Tag Archives: Great Commission

Commissioned to do what?

Sermon given on Fathers Day, June 18, 2017

Scripture connections: NLT

Opening:  Psalm 46:1, 8-9

God is our refuge and strength,
always ready to help in times of trouble. . . .

Come, see the glorious works of the Lord:
See how he brings destruction upon the world.
He causes wars to end throughout the earth.
He breaks the bow and snaps the spear;
he burns the shields with fire.

 

Sermon connection:  Genesis 18:1-15

1The Lord appeared again to Abraham near the oak grove belonging to Mamre. One day Abraham was sitting at the entrance to his tent during the hottest part of the day. He looked up and noticed three men standing nearby. When he saw them, he ran to meet them and welcomed them, bowing low to the ground.

“My lord,” he said, “if it pleases you, stop here for a while. Rest in the shade of this tree while water is brought to wash your feet. And since you’ve honored your servant with this visit, let me prepare some food to refresh you before you continue on your journey.”

“All right,” they said. “Do as you have said.”

So Abraham ran back to the tent and said to Sarah, “Hurry! Get three large measures[a] of your best flour, knead it into dough, and bake some bread.” Then Abraham ran out to the herd and chose a tender calf and gave it to his servant, who quickly prepared it. When the food was ready, Abraham took some yogurt and milk and the roasted meat, and he served it to the men. As they ate, Abraham waited on them in the shade of the trees.

“Where is Sarah, your wife?” the visitors asked.

“She’s inside the tent,” Abraham replied.

10 Then one of them said, “I will return to you about this time next year, and your wife, Sarah, will have a son!”

Sarah was listening to this conversation from the tent. 11 Abraham and Sarah were both very old by this time, and Sarah was long past the age of having children.12 So she laughed silently to herself and said, “How could a worn-out woman like me enjoy such pleasure, especially when my master—my husband—is also so old?”

13 Then the Lord said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh? Why did she say, ‘Can an old woman like me have a baby?’ 14 Is anything too hard for the Lord? I will return about this time next year, and Sarah will have a son.”

15 Sarah was afraid, so she denied it, saying, “I didn’t laugh.”

But the Lord said, “No, you did laugh.”

Closing:  Psalm 46:10-11

10 “Be still, and know that I am God!
I will be honored by every nation.
I will be honored throughout the world.”

11 The Lord of Heaven’s Armies is here among us;
the God of Israel is our fortress.

 

Reflection: Commissioned to do what?

Back from annual conference, I find myself trying to sort out all the ideas, the testimonies, plus the Wesleyan and Biblical references shared by Bishop Farr and the other presenters—elders, licensed local pastors and laity. Annual conference is a state of Missouri’s UMC message with a strong thread of encouragement to continue following Jesus’s great commissioning as found in Matthew 28. We have read, heard, and discussed Matthew 28’s verses repeatedly, yet I always feel like I fail. I find myself asking: I am commissioned to do what?

The three scripture verses are really not long and complicated, but the message easily feels overwhelming:

18 Jesus came and told his disciples, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. 19 Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. 20 Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

 

This is what I/we are commissioned to do! How does one sort out these verses in the context of one’s life? The human demands upon us seem to take priority over the commission that Jesus delivered to the eleven Apostles. Yet, these words clearly tell all who believe, not just the eleven, to go and make disciples of all the nations, baptize them, and then teach them to obey all the commands.

This commission is not new, it is, was, and always will be God’s commission to his faithful. What if the Old Testament scripture of Abraham and Sarah were not part of the story? The apostles grew up in their faith based on the Old Testament stories, and Jesus prepared the apostles by using those ancient lessons of faith. Reading the scripture from Genesis, there are really two lessons that Jesus and the earliest disciples knew: hospitality and faith.

Abraham and Sarah were not young people: they were living examples of God’s chosen people who faced disappointments and trials throughout their lives, especially not having any children. Yet, they continued to follow God’s commandments and welcomed three strangers into their home and fed them:

One day Abraham was sitting at the entrance to his tent during the hottest part of the day. He looked up and noticed three men standing nearby. When he saw them, he ran to meet them and welcomed them, bowing low to the ground.

The scripture does not tell us that he recognized the three men, rather he just raced out and greeted them, offering them relief from the hottest part of the day.   Recognizing that the Lord was with them came afterwards, after the reality of the promise that Sarah would have a child a year later.

This story relates to Jesus’ teaching as written in the Gospel of Matthew 25:

34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. 36 I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.’

 

Abraham and Sarah carried out God’s commandment without question. They did not ask what was in it for them. They did not expect a reward for their efforts. They simply cared for three strangers, one being God who recognized their faithfulness. They lived their lives with a purpose, to love God and their neighbors—whether they knew them or not.

The Lord rewarded Abraham and Sarah’s faith with a miraculous birth. Despite their age, the habit of hospitality to the three strangers fulfilled God’s greatest commandment that Jesus continued to teach his apostles. God’s commandments and his commission were taught throughout history, and we are to continue that work.

Thank goodness the eleven apostles did take on the challenge outlined in scriptures because the task was divided up and carried out at very difficult times and lead to the continued work of all disciples since Jesus ascended into heaven. The work of the earliest followers has continued by the efforts of the disciples they taught carrying the commission forward through the generations and on around the globe.

The concern facing Christians today, though, is whether or not they are carrying out the commission as God intended. This brings us back to annual conference. This is the time when United Methodists are asked to be accountable. Are we honestly able to say that we are making disciples, baptizing them, and teaching them? Maybe even more critical is the question whether or not we are faithful to God?

