Life Is Messy #3
Life IS Risk. Faith IS Risk. Years ago I read a quote or a poem, I’m not sure which by William Arthur Ward which I’ve never forgotten. It is titled “To Risk.”
“To laugh is to risk appearing the fool.
To weep is to risk appearing sentimental.
To reach out for another is to risk involvement.
To expose feelings is to risk exposing our true self.
To place your ideas, your dreams before the crowd is to risk loss.
To love is to risk not being loved in return.
To live is to risk dying.
To hope is to risk despair.
To try at all is to risk failure.
But to risk we must, because the greatest hazard in life is to risk nothing. The man, the woman, who risks nothing does nothing, has nothing, is nothing.
He may avoid suffering and sorrow,
But he cannot learn, feel, change, grow or live.
Chained by his servitude he is a slave who has forfeited all freedom.
Only a person who risks is free.
The pessimist complains about the wind;
The optimist expects it to change;
Every Great Church, every Christian has to step out on faith at some point and be willing to take a Risk for God and for the future of the church. And we do that by asking “What if?” questions. Today as we continue to look at how we as the church, a denomination and individuals respond to the messes of the world, we are going to look at some of those “What ifs?” But especially the question, “What If Church Was a Verb?”
I. A LIVING HOPE:
A. As Disciples of Jesus, we are called to a life that is both radical and revolutionary. It is radical in that we love God with ALL of heart, soul, mind and strength and our neighbor as ourselves. There’s nothing more radical than that, especially if you have cranky, cantankerous or weird neighbors. It’s radical and revolutionary because the world tells us to put ourselves first and to do unto others before they do it unto us. But when we live as Christ called us to live. We become what the Apostle Paul calls a Living Hope. Let’s look at the passage from 1 Peter 1:3-9 (NRSV)
 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,
 and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you,
 who are being protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.
 In this you rejoice, even if now for a little while you have had to suffer various trials,
 so that the genuineness of your faith—being more precious than gold that, though perishable, is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.
 Although you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy,
 for you are receiving the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.
Last week I told you that in 2008 General Conference adopted the Four Areas of Focus. When we are involved in any of these, we are being a Living Hope and giving hope that is living. If you have your card, you’ll remember those Four Focus Areas are:
· Developing principled Christian leaders for the church and the world.
· Creating new places for new people and revitalizing existing congregations.
· Engaging in ministry with the poor in order to eliminate poverty.
· Combating the diseases of poverty by improving health globally.
I also challenged us to be involved in helping a sister church provide the money to drill a well in Yaukani Village, Nigeria. I want to report to you this morning that we have oversubscribed the digging of that well. We needed $1,500, to date we have $1,810. Let me tell you what that means. It means that Light of the World UMC in S. Ft. Worth will be able to use the money they have raised to send the pastor’s wife to midwifery school and train both the pastor and his wife in how to give vaccinations.
Not only that, but with the remainder of the funds we have raised we will be able to supply much needed medical supplies for that village. Medicine plus vaccines. The greatest needs in the village are all health related and begin with the well. I can’t tell you how proud and excited I am about this effort.
Jana and I have talked two or three times this week, we thought a doctor with the Rural Health Program in Africa was returning to Africa and would carry the money for us but since the tragedy in Haiti, his plans have changed, so we will be sending the funds through UMCOR and it will take 2 to 3 months before it gets there. But they will have a well and they will send us pictures. And maybe we can even hear directly from Luka and Pastor through skype one Sunday.
We are being the Church. We are living out the call God has placed on each of us. And that’s what the question, “What If Church Was A Verb?” is all about.
B. Back in November 10 or 12 of us from Glen Rose went to the day long Five Practices Training, we even won a DVD kit for a church wide study of the Five Practices. Bishop Schnase identified five areas or Five Practices and they are:
Radical Hospitality, Passionate Worship. Intentional Faith Development, Risk Taking Mission and Service and Extravagant Generosity. Let’s elaborate or unpack each of those just a bit.
Radical Hospitality: Hospitality is the basic 3000 year old practice of the community of faith. Every guest, every stranger should be welcomed as if they were Jesus Himself. We are called to welcome one another just as Christ has welcomed us into the glory of God. It’s the idea of Entertaining Angels and Jesus saying “Let the children come to me.” And here Radical means Radical, going beyond what is expected and invest as much time on those who not in the congregation as those who are.
Passionate Worship: This is worship which is genuine and desires to connect people to God. Passionate Worship is about everyone, not just the preacher feeling that this is the most important hour of the week where we ask. How did God speak to us today? And where we begin to see the world through God’s eyes and God’s love.
Intentional Faith Development: These are all the ways we learn faith outside of Sunday Morning.
We learn in community because that’s how Jesus taught us and because much of the stuff of faith is not something we can learn by ourselves, but from others who help us practicing the various spiritual disciplines. Intentional means we ask of every group in the church: Are they involved? How are we impacting, how are we touching and changing lives? Are we making a difference?
Risk Taking Mission and Service: This is the Ministries in which we as a congregation reach out whether or not those we minister to will ever darken our door. We do it simply because they are acts of mercy and justice in the name of Christ and Jesus said “do it.” Risk taking are those ministries which take us out of our comfort zone – but into the presence of Christ as he lives through us.
Extravagant Generosity: This is not just giving but it is a lifestyle of living that is countercultural. It’s the notion and practice of “Enough.” Advertising wants us to be discontent. And they’ve done a good job of leading us that way. We are called to learn to rejoice with what I have, not weep over or covet what I don’t have. John Wesley said, “Earn all you can, save all you can and give all you can.”
