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Sunday, October 23, 2011

Home in the Kingdom for the World (Ephesians 2.11-22)

Sermon by:Greg Joines
October 23, 2011
Some Music Used
Prelude : "The Lord's My Shepherd, I'll Not Want" (Held)

Song of Praise: "And Can it Be?" (arr. by Enfield)
Hymn of Praise: "Come, Ye Sinners, Poor and Needy" (ARISE)
The Word in Music: "Softly and Tenderly Jesus is Calling" (Thompson/Cherwien)
Song of Sending: "Come to Jesus" (Chris Rice)
Postlude: "Hallelujah! Sing to Jesus" (Phillips)

Home in the Kingdom for the World
Text: Ephesians 2:11-22

(download) **Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes - search for "Good Shepherd Sermons or Robert Austell"**

Testimony - by Graham Meeks

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Spirit for the World (Acts 2.14-21)

Sermon by: Robert Austell
October 16, 2011
Some Music Used
Prelude : "Come, Holy Ghost, Our Souls Inspire" (Held)

Song of Praise: "Spirit" (Manley)
Hymn of Praise: "Open My Eyes that I May See" (SCOTT)
The Word in Music: "Come, O Spirit, Dwell Among Us" (arr. Hopson)
Song of Confession and Assurance: "Shine Into Our Night" (Sczebel)

Song of Sending: "Let the River Flow" (Evans)
Postlude: "Every Time I Feel the Spirit" (Hailstork)

Church for the World
Text: Acts 2:14-21

(download) **Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes - search for "Good Shepherd Sermons or Robert Austell"**

Testimony - by J.H. Dimgus

Last week we looked at the introduction to Acts, in which Luke summarized the Gospel story about Jesus – what Jesus did and said, his suffering and resurrection, and especially the teaching on the Kingdom of God. Then, we heard Jesus’ promise and charge to his followers, to send the Holy Spirit as power so that they might be witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea/Samaria, and the whole world.

In Acts 1:8 Jesus promised his followers that they would receive power in order to be this kind of witnesses. Today we are looking at a special passage that unpacks and explains what that “power” is, where it fits into God’s great overarching story, and what its significance is for our lives and witness.

The Power

Let’s look first at what this power is that Jesus promised his followers. Jewish people and God-fearers (non-Jewish believers in Yahweh) traveled from all over the known world to visit Jerusalem. And filled with this Holy Spirit power, the disciples were able to communicate with and be understood by all of them.

In Acts 1, Jesus promised the Holy Spirit, and this passage is describing what that looks like. It’s not a sermon on “here’s what you need to do” but an account of what God is doing. So the point is not technique or how to deal with these different responses, but what God has promised to do. Witnessing isn’t an OUGHT; it is God at work in you. That’s how God works, how God “does His thing.” He empowers human beings to speak and act and tell His story by sharing what you’ve seen and what you’ve heard.

The Prophecy

When Peter begins to speak in verse 14, he answers the questions and mocking by telling a part of God’s big story. In doing so, he helps explain where this outpouring of God’s power fits into God’s larger overarching story. He begins his message (which continues on well past where we stopped) by explaining that what is happening is the fulfillment of an ancient prophecy spoken through the prophet Joel.

Joel prophesied about the last days, when God’s Kingdom would arrive and God would judge and rule the world. That era was to be marked by an outpouring of God’s Spirit in which God’s sons and daughters would prophesy, young and old would have dreams and visions, and even male and female slaves would prophesy. The world would be full of witness to the Lord and the opportunity to believe and be saved would be open to all people.

Notice, too, that Peter quotes Joel about drastic signs of the end: blood, fire, smoke, darkness. Presumably, those are events that are yet to be. Here’s how to understand what is being referenced and explained here. In Acts 1 and throughout the Gospels, Jesus speaks of the Kingdom of God. Remember, that is one of the summary points of what Jesus was all about that Luke gave us in the first few verses of Acts. But Jesus wasn’t announcing an earthly kingdom set on taking on the Roman Empire. Rather, he was announcing the arrival of a spiritual Kingdom. And he said more than once that the time was ‘now.’ He also said it was ‘not yet complete.’ In other words, Jesus announced a new era, a new chapter in God’s timing. He announced the “beginning of the end.” And the experience of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost both confirmed Jesus’ promise and fulfilled Joel’s prophecy. The message of Acts 2 is that the beginning of the end is indeed here, as evidenced by just what Joel foretold. God was using His power and human witness to accomplish His mission.

