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September 30, 2015, 12:22 PM

Who We Are

James 5:13-18, CEB
13 If any of you are suffering, they should pray. If any of you are happy, they should sing. 14 If any of you are sick, they should call for the elders of the church, and the elders should pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord. 15 Prayer that comes from faith will heal the sick, for the Lord will restore them to health. And if they have sinned, they will be forgiven. 16 For this reason, confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of the righteous person is powerful in what it can achieve. 17 Elijah was a person just like us. When he earnestly prayed that it wouldn’t rain, no rain fell for three and a half years. 18 He prayed again, God sent rain, and the earth produced its fruit.
Mark 9:38-50, The Message
38 John spoke up, “Teacher, we saw a man using your name to expel demons and we stopped him because he wasn’t in our group.”
39-41 Jesus wasn’t pleased. “Don’t stop him. No one can use my name to do something good and powerful, and in the next breath cut me down. If he’s not an enemy, he’s an ally. Why, anyone by just giving you a cup of water in my name is on our side. Count on it that God will notice.
42 “On the other hand, if you give one of these simple, childlike believers a hard time, bullying or taking advantage of their simple trust, you’ll soon wish you hadn’t. You’d be better off dropped in the middle of the lake with a millstone around your neck.
43-48 “If your hand or your foot gets in God’s way, chop it off and throw it away. You’re better off maimed or lame and alive than the proud owner of two hands and two feet, godless in a furnace of eternal fire. And if your eye distracts you from God, pull it out and throw it away. You’re better off one-eyed and alive than exercising your twenty-twenty vision from inside the fire of hell.
49-50 “Everyone’s going through a refining fire sooner or later, but you’ll be well-preserved, protected from the eternal flames. Be preservatives yourselves. Preserve the peace.”
“Who We Are”
Today’s message is participatory! We are going to talk to one another as we explore today’s scriptures!
We are gathered here this morning/evening in this beautiful place, a place we call church. However, many of us remember that (using hands) here is the church, here is the steeple, open the door and see all the people! We know that the church is really the people. In the New Testament, the word we translate as church is ecclesia, which literally means ‘gathered community’ or ‘gathered assembly.’ The church of the New Testament had no buildings so wherever the people gathered, that was church.
Jesus was very intentional in creating this unique community we call church. He prepared his followers to call people into this community after his death and resurrection, as they proclaimed Jesus’ good news across the known world. Why? What is the purpose of the church, or the purposes of the church?
Congregation’s responses: supporting each other, teaching, connection, mission in the world, we are not alone, doing Christ’s work, worship, education, service, prayer, community, sacrifice, gathering with friends, spread the gospel, heal, fellowship, make disciples for the transformation of the world, meet people, take care of each other.
From those early beginnings, the community called church has spread throughout the world. Today we have many gathered communities, many ecclesia, even here in Oneonta.  Some of these churches are connected to one another through denominations: Lutherans, Presbyterians, Episcopalians, and as we saw in the media this week, our Roman Catholic sisters and brothers.  And, of course, the United Methodists. What, in your opinion, is unique about the United Methodist Church?
Congregation’s responses: connectionalism, world service, prevenient grace, good piano playing, singing in harmony, well fed gatherings, apportionments, willingness to change, inclusiveness, casseroles (giggles), open-mindedness, accepting, grace, social justice
And now, let’s bring it home. If someone new walked in right this moment and asked us, as First UMC of Oneonta, who we are, we would say, “we are…”
Congregation’s responses: reconciling(all 3 services), awesome, welcoming, moving on to perfection, community, family, people who care, love, inclusive, the gathering, friends, structured stable environment
Does anyone know our church’s mission statement? It comes from a piece of scripture. (all 3 services had people who knew the mission statement). “And what does the Lord require of us, but to do justice, and to love kindness/mercy, and to walk humbly with our God” Micah 6:8. Is this a part of who we are? Yes! Absolutely! (nodding heads).
I ask these questions today because our scripture readings gifted to us by the lectionary are all about identity—who we are—being church. In fact, that is the purpose of scripture, to guide the people of God, the followers of Jesus, the ecclesia into being God’s people here and now. And the focus of these passages today is on the 2nd part of our mission statement. They are all about our call to love kindness, to love mercy…even the gospel reading from Mark.
