Who We Are (Message for August 31st)

I want to share with you a secret.   I often do not tell people this, because I have learned from experience that there are some people who seem to get deeply offended when they learn this.   It is as if they find it shocking that someone could possibly feel this way.   So here it is:  I cannot stand musicals.   I absolutely dislike them.   I would rather spend two hours in the dentist chair then have to sit through anything that Rogers and Hammerstein have written.   I feel like most musical have a substandard story and pacing that is covered by the music, and the fact that musicals display reality as a place where everyone just breaks out in song and dance annoys me for some reason.  I could go on for the next twenty minutes in great detail about why I dislike musicals, but that would not accomplish much other than spark an argument for those of you who love musicals.   I bring up musicals because it is an example of something that I categorically dislike.    What is interesting to me though is that there are a handful of musicals I do like, now it is only a handful because I can probably count them on one hand.   My favorite musical is one that most people would not consider a musical.  However, it has all of the hallmarks of a musical.  Including the stuff I cannot stand like a substandard plot covered by music and people spontaneously breaking out in song and dance.   It just also happens to have car chases, Illinois Nazis, and John Belushi.  My favorite musical is The Blues Brothers.   I realize that this movie is a little dated now, and it is possible that not everyone has seen it (or it has been years), but there is a common theme that runs throughout the movie.  See if you can catch it:

            They are on a mission from God.   The whole concept of the movie is the Blues Brothers are trying to raise $5,000 to keep the Catholic school they were raised in open.   The brothers believe they are called by God to do this and this mission guides their actions which leads to all of the hilarious hijinks of the movie.   I really love the idea of being on a mission.   All of the great stories have a mission or quest at their center.   There is something about being on a mission that just naturally appeals to us.  We yearn to be caught up in something greater than ourselves.  We desire to be part of something that is truly important and significant.   In the best stories with the best mission or quests, the mission is more than just an activity to undergo.   The mission is THE activity, it is defining.   The mission is what the hero was made for and it is almost as if completing it is their purpose.   

            Companies and other institutions realized in the past twenty to thirty years how drawn we are as people to the idea of a mission.   This is where the idea of a mission statement came from.   The idea is that a mission statement is supposed to define the institution and give clarity and purpose to everything that the institution does.    There are tons of terrible mission statements, but there are some companies that really understand this and have some great ones.   For example, here is one companies:  “We will be the company that creates a more emotionally connected world by making a genuine difference in every life, every day.”   Now that is a mission to get behind.   Any guesses at which company is seeking to live out the mission?    Hallmark.   A mission statement should generate purpose, it should give people something to invest in and something to strive for.  For example, here is the mission statement of Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia:  Committed to creating a world where every single human being can freely share in the sum of all knowledge.”   That is an ambitious mission, but it is one that the organization is working tirelessly to achieve.   It motivates them and gives them purpose.    The biggest problem with mission statements is when they do not do anything.  Countless institutions have put hours in to crafting the perfect mission statement, only to do it again five years later.  This is because their mission is never shared.  Their employees, investors, patrons, and supporters never know what greater cause they are supposed to be a part of.   A mission statement only works if it stops being a statement and becomes a mission that defines.  

            We as a church have a mission statement, but I fear that we have not done a very good job sharing it and allowing it to define who we are as a church.   Do you know it?   Our mission as Edinburgh United Methodist Church is to “make and nurture disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of our world.”   That statement is supposed to be what defines who we are.  What we are all about.   Mission statements are supposed to define what and why.  They do not give a “how”.   This morning’s scripture does though.  I believe once we better understand our mission, then we will see how this scripture from Roman’s will help us fulfill it.  

            Our mission statement has two parts.   The first part is “to make and nurture disciples of Jesus Christ.”   This is clearly inspired by Matthew 28:19: “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”   This was Jesus’ last command to his disciples, we commonly refer to it as a great commission.   This must be our primary function.  In fact, I will go as far to say that if there is a church that does not see this as their primary mission they are doing it wrong.   We exist for the primary purpose of sharing God’s love made known through Jesus Christ so that others can come to know that same love and follow Jesus as a disciple.   I really like how our missions specifies makes and nurture disciples.  We are not all about just counting conversions.  We are about making disciples.   In our modern language disciple as more or less become a synonym with Christian.  We have lost some of the deeper meaning of a disciple.  In Jesus day there were several rabbis that traveled around teaching.  Each rabbi had their own take on the scriptures, their own way it was applied, their own unique teaching that made them different from all of the other rabbis.   It was also common practice that these teachers would take on disciples.  The disciple was to completely devote themselves to the teaching of the Rabbi.  A disciple was someone who ate and breathed the teachings of their rabbi.  A disciple was someone who would leave everything to follow the rabbi.  A disciple was expected to know the teachings of the rabbi backwards and forwards, the disciple was supposed to be just like the rabbi in every way.  Furthermore, the Rabbi selects the disciples who he, and it was all he’s at that time, believes are going to have the best chance at actually succeeding at being just like them.   Jesus was radically different from all of the other rabbis and sages of his day, because he did guard entrance into discipleship as much as others.  The teachings of a rabbi, the teachings that a disciple had to confirm to completely, was called their yoke.  Jesus said “my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”   Jesus did not require his disciples to pass hard tests, he did not require them to memorize hundreds of rules, know biblical commentary, or anything like that.  Jesus emphasized to his disciples that they love God with all of their being and they care for others that is the essence of Jesus yoke. 

