May 1 2016   Starting at the River by Rev June Fothergill

Acts 16: 9-15

A woman once criticized D.L. Moody for his methods of evangelism in attempting  to win people to the Lord. Moody replied, “ I agree with you. I don’t like the way I do it either. Tell me, how do you do it?”  The woman replied, “ I don’t do it.”

Moody retorted, “ Then I like my way of doing it better than your way of not doing it.”  ( p. 28 An Encyclopedia of Humor ed. Lowell D. Streiker. Hendrickson Pub. 1998)

Maybe some of you remember back in the  1980’s when each church was asked to come up with an evangelism plan?  At the time I was serving a church in a town of 300 people.  We struggled with what it meant to do evangelism.  Many of us weren’t even to sure we liked the word.  Some folks remembered uncomfortable experiences with evangelists and methods they found too pushy or didn’t trust.   Yet, we were being asked and still are to share with others the good news of Jesus Christ and his love for our world.

I still wonder:   What is the method of evangelism that fits us and our situation?   Can we learn something from the methods of Paul, one of the first and very successful evangelist for Christ?     Let’s see what this story reveals.   Paul had a vision that led him to move to a new geographical area of Macedonia, which is in what we today call Greece.  He was led there by his sense of God’s invitation to reach out to a new group of people.  But where does one start in a new place, with new people? What can we learn from Paul’s approach in Philippi?

I notice that Paul started at the river.   Apparently he asked around for where people gathered to pray in the Jewish way.  He discovered that people were praying to God at the river, so he went there.   He started with people who had an openness to God.   He discovered that this was a group of women.   Maybe there hadn’t been the ten men needed for a synagogue prayer meeting, yet these women still decided to spend time together in prayer and worship.  They had shown initiative and hunger for a life of faith.

I also notice what Paul did not do.  He did not immediately take on the pagan practices of the town. He did not try to preach in the streets.  He didn’t hang up a sign and expect people to show up.   He went to where the people were.  He investigated to discover where people interested in God gathered and he accepted who they were. He didn’t see a group of women and run the other way looking for the men’s group.

I think about this for our ministry to reach new and younger people.    How do we go to where people are?  How do we engage with people who are looking for God, for meaning, for deeper life, even faith who are outside our church?     How do we accept who we find?

I have to admit that I’ve been trying to answer those questions by having my office hours at the coffee shop, by hanging out at Sprout most every Friday, by offering Bible study at the Monday breakfast, by participating in various community groups.  Yet, I wish I had Paul’s gifts for the word- I‘d love to know what he actually said to the ladies on the river bank that led them to accept Jesus. Of course, if I did know I’d still have to find the words God wants me to share.   Paul’s model suggests to us:  go to where people are; go to those who are seeking.  Then find in your own heart the word you have to share.

I want to tell again a story that I love about this.   The United Methodist Women’s group in Vale realized that they wanted to reach out to younger women, but how.  They noticed that their school had a girls volley ball team.  This team got very little attention compared to the boys’ sports.  So they decided to adopt the team. They went to all their games and cheered them on. They brought them snacks. They go to know them. Their attention and love was their most important witness to Christ.  Over time some of those young women and their families decided to check out the little Vale UMC.

The second thing I notice about Paul’s experience is that it was God who opened Lydia’s heart to listen to Paul.   This leads me to see the importance of prayer for this process.  We can pray for ourselves that we learn where to go and what to share.  We can also pray for God to open people’s hearts to the word about Christ Jesus.

Lydia’s experience reminds us that this work of evangelism isn’t just about us and what we do. It is the movement of God that opens hearts and touches lives to change and grow in faith.  We can share our own authentic witness, we can build relationships with people who are seeking, but it is God who touches people’s hearts and moves them along their spiritual path toward Christ and his church.

So, this lesson invites me to be patient, yet urgent.  To be urgent to do what I can to share my witness to the good news of Christ, but to be patient about outcomes.  Sometimes we only plant a seed, sometimes we help a plant of faith to grow, and sometimes we welcome someone newly into the faith.  Since it is God who grows the plant of faith, we need the patience to let God work.   And we can hold people in prayer for open hearts to hear and respond.

