Hope Part II

This is the second portion of the message I shared Sunday:

In the book of Romans, Paul says this: in chapters 8 verses 18-25:

18I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. 19The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. 20For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21that[i] the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.

22We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. 23Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. 24For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has? 25But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.

I wonder what it was like, in Paul’s sexist society to read those words.  In his world, there was all sorts of segregation between the genders.  There was something that looks like fear of the biological difference between men and women.   Basically, the grown men acted like a 5th grader who’s grown up with out sisters, in terms of how comfortable they were with the reality of women’s biology.   Even today, most guys, myself include, feel a little goofy about being compared to women in labor.  In his day, this suggestion must

have been almost scandalous.

But there is brilliance in this comparison.  Despite the cultural baggage, this is such a powerful phrase.  Paul is saying more than just all of creation—including us—are suffering.  He could have provided plenty of examples of things that both genders experience that are painful.   Notice, for example that he doesn’t say, “The whole of creation is groaning as in the pains of a kidney stone.”

Kidney stones hit men and women.  We expect him to have gone this route, avoided the whole uncomfortable thing and gone with something relevant to men and women.

If you focus on this specific experiences and not the wider picture, there’s not much difference between passing a kidney stone and having a baby.  They both involve a painful process of getting something inside a body outside a body.  They both involve receiving medical support.  They both tend to happen to adults.  We know what causes both and often can predict when they are coming.

The thing is,  nobody gets all emotional about passing a kidney stone.  Nobody calls the experience beautiful and video tapes it.  I’m hoping nobody names the little stone and feels a connection to it.

It’s the end of the story that makes child birth beautiful.  It’s the end of the story that accounts for the meaningful differences between child birth and passing a kidney stone.  It’s  the wider context.

Every pain you feel, every struggle you have, every challenge you face, whether you experience that as beautiful, like a child birth, or painful, like a kidney stone…

So much depends on what we see as the wider context.

When Paul describes us as groaning in child birth, he’s evoking this idea that there is an end to our suffering that is worth waiting for.   Interestingly, he mentions that this end is felt both by the whole world and by individual people.

This particular groups of verses highlights a tension.  It highlights dangers going in to either one of two extremes.

At one extreme are people with out anything to hope in.  They are people who don’t believe that there is anything wider than the story.

Do you watch lost?

This week there was this great exchange between Sawyer and the character who appears to be John Locke.  Locke says, “Do you know why you’re here”

And in a great, black comedy moment, Sawyer says “I’m here because my plane crashed.  And my raft sank.  And the helicopter ran out of gas.  And the submarine turned around.”

And Locke said, “No, that’s not why you’re here at all.”

Locke was a bit like a person who might tell me that I got the three little pigs story wrong.  When it wasn’t so much that I got wrong.  It was that I didn’t include enough.

Locke is basically telling Sawyer that he knows why all those things happened.  He knows the end of the story.  And what goes on at the end of the story changes everything.

These are people who, like Sawyer,  believe that the end of the story is what it appears to be.  As individuals we die with our bodies and then our bodies rot, just as the world is going to die in a nuclear war or get swallowed into the sun or washed away under melting ice caps.

David Foster Wallace was the writer of “Infinte Jest.”  He looked like he was going to be the next big thing.  His book was a tremendous bestseller.  He became something of a rock-star writer.  He was profiled in magazines like Details and Rolling Stone.

He was not  a Christian.

There are ways that he brings to mind, for me, King Solomon, who wrote “Eclesiastes”, the book that Marty preached from a couple weeks ago.  Wallace was smart, rich, and well connected.  On the surface, it appeared he had everything going for him.

He said “I think the reason why people behave in a really ugly manner is that it’s really scary to be alive and to be human and people are really, really afraid.  Fear is the basic condition… But the fact of the matter is, is that, is the that the job we’re here to do is to learn how to live in a way that we’re not terrified all the time… The face I’d put on that terror is the dawning realization that nothing’s enough, you know?  That no pleasure is enough, no achievement is enough.”

In short, there’s nothing within our story that makes it worth it.

I wish I could report that this was just a momentary thought of Wallaces.  I wish I could tell you that he found an end of the story to have hope in.  But a few years after that quote, the talk therapy and psychiatric medications he was taking stopped working.  After a long, painful decent, David Foster Wallace took his own life.

I am not niave enough to think that if David Foster Wallace had simply opened a bible once, that we can truly know that some sort-of instant and life changing transformation would have occurred.

But I do know that he was was a wealthy man who had access to the best health care in the world.  It’s clear that everything the therapists and psychiatrists were doing simply wasn’t enough.  It’s also clear that he tried to find a better end to the story of his own life, that he wanted to live in a story with a satisfactory ending.

Wallace had too little to hope in.

But at the other end of the spectrum is the idea that we become so full of ourselves that we think we can see exactly what it is that we’re hoping in.  We think we know.

Scripture tell us that Hope that is seen is no hope at all.

If God could paint a picture of exactly what our eternity is, he would kill our hope.  If we actually saw, it wouldn’t be hope any more at all.  There’s an idea implied here that’s spelled out elsewhere in scripture.  Hoping makes us better.  It grows our patience.

If we ask ourselves what we use to see, the first thing we answer is “our eyes.”  But if we consider it a moment, we’d realize that we use our past experiences and our limited concepts as much as we do our eyes.

Anthropologists have this interesting story to tell about aborigines.  There are people who spend their whole lives in the jungle.  The largest open spaces they ever see are smaller than this stage.  They never experience the effect that things that are further off are smaller.

When you take these aborigines into a plain, and they see an elephant several miles away, they assume that the elephant is tiny.  The aborigine is seeing.

When we see something new, we always base our responses on what we have seen before.  Have you ever had a friend who shaved off their beard or radically changed hair styles, and you didn’t even notice because you just projected what you expected to be there?

If we think we can see our eternity, we’re using only our past, limited, and fallible experiences in a fallen world.

There are people who call themselves followers of Christ, I think, who go to this extreme.    They believe that they can see.  And they kill hope.  I was one, when I was stingy with the water with that kid.  I believed that I was following Christ.  I placed my hope in him for my salvation.  And yet the salvation I was longing for, it wasn’t a whole lot.  I thought that I could still see that the world was the sort of place where you should give people what they deserve.  I should have held on to the hope that it was more.

Some times I watch my brothers and sisters in Christ.  And I squirm on the inside.  I want to disassociate myself from them.  They look at the economy of the world: things are bought, things are paid for, you get what you deserve and you deserve what you get.  And when they talk about life like good deeds earn us God’s frequent flier miles.  If you can only earn enough of them, you get to redeem them at the end to take a plane ride to heaven.

Sometimes, we even treat Jesus like he’s some sort-of pack animal.  We think of him as the instrument of transportation, not transformation.  He’s going to give us a ride to some destination, and then we’re going to dismount, leave Him behind, and go run amuck in some sort-of theme park that’s been waiting for us.

The focus is on escape.  And the reason for all the good they do is called into question.  Their lives of goodness were simply an attempt to bribe God.  Their acceptance of Jesus is really just a plan to get him to take us to Heaven.

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Does God spend more time in jazz improvisations than He does in symphonies?

In a number of recent discussions, I’ve come across this mind set.  The mind set is that the Holy Spirit shows up when things are spontaneous, impovised, and off-the-cuff.   It’s sometimes left unsaid, though always implied, that when we prepare carefully for things, the Holy Spirit is some how less present in this activity.

I suppose the support they’d use for this belief revolves around examples like those in Acts, where some of the apostles are given God’s words to speak quite spontanously.    I’m not disputing those biblical accounts.  And I certainly agree that God is able to put quite spontanously, the right word in a brain at the right time.

But I do fear that sometimes “being open to the spirit” is really just a cover for being unprepared.  I think it places God in a box, to suggest that he’s not present in the research and preperation stages.

God is in control of our brain chemistries.  He’s in control of our research methods and resources.  He’s in control of the seemingly random events that might trigger a train of thought that ends at the destination he’d like us to go.  And some of these things, they are true whether God is exercising his will as a speaker prepares or when a speaker is actually speaking.However, while  there may well be people who can instantly and consistently discern the whisperings of the holy spirit from their own knuckle-headed ideas, I am not one of them.  Perhaps that gets easier with practice.  But me?  Where I’m at right now, I often need some time in prayerful meditation before I can decide what’s God and what’s me.  Being carefully open to the spirit as I prepare gives me this time to carefully ensure I’m saying the things that God would have me say.

