Monday, July 30, 2007

July 29 sermon, The World is my parish

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

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!”
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. We have an opportunity to support many missions and ministries through our participation with various arms of the church, such as the Nothing But Nets Campaign, which also directs fund to Africa to purchase mosquito nets that will prevent malaria. The General Board of Global Mission organizes our ourreach both far and near, and is directly responsible for funding the San Marcos Community Center, where our mission trip this past week was based. I saw quite saltiness when I observed everyone working in different areas of our house like it was a beehive this past week. Youth putting down tiles and painting and caulking and mudding, men putting up doorframes and sheetrock and bathrooms, women painting and sweeping, putting together doorknobs, etc. We worked hard and we had a great time doing it! We didn't just show light through our work, we showed it through our play as well. We had fellowship and worship with the other church groups who came to work (even if most of them were from Texas!) Our site manager, Keeley, remarked how hard working our group was and was glad he was assigned to our group. (At this point in the sermon, Nathan asks the attendees of the trip to give their testimony on when our group was salt or light---some of the responses were:)

We were not only light to others, but had the light shown to us--by Keeley, by other work groups.

It was great to see the adults handing down wisdom to the youth. Letting them run power tools and showing them how to use them. We were empowering the next generation of mission trip leaders!

It was a good example that the Body of Christ has many parts and functions. All of the workers, young and old, had something they could do to help.

It was inspiring to see our youngest worker, Colby, become the quartermaster of the group. He could take a request for a tool and be back with it in under 15 seconds. He was also found to have great skill putting together faucets, doorknobs, and other complex tasks.

(Many other great memories were shared. If you attended the trip and wish to add something here like you did in the service, please leave it in a comment below)

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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