The UnitedMethodistChurch has a mission.
We have been called by God to make disciples of Jesus Christ FOR THE TRANSFORMATION OF THE WORLD.
That last piece… for the transformation of the world… is a recent addition to our mission, but it speaks volumes about who we believe God has called us to be.
We believe that a church which shuts its doors to the outside world is a church that is dead and lifeless. We believe a church that is not actively engaged in mission and service is no church at all.
And we believe as United Methodists that God wants us to focus on four particular areas: to help combat the diseases of poverty, to engage in ministry with the poor, to create new places for new people in our churches and to help develop Christian leaders for the church and the world.
This is who we are as the UnitedMethodistChurch. We believe God uses everyday ordinary people to join in his work across the globe to bring the Kingdom of God into its fullness right here.
Every time we say the Lord’s Prayer together, we are asking for God’s kingdom to become a reality right here on earth AS IT IS in heaven. You are the hands and feet of Jesus for this broken world. Are you ready to get started?!
But before we dive in and get to work, I think that our scripture lessons for today offer a cautionary tale. In James and in Proverbs, we find that there are problems with simply looking down on those who are hurting and trying to give them a hand out. We can get so busy doing good things that we forget about our faith…. But more often, we get so focused on our faith that we forget about doing good things.
James finally whittles this distinction down to two words: Mercy and Judgment. And no matter what translation we decide to read James 2:13 in – the message is the same… Mercy trumps judgment.
1) What is judgment and why should we avoid it.
a) Judgement is our arbitrary assessment of other people… who is rich and who is poor, who is deserving and undeserving, what is important and deserves our time and what doesn’t… it all depends on where we stand and what we believe about ourselves. Even while we might look at our wealth compared to others in this nation and feel poor… we could look at all that we have in relation to most of the population of this world and realize just how rich we are. Who is rich and who is poor depends on where you are standing. Our job is not to judge another person based upon how we see them or based upon their relationship to us… but to see them through the eyes of Jesus.
b) when we place ourselves in the seat of judgment, we have elevated ourselves to God’s level and we can no longer see the fault and sin in our own lives. These verses from proverbs are warnings to the rich who have grown comfortable in their blessedness. They believe they are where they are because God is rewarding them for all the good they have done and can no longer see that they are agents of oppression and subsumed in their own temptations and sin.
c) this does not mean that we do not need to account for our sins. this does not mean that every wrong thing a person does is okay. What it means is that it is not for US to judge the lives of others. Our job is not to wave around signs and point out another person’s failings… our job is to walk with one another and let the Word of God transform each of our lives. God’s word alone can convict our hearts.
a) to show someone mercy is to give them something they do not deserve. When we show mercy to the rich and poor, black and white, righteous and unrighteous, what we are doing is living out a simple truth – we are all the same. We are all sinners saved by the grace of God. None of us “deserve” it…
b) mercy is the work God calls us to. At worship this Wednesday we heard from Latin theologian Rene Padilla. He made a simple but profound statement. We are not saved by good works – we are saved FOR good works. Jesus Christ has saved us and freed us from our self-centered sin SO THAT we can be his hands and feet to care for this world. The Law of God helped us to see how far away from God’s intentions we had fallen… but the Grace of God gave us the freedom to get back up and to reclaim who we truly were meant to be.
c) over and over in the scriptures, we are called upon to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the sick and in prison, proclaim the good news. This is our job… this is why we have been saved. This is the fruit of our faith, the evidence of our salvation, this is who we were created to be and what we have been gifted to do.
3) So I want to ask you a question: are you living a life of judgment? or a life of mercy? This is a very personal question… and once that I cannot answer for you. It is something that you must discover through prayer, through reading the scriptures and reflecting on the word of God in sermons and bible study.
But we can ask a larger question… Are we a church of judgment? Or a church of mercy?
James writes that faith without works is dead. In Matthew chapter 25 the sheep and the goats are separated by what they have done to the least among us. Proverbs tells us that those who are generous are blessed.
So, lets do a little inventory of our fruits.
1) PET Project – What about the story of Ventura? We helped raise funds to purchase seven of these personal energy transportation vehicles and he recieved one that year. Ventura lost the use of his legs after being shot twice in the spine. He has four daughters. With his physical challenges, he has been rejected by his family. His only income comes from selling gum on the street and charity. His P.E.T. has provided him transportation for the dirt roads of his community so that he can get to more places and he is thankful to be alive.
