptures with me. God bless for 2014. Simon