“for the transformation of the world”

Zechariah 4: 6, 7; Matthew 5: 13-16; 2 Timothy 1: 7

We went over the first part of the UM mission statement last Sunday.  I pointed out that Jesus is the one who makes disciples.  To borrow a line from this morning’s opening hymn, Christ’s Spirit touches us and makes us whole by convincing us to Repent, Believe, and Follow.  Christ makes us aware that we can’t save ourselves, he persuades us to have faith in him, and he influences our behavior.

This Sunday’s sermon takes a closer look at that last step, Follow.  Christ is coaxing us to walk his way, and wouldn’t you like to know where you are going?

Christ doesn’t expect us to blindly follow him, but He doesn’t tell us the details either.  He only lets us in on the Big Picture.  What’s Jesus up to?  The Transformation of the World.  He wants to save the world.  

So we wait for the world-transforming instructions.  It’s an active waiting, waiting by following the list of activities on the cover of the bulletin that we went over last Sunday  We wait because sometimes it’s not always clear what the world transforming thing to do is.

Christ’s guidance, the divine calling to follow, it’s rarely obvious.  A few lucky souls get a crystal clear communication; they know exactly what God wants them to do.  Usually though, we get hunches or opportunities arise and we’re wondering-- is this it?  Is that you, God?  Is this the direction you want me to follow?

Here are some guidelines to help you discern whether or not you are following in Christ’s world-transforming direction.

“You are the salt of the earth, the light of the world, a city set on a hill,” Jesus tells his followers.  Christians are already these things, these qualities are already in us.  We find that truth difficult to believe at times.  “God has not given us a spirit of fear,” the Apostle Paul writes, and yet, many times we are timid and fearful.

There is an inner world that needs to be transformed.  A spirit of fear that tries to make us less salty, less bright, less visible.  We need the reminder that there is more to us than the sum of our fears and worries.  

Ever felt that inner spirit of fear give way and be transformed?  You’ll be practicing a spiritual discipline such as praying, or studying Scripture or singing a hymn and suddenly, your perspective changes, a worry gets lightened by this new understanding. You are fearful and then another Spirit comes over you.  Paul calls it a Spirit of power and love and self-discipline.  When we are paying attention to this Spirit, when we are following it’s lead, our inner world gets transformed, which then has an impact on the outer world.

One of my worries of late is paying the church bills.  I pray about this worry, “Lord, what is your will?  What is the solution?  What are you up to?”  This past Monday while doing my morning devotions, my perspective suddenly shifted.  Now from out of the blue, instead of feeling scared I felt grateful.  Thankful to God to have these problems.  Because I realized in that moment that this experience can make us a better church, better able to minister to people going through the same kind of situation.

There are so many people right now who are looking at a pile of bills, and then looking at their checking account balance, and their spirits are sinking.  The life they knew, the life they loved is crumbling, and they are running out of ways to patch things back together.

What kind of church is going to be able to minister to folks going through such a difficult time?  A church that says “There, there.  Just trust Jesus.”  I doubt it.  That kind of attitude is just going to leave a bad taste in their mouth.   However, a church that can say,  “We understand.  We can sympathize.  We are going through the same thing.”  That’s a Salt of the Earth church, one that will leave a good taste in their mouth.

After my perspective shifted away from a spirit of fear there followed a feeling of such compassion.  The Spirit of love (one of the terms Paul uses for the Spirit), transforming my inner world so that I could be a little more emotionally available to others who are stressed out and anxious.  When I’m worrying less about myself, I’m better able to minister in a way that transforms the outer world.

When I think of the Spirit of power (another of Paul’s terms for the Spirit) using disciples to transform the world I think of our Bishops.  They have their own financial worries for the denomination.  

Starting in 2004, the Council of Bishops began to resist this spirit of fear by asking themselves, “what in the world needs to be transformed?  What is God calling the UMC to transform?”  Out of these holy conversions grew a consensus that malaria prevention was the direction in which the church should head.  An estimated one million children die from this preventable disease every year, and the Bishops became convinced that by working with UMs in Africa our denomination could shine a light on this problem and help eradicate malaria.

The imagine no malaria campaign that was launched in 2008 was the outgrowth of that vision.  In the past four years, the church has distributed 1 million bed nets, 5,000 health workers have been trained, and we have 300 hospitals and clinics throughout Africa.  As a result of our efforts in partnership with other organizations like the Gates Foundation, the death rate from malaria has been cut in half.

Only a Spirit of tremendous power could have convinced a cash-strapped organization to stop obsessing about the bottom line and instead expend its energy and resources raising money to transform the world for the poorest and most vulnerable among us.

An example of the Spirit of self-discipline (the third term that Paul calls the Spirit), that’s something that I’d like us as a congregation to work on this week.  How can this Spirit transform us so that we can transform our little corner of the world?

Right now in our world we have construction detours.  We’re not always sure which way to turn, which way is open.  Every time we drive through and around town, what if the detours were a reminder to turn from the spirit of self-doubt to the Spirit of self-discipline?  How would that reminder change the way we drive?  How would the change in the way we drive transform our world?

This week every time we see a detour sign and we feel annoyed at the inconvenience or feel nervous because we’re not sure what to do, I would like us to seek the Spirit of self-discipline by quoting Scripture--  “I am the Salt of the Earth.  I am a Lamp on a stand.  I am a City on a hill.  God has not given me a spirit of fear, but a Spirit of power, love, and self-discipline.  People will see my good driving and give thanks to God.”

See, I think we hear a phrase like “transform the world” and we think, “that job is too big for me.  Someone with more authority will have better luck accomplishing that task.”  But I believe we all have within us both a spirit of fear and a Spirit of power, love, and self-discipline.    If you like you can write those three words on the lines provided on the  bulletin cover.  When that Spirit transforms our inner world and we are released from fear, then we can transform the outer world.

You may never hear a booming heavenly voice speak to you and tell you what to do.  The only guidance you may ever receive is the shift in perspective that allows you to see a situation in a more loving light.  Or you’ll become aware of a need, realize, hey, I have the power to do something about that, and then you’ll find the courage to act.  Or you will be motivated to exercise self-discipline in a situation that usually leaves you feeling impatient.  

I believe those moments are the result of the Spirit of Christ inspiring us and helping us to Follow.  And I believe that we are more likely to have experiences of inner transformation when we wait for them by praying, studying, fasting, communing, speaking and acting in ways that are consistent with the Gospel.

And that’s how the Spirit of power, love, and self-discipline influences us to Repent, Believe, and Follow a world-transforming direction without saying a word.