Our Faith We Sing: And Are We Yet Alive

Our Faith We Sing: And Are We Yet Alive
Acts 1:6-8
Rev. Michael F. Bailey
June 26,2016

Acts 1:6-8 So when they had come together, they asked him, ‘Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?’ He replied, ‘It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. 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.’

So that no one is left out, let me describe for everyone what a United Methodist annual conference is; it is both a geographic area and an annual meeting. Our conference is the Western North Carolina Annual Conference. Geographically, it extends from the Guilford and Alamance county borders west to Tennessee, and north and south to Virginia and South Carolina respectively. But, it’s also a meeting. Every summer, delegates from every local church, both clergy and laity, come together for about a week to set priorities, hear ministry and mission reports and adopt a budget. At the end of the meeting of the Annual Conference, the Bishop makes all of the appointments of clergy to local churches, “official.”

But it’s changed a lot over the years! Even in my lifetime, clergy, their family, and local churches didn’t know who their minister would be or which church they’d serve until the last day of the conference when the bishop read the name of the church and who was appointed there! The ministerial families then had a week to pack and say goodbye and move 4 days later with the new parsonage family replacing them moving in on the same day! Nowadays, it’s far more humane and reasonable, in most folk’s estimation. Stories abound from the old days. My dad tells of a preacher’s wife fainting when she heard a new, unexpected move to a different church read out. He also tells of a time when a preacher named Charles Archer passed out at annual conference and was taken away by ambulance. As folks stood around and speculated about why he passed out, one fellow (almost all fellows in those days) replied when asked what he thought said, “I was wondering who was going to St. John’s!” It truly is a lot better now and your ministers have all been reappointed to CUMC and for that we are delighted.

But one thing has held the same, from John Wesley’s annual conference meetings in the 1700’s until now, every Annual Conference meeting starts with the singing of, “And Are We Yet Alive?” We’ll sing it shortly and you’ll recognize the tune as the same as “Blest Be the Tie that Binds.”  And this Sunday as we move to the 3rd sermon in our series Our Faith We Sing, we look at “And Are We Yet Alive?” In it, Charles Wesley wrote: 

  1. And are we yet alive, 
    and see each other's face? 
    Glory and thanks to Jesus give
    for his almighty grace! 

    2. Preserved by power divine
    to full salvation here, 
    again in Jesus' praise we join, 
    and in his sight appear. 

    3. What troubles have we seen, 
    what mighty conflicts past, 
    fightings without, and fears within, 
    since we assembled last! 

    4. Yet out of all the Lord
    hath brought us by his love; 
    and still he doth his help afford, 
    and hides our life above.

When you consider that the Methodist preacher “circuit” riders in Colonial America died at the average age of 33, with only half of them making it to that age, singing this hymn “and are we yet alive” at their annual conference’s had a reality based meaning!

And yet, what a wonderful question for us, a church that held it’s first worship service 60 years come this Saturday. It’s a great birthday question: And are we yet alive? Not just surviving, not just living and getting by, but are we thriving, that is, fully alive? Let’s think about that together, looking at the precedent of our Wesleyan heritage for marks of being alive, our own history and our future, all in light of our passage, Jesus’ marching orders to the church just before he ascended to heaven.

From our reading we see that Jesus equips the church and then sends it forth for its mission. He said, “…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.”

Think about it: Jesus gave the Holy Spirit for power for the church to be His witnesses in their city, region and the world. 

And for me a church, powered by the Spirit, witnessing in word and deed to Jesus in their own city, nation and the world is a sign of being “yet alive.”

That way of being alive marks our heritage. The Wesleyan movement has shared evangelism to the extent that there are some 70 million Christians in the world today in our tradition, and the numbers are growing rapidly.

The very roots of the people called Methodist teach us that we are an “evangelical,” (in the true sense of the word, not as used by the media and politicians) Good News sharing people. John and Charles Wesley preached everywhere they could: churches, chapels, out of doors, sharing the good news of Christ love for all. John Wesley travelled over a quarter of a million miles on horseback to preach; when older he logged many miles in a carriage and sailed to other countries as well. 

My sense is a church that is “yet still alive” is one that reaches out to people with the good news of Christ. That certainly is the story of Christ Church.

While July 1 is the anniversary of our first service at Christ Church. On August 21, we’ll be celebrating this 60th birthday. As a part of the celebration we’re putting together some video memories of some of our charter members. I was visiting with one this past Wednesday, “Mr. Missions” I call him, Harold Pitts. Harold shared some of the story of the birth of Christ Church. A committee was formed at West Market, our mother church, and they diligently canvassed our area for weeks, seeing if people were interested in a new Methodist Church nearby. After they determined the interest warranted the church start, they held their first worship service July 1, 1956 at Sternberger Elementary School. With the backing of the then largest Methodist Church in the city, West Market Street, the gift from them of 12 acres of land, canvassing the area for weeks, I thought Christ Church must have started large and stayed that way. I was wrong! I asked Harold how many people he estimated were at the first service and he said, “I think about 20 or 30”! And from that humble, faithful, but well-executed beginning, we now have between 2300-2400 members. Christ Church’s history is one of an “alive” church witnessing for Christ.

Here though, is an important question when it comes to reaching people for Christ: is there ever an “enough,” a stopping point? The answer from the Word is that we are never to stop witnessing and reaching out! We are to continue being witnesses in our Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria unto the ends of the earth, until all have heard. 

