Practices of Fruitful Living: “Risktaking Mission”

These notes are intended for distribution to members and friends of the Kirk of Kildaire Presbyterian Church family. While effort is made to give credit for work done by other, the notes may use material for which appropriate credit is not given. Also, the notes may differ from the actual sermon as it was delivered. Remember, sermons are meant to be preached and are therefore prepared with the emphasis on verbal presentation; the written accounts occasionally stray from proper grammar and punctuation.

John 20:19-23
2 Corinthians 5:16-21

Trayvon Martin and I used to belong to the same youth group in my church. Oh, his name wasn’t Trayvon Martin… in fact we had two “Trayvon Martins” in our youth—their names were Dewey and Daryl.

They lived in an inner city, neighborhood called Brooklyn in Jacksonville just a mile or two from my home church: Riverside. Dewey and Daryl were young African American males… growing up in the racially charged late 60s and early 70s.

Years earlier, Dr. Kissling and the Session decided that the church was called to establish a ministry to that community… ministries were developed to help the poor… I imagine the kind of ministries many of you know about – like Wake Urban Ministries, Dorcas Ministry, the Carying place, WIHN… You know…

But the bold and risky move the Session and staff of Riverside took was to bring the inner city to our very white, upper class, large congregation… and to invite children and youth from the inner city to Vacation Bible School and to youth group.  And risky it was. I’m told that there were members of the church who would not allow their kids to come to youth group or to Vacation Bible school—remember, this is the 60s and 70s!

That could never happen today. Right?!

Over the years, commercial development took over that neighborhood, but even today, one ministry remains: Inner City baseball…– they call it R.B.I—Reviving Baseball to the Inner city… For three weeks every summer church and neighborhood kids gather for a baseball clinic, game, devotion and lunch… to get to know one another…

That was the kind of church I grew up in—with a heart for risk-taking mission.

So you can imagine my surprise when I learned that not every church had such an attitude toward mission. Did you know that there are some churches that focus only on survival? On themselves?  That there are some Christians who grew up thinking that the main reason and the only reason for the church to exist was to survive… or to provide a sanctuary from the world… or simply as a place to help me raise my family? Did you know that? Did you know over the years I’ve had some Christians tell me that they don’t see any reason for the church to be involved in evangelism or reaching out… that we are big enough already? In fact, some actually resist!

It’s true.

I can’t help but think of a church Fred Craddock talked about…

He  was a young preacher out of seminary, he pastored a small church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. At that time, Oak Ridge was rapidly expanding. Lots of people were moving to town to help in the construction work. Many of the newcomers lived in a mobile home park located near the church. The trailer park was packed with newcomers, including a large number of children. Fred saw all those new people and thought his church ought to reach out to them.

So at the next Board meeting Fred recommended a plan to reach out to the newcomers. “Oh, I don’t know” said the chairman of the board. “They might not fit in here very well.” Fred said, “But they live right next to our church. I think we should invite them to worship with us.”

But Fred got resistance to the idea. They finally decided to table the discussion and deal with it at their next business meeting.

At that meeting a member said, “I move that in order to be a member of this church you have to own property in the county.” “I’ll second that motion,” said another man. Fred was mortified and spoke against it. But in the end, the motion passed. As a result, no effort was made to reach out to the newcomers.

Soon thereafter Fred left that church. Twenty years later, Fred and his wife were driving past Oak Ridge on a trip through Tennessee. Since he was single when he served that church, his wife had never seen it. So Fred decided to show it to her.

As they drove to the church, Fred told his wife that painful story about the church refusing to reach out to newcomers. It took a while to find the church. Lots of new roads and homes had been built in the area. But they finally found the spot.

The beautiful white frame church was sitting there as always, but something was different. There was a big parking lot out front full of cars, trucks, motor homes and even motorcycles. As they pulled into the lot they saw a big sign in front of the church. It said, “BBQ: All You Can Eat.” It was a restaurant! Fred and his wife went inside and the place was packed with all kinds of people—white and black and Hispanic. Rich and poor. Southerners and northerners. Fred said to his wife, “It’s a good thing this isn’t a church anymore. If it were, these people would not be allowed in.”

Growing up, I didn’t know there were churches like that or Christians—actual followers of Christ with those attitudes.

But I learned I was wrong.

I’ve heard people use as a reason for not being involved in mission, “God helps those who help themselves.” Someone once asked me for the Bible reference. It’s not there. The Lord never said that.

Let me tell you what the Lord actually said. When he was about to complete his earthly ministry and mission… after his resurrection… he looked at those he had known and trained for three years… and said to them:

“As the Father has sent me, so I send you”… As the Father has sent me, so I send you. The mission of God revealed in Jesus and practiced by Jesus is now given to us.

Or let me put it this way: In Christ, God is inviting you to be a part of his mission team and to join in his mission. God is out trying to redeem and save the world and we are now invited to join God in God’s work…

Now this should not come as news to us… not if we’ve been reading our Bible!

From the very beginning, the Lord has been on a mission- and God has been asking people to join him!

