Sunday, February 19, 2006

Sermon for Feb. 19, 2006--The World is my Parish

Matthew 28: 16-20
Isaiah 49: 1-6

This past Wednesday, after an early morning prayer breakfast, talking all day to two discussion groups, choir practice, a weather change and allergies, my voice started sputtering out until it was lost completely. Perhaps God is telling you something when you lose your voice! Silence is something that may come easy for some of you, especially those with Joseph like spirits, but for most ministers, it is something pretty tough.
If nothing else, it did spark an idea for this sermon, which is perhaps my favorite quote in all of Christian tradition, and one that applies quite well to our United Methodist heritage of mission work—St. Francis of Assisi said, “Preach the Gospel wherever you go….IF you have to, use words!” Amen brother Francis! I suppose it is a lesson that is sometimes learned the hard way!
During the past century, this saying of Francis’ could have been a motto for our mission outreach throughout the world.
Many in the Anglican church, the church to which Charles and John Wesley always remained devoted, felt threatened by John’s ministry among the common people. Shut out of preaching venues, Wesley resorted to preaching in the fields, in some cases drawing as many as 20,000 people. It is during this chapter in Wesley’s ministry when he uttered those words that are now celebrated by the church, “The world is my parish!” When Wesley was shut out of even his home church in Epworth, he preached from the top of his father’s grave, right outside the front doors of his birthplace and where his father served as a priest for 40 years.
Our theological father was relentless and creative in his passion to “make disciples.” He saw opportunities and organized a mission to meet the needs of a community which wasn’t being met by the church. It is in his legacy that we continue to grow and meet the needs as “mission outposts” of the one true church.
Our gospel lesson is the mission statement of the United Methodist Church. Christ wants us to share the good news with the world. During the sermon on the mount, earlier in Matthew’s gospel, Jesus says, “Let me tell you why you are here. You’re here to be salt-seasoning that brings out the God-flavors of this earth. If you lose your saltiness, how will people taste godliness? You’ve lost your usefulness and will end up in the garbage. Here’s another way to look at it: You’re here to be light, bringing out the God-colors in the world. God is not a secret to be kept. We’re going public with this, as public as a city on a hill. If I make you light-bearers, you don’t think I’m going to hide you under a bucket do you? I’m putting you on a light stand. Now that I’ve put you there on a hilltop, on a light stand—shine! Keep open house; be generous with your lives. By opening up to others, you’ll prompt people to open up with God, this generous Father in heaven.” This passage, translated by Eugene Peterson in the Message, illuminates well that the gospel we bring is salt, it is light.
So often we think mission is about going and teaching inferior natives why they are wrong and we are right about cultural customs. This is not mission—that approach leaves the taste of bitterness, not saltiness. That doesn’t pick up the “God-flavors” of the earth, it tastes like imperialism.
So many times, people quote today’s scripture and leave off the last half of verse 20—they envision “making” disciples as something similar to making my cats refrain from using the bathroom in the house. First you hold their noses down to the mess they’ve made, then you give them a good swatting. So often we forget the “God-colors” that the light of the Gospel helps us see. The “Great commission” holds hands with the “Great Promise.” “For I shall be with you until the end of the age.”
This is the Light—this is the saltiness. Without the Great promise, the Great Commission is a futile endeavor. Unless we breathe the breath of God when we spread the Good news, we are sowing seeds on the rocks.
The United Methodist Africa University is a light on a light-post. At the main campus in Zimbabwe, Africans from many countries come to attain degrees in resource management, public health, peace and governance, and much else.
The $62 million dollars contributed by United Methodists to UMCOR for hurricane relief by the end of 2005 is a salty figure if you ask me. Roland Fernandes, treasurer of General Board of Global Ministries, said “Year-end receipts from the annual conferences pushed the figure far, far beyond what we anticipated in the late fall.” When we respond to those in need, we live the statement that “The world is our parish.”
The United Methodist Community-Based Malaria Control Program, a denominational campaign to eradicate a controllable disease that kills a child every thirty seconds, formally launched at United Methodist Church maternity and Health Center, in Freetown, Sierra Leone, on December 5, 2005. I hear the Gospel being preached in wordless wonder!
The HIV/AIDS Ministries Network and Covenant to Care programs were launched in 1989 by Health and Welfare Ministries, General Board of Global Ministries, The United Methodist Church.
HIV/AIDS poses one of the most significant health risks of our time. Many United Methodists have been in the forefront of ministry with persons living with HIV and AIDS in the United States and around the world.
A Covenant to Care congregation publicly declares that people with HIV/AIDS and their loved ones are welcome in all facets of the church's life, leadership and ministry. Hospitality to all of God's children is the message of the Good News which Jesus brought and challenged the church to live. For a group of people who often feel stigmatized by society, this program truly communicates the love of a Christ who held lepers in his arms, touched them and healed them.
We have an opportunity to support many missions and ministries through our participation with various arms of the church. Inside your bulletin, you’ll find an invitation to contribute to the “Catch the Vision” offering, which funds new church starts in the Arkansas conference. Through this fund, we are reaching new people with the fresh possibilities of a life in Christ. In the beginning of the Methodist movement, John Wesley’s preaching attracted the emerging culture of manufacturing and industrial laborers, who would become the middle class which would come to dominate the Methodist church. Through the “Catch the Vision” fund, our church continues the tradition of tapping into emerging cultures in our state. Churches grow where populations grow, and our conference set the goal in 2003 to start at least 3 new churches every year for the next 10+ years. We have the goal that by 2013, there will be 3 Hispanic churches with an average attendance of 350 plus and 1 with 500 plus. This past year, the Methodist church reclaimed a property that had been sold to another denomination in Ft. Smith. Though this new church isn’t in the “growing” or “affluent” side of town, the church is growing and making disciples. These new churches are finding ways to shine the light of Christ in new communities and opportunities.