Spirit for the World

So I said that witnessing isn’t an OUGHT, but is God at work in you. Here’s what I mean, and why these Pentecost passages in Acts are so closely connected with the lost and found parables in Luke 15. A few weeks ago we heard about a God who diligently seeks the lost, like a shepherd searching for one sheep lost in 99. We also heard about a God who DELIGHTS in finding those who are lost. God experiences JOY when one lost person comes home to Him.

The Joel prophecy marks God’s interest in the lost over the course of centuries. The outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost is God’s demonstration in real life of what Jesus portrayed in story-form in Luke 15. God was indeed coming after the lost, and His chosen means to do that was by His Holy Spirit power and through human witness. So Jesus tells his followers in Acts 1 that they would receive God’s power in order to be witnesses. In Acts 2 we see that power in action and see how Peter and others are serving as witnesses.

What then comes to us is this bold claim: God is a seeking and finding God, and His chosen means of engaging in that mission is to empower human witnesses. That’s you and me. It’s not a “you better witness or God won’t love you.” It’s not a “you better witness if you want a spot in Heaven.” Rather, God can and does use your sharing what you’ve seen and heard in order to accomplish His joyful mission of finding the lost.

Everyone Who Calls on the Name

Finally, the Joel prophecy concludes with this encouraging statement in verse 21: “And it shall be that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” While that statement is true standing alone, it is made in context. The context is God empowering human witnesses to speak the name of the Lord and tell God’s story such that people will see and hear and believe. This promise is that people will indeed be saved, not because you or I convince them with our mastery of the plan of salvation, but because God is at work seeking and finding. It is this very salvation that God celebrates, like the characters in the lost and found parables.

Bottom line, what do we have to do? Looking at Acts 1-2, last week’s lesson and this, we need to know and grow in knowledge of God’s story. Study, read, and keep learning it. If you trust in Jesus Christ, God has already given you the supernatural power needed – God is already at work in you and through you. And God’s intent is that we be witnesses, which simply means that we will share what we’ve seen and heard.

When I hear from people about real instances of “witnessing” they didn’t give multi-point sermons about God’s story (though they do know God’s story). Rather, they ran into a friend and situations where they could share from their own experience, “I know what you are going through and this is what God meant to me when I went through something like that.” They tell me about the importance of prayer; or about how significant God’s forgiveness was. That is witnessing and it is a part of God’s long story of seeking and finding people about whom He cares deeply.

You can do that because God is doing that! God’s heart is for the world and His Holy Spirit is moving in you and in the world. Keep asking God how you can be a part of that. Amen.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Church for the World (Acts 1.1-8)

Sermon by: Robert Austell
October 9, 2011
Some Music Used
Prelude : "In Christ Alone" (Townend/Getty, arr. Wyrtzen)

Song of Praise: "O Church Arise" (Getty/Townend)
Hymn of Praise: "There is a Fountain" (Cowper)
The Word in Music: "With a Voice of Singing" (Shaw)
Assurance of God's Grace: "Shine Into Our Night" (Sczebel)

Hymn of Sending: "Lord, the Church on Earth is Seeking" (AUSTRIAN HYMN)
Postlude: "Lift High the Cross" (Burkhardt)

Church for the World
Text: Acts 1:1-8

(download) **Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes - search for "Good Shepherd Sermons or Robert Austell"**

Testimony - by Cameron Cary

As an introduction to today’s sermon, I’d like to simply point you to Luke’s introduction for the book of Acts. In only a matter of verses, Luke summarizes what has gone before (as recorded in Luke) and what is about to happen (as recorded in Acts). All of that is presented in one of the most concise summaries of Jesus’ ministry and resurrection in scripture. Luke references four distinct components of Jesus’ story:
  1. Jesus’ ministry as recorded in the Gospel of Luke – what he did and taught (v. 1)
  2. Jesus suffering and resurrection (v. 3)
  3. Specific teaching about the Kingdom of God (v. 3)
  4. The promise of baptism with the Holy Spirit, only a few days away (vv. 4-5)
If you ever are looking for a primer on what you need to know about Jesus, that’s a great outline. Learn about his life and ministry. Study his death and resurrection. And don’t miss the teaching about the Kingdom of God, which runs throughout his many lessons and parables. And then don’t stop; ask, “What’s next?” The book of Acts answers that question with the arrival of the Holy Spirit and the empowering of Jesus’ followers for mission.

