Good morning River City! Welcome to Vision Sunday!
We have a lot of things to cover today, starting with the new sermon series. Our preferred way of preaching sermons is to preach through books of the Bible, verse by verse, word by word. It forces us to reckon with difficult passages, and it puts context around the ones we think we already know or think are easy.
And for this series, I’m going to highly encourage you to bring your own Bibles. In our proverbs series, we jumped around to a lot of scriptures, so it was good to have it on the screen so you weren’t flipping back and forth the whole time. But for the gospel of Luke, I will not be putting as much scripture on the screens. So please bring your Bibles – if you need one, or you know someone who needs a Bible, they are available on the back table, and you are welcome to just use them today or take it home with you – they are there for you to take.
So, today we begin in the book of Luke, we’ll read a couple verses and let that set the tone for our day. So if you are new to scripture, flip through your bible until you’re about ¾ of the way through toward the back… If you see names like Zachariah and Malachi, those are the prophets and they are great, but keep turning right until you see Matthew, Mark, and then Luke.
So, Luke chapter 1:1 – let's read and then make a few observations.
Luke 1:1-4 CSB
 Many have undertaken to compile a narrative about the events that have been fulfilled among us,  just as the original eyewitnesses and servants of the word handed them down to us.  It also seemed good to me, since I have carefully investigated everything from the very first, to write to you in an orderly sequence, most honorable Theophilus,  so that you may know the certainty of the things about which you have been instructed.
So first, a little context for this book – the author never outright identifies himself, but Christian tradition has claimed almost since the book was written that the author is a man named Luke, who was a traveling companion of the Apostle Paul. So we’re sticking with that tradition, and will say this book is named after it’s author. Luke says in verse 1 exactly what kind of thing we will find in the chapters that follow. Many authors have put together narratives about the events that have happened, and Luke says in verse 3, I thought it would be a good idea to write my own in an orderly sequence.
What exactly are these events? I won’t have you turn there right now, but at the end of the book of Luke, the resurrected Jesus tells his disciples that everything written about him in the Law of Moses, the Prophets, and the Psalms (that’s the whole Old Testament) must be fulfilled. And then Jesus spent the next 40 days telling them exactly how that happened, and how he fulfilled the entire Old Testament. It must have been mind-blowing for the disciples!
Last night new 9/11 documentary — for those who remember that day well it was incredible to see new footage hear interviews with White House staff the president, there was a lot I was thinking no way! We had no idea that was happening.
But for my kids who weren’t alive they have to rely on those storytellers to know anything at all about that day.
And in the same way, it appears that Luke wasn’t around for the mind-blowing connections being made, because in verse 2 he admits he’s relying on original eyewitnesses and people who have handed down the word. Some biblical scholars would say he might be referring to Matthew and Mark’s gospel, since they would have been written before his, OR since Luke actually talks about Mary more than any of the other gospels, she may have been one his main sources.
But at any rate, Luke is writing about the events of Jesus, and he says although a lot of other people have set out to talk about these events that have happened, I thought it would be a good idea to write to you in an orderly sequence, most honorable Theophilus.
We don’t really know much about this man – he might have been a Roman official, based on the title “Most Honorable” before his name. His name means “loved by God”, so some people have proposed that Luke wasn’t writing to a person at all – but rather to anyone God loves.
But the question at this point is: if others have written the story, using eyewitness accounts, why write another one? Won’t another version just confuse things? Are you saying those first accounts were wrong? Were they not good enough? If they were fine as they are, why not just make a copy of the other accounts, and send them to Theophilus?
Back in 2014-15 when we started serious discussions about starting a church, we faced some of the same questions that Luke might have been asked – there are a lot of other churches in the area: Why start another one?
In Luke 1:4, Luke tells us one reason why he is writing his own account: It’s not that the other writers were wrong, it’s that Luke has compassion for Theophilus and God has positioned Luke to reach him and encourage him with the certainty of the things about which you have been instructed.
Certainty. I’d love for you to highlight that word in your Bible. Underline it, circle it, draw arrows to it. That’s why this book exists.