Finally, I notice that Paul welcomes Lydia into the faith.  She and her family are baptized.  And when she offers her service, her gifts, she is accepted.   We know this because at the end of the story of Paul at Philippi, the first believers are gathering at her house like she proposed.

I think that the way the story links baptism and an offer to be of service is significant.  Baptism welcomes someone into the way of Christ.  It is the church accepting that person into our midst. But that baptism is not just about an initiation rite, it signifies the beginning of a life of discipleship and service.   Therefore it is important that the church to accept that person’s service

Paul in his letters struggles over and over with how the congregation needs to and can do this.  He gave us the image of the Body of Christ to help us understand how we all have various parts to play.   He talked about a variety of Spiritual gifts that God pours out on various people.  He urges people love one another, to accept each other in their differences.  He knows that for the way of Christ to flourish, everyone’s gifts and service needs to be embraced by the community of faith and that it is not always easy.

Lydia for example was a woman.  Right away there could be struggles with allowing her to take such leadership to have her house be the center of the new community.   Acts shows Paul reaching beyond what was surely his comfort zone for the sake of growing the community of Christ. What a gift to her and to the community of faith at Philippi that Paul accepted her offer of service and hospitality.

I think that this is a challenge for any long standing organization or congregation.  We are used to doing things the way we do them.   Welcoming new people and empowering them to share their gifts, their perspectives, their call to service is a rewarding challenge to our status quo.  I know from my own experience that  it can be discouraging  when ones gifts and offers of service are not accepted of included.   Paul’s way of evangelism invites us to look and listen carefully for where newer people are offering their gifts and service and to be open to them.

I give thanks for the people of Meridian UMC who were willing to take a chance on my gifts and willingness to serve when I was just in Jr. High.  I and a friend had an idea for a Sunday School Christmas program and the church allowed us to plan and run it.  I am sure that they stood ready to help us in any way but it was our program and  offering it and having it accepted by the church made a big difference in my life and faith.  Guess what it was called?  Christmas around the world!

So, this story of evangelism at Philippi gives us some ideas about how to be involved in evangelism even today:

  1. Start at the river-Go out and meet people where they are physically and spiritually

Is there a river place you know about where you can share your story of faith?

  1. Witness and pray- Pray that God will open hearts to the story of Christ’s love and grace

Are there persons you want to pray for that they be open to God’s word for their lives?

  1. Welcome people into the community and accept the gifts and service they offer.

Is there someone new whose gifts and service you want to empower and encourage?

Like Paul, we at Ebbert have a mission from God to invite people to become disciples of Jesus Christ.  Let’s learn from his methods and listen to the nudges and leading of the Spirit. Amen.

 

Sermon April 24, 2016

Acts 11: 1-18  Trying out some new dance steps

Have you ever tried to learn a new dance step?   I am not a very good dancer, so when I have tried it’s been hard for me.  I remember how in Mexico, I just couldn’t quite get the beat right when trying to learn salsa.  I also remember in shame that I gave up learning guitar when I just couldn’t play the F Chord.   I used to think of myself as someone open to change. Then one year at Myrtle Creek UMC there were big changes in who was serving on the council.  I realized, I liked the old group.  Over the years I’ve realized that change is challenging especially when I have liked things the way they are thank you very much! Do you find this too?

Yet, when we look at our world, when we look at our scriptures- change is part of life.  We cannot avoid it, but we can try to discern what changes come from the work of the Holy Spirit and seek to let the Spirit give us the new dance steps for our lives.

This story today from Acts  gives us some clues which may be helpful for us. We serve a  Living God that I believe still sends us the Holy Spirit   and often that Spirit has new dance steps to teach us.

I notice some things about this story.

