Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Laity Sunday

A full schedule and two weekend courses have left me with little time to post on here. Here's a little tidbit - a short sermon that I preached at Alexandria UMC for Laity Sunday in October.

Today is Laity Sunday, the day we celebrate the fact that we, are church; the day we reflect on the fact that whoever sits in that chair or fills this pulpit can’t do it all.

Making Disciples of Jesus Christ for Transformation of the World” that’s the mission of the United Methodist Church.
Let’s focus on the second part of that mission statement: Transformation of the World. That’s big, really big. So big that that I wonder if it isn’t so big that when we look at the world around us the thought of transforming it is just plain overwhelming and we toss up our hands and say what can I do, or what’s the use. After all Jesus even says we will always have the poor with us. Why bother.

Indeed, how do we do that?

I contend it is through story, our story.

Today is also the Feast of St Luke. It’s a bit unfortunate that we aren’t hearing from Luke’s Gospel this morning because Luke probably gives us the best story of Jesus and how that relates to transforming the world.
It is evident that the Holy Spirit plays a prominent in Luke’s Gospel and is undoubtedly central to The Book of Acts – it is generally agreed upon that whomever wrote Luke, be it Luke or someone else, also wrote Acts. From the beginning of Jesus’ ministry the Holy Spirit is present. For example, as really begins his ministry (Luke 4:14-21) preaching in the synagogue he reads from Isaiah:
Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding country. He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone.

When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:'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,
to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor."
And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to say to them, "Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing."

Upon hearing this, the Holy Spirit, through Luke’s Gospel, has made us part of the story.

But it gets even better. We are pulled deeper into the story at Baptism and renewed into the story every time we break bread and drink from the cup.

And it doesn’t end there either. It is interesting that Luke’s Gospel doesn’t end with a grandiose description of the ascension. It doesn’t end with the ascension as a focal point because the Spirit has more in mind for those listening to the story; work that is not only possible but necessary because of the ascension. That work is the church. And by telling the story of Jesus, our story, we become witnesses and constitutive to the story.

Ironically, there’s probably nothing that makes Methodists squirm more than the “E” word – evangelizing. Just mentioning it now probably has a few of you feeling a little uneasy already. But that's part of the Methodist story and if we’re bound to this and the larger story we need to continue telling it and we need to continue, or perhaps even start, living it.

What does this mean? It means we tell people about the community breakfast. Telling people that there is a place of refuge, a place of fellowship – even if for only a brief period of time.

It means telling people that we’re working to make a life or two better on Rosebud and in Sierra Leone.

It means telling people that we have a bunch of kids in the education wing every Sunday morning who are eager to learn about the story and in turn become part of it.
It means telling people that on a monthly basis the adults of this congregation come together for fellowship, share a meal, and to learn a thing or two.
It means being an active part of that story too, we can’t avoid it. The Spirit won’t allow that to happen. Imagine what would have happened if St. Luke would have shunned the Holy Spirit and thought, “ah, someone else can write this stuff down, I’m just too busy”.

Last week Jeff gave us his story about his call to ministry. I hope you were able to hear it and I hope that at least some of it resonated with you through this past week. I know it did for me. Having started the process towards ordination, I know how difficult it can be to articulate one’s call to ministry, particularly for a classic introvert like myself. Having said that, I’m convinced that as we take on the story the Spirit is there guiding us, all of us, to do the work of the church. We are all called to ministry whether it be making pancakes, teaching Sunday School, providing fellowship or comfort to someone that is sick, presiding over the sacraments, or just plain listening to someone’s problems. We are called because that’s our story.

Ours is a story of love, of a Holy Spirit that guides us and teaches us as theologian Eugene Rogers notes “how to love and be loved as the Father loves the Son and the Son loves the Father”. It is a love that creates us to be present to another. We are witnesses to a story that we have to share. It is a story that bears repeating over and over again so that the poor not only hear the good news but are part of it, that whatever it is that binds someone to captivity is broken, so that not only are the blind able to see but we are no longer blind to the injustices around us, that we work to free the oppressed and continue the story by proclaiming each year a year of the Lord’s favor.

By being fully part of the story we transform not only the world, but ourselves as well.