MM4G-MY MISSION FOR GOD-BREAKING THE HUDDLE
January 12, 2020
Last fall we began talking about MM4G – My Mission for God. As part of that personal mission, many of us made commitments of our time, talent and resources for the service of God’s purposes thru Vision of Hope United Methodist Church. Over these next four Sundays, I am going to challenge you to expand that commitment as we take a bold look at what God might also be calling us to be about in these roaring 20’s. Yes, get ready to have some of your sacred cows transformed into gourmet hamburger!
As one who spent my formative years following NASA’S race to the moon, it has always been my dream to visit the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. This past October I got to fulfill that dream.
When Valerie and I boarded a bus to visit the launch pads, the massive vehicle assembly building, the control center and other sites on the sprawling grounds, I expected to see a lot of decaying buildings, cracked, overgrown roadways and rusted equipment. To my surprise, the entire center was bustling with traffic and people and construction cranes.
And our tour guide said that a lot of the renewed life could be attributed to SpaceX and its visionary, outside-the-box, Tesla-inventing founder, Elon Musk. After the space shuttle program shut down in 2011, the Kennedy Space Center became a ghost town. The program had become way too costly to maintain.
But then along came Elon Musk with his reimagining of space flight, cutting costs to a tenth of what they once were, by utilizing reusable, self-landing booster rockets and using private funding to finance the program.
And it is working. SpaceX has leased and revamped the former abandoned Apollo and shuttle launch pads, is sending resupply ships to the Internationals Space Station, and will begin ferrying crews of astronauts there this year.
Elon Musk’s goal is to join forces with NASA in reaching Mars, and he dreams of being one of the astronauts to land there one day. He stated,
“I’d actually like to die on Mars, just not on impact.”
Sometimes seismic shifts come along in the life of institutions, and it requires a tremendous reimagining. That’s true for the space program. And certainly it is true for the Church.
There are many today who believe the Christian Church has become a declining, outdated, irrelevant relic of the past. And if you look across the landscape of the institutional Church in America right now, the facts don’t lie. It is true. The Nones and Dones are now the majority in our society.
And yet, I believe we live in an exciting era in which the Christian faith is impacting lives in unique and transformative ways in spite of the Church. Every week I have conversations with young people who are thirsty for a connection with God. God’s grace is still moving mightily among us.
And you and I have a great opportunity to make that grace known. Yes, discovering our mission for God begins with reimagining Church! Follow me here… Let’s begin by acknowledging
WE NEED TO ETCH-A-SKETCH SOME POPULAR PAGAN PERCEPTIONS OF CHURCH
Hear the words of James:
22 But be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves. 23 For if any are hearers of the word and not doers, they are like those who look at themselves in a mirror; 24 for they look at themselves and, on going away, immediately forget what they were like. 25But those who look into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and persevere, being not hearers who forget but doers who act—they will be blessed in their doing.
James’ proclamation flies right in the face of our notion that Church should be
More Huddle, Less Hiking
Yes, on Sunday mornings we charge out of our locker rooms all suited up in our clean uniforms. We sing our fight songs and listen to impassioned speeches. We gather passively in holy huddles to plan and diagram and discuss, but most of us never seem to get around to actually hiking the ball and running the play. That we attended the weekly pep rally seems to be enough. We hear the Word, but we never seem to be bothered about doing it.
Another popular pagan perception of Church is that it is
More Steeple, Less People
Did you know that some of the finest seafood entrees in all of South Carolina are to be had not in some sea-breeze swept waterfront dining location in Charleston but rather on a stretch of commercial highway in Little River, SC sitting under the soft hues of stained-glass windows and sanctuary lighting in the former Little River Methodist Church which is now known at the Parson’s Table?
Yes, and that is the story of not only great cathedrals in Europe but also tiny clapboard churches that dot our nation. The congregations that were housed in the edifices often became more about the beauty of the steeple than the souls of the people. It was more about the restoration of windows and woodwork than the restoration of lives. And so you will find these buildings today housing restaurants, breweries, museums…you name it…but no longer housing vibrant, worshiping communities of faith.
