Several months ago, someone from the United Methodist communications office emailed me to see if I could blog about the Methodist “Imagine No Malaria” campaign. She gave me statistics about how many kids in Africa die from malaria each year and tried to make a case for it being an important enough issue for me to write about. To my discredit, I didn’t take her up on the offer. Why? Because campaigns against malaria and the other quiet, methodical ways that God’s people change the world aren’t sexy enough. They just don’t get blog hits the way that scandals do! But this weekend, Methodist churches around the world will be doing a coordinated missions push called Change the World in which the world will be changed through hundreds of thousands of humble, unglamorous acts of Christian servanthood, even if people like me aren’t paying attention because we’re wrapped up in our favorite scandals. Continue reading
Change the world. It’s such an undifferentiated, macroscopic goal — the main theme of every high school valedictorian’s speech. But how do you do it? We get the impression from our news cycles and history books that the way to change the world is to get famous and important so that you can make big decisions or give inspiring speeches that cause people to give millions of dollars. Changing the world in our time has become synonymous with becoming a celebrity. But the United Methodist Church has been taking a different approach as part of our “Rethink Church” campaign. This Saturday May 19th, several hundred thousand United Methodists around the world will be working together in simple, unglamorous ways to repair houses in the local community, gather food for hungry people, raise money for mosquito nets to stop malaria, stock items for our disaster relief teams, and dozens of other projects that pooled together actually have the potential to change the world. Continue reading
Sermon for 5/14/2011
Text: Acts 2:42-47
Five years ago, I had a rock band called the Junior Varsity Superheroes that was going to make it big. We had recorded a CD and got some reviews. We were gearing up for a CD release party in April of 2006. But in the midst of this excitement, we had some conflict. I wanted us to go all in, sending our press kit out to venues and festivals all over the country, with the goal of quitting our jobs and becoming full-time rock stars. But my bandmates saw the band as a fun hobby and a way to blow off some steam. So we held our CD release party and we were all set to play our first big out-of-town gig. Then three things happened. My son Matthew was born, our guitar player got transferred to Columbus, Ohio, and our bass player got into pharmacy school in Georgia. I had wanted to go all in for the rock ‘n roll lifestyle, but God knew that He had to close that door so I could go all in for something bigger than myself.
I share this story because we find ourselves in a season of graduation speeches that always seem to have the same thesis statement: go out and do something important that changes the world. Our culture has this assumption that changing the world and becoming somebody important are synonymous. But I want to suggest to you that they are actually a conflict of interest, because the world got to be the way that it is from millions of people trying to be important. The only way we can change the world is to give ourselves completely to the mission of the only One who can change it, to go all in for Jesus.
Our scripture reading for today is taken from Acts 2:42-47. It describes the first church in Jerusalem right after Jesus’ resurrection and ascension to heaven. Throughout the centuries, Christians have viewed the Jerusalem church as a model to which all every church should aspire.
They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.
This is what the world looks like among a community that decides to go all in for Jesus. It’s a world filled with awe in which the signs and wonders of God are noticed and appreciated. It’s a world where people are devoted to learning all they can about God and spending quality time with each other. It’s a world where people share with one another and everyone has what they need. It’s a world where God is worshiped in word and deed. But notice also what is missing from this world. There are no rock stars. No individual is in the spotlight. Certainly the apostles were teaching, but they were simply fulfilling the role to which they had been called. All of the pronouns used in this scripture are plural – they, all, and everyone. Important things were happening, but nobody needed to be important.
It kind of reminds me of what’s been happening in this building this weekend. Nothing feels all that heroic about filling up baggies with dried food to send to other countries. It would be much more exciting if we got to be the ones who delivered the meals especially if it involved rappelling out of a helicopter or something like that. But somebody has to mix the baggies. It’s something that we can do right here where we are. And the cool thing about doing work like this is that God doesn’t just use it to change somebody else’s world; He uses it to change our world too, because doing unglamorous work teaches us how to be servants. This weekend, there have been many people who have taken care of lots of logistical details behind the scenes. But they didn’t give any speeches; they aren’t asking for any medals. What they have received is the gift of having a purpose by devoting themselves to God’s purpose.