2) Women at the Well – Not only have we sent three carloads of clothes, toiletries, and luggage to Mitchelville for the Stepping Out clothes closet, but we have also built relationships. We spent time getting to know Outside Council chairperson Rev. Marlene Janssen. And this fall, we sent a group of ten people to worship with our sisters in Christ inside the walls. We want to continue this relationship by becoming a partner church and supporting the ministry with our dollars and cents as well. Our buckets on the table in the middle of the sanctuary are a fun way to begin this challenge.
3) Matthew 25 – Our church has been an active supporter of the Matthew 25 Ministry Center in Cedar Rapids. We have collected tools and games, school supplies and flower pots. But we have also travelled in person to serve lunches during the summer and we have welcomed Rev. Clint here as he shared the story of their ministry.
4) Youth and Mission Trips – Every week, this church opens its doors to youth in our community. They sometimes make messes and leave holes in the walls – but they need a place to call home and you have provided it. You have also helped to send them to three different states to be in service and to encounter Jesus. Their lives are full, rich, and blessed because of you and they have in turn been a blessing to others.
5) Community Food Bank and Clothing Closet – we regularly collect items for the food bank, the clothing closet in Williamsburg, and have helped to make sure that the shelves are full.
6) Meals on Wheels – We take our turn entering the lives of those in our community who need help by driving meals and checking in on the folks who recieve them.
7) Volunteerism – you serve at the hospital, with the library, you sing at the nursing home and read stories to children at school. You are involved with the Legion and the Lions club and all across this town and county, state and world, you are leaders – you are active – you are doing good works.
As a church, we have heard God calling us to reflect his light into this community. And we have responded. That huge list of good fruits tell the story of your faithfulness, your commitment, your generosity, your patience, your spirit of hospitality and grace.
And here is what I think is the most important part. You have not simply given money for people in need… you have spent time with these people. You have walked beside them. You have visited them and gotten to know them. You have built relationships.
I sat down for lunch last week with Pastor Dieudonne. As we all know, earlier this year the African Methodist Ministry at St. Mark’s came and joined us for worship. Pastor Deiudonne led us in the word and members of their church led us in song. This summer, we returned the visit and took a group from our church there to join them in worship.
Did you know that we are the ONLY congregation that has done that? We are the only church that has been willing to join them where they are and to put ourselves in their shoes for an afternoon as the guests, the ones who were outside of our cultural comfort zone.
I believe the biggest thing that separates an act of mercy from an act of judgment is a willingness to see someone as an equal. An awareness that you are not so different. The ability to move past a person’s race or class or status and to love them and to work alongside them to accomplish God’s work.
As Pastor Dieudonne and I talked, I learned that he has contracted malaria three times. He told me that every single person who is a part of their ministry has been affected by malaria. Every one of them has had a family member die from this completely preventable disease.
In fact, every 60 seconds, a child dies from malaria.
As United Methodists, we believe that mercy is our work to do. We believe that God has called us to serve him in our backyard and across the world. And as a global church, we believe that we can do something about that statistic.
When we started this effort a few years ago, it was called, “Nothing But Nets.” We partnered with the Gates Foundation and the National Basketball Association and and for $10 we encouraged people to buy a net for Africa and save a child’s life. You know what… it works. We have cut the death rate IN HALF….
And so now we are moving on to phase two: Imagine NO Malaria…. We believe that by the year 2015 – just three short years from now, we can completely end deaths from malaria. Our goal as a denomination is to raise $75 million dollars to fund mosquito nets, to create clean water supplies, to have on the ground training and to fund research for medications and disease prevention.
This effort is a part of our calling to combat the diseases of poverty across the world. You see, United Methodists don’t sit back and wait… we act. We stand up against injustice. We care for the least of these. We build hospitals and schools. We are the first on the scene when there is a disaster and the last to leave. We believe that we can not only do some good… but that we can actually make a difference.
And we do all of this because we believe that God wants to use us to truly change lives. God wants us to care and minister to all of our brothers and sisters in our backyards and around the world so that this planet will be better tomorrow than it was today.
God wants your time and your money and your energy… but most of all, God wants your heart. He wants you to accept the gracious gift of love that he offers and he wants you to pass it on to others… without judgment and without pity.
Amen and amen.