Let’s look at one of the hymns, Lord, You Give the Great Commission (UMH 548). The verses remind each of us, both individually and as a congregation how we are to live faithfully:

Lord, you give the great commission:

“Heal the sick and preach the word.”

lest the church neglect its mission,

and the gospel go unheard,

help us witness to your purpose

with renewed integrity.

 

Granted we are not all gifted with the skills to heal as our medical professionals are, nor do we all preach. Yet we can do our best to share the responsibility of healing and preaching. Maybe we do what we can right here, beginning with prayers, but also with helping our neighbors when they are sick:

  • A simple runny nose may need a tissue and encouragement to blow,
  • Just listening to another’s bad day can help one heal; or
  • Taking a meal to someone who is not feeling well can also help heal the sick.

 

Lord, you call us to your service:

“In my name baptize and teach.”

that the world may trust your promise,

life abundant meant for each,

give us all new fervor,

draw us closer in community.

 

Each Christian can find ways to share the word whether by modeling the Christian lifestyle or sharing one’s belief in casual conversation. When others can see and learn how your faith is central to your life, then you are fulfilling the Great Commission.

Lord, you make the common holy;

“This my body, this my blood.”

let us all, for earth’s true glory,

daily lift life heavenward,

asking that the world around us

share your children’s liberty.

 

The acts of piety that John Wesley taught his followers are practices that keep us grounded in our faith and are ways to teach others about Jesus’ life and death for our sins. When we believe Jesus died for us, then we live anticipating “life heavenward” and share the sense of freedom faith provides.

Lord, you show us love’s true measure;

“Father, what they do, forgive.”

yet we hoard as private treasure

all that you so freely give.

may your care and mercy lead us

to a just society.

 

Our news is flooded by evil, and again this week living in an open society challenges our Christian mindset. Yet, we have a responsibility to care for our neighbors regardless of earthly boundaries. To live faithfully, offer prayers for God’s intervention, for his healing, and for forgiveness, too. We cannot judge, we can only do what we can. The concern for each of us is to determine whether we are doing whatever we can. Are we praying individually and in community for God to guide and to protect us?

Lord, you bless with words assuring:

“I am with you to the end.”

faith and hope and love restoring,

may we serve as you intend,

and amid the cares that claim us,

hold in mind eternity.

 

This final verse summarizes the value of our Christian faith. We have hope, and hope makes it possible to manage all the earthly challenges that can so easily defeat us. This is the good news and we must share it. How is found in the hymn’s refrain:

With the Spirit’s gifts empower us

for the work of ministry.

 

Each of us has been given special gifts that we can use to fulfill God’s commission. Certainly it is not easy to know what gifts we can use and when to use them all the time, but we are called by God to do whatever we can to make disciples of Christ for the transformation of the world.

The questions must be asked of ourselves and of our church itself:

  • Are you/we doing all that you/we can?
  • Are you/we living faithful lives as Abraham and Sarah did?
  • Are you/we spreading Jesus’ message as the Apostles did?
  • Are you/we following the very practices that John Wesley expected to continue living faithfully and doing all that you/we can to make disciples of Christ for the transformation of the world?

 

During Annual Conference, the stories of the different ways churches are doing all they are shared. The stories range from awe-inspiring to just every day routines. These Methodists know their Christian purpose and have found ways to be faithful and to feed the hungry, heal the sick, clothe the naked and more, because that is what we are commissioned to do.

Let’s watch testimonies shared at conference and then consider how our church is fulfilling the Great Commission:

[Links to the videos:

https://vimeo.com/channels/moac17/page:5 – https://vimeo.com/channels/moac17/page:5

Begin with the Orange tee shirt, then the young boy, and close with the lady.]

Closing prayer:

 

Dear God,

We hear your call to Christian service.

We hear the church’s reports.

We hear the testimonies of the faithful.

 

Help us to hear your call in our lives.

Help us to find energy in serving.

Help us to love one another.

 

Show us your vision for our community.

Show us the ways and means to live faithfully.

Show us the joy that comes from serving.

 

Wipe away our weariness.

Erase our judging minds.

And renew our spirits

 

We accept the commission

To make disciples of Christ

For the transformation of the world.

 

In your holy name, God,

In your son Jesus Christ’s name,

And with the power of the Holy Spirit, amen.

 

Supplemental handout for the sermon:

The Great Commission Scripture from Matthew 28:18-20

18 Jesus came and told his disciples, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. 19 Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. 20 Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

 

Jesus’ sermon from Matthew 25:34-36

34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. 36 I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.’

 

John Wesley’s Means of Grace

[Accessed on June 17, 2017 at http://www.umc.org/how-we-serve/the-wesleyan-means-of-grace ]

Courageous and forward-leaning mission congregations practice spiritual disciplines. Our vital work is a spiritual adventure based in John Wesley’s means of grace. John Wesley taught that God’s grace is unearned and that we were not to be idle waiting to experience grace but we are to engage in the means of grace. The means of grace are ways God works invisibly in disciples, hastening, strengthening; and confirming faith so that God’s grace pervades in and through disciples. As we look at the means of grace today, they can be divided into works of piety and the works of mercy.

Works of Piety

  • Individual Practices– reading, meditating and studying the scriptures, prayer, fasting, regularly attending worship, healthy living, and sharing our faith with others
  • Communal Practices– regularly share in the sacraments, Christian conferencing (accountability to one another), and Bible study

Works of Mercy

  • Individual Practices– doing good works, visiting the sick, visiting those in prison, feeding the hungry, and giving generously to the needs of others
  • Communal Practices– seeking justice, ending oppression and discrimination (for instance Wesley challenged Methodists to end slavery), and addressing the needs of the poor

Making disciples, growing vital congregations and transforming the world is part of a spiritual adventure that is empowered and guided by the Holy Spirit as churches engage in the means of grace. Spiritual goals are accomplished by connecting the means of grace with proven vital church practices such as planning, strategic direction, prioritization, clear focus and alignment.

