Monday, June 15, 2009

Somewhere Out There

Somewhere Out There
(Mark 4:26-32 and 1:38)

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.

A. Introduction
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.

2. Some of our previous Sunday’s activities have detracted from our readings in Mark so I’d like to review how Mark got us to Chapter 4. Mark is called the “immediate” Gospel. Things happen quickly and the word immediate or immediately are used 40 times in 16 short chapters.
a. Chapter 1 is a series of rapid fire topics and scenes: v 1 tells us of the good news: “In the beginning, the good news of Jesus Christ, Son of God.” (Mk 1:1) By verse 11, Jesus is baptized. In verse 13 he is tempted. By verse 15 he begins his ministry: “The time is fulfilled, the kingdom of God is at hand, repent and believe the good news.” (Mk 1:15)
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.

3. Then Jesus prayed. It says, still in chapter 1, “In the morning, while it was still dark, he got up and went out and prayed.” (Mk 1:35) The greatest man who ever walked, Jesus who was part of the Godhead, Jesus who was divine, in fact God, derived his strength, his power, from relationship with the Father and the Holy Spirit through prayer. That is good news for us. Jesus went out to a deserted place and there he prayed. We too can pray, we too can derive our strength from prayer.

4. When the disciples found him saying, “Everyone is searching for you,” almost as though he had clarified his mission with God through prayer, he says to them, “Let us go to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came to do.” (Mk 1:38) “Let us go to.. for that is what I came to do.” Go to, to proclaim the good news. The NIV says, “let us go somewhere.” Somewhere out there. “Let us go somewhere out there to the neighboring villages. Jesus was a ‘go to’ guy, a ‘somewhere out there’ kind of guy. “For that is what I came to do.”
a. And somewhere out there, he healed the lepers and the paralytics; he forgave sins. He proclaimed himself Lord of the Sabbath. He cast out demons. He declared power over Satan himself and began in Chapter 4 to tell the parables of the kingdom.
b. At the beginning of chapter 4, he tells the parable of the sower. He might have begun it by saying, “Somewhere out there, a sower went out to sow.”
c. You know the story, the seeds represent the word of God. Some fall on the path, the birds, Satan, comes and takes them away before they can take root. Some fall on rocky soil and they spring up but they have little root and when persecution arises, they whither and fall away. Some fall among the thorns and the cares of life choke them out.
d. But some, some, somewhere out there, some of the seeds fall on good soil and they hear the word, they respond to Jesus and bear fruit, thirty, sixty, a hundred fold.
5. Jesus, somewhere out there proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God and telling the disciples of the fruit of the good news. And in today’s short parables, telling them that it would grow with great mystery like seed that germinates, we know not how, that sprouts, we know not how, that grows, we know not how, then puts out fruit and creates a harvest, we know not how. He tells us the harvest is the product of going to, of casting seed somewhere out there. God can do mysterious, miraculous things, but he needs someone to go to, to go to somewhere out there.

B. Body
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 fiancĂ© 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?”

C. Close.
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.

Monday, June 1, 2009

History: Sermon Given at Smith Chapel's 175 Anniversary Celebration

(Acts 10:34-48)

A. Introduction
1. Good morning, my name is Dikerson Smith and I’d like to welcome you to m
y home and the regular meeting of our Methodist Meeting Society. You see, we don’t have a church building, we meet in homes. We don’t have a church building and that’s fine. Our spiritual ancestors began that way. Some say the mother church had lost its way because once churches were built, it stayed within the confines of the church walls. John Wesley, the founder of Methodist, changed all that when he created meeting societies. The fervor of the church, the purpose of the church, was reestablished when Christianity moved out of churches and back into the homes and hills. When Christianity meets in homes, it is not just about religion, it is about the way we live.

2. And we live with purpose. We know our purpose. If anyone was to ask a meeting society just about anywhere, “What is your mission?” the response would be clear. It is to “Reform the nation, especially the church, and spread Scriptural holiness across the land.” And we believe it. I was told the other day that here in 1834 that one third of all church going people in America were Methodists. That’s a testament to the preachers, circuit riders, lay people, societies, and just plain Methodists all across America. We believe in the power of the Holy Spirit to change people, and He’s changed us.

3. (Take off hat--part of 19th century costume) To step out of character a minute, and I’ll be moving in and out of character quite a lot, I’m not sure how Mr. Smith would have sounded in 1834. There were lot’s of people of English and Scottish decent that settled the area. Still are. But many of them came from Tennessee and Kentucky. In fact, a generation earlier, Kit Carson’s parents had moved to this area from Kentucky. Don’t know what influence Appalachia might have had on the dialect or how much influence there might have been from the Deep South. Suffice it to say, I’ll be talking with good ole Midwestern as best I can.

