Sermon transcript for October 14, 2012
Belmont UMC—October 14, 2012
Adam Kelchner, preaching
Prayer: God of grace, you speak to your people through the words of the prophets, and the teachings of Jesus Christ. Grant your blessing on these words and stir up in us, by the power of the Holy Spirit, readiness to receive the invitation to costly discipleship. Amen.
As a community of faith, Belmont is entering into its third week of looking out over the horizon towards God’s dream for 2013. In recent weeks, both Ken Edwards and Pam Hawkins have provided us with glimpses of the scope of God’s dream in Nashville and across the world, including Belmont’s participation in it. As this community continues to discern and live into God’s dream, we can take time to ask of ourselves and one another this question: What is the cost of professing Jesus as the Holy One of God and committing to live into God’s dream?
As we raise this question, allow me to share with you the story of a young woman at Belmont University. Olivia is a God gifted musician, and soon to graduate in May with a degree that prepared her for commercial music. She is also an active student leader in the Methodist campus ministry, Belmont Wesley Fellowship. At this time in her life she is asking the following questions because the answers are going to shape the next stage of her life: What is the cost of my discipleship and commitment to follow Jesus Christ? What will I give up to serve the people whom God loves?
For many years, Olivia has participated in the summer camp Mountain TOP, which serves the needs of rural communities in the Cumberland Mountains, particularly impoverished families in Grundy County. When Olivia returned from her work in Grundy County this past summer, she shared with me the deep hurt of knowing children who go hungry or are neglected in rural communities where she served. Her stories are a combination of exuberance and joy serving the world for Jesus Christ and encountering the challenges of people struggling to make ends. Olivia’s story of Christian service doesn’t end when the summer comes to a close and the camp participants who served in Grundy County return to their home churches.
Her continued ministry to homeless men at the Nashville Rescue Mission or to youth struggling with faith and identity questions stems from something beyond an amazing summer camp experience. Her profession of Jesus as Christ, the Holy One of God, deeply shapes the way she tries to make God’s loving dream for the world real to those around her. Faced with the possibility to serve in ministry for two years in Grundy County after graduation, she is discerning the call of Jesus Christ on her life. Will she leave behind family and loved ones in Nashville to serve in Grundy County? Will she risk putting aside career ambitions and take up the joy, challenges, and risks of Christian service? The question, “What is the cost of my discipleship, our discipleship, in the name of Jesus Christ?” is of great significance to Olivia in this period of discernment, as well as to this community of faith.
What does it mean to follow Jesus the Christ? In a poignant moment in this morning’s gospel reading, we hear the disciples complain about the difficulty of Jesus teaching about eating flesh, drinking blood, and abiding in him. Once Jesus finishes responding to the disciples’ complaints, several disciples turned back and no longer followed him. How honest-John lets us hear how strange, difficult, and challenging it is to follow Jesus Christ. But then Jesus turns to the twelve, his closest disciples, to inquire about their willingness to continue to follow him. With a slightly mocking tone, Jesus asks the Twelve, “Do you also want to leave?”
Here it is. Jesus creates an opportunity for the disciples to choose whether or not they will continue alongside him in his ministry. Jesus’ question about their readiness to leave could even be a way out-a return to something more familiar. Simon Peter, Andrew, Nathaniel, Philip, and others can get back to the way of life that preceded Jesus’ arrival. They can return to something a bit more familiar like mending fishing nets and long hours on the water. They can return to the communities they call ‘home’ and people there whom they love. They can set aside the demands and self-sacrificing lifestyle required to follow Jesus and to share in his restorative life, death, and resurrection.
The invitation to depart speaks sobering and honest words about the journey of following Jesus the Christ. The cost of following Jesus can be great and press us as individuals and as a community to make life-changing decisions about the use of our time, money, and energy. Yes, those sorts of decisions do come along and require deep prayer, reflection, and conversation to navigate. But there are the everyday costs of following Jesus-the routine, even mundane, things we do that have the potential to point to the love of God in the world.