1.  Peter’s new experience of the Spirit and the new dance steps he took, did not go unchallenged.  We have this second version of the story of Peter and Cornelius in Acts 10 in Acts 11 because the other leaders of the Jesus movement in Jerusalem criticize Peter for what they see as his strange actions.  He then recounts for them what happened and what it meant to him.   Through the stories in Acts and many  hints in Paul’s letters we know that the change from a Jewish religious movement to include people who were gentiles was not an easy change for the original Christ followers.    It was not just prejudice or reluctance to change, but also there were very real issues to figure out- what was the role of the traditions and religious practices of their faith and how did they mix with the new gentile believers?  How much did the new gentile believers have to change to be like them in order to be accepted? What did it mean to follow Jesus in their new setting ?  Wouldn’t it just be easier to keep the Jesus message confined to the Jewish world?  Yet, Peter discovered that was not what God was doing.

Thoughtful, engaged feedback  to change can help the community to discern and think through changes and their impact.    I remember a time at eh Collister UMC when we were discerning whether to take down a wall in the sanctuary.  I appreciated the man on the Council who raised lots of questions and helped us proceed in a thoughtful way.  The change made a big difference to that church!

In today’s world,  I believe the church is once again being challenged to  step out with the Holy Spirit’s leading into new ways of doing things, to reach new people.  For example, our nation and world are not just made up of  people of European American background, yet our church is still predominately white and Euro- North American in culture.   One of the interesting things about General Conference is how that body is starting to reflect how this is changing.  This year the second largest delegate contingent will be from the Congo region of our church from Africa.   In our own community, our school district is about 22% children of Hispanic/ Latino heritage.  Yet, we in our  Annual Conference have barely two functioning Hispanic/ Latino based congregation after over 30 years of work. The truth is that just like in Peter’s day there is resistance to change.  We experience it when we try to listen to the changes God invites in our personal lives and we experience it when we try to change as a community.  Like in Peter and Paul’s day, accepting, welcoming, sharing power with new people from different backgrounds and perspectives  is still a challenge for us today. And I believe it is still the movement of  the Holy Spirit inviting us to new dance steps.

2.  I notice that  Peter discovered this understanding about what God was doing first of all by praying.  He was on the roof of the household in Joppa in prayer when the vision came.     He had just had an amazing experience of praying and  God bringing Tabitha back to life.  He knew the value of spending time with God in prayer.  Thus, he had some confidence that his vision of the sheet of animals coming down from the sky was a message from God.   As Charles Dicken’s  ol’ Scrooge would say, it wasn’t just a bit of undigested meat.     So when Peter told his story to the skeptics,  he made sure they knew that his actions were grounded in prayer and vision from God, not just his own ideas.  His dance steps into new territory was  in response to God’s word and nudge.

As I noted earlier, I notice in myself how easy it is to give up on something when it gets hard or if one faces criticism.   It helps to have the grounding of prayer.   I had someone confront me recently about some changes he wanted to see in our Monday breakfast.  He was very upset but also very respectful.   Yet, it wasn’t easy to hear the criticism.   A part of me wanted to flee, to give up on that ministry. But then instead I asked him what he thought specifically I could do.  He invited me to change my behavior and thought that could make a difference for him and others.   I had been thinking and praying and resisting doing something like he suggested for a while.   I think that through this man, God is inviting me to take some new dance steps.

As you think about your life and the challenges you face, I invite you to be in prayer, spend  time on t with God in the ways that open to you God’s spirit and the possibilities of new dance steps.

Finally, Peter relates in his story that his message from God was confirmed by what happened in his visit with Cornelius.   He had a prayerful vision which lead him to act and this vision was confirmed in the lives of the people around him.   One way we can confirm God’s nudges and invitation to new steps in our lives is to seek confirmation in the people we trust, in the life of the community.  For example I may feel I have gifts and graces for a certain kind of ministry but it is good to have that confirmed by the experience of others around me.