Our reading from Mark today is a continuation of a story that we have been exploring the last two weeks. Two Sundays ago Jesus and his disciples were walking near Caesarea Philippi and Jesus asked them an important question, “Who do you say that I am?” Peter answered quickly, “You are the Messiah!” and then got the definition all wrong. They continued their journey and, in last week’s reading, they stopped at a destination for a bit and Jesus asked the disciples what they had been bickering about while they were walking. Do you remember what it was? Who was the greatest. Right, which one of them is the greatest. Do you remember Jesus’ response? He used a visual. Jesus lifted a small, peasant child, a person of no power or status or social position, and he placed that vulnerable child in the midst of them and embraced the child. He told them that whoever welcomed such a child in Jesus’ name welcomed Jesus, and the One who sent Jesus. Jesus has literally just said that line about welcoming the child in his name, and our reading today opens with the disciple’s response.
John says, “Hey Jesus! We saw this guy over there casting out demons in your name and we stopped him because he wasn’t one of us.” Jesus just gets done talking about welcoming in his name and this is John’s response! What does this say about the disciples? They aren’t listening. Exactly, they are still having the argument from the road about who is the greatest…and it isn’t that guy over there casting out demons.
The next line is one of my favorites. Jesus has been traveling with his followers for some time. He has been teaching them, healing people in front of them, performing miracles. He has been showing them all about living God’s way. He corrected Peter for getting the Messiah definition wrong, strongly corrected him. “Get behind me, Satan!” He gave them the demonstration of welcoming the child. And still they are arguing about which one is greatest. And what is the next line after John’s statement? Jesus wasn’t pleased. Talk about under-translation! “Jesus wasn’t pleased.” I think Jesus was feeling a little more strongly than that. At this moment I imagine Jesus is tempted to take Peter and John and knock their heads together! Jesus is angry!
This man is doing good in Jesus’ name. He IS one of us! These followers are to be the pillars of the ecclesia. They are the founding parents of the church. They must understand what this community is about and how it is to live together in Jesus’ name! These followers have to get this! They are to be the stewards and caretakers of one another. They are to welcome and protect the last and the least. They are to open their arms wide to the vulnerable, the powerless, the child. They have to get this! And if this tiny child still standing there in their midst doesn’t bring the point home, perhaps the image of cutting off hands and feet, of plucking out eyeballs might get their attention. This is about the sharing of the good news through the community of faith. They need to see who they are!
James approaches this church identity from a different angle as he closes his letter to the church. Look at the picture he paints of life within the ecclesia. Consider the level of intimacy that this picture requires. This gathered community prays with and for one another. They send for one another when they are ill, seeking the ministry of presence and touch. When they are burdened, they confess to one another, sharing each other burdens, praying for forgiveness and restoration, for wholeness. Here is a glimpse of the blessed community Jesus intends for us all. Here is the call to love kindness and mercy embodied. James imagines for us a people called church as stewards, as caretakers of one another, especially those most in need. This is our membership vows lived out in day-to-day life. Here is the pledge to support one another with our prayers, our presence, our gifts, our service and our witness! This is who we are!
We joked last week using the Home Improvement/Tool Time call—“Hey everybody, what time is it?” “It’s Stewardship Time.” And we have been and will continue to be talking about finances and material giving, but stewardship time is about so much more than that, it is about how you gift the ecclesia with your presence, with your time, with you. How will you give of yourself within our gathered community? Will you help teach our children and youth? Will you embody James’ letter and enter into the ministry of presence, perhaps adopting a homebound or nursing facility member, giving them an hour of your time once a month, sending them a card each week to let them know they are not alone, but are loved and cherished and wanted? Will you commit to worship regularly? Will you participate, as we saw at our awesome rummage/book/bake sale this week, in church events and activities?
Because this is who we are, welcomers of the vulnerable! This is who we are, those who pray together and stay together! This is who we are, nothing less than stewards and caretakers of the body of Christ! This is who we are! Thanks be to God! Amen!


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