Authentically UMC: When We’re Kingdom Building

Authentically UMC: When We’re Kingdom Building

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Rev. Mark M. Norman Vickers 

St. Timothy’s UMC

Isaiah 58:6-12 

6 “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
  and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
  and break every yoke?
7 Is it not to share your food with the hungry
  and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe them,
  and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
8 Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
  and your healing will quickly appear;
then your righteousness[
a] will go before you,
  and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.
9 Then you will call, and the Lord will answer;
  you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.

“If you do away with the yoke of oppression,
  with the pointing finger and malicious talk,
10 and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry
  and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,
then your light will rise in the darkness,
  and your night will become like the noonday.
11 The Lord will guide you always;
  he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land
  and will strengthen your frame.
You will be like a well-watered garden,
  like a spring whose waters never fail.
12 Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins
  and will raise up the age-old foundations;
you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls,
  Restorer of Streets with Dwellings.

Being an individual in the Kingdom of God is not an option my friends ! We come together this morning as a gathered group of individuals to make ready ourselves to make a difference in the world. NOTICE: I said, “a gathered group of individuals, not as an individual.” We, as the church and a society, attempt to lay claim to the understanding that often individualism is the key to happiness. Our society, our culture, spends billions of dollars trying to influence the worth of the individual. Self-help models are available for making sure we are the “perfect individual”, ok with ourselves in order that we can function as a person (a singular individual) extremely well in our society. We lay claim to the importance of individuality. 

Our words from John Wesley this week resonate like this: “Directly opposite to this is the gospel of Christ. Solitary religion is not to be found there. Holy solitaries is a phase no more consistent with the gospel than holy adulterers. The gospel of Christ knows of no religion but social; no holiness but social holiness.” 

   The older I get, the more I see in the world, and the more I read the Holy Scriptures, I see this mindset of individualism as more and more anti-thetical to the work of the Church and the building up of God’s Kingdom. 

   Focusing this morning on “Being Authentically UMC- When We’re Kingdom Building”, Wesley desires in his theology and understanding of scripture that we cannot “act alone” in building the Kingdom of God. It is a group effort where all of the parts come together for the furthering of the Kingdom. Wesley was “all about” social holiness, the work of the Gospel (God’s Word) in the light of the people of God. What was necessary in order to bring about the building and construction of God’s Kingdom on earth was the team work of the Children of God. 

   I was thinking of an image that speaks to this ultimate necessity of Kingdom building. One that came to mind was from my childhood. In either the first or second grade we had in Mrs. Russell’s classroom, a stack of those cardboard, look like, brick boxes. About the size of a shoe box but made to look like construction brick. They were the drawing card for any first grade boy and many of the first grade girls. I can remember, praying for rain, so that recess would have to be inside and we would get to play with the blocks. You wanted to see what “you” could build with the blocks. I can remember, when recess was announced and we were inside, it was like a mad Gold Rush to those blocks. You wanted to see what you and only you could build. Well, undoubtedly it was too much for one person to do in the allotted recess time, therefore you had to get help! You had to work together to build the structure and then you had to share the structure ! Not something that a first grader really wanted to do. 

   It is interesting, how today, we often want to build the Kingdom by ourselves. We don’t want to share in the act of Kingdom building because we want the glory and the praise for doing it by own individualistic self. Let me tell you my friends, individual Kingdom building is not possible! It is a social, communal act that requires the work of the people. 

   We hear in Isaiah’s passage this morning the ambitious call to be a people of social and communal responsibility. The prophet is speaking to the people of Israel, instructing them to be a people of communal action. He was directing them to do things that would make them uncomfortable. He was directing them to take that communal responsibility and step out of their comfort zone. They did not want to be shaken but the prophet reminds them that this is not something they have chosen! It is something that is “required” of them in order to be Children of God. 

“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chain of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter- when you see the naked to clothe them, and not to turn away from you own flesh and blood?” 

The prophet has called “us” to look beyond the bonds of family to the larger bounds of God’s Kingdom. To search and be attentive beyond our own self-absorbed actions of taking care of “just ourselves!” 

Paul Wesley Chilcote, in his book Recapturing the Wesley’s Vision, tells us this in a profound way, “The Church of Wesley’s England had exchanged it true vocation- mission for maintenance (This is a confusion that slips into the life of the church in every age) It became distant from and irrelevant to the world it was called to serve. It needed desperately to reclaim its true identity as God’s agent of love in the world. The Wesley’s firmly believed that God was raising up the Methodist for the task of resuscitating a missional church.” 

The prophet Isaiah calls us to do that years prior. The only way to be a revived missional church is to work together. To formulate our ministry to the world together. Seeking out those uncomfortable situations, moving ourselves with God’s energy into places we might or don’t even want to go! 

We were navigating the hills of San Francisco last week and I had been the constant city driver, moving around quite well with the help of the GPS computer voice, when I was asked by the rest of the car, “what do you want to do Uncle Mark?” I had not requested many if any stops on the trip. We were ahead of schedule, so I said, let’s go to 330 Ellis Street. Everybody in unison, asked, “What’s at that address?” Carla punched in the address, I turned up the radio as not to answer and away we went. We turned off of Market onto Ellis Street, I had to slow and maneuver to the right as not to run over the man lying in the street. As we looked up and down the street I saw men and women and yellow shirts talking with men, women who were either laying in the street, sidewalk, or standing in line to enter the food line. You see, what is at the corner of Ellis and Market Street, 330 Ellis Street is the famous, Glide Memorial United Methodist Church. This was a God moment for me and my family. I knew the history of Glide, its radical movement in the ‘60’s it’s near downfall and closure in the ‘70’s and it’s progressive upscale radical evangelical movement of the ‘80’s and 90’s and now most likely the most missional church in our denomination. They have 60 street volunteers per day, who wear yellow T-Shirts that embrace the saying, “I AM GLIDE”, they are trained volunteers to interact with the homeless, violent, mentally ill, that roam the streets of downtown San Francisco. What I wanted my family to see, was the Kingdom of God in action! We walked into the food kitchen right next to the front door of the church.  The smell of urine, alcohol, and sweat permeated the air. My friend Moe, met us at the door. He took us in, introduced us to several clients, and then proceeded to tell us the order of the day. Starting at 5:00am, GLIDE’s food kitchen will serve 3,000 people a day. He gave us the amount of food that is donated per week from local UM churches, purchased by donations and given by individuals, it was staggering. 

When we walked back to the car, my family was silent. They were silent for the remainder of the day. My friends, God calls us to action in so many places. God reminds us of the stark nature of our frailty and our desire to be an individual and then reminds us that our salvation is based upon the work of the Kingdom. 

My friends, our place here is as ready for Kingdom building as is downtown San Francisco, Los Angeles, or Portland. God calls us into action as a social people, dominated by the work of the community and the love of God. We cannot do this alone my friends, let us come together, be nourished together, and do the Work of the Kingdom. Come to the table my friends and be fed in order to work for God!