Monday, January 28, 2019

Stone Soup: Generosity in Community, Part 4: This Soup Needs Some Witnesses

Through the lens of a folktale, Stone Soup, we explored the ways we share our goodness generously in community SO THAT we are nourished, learning, growing, able to share ourselves with the world.  We’ve talked about our prayers and presence, hopefully you’ve read about service (we missed that one in snow, but it is online), and last week we talked about our call to share our financial gifts. 

Today, we’re wrapping up the exploration by talking about what it means to share our witness with the world.  WITNESS was just added to the list of membership vows in 2008 —if you look in your hymnal at the vows for membership, you’ll notice the word isn’t actually there. That’s why you have an extra bulletin insert today.  WITNESS is a latecomer to how we understand what it means to be a member of Ferndale United Methodist Church, how we understand the ways we collectively commit to growing as disciples ourselves.  WITNESS is a latecomer to how we understand our work to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.

What is our witness in the world?

Imagine some of what might have been said, reported, posted, shared after the Stone Soup incident:

“After that stranger knocked on my door and I sent him away…I saw my neighbor talking to him out on the street and my neighbor had some potatoes in hand, handing them off to him.  Well, if Bill’s got potatoes to share, I surely have carrots. And I called up Sylvia — I know she’s always got onions... and she wouldn’t want to be left out.”

“That pot bubbled in the center of town. And I talked to neighbors that I hadn’t seen all winter.  It was chilly still in the spring air, but the fire was warm, and the smell was amazing.  I’ve never smelled soup quite like that, surrounded by so many familiar faces and names and stories.”

“The whole time our visitor sliced and diced, he also talked about all the places he’d been and the people he’d met along the way. Clearly, he’d seen a lot of things – good things and hard things.  And he’d met people who took him in and people who chased him out of town.  I’m glad he came to our town.”

“The guy seemed sketchy at first, knocking door to door.  Looking for a handout it seemed.  But he turned out to be really wise. And he had a new idea. At first I thought, we’ve never done that before.  But then he shared the soup with all of us!  That was a great idea!”

“So yesterday, I was stopped on the street by a stranger who needed directions and to use a phone to make an urgent call.  Normally, I would have walked away. It is hard to trust people today.  But then I remembered our stranger and the stone soup.  And so, I let the stranger use my phone and I helped him figure out how to get to his appointment. It was the right thing to do.”

Our witness is our story.  It is the story we tell with our lips. But it is also the story that we tell with each of our actions.  Our story is like our portrait in the world. But our story is just that – one story.  A story about our life.

Part of what is vital about the story of Stone Soup for this conversation is that it is a story with a cast of characters that MUST work together. Each person there walks away from the experience with a slightly different story to tell – one that comes from their experience not just on that day, but the experience of life who have led up to sharing the soup pot with a stranger.  And together, the collective story paints a picture for the world to see.

In the United Methodist church, in our membership vows, we covenant to work together to be Christ’s light in the world.  A key to what we believe here is that our individual salvation doesn’t actually mean much if we are not growing and serving and living with others in community. We make a promise to one another and to God to grow and become, to serve and to share — together. We make a promise to weave our stories together one by one so that a new picture comes into being.

In our text from Paul’s first letter to the church at Corinth, he talks about the ways each individual has a role and brings something needed to the picture that is the church — the body of Christ.  Not everyone will be an ear or a foot or a hand or an eye. But together, our prayers, presence, gifts, service and witness collectively make up the Body of Christ in the world, the way people experience a living moving God through us.

Part of what our founder John Wesley was doing with his Methodist protest movement back in the 18th century was pushing back against the idea that had become so prominent in the world - that one was saved and that was that.  Going to church was about holding on to your salvation.  Holiness was a private matter. 

No….John Wesley believed that there was no holiness but social holiness.  No religion but social religion.  We do this life together because iron sharpens iron and we are not independent — we are painfully dependent as mere humans in the world.  And it is because of that understanding of how we are all connected in a web that we have been able to reach across continents, respond to victims of natural disaster, cure malaria in many parts of the world.

Of course, in this day and age, it is important to note that our witness – our individual and collective witness — can work against us if we are not careful. If we are not true.  If we are not closely connected to God’s movement in the world.  If our choices and our lifestyle don’t actually reflect our decision with our lips to be disciples.

The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today
Is Christians who acknowledge Jesus with their lips
Then walk out the door and deny him by their lifestyle.
That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable.

These are the opening words in DC Talk’s song, “What if I Stumble.” 

We face a crisis in Christianity today, particularly in the Western world.  Young people are leaving the church in droves because what the learn about in the pews and Sunday School, what they understand a Christian should be, is not what they see when they interact with many who call themselves “Christians” in the world. Young people today see the church as exclusive, inward focused, discriminatory, unrealistic, self-absorbed…

Because the mosaic of our witness in the world is confusing.

When Jesus called together the disciples, he was inviting them into life together.  This strange little band of fishermen and farmers and tradesmen shared life and became known as a collective. These were Jesus’ followers.  They became both an attraction and a threat to the status quo.  They chose simplicity, they chose learning.  They chose love.  And they chose a power higher than the economy or the government.

When Jesus showed up in a synagogue in Nazareth, unrolled the scroll containing the words of the prophet Isaiah, declaring the prophecy fulfilled as people heard him reading the words, he was declaring a mission for the church to come — to proclaim good news to the poor, recovery of sight to the blind, release of the captive.  This was the work that Jesus was called to do and it is the work his motley band of disciples took on.

And anytime we stray from that call, our witness in the world becomes a little harder to connect to the person Jesus Christ.  Who built a team.  Who sent the Holy Spirit to enliven the team.  SO that their witness, collectively, would represent the body of Christ in the world.

Today, we are joyfully adding to the body of Christ which is Ferndale United Methodist Church.  Today, we have the opportunity to recommit ourselves to this call on our lives to proclaim good news to the poor, recovery of sight to the blind, release of the captive — the captive to addiction, the captive to materialism, the captive to self-absorption, the captive to politics.

And so today, at the end of the first month of the year, we’re going to end our sermon time by sharing together a prayer adapted by John Wesley and used as part of a new year tradition called watch night — sort of a way of renewing resolution to discipleship at the beginning of a new year. 

I am no longer my own, but thine.
Put me to what thou wilt, rank me with whom thou wilt.
Put me to doing, put me to suffering.
Let me be employed by thee or laid aside for thee,
Exalted for thee or brought low for thee.
Let me be full, let me be empty.
Let me have all things, let me have nothing.
I freely and heartily yield all things to thy pleasure and disposal.
And now, O Glorious and blessed God,
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,
Thou art mine, and I am thine.
So be it.
And the covenant which I have made on earth,
Let it be ratified in heaven. Amen.

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