On this same line of thinking. I find it hard to say “The world is my parish” without thinking about the responsibility we have as stewards of the Earth. God blessed us with reason and skill, and made us uniquely powerful with these gifts. We can use them to bring devestation to the ecosystem that God has so lovingly created, or we can use our reason and skill to facilitate a responsible use of the Earth’s resources, one that leaves a better world for our future generations. Wesley learned to appreciate the power of preaching out doors. He realized that nature is God’s sanctuary open to all. As we are currently exisiting in the world though, we are making it difficult for human and non-human species to inhabit this world of ours. Why? Because we want to consume more, we want to have everything at our fingertips, we believe we are entitled to it. We believe we are entitled to $1.50 gallons of gasoline, and even when the companies that make record profits off of us by charging twice that, we still buy in and say “fill ‘er up,” because we don’t know any other alternative. We’ve painted ourselves into a corner in that department. In the past two weeks, Evangelical organizations have made headlines by publicizing a statement signed by some 80 leaders that Global Warming is a reality, and that humans have a responsibility to stem the tide of Climate change. The United Methodist church has been pointing to this reality for more than a decade now, but when the powerful political block of evangelicals says something, it usually gets noticed in this day and age. And thank God they’re saying it!
Wesley said “the world is my parish” in part because he was being forced outdoors to preach and do ministry. We should be saying the same thing because it is our legacy to look out these doors for opportunities for ministry. Ministry extends not only to human creation but also non-human creation. Those that say “the conversion of souls is more important than the environmental crisis” miss the point that the environmental crisis is as endangering to human souls as the “powers and principalities” that embody evil in this world. ……Back of the sanctuary……. The world is our parish. It’s through these doors. That’s where we spread the word about the great news that we’ve heard. God is with us. To the end of the age. As Isaiah lamented, sometimes it seems that we labor in vain, like the problems of this world are too huge for us to change. But God doesn’t just want us to be a servant. He tells Isaiah, “It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the survivors of Israel; I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth." God doesn’t just want us to subscribe to some ideals, God wants to shine THROUGH us! If we sit around and are lazy with our faith and our witness, if we aren’t responding to Christ’s promise to be with us, we are hiding that light under a bushel! Thank God we can be inspired by our church to do as Christ calls us and to “let it shine!”


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