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Sermon transcript for October 14, 2012

Belmont UMC—October 14, 2012
Adam Kelchner, preaching

Audio - MP3

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.



   

Sermon transcript for September 30, 2012

Living God’s Dream in Community
Mt. 16:13-18; James 5
Belmont UMC—September 30, 2012
Ken Edwards (with Bill Lane)

In the Gospel of Matthew Jesus asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” And Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon, son of Jonah! For flesh and blood have not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.” (16:13-18)

It’s a powerful statement, especially with what we know about Peter, who later in the Gospel story, does not look much like a rock, a firm foundation, upon which to build anything. He looks more like a fault line!

“Living God’s Dream” is our theme for 5 Sundays through October 21st as we move toward making pledges of our giving to support the ministries of the church. When we think about Living God’s Dream for the church, what does that look like in our minds?

What did Jesus envision when we spoke of building the church? The Greek word for church, ekklesia, means “those who are called out.” Like Peter and the other disciples we are community of people called by Jesus. Who is Jesus calling us to be?  

We’ve been reading through the Letter of James in this Lectionary cycle and James has lots of practical advice, some of it stated in strong language, about what it means to be the church. And it appears that the early church was trying to understand what it meant to live toward God’s dream for them, as a group of people, coming together in expressions of faith.

Here are some snapshots of church life from the Letter of James: It is a place where expressions of generosity are reminders of God’s generous grace. In the church we hear the word and act upon it. In the church we use our words to encourage and build up, never to tear down. In the church we learn that status does not exist in the mind of God. In the church we care for one another and help meet the needs of those who are lacking. In the church we learn to put aside our selfish pursuits and agendas. In the church we work out our differences in an atmosphere of grace and unity. In the church we pray for one another and bear one another’s burdens. And it is in the church that we ask daily for Godly wisdom, because we know we cannot survive without it.

And all these years later we still struggle to fully understand who God is calling us to be, but we keep moving toward this dream of God anyway. I suspect we all have images, snapshots, in our minds that describe what we think church is about.

As United Methodist people we know that we are a covenant church. Long ago when our founder, John Wesley, started class meetings, the people were bound together in love and they held each other accountable to faithful living, and they were serious about it, too. We continue to speak the words of our covenant with God and we repeat them every time a new member joins the church. We promise to support the church with our prayers, our presence, our gifts, our service and our witness. Sometimes, we say those words quickly and we forget how transformative they can be when taken seriously.

It had snowed on Saturday night—that’s a pastor’s nightmare. The pastor has to make a decision about opening the church but knows that few people will venture out on a morning like that. I made the decision to cancel the early service and Sunday School, but to hold the later service and that decision necessitated dozens of phone calls in a time before email and websites. I drove on snow covered streets to the church and began to help the custodian shovel the walks and porches to make them somewhat safe.

Thirty minutes before the late service was to start, a car pulled into the driveway. Inside the car was an older couple. The wife was driving; the husband had given up his driving privileges when he reached his late 80’s. They were very faithful to the church and had been involved in every aspect of the church’s life. His claim to fame was that, at age 80, against everyone’s advice, he had climbed to the top of the bell tower and painted the peeling roof—because it needed a coat of paint.

His name was Garland and I approached the car to help him and his wife. I said, “Garland, this is a terrible day for you to be out on the roads. You could easily fall and break a limb.’ Garland was feeble and stooped, and he cocked his head to one side to look me in the eye. The look he gave me was not a pleasant one. He said, “All these people keep joining the church here and you keep making us repeat these words, ‘With you we renew our vows to support the church with our prayers, our presence, our gifts and our service.’ Well. I am present.”  He took the covenant he made with God and with the others in the church very seriously.

We promise to pray for our church and we have entered into a season of prayer and discernment and seek God’s guidance in developing a strategic plan for the church. We asked, “What are God’s dreams for us as the people of Belmont UMC? Where is God leading? Where do we hear God’s call?”

