Smashes the Mold
f you want to know what a place is like you go for a visit. If you want to know how a new flavor of ice cream tastes, you try it. If you want to know what a person is like, you get to know them; you check them out; you evaluate them against others that you have known. We all do this; we evaluate an unknown person or thing against a known person or ice cream. "Well it tastes a lot like chocolate, but it is even better!"
One way to know what our church is like would be to check out our award winning web site. (www.atlantafumc.org) There you will find many expected elements: directions, worship and program opportunities, a history, pictures and descriptions of our wonderful stained glass windows, missions and outreach, cable television times, ways to contact clergy and staff; however, there are new and unique things that we are now offering. We have archived the printed sermons for over five years, but now you can view and hear the last two sermons on streaming video. There are also videos of our soloists: Emanuel, Zelda, Bill and Barbara Jackson on the harp. We have an Online Store where you can purchase merchandise that displays our new logo. There is a dated upbeat article from your pastor that is three years outdated. This web site captures the image of our church. However, the ongoing question that we ask ourselves is: Is AFUMC the church that Christ calls us to be? Does our paradigm need recastin Just as Jesus overturned the merchants' tables inside the courtyard of the Temple; in today's world He sometimes smashes molds that churches have cast for themselves.
In today's story, it seems like the disciples had been asking what the Kingdom of Heaven should be like. So, Jesus set before them a series of paradigms, prototypes and parallels. He illustrated for them, from known things, what this new Church would be like. Jesus attempted to make it plain and simple, how the effects of following him would change a person and create a new Family of God.
"The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of the shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches." (13:31, NRSV)
Jesus went on to provide additional parallels. The kingdom of heaven can also be compared to a "pearl of great value," which is in itself more valuable than all your other treasures combined. Discovering Christ and His Church can also be correlative to discovering a treasure hidden in a field that is more valuable than anything else. Of course, upon uncovering this one object that is of supreme value, you go and sell off everything else in order to have that which is most precious.
And then Jesus asked his questioners, "Have you understood this?" (v. 50) Jesus wanted to make sure his disciples were catching on. He tried to explain deep spiritual things in the simplest of analogies. It seems to be, that if we care at all, we can catch on. We are all theologians working at our own level of mastery of the mysteries of God.
One thing that Jesus is trying to get through to us is that the size of a church or denomination is not the determinant issue. I passed a church billboard this week that made this point: "Small is Great when God is in it!" It's like a mustard seed, the smallest seed that was known in Palestine; yet, it produced a valuable seed which supplied mustard, which was used in medicines in Jesus' day. Only in the last few centuries have we discovered that the fruit of the mustard tree is also great on hotdogs.
Tiny bands of committed persons have been able to impact society in big ways, both for good and for evil. "Senior FBI officials believe there are now no more than 200 hard-core al-Quida members throughout the world." (AJC, 7/27/02.. A-8) Yet, who can deny that their orchestrated attacks against America on 9/11, not only killed a lot of innocent people on that day, but has stared a financial downturn that has negatively effected most of us. What if the Methodists 39,361 local churches became equally impassioned for good, and for God? What a difference we could make! And let it begin with us!
What if our strategically located church, in the heart of the unofficial Capitol of the South, were to begin to, "...all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind..." (I Cor 1:10, KJV) Or, as we are admonished in Ephesians 4:3, "keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace." However, the sad fact is that in today's churches we hear psychologists describing "pathological antagonists" and "church killers." Hopefully, none lurk here.
What our churches in trouble need is individuals who are willing to be used as "yeast mixed with the flour" to make the entire loaf better. Or, who will volunteer to become like a "treasure hidden in the field" which can bring joy to the entire congregation. Dare we even think of becoming a "pearl of great price?" We have all known a few pearls over the years: Those folks who seem to always be able to bring good out of bad. I plan to attend the funeral tomorrow of Jason Elrod who was just such a pearl when he served as Youth Coordinator at old Ousley Church in South DeKalb during my seminary days. He lived his entire life with a smile on his face. Naturally, he brought much joy into our youth program.
Our ministry here, in the midst of a diverse community, in the city, and in our surrounding metropolitan Atlanta area, is similar to "casting a wide net" with the hope of attracting, "fish of every kind." We never throw any back into the sea, but some do seem to jump out of the boat. Our challenge is to keep them in the boat long enough that they become true believers who can themselves begin to bear fruit for the Kingdom. Jesus has smashed the mold of how we reach folks in our unique place of service.
It is our calling, opportunity and great joy! It matters greatly that we matter, that we make a difference, in this critical outpost of the Kingdom of God! Together we can make a stand against evil, for the cause of Christ!
Remember the theme of our pledge campaign for 2002; "UNITED WE STAND?" In the wake of 9/11 we unashamedly tagged onto the patriotic feelings pervading our nation, with the Biblical notion of "Unity in the Church." Great things can happen when we all pull together. This is the mark of a church that is true. Our personal choice is whether we will be a blessing or a bane in this battle for truth. Will we decide to become a part of this Spirit of Resurgence at Atlanta's First Church?
a sermon synopsis
by C. Robert Allred, Th.D., Pastor