Last week we began a four week series entitled “We Are”. If you missed last week, we focused on our mission statement which is “making and nurturing disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of our world.” We talked about how that mission statement should define who we are and what we do. Today, we are going to continue to along that same vein, and continue to explore who we are and who we should be as a church. I believe one of the characteristics that should define Edinburgh United Methodist Church is that we love.
A story comes to mind. A sick man went to the doctor with his wife. The doctor examined the man, ran all of the tests he could, and then the man and his wife waited for the results. The doctor emerged with a concerned look on his face, and the wife became very anxious as the doctor summoned her back. She asked, “Doctor will my husband be ok?”
The doctor replied, “I am afraid your husband is very ill with a rare form of anemia. If it is left untreated he will most certainly die from it. However, it is curable.”
The woman looked hopeful, so the doctor went on, “With proper nutrition and a lot of rest the disease will go into remission and he will live many years, but here is what you need to do: take your husband home and treat him like a king. Fix him three home-cooked, nutritious meals a day. Wait on him hand and foot so he can get lots of rest. Bring him breakfast in bed, don’t let him do anything that you can do for him. If he need something, you take care of it. Help keep his stress down, by rubbing his back every morning and giving a full body massage every evening. One more thing, because his immune system is weak, you’ll need to keep your home spotless at all times. Do you have any questions?”
The wife had none. The doctor asked, “Do you want to break the news to your husband or shall I?”
The wife indicated she would. She walked back into the room with her husband, and sensing something was wrong worriedly asked, “It’s bad isn’t it? What did the doctor say?”
His wife answered, “The doctor said you’re going to die.”
This humorous story reminds us of a painful truth. It is one thing to say we love others, but it is quite another thing to put that love into action. The truth is that acting on love always requires more effort than we want it to, and the type of effort required is always changing. This is a reality that many churches are struggling to deal with. I have not met a single person who would describe their church as unloving and unwelcoming. Every single person I have ever met describes their church as the most welcoming and loving place on the planet. Yet if you go to search engines and type in Churches are, the search engine gives recommendations to finish the phrase based on popular searches and correlations. Some of the recommendations for churches are include churches are scams, churches are selfish, and churches are dying. How do we go from the people inside thinking of the church as loving and welcoming and have such a big disconnect that the people outside think of us as dying, selfish scams?
Part of the reason is that we are not showing our love in the right way anymore. There was a time when churches just needed to open their doors and people would come. There was a time when a clever sermon title on a marque sign would entice a new person to check the church out. Those days are past. There was a time when if a church wanted to get a lot of people to come all they had to do was announce a revival and bring in a fiery speaker. People would pour into see what it was all about. However, in a day and age where we can watch entire seasons of TV shows on demand, coming to church to hear a dynamic preacher just is not a draw anymore. The way that we prefer to show people that we love them is to just make sure our doors open, so that when they come in we can embrace them in our loving care. Our preferred way to show love is to meet people when they come to us. There may have been a time when that worked, but that time is not now. We must meet people where they are, not where we are.
Let me ask you a question, is our church building a fortress or a staging area? Those two types of structures serve radically different purposes. A fortress is a safe, secure place to retreat towards. A fortresses primary function is to keep those inside safe and comfortable and keep the dangers outside at bay. A fortress has gate keepers who ensure only the people who are wanted in can get in. In a fortress the focus is on preserving what is inside safe, fortresses by their very nature are inwardly focused. A Staging area is just the opposite. Staging areas are a bustle of activity. The goal of a staging area is to equip and provide resources. Those who are inside a staging area are there just long enough to get the supplies, the resources, and the support that they need before they go back out into the field. The staging area exist to support and carry out a mission. The staging area by its very nature is outward focused. It is there to serve as a gathering point for those who are going to leave its doors to make a difference. Which one are we? If we to ask random people, random non-church going people, around the town if Edinburgh UMC is a fortress or a staging area which one do you think they would say? Which one do we want to be?
