Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Being an American Methodist

Mark 6:1-13
Rev. Debra Jene Collum
July 5, 2015
Chatfield UMC

This passage of scripture seems to be a summary of the life of Jesus and his disciples. At least this is what I envision most of his days were like. Traveling and preaching and teaching. Often getting rejected. Not understood. A few followers picked up along the way.

Jesus had to learn a strategy to help him survive and thrive in this sort of ministry. And so he realized the reality. He was not going to be popular. He was going to make people upset, even angry. People were going to wish they had never met him. Can you imagine? People being antagonistic to Jesus?

When we look at the religious landscape of American Christianity it is hard to remember that at one time, during his lifetime, Jesus was not a popular person. We see huge churches with big screen and flashy programs. We see towns like Chatfield with 6 different Christian churches. Where almost everyone identifies as Christian.

There have been rumors flying around that the Christian church is under attack in America. No, this isn’t true. No one is telling us that we couldn’t be here this morning to worship. No one is telling us that we will be spit upon, crucified or whipped for being a Christian. No one is requiring us to be silent about our identity as a follower of Christ. Unless you are a black female clergy in South Carolina who are receiving threatening letters, or a member of a black bible study group in South Carolina who have to be concerned now about guns coming into their study groups, or a member of a black church in the Carolinas for fear that it might be burnt to the ground.
Do you hear the common denominator here? Unless you are a black Christian you are not being persecuted.

So we can’t use that excuse for not being present in the world as the body of Christ. We have nothing to fear.

What we as Methodist Christians do have is a legacy that we can honor. A legacy that can give us the courage to do what Jesus called on his disciples to do. A legacy that is very much like the ministry of Jesus.
A legacy that is worth knowing.

On this 4th of July weekend as we think about the beginnings of America I want us to turn our attention to our very own traveling preacher man. Our very own example of Jesus and the disciples.

His name is Francis Asbury. He was an English clergy man who was sent to the US in the late 1700’s and early 1800’s by John Wesley to spread the Methodist church’s work in the new world.
At the height of his career, Francis Asbury was so famous that one need only write on a letter “Bishop Francis Asbury, United States of America” and the letter would reach him. More than a thousand children are known to have been named after him; if you have a Frank or Francis in your family tree, you may have Asbury to thank. He was more widely recognized by the common people than any- one else from his era—including George Washington and Thomas Jefferson.

When Asbury first came to the American colonies as a 26-year-old Methodist missionary in 1771, there were 600 Methodist believers on the new continent. Fewer than 1 in 800 people was a Methodist. When he died in 1816, there were over 200,000 Methodists (1 of every36 Americans) and Asbury had ordained over 2,000 Methodist preachers, nearly all of those who were preaching at the time. Despite poor health, he had ridden over 130,000 miles and preached for 45 years (an average of eight miles per day), probably delivering more than 10,000 sermons—approximately one sermon every three days.

To get a sense of how important and well-loved Asbury was hear this story:

When Asbury died, he left his books and papers to his successor, Bishop William McKendree (1757–1835). Preacher Jacob Young was assigned to carry the items across the Allegheny Mountains to McKendree, and he loaded them on Asbury’s horse.
Along the way on an isolated part of the trail, Young was accosted by men who believed that the packages he was carrying must contain silver or other valuables. They asked him where he had come from. “Baltimore,” said Young. One of the robbers scoffed, “Is money plentiful there? You seem to have plenty of it here.” Young replied that he carried no valuables but that his horse and luggage belonged to Bishop Asbury, who was now dead. “Is Bishop Asbury dead?” asked the robber. “I have seen and heard him preach in my father’s house.” The two bandits galloped off without stealing a thing.

Francis Asbury was recognized after his death as one of the forbearers of America. On the corner of Mount Pleasant and 16th St. in Washington DC there is a statue of Francis Asbury. It was dedicated in 1924 at a ceremony attended by thousands of people and presided over by President Calvin Coolidge, who remarked in his speech that Asbury “is entitled to rank as one of the builders of our nation.” Besides Asbury’s name, the statue bears these inscriptions of tribute:

His continuous journey through cities, villages, and settlements from 1771 to 1816 greatly promoted patriotism, education, morality, and religion in the American republic.
If you seek for the results of his labor you will find them in our Christian civilization.
The prophet of the long road.

This is our legacy as American Methodists. Francis Asbury and the other itinerate clergy who followed the expansion of America, caring that a church was present, that justice was proclaimed, and that salvation was offered.

This is our legacy. As American Christians.
We are called to the highways and byways, the streets and alleys of our communities to walk alongside people who need to hear the message of Jesus Christ.

The scriptures say that the disciples went our and proclaimed that people should change their hearts and lives. They cast our many demons and anointed the sick and healed them.
The disciples brought healing. By encouraging people to change their hearts and lives. Live like Jesus, they would say. Live in a way that loves neighbor and loves God. It is simple but powerful. Change your heart so that it is in tune with God. Change your lives so that you are living for others as well as yourself. Love your neighbor. Love God.
The disciples brought healing to people along the highways and byways of Palestine
Francis Asbury brought healing to people along the highways and byways of America .
We are to bring healing into our communities, to the people who walk with us.

It isn’t easy. We probably won’t have statues erected in our honor. We may have to shake some dust off our feet. Some people won’t listen to us. But we will begin to heal the world. Because we will be like Jesus. Walking.

I want you to hear a song by Ann Reed[1]. that powerfully conveys this message:
We Will. (Google Ann Reed and the lyrics to this song) 

We will walk on. We will be the legacy of Francis Asbury. We will be the legacy of the disciples. We will be the legacy of Jesus. We will heal the world. As disciples of Jesus Christ.

[1] Ann Reed, We Will, On the Album Where the Earth is Round.
2009 Turtlecub Publishing