Sermon Transcript 10.29.23
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable to you oh Lord our Rock and Our Redeemer. Amen Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name. Bring an offering and come into His courts. Psalm 96 is a Psalm of celebration; of assurance. A couple of weeks ago we celebrated three new members joining our congregation people who raised their hand and said “yes, I am a member of this group of people. I will profess to be Christian; to be United Methodist. I will do so publicly. I will do so in the midst of people with whom I agree and people with whom I disagree - in the messiness of human institutions. I will do my best to live out my faith in Christ in community; in connection. We vow our prayers, our presence, our gifts, our service, and our witness to Christ through the United Methodist Church, through the local congregation.
I talked a little last week about the difference of giving to the church and giving through the church. To implies there's a distance. That's a thing I support but I'm over here. Through says I am part of this. Together we are the church and we know the church isn't a building. It is the connection of people called together in a particular time and place. The Greek word is Ekklesia: the called out ones. Those who are called together to live as Christ in the world; to be the body of Christ; to be connected. Our reading this day, from Philippians 4 - a wonderful chapter - has a line “I can do all this through him who gives me strength,: most of us have that memorized from the King James “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” To unpack that a little bit to think about how we are linked together with each other and in Christ. I want to go back to that passage I read at the opening. It's kind of a theme verse for our stewardship campaign this year: Greater things and I don't know about you but I find these words incredibly challenging. Jesus says to his disciples “very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works that I have been doing and they will do even greater things than these because I am going to the Father. I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the father may be glorified in the son. You may ask me for anything in my name and I will do it.” I think in our consumeristic society where buying things is the highest good, I think sometimes we read that and we tend to fall into the trap that Jesus is saying I am a holy vending machine, whatever buttons you push that is what I will dispense… and I don't think that's what Jesus is saying at all. When we ask in Christ's name it means we're participating in what Christ is doing in the world. We're not controlling it. We're not directing it, but we are actively, intentionally, publicly participating in it. Doing the things that Christ does and… some of those things make us uncomfortable. It gets us out of our comfort zone. It causes us to interact with people that we'd rather avoid. Jesus seems to spend almost all of his time in ministry interacting with people that other people think he shouldn't be talking to… like me… so what does it mean to ask in Jesus' name? I think it means when we align ourselves with God's purpose; with God's will. When we are doing the things that Jesus does then we ask for what Jesus would have us do - it's not about our controlm it's about yielding control to Christ; to being Christlike - for the world to see Christ in us for us; to see Christ in others. To go outside our comfort zone, to heal others – yes, physically, emotionally, spiritually To choose to be Christ for the world even when that is difficult, even when that goes against conventional wisdom, even when that causes us to be transformed… maybe especially when it causes us to be transformed.
Jesus says to his followers the Father is in me. I go to the Father - that Christ would be in them; that he would become their dwelling place; that their lives would be transformed. I had the privilege of talking to the Scout group this morning, doing a brief worship service with them they had about 100 110 Scouts and leaders here in Fort Scott for a camporee that is normally held down in Pittsburgh, but Seth and some others got it hosted here in Fort Scott - and they had a great time at the Fort and the community really turned out to support them. We had lunch here yesterday and they asked me to do a brief worship service this morning and so I went over and I talked to them about this passage from Philippians and about the Scout Oath and being transformed -= learning and growing, getting better, doing our best, growing into being prepared. Representing scouting and the church in all that we do you. Instead of a Scout Oath to guide us, we have things like our mission statement: our mission