The Stranger on the way to the story of Everything

As our small groups begin a study of the book, “The Stranger on the Road to Emmaus” the weekly study questions are going to mostly focus on this book.  Each week I’ll try to adress some connections between the sermon and the book, but I want to reward all the good do-bee’s who are doing their homework, so I’m going to try and draw lots from the book.

To find a link which will allow you to download this book for free, or to watch or listen to the sermon, go to http://fellowshipholden.com.

I think I might begin the practice of emailing a thought, question, or interesting point from “The Stranger” every few days.  Whether you attend Fellowship or not, if you’re in a small group or not, if you send an email to jeffcampbell7@hotmail.com, or leave a comment to this post requesting it, I’ll add you to the email list.

“Stranger on the Road to Emmaus” is a really outstanding book.  It’s an exploration of the whole bible from the perspective of looking through the lense of what we know about Jesus.  It doesn’t dumb anything down, but it also doesn’t get it’s head lost in the clouds.  It’s particularly useful for filling in the gaps in the scriptural knowledge of long-time Christians or giving new Christians a powerful, big-picture overview.

At any rate, here’s the discussion questions for Fellowship Church’s small groups on February 8ths sermon and the first chapter of “The Stranger on the Road to Emmaus”

1.  Elijah experienced some things that many of us go through.  We look for God in the huge and so-called miraculous, but fail to see him in the quiet and every day.  Can you share any stories from your own life or others lives that illustrate this idea?  What are some ways that God is in the quiet and every day that are easy to miss?

2.  Another thing that we often do is feel sorry for ourselves because we think we’re the only one following God.  God often demonstrates that we are far from alone, despite our feelings.  How have you seen this dynamic played out?

3.  Marty described God as the ultimate friend.  The ultimate friend would sit with us through pain, would have our backs, and tell us the truth in love.  Chapter one of “The Stranger on the Road to Emmaus” states the meanings and purpose of scripture.  In what ways does the bible demonstrate that God sits with us through our pain?  In what ways does the bible demonstrate that God is with us?  In what ways does the bible demonstrate that God speaks the truth in love?

4.  Read Luke, chapter 24 outloud.  This scene is dramatized on pages 5 and 6 of “The Stranger on the Road to Emmaus.”  What are some differences between the scriptural account and the one written by John Cross?  In this chapter of scripture, what are some ways that Jesus fits Marty’s description of the iddeal friend: some one who suffers with you, who provides for you, who protects you, and who speaks the truth in love?

5.  The beginning of the book states that it’s important to know how the whole of the bible works together.  How well would you say you know the bible as a whole?  What portions do you know the most about?  What portions do you know the least about?  Do you spend much energy working out how the whole bible fits together?  Is there any specific questions that you hope would be answered for you if you got a better understanding of how the whole bible fits together?

6.  Chapter 1 states that we ought to focus on the important themes of the bible.  Can you list 3 themes that you feel are the most important in the entire bible?

7.  Did you find anything surprising in chapter 1?  Did you disagree with anything in chapter 1?  What was the part that effected you the most or that you most agree with?

Some Reflections on today

So, I had the privilige of sharing a message with Fellowship Church today.

It was the third time I’ve had the oppurtunity to do this.   It’s such a privilige, responsibility, and joy. 

I’ve been reflecting on the experience today.  Here’s a few observations.

#1) Next time, I’ll do a better job of scoping out my physical space.  There was a variety of equipment around me.  Some it hemmed me in.  Some of it buzzed threateningly if I got near.  (I assume it was about to feedback with the mic clipped to my collar.)  In a couple cases, I stood in places where I feared that the lights were on me in a funny way or they were in my eyes.

The net result of all this is that I was very hemmed in.  I tend to want to move around a little bit when I speak.  I think it’s probably slightly more interesting to watch somebody who is moving.

#2) Next time I’m going to make better use of my powerpoint slides.  I didn’t spend any time with the production folks before hand, briefing them on what was there.  As a result, we missed a few of the slides.  Next time I’ll spend a minute with whoever’s in charge of them, or just do a subtle “Next slide, please” when I’m ready for the next one.

#3) The worst part of the whole experience of speaking, the last two times I’ve shared the message, was being about half way through.  I look out, and feel like I’m beginning to lose people.  I speed through the rest of my message, cutting chunks out and talking too fast.   In some ways, the whole conclusion I’m working toward gets undercut while the less crucial stuff in the beginning get’s it’s full air time.  Next time, I’ll make the following modifications:

A) I’ll just plan to be shorter.

B) I’ll put less effort into having a flashy intro and save some of my “zing” for that part half way through, when people are beginning to drift.

Were you at the service today?  Any constructive criticism?  (If you had some sort-of massachistic tendencies, you can find the message archived at fellowshipholden.com; if you listen and have any observations to share with me, I’d be quite eager to hear them.)

Community

A week from today (That’s Sunday, December 28, 2008) I’ll be sharing the message at Fellowship Church.  

What follows is a transcript of what I’ll probably be saying.  I’d love for comments, criticism, and all the rest as I continue to hone what I think God is trying to say through me.

(God I think, might use you, and your comments to help shape this message)

The last couple weeks in New England have seen an ice-storm that turned the state into a Federal disaster area and a pair of near-blizzards.  I know a number of people who are suffering in a variety of ways.  This has lead to some thoughts that haven’t yet made it into this message, but probably will in the final draft… Other than that, my best guess is that this is pretty close to complete.  (Though it won’t be word-for-word; I won’t stand there and simply read these words.  That’d be painful.)

5:25

Intro/Beverly Hillbillies/Jesus Elevated Community

 Hi.

My name is Jeff Campbell.

 

 

I hope you had an awesome Christmas.

Given that we’re at a church I think it makes sense to spend a minute to take stock of one of the things this holiday  really means.

 

I want to be clear.  Whole books have been written about what Christmas means.  We could probably spend a year on this topic and not exhaust it.  I’m not here to offer an exhaustive list of all the meanings of Christmas.

 

Instead, I’d like to focus on one important one.

 

And the way I’d like to get at that is to imagine a scenario.

 

Imagine that you live in a nice suburb somewhere.  Nicely manicured lawns.  Late model cars in the driveways.  Teen agers who rebel in the expected, appropriate, and prescribed ways.

 

Maybe the house next to yours got sold a while ago.  You’re wondering who the new folks are going to be.  The question I want to ask you is this:

What do you think?

 

What do you think if you you can hear them before you can see them… if there’s some horrible screeching sound coming from their engine, and a scraping of the muffler along the ground?  What do you think if you can smell them before you see them, an unwashed smell, a burning rubber smell?  What do you think if you hear them howling and yee-hawing, and when they finally come in to view, they look like some kind of modern-day Beverly hillbillies?

 

Probably, at some point, you say “There goes the neighborhood.”

 

On the other hand, what if they have a nicer car than you?  What if they are clearly wealthy?  What if they are famous?  What if Bill Gates moves in right next door.

 

Most of, we would think, wow.  Our community has just been elevated. 

 

Elevating community is what I want to talk about today. 

And I want to start with the idea that it’s already happened.  The whole world was made through Jesus.  He existed in perfect fellowship with the father and the holy spirit.  He watched below.

 

He watched below as our ancestors mostly did the same stuff that we all do every day.  They turned their backs on what God offered.  They lived in a way that did not glorify their creator.  They betrayed him, they betrayed each other.  They lived greedily, they lived destructively, they lived lustfully.

 

Jesus moved into the neighborhood anyway.  He entered into this greedy, destructive world that had turned it’s back on him.

This is an incredibly serious thing and I don’t mean it lightly when I say we were a million times trashier than the Beverly hillbillies.  I don’t mean it lightly when I say he’s a million times more impressive than Bill Gates. 

 

Jesus moved into the neighborhood.

He moved into the neighborhood of humanity for humanity.

 

And that’s amazing news and I hope you feel all Christmas happy as you let this sink in.