Lyrics for Lord, You Give the Great Commission (UMH 548)

Lord, you give the great commission:

“Heal the sick and preach the word.”

lest the church neglect its mission,

and the gospel go unheard,

help us witness to your purpose

with renewed integrity.

 

Lord, you call us to your service:

“In my name baptize and teach.”

that the world may trust your promise,

life abundant meant for each,

give us all new fervor,

draw us closer in community.

 

Lord, you make the common holy;

“This my body, this my blood.”

let us all, for earth’s true glory,

daily lift life heavenward,

asking that the world around us

share your children’s liberty.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lord, you show us love’s true measure;

“Father, what they do, forgive.”

yet we hoard as private treasure

all that you so freely give.

may your care and mercy lead us

to a just society.

 

Lord, you bless with words assuring:

“I am with you to the end.”

faith and hope and love restoring,

may we serve as you intend,

and amid the cares that claim us,

hold in mind eternity.

 

With the Spirit’s gifts empower us

for the work of ministry.

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Early Christians adapted: Can today’s

given on Sunday, May 3, 2015:

Fads come and go: a new look, a new food, a new toy, a new technique, a new design, or a new hobby. As much as we do not want to admit it, we all go through the experience of trying out a fad. Looking at the big picture of our lives, the fads usually do not damage our lives, so we tend to shrug our shoulders and look past different fads.

One of the more recent fads that might baffle some of us is the trend of wearing two different colored socks—one on one foot and the other color on the opposite foot. When I first started seeing it, I would quietly go up to a student and mention it and ask if they had a difficult morning. They all thought I was nuts.

The origin of fashion fads may not be very clear, but some fads do have a base in a scientific study or an observation that became noteworthy and thus publicized as the newest way to improve or to do something. I wonder if the earliest Christians were perceived as a fad.

Consider this: the Jewish people were well entrenched in their way of life. The structure for the week had worked as well as anything else for them. The successful businessmen would not need to see anything change because it might upset the profitable work they had created.

Everybody knew what was expected of him or her. Men ran the business or the farm. Women had to maintain the house; kids even understood they had a role in the culture, and the rhythm of life preserved the standards they knew.

Oddly the Jewish culture was centered on the faith that waited for a new leader. The leaders of that faith kept the story well taught, but when Jesus was born and grew into the adult minister that our generation now identifies as the leader, the Jewish culture could not accept it as anything more than a fad.

Today is a first Sunday of the month, and we celebrate communion. We certainly do not see this ritual as a fad, but did the ancient Jewish families just see it as a fad or did they quickly embrace the practice as evidence of their commitment to God?

Have you ever wondered if you would have said Christianity was just a fad and ignored it; or would you have joined the movement committed to its mission?

As the weeks after the crucifixion continued, the earliest believers dealt with an enormous set of challenges. First, the leader was gone after only three years of ministry. Who, if anybody, would take over?

Then, if Jesus was executed, was it even safe to be Christian? How would they live what they believed if they feared for their lives? Do they hide? Do they run away from their homes? Do they think that it was just a fad and return to the old ways?

Today’s scripture gives us insight into the transition early followers made into a new Christian lifestyle. First, some did return to the old ways of the Jewish faith. Some gave up all their possessions and joined into communal living arrangements, many located on the northern coast of Africa.   These newest Christians were expecting the second coming of Jesus any moment. And then there were others who openly lived the new beliefs regardless of their future.

For those who continued openly living their beliefs, Christianity was no fad. The old ways were re-evaluated under the lessons Jesus taught. The new leaders were Jesus’ handpicked and trained disciples. They did not run away and hide, they began the work Jesus commissioned them after Jesus’ resurrection:

16 Then the eleven disciples left for Galilee, going to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him—but some of them doubted!

18 Jesus came and told his disciples, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. 19 Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations,[b] baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. 20 Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

The earliest Christians quickly had to adapt to the change they had witnessed. The work started and the ‘fad’ of Christianity became a solid faith system that has transformed the world.

The earliest Christians had to face persecution, to demonstrate God’s new covenant: Love one another. The crucifixion could not shut down the simplicity of living the Christian lifestyle. The results were fruitful and the ‘fad’ was no longer just the latest crazy idea.

The love that is defined in today’s scripture from 1 John 4 and even included in the gospel of John so dramatically changed the faith practices that it made a difference to every culture. Loving one another supersedes all other laws. It is adaptable to all cultures. It can be flexible and it can tackle enormous disasters or the smallest of paper cuts.

These qualities have caused the earliest Christians to spread the word about how much God loves us, and how that love is demonstrated in all the different ways we love one another. Christianity has never been a fad, and the adaptability has made it grow exponentially around the earth.

Today, we are locked into a routine that has boxed us in as Christians much less as a Christian community.   The small rural churches are struggling to meet the ever-changing culture around them. Are we able to adapt God’s law to the daily world in which we live today?

Are we able to be honest about the changes in the community? Are we able to identify the needs within the community? Are we clear about what the church is doing or can do or should be doing to demonstrate love in action? Are we able to share the story in ways that all neighbors young and old can understand?

The scripture in 1 John 4 is very clear:

  • 7“Dear friends, let us continue to love one another; for love comes from God.
  • 10This is real love—not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins.
  • 12God lives in us, and his love is brought to full expression in us. 13And God has given us his spirit as proof that we live in him and he in us.
  • 16We know how much God loves us, and we have put our trust in his love.

