When Brett was young, I enjoyed reading stories to him, which meant that I had permission to read Cat in the Hat, Go Dogs Go, and Run Away Bunny, among others. If you’ve read Run Away Bunny did you hear the theological message that’s present in this story? It starts this way:
So he said to his mother, “I am running away.”
“If you run away,” said his mother, “I will run after you.
For you are my little bunny.
The bunny tries to come up with a variety of ways in which to escape, but the Mother Bunny always has an answer, and in the end the Bunny decides to stay home. Now we could have a conversation about the importance of children leaving the nest, but when we read this story theologically it reminds us that no matter what we do, God will be there for us.
Since it’s still Easter, we continue to hear stories about Jesus’ resurrection appearances. This morning Luke tells a story that’s similar to that of John. Once again we hear that Jesus appears to a frightened group of disciples. They don’t seem to know what the future holds, but they seem powerless and discouraged. At that moment Jesus appears in their midst and greets them with the words: “Peace Be With You!”
Jesus not only appears to them, but he brings them a message. Although they continue to have doubts and concerns, he has a job for them, and it’s a job that they’ve passed on to us. After Jesus opens the minds of the disciples to the meaning of the scriptures that pointed to his death, his resurrection, and the ongoing ministry of his followers, he commissions them to preach to the nations, in his name, a message of forgiveness. They’re to start in Jerusalem and continue on from there – after they receive the power of the Holy Spirit.
If Luke means for us to place our selves into this story, how shall we, living as we do in 21st Century South East Michigan, hear this call to be Jesus’ witnesses? What story do we have to tell to our neighbors that will make a difference in their lives? Yesterday we hosted the Metro Coalition of Congregations’s Leadership Training Conference. The purpose of this event was to help congregations build a team of leaders that would organize a listening campaign that will help strengthen the congregation, connect congregations with other congregations, so that together we can identify issues of concern in our communities, whether they are foreclosure, schools, jobs, and then speak with power to community leaders. This is called “congregation-based organizing.” It is community organizing that is rooted in our faith. It draws upon a principle articulated by Martin Luther King, who reminded that church that it’s neither the master nor the servant of the state, “but it is the conscience of the state.” When we join together as people of faith, and speak to those in power, out of values that are deeply rooted in our faith, including Jesus call to love our neighbors as we love ourselves, we can make a difference in our communities.
Bill O’Brien, in his presentation yesterday, spoke of two “dirty words”: Power and self-interest. Although power is dangerous, it is essential to get things done. The question is – how will power be used? Is power something we use to control others or to benefit others? Bill reminded us that power is rooted in relationships. In congregation-based organizing congregations join together to speak with power to the concerns of our communities out of values that are formed by our faith.
The other word is self-interest, which isn’t the same thing as selfishness. It’s not about gaining power for ourselves at the expense of others. Instead it is reaching out to others from our own gifts and calling and passions. Remember, we’re to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. If we ignore our “self” then we will ignore the other. After all, we’re in this together!
Although I was involved in the founding of this organization, I know that its success depends on congregations getting excited about it and then joining forces to be the conscience of our communities. This isn’t just a clergy thing. It’s a congregational thing. Yesterday was the third training event, and it was designed to lead to the launch of a six-week listening campaign in our congregations, that will begin on May 19th.
The four people who participated in yesterday’s event will be forming a team of ten to fifteen people who will attend a training event on the 19th, after which they will begin making appointments with you, the members and friends of this congregation, to do what is called a “one on one.” A “one on one” is a thirty minute face to face intentional conversation. It will focus on two major questions – who are you and what are your concerns? That is, they’re designed to build relationships and then discover the issues that are on the hearts and minds of each of us. Then, in July, we will participate in an Issues Convention, where we’ll share reports from the participating congregations about what we believe are the most pressing issues of our day. And from that meeting we’ll pick two or three issues to focus on. They could be anything from foreclosure to schools. Then we’ll begin formulating a plan that will include another even larger public meeting, probably in October, where we’ll meet with political leaders, bringing to the conversation the combined power of our congregations, so we can be the conscience of the community.
Yesterday Cheryl, Anne, Rick, and Diana, participated in this training. They will be working together to form this team of 10 to 15 people, who will be setting up these “one-on-ones.” I’d like for them to come forward to be recognized, and if they feel comfortable, share their story about what they experienced yesterday and their expectation of what is to come.
[The Leadership Team’s Stories]
Now, I’d like to have us join in a very brief exercise that one of my colleagues shared with me. I’m going to take a risk here, and invite you to turn to your neighbor and briefly share two things. First what is your passion. What gets you excited about in life? It might be the Tigers or knitting. And then, share something about how God is at work in your life.
[Telling our stories!]
This is just a taste of what is to come, as we discern how to best live out our calling to be a missional congregation. My prayer is that as we tell our stories, we will experience the empowering presence of the Holy Spirit, so that we might bear witness to the redeeming and restorative power of the Resurrection.
Dr. Robert D. Cornwall
Pastor, Central Woodward Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
April 22, 2012
3rd Sunday of Easter