Tuesday, May 30, 2017

"Becoming One in Ministry" - Sermon, May 28, 2017

Community UMC, Quincy
“Becoming One in Ministry”
May 28, 2017
Pastor Andrew Davis
Acts 1: 6-14
John 17: 1-11

        I’m not sure how it’s happened, but I find it hard to believe that we are already standing on the verge of summer.  Now it sure didn’t seem like spring or summer would happen after this longer and colder than usual winter we’ve had, but all I can say is that I am sure glad to have the longer and warmer days, have the windows on my truck open while driving, but also glad to be able to get up to some of our local lakes without having to 4WD through snow banks.  Plus, I’m glad to be putting in a vegetable garden and playing in the dirt, something I find renewing.  However, I’m not so sure I’m glad about the mosquitoes!! 
        As we are getting into a slower pace and more laid back time here in the church and remembering the memory of those who have died serving our country this Memorial Day weekend, we are also wrapping up the Easter cycle this week.  Since Easter Sunday, we have been walking with Jesus who has been appearing to the Mary Magdalene and the disciples post-resurrection, although it’s only the Mary Magdalene and the disciples who actually see Jesus, only before he vanishes from their sight.  So, it’s rather interesting to see the placement of this morning’s Gospel lesson from John, as it’s almost like a flashback to the Upper Room just before Jesus’s arrest, crucifixion, and death, as this is just before stuff’s about to go down and hit the fan. 
        Twelve years ago, when I was in my final semester at Sac State before graduation, I took a humanities class on the film with Dr. Alyson Buckman.  Now this class wasn’t all about just watching movies, but was about the different techniques that filmmakers employed and the message they conveyed through film, hence why we can learn a lot through studying film.  One of the movies we watched in class that stands out is the 2000 thriller, “Memento” starring Guy Pearce as a man who has some memory issues and tries to piece together the tragic death of his wife.  This film uses flashback techniques and while it is very disorienting to say the least, is quite effective.  The placement of today's lesson is also like when reading the Greek poet Homer’s epic tale, “The Odyssey,” which uses a literary convention called medias res, which begins in the middle then works its way back to the beginning of the story.  Our Gospel lesson for today, or Jesus’s final prayer as part of the “farewell discourse” in John’s Gospel has that kind of feel to it.  It’s almost like it’s flashing back to that time before Jesus is betrayed and arrested, leading to his crucifixion and death, when Jesus knows what’s about to happen, even though the disciples aren’t fully aware of what’s happening, as their eyes won’t be opened until AFTER Jesus’s resurrection.  On the other hand, today’s Gospel brings the Easter story full circle, or at least what we heard in our reading from the Book of Acts. 
        As we heard in Jesus’s prayer around the table with the disciples in our Gospel lesson, Jesus knows that he is returning to God and will not be on the earth anymore.  It’s up to the disciples to carry on the work from this point on once they are empowered by the Holy Spirit.  And that’s what the essence of Ascension Sunday, or the last Sunday of Easter is all about, as it’s essentially the end of Jesus’s earthly ministry, but also the time to await the arrival of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost, which will happen next Sunday.  However, one thing that Jesus prays for comes at the end of the passage, in which we hear Jesus’s hope for those who will follow him after he is gone will become one in ministry to the world.  Jesus asks for protection for his followers, as the world he was ministering to was just as messy and uncertain as the world we live in today.  He tells us that we too are of God because we follow him and because he too is of God, ultimately “placing the believing community before God.”[i]
His hope is that everyone will unite around him because he is one with God and that everyone will ultimately trust in God and be bound together by the Holy Spirit, even amidst the dangers and hardships that will be faced.  In Eugene Peterson’s translation from The Message of verse 11, Jesus says
For I’m no longer going to be visible in the world;
They’ll continue in the world
While I return to you.
Holy Father, guard them as they pursue this life
That you conferred as a gift through me,
So they can be one heart and mind
As we are one heart and mind (John 17: 11).

