Sunday, January 24, 2010

Who Are You

Sermon preached January 24, 2010

Text: Luke 4:14-21

After last week, I thought I needed to begin with music that rocked out a bit.

The Who, "Who Are You

Who are you? That was the question his home town people were asking of Jesus – who are you? He chose to answer by quoting a Scripture from his tradition, Isaiah 61. 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.
With these words Jesus is saying important things about who he is and about the mission which he believes God has called him to. Jesus is a Spirit-person, someone who sought to embody God’s Spirit and to follow the winds of that Spirit. Spirit people tend to their relationship with God, they take time to care for their souls.
Jesus was a Spirit person with a mission, a mission to teach – to proclaim good news to the poor, to proclaim release to captives and recovery of sight. Jesus mission went beyond teaching to enacting his teaching by healing and freeing people. There are inner and outer aspects to Jesus mission. He wanted to transform people’s lives from the inside – to free their souls, to help them see life more fully and truthfully, to heal their inner oppression. Jesus also pointed to God’s dream for the world, a dream of a world without oppression – a more just and peaceful world, a world in which the poor and sick were cared for. While he did not create this world completely, he taught that this was God’s dream for the world, the work of God’s Spirit in the world.
Who are you Jesus - - - a Spirit person who wanted to see lives and the world transformed.
The question, “Who are you?” is asked of us, too. It is asked of us as individuals and of us as a church. It is a question we should ask ourselves as a church, a congregation. Who are we?
The United Methodist Church of which we are a part says that the mission of the church is to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. That is an important part of who we are. We exist to make disciples of Jesus Christ, to make ourselves disciples, and to invite others into the journey of discipleship. We exist to work with each other and with God to make the world different, better. Again, there are inner and outer dimensions to this. We are Spirit people, too, and the Spirit of God is the Spirit of God as we know this in Jesus. As Spirit people, we are to tend to our hearts, minds, souls. We seek ways to be shaped inside by God’s love, God’s grace. But that is not all that being a disciple of Jesus Christ means.
Until 2008, the United Methodist Church said that the mission of the church was to make disciples of Jesus Christ – end of sentence. At that General Conference, the General Conference in Fort Worth the proposal came to change our official understanding of the mission of the church so that it would become – “to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.” While it sounds pretty uncontroversial, it was vigorously debated. People argued, rightly, that a complete understanding of being a disciple included working to transform the world. However, it can become too easy to hear that language of discipleship and think only of inner change. Who are we? We are people on a journey of inner transformation who seek to transform the world.
But making disciples is a broad notion. If we at First United Methodist Church are Spirit people seeking to make disciples and make a difference, we need to take the next step and ask ourselves, what does a disciple look like at First United Methodist Church? Where are we called, more specifically, given our gifts, graces and history, to focus on making a difference in the world? While these may seem like silly questions – what does a disciple of Jesus Christ look like here? – I don’t think they are. Donald Evans, a theological ethicist, in his book Struggle and Fulfillment writes, “Even the New Testament teachings of Jesus and about Jesus… sanction a wide variety of emphases in life and belief” (156). Different Christian communities emphasize different elements of Christian faith and tradition.
I can illustrate this easily by recent news stories. A couple of weeks ago Britt Hume on Fox News, speaking of Tiger Woods, said that Buddhism, which he believed Tiger practices doesn’t offer “the kind of forgiveness and redemption that is offered by the Christian faith.” Hume encouraged Tiger Woods to become Christian. Is that the kind of disciple we seek to form here at First UMC. I don’t think so. While I believe Britt Hume offered his faith perspective in a well-meaning fashion, his words displayed an inadequate understanding of Buddhism and did not seem very sensitive to Tiger Woods as a person. Does he even know if Tiger is Buddhist? We want disciples who can share Christian faith, and share its resources of healing, forgiveness and new life, but we would want them to be respectful and knowledgeable about other religious traditions, and respectful of persons.
After the earthquake in Haiti, Rev. Pat Robertson offered a theological rationale for what had happened, noting that the Haitians had long ago made a pact with the devil that if the devil would help them get rid of the French, they would worship him. Since then, Rev. Robertson offered, Haiti has been cursed. Somehow the kind of disciples we want to produce here don’t see God as narrowly jealous and vengeful and peevish.
So what do disciples of Jesus Christ look like here at First UMC? In answering this questions I am relying on my own thoughts and observations and on feedback from our recent church conference. Disciples of Jesus Christ here at First UMC are welcoming and inclusive – we work to keep barriers from getting in the way of community here – barriers of age, race, background, orientation. Disciples of Jesus Christ here are committed to growth – we see life as a journey. Disciples of Jesus Christ here want to bring out the best in each other, affirm our gifts. Disciples of Jesus Christ here ask questions – we want a faith that appeals to head, heart and hands, one that is open to mystery and complexity. Disciples of Jesus Christ here really want to make a difference in the world. We are very United Methodist in that. If anything, I think we can be tempted to short-change the inner parts of discipleship. I want to keep ever before us statements like this from Donald Evans: The variety of issues in adult life should not be evaded. The person who is immersed in political activism or progressing in meditation may also be struggling against a terrible inner despair. (Struggle and Fulfillment, 158)
Disciples here have a deep desire to make a difference in the world. We are compassionate and seek to grow in that compassion and live more compassionately. We are socially conscious and seek to not only help the hungry but change systems so that there is less hunger in the world. The toughest question we need to ask again and again is knowing that there is always more good in the world that needs doing than we can do, where is God calling us with our gifts, graces and history to work to make a difference. We have identified some areas like our ministry with Lake Superior Elementary School, our participation in the CHUM Gabriel Project, our work with the kids from Northwoods Children’s Home, our music program which involves a range of persons from children to adults and styles from contemporary to classical to jazz. We always need to ask what next and what more.
Who are we? I have been trying to answer that question a little bit, and we need to keep asking that. As we grow in our self-understanding as a congregation we will find new ways to grow in making disciples and making a difference. One final note. We can paint a nice picture of who we are, but we know that we won’t always live up to that picture. We see life as a journey and sometimes we stray along the way. We are also a community of faith that trusts in God’s love, grace and forgiveness. God accompanies us all along the way as we seek to make disciples of ourselves and others and as we seek to make a difference in our world.
Who are we? We are disciples of Jesus Christ.
Who are we? We are Spirit people tending to our inner lives.
Who are we? We are Christian seekers on a spiritual journey.
Who are we? We are a welcoming and open people.
Who are we? We are a compassionate people.
Who are we? We seek justice and a better world.
Who are we? We are First United Methodist Church, a people on a journey of making disciples and making a difference and we welcome any who wish to join us along the way. Amen.

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