Oak Forest United Methodist Church
Saturday, September 23, 2017
To Know Christ, To Grow in Christ, To Share Christ

Pastor's Message

 
 
September 2017

 Homegrown Faith: Back to Basics

 

     What does it mean to be Christian? If you were to sum up the “main thing” of Christianity what would it be? If you met someone who was totally new to Christianity what would you tell them? Don’t worry, there are no tests and no matter who I asked, there would be a variety of answers, all of them would be on the right track. As varied as our answers may be, I believe that the basics, the core tenets of our faith, would emerge in our answers. 

     As the children go back to school, the seasons change from summer to fall, and we get ready to step into hyper drive with the fall bazaar, it’s a great time to explore the basics of our faith. Join us September 10th – October 15th for a six week sermon series called “Home Grown Faith.” We will talk about the connection between making biscuits and community; growing okra and nurture; and many others. There is so much to glean from daily living and the nurture family, faith, and our communities. 

     I traveled to Cambodia with a mission team in February of this year. I worked with a Global Board of Missions missionary, Ether Gitobu, who is absolutely amazing. She is from Kenya and has served the UMC for several years with 15 of those years in Cambodia. She has worked diligently to spread the Good News of Jesus Christ in that land. Cambodia has endured an incredible amount of war and devastation. During the Pol Pot regime and during the height of the Khmer Rouge (communist party) from 1975-1979 an estimated 1.5-3.0 million people were killed by the Khmer Rouge. Over 25% of the population was killed during the genocide. A generation and a half were lost during this terrible time. Cambodia is 95% Buddhist with a tiny percentage of Hinduism, Muslim, and Christian. The United Methodist Church has had a presence in the country for close to twenty years helping to bring hope and healing to a country so badly devastated by the Khmer Rouge. 

     My husband and I were able to participate in this mission trip together, a first after many years in ministry. We witnessed for the first time what it might have been like for those first disciples to introduce the Greeks to Jesus Christ. I cannot express how difficult, enlivening, and hopeful it is to share the Gospel to fresh ears, to people who are truly unfamiliar with Jesus, the Bible, and Christianity. I was asked to teach an impromptu “bible study” to a small village outside Siem Reap. They were incredibly poor, they had no running water, and no electricity. They were my favorite village of our entire visit. As they gathered under a cashew tree on a woven mat, they sat looking at me with such eager eyes. I asked Esther, “What should I talk about in our ‘bible study.’” She said, “Ask them if they know Jesus.” Normally this is not my first question to a group of strangers….ever. In my experience, that question has only been used as a way to separate the metaphorical wheat from the chaff. But in this instance the question was direct. So I asked them, “Have you ever heard of Jesus?” As I looked at them, a few of the adults shook their heads; one lady tilted her hand back and forth as if to say a little bit. Basically, these folks really had never heard of him. In all my education, experience, and training I had not faced this sort of challenge. Now, don’t get me wrong… I can talk about Jesus. A LOT. But I most often use metaphor, simile and others linguistic devices to deepen and connect matters of the faith and matters of the heart. I was speaking through an interpreter (have you ever heard that things are lost in translation!) and I had to keep in short and simple. Metaphor does not translate well. Like, resurrection is like the lifecycle of a butterfly. Most of us understand what this means but if you have never seen a butterfly and have no idea who this Jesus guy is, that metaphor falls flat on it's face. 

So I kept it simple with only the basics: 

 

 

*God created us and the entire world (past, present, and future) 

 

 

 

*God loves us 

 

*God wants a relationship with each one of us. 

 

     I was staring at people who had seen atrocities that no human being should ever endure. What could I possibly say to them that would matter after what they’ve been through? I scanned all the scriptures in my mind thinking and I prayed that God would help me find a passage that would be meaningful. I thought about Jesus in a similar situation, looking at eager and hungry people in need of both physical and spiritual sustenance. Aha! The Sermon on the Mount in Luke (Luke has a preferential treatment for the poor and marginalized). I read Luke 6: 20-26. I talked about the love of God in all situations and through all experiences. I talked about how God loved them right now, right here. 

     Cambodia changed my life and the way I read scripture. Sometimes it’s important to think about the basics of our faith. What do we believe and how do we live into our belief? Why do we do the things we do and what makes us particular (or peculiar as it is) as Christians.? During the months of September and October we are going to get down to the basics of our faith in a sermon series called “Home Grown Faith.” The world is hungry for hope and life. Our God is the only one who can truly give that to us. 

 

Grace and Peace,

Julie Wilburn Peeler