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If UPC Disappeared, Would Anybody Miss It?

Dr. Bruce Lancaster

August 21, 2016
Luke 10:1-12, 17-20

A reading from the Gospel of Luke:

After this the Lord appointed seventy others and sent them on ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he himself intended to go. He said to them, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest. Go on your way. See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves. Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road. Whatever house you enter, first say, “Peace to this house!” And if anyone is there who shares in peace, your peace will rest on that person; but if not, it will return to you. Remain in the same house, eating and drinking whatever they provide, for the laborer deserves to be paid. Do not move about from house to house. Whenever you enter a town and its people welcome you, eat what is set before you; cure the sick who are there, and say to them, “The kingdom of God has come near to you.” But whenever you enter a town and they do not welcome you, go out into its streets and say, “Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet, we wipe off in protest against you. Yet know this: the kingdom of God has come near.” I tell you, on that day it will be more tolerable for Sodom than for that town.

The seventy returned with joy, saying, ‘Lord, in your name even the demons submit to us!’ He said to them, ‘I watched Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightning. See, I have given you authority to tread on snakes and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy; and nothing will hurt you. Nevertheless, do not rejoice at this, that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.’


Bruce Lancaster 2014From the time of Calvin on, we Presbyterians have understood that all of life is subject to the rule of God: that God sends us out in the world to serve God’s purposes here and now. That’s what our Scripture lesson is about – Jesus could have told these disciples and followers – stay here, hunker down where you are, away from the world, stay exactly close to me. But he sends them out, with a mission, to make the world a better place…

One thing Jesus did when he sent the seventy out was to send them out by pairs.  In part, I think, he did that to remind us that we never go it alone; we’re in this together, partners in faith. It takes a congregation. Also, Jesus sent them out as lambs among wolves, and the times; they haven’t changed much, sometimes peace is received, sometimes not.  We go out in scary times, too. And he gave them power to heal.  I think most of us are sick and tired of being sick and tired.  Of seeing pictures of little boys with blood running down their faces. Of seeing our sons and daughters lying dead in the streets. We, too, seek changed lives – spiritual and physical and emotional and economic.

More than anything, though, what this story shows me is what Jesus believes about the future, and what Jesus believes about people like you and me, those whom he sends out. He believes what God has for him in the future – the harvest for him, so Jesus acts – he sends out the seventy, and all who’ve come after them, even those who built this church.

Just as Jesus trusted those 70, set them with a purpose and power, just as Jesus trusted those saints who built a small frame church on a hill in East Austin in 1892 and five years later up and moved to the Nueces Street between 22nd and 23rd Street and then ten years after that broke ground for a new church on the corner of San Antonio and 22nd Street.

Just as Jesus trusts you today with his message of love and salvation, of freedom and justice, of grace and mercy – a message that changes lives and comforts those in need.

Literally and spiritually, this has always been a church on the move – geographically, but even more as people of the Gospel, turning your hearts and minds outward, reaching out to others.

Which raises the question for the morning – I heard it first at a conference several years ago when our leader asked it:

If the church you currently serve would cease to exist, who would miss it?  Would anyone really notice or would anyone really care?

Imagine, driving along San Antonio Street, or coming around the corner off Guadalupe on to 22nd – and where this church stands, maybe it’s just another parking lot for the Co-Op. Or maybe a high rise for more office space for the Church of Scientology.

Would it really matter? Some might think it wouldn’t, if this church disappeared. Maybe even some of those who claim membership in this church – would they miss it?

It was like the minister I heard about who called off the weekly Wednesday night prayer meeting that had been part of the church’s life for years. Somebody asked him, “Well, did the Session give permission for that?” He said,  “No, unless somebody tells them, they’ll never miss it!”

We live in a time when people demand and expect quality, but you have to be willing to make the commitments that build and maintain quality. Because it’s true, while there’s so many who want great churches with great programs for themselves and their children, and wonderful choirs and music and generous opportunities to help the needy, at the same time, they feel no sense of responsibility, no commitment to make it happen.

This congregation is here because of the commitments made nearly 125 years ago – a church was planted and took root in this city. I thank God for those of you who continue to provide the resources, the facilities, the staff, the volunteers, and the programs for this church that proves God’s outpouring of blessings for the world as you have met the challenges of the day.

Throughout the history of this church, this has been a church that has pointed not to itself, but to God.

And now it is yours – and I do not think for a moment that God has gathered this church in this place at this time for failure. Quite the contrary, I earnestly believe that in the providence of God, when the history is written, it will be said of University Presbyterian Church – a place, a people – that we are glad it existed, because here you find:

  • Passionate Worship: You honor God for who God is and what God has done with the purpose of connecting people to God…not performance but rather devotion and celebration expressing your love of God.
  • Radical Hospitality: You offer the absolute utmost of yourselves, your creativity, and your abilities to offer the gracious invitation and welcome of Christ to others…to pray, plan, and work to invite others and help them feel welcome and to support them in their spiritual journeys.
  • Intentional Faith Development: You deliberately and purposefully engage in bible studies, daily devotion, church school classes, small groups, and retreats to mature in your faith and in your knowledge and love of God.
  • Risk-taking Mission and Service: You cooperate with God in moving out of your comfort zone to engage in work through the church, in the community, and in the world that alleviates suffering and injustice to improve the conditions of others in the name of Jesus Christ.
  • Extravagant Generosity: You joyfully and sacrificially give and share of all that you have in order to make a positive difference for the purposes of Christ.

So if University Presbyterian Church disappeared, would anybody miss it?

All I know is that people are looking everywhere for the right answer to the challenges of life, and I believe they can find it with University Presbyterian Church: here and now to help people make those decisions that are faithful and good and worthy – that will change lives for the better, to be useful to society, to glorify God, and enjoy God forever!

TO GOD BE THE GLORY.