In Peter’s case not only did Cornelius have his own vision from God about Peter, when Peter did go to the household and share the good news of Jesus with them, the Holy Spirit came to them. Peter concludes with this famous statement, “ If then God gave them the same gift that he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could hinder God?  “ ( 11: 17)

In Chapter 10 Peter says to Cornelius’s family when he first arrives, “  I truly understand that god shows no partiality but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.”  God was doing a new thing in their midst.   This understanding was not the way most folks in those days thought about religion or faith.  Especially the Romans associated gods with particular places.  Isis in Egypt, Jupiter in Rome, the Jewish God in Palastine or with Jewish people.  Yet, here the movement of Jesus followers are experiencing that a relationship with Jesus is possible and desirable for all people no matter what their geological location or background.  This was  a new kind of religion not rooted in a place but in an experience of the Christ/ the Holy Spirit.

Jesus ‘s family and people , the Jews had the understanding that  God went with them wherever they were and was the creator of all things,  and now this understanding of a universal God is expanded to include the gentile world.  It was a big change and one that 2000 years later we are still living out.  It means that we are still challenged to find ways to appreciate all the human diversity of this world and to empower those who have historically been disadvantaged or under represented.   It means that the forgiveness and grace we experience in Christ is available to everyone.   Like Peter, we understand this work of the Spirit because we can see how God continues to work around the world and in our own backyard in the lives of persons we may have disregarded or didn’t see.

For example, I grew up in Idaho and had the belief that I was growing up in a very white environment.  When I wanted to experience ethnic or racial diversity it was through meeting missionaries or people from somewhere else.  But as I have reflected about my growing up, I realize that just down the road in Wilder Idaho there was a migrant labor camp where many people from Mexico and other parts of Latin America lived.  They were rarely part of my world because of the restrictions set on their own lives and my own blindness.    Later, what a thrill it was for me to humbly be part of a new church start in Wilder  made up of folks  with Mexican American background and culture. Some of them living in what used to be that labor camp.  It had taken a long time, it hadn’t and wasn’t easy but The Spirit finally was allowed to break through and bring something new.

I have interpreted this story of Peter and Cornelius for a long time as a call from God to continue the work of the Spirit to include and appreciate people of different backgrounds and races into the Body of Christ.  As you can probably tell this is close to my heart.  Yet, I realize today that I continue to learn from others, especially folks who have been historically under represented about the issues  involved.  I also realize that this openness to the diversity  and change the  Spirit brings is not limited.   Each one of you  may have your own area of life where the Holy Spirit is inviting ,nudging  you to open up to something new, to try some new dance steps.  It may be as simple as to be open to new friendships or as challenging as learning a whole new skill set.   I invite  all of us to join Peter on the roof in prayer as individuals and as a church community so that we can be open to the new dance steps with the Holy Spirit God has for us.

Dance then wherever you may be

I am the Lord of the dance  said he.

I’ll lead you all where ever you may be

I’ll lead you all in the dance said he.

Sermon April 17, 2016     Acts 9:32-43  Life Giving Community by Rev. June Fothergill

I want to do this sermon a little differently this morning.   I invited you all to pick someone to concentrate on as this story from Acts was read this morning.  So this sermon will explore each of the tree characters and what their story might mean for our lives.  I invite you to share your ideas about each first.

Peter- Hope for new life.

He  was a leader of the movement and had a gift for healing.  When he was called to come to Joppa, he came and spent some time listening to the bereaved disciples and widows.  But then he asked them all to leave the room and prayed beside the body.   This seems strange to me.  Why did he ask everyone to leave, did he want some time alone to grieve, to connect with God?   All is says is that he prayed, we don’t know what he prayed.   Yet, the result was new life.  Where there had been loss and grieving, now there is renewed live and vigor.   Peter after praying turned to her and said, “ Get up.”  Her eyes opened and seeing Peter she sat up.  He gave her his hand and helped her to rise.  Then calling to the saint and widows, he showed her to be alive.  There is an attention in all these small details.  We don’t know what Peter said in his prayer but after telling her to get up, he treats Tabitha with gentle tenderness.  She says nothing in the whole story but we wonder-   Peter stayed there in Joppa for a time- did he and Tabitha converse?   What difference did this gentle, amazing mystery make in their lives?