The reason we started another church in Riverside, is because there are specific people here in this city that God loves, people he knows by name like Theophilus, who don’t yet have a clear view of who Jesus is. As a result, they don’t have a clear view of themselves or their community or their world. They may have influence, they might not. And while there are other churches around we could have joined, we believed God was positioning us to reach and encourage people in this city with a “new letter.”
But our goal, like Luke’s, was to lay out a compelling and accurate theology that would stir generous hospitality and bold proclamation among believers so that they would know for certain that God sees them and knows them.
The idea is that Theoliphus (and anyone else who reads Luke’s words) will come to a theological clarity about the things that have happened, that is that he will have a right view of God, right view of Jesus, right view of himself by the time he gets to the end. But more than that, what does Luke hope Theophilus will do with that clarity? He doesn’t say it outright, but I think the clue he gives us is our launch pad for VISION Sunday today.
Turn to the right in your Bibles through Luke, past John, and stop at Acts chapter 1. Here is how the book of Acts begins: Acts 1:1 - I wrote the first narrative, Theophilus, about all that Jesus began to do and teach until the day he was taken up, after he had given instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen. After he had suffered, he also presented himself alive to them by many convincing proofs appearing to them over a period of forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God.”
So, if you didn’t know this before or you are new to the Bible, the book of Acts is actually Luke Part 2. So look at verse 1 - what is the first narrative, the book of Luke all about?
What Jesus began to do and teach. Take your pen or highlighter and circle that word “began”. If the first book is about what Jesus began to do and teach, what would you suppose Part 2 is about? In the Lord of the Rings trilogy, the first movie is about what Frodo and his crew begin to do. Take the ring to mordor. The second movie is how they continue that quest. So, Luke at some point, puts together another narrative that we know as Acts which is about what Jesus continues to do today through the Church.
Acts begins with Jesus teaching about the kingdom and then being taken up, And at the very end of Luke’s narrative, Part 2, it says Paul stayed two whole years in his own rented house. And he welcomed all who visited him, proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance.
So, to recap, Luke is writing to Theophilus an orderly account of Jesus’ ministry, so that Theophilus will know for certain the truth about Jesus, AND, I think he uses the final sentences of his writing to summarize what the outcome of that certainty would be: Bold proclamation about the kingdom of God.
Here’s the point: I would like to suggest that built on a foundation of what Jesus began to do and teach while he was physically here on earth, and what he continues to do and teach through the Spirit-empowered local church, that verse is God’s vision for every Church member around the world. Proclaim the kingdom. Boldly teach about Jesus. Welcome people. Rinse and repeat.
Why? Because God’s purpose in the world is to display his glory so that we see, and value, and delight in it. And he works through the imperfect local church to accomplish that purpose.
That begins, like Luke does, with careful investigation. And this is the first of our core commitments here at River City:
Word & Prayer – Before we are committed to anything else, we are committed to God’s word as our authority for living, making decisions, interactions with each other including sexuality & gender, and it’s the door we walk through to know God and know our true selves. That commitment will be the least popular of them all. If we’re going to receive hostility or persecution, this will be the reason.
Prayer, then, is our lifeline. It’s where we go for strength and wisdom and repentance and lament and sorrow and gratitude. Singing fits right here. A lot of the songs we sing are written as prayers, and I really appreciate Nevin’s desire to pick songs that are written from God’s word or based on truth.
And despite how some of you feel about this, we will continue to pray together corporately. Last week, my son told me that when I asked you to gather up into groups of 3 or 4 to pray, he heard someone behind him say “Aw, I hate this part.”
Well, I get it. Praying out loud with strangers is not one of the Top 5 Ways to Grow Your Church by church growth strategists. They say we should work extra hard to make newcomers feel welcome and ease them in slowly; don’t do anything that makes new people uncomfortable. Well, Jesus certainly didn’t ease anyone into believing in him when he said, “if you want to follow me, pick up your cross.”
The Word and Prayer commitment is the foundation for everything else we do as a church.
