The Story of 2017
The close of a calendar year offers a good opportunity for reflection, a chance to look back on the story of Cities Church in 2017. I am confident that it is a story very different from any story that we would have written for ourselves last January. At the same time, I am confident that the story God has written for this church in 2017 is a better story.
Pastor David Mathis said this in a sermon closing out the series on Genesis 1-11 in November of 2016:
“God writes a better story. We’ve seen him do so in Genesis 1–11, and if we picked up in Genesis 12 next week, we’d follow the story of Abraham until chapter 25. The life of Abraham is a continual lesson in faith — or we might say, learning to live in the story God is writing, not trying to write your own.”
Pastor David prepared us well for 2017. How fitting that even as we followed the life of Abraham this year, we experienced our own lesson in faith in learning to live the story God is writing.
We started 2017 worshiping God together at Minnehaha Academy. At the time, we were very seriously considering joining our congregation with the congregation of First Baptist Church in downtown Minneapolis. We even had a series of joint worship services with First Baptist in their building.
When God led us away from discussions with First Baptist, we decided to make an effort to more firmly establish Cities Church at Minnehaha Academy. We saw very encouraging results from that effort, but the tragedy of the Minnehaha Academy explosion on Wednesday, August 2, which claimed the lives of Ruth Berg and John Carlson and impacted so many in profound ways, also left Cities Church homeless.
We gathered for worship at the Riverview Theater the first Sunday following the explosion. That was followed by three Sundays of meeting at St. Thomas and since then, we have been here at Concordia, in two different auditoriums. That means Cities Church gathered for worship in six different spaces in 2017.
The challenges of this year were not limited to meeting space alone. On a number of occasions the pastors of Cities Church have been called upon to pray for the sick and for those in distress. We have waited and prayed in children’s hospital rooms. We have held up the Jacobs family weekly and have rejoiced greatly at the kindness of God in reducing, and we pray eliminating, the cancer. And now our dear sister Linda, a member of Cities Church, has had to return stateside from the mission field in East Asia due to health concerns.
Throughout all of the upheaval and uncertainty of this year, I have been deeply encouraged by God’s goodness and faithfulness to this people and by the trusting response of this people to God’s providence. By God’s grace we met to worship together every Sunday in 2017, to include January 1st and December 31st, the first and last days of the year. Sometimes this meant clearing out immediately following the service to make way for the afternoon matinee and sometimes this meant traversing what felt like half of St. Paul on foot to make it from the parking lot to the auditorium. Yet, God’s people made the effort and showed up for serve teams and remained cheerful and gracious, even when they could tell that sometimes their pastors were making up logistics as they went along. You modeled Hebrews 10:24-25, “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”
By God’s grace we continued to do the things that make up covenant life together. We continued to grow together in life groups and community groups. We welcomed new members. We filled the stages with children for dedications and Christmas songs. We baptized people, to include a baptism at a local park where we just showed up following a service like some kind of sanctified flash mob, filled a tub with water, praised God and served lunch on the hillside.
This has not been the story we would have written, but God writes a better story. He has cultivated our faith in Him over this year and has added to his track record of faithfulness to his people, a record stretching from eternity to eternity. He has walked with us and taught us from his word week in and week out through Psalm 51 and the books of James, John, and Genesis. His steadfast love for us so overshadows all of the trials of 2017 that we raise our communion cups each week with Psalm 116 whispering in our hearts. “What shall I render to the Lord for all his benefits to me? I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the Lord.”
He has cared for us and provided for us. He has healed the sick and made the blind see and all despite our weekly instances of faithlessness toward him. Despite our blind spots and our imperfections.
This reminds us of our need to confess our sins.
Prayer of Confession
Father, we so badly want to write our own story. We ignore our limitations and our lack of wisdom. We believe, from our small and finite point of view, that we see best. In the face of trials we doubt your goodness and we trust only in ourselves to set things right, and right according to us. We have pursued our own story and suffered the consequences.
Father, this is a great evil. And we know that if we in the church regard sin in our own midst, our prayers will be ineffectual, so we confess our individual sins to you now.
Father, we thank you for Jesus and the example he modeled for us. He did not doubt your goodness. He trusted your faithfulness and lived in light of that trust even in the face of the most difficult trials. He did not try to assert his way before you but modeled perfect submission and humility. You wrote the better story by which we have life and life abundantly because of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. By your Spirit now, be pleased to align our thoughts, desires, and loves with your own, we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.