By and large I don't like the United Methodist mission statement to "make disciples of Jesus Christ." I don't know how to "make" a disciple. As a pastor, I might nurture a disciple, encourage a disciple, or witness for discipleship in my own life, but I don't know how to "make" one. It seems coercive. However, it is the mission statement that we have and I preached on it today (omitting my qualms with the lingo). I don't typically post my sermons. Preaching is a relational experience; reading them does them a disservice. (Perhaps I'll write on that another time.) But, for some reason, I thought that I would post today's sermon on mission...
Our Mission is...
April 29, 2007, Easter 4C
The Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church, which orders the lives of United Methodists and our institutions, says that our mission is “to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.” It goes on to say, “Local churches provide the most significant arena through which disciple-making can occur.” Yet local congregations spend inordinate amounts of time talking about and trying to discern their purpose. Our denomination takes its purpose from the Great Commission in Matthew where Jesus sends the apostles on their disciple-making mission. And local churches share in that ancient mission. At the very core of our existence is the growing of disciples for Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. That is our purpose pure and simple.
The mission of the emerging church had already begun when Peter travels to Joppa to find Dorcas. In this story we find the mission of the church exemplified in the individuals Peter and Dorcas. Dorcas, probably a deaconess in an early Christian community, embodies good works and mercy. She has focused her life’s work on caring for widows, one of the most vulnerable populations of her day. After an illness, she tragically dies leaving those in her care in an extremely vulnerable position. There they are, gathered around her, weeping and showing the fabrics that Dorcas had made for and with them. Dorcas is the work of the church alive in world, transforming people’s lives in real and tangible ways. Her very name tells us about her love of life, the vitality of her spirit – Dorcas means “gazelle.” In this deaconess, there is a gazelle, bounding through life spreading God’s love concretely in life transforming ways. Peter comes to her; Peter the “rock,” Peter the head of the emerging church. He is fast becoming the leader of the emerging church in all locations. Dorcas is the leader and life of the church in her one location. Peter is becoming the head of the church universal. Together they are making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.
This resurrection story exists in a line of narratives that tell us something about God’s power to transform our world. Acts uses imagery and words reminiscent of the raising of Jairus’ twelve year old daughter in Mark 5. Jesus is summoned to Jairus’ house. He takes Peter, James and John with him. And in the midst of the grief that fills the room, Jesus takes the dead girl by the hand and says, “Little girl, get up.” The work done through Peter in the book of Acts strongly recalls God’s work through Jesus. Peter is Jesus’ heir. And such stories of God’s action of bringing life from the dead don’t originate in the New Testatment. In 1 Kings, Elijah raises the son of the widow, beseeching God to let life return to the child. In the midst of the sorrow that fills not only the room but also Elijah’s heart, he stretches himself over the child and lays upon him and life returns (1 Kings 17:17-24). Later in 2 Kings, Elijah’s protégé Elisha faces the same situation. Called to a house where a little boys has died, Elisha goes it, “shut(s) the door on the two of them and prayed to the LORD. 34 Then he got on the bed and lay upon the boy, mouth to mouth, eyes to eyes, hands to hands. As he stretched himself out upon him, the boy's body grew warm. 35 Elisha turned away and walked back and forth in the room and then got on the bed and stretched out upon him once more. The boy sneezed seven times and opened his eyes” (2 Kings 4:42-47). God’s power is not containable by anything, not even death, and our mission as the church is to be heirs of this tradition by letting this power loose on the world through our touch, our breath, our presence so that life may return to those dead places of our world.
In Dorcas we find the hard work of being Christ’s presence and witness to a particular community day in and day out. Her service over a long period of time made life altering transformation for the women she tended. In Peter we find the challenge of bringing God’s power to many people in many different places. Peter had become a leader of leaders, moving from place to place. He, as the “rock”, became Jesus’ heir, as we see in his participation of raising Dorcas from the dead. In them, in their touch, we find the life of the early church. The church was not and is not only an institution. Rather, the church, when it is faithful in its mission, transforms people’s lives. First, the lives of those gathered in wonder and worship reach out and touch the Holy. Once our hearts have been touched by the power of the living God, then we extend ourselves as vessels of God to the world.
This week The United Methodist Church received a gift that could help us bring transformation into this world. American Idol (a show that I just can’t bring myself to watch) raised over $60 million this past week in a fundraiser for eight different organizations benefiting both The US and Africa. They raised over $60 million. A United Methodist mission was one of the eight. Nothing But Nets is a joint effort of our denomination, the United Nations Foundation, the National Basketball Association’s NBA Cares, Sports Illustrated mag and Major League Soccer’s MLS W.O.R.K.S. Nothing But Nets sends insecticide-treated nets for African children to sleep under. It’s that simple. Its goal is to eliminate the effects of malaria in Africa. The goal is simple, concrete, and attainable. We are being both Peter and Dorcas when we tap into God’s creative imagination to come up with a ministry like this one. We are making real and significant changes in people’s lives over the long run, like Dorcas. And we are being leaders on the world stage, bringing life from places of death, like Peter.
Woodland Park has a world transforming ministry in it. As the local church, it is our holy and sacred mission to transform the Phinney Ridge and Greenwood neighborhoods. As the assembled, hoping to touch the Holy in our own lives, we, like Dorcas, need to reach out to God’s hand extended to us in the form of others when we are floundering, lost, barren, and alone. In our times of death, God is there commanding us to rise as a powerful and faithful witness for others. And, as the church, Dorcas offers us a powerful witness to what being the midst of others can do. We can make real and significant changes in our local neighborhood. It’s true that local congregations can’t do everything; it’s not our mission to do so. It is our mission to persistently and faithfully witness to God’s astounding and life-changing love, day in and day out, for one another and for our world. Our mission is no less than that of the church “to make disciples for the transformation of the world.” Amen.
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