We promise to be present here on Sunday mornings and at events throughout the week. Our presence is important to the life and vitality of the church. We love each other we need each other. In the spirit of the African concept of ubuntu, which means “I am because you are,” we know that we are defined and enriched by each other’s presence.

We promise to give to the church and we give in faith because we do not always see the life changing results of our giving. Some folks would rather give to capital funds, which are important as well, but our regular giving may indeed change the life of someone we will never meet or know and we give in faith. That kind of giving has a cumulative impact, like compound interest. We change a life, and that persons changes two lives and those two persons change several more.

We promise to serve the church—to hear God’s call be engaged in hands on service for Jesus Christ. Bill and Mary Ruth Lane live in Fairview, TN and come here each week to worship and to teach the Senior High Sunday Class. They are committed to working with our teens and as a father, as well as a pastor, I’m grateful for their service. I’ve asked Bill to come and share about an exciting ministry of the youth and their partnership in feeding the hungry.

This all started for me several years ago when Mary Ruth and I attended a seminar at Focus on The Family in Colorado Springs. The subject matter was "Balancing family life with your professional life." Upon our return I spent quite a bit of time thinking about the things I enjoyed doing that would help "balance" my life. Being self employed as an attorney has its ups and downs. I definitely needed balance!

The activities I enjoyed included several things which lead me outdoors. Backpacking,
Kayaking, Mountain Biking, Fly Fishing....Despite being able to do all of this, there was
something that was obviously missing. Mary Ruth had always told me to "be still and listen" so I gave it a try... It works.

Shortly thereafter I realized that my connection to the earth was where I could find solace. We had the opportunity to purchase the farm where we live now back in 2006. After spending time out there on the weekends, I decided that "I was going to have a garden." That's when it started.

So in 2008 I had the equipment and the desire to get things going. As Mary Ruth will tell you I have a tendency to go a little overboard. I didn't want just a garden spot. So I put in a garden that was one-half acre and another half-acre which is an orchard. The garden was an immediate success. We had stuff growing out of ours ears. This was the next issue to deal with. We didn't can things and had no storage. So the question became what do we do with all these vegetables?

By this time we had returned to Belmont and were teaching the Sr. High Sunday School Class, and after a couple of years giving things away, and you can only give so much yellow squash away, and letting things rot in the garden, I had started having discussions with Mary Ruth about the fact we were being so wasteful and having been blessed with the garden we were not being good stewards with what God had provided. Don't get me wrong, I was having a great time and the garden offered the transition I was looking for from being at work to being at home. But there was something obviously lacking. However, the lack of stewardship was pretty heavy.

Then the idea hit. Why not supply a need for fresh vegetables in the Nashville community. I have always kept in mind the quote that "ideas without action are only hallucinations" and knew that it would be impossible to do this without help. Where could I turn for the help? That's when I approached Chris and with his help, we implemented the program that we have today. The Garden is good and God has made it grow abundantly this year even with the drought. You learn real quick that God has his own plan and it does not necessarily conform to your own. I contacted Tallu Quinn at the Nashville Food Project and needless to say she was thrilled. No one had ever offered up a food source like this.

The kids started coming out in early March of this year and with the assistance of parents and other volunteers built a 12 x 20 foot hoop house and planted some twenty-five flats full of various vegetable seed. When the weather broke, more kids, parents and volunteers came out and the ground was broken and everyone joined in planting more vegetables. The vegetables that were started in the hoop house went into the ground and when I looked up one weekend, the entire garden was planted and growing. We had Potatoes, Green Beans, Swiss Chard, Pac Choy, cauliflower, tomatoes, kale, corn and so on. It was truly amazing.

One instance that has stuck with me is when we were getting the potatoes out of the ground. We had several varieties and there was an abundance! Was that we had one child who was down in the dirt and pulled out a potato and looked at me and asked the question, very seriously "can I eat this?" I said yes but leave the dirt. He wasted no time. We ended up with about two hundred pounds ofpotatoes alone and parents so you know we don't use any chemicals at all.

