Reveal Sermon 1
January 7, 2018
So, Robyn and I went car shopping this week. Which was just a miserable thing to do. For me, buying a car ranks right up there with getting a crown on my back molar. Or, say, coming down with yellow fever. It’s not something you willingly choose to do if there is ANYTHING, anything at all that you could do instead. But my truck is getting up there in miles. It’s on the cusp of costing us some real money for repairs. So, we took it in to be assessed. When we did, the salesman asked how much gas we had in the tank! Evidently, we are at the stage when a full tank of gas significantly raises the value of our trade in.
So, we are in the market. And it’s a challenge. For one, I am not a good negotiator. I’m too impatient. I get too invested. Too afraid of losing what I decide to buy. Robyn could be negotiating for weeks and get up and walk away from table in the blink of an eye. Me, I have to sit in the car lest I give away our third child to get what I want. For another, Robyn and I have very different opinions about what car we should be buying. For example, I was thinking about something like this (soup’ d up Camaro pic). I can TOTALLY see myself behind the wheel in that. Robyn had something like this in mind (bicycle pic). I compromised, I am secure in my manhood, I can take one for the team, and was willing to settle for this (Suburban pic). Robyn’s counter offer was this (tiny car pic). We have totally different ideas about the kind of car we need. And it has led to some animated discussions in our family.
Where am I going with this? Well, starting with a common goal matters. Starting with a common goal matters when purchasing a car. And starting with a common goal matters when it’s true when you’re being a church. In fact, I would argue that most of the conflict that occurs in the church comes from different opinions about what and how the church should be. And by far, most of the hurt feelings and brokenness that I encounter when it comes to church occurs from unmet expectations. AND SO, for the next six weeks, we are going to talk about our new vision. As I mentioned this past fall, we are moving into a new era of our church’s history. We have spent the last decade ON THE MOVE TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE! That vision served us well. It led us to dig wells in Costa Rica and work with orphans in Naivasha, Kenya. It has prompted us to feed the hungry in Orlando and repair homes in Georgia. But as always, life has changed. And the time has continued on and it is time for a new era and a new vision. As Jesus said, you don’t put new wine into old wine skins. Or they will burst.
So, take your Bible and turn with me to the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 28. We will start reading in verse 16. That’s a change from the scripture reference in your bulletin. As I got into the preparation this week I felt I needed to back up a step and start with our church’s mission BEFORE I got into the church’s vision. By mission, I mean the reason our church exists – our purpose, our reason for being. And by vision, I mean the picture of who we are going to become as we live out that mission. As I understand it, our vision is the future form of our mission. Or to put it another way, our mission the “why” of our church’s vision before we get to the “how”. With that in mind, lets read Matthew 28:16-20.
Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely, I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
So, three things from our passage this morning. And the first is that, as disciples, we are to make disciples.
Jesus is clear. The disciples are to make disciples. It’s the very last thing he tells his disciples to do before leaving earth. Consequently, our purpose as a church is to make disciples. The reason FUMCWP exists is to make disciples. Any vision we have as a church is to be grounded in making disciples.
I’ve been a part of a church all my life. I’ve been on a church staff for 31 years. And I’ve led churches as a pastor for 26 of them. I’ve been in a church or two. I have been in churches who felt their purpose was to hold a really good fish fry. And I have been a part of churches who felt they existed to raise money through selling their gently used possessions. I’ve worshiped at churches who believed their main calling was to provide worship services for their members. And I have participated in churches who think the reason they exist is to provide a place for the community to meet.
But if I understand the Scripture correctly, these things, no matter how fine they are, are not the mission of the church. They might be a part of accomplishing the mission. But they are not the mission. Our purpose here as a church to make disciples. Not to make converts to our religion. And not to make supporters of the cause. Not even to make Christians. We exist as a church to make disciples.
