First United Methodist Church – Omaha
Rev. Dr. Cynthia Lindenmeyer
Date: October 20, 2019
Wisdom Readings: Mark 8:34-38 and Sikhism, Adi Granth, Maru, M.1
Sermon: “Service: Who Do We Choose to Be?”
The way of selfless service undergirds the primary principle in how the Divine creates and sustains the universe, described as the Way of the Cross in the Gospel of Mark:
Jesus called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? Indeed, what can they give in return for their life?
While the powerful rulers abuse their powers by seeking to be served, the true leader is a servant to the people as taught by one of the oldest religions rooted in India, Sikhism:
Without selfless service are no objectives fulfilled; in service lies the purest action
Sikhism, Adi Granth, M
“Will you support the church with your Prayers, your Presence, your Service, and your Gifts?” If you’ve joined a United Methodist Church, you were asked those questions. There are times I wish we could be a bit more gripping: When all hope is gone, and the world is in chaos, and the courage of humanity is overtaken by fear, will you still pray? In the hour of rain and sleet, and you have to transverse through the thick dark fog of defeat the mornings after the Huskers have been walloped, will you still come to worship? When your life journey collides with the greed of the world and those around you are swallowed by its jaws, will you sacrifice yourself for the sons and daughters of the community of faith? And even then, when you have nothing but heart and soul, will be willing to give your last heartbeat, your last breath? If so, with faith and honor, say “We will.”
Our third Sunday in stewardship, we focus on service. John Wesley believed that the biggest threat to “people called Methodists” was the growing wealth and power of the movement. The future of United Methodists is quite uncertain. As General Conference 2020 nears, those in leadership must be sensitive to the open wounds of vulnerable emotions. Already, discomfort lingers and if there’s anything we Americans do not like, it is vulnerability and discomfort. And yet, I think that true service occurs from the seeds of uncertainty that are rooted in vulnerability and discomfort.
The words of John Wesley: “Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can” remind me of Margaret Wheatley’s book, Who Do We Choose To Be? This is a phenomenal book that calls for individuals to step forward to be leaders during this time of profound disruption, and this book is shaping the vision of a sacred activism group forming here in Omaha. I think we all have the desire for sacred activism, to do all the good we can, but it’s tough. We all have the spark within to serve. But we hesitate. But in service we overcome fears that possibly paralyze us into a state of inaction.
We must dig deep, keep our hearts on fire with a passion of compassion for all, and keep filling our bodies with sacred energy for whatever work it calls us to do in the world.
Wheatley’s book begins by asking the question, “What Time is It on the Clock of the World?” and the question is grounded in an understanding that we are living in a time when changes in the environment trigger the chaos cycle, and these changes force the system to abandon its old ways and respond to the new.
It happens on an individual level—something happens in our lives and totally disrupts our life—how do we respond? I think you’d agree the United Methodist Church is experiencing a bit of chaos—will the United Methodist Church reorganize using new beliefs and structures, or will it insist on the old ways? Transformation comes as a result of some sort of disruption, and the system adapts and lives on, or possibly it collapses.
This last week I had the honor of spending a few hours at the Elders for the Earth conference, a powerful event I encourage everyone to attend. I heard about the connection between immigration and climate refugees, how much of the chaos at our border is linked to droughts in Central America. Another discussion was on a topic I find crucial to our survival–farming. What I took away from that presentation is that corporate greed has radically altered the natural process of regenerative farming, a fancy name for the way farming used to be done before industrialized agrochemical agriculture, i.e. conventional farming.
Greed is a powerful force that invades religion, the telling of history, farming, politics… I have a fascination with the Oxford Dictionary word of the year. I find it interesting in 2018 the word was toxic, and the runner-up word was gaslighting, which is a tactic in which a person or entity, in order to gain more power, makes a victim question their reality. Keep in mind in 2016 the word of the year was post-truth, where objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief. Or, in simple English, “I believe therefore I am right.”
