CHOSEN FOR A PURPOSE: A Homily for the Congregations of the Global Methodist Church

Ordination of Francis Asbury


A Homily for the congregations of the Global Methodist Church

{I have published portions of this homily in various places over the years. If you are a frequent reader, parts will sound familiar}

This church has been preserved through a great and continuing conflict.

This morning we gather in our local church—both a little anxious and a little eager—to  know what God has planned for us. We come to the mountain or to the plain, to the woodland or to the sea, in cities, small towns, and countryside communities. Our worship houses are as varied as our locations. We meet in historic churches, modern halls, small storefronts, living rooms, and in the open air.  Yet, we share a common journey that has brought us to a common place. “We would see Jesus: this is all we’re needing…”

The journey has given most of us an encounter with grief and mourning.

If persecution is too strong a name for our traveling companion, certainly we know what it is to be accompanied by insults, slander, and dishonest dealings.

We long for the presence of peacemakers after our recent conflict.

If we have not been threatened with actual poverty, some have experienced the uncertainty of not knowing if they would be left with resources to continue the ministry of the church. All of us have come to experience poverty of spirit—whatever resources we preserved and whatever intellectual accomplishments we utilize—are of no value except this: we submit to the authority of Christ. We have been humbled.

So, when Jesus speaks to us today of mourning, persecution, poverty, and conflict; it ought to get our attention because we know there is nothing inherently good about any of these things. So, we cannot say that every person who mourns is blessed, or every person who is persecuted is blessed, nor even that every peacemaker is working on behalf of the Kingdom of God. Nor is being poor in and of itself a good thing. For many it means constant worry about basic provisions of life. Mourning is not automatically and naturally a blessed thing. Many of us have been there. It is a dark place, and some people get trapped there. You may have felt it yourself; such a grief…sense of loss…not only of companionship but of purpose and meaning…that unless some power should reach in from outside this reality and grab hold of you then you may be lost in this darkness forever. So it is not the natural state of the fallen world which Jesus is describing, but rather a promise which he offers to a fallen world, when Christ looks upon the crowds and says, “Blessed are you…”

The assurance of blessedness is for the church.

But what does it mean to be blessed? In our children’s lessons we call them the Be Happy Attitudes. This is good as far as it goes, but surely that does not cover it all. I had an epiphany concerning the meaning of this word blessed many years ago after watching a news interview with a firefighter. He had been called on to dangle from a cable hanging under a helicopter to rescue someone from a burning skyscraper. Watching the video, you can see him disappear into a cloud of smoke with flames exploding towards him. When he was interviewed he said, “I just feel blessed to be the one asked.” Blessed? Suspended from a cable into a cloud of smoke and fire…is that happiness? Is he using the word correctly?

Karen and I say that we refugeed out of Atlanta some thirty plus years ago. We enjoy living where we can see the change of seasons: the leaves turning in the fall and the different color green that we get in the spring as compared to the green that comes with summer. In the city, concrete and steel don’t change colors with seasons: the department store windows do, but they are always about three months off. While many are called to the benefits and unique beauty of a city life we are not. So, a few days ago I was enjoying watching my grandchildren playing in a haystack. I said to Karen, “We chose well. I feel blessed.” Certainly I was happy, but is that all I meant? (Meanwhile, in the city we left, I imagine another grandparent saying the same thing as their grandchildren stand in awe before a Renoir in the High Museum.)

I want to know what it means to be blessed, and not just a theological wordbook definition. I want to know what there is in common with the way Christ is speaking here, the way the word is used in the two examples I just gave, and the way blessed is used in the rest of Scripture.

“Hail Mary full of grace…. Blessed art thou among women” You will outlive your firstborn child.

What is meant by, “…and as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and blessed it, and brake it, and gave it to the disciples, and said, Take, eat; this is my body;” or when I pray every week over the offering, “Bless the gift and the giver,” or other words to that effect?

Certainly, happiness is involved as is holiness, but at the fundamental core these are all people and things which have been chosen by God for a purpose (or, devoted to God for a purpose). I suspect that is what the firefighter meant when he said he was blessed. He was chosen by God for a purpose, and for a moment he saw what that purpose was. That is what I meant when I saw my grandchildren playing in the haystack. That is what Elizabeth saw in Mary—someone chosen for God’s purpose. It is true for the bread and it is our prayer for the offering…to be chosen by God for a purpose. It is what Jesus saw in the crowd who had stopped to be fed by him that day. A crowd of business executives and beggars, professors and pupils. Somewhere out there is a rich young prince and a poor old widow…all of them chosen by God for a purpose.

And we… “beneath life’s crushing load, whose forms are bending low,” we who have come here to rest beside the weary road and hopefully hear an angel sing; they are singing to us, and the song is, “We are chosen by God for a purpose.” You are surrounded by people who are chosen by God for a purpose…as improbable as some of us may seem. No matter what we see on the news about this fallen Roman world; no matter what grieving may have followed some of us into this house this morning; Jesus has not been caught off guard. He is not surprised. He saw it coming and knew exactly the people to take care of it. You are in the midst of them. You are one of them–chosen by God for a purpose.

This church is of God and will be preserved by him for the purpose of authentic Christian worship and the due administration of His Word and Sacraments. This church is preserved for the purpose of Christian fellowship and to keep us in a disciplined life. This church is preserved for the purpose of the strengthening believers on their way to perfect love. This church is preserved for the purpose of converting the world. Everyone everywhere stands in need of the means of grace which Christ’s Holy Church alone supplies. (1)

This church, with its poverty, its conflict, its mourning, and its persecution–is blessed.

Therefore, “Ye that do truly and earnestly repent of your sins, and are in love and charity with your neighbors, and intend to lead a new life, following the commandments of God, and walking from henceforth in his holy ways: Draw near with faith…” (2)

You have been chosen by God for a purpose.

(1)  Paraphrased from: Introduction to the Baptismal Rite, Evangelical United Brethren

(2) 1662 Book of Common Prayer

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