Meaning for us:   For me the story invites me to a fresh openness to what God can do.  Could it be that prayer can accomplish far more than we can ask or imagine?  What would happen if we prayed with faith that God can bring new life to dead places and people.  Maybe not literally bring back from the dead but so many people and groups are caught in deadening  situations:  the slow suicide of alcohol and other drug addiction, the decline of our church communities, the wasting of human life from war and grinding poverty.   Could it be that our prayers can open doors  to new life.  That if we only stay in the place of grieving, and loss, we will not allow the new life that is possible through connection with God?  Peter’s choice to pray challenges

I have experienced frustrations with all the barriers our society puts in the way of people seeking to change their lives, to live full, meaningful lives.   I have to admit that one of my current frustrations is when persons are ready to enter drug rehab treatment as sent back to the streets rather than to a rehab bed, because of lack of beds or other barriers.    Yet, Peter’s experience invites me to not give up, to continue in prayer for people to find the new life  God desires for them.   Encourages me – perhaps you too, to continue to pray for our churches here and everywhere to receive that new life and hope Christ has for us!

Disciples/ Widows- Awareness of needs

When Tabitha died, the disciples called upon Peter who they knew was nearby.  So this shows some kind of network between followers of this movement.  They asked  Peter to come, but what was their purpose? Did they expect him to heal Tabitha or did they just want pastoral support?  Or did they want to be sure he knew about Tabitha and honor her ministry?  It is unclear.  But they did reach out beyond their local group.  The widows are a fascinating glimpse of the life of the early church as well.  Were they women that the church helped provided financial and emotional support?  Was Tabitha also a widow?  They grieved her, cried and told her story by showing the clothes she had made.  Did she make them especially for them or did they make them together for the community?   I know from other sources that  the making of cloth and clothing was coordinated between women sometimes within a household or even between household- a cottage industry.   I wonder what this looked like?  Did the widows supplement their incomes with this work?     Clearly they rejoiced when Tabitha came back alive.  Now their friend and helper would still be with them.

Meaning for us:   Perhaps their willingness to call Peter and to celebrate a woman disciple invites us to celebrate the work of women in our midst and the ways we connect with each other between church communities and the power of those connections to inspire and support one another in ministry.  The widows were the poorest of the poor in those days and the disciples like Tabitha engaged in ministries to meet their needs.

Women have been doing this through UMW for many many years .  Today their work helps women all over the world find spiritual, emotional and economic support.    Also, all our connections help us serve the world in wider, deeper ways.  To be catalysts for renewed life.  The point of view of the saints and the widows, the disciples reminds us of the importance of making connections and listening to  and responding to the needs of our world.

One example of this happening through our connections as a church today is the work of  Innocent P. Afful ,  a Ghanian UMC missionary to The Democratic Republic of the Congo.  He works with an orphanage to develop activities and skills training for the children with a program called PETS-Promoting Empowerment Through Skills .  He writes in the New World Outlook about his work,  “ Recently I was invited by the women’s organization of the local Ecumenical Churches of Christ ( which includes UMC) to conduct a three day series of workshops on skill training empowerment through the PETS program.  My goal for  these workshops was to encourage all the local church representatives to come and learn so that they could go back to their local communities and train other women.  Teaching local congregations within the community has give me the opportunity  to travel around and get to know people in many loca1l places. I was able to teach church member how to produce assorted textiles for use in designing clothes and how to make different kinds of liquid soap, along with bead making sewing and other skills. This was an opportunity for me as a missionary to share my skills in a wider arena and to introduce some potentially transformative ideas to the people of ( that part of  the) DR Congo.”    ( p. 18, “The Heart and Hands of Christ”  by Innocent P. Afful  New World Outlook, Jan/Feb. 2016)

Finally,   Innocent’s example of day to day skills and service brings us to  Tabitha or Dorcas, herself.

