#BeUMC Week 4: The People of God For Whom the World is Our Parish
By Derek Weber
Jesus-seeking, Disciple-making, World-changing
In days to come the mountain of the LORD's house shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be raised above the hills; all the nations shall stream to it. Many peoples shall come and say, "Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths." For out of Zion shall go forth instruction, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. He shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more. - Isaiah 2:2-4, NRSV
This final week is a little bit different. Rather than a general rule guiding our worship, this week it is an environment or an arena within which we do our work, we build our community and we make disciples. Disciple-making is the heart of our work, of course. But you remember that the purpose of making disciples is not to strengthen the church. Rather, we make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. The most famous verse in the gospels, John 3:16, reminds us that all of this was done, not because God so loved the church, but because God so loved the world. Too often we approach the world as though it was in opposition to the church. “Church is good; world is bad,” we think. But it is the world into which we are called.
John Wesley was on his way to the new world to carry the gospel to any and all when he wrote in his journal the words that we have remembered as the “world is my parish.” He had a heart for the church and worked to shore up the faith of the believers with his system of classes and bands in the Methodist movement. But he knew from the outset that this faith was not one of being cloistered from the world but engaged in it. From the beginnings of our denomination, we have been engaged in world-changing. This isn’t a new thing or a progressive versus a traditional thing. It is the very essence of who we are as United Methodists.
This week as we conclude our #BeUMC worship series, it is time to celebrate the difference that we have made in the world around us—whether that be local stories from our own congregation’s history or a part of the denominational story that brought forth colleges and hospitals, schools, and care facilities of all kinds. How has your congregation or the churches in your area advocated for the poor and homeless in your towns and cities? What changes have you brought about to the world around you? Sometimes these are small things, but they are worth celebrating. What partnerships have you engaged in – with schools or service organizations, charitable groups, or community institutions to help make your part of the world something that more resembles the kin-dom of God? How have you used your influence, connection, and impact to bring about change? Even if the work is unfinished, or ongoing, it is worth celebrating as the church being the church, reminding ourselves that ministry is happening even now.
Who in your neighborhood needs an advocate? Here again, you could celebrate the work you are already doing for inclusion, or issue a challenge to the congregation to join in providing a welcoming space for those who are forgotten or neglected around you. Who do you lift up in your intercessory prayers? It is good, of course, to include members of the congregation who need special prayers. But prayers can be outward-focused as well, praying for the communities around you who aren’t like those in the sanctuary.
We who are Jesus-seeking need to be reminded that he told us that we would find him when we reach out to help that society calls “the least of these.” And it has been the practice of the people called Methodist from the very beginning to seek ways to make a difference in the world, to “save the lost,” as Wesley would say, to gather up any and all who are beloved of God and ensure that they know there is a place for them in the church of Jesus Christ. And we discover that it is in this seeking of those around us that we find God most powerfully. This is who we are, this is how we experience God through the United Methodist Church.
(NOTE: Please start your sermon preparation by reading the planning notes first. The design outline and intent of the series are found there and are essential for the sermon as well. The campaign words and messaging themes are outlined there and useful for sermon preparation.)
Isaiah reminds us that God’s intentions have always been larger than just us. The us of the people of God are the means not the end. Or, as Paul says, “in Christ God was reconciling the world” to God’s self (2 Corinthians 5:19). “All the nations shall stream to the mountain of the Lord’s house,” says Isaiah. Or “God so loved the world” writes John in the gospel, in that verse that has captured the imaginations and hearts of disciples of Jesus Christ all over the world.
It might be an interesting exercise to scan throughout the scriptures and find the many places where the intentions of God for the world are depicted. Or maybe we can just settle down here in this familiar text from Isaiah and hear these words anew. “This is an Advent text,” you’re thinking. And that’s true; we trot out these verses during the season of watching and waiting, of expectation and hope. That’s what makes these verses perfect for this summation week of our #BeUMC series. This text is a reminder of the perspective we need to do the work of the church, the work we have defined as “making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.” That is an ambitious task, to be sure. One might even say it is a bit grandiose. After all, we are one small church in a very big world. How in the world, excuse the reference, can we be expected to have an impact on the whole world? We can barely transform our own congregation, let alone our neighborhoods, the world just seems … out there. Out of our reach. Out of our power. Out of our influence.
“I know,” says Isaiah. “Believe me, I know.” But listen again. Read again. There is hope and possibility in these words. There is a call within our reach in these words. Listen again: “In days to come . . .”
Notice the passive tense? We have trouble with that. We are doers. Especially in busy times. We want to be doing, to be moving, to be deciding. But all this is not our work. This mountain raising and nation-calling work isn’t ours. It is God’s. It’s going to happen; we can count on that. In fact, that is our job, counting on it—holding on to the hope, to the conviction that God is in control. And if you don’t think that takes effort, then you haven’t really tried it. When the world around you has given up on hope, holding fast is taking a contrary stand. To say that you believe that there can be such a thing as peace is to make a radical declaration. To live confidently, that despite all evidence seen with the eyes and heard with the ears, you will trust with your whole life that healing and wholeness is around the corner.