Yet, it mustn’t be about the numbers of members we have – it must be about making disciples. I was struck by Bishop Goodpaster remarking at Annual Conference that it was time to quit worrying about numbers and time to focus on making disciples. He said that he didn’t know what such an emphasis would do to membership rolls or worship attendance averages, but he did know that making disciples would forward the mission of the church and God’s Kingdom. Toward that end, I believe for Christ Church to be yet alive, we must fulfill God’s vision for us and be focused on evangelism and disciple-making in our city, continent and world. 

But John Wesley wasn’t satisfied with simply having people’s souls saved. He cared for their earthly lives as well. Wesley once remarked that there is “no holiness but social holiness.” I take that to mean a couple of things: this thing called Christianity is a group activity – there is no such thing as a lone ranger Christian. But more, Wesley also meant that we are to apply the ethics and ways of Christ to our society in how we “do church.”

He certainly modeled that. As a Christian, he did everything he could to make his world a fair, just place for all. He lobbied for prison reform, debt relief laws, animal rights, child labor laws, safe factory conditions, humane working hours and the end of slavery. In America, Methodists worked for many of the same things and also for women’s suffrage, fair housing, minimum wage, civil rights and environmental responsibility. 

And such is in Christ Church history as well. I remember George Thompson telling me of a church member (Mr. Michaels), when he was pastor, bringing in the government’s AIDS czar, to advocate for caring for all people at a time when that was so unpopular. I think of Harold Pitts offering little post cards for people to sign, urging the government to do more about hunger issues. Christ Church laity and pastors have been involved, and continue to be involved in, making our community a fair, just place. 

And the question is, “and are we yet alive?” What are the pressing issues we need to influence as Christians? Living in the number one food insecure area in the nation? Having one fourth of our children living in poverty? Homelessness? What are we called to be about that shows we “are yet alive?” Now, engaging issues won’t win any popularity contests, will it? Hear this though: there are plenty of churches in Greensboro who are intentionally silent when life is unfair to some. I believe God’s vision for our witnessing in our “Jerusalem” is to wisely and scripturally speak up. Where do you feel God is calling us to speak with “holy boldness” to right wrongs in our Jerusalem, Greensboro?

Our heritage though, isn’t one of just witnessing by proclamation and influence, it is also a pragmatic heritage.

John Wesley, with fervor, worked out practical ministries to care for people. In a day where whole families could be imprisoned for small debts, he started a credit union for the working poor. Health care in his time was atrocious, so he opened a health clinic at the Methodist headquarters in London, the Foundry. Along with it, he opened a pharmacy. With the industrial revolution bringing thousands to London, exploitation of young women followed. So, Wesley opened up a literacy program teaching reading and writing using the Bible. After the young women learned to read and write, he started vocational training for them and with a loan from the credit union, they could start their own businesses. And the list goes on. Methodists in America have followed in his footsteps operating 200 hospitals, numerous retirement homes, social service agencies, colleges and universities. 

Christ Church has shown itself to be alive in its past with its wonderful missional outreach both in our Jerusalem of Greensboro to the ends of the earth. 

Christ Church members were pivotal in starting Greensboro Urban Ministry and Interactive Resource Center. Others played a key role in settling refugees here after the Vietnam war. And we have people working in so many missions arenas that time prohibits me from mentioning them all; suffice it to say we have folks working in the areas of hunger, education, poverty, housing, medical care for the poor, immigration, mental health, senior issues, animal welfare and vocational training. Think of it: yesterday nearly 120 returned from home repair missions with the SC missions team; today, at the 11 am service our Dominican Republic team is being commissioned. Just before services I asked a teen about her experience in South Carolina and she said, “it changed my life.” That’s worth supporting!

Again, the question is, is enough ever enough when it comes to helping people pragmatically through missions when there are still problems? 

And, what will show we are yet alive in our future? What bold new mission’s ventures does God dream about Christ Church engaging in? 

Our District Superintendent, Nancy Rankin, has shared with me that we United Methodists have several congregations in our center city about to cease as worshipping congregations. What if God called us to use one of these places as a missions outpost? Our own place to offer food, collect furniture, tutor, teach job skills or perhaps help with worship in a different language? What is God’s resurrection dream for these sites and could they be a part of God’s desire to show “we are yet alive?” What is your dream with and for God if we had such a place in the center city?

Brentwood UMC is one of the largest churches in the connection. A few years ago, they began to think in a missionally entrepreneurial way. While they are located in a privileged area, they opened a mission outpost in a Methodist building no longer used for housing, in Nashville’s most distressed neighborhood at the former Humphries St. UMC site. They began offering job interviewing skills classes to the unemployed young people in that area. More, they received a grant from one of their members, Cal Turner, Jr. to buy a Swiss coffee roaster. They led the young people in the area to opening a business, roasting and selling coffee. Think of the skills those young people learned! Think of the lives that have been changed! Today, you can buy Humphries Street “Good Coffee for a Change”…a changed life for a neighborhood; a changed life for formerly hopeless young people. (visit:http://humphreysstreetcoffeeco.com/)

“And are we yet alive?” In evangelism and disciple making; in influencing for fairness for all; in missions? My answer is yes! Together, let’s dream God’s dream for our own Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and unto the ends of the earth and “flesh it out” as we respond to the power of the Holy Spirit!

Sharing Starters:

Share your memories from the earliest time you remember at Christ Church.

Share your thoughts about evangelism

Share what God has put on your heart about un-fair situations in our community we might influence.

Share what your favorite mission is at Christ Church.

Share what you believe God dreams for our mission life in the future.