Wednesday, January 21, 2015

I Was Born in a Small Town

Human Relations Sunday 2015
John 1:43ff
January 18, 2015
Stewartville United Methodist Church
Rev. Debra Jene Collum

It is an honor to be with you this morning as your guest woman in the pulpit. As you read in my biography I am the pastor at Chatfield United Methodist Church. I have been there for 3 almost 4 years. Chatfield is my second rural ministry parish and I am loving it. I spent over 30 years in the Twin Cities but this is definitely becoming my home place. Even when I hear of openings in the cities I am not even tempted.
Do you know that one of my goals in life was to retire to SE MN?
Some of my children’s favorite memories are the times we camped in SE MN and came into the little towns around here for community parades. One of our favorites was the 4th of July parade right here in Stewartville.
Now I have the delight of bringing my grandchildren to Stewartville for 4th of July every year.

You do know how to do the 4th of July! I think the grandchildren were eating candy from the parade in September!

As I am settling in this part of the world I am becoming aware of both the joys and the challenges of living in a rural setting. While we live in one of the most beautiful places in the world, it is very easy to feel disconnected from the rest of the world. It is easy to feel as if we don’t have some of the same problems as the rest of the world. Although I know that you in Stewartville have struggled with incidences of gun violence in these last few months. The world’s issues have come nearer your doorsteps than you probably wanted.

As people living in small town rural America, it is easy to feel as if we have no influence on the rest of the world. As if we have no chance of making a difference for good.

This is where we as UM’s have the advantage. We are, by virtue of our shared ministry in the world, connected. We are connected to people who are suffering from Ebola in Africa, with God’s people who are being murdered in Nigeria, with those who are recovering so many years later from the hurricanes, earthquakes and floods that have devastated community after community.

I will often post messages on the Chatfield UMC facebook page that highlight the work of UMCOR. I will title the post: We are there.
We are there. Through our gifts and the calling out of people from our denomination, we are there. Today on Human Relations Day, we affirm together that we honor all people and believe that all people should have the chance to reach their God given potential.

We are making a difference. And I hope you will give generously to the Human Relations Day offering of the UMC.
But it is easy to write a check, to give an offering.

What is harder is living the reality of our belief that all people deserve to have the chance to reach their God given potential. It is hard to live that right here, right now in Stewartville.

But once again, that is where being a UM gives us an advantage. We don’t have to do this alone, we can do it together. Holding each other up and holding each other accountable to what we believe Christ has called us to do.

In the Gospel this morning we see people deciding to follow Jesus. It always amazes me, when people decide to follow Jesus. It isn’t easy. It isn’t natural. It isn’t convenient. It isn’t practical.

In Nathaniel we see a man who is very practical. And cynical.

Like you and me in small town America, he thinks, what good can out of small town Nazareth? What influence can come out of small town Nazareth? Rome runs the world. From religion to the economy, the emperor’s image is on everything. Don’t bother me with a small town man. He can do nothing.

Oh Nathaniel’s cynicism. We can relate. What can we do, we live in small town America? What power do we have? What good can come out of Stewartville or Chatfield?

Nathaniel is a practical cynic, until he meets Jesus.
He is like a lot of us. Until we meet Jesus.

In his book God’s Politics, Jim Wallis states, “Perhaps the only people who view the world realistically are the cynics and the saints…and the only difference between the cynics and the saints is the presence, power and possibility of hope” (p. 347).

This is what happens when people meet Jesus, their cynicism starts edging over into hopefulness.

As we follow Nathaniel through the Gospel story we will encounter Jesus who will confront all of the corrupt power of the Roman empire, all of the displacement of people’s true worth and all of the prejudice of the society’s reliance on status. Jesus, that person from the little town of Nazareth, will not only confront it, he will blow it out of the water. All of the cynicism will explode into bits of worthless stubble.

What will be left when the dust settles will be a woman, standing by a well, who was shunned by her community. Through the power of her encounter with Jesus, she will bring hope and truth and new meaning into her tribe of people whom everyone thinks is outside the grace of God.

What will be left will be a man who took up his bed and walked because forgiving sins is as easy or as hard as healing his paralyzed body.

What will be left will be a servant of a Roman soldier who is healed because his master came to Jesus knowing that Jesus’ power was even greater than the power of his Roman command.

What will be left will be a child of a synagogue official who will see her 13th birthday because her father, defying all the cynics of the synagogue, sought out Jesus.

What will be left after Jesus shatters all the corruption of power and status and wealth will be men, women and children whose lives are changed. Whose lives are saved. Men, women and children who had no power or status or wealth, who saw their lives as hopeless, meaningless, worthless will be given meaning, purpose and hope.

Jesus told Nathanial you haven’t seen anything yet! Before this is over you’re going to see heaven open…God’s angels descending and ascending to the Son of Man. You are going to see a new world order. Which will make Roman look like, well, like a Podunk town with no power.

You see, we are not only in this together as UM’s we are in this together as followers of Jesus the Christ.
We believe with all of our being that everyone, everyone, is a child of God. Is worthy of grace and healing and forgiveness and life. And hope.

We may be from small town America but we are from Nazareth, too. A town so small and so powerful that the Savior of the world walked through its streets and changed the world.

With Christ, wherever we are, we are there. Doing the work of hope. Don’t let any cynic tell you otherwise. Expect to see heaven open. Expect to see heaven right here in Stewartville. In places you least expect.

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