Sermon transcript for December 2, 2012
December 2, 2012
Audio - MP3
Sermon transcript for November 25, 2012
Adam R Kelchner
November 25, 2012
Audio - MP3
Prayer: Grant, O God by the power of your Holy Spirit that my words give you praise and point like a signpost to the coming of your kingdom among us. Amen.
By the numbers, it looks like Walmart, Best Buy, and Amazon rule the day. We find ourselves this morning in a curious time of the year part way between the hoards of shoppers filling stores in the wee hours of the day on Black Friday and millions turning to debit and credit cards tomorrow for the biggest day of online shopping. These two glory days of shopping and splurging kick off a season where the values of bigger, better, and more expensive often shape our gift giving. To meet these cultural values of bigger, better, and more expensive, scores of people will turn to and wind up with deepening credit card debt, second or third jobs, anxiety, and guilt about gifts given or received. All of that isn’t exactly good news.
But in this curious time, we are gathered as a community of faith expectant for good news, that the good news of Jesus Christ says something full of hope and peace at the dawning of this season. Today, the church’s calendar is not marked by shopping holidays but the claim that Christ is still king. God’s dominion of goodness, peace, and justice in Jesus Christ is good news for the church and for the world. We have reason to celebrate because Christ is King and we are on the cusp of the beginning of Advent, knowing that God comes to us in Jesus the infant Christ.
This morning’s gospel text tells of the dicey exchange between Jesus and Pilate as Pilate attempts to determine the status of Jesus’ kingship. Pilate’s questioning of Jesus is captured strongest in this phrase: “Are you the King of the Jews?” To which Jesus makes his own inquiry attempting to determine on what basis Pilate asked his question. Does Pilate ask about Jesus’ kingship because of what the Jewish authorities told him or does he have personal concern of Jesus’ identity? More over, why is it a concern to Pilate if a 1st century Jewish rabbi makes a claim of kingship in occupied Roman territory? Throughout the gospel accounts of Jesus’ arrest and trial, the question, ‘Are you the King of the Jews,’ is of the utmost importance because the way in which it is answered determines if Jesus lives or dies. For Jesus to answer yes to such a question would amount to high treason against the Roman emperor. Surely the Roman government would put to death an insurrectionist who claimed sovereignty to rule as king!
Jesus responds to Pilate in this way: ‘My kingdom is not from this world.’ Jesus goes on to say that the values of his kingdom prevent his disciples from using the force of arms to protect their king. Yes indeed, Jesus the Christ is ruler of the kingdom we pray for, ‘may thy kingdom come, thy will be done on Earth as it is in heaven.’ But the values of God’s reign through Jesus Christ are neither the values of imperial Rome nor the values of consumer driven America. The values of God’s reign in Jesus the Christ are contrary to the dominant powers and principalities that wage violence, oppress immigrants and the poor, sustain unbridled consumption, and deal death to our neighbors who live on the fringes of society. The good news of God’s kingship through Christ crucified is that we are free to live in ways that demonstrate goodness, mercy, peace, grace, and generosity; we are free to live in ways that point to God’s good dominion rather than the reign of consumerism and greed.
God’s reign of love and mercy through Jesus the Christ is already among us and it will one day be complete and final. In the vision of the prophet Isaiah, God promises the creation of the new heaven and the new earth. Isaiah envisions the complete and final reign of God where there will be no more weeping or cries of distress. Children will not die at young ages. Adults will not succumb to death prematurely. There will be homes for shelter and vineyards and orchards will bear fruit for an abundance of food. Such things are a sign of God’s reign in Jesus Christ rising up amongst us now. The way the church lives in mission to the world is a demonstration of and sign that points to God’s reign in Jesus Christ.
If we believe that in the fullness of Christ’s reign that children will not die in infancy, then why do we not establish community clinics in the poorest zip codes of Nashville to improve prenatal health? If we believe that in the fullness of God’s reign in Jesus Christ that there will be an abundance of food in gardens and vineyards, then shouldn’t we work the Earth and glean the harvest until 1 out of every 4 Tennesseans who is hungry has an abundance on the table? If we believe that in the fullness of God’s dominion over all creation that families will have shelter and not suffer from homelessness and substandard housing, then the building of homes becomes a demonstration of God’s kingdom coming. There is nothing, let me say it again; there is nothing, that prevents the church from demonstrating in acts of mercy that God’s kingdom is already here and continuing to break in.
When I first came to Nashville and this community of faith several years ago, I was amazed at a ministry called the Christmas Miracle Offering. The Christmas Miracle Offering as we know it was the brainchild of Reverend Mike Slaughter at Ginghamsburg UMC in Tipp City, Ohio. You may already know of Mike Slaughter who tells his people ‘Christmas Isn’t Your Birthday.’ That’s right, Christmas isn’t your birthday and it isn’t mine either. This Advent season you may even be studying his books, ‘Christmas Isn’t Your Birthday’ or ‘Living A Different Kind of Christmas.’ His idea for the Christmas Miracle Offering goes something like this: Plan a budget for your Christmas gift giving. Then whatever amount you budget, give at least half of it to the church’s Christmas Miracle Offering. In the last eight years at Ginghamsburg, over $5.6 million worth of Christmas Miracle giving has shaped that church’s ministry with thousands of families in Darfur, Sudan.