But in 2017, the word of the year was youthquake, defined as “a significant cultural, political, or social change arising from the actions or influence of young people.” And that brings us back to the concept of service in a world where truth is whatever one wants it to be. How was John Wesley’s observation in relation to wealth and power so spot on 300 years ago? The final message of Christ to the disciples was a call to be diligent against the temptation of selfishness. WHO DO WE CHOOSE TO BE?
Service, ultimately, is asking not what we can get, but what can we give? “Without selfless service are no objectives fulfilled; in service lies the purest action, and Jesus reminds us of the vitality of self-denial.” (Sikhism, Adi Granth)
Is our time much different from when Jesus lived?
If the Oxford Dictionary existed the last three years of Jesus’ ministry, possibly the word of the year then would have been toxic and post-truth due to the bipartisanship of religious leaders trying to serve God and Rome. Jesus calls upon the disciples to start a youthquake. One of biggest threats to humanity that Jesus and John Wesley foresaw was doing nothing: Being comfortable with the status quo: You don’t want to learn about the history of lynching in America because it makes you uncomfortable? You don’t want to get involved in legislation and politics because you don’t want to be political? You want to stay in a bubble by reading what makes you feel good or distracted by Netflix binging, yes ignorance is bliss and a great deterrence to service. And those who are bringing chaos to our world count on people doing nothing. Who do you choose to be?
If you are OK with the way things are now, then you want to maintain the status quo. And the powerful and the privileged always defend the status quo because it is what keeps them powerful and secures their privilege. Service is about treating every living thing–person, animal, plant, as who they really are—an incarnation of God.
Andrew Harvey, who founded the field of Sacred Activism, discusses how Sacred Activism allows us to experience more and more strongly three related forces that strengthen and inspire—the force of our own intrinsic compassion, the force of the Divine Presence in every being, and the force of the Divine Presence in reality.1
Margaret Wheatley maintains that we must know who we are, understand our purpose. Sounds simple but we live in a time of social media where people devote more time manufacturing identities instead of discovering one’s true self and how to best serve. When we are out of touch with our true self, our actions of service will be disconnected from what brings us joy. Drawing on the work of Sir John Glubb’s book, The Fate of Empires and the Search for Survival’s Six Ages of Collapse, Margaret Wheatley identifies that we are heading towards collapse, in a time when ethics and taking a stand no longer become important, and “service gives way to getting rich.”2
Nearly 100 years ago an Anglican priest, Frederick Lewis Donaldson, delivered a sermon entitled “Seven Deadly Social Evils” at London’s Westminster Abbey—so powerful was this message that Mahatma Gandhi referred to it often, and hours before he was assassinated he spoke to his grandson about the importance of understanding the seven social sins, one of them being
Religion without sacrifice
Without service we become a social club, not a church. It takes sacrifice to serve the needs of other people – the sacrifice of our own comfort, and that includes time and finances.
Service in our local communities is a vital part of this church—it’s important that we understand no matter our economic status, color of our skin, or faith beliefs, that we grasp we all live in this space called Omaha. Sacred activism is about following your heartbreak—determine which one of the issues in the world breaks your heart, and find a local way to help. Be it education, gun violence (learn 29 OCT), transportation (which you can learn more about with the upcoming PEAT), housing (book review (Nov 21) racism (Nov 12) systemic structures (Margaret Wheatley Nov 16th) Once you have identified this cause, see what’s going on in Omaha, so your heartbreak doesn’t remain abstract but becomes a living force of practical compassion in your daily world.
May we each acknowledge we are a unique and precious creation with a special purpose on earth to serve. Who do you choose to be?
“Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can” Amen
1Harvey, Andrew. (2009) The Hope, Hay House. Chapter 8.
2Wheatley, Margaret. (2017) Who Do We Choose To Be?, Berrett-Koehler Publishers, p. 20