statement to share the good news news of Christ's birth and life and death and resurrection and to exemplify exemplify in the world Christ by knowing growing in serving and sharing Christ in all that we do it's not about us it's about us and it's about us together reflecting who Christ is so that the world sees Christ through us not that we have a monopoly or an exclusive hold we have an incomplete picture but we share what we have been given we Proclaim what we know and experience to be true I can do all things through him that strengthens me Christ Paul rights of Christ it's not that I can do anything I decide to do at a youth one time we were on a mission trip we were doing good work but she had questions and this was one of our theme verses and she said but I can't do all things I would like to stand up right now and fly and I can't do that we talked about what we can do all that we can do we do because of the breath of Christ in us because of the life that Christ gives us it's not that we can do anything we want it's that when our will joins with Christ and even before that when prevenient Grace surrounds us everything we do all that we are able to do all that we can is because of the gift of life and breath and spirit that God gives us through Christ so again it's not about our control or our will it's about conforming ourselves to God's will when I was talking to the scouts I talked a little bit about this man Paul and how his life had been transformed how he was so full of his own answers that he sought to persecute others and he has an experience of the Risen Christ that changes his world not his faith but how he lives it out he becomes Kinder gentler still zealous still an advocate but one that seeks humility that finds strength in weakness that seeks to emulate Christ in the world I want to share with you a little bit about and from one of my personal Heroes a man named Archbishop Oscar
Romero one of the quotes that he is best known for is talking about the light Illuminating his beloved El Salvador in the midst of division he says: “The word of God is like the light of the sun. It illuminates beautiful things, but also things which we would rather not see.”
Archbishop Romero was a man that went through quite a transformation. He actually came to believe that Christ had called him a second time. He had already been ordained. He had been a faithful student and became a pastor or a priest, he had been ordained as a Bishop and in the process of living out his call as a Bishop in El Salvador in the 70s and up to 1980, He realized that Christ had called him again, to see the world more clearly, to see differently, to bring peace and hope and connection between groups that actively disliked each other, factions that were actively fighting each other. He was called to stand in the gap and proclaim Christ in all that he was and did. Romero gave an interview once he said “I don’t want to be an anti, against anybody. I simply want to be the builder of a great affirmation: the affirmation of God, who loves us and who wants to save us.”
“Peace,” he said, “is not the product of terror or fear. Peace is not the silence of cemeteries. Peace is not the silent result of violent repression. Peace is the generous, tranquil contribution of all to the good of all. Peace is dynamism. Peace is generosity. It is right and it is duty.”
As I mentioned, Romero was Bishop in El Salvador in the time that country was in the midst of a brutal Civil War of death squads and drug runners, of international proxy fights like we see around the world at different times. And his was a society that was deeply divided between rich and poor. As a priest and early as a bishop he had been a critic of the Liberation theology work of people like his colleague Gustavo Gutiérrez another priest, and yet he had had a transformation he began to see by the Light of Christ what these people had been talking about: the brokenness of the system of government, of society, even of his beloved Church. Of its complicity in systems of dominance that Jesus would have had no part of. He realized we are called to be Christ in the world first and foremost, not to put our political parties, our nationality, ahead of that. In every situation to be looking at what Christ would will and have us do - and that does not mean being passive - that means confronting Injustice, oppression and evil in whatever form it presents itself. No less than our baptismal vows.
So he began to ask questions like”
“How can Christians do such things to each other? What can the Church do to help?”
He found his answer in the realization that he had been called to Christ a second time, to the Christ who spoke to him in the Beatitudes. He found it also in the principles of the Liberation Theology that he had once condemned; in the simple yet powerful truth of Fr. Gustavo Gutiérrez’ dictum: “To know God is to do justice.”
It is his writing on this that a very conservative Catholic priest gave to young Christopher Eshelman who he saw as too dogmatic, as too zealous, as dangerous to himself and others. Father Carr handed me a book and he said “you need to make sense of the fact that these people are the church too.” Father Carr had deep questions about this theology, but he saw Christ could speak to me through it. He saw its call for all of us to be Christ in the world, to overcome and transcend our differences; to bring about peace.
