I suppose you can blame the 2008 General Conference. Prior to then, when one joined a United Methodist congregation the commitment was to support the church with “prayers, presence, gifts, and service.” It wasn’t so hard and, other than the service piece, was a relatively passive affair.
Then the 2008 General Conference came along. The Annual Conference Lay Leaders (not the clergy, mind you) made a suggestion. “Let’s add ‘witness’,” they said. We (the UMC) had said we were about the business of making disciples of Jesus Christ. Then, we said we were about the business of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. How do we do that? Well, the Lay Leaders said, we begin with witness.
So, there it is now. If you are a member of a United Methodist congregation, that’s part of the covenant. Prayers, presence, gifts, service, witness. Although, truth be known you should probably blame Jesus and not the General Conference – they were just following orders.
The thing is – witness is a much more active thing. It requires us to step out of comfort zones and comfortable spaces. It compels us to tell someone about what we know of Jesus, and grace, and the Spirit, and life in the community, and…. It conjures up images of the people who ring your doorbell on Saturday afternoon, just as you are settling in to the game and a nap. Surely, that’s not what the General Conference meant – for all of us to head out into neighborhoods on a Saturday afternoon, disturbing the peace.
Well….probably not. It may, however, have been what Jesus meant (we can and will discuss that). We should recognize that “disturbing the peace” was precisely the charge laid against the early church in Acts. “They turned the world upside down” is what was said of them (though the case could be made they turned it right side up). We’re a bit more genteel, more refined, more sophisticated than all of that.
All of which begs the question: how are we to be faithful members and witness, while at the same time remaining the genteel, refined, sophisticated people that we are, inoffensive to our neighbors and friends but evangelical in our Wesleyan way? We’re going to explore that a bit during the month of October with our sermon series “Witness” and decide if it’s even possible. This Sunday, we’ll start things by considering what it means that Jesus said, “Go!” (Matthew 28:16-20). We’ll gather at the table and be fed for the journey, and then we’ll be sent out into the world to get after it. I hope to see you Sunday. Colin, William, and I will have a word of witness for you that we pray will inspire your own.
Grace and peace.