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Because You Care: The World is Our Parish
November 4, 1990


Ellie and I arrived in Eisleben, East Germany, at 5:30 in the afternoon. We were late because we had been slowed down by a heavy rain storm. We parked the car near the Tourist office, hoping to find a bed and breakfast through their brokerage service. Coincidentally, we found we had parked almost directly in front of the home where Martin Luther was born. It is now a museum which we toured the next day. When we reached the tourist office, we were chagrined to discover it had closed at 5:00. There we were in a strange town, where no one we met spoke English. We drove on all the major streets in and out of the town, looking for a house with a sign "zimmerfrei", meaning Bed and Breakfast. Finding none, we checked the hotel on one of the town squares. Like most buildings in East Germany, on the outside it was grimy, dark, deteriorating; on the inside, it seemed clean. But the hotel was full. There was no room in the inn.

Outside on the sidewalk we saw a policeman talking to a middle-aged man. We approached, and in my very elementary German, asked if there were any "zimmerfrei". The policeman shook his head, pondering the question. The man to whom he was speaking turned to us, and began to talk. Finally we realized, through gestures and the dictionary, he was inviting us to stay with him. He took us into the hotel dining room, bought beverages, and we got acquainted. We learned that he was divorced and lived alone in an apartment. When I asked him how much he would charge, he waved his hands and said, "Nothing." And then, using the word "freunt" which means "friend," he opened his arms, smiled, and said, "One world." We went to his apartment and seeing he only had one bedroom and he intended to sleep on a small couch, we declined his offer, gave our thanks, and drove to the next town where we found a "zimmerfrei".

But, I will long remember a complete stranger who opened his heart and his home, a man who practiced beautifully and compassionately the ancient art of hospitality. I will long remember his smiling face, with open arms, saying, "We are one world."

There is only one world. There is one planet. There is one Creator. And, people everywhere are the same. We are all created by God and loved by God. In eight countries we found people basically the same. They love their families. They want enough to eat and a place they can call home. They want to work. They want the best they can provide for their children. They want to live in a world of peace and justice, where they have a chance; a world where we all must learn to live as friends.

The world, as John Wesley the founder of the Methodist movement proclaimed, is our parish. The boundary of our congregation, the boundary of our parish, the boundary of our church, the boundary of our caring, our compassion, and our mission is not the city of Palo Alto. The boundary of our parish is not the peninsula, nor the Bay Area. The boundary of our parish is not the state of California, nor the United States. In fact, the boundary of our parish is not even the world. On this All Saints' Sunday we are reminded that our parish is even larger than life as we know it. Our parish includes heaven where the saints and our loved ones surround us as a great cloud of witnesses.

One result of my study leave was to realize how easy it is to fall into a routine of daily concerns that limit my vision. How tempting it is to narrow my vision, narrow my caring to our own congregation, to the corners of Hamilton, Webster and Byron. I needed to get away and be reminded again that the world is our parish, the world is our agenda. The arms of the German gentleman extended around the world. "We are one world," he said, "we are friends." I can image Jesus standing on the mountain, with his arms outstretched around the globe, "Take care of my people. Make disciples. Teach them. Love them." How long are your arms? How wide is your embrace? Just yourself? Your family? Your neighbors? Your church family? Does your embrace reach around the world, even into heaven?

The world is our church's parish. Because you care and share in this vision, we are a world parish by supporting financially, primarily through our conference apportionments, world concerns. We support our missionaries--Judy Newton in Japan, Lillian Wallace in India, Glenn and Kay Fuller in Vienna--with special offerings. And through the World Service apportionment, we help provide the basic support of missionaries and mission projects throughout the world.

We are also a world parish by becoming informed of what is happening in the world, writing letters to national and world leaders, and praying. Never doubt the power of prayer. In Rostrevor, North Ireland, Ellie and I stayed two days with the staff and volunteers of the Christian Renewal Center, a ministry which is dedicated to reconciliation in the troubled land of North Ireland. We participated in three prayer meetings while we were there. As I sat there in a circle of 12 to 20 Catholics and Protestants, I sensed I was participating in something significant. Their prayers were not just for themselves and loved ones. Their prayers were not just for North Ireland. They prayed for the world. They interceded with God on behalf of the world. Their prayers and the presence of the Holy Spirit extended far beyond the walls of the room in which we prayed, far beyond the borders of their property, far beyond even the boundaries of North Ireland. Their prayers and the presence of the Holy Spirit covered the globe.

Sisters and brothers, the world is our parish. Why? What motivates us? Of the many reasons, let me list two. First, the world is our parish, the object of our mission, because Christ's love compels us. Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 5:14, "The love of Christ urges us on," from the New Revised Standard Version. I like the translation of the New International Version, "For Christ's love compels us." In I Corinthians 9:16, Paul testified, "When I preach the gospel, I cannot boast, for I am compelled to preach. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel." Proclamation, telling the story, sharing the love of Christ is not something about which we boast, not because we think we are better than anyone else, or that our religion is better than other religions. Boasting is not the motivation, but because we are compelled. We can do no other; we are compelled because, 2 Corinthians 5:20, "We are ambassadors for Christ; God is making his appeal through us."

If someone asked you to summarize the gospel, summarize the Bible in one sentence, what would you say? John 3:16 is a familiar summary, "For God so loved the world, he gave his only begotten son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life." Another summary, even more succinct, is found in our Scripture lesson today, 2 Corinthians 5:19, "God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself." That is the message of the Bible. God is about the task of reconciliation, bringing the entire world to himself, to a personal relationship with God, and we are the ambassadors. Why is the world our parish? Because the love, the salvation, we have experienced in Jesus compels us.

A second reason why the world is our parish. We owe it to those who have gone before, to those who preached, taught and lived so that you and I now know the love of Jesus Christ. Because of our tradition, because of our heritage, we continue to tell, continue to share, continue to give. Where would you be without the church, without this church? Where would we be if there weren't those who cared? Today we honor some of the saints in our congregation who died this past year, and have memorials dedicated in their name.

In addition, yesterday Jim Hillhouse died after a very short illness. It will be difficult for many of us to imagine this church without Jim. Truly he gave his life to the service of God through this church. We are deeply indebted to Jim. Jim had a world perspective. Recently he and Marion completed and published a book their son, Larry, had started before his death 12 years ago. The book is a collection of folk tales and photos taken by Larry in Indonesia. Jim's dreams for our church were large. It was his dream that we pay in full our conference apportionments. It was his dream that we reach our goal of a $5 million endowment by 1994, the time of our centennial. His most recent work in our church was serving as Chairperson of the Centennial Endowment Committee.

Jim, and the many saints of this church who have gone on before, continue to challenge us all to be a transforming church of Jesus, with arms outstretched to encompass the globe, because the world is our parish.

© 1990 Douglas I. Norris