This is the foundation for the Christian faith. No matter what rules or organizational structure is placed upon a church or a denomination, God’s gift of love as demonstrated through the life and death and resurrection of his son. Are we satisfied to leave the story just like that or are we going to do whatever we can to share the story but maybe more importantly show God’s love?

The scripture from 1 John 4 continues with a few more clear directives:

  • 19We love each other because he loved us first.
  • 20 . . . if we don’t love people we can see, how can we love God, whom we cannot see?

The truth about what we are doing can be painful and it can make us feel as though we are guilty of not fulfilling our promise to God. Christianity was no fad, and the thousands of years since the crucifixion the church has continued to adapt to the cultural changes.

Regrettably, I am afraid that many of the suggested changes for today’s churches are being ignored as though they are just a fad. We must evaluate what the church is doing, what it represents, and then design the best practices the church can do to keep Christianity meeting the needs of the community right now in 2015 and into the future, not the past.

As May scurries past us, we need to equip ourselves for making disciples of Christ. Can this church adapt to the culture around it in order to share God’s love?

The gospel of John 15 explains the proper way to prune a grapevine in order to provide the best fruit. We have heard that message year after year, but are we being honest about how strong our vine is here? That fourth verse spells it out:

Remain in me, and I will remain in you. For a branch cannot produce fruit if it is severed from the vine, and you cannot be fruitful unless you remain in me.

The needs of the community provides for the direction of the church’s ministry. The outreach of the church is our personal responsibility. This month is one to evaluate and to plan for a new year. We must remember the eighth verse, too: When you produce much fruit, you are my true disciples. This brings great glory to my Father.

We are tasked to make disciples of Christ for the transformation of the world and we know this world has many needs. The Christian faith was no fad, but it takes adaptability in order to continue the work God assigned to each and every one of us.

Closing prayer

Dear Loving Father,

Thank you for the gift of your son

And even the meaningful ritual of communion.

At these times, may we reflect that love

Right here in our community

So others may come to know your love, too.

Guide us in looking for ways to share the word.

Guide us in working together to help others.

Guide us in the decisions as to what is best

For the community and for the church

As we work to adapt in ways to share your love.

May all that we do show others the love

That transpires all struggles in our lives. –Amen

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Easy or Hard?

given on Sunday, June 2, 2013–based on preparing for Annual Conference where the theme will be “Praying Hands and Dirty Fingernails

Praying Hands & Dirty Fingernails:  Easy or Hard?

 

Five days from now Annual Conference convenes.  I recognize that the value of this meeting seems distant, unimportant, or maybe even detrimental in some ways.  Yet, as United Methodists, the Annual Conference is a time to review, to be accountable, to renew each church’s commitment to the Greatest Commandment and the Great Commission.  The theme this year is “Praying Hands & Dirty Fingernails.”

Stop and think about that combination of images for just a moment . . .(pause) . . .and now put yourself into the picture.  Do you have praying hands?  Do you have dirty fingernails?  Do you have both praying hands and dirty fingernails?  Or, sadly, do you have neither?

John Wesley did not separate these two images; he felt it was one in the same.  He also developed the structure to keep members accountable to their Christian responsibilities.

Annual Conference is all about God’s greatest commandment and his commission.  Annual conference is Wesley’s method of accountability to God.  Bishop Schnase’s leadership keeps our Missouri churches on task, and this year an added element of preparation appeared in our inboxes—“21 Days of Prayer.”

This three-week study came to my attention a little later than it should have because I was closing out the school year.  My focus was simply to make sure the students graduated and then to look forward.  My secular world collided with my spiritual world, even though I believe they work together to fulfill my Wesleyan purpose.

As school wound down and I cleaned up a room and moved into a new position, I began to let go of the school year and look ahead to the new church year—at least the conference’s church year.  I began reading the materials that are sent out and signing up for the various workshops and projects so I could be prepared.  And, I stopped to read the “21 Days of Prayer.”

First, I must apologize for my lack of pastoral responsibility.  The past two weeks, I should have shared this study with you and ready to introduce the final week of the study today.  But, with that aside, let me share some of the phenomenal words that are in this study.  Rev. Jenn Klein, from the Country Club United Methodist Church in Kansas City, wrote the study based on the Bishop’s book, Remember the Future:  Praying for the Church and Change.

All Christians are to follow one simple commandment that I have repeated over the last five years:

“‘Love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence.’ This is the most important, the first on any list. But there is a second to set alongside it: ‘Love others as well as you love yourself.’  –Matthew 22:37-39, the Message

Following this commandment should make life so simple, but in our world, it seems nothing can be simple.  And Rev. Klein wrote it in just a slightly more expansive manner for the study:

“The Great Commandment tells us to love the Lord our God with our full selves; with our mind (intellect), heart (emotions), soul (intuition and divine instinct) and body (physical).  We are also to love others as ourselves.”

Her expanded explanation for each element–mind, heart, soul, and body—makes the commandment more than a statement; it makes it an internalized, comprehensive action—a lifestyle.

Over the past several years, I have tried to describe how being a Christian is a lifestyle.  I know you recognize that idea, but I simply must state it again.  A lifestyle is a way of living that comes automatically; there is no need to write out a specific plan of action or to prepare for the day’s event consciously to live as a Christian.  A lifestyle reflects who you are down to your innermost living cell.

Of course, a Christian lifestyle appears out of sync in today’s society, at least on the surface.  We are living side by side with a secular world that demands more and more un-Christian like behaviors.  The demands from our work world push our ethical standards to a point we become bitter, angry, and stressed not only mentally but physically.  We reach a point that we want to just quit everything because it seems we are demanded to live in a manner that does not match our beliefs.