I find it interesting that in a day when often women in the  New Testament  are nameless, she had two.  Did saying that she also had a Greek version of her name indicate that she was bi cultural- Greek and Hebrew?    Also she is described with the feminine version of the Greek word for disciple, the only place where this word is used.  Clearly she mattered to the community of faith in Joppa .  Even before her death is described, Luke gives her a shout out as someone who was always doing good and helping the poor.   And when she died they called a leader of the movement, Peter.   The widows held her in high esteem and valued her ability to make clothing. They grieved her death.  There is much we don’t know about her too:  was she also a widow, was she part of the diaspora or a convert from Joppa. What happens to her after her healing?  What is the meaning and importance of the making of clothing to the community?  Was it a source of income for the widows?

She is a model for discipleship because she cared for others. The Seven Day Adventists call their women’s mission societies Dorcas Societies.   Her healing  story was included in Acts, so it must have held significance for Luke and his community.   Her story is mysterious,  but it points us to how Christ brings life in the face of death.  William Willimon in his commentary on Acts, points out that  Luke explains nothing, he just tells the stories. “ How God’s agents wrench life from death is not something so trivial as to be explained. “  ( p. 85, William Willimon,  Acts.  John Knox Press 1992)  God disrupts our set, understood cultural patterns and expectations and creates  new possibilities for life.

Meaning for us:  Tabitha has been a model for ministry for a long time. She shows us that ministry is not defined by gender. That day to day, hands on help of others matters and can be a significant ministry. I think of the women  called the fabricators who come down to our basement most Mondays and make sleeping bags for folks.  On cold nights their work can save lives.   I think of our attempts to help a young woman find a new life away from drugs.  I had almost given up on her, when the other day I received a facebook message that she is doing much better and living in another state.

In conclusion  Tabitha’s story  invites us to be open to the work of Christ to bring new life, to take the dead places of our lives and world and bring renewal and hope.   Her story invites us to rejoice that  life is more powerful than death, that joy  will come to our wildernesses.  This is the mysterious, wondrous promise of Christ and the work of the Spirit.  What can that mean for our lives?

Let’s join Peter in prayer

Let’s like the disciples and widows make connections and respond to needs

And Let’s rejoice when live comes anew

and unexpectedly  and mysteriously into our midst like it did for Tabitha.

 

Sermon    April 10, 2016   “ Me? A Healer?”  by Rev. June Fothergill    scripture:  Acts 9: 1-20

There was a cartoon this week I liked.  It showed a couple of catepillars talking as they looked up at a butterfly. One said to the other, “ You’ll never get me up in one of those things.”   ( Tundra, p. D9  April 8, 2016, Register Guard)

The religious authorities of Palestine had thought it was over. They had made sure the head of the movement was shamed and killed, shown to be a fraud with no power at all.  But then these Galileans kept going around healing people and talking about their Jesus still being alive.   Saul saw is happening and joined the forces determined to stop this movement, this way of Jesus.  He saw one of “ them” stoned and got busy himself, rousting and imprisoning  Jesus followers.  Many of them fled to the outlining towns and Saul decided to follow them.  He got permission to go to Damascus to capture and bring back these renegades.

But on the way something strange and marvelous happened to him.   We heard the story today from Acts 9.  Jesus came to him in a vision and left him blind.   Instead of coming to Damascus with power, he came to town blinded and powerless..  Saul had been a man of faith, a zealous, judging faith, but now all that was lost to him. He sat in limbo. For three days he waited and prayed and wondered.

Meanwhile Ananias, an ordinary disciple, one who had fled with the rest, also had a conversation with his Lord.  Jesus called him to do something scary.  He was to go to this man Saul, who held papers for his arrest, and offer him healing.   Ananias isn’t too sure about this!  Who me? I imagine him wondering.

But that is what the Risen Christ does in the book of Acts.  Through the Holy Spirit and visions, the Risen Christ called people to reach out in unexpected ways to unexpected people.  Peter healed a beggar man. Philip taught an Ethiopian eunuch.  Now Ananias is asked to risk his life to go to Saul, to offer the healing Christ can bring.

