Sermon Series: The Way of Integrity
Above is the link to the study “The Way of Integrity” that we will be following the next three weeks in sermons. Here is yesterday’s sermon, the first in the series:
January 26, 2020: Identifying Values
Today we begin a four-week series on The Way of Integrity: Living in right relationship with self, others, and God. The material that I’m drawing from is developed by the General Commission on the Status and Role of Women. The guide for this study can be found on the GCSRW website. If you google GCSRW you will see the curriculum. When I looked at the materials, I felt that it would be very helpful for us as a church to enter these last four weeks of the season of Epiphany with this guide as a way of preparation for entering the season of Lent. Our Church Council made a decision at our first meeting of 2020, for NUMC to enter a process of study and discernment on who we are as a church and with whom we will want to affiliate or re-affiliate given what happens or does not happen at General Conference 2020. Of the array of plans and protocol by various subgroups already submitted to General Conference, all are advocating for a split in the UMC. It’s in our DNA. The Methodist Movement has numerous times split and splintered over various so-called issues, not unlike the new church in Corinth. We cannot stop or change what is now our history. We should not wait and see what will happen. That would be like saying we want to stay in Egypt where our people are being harmed greatly. What we are able to do is pack our bags and ready ourselves to step into the door that we choose to step into based on the values, the identity, the “clothes and accessories” that define us as a church and enter the land where God is calling us. This way of discernment that we will share with our Bishop that we are entering, is based on an outline that a cluster of eleven UMC’s are following in the New England Conference. There are other UMC’s here in Northern Illinois who are entering this process with us. I know of one for sure, and there most likely will be others. I invite you, I implore you, to enter this process of study and discernment as much as you are able. These next four weeks following The Way of Integrity, focusing on our relationships with self, others, and God, and then the 6 Sundays of Lent, entering a sermon series and a class offered after worship of entering the wilderness, the place of the wild, discerning who we are together, why we are here, and where God is leading us. For those of you who were here for our worship service on our MLK Day of Service last Monday, I spoke about chronos and Kairos time. King recognized that chronos, clock time, no matter how long or short, no matter how trivial or important—is no match for Kairos, that unique or opportune moment of God’s visitation. Longevity, length of days, is a pale imitation and sad substitute for a decisive choice at a critical moment, however short the time. This is a Kairos time for NUMC. We find ourselves in a place that we have never been in before, calling for some radical rethinking, asking urgent questions, a fundamental reorientation. The time is now to follow the way of integrity and into the places of the wild where we do not know where our next steps will lead. The time is now to face our financial, cultural, historical, and present realities and follow where God leads.
We begin today with a definition of integrity is a culture in which members know their values and beliefs, and act consistently, faithfully, and reliably in congruence with those values and beliefs. Accordingly, interpersonal relationships model honor and respect for all people as children of God. This first session on knowing our values, where our values come from, and how our values influence our integrity, helps us determine what is important in our lives, why we do what we do, and why we think what we think.
In the Gospel reading today, Matthew begins his story of Jesus’ ministry with a stunning announcement. “After John was arrested and put in prison, Jesus moved from Nazareth to Capernaum by the Sea in the region of Galilee, the third move in his life. New surroundings, being in a place that we have never been before, as NUMC is now, can cause us to shift our perspective and question our values, “Who am I?” “What am I doing here?” In this move, Jesus picks up the message that John began. His first words, “Repent for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” The kairos has come. The ground beneath us has shifted. The first thing to do, says Jesus, is repent. Repentance is to come into the presence of God stripped down to all of my ordinariness, without any of my masks or religious makeup, with nothing to prove. And in that place to know that I am nothing and capable of nothing and that I am deeply, deeply loved in all of my being.