        Of course today, becoming one in ministry almost sounds easier said than done despite Jesus’s words to be of “one heart and mind.” It’s not hard to see on the news, on social media, in print, and even in conversation that we are definitely not of one mind more often than not, both in the works and even in the church.  However, differences in thought are not a bad thing, because if we all thought the same way, we’d be living in blah-blah land.  One the other hand, it’s how we navigate those differences with each other and still being one in ministry is what I believe that is at the heart of Jesus’s prayer for the disciples and for us as 21st century disciples in today’s lesson.  A lot of it comes down to our backgrounds and life experiences, as well as our different perspectives and vantage points.  I’d even go as far and add generational differences too!! 
Nevertheless, differences are not a bad thing and can still be healthy, but in order to become one in ministry, we have to also be able to effectively listen to and respect the different backgrounds and viewpoints that each of us bring to the table together, just like Jesus was able to bring the disciples together at the table.  See, like each of us gathered here in the sanctuary this morning, the disciples also came from different backgrounds, had different personalities, and opinions too.  Among the challenges that we face in becoming one in ministry today, “each of our ministries – from our interpretations of the gospel message of Jesus Christ to the things we hold as most critical in our discipleship and mission – is limited to some extend by our own limited vantage point.”[ii] And that’s okay, because we all have unique gifts and graces, but we all have limitations too.  Even amidst the differences we may bring to the table, we are ultimately one in ministry through Jesus because Jesus is of God and because we too belong to God and we need each other to support and encourage each other in ministry.  At the same time, “we are limited as individuals in ministry.  We can see only what we know and what is familiar.  We recognize only the things we are looking at out of what we know from our experience.”[iii] I know as a relatively new pastor that I have experiences in some areas, while I am limited in other areas.  For instance, when I was traveling back East earlier this month, I have found that I am not a big city person even though I lived in Washington, DC for four years during seminary.  While I adapted to an urban environment, I am definitely more at home here in Quincy, but also because I have more experience living in a rural environment having grown up in Rio Linda and on a semi-rural acre property.  When we all consider our own experiences and backgrounds, becoming one in ministry helps us bring our many different experiences together here in the church and is why we also need each other. 
        Some of us here might be crafty and skilled in building things, while others of us may be more experienced with hospitality, visiting the sick and homebound, working with youth and children, and so on and so forth.  However, we weave all of these collective experiences together to become one in ministry.  And even when we may have different talents and even different ways of thinking or believing, it is very important that “as disciples of Jesus Christ, we seek to understand and work hard to respect the viewpoints of others” and that “we are called to be in relationship with disciples of Jesus Christ who hold viewpoints that are different that our own.”[iv]
This is especially crucial today, given the tensions in our world and some of the tensions we may face when different ideas may come into conflict, and yes, even in the church too.  As we have read in some of the Gospel accounts following Jesus’s resurrection, the disciples weren’t always on the same page, even during Jesus’s earthly ministry and some had their own ways of thinking and beliefs, particularly Peter and Thomas.  Yet, Jesus still prays before all of the disciples and for all of humanity that we may be one in him, and that’s the Good News there.  Jesus cares about us so much, enough as to pray that we can be one through him as we await the arrival of the Holy Spirit.  When we become one in ministry by continuing to follow Jesus even though he is not physically visible in the world today,
We can expand our own vision of discipleship only with the help of others.  And it is only when we do that, when we expand our vision to include the perspective of others among God’s people, that we become able to look at the world through the eyes of Christ.  This is why it is critical not only that we be one in ministry with other people who share our faith, but that we seek to be in ministry with people who have a different view of the world than our own.[v]   

        I think that’s the homework that Jesus was giving the disciples for the time when he knew he would no longer be on the earth and likewise, that’s the work that we still have cut out for us as the hands and feet of Jesus in the world today.  We know there are many things in both the church and in society that we are not of one mind on, yet we are still called to be one in ministry amidst some of the different viewpoints that we may have.  And we’ll also be seeing this next month in Burlingame when United Methodists from our California-Nevada Conference of the UMC gather for our Annual Conference Session from June 21-24.  Even when we come from different places in our regional body, from different backgrounds, and from different viewpoints, we still come together to be one in ministry with each other and we are bound together by the Holy Spirit and in love.  That’s Jesus’s prayer for all of us and even though it’s been over 2000 years since praying this prayer with the disciples, this prayer of Jesus’s still rings true today. 
As we go into this new week as one in ministry together, keep your eyes and ears open to the different perspectives that are out there and remember these words of Jesus, that we may be one through him even when we may have differences and viewpoints.  As we bring the Easter story full circle, I invite you to stand and keep your eyes open, and as comfortable, look up towards Heaven and with your hands raised or stretched out as comfortable, be in prayer with me. 

Let us pray:
Gracious Lord God, by the power of Christ, your name has been revealed to the people you have called from this world to be in mission and ministry. We are yours, and you have called each of us by name.  You have embraced us to be your disciples—and we have kept your word.

Almighty God, we know that everything you have given to us in our Savior, Jesus Christ, comes from you. We believe that the words Jesus spoke are your words, and we are committed to listen to your words revealed in Scripture through him. We truly do know that he came from you, God.

And we believe that you sent him not just to the first disciples, but to all disciples, in every generation, including us. And so it is in the holy name of Jesus that I pray for all of us. I’m not praying for the general population. I pray for these brothers and sisters that you have called, that we may be one in ministry together for this time and place.

You have called us to minister together. We are yours.  Bless us, that we be open to the vision that Christ has given not just to those in this place, but to those in other parts of your body—those ministering in your name in other places, in other nations, and in other denominations. For we know that everything you have given through Christ is yours, and everything Christ is, came from you. For in Christ, you have been glorified.

I pray that the fullness of Christ may be glorified in all of us. Holy Father, watch over us in your name, the name you gave your son Jesus, that we will be one just as you and Christ are one.

In the name of God, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, we pray. Amen.[vi]

[i] Study Notes for John 17: 3 in New Interpreter’s Bible (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2003), 1942. 

[ii] Ministries, Discipleship. 2017. "Seventh Sunday Of Easter — Preaching Notes - Umcdiscipleship.Org". Umcdiscipleship.Org. Accessed May 24 2017. https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/resources/seventh-sunday-of-easter-preaching-notes.

[iii] Ibid. 
[iv] Ibid. 
[v] Ibid. 
[vi] Prayer paraphrased from the words of Jesus as recorded in John 17:6-17, and written by Dawn Chesser.

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