Sunday, May 13, 2012

May 6 - Worship & Mission

Let me tell you a story: Eight years ago, just as Cindy and I finished college we heard rumors of a group of students and professors meeting in an old, red-brick church in a forgotten neighborhood of urban Springfield, Ohio. They would meet to praise God and hear God’s word. They would also meet to go door-to-door fixing broken windows in the neighborhood and offering gifts of baked goods.

Cindy and I had friends who’d gone on a Saturday night. We knew and admired some of the professors who led this group. But I, at least, was nervous to drive the fifteen miles north to Springfield and stop-in on this meeting. Finally, just as Cindy and I were preparing to pack up and move away to Eastern Europe, we made a visit.

It was an early summer afternoon. We parked our car behind the church. In front, I timidly pulled open one of the heavy wooden doors. I stepped inside, unsure where everybody was. After some looking, we found them in the musty basement, divvying up baked goods to take door-to-door as they introduced themselves to the red brick church’s neighbors.

Cindy and I were welcomed in. I was partnered with the wife of a music professor. I remember walking through a squeaking gate on a chain link fence to ring a door bell next to a cracked storm door. A big dog barked behind the door, and finally a bleary-eyed man came to the door. Nervous, I introduced us and pushed a coffee cake toward him. He wanted to know who we were. I said we were with the church down the street. He remembered a health and social services fair the group had held a month or two ago. We asked if there was anything he wanted us to pray for at our meeting in forty-five minutes. He couldn’t think of anything. He took the coffee cake, and we walked down the block.

Two or three conversations later, we met back at the church. Others had pulled out guitars and set some bread and grape juice on a table in front. One of the professors prayed, and then we sang songs printed on half-sheets of paper. I looked around. I knew a handful of people, recognized a few from campus. But many were strangers. Tired looking adults, some, I would learn later, fighting the demons of crack cocaine addiction. I saw kids, singing and fidgeting. Some were professors kids. Some were kids from the neighborhood who like the music, the stories, the children’s programs.

A professor got up and read a sermon about Jesus being baptized by John. The Red Brick Church passed around preaching responsibilities from week to week between a number of the adults. We ate and drank communion together. We sang one more song. The kids came stampeding down from their classrooms. We all walked down to the basement. Every Saturday ended with a potluck. Everyone brought what they had, everyone ate, and everyone helped with the dishes.

Cindy and I drove back to our small apartment in Cedarville just as the skies were turning dark. We knew we’d seen something good. This wasn’t our usual Sunday morning church service. We weren’t sure what it was, but we knew it was good.

Friends, I believe that a church that does not follow Jesus in mission is not a church. I’ve said this for two weeks, and I am giving this last Sunday to say this same thing once more: A church that does not follow Jesus in mission is no church.

The last two Sunday morning we have listened to Jesus in Mt 10 as he instructs his followers what it means to join him in announcing that God’s kingdom is arriving. Spilling over with compassion for the anxious and oppressed, Jesus ask God to send others to join him in bringing in the harvest. And then he tells his followers to go and do what he has done: to heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, drive out demons. And Jesus tells his followers that they must risk the things they hold dear to follow him in this work, and that, like him, they will suffer the loss of many things they love. Students are not above their teacher . . . It is enough for students to be like their teacher. But God their Father is trustworthy, and God will make all things right in the end. Every sacrifice is noticed, remembered, and rewarded.

This morning we turn the page to Mt 11 where we hear about the response to Jesus and his followers’ mission. We could spend our entire morning here. We could spend many mornings here. John the Baptist--the greatest prophet--hears rumors about what Jesus and his followers have been doing, and he’s confused. Making the lame walk and giving sight to the blind was not what he’d expected of a Messiah. But Jesus reassures him that these very actions are the signs of God forgiving and bring God’s people back to Godself.

Then in vv 16-24 we hear from the crowds. The crowds who are never satisfied. Whatever God does it’s not enough for them. John the Baptist came preaching fire and brimstone, and they laughed him off as a crazy man. Jesus comes giving life and blessing, and they think he’s too easy on sinners, lax and wishy-washy. These are the people who have seen the miracles worked by him and his followers, who’ve heard his message over and over. But what do they do? They go on with their lives as if nothing has happened. They are self-assured, maybe in their religiosity, maybe in their hopelessness and despair, maybe in their schemes and dreams. Unlike John, they won’t even acknowledge a God who disrupts their expectations. Jesus promises hard punishment for them at the last judgment.