Looking back we had ten youth and twelve adults that would take turns rotating in and out on a regular basis. Groups returned throughout the Spring and into Summer. It was great and God's presence was obvious. The fellowship was wonderful. The opportunity to meet and get to know parents, kids and other adults in a different setting has helped me grow in how I relate to others and given me a further understanding of what God had in mind all along.

By the end of the Summer, the garden, through God's plan and the help of the community right here today, was one of four which supplied over five hundred pounds of fresh vegetables to the Nashville Food Project who in turn took those vegetables and prepared 2,400 hot nutritious meals per month with the help of 1200 volunteer hours. It was a lot of work but it was good work.

We promise to be a witness for Jesus Christ, to share our faith stories, and to live in a way that speaks of Christ’s presence in the world. I like the words that are attributed to St. Francis, “Preach the gospel everywhere, and if necessary, use words.”

If we live this covenant we have made with each other, we will live toward God’s dream for us and we will be living witnesses of God’s expansive love in the world.

 

Sermon transcript for September 16, 2012

High Expectations
Mark 8:27-38
Belmont UMC—September 16, 2012
Ken Edwards, preaching

When I was serving the church in Lebanon, Tennessee, I received a call in the office one day. The call was from a couple who had visited the church on the previous Sunday. The husband made the call and the wife was listening in. He said, “We visited on Sunday and the people were very friendly. We enjoyed the music and the sermon and we are thinking about joining up.” I said, “That’s great! Can we set up a meeting to talk about membership?”

He said, “I guess, but I need to make a few things clear before we join. One is that we are retired now and we have decided that we will not be volunteering to serve on committees or teaching or things like that. We really want to be under the radar. And we don’t make pledges to giving campaigns. What we are looking for is a church where we come and enjoy worship on Sundays and be pretty much left alone.”

After a long pause, I said, “Actually, we ask new members to commit to support the church with their prayers, presence, gifts, service and witness. So may I recommend you try First United Methodist? I think you’ll fit better there.” I never told the pastor First UMC that I did that. I probably owe someone an apology.

I was at a workshop a few weeks ago and one of the presenter’s slides read simply, “High Expectation Churches Grow; Low Expectation Churches Die.”

These were some of the thoughts that were floating through my head when I was reading these words of Jesus in Mark 8. And I was thinking about being a part of the church during an era of church growth experts, who encourage churches to give what people what they want so they will stay put and quit church shopping. We all want to be a part of the full service church.

Barbara Brown Taylor notes, “The effort to please does not stop once people decide to join the church. A good parish minister will work hard to make sure that worship is satisfying, that Christian education is appealing, that plenty of opportunities for fellowship and service exist. A well-run church is like a well-run home, where members can count on regular meals in pleasant surroundings, with people who generally mind their manners.” (Bread of Angels, pp. 46-47) She concludes that Jesus would not have been a successful parish minister.

And then I read today’s Gospel text. Listen again to some of these words. Jesus asks the disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” They respond with some of the things they are hearing on the streets. And then Jesus asked, “Who do you say that I am?” Peter answered, “You are the Christ.” That was the correct answer, but it’s likely that Peter had a different understanding what being “the Christ” meant.

Jesus describes what it means to be “the Christ” in these words, “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and the legal experts, and be killed, and then, after three days, rise from the dead.” (v. 31) Peter did not like this answer and he tried to scold and correct Jesus. Jesus said, “Get behind me, Satan. You are not thinking God’s thoughts, but human thoughts.” (v. 33)

The text seems to answer two questions: What does it mean to be Jesus? What does it mean to be a follower of Jesus? And the answers to both questions are hard to hear.

Jesus does not live up to Peter’s messianic expectations. Peter expects Jesus to be a strong, invincible savior, a super hero, who can conquer all his people’s foes. The disciples have been following Jesus and listening to his profound teachings. They have been witnesses to stunning miracles and they been amazed at Jesus’ compassion and power. They have been plotting how wonderful it will be to in this leader’s cabinet. They are well into this journey when Jesus drops this bomb on them. Suddenly he is talking about suffering and rejection and they must be wondering if they have embarked on the wrong trip.