Now here’s one interesting part to me. The disciples had lived through all that. They had heard the parables, seen the suffering and death, and witnessed the resurrection. They had shared in the popular expectation of an earthly kingdom ushered in by the expected Messiah, and heard Jesus reorient them toward a spiritual Kingdom time and time again. And now after weeks of “convincing proofs” that he was risen and he was who he said he was, he gathers his followers in Jerusalem and tells them to get ready for what is coming next.

And apparently, they still have some pressing questions… 

Pressing Questions

The insistence of the disciples in asking the next question would be laughable if I weren’t convinced that I would have been right there asking it with them. After all the teaching and correction and proof and power, they still have to ask it: “Lord, NOW are you going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” Now you’re going to wipe out the Romans, right? You obviously have the power – their torture and soldiers couldn’t keep you down. Now you’re going to bring it, right?

There are times as a parent when I impart truly important information. It’s not just what time we are leaving or what needs to be eaten before dessert, but good, solid life-lessons. And then the next thing I hear is whether we’ll be done talking in time for the favorite TV show, or “Can I call my friend now?” Adults, have you ever been there?

But grown-ups, we’re not off the hook. We sit through Bible study, sermons, saying our prayers, and doing 20 other things that “get us right with God” and then jump right to, “Now here’s what I want, God.” There’s this disconnect between the message and our focus. Great sermon, preacher; but here’s what I want to know. Hmm – that Great Commission: “Good one, Lord; but what about answering that prayer request?”

Jesus has answered this one before and is in the middle of telling them about the fulfillment of a thousand year old prophecy, and they have pressing questions.

This is not the main point of this sermon, but I am struck – and convicted – by the disciples’ question that I still have much to learn about “Thy will be done” and putting God’s will ahead of my own.

Jesus’ answer is short and deep; and then he moves on. His answer is verse 7, “It is not for you to know times or epochs which the Father has fixed by His own authority…” What in the world is an epoch? This is one of those cases where the Message translation nails it: “It is not for you to know the times or timing of the Father’s will…” There are two Greek words for time: chronos and kairos. And each is used here. We don’t get to know the day and time the end will come. That’s chronos – clock time. And we don’t get to know the timing, that is, kairos – God’s time. That’s what an epoch is, by the way, an era or age or chapter in God’s story. We just don’t use that word much. What Jesus is saying is that it’s God’s business and we would do better to listen to what God IS saying then speculate about what God is not revealing. This is also not the main point of this sermon, but I think this has profound implications for those who become overly pre-occupied with end-times matters. Jesus is very clear in this passage that he would reorient us towards a present mission. And that main point is what I want to turn to now, along with the disciples. 

What (and Where) is Next?

Jesus spells out the impending mission for his followers in once sentence in verse 8. I want to look at it in two parts, first looking at WHAT that mission will be, then at WHERE the mission will take place.

Jesus said, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses…” In a nutshell, here’s what Jesus said we should be focused on: OUR witness to him, fueled by HIS power. The Holy Spirit that Jesus promised (as did God long before that) would be poured out on those who trusted in Him, and that Spirit would energize, compel, protect, embolden, catalyze, and bless the words and actions of human witnesses. But what is it that we have witnessed. Think about a witness in a courtroom. The questions are, “What have you seen? What have you heard? What do you know?”

And here’s where all this hangs together. The content of the Christian witness has already been described in the opening verses of Acts. Luke has summarized the Christian witness for us already in verses 1-5. That is what is referenced by “witnesses” in verse 8. We are witnesses to those four things I mentioned earlier – the amazing stuff: what Jesus did and taught, his suffering and resurrection, his specific teaching about the Kingdom of God, and the promise and reality of the Holy Spirit in the believer’s life (and sign of the promised Kingdom of God). That’s the basic story we need to have under our belt, applied and experienced and explained through the filter of our own lives. Said even more simply, we need to know God’s story in Christ, as witnessed through our own story and experience.

