Our denomination considers work in the community to be important. John Wesley is known for his comment “There is no holiness but social holiness.” Our upward relationship with God leads to our outward relationships with people which builds our inward relationship (or more simply stated, our faith in God feeds our care and compassion for others which deepens our faith). Works in our community might include volunteering at Payson Community Kids as a reader or tutor, or helping with meal preparation and service. It could also include volunteering at the Police Department, serving at Veterans Helping Veterans, helping at the Habitat for Humanity ReStore, or any of the 17 or ministries in which the church is already involved. Perhaps it might include starting a new ministry.
Last spring tornadoes struck at the heart of Arkansas. An acquaintance and colleague of mine reported on Facebook that the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) trailers with relief supplies were on site and ready to help before the news trucks from the “local” TV stations showed up. He showed pictures and video taken from a circling helicopter of the utter destruction of his church and the surrounding neighborhood. Our apportionment dollars help the denomination live out our goals of helping others through ministries like UMCOR that reach beyond the borders of our Annual Conference. Such services are also able to respond more quickly and with greater resources than any one church could do on its own. As we have heard in the Ministry Moments during the worship service, our contributions help support the largest center in Arizona for displaced children, Tucson Metropolitan Ministries, and many more programs in the Conference. Aside from merely providing money, we have the opportunity to work with organizations, such as FaithWorks, that provide ministries and services to the First People on the reservations as well as internationally.
Our faith in God assures us of God’s love for us (or it should), and because of that faith we are called to act upon God’s grace given to us. Every person should be engaged in ministry outside the walls of the church building. I love our motto “The Church has left the Building,” and I know I am not alone (I overheard a small group take on that motto because one of our members talked about what this congregation is doing to live into that catch-phrase). Truly, ministry outside the walls of the church is what we are called to; as individuals and as the body of Christ. As we explore our call to ministry of missions, we should each examine our own hearts and find how we can be at work in our community, in our area, and around the world.
30 They went on from there and passed through Galilee. He did not want anyone to know it; 31 for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, "The Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and three days after being killed, he will rise again." 32 But they did not understand what he was saying and were afraid to ask him. 33 Then they came to Capernaum; and when he was in the house he asked them, "What were you arguing about on the way?" 34 But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another who was the greatest. 35 He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, "Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all." 36 Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, 37 "Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me." (NRS)
Steve was a homeless man. One day a person observed Steve going through the dumpsters in search of partially eaten meals abandoned by those who purchased them. This Samaritan offered Steve a meal from the nearby fast-food establishment, which Steve gratefully accepted. At the restaurant our Samaritan purchased the largest meal they offered and left Steve to eat it after they had received the meal. After driving only a few blocks, the Samaritan again thought of Steve and knew that he could buy Steve a few meals, so he returned to the restaurant and offered to buy Steve a gift card. Steve gratefully accepted; never had he asked for money or for anything at all. Steve told his benefactor that he was on the streets because he had cancer, a large tumor visible below the skin on his abdomen verified the claim, and Steve did not want to be a burden on his family but that he had lost his job and couldn’t afford a place to live.
Homelessness is a big topic in the United States recently. Our capitalist economic system would have us believe that these persons have many opportunities to pull themselves up by the bootstraps and they must just be lazy if they aren’t helping themselves. Stories like that of Steve indicate that homelessness is more complex. We can become jaded by persons who do not want to exert the effort to change and live with society or by the persons who are scrounging for money for their next fix or drink. Drug addiction, alcohol abuse and alcoholism, sexual abuse, theft, and hygiene are common issues among the homeless population. Not all persons who are homeless are unemployed. Not all persons who are homeless are addicts, uneducated, or unskilled. There is a disproportionate number of our veterans who return to the United States and end up on the streets because they are disillusioned about what they will encounter when they return.
Christ calls us to be in ministry to all the world through the Great Commission (“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”). When we look at Mark 9:35, we get a good image of what that ministry should look like. It is not enough to tell the hungry person to eat their fill; we must give them something to eat. It is not enough to tell the oppressed that they are free to do as they want; we must work to ensure that freedom is real. Christ calls for us to serve others because of our faith. God provides us the resources to make the world a better place, but we have to put those resources to work.
Our series on missional living will look at ways we can serve locally and globally. I hope we can live into Christ’s call, and a bumper sticker I appreciated reading some years ago – Think globally, Act locally!
27 Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi; and on the way he asked his disciples, "Who do people say that I am?" 28 And they answered him, "John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets." 29 He asked them, "But who do you say that I am?" Peter answered him, "You are the Messiah." 30 And he sternly ordered them not to tell anyone about him. 31 Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. 32 He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 33 But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, "Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things." 34 He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, "If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35 For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. 36 For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? 37 Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? 38 Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels." (NRS)
I probably need to start by saying that we do not worship God, the Holy Trinity, as some kind of magical trick performer. God does not go around granting three wishes or making miracles a daily occurrence in our lives. God leaves some things for us to do and gives us some general instructions about what those things are.
What that means is that we have some work we need to do to demonstrate our relationship with God. It is not so much that God needs evidence because God can see into our souls and knows our hearts. However, if we confess that we have a relationship with God, then our actions are going to be different. This is one of the items that distinguishes Christianity from all other religions of the world. We begin with a belief in God’s grace that is our nascent faith, which develops as our relationship with God becomes closer and is shown through our works. All other religions teach that through practices our faith will develop.
Jesus Christ is God with us to encourage that relationship with God. It is easy to that it is hard to have a personal relationship with God the Creator of All Things, but it is much easier to have a relationship with Jesus the carpenter from Nazareth. Christ purifies us, first through forgiveness, then through our repentance, then through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, God’s Spirit in us.