Years ago, Belmont UMC adopted that invitation of Christmas giving and this community of faith has shaped lives across the world by building churches and boreholes for freshwater in Malawi, educating children in the Edgehill community and the Golden Triangle Fellowship by supplying curriculum and teachers, and improving agricultural development in Malawi with the support of a truck for Lester Mahone. This year, it is my joy to say that the Christmas Miracle Offering will demonstrate the reign of God through Jesus Christ by building three parsonages for pastors and their families in Malawi in the areas of Nsanje, Balaka, and Lilongwe. Through $30,000 of giving, the building of three parsonages will be a Christmas Miracle. If we believe that in the world to come and the complete reign of God that homelessness and substandard housing are no more, then by the grace of God we build homes as a demonstration of that reign to come. To aid and empower their work and the future of the church in Malawi, we are working to increase the number of pastors who have adequate housing. Currently, only five of the twenty-two Methodist pastors in Malawi have adequate housing.
Over the past decade, Belmont has signaled and demonstrated the reign of God in a growing partnership with the Methodist Church in Malawi. Over that period of time, you all have empowered God’s kingdom in Malawi through $400,000 of boreholes, churches, lay leadership and clergy training, missionary support, agricultural development, irrigation projects, a sewing school in Mzuzu, support of nursery schools, and multiple trips to grow relationships across the country. Praise be to God for continued demonstrations of God’s love and mercy made real.
Several years ago, Belmonters, Elmer and Nancy Young were given a magnificent gift by their children and grandchildren. In honor of their 50th wedding anniversary, their family gifted the money to build a church in Makuta, Malawi. That church is enabling the good news of God to be shared throughout the village. Hear the words of Elmer and Nancy who share how the ongoing support of the Methodist Church in Malawi is changing their lives.
“With the incredible gift of the Makuta church, we are nudged into more opportunities to plug into God’s hopes and dreams for all of God’s people. And if as Marcus Borg says ‘growth in love and compassion is the quality of life in the Spirit,’ then helping the Malawi churches shapes our own journey of following Jesus Christ. If adequate housing enables the ministers of Malawi to carry the good news of God’s love and compassion to Makuta and beyond, then let’s build houses.”
Today until December 23rd, we will hear, see, and read stories of Pastors Heston Mbuzi, Sufuliano Chisale, and Lyson Dzatopesa in the Malawi Annual Conference who are changing lives and growing the kingdom for God in Jesus Christ. We will pray prayers they have authored for this community of faith. We will turn our gaze inward and wrestle with the questions of how much do we need this Christmas and how much can we give away so that others may simply live? Then on December 23rd, we will have time during worship to bring forward gifts and written prayers for the church in Malawi (though you may give at any time over the next five weeks for the Christmas Miracle Offering).
As one of your pastors and an advocate for this church’s relationship with Christ followers in Malawi, I want to share why I believe building homes in Malawi is a demonstration of God’s reign in Jesus Christ and why I am giving to the Christmas Miracle Offering.
In this season where consumption seems to rule the day, I cannot help but recall the life changing effects of receiving sacrificial gifts from two men who believed that educating a young would-be pastor for seven years was an act of following Jesus Christ. I am giving to the Christmas Miracle Offering because I know there are few greater joys in life than giving away of one’s time, energy, and money for the sake of changing lives for God’s reign in Jesus Christ.
I’ve never been to Malawi (though I’m planning on it this upcoming year) but I know the United Methodist Church is there changing lives in the name of Jesus Christ. I know that Mercy Nyi-rongo works with the United Methodist Nutrition Clinic in Madisi to reduce malnourishment through feeding programs and improve childhood health through screenings and education on nutrition, hygiene, and HIV/AIDS. I know that United Methodist churches who partner with the Malawi Annual Conference are providing maize to feed communities ravaged by both floods and droughts. I know that a new borehole in Wilson Village near Nsanje is providing clean fresh water, so that women and children are not susceptible to harassment and sexual assault on long walks to sources of water outside the village. I know that Reverend Daniel Mahone is growing young church leaders and pastors who passionately preach the liberating gospel of Jesus Christ across the country. By the grace of God, United Methodist churches across Malawi are demonstrating that God hears the cries of the villages and cities for clean water, health, and food to eat. Building homes for pastors is about more than just providing safe shelter for a family. It’s about providing for and empowering the continued witness of the church in Malawi that is savings lives and demonstrating the goodness of God’s reign in Jesus Christ.
As one of your pastors and a fellow Christ follower, I am asking for you to do a few things as we edge our way into Advent and Christmas, so that our giving demonstrates God’s reign in Jesus Christ. 1. Complete your pledged giving to the church to sustain life changing ministry here as we finish the year strong. 2. Budget your Christmas giving and consume less stuff this season. 3. Give sacrificially to the Christmas Miracle Offering. I am personally making a $500 gift to the Christmas Miracle Offering to change the lives of Pastors Mbuzi, Chisale, and Dza-to-pesa and I’m budgeting $500 for my personal giving to friends and family. Come January, may we all celebrate having lived a different kind of Christmas knowing that the work of building homes is a demonstration of God’s eternal and grace filled reign in Jesus the Christ.