Living Out Love: The World Community
Adapted from a sermon at First United Methodist Church of Orlando.
As Christian’s, we are called to share love in the world. This stems from Jesus’ command to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. Over the last few weeks we’ve been looking at the United Methodist Social Principals to help us understand ways to follow this command.
The Social Principals are a set of guidelines that show how our faith interacts with the issues in our lives. You can find a listing of all the UMC Social Principals online. Today we are looking at The World Community:
God’s world is one world. The unity now being thrust upon us by technological revolution has far outrun our moral and spiritual capacity to achieve a stable world. The enforced unity of humanity, increasingly evident on all levels of life, presents the Church as well as all people with problems that will not wait for answer: injustice, war, exploitation, privilege, population, international ecological crisis, proliferation of arsenals of nuclear weapons, development of transnational business organizations that operate beyond the effective control of any governmental structure, and the increase of tyranny in all its forms. This generation must find viable answers to these and related questions if humanity is to continue on this earth. We commit ourselves as a Church to the achievement of a world community that is a fellowship of persons who honestly love one another. We pledge ourselves to seek the meaning of the gospel in all issues that divide people and threaten the growth of world community.
As a United Methodist Church, we stand by this principal. We are part of a global community. One that includes people from all walks of life and all countries of the globe. Together, we face the issues that are outlined in the principal. We, as people of faith, have a duty to stand up and call out that which is wrong. We must actively participate in the world community, and not think ourselves better or isolated from it.
I’ve had the fortune to be able to travel throughout the world. Acknowledging that I’ve been able to travel is in and of itself a privilege than many across the globe cannot access. However, it is a privilege that has allowed me to see and experience life and cultures that are vastly different from my own. Traveling has opened my eyes to the world community. I have seen that, despite differences in beliefs and customs, we are truly one united people.
God calls us to focus on this unity. We are all unique creations of God, trying to understand our part in the global community. Until we can acknowledge that we are all truly people, we will continue to live in fear of those that we do not know.
Tonight’s Lectionary scripture is from the book of Jonah. You might remember Jonah as the guy who got eaten by the whale in the children’s story. That’s a very sanitized version of the Book of Jonah.
Jonah was a prophet. He received inspiration and visions from God and was tasked with sharing God’s message. The book of Jonah captures a segment of his life, and a time that Jonah did not want to listen to God.
God told Jonah to go to the city of Nineveh and proclaim that God was good and deserving to be worshiped. Jonah didn’t want to go. He heard about the people in Nineveh. As Pastor Emily likes to say every time we mention Jonah, the people of Nineveh put heads on sticks along the road leading to their city as a warning: they were not to be messed with. If they didn’t like you, your head would be next.
So God tells Jonah to go to the city with the heads on the sticks and tell them to stop killing people and acknowledge their place in God’s community. Jonah didn’t want to go and instead, got on a boat heading in a different direction.
This is where the whale comes in.
In Confirmation we talk about Biblical Truth (with a capital “T”). Did Jonah really get eaten by a whale, spit up, and live to tell the tale? That’s really not the important part of the story. What is important is that Jonah’s story conveys a Biblical Truth: we should listen to God.
So Jonah ends up in Nineveh anyway. I picture him in this place he had heard about, this place that he was afraid of going to. He walks into town and there are heads on sticks. He’s new in town and probably stands out like a sore thumb. This is where we pick up the scripture tonight. Jonah 3:1–10 (CEB):
The Lord’s word came to Jonah a second time: 2 “Get up and go to Nineveh, that great city, and declare against it the proclamation that I am commanding you.” 3 And Jonah got up and went to Nineveh, according to the Lord’s word. (Now Nineveh was indeed an enormous city, a three days’ walk across.)
4 Jonah started into the city, walking one day, and he cried out, “Just forty days more and Nineveh will be overthrown!” 5 And the people of Nineveh believed God. They proclaimed a fast and put on mourning clothes, from the greatest of them to the least significant.
6 When word of it reached the king of Nineveh, he got up from his throne, stripped himself of his robe, covered himself with mourning clothes, and sat in ashes. 7 Then he announced, “In Nineveh, by decree of the king and his officials: Neither human nor animal, cattle nor flock, will taste anything! No grazing and no drinking water! 8 Let humans and animals alike put on mourning clothes, and let them call upon God forcefully! And let all persons stop their evil behavior and the violence that’s under their control!” 9 He thought, Who knows? God may see this and turn from his wrath, so that we might not perish.
10 God saw what they were doing — that they had ceased their evil behavior. So God stopped planning to destroy them, and he didn’t do it.
The people of Nineveh listened to God. They realized their place and their connection to all people, not just their own. The King saw what he had done, tore his clothes, and went into mourning. I imagine he also went around and pulled down the heads from the sicks.
We are called to do the same. Hopefully we’re not putting heads on sticks, but we’re called to realize our part of God’s global community. People from all places are to be valued and loved, not feared and hated.
The story of Jonah ends in a strange way. After the people of Nineveh join God’s community, Jonah goes off and is upset. He essentially yells at God that it’s not fair that all those people, as bad as he perceived them to be, were forgiven.
Despite being a messenger of God, Jonah failed to see his own privilege and place within God’s community. We are all equally deserving of God’s love and forgiveness. The people of Nineveh were just as deserving as Jonah, and Jonah didn’t like that Biblical Truth.
We must face the same truth. All people, no matter how much money they make, their ability to hold a job, the country of their birth, or the color of their skin are equal of God’s community and love. We have an obligation to make decisions that honor and care for all people. We must stand up when this isn’t the case.
This is not a Democrat or Republican issue. This is not a United States issue. This is not a poor or wealthy issue. This is not even a United Methodist issue. This is an issue of humanity. We are to live in love and care for others as part of God’s global community.
So, how are we going to tackle the issues outlined in the Social Principal? How are we going to unite and combat “injustice, war, exploitation, privilege, population, international ecological crisis, proliferation of arsenals of nuclear weapons, development of transnational business organizations that operate beyond the effective control of any governmental structure, and the increase of tyranny in all its forms”? We need only look at Jesus’ mission statement and follow his lead. Luke 4:18–19 (CEB):
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because the Lord has anointed me.
He has sent me to preach good news to the poor,
to proclaim release to the prisoners
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to liberate the oppressed,
19 and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.