Sermon series/What is the best way to elevate community?/ The Beatles

Over these last few several weeks, Marty has taken us through several principles that we practice as a church and that we hope you practice as individuals.  These are principles which strengthen, empower, and life up the family.  Today I’m here to talk to you about empowering community.

This is a broad, huge topic.  One approach to this topic would be to find some story or idea illustrated by the bible.  Then to figure out some specific action steps.  Then I could find a way to make them all start with the same letter.  Or make them all be initials that spell out some word.

 

I don’t want to do that today.  Instead of giving you four things to do or three things to think about, I want to challenge you to get in the habbit of  asking just one question:

What is the best way to elevate community?

 

Jesus answer was so relevant, this time of year: he entered into it.  He came down to Earth. 

But before we can really explore this question, it might be worthwhile to think about what a community is.  This is a pretty difficult question.  Perhaps we can begin with the idea of a group.  That’s a little bit easier.

 

Let’s think about The Beatles for a minute.  Most of know that The Beatles were John, Paul, George and Ringo.

If I asked you how you feel about The Beatles, you might answer that you like them.  If I did that, I’d expect, basically, that you’d have the same answer if I said “When John, Paul, Ringo, and George get together and make music, how do you feel about them?”

Maybe you love them.  Maybe you hate them.  But The Beatles are really nothing more than those four guys.  It wouldn’t make sense to say “Yeah, I hate the beatles, but I love the music that John, Paul, George, and Ringo made together.”

 

Similarly, I might say “Jesus came for John, Paul, George, and Ringo.”

Or I might say “Jesus came  for the Beatles.”

 

If I said this, I wouldn’t be saying that The Beatles were good or bad.  I wouldn’t be saying that they went to Heaven or that they went to Hell, and I wouldn’t be saying that Jesus came focused on groups.  Certainly he came for them as individuals.  But when I name that group, it’s like a shorthand way of mentioning each of the individuals.”

 

The people of Jesus time, they had trouble with a group called the Samiritans.  It would have been hard for Jesus followers to hear “Jesus came for the Samiritans.”  But he did.

And it’s easy for us to think “oh, those primitive disciples.  They just didn’t get it.”

 

So I’d like to try a thought experiment with you.  I’ve got a list.  It’s kind of a long one.  I’m going to read it.  And while I do, you of course, have two choices.

Jesus Came for…/Reductionism/Capitalism

One is to tune out.  Wonder what I’m going to say next.  You can sit there and write your grocery list on the offering envelope, and whisper to your neighbors.

Or you can take this in.  Let it penetrate.  Find the uncomfortable places and wonder about those.  The truth is that I struggle with parts of this list.  I bet you will too.  That’s all the more reason we ought to ought to really work on this.

So let’s sit back.  Really focus.  Wrap our brains around the truth of all this:

Jesus came here for you.

Jesus came here for me.

Jesus came here for the person sitting next to you.

Jesus came here for the person behind you.

Jesus came here for the person you wish was here but who didn’t come today.

He came for your family.

He came here for your coworkers.

He came for the people who live on your street.

He came here for all the people who live in your city.

He came here for the rich.

He came here for the poor.

He came here for the person who pretends to be homeless but really isn’t.

He came here for the millionaire who lies on his taxes so he doesn’t have to pay any more.

He came here for President Bush.

He came here for President-Elect Obama.

He came here for the Republicans.

He came here for the Democrats.

He came here for the people in this church.

He came here for the people in churches like this one.

He came here for the people in the churches which are not like this one.

He came here for the people who would never ever go to church at all.

He came here for the Buddhists, the Hindus, the Taoists, the Muslims.

He came here for the victims of violent crime.

He came here for the victims of terrorism.

He came here for the soldier’s in our armies.

He came for the peace makers.

He came here for the members of Al-Qada.

He came here for the perpetrators of violent crimes.

He came here for the warmongers. 

 

I think that it’s easy to miss how important groups are to who we really are. 

Probably the most significant reason is that we live in an individualistic world.  We emphasize the power of the individual.  We worship self reliance.  We proclaim our independence.

There was a Dutch Psychologist who worked for IBM.  He went all over the world and interviewed people for the company.  He ended up with this tremendous database that contains tens of thousands of interviews from people all over the world.

His research is still cited and recognized as authoritative around how people within a given culture tend to approach a wide variety of issues.

One of the things he did was assess where countries are on the individualistic-collective scale.  I was unsurprised to find that he determined that the most individual and least collective country in the world was the United States.

 

There are all kinds of reasons why this is the case.  There’s one I’d like to focus on.  is this idea that is closely connected to science.  The idea is called “reductionism.”

Reductionism is very had to separate to science.  It’s not bad, when it’s left in science.

Put simply, reductionism is the belief that the best way to understand a thing is to look at the parts that make that thing up.  The belief is that if you understand the parts, you understand the thing.

Consider a fish.  Or a watch.  If you wanted to know what was inside of them, you could carve them up.  You could list the parts and name them and describe what they look like and how much they weigh.

But science is more than reductionism.   You couldn’t put the watch back together again very easily.  And you couldn’t put the fish back together at all.  The fish or the watch wouldn’t be very useful any more.  You can never find out what the pieces do, within the fish or the watch, if you separate them.

 

Some very well intentioned people who probably did not even realize how infected they’d become by the idea of reductionism felt called to fufill Jesus’ message.

They wanted to share the gospel.  And they proceeded in just exactly the same way.

They began by observing that their were whole communities that had not heard of Jesus.  And they noticed that these communities were made up of people.  And they separated them. 

 

We send the kids over here.  We send the adults over there.  The twenty-somethings go into this room.  The forty-somethings go into that room.

 

We all stand alone together in church.

We read our bibles alone, we prayed alone, we saw the pastor once in a great while– alone.

 

Even before Jesus they would have been keyed into this idea.  At Jesus time, when they read scripture, they read it together.  Many of them had to, because they couldn’t read at all.

It’s an amazing thing that we live in a world where you can buy a bible for five dollars– or steal one for free from a hotel room.  Living in a society with nearly universal literacy is amazing.

But there’s an ugly side to all this.  We’ve been divided.  Our belief in community has been broken.

And so what the church has done, sometimes, is to find people who were involved in communities and tell them that these communities are not very important.  We’ve been told people that all they need is Jesus. 

Sometimes they’ve bought into Jesus’ good news anyway, and they’ve left their communities behind.  Other times they’ve seen what we’re trying to offer them and they are not interested.

Community in Bible, Movies, Real Life

We need people.   And we see it in the  bible.

Early on, God recognizes that it is not good for man to be alone.  And not long after that, Adam’s unhealthy need for community causes more destruction than any decision ever.

 

Men like Abraham are called out of their communities and have the faith to go.  Jacob begins with twelve sons: a family community.  These twelve sons end up having their own familes: twelve family community.  These twelve families eventually give rise to twelve tribes.  Each tribe eventually is made up of tens and hundreds of thousands of families. 

There is Elijah who falls apart when he feels like he has no community.  And Jesus who gathers the disciples together into community and sends them out  to infiltrate all the communities of the world.

You would be hard-pressed to point to a single book of the bible where communities are not central to what is going on.

It’s tempting to view scripture as instructions in how to be.  I’d argue that in fact it’s instruction about how to be together.

It’s tempting to view scripture as instructions about who to be.  I’d argue that more often, it’s filled with instructions about who we should be when we’re together.

The Old Testament often looks more like a penal code than a self-help book.  The rules and laws aren’t just about how to live: they are about how to live in community. 

 But perhaps that is not persuasive to you.  I don’t think you have to be a follower of Christ to get the importance of community.

 

Let’s think about a couple movies.

Have you ever seen “Cast Away”.  In the movie, Tom Hanks gets ship wrecked.  If you weren’t thinking to deeply, you might think “That whole movie, it disproves the point.  That’s a whole movie, and pretty much the whole thing,  it’s just Tom Hanks alone.  He doesn’t need people.”

But there a part of that movie that pretty much all of us connect with.  It’s when Tom Hanks ends up reshaping a volleyball to look like a Human face.  He calls it Wilson.  He talks to Wilson.  Wilson becomes his friend.

And we connect with this.  It’s incredibly funny and incredibly sad because we all know that we would do the same thing.  If we were stuck, for a long time alone, the only way we would maintain our sanity is if we went a little bit crazy.  We know that we would create people to be with.  We would all make Wilson, if we were in that character’s shoes.