So, what is a disciple? Simply put, a disciple is a learner. The word means student. Disciples are lifelong learners. In particular, a disciple is a scholar in what God says and what God does. “Then said Jesus to those Jews who believed Him, If you continue in My word, you are My disciples indeed (John 8:31).”
When I think of being a disciple, the image that speaks to me is one that comes from an ancient Jewish blessing which says in part, “May you be covered in the dust of your rabbi.” The idea is that a rabbi’s disciples—those who took on his teachings about scripture—were to follow so closely behind him when they walked, that they would become caked in the dust he kicked up with his feet on the road (https://thejesusquestion.org/2015/10/08/get-dusty/). In other words, a disciple is one who is so intent on learning and so committed on incorporating the instructions of their teacher that they disregard their comfort and their reputation and even their own agenda.
I ask you this morning, how closely are you following your rabbi? Are you intentionally growing as a disciple? Are you learning more and more of what God is doing and what God is saying? Are you coming to obey all that Jesus has taught?
Second, this will disrupt us. That’s because making disciples requires us to GO! Specifically, it involves going and hanging out with folks who are not disciples. It’s literally going to where others spend their lives and hang out with them and be present with them! This is what Jesus did. And the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. (John 1:14).” Or as the Message translation puts it – The Word became flesh and took up residence in our neighborhood. Jesus was constantly doing this. Jesus went to where the people were. He hung out with sinners and tax collectors. He ate in their homes. Visited them at their place of work. He intentionally went to them.
Unfortunately, churches fall into the habit of waiting for people to come to us. We have this wonderful building. It’s located in a prime spot in a beautiful city. Visitors show up as guests on our doorstep every Sunday without any effort on our part. It’s tempting to take that for granted. It’s tempting sometimes to wait for people to come to us. To adapt to our worship practices, to invest the time they need to learn how to be one of us.
But Jesus doesn’t tell us to wait. He tells us to GO! To go to those among us – to Jerusalem! But also to those around us and to those who are not like us – to Judea and Samaria. We are even to go to the ends of the earth – to those who we do not know but are still responsible for. In other words, we are to GO locally and internationally! We are not absolved from going half way around the world to Kenya because there are needs here in Orlando. Conversely, we are not excused from making disciples in Orlando just because we are doing great mission work in Kenya. We are to GO to Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth.
We are to GO in the belief that God is at work in our lives. As Methodists, we believe that from the moment we are born God is constantly calling to us, wooing us, drawing us ever closer to Him. First, helping us recognize that God exists. And then to admit that we need God and that we cannot be without God. In 12 step language – to confess that our lives have become unmanageable and that God can restore us to sanity. God is calling us, and not just us! But every single person that we meet. In 1 Peter 3:9 it says that God is not slow as some think but is patient not wanting anyone to perish.
And we are to GO with the intention of becoming a source of God’s grace to those in need. I recently read a story about St Francis. He tells a story about one day he decided to go on a preaching mission to a nearby village. And to take a young novice along with him. On their way, they passed an injured man. Francis promptly stopped, saw to the poor fellow’s needs and arranged medical care for him. Continuing on, they soon passed a homeless man who had not eaten for days. Again, Francis interrupted his journey and provided help. And so it went throughout the day: they would come across people in need, and Francis would minister to their needs as best he could. Finally, darkness was about to set in and not a single word had been preached. Francis told his novice that it was time for them to return to the monastery for evening prayers. The young man was disturbed and said, “But, Father, you said we were coming to town to preach to the people.” Francis smiled and said, “My friend, that’s what we’ve been doing all day.”
We are to make disciples. We will have to interrupt our life to do it. Finally, it’s not a suggestion. And it’s not a request. It’s a command. Our Lord, our savior, the One we have committed our lives to following has commanded us to do so. Verse 18 – then Jesus said – “all authority in earth and heaven has been given me – THEREFORE – go and make disciples…” The “therefore” links the authority of Christ with his imperative. As one commentator I read wrote, the image is that of an officer reminding a private of his or her rank before giving the order. Our Lord can send whomever He wills to do whatever He pleases. And he has sent us to make disciples.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a Lutheran Pastor in Nazi Germany who was arrested and eventually martyred because of his work against the Nazi regime. Before his death, he wrote a number of books, including The Cost of Discipleship in which he focuses on Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. And in particular what it says about the cost of discipleship. He devotes more than a few pages to Matthew 5:13 in which Jesus says to his disciples – “you are the salt of the earth. But if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled underfoot.”