And close kin to that popular pagan perception of Church is that it is
More Venue, Less Venture
The mid-1980’s to early 2000’s were the years of the megachurch in America. I visited many of them. I studied many of them, with the hopes of becoming a megachurch pastor myself (unfortunately I didn’t have looks or the hair!). I’m talking about destination churches – where tour buses pull up outside on Sunday morning and local law enforcement is paid overtime to handle parking. Where there are food courts and playlands and coffee shops and gift-shop kiosks hawking bobble-head Jesuses and John the Baptist shower curtains.
And yet, in all this glitz and glamor, sometimes the venture for God gets a bit lost. It takes a lot of money and energy and resources to maintain the machine of such operations. Mission is sacrificed as souls are sold to lesser gods.
But this is not just a megachurch thing–it happens in all sorts of ecclesiastical settings, where the venture for God is forgotten in the midst of pursuing a comfortable venue for God’s people with all the latest amenities.
And adding to that popular pagan perception of Church is the notion it is also
More in Here, Less out There
Allow me to share a short parable…
On a dangerous sea coast where shipwrecks often occur, there was once a crude little life-saving station. The building was just a hut, and there was only one boat, but the few devoted members kept a constant watch over the sea, and with no thought for themselves, went out day and night tirelessly searching for the lost. Some of those who were saved and various others in the surrounding area wanted to become associated with the station and gave of their time and money and effort for the support of its work. New boats were bought and new crews trained. The little life-saving station grew.
Some of the members of the life-saving station were unhappy that the building was so crude and poorly equipped. They felt that a more comfortable place should be provided as the first refuge of those saved from the sea. They replaced the emergency cots with beds and put better furniture in the enlarged building. Now the life-saving station became a popular gathering place for its members, and they decorated it beautifully because they used it as a sort of club.
Fewer members were now interested in going to sea on life-saving missions, so they hired lifeboat crews to do this work. The life-saving motif still prevailed in the club’s decorations, and there was a liturgical life-boat in the room where the club’s initiations were held. About this time a large ship wrecked off the coast, and the hired crews brought in boat loads of cold, wet and half-drowned people. They were dirty and sick.
The beautiful new club was in chaos. So the property committee immediately had a shower house build outside the club where victims of shipwrecks could be cleaned up before coming inside.
At the next meeting, there was a split among the club membership. Most of the members wanted to stop the club’s life-saving activities as being unpleasant and a hindrance to the normal social life of the club. Some members insisted upon life-saving as their primary purpose and pointed out that they were still called a life-saving station. But they were finally voted down and told that if they wanted to save lives of all the various kinds of people who were shipwrecked in those waters, they could begin their own life-saving station. So they did.
As the years went by, the new station experienced the same changes that had occurred in the old. It evolved into a club, and yet another life-saving station was founded.
History continued to repeat itself, and if you visit that sea coast today, you will find a number of exclusive clubs along that shore. Shipwrecks are frequent in those waters, but most of the people drown. http://www.ecfvp.org/vestry-papers/article/272/parable-of-the-lifesaving-station
Ponder that parable…
What about the popular pagan perception that the Church should be
More Self-Improvement, Less Mission-Movement
I cut my teeth as a younger pastor on the program arms race in the Church. To be considered successful back then, you had to have a full offering of splashy Christianity-lite leaning, latte-sipping, catchy logo-labeled programs such as PrayAerobics, Holy Line Dancing, Saintly Yoga, Practice Positive Thinking in 10 Easy Steps, Raising Respectful Teenagers.
Valerie and I took a course in leading Marriage Enrichment seminars. We fancied ourselves as gurus on the art of marriage. We would lead retreats. We had the latest and greatest – video clips, handouts, sticky-notes, the latest in ice breaking exercises, the best in cheap lemonade and ginger snaps. However, over time, it became apparent that we were not quite as good as we thought we were …it seems that after every retreat at least 2-3 couples would end up separated and divorced! Some even demanded their money back!
Is that what Church was meant to be? A sanitized version of the Dr. Phil Show?
The last popular pagan perception of the Church is that it is
More Manure Pit, Less Manure Spreader
Rockingham County is the #1 agricultural county in the state of Virginia, with Augusta County running a close second. Dairy farms dot the countryside. You drive by them…you will see these huge round open containment reservoirs next to the barns. These are the manure pits, catching the waste byproduct from our bovine friends.