Jesus goes on to describe the scope of this mission – the WHERE of it: “…in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth” (v. 8). We have talked about this phrase before. In fact, it underlies the mission of this church as we attempt to be a faithful witness to Jesus Christ within our walls, then in our near neighborhood, then in the larger community, and in the world. The Book of Acts chronicles this mission as it follows that very pattern, expanding outward from those nearby to those far away. So also we are to carry our Christian witness from this place of worship and teaching and training into our homes, schools, neighborhoods, community, and world.

One of the things we’ve realized is that it is not sufficient to say “take it to the neighborhood.” We have to be specific. So, we’ve named buildings and groups and neighbors and made specific gestures to obey this mission. We’ve also latched onto a line from the parable of the talents, in which the master says to the faithful steward, “You have been faithful in small things; I will give you responsibility for larger things.”

A few weeks ago I shared about our officer and staff retreat in August – how in the process of rehearsing the ways God has called us to this neighborhood, I am realizing God is opening doors now beyond the neighborhood. For years God has led individuals out beyond our immediate community. Cameron and Josh (who will share next week) are two examples of that. But it seems like those opportunities are coming more and faster.

Striving to not run ahead of nor fall behind where God would lead, this text encourages us to be faithful with what God has given us and attentive to where God would lead us.

You are the Church!

What applies to the congregation also applies to each believer. While you may not be called to central Asia or Africa, each of you IS a minister; each of you IS a missionary. And the same kind of principles apply well into individual lives. If you are a follower of Christ, you are a witness to him… to the same core story Luke talks about in his introduction to Acts. One of the reasons we’ve been having these testimonies in church is to illustrate that you all have stories – you all have a journey in relation to God.

Applying the Acts 1 pattern to your own life, first ask, “Do I know Jesus Christ?” Let’s consider that your Jerusalem. There at home in your head and heart, do you know and trust Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior. If not, that’s the first order of business. Do you know his story? What stands in the way of belief?

If you do trust in Jesus Christ, what is your Judea? What is one way you can be faithful to the Lord in a small way? I don’t just mean come to church or read your Bible. I mean in God’s call to be a witness and mission-partner. Is it a good friend or neighbor with whom you’ve never risked talking about faith? Is it a gesture towards someone at work or school to let them know you will pray for them? Is it an act of kindness, rooted in your Christian faith?

If you’ve found your Judea, you will probably know your Samaria when you see it – slightly more out of your comfort zone… more of a stretch… the next step. But God promises to give you what you need through the Holy Spirit.

The point is to ask that first mission question: “What is God doing in and around ME and how can I be a part of it?” Ask it and act. The Christian faith isn’t about ourselves, but about God and His glory. Baby steps are fine – small acts of obedience, that’s what they are. Most of us don’t run into problems with those small steps; we don’t want to walk or crawl at all.

This series is all about God’s heart for the world – His love for the world as shown through Jesus Christ. If we say we follow Him, then we’ve got to actually do that. God has given us what we need – the story, the power, the invitation. Both as a church and as individual Christians, that is our privilege and calling.

So how might you find your mission? Scour the “mission opportunities” in the bulletin; pray and listen for God’s still, small voice – a nudge toward some place or person you are probably already close to; ask the mission question and be ready to respond in obedience.

The church is not for me; the church isn’t really even for us. The church is for the world, that it might know God. As we seek the shalom of the world, we will know God’s peace, blessing, and shalom in our own lives! 

Our Mission

Our mission from Acts 1 applies to each individual Christian, from the youngest to the oldest; and it applies to the congregation as one local collection of believers in this time and location:

Through the Holy Spirit, Jesus Christ has empowered and called on his followers to give witness to him in every area of their life, even stretching beyond those arenas to places to which God would lead us.

