This sermon is an integration of the lectionary with stories, primarily from Bishop Schnase, from the Annual Conference of the Missouri UMC. We as a Conference are indebted to the wisdom and leadership of Bishop Schnase and are obligated to pass it on with thanks.
1. After Easter season, after Pentecost, the church enters a new liturgical season sometimes called by different names. It can be simply, the season after Pentecost and it runs all the way to Advent, about December 1st. The Roman Catholic church and others call it Ordinary time. But it doesn’t mean ordinary. It is derived from the word “ordinal” which means numbered. The Methodist church uniquely calls this period after Pentecost Kingdomtide although the dates are not uniformly agreed with. Whether ordinary time or kingdomtide, the color of the season is green, representing growth, growth in the church, growth in the kingdom. And appropriately, the readings in the Gospel of Mark are Jesus’ parables of the kingdom and growth. You might say stories with a backdrop of green.
b. Still in chapter 1 he calls the first of his disciples, Peter and Andrew, James and John. He teaches in the synagogue, like one with authority. The scripture notes, “not like the scribes.” Jesus is authority.
c. He casts out spirits. Jesus has authority over the spirit world.
d. Jesus heals Peter’s mother-in-law. Jesus has authority over spirits, and he has authority over the flesh.
e. The whole city gathers at the door of the house with their sick and their lame and those who are possessed by demons. Jesus heals them. Jesus casts out their demons. Jesus has authority.
1. The Annual Conference began with music by a group from Church of the Shepherd in St. Charles. The worship leader, a young man named Brandon Salter, told his story. He had grown up in a broken abusive home, no father by six, no mother by 12, on his own by 16. By his early 20s he’d landed in a number of night spots in the St. Charles area playing his guitar, entertaining the crowds. Over a number of months a pastor by the name of Bob Farr would come in and ask if he’d like to lead worship at his church. The last thing he wanted to do. He had not grown up in the church. He knew little about the church, but Bob persisted. Finally, when he was 26 he accepted the job. And at the age of 28 he gave his life to Christ. Today, he’s been married with two wonderful children and here he was leading worship at Annual Conference with 1500 United Methodists. Mysterious. Like the mustard seed cast upon the ground, scattered somewhere out there.
a. God at work in the sowing
b. God at work in the growing
c. God at work in the nesting
d. God at work in the harvesting.
2. Jesus saying, “Let us go to the neighboring towns and villages to proclaim the good news there, for that is what I came to do.” Going to, scattering seed, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God, and Bob Farr, the voice of Jesus today, bearing fruit in the life of Brandon Salter, somewhere out there.
a. Bob Farr wasn’t alone. God was at work too, preparing the soil, going before us, what we Methodists call prevenient grace, that grace that nudges us before we even know it. It happened with Brandon Salter, it happens with others too.
b. On Sunday morning, 8 young pastors told how they talked about their faith with others. One, Terry Cook, was older, had come to Christ in his late 30s and was now in his 40s, working as a pastor in a rural setting. He said that two incidents, early in his ministry led him to understand that God was always working mysteriously ahead of him, preparing the soil.
c. Soon after he was appointed to a church, he was called by one of his parishioners and told that they needed to go pray with a man that had just gotten out of the hospital. He was not a church member, but had just had a large tumor removed from his abdomen and he was in need of prayer. They went. He and his driver sat for sometime in the driveway praying before they knocked at the door. The man came to the door clutching a pillow over the area of the surgery. He was known to be an alcoholic that had obviously led a hard life. They went in. As they sat down, Terry felt compelled to ask the man “Do you have a relationship with Jesus Christ?” The man burst into tears. He told them that when he was preparing to leave the hospital, the chaplain had come by and told him to get ready, that within two days two men would come by and one of them would ask him if he had a relationship with Jesus Christ. Grace, God at work in the sowing, God at work in the growing.
d. The second Terry Cook story was similar. He had been appointed to a rural church and soon thereafter was driving down a country road and saw a couple sitting on their porch. He pulled in to introduce himself and asked, “I just thought I’d ask if you have a home church?” They replied, “We were just talking about that when you drove up.” Grace, God at work in the sowing, God at work in the growing. God at work, nudging the birds to make nests in the branches.
e. God going before us. “The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how.” Somewhere out there someone. Terry Cook came along, the ‘go to’ guy, the ‘go to’ instrument of Jesus Christ, nurturing the growth and preparing for the harvest.
3. Monday morning at 8:00 was the Bishop’s teaching session, always a highlight. And before we finished the morning with the fixing of appointments for another year, we heard a sermon by Emanuel Cleaver, one of the top 10 preachers in America, and he showed us why. Wonderful, but it was the Bishop’s teaching hour that I want to share with you.
a. He began by telling us that our system of evangelism, the way we now scatter seed is broken. Our system of opening the church doors and waiting for people to come no longer works. It was a product of post WWII where returning men and women flocked to churches that had been established in the late 19th and early 20th century, the heyday of the Methodist movement, the time we were the shouting Methodists and the evangelists. That system of opening the doors and waiting no longer works.
b. Bishop Schnase remarked that evangelism takes place at the margins, not in the center of our groups, not in the middle of our churches, but at the margins.