I doubt that we want a Jesus who is a conquering hero, a super savior who can defeat our enemies. But we must admit that we would like a Jesus who is a little more domesticated, a Jesus who blends into our culture a little more smoothly. We want a Jesus who is more like us: a Republican or a Democrat, an optimist, a vegan or a progressive, or whatever we want him to be. We want a softer savior, a gentler Jesus and not one who talks about suffering and rejection.  And no, he does not live up to our expectations; he lives up to God’s expectations. God seeks not only to enter into our world and to know us more intimately, but enters into our suffering as well. This God has the real power—the power that comes with unconditional love. This God has the power to save us!

What does it mean to be a follower of this Jesus? Listen to the words of Jesus, “All who want to come after me must say no themselves, take up their cross, and follow me. All who want to save their lives will lose them. But all who lose their lives because of me and because of the good news will save them.” (verses 34b-35 CEB) Jesus has high expectations for us as well. He expects us to let go of our lives and give them over to God. That seems risky and we aren’t comfortable with some of the language Jesus uses, especially that part of carrying crosses.

I was coming of age in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s and it was common to hear people say that they were “trying to find themselves.,” or wanting to experience some level of self-discovery, and answer the question, “Who am I?” That’s not the wrong journey to travel, but the choices people made often led them away from the answer, not toward it. Jesus says we won’t find ourselves until we are willing to lose ourselves in God’s purposes, in something bigger than us, in service that takes beyond our selfish needs and motives.

When people are asked to describe a meaningful time in their lives, or to share about a life changing experience, listen to what they say. I’ve never heard anyone answer that question by talking about getting a promotion at work or winning an award. They almost always talk about a mission trip, building a Habitat House, mentoring children, feeding and housing the homeless neighbors, or serving the needs of the world in some important way.

At Grace UMC we sent several mission teams to Gulfport, Mississippi after Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast. Our senior high youth went to New Orleans. I would meet these mission teams, often made up of young adult men and women who were taking vacation days to help someone else. We would pray together and then they would set out. They weren’t the same people when they returned at the end of the week. They had come face to face with suffering and with the people they were helping, people who had lost everything, including their hope for recovery. They had worked long days in dirty and uncomfortable surroundings, and they were profoundly changed by having given themselves in service to others. They were spiritually changed and renewed. And they understood what Jesus meant when he said, “All who lose their lives because of me and the good news will find them.”

Bishop Will Willimon shared a story from his days at Duke University. A representative from Teach America visited the campus to recruit talented college graduates to go into some of the nations worst public schools. This is Teach America’s method for transforming schools.

Willimon said, “One woman stood up in front of a large group of Duke students, a larger group than I would suppose would come out to this sort of thing, and said to them, ‘I can tell by looking at you that I have probably come to the wrong place. Somebody told me this was a BMW campus and I can believe it looking at you. Just looking at you, I can tell that all of you are a success. Why would you all be on this campus if you were not successful, if you were not going on to successful careers on Madison Avenue or Wall Street?’

‘And yet here I stand, hoping to talk somebody into giving away your life in the toughest job you will ever have. I am looking for people to go into the hollows of West Virginia, into the ghettos of South Los Angeles and teach in some of the most difficult schools in the world. Last year, two of our teachers were killed while on the job.’

‘And I can tell, just by looking at you, that none of you are interested in that. So go on to law school, or whatever successful thing you are planning on doing. But if by chance, just some of you happen to be interested, I’ve got some brochures here for you to tell you about Teach America. Meeting’s over.’”

Willimon said the whole group stood up, pushed into the aisles, pushed each other aside, ran down to the front, and fought over those brochures. He said he learned that evening that people want to be a part of something bigger than them selves; they want to be part of the adventure. (Pulpit Resource, Vol. 28, No. 3 p. 50)

We see this all the time around here—people who have let go of the control over their lives, giving their lives to God, and in the process, finding real life, and finding a deep and lasting relationship with God with this God of high expectations, this God, who has the power to save them. Let us join this great adventure with God!

   

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