This message was shared at Centerville UMC in Centerville, IN on Sunday, September 27, 2015. Matthew 9:35-38 was the Scripture. 

We are wrapping up a series on our mission and vision. At Centerville UMC, we exist to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world as we grow, give, and go together. We grow through passionate worship and intentional faith development. We give through radical hospitality and extravagant generosity. We go through risk-taking mission and service.

Bishop Robert Schnase writes, Risk-taking pushes us out of our comfort zone, stretching us beyond service to people we already know, exposing us to people, situations, and needs that we would never ordinarily encounter apart from our deliberate intention to serve Christ. Putting the phrases together, Risk-Taking Mission and Service involves the efforts to alleviate suffering and injustice to improve the conditions of others in the name of Christ. As followers of Christ, we cannot live as if suffering has nothing to do with us. We cannot walk around obvious suffering, ignoring it like those who preceded the Samaritan down the road to Jericho. We cannot moan about how somebody ought to do something. We cannot merely lift those who suffer in prayer, asking God to do for us what God created us to do for God! We hear in the human need of our neighbors the distinct call of God. The personal practice of Risk-Taking Mission and Service involves offering ourselves in purposeful service to others in need, making a positive difference even at significant personal cost and inconvenience to our own lives. We offer ourselves, our gifts and abilities and passions, to God so God can use us to transform the world by relieving suffering.

What does it mean for you and me and this church to take a risk? Maybe a risk-taking mission would be to:

  • start a free monthly community meal
  • knock people’s socks off with the best Trunk or Treat they’ve ever seen
  • establishing a routine where we are “regulars” somewhere that non-church folk frequent and we can build relationships/friendships
  • mowing our neighbor’s yard/raking their leaves
  • making dinner for our neighbor
  • add a zero to our tithe/offering/mission contribution
  • paying for someone’s groceries, gas, McDonald’s, coffee, dinner
  • being a bulldog buddy (One of my buddies; 1st grade- 3 siblings, all have different mothers; his dad is in jail; lives with his mom, her boyfriend, her boyfriend’s parents, and 3 dogs – we have students in our community, in our schools who desperately need some positive interaction with caring adults)
  • cleaning up the park or the school grounds
  • Opening doors
  • Smiling
  • Invite someone over for dinner
  • Give someone your spot- let someone with a cart full of groceries go before you in line at the store- give up your seat
  • Give compliments- when you are tempted to complain, find something nice to say
  • Give your waiter/waitress an extravagantly generous tip (regardless of the quality of service)
  • Random acts of kindness- no strings attached- simply being salt and light (Matthew 5:13-16)
  • Risk-taking mission and service doesn’t have to be expensive, it doesn’t have to be going to Guatemala, it can be simple things done for others with God’s love as our motivation.
  • Small acts have the potential to transform the world. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said that “everybody can be great because everybody can serve.” Whether you’re in the ghetto, the classroom, the office, the nursing home or the middle of Guatemala- we all have opportunities to serve!

Yet, too often, we can fall into the trap of being busy doing “church things” and “good things”. But, we have to ask ourselves, “are we doing the right things?” Are we caring for those around us or are we just taking care of ourselves?

When we look out into our community, are we filled with a sense of compassion, like Jesus in Matthew 9 when he gazed upon the crowds? Do our hearts break because our neighbors are troubled and helpless? I’m fully convinced that if all of our friends are Christians, we’re doing something wrong.We have to be willing to get out of our comfort zones in order to meet new people.

In John 17, as Jesus prays for his followers, he says that he has sent us into the world, but prays that we would be protected from it. How are we going to share the Good News if we are not out in the world? If all of our friends are Christians, how are we going to go and make disciples?

I’ve shared this information before, but I believe it’s vitally important that we keep it in front of us. The MissionInsite database (which combines data gathered from several sources) reports that 80% of folks within 5 miles of this church don’t go to church anywhere. The words of Matthew 9:37 ring loud and true, “The harvest is plentiful, the workers are few.”

80%- that number should break our hearts. That alone should fill us with an unquenchable desire to let our lights shine into the darkest corners of our community.

We should not be content or satisfied to sit back and do nothing! We should not be content to only come to worship or Sunday school or Bible study (all good things, all beneficial things, all important things, all essential things, but not the only things). We should be filled with a passion to love, to serve, to pray for, to reach out to and invite others to join us on the journey.

