March 23, 2014 – A Catholic Spirit

A Catholic Spirit

Ephesians 4:1-18

        The senior pastor I worked with at Westminster UMC shared this story. As a young pastor, right out of seminary, she was sent to a small church in West Virginia. One day, after worship, a group of church leaders approached her.  “Pastor, we are a Methodist church, correct?” “Well, we are a United Methodist Church.” (She figured if she was going down in flames it would be with correct nomenclature.)  “Good,” said the leader, “Then we can dispense with this holy catholic church thing.”  He was referring to the line in our Apostle’s Creed that we recite each week that says, “We believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic church….”

That term ‘catholic’ with a little ‘c’ is much more than the name of a denomination of Christianity.  It involves this idea of unity in diversity – appreciating each ones gifts while adhering to a unified entity with what the Apostle Paul refers to as the body of Christ.  We like that term ‘unity.’  We like referring to ourselves as unified under the banner of Christian belief. It almost seems patriotic as we are a part of the United States of America.  But unity extends far beyond a great sounding term.  True unity requires work, diligence, and perseverance as we strive to seek God’s guidance to keep our own strong wills in check while looking out for our neighbors.

Wesley spoke often about our Christian journey and going on to perfection. We envision ourselves on a path that is a bit rough at times but we know Jesus our Lord is journeying with us, shining a light before us to keep us on the right track.  This sounds a bit lonely.  It sounds like it’s just me and Jesus.  What about everyone else? We need to remember that all of us are on the same journey.  We may be at different parts of the path, but as we continue to follow Christ and seek to be more like Christ, we are going in the same direction, aligned with God’s will for our lives.  At times we may need help from our fellow journeymen. At times we may need to call out for help because we’ve lost our way – God often sends others to help us get back on track.

At times we may be reaching back to assist someone else, maybe through an encouraging phone call, text message or dare I say it, a card in the mail or even a personal visit!!  At times I have found myself awakened with the sense of someone who needs prayer.  If this ever happens to you, I would encourage you to follow up with that and pray right where you are.  God sends us messages all the time about those with whom we are journeying – we are here to lift one another up and bare one another’s burdens.  Often that comes in the form of prayer.

A missionary serving in Africa shared this story with his home church congregation:

“While serving at a small field hospital in Africa, every two weeks I traveled by bicycle through the jungle to a nearby city for supplies.  This was a journey of two days and required camping overnight at the halfway point.  On one of these journeys, I arrived in the city where I planned to collect money from the bank, purchase medicine and supplies, and then begin my two-day journey back to the field hospital.

Upon arrival in the city, I observed two men fighting, one of whom had been seriously injured.  I treated him for his injuries and at the same time talked to him about the Lord.  I then traveled two days, camping overnight, and arrived home without incident.

Two weeks later I repeated my journey.  Upon arriving in the city, I was approached by the young man I had treated.  He told me that he had known I carried money and medicines.  He said, ‘Some friends and I followed you into the jungle, knowing you would camp overnight.  We planned to kill you and take your money and drugs.  But just as we were about to move into your camp, we saw that you were surrounded by 26 armed guards.’  At this I laughed and said that I was certainly all alone in that jungle campsite.  The young man pressed the point, however, and said, ‘No sir, I was not the only person to see the guards.  My friends also saw them, and we all counted them.  It was because of those guards that we were afraid and left you alone.’”

At this point in the sermon on of the men in the congregation jumped to his feet and interrupted the missionary and asked if he could tell him the exact day this happened.  The missionary told the congregation the date, and the man who interrupted told him this story:

“On the night of your incident in Africa, it was morning here and I was preparing to go play golf.  I was about to putt when I felt the urge to pray for you.  In fact, the urging of the Lord was so strong, I called men in this church to meet with me here in the sanctuary to pray for you.  Would all of those men who met with me on that day stand up?”

The men who had met together to pray that day stood up.  The missionary wasn’t concerned with who they were, he was too busy counting how many men he saw.  THERE WERE 26.

Caring for one another is what it means to be a holy catholic church.  Praying regularly for one another is what it means to be a holy catholic church.  Your actions speak volumes about what your heart holds.  Are we looking to God to direct our steps, or are we patting ourselves on the back for a job well done?   In a speech made in 1863, Abraham Lincoln said, “We have been the recipients of the choicest bounties of heaven; we have been preserved these many years in peace and prosperity; we have grown in numbers, wealth, and power as no other nation has ever grown. But we have forgotten God. We have forgotten the gracious hand which preserved us in peace and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us, and we have vainly imagined, in the deceitfulness of our hearts, that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own. Intoxicated with unbroken success, we have become too self-sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and preserving grace, too proud to pray to the God that made us.”

One tremendous blessing I have received has been through the Financial Peace University class. As Mark and I have traveled with the groups through this course, we have heard the message reinforced time and again – we are not the owners of anything.  God not only owns the cattle on a thousand hills but God owns the hills as well.  It all belongs to God – the earth, skies, seas, our very being, our lives, our possessions – they all belong to God.  Now some will balk at this idea.  When you have worked and sweat to make a name for yourself, clawing and scratching and digging in your heals to get ahead, you do NOT want to hear that what you have accumulated is not yours. As created beings, we are charged to care for the earth and have dominion over it and all the beasts of the field and the birds of the air, but we do not own the earth, the beasts, and the birds.  We are merely stewards – caretakers of what God has so richly blessed us.  But we are charged to care for God’s resources and God’s people.

A catholic spirit – unity in diversity. Sometimes that requires those of us that have been blessed to be a blessing to others.  Maybe it is giving of our talents or our resources or our unique skills, but to give a blessing to someone else is to truly receive a blessing in return.

I had the opportunity this week to meet with the school councilor at one of the schools we support though the Backpack Buddies program.  She shared with me what a huge difference it can make to the families in our community who are in serious financial trouble.  These are some of our neighbors who are on the brink of becoming homeless. These are some of our neighbors who cannot afford both food and medicines and often do without one or the other.  These are some of our neighbors who experienced a very cold winter this year.  But because of the small gestures we make each week by filling bins with goodies, and by taking time to buy presents for children whose parents cannot even consider giving gifts at Christmas time, we are truly displaying ourselves as a holy catholic church.

I will close with this story she shared with me about one particular family. This family of four – parents and 2 children, were homeless. Both parents had lost their jobs and they lost everything – their home, transportation – many of the things we take for granted.  Since the first of the year, both parents have managed to become gainfully employed.  They were able to secure a place to live, and they are so much better than they were just a few months ago.  Their gratitude was realized best when they asked to stop receiving those ‘special bags’ for their children each week, and to please pass these on to other children in need.

By lifting one another up in prayer and putting our faith in action, we were able to help make a difference in the lives of some of our neighbors.  Let us celebrate our unity in diversity – our holy catholic spirit – as we continue to share the love of Christ in such ways as to allow God to speak to the hearts of those who are lost and hurting in our own back yard. Amen.

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