            Our mission as Edinburgh UMC is to take on that yoke.  To continue to love God with all that we are and love others.   Not only are we supposed to do that, but we are supposed to be making new disciples.  We are supposed to constantly inviting people to join us in this.   I especially appreciate how our mission statement contains the word nurture, because that means part of who we are is constantly encouraging people to be better disciples.  We should regularly be lifting each other up in prayer, providing support and care for one another, and creating a place where people feel comfortable being themselves because they know they will be loved for who they are.   

            The second part of our mission statement is “for the transformation of the world.”   This part of our mission statement is adapted from the United Methodist church statement.  I remember having to sit through a required seminar during the ordination process where the presenter ranted about how pointless this part of the mission statement was.   His argument was that many Methodist churches are too small to change something as big as the world.   That we are too inward focused and not effective enough to make a difference.  I reject that completely.  An example of how a church can transform the world is Chalmers Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church.   This was a church that is part of an offshoot denomination that is itself very small, and at some point in the mid-20th century the church closed its doors for good.   Almost no one remembers or knows of this small church, but it significantly transformed the world in one important way.  This small, obscure church was the childhood church of Billy Graham.  This is the church that he grew up in, and the church that his parents were part of.   Billy Graham did not become a Christian until he was a teenager at a revival, but this church helped lay the foundation.  They invested into his life and helped make the transformative work of Billy Graham possible.  That small church is part of Billy Graham’s legacy that saw him share the gospel with over 215 million people in 185 countries.   It is not churches as institutions that transform it is disciples that transform the world.   To be a disciple of Christ is to experience and be transformed by God’s love.   Disciples are products of and agents for transformation.   Some disciples transform broken and dysfunctional families.  Some disciples transform local communities by being lights of hope, and other disciples transform the world making it more like God’s kingdom. 

            Our mission is to make and nurture disciples for the transformation of the world.   The reason why we do this is because we have experienced God’s transforming love and we MUST share that with others.    The hard question is how do we do that?   How do we do make and nurture disciples that God can use to transform the world?    Those are big questions, with a deceptively simple answer.   Verse 9 of this morning’s scripture:  “Love must be sincere.”   As a church we will only succeed at living out our mission statement, we will only find purpose in it if we love.   The rest of this morning’s scripture defines how we are to love one another:  “honor one another above yourself”, “share with the Lord’s people who are in need”, “rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn” and “live in harmony with one another.”   When we are devoted to one another in love and honoring each other above ourselves, then we are simultaneously practicing and modeling the love of Christ to one another.   By radically loving each other as this scripture describes we are fulfilling our mission by making and nurturing each other to be better disciples of Christ.   

            However, we cannot stop there.   Verse 13 of this morning’s scripture tells us to “practice hospitality” and verse 21 encourages us “do not be overcome by evil but overcome evil with good.”   I do not need to tell you about how there is a lot of evil in the world, brokenness, pain, and things that just are not right.    If we close our doors to those things, if we make church be our personal island and escape from the outside world then we are allowing ourselves to be overcome by evil.  To overcome evil with good, to practice hospitality, to fulfill our mission of making and nurturing our disciples we must reach out and we must invite in.    The only way that we are going to fulfill our mission, the way that we are going to find our purpose as a church, and be who we are is to love others.   That love starts here, but it must end outside our doors.  That is how we make new disciples and that is how we transform the world. 

            The mission of Edinburgh UMC is to make and nurture disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.   Hopefully, we all now know that and better understand what that means.   More importantly, may we claim that.   May that mission statement not just be something that sounds nice and paper and decorates walls, but may it give us a purpose.  May it define us.  May we as individuals and a church be open to being used by God, may the prayer of our heart, the passion of being, and the work of our hands be that Edinburgh, IN will have more disciples of Jesus Christ because we are here.    May we, by the grace of God and the power of the Holy Spirit, be THAT church.   May that be who we are.  We love.  We grow.  We Transform.   We are Edinburgh UMC.