Be Ye In the World,
But Not Of the World
Good morning. I hope you have been out “in the world” this beautiful weekend. A pair of sixty degree days after a long, lingering winter, is something for which to be incredibly grateful. And I personally needed the pretty evening last night to keep me going under increasingly absurd circumstances.
First of all, on a very serious note, I received the call from Mary Charlotte that John was in just too much discomfort to stand for any length of time on his legs and would not be able to preach this morning. Dan Ketchum, she reminded me, had knee surgery this week – so his standing capabilities were limited, as well. So, would I preach?
Sure, I said. What’s the topic?
“Be ye in the world, but not of the world,” she answered.
“I’ll e-mail you some material from the national church,” she offered.
“That’ll be great.”
She called a few minutes later to refer me to the Book of Order, chapter seven. I just happened to have my Book of Order right beside me – I kid you not. Chapter seven is entitled, “Worship and the Ministry of the Church in the World.” Actually, looked like some good stuff, so I thanked her for that, too.
Then it was sort of like, pretty outside, and I was writing some other stuff before she called, and well, I wasted most of the afternoon – developing my personal spirituality, you might say, just being grateful for the world around me.
Around , it was time to really buckle down and come up with a rousing message for Immanuel. I had some notes of my own on my computer from last week – when, I lead a theological reflection for a few minutes for the opening of the AFACT meeting. Be ye in the world, but not of the world.
It was at this time, that I learned that my computer was down. Down, down, down. No notes for you, Ms. O’Connell. Furthermore, the telephones didn’t work. I tried to call ACS on my cell phone to report that my land line didn’t work – but the cell phone kept dropping the call about halfway through the “menu of options” and just before they would have put me on hold anyway.
So Chuck and I had dinner and figured things would work themselves out in an hour or so. After dinner, I checked all the equipment again and ascertained that we were, indeed, completely cut off from civilization as we knew and loved it.
The battery was now completely dead in my cell phone and I couldn’t re-charge it because the puppy ate the charger. Chuck’s phone worked a little bit, so I drove down the hill to find a pocket of decent reception. I took my phone, too. Once I got a little reception, I saw that I had a voice mail. It was from Mary Charlotte, telling me that my phone was out of order, and she was e-mailing me some more research material for the sermon. And yes, today was a communion Sunday.
I turned my car around to drive back up my mountain wondering what I was going to do. My God, I said to myself, I’m going to have to write this out in long hand with a pencil!
Why would that be so bad? God responded.
Take a moment and step “Out of the World” for a few minutes. Leave the fancy mechanical stuff behind. You can doodle with a pen and paper, he offered. You can’t doodle with a computer, at least not very well.
“I’ve got a sermon to write,” I whined.
“You have a sermon to think about,” said God. “So think. Meditate. Don’t even think about typing. Or googling. Or even reading the Book of Order. That can come later.”
“Be Ye in the World, but Not of the World.”
Do you realize that those words aren’t even in the Bible? There are plenty of verses that would lead us to the conclusion that we should live and work in the world, but not let the world completely absorb us or suck our values out our ears. But the actual sentence: be ye in the world, but not of the world, is simply not there.
Sort of like the phrase: The Lord helps those who help themselves. Nothing like that is actually in the Bible. We think Benjamin Franklin might have said it first, but it wasn’t Jesus. But I do think Jesus would have approved of the idea and would encourage us to help ourselves as much as possible.
reading that IS in the Bible is the one we read this morning about giving unto
Caesar what is Caesar’s and giving unto God what is God’s. That makes it pretty simple, you might think,
unless you are one of those Christians who believes that EVERYTHING is a gift
from God; that everything and everybody ultimately belong to God. Once you give everything that came from God
back to God, Caesar is left with an empty sack.
But it probably wouldn’t have been so good for Jesus to have said this
directly. The powers that be were
already pretty upset with him – this small town rabbi who road into
They really needed to trick him into saying something that would imply that he didn’t support the Roman tax. Instead, he tricked them. It was against religious law to carry Roman money because it had the face of the emperor stamped on it, indicating he was both emperor and God. So when Jesus asked the Pharisee for a coin, and the Pharisee pulled out a Roman denarius, Jesus already had the upper hand. Gotcha.
But this separation of church and state has been has been with us, I imagine since civilization began. To live with us, in our community, do you have to think like us? Can you be spirituality different, yet a member of the political community? Can you live IN the world without being totally OF that world?
