Living Our Baptismal Calling: Nurture

living-our-baptismal-callingThis sermon was preached on Sunday, March 26, 2017 at Bellwood and St. Luke’s United Methodist Churches. It explores John 9 in relation to the third and fourth questions of the baptismal covenant. It is part of a series based on the Revised Common Lectionary by Discipleship Ministries of the United Methodist Church. You might also want to see weeks one, two, and three: RenounceAccept, and Confess, respectively. 

This week, I began highlighting some of the ministry done by the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR), because we were receiving a special offering for UMCOR that day. 

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Finally, below, you’ll find an outline for the sermon I preached, but I tried something new this week in preaching, which led to some variances from the outline. Additionally, I recorded the sermon as an experiment, which you can access here.

And, if you wanted the super-condensed version, here’s the main challenge with which this sermon ends:

How can we be a Christ-centered community of nurture that reveals and shares God’s love, because we implicitly believe that God’s love is revealed in every single person, whom God created with sacred worth?

3.26.17 - Nurture

OUTLINE

Intro with UMCOR

  • 10 years ago, Hurricane Katrina devastated the gulf coast.
    • Displaced thousands of families.
    • Over 1,800 loved ones were killed.
  • Within 24, UMCOR was there to help assess damage, and begin recovery work.
  • They led recovery and cleanup alongside other groups, including groups from local churches and annual conference.
  • They even brought in counselors to work with youth who lived through the hurricane.
  • And UMCOR still has a presence there, helping with long-term rebuilding efforts.
  • Sometimes, when terrible, inexplicable, (or even amazing things happen), we often do one common thing at some point: We want to know the root causes.
    • We ask “WHY?”
    • Why the hurricane?
    • Why did they stay?
    • Who’s to blame for the unequal distribution of safe housing?
    • Why did God do this?
    • Or did God…do this?
    • Or why did God allow it?
    • Or…Why…why…why?

Transition:

  • This is something of what’s going on as today’s passage begins.

Why?

  • The disciples and Jesus pass a man who was born blind.
    • How’d they know he was born blind? We don’t know.
  • And they do the questioning: WHY? “Who’s sin caused him to be born blind, his or his parents?”
    • Jewish retributive justice idea: good=blessing; sin=curse /
    • belief that someone must have sinned that he was born blind.

I have no time, patience, or heart for the disciples’ line of questioning. NONE.

  • Here’s why, and I tell these brief stories because I don’t believe they’re unique experiences only for me.
  • Some friends of mine delivered a stillborn baby just over a year ago.
    • I would have lost my pacifism if I had heard someone mutter ANYTHING about the cause of this awful, inexplicable, gut-wrenching tragedy.
      • The disciples asked, “Who sinned?” How dare they?!
  • My nephew was born with cerebral palsy twelve years ago.
    • He’s a mean wheelchair driver, and he’s got really sharp sense of humor.
    • And I would lose my pacifism if I heard someone say, “Who sinned – him or his parents?” How dare they?!
  • In my home church, there was a girl with Down Syndrome who was in the choirs I was in as I grew up.
    • Her level of functioning greatly limited her participation
    • She was there. She was included. Nothing else was said.
    • It didn’t occur to me until much later that she was older than my peers and I, or that this might be strange.
    • She was just there, and the church seemed to accept her, welcome her, and love her. They found a place for her that fit her abilities.
    • And how dare anyone who would pull the disciples’ move – if they would ask, “I wonder why she was born that way, or I wonder if her mother did something to cause the chromosomal abnormality?”
  • I hope you can hear how this line of questioning is just plain hurtful.
    • We can care for people and support people without asking these questions or knowing their answers. 

Transition:

  • I think Jesus could hear how, “Who sinned?” was hurtful, but he was subtle in his response.