In his book, Bishop Romero writes “Each one of you has to be God’s microphone. Each one of you has to be a messenger, a prophet. The church will always exist as long as there is someone who has been baptized…Where is your baptism? You are baptized in your professions, in the fields of workers, in the market. Wherever there is someone who has been baptized, that is where the church is. There is a prophet there. Let us not hide the talent that God gave us on the day of our baptism and let us truly live the beauty and responsibility of being a prophetic people.”
The transcendence that the church preaches is not alienation; it is not going to heaven to think about eternal life and forget about the problems on earth. It’s a transcendence from the human heart.
It is entering into the reality of [others…]
and conveying with words and actions, “You are valuable.” “You are of God.”
Bishop Romero has been canonized by the Roman Catholic Church. There are miracles attributed to him. He remains an important voice for peace and reconciliation, but he's probably best known now by a work that goes around under the title Romero's Prayer. It is not a prayer that was written by him, in fact it was given at a homily for deceased priest given by Cardinal Dearden about a year before Bishop Romero was assassinated. The prayer was written for the Cardinal by Father (later Bishop) Ken Untener, but its words seemed to capture the ethos of what Archbishop Romero proclaimed and they be became a summary of his life and Theology and they are a very important part of my journey into taking my faith seriously to daring to proclaim myself as called to be a pastor. I’d like to share them with you now”
It helps, now and then,
to step back and take a long view.
The kingdom is not only beyond our efforts,
it is even beyond our vision.
We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction of the magnificent enterprise that is God's work.
Nothing we do is complete,
which is a way of saying that
the Kingdom always lies beyond us.
No statement says all that could be said. No prayer fully expresses our faith. No confession brings perfection. No pastoral visit brings wholeness. No program accomplishes the Church's mission. No set of goals and objectives includes everything.
This is what we are about. We plant the seeds that one day will grow. We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise. We lay foundations that will need further development. We provide yeast that produces far beyond our capabilities. We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that. This enables us to do something, and to do it very well. It may be incomplete,
but it is a beginning, a step along the way,
an opportunity for the Lord's grace to enter and do the rest.
We may never see the end results,
but that is the difference between the master builder
and the worker.
We are workers, not master builders;
ministers, not messiahs.
We are prophets of a future not our own.
We are called together to be the church that is greater than this lifetime but it starts here and now we don't leave this world. We become ever more a part of it as a great cloud of witnesses. We will celebrate next week on All Saints Sunday, attest those who have gone before us in our families, in this community. Those who sacrificed and gave to build this facility, to create this community that is now known as First United Methodist Church of Fort Scott. They are still connected to us. This image we'll use for our bulletin cover next week is by an American Artist (John August Swanson). He painted it originally in the mid 80s and then did a revision of it a few years ago, it's called Festival of Lights. It draws from many traditions and experiences, but its spark was in a Central American celebration from Honduras and El Salvador. The process of peace of reconciliation; of recognizing that we are connected through our creator, called to do good for one another, not harm. Called, as Wesley would say, to stay connected in the love of God.
Next week we will rededicate our Memorial books. We will think about those who have gone before us in faith. We'll think about what they taught us, and be challenged to live out the best part of their lives through our lives. To continue to bear witness. We read last week about offering ourselves as living stones; as allowing Christ to build us into the church, into a structure - a way of being that serves others; that proclaims God's glory; that ascribes to God the Wonder and majesty and awe and life and love that God IS. That draws people together, that plants and nurtures; recognizing it's not about what we do or what we ask for, but what Christ is doing. Aligning ourselves with Christ's goal individually, as a congregation, as a church in the world and a church triumphant beyond this world. It's about doing greater things because we follow Christ; because we take seriously his call to be the body of Christ; to share in this world in unexpected ways beyond our own understanding. To be love and light and salt; to raise our hand and say yes I am a part of this community, this church. We are deeply flawed. We don't always get it right but we are on our way to perfection, because it's about God's grace, it's about what God can do in and through us. We can't limit it or control it, but we can participate in it. Thanks be to God. That's what I believe. Amen!