So, why is it so important to hold on to hope? Why not just be surprised with the rest of the world? Well, we could say that living in hope is a better way to live. We could say that a life filled with confidence and joy is much more rewarding and satisfying than one shaped by cynicism and distrust.
But that isn’t Isaiah’s argument. Isaiah simply announces that there will come a time when the nations will stream to the mountain of the Lord. There will come a time when people will want to learn God’s ways and will want to walk in God’s path. And he says that this will happen because there is teaching happening, there is the Word being proclaimed. This will happen because there are those who will welcome. This will happen because there are hosts on the mountain of the Lord.
That’s us. Company’s coming. That’s what Isaiah is telling us. Yes, in part, we know that it is the Word made flesh that comes to dwell among us. We know that the King is coming. And we spent a season making ready by preparing him room so that this time he isn’t turned away at the inns of our lives, left to sleep in a feed trough out back where no one but some smelly shepherds and wacko wise guys from out of town drop in on him. We know that this is a part of our task—not just in the Advent season, but all of the time—to make room for the Christ who dwells within, among us now, to pay attention to the savior who is among us in the breaking of bread and the waters of baptism, to welcome the one who brings us healing and hope and joy and forgiveness and reconciliation. We know that; we remember that; we rehearse that over and over and over because we forget. Or we live as though we have forgotten. So, we make ready for the one who comes to dwell among us again and again.
But Isaiah isn’t satisfied with just that, as important as it is. There is a world out there hungry to learn, and they just might be beating a path to our door. There is a world out there dying for justice, and they might be huddled under our awning right now. There are wanderers who have strayed down so many paths that their feet are sore, and their hearts are broken, and they sometimes stumble their way into our hallways and aisles.
Company’s coming. Are we ready? Not just the one, the savior, the king. But the world that one came to save and to transform and to love. So Isaiah asks us if we are ready to host, to teach about the ways of the Lord, to guide the world into paths of right living. Are we ready to welcome the world into the presence of the Lord of life, the Prince of Peace? Are we ready to love the world as he loves the world, to embrace the whole world, to connect and to claim them as brothers and sisters? This hosting thing isn’t easy. There are days when we want to be left alone; when we want everyone to find their own way and follow their own paths. Yet, holding on to hope means that we have signed up for this duty, for this joy. Joy? Well, of course. Throwing parties is all about joy, about making others feel welcome and wanted. It is about setting aside our own comforts for the joy of another. The joy of including. The joy of growing the family with the one we’ve been waiting for, without even knowing who it was coming up the path to our door.
So, how do we do that? How do we sweep the paths and light the lights so that those who wander near might know that they will find a welcome here? Isaiah seems to think it is simple. He switches from the passive to the active at the end of the passage. He switches from God’s task to our task in one verse. “Come,” he says, “O house of Jacob, come you who inhabit the family of God, you who serve as hosts on the highest mountain, you who let the teaching flow out and the welcome be all inclusive, come. Let us walk in the light of the Lord!” In other words, we live our welcome. We must be the light that we set in the window so that the path to the door can be found!
When Wesley declared “the world is my parish,” he was not claiming authority as much as accepting responsibility. Disciple-making must always be an inward and an outward-directed activity. This gift we have, this Christ we claim, is not a treasure to be hoarded, as it is a blessing to be shared. We are truly blessed to be a blessing to the whole world.
What does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?
- O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing UMH 57
- The Rule of Life W&S 3117
- And Are We Yet Alive UMH 553
- Cantemos al Señor UMH 149
- What does the Lord Require of You TFWS 2174
- Bring Forth the Kingdom TFWS 2190
- Roll Down, Justice: Sacred Songs and Social Justice by Mark Miller
Week 4: The People of God For Whom the World is Our Parish
Jesus-seeking, Disciple-making, World-changing
- The God of Abraham Praise UMH 116
- Gather Us In TFWS 2236
- Go Make of All Disciples UMH 571
- Lord of All Hopefulness TFWS 2197
- Hope of the World UMH 178
- Together We Serve TFWS 2175
- Enviado Soy de Dios TFWS 2184
- Canto de Esperanza (Song of Hope) TFWS 2186
- Bring Forth the Kingdom TFWS 2190
- Grace Alone TFWS 2162
Rev. Dr. Derek Weber, Director of Preaching Ministries, served churches in Indiana and Arkansas and the British Methodist Church. His PhD is from University of Edinburgh in preaching and media. He has taught preaching in seminary and conference settings for more than 20 years.