Sermon,  Sermons

Empowered By Love

sermon video. click for part 2.



Love requires vulnerability. And from that vulnerability, we are empowered by Love.

“To create is to make something that has never existed before. There’s nothing more vulnerable than that.” 

– Brené Brown

So as I shared with my young friends here, I lived in Hong Kong, in Istanbul, Turkey, and then Hong Kong again as I prepared to live in the Xinjiang province and attend Xinjiang University in Ürümqi.

As I was discerning my call, China was always on heart, but I was also convicted by, motivated by Paul’s conviction to go where Jesus had not yet been named (Romans 15:20). So while I was in Turkey I discovered that the Northwest provinces of China were predominantly Muslim and whose language is, in fact, a Turkish dialect. It seemed so clear God’s hand was guiding me, making the way for me to live among the Uighur’s of Xinjiang province. Until I went out for in-country training and became so sick I was forced to come home.

There’s much more to that story, but the experience and the process expanded my capacity to see, if even a little, beyond difference.

Islam in NW China is not new. The roots date to the 7th century when groups of merchants traveled the Silk Road between the Middle East and the Emperor’s home. While there was some upheaval when greater numbers arrived in the 13th century, Ghengis Khan and his heirs ruled separate areas effectively such that relative peace was maintain until clashes occurred over expansion efforts around the turn of the 20th century.

But now, ethnic riots are ubiquitous, and prompting Han Chinese military to restrict the movements of ethnic Uighur’s and Muslim minorities. “The [Chinese] are using the security forces for mass imprisonment of Chinese Muslims in concentration camps,” one reported at a Pentagon briefing. 

They are being tortured during interrogations, forced into cramped prison cells, and given grossly insufficient sustenance. Forceful indoctrination and mass DNA collection all serve to reinforce the “other,” easier to designate as “less-than.” And understandably driving many to take their own lives.

Of course, this is not unlike the forceful relegation to Reservations our earliest developing government employed, and the sequestering of even that meager land to erect concentration camps into which Japanese residents were funneled during WWII. And the craniometry (measuring the cranium) administered to determine worthiness for entry to our grand country . . .  

The profoundly intuitive poet, Mary Oliver wrote:

Instructions for living a life:
Pay attention.
Be astonished.
Tell about it.” 

Sometimes, Mary Oliver

Language communicates. It informs. It moves people to action. or to grief. or to understand something from another vantage point. Language can hurt our feelings, or make us feel like we are capable of anything.

Each language reflects nuances of the culture it represents. And to learn another language not only opens the way to be in conversation with one who speaks it, I learn a different way to even think about living a life.

But if I happen upon someone who does not speak my language, it is exceedingly easy to make assumptions, distance myself, and categorize.

From a recent Ministry Matters article:

“In 1978, half of white weekly churchgoers were Democrats. By 1998, that number had dropped to 35% Democrats. Today, it’s just 25%.

            Meanwhile, the Republican share has jumped 20 points in the last 40 years, going from 40% to 60% over that time frame.

            While devout white evangelicals kept drifting to the right, white young people actually changed course and moved back toward the Democrats and have kept moving that direction for the last 25 years.

             . . .

If young people are the future of the church, it’s hard to see how both white Catholics and white evangelicals can effectively reach out to the younger generations when their politics become further and further polarized.

             . . . the close ties between white Christians and the Republican Party may drive a wedge between them and the younger, unaffiliated young people they want to reach.

            And while mainline Protestants seem the best situated to attract white young people, their share of the population has dropped by nearly two-thirds and the average age of a mainline Protestant was 58 in 2018.

            Both facts make it difficult to appeal to the younger generation . . .

            “As the country becomes more diverse, churches hope to become more diverse as well. But the political divides may keep people of color out of white evangelical and Catholic spaces.

[This may seem great to some, but] . . . they need to understand that the distance between them and the people they are trying to reach grows larger every election cycle.”

