“Transforming the World One Person at a Time”
If you’re a fan of the Netflix show, “The Crown,” then you know the highly anticipated season 4 is now available. One of the main storylines of this season is the relationship between Charles and Diana. Without spoiling anything important for those of you who haven’t started watching it, one episode revealed the anxiety Diana felt personally, and the tension felt throughout the royal household, when it quickly became clear that the young Diana hadn’t a clue regarding the rules and expectations of being and relating to the other members of the Royal Family. In one scene she managed to break about four or five significant rules in less than 10 seconds!
Watching that reminded me of one of the family rules I shared with you a couple weeks ago about how on Christmas morning my siblings and I were not allowed to go downstairs until my parents had already gone down and gotten everything ready. Which got me to thinking about the fact that every home establishes certain “family rules” which are intended to create a balance in the family dynamics.
One area of our home life growing up in which we followed some clearly established rules was dinnertime. First and foremost, it was understood by all that we would eat together as family at the dinner table. If you were in the house at suppertime, you stopped what you were doing and came and ate with the rest of the family. And we also said grace as a family before each meal, even when we ate out.
But it wasn’t just a matter of making sure we were all present that mattered. My family always ate “family style,” which means that the food is placed on the table on platters and in large bowls, which then gets passed around. So, in order to maintain some level of decorum during our meals, we followed certain rules. I counted them, and came up with six procedural rules. First, for the initial go-around, persons took the food that was closest to them, put some on their plate, then passed it to the left. Always to the left. This kept someone from being handed a heavy plate of food from persons on both sides of them at the same time.
Second, no one was allowed to start eating until my mom started eating. Even to this day we might sit there, holding a fork-full of food in the cavity of our open mouths, ready to bite down while she takes her time getting ready to take her first bite.
The next four rules applied to the serving of second and third helpings. If you finished a particular food on your plate and wanted more, we were more than welcome to a second helping. But rule #3 was that in your attempt to retrieve the platter of food, you never reached across the plate of the person next to you. Instead, you politely asked someone to pass it to you. If rule #3 is for the person asking for the food, rule #4 is for the person passing the food. The rule was you passed it to the person without first taking a second helping for yourself. Doing so was considered rude, because it conveyed the message, “I’m more important than you, so you can just wait while I serve myself a second helping first.”
Rules 5 and 6 were designed to minimize conflict, mostly between us kids, but they also help to reinforced politeness. Rule #5 was that everyone got equal number of servings. If there was enough for seconds, and I wanted a second helping, the understanding was I wouldn’t take a large portion the second time around, thus leaving some for others who might want seconds. Likewise, if there was enough food left for a third helping, you didn’t get it until it was determined everyone else had received their second helping if so desired. And then rule #6 was that if there was just one of a particular food item left on the platter, say a piece of chicken, and someone wanted it, because rule #5 was still in play (the number of servings is to be as equal as possible), they had to ask for it with this question: “Would anyone like to split that last piece of chicken with me?” If no one answered, it was all theirs!
So, there it is, a little bit of a window into the dynamics of my family life during mealtime when I was growing up. Obviously, not every family observes the same rules my family did. But in our case, Mom and Dad established them for a reason. They were there in order to cultivate certain values that were important to my parents, namely being fair, polite, and orderly. (Now, just so you don’t get the wrong idea, dinnertime was anything but staid and sober. It could get pretty loud and fun.)
So, when it comes to our church family, why do we do some of the things we do? If the purpose behind my parents establishing those mealtime rules was to cultivate life values they deemed important, is there a purpose behind the doing the things we do and talk about?
For example, we talk a lot about faith, right? We preach about it. We have Bible studies about it. We sing about it. We read books about it. We encourage it in each other. In fact, faith—specifically, growing in faith—is the theme of this stewardship campaign. So, let me ask you, what’s the purpose in having faith, and growing in it?
The answer to that question is probably simpler than you might be thinking. It sounds like a deep question, and it is. But the answer is actually quite straightforward. In John 10:10 Jesus tells us, “I came [into this world] so that you could have life.” If giving us life—abundant, everlasting life—was his purpose in coming, then it stands to reason that apart from his coming we would not have abundant, everlasting life. If we already had it, then he wouldn’t need to come, right? So, apart from Christ, we’re not alive – truly alive. And by truly alive I mean connected to and one with the Source of Life, God.
This idea aligns with what the Apostle Paul tells us. In Ephesians 2 he writes, “At one time you were like a dead person because of the things you did wrong and your offenses against God. You followed the rule of a destructive spiritual power. However, God is rich in mercy. He brought us to life with Christ while we were dead as a result of those things that we did wrong” (vv. 1-2, 4).