4. And if you want to know what the folks might have been wearing, a look at a “Little House on the Prairie” rerun might be in order. I’d be wearing bib overalls except I would be able to show off my Pentecost suspenders.

5. (Put on hat.) Anyway welcome to the Smith family home. You all have made a significant effort to get here, harnessing the horse and buggy, riding 30 minutes to an hour. And you’ll be repeating that after the meeting is over. Your faith, your friends are important to you. And it continued that way. Louise’s husband, Charles, told me that when he was two weeks old, that was 1919, his parents bundled him up in the wagon and brought him to church. He attended here all his life. Ollie, I don’t suppose it was much different when your dad was born 50 years earlier, 1873, the family boarding the wagon and off to church or gathering. An hour of preparation and travel before. An hour of travel and putting the horse up after. Your faith was important to you. Still is. That’s why we’ve been here 175 years.

6. The Methodist church grew up in homes as meeting societies, outside of a church, and neighbors of many denominations might have been invited, even a few Baptists. Wesley’s grace-filled, free-will, simple theology had wide appeal. Even after chapels and churches had been built, the meeting societies, those home meetings continued and were essential to the faith. It was around the table that faith was experienced, where Scriptures were learned, where people told the truth in love to one another. In a place like Howard County, Missouri, in 1834, where 25 percent of the population at that time was slave; more than likely it was around the table or in hearing shot of the kitchen, where men and women, slave and free learned faith. It was the Methodist Meeting Society.

B. Body
1. I can imagine the fervor of those who gathered around the table. And although it was 40 years later that this song appeared, as they gathered, something like this might have been sung.
a. (Blessed Assurance.)
b. Let us pray.

2. At this point in the meeting it would have been time for Scripture and exhortation. Remember now, our purpose was to reform the nation and spread Scriptural holiness across the land. I can think of few better stories than the first record of the giving of the Holy Spirit to the gentiles. Peter is called in a vision to go to the house of Cornelius, a Roman centurion, a gentile. Peter takes the opportunity to tell the good news of Jesus Christ. (Acts 10:34-48a).

3. The good news of Jesus Christ is for all. The gift of the Holy Spirit, Christ’s presence, God’s presence with us may be the story of Pentecost, but the purpose of Pentecost is the gift of the Holy Spirit to all, all that believe of every nation and race. We see that in this Scripture. And it is with the power of the Holy Spirit that reformation takes place. It is with the power of the Holy Spirit that Scriptural holiness is spread across the land. It is with the power of the Holy Spirit that we come to understand that the good news is for all.

4. Paul tells us that there is no distinction in Jesus Christ, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Ro 3.22); and there is no distinction among those saved by Jesus Christ: “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” (Gal 3.28)There is no distinction. “Christ is all and in all.” (Col 3.11b)
a. What great news this was to Cornelius and his household. In his house we had Jew and Greek, commander and servant, master and slave. In them all, Christ is all and in all.
b. And what great news for those of us who gather here in rural America in 1834. There is no longer male or female, slave or free. The Holy Spirit descends upon us all. Christ is all and in all. Glory be to God. Amen.

5. After the singing, Scripture and short exhortation, the conversation around the table got down to the real things in life. Are we living as faithful disciples of Christ in a way that brings salvation to us and witness to others? Are we being true to our purpose to bring reformation to the nation, to the church, and to spread Scriptural holiness across the land? Part of meeting together is to hold ourselves accountable, to watch over one another in Christian love.
a. The first and most important question we would ask of one another is “How is the state of your soul?” In other words, “How are you fairing on your spiritual journey?” Since all of us are in a different place in our faith walk, the answer would be varied as is the advice each might receive to strengthen their souls. How is the state of your soul?
b. All are expected to open themselves to grace. If we want to receive grace, we need to put ourselves in a place to receive it. If we want an apple to drop into our lap, we need to at least walk in the orchard. So Wesley taught we need to immerse ourselves in grace through acts of mercy and acts of piety. Acts of mercy: ways of loving our neighbors, our brothers and sisters, by feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the lonely. Acts of piety, ways of loving God, praying, reading Scripture, listening to exhortation, taking communion, fasting, participating in Christian conversation. How are we doing? How are we doing immersing ourselves in grace?
c. A third area of discussion would be “How are we doing abiding by the general rules of societies.?” The general rules, three of them.
d. We had a sermon series earlier this year on Wesley’s Three Simple Rules, based on a book by retired Bishop Reuben Job who based his book on Wesley’s rules for societies. There are a few copies in the back if you would like to explore more (See Jan 2009 Blogs). The rules are to first, do no harm, avoid evil of every possible sort. I’ve always thought it interesting that Wesley chose this rule to be first, do no harm. Harm can almost never be undone. Doing harm can be forgiven, yes; but the consequences of harm can almost never be undone. First do no harm. Have you done harm this week? Have you engaged in any evil practice? Anything by deed or example that might harm the soul of another? First, do no harm.
e. Second, do good. “Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can.” As the Bible says, “Never grow weary of doing good.” How are you doing? Wesley fought hard against what he called the enthusiastic doctrine of devils, that is the practice of only doing good when we felt like it. How are we doing in doing good?
f. The third general rule of societies, in simple terms is staying in love with God. Wesley said “Following the ordinances of God.” After all, Jesus said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” Jesus prayed, Jesus read Scripture, Jesus went to Synagogue to worship each Sabbath, Jesus gave us Holy Communion, Jesus fasted, Jesus engaged in holy conversation with his disciples and others. How are we doing in staying in love with God? The purpose of the meeting societies was to hold one another accountable in Christian love. “What sins have you committed, have you done harm? Let us pray for forgiveness. What good have you done? How can I help? How is your prayer life? What can I suggest?”