There is no more pungent odor than that emanating from a manure pit on a hot summer day! Every fly within a 10-mile-radius will be drawn to it. I know of what I speak – we lived next to an Old Order Mennonite dairy farm years ago.
I also know that that liquid manure can accomplish great good in the world…when it is pumped into the holding tank of a large Star Wars-looking vehicle and then spread over crop land. It is invaluable as fertilizer, boosting the growth and yield of crops tremendously.
Churches that are focused inwardly, only on themselves, are much like manure pits, filled with all sorts of foulness. People get all sidetracked on issues that Jesus never cared about. Nastiness reigns.
However, when you get us outside in our communities and focused on making a difference with our voices, hands and feet for others, we fertilize the world, spreading the love of God’s kingdom, helping goodness to sprout.
Well, you get the point I’m trying to make – we need to etch-a-sketch many popular pagan perceptions of Church from our consciousness. We need to break out of our cloistered huddles. You see,
PERSONS OF FAITH BELONG ON THE FIELD OF PLAY
But be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves.
Hearing the language of God must be translated in doing, living with eyes and arms wide open to the needs of others. Yours and my mission for God is carried out beyond the doors of this time and place. It happens out there…in the neighborhood, in the workplace, in the school. Wherever you are, whenever you are attuned to someone in need of healing, hopeful grace.
Yes, profession must lead to progression. We move forward, upward, outward….doing it, living it.
And what is the simple grace of the Gospel? It’s all about relating relevantly to God and God’s people, loving sacrificially as we have been loved by our Creator. That’s the bottom line.
Jesus gave us plenty of examples of who and how we ought to love—
- Stopping to help a wounded man lying in the gutter along a desolate road as a Samaritan once did.
- Pausing to have lunch with a wealthy man of short stature and short soul named Zaccheus, a man others despised.
- Responding to those who are hungry and thirsty and homeless and cold and sick and in prison.
- Walking alongside those who, like Mary and Martha, lost a brother to death.
- Forgiving a son who dissed you and left home for brighter lights, offering him a hug instead of I-told-you-sos when he returned.
It’s not brain surgery, but it does involve heart surgery…our hearts must be changed by God’s grace before we can make that grace amazing for others.
Then we come to realize that we don’t go to Church…we are the Church. We are ambassadors of our Lord’s grace to others each and every day of our lives. That is the primary mission for a people known as Vision of Hope United Methodist Church.
We are doers, not just hearers. We reimagine Church.
We break the huddle, and get on to the field of play, making a difference in how we live and how we give of ourselves for Christ.
I close by telling you about the most famous football game of all time, matching the Big Animals against the Little Animals! Yes, some lions, tigers, bears, a rhino and an orangutan are taking on some squirrels, chipmunks, rabbits, field mice and a bumblebee. At half-time the score is Big Animals-58, Little Animals-0. It is a beat-down of epic proportion.
As the second half is about to begin, the Big Animals are jiving and yelling and pounding on each other—“Don’t let up—let’s kill those vermin!”
First play of the second half—the tiger carries the football around right end. WHAM! He’s thrown for a 6-yard loss. “Who hit me?” he asks in the huddle. The other big animals said, “The centipede!”
Second play—the elephant tries a fullback dive up the middle. WHAM! He’s knocked back on his hind parts for an 8-yard loss. He wobbles back in the huddle and inquires, “Who made that tackle?” Once again comes the reply, “The centipede!”
Third play from scrimmage. The bear goes back to pass. WHAM! He is hit and fumbles the ball. “Who the heck ran over me?” he asks groggily as a teammate helps him to his feet. “The centipede!”
Coach Joe Grubbs of the Big Animals is so impressed by the play of the centipede he suddenly calls a time-out. He walks over to the Little Animals’ huddle and asks him, “Hey, centipede, where in the world were you during the first half of the game?”
And the centipede replies, “Oh, I was still in the locker room putting on my shoes!”
Friends, there’s a great lesson in this farcical story: Each of us has a personal mission for God. Don’t stay all huddled up in the locker room of this church, wasting the precious years God has given you in self-serving, less-than-meaningful pursuits.
Get out on the field and get into the game of God’s mission! Make a difference as you live and share God’s grace! Be doers of God’s Word! Amen!