This is the message that I gave on the 16th Sunday after Pentecost, 1 October 2000, at Walker Valley United Methodist Church, Walker Valley, NY. The Scriptures for that Sunday were Esther 7: 1 – 6, 9 – 10; 9: 20; James 5: 13 – 20; and Mark 9: 38 – 50.
Recent events, both that pertained to politics and those that pertained to crime, got to me thinking about the role of church into day’s society. Why is that politicians think and we, as voters, encourage them to think that laws and regulations are the answer to our problems. It was interesting to read on Thursday that parents were telling Congress to stay out of the movie business and let them, the parents decide what is right for their kids.
But how can they, the parents or their children, know what is right? Where is the church and what is its role in all of this?
The church today is in an interesting position in today’s society. It must cry out against the evils of society, against that which is wrong, but if all that is done is to preach “hell, fire, and damnation” then nothing will get done. And of course, when you are loud in condemnation, you have to be very careful that what you do is correct as well. As Jesus point out to all those who would stone the woman accused of adultery, “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.”
And we have also, as a society, grown weary of those who criticize as a matter of course. It is quite easy to criticize but without an alternative, the criticism is mute. Many people feel that churches in today’s society are quick to condemn but not as quick to provide help. And while this may seem to be unique to our time and place, it is not.
It was the very lack of alternatives that led John Wesley to begin the Methodist Revival. And we are here today as a legacy to that movement, because we also feel that the church can do something about the problems that befall society.
What can we do? One of the reasons that you got that letter from me this week, or will soon get, is to find out what we can do. I thought after reading the Old Testament reading that perhaps I should have found what Mordecai wrote in his letters to the Jewish community in Persia, for his concerns are our concerns.
Just as that community in Persia took care of its own, so to must we wonder what it is that we can do here in Walker Valley. As a church and as a community, we need to think about the four parts of the membership covenant, those four things that we said we would do when became United Methodists — our prayers, our presence, our gifts, and our service.
James wrote about the power of prayer. We recognize that prayer has power by the number of times we pray, both formally and informally, in the service on Sunday. We have a prayer chain that is remarkably efficient.
Now, if you are not a part of that prayer chain, can I ask why? For though there is power in those who are called, how much more power would it have if you were a part of it. Not only does you not being a part of the prayer chain dilute its power, but it takes away your presence as well.
As we go to Charge Conference and we prepare the reports, make sure that Virginia Murray has your name and number so that you can be included on the chain for 2001.
Your presence can be in two forms, as individuals and in groups. As I said, if your name is not on the prayer chain, you are missed. And if you haven’t been here through the summer, as I wrote, you were missed. Many times, I would be asked where someone was during the summer. And when I knew, I said. But if I didn’t know and knew that I could find out, I did so. But I also encouraged the questioner to call the missing person and let them know that we, as the church, miss them.
Concern for the community should be the hallmark of any church. Now there are those who say that it is the pastor’s job to make such calls and when it is needed, I will make them. But studies have shown that churches are more alive when the congregation is involved. And the very nature of my position makes it not always practical for me to make these calls. That is another reason why it is important for the congregation to be involved.
Perhaps more people don’t make the calls to the missing members of the church because they are not sure what it is that they should say or if the call is going to be received properly. This fear may very well be the type of millstone tied around our neck, as Jesus talked about in the Gospel reading for today. And this fear is multiplied when the thought of failure creeps in.
But to not do something is perhaps as much a failure as trying and coming up short. In his notes to the pastors concerning Charge Conference, Dennis Winkleblack asked each report given to identify one failure during the year. What he wants to see is which churches are trying things. Any organization that does not try things is not likely to go beyond where they are at that moment. For if you don’t try, nothing can happen.
Presence as a group can take on many forms. The Kentucky Annual Conference has adopted a model for church growth that I, along with many of the pastors in eastern Kentucky, happen to disagree with. It is a model that will work in metropolitan areas but is not practical for rural areas such as eastern Kentucky. In fact, in that model, one could not have six United Methodist Churches in Letcher County. But there are six churches within 25 miles of each other, each unique but separated from the others by the mountains and valleys of the region.
But the one thing that was in the model that would work there and that would work here in Walker Valley is support for small groups. If a group of individuals wish to start a small group ministry, no matter what it is, all they have to do identify the people and move forward with the idea.
Not everyone in the church has to be involved and not everyone is expected to attend. And it should be pointed out that the minister is not directly involved with these groups. I am not coping out of my responsibilities but if the activity were to take place here in Walker Valley at 7 pm and the only way that it will work is for me to be here, then it will fail. With my present situation, at 7 pm on most evenings, I am just leaving the Cold Spring train station and it is wouldn’t be until 8 pm that I would get here.
Making the assumption that the event will not work unless I am here, while flattering to my abilities as a leader, is a faulty assumption. Yes, if I can get here, I will. But the success of any group only requires my support as well as the support of everyone else in the church. In the Gospel reading for today, the disciples are upset because someone else is doing what they have come to regard as their own. Jesus pointed out that the ministry of one, done in His name, is the ministry of all.
Jesus built a team and He never expected one person to do all of the work. When we formally adopt our budget at charge conference, you will have the opportunity to make a pledge. This is a pledge not just of money but time and talents as well. That is what the letter is about.
Yes, what you can financially give will determine if we can meet our financial goals for the coming years. At the beginning of this year, I asked that we make it our goal to set aside at least 10% of our offering to pay our apportionments. Through your faithful giving, we will pay our apportionments in full by the end of this month.
But what talents do you have? If no one knows what your talents are then they cannot be used. Jesus spoke of the difference between hiding a light under a basket and placing it on the mountain where everyone can see it. The same is true about your talents. If you can do something, if you can help in some way, then you need to let people know that. And if you know of someone who has a skill that can be used but you fail to take advantage, what good is that talent?
John Wesley saw a church that didn’t care about the society it was a part of. He saw people who chose to ignore the problems of others because they thought if they did, they would lose everything that they worked for. John Wesley’s response was that it was the church’s problem; that if the church did nothing, then those who sought to protect their own well being would lose it.
Walker Valley United Methodist Church is more than a building along the side of Highway 52. But if we are to be a presence in this community, if we are to help people find their way, we cannot ask ourselves “What can we do?” Rather, we have to ask what it is that we can do.