Saturday, August 19, 2017
Sermon Summary (8/6/17) “How God Changes Us: Ouflow of Grace” (Matthew 25:31-40)
We’re in our final session of “Connecting to Grace: How God Changes Us,” today, serving, the outflow of grace. Are there dates on your calendar that you can point to, that day changed my life? It was a Sunday in the fall of 1986. A Methodist lay person from the next town came to talk to the Men and Boys breakfast about Habitat for Humanity. I went home and told Rosemary that I think we’ve found something that we can sink our teeth into. For the next 15 years, Habitat became a calling, as a volunteer, a board member, fund raiser, building chair and a leader of blitz builds in both Connecticut and Columbia. We led church groups every summer giving up half our vacation. It was a calling.
I think if you asked Steve Malinckrodt, even though it’s his job, he would tell you that Serve, Inc. was a calling, too. Steve is another United Methodist lay person. Other United Methodist lay persons I’d like to tell you of are Keith and Karen Jaspers. Keith is a businessman from Springfield who founded Rainbow Network (www.rainbownetwork.org), a ministry to Nicaragua. Keith believes that Matthew 25 is a commandment. We are required to serve the least of these among us. From 1995 to 2002, Keith and Karen founded and funded Rainbow Network. Since then it was grown to serve 120 rural villages, 50,000 villagers, the poorest of the poor, using a holistic approach of health, education, housing and economic development.
“I was thirsty and you gave me a drink.” Every village has a well proving safe water, a life-saving change over 20 years.
“I was hungry..” In Rainbow’s 22 years they have served 50,000,000 meals, a dime a meal for children, mothers, malnourished adults.
“I was a stranger..” Serving the poorest of the poor.
“I was naked…” Mel West, an early Board Member has organized 40 containers that go to Nicaragua and elsewhere. He urged my to have my church hold a “panty party” for the women of the village saying “And Rick, remember you don’t treat the poor poorly.”
“I was sick and you cared for me.” They employ 10 doctors who have made 700,000 visits charging 50 cents to a dollar. They’ve built 1000 homes with $13 mortgages that go to build more.
“I was in prison..” There are no prisons.
In addition they have made 95,000 microloans averaging $280 for six months to capitalize cottage industries. There is a school in every village and 50,000 have learned to read and write and 1800 have graduated from high school, many returning to lead the next generation.
Grace flows to us and through us, and transforms the world. Amen.
Friday, August 11, 2017
Sermon Summary (7/30/17) “How God Changes Us: We Are Better in Circles than in Rows” (Acts 2:42; 46-47)
In 1992, I joined a Disciple Bible Study, my first real small group. Life happened. I once heard a Rabbi say of Bible Study, “When we gather we make this text sacred, but we share not just the words of the narrative, we share our very lives together.” We are better in circles that we are in rows.
And that has always been true. Jesus gathered his disciples in circles. The first century church gathered in homes around the table. In subsequent centuries, the church of small groups transformed Western Civilization. William Wilberforce took advantage of Wesleyan Small groups in England to change the manners, the civility, the morals of a Nation. John Wesley used small groups to “reform the nation, especially the church, and to spread scriptural holiness across the land.” By the way, in the Methodist Episcopal Church, small group membership was mandatory. To be Methodist was to be part of a small group. We were better in rows.
Any student of Methodism will tell you that small groups were the heart and soul of the movement. By 1850, 34 percent of all Americans were Methodists. What happened? By 1850, Sunday Schools became prevalent and Class Meetings, as small groups were called, were no longer mandatory. Our amazing growth slowed and by 1950 we were declining. Today, we loose the equivalent of all the Methodists in Kansas every year. We need to be in rows again. We are better in rows. If we want to make a difference in our society, we need to be in rows again.
John Wesley believed that “Christian Conference,” what happened in small groups was a means of grace. That when we gathered and asked of one another “How is your relationship with God?” When we witnessed the example of others and voluntarily submitted to be held accountable, amazing transformation was possible. Discipleship is best learned in circles, a means of grace, a means by which God can change us.
Wesley so believed in his Class Meetings that he chose not “to strike one stroke unless he could follow the blow.” He thought that preaching without providing the opportunity to gather into small groups was “begetting them for the murderer.” And he would later see evidence of that. He feared if we left our core practices that “we would become a dead sect having the form of religion with none of the power.” We are better in rows.
Tom Albin, Dean of the Upper Room, was featured at School of Lay Ministry. There he talked about transformation which he insisted required three things, understanding, experience, and community. He said the best transforming institution is not the church but Alcoholics Anonymous. The 12 step program is great but not sufficient. Participants also need the experience of a sponsor who has walked the path. But without the meetings, without the community to love them even when they falter, they would fail. We are better in rows.