As far as investigation goes:
- Just this past week, we finished our third round of Biblical Training classes, learning how to investigate more deeply the written word of God.
- Tomorrow evening, more than 2 dozen River City women will meet to begin deeply investigating the book of 1 Peter.
- Thursday evening, several men from River City and Cornerstone Church in Kalona will head out to Winterset Iowa for 4 days of the Wild at Heart men's retreat to investigate the things of God and better understand what it means to be a man called to love your wife and your family.
- And as a church body, we’re going to take the next two years to study the book of Luke, to carefully investigate the life and teachings of Jesus.
We’re going to do a lot of investigating. But if we only investigate, Satan couldn’t care less. If the only thing Luke did was carefully investigate the life of Jesus, we would not be holding this letter in our hands. Luke had a specific person in mind, with a name, someone God sees and loves and cares about, someone God sent Jesus to die for, who needs to know for certain that Jesus really lived and died for sinners, that he really rose again, that he really invites anyone to come to him to find rest, and so Luke put his investigation into action.
This is where our second commitment comes in: Community – After our commitment to God is our commitment to each other. We are not meant to be isolated. Yes, God saves individuals from their sin and knows you intimately as a person. But he has saved us into community, into family, and given us spiritual gifts for the encouragement and building up of others in the Church. So we commit to being ambassadors to each other here in this room as well as outside of it.
After our study of Luke, we’re going to take the following two years, starting in the Fall of 2023 to study Luke part 2 – the book of Acts. It’s the beginning of the Church. It’s really where River City starts, and we’re going to see what putting theology into practice can look like. And right there at the end is what we’re looking at: Paul stayed two whole years in his own rented house. And he welcomed all who visited him, proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance.
- You don’t have to have your own house or a big fancy house to be hospitable or generous.
- Proclaiming and teaching about the kingdom doesn’t only happen in the gathered setting of the church. It happens in homes, workplaces, playgrounds, parks, gas pumps, etc, wherever YOU the church are.
- Proclaiming boldly doesn’t mean you have to be a jerk about it. Hospitality and generosity and welcoming imply warmness. Joy. Peace. Grace. Cost. Without hindrance – I will not let the cost to me stop me from welcoming you in and talking about Jesus.
Three ways we are committed to community this year:
- In house – Community Groups. The on-ramp to the life of River City. You may attend on Sundays, come late, slip out early, and never speak to another person. But if you skip a Sunday, no one knows. You might be gone for 6 months and no one knows. That said, I completely understand why you would want to do that. You can come and go as you please. But oh are you missing out. There is nothing like having a tight-knit group of fellow believers who know you, they know your story, they can pray for you when things are rough, they can celebrate with you when things go well… it’s a beautiful thing. So I encourage you, if you’ve been here for a while and just don’t feel connected yet, or if you’re new and want to get to know people a little better, join a community group. I will warn you – they might involve prayer as well.
- It’s in these groups that we really get to practice the kind of welcoming hospitality and generosity that Luke writes about there at the end of Acts.
- A second part of this that we don’t often consider a community group is our youth. We really want to see something get off the ground for 6-8th graders this year. So I would love to see someone in or near Riverside willing to open up their home to Jr High students, or maybe you’d like to help lead but couldn’t host in your home. In either case, I would love to talk to you about this if you’re interested.
- HOW TO SIGN UP – Connect forms, website, or text or talk to me.
- In the neighborhood – We are tackling a big project around here that you heard a tiny bit about back before Summer Sabbath break, called a Neighborhood Assessment. We don’t believe that a church should just waltz into a community and tell everyone what they need, but that we should be good listeners. So I’ll invite Nate and Janene to come up here and briefly share more about what we’re doing with this project.
Nate and Janene – Nate and Janene have been part of the Leadership team since the beginning, and if you have questions about the finances or business side of the church, they are the ones you will want to talk to. They’ve been doing an awesome job of leading that department, as well as, you’ve seen Nate preaching from time to time, Janene does a lot behind the scenes in terms of administration and organization... But ever since we discovered this assessment tool a couple of years ago, you guys have really been on board with bringing it to Riverside.