In the beginning… after we ruin what God has given us, God is on a mission to set things right… He calls Abraham not only be blessed… but to be a blessing… later, chooses one family among all the family of nations—Israel—not just to be his special people…to form a club-  but to be a kingdom of priests and a holy people… for the whole earth is mine… God is choosing them to be priests for the world!

God is on a mission to save the world and they are his priests… When they mess that up—turning inward… looking out for number one… They forget who they are and why God chose them.

So God sends prophets to remind them of his mission… to let justice roll down… to care for the poor and the orphan… And when they ignore the Lord… they are sent to what I like to call, “God’s time out…” It lasts a long time!

But God is not done-  (You’d think the Lord might be ready to give up- but he won’t)-  for our God is on a mission to save the world… this time, the Lord makes a personal appearance…

God comes among us in the flesh— in Jesus he makes the mission trip of all mission trips: from heaven to earth… making it clear in Jesus that he has come to bring good news to the poor, sight to the blind, and release to captives… and even reaches out to those ethnically mixed cousins—called Samaritans…

And just in case you have some ambiguity of what God’s mission looks like, he will tell you what it looks like in the sermon on the mount… he will show you in Jesus Christ what it looks like as he heals the sick, forgives sin, frees people from their demons, feeds the hungry… or as Matthew would put it in that great and disturbing parable of the last judgment (how can we forget that we, God’s people are being judged on this)— “When did I see you hungry, naked or in prison…? And Jesus says, when you did it to the least of these my brothers and sisters, you did it to me?”   Any questions?

Anyone have any questions about what God’s mission is about? And yes, it is about personal salvation…  It is about saving people from themselves… their addictions… their loneliness and their sins… yes… It is about helping us enjoy eternal life beginning now… yes… but it is about so much more than that.

So I thank God that I grew up among Christians who taught me there was more to it than that… that God’s mission was far bigger than that…

They taught me that as God sent Christ to a broken and busted world, so Christ is now sending us into a broken and busted world.

Paul said it this way: “We are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us…”

Ambassadors—think about that language. Ambassadors live in another country and represent the one who sent them. They are a part of the mission of the one who sent them… And it is a high honor to be an ambassador. Paul says we are Christ’s ambassadors!

What a high and holy honor to represent Christ in the world… to be the ones God uses to make his appeal… to reach out in a broken and busted world. That’s why we are here! God is making his appeal through us…

That’s what I hear the author saying in the book, Five Practices for Fruitful Congregations said it this way:

“God places  congregations (and Christians)  in a world troubled by many challenges…     As followers of Christ, we cannot live as if these things have nothing to do with us. Christ moves us closer to suffering, not farther away. We cannot walk around obvious suffering, ignoring it and denying it like those preceded the Samaritan down the road to Jericho.

We can’t 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…

Churches (and Christians) that practice Risk-taking Mission and service are dissatisfied and offended (for Christ’s sake!) by the abuse of children, the suffering of innocents, the oppression of the poor, and the recurring cycles of addiction, violence and injustice around them.

They hear in the human need of their neighbors the distinct call of God (to join God in his mission). Against all odds, they figure out a response and offer themselves faithfully and genuinely, even at some cost to themselves. God uses them to transform the world.”

I believe God has called and is calling the members of the Kirk to join God to transform the world through risk taking mission.

In fact, I want to thank you for answering to that call [to be a part of God’s mission]  in so many ways: helping people through their personal crisis, helping homeless families, building a home for a needy family through Habitat, or repair homes with ASP, or mission to the city,  helping the unemployed get back on their feet, offering to pay for rent, medicine and food who come to our church office looking for help, helping women who suffer from domestic violence, tutoring, caring for creation, packing food packets to feed those who are hungry in our world, reaching out to forgotten Mayan villagers who have been largely forgotten by those in power in Guatemala… just to name a few places we have discerned God inviting the Kirk to join in his mission in the world. Thanks to so many of you, the Kirk is involved in risk taking mission and service. Know God is working through you!

I also want you to know that I am grateful to see so many of you personally involved in your work and other volunteer work outside the church… you are also answering God’s call to reach out to those who need God’s help!

Every teacher at the Kirk has a great opportunity to touch lives…everyone in counseling or medical professions are meeting people who are very vulnerable…  we have members involved in helping those with mental and physical disabilities—some of you have cared or are caring for children who are at risk…  I know a couple of you who visit prisons… Many of you work or volunteer in nonprofits that help so many…  That is so important…

I would want you to know that Christ is making his appeal through you… each in different ways—but each one important.

There is a delightful Christian legend that says, God sends each person into the world with a special message to deliver, with a special song to sing for others, with a special act of love to bestow. No one else can bring our message, or sing our song, or offer our message. Only we can. I like that image.

So today, I leave you with a challenge and a charge. I challenge you to think about the message God has given you to share with the world… the song to sing or the special act of love to share…

And I charge you (in a paraphrase of a recent devotional) to…

Go where you are needed.
Go where you will find God-
In the eyes and
In the faces of God’s beloved ones.
That’s where you are being sent.
This is where you will find your work and
Where you will discover the joy of joining Christ in his mission…
Go, for you are an ambassador for Christ… John says, As the Father sent Christ, so
Christ sends you.

Go, and don’t be surprised if you won’t have the time of your life–  being a part of God’s mission team!