We could spend a week or more on each of these stories. I believe that if we are quiet and patient and honest, we’ll see ourselves standing in one of these two groups. Either we’re with John and his disciples, believing Jesus, even when he surprises us, or we’re with the crowds, refusing to accept Jesus for who he is. And life and death, forever and for today, hang in the balance.

But at the very end of ch 11, in vv 25-30, Jesus says something that I feel speaks even more specifically to us--not just to the original twelve and the group of true-believers who traveled with Jesus, but to Dry Creek Bible Church here in the Gallatin Valley. So find Mt 11.25-30 in a Bible, one you brought with you or one in the chair in front of you, and stand with me. Listen, as I read these words, for how the Spirit speaks them personally to you.

At that time Jesus said, “I praise you Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this was your good pleasure.

“All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

What brought you here this morning? Think back. Before finding a seat in the sanctuary, before shaking hands in the foyer, before the car ride down Dry Creek Road, before your morning cup of coffee--what got you out of bed to show up for an hour or two with this group of people?

We have a lot of reasons for getting together on Sunday mornings. Sometimes I show up because I want to check in friends I haven’t seen all week. Sometimes I come because I know friends or family are expecting to see me here. Sometimes I come because I’m supposed to preach or teach a Children’s class or set out coffee and donuts. Sometimes I come because I need to be reminded that I am part of the God’s new creation people, part of God’s family.

Millard Erickson, a theologian I read in seminary, says that the church “was brought into being to fulfill the Lord’s intention for it. It is to carry on the Lord’s ministry in the world--to perpetuate what he did and to do what he would do were he still here” (Christian Theology, 2nd ed., 1061). Erickson then goes on to name four ways in which the church does this: evangelism, discipleship, worship, and social action. But after talking about each of these methods, Erickson returns again to emphasize that proclaiming the good news is the heart of each of these actions. Jesus’ good news about God setting us and the world right is the heart of what the church is about.

As Jesus and his followers continue on the mission God set for them, Jesus stops to worship his Father God. We don’t hear about Jesus worshiping God often in Matthew’s story. In fact, we hear of it precisely once. Here, in Mt 11.25, is the only time Matthew tells us that Jesus praised God for something. Jesus says, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth.”

We may each expect something different from a Sunday morning at Dry Creek Bible Church. In these few, short verses--Mt 11.25-30--Jesus names three things of the things I suspect many of us hope for on a Sunday morning: a time to worship God, a time to learn more about our God, and a time when God will encourage and revive us. But--and this is critical, perhaps the one point I hope you remember--Jesus shows us that we will only find these things as we follow him in mission.

Listen again to vv 25-26: At that time Jesus said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this was your good pleasure.” Just now in the story, as Jesus and his co-workers go out to gather in the harvest, as the crowds begin to see and also to hear the good news about God’s kingdom, as the crowds begin to divide over who Jesus is and what his works mean--just now, Jesus praises God.

And what does Jesus praise God for? He worships God because God has hidden these things--God has hidden the joyous meaning of Jesus and his message--from those who by all rights should most understand these things. Instead God’s joyful desire is to give this hope away for free to those who can only ask for it.

Worship makes sense when we follow Jesus in demonstrating what happens when God makes the world new again. We see the hopeless gaining hope. Those who bleat and wander like lost sheep find a flock with a good shepherd. Sunday morning should be our time to praise God with the stories of what God is doing in the mission field God’s called us to.

But worship also prepares us for mission. I’m not talking simply about hyping ourselves up with upbeat songs followed by a slower song that asks us for commitment. When I was a high schooler, a praise and worship movement was sweeping over our churches. Great musicians filled stadiums with people united in one song. And toward the end of each concert, a speaker would ask us to share the God we sang about in every part of the rest of our lives. And many people would go and do that.

Worship is more than this. Worship is acknowledging that God is worthy--worthy of our songs and our time and our treasures and, most of all, of our trust. God is trust-worthy. Last week I said that trusting God in the midst of a risky mission is the heartbeat of how to be a missionary.

Here in v 25, Jesus praises God precisely because God overlooks those who self-assuredly have it all together and brings God’s kingdom to those who have nothing left but hope, no one left to trust but God. These are the little children--toddlers, infants who are completely dependent on their mothers. Starving people will eat food no matter how it comes to them; through Jesus God gives life to those ready to accept it no matter how it comes.

