Beloved Church-in-the-Garden Family and Friends,
Happy New Year!
The Advent season featured a series of sermons that focused on what the coming of Christ to this world means. We examined our preparedness for the Advent season. The series pondered the question: Even in the midst of a culture and society that promotes Christmas and its consumerism with the fervor of religious zealots; do we love Christmas more than we love Christ? Additionally, we created a new greeting to reassure us of our priority in the season: Keep Christ! We finished the year, expectant and confident that heaven’s hero and earth’s emancipator, Jesus Christ, has us covered as we prepared for the New Year. We closed 2017 grateful for the process and the challenges of the past year knowing that Christ has kept us! As we crossed over from 2017 to 2018, my prayer and firm hope is that God will continue to richly bless you, your family, and friends as we seek to do God’s will this year.
Many have read my words throughout 2017 and know first-hand the many challenges that we faced. As pastor, I have tried to speak out and advocate for the spiritual, social, and moral change that we, as Christians, are called to be by Christ. As a church community, we have examined the role of our faith in society and how it empowers us to stand up for justice, equality, and liberty for all. As we continue to study and pray over our sacred texts, we have chosen to stand on Christ the solid rock as we continually speak truth to power.
In 2017, speaking truth to power put us at odds with individuals, political parties and ideologies, and an administration that seemed to cling exclusively to a base that many felt is not representative of this country. However, we continue to lift up Christ as the liberative force for change in this society. We still declare and affirm that there is room at the cross for the sinner, the saved, the non-believer, the agnostic, the good, the bad, the poor, the marginalized, the wealthy, the powerful, the powerless and anyone in between or on the margins. We realize that we may differ from others who also call themselves Christians. Because we are American Baptists, we understand that there may be stark differences and disagreements within the body of Christ. Yet, we seek to study the Gospels, “rightly dividing the word of truth”, to proclaim the Good News through our actions, and to look ever to Jesus Christ to guide us in all of our ways as we take new steps to ensure that mission of Jesus Christ is fulfilled in us and this world. Never forget the mission of Christ has always been rooted and founded in love. Love has always been the key to Christ and his salvific ministry. So, we will continue to promote Christ’s love to remedy our societal and individual ills.
In 2018, we will continue to preach with power and precision the redeeming love of God through Jesus Christ. We will continue to speak up for the voiceless, for those who are suffering, and for those who are oppressed. We will continue to speak out forcibly against those policies of the government that are unfair to the most vulnerable. We will continue to stand with those who mobilize for the betterment of this society and nation even if that stand is unpopular or misunderstood by the masses. We will clearly stand with and advocate on behalf of the DREAMERS in this country!
We, as a church community and family, will continue to support gun control measures to prevent mass shootings in this country. We will continue to push for our country and our leaders to pursue peace and diplomacy within the world we live in. We will continue to hold those in power to the highest standard that is befitting of their station. We will denounce and rebuke those who promote violence, bigotry, sexism, racism, misogyny, discrimination, terror, hatred, prejudice, and ignorance as we continue to strive to be more like Christ and recognize that we very well may be denouncing and rebuking ourselves. We will continue to raise our voice in constructive criticism and dialogue of our collective cultural blind spots, hypocrisies, and the inconvenient truths of our history so that we can create a more honest and holy society. But most importantly, we will continue to look at ourselves and to continually discern our sins and shortcomings, our own faults and failings, and to continue have the change that we seek in society, begin with each and every one of us.
The Church-in-the-Garden will always welcome any who seek to make a positive change in the world, those who feel there is more to this life than they have experienced, those who seek to discern God’s plan for their lives, those who are working out their own spiritual journey, and those who want to live for Jesus Christ. As we preached on the first Sunday of the New Year, Church-in-the-Garden has a scriptural responsibility outlined in Ephesians “that through the church the wisdom of God in its rich variety might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.” Through our church we eagerly embrace the responsibility of living and spreading the ministry and wisdom of God through Jesus Christ.
I am excited for 2018 because God has afforded us another year to get closer to and live for Jesus Christ. I am praying that every day we remember the God that we serve, the Spirit that lives inside of us all, and the love of Jesus Christ. At Church-in-the-Garden this year, we welcome and eagerly anticipate your presence at worship! In 2018, come to the Church-in-the-Garden, the Garden is Open!
Rev. Earl Y. Thorpe Jr.