Mark’s gospel has us affirm who we believe Jesus Christ to be. During this series and probably on other occasions, you have heard me mention that even the demons of Hell believe that Jesus is Lord, but what do they do about it? They tremble at his name and plead for mercy in his presence. Is that how we want to come before God? To be a Christian is to proclaim Jesus as our personal Lord and Savior and live differently because of it. In this congregation we have people who have given up addictions to alcohol and to drugs because of the love Jesus Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit working in their lives through the helping hands and encouraging words of the people who make up the living body of Christ. We have people in this congregation who have found the joy and strength brought about by serving others in missions. We have people in this congregation who have wrestled with prejudices of race, sexual identity, economic status, and many more issues that divide secular society, but in this church we strive to invite and include as many people as possible. As we heard a few weeks ago, it is not what we take in that defiles us, but what we do with and what comes out. We must be at work purifying the body of Christ from the inside out.
To me this means that if we are using our Christian identity to exclude people from our midst then we are using religion wrongly. We need to be cleansing ourselves of the unrighteousness, the bigotry, the anger, the frustration, the dross that clutters our hearts and souls so we are able to experience the grace of God more fully. I recently saw some pictures depicting our relationship with God as a floor plan of a house. As long as we still have mud on our shoes we cannot enter into the living room and we are stuck outside, knowing that God is inside but that we cannot enter into his presence until we are cleaned of the mess of this world. Once we enter, God continues to cleanse us, making us ready to go everywhere in the house, but we have to leave the angst and hatred of this world outside. I like the metaphor because it helps us visualize how close we can be in relationship with God, and yet we can also visualize those things that separate us.
This brings us back to Mark’s gospel – setting our sight on things eternal and divine. One of the topics I teach is strategic thinking. This is not the same as strategic planning. Strategic planning is necessary because we choose a goal and then establish a road map of how to get there. Strategic thinking means that we look at the map regularly to make sure we know where we are and that we are still on the right course to our objective. Jesus chastises Peter for again thinking of the human things and not the divine. Peter is not thinking strategically.
Jesus purifies us when we have our minds set on the divine things on which God is focused. Setting our minds on the divine is looking at the world as God sees it and instead of feeling overwhelmed we start to live as one that God has already redeemed. We cannot wait for everyone else to get their act together and behave “like Christians.” We have to be the trend setters. People look to us for authentic faith, authentic worship, and authentic lifestyles.
27 Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi; and on the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” 28 And they answered him, “John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.” 29 He asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Messiah.” 30 And he sternly ordered them not to tell anyone about him. 31 Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. 32 He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 33 But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.” 34 He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35 For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. 36 For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? 37 Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? 38 Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”
Well, I missed a week of blogs, and I apologize for letting my schedule get away from me. This week we will look at this passage from Mark that has two major components. The first segment (verses 27-30) addresses the identity of Jesus. This is the crux of our Christian faith, really. Who do we believe Jesus to be? The responses in this passage revealing. John the Baptizer was only recently killed when this was written, yet some thought Jesus was a reincarnation of John, who was openly regarded as a prophet. For Christians (and Jews) who do not profess reincarnation as a belief, it would be really hard to accept this concept, and applying it to Jesus who was baptized by John would represent an even-more challenging view of reincarnation. Yet we should acknowledge that we recognize Jesus as the one about whom John was teaching, so there is a connection to John. That some might Jesus was Elijah also suggests a possible belief in reincarnation, but I tend to think of this a bit more allegorically. Elijah represents all of the prophets and is understood by most Jewish people as the prophet of prophets. So I understand this sentence to talk about Jesus as a prophet in the sense that Elijah was a prophet, and comparing Jesus to Elijah posits that he is above the other prophets (perhaps above Elijah himself). Jesus then presses Peter for his personal response; “But who do you say that I am?” (my emphasis added). That is the question each of us must answer. In fact, I think it is such an important question that we need to answer it every day.
Peter’s response is “You are the messiah.” Some ancient texts translate the word messiah as Christ, but we should not let the differences distract us because the terms are equivalent in different languages. Is this our reply also? What does this mean for us today? The anointed one of God, sent by the Heavenly Father to redeem the world and restore humankind to dominion overall the earth? A really nice man with good teachings about how to live with others? A prophet who speaks the eternal word of God? I have heard all of these responses. Many times I see people who are living their lives as if Jesus is nothing more than a character in a book, similar to Sherlock Holmes or Harry Potter. If we don’t claim a personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ, I can understand how Jesus might be perceived in this light. However, when we look at the books of the New Testament we read how Jesus reveals himself to be God with us, just as we read of the presence of God with the people of Israel as we read through the Old Testament. God makes a new promise with humankind through Jesus and offers a personal relationship through Jesus as well.
That’s the good news. God is with us. But, just as Peter did in this passage, we have to make the decision to accept Jesus as God with us, or we reject God from our lives. If we accept Christ as our personal friend then we should act as we would towards any other friend. We don’t do things to intentionally irritate or anger our friends, we act in ways that are meaningful to them and let them know that we care about them and their feelings. Do we do any less for Christ? The second part of this passage focuses on what it means to live in relationship with God. Christ foretells his suffering and death, and that is part of our relationship. He speaks to losing our lives for God’s sake, not in the literal sense of dying per se, but in giving precedence to God’s desires instead of our own. Interestingly, in my experience, when we do this we either become very successful in our own goals or they change so we no longer have them. Either way, we lead a happier life than if we only pursue our own goals and ignore God. That’s what I think it means to be purified by Christ. We let go of the things of this world to live for the things of God’s kingdom.