Preaching Light

Preaching Light

April 07, 2024 • Rev. Mindie Moore

Ancestry.umc Week 1: Preaching Light

Matthew 4:16, 2 Corinthians 4:6, 1 John 2:8

German culture was a huge part of my upbringing. Passed down from my Papa, we loved all things German. He would always tell us these stories of the time he spent over there when he worked for a credit union, places that he explored, the foods that they ate, people that he met. He had different souvenirs around the house, from clocks to steins, and he would always wake us up in the morning by saying “Guten Morgan” and would work all these little German phrases into his everyday conversations with us. He taught me to count to 10 in German so early that I don’t even remember WHEN he taught me that. After school, we would often go down the street to this German bakery where he knew all the employees on a first name basis and we’d eat cake and on special occasions we always went to the Rathskeller downtown where we’d get our favorite Schnitzel and he’d tell us more stories.

So you can imagine how excited I was when I studied abroad in college and spent an entire summer in Salzburg, Austria. Now, part of this was because Sound of Music is my favorite movie of all time, but a big part of it was because I knew that I would get at least one long weekend to go to Germany. I would finally get to see this place that had shaped so much of my family’s culture, I would finally be going back to my roots. It was like this whole ancestral homecoming.

It was an amazing summer, and being in Germany was one of my favorite parts of the whole trip. And when I came home and was showing off all my pictures and talking about my adventures to the family, I said at one point, “It was so amazing to be in the place of our homeland, to really get back to my roots.”

It was at this point that my uncle looked at me with a super confused look on his face. He said, “what do you mean?”

I told him, “You know, we’re German. Our heritage.”

My uncle BUSTS OUT LAUGHING. And I’m thinking, I am having a significant family moment here, like what is so funny? And he tells me, “you know we aren’t German, right?”

No. No I did not.

But apparently yes. My uncle apparently had done a lot of work on and we were almost exclusively English and Irish in our DNA. I assumed that my Papa was out here trying to hand down my heritage or something but no! He was just really into German culture and wanted to pass that down.

It’s good to know where we come from.

That’s what we’re going to be exploring during this next three weeks. But we’re not looking at where we came from as individuals, but where we come from as a CHURCH, specifically as United Methodists. Now, a lot of you did not come originally from a UMC background, I didn’t either, and in fact, some of you might be kind of surprised that this is where you ended up in your faith journey! But no matter where you come from, whether you’ve been part of the UMC or church in general your whole life, or this is kind of a new thing for you, (SLIDE) where we’ve been shapes where we’re going.

In just a couple of weeks, we are going to as a denomination have what’s called our General Conference, where delegates from all over the world come together and worship, fellowship, and vote on incredibly important things that determine how the UMC functions. It’s a time to grapple with our contexts, our theology, and what we believe God is doing in our midst. And this year, one of the most significant things before those delegates is the removal of harmful language around marriage and ordination in the Book of Discipline, and to embrace the full inclusion and affirmation of LGBTQIA+ people.  

At a General Conference, you get a lot of opinions about where the church should go. But the ones that help the most are the ones that best reflect where we’ve come from. Because as we look at our past, we get to ask some questions- how does where we’ve been set us up for where we’re going in the future? Maybe most importantly, how do we carry those things forward to where we are right now in 2024 trying to be the church in a time when being in the church isn’t really an easy task?

Over the Easter weekend I lost count of how many posts I saw that said, “I’m not going to church this Easter.” People saying “I don’t associate with that kind of community anymore,” and EVERY SINGLE ONE of these original posts had a ton of comments beneath them. And truthfully, while I honor each person’s faith journey, it made me really sad to read through those. Because it reminded me of just how complicated of a place church can be for so many people. There are so many wounds that are real, and for those of us who are still part of this thing called the church, we need to understand that. We need to create space where people can flourish and know that there’s a better story that’s possible than the one they’ve experienced.

And so as we dream about creating that kind of church and who we can be as a bigger denomination, I want to take us back a little bit into our past to see how we’ve been writing that story for hundreds of years. Of how we’ve been creating “Light will shine out of darkness.” like we heard in that 2 Corinthians passage.

And in our context, in the US, it really begins with a man named Francis Asbury. Pastor Rob shared with me a book he has been reading (SLIDE) called American Saint that tells Asbury’s story. Near the end of the book, the author sums up Asbury’s life values as to “Preach, Collect Money for the Poor, and Visit Old Friends.” But these weren’t just Asbury’s values, they became the values of this thing called Methodism.

What I love about Asbury’s story is that he wasn’t really the typical person you’d expect to create a religious movement, especially not at the time when he lived, the late 1700s to the early 1800s. He grew up in a poor part of England, he dropped out of school so that he could work, he wasn’t a trained pastor or anything that felt academic or carried a lot of status to it. He was just a normal guy—but his impact was huge.

When the founder of the Methodist movement, John Wesley, was looking for volunteers to leave England and go to America to keep the movement spreading, Asbury answered the call. And even though there weren’t big expectations of this normal, uneducated man, he did big things. He ended up riding over 130,000 miles on horseback during his ministry, visiting nearly every state once a year, and growing the Methodist movement in America from a few hundred people to over 200,000 by the time he died. He became the first Bishop in the Methodist Church in America and left this huge legacy of what the church could stand for and who we could be.