Bob Farr had told us a year ago that we always needed to be out there where the people are developing relationships that allow us to make invitations.Bishop Schnase describes this as the margins. He said that we are all in danger of keeping company with people just like us. That it would be especially easy for him to talk to, to associate with only people of faith, with only Methodists for that matter, especially in the job of Bishop. And especially when the Bishop describes himself as an extreme introvert, not a Bob Farr who feels compelled to talk with just about anybody, Bob Farr, an extreme extrovert, the Bishop is just the opposite. Kind of explains why when Bishop Schnase and I meet, there is an exchange of smiles and not much more. Two introverts passing in the hallway don’t have a lot of conversation between them. So how does he stay at the margins during his travels, his major occupation, a traveling man? How does the conversation take place? Bishop Schnase relayed a couple of stories:
c. He often ends up at rental car agencies. The young man filling out the paperwork asked his occupation. Now the Bishop says he never tells anyone he meets he’s a Bishop. Never. If he does, the first reaction is, “Oh, I didn’t know the Methodists had bishops.” The second is, “And what does a bishop do?” He doesn’t want to have to get into a 20 minute conversation trying to justify his existence, so he says, “I work for the United Methodist Church.” In this case the young man said, “I used to go to the United Methodist Church.” After the paperwork was finished, the Bishop asked, “Just out of curiosity, do you still go to church?” “No, my fiancé is a different denomination and we just haven’t settled that yet.” I can hear a pause, then “What kind of music do you like?” “There are a couple of Methodist churches in the area that I might recommend. I think you might be pleasantly surprised.”About that time a man emerged from the back, the young man’s supervisor. Upon seeing Bishop Schnase, he said, “You’re the bishop!” Startled, the mask removed, Bishop Schnase said, “Yes, but how did you know?” “You came and preached at our church earlier in the year.” He went on to recount all of his involvement in and dedication to the church. The bishop then noted, “Did you know that Jim over here used to go to the Methodist Church?” The answer of course was no. They had worked together for three years. Three years. And matters of faith had never arisen. They had never spoken at the margins. Yet, the conversation between the Bishop and the young man had begun by simply saying, “I’m a United Methodist.”
d. The second Bishop story of ministry at the margins: On one of his trips the Bishop got stuck (remember he’s an introvert), got stuck going to a fancy reception at a big hotel. Not his cup of tea. Pastors and their wives from the area were all there. The Bishop was standing outside the circle, kinda’ with his back against the wall when he noticed one of the servers with a tray of hors devoirs doing about the same. Not conducive to long term job growth.Bishop Schnase went over to take a sample. He figured the man to be about 40 and one who had taken the long way around to get there. The server said, “What kind of gathering is this?” In his smooth way, Bishop Schnase said, “What do you think?” “Insurance?” He wanted to reply, “So to speak, long term insurance,” but told him it was a gathering of United Methodist pastors and their wives.” “Oh, I grew up in the Methodist church.” “How did that go for you?” “In trouble all the time.” “Which church?” He replied, said his mother might still be a member there. He hadn’t gone for a long time. “Your pastor is here, part of this group, would you like to meet? But before that, would you like to guess which one it might be?” “That one?” as he pointed to a retired pastor there with a walker. Gives you an indication of how he recalled or thought of the church. “No, no, let me introduce you.” When he introduced him to her, an attractive 35 year old, she caught on instantly to what was going on and wrapped him in delightful conversation.
e. Points? Bishop Schnase would like to be able to say that both these stories had great outcomes. He doesn’t know. But somewhere out there God has prepared a person for conversation, not even an invasive conversation, but one that may begin, “I go to church, church is important to me, church makes a difference in my life.” It would be nice if the conversation might end, “Won’t you join me this Sunday?”
1. Bishop Schnase closed his learning period by asking how we have gone from being the “go to” Methodists, to becoming the “wait for” Methodists? Remember Jesus said, “Let us go to, go to the neighboring towns and villages.” Not “Let’s wait for.” Where did we lose the “go to” instinct that grew the church in the 18th and 19th centuries, that made us known as the evangelists?
2. When the Bishop moved from Texas, one of the things he researched was how Methodism got started in Missouri. It was those Illinois people. Those Illinois people who even before Missouri was officially a territory of the United States, even when the French had declared it illegal to hold protestant services here, came anyway, even when threatened with arrest. They came in boats across the river, the wide river, the deep river, the flowing river, the dangerous river. They held services in the evening and returned back to Illinois before daylight. As soon as the Purchase was complete, they established a Methodist church here as early as 1804. How did we lose our “go to” instinct?
3. Jesus said, “Let us go to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the good news there also, for that is what I came to do.” And he tells us stories of the kingdom, stories of growth, stories with a backdrop of green. Stories of grace.
4. Somewhere out there, there is a person who has been nudged by grace, waiting for someone to go to them and join in a conversation. One which might end, “I go to church, church is important to me, church makes a difference in my life. Won’t you join me this Sunday?”
5. Now, go to it. Amen.