U 2 Can Make a Difference (New Year's Eve)

[audio http://www.opcbrookhaven.org/worship/audio/sermons/12-31-09.MP3] This reflection is from OPC's U2Charist service. There is more, including some of the live recordings, at the church website.

Ephesians 4:25-29

One of the things that the band U2 has said is that this is OK to do their songs in a worship service royalty-free if you take up a collection for which none of the money goes to the local organization (in this case OPC) but instead go toward an organization that supports Millennium Development Goals. If you’re not familiar with these goals, They were adopted by 192 countries at the U.N. in 2001 as things to strive for by 2015:

  • Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger
  • Achieve universal primary education
  • Promote gender equality and empower women
  • Reduce child mortality
  • Improve maternal health
  • Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria, and other diseases
  • Ensure environmental sustainability
  • Develop a global partnership for development

Whatever you might think about the U.N., I’m sure that the meeting in Copenhagen has left you wondering if there is anything that the U.N. can accomplish when 192 nations are trying to work together. But when I look at these development goals, the thing that strikes me is, “Aren’t these things we should be doing anyway?” Whether or not the U.N. says so, aren’t these the things that we should be aiming for anyway? To make life better for children, to strive for equality for all, especially women, to feed as many people as possible, to take better care of our planet, these are all things that we should be doing anyway. What the U.N. says isn't nearly as important as what the gospel calls us to do.

There are two phrases from tonight’s passage that I want to highlight. First: “we are all members of one another.” We’re all connected to each other. You’re here tonight for one reason or another. Was it because you like the music of U2? Is it because you're a fan of the U.N.? Or the Millennium Development Goals? Is it because you wanted to be together with a group of people? Were you looking for community on New Year's Eve? There is something, call it God, or community, or the Holy Spirit, that brought you here tonight, because we are members one of another. We know that we're all connected.

The second phrase is this: “Our words give grace.” We are the instruments of God's grace. We are vessels of God's mercy. We're the hands and feet of Christ. We are the ones who do God's work in the world; not just for each other, but to the ends of the earth. And in doing so, we need to remember: we can't be vessels of God's grace, pouring it out, if we’re not taking time to fill ourselves up. And that is, in part, what we do here tonight. We fill ourselves up quite literally at the table, and in the Spirit as we gather for worship and as we sing the songs and as we celebrate and as we welcome the new year in together. And, of course, it is not only important to speak of our words bringing grace but that our actions ought to be grace.

One challenge I want to make to you, as we all make our New Year’s Resolutions: What’s the one thing I can do to help achieve the Millennium Development Goals, to end poverty, to raise the standard of living for children, to bring about equality, to care for the planet, to treat treatable diseases? What's the one thing I can do? Here in our backyard, right here in Atlanta, there are numerous ministries that are doing these things, and we can pick one to get engaged with.

But the moment that gets overwhelming is to recognize this is not only a local issue but a global one. What can I possibly do to combat malaria in western Africa? Tonight, we’ll take up a collection for one organization that, I think, gives some possibility for engagement from here: the Presbyterian Hunger Program. It’s a program of our own denomination, the PC(USA), and by virtue of being part of a national body can have an impact far around the world. In addition, though, they also have very concrete suggestions and resources for how what we can make simple choices about what we do here that can make a difference around the world. Two quick examples:

  • Fair Trade Coffee. This is coffee which is grown intentionally with an eye toward minimizing environmental impact and maximizing profits for the growers who typically remain in a struggle with poverty otherwise. Can your church, or your office, or even your own kitchen afford a few bucks extra to make a difference?
  • Just Eating. This is a study guide from the denomination that takes a look at how it is that what we eat affects others. The choices we make of what we buy, where we buy, how we cook, all of those kinds of questions end up offering the simplest way for us to make that impact in that other part of the world where we feel like we could never reach.

We don't have to wait for the U.N. We are the instruments of God's grace. We are the vessels of God's mercy. We, together, are the body of Christ. We are Christ’s hands and feet, here, in this world, incarnating and living out God's love. We can make a difference. We can change the world.