 

We see a variation on this theme in the film “I am Legend”.  To the best of his knowledge, Will Smith is the last person alive.  But he uses store mannequins to create this whole world for himself.  He gives the imaginary people personality.  There’s a point that he’s all unshaven and pathetic looking, and he’s practically crying, begging the mannequin to speak to him.  But of course it doesn’t.  It’s like he’d rather be insane than alone.  While watching this movie with our good friend Kara, she said, “I’d rather die than be all alone like that.”

 

We’d rather lose touch with reality than be alone; we’d rather die than be alone.  These feelings are close to universal.

 

And if you’re not moved by these references to movies, let me ask a few questions:

 

What is the best thing that ever happened to you?

What is the worst thing that ever happened to you?

What role did community play in these events?

 

There might be a few of the best– or worst– times in your life that weren’t intimately connected to community.  There might be a small number of things that were important and that happened simply and only to you.

If they did, it’s my prayer that one of the first things you thought, when either the best or the worst thing happened to you was this: I’m going to share this with _____.  Somebody, or maybe a group of people.

But maybe not.  Maybe you didn’t have anybody in your life when that very important thing happened.  If you didn’t, I’m willing to bet one of the very first things you thought was: wow, I wish I had somebody to share this with.

 

It might be that you were around people all the time but you didn’t have anybody to share it with.  It might be that you didn’t see anybody very often but you new exactly who we were going to tell.

We can’t measure how well connected you are by measuring the number of people who are physically near you.  We all know that we can be alone but not lonely.  We all know that we can be so desperately alone, even in the middle of the crowd.

Dif. Between communities and groups/ Reductionism vs community/2 case studies

Being in the middle of a bunch of people does not connect us.  Being in the middle of a community does. 

 

There’s a difference between communities and groups.

 

Groups aren’t bad things.  But we really aren’t wired to belong to groups.  What we need– what some of us know we need- are communities. 

I spent a while trying to find a good definition of community.  Trying to get at the difference between these two things.   After plodding through dictionaries, word history, and illustrations, I’d like to propose that this is the best way to look at community:

A community is a group where the sum is greater than the parts that make it up.

 

That sentence is almost a cliché.  We hear it all the time and so it’s easy to gloss over it.  But it’s really a pretty strange idea.  In our every day life, we’re used to the idea that if we have eight of something here, and five of something here, we’ll bring them together and have thirteen.

But in a real community, something magical happens.  We add eight of this with five of that and we get something bigger than thirteen.

 

Whether or not a community has Jesus at the center of it, if it is a true community when its members are together they add up to more than they would, more than they should.  Members are able to cover up each others weaknesses and they are able to build upon each others strengths.

 

At Fellowship church we call them small groups because they start as just groups.  An assortment of people whose sum is equal to the number that make it up.  When they first meet, nobody is covering up anybody’s weaknesses.  Nobody is building on anybody’s strengths.

It’s just a random assortment of people.  And if those people are honest with each other, they’ll admit they find each other weird, annoying, hard to understand.

But something magical happens.  The small group becomes a community as time goes by.  In my current small group there are all these amazing people.   One of them will tell me exactly what she thinks.  Another is so very full of love.  One of the member has this awesome ability to not make things more complicated than they need to be.  This person is just amazing at simplifying.  Some of the people in this group have this wisdom and experience that is so valuable.  Others have this youthful enthusiasm that I feel so invigorated by. 

 

Here’s the thing: if you gave me a bunch of people like the loving person, I suppose we’d have a good time holding hands and singing coom-by-yay, but seriously, this would just be a group.  It wouldn’t be a community.  There’d be nobody present to compensate for the fact that we all wear our hearts on our sleeves.

 

If everybody in the group had that special knack for making things as simple as they should be, it would be unnecessary.  The reason that this person is so valuable is because I have this tendency to make things more complicated than they need to be.

 

But there’s another way that the idea of the sum being more than the total of the parts plays out.

 

When I’m a member of a group, I’m only as valueable as the things I can do for that group.  For most of us, our job is a place where we are part of a group, not part of a community.

 

In my case, I’m a teacher.  My boss cares about how well I teach.  And fill out paper work.  And follow the education laws.  And deal with parents.

He might not be interested in the fact that I make mighty fine chocolate covered potato chips.

 

But there is more to me than those things.

There is more to you than whatever you do at your job.

 

You are more than the total of the tasks you do.  You are are greater than just the list of things you provide.

 

A community cares about more than just the things you bring to it.  A community cares about who you are.  If it’s a real community then they want to know things about you, even if those things couldn’t possibly benefit or effect the members.

 

The truth is, that like you, my small group would probably never want to eat my chocolate covered potato chips.  Like most of you, they have yet to recognize that the union of chocolate, salt, and crunch is a little slice of heaven.

But the people in my small group, they value that there is stuff about me that I don’t do with them or for them.  It matters to them that I make chocolate covered potato chips.

 

In short:

A community is greater than the people who make it up.

And every person within a community is worth more than just the list of things they do for that group.

 

Can you see how this flies in the face of reductionism?

Reductionism says that you can understand a group by adding up the effectiveness of it’s members. 

Reductionism says that the value of the members is an outgrowth of just exactly what that person does for the group.

 

Deep inside we know that reductionism is wrong.  And we are so desperate for community that we will seek out unhealthy ones rather than not have one.  The other day, I saw a bumper sticker.  It said “If you make people believe absurdities, they will be willing to commit atrocities.”  Now those words barely fit onto the bumper sticker as it was.  But I’d add something to that, if I could.  I’d say “People use the power of community to make people believe in absurdities.  Belieiving in these absurdities, that can lead to atrocities.”

I’d like to read you a few passages from folks who ended up in some pretty bad communities:

 

http://www.xenu.net/entheta/entheta/1stpersn/jmuldoon/1996-005.html?FACTNet

Dianetics was where it began for me. I bought the book at a local
bookstore in Chicago after seeing an infomercial late the night before.
Sitting in the parking lot, I read a quater of book, mesmerized. I
brought the book everywhere. At work I started reading it on breaks and
lunch. I started informing my coworkers of the miracle of Dianetics and
L. Ron Hubbard. It was my bible.

Halfway through the book I stepped into the world of the totally free.
The Church of Scientology in Chicago was a block from the YMCA where I
was living. Walking by several times before actually entering the
building, I noticed that everyone inside looked happy and positive.
Finally I decided to enter the building.

I had the Dianetics paperback in my hand and asked the receptionist if I
could get some more information on the subject. She asked me if I had
read it and, if so, had I used a dictionary. I told her that I did not
need a dictionary, because the book was easy to understand. She gave me
a strange look and seated me on a large white leather sofa in the public
area. There were so many books and tapes and pictures of L. Ron Hubbard
that I felt overwhelmed. Everyone who passed by said ‘Hello’ and smiled.
A beautiful women sat next to me and asked my name. We talked about
Dianetics and how it had changed her life. I had not had a conversation
with a pretty women in a long time. She shook my hand and said that she
hoped to see me again. I did not leave for nearly a year.

This is how they got me. A peaceful, family like, environment where
everyone was my friend. Promises of freedom from all that ever held me
back from achieving my dreams. A promise of truth with a money-back
guarantee.

If you know the tenants of dianetics, you know that they are pretty silly.  You might know that it’s sounds like a bad science fiction movie because it was authored by a famous science fiction writer.

The truth or falsity isn’t what that guy was looking for.  It was the community.

Or consider this article:

http://www.rickross.com/reference/supremacists/supremacists17.html

It’s a Thursday afternoon and a worried Ventura mother named Kari says she hasn’t seen her teenage son in four days. He and his older brother drifted into the white power movement a few years ago, and she lost all control of them.

Kari’s eyes fill with tears as she explains that she simply doesn’t know what happened. She never taught them to be racists, she says. But she knows she wasn’t home as much as she should have been. There wasn’t as much guidance as there might have been, she says.

In many ways, Mike fits the profile of the typical white power believer.

Later, the article continues

Soon he began using drugs regularly. In the ninth grade, Mike dropped out of school. And at 17, he joined a white supremacist gang.

“They believed in what I believed in,” he said. “They were like my family. I felt like I was at home. I’d ride with them and I’d feel proud.”

