By Sandy Jackson
Courtesy of General Board of Discipleship
"Disciples Transforming the World through Service and Witness" to be held on October 21, 2012 (Third Sunday in October) is the final Laity Sunday theme for this quadrennium (2009-2012). It has a double focus: service and witness. (In 2008, the word "witness" was added to the membership vows.)
As we affirm our vows as members of the United Methodist Church, we promise "to be loyal to Christ through The United Methodist Church and do all in our power to strengthen its ministries; to faithfully participate in its ministries by our prayers, our presence, our gifts, our service, and our witness." (United Methodist Book of Discipline, ¶ 217.5-6)
Let's think first about service. Our promise to serve the church includes a promise to serve Christ through The United Methodist Church and in our daily lives. Serving the church encompasses a wide variety of activities from cleaning the church kitchen, to leading worship, teaching Sunday school, serving on a committee, or joining a mission or community work team. We know from the Apostle Paul that -- like spiritual gifts -- no task is more important than another. All kinds of services are needed to form disciples and transform the world.
Our service is important. Hebrews 6:10 tells us: "For God is not unjust; he will not overlook your work and the love that you showed for his sake in serving the saints, as you still do" (NRSV).
God notices our work to bring about God's kingdom here on earth. God gives each of us spiritual gifts that equip us for this work. And God knows the attitude of each of our hearts as we love and serve.
To get an idea of how important our service is, let's take a look at Revelation 5:7-10: "He went and took the scroll from the right hand of the one who was seated on the throne. When he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell before the Lamb, each holding a harp and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. They sing a new song: 'You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slaughtered and by your blood you ransomed for God saints from every tribe and language and people and nation; you have made them to be a kingdom and priests serving our God, and they will reign on earth'" (NRSV).
Your service for God in the church and beyond will be celebrated in song by the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders! And together we will reign on earth! According to this Scripture passage, that is our future.
Warning! Remember that serving God in the church does not mean that we are to neglect our family and friends due to the busyness of church life! Serving God includes caring for those relationships that God has given us. Serving God through the church should not keep us so busy that we do not have time to be in relationship with God through prayer, meditation, searching Scripture, and worship!
As we uphold the United Methodist Church with our service, we are able to witness to God's love and grace. God has promised the power of the Holy Spirit to help us in this effort. In Acts 1:8, we find this assurance and instruction: "But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth."
All too often, the words "witness" and "evangelism" frighten us. We may think of witnessing as standing on a street corner with Bible in hand shouting "repent," so we leave the work of witnessing to those we designate as "evangelists." But our membership vows clearly indicate that we are to faithfully participate in the ministries of the church by our witness. More than inviting someone to come to our church, witness is the evidence of God's grace in our lives. Love of neighbor, the way we treat others, our integrity in the workplace, the faithfulness in our service -- all bear witness to the world of God's love. Sharing the story of God's grace in our lives with others is one way to bear witness.
"For you will be his witness to all the world of what you have seen and heard" (Acts 22:15).
We need not fear, for we have the Holy Spirit's presence with us. We find this advice in I Peter 3:13- 16: "Now who will harm you if you are eager to do what is good? But even if you do suffer for doing what is right, you are blessed. Do not fear what they fear, and do not be intimidated, but in your hearts sanctify Christ as Lord. Always be ready to make your defense (explanation/reason) to anyone who demands from you an account of the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and reverence."
As followers of The Way, we are called to witness to Jesus Christ, his suffering, death, and resurrection from the dead! Alleluia!
1 Peter 2:9 reminds us: "But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God's own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light."
We have been called to be salt and light for the world. In Matthew 5:13-16, we hear Jesus telling us that we are the salt of earth and that if we aren't careful, we will lose our saltiness and be good for nothing. Jesus goes on to say that we are the light of the world and that we must not hide that light under a basket, but let it shine for all the world to see. This glorifies our Father in heaven.
So be not afraid! Remember who you are -- a member of the royal priesthood -- God's own people. What mighty acts has God done? Who called you out of darkness? What has walking in the light of God meant to you? Share with others the day and night difference God has made in your life. Be salty, and let your light shine for all the world to see!
Fulfilling our vows to serve and witness need not be a burden or something to fear. It is a great privilege and a great responsibility as we claim our inheritance as followers of Jesus and work to bring about his kingdom. We are to be disciples who work to transform the world through our service and our witness.