Sometimes, we miss the point. It’s like the old story told by pastor, author, and professor Tony Campolo. He tells a story about people getting upset about the wrong things. He shared in a sermon the following, “I have three things I’d like to say today. First, while you were sleeping last night, 30,000 kids died of starvation or diseases related to malnutrition. Second, most of you don’t give a shit. What’s worse is that you’re more upset with the fact that I said shit than the fact that 30,000 kids died last night.” (note: I did not say “shit” in the sermon, so stop worrying mom!)

Campolo says that every time he tells the story he gets phone calls, emails, and letters letting him know how inappropriate his language was. Now, I get it. He probably should find a better way to make his point. Yet, it makes a very strong, very clear point.

Too often, we get upset about the wrong things. We get more upset by words, clothes, and other non-essentials than the fact that there are hungry children in our community, that families are struggling to put food on the table, that addiction is claiming more victims everyday, that 80% of our neighbors aren’t experiencing the joy found in Christian community, that people are perishing without knowing Jesus Christ as Lord.

Let’s remember, Jesus didn’t say that those who don’t drink, don’t smoke, don’t chew and don’t go with girls who do will inherit the kingdom. Jesus didn’t say that those who don’t swear and don’t have tattoos and don’t have piercing and share our political and moral convictions will inherit the kingdom.

In Matthew 25:31-46, Jesus spells out what risk-taking mission and service looks like.

Too often, we convince ourselves that our salvation rests upon our Christian morals and values or on believing in our hearts and confessing with our mouths Christ is Lord. Yes, Paul wrote that. Yes, I believe this to be an essential component of our faith. But, what did Jesus say? Those who inherit the Kingdom will be those who feed the hungry, clothe the naked, shelter the homeless, care for the least and the last among us. In other words, our actions are closely associated with our salvation. We can believe all the right things, but if it doesn’t produce fruit maybe our words are empty?

The reality is that risk-taking mission and service is all about love…love for God, love our one another, love for even our enemies.

This week, I was reminded of yet another of Tony Campolo’s stories. One day he was on his way to work, walking down the sidewalk in winter, dressed in his suit and overcoat, when he was approached by a filthy bum. The guy was covered in soot from head to toe, and he had a huge beard. In the beard were remnants of his last several meals. The bum was holding a cup of McDonald’s coffee and mumbling to himself. He spotted Dr. Campolo and said, “Hey, Mister. You want some of my coffee?” Campolo took the cup and drank a bit, just to be nice. He handed the cup back and said, “You’re being pretty generous giving away your coffee this morning. What’s gotten into you that you’re giving away your coffee all of a sudden?” The bum said, “”Well, the coffee was especially delicious this morning, and I figured if God gives you something good you ought to share it with people.” Tony could feel the set-up coming, but he walked right into it. He asked, “Is there anything I can give you in return?” He was expecting to be hit up for money. Unfortunately the bum said, “Yeah, you can give me a hug.” Five bucks would have been better. But there on the Philadelphia sidewalk, Tony Campolo put his arms around this filthy man, trying to avoid the pieces of rotted food in his beard, and the man hugged him. And kept hugging him. He would not let go. People were staring at the professional in the overcoat and the homeless bum embracing on the street. Tony was embarrassed, until suddenly his embarrassment turned to awe. He said, “I heard a voice echoing down the corridors of time saying, I was hungry. Did you feed me? I was naked. Did you clothe me? I was sick. Did you care for me? I was the bum you met on Chestnut Street. Did you hug me? For if you did it unto the least of these, my brothers and sisters, you did it to me. And if you failed to do it unto the least of these, my brothers and sisters, you failed to do it unto me.” I guess the question is, which group do you want to be in, the sheep or the goats? What kind of Christian do you want to be?

To me, this question is what risk-taking mission and service is all about…what kind of Christians do we want to be?

Will we get out of our comfort zones and take risks in order to share the love of Jesus Christ with the world around us?

Will we give a glass of water to the thirsty?

Will we give a coat to the child without one?

Will we feed the family going hungry?

Will we provide shelter for the homeless?

Will we accept the radical hospitality of a cup of coffee?

Will we give the homeless man a hug?

Will we do it, knowing that when we do it for one of the least of these, we are doing it for Jesus?

What kind of Christians do we want to be?