6:15

Christ-centered community/ The mystery of oneness/ Joining Jesus revolution

 

It’s not enough for us to recognize the importance of community.  We have to do better than just using it as a tool to get people to become Christians.  Sometimes, we treat community like the junk food  at youth group.  We act like it’s not really connected to the gospel but it’s a convenient way to get people there.

And if we want to really elevate community, we’ve got to be see this as more than just a defensive move.  We can’t simply maneuver people into our communities as a way to keep them out of other communities.

 

For us to share Jesus view of community, we have recognize that Jesus didn’t just want a collection of individual Christians.  He wanted a Christian community.  He wanted us to gather in groups where we were able to experience that cumalitive adding of our strengths and that mitigating of our weaknesses.  He wanted us to gather so that he could show up in a special way.

 

 

 

Matthew 18:20 (New International Version)

20For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them.”

There’s no way around a very simple fact: Jesus shows up in a unique way to communities.  One of the most amazing descriptions of why this happens and what it means can be found in John 17.  Jesus is speaking to God, mostly about his followers.  This is what he says:

13“I am coming to you now, but I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them. 14I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world. 15My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. 16They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. 17Sanctify[b] them by the truth; your word is truth. 18As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world. 19For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified.

Jesus Prays for All Believers

 20“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: 23I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.

This is confusing.   Through this whole passage, this is inside of that and that’s inside of this and God gave this to Jesus and then Jesus gave it to the disciples…  It almost feels like a clue game.  I read through it and I want to conclude “The Holy Spirit did it in the Conseveratory with a candlestick.”  One problem is that theirs some language that doesn’t pop up into our every day lives.  A little later, I’m going to come back to the word “sanctify” as it appears above.  But more than this,

I think it’s supposed to be confusing.  One of the central mysteries of Christianity is the mystery of the trinity.  The idea is that Jesus, God, and The Holy Spirit are somehow separate from each other… and yet they are not separate, too.

In this passage, this mystery is linked to the mystery of community itself.  The followers are one with each other.  And they are one with Jesus.  And they are one with God the father. This is dizzying math.  We begin with a group of people.  If they are a community than they are more than the sum of their parts.  But somehow, through, Jesus, they are made to be only one.  First those who followed Jesus were made one.  And then those who heard from them… Do you realize if you are a Christ follower, that you are one with people who walked with Jesus?  If you are a Christ follower you are one with Mathew, Mark, Luke and John.  There is an unbroken chain of believers between you and them, and you are one with all of them.

When we think about the topic of elevating community, it’s easy to think that this is something that we ought to be doing by ourselves and under our own power.  It’s easy to look at this like some brand new idea.

 

Jesus community revolution started 2000 years ago.  It’s not something that we have to start, it’s simply something for us to get on board with.

 

When I look at history I see a lot of people who claimed to follow Christ.   Many of them, for all kinds of reasons, opposed things Jesus was in favor of.  They favored things Jesus opposed.  They were on the wrong sides of issues.  Some of the last people to give up on the idea of a flat earth,  some of the last people to give up on the idea that white skin or maleness makes you superior claim to be Christ followers.

 

Others were innovators.  The church gave rise to some of the very first people who opposed slavery.  The church gave rise to some of the very first people who supported women’s rights.  The church gave rise to some of the very first people who championed education and fought against evils like child labor.

 

I’d like to be on Jesus side of the issues.   Jesus side is this: communities matter.

 

Question Revisited/ Elevating communities that exist/ creating new ones

And this brings us back to the question I posed a while ago: What is the best way to elevate community?

 the first thing we need to do is shift our way of thinking.

For too long, we’ve had this restaurant mentality of the gospel.  We’re going to cook up what we think people need.  And we’re going to wait for them to come to us.  And if they show up, we’ll serve them.  But only if they meet the dress code.

 

We ought to have a domino’s pizza mentality.  Dominos figured out what they do–they make pizzas.  And then they bring this out into the world, they find the people where they actually are.

 

Jesus attracted his very first disciples by taking a walk along the shore.  He saw brothers who were fishing together and he invited them together.  He invested in his disciples, and he trained them, and then he set them back out into the world, where his disciples entered into the communities that already were.

 

It’s fair to ask: what does this look like today?

And I think the answer is this:

We go to the places where there aren’t Christians.  We continue to do many of the things we did before we were Christians.  We gather with football buddies or soccer moms, or God save us from Sarah Pallin, Joe six packs.  We spend time in the places we enjoy spending time… at the mall or the coffee house or the pool hall.

In short, the first thing we do is identify that communities are all around us.  Families are potential communities, sports teams are potential communities, neighborhoods and clubs are potential communities.  Even street gangs, white supremacist groups, cults, abusive, sinful, and unhealthy relationships: These may be evil.  We might be called to fight what they are doing.  But one part of this fight is to recognize how deeply and desperately we desire community.

 

I think the true is that we overplay this.  I’m not going to show up at that community.  They are up to nothing good over there.    It’s easy and safe and comfortable to be a member of a community that places Jesus at the center in an obvious way.  But instead of running away from those communities that don’t, what would happen if we worked on bringing Jesus into the center of these communities.

How do we do this?  We can talk about Jesus in the same way that we’d talk about any other important aspect of our life.  We show them his love and how he changes and redeems.  We’re told by our love that people will know we follow Christ.  Do we live this out?

 

The fact that we should elevate the communities that are out there does not mean that we shouldn’t build new ones.

In fact the next thing we need to do, I think, is recognize that community is not one optional path to conveying the gospel.  Community is the only way we’re going to experience the fullness of what Jesus offered.  There are important facets of our spiritual lives that are solitary.  But we are such a solitary society that generally we’re pretty good at these, already.  And regardless of how good we are at our indididual morning devotionals, regardless of how much we like our alone time, this does not change the fact that community is not optional.

And furthermore, community is not a vacation from everyday life.  I used to feel this way.  I had this idea when I first participated in small groups that they ought to be this place away from my troubles, this little slice of heaven away from the realities of my every day life.

Remember the good fun that we had in the ice storm a couple weeks ago?  That prevented my group from meeting on the night it normally would.  We couldn’t get together and talk about the sermon.  We couldn’t share snacks and hang out for a while in a little enclave, away from all our troubles.

It just so happened that we were some of the lucky ones.  We have electricity through the whole thing.  Our car was undamaged.  Our streets were passable.

We had the privilege of putting up one of our members who didn’t have electricity but had a small baby.  My eldest son and I were able to spend a couple hours at another small group members house.  We were clearing the branches that crushed their yard.

 

 

I’m not trying to potray myself as the hero, here.  The people whose driveway we cleared have rescued us on more than one occasion.  The mom we put up in our house regularly watches our kids.  I have received so much more than I have given from the members of small groups.  God was kind enough to put me in a position to help others out this time around.

The point I’m trying to make is that it only looks like we had to cancel small group that week.  We actually had it in a much more important way.  All those other times when we sat around and read the bible together, or ate, or laughed, or talked about God, they were laying the ground work for me being able to help them out during the ice storm.

I’m not saying that God is happy to inflict natural disasters.  I’m not saying that the reason for them is simply to build community.  This would be incredibly insensitive to the real human suffering that occurs.

But I am saying that God made the universe in such a way that real good comes out of real struggles.

Some of you lost more than just power.  You lost portions of your homes.  You lost cars.  You lost hundreds of dollars in food.  You lost you’re a sense of security.  You lost some of what you were going to use for Christmas.

It wasn’t easy and fun for you to have to share your needs with others.  And it isn’t easy and fun to give sacrificially to meet those needs.

But I know that this has happened, in so many case. 

I know that some needs have probably gone unspoken.  And I know that others have been unmet.  While I feel sorry for these, I also want to celebrate the real community that has gone on where we have come together and become greater than the parts.

Hard question vs easy questions why we do it versus what we do

The last thing, the most important thing:

In our every day lives we ask: What can I do to elevate the communities that we are in?

 

It’s easy to ask “What is the easiest thing for me to do in the communities that I am in?”

It’s easy to ask “What can I do to elevate myself in the communities that I am in?”

But it’s so very hard to ask the most important question:

What can I do to elevate the whole community?

The scripture we read earlier today focuses on oneness in all sorts of ways.