We may say we shouldn’t talk about politics in church – except that we do when we say nothing about what politics is saying about human beings and worth based on trivial markers. In the government and in the church.

Love requires vulnerability.

“To create is to make something that has never existed before. There’s nothing more vulnerable than that.” 

– Brené Brown

Something new. Something that has never existed before.

If we are so consumed by the all-consuming fire of the Spirit, if we believe that this account of what the Spirit of God did on the day of Pentecost over 2 millennia ago, our eyes, our hearts, our minds, all our strength would be so purified, so entirely infused by Love that Love will be all that matters. Political affiliation? Color of skin? The way you prepare your chicken? How you place your toilet paper roll (coming from the top, right? Because that’s the right way)? Which worship songs are more meaningful to you?

If we are so consumed by the all-consuming fire of the Spirit, if we believe Luke’s account is the way it happened at Pentecost – vulnerable Love, vulnerable creative force would shoot out our pours like laser beams. Ok, maybe not lasers, but certainly energy. Force. Action.

Jesus said, “I will ask the father to give you the Advocate – she will be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth.” The Advocate – or champion, defender – is given to us, and she is truth – in all of us. In each of us. Each of us who are created in the very image of God. And unique. All possess this truth. Each, only a part of it. still, tongues of fire! All consuming. An advocate and friend, terrifying and safe. Now isn’t that how Love actually seems to play out? To feel – terrifying, yet everything we ever wanted.

This advocate will teach us everything. Each of us a part of it. All of us, all of it.

It may seem that when we disagree, we are speaking different languages. Yet, these tongues of fire are unleashed at Pentecost – it is an ongoing project, not just that one day a couple thousand years ago. The tongues of fire are unleashed here and now! Here. AND Now.

Advocate, champion – friend, all-consuming while safe. Spirit.

We took our eyes off of God and became content with our own plans. But this threw us into chaos when we could not understand each other, confused by the different languages because our eyes were on each other, not on the source of all power and wisdom and truth. The different ideas and ways of doing things, not on the work of justice and peace. So focused on the method, we lost sight of God’s creative power, God’s loving intent.

But Jesus.

Jesus was, and is and is to come again, and because of Jesus’ work, the Holy Spirit is released to empower, consume us with God’s Love.

Consume us, purify us; our hearts inclined toward God’s, our ears attuned to God’s voice. Unifying us, empowered by Love.

And Love requires vulnerability.

“To create is to make something that has never existed before. There’s nothing more vulnerable than that.” 

– Brené Brown

At the annual conference this week, we prayed and praised and communed together; we listened and debated and voted on important, kingdom-of-god matters. The newly developed Shepherding Team shared their mission, vision, and “strategic goals”:

Mission: To make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world by equipping our local churches for ministry and by providing a connection for ministry beyond the local church, all for the glory of God.

Vision: Making and supporting vital Christians in vital congregations that engage with their communities and the world for peace, justice and mercy.

Goals:

  1. Making Disciples – Congregations committed to growing and reaching new disciples of Jesus Christ will be actively engaged in disciple-making activities.
  2. Working Against Racism – Of all the ways to love our neighbors, working actively against racism has the greatest potential to transform the world. Congregations will strive to identify, challenge and change values, attitudes, organizational structures, policies and practices that perpetuate systemic racism.
  3. Creating Vital Congregations – currently, 360 freestanding UMCs exist in Northern IL. As a connection, the entire NIC is responsible for holding up those churches that lack signs of vitality. For long term sustainability, our Annual Conference must nurture spiritual vitality and exercise stewardship over all of our ministry resources.

One thing that was said, witnessed to, observed and prophesied – God is doing a new thing here. God is making a new thing of the Church of Jesus Christ. God is doing a new thing with the United Methodist Church. God is doing a new thing in us.

A new thing: “To create is to make something that has never existed before. There’s nothing more vulnerable than that.” – Brené Brown

Dee Bernath, the annual conference co-lay member was your delegate to the conference. She has prepared a brief summary of the major points that were discussed and what is before us.