Working for “The Man”

Throughout the week, as I was working on this morning’s message, I simply couldn’t get the Rush song “Working Man” out of my head.  Rush is a progressive rock band from Canada. Their drummer, Neil Peart, is considered one of the greatest rock drummers of all-time. Their bassist and vocalist, Geddy Lee, is considered to be one of the greatest rock bassists of all-time. Their guitarist, Alex Lifeson, is considered to be an above-average guitarist. Rush was the first real concert I attended. I was in 6th grade and my dad took me to see them at Market Square Arena. It was life-changing. Anyway, back to their song “Working Man” that I couldn’t get out of my head this week. (Yes, I’m aware that “Working Man” was recorded with original drummer John Rutsey)

In a way, we’re all “working” men and women. And, we’re all working for “the man”

As we are growing up, we are “working for the man” in that we are called to obey and honor our parents. Paul reminds us in Ephesians 6 that this is “the first commandment with a promise: so that it may be well with you and you may live long on the earth.” It’s not just about honoring and obeying our parents…it’s also about honoring and obeying God.

Now, many parents hear this teaching and want to say, “Amen! Hallelujah! Praise the Lord!”. We hear these verses and we begin nudging our children saying, “Did you hear that? Did you hear that? You better listen to the pastor!”

However, parents, we need to take a step back and consider Ephesians 6:4. Paul is addressing fathers because in the 1st Century culture, fathers were mainly responsible for discipline. Fathers were considered to have absolute power over their families. Remember what that verse says? “Fathers, don’t exasperate your children by coming down hard on them. Take them by the hand and lead them in the way of the Master.”

So, this verse implies that parents should set an example for their children. We should take on the characteristics of Jesus and bring them along in the ways of Jesus. Parents should embody the fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23). We should be loving, joyful, peaceful, patient, kind, generous, faithful, gentle, and self-controlled. Do we embody the fruits of the spirit in our interactions with our children? In other words, we should be parents who are worthy of honor, respect, and obedience.

Author and radio show host Garrison Keillor has said, “Nothing you do for children is ever wasted. They seem not to notice us, hovering, averting our eyes, and they seldom offer thanks, but what we do for them is never wasted.” Again, parents need to be parents who are worthy of honor and respect. We need to parent in ways that honor God!

At this point, some of the children are nudging their parents and saying “Did you hear that? Did you hear that? You better listen to the pastor.”

Ephesians 6 continues and begins to talk about our work in verse 5. “Servants, respectfully obey your earthly masters.” How many of us can say we have always been respectful and obedient in the workplace?

We have to consider how the way we work impacts our Christian witness. Some are tempted to compartmentalize their life of faith, their life of work, and their life of play. Yet, as Christians, we simply can’t separate out our lives. The way we worship, the way we work, the way we play, the way we interact with our families, friends, and others in our community and world is all part of our faith journey and Christian witness.

If we gossip, complain, have a negative attitude, and argue in the workplace or in our social circles, how does that impact our Christian witness? If we are with a circle of friends and we gossip, complain, and have a negative attitude, we shouldn’t be surprised when they don’t accept our invitation to church. If going to church produces complaining, negative, argumentative, gossips, why would someone want to be part of that? If we are not fun to be around at work, at home, in our social circle, people will make the assumption that we won’t be fun to be around at church either. If we don’t give our best effort at work, we shouldn’t be surprised if others in the workplace don’t respect us. The way we work and the way we treat others is a vitally important component of our Christian witness. If we are Christians on Sunday morning, we should be Christians every other day of the week too. There’s no such thing as a part-time Christian.

One of the gauges we can use to consider when it’s time to move on from a current job is this: Am I able to be respectful and obedient in the workplace? If not, it might be time to find a new occupation or do the hard work of adjusting one’s attitude. If we cannot maintain a Christian witness and carry out the tasks, duties, and responsibilities of our work, we probably need to find a new line of work.

At the end of “A Prairie Home Companion”, Garrison Keillor gives a benediction of sorts and says, “Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.” In some way, this is part of what it means to be a good worker. If we are doing our best to stay healthy (mentally, physically, spiritually), to do our best in our work, and keeping the lines of communication open, we just might find ourselves setting a great example as good, respectful, and obedient workers.

Paul encourages the Ephesians in their work. “Don’t just do what you have to do to get by, but work heartily, as Christ’s servants doing what God wants you to do” (Eph. 6:5). Our work can be an act of worship. If we are working in a way that will bring God glory and honor, it is worship! If we are just doing the bare minimum, what kind of Christian witness are we setting for those around us? If we are doing just enough to get by, how is that passionate and pleasing worship? But, if we work hard and continually do our best in respectful and obedient ways, God gets the glory!