We often think that being one means that we don’t dissent from the group.  We follow the party line.  We don’t disagree.

 

I’m not sure that this is right.

In a way, each of us already is a community.  We are made up of different parts that sometimes disagree.  My heart might be telling me to do one thing.  My head is telling me another.  If I’m wise I pay careful attention to each.

 

Within a group, you might be the head.  You might be the heart.  You might be the soul.  Your voice is needed… sometimes.  Disention and arguing can tear a group apart, of course, when they happen at the wrong time, and in the wrong way.

 

Offerings/Sanctification

A powerful community, a Jesus-centered community, is one where a question that runs through everybody’s mind, often is “How can I most elevate this community?”

There are times that is best for the group to speak up.  There are times when it is best for the group that we are silent.  And there is so much more than this:

There are going to be times when it is best for the group to receive something we don’t want to give.  Our time.  Our resources.  Our attention.

Mine, mine, mine.

But if I see it as only mine, I’m taking it back from the community.  If I see it as only mine, it’s only going to be worth exactly as much as it is.

 

I give up my time, my resources, my attention over to a community which has Jesus in the center, then the sum of these offerings will be worth more than the parts.  It’s not so different from when Jesus used these small little pieces of food to feed hundreds and thousands of people: the sum of what we get is more than the total of the parts that we put in.

 

 

This is so hard.  And this brings us back to the idea of being sanctified.  I promised you we’d get back to the word.  In the passage we read today Jesus said

19For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified.”

It’s not a very fun word, sanctified.  We wouldn’t think of it as a party to say “Hey, let’s go out and get sanctified together who-hoo.”  In Hebrews 13, Jesus speaks of sanctifying through his blood.  In the passage we’re talking about, Jesus is quite focused on his upcoming crucifiction.  Perhaps he’s refererring to it here.

The whole word carries this idea of being separated, made better, or purified through difficult experiences.

Jesus wants this for us.  He doesn’t want us to suffer for suffering sake.  But he does want us to suffer if it will make us better than we are.

There is a kind of suffering that only comes from sacrificing what we need for others in our community.  This, I think, is part of why community is so essential to knowing Jesus.  Without it we can’t grow past a certain type of selfish, without sacrificing for community we can’t get past a certain terrible brand of selfishness.

 

This is not fun.  It’s hard work.  I don’t claim to very good at it.  Maybe you’re not either.  But there’s only one way to get good.  And that’s to practice. 

2000 years ago Jesus came and elevated community by setting foot on the Earth.  He’s invited us to join him in communities that are elevated.  It’s not always fun but it is so worth it.

The Sermon

I had the privilige today of sharing a message with my church, today.

I figured I’d post it below.  I know it gets uploaded somewhere on the web.  I’ll put a link in when I figure out where it is.

I feel like quite a newbie at all this.  I quite welcome constructive criticism and comments about either my presentation or the actual content of the message.  If you were there today, or if you invest some of your time now, thanks so very much.  I really appreciate it.

Somebody decided that Pastor Marty deserved a vacation, so I’ll be sharing a message with you today.   We’re so thankful that you’ve joined us this morning.  If you’re a visitor, I hope you’ll fill out the card in the chair in front of you and bring it to the table in back for a gift after the service.

 

 As you can see, I’ve brought some stuff with me

(unpacking random things from a backpack)

  As I’m taking it out, you’re probably wondering something.  What you might be wondering is, “What is he going to do with all this stuff?”

You’re probably assuming I’ve got some kind of object lesson I’d like to share with all my toys up here.  If you’re anything like me, you might even be playing the game of “Hmmm… I wonder if I can guess what his point is before he even makes it.”

 

In truth, I won’t really be using most  of these objects in that I’m unloading.  They are going to sit up here, unused.    We won’t be making a point by cooking pasta or explaining salvation by…

 

The thing I want you to notice is that you might be feeling some combination of surprise and annoyance.  You felt pretty safe in an assumption.  That assumption was this: If I bring something with me, I’ll be using it.

 

And that’s why I brought all this stuff up here: because I wanted us to notice together that very basic and obvious assumption.  If we have stuff, we’ll use it. 

 

When we watch movies or read books we operate on this assumption, too.

When Q gives James Bond a parachute inside his belt buckle, you can be darn sure that 007 will be thrown out of a plane before the end of the movie.

On a more general level, a great playwrite once said “If you have a gun hanging over the mantel in act I, you’d better be prepared to have somebody fire it before the end of Act III.”

This principle even holds true for nonmaterial things.  For skills, for abilities, for attitudes: When Harry Potter learns how to use magic to unlock doors at the beginning of a book, we know that at some point, he’s going to a face a locked door before the end of the book. 

 

One reason for all  this is of course simply that we don’t want our time wasted.  You hope that my preparation for speaking today consisted of me doing more than throwing random stuff in a bag and then improvising about it for the next half hour.  I hope that the author of a play or book or movie I’m watching is going somewhere specific.  I hope that the scenes are all in there for a reason.

But there is something more than this.  We have a basic understanding that people will use what they bring.  We bring objects, we bring possessions,, we bring ideas, hopes, dreams, and assumptions with us, everywhere we go.  Some of these are good.  Some of these are bad. 

We often think we can bring things with us that we won’t use in certain times or places.  We think we can contain things and isolate it in one part of our lives.  I think this is not as true as often as we want it to be though.  It’s hard not to use the things that we always have with us.  It’s hard to prevent things from spilling over.

 

Some time ago, I was put in a pretty unfomfortable situation.  You see a short time after my wife and I moved to Massachusetts, my mother-in-law also moved to Massachusetts.  I tell this story.  A lot.  But I don’t always choose the most neutral words.  Often, when I tell the story, instead of saying that she “also moved” I use verbs like “stalked” or “chased”.  Sometimes, I’ll say that we ran cross country to avoid her and I wonder if we have to cross an ocean to be rid of her.

  They weren’t words I’d said directly to my son, but somehow he picked up on them.

I brought a sense of disrespect toward an adult into my sons life.  I may have well have unpacked a sarcastic attitude from a bag and displayed it before him.  When he elected to share these things with the target of my unkindness, what could I say:

It’s o.k. to be nasty, just not to be people’s faces?  We ought to be kind and loving toward most people, but your mom’s mom is an exception?  You should do as I say not as I do?

In some way I should be flattered.  He’s trying to act like me.  Isn’t that great. 

I never set out to be a lousy example or to hurt my mother in laws feelings.  But what I intended doesn’t really matter here.  I behaved unwisely.  I thought I could keep sarcasm and bitterness isolated away from my son and ultimately my mother-in-law.  And I was wrong.

 

My sarcasm and feelings aren’t bad things by themselves.  But at some point, they blew up in my face.  Proverbs Chapter 1, verse 8-19 says

“My Child, if sinners entice you, turn your back on them!  They may say “Come and join us.  Let’s hide and kill someone!  Let’s ambush the innocent!  Let’s swallow them alive as the grave swallows its victims.  Though they are in the prime of life, they will go down into the pit of death.  And the loot we’ll get!  We’ll fill our houses with all kinds of things!  Come on, throw in your lot with us; we’ll split our loot with you.”

“Don’t go along with them, my child!  Stay far away from their paths.  They rush to commit crimes.  They hurry to commit murder.  When a bird sees a trap being set it stays away.  But not these people!  They set an ambush for themselves; they booby trap their own lives!”

I booby trapped myself.  I thought that I could act a certain way… some of the time.  I thought I could bring something with me, and that I wouldn’t be using it.  As true as this seems to me, my first that about the rest of this passage is this: Has anybody really ever been approached that way?  When you were an adolescent, was there ever time you were all just lounging around, so bored, that it pops into your head to go on a murder spree?   Outside of an Oliver Stone movie, do people actually approach each other and say “Hey, I know!  Let’s go kill innocent people!”  How boring does your Friday night have to be, before you decide that it’d be just awesome if you could send somebody down in a pit of death? 

 

   As Solomon wrote the proverbs, I think he knew that sometimes people have certain ideas, sometimes they want us to do things, and the words they actually say don’t really matter.  I think that even back then nobody was likely to approach you using the words the figures do in the proverbs.  It’s the meaning behind what people say that is important. 