The Bishop’s book acknowledges this, and then provides a Wesleyan viewpoint to help us continue maintaining a Christian lifestyle:

John Wesley modeled acts of piety and acts of mercy and taught that both are essential to our life in Christ.  The words piety and mercy sound curiously quaint today, perhaps even stirring negative responses.  Piety brings to mind self righteous, sanctimonious arrogance.  And no one wants to be at the mercy of anyone else.  Mercy connotes weakness, dependence, surrender.

Personally, I agree with the Bishop.  Today’s world has twisted the concepts we were taught in the 20th century, even clear back to the 18th century when Wesley began his ministry.

Yet we are living in the 21st century.  We cannot change that fact and we seem to have made many adjustments to the secular lifestyle that suits us.  The problem is that we are not making the adjustments in our Christian world to maintain the Wesleyan standards for the disciples of Jesus Christ that we profess we are.

Quoting again from the Bishop’s book:

Sometimes we act as if our living in Christ and leading the church require us to emphasize piety to the exclusion of mercy or to choose ministries of mercy at the expense of congregational vitality.  This presents an unhealthy and dangerous dichotomy.  It forces us to ask ourselves.  “Which kind of Christians are we?”  Are we those who seek a deeper spirituality in the changed heart that comes through worship, sacraments, prayer, the Scriptures and fellowship?  Or those who pour ourselves out through ministries of service and justice, helping people to rebuild their lives, and offering hope to a hurting world?

Is not that true?  His words sting; and I want to feel better.  Unfortunately no one can force anyone else to do something they are unwilling to do.  It takes modeling.  It takes valuing.  It takes understanding.  It takes God to open our hearts, our minds, and our hands to maintain a Christian lifestyle.  It takes God to do the same in non-Christians, too.

Here again comes a quandary:  How can our dwindling, aging populations continue to develop vital congregations?  Acts of piety and acts of mercy may be the actions Wesley demanded, and those same two types of acts are still needed today.  The Bishop quotes Martyn Atkins, the general secretary of the British Methodist church who says,

“Acts of piety and acts of mercy are like two wings of a bird; without either one, we cannot fly.  . . .  Following Christ involves praying hands and dirty fingernails.”

Yes, there is the theme of annual conference.  The Bishop connects Wesley’s images of a Christian lifestyle with this explanation:

We can’t evangelize hungry people without giving them food, and offering food alone never completes the task God gives us.  . . . vital congregations include not only a focus on the means by which people grow in Christ together but also an emphasis on ministries that reach into the community and world to serve in Christ’s name.  We cannot separate the two.  These feed each other.  Every faithful and fruitful congregation practices both acts of piety and acts of mercy.

That last line sets up the accountability tools.  To remain a vital congregation, an honest evaluation needs to be completed.  The checklist is simply the acts of piety and the acts of mercy written down and then logged by the congregation.  What proof does the church right here, right now have to show God that his Commandment is being fulfilled and his Commission is the congregation’s driving force.

Over the next two weeks, I challenge each one of you to create such a document.  List the acts of piety and write down what you do regularly that Wesley would approve.  Follow that with the list of acts of mercy you support or do personally.  Be honest.  I know the economy is often a limiting force, or maybe it is physical health that creates some limit.  But unless we can demonstrate our Christian standards, we must admit we are not a vital congregation and we have work to do.

Here is the first step during the conference week:  Prayer.  Make a conscious decision to pray for the church.  One of the different types of prayers available to us is the Prayer Knots.  Most of us would equate this with the Catholics’ use of a rosary, but there are some differences.  With your bulletin, you have a set of 8 knots on a cord.  Each knot is for a specific question as listed in the bulletin.  Add this prayer format to what you typically do in order to be more focused in your talks with God.

  • Knot One:           The first is this,
  • Knot Two:           You shall love the Lord your God
  • Knot Three:         with all your heart,
  • Knot Four:                  and with all your soul,
  • Knot Five:                  and with all your mind,
  • Knit Six:                  and with all your strength,
  • Knot Seven:         The second is this,
  • Knot Eight:         you shall love your neighbor as yourself.

Rev. Klein offers a few other questions to consider after repeating this prayer twice:

  1. What word or image grasps your attention?  This is God’s word for you this week.
  2. What response, thoughts, insights were stirred within?
  3. How have you experienced the love of God?
  4. How might you be able to help another experience God’s love?

For five years, the one concern voiced over and over is how can we do that when we are so tired and so few.  Over these five years, I have seen the congregation’s attendance go up and down.  I know some swells are seasonal, as are some drops.  Some are temporary; some are not.

Over these five years, the acts of piety are maintained during worship, but seldom outside of that one hour.  The acts of mercy follow traditions primarily, but the traditions change.  New acts tried may fail first, but tried again may thrive.  The old acts continue, but do they grow?

During the next two weeks, use the prayer knots or cord and evaluate the vitality of your own faith, but also the vitality of our congregation.  It is not easy, but it is necessary.  In two weeks, let’s have an honest conversation that identifies a purpose and a goal for keeping the healthy balance of the past with the present.  A purpose and a goal that create a vital congregation.

Dear God,

Thank you for providing our congregation

the strength of history and the durability of now.

Guide us as we pray for our congregation,

our community, and our members.

Help us to be honest with our evaluations.

Help us to reflect upon the words

from the Bishop, Rev. Klein, Wesley,

and so many of your other disciples.

Use our time apart to build us up

so we can continue to keep your commandment

and to carry out your commission.  –Amen

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Rule No. 2: Do good. Based on Rueben P. Job’s Three Simple Rules

given on Sunday, September 16, 2012–the third sermon in a 4-sermon series.