One of the things that really drew people to this movement was that it was creating a different picture of what church could look like. Actually, as it formed, Methodism brought with it a lot of controversy. Several years ago, I went on a Methodist History Tour to England and we went to this museum in the city of Bristol. And honestly, I was kind of shocked at what I found. Because when the Methodist church started, it kind of freaked people out! Look at this recreation of a newspaper article that was in this museum:

(SLIDE: Photo of text)

“Don’t be deceived! These Methodists use religion as a cloak to cover sexual license. Great numbers of persons of both sexes frequently assemble in meeting places at very unreasonable hours in the night, the doors for the most part being locked, barred, and bolted...they engage in love feasts and holy kisses and strange trances...they make people go mad by their cunning arts. These heretics, these fanatics, these enthusiasts, are out to destroy the Church and to bring down the King.

Don’t let them speak! Don’t let them corrupt you!”

You might be thinking- now I didn’t know church could be so scandalous and frankly, exciting! But here’s what you need to understand...Methodism came out of an institution, it came out of the Anglican church, the Church of England. It was a movement that said, we don’t have to do things the way we’ve been doing them. It was really dedicated to bringing the hope and grace of Jesus Christ, the LIGHT of God, to...everyone. It’s like that 1 John passage says—there's something that is new and true, and that’s that the light of Jesus that is here and it’s for every single person.

That message of hope, that message that the darkness you’re experiencing isn’t the end of the story because there’s actually this amazing light that a life following Jesus brings—that was a message people needed to hear. When John Wesley took preaching out of the church building and into literal fields and even places like coal mines, he was making a statement that light and hope are for YOU. You don’t have to feel welcome in a church building, you don’t have to dress a certain way or talk like religious people do, you don’t have to be anything but yourself. That’s who God loves and wants to be in relationship with.

And when Asbury rode his horse from place to place and knew people all over the country by NAME, he was saying the same thing. It was this breaking down of geographical and social barriers that people assumed were true because that’s just how it was...but he was saying- no. In God’s kingdom those barriers that we assume are true didn’t actually have to matter at all.

So if we’re going to think about where we come from, what our DNA is as a church, we have to come back to this. We have to remember that as long as we’ve been preaching as Methodists, this is the message we’ve been carrying: that Jesus does something that matters, that changes us and the world, and that what Jesus does is for every single person, no exceptions. (SLIDE) If we’re going to go back to our roots as a church, we have to come back to sharing light, radical inclusion, and generous grace.

Once, I was working on a resource for small groups that helped people explore what it meant to have faith, specifically in the UMC. And during the launch, I got some feedback. Now, obviously, this was not the first time I’d gotten some feedback for something I’ve worked on! But this one really surprised me. This person felt like there was this one thing that kept coming up again and again in the curriculum and was just wasting time when there was a lot of IMPORTANT stuff we could have been covering. They said:

I just don’t understand why you talk about grace so much in here. You go on and on about it, almost every week it comes up. Why are we spending so much time on grace?!

You know, I thought the complaint was going to be about some of the social justice stuff or something about how I said the Bible wasn’t word for word literal, like I get THOSE. But too much grace?! That was a new one!

And so I responded back—we HAVE to talk about grace. Because grace is kind of the key here for Methodist theology. It’s one of the huge things that makes us US. And when we both see and receive the light of Christ, that’s grace experienced in its simplest form. That’s part of our DNA and it’s also part of our current calling as people of faith. To proclaim that this light of Jesus is real and that it’s for all people.

And proclaiming the light, or we use this word “preaching”, that can feel pretty intimidating. That can feel like, yes, Pastor Mindie, that’s in YOUR job description, not mine. But I think it’s really important that we understand that proclaiming this hope and’s not just something I get to do, or people who stand up in front of you on a Sunday morning get to do. It starts with each of us—it's in ALL of our job descriptions.

And the truth is you might be doing it and not even realize it. But I see it in so many places. It happens when Beck goes to Hubbard and Cravens and knows every single one of those baristas’ names and lets them know that someone who works at a church cares about them. It happens when Nancy leads her group of women at New Life Circle. It happens when our Outreach Team creates partnerships in our community and serving opportunities at I Love My City. It happens when Doug and Katie lead the elementary schoolers on Easter Sunday. It happens when you invite your neighbor to church—so many of you I could name who have done that, so many of you are sitting here because of that. It happens when you just show up in people’s lives and love them like Jesus loves us. It happens when we let our lives sometimes speak even louder than our words, and we let ourselves be living examples of this light that we carry.

One of my favorite verses in all of Scripture is from the book of Isaiah and quoted in (SLIDE) Matthew 4:16: the people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death light has dawned. I love it, because, look—there is a lot of darkness in our world. It’s so much sometimes. There are so many people who are sitting in it as we speak. And we’re going to get this idea of illustrated in such an intense way tomorrow, because tomorrow, we’re actually going to sit for a few minutes, in TOTAL darkness with the eclipse. And when we reach that moment, when it’s completely dark in the middle of the’s uncomfortable. We don’t want to stay in that darkness for TOO long, we’re not meant to be out of the light for a long time.

And just like the sun is going to peek out from behind the moon, and the light is going to find its way back to us tomorrow afternoon, the light finds its way back to our spiritual lives too. No matter what kind of darkness we encounter, there’s always the possibility of light. There’s always room for each of us to receive and bring that light.