Seeing the World from Our Own Neighborhood

Here are my thoughts for the 4th Sunday of Easter, 25 April 2010. The Scriptures for this Sunday are Acts 9: 36 – 43, Revelation 7: 9 – 17 and John 10: 22 – 30.

A couple of things are going on this weekend. It is Consecration Sunday at my home church, a Sunday where we think about our individual contribution to the church and its budget. It is more than simply a financial drive or a glorified fund-raiser (which, if you have read some of my past sermons/thoughts, you know I think is a terrible idea for churches to get involved in). It is more than an exhortation by the pastor or a speaker to fund the church’s budget.

It is a call for each individual member to consider how God is calling them to respond to the needs of the church. I think, as I write this in advance of the outcome, this is a difficult thing to do, if for no other reason than most people see the church in terms of the building and not the spirit. It is very hard to imagine the spirit while it is very easy to imagine the building. I still believe, from my own experience, that each United Methodist Church should make it a policy to set aside 10% of the weekly offering for apportionments. It brings to the front the need to think of the church in terms of its mission and purpose rather than as a building with activities inside it. My own experience tells me that it works and when churches say that paying the building’s bills is more important than funding the church’s mission, it is a church that is dying and will die. Fortunately, my church is not at that point and I pray that our focus on giving from a spirit direction will make sure that it never does.

But on this weekend when my local church is focusing on its own future, the United Methodist Church as a whole is focusing on the world and its future. There is a phrase that I have seen that goes something like “think globally but buy locally.” It is a phrase that is most often used in terms of green farming and basic ecological thinking but I think it applies to the ideas of this weekend; in fact, it is something that should apply to the mission of the church in general.

On this weekend, we as United Methodists around the world are invited to participate in Change the World, a weekend event that coincides with World Malaria Day. One outcome of my own home church’s work this weekend would be the strengthening of our local ministries. World Malaria Day is a day to focus on a disease which kills one child somewhere in the world every 30 seconds. It need not be that way because malaria is treatable and preventable.

From our own history, we know that the French failed in their efforts to build the Panama Canal because of yellow fever and malaria. Our own efforts were stymied because of the same diseases. But, in the end, with a better understanding of the disease and how it is transmitted, we have eliminated it from much of the world, but it is still very prevalent in Africa. And that is the focus of the worldwide church’s efforts.

And, well it should be. As John the Seer writes in the passage from Revelation for today, what he saw were more people than anyone could count, from all the nations and all the tribes and all the languages being spoken. It is very difficult to see a church which thinks that it can survive without some involvement outside its own walls. Yet, too many churches today preach a message that is, if you will, for internal consumption only and which makes a church that should be open exclusionary.

It is meant to stay inside the walls of the congregation and it is taken to mean that those outside the walls shall never enter. Now, some may say that Jesus’ message was such a message. Even in the Gospel for today we hear Jesus speak of those who hear His message and understand it. But could it be that those who heard but did not understand were the church members; after all, how many people that were shunned and excluded by the church sought Jesus and His ministry?

And it was more than simply a ministry of words but one of action as well. As Jesus himself pronounced in the Nazareth synagogue, one of the tasks of His mission was to heal the sick. And we see in the passage from Acts for today, the disciples continue to heal after the Resurrection.

We see clearly in the words of the Bible the thoughts of this weekend. We have a responsibility, no doubt, to the church that we attend. But it is a meaningless and futile responsibility if we do not think about the community in which it resides and in which we live. And it is equally meaningless and futile if we do not see the global community as an extended version of the local community.

We are called to a great task. It began when we answered the call to follow Jesus; it continues as we work in our church with our local ministries and it continues as we work to move from the four walls of the church to the street corners of the neighborhood and then beyond to the world. We can see the world from our own neighborhood but we must first move beyond the walls of the church.

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