In an age when people in our denomination are worried about declining membership and church growth trends, it might seem odd to name the difficulties, challenges, and costs of journeying with Jesus. What if people hear what this Jesus movement really entails? Washing each other’s feet. Will our numbers dwindle? What about Jesus restoring our relationships with God? Perhaps if people hear about how bewildering some of Jesus’ teachings are, then they will not commit to serve the hurt of the world in his name. Love your enemy. Perhaps people will turn away from Jesus and the church if they really think that a commitment to discipleship makes a claim on how they spend their money. Give it to the poor. Living out one’s discipleship at church isn’t so clean if Jesus really meant those things about welcoming the stranger, loving someone who hates you, giving food and clothing to our neighbors who desperately need it, or welcoming immigrant families who are trying to call Nashville home.
Yes, following Jesus just might mean being in relationship with people you wouldn’t choose to associate with (especially in this political season); it might mean serving people whose hurt, pain, and condition of life makes them vulnerable and makes us uncomfortable; it might mean setting aside some of your own dreams so that God’s vision for creation comes true.
But before anyone starts throwing in the towel because the life of following Jesus the Christ seems difficult, we need to hear the words of Simon Peter. As a response to Jesus’ invitation to depart, Simon Peter makes one of the clearest theological declarations in all the gospels. His words are clear as crystal and spoken from a deep awareness of God’s presence. “You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that you are God’s holy one.” Jesus, you teach us in the ways of everlasting life and we both believe and know you are God’s chosen one.
It is the profession that Jesus is the Christ, God’s holy one that draws us into a deeper and costlier way of following and loving Jesus-not our own resilience, ambitious dreams, or self-sufficiency. The power of following Jesus Christ, growing in love of both God and neighbor, can become so strong that it leads individuals and communities to participate in God’s healing and transformation of the world. Led by the power of a deep commitment to follow Jesus, where else can we go? What else can we do other than commit ourselves to serve in places where Almighty God is bringing forth transformation?
I know many of you were in Christian service this past summer serving with Project Transformation Tennessee, a ministry led by young adults who provide reading camps for underserved neighborhoods in this city. Whether by providing meals for the young adult interns or serving as a reading tutor for a young child, you served in a transformative way. Before Project Transformation ever came to Nashville and the Tennessee Conference, God’s dream was stirring in the life of young adult, Courtney Aldrich.
Courtney might tell you years ago she set out a five year plan for her life. She knew as a college student exactly where she wanted to be in 2013 until the Spirit of God interrupted. Courtney left Tennessee during one of her college summers to serve as an intern for Project Transformation in Dallas, Texas. One year later Courtney returned to serve again as a Project Transformation intern in Dallas. It was after her second year of service with Project Transformation that she began hearing God’s invitation to lead something new. So for a third year, amidst a period of discernment, Courtney returned to Dallas to serve. It was during that summer that God’s clear invitation to a costly and self-sacrificing way of following Jesus in a particular ministry emerged for Courtney. Her commitment and profession of Jesus as Christ led her to take up a call to bring Project Transformation here to Tennessee.
That’s exactly what Courtney did-she brought the idea of Project Transformation Tennessee to church leaders and communities of faith across this area sharing this piece of God’s dream. As a community of faith, we said ‘yes,’ to be part of God’s work through Project Transformation Tennessee. As individuals, you said ‘yes,’ to support the faith journey of 24 young adults who led the summer programs. Indeed, God said ‘yes’ to 220 children in this city who know love through youth and adults who sat alongside them as they practiced reading. Praise be to God that a young adult’s love for Jesus Christ and commitment to follow him, led her to catch part of God’s dream for children here in middle Tennessee.
Until we see God’s dream of complete transformation among us, let us hold fast to this promise of God: ‘Behold, I am doing a new thing.’
Sermon transcript for October 7, 2012
Living God’s Dream in the World
Acts 1:6-8 2 Corinthians 8:1-7; 9:6-15
Belmont UMC—October 7, 2012
World Communion Sunday
Ken Edwards, preaching
A favorite app on my new Ipad is called Google Earth. If you haven’t seen this, it begins with a view of the earth from a space satellite and with the touch of the screen, it begins to locate me on the earth, scanning downward until it lands on 3002 Boxbury Lane and I can see the sawdust in the front yard where the stump was removed in the spring and I can see our cars parked in the driveway. The technology is quite stunning.