- How does the assessment work? What are the steps?
- What will you do with the information you gather (what happens next)?
- Best case scenario, if all goes as planned, how does this affect Riverside short/long term (in other words, what’s the win)?
- You’re leading this with a small team, but what do you need from the rest of us?
Real people with real names know God sees them, knows them, loves them, and Jesus is a better Savior.
- Community In the world (or under Multiplication) – River City isn’t the church to end all churches. One of our goals is that in the next 3-4 years, God would raise up and call a group from River City to plant another church locally, nationally, or internationally. While we want to grow here in Riverside, we want you to invite your friends and neighbors to Sunday morning, to Groups, to events, we believe there are still other Theophilus’ with names – people God cares about and loves in other cities, other small towns, other countries that he is already calling some of you to reach.
- Maybe you’ll be called to be part of that, maybe not. But regardless, who is your Theophilus? Who is one person in your life God has uniquely positioned you to reach? Please pray about who that might be, about how you might reach them, and if God might be sending you to them.
And lastly, finances. We don’t even talk about finances all that often around here, quite honestly, simply because we haven’t had to. You have been so faithful in giving, that I’ve had to repent of my unbelief. I completely underestimated how giving would look. So thank you for answering the call to be faithful givers. If you’re new around here, we don’t pass an offering plate, but everything we do relies on your financial gifts. So, there is a box in the back where you can drop a check or cash, or you can give online at rivercityia.org/giving.
But the finances should match the vision, right? So, quickly, we’ve been putting aside money since our first year toward a future church plant. We’ve been putting aside money for a youth program, and we’ve been putting aside money for land and a building sometime in the future, and that fund currently sits at over $150,000. If you’d like to know more about finances, you can talk to Janene who was up here a bit ago.
WRAP THIS UP
The vision for River City Church is that over these next four years, we would have rock solid theology, and that we are the warmest, most welcoming and generous people that Riverside has ever seen until every man, woman and child in Riverside and the surrounding communities can’t go a day without running into someone who lives with a kingdom-focus. And that will be messy. It won’t be pretty. We’ll get things wrong. We’ll be generous and then be taken advantage of. We’ll be hospitable and things will get broken. We won’t be thanked. We may even end up hurting the very people we were trying to help. We’ll need to give and receive forgiveness. It will be costly. We’re going to read of people in Luke and Acts who were beaten and left for dead, who got thrown in prison, who got their heads lopped off on a whim, who were not given fair trials, and of course, who were crucified.
But it’s then that our rock solid theology will point us right back to a loving and compassionate God who held nothing back when it came to rescuing a world in sin. His was the greatest cost of all: He gave his one and only son so that any Theophilus who believes in him will not perish eternally separated from the Father, but have everlasting life. In his cost, we find rest for weary souls, we find hope for battered lives, we find rescue from the deepest darkest pits of addiction and despair. In that cost we find forgiveness for sin and grace for today.
I don’t know where the next 4 years will take us. I don’t know if we’ll be here in the school, or if we’ll have our own building. I don’t know if some of us will have moved on to other churches or other states, or even on to glory. I don’t know if we’ll be facing persecution or not, but we’re not going to be afraid of it, and our MISSION is to be ambassadors for the glory of God no matter where he leads us, not because we are trying to get on God’s good side or earn our salvation, but because we already have it in abundance.
Because as Philippians 2:13 says, “For it is God who is working in you both to will and to work according to his good purpose. Do everything without grumbling and arguing, so that you may be blameless and pure, children of God who are faultless in a crooked and perverted generation, among whom you shine like stars in the world, by holding firm to the word of life. Then [we] can boast in the day of Christ that we didn’t run or labor for nothing.”
Thank you to all of you who run and labor for the gospel, whether you do that here in our gathered worship or as we are scattered – Thank you!
Let’s pray (Spirit would you fill and gift and indwell and empower us to carry out this calling)