Worship as action

Matthew 22:37-39

37 He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the greatest and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’

Micah 6:8

8 He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?

Matthew 16:24

24 Then Jesus told his disciples, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.

Matthew 28:19-20

19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”  (NRSV)

 

This is Laity Sunday in the United Methodist calendar.  In some churches that means the Laity are responsible for every aspect of this morning’s worship service, in others the laity and pastor are working together during the service, in others there is no mention of the designation.

When I began planning for this message I asked some of your leaders what your tradition for Laity Sunday includes.  The answer I received was that there were no traditions regarding laity Sunday.

In some ways that is pretty great, after all, no matter what I do today, everyone can say “We never did it that way before!”

Talking about the importance of each and every one of you to ministry fits in well with our recent look at discipleship and spiritual leadership.

In reality the ministry of the laity is the work of mission or ministry to which each believer is called. As Christians we are all called to this ministry or priesthood – not just clergy.

Each of us has a responsibility to proclaim the Good News and reach out to others in love.[1]

The words Jesus shares in this passage from Matthew are the centerpiece of Jewish morning and evening prayer that comes from Deuteronomy 6:4-5 (NRSV) and reads, “Hear O Israel: The LORD is our God, the LORD alone. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your strength, and with all your might.”

It is these words from Deuteronomy that are written on tiny pieces of paper and rolled up and inserted in decorative scroll holders, called mezuzahs, and attached to the doorframes of the primary entrances of Jewish homes.

The mezuzah reminds the Israelites of this commandment whenever they come and go from their house. Scrolls with these words are also inserted into phylacteries, little leather boxes that Jewish men attach to their foreheads with a head strap to wear during morning prayer. These words are of critical importance to the Jewish faith. They were critically important to Jesus.

It is in Loving God with all that we are that our lives worship God with Love.  To put love of God and neighbor above all else.

As we look at how we live our lives we can see where we do this well, where we can improve.

Your Mission Team met this week to plan for the next few months.  They decided to respond immediately to a request from someone you know, Lucky, who has family in Haiti who have lost everything.  He is gathering necessities to take with him when he can get over to help.

They also looked at ways to expand your Christmas outreach through the shoebox ministry next year, putting together plans to meet needs of women and men as well.

They discussed ways to meet the needs of those who do not have enough to eat in this community and have a plan to increase our awareness and giving to the food pantry.

In all of these we worship God.

Our prayer, Bible study, devotion, tithing, fasting, and participating in Holy Communion all part of this life which worships our Living God.

All of these areas require Disciple.  24 Jesus told his disciples, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.

Prior to Jesus speaking these words to his disciples, he had been healing people and teaching great crowds as he made his way toward Jerusalem for the last time. According to Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus had just multiplied seven loaves of bread and a few fish to feed four thousand people. The Pharisees and the Sadducees heard the news of his latest miracle and began demanding that Jesus show them a sign from heaven, which he refused to do.

When Jesus asked the disciples who people were saying he was, Peter declared that he was the Messiah, the son of the living God.

After this, Jesus began telling the disciples what fate awaited him in Jerusalem. When they protested, Jesus spoke harsh words and then and said that if they wanted to be his followers, they would need to take up their own cross.

He said that those who wanted to save their lives would lose their lives, but those who lose their lives for his sake would find their lives.

The way to discipleship is not free. It costs us to follow Jesus. We who call ourselves his followers must give up some of what the world teaches us it is important to have or be so that we may find a richer, more meaningful life in Christ.[2]

Our United Methodist heritage gives some help here. In the Class Meetings, the Methodists “watched over one another in love.” Their life together was guided by the General Rules given to the United Societies by John Wesley. The General Rules are the Methodist rule of life.

This Methodist rule of life was general because it allowed for the diverse personalities, needs, and spiritual maturity of the members of the class meeting.

It was a rule because it was a guide to help Methodists orient their corporate and individual lives toward Christ and his life in the world. It is like a compass that helps keep a traveler on course to his or her destination.

For the Methodists, the destination is holiness of heart and life. We are on a journey together guided by a rule of life.

Being accountable to and with one another, “watching over one another in love,” helped the early Methodists and us today make progress along the way.