It locates me on the earth but it also reminds me that I am a small part of a large planet of people and places. There are so many of us scattered across this Earth and all over the globe on this World Communion Sunday--people of faith who are gathered in beautiful cathedrals, in simple framed churches, in homes around kitchen tables, under thatched arbors, and in makeshift worship centers near battle zones, and they are giving thanks to God, breaking bread together and remembering the grace of God in their lives. And though I inhabit a very tiny portion of the earth, I know I am a part of them. Not only do we share the same DNA but we share the same Creator and we share in the same rich, generous grace of God. And I never come to this table without thinking of them.
I have chosen texts for today that are not the lectionary cycle texts for us. We have veered away from the lectionary for this series, Living God’s Dream, but I chose these texts because of two reasons. The first text reminds us of our global witness. Jesus promised the disciples and those who would make up the early church that they will be filled with the Spirit and given power to be witnesses to the ends of the earth.
The second text from 2 Corinthians and in this text Paul is appealing to the Corinthian church to collect funds for the struggling and suffering Christians in Jerusalem. He uses the generosity of the Macedonians as an example of generosity. The Macedonian Christians, in the midst of their affliction, have found a way to share what they have with others. Paul speaks of the opportunity that the Corinthians (and we) have to pass on God’s grace to others.
The question that arises out of this text is, “Why would the people in Corinth or Macedonia be concerned about the needs of Christians in Jerusalem?” It is likely that they do not know anyone in Jerusalem by name and it is highly likely that they have never traveled that far or carry in their minds eye what Jerusalem even looks like. Why should they be asked to offer financial support to people so far away?
We might ask other questions: Why should I be concerned about the people of Malawi, a small, poor country in Africa? Or why should I be concerned about the people of Mexico.” As we consider our gifts to support the church, why should be concerned about living God’s dream in far away places.
I grew up in Robertson County, just to the north of Davidson County. On a vacation I met some folks from Tennessee and they asked me, “Where are you from?” I answered, “Robertson County.” And they asked, “Really? Who are your people?” That’s a southern thing—an attempt to make connections. But it also suggests that some people are not my people, but this idea does not exist in the mind of God.
William Sloane Coffin said, “It seems to me that in joining a church you leave home and hometown to join a larger world. The whole world is your new neighborhood and all who dwell therein—black, white, yellow, red, stuffed and starving, smart and stupid, mighty and lowly, criminal and self-respecting, American or Russian—all become your sisters and brothers in the new family formed in Jesus. By joining a church you declare your individuality in the most radical way in order to affirm community on the widest possible scale. (Credo, pp. 142-143)
The table around which we gather today is a uniting table. It is the table where all countries and all peoples are equal and one, because that’s how God likes it. These are God’s people; they are my people and they are your people.
In our own country we are so divided and polarized. People have taken sides and the tone has become angry and shrill. It takes on a tone of winners and losers and the truth is the increasing polarization means that we all lose in some way.
Our country desperately needs the church to model something bigger and nobler and better, and that something is always realized around this table. Around this table we model the strength of our diversity, the grace of civil discourse (John Wesley, our founder, would have called it “holy conferencing”), and the grand miracle of reconciliation.
While we may think those early Christians were more homogeneous, Diana Butler Bass reminds us, “Jesus’ earliest followers gathered into culturally diverse congregations where Jews, Gentiles, Samaritans, and Africans worshiped and served God together. Besides being racially and ethnically diverse, early Christians held a variety of theological views and created varied spiritual practices that shaped the new religion. Christianity thrived in the multicultural cities of the Roman Empire, and the faith reflected this environment. Yet in the midst of this variety, the practice of love bound together the Christian community into a kind of oneness that honored diversity while at the same time, fostering harmony and unity—creating a kind of family, ‘an inclusive table fellowship that emulated the social practices of Jesus.’” (Christianity for the Rest of Us, p. 149)
At this table we realize that life is about something larger than our own ideas and opinions. On this World Communion Sunday we come again to the table to gather with Christians all around the world, people of every nation, language, color, size, opinion, and political persuasion. We gather around this table with great anticipation of what will happen here, and with great love for one another. We gather to eat food that nourishes our souls and allows us to live toward God’s dream for God’s people.