6. This sharing and fellowship most took place around a table, most likely as part of a meal or a tradition called the love feast. There was seldom an ordained minister there so that rather than Holy Communion, the tradition of the love feast was used. The love feast reaches all the way back to the house churches in Paul’s day and was revived in Wesley’s time. It’s part of our current Book of Worship but not often used. The love feast was an important part of early American Methodism. I’m sure it was part of the Smith Meeting Society. Rather than communion elements, bread and wine, crackers, sweet bread, some other simple element might be used. As we talk, I’m going to have the kids pass out these rice chex among you. Take one and hold it. We’ll get to it in a moment. They’re glutton free if that is a concern.a. As the sweet bread, or crackers or chex were passed from person to person, praise or Scripture or prayer might be offered spontaneously: Praise, “I will love the Lord my God with my whole heart.” Scripture: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness for they will be satisfied.” Prayer, “Gracious God, have mercy on me a sinner.” Spontaneous, simple, heart-felt, maybe even song, “O for a thousand tongues to sing my great redeemer’s praise, the glory of our God and king the triumph of his grace.” The Holy Spirit with us in the feast. Think now as you eat your chex, what is on your heart in praise or song or prayer of Scripture? Savor it. What is the Spirit testifying through you.
b. And rather than wine, water, tea or cider might have been used. And as the water or cider was passed, and it might have been in a two handled loving cup, testimony might be given. Where have you seen God at work in your lives or in the life of others this week? What does your salvation mean to you? What has God done in the world this week to reform the nation or to spread Scriptural holiness across the lan? What is your testimony? What do you offer for the uplifting of others as the loving cup is passed?

7. It is now time to pray (hat removed for prayer). For this time, let us pray together the prayer that Jesus taught us. And for this time, let us do so with eyes wide open, with chins up, looking into the eyes of others. Remembering that for Jesus, God was "Daddy," "Abba"; that the heaven where God resides can be as close as the air we breath, as close as our skin; that we have Father who hears our prayers, who listens to us, who meets our daily needs, who forgives our sins when we go to Him. Think about what the words mean to each of us. Let us pray: “Our Father…

8. Now let us lift our voices once again in assurance. (“This is my story, this is my song, praising my Savior all the day long.”)

C. Close
1. The meeting is over. (Remove hat.) 175 years have come and gone since the founders of Smith Chapel began meeting in the Smith family home. Such different times yet so many things remain the same. We have the same good news, a God who loves and gave himself for us. We have the same command, to love God and our neighbor as ourselves. We have the same rules, to first do no harm, to do good, to stay in love with God. And we have the same need to share our faith with one another, to hold one another accountable, to inquire as to the health of our souls.

2. We have the same need to reform the nation, especially the church, and the same need to spread Scriptural holiness across the land, maybe even more so.

3. Somewhere out there, to use a phrase of our bishop. Somewhere out there, there is a soul that needs to hear the good news of Jesus Christ. That needs to know that there is no distinction in Christ Jesus, for all are one in Christ Jesus. That the gift of the Holy Spirit is for all. There is no distinction, there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, there is no distinction. Grace, grace is free to all.

4. People of Smith Chapel, today is our birthday, today is the birthday of our church. The greatest gift you can give the church is to be church, is to be the body of Christ in someone’s life. To reform the nation one person at a time, to spread Scriptural holiness across the land one person at a time. Happy birthday church. Now, go and be church. So may it be in all of your lives. Amen.