And so I’m going to guess that you’re like me.  Nobody has probably ever invited you into a burglary ring before.  But there is a deeper truth going on here.  Sometimes we start down a road and we have no idea what it’s really about.  Certainly, months or years ago, I didn’t realize that I was engaging in something which might be a poor example to my oldest son,  hurt my mother-in-laws feelings and  end up with me feeling quite foolish.

 

In this sermon series, We have been looking at the Proverbs.  The extended metaphor we’ve been working with is this: Finding wisdom is a bit like shopping.

 

Last week, Marty focused on the idea that sometimes, we might simply browse in a store.  We have to look around for the things we want.  Sometimes the things we want are old antiques.  Other times, the thing we want is wisdom.

 

The thing that I want to talk about today is that stores hire people to sell their stuff.  And these people will ask us “Can I help you?”

And sometimes, they actually do help us.  We actually need the thing they have in the store.  We probably could not have found it with out them.  Wisdom is like this.  There are things that we can only learn from other people.  Usually it’s going to be people who know more than us.  I’m looking foreward to next Sunday’s sermon, when we’ll learn about the benefits of learning from the wise.

But the scripture we’re looking at today is actually the flip side of this.  It’s about trying to learn from those who aren’t wise.

If we really think about it, the clerk’s job isn’t to help us.  It’s to sell stuff to us.  Sometimes those things will help us.  Other times they won’t.  But it’s not the clerk’s job to worry about that, really.  Generally speaking, his bosses will be happiest when he’s sold lots of stuff regardless of whether or not the people actually need it.

But a clerk who was this blunt wouldn’t be very good.  If he said “What can I sell you today?” He’s probably not going to do very well. 

Suppose that you told him “If I bought that, I wouldn’t be able to afford to feed my kids.”  If he said “Well, I don’t really care about whether or not your kids eat.  I’m really just interested in selling more stuff.”  You’d probably just walk out of the store. 

Maybe they want to sell us the stores new credit card.  Maybe they get a bonus if they sell lots of cards.  Maybe it’s a job requirement and they’ll get fired if they don’t sell enough of them.

Whatever the case may be, somehow, the salesperson got motivated to sell you a card.  And there’s lots of things they might say.  They might tell you about the extra discount you’ll get if you sign up today.  Maybe they’ll tell you about how you can have whatever you want in the store– right now.  Maybe they’ll flash you a flirtatious grin, and maybe you’ll feel attractive if you’re credit passes their test. 

But no matter what words they choose, here’s what their words really mean:

“Sign up for our credit card.  Enjoy stuff today that you don’t really need.  Take as long as you want to pay it off.  In fact, we’d like you to just pay the minimum payments!  You want a $300 jacket– that’s great!  Just give us $30 a month– for the next 10 years.  Of course, you’ll have bought the jacket 10 times over.  By the time you’ve paid it off the jacket will be rotting in a dump somewhere– but you get to buy it today.  And the thousands of dollars you pay us in interest, that’s money you won’t have for other things.  You won’t have it for your kids college tuition, you won’t have it to buy something nice for your spouse, you won’t have it to feed the hungry… But hey, you get a really nice jacket out of the deal.”

There are all sorts of ways that a salesperson avoids saying those things.  But the words that come out of his mouth, they just don’t matter.     The words he says don’t matter, because they don’t represent the truth of the situation.

And so there are all kinds of ways that that somebody avoids saying “Let’s hide and kill someone.  Let’s ambush the innocent.  Let’s swallow them alive as the grave swallows its victims.”

Of course, nobody every uses those words.  They may not even realize that this is what they are doing.  But everytime we sin this is what we’re doing.  So as we think about these enticing sinners, I’m going to cast a really wide net.   I’m thinking about people outside of you and personality quirks inside of you.  I’m thinking past events and future experiences.  I’m thinking about good intentions and bad ones, I’m thinking about genocidal evil and sins that seem tiny and incidental.

 

I’d like to tell you a little story.  There was a little girl in the early 60’s.  It might tell you a little something about her to know that she was a member of her church choir and glee club.  Her mother had cancer and she brought the choir to her mother’s window so that they could sing to her while she was sick.   Years passed.  She met a charismatic man who played guitar in the house she found herself living in.  The house was raided.  She found herself homeless.  The guitar player invited her to come live with her.  She accepted his offer.

If I tell you that the woman’s name is Susan Atkins, you might know how the story ends.  If I tell you that the guitar player was named Charles Manson you might have an even better idea.  Atkins would go on to participate in nine murders with the Manson family.  Her death sentence was commuted to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.

 

I am not here to claim that we shouldn’t thoroughly and completely hold her accountable for her decisions.  I am here to say that when she asked her friends in the chorus to go sing under her mom’s window, she probably never imagined where her life would take her.  Susan Atikins got involved with a certain group of people.  She lived her life by a certain set of rules.  She ended up doing things that no one should ever do.  She ended up living a life no one would ever want to experience.

 

Or consider another figure who once held promise.  His father was a Baptist minister.  He was president of his fraternity and college and went on to earn a doctorate in economics.  Years later he was one of the top-paid CEO’s in the world and was considered as a  possibility for Presidential Bushes treasury secretary.  The decisions he eventually made lead to what has been called “The biggest Fraud in corporate history” Stock in his company went from 90 dollars per share to fifty cents.  Lives were ruined and retirement funds were emptied as a result of his decisions.  He was convicted of a variety of charges but died of a heart attack before his sentencing.  His name was Keneth Lay.  He ran Enron during its collapse.

 

Again, I’m not interested so much in either praising or condemming him.  The thing I want to observe is that he once had everything going for him.  Then he made some lousy decisions.  It all fell apart.

 

 

And so I have to ask you a really tough question today: How are the sinners enticing you?  Are you able to see that the words they are using don’t matter?  Are you able to see where that path is going to get you?

I’m sure that no one is saying to you, “Let’s hide and kill someone!” But is somebody saying “You know what, everybody fudges their paperwork to get ahead.  That’s just how business is done.”  I’m sure that nobody is saying to  “Let’s ambush the innocent!  Let’s swallow them alive as the grave swallows its victims.” But maybe somebody says, through words or actions “When you act in anger and intimidate other people, you will get what you want out of life.”  I’m sure no one says  “Though they are in the prime of life, they will go down into the pit of death.”  But perhaps, just perhaps the never ending messages from society might penetrate through.  When all those commercials say “It’s just a web site, it’s just a picture, it’s just a harmless conversation.”  Maybe it’s becoming more and more easy to believe them. 

 

 

Marty, here’s the stuff I’m wondering if it’s too much… Maybe I should just pick 2 out of the 4 anecdotes here?  Maybe I don’t need any?

This stuff can be so subtle.  It can be so hard to weed out.

I know that there is another area I struggle in.  I know that I have this tendency to rationalize like I’m this mellow surfer guy, and that everything is going to be fine.  The problem is that I tell myself this even when everything is far from fine.

When I was like an eleven year old boy scout, we were putting on this thing for a fair.  It was supposed to be a demonstration of what to in the case of a third degree burn.  We were pretty twisted little boy scouts, and we had this book.  It was a special effect book written by this movie make-up artist.  There was this secion on how to make really cool burns.  His idea was that you start with a layer of candle wax on the area to simulate the burn, coat the wax with rubber cement, and then crumple charcoal atop the rubber cement.

The problem was that it somehow seemed like a good idea to do this on my face.  And let me tell you something: melting candlewax on a cheek doesn’t just simulate a burn.  It produces the real thing.

So we had the bright idea to just cut this whole step out.  We painted my cheek with rubber cement, crumpled in the charcoal, and I have to tell you: I was one realistic looking burn victim… In some ways we were smart kids.  But it didn’t occur to us to worry.

And when my cheek started to get warm from the chemicals, I just shrugged and wandered off.  I decided, somehow, that I’d be able to wash it off.

And when I found the bathroom, which did not have the mirror, I pulled it off, and it was a little uncomfortable, but still: I just didn’t quite get it.

When I saw the first person, freaked out that I’d peeled off the entire top layer of skin on my left side of my face, I finally got it.

 

On September 11th, 2001, I remember the first time I saw the footage of the burning World Trade Centers.  It was before the second tower even fell.  We had no idea who did it.   A number of the members of my family were home, at the time, and I remember walking past them, as they sat glued to the T.V.  I’m not proud to tell you that though I felt a little bad and a little confused, but mostly, I just wondered what the big deal was.

