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
- 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?