Scripture reference:  Matthew 25:31-46

“Do good.”  These two little words seem so rational, so logical; yet these two words have completely propelled John Wesley’s theology to a worldwide movement of caring Christians for over four centuries.  Parents have long used a similar warning to children:  “Be good.”  Yet, the idea that is ‘rule no. 2’ rather gnaws at me.  Why is it the second and not the first rule?

Looking back at rule no. 1: “Do no harm.”  I returned to the Book of Discipline: 2008, paragraph 103Remember the list of what not to do?  The list is rather lengthy and incorporates almost every vice one could possibly have:

  • taking the name of God in vain;
  • profaning the day of the Lord, either by doing ordinary work. . .or by buying or selling;
  • slaveholding;
  • fighting, quarreling, brawling, brother going to law with brother, returning evil for evil, or railing for railing, the using of many words in buying or selling [does that mean false advertising];
  • buying or selling goods that have not paid the duty [taxes];
  • giving or taking things on usury, i.e., unlawful interest [pawn brokers, pay day loans, etc.];
  • uncharitable or unprofitable conversation. . .;
  • doing to others aw we would not they should do unto us;
  • doing what we know is not for the glory of God, as [and then the next list is listed equal to the above]:
  • putting on of gold and costly apparel;
  • taking such diversions as cannot be used in the name of the Lord Jesus [Does this mean methods of relaxing such as gambling, pornography, etc.—there is no defining explanation provided];
  • singing or reading. . .which do not tend to the knowledge or love of God;
  • softness and needless self-indulgence;
  • laying up treasure upon earth; and
  • borrowing . . . or taking . . . without probability of paying for them.

Such a list leaves very little left to say, doesn’t it?  Yet that is a list of what not to do because it causes harm—according on the standards of the 1700’s culture.  Does it apply to today’s culture, too?

This is where the switch from rule no. 1 to rule no. 2 seems to make the most sense for today’s society.  Many of us can look at that list and confirm that we are not doing harm, yet there are a few entries that I find make me squirm a bit.

For instance, the blue laws long prevented our society from buying on Sunday.  The blue laws kept not just a few items from being purchased, but all the stores were closed on Sunday because it truly was deemed the Lord’s Day.  Then the blue laws were repealed.  Stores began to open, first the grocery stores with all the liquor covered up.  Then the other stores began opening for a few hours, and now—now almost every store for every product is open for business as usual seven days a week.

I squirm because I lived through that change in our society.  I squirm because I shop on Sundays, too.  Am I doing harm?  Am I doing good?

Social standards can certainly challenge us in maintaining our own personal standards.  John Wesley ignored social standards and drove forward doing good.  We can hear his quote echoing in our head when just one phrase is heard:  do all the good you can.

Looking at the second rule’s explanation in the Book of Discipline, Wesley’s standards for his culture still can apply to our standards today:

By doing good; by being in every kind merciful after their power; as they have opportunity, doing good of every possible sort, and, as far as possible, to all men:

The general notes continue outlining the various methods of doing good.  The words echo the scripture in Matthew 25:  . . .by giving food to the hungry, by clothing the naked, by visiting or helping them that are sick or in prison.  Compare them to the words from Matthew 25:35–

I was hungry and you fed me,
I was thirsty and you gave me a drink,
I was homeless and you gave me a room,
I was shivering and you gave me clothes,
I was sick and you stopped to visit,
I was in prison and you came to me.’

Wesley went straight to the words of Jesus to explain exactly what doing good is.  Then he went to the next phase of doing good.  He expanded on meeting the needs of the body to meeting the needs of the souls:  . . . instructing, reproving, or exhorting all we have any intercourse with [or interaction with]; trampling under foot that enthusiastic doctrine that “we are not to do good unless our hearts be free of it.”

Doing good also means teaching about how to do good.  Part of our responsibility is to continue teaching about God and the New Covenant.  We are to find ways of sharing with others how God’s grace is available for everybody.  We are to encourage the spreading of the Word.

I think the troubling phrase is that final clause:  trampling under foot that enthusiastic doctrine that “we are not to do good unless our hearts be free to it.”  I have struggled to understand that clause.  Remember these are words from the 18th century that Wesley wrote himself.  Language evolves continually.  Reading it over and over again, looking for better understanding, I finally caught it:  “we are not to do good unless our hearts be free to it.”

         Suddenly it made sense to me.  Wesley wants us to take self out of the equation.  If we do not feel, in our hearts, that a plea for doing something is not in line with what God taught us, then we are simply not to do it.

Doing good sometimes means not doing something, especially if it is not in God’s teachings.  If we do not find a doctrine to fit into God’s commandment to love one another, then we are to trample it under our feet.  We should speak out against it so others do no harm or are not harmed.

Yet Wesley did not stop.  He wanted us to consider different ways to do good and this is a challenge for us in the 21st global, technological, instant society.  He proposed that we do good by:

  • employing them [the faithful] preferably to others; buying [from the faithful]; and . . . helping each other in business;
  • By all possible diligence and frugality, that the gospel be not blamed.
  • By running with patience. . . ; denying themselves, and taking up their cross daily; submitting to bear the reproach of Christ . . . for the Lord’s sake.

Doing good takes discipline.  Doing good takes a strong set of shoulders to handle all the ridicule and put downs that others may throw at us.  Doing good takes practice until it becomes an automatic response, an internalized lifestyle.

Mother Teresa was certainly a living example of rule no. 2:  Do good.  While sitting at the Cowan Restaurant in Washington, MO, we discovered the words written up on the wall visible to all who entered the door:

“People are often unreasonable and self-centered.

     Forgive them anyway.


If you are kind, people may accuse you of ulterior motives.

     Be kind anyway.


If you are honest, people may cheat you.