Colossians 2:13 drives home the same point. “When you were dead because of the things you had done wrong…, God made you alive with Christ and forgave all the things you had done wrong.”
Here’s my point. We all have a pre-Jesus Christ life and a post-Jesus Christ life. Pre-Jesus Christ is characterized by separation from God, which is spiritual death. And post-Jesus Christ is characterized by being at-one with God, which is life eternal. There’s a word that describes what happened. . . We were changed. That’s what faith does. It changes us. The purpose of faith is to change our lives.
Professing faith in Christ changes our lives in two ways. First, we move from death to life. It’s in instant reality which God bestows upon us on account of our faith. John Wesley called this justifying grace, because in that moment, we're justified in God's eyes; we're made right (righteous) in his eyes.
And then after that, through faith we grow into the persons God created us to be. That’s a life-long process of becoming more Christ-like. Wesley called this sanctifying grace. It's the process of growing into our holiness.
So, I’ll say it again. The purpose of faith is to change our lives.
How about the Church itself – what’s our purpose? What’s the reason the Church, the Body of Christ exist? I’ll give you a hint. It’s the second half of The United Methodist mission statement, and immediately follows the words “for the.” If our mission—the task to which the Church is called to be about doing—is to make disciples of Jesus Christ, to what end and for what purpose do we labor as such? We are to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the….transformation of the world. Our work is disciple-making. And doing that well and intentionally helps to achieve its purpose, which is transforming lives. Maybe, even, the world will be transformed. That’s the goal—to transform the world with the love and grace of Jesus Christ.
But how do we transform the world? Quite simply, one person at a time!
Friends, that’s great news! God hasn’t called us to take on the entire world. He hasn’t even called us to take on the entire city of Port Huron. The call is much more intimate and doable. You and I are called to let the light of Christ shine in our own individual day-to-day “worlds” in a way that it effects a person here, another person there, someone else on a different day, and so on. One person at a time.
In a parable that was only one sentence long, Jesus reveals exactly how this low-key discipleship is accomplished. Here it is: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast, which a woman took and hid in a bushel of wheat flour until the yeast had worked its way through all the dough” (Matthew 13:33). I’ll read it again. The kingdom of heaven is like yeast, which a woman took and hid in a bushel of wheat flour until the yeast had worked its way through all the dough.
How is the kingdom of heaven proliferated throughout? By making contact with one small part of the whole at a time. And then making contact with another small part of the whole. And then another. The same way a tiny bit of yeast slowly “infiltrates” the large quantity of flour until it eventually transforms the chemical make-up of the entire batch. The whole is changed one bit at a time.
The world is transformed when the love of Jesus is shared with one person at a time. If that’s the truth behind the process, then the process itself is the key to understanding the how. And this is the main point of today’s sermon: Christians are called to mix with the world around us and change it, as yeast changes dough. The purpose of faith is to change our lives. The purpose of the church is the change the world. How do we that? By establishing and building personal friendships and relationships with people who don’t know Christ, and then letting the light of Christ in you slowly draw their attention. Friends, our call as disciples is important, but it’s not complicated. We’re to live faithfully day by day in the world where God has placed us. Wherever we are, we live in a way highlights those values that are important to us as followers of Christ. We influence and encourage others to live by the highest standards they know. Through our words and actions, we bear witness to the love of Jesus to those who need a faith.
Disciples of Jesus Christ are “made” little by little, person by person.
In case you’re wondering what any of this has to do with stewardship, I’ll tell you what I think. In the broadest sense, stewardship is defined as 'utilizing all the different resources God has given each of us for the purpose of building and strengthening the kingdom of God on earth.' And no God-given resource of yours makes as huge an impact on other as you, the person God made. Your ability to care. To listen. To share out of your own life experience. To offer words of encouragement and hope. Your willingness to stand for the truth, even if it costs you dearly, can speak volumes. So can your willingness to get involved when everyone else is staying hands-off. Or your wiliness to speak up and out against injustice, even when it results in others scoffing and ridiculing you. Ultimately, it’s in our willingness to tell another person the difference Jesus has made in my life that constitutes a life-transforming act of stewardship.
My guess is that there’s very few of us, if any at all, who are called to try to share our gifts in the context of large crowds. No, most likely, God’s simply calling us to be “little Christ’s” to every person we meet throughout each day. And where we sense the Holy Spirit nudging us to focus our efforts more intentionally on certain persons, then we can do that. But always remember that it’s not our job to transform people. It’s our job to “mix with the world,” and to share with others out the gifts God’s given us. But the work of transforming a person, and ultimately the world – the Holy Spirit has that covered! But let's do our part to give him something to work with!
