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Pass It On
January 3, 1999

EPHESIANS 3:7-10; 4:11-13

I am constantly amazed at the Lord's incredible timing! This past week I announced that I will retire on June 30. This morning I preach my first pre-retirement sermon. This afternoon I preach my first ordination sermon. Jenny Ingle, who has been coming with her family to Family Camp since she was 13 years-old, will be ordained this afternoon at the First Baptist Church in Palo Alto. United Methodists are ordained by the bishop during the Annual Conference session. Baptists are ordained by Baptist colleagues in the church in which the one to be ordained is currently serving. Jenny is working with children and youth of the First Baptist Church, Palo Alto. It is my honor, joy and privilege to be the preacher this afternoon. When Jenny set her date and asked me to preach, she had no idea it would coincide with my retirement announcement. God's timing is incredible! Life goes on. There is death, there is birth. A pastor retires, a new one is ordained. God's work goes on!

On this first Sunday of the new year as we begin to prepare for the transition on July 1, let's remind ourselves this morning of who we are and why we are here. We are the United Methodist Church of Merced. We are not Doug's church. We are not a nice, social, exclusive club. We are not even necessarily people who like each other! We are the body of Christ, the United Methodist Church of Merced. Why are we here? Why has God called us? Let's look at the lesson read today.

Paul told the Ephesians about his calling. He became a servant of Christ, not by his own doing, but by the grace of God. "Although I am the very least of all the saints," he humbly pointed out, "this grace was given to me to bring...the news of the boundless riches of Christ." Our goal, the reason we have been called to this church, is to share the news of the boundless riches of Christ, not to glorify ourselves, or build up someone's ego, but to experience and share the love of Christ, which is our church's mission statement.

In chapter four, Paul wrote that God gives gifts to his people by calling some to be evangelists, some to be teachers, and some to be pastors. Why? What are they to do? 4:12, "to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ." The work of ministry is not done by those who are called to special roles like teacher and preacher. The work of ministry is done by the saints, by the congregation, by the members, by you. The ministers of our church are the members of the church. My calling is to equip you to do the ministry. My calling is to challenge, encourage, inspire you with the vision of what God is doing in our midst, and what God is calling our church to be and do. Your calling, the reason you are here, is to do the work of ministry, to experience and share the love of Christ with the neighborhood in which our campus is located, the city and county of Merced, and to the ends of the earth.

Just before his death, U. S. Senate Chaplain Richard Halverson shared these thoughts,

"In the beginning, the church was a fellowship of men and women who centered their lives on the living Christ. They had a personal relationship with the Lord. It transformed them and the world around them.

Then the church moved to Greece where it became a philosophy.

Later it moved to Rome where it became an institution. Next it moved to Europe where it became a culture.

Finally, the church moved to the United States where it became an enterprise.

We've got far too many churches and so few fellowships."

What God wants us to be is not an institution, or a culture, or an enterprise; but a fellowship of men and women who center our lives on the living Christ, and have a personal relationship with Jesus that transforms us and the world around us.

Peter Jennings interviewed the founder of the Vineyard Christian Fellowship, a rapidly growing group of mega-churches, who said that the first time he went to church he expected dramatic things to happen. After three Sundays, he was frustrated. Following the service, he asked an official-looking man,

"When do they do it?"

"Do what?" the man replied.
"The stuff."

"What stuff?"

"The stuff in the Bible, multiplying loaves and fish, feeding the hungry, healing the sick. That stuff."

"Oh," the man replied apologetically, "We don't do that. We believe in it, and we pray about it. But we don't do it."

Too bad he didn't visit our church, and hear the Faith Moments our people give. Lots of stuff happens here!

An equally cynical view of the church was given by an AIDS activist speaking to a church conference. After an hour-long tirade of invective against churches for their inactivity in the AIDS crisis, he asked for questions. No one dared speak in fear of more criticism, until an older woman went to the microphone. She said,

"I am a member of the women's Wednesday morning Bible study at my church. Most of us have been there for the last 20 years, the same women, studying the Bible, week after week. We have refreshments, and then we have our Bible study.

"One week, one of the participants talked about how hard it was to understand what Jesus meant when he said certain things. Then Gladys spoke up and said, 'Be honest. We already understand enough about Jesus. Understanding is not really the problem. Doing it is the problem. Following Jesus is much more difficult than understanding him.' Her words really struck us as right. In our prayer time we asked that Jesus would show us the way he wanted us to follow him.

"Then, would you believe it, the very next week, one of the women came and told us that she had met a young man in her apartment building who was dying of AIDS. The young man had been forsaken by his family. He had no one. She had been visiting him, doing some light cleaning around his apartment, running errands when he was too ill to go out, and being whatever help she could. A lot of these people don't have grandparents close by.

"That's where we came in. We realized that Jesus was calling us to be representative grandmothers for people suffering with this illness. Thereafter, each of us adopted someone with AIDS and now serve as that person's grandmother. It's a little thing, ordinary, but it is something we could do."

The women experienced and shared the love of Christ without fanfare or notoriety. The church, the body of Christ, is alive and well when it hears and follows Jesus, when its members have a personal relationship with Jesus that transforms them and the world around them. Jenny, the young woman being ordained this afternoon, had a profound spiritual experience when she was a teenager. She was healed and released from the clutches of anorexia.

We are a church where the sick have been healed, and are being healed.

We are a church who feeds the hungry.

We are a church who reaches out to those with special needs, by members and our Director of Member Services.

We are a church with strong, growing ministries to children and youth---Sunday School, CATCH, KFC, MY Group. We are a church who has a deep concern for children, and next Sunday you will hear the details of the proposed After School Ministry.

We are a church where lives are being changed. Recall some of the Faith Moments we have heard. Last week, again, a person came forward, knelt, gave her life to Christ, and asked for the power of the Holy Spirit.

Who are we? We are the United Methodist Church of Merced.

Why are we here? To bring the news of the boundless riches of Christ, to experience and share the love of Christ.

© 1999 Douglas I. Norris