Sunday, November 5th's great message “Paul’s Mission” by Rev. Toni Carmer continuing week 29 of a 31 week study of “The Story – The Bible as One Continuous Story of God and His People.”
First United Methodist Church, November 5, 2017
Pastor Toni L. Carmer
After the resurrection of Christ and his ascension into heaven, the Holy Spirit was sent to empower a new community God was building called the Church. Here is what Paul said about the church in his letter to the believers in Ephesus:
"…speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work" (Ephesians 4:15-16).
Just like our bodies, every part, internally and externally has a part to play (unless you are a tonsil or an appendix, it seems, we can apparently do without you). When everyone works their part in unison with the rest of the body, it is a beautiful thing. When the church is working, there is nothing quite like her.
This week we're reading from Chapter 29 of The Story, entitled "Paul's Mission." Our readings in scripture take us from Acts Chapter 13 through Chapter 19, which tells us about Paul's Missionary journeys. We also read sections of the letters Paul sent to the young churches in Corinth, Thessalonica and Galatia that he has planted or visited, as well as a part of his letter to the Romans, where he has not yet traveled. Paul's underlying desire is always to build up these young followers, to encourage them so that they can continue to grow and to flourish, even in the midst of challenge. Paul knows his role, and he knows the place from which his strength comes, even when times are tough. Here is what he says to the church of Colossae:
"He is the one we proclaim, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ. To this end I strenuously contend with all the energy Christ so powerfully works in me" (Colossians 1:28-29).
For us to be successful in fulfilling our mission on this earth, we, too, must rely on the Holy Spirit within us. When we yield to God's will, it stirs the Spirit of God within us. For the believer in Jesus, this is our power source: our power source to love and care for our families, to raise up our children, to have the strength to get through difficult situations with dignity, to come alongside a friend or a stranger and help them in their time of need, to build up and to grow his body, the church.
Paul was given a specific mission to take the good news to the Gentiles. Jesus came from the Jews and they were the first to hear it and many received it. This was Peter's primary mission. But now, God fulfills his promise to Abraham that the one descended from him would be a blessing to all people, to all nations. If you are not Jewish, then you are a Gentile. Paul's mission was to get the word to us and it worked. That's good news!
But there were some significant challenges: There was a wall that needed to be torn down between the Jew and the Gentile. Like so many racial, ethnic and religious tensions today, they didn't like each other or trust each other very much. But it was God's vision for the church to be one body, and it was Paul's assignment/mission to tear down that wall. Listen to Paul cast this vision:
"Therefore, remember that formerly you who were Gentiles by birth and called "uncircumcised" by those who call themselves "the circumcision" (which is done in the body by human hands)—remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ.
For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility" (Ephesians 2:11-14).
Today, there is an estimated 2.2 billion Christians scattered all over the world from every nation and race. It all started with Jesus, and extended to the 12 apostles and disciples, and moved to Paul, who was responsible to bring the Gospel to us. We wake up today with 2.2 billion followers alive today. But the work isn't done. The Bible says God is not willing that any should perish. And that's where you and I come in. God has given us a part to play in the unfolding of God's continuing story in our world today.
I believe that the church is God's hope for our world. The church is far from perfect. I'm not sure I'm finished with this little project that I began working on a couple of weeks ago. It's a painting of an angel with these words stamped to her left: "If God wanted the church to be perfect, she would have put angels in charge." I didn't come up with that little ditty, Andrew Greely did (one of Scott's favorite authors, I'd say, according to the number of his books he has read by Greely over the years). God didn't leave angels in charge, but God empowered us with the Holy Spirit (can you see the descending dove underneath the words?), and gave us the task of being Christ's Body in the world.
It's an awesome responsibility. But with the Holy Spirit, and the gifts given by the Spirit, we can do what God calls us to do…
Paul speaks to the church of Corinth, telling them, and us, (in chapter 12) that we have each been given gifts…gifts given for the common good. And they're all different. They're supposed to be different! Our differences are needed, they're important; we're not meant to be the same.
"To one there is given through the Spirit a message of wisdom, to another a message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues.
All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines" (1 Corinthians 12:8-11).
As we are each individually different, so are our churches. But we're all a part of the ONE Body of Christ. We're all important. We're not adversaries, we're brothers and sisters together in Christ. We have our differences, our different ways of looking at scripture, our different ways of governing our churches, our different ways of calling and training our pastors and laity, our different ways of sharing the sacrament….but we're each a part of the ONE body of Christ.
I'm friends with Bob Land at Trinity Church, and I enjoy gathering together with the other pastors in our Marshall County Ministerial Association, as well. They're good people, and they're doing their best to serve their churches and this community, just as I am in this place.
I'm grateful for the opportunities that we have to come together to share in ministry, as in our Lenten service last spring and the concert this afternoon. We have different gifts and graces and abilities, some of our churches are really good at serving in one way, while others are good at serving in another…but together, we're stronger than we are apart. Listen to the music shared this afternoon…I know it will be awesome. Together we're awesome. Together we can make a difference…
And together, with churches and individual Christians around the world…we can help to heal the brokenness: we can offer the world peace, comfort, healing, direction, and hope.
Our vision here at Plymouth First UMC is to love God, love others and serve others. Our Mission as United Methodists is to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. It all started with a tribe of people, that grew into the church that we are a part of and serve today.
With all this in mind, here are a couple of questions for us to consider this morning:
Do we still believe that it's important to reach out to others to share the Good News of Jesus Christ?
If we do, what are we willing to do to make that happen, in this community and beyond?
On this All Saints Sunday, may we continue to listen to, to hear those voices that call us to faithfulness…that call us to reach out and serve.
And as we receive the sacrament on this Communion Sunday, may we open ourselves to the movement of the Holy Spirit, in our lives and in our church, that we might make a difference for cause of Christ here and now, in our world today.
May we have the courage to say yes, in Jesus' name. Amen.