Briefly, those are his basic points. And all of these have one single purpose, vision and mission: to aid us in making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. Those five practices presuppose the question; “What If Church Was A Verb?”
C. That question actually comes from our own United Methodist Communications commission. In 2009 I was honored to be part of the Conference Leadership Team who was involved in training in Jacksonville, Florida where they introduced this new aspect of our Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors campaign. It was there I was introduced to Bishop Schnase’s book The Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations.
They introduced that question with this video. WATCH.
II. WHAT IF:
A. That Video, my excitement over your generosity and willingness to step out on faith to dig this well, ideas in Bishop Schnase’s book and a number of things all sort of converged at one time and sort of exploded in my spirit. I tell you all of this because I felt this overwhelming call to just cast some ideas and questions to you. Except for the very first one, I have no deep ownership on any of these. But they came bubbling up during my prayer time and sermon prep times as things we needed ask. What I hope is that they will get your juices flowing too and together we can cast the vision God would have us follow as we seek to be disciples who make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.
B. What if the phrase “We believe in – making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.” Becomes not just a belief statement but our mission, our vision and our purpose as a both a church and as individuals?
What would that look like? How do we begin that process of becoming disciples? How do we become deeply committed Christians who a seeking to grow in every aspect of our walk with Christ? How would that impact our Sunday School classes? How would that impact our small groups, our fellowship, how United Methodist Women, Men and Youth? How would it impact how we run the Thrift Store and Food Bank? How would if impact our children’s ministry and our Mission involvement?
What If becoming a better Disciple through the works of our hands became the means of making Disciples?
What if we took a worship service to the Expo Center every Sunday morning that there was an event? Nothing huge, nothing elaborate. A couple of guitars and a few singers, someone to read Scripture, offer a mediation and them offer up a simple time of prayer with and for the families and individuals there? What if we offered the Sacrament every time we went?
What if we dream big about the little church in Yaukani Village. What if we drill a 2nd or even a 3rd well? Yaukani Village is the central village in a small cluster of villages. I guess you could think of it as the county seat town. What if we made sure all of those villages had water?
What if we dreamed bigger? What if we dreamed a church building into existence? A church building that would also be used as a school, a community center and a clinic so there would be both education and health care? What if the Bishop of Nigeria caught that vision with us? About 10 years ago Bishop Ntambo Nkulu challenged churches to build churches in the Congo. Do you know what the cost of the supplies to build a church, a parsonage, a fish pond, buy garden tools, a bicycle and Bibles was? $2,100.
Is that how we ReThink Church? Is that how we full our mission to make disciples? Is that how we live out our faith? What if?
What if we reached out to some of the smaller churches around us in our district and said we want to partner with you in whatever way we can. What if we made sure the youth were involved in a youth group or the church had a VBS? Even if it meant us taking Vacation Bible School on the Road. Or what if they were responsible for starting a new United Methodist ethnic congregation in our area or even in our own church? What if?
What if we learned a lesson from another denomination and took the Music Director’s position and combined it with Christian Education so that we had a full time staff person whose job it was to develop ministries for both our children and the children of the community who don’t go to church anywhere? What If that person developed an after school program that was not only fun but also helped those marginal children through tutoring and the development of interpersonal skills? What If?
What If we began a meal ministry once or twice a month to feed anyone who needed a meal? I’m not talking about a sack lunch or a soup kitchen, I’m talking about a nice sit down meal where our guests would have a choice of entrees. Where they would be seated at tables like they were in a fine restaurant and served by us? What if we brought dignity and respect back to charity? What if we made it personal by getting to know their names? What if we didn’t care whether they could afford it or not or whether we thought they were taking advantage of us or not? What if we simply decided to feed whoever was hungry like Jesus did the day He fed the 5,000 with a few loaves and fishes? What If?
What If we started a Respite Care Ministry for families who have children and relatives with special needs? What if we offered one Saturday a month where they knew their family members would be well respected, loved, and taken care of for a few hours while they went on a date or out to a movie or went home a took a nap? What if?
What If this year at Christmas we focused more on Christ than on what we give each other? What if as a congregation we decided to give away ALL of our Christmas Eve offering as a birthday gift to the Christ Child rather than using it for budget or apportionments? How many people could we touch? How many lives could we change? How much difference could we make? How many people would start the journey to Discipleship because we honored Jesus in that way? What If?
What if we loaded up the grills and held a big barbeque in another part of town and invited everyone around to come join us for hamburgers, hotdogs, watermelon and the works with no strings attached. We just want to get to know them and care for them and help them get to know us. What if?
What If we raised enough money so that whoever answered the call to ministry from our congregation wouldn’t have to worry about tuition and expenses through college and seminary? What if we began investing in the youth who have the potential for ministry now? What if?
What If church was a Verb? What if church was all about what we did the other six days of the week? What if Sunday really was a day of rest where we celebrated and reflected on what we did the other six days.
The Apostle John writes in Revelation 21:1-6 (NRSV)
 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.
 And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.
 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them;
 he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.”
 And the one who was seated on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.”
 Then he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give water as a gift from the spring of the water of life.
What if we too saw not so much a new heaven and a new earth but a new way of thinking about Church. What If Church Became A Verb as we became Disciples? What if we had just the right amount of faith to help us take the risk? What would the ministry of this Church look like? What If?
This is the Word of the Lord for this day.