I bring you greetings from the Disciples of Christ General Assembly held this past week in Fort Worth. While there weren’t 10,000 Disciples gathered in Fort Worth, there was probably close to 7,000 present. That’s a whole lot of people. The 10,000 Disciples comes from a call put out by our General Minister and President Sharon Watkins for 10,000 Disciples to pray for the church and its ministry. We who gathered in Fort Worth this past week did just that. We prayed and we sang, we listened and we shared in the Supper of the Lord. We brought gifts and we did business. We argued and debated, and yes, we prayed.
Like every General Assembly there were issues that divided the body. Issues like the Iraq war. Although the resolution placing the church on record as opposing the Iraq War passed, the house was divided, and prayer was needed. Our moderator, Bill Lee, an African American pastor from Virginia, did just that, he called us to pray for healing in the body. He prayed that we would remember that there are differing positions on many issues and that disagreement doesn’t break the body. With this prayer the spirit in the room calmed and we could move onto other business.
And, did I say that we sang? Oh, my, did we sing, and we danced, and we clapped. The band, of course, was wonderful, but it wasn’t just the band. It was the Spirit of God who moved us to worship our God with boldness and with joy.
General Assemblies are important reminders of our connections with God and with the broader church. As a congregation we’re not an island; we’re part of an ever larger body of believers whose lives are centered in the God to whom Jesus prayed this prayer: "Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name." This call to prayer was heard often this past week, because without prayer there is no church. Indeed, without prayer the church is little more than a social group or a service organization. There’s nothing wrong with those kinds of groups, but they’re not church. And so ultimately, our work in the world as Disciples of Christ is determined by our relationship with God.
I wish all of you could have joined us in Fort Worth, because I think you would have enjoyed it and you would have come home tired but inspired.
1. A Call to Prayer
This morning’s text is itself a call to prayer. Even if this version is shorter than the one we recite each week, its familiarity should resonate with our spirits. And as Jesus prays to the Father he affirms God’s holiness and reminds us that God can’t be mocked. This is a prayer that announces the coming of God’s kingdom, and reminds us that our lives are dependent on God’s grace. Isn’t that what praying for our daily bread is all about? Finally, we pray for God’s forgiveness, knowing that forgiveness brings freedom from guilt and from fear so that we might fully serve God and God’s creation, even in the face of great trial.
One of the things I heard this past week was that good things take time. In workshops and in sermons, I heard the word: Be patient and watch for the movement of God’s Spirit. It’s easy to give up too soon, but Jesus tells us to be persistent, because if our own parents won’t give us a scorpion when we ask for bread, then surely God will be faithful and pour out the Holy Spirit on us if we ask.
Sharon Watkins invited 10,000 Disciples to join in prayer because, as she said:
"The only way I know for us to stay grounded during this time of rapid transition and challenge is to stay rooted in prayer. God is both the ground on which we stand and the creative energy promising newness of life." (10,000 Disciples Pray 2006-2007, CBP, 2006).
And so we come today to pray for the church in all of its many forms, here and around the world. We come to pray that the church, which is the body of Christ, will become an agent of transformation and reconciliation in a broken world.
2. A Disciple Vision
We gather here today in prayer as Disciples of Christ. As Disciples it’s helpful to know who we are and what we’re called to do. Our moderator, Bill Lee, called us to give a strong word to the world about Jesus and his kingdom. And what is that word? Well, it’s summed up in our calling as Disciples to be a church committed to true spirituality, true community, and to be passionate for justice. As we were reminded several times at the Assembly, this isn’t multiple choice. This is our identity!
Therefore, we are:
A. Committed to true spirituality.
Whatever we do in the name of God, we do in the context of prayer. It is our foundation and our starting point. As church we’re connected to God through the living ministry of Jesus our Lord and by the presence of the Holy Spirit who moves amongst us and through us, empowering us for service. This happens as we intentionally draw close to God in worship and in prayer.
B. Committed to true Community
Because this is the age of the individual, we glory in our autonomy and in our ability to go it alone with God. But the Christian faith isn’t a go-it-alone proposition. We’re not nomads wandering to and fro, we’re pilgrims on a journey together with a destination in mind. We find our identity in our Baptism and in our gatherings at the Lord’s Table. Baptism invites us into relationship with God and it seals our relationship with God’s people. Baptism is also our call to ministry. Then, at the table we gather for sustenance and for fellowship, because it’s there that we meet Jesus, the host of our meal, so that in eating together we can become a true community.
C. Passionate for Justice
As Jesus was beginning his ministry, he took these words of Isaiah to be his calling:The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. (LK 4:18-19).As he claimed this mantle, he passed it onto us. For, if we’re to be true to our Christian faith then we’re called to be partners in bringing healing to a broken world. This was in fact Jim Wallis’ charge to us during the closing assembly worship. He charged us to be true disciples of Christ and commit ourselves to ministries of justice and peace.
It’s always good to be at the General Assembly, but we can’t stay there. We must come home and be God’s people in this community, and to be God’s people is to be in prayer for our fellow pilgrims and for the world at large.
Rev. Dr. Robert Cornwall
First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
9th Sunday after Pentecost
July 29, 2007