To fulfill our mission and making loving others part of who we are, then we must reach out and meet people where they are at. We must be a staging area. We must seek to show love by serving people outside our doors. In his book the Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations, Bishop Robert Schnase writes “service is one of the fundamental activities of church life that is so critical that failure to practice it in some form results in a deterioration of the church’s vitality and ability to make disciples of Jesus Christ.” To put it bluntly, we cannot fulfill our mission, we cannot make and nurture disciples, we cannot transform the world if we do not seek to serve the world around us. If we want to be a church family that loves, if that is who we are, then being the church cannot just happen on Sunday mornings between 9:30 and 11:30. Being the church, being the disciples of Jesus Christ that love and transform the world needs to happen outside our doors in the community around us.
A beautiful analogy to how we go about doing this is presented in the concept of a flash mob. If you spend much time on the internet, there is a decent chance you have seen one of these videos. They depict a public place where the people going about their day get surprised by something beautiful. I know this video is a little long, but watch and see what happens:
I think this video is a beautiful metaphor for what happens when the church serves the community. First symphonies are not meant to play in the street. They play in grand halls with perfect acoustics, but here they bring the music to where the people are. Just like in the same way we are supposed to bring the love of God out of our own grand sanctuaries and share it where the people are. Second, I love how this video starts with one musician. At first, very few notice him or hear the song, but as more and more musicians join him, a crowd gathers. The song they are playing has not changed, but as more added their own talents it becomes harder to ignore and it becomes more effective. This works the same way for us. Many of you are already involved in sharing God’s love outside our doors. However, many of you are like the lone musician in these endeavors. When we were work together to share God’s love we make a bigger impact. Finally, I think this video is a beautiful metaphor because it works. The symphony succeeds in its mission. They brought joy out of the symphony hall, into the town square. They succeeded in making an impact, in sharing joy, in doing something truly unforgettable. When we work together to share God’s love we do the same thing, we do something unforgettable, we make an impact, we transform the world.
There are all kinds of examples of churches doing this, of reaching outside their doors love people through serving them where they are at. All of these examples come from United Methodist churches in Indiana. Star City UMC, a congregation of 60, held a back to school block party. They rented a bounce house, provided free food, free medical screenings, and free back to school haircuts. In a town of only 370, over 100 people came to the event. In Madison Indiana this summer, a group of teenagers organized the Madison mission week. Twelve churches and over 90 teens participated in a week of service to their local community. Monson Community UMC in South Bend has started a practice once a month after church of going around town and passing out water bottles to whoever wants or needs one. In just three months, they gave away over 2,000 bottles of water and they have seen a few families start attending the church for the first time. Finally, just over two weeks ago Edinburgh UMC held a free tailgating party where they gave away over 130 hotdogs and even more cans of soda as a way to bless and show love to the local community.
We love is part of who we are. In the relatively short time that I have been here, I have observed that as true. However, it is important for us to always be mindful of why we love and how we love. The reason why we love is because it is our mission. We are ourselves are disciples of Jesus Christ because of God’s love for us. As 1 John 4:19 states, “We love because he first loved us.” The most effective way for us to make and nurture new disciples is to introduce them to God’s love. Just like in the video it took several minutes to fully engage and capture the crowd, we cannot do one event and call it a success. Sharing God’s love is something that takes long term, concentrated effort. We have to be committed as a church to sharing God’s love. Remember a mission should give purpose and definition. We love should be part of who we are and be one of our major motivators for everything that we do.
How we love is easier to define but harder to do. We love however we can! That is the essence of this morning’s scripture. Paul wrote “I have made myself a slave to everyone to win as many as possible.” Paul goes on to describe how he meets people where they are at, he relates to them in their context and he does all of this “for the sake of the gospel.” The key is that in order to share the gospel, in order to fulfill the mission Paul was willing to do whatever it took to connect with people in the way that was comfortable for them, not for him. Are we willing to do the same? Are we willing to love people as they are and show God’s love to them without condition? Are we willing to invest our time, our resources, our passion into our community so that the people of this town can better fill and know God’s love? Are we willing to make ourselves a slave to everyone, to serve them, and consider them better than ourselves, in order to win as many as possible?
May our answer be yes! May that be who we are! Many of you know this town very well. You know effective ways that we can share God’s love outside our doors. May you not keep those ideas to yourselves, but may you have the courage to share them. Just like the symphony came together to make an impact, may we work together to fulfill those ideas and dreams. May we be a staging area from which God’s love flows out to the community. May we work together to make and nurture disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of our world. By the power of the Holy Spirit, and by the grace of Jesus Christ through God the Father, may we known as the church that loves. We love. May that be who we are.