Jesus Responds

  • He was so subtle I didn’t get it many of the times I’ve read this passage.
    • I thought he was answering, affirming the disciples’ belief that God intentionally, willfully, made this man blind (with all the suffering and exclusion it would inevitably bring) so that God could reveal God’s power and grace.
    • Give me a break.
    • I have never been okay with this image of God:
      • small, manipulative, conniving, and willing to intentionally cause people harm and suffering.
      • Tension with “God is good, all the time,” “God is the giver of all good gifts,” or “Jesus loves me”
    • This time I heard Jesus differently, finally.
  • He’s doing what I wish I had the courage to do when people say their own version of “Who sinned?”:
    • he’s telling them, “Knock it off. It’s not about sin at all.”
    • Because, here’s how I read it this time.
    • When Jesus says the man was born so that God’s grace and power could be revealed in him, he’s not talking about his blindness at all.
      • It’s his birth, his life, his presence, that God wills to be a witness.
      • Not his blindness.
      • And this is true for each one of us since God first breathed God’s life-breath into creation: we exist to reveal God’s power and grace.
        • We are of sacred worth. We are ways God’s power and grace are seen in the world.
      • Jesus is really answering the question, “Why do we exist?” And the answer is, to receive and share God’s grace.

Transition:

  • If Jesus, in his answer and his actions, is really demonstrating that all people are of sacred worth to God, then this passage leads us to a different place.
  • It leads us away from own “who sinned?” curiosity.
  • It leads us toward, “How do we be church when all people are of sacred worth?”

Baptismal Question Today – for the Congregation

Will you nurture one another, in the Christian faith and life, especially those of us who have come among you during the past year?

With God’s help, we will proclaim the good news and live according to the example of Christ. We will surround these persons with a community of love and forgiveness, that they may grow in their service to others. We will pray for them, that they may be true disciples who walk in the way that leads to life. 

Transition:

  • But if we look at the passage today, what we see is about as far from nurture as we can get.

Nurture in the passage

  • Disciples – no.
    • They’re too hung up on their “who sinned?” theological questions so see that there’s a person just beyond their pointing fingers.
    • They can’t get outside their theological system that says, “It must be this way, because we’ve always believed it is this way.”
  • The man’s community? No.
    • They don’t recognize him.
    • Did they only know him as the blind beggar man?
    • Could they not recognize him when he’d changed?
    • And do we also have trouble recognizing, or believing that someone could possibly change so dramatically?
  • The man’s parents? No.
    • They know he’s their son. But they won’t risk being associated with Jesus by claiming that they know anything. They put it back on their son.
  • The Pharisees? No.
    • Especially in John, the Pharisees get a bad wrap, but at least this time, that’s not fair.
    • They don’t do or believe anything that Jesus’ disciples didn’t already ask out loud or assume under their breath.
    • But they certainly don’t welcome him, celebrate at his recovery, and wish him well, which would be the NORMAL, HUMAN thing to do.

Where’s the Nurture?

  • In Jesus.
  • When he hears that the man he healed has been having a hard time – and had been expelled from town – he seeks him out.
    • Jesus looks for the man.
    • Jesus talks to the man as an equal.
  • Their dialogue:
    • “Do you believe in the Human One?”
    • 36 He answered, “Who is he, sir? I want to believe in him.”
    • 37 Jesus said,“You have seen him. In fact, he is the one speaking with you.”
    • 38 The man said, “Lord, I believe.” And he worshipped Jesus.
  • Jesus included him, and quickly, led him into a deeper relationship with him.
    • Jesus models nurture of people created with sacred worth, so that we can do the same.
  • And…what happens next is unknown.
    • It’d be nice to hear that his man became one of the unnamed extra disciples, but we don’t know.
    • But it sure seems like Jesus to welcome him and include him in the group.
  • In healing this man, and then in seeking him out to nurture him, Jesus affirms his and our sacred worth – that God created us each so that we can receive and share God’s grace and power.
    • Sacred worth.
    • The disciples, the community, his family, and the Pharisees couldn’t see his sacred worth.
    • But Jesus could, and highlighted it so that we’d know that all people are of sacred worth to God.
    • =Means of Grace=people can know God’s power and grace through us (like the healed man)

So, what does such nurture look like in our lives and church, since all people are of sacred worth to God?

  • Helping the two-year-old collect the offering.
  • Inviting and encouraging lay people of every age and gender to serve communion, help in leading worship, and do mission activities.
  • Going to school activities – out of love for God – and saying hi to youth.
  • Sending cards and checking on the homebound.
  • Nurture is hard: it means we have to show up with one another, we have to be vulnerable with one another, we have to allow relationships grow.

Jesus challenges us to see that all people are of sacred worth, so that we can be a means of grace to one another.

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