Paul continues, “And work with a smile on your face, always keeping in mind that no matter who happens to be giving the orders, you’re really serving God!” When we’re in our workplaces are we smiling? I remember when McDonald’s put the “smiles are free” on their menus. Whenever I happened to be at McDonald’s, when placing my order, I’d ask for a smile! So, do we work with a smile on our faces? Judging from some of the looks I get on Sunday mornings, I know smiling is hard work for some of us!

Now, for those of you who are retired, can you apply these things to the home? Can you apply these things to your hobbies? Absolutely!

Now, some of us happen to be in leadership positions in our workplaces (and in the church or other organizations). Paul addresses those in leadership positions and says, “Hey, you’re not off the hook! No abuse and no threats!” In other words, be a leader who is worthy of respect. Be the kind of leader who is presented with a “World’s Best Boss” mug…not like Michael Scott of “The Office” who bought his own. Are we abusive or threatening with our words or actions? Are we demeaning and belittling? Are we kind, patient, encouraging, and focused on helping others to do their best? How does the way we lead impact our Christian witness?

If we  work and lead in ways where we are working, not just to get by, but as Christ’s servants…if we are leading in a way that there is a smile on our face…those around us just might want to treat us with respect, follow our lead, and work hard!

The way we work, the way we pursue our hobbies, the way we serve in the church and community, the way we interact with our families and friends all have the potential to be acts of worship where God is glorified. The words of Colossians 3:17 reminds us that everything we say, think or do has the potential to be an offering of worship, thanks, and praise to God. “Whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”

If you dig ditches, dig ditches in the name of the Lord.

If you sew, sew in the name of the Lord.

If you farm, farm in the name of the Lord.

If you teach, teach in the name of the Lord.

If you are a techie, be a techie in the name of the Lord.

If you work the line, work the line in the name of the Lord.

If you fish, fish in the name of the Lord.

Whatever we do, do it in the name of the Lord. If we can’t do it in the name of the Lord, we probably shouldn’t be doing.

Maybe it comes back to “Working Man” by Rush. We can live our lives “a lot better than I think I am”, by choosing to work, play, and serve as if we are doing it for the Lord.

Will you lead and work in ways that bring God glory, honor and praise?

“Put in the Second Team”

It’s a holiday weekend! Churches across these great United States of America will be giving the 2nd and 3rd string a shot at making the roster while the 1st string takes a much needed and well deserved break.

Why? Well, it’s a holiday weekend. It will probably be a “low” Sunday (in attendance, maybe in spirit too, who knows?). We wouldn’t want the starters to waste their time and energy on a Sunday when we just don’t expect many people. We want to get more bang for the buck. Let’s rest the 1st string this weekend while folks are at the lake, camping, taking a short vacation to Beaver Dam, IN or just using the opportunity to catch up on house work/yard work/rest/whatever.

Of course, the 2nd and 3rd string folks have been anxiously awaiting their opportunity to step on the field. They have been sitting in the sanctuary, week after week, thinking to themselves, “I could preach circles around this dude/dudette.” And, following the service, those with a bone to pick with the starter will pull the 2nd/3rd stringer aside and say, “Wow! That was great! Much better than the regular. We need to find ways to get you out on the playing field more often.”

In some ways, we all understand the logic. We’ve all been there on those Sunday’s where half the congregation is somewhere else. We’ve experienced the disappointment of preparing what we believe to be an excellent service of worship and trying our hardest to create a sense of energy/hope/joy in a mostly empty space. So, we join in on the practice of using a holiday weekend as an opportunity to take a break. Or if we do plan worship, write a sermon, whatever…we might not give it 100%.

However, shouldn’t we consistently put out best foot forward?

Maybe we should look at holiday weekends as an opportunity to reach out to folks who normally are not able to attend our weekend services? On a holiday weekend, there is a unique opportunity to intentionally reach out to those who, on a normal weekend would be working. Maybe the factory, office, store, restaurant, warehouse, whatever will be closed and for the first time in 3 months a person has a Sunday morning “free”.

Maybe we should try harder to create a contagious desire to attend our weekend services before heading out to the beach, the holiday sale, or the thriving metropolis of Claypool, IN? What if we created something so amazing for the holiday weekend that people would desire to adjust their weekend plans in order to not miss out?

So, to all you first stringers still leading in worship this Sunday, give your best effort!

To all you second and third stringers leading in worship this Sunday, knock their socks off!

Then, after worship, let’s make plans to meet at The Bee Hive Restaurant, grab a quick bite to eat and some bait (try not to confuse the two) before spending the rest of the day fishing!