     Be honest anyway.


If you find happiness, people may be jealous.

     Be happy anyway.


The good you do today may be forgotten tomorrow.

     Do good anyway.


Give the world the best you have and it may never be enough.

     Give your best anyway.


For you see, in the end, it is between you and God.

It was never between you and them anyway.”

Consider how many individuals can see those words any one day, any one week, any one month, or even any one year.  A few words that demonstrate one’s solid belief system can simply be doing good, instructing others in God’s grace, in the Golden Rule, and in discipleship.

  • Doing good never grows old.
  • Doing good is easy—especially if not doing harm.
  • Doing good is a lifestyle.
  • Doing good is mirroring Christ.
  • Doing good is even a small, tiny task.
  • Doing good is in every hug, every greeting, every morsel we cook for others.
  • Doing good is recycling and caring for the land.
  • Doing good is hosting others in good, clean fun.
  • Doing good is as big as you want to make it or as small as one simple pat on the back.

Last week I shared how our director spoke with our students about how just doing a tiny bit of good somewhere, somehow meant we were doing our part.

In this 21st century society, doing good should be simple.  Doing good in our homes, our communities, our counties, our states, and our country is now doing good anywhere around this globe.  We do not exist in isolation any more.  We exist, shoulder to shoulder, with any one individual anywhere on this globe thanks to our instant communication.

As we depart today, take Jesus’ commission seriously.  Practice Wesley’s methods of doing no harm and doing good.  We must understand that these two rules are critical in every setting there is.  We must consciously practice them in order to transform the world.           The exciting thing is we know that we can do anything with God.  Paul knew it too:  Philippians 4:13—I can do everything through him who gives me strength.  (NRSV)   No matter how small or how seemingly unimportant one act is, with the power of the Holy Spirit, the potential for transformation is infinite.

Dear Omnipotent, All-knowing God,

You know our every action and thought. 

You know each one’s pain and sorrow.

Guide us to do good in any way that we can.

Guide us to see how doing good transforms.

Thank you for your grace, your love, and your forgiveness.

Thank you for sending your son Jesus Christ to show us the way.

Thank you for filling us up with the Holy Spirit so we can do good.

Thank you for your servant John Wesley who opened hearts, minds,

         and hands to do good.

Thank you, too, for Mother Teresa and others in this world today

         who simply do.  –Amen.

 

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Call to Action: What would John Wesley do?

given on Sunday, April 29, 2012

Special introduction:  This blog entry is more of a reflection and sharing of Missouri’s UMC Bishop testimony and the Call to Action which is currently under review at the denomination’s General Conference.  This is not a comfortable discussion, but probably necessary in view of the state of the United Methodist church today.  These thoughts are based on several readings done this week from the Bishop’s blog, from the UM Reporter, the Call to Action website, etc.  Hopefully this will keep readers in prayer for the structure of our church.

 

Scriptural connection:

Bishop Schnase’s Fruitful Practices guide clergy and laity to understand the elements of a vital congregation.  They are foundational pieces.  The Call to Action is a ‘polity’ issue that is hard to understand.  The UMC has several layers of leadership and most members are unaware of the roles and responsibilities of the leadership.  The Bishop references all arguments directly to the Bible.  Today’s reading is one related to the Call to Action.  Hear the words and pray for our church:

[The verses are related to the Bible Study over the Call to Action.  Connect them while reading through the scriptures.]

1.  A call to make disciples for the transformation of the world

  • I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.  –Philippians 3:12

2.  A call for spiritual renewal

  • I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.  Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God.  –Romans 12:1-2

3.  A call for more turnaround spiritual leaders

  • Perhaps you have come to [this position] for just such a time as this.  –Esther 4:14

4.  A call to grow more vital congregations

  • That day about three thousand persons were added.  They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.  Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done . . . All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need.  Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, the broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts; praising God and having the goodwill of all the people.  And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.  –Acts 2:41-47

5.  A call for transformative change

  • The spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free.  –Luke 4:18

6.  A call for bold leadership to transform the world

  • The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ.

 –Ephesians 4:11-12

7.  A call to the General Conference for transformational changes

  • As [God] has sent me, so I send you.  –John 20:21

The sermon/reflection:

For the past four years, I have become very aware of the “polity” of the United Methodist Church.  This topic is not an easy one and certainly does not lend itself to casual conversation or motivation to do what the latest mailing encourages us to do.  I can only wonder what John Wesley would think about the many levels of administration the church currently has.

How can the polity of our denomination have anything to do with the commission!  Remember, we are called to make disciples of Christ for the transformation of the world.  The polity is the organizational structure of the denomination.  Everything is covered in the Book of Discipline.  This is not what Wesley envisioned for the church.  He was believed doing was ministry, and having all this organizational structure would be seen as a handicap in doing the Lord’s work.

Frustrations over the organization do not help us move forward in our own ministry either.  The Call to Action resulted from a thorough evaluation of the entire denomination done by an outside group (can’t find the name).  After reading through the blog, 30 Days of Preparation by Bishop Schnase, I realized that the Call to Action is about carrying out the Great Commission.

The Bishop is passionate about his faith and how important that his commission is.  In the blog, on Day 16, the Bishop shares his personal testimony.  It is so key to understanding his passion for God, but also for the passion he has for the denomination.  Therefore, I invite you to listen to his testimony and ask yourself what Wesley would say.

         I would not be a Christian today if it were not for The United Methodist Church.

         That’s a rather bold statement. I’ve only recently come to realize this as I reflect on the formative events of my early discipleship. If not for the particular approach to theology and practice expressed in The United Methodist Church, I would likely have followed a path of rejecting faith.