Luke has reminded us in short form of God’s story in Christ. And you are Christ’s witnesses in the world. What is your story? With whom will you share God’s story and your own? Amen.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Shepherd for the World (Luke 15.1-7)

Sermon by: Robert Austell
October 2, 2011
Some Music Used
Prelude : "My Shepherd Will Supply My Need" (Martin)

Hymn of Praise: "The King of Love" (ST. COLUMBIA)
Hymn of Response: "And Can it Be" (arr. Enfield)
Offering of Music (Rick Bean, jazz piano)
Song of Sending: "As You Go" (Altrogge)
Postlude: "Carillon" (Archer)

Shepherd for the World
Text: Luke 15:1-7

(download) **Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes - search for "Good Shepherd Sermons or Robert Austell"**

Testimony - by Teresa Wilson

In the past few weeks we’ve talked about God’s love for the world He made. One aspect of that love is shown in God’s attention to people that are lost. Jesus used a series of stories to try to explain God’s diligent attention to and pursuit of the lost, though Jesus was working against religious expectations to the contrary. In a day when it is easy for church to be one more club or organization that we see as meeting OUR needs, we are going to look at what Jesus has to say about having a mind and heart for others, especially those who are lost.

I want to walk through these verses with you and highlight a situation and Jesus’ response to it, then consider the application for us 

Sinners Coming Near and Grumbling Within (vv. 1-2)

Verse 1 sets the stage for us: “Now all the tax collectors and the sinners were coming near Him to listen to Him.” We’ve talked before about tax collectors. They were seen as traitors and thieves, for betraying their people as well as robbing from them with exorbitant taxes. They, as a class, were considered sinners by the religious leaders.

We also read that other sinners were coming to Jesus. Literally, these were “non-religious Jews” – those that were rejected by and/or did not participate in the observance of the Jewish faith. And for whatever reason, these folks were drawn to Jesus though they were not drawn to the Temple. Indeed, they would not have been welcome at the Temple, so it is a bit of a circular problem – they didn’t go where they weren’t welcome and weren’t welcome because they didn’t go.

We also read in verse 2 that Jesus “[received] sinners and [ate] with them.” So, the issue was not just with their presence, but also Jesus’ response to them and association with them. Verse two also describes the response of the scribes and Pharisees: grumbling. The scribes were the experts in the Jewish religious Law. The Pharisees were a kind of political party (which included the scribes), with great emphasis on and loyalty to the Jewish religious Law. And for any number of reasons, they were not happy with this scenario. They didn’t like tax collectors, sinners, Jesus, or any of these congregating together. For them, Jesus’ association with sinners remained one of their biggest problems with him throughout his ministry. 

The Punch Line is the Joy! (vv. 4-7)

Into this tense scene between sinners and grumblers, Jesus told a story. And a parable isn’t just any kind of story – it’s kind of like a first century joke with a point. It’s not meant to be funny, but like a joke, there is a twist at the end that makes the thing work – a punch line, if you will.

There were some among the Jewish rabbis who stressed God’s forgiveness for the repentant, for those who turned to God in humility and sorrow for sin. But apparently these folks did not follow that line of teaching. The scribes and Pharisees were already grumbling at these sinners who were coming near to listen to Jesus. But Jesus didn’t just press the description of the heart of God past rejection of some kinds of sinners to welcome the repentant; he pressed WAY past that (and even past the present situation) to say that God actually sought out those who were lost and not turning to God. This was radical – unheard of!

That would have been punch line enough. “Yeah, yeah; we understand that a shepherd would go looking for the one sheep. Sheep are valuable; you don’t let one go if you can help it. Oh wait; you are comparing sinners to sheep? No, we’ve heard that teaching, but we reject it… Wait a minute more; your story isn’t right. These sinners came looking for you. Are you saying that God is even interested in the ones who aren’t here?! Unthinkable!”

That is the first jarring twist that would have hooked the attention of those listening – Pharisees and so-called sinners alike. But that turns out not to be the big punch line. The punch line is the joy!

That God would seek the lost, even the uninterested, unobservant, sinful lost, was a challenge to the Pharisees’ religious perspective. But that God would DELIGHT in finding the lost?! That turns a Law-based and inward-focused religion on its head. I can just imagine the dual reaction in the room – the sour lemon-face horror of the scribes and Pharisees, and the surprised wonder of the lost ones who grasped what it was Jesus was saying.