The key word for Bonhoeffer is ARE. As in, you ARE the salt of the earth. He points out that Jesus does not say – you ought to be the salt of the earth. Or you can be the salt of the earth. Or you will be the salt of the earth. He says – you ARE the salt of the earth. In other words, it’s part of your nature. It’s not something you ask to do or decide to do. You simply ARE the salt of the earth. You are the ones who preserves and seasons on earth.
In fact, according to Jesus, if the disciples stop doing that or stop preserving and seasoning life, if they stop being salt, they lose their very identity and nature. Jesus says if the salt loses its taste how will its saltiness be restored? It is really no longer good for anything. And it is thrown out and trampled underfoot. Being a disciple is either or. It’s not possible to be a disciple and not make disciples. It’s part of our nature.
So, my challenge this week is to do a little assessment. Spend a few minutes assessing your saltiness. Are you a source of grace to those who live around you? Are you intentionally spending time with those who aren’t disciples? Are you purposely going to their world just to be present with them, so you can invest in them? If not, who has God positioned in your life for you to invest time in so you can make disciples? Seminary professor and author Dr. Howard Hendricks argued that every disciple should have three distinct relationships in their life. An older wiser disciple from who you can learn. A friend who encourages you and holds you accountable. And a younger non-believer or new believer in whom you can mentor. I ask you – who is teaching you to be a disciple? Who is holding you accountable to walking in the ways of Christ? And who are you mentoring? Who are you investing yourself in or to make disciples. It will disrupt us. It’s not a suggestion.
This week as I was preparing I came across the story of a women named Yasuko Namba. An employee of Fed-Ex with a passion for climbing, Yasuko was the second Japanese climber in history to ascend all 7 of the largest mountains on the planet (pic #5). At 47 years old, she was the oldest woman to reach the summit of Mt. Everest. But her accomplishment was short lived. Tragically she died hours later when her climbing expedition was caught in a blizzard and she succumbed to exhaustion and froze to death.
Jon Krakauer wrote about it in his book, Into Thin Air. He says that Namba desperately wanted to get to the top of Everest. That she was totally focused on it. She even jostled her way past everyone to the front of the line. And she made it. She accomplished her goal. She stood at the top of the world, and was cheered on by millions back home as she did. But according to Krakauer it was the wrong goal. Yasuko made a mistake that is frequently made by climbers. Her goal should never have been to get to the top of the summit. But to make it safely down. And it cost her everything (www.preachingtoday.com/illustrations/2016/july/7072516.html).
It’s a tragic story. One I don’t share lightly. But I believe it contains some wisdom that we would do well to heed as a church. Having the wrong goal can be tragic. There can be tragic results when we lose sight of what ultimately matters. Especially when it comes to being the body of Christ. As the living hands and feet of Christ in this world.
Next week I will begin to unpack the vision. The “how” of our mission. The way we will strive to make disciples. For now, I invite you to ponder. What is the mission here at FUMCWP? Is it making disciples? What do our programs and bulletins and worship services and our communication and staffing say about the mission of our church? In terms of how we spend our time together and the way we allocate our resources – what is the mission of our church? Are we making disciples? Are we being faithful to Christ’s command?
The truth is I AM grateful to be a part of this family. God has blessed us. And disciples are being made here. And that is crucial. Because you and I, we are not just buying a car. We are the living body of Christ in this world. We are the salt of the earth. So, I am going to follow more closely to my Rabbi. I am going to allow myself to be covered in the dust of my rabbi. How about you? How about you?