Let’s pray. (the following prayer was to prepare the hearts and minds of worshipers to complete their estimate of giving cards for 2021)
Loving God and Heavenly Father of us all, we praise you for the wonderful gift of life you offer to everyone who will receive it. We thank you for sending your Son, Jesus, into our broken world for the purpose of giving us a life that's truly abundant and full and real and lasting…Life with a capital L…life that will never end. As recipients of this gift of Life, it's our desire that the whole world would experience and receive it as well. And we know that such a huge undertaking will only happen when each of us focus on our own little worlds, our own spheres of influence. And so, God, one of the things we're asking for today is a willing heart to be a witness of the love of Jesus to the persons you lead us to each day. We give you permission to shine brightly through us. Any way you can use us to reach someone else with Jesus' love, please do so. But we don't want any of the glory because it goes all to you.
Lord, we know that our church, Port Huron First United Methodist, has a purpose. We know that on one level, our purpose is common to all congregations – to be a part of transforming the world. But we also believe that there are aspects to our purpose which are unique to us. You've placed us in a very particular location within the city, surrounded by a particular demographic of our city, at this particular time. You've empowered us with leaders who have particular skills and gifts. And you've staffed us with particular persons who bring their own skills and gifts. So as we consider the unique ways you are leading us to connect with the people in our community, and even beyond, we now humbly ask you to bless the funding of the outreach and ministry we do in Jesus' name.
Father, in this moment we now ask one more thing. As each of us individually lay before you our hearts and hopes for this church, give us clear guidance as to the amount and types of support you want each of us to give this next year. We're listening, God. The ears of our hearts are open. As we look at the blank line which represents our financial commitment for 2021, speak an amount into our hearts. Speak it clearly. And then give us the faith and courage to agree with you. Lord, I imagine there are some who are praying right now who, when they hear you, will be surprised because it'll be the first time they've actually heard your voice. In that moment, dear God, reassure them that they've heard you. Holy Spirit, fill them with an assurance that they're hearing your correctly! And where any of us are doubting what we've heard because it's different than what we came to this moment thinking we'd give, enable us to trust you. Jesus told us that your sheep know your voice, and will follow you. Amen
November 22, 2020 Bulletin
Prelude “Come, Ye Thankful People, Come”
arranged by James Mansfield
Welcoming and Call to Worship
Song "Cry of My Heart" FWS #2165
It is the cry of my heart to follow you. It is the cry of my heart to be close to you.
It is the cry of my heart to follow all the days of my life.
1. Teach me your holy ways, O Lord, so I can walk in your truth.
Teach me your holy ways, O Lord, and make me wholly devoted to you.
2. Open my eyes so I can see the wonderful things that you do.
Open my heart up more and more, and make me wholly devoted to you.
Invitation to Give and Offertory “We Thank You, Lord” Tom Norager, Pearl Swanson, Steve & Cathy Grattan
Jackie Prause, flute
Pastoral Prayer and Lord's Prayer
31 He told another parable to them: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and planted in his field. 32 It’s the smallest of all seeds. But when it’s grown, it’s the largest of all vegetable plants. It becomes a tree so that the birds in the sky come and nest in its branches.”
33 He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast, which a woman took and hid in a bushel of wheat flour until the yeast had worked its way through all the dough.”
Special Music “Thanksgiving (A Medley of Hymns)” Tom Norager, Pearl Swanson, Steve & Cathy Grattan
Arr. by Craig Curry
Message “Transforming the World One Person at a Time”
Making and Dedicating our Covenant of Support for 2021
Pastor Drew will guide us in filling in and dedication of the Covenant Support cards you should have received in the mail. If the card has not arrived at your home yet, you are invited to participate by writing your covenant on a piece of paper, and then transferring it to the Covenant Support card when it does arrive.
Hymn "Marching to Zion" UMH #733
1. Come, we that love the Lord, and let our joys be known;
join in a song with sweet accord, join in a song with sweet accord
and thus surround the throne, and thus surround the throne.
We're marching to Zion, beautiful, beautiful Zion;
we're marching upward to Zion, the beautiful city of God.
2. Let those refuse to sing who never knew our God;
but children of the heavenly King, but children of the heavenly King
may speak their joys abroad, may speak their joys abroad.
3. The hill of Zion yields a thousand sacred sweets
before we reach the heavenly fields, before we reach the heavenly fields,
or walk the golden streets, or walk the golden streets.
4. Then let our songs abound, and every tear be dry;
we're marching through Emmanuel's ground, we're marching through Emmanuel's ground,
to fairer worlds on high, to fairer worlds on high.
Postlude “Marching To Zion”