         I remember an experience that followed the 1972 earthquake in Nicaragua that killed more than 5,000. I was 15 years old, and several of my friends were active in a charismatic Christian house group. They were reading The Late Great Planet Earth about signs of the end times. I saw an adult leader clap her hands and praise God for the earthquake because it was a sign that we were one step closer to the end! I was outraged. I was so furious about “Christianity” that I told my pastor I could no longer be a Christian if that’s what Christians believe. He patiently listened and offered alternative views of those obscure apocalyptic passages. He spoke of God’s grace and talked about what our church was doing for the people of Nicaragua and how I could help. If the only expression of Christianity open to me at that age had been that group of friends, I would not be a Christian today.

         That was one of several experiences that opened the door to the spiritual life when other doors closed to me. My girlfriend was active in a fundamentalist Baptist church. The role of women and the attitude toward women that she accepted offended my common sense even before it contradicted my biblical understanding. At our United Methodist church, women chaired committees and taught from the pulpit, and I could not imagine belonging to a community that excluded women. Later, a classmate committed suicide. Hundreds of students attended the funeral in a fundamentalist church where the pastor spoke about how we should all feel happy because Martin was in a better place. He told us not to cry, because God has a reason for everything he does. He suggested that Martin had done things that caused God to do this. The image of a punitive God that causes suffering and the inability of the pastor to address the real grief in the room made me cringe. The experience sent me back to my pastor. If this was Christianity, I wanted no part of it. A month later, Martin’s father killed himself.

         There were branches of the Christian family that surrounded me as a teenager that were militantly anti-science and anti-intellectual, and that forced people to choose between the Bible and evolution as if these were fundamentally incompatible. I could not have followed Christ if it meant giving up my intellectual curiosity.

         There were branches that were perfunctory in their liturgy, void of music and song, and entirely intellectual in their approaches, and the emptiness left me cold. Some of my friends were strict Nazarenes, and they could not go to movies, watch TV, or attend plays. Their isolation from society would not reach me.

         There were denominational families that prohibited birth control, and these made no sense to me. And there were churches that railed against gays and lesbians in hateful and hurtful ways, and I could not belong to a community like that.

         There are many theological disagreements and clashing perspectives in The United Methodist Church about homosexuality, but I’m glad to belong to a church that does not avoid the hard conversations and the complex issues. Sincere people of faith strongly disagree, but I’m glad we say that homosexuals are people of sacred worth, loved by God like every person on earth.

         United Methodism’s theology of grace, varieties of worship, emphasis on inner holiness and social witness, global vision, hymnody, our ability to hold together head and heart, our respect for women and men, our openness to people of all nations and ethnicities, our vision to transform the world through audacious projects like Imagine No Malaria—these form an expression of Christianity, a way of following Jesus, that can reach people that no other faith expression is able to reach. I’m not saying our approach is better than all the others; I’m merely suggesting that people respond to the truth of Christ through our expression of faith who cannot respond to other expressions. This form of faith and practice reached me, and without The United Methodist Church I suspect I would never have become a Christian.

         The goal of the Call to Action is not to save the denomination or the institutions of the church. I’m offended by people who accuse me and others involved in this work of merely working for institutional survival. I have poured thirty years into the work of ministry in Christ’s name, and I have not done this to maintain an institution.

         The reason I pour myself into the ministry and into leading the church comes from a deep-rooted place inside. It is grounded in the grace I have experienced, an initiating love that sought and found me through countless people who brought me God’s unconditional love. This desire to share God’s grace is God-given and sacred.

         From the depths of my soul, I desire for people to love and be loved, to experience a sense of purpose from serving others, and to believe that their lives matter. I want people to feel immersed in community, surrounded and sustained. I genuinely desire for them to discover the inner life, and to learn to ease the suffering that comes with empty strivings. I want them to discover that love is the better way, and that the ultimate expression of love can be discovered in Christ. The spiritual life changes us, and through us God’s Spirit changes the lives of those around us. Patterns of violence and injustice can be interrupted, loneliness can be overcome and suffering relieved, and there is a depth to life that is sacred and worthy of cultivation.

         Methodism began as a way of life, and this way of life, deep-rooted in our theology and practice, is worthy of fostering, not for our sake, but for the love of God in Christ. There are people who can receive this love in the form we offer it who otherwise would never be able to do so.

As members we all are the United Methodist Church.  As those attending the services each week, we are reminded by the Bishop’s personal story that our faith is meant to be shared, that the denomination is a tool to carry out the Great Commission, and the frustrations we have with the polity of the church can be challenged and a change can be made.

We do not know the outcome of the votes from General Conference yet as there is still one more week of the meeting.  We must wait for news, but in the meantime consider what Wesley would tell us to do.  We are to pray.  Pray as you do, but for this week and again as we prepare for Annual Conference in June, pray for our denomination itself.  Pray that God leads us to the best solution possible.  Pray that our church moves forward accepting the changes needed to complete the commission we have been given.  And, do what Wesley would do—remain with his small group, read the Bible, pray, and do all that you can do for all those you can in any way that you can.

Dear Holy Father, Son and the Holy Spirit,

         Our church is facing tough decisions.

         Please be with our leaders as they struggle to reach common ground.

         Keep first and foremost in their mind Christ’s final words to his disciples.

         As the General Conference closes, keep all delegates safe as they return.

         As the delegates return, let them come home united in the mission.

         Keep the delegates focused on making disciples and the ministries.

         When Annual Conferences begin their meetings around this globe,

         guide the leaders in sharing the news and explaining any decisions.

         Equip the leaders and the Annual Conference delegates with grace

         so that the faithful can truly bring disciples to Christ

         and transform the world.         –Amen

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