Monday, October 11, 2004

My First Sermon in Africa

The following is the manuscript from the sermon I preached at Canaan UMC in Eseka, yesterday morning. The sermon was translated into French as I spoke, thus the sermon is written in choppy, shorter sentences. This was the first worship service in a new building. Afterwards, three people came forward to be baptized!

The Mark of a Methodist
I Peter 2:9-12

As I pulled up in front of this church building, I knew instantly that this was a United Methodist Church. How did I know this?

Because I saw a familiar logo … a cross and a red flame.

This cross and flame represents the United Methodist Church, and wherever you go, when you see this cross and flame, you know that you have arrived at a United Methodist Church building.

There are buildings all around the world with this cross and flame … in the United States, in Russia, in Korea, in Nigeria, in Cote d’Ivorie, and in Cameroon. The United Methodist Church is at work all around the world.

When we travel, Rev. Warnock and I have a card with the cross and flame that we put on the front window dashboard. This cross and flame stands for the United Methodist Church!

It is our symbol, our sign, our mark.

I come from the state of Texas, in America. We raise a lot of cattle in Texas, especially cows called “longhorns” because they have long, sharp horns on their head. Ranchers keep track of their long-horns by “branding” them. They take a long metal bar with a symbol on one end, and heat the bar until it is burning hot. Then they stick the hot end of the bar onto the side of the longhorn. The hot metal burns the symbol into the cow’s hide. The symbol may be a letter, a number, or a picture. Every one of a rancher’s cows has this brand on its side, and the rancher knows which cows belong to him by the brand. That way, if any cattle get lost or stolen, a rancher can easily identify one of his cows when he comes across one.

Now, we Methodists are also branded. We are branded with a cross and flame!

Yes, but that is just a logo, just a picture.

We Methodists are branded with something more serious. We are marked by something more important.

How can you tell a Methodist when you come across one? What is the distinctive mark of a Methodist Christian? How are we to be different from other people? What makes this church different from other churches?

I want to suggest an answer this morning. I want to tell you what makes Methodist Christians different.

What makes Methodist Christians unique … is our emphasis on HOLY LIVING. We believe that we are called to be HOLY people. When people look at our lives, our actions, our words,
they should see that we are HOLY people,

I say this confidently because the founder of Methodism believed this himself. John Wesley, the great preacher and teacher, who fanned the flames of revival in England three hundred years ago, said that the goal of Methodism was to “spread scriptural holiness across the land”!
John Wesley’s hope was that the people called Methodists would be a holy people, and that this would be the very thing that would distinguish them from others. His hope was that Methodists would lead lives of integrity, of honesty, of purity.

In our reading this morning, we see that the apostle Peter had the same hope for his church. He wrote, “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy people, a people belonging to God …” See, he says that we Christians are a “holy people.”

But you may ask, “What does it mean to be holy?” This is a difficult concept, in English and in French! Let me simplify it for you: to be holy means to become like Jesus.

Jesus is the Son of God; Jesus died on the cross for our sins; Jesus rose again and ascended into heaven. Yes, all of these things are true. But Jesus also is our model for living. He is our example. And if we are to become a holy people, a “marked” people, a royal priesthood … we must become like Jesus.

We must act like him, speak like him, do the things that he did!

Many years ago, an Englishman wrote a book called “In His Steps.” He told the story of a fictional church, in which the members decided to become like Jesus. And so in every situation they faced, they learned to ask the question, “What would Jesus do?” And the results were unbelievable!

In the United States, it is fashionable for young people to wear T-shirts which bear this very message: “What would Jesus do?”

I want to challenge you this morning to begin asking this question in your own lives. When you are faced with temptation, ask yourself, “What would Jesus do?” When you are faced with a difficult decision, ask yourself, “What would Jesus do?” When you consider whether to turn to the left or to the right, ask yourself, “What would Jesus do?”

You may ask, “How do I know what Jesus would do? He is not in my shoes!”

I would recommend that you get to know what Jesus did. You can begin by reading the gospels in the New Testament. You can begin by studying the Bible. It is possible to know what Jesus did.