Acts invites us to see how the spirit of Christ continues to work in the world, in those first disciples, then in the lives of the followers they first inspired like Ananias and could it be finally in us today.     Do we hear also the nudges to reach out to new people, unexpected perhaps, even risky people with the healing and love of Christ?

I think that the book of Acts is not about the Acts of the Apostles but the Acts of the Holy Spirit and that the book is not finished. Each of us in our own generations writes our chapters.  Today we live in a secular world that sometimes seems hostile to Christ or even worse, indifferent.  Especially to the kind of Christian worship and  life, we try to practice.   I find it intimidating and a little scary to try to share faith or bring a healing message of Christ into a world that seems disinterested.

Yet, I remember talking with a woman one time who was interested in faith but  answered my invitation to join us for worship on Sunday by telling me that Sunday morning was the one time during the week when she and her busy family could get together and make pancakes and talk with one another.  Why should she break that family tradition and come to Sunday morning worship? How could I ask her to?   It made me realize that I wasn’t offering her Christ and relationship with God but rather asking her to fit into my Christian pattern of practices.  Whoops!  Could it be that to reach her for Christ I would need to change?

As Ananias knew, reaching out to new people for Christ can be risky. Not just because we might be hurt but because we might need to change too!   When Christ converted Saul and Ananias welcomed and healed him,  Saul who thereafter became Paul changed the face of Christianity!   As Jesus said, he took the good news of Jesus into the gentile world!  This movement challenged the first followers to change themselves as we will see in future stories in Acts.   Yet none of it would have happened if that every day disciple Ananias hadn’t been willing to reach out beyond his comfort zone and take a risk to bring healing to someone who seemed to be an enemy.

May be there is someone here like Paul with the energy and fervor to go out and evangelize the world.   I say- hurray.  But I suspect most of us here are more like Ananias- we will stay right here and perhaps secretly hope that Jesus won’t call on us.   Yet, we can also try to listen to how Christ wants us to share the healing and love of Christ.   Ananias’ story invites me to wonder- who is it that we are being nudged, challenged to mentor in faith?      I know some of you have already done some mentoring because we have at least three people who are entering various forms of Christian ministry who received support, nurture and teaching from our congregation.

And I don’t think we are done yet.  I believe that the Spirit of Christ continues to nudge, envision, call, cajole today for the people of Christ’s way to reach out to new people.   There are youth who walk by our church building every day who just might need a sense of purpose and meaning that following Christ provides.   What if we partnered with A3 to paint a banner on the back of our education wing?  Would there be opportunities to get to know and mentor young people?   There are people who eat at our meals every week who just might need the healing word and touch that Christ provides.  There is a young couple from our meals right now who is planning to enter drug rehab. Could this be an opportunity to mentor in prayer and support a young family?  There are young people in all our families who just might need someone with wisdom and understanding to listen and converse about spiritual things, about meaning and love.   I remember when a young family came to the Myrtle Creek church. They came because the wife remembered coming to worship there with her grandmother.  How many of you have grandchildren?  Are there stories of faith and life you can share with them?

I’ve had people respond to this kind of sermon by saying that everyone they know already goes to a church or has a faith.  That may be true but I don’t think Ananias expected to have Christ ask him to go to Saul.  So, I invite us to keep asking the question.  I believe that if we are open, God will reveal to us those people and also equip us like God did Ananias to bring them what they need from God.    God chose to reach Saul not just through a Damascus road dramatic conversion but through the loving care and willingness to take a risk of a person from the community of Christ.   Therefore, even though Paul went way beyond that small community in Damascus, they provided a beginning base of love and healing for his ministry. Could it be that from their witness he learned to add love to his zeal?

As you come to communion today, I invite you to reflect upon Ananias and his witness of courage and healing.  Bring all your “ who me?”  questions and concerns and listen to Christ’s word  for you.   As each of us listen to who God is inviting us to reach, as we take the courageous steps to do so.  We will become the Church of Jesus Christ we are called to be.   Then we can fly!

 

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