One background hero who I wanted to mention is a woman who came last weekend for the Duffy House event here at church. I’d never seen her before so I don’t think she goes to our church. She saw me stuffing door-hangers so she told me to go do something else and she spent her whole day stuffing door-hangers as she greeted the guests and told them where to go. She probably did about 500. Because of her work, about half a dozen more people were able to participate in putting up the door-hangers that she stuffed, and then some of our neighbors who received these door-hangers were able to participate in God’s kingdom. That’s the way it works in the kingdom – God uses our intangible, unglamorous deeds not only to help people with concrete needs but also to expand His kingdom by creating opportunities for others to join in. But it only works if people are willing to put aside their need to be important and humbly take care of the task that God has put in front of them.
Another thing God does to change the world is to change our boundaries. In Acts 2, the Jerusalem church became God’s family by breaking bread together with people who had no blood relation with them. The concept of having a community potluck might not seem like a big deal to us now, but this was a huge shift in cultural values 2000 years ago. Poor people and rich people eating together? Jews and Gentiles? It never would have happened outside the body of Christ. Because they saw each other as one family, whenever anybody in that church had needs, people with property would sell some of it and give the proceeds to their brothers and sisters in need. It also says that they held their possessions in common, a radical step that would be way outside of our comfort zone today.
Now I don’t think this means that we’re supposed to sell all our houses and set up cots in the fellowship hall to form a squalid refugee camp here at the church. That would be poor stewardship of the resources that God has given us. But the fact that we have our own individual houses should not mean that our family is only the group of people who live between the walls of those houses. God has put us in the neighborhoods where we live and the offices where we work for a reason: to invite others to be a part of God’s family. The world changes when we look at other people not just as clients, colleagues, business partners, or target audiences but brothers and sisters who all share the same Father in heaven. To see ourselves primarily as belonging to God’s family doesn’t mean that we neglect our biological families; our household is our primary mission field; but the boundaries of God’s family must supersede the other boundaries that the world draws for us between rich and poor, citizen and immigrant, black and white, between what’s inside my gated community and the scary world outside of it. When we see others in the world as part of our own family, then we help people in need not to show them that we’re more responsible, mature, or better than they are, but simply because they’re our brothers and sisters.
If we see ourselves and the rest of humanity as members of God’s family, then our global household has a single Head. In Acts 2, all that the Jerusalem church did to build community and become one family revolved around a single purpose that they shared: to worship and glorify God. When we live to worship God, we enjoy His creation and each other for the right reason – not as objects to be exploited for the sake of our self-promotion but as gifts from a gracious Father that open our hearts to His love. The world gives us plenty to be cynical about, but when we look at the world through worshipful eyes, we see all the ways that God’s kingdom is at work. Going all in with our devotion to this kingdom is how we build a world in which everyone has a part to play and everyone’s needs are fulfilled.
So the way to change the world is build the kingdom of God. It’s more than just doing nice things for people. Packing meals for hungry people, putting together school kits and medical kits and birthing kits are all an important part of this process, but only if we allow God to change us through what we’re doing. Though we can’t see God, He provides the most important ingredient in every mission project that we do, because what God does through all the objects that are organized, put into boxes, shipped to places far away, and shared with others is to make this process a means by which His love is shared with those who fill the boxes and those who open the boxes. If you didn’t get to be a part of changing the world this weekend, there will be many more opportunities. God is changing the world all the time. And when you want to help out, don’t feel like you need to do something important. Come to be changed; come to be shaped into God’s family; come to fall more deeply into love with God; because that’s the way the world gets changed, through the body of people who have decided to hold nothing back and go all in for Jesus.