We gather on Sundays to worship God. Worship reminds us to trust and obey. Worship gets our heart in shape for this mission. When we look up to God and say, “Lord, have mercy, Christ, have mercy, on us,” it’s spiritual conditioning for the work to which Jesus invites us.

In v 27 Jesus names our desire to know more of our God. He says, “All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.” For many of us, nothing matters more than knowing God. Not just memorizing the charts and classifications of theology or salvation history, not just knowing how to use God and God’s guidance to live a better life. No, we pray with Moses, “If you are pleased with me, [Lord], teach me your ways so I may know you.” We want to know God.

So we spend our mornings or evenings in prayer. We study our Bibles, listen to sermons and songs on Christian radio, we read every book in the Christian bookstore. But Jesus says here that if we want to know God, we need only to look to Jesus. In the Gospel of John Jesus claims he is the way to the Father, and if we want to know the Father, we must follow on his way.

So when we look to Jesus, what do we see? Jesus heals the sick, raises the dead, welcomes the outcast, casts out demons. We see Jesus walking steadily toward the cross, submitting himself to our broken world--even to death--so that he can give us new life. We know these stories because we’ve heard them in these inspired Scriptures. And we get together, we listen to people talk about how they hear these stories. But these very stories tell us to look to Jesus. They tell us if we follow him, if trust him and do what he did, he shows us his God and Father whom we love. To put this another way, we study the Bible so we know where to look to follow Jesus as he leads us to God.

Finally, we come here on Sunday mornings because we’re anxious and oppressed and we need rest. But the rest Jesus offers may not be the rest we’re looking for. These may be familiar words for us, words that bring us comfort. In v 28, Jesus says, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” Rest is something we long for. Work asks too much of us. Kids ask too much of us. Our bodies are getting sick, getting old, getting sore. We wake up in the morning and wish we just had a few more minutes to stay in bed.

But listen to how Jesus concludes this offer. In vv 29-30, he says, “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” We live in a time where our friends and neighbors believe that rest waits for us in entertainment, distraction, escapism. If only we could get away for a weekend, we think. How long until the game is on? Where should I go out tonight? But Jesus offers us something else.

Instead of escapism, Jesus offers us a light load and an easy yoke. Literally, he asks us to carry something that’s not too heavy for us, to wear a yoke that’s not uncomfortable. A yoke is for doing work. Rest, Jesus says, waits for us in doing the work that Jesus did--in learning from him.

We don’t often think of work like this. But we all can remember days, good days, when though our muscles or heads ache, we feel good for having done good work. Days when feeling tired because we’ve done something also feels refreshing. This is the kind of work Jesus invites us into. Jesus says that when we follow him into mission--even when, especially when this work involves suffering and loss--that is when God’s Spirit fills us and flows through us most freely.

We come on Sunday morning hoping for encouragement, hoping for comfort, and here Jesus says the deepest comfort, the greatest encouragement comes from joining him in announcing God’s kingdom. We remember we are God’s people when we are taking part in God’s mission.

I began this morning with a story of a church where I saw each of these hopes met as they gathered to follow Jesus in his mission. The Red Brick Church had no funding, they had no charismatic leader. They had no one to trust but God. So with their lives they worshiped God.

And together, they listened to the Bible to learn how Jesus saved them and where he would lead them. My visit then and two or three subsequent Saturday nights opened the Bible to me far more than semester-long theology courses. Somehow reading the Bible together as a book that spoke to how we found our only hope in Jesus, how we lived with and loved our neighbors, about how we announced God’s kingdom here and now, brought these stories to life in a new way.

And I have never felt such comfort, such solace as I did sitting on the uncomfortable pews in the un-air-conditioned sanctuary with those believers. In the sanctuary and in the basement around the potluck table, I remembered why I trust and follow Jesus. I trust Jesus because he is the only one who brings us life; I follow Jesus because he is leading me and because he is leading all of us together to a world revived, to a world reconciled to God.

So here is my question for Dry Creek Bible Church: How do our Sunday morning gatherings follow Jesus in his mission to proclaim God’s kingdom? How do we demonstrate that God is reconciling the world to Godself when we gather together? How do we do this together throughout the week?

Friends, pray and follow and Jesus. Pray and follow Jesus. Amen.

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