Prevenient grace is like oxygen. It is a force which animates our lives and is the environment we inhabit. We are so immersed in it that we might not always be aware of it, but it is always present; inviting humanity with every breath to be in relationship with God, the giver of every good and perfect gift. Both of these gifts, grace and oxygen, can be denied. Denial of these gifts, however, leads to death, and therefore is not God’s intention and hope for the world. Despite this denial, prevenient grace is part of our environment before we recognize it. God’s prevenient grace not only “stirs up within us a desire to know God,” but also “enables us to discern differences between good and evil and makes it possible for us to choose good.” The fruit of prevenient grace, then, includes our values.
In that place of repentance, I am able to know who I am and what my values are in the light of the Kingdom of God. The power of Jesus’ call becomes quickly evident. Come, follow me, Jesus calls the first followers. Find the values that God has placed in your heart. Utterly ordinary people called to follow the way of integrity. The time is urgent. The call is powerful. In a letter Paul writes to believers in Corinth, about thirty years after Jesus, Paul uses very similar language: “The kairos is short…this world in its present form is passing away.” the normal canons of chronos do not apply. We can no longer live life “business as usual.” The kairos of God’s coming in Jesus means a revolution in life’s values and priorities. The Corinthian church lost sight of who they were following. They got caught up in the measure of Rome. They were trying to operate by the same values as the rest of the world. Values that pardoned privilege and exploitation and suppressed the voices of people who were different under the guise of being progressive or remaining united. Paul asks the Corinthian church to re-examine their values. We are to be united in the foolishness of the cross, of the suffering that will display God’s glory as we spoke about last week.
On September 15, 1963, white racists bombed the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, killing four young African American girls who were attending Sunday School. Dr. King’s eulogy for these girls was one of his most controversial speeches. Claiming them as martyrs for the cause of justice, Dr. King said that “these girls have something to say to every minister of the gospel who has remained silent behind the safe security of stained-glass windows. They have something to say to every politician who has fed his constituents the stale bread of hatred and the spoiled meat of racism…. they have something to say to each of us, black and white alike, that we must substitute courage for caution.” “History has proven over and over again, that unmerited suffering is redemptive. The innocent blood of these little girls may well serve as the redemptive force that will bring new light to this dark city….These tragic deaths may lead our nation to substitute an aristocracy of character for an aristocracy of color. The spilt blood of these innocent girls may cause the whole citizenry of Birmingham to transform the negative extremes of a dark past into the positive extremes of a bright future.”
Paul grounds the Corinthians’ values in the power of the cross of Christ. Clergy, laity, and academics are gearing up for the details of splitting up the inheritance of the church that is no more. While the church is fighting, those who suffer are the marginalized, the victims of a 50-year-long battle over whether to support the lives for whom the church has a special advocacy role. Meanwhile, God’s kingdom has come near and we must repent. People no longer need God or need the church. Our basic assumption has been, “If we serve our own people well, outsiders will see this and want to become insiders.” Missing completely is the foolishness of the message of the cross, as Paul puts it. The power of being with, of finding out the spiritual needs of outsiders or finding ways to demonstrate God’s love to people who do not believe they are in need of God.
I invite you to spend five minutes in the presence of God this week. To realize that you are swimming in God’s grace. Repent. Repent.
Homework Activity: Identifying our Values: Spend five minutes selecting 12 values from the Possible Values List provided, or list other values you have if they are not listed. At the end of five minutes, you should have a list of your 12 most important values.
- Now eliminate three values by crossing them out (take 30 seconds to do this)
- Next, eliminate two more values. You should have seven values left after this (30 seconds)
- Now eliminate two more values leaving you with five values (30 seconds)
- Next, find a partner. Each of you eliminate one of your partner’s values. Do not communicate with each other about which value you are eliminating. It is for the eliminator to decide with no regard for the other person’s beliefs/ opinions. You will have four values left after this (one minute)
- Now, eliminate one more value, leaving you with three cards (30 seconds)
- Now refer back to your list of discarded values. You may exchange 1 of your remaining values with one from your discard list. You will have three values left after this (30 seconds)
- Now eliminate two more values leaving you with one FINAL value (30 seconds)
- Take five minutes to write your top three values in your journal, and your reflections on the exercise, using the questions below. 1. How was this activity easy for you? How was it challenging?