The General Rules:

  1. Do no harm by avoiding evil of every kind; especially that which is most generally practiced…
  2. Do good as often as you can to as many as you can, to their bodies and to their souls …
  3. Practice the means of grace:
    • Private and family prayer
    • Public worship
    • Bible reading and study
    • The Lord’s Supper
    • Fasting or abstinence
      (The Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church pages 72-74).

The General Rules help people grow in faith and love by following the teachings of Jesus Christ. They provide a model of balanced and varied discipleship.

The rules help disciples keep a balance of what Wesley called “works of piety” (loving God) and “works of mercy” (loving your neighbor as yourself). [3]

In some cases practicing these disciplines may cost us some friends, maybe a job, or something we really want but don’t really need.  The disciple of practicing these rules always leads to us sharing God’s love with those around us.

Wesley’s three rules reflect Micah’s call for us to Worship God by seeking Justice, to live God’s love through our actions.

8 He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God

During the time of Micah, the people of Israel were doing a good job of worshiping God. In our context, they were the ones that we might call “active members.” They showed up for worship services most of the time. They received Holy Communion at least once a month. They attended Sunday school. They gave regularly to support the church.

Maybe they were even in a small group or a member of United Methodist Women. They might even have volunteered in the nursery, or taught the children, or sung in the choir.

They were not criminals (at least not the kind who got caught). They didn’t drink or gamble or cheat on their spouses. They took care of their families and paid their bills. They were, by all accounts, good church members.

But, the Lord says, it isn’t enough to be a good church member. If you show up for church every Sunday, but Monday through Friday you mistreat the people who work for you or with you, then you are not doing what the Lord requires. If you refuse to speak out against injustice, or fail to advocate for those whose voices are oppressed, or if you actively engage in practices that cause harm to a group of people, then your life is not pleasing to God.

So it was to this kind of a situation to which Micah spoke a bold and prophetic word: The Lord God requires more than empty rituals. God desires God’s people not to just talk the talk, but to walk the walk, every day, in their own communities and as a witness to the wider world.

Last month the speaker at MACC identified a justice issue that leaves some women released from prison with things stacked against her getting her life together and being a member of the community again.  She not only named the problems, but has offered solutions and proposed a transition home which will help address the circumstances which make it difficult for these women without support structures and people to help them when they are released.

She has put feet to her faith and those listening to her indicated they are prepared to help her meet this injustice head on.

You can probably lift many similar stories of living your faith, worshiping, through acts of justice in the places you work, study, and volunteer.

We also worship with all that we are when we answer Jesus’ call to 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

I suspect many are afraid of the Evangelism word.  Not sure what to say or do.

Jesus reminds us we are not alone.  We don’t do these things by our own power. It is only by the power of God working through the Holy Spirit that we are enabled to respond to Jesus’ commission on our lives.

It is through the power of the Spirit that Jesus stays with us to help us, giving us the right words and teaching us the right way to bring his good news to the people we meet.

It can be as simple as sitting down with a co-worker who is having a bad day and genuinely listening.

You answer the call when you take food to the hungry, visit the sick and those in prison.

You answer the call every time the way you live is worshiping God in love, disciplined, and seeking Justice.  You may never need to say a word.  Your life is the witness.

It isn’t our job as Christians to convert a heart. That is God’s job. Our job is to share our faith in such a way that we communicate the joy and passion we have for being disciples of Jesus Christ.

We go and take God’s love into the world because God first loved us, and we want to others to know that feeling of assurance.

We give our testimony in words and actions because we can’t help but want to share it with others! We don’t worship God in order to feed our own needs. We live our lives as an ongoing act of worshiping God our Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer![4]

You are the laity, you are called to the work of mission or ministry.  I invite you to celebrate and embrace that ministry.  As you worship with your entire being, others will see the difference in your life and be drawn to the joy and peace following Jesus brings.

[1] Discipleship Ministries of The United Methodist Church.  http://www.umcdiscipleship.org/leadership-resources/ministry-of-the-laity

[2] Discipleship Ministries of The United Methodist Church.  http://www.umcdiscipleship.org/leadership-resources/ministry-of-the-laity

[3] http://www.umcdiscipleship.org/resources/opening-ourselves-to-grace-the-basics-of-christian-discipleship

[4] Discipleship Ministries of The United Methodist Church.  http://www.umcdiscipleship.org/leadership-resources/ministry-of-the-laity

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