Good people, as often is the case, have come up with different answers to this dilemma. The Essenes in Jesus’ time, were separatists, attempting to live holy lives separate and apart from the rest of the community. The Zealots were more into political overthrow.
The monks and nuns were isolationists. How about our ancestors the Puritans, the Pilgrims, the Amish, the Mennonites. All were trying to maintain a purer, more holy, way of life, interacting with the unholy and profane as infrequently as possible.
the other hand, we have two thousand years of the missionaries going forth
under the banner of the Great Commission, to make disciples of all people, to
build churches, hospitals, schools, orphanages, research centers, establishing
prison ministries, food banks, and orphanages.
These activist Christians – like Sheldon Jackson, for instance – spend
their lives lobbying for others, all in the name of helping to transform this
broken world and to usher in the
Most of us have our personal ideal, but tend to be Sundays Only Christians anyway -- so much in the world Monday through Saturday, that we make little connection between our time in the pew and our time on the job, whatever that job might be.
Balance! I hear my father – the earthly one – yelling. You’ve gotta keep some balance in your life. He’s right, the heavenly Parent confirms. There is a time for everything under the sun – rest a while, read a while, then go do something useful.
Okay. It was time to start reading some of the material Mary Charlotte sent. Then I can start on the sermon.
The first article was entitled “What is Missional ecclesiology?” Oh dear. Well, eccelesiology is the discussion of what the Church is called to be and to do, its nature, its purpose, its hopes, structures and practices. Missional view of the church is more than a list of projects for the Mission Committee. A missional view basically means that the WHOLE PURPOSE of the church is mission – being IN the world, while working to transform it.
How many of you work for a company or organization that has a Mission Statement? OK, now, how many of you could tell me what it says?
The Mission Statement is the greatest invention of the management consulting industry of the 1980's. Great fortunes were made by consultants who hired themselves out to help organizations generate Mission Statements, and along the way they got us to think outside the box, maximize out potential, and understand the difference between a goal and an objective.
These Mission Statements are supposed to help us understand what's at our core: what's most important about who we are, and what we do.
That’s what our involvement with AFACT has been all about – finding paths into the community where, if we taken them, we will be a transforming influence, and perhaps, in the process, we will be transformed for the better ourselves. The positive outcome is in the interaction – its in the relationships that we build among each other and with those we think of as “not us.”
The Book of Order states that the responsibility of the church in the world mandates us to:
1. to proclaim the good news of Christ’s soul-saving love;
2. to offer compassion through feeding the hungry, comforting the grieving, caring for the sick, visiting prisoners, sheltering the homeless, and befriending the lonely; and
3. to reconcile the world through working for both peace and justice, through dealing honestly in personal and public business, supporting people who seek the dignity, freedom, and respect that they have been denied, working for fair laws, welcoming the stranger in the land, seeking to overcome the disparity between rich and poor, and so forth.
4. to care for creation and life; and
5. to praise.
It’s a tall order, but I believe Immanuel seeks, and has always sought, to be faithful to the varied purposes of the church -- keeping a balance between our personal spirituality, offering compassion and love to those around us, caring for God’s creation, working for justice and peace in that creation, and praising Our Lord now and forevermore. Amen.
Some of us want discussion groups and educational opportunities. Some want prayer groups and opportunities for serious personal spiritual development.
Others find themselves in the need of pastoral care in a time of personal crisis, serious illness, even death.
And some folks just want to eat and have fun – with people they like and admire.
Can a church, even a small church, meet all these needs? Can one pastor be competent in each of these areas? Well, no one person can fulfill all needs, but to coin a phrase, Together We Can, and We Will.
Today, we celebrate new life and the baptism of Oakley Johnston; new members and new growth as we welcome Howard and Darlene Bess into our church family; we celebrate the call to hospitality as we make ready for Ian and Kim Green and their son Sam; and the life-giving joy found in new beginnings as we await the pastor nominating committee’s recommendations with regard to future pastoral leadership for our little band of Christians.
With Christ’s help, we’ll turn from the temptation to narrow our dreams, the temptation to either rely on somebody else to do what needs to be done, or to criticize or blame those who try. And we must turn from the temptation to give up and pray for some Outside magical solution.
Jesus did promise to be with us and guide us, but he never said he’d do it for us. Amen.