“Here is the church, here is the steeple, open the doors and see all the people!”
I serve on the General Board of our United Methodist Church Discipleship Ministries that launched this year a grassroots initiative called #SeeAllThePeople, designed to inspire a disciple-making movement across our denomination. Discipleship Ministries believes our denomination has looked too long for a quick fix to help guide discipleship efforts, and is calling the church to fully embrace the spirit of the Wesleyan tradition by being in relationship with thcommunities that surround our churches. “We cannot disciple people that we are not in relationship with. Discipleship begins with relationship,” said the Rev. Junius B. Dotson, General Secretary of Discipleship Ministries. “When churches create an intentional discipleship system, they move from tinkering and fixing to relationship and discipleship. We do this...to boldly show Christ's love to those around us."
It is a matter of seeing all the people, in our church and community, as all beloved children of God. We celebrate in this Advent season and Christmas the coming incarnation of God with us in the form of a newborn child. We are invited to come and see in the Christ-Child the very presence of God -- and to see in one another Christ's own presence.
Seeing one another, nurturing relationships and empowering connections as the beloved community has been our focus at Wesley — though with sadness we have experienced the loss of our sisters and brothers who have died or moved away. We mourn the recent death of Joseph Russell. Lou Marines and his wife Linda returned to northern California last October. Yet, in spite of all our physical separations, the bond of love remains. Presence fills the emptiness of absence. And we continue to see and embrace one another and new faces and lives we meet.
Last Thanksgiving, Lou shared with me the following story by Megan McKenna, “The Messiah Is One of Us”: Once upon a time there was a wise abbot of a monastery who was the friend of an equally wise rabbi. This was in the old country, long ago, when times were always hard, but just then they were even worse. The abbot’s community was dwindling, and the faith life of his monks was fearful, weak and anxious. He went to his friend and wept. His friend, the Rabbi, comforted him, and said “There is something you need to know, my brother. We have long known in the Jewish community that the Messiah is one of you.”
"What,” exclaimed the abbot, “the Messiah is one of us? How can this be?”
But the Rabbi insisted that it was so, and the abbot went back to his monastery wondering and praying, comforted and excited. Once back in the monastery, he would pass by a monk and wonder if he was the one. Sitting in chapel, praying, he would hear a voice and look intently at a face and wonder, is he the one.
The abbot had always been kind, but now began to treat all of his brothers with profound kindness and awe, ever deeper respect, even reverence. Soon everyone noticed. One of the other brothers came to him and asked him what had happened to him.
After some coaxing, the abbot told him what the rabbi had said. Soon the other monk was looking at his brothers differently, with deeper respect and wondering. Word spread quickly: the Messiah is one of us. The monastery was suddenly full of life, worship, love and grace.
The prayer life was rich and passionate, devoted, and services were alive and vibrant. Soon the surrounding villagers came to the services, listening and watching intently, and many joined the community of monks. After their novitiate, when they took their vows, they were told the mystery, the truth that their life was based upon, the source of their strength, the richness of their life together: The Messiah is one of us. The monastery grew and expanded into house after house, and the monks grew in wisdom and grace before each other and in the eyes of God. And they say still, that if you stumble across this place where there is life and hope and kindness and graciousness, that the secret is the same: The Messiah is one of us.
May we greet the Messiah, the Christ-Child Jesus this Christmas. May we see the face of the Messiah in all the people we meet, and may all the people we meet see the face of the Messiah in us.
Merry Christmas and a Blessed New Year!