But let me suggest to you three things that you can begin to do to become like Jesus right now. I believe that, if you begin to do these three things, then you will begin to become holy. You will begin to be a holy people. You will become the people that God wants you to become. Your church here will become a city on a hill, a light that burns for miles around.

First, to become like Jesus, we need to learn how to FORGIVE.

When Jesus was put on the cross, and left to die, he prayed an astonishing prayer. As he hung there, he prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t understand what they are doing.”

I don’t think I could pray a prayer like that while being executed by evil men. Could you? I don’t think I could do that.

But Jesus did. And in his teachings and examples, he made it clear that he expects us also to forgive other people when they do wrong to us, when they hurt us, when they make us angry. Jesus said, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven.”

One of the disciples once asked Jesus, “How many times must I forgive someone when he wrongs me? Is seven times enough?” Jesus said, “No, you must forgive someone seven times seventy!”

We have to learn how to forgive in our daily lives. Husbands and wives need to learn how to forgive. Brothers and sisters need to learn how to forgive. None of us are perfect; we fail, we make mistakes, we hurt each other, even as we strive to become more like Jesus.

I will never forget a very old woman who was a member of one of my churches. She was too frail to attend church, so I visited her in her home every once in a while. We would sit and talk, and she would tell me stories about her life. But I sensed that she was sad. One afternoon, when I stopped by to see her, she told me the story of a man in the church who had been very rude to her. She had never forgiven him for his comments, and it still hurt very deeply. In our conversation together, I tried to help her see that she needed to forgive this man in her heart, or she would carry this sadness inside of her for the rest of her life. I tried to help her see that this unforgiveness kept her from being close to God.

Many of you are like this woman – you carry inside of you the poison of unforgiveness. Jesus refused to carry this poison; instead, he freed himself and the other person by forgiving them.

To become like Jesus, we must learn how to forgive …

Second, to become like Jesus, we must learn how to SERVE.

On the week of his death, Jesus invited his disciples to eat dinner with him. It was the job of the servant – the person of lowest status -- to wash the feet of those who had arrived to eat dinner. It was certainly not the responsibility of the most honored guest, the person of highest status.

But the Bible says that Jesus is the one who got up from the meal, took off his coat, and wrapped a towel around his waist. He poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.

The disciples were astounded. Peter said, “You can’t wash my feet – I should be the one washing your feet!” Jesus said to him, “You must let me wash your feet.”

And when he was done, Jesus revealed to them the reason he had done this act of service. He told them, “Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.”

If we are going to become holy people, then we will serve other people. We must understand that we do not exist to be served, but that we exist to serve. We must find ways to serve the people of our villages and our cities.

To become like Jesus, we must learn how to serve …

Third, to become like Jesus, we must learn how to LOVE.

There are so many examples of Jesus’ love in the gospels. In the gospel of Mark, we are told that Jesus was teaching and preaching in many villages and towns, and that he was healing many diseases and sicknesses. The Bible says that when Jesus saw the large crowds that came to him, he had compassion on them, he loved them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. When Jesus looked at hurting and broken people, he didn’t feel disgust or pity or anger. He loved them instead.

What do you see when you look at the people in your town? What do you feel when you see the people in your village? Do you feel love for them?

If you want to be like Jesus, you will determine to show love to them. Now there are many ways to show love. Showing love may mean that you feed the hungry. Showing love may mean that you hold the hand of someone who has just lost a loved one. Showing love may mean that you tell someone else about the life of Jesus.

To become like Jesus you must learn how to love …

It is not enough to sit back and admire the life and work of Jesus.
It is not enough to simply believe that Jesus is the Son of God.
It is not enough to come to church every Sunday and greet your friends.

You are marked with a mark!
You are supposed to be holy!
You are to become like Jesus.
You are to act like him,
Talk like him,
After awhile, you ought to resemble him!

The first believers in Jesus resembled him so much, that the people around them made fun of them. They began to call them “Christians” which, in their language, meant “little Christs!”

I pray that you and I would resemble Jesus so much, that other people would call us, “Little Christs!”

We are Methodists. We are a holy people.

When people talk about the Methodists who meet in Eseka, what do they say about you?
Are you known as people who forgive? Are you known as people who serve? Are you known as people who love?

I pray that this church building here will forever be known as a holy place! Amen.