And this was just the first pass. Jesus went on to tell two more “jokes” – each with the same punch line, and each building on the unthinkable claim of the one that went before: the lost coin, and the lost son. 

How Will We Rejoice?

We won’t be looking at those today, but there is much in this one story for us to chew on. The first big change of perspective is one that we’ve been wrestling with for a number of years now. The Church is not meant to be a club for members, but more like a fire station for firefighters. Firefighters come to their station to train, prepare, study, and learn. They keep their equipment tuned up, shiny, and ready to use. But it would be completely missing the point and mission of being a fire station if they never went out to fight fires. So also the church gathers to train, prepare, study, and learn. We keep our equipment tuned up and equip the people of God for the work of God. And God is at work in the world. To only gather within our building would miss the point and mission of being the Church!

We’ve talked about that dynamic in terms of being a “searchlight.” Sometimes it’s easy to have the perspective of the scribes and Pharisees. We can treat church like a club, mainly for the members. All the money and energy and focus goes into those that belong. That can result in some quality programs for our own, but it lacks spiritual health and balance and is missing the love of neighbor that is absolutely central throughout all of Scripture. Then we can have the perspective that some held in Jesus’ day, and it sounds so reasonable. We can welcome those who are repentant and want to turn to God. These are the “seekers” – the ones who seek us out looking for God. Surely the Church exists for anyone who is looking for God and turns to us for help. This is, after all, why we talk about being a lighthouse, a safe harbor and secure haven for those looking for help. Even as reasonable as it sounds to be that kind of lighthouse church, it takes energy, openness, and a willingness to help those in need. And you are that kind of people – you always have been. But it takes continued focus not to ease back into that club mentality – not just for us, for any church.

But listen; as vital as that effort is, it is not what Jesus is talking about in THIS parable. Here he is describing God – the One we worship, follow after, and serve – as One who goes out seeking those who are lost. God is not just the shepherd who waits for the sheep to wander back to the fold and then gives it a bath. God is the one who goes out into the night and into the wilderness to look for the one that is lost, to bring it home. When we talk about being a searchlight church, that’s the image we are talking about. That’s why we talk so much about the neighborhood and why we try things like this Wednesday night experiment of leaving the church property and going out among our neighbors. God established this church here in this neighborhood, and this greater neighborhood is the flock we are to tend. Some don’t want a shepherd or already have one elsewhere, but the picture Jesus paints for us is that we are to seek out the lost. And of all the names we could have had, we are GOOD SHEPHERD Presbyterian Church.

I realize that seeing the neighborhood as our flock is a different mindset about church than many have – maybe even some of you. But that is the consistent understanding of Church and mission in the Bible, and Jesus pressed further still! Remember, a God who actively seeks the lost is just the startling set up to the parable. The punch line is joy.

Joy. I’m not sure what to do with that. What I hear Jesus saying is not just that seeking the lost is on the table (it is); it is not just our duty (it is); but if we follow and serve the God who is our Good Shepherd, then we will share in His delight and joy when one of His lost sheep is found. That makes this an act of worship – sharing in God’s joy. I can’t wave a magic wand and create joy, but I do know that as we engage in this mission of seeking the lost, I can invite you to celebrate with our Heavenly Father when some are found. By “seeking the lost” I mean getting out there among our neighbors… where they are. Shop at Food Lion and Harris Teeter in our neighborhood. Volunteer at the elementary school. Take your walks or ride your bike throughout these neighborhoods and speak to people as you see them. Come with us to meet our Brighton Place and Swan’s Run neighbors. Have a cook-out and invite your neighbors. If you live outside this neighborhood, you can do the same where you are. The church exists where you are, not in this building. We are only church this morning because you are here. When you leave, you take it with you! And the one for whom you are the church is out THERE seeking the lost.

This is something we have been growing in for a number of years. More and more I am meeting people interested in Good Shepherd (or simply in God) and I find out that they had a conversation with ones of you, or live next door to you, or exercise with you, or their kids go to school with you.

Jesus reminds us that those who love the Father love the lost. And he reminds us of the Father’s joy – the Good Shepherd’s joy – in finding one who was lost. It is my hope and prayer that each of us will come to know that joy as we grow in the Father’s mission to our neighbors. Amen.