 

You know about three years ago, I broke up this fight.  I took a number of hits.  I ended up on the ground.  People were worried about me, but I told them I was fine.  Right after the fight, I planned on finishing up the day.  I’d eventually find out that I sprained my back.  This would lead to me spending nearly a month out of work.  When it rains, my back is still sore.

 

Most recently a couple weeks ago.  I received this call at my second job, a retail gig, Narnes and Boble.  My wife was telling me that my grandmother who is eldery was being moved to hospice care.  She had a sever respitory infection.  They’d discontinued the aniobiotics.  She was likely going to die.

And my brain started swimming and I stopped really processing the things she said.  I asked her to repeat things a couple times.  Part of me was just dying.

My wife won’t be surprised to hear that part of me was annoyed she was bugging me at work.  I was trying to just figure out a way to deal with it six hours later when I got off.  We weren’t sure that she’d be alive then.  But some part of me wanted to stay at this pointless, mininumum-wage earning job rather than go home and deal.

And maybe that last story is the most telling.  I wanted to stay there.  I wanted to stay away.  Part of me knew, because it was starting to shut down: my thoughts were running in circles and my arms were all goose pimply and my memory was playing back all these great memories of her, and my insecurities were broadcasting all my fears about how I’ve handled her aging and what I should have done differently.

But the common thread is this: these are all cases that I’m smart enough to be in touch with just how bad things were.  But there are sinners inside of me who want to deny it all.  And there are people outside of me who will conspire with this, who will tell me what I want to here, who will assist me in living in denial.

 

These are the sinners who entice me.  Who are the sinners who entice you?  Because the proverb is so right:  We are setting a trap for ourselves.  Jesus would later express this idea when he said “As you reap, so shall you sew.” But the idea is in here, already.  ” They set an ambush for themselves; they booby trap their own lives!”

Some people think about these ideas, and similar concepts in other belief systems like Karma, where the idea is that God is outside of us getting us back for the foolish things we do.

Maybe God works this way and maybe he doesn’t… but there is a more basic thing going on.  Mostly, God does need to.  Mostly, when we go down these paths, we grab just enough rope to hang ourselves with.

Whatever we bring to the party, that’s what we’re going to be using.  Whatever rules we try to live by, the rules will soon fill up our world.

If we live by violence then that violence will eventually come for us.  If we engage in deception we enter into a deceitful world where others will try to deceive us.  When we indulge unhealthy appetites, those appetites will grow so big that sooner or later, they will eat us.

We recognized it when I brought all that stuff with me on the stage a few minutes ago: whatever we bring, we’re going to end up using.  It’s really the same principle at work here.

10:11

My tendency to bury my head in the sand has lead to some bad stuff happening in my life.  Because I try to run away from truths the truths eventually rear their ugly heads when they are too big and out of control for me to deal with.

A while ago, I asked you a question.  I asked “Who are the sinners that entice you?” Now, I’d like to ask a couple follow up questions.  The first question is “What booby traps have already gone off in your face, as a result of the sinners who entice you?  The second is: What booby traps could go off in your future, if you don’t get off the path your walking, if you don’t find out a way to become bigger than the enticement that threatens you?”

(Play with fire in here, somewhere.)  So a while ago I told you I’d be using one of my little props.  This one is it. 

I’m actually not going to do anything very interesting with this fire.  I’m just a bit of a pyromaniac inside and I love looking at flames.

But the reality is that we all know what’s going to happen if I play with this fire long enough.  It’s so true that’s it’s a cliché: play with fire and you’re going to get burned.

 

 

Last week Pastor Marty challenged us to “Understand Why, submit, and apply.”  This passage of scripture illustrates what happens when we fail to do these things.

I think often times we act as though all our choices in life is the result of choosing between competing ideas.

But sometimes, the choice is between ideas on the one hand and thoughtless action on the other.

The enticing sinners don’t think.  They just do.  And they do things that aren’t very wise.  On the most literal level, they just start robbing people.  But if we extend this out and we apply it to ourselves, we realize that in the case of many dangerous roads, we often don’t stop to think at all.  We might jump along with others who are also not thinking.  But we don’t stop to think.

I didn’t stop to think before applying rubber cement to my face.  I didn’t stop to think what the smoking world trade center meant.  I didn’t stop to think that I might get hurt.

 

 

An expert on learning disabilities had this great description of students with AD/HD.  Sometimes, this description applies to all of us.  He says the mantra for these people is this: Ready!  Fire!  Aim!

Sometimes we live our lives this way: Ready?  Fire!  Aim!

This is significant.  The Hebrew for Sin is related to the term for missing the target.    We’ll never hit the target if we fire before we aim.  Understanding why, this is like aiming.

And if we don’t understand why, there is nothing for us to submit to.  I work with really troubled kids.  Gang kids.  Fatherless kids.  Motherless kids.  They are so terribly lost.

 

The problem is not that they have a wrong set of ideas about their lives.  It’s not like they have thought it and decided that deal drugs and being in a gang is in their best interest.  The problem is that they haven’t thought at all.  For them it was Ready?  Fire!  Aim.  Nobody ever approached them and used “Hey, let’s start stealing stuff, lets fill our homes with the loot.”  They just jumped into it… Ready?  Fire!  Aim.

 

For many of us our troubles seem less obvious than those kids.  This is both a blessing and a curse.  Because there are ways that I’m just like those kids.  There are ways that you are just like them.

It’s easy to think that is an unfair comparison.  It’s easy to think that our little problems don’t compare to the people speaking in the proverb.  Or that they don’t compare to gang kids dealing drugs and killing people.

In the short term, it’s quite likely that our smaller problems don’t.  But in the long term, if you’re aiming at a destination that’s even a little bit off, you will find yourself very lost.

 

 

Check this out.  In the short term, if I’m aiming for this spot on the wall and my aim is off just a little bit, I’m going to end up being pretty close.  But over the long haul, if my aim is off by that same amount, I end up being much further away from the target.

There’s a couple things that I hope you don’t hear me saying today.  When people start to talk about heading down the wrong path and life choices and things, it’s easy to turn it into a blame game.  It’s easy to hear that the guy talking is casting judgement on you.

And when we feel judged, it’s easy to in turn retreat away from the judge.  It’s easy to get further into the lousy decisions. 

I am here to say that we are all in this together.  I am here to ask you to call me out from the sinners who entice me.  I hope that you can become close enough with someone hear so that they’ll do it to you.

If your world is overwhelming, if you’re path is self destructive, I hope that you want do that thing that is so easy for me to do.  I hope you wont run away from the reality of your situation.  I hope that you won’t get so overwhelmed at solving your all your problems right now that you won’t just resume your autopilot and go back to the way things were.

 

What can you do right now.  That’s the thing to ask.  Right now.  Today.  This hour.  This afternoon.  What tiny little step are you going to take to get off the path your headed and toward the target you should be aiming for.  Right now.  What are you going to do right now.

Who will help you?  Who has been a hinderance to you? 

People are the problem as outlined in the proverb: the child is warned away from those who mean trouble.  But notice that people are the solution to.  King Solomon wants more than just for the child to turn his back on those who are bad news.  He wants his listeners to listen in on Good News.

 

When we are around others who are just doing before they think, who are just robbing or doing whatever it is that they do, it is easy for us to come along for the ride.  The place that they are aiming, it might be pretty close to where we are supposed to be.  Over the short term, it might not lead us quite so far from where we want to go.  We think that we’ll get off the bus before things go too wrong.

The thing is that I’d imagine that Keneth Lay and Susan Atkins never thought they would take their own busses as far as they did.  When my life has been at it’s very worst, I can guarenteee you I never thought things would get so bad.

What about you?  Have you ever woken up and said “When did all this start?  How did it come to this?  Given the direction you’re headed, do you think maybe you’re going to wake up some morning and ask those questions?

 Sometimes some part of me has known that bad stuff has been coming.  Sometimes I’ve atleast feared it.  I’ve worked so hard at not admitting all this to myself.

Our lives take on this inertia.  The things we do and say and think, these habits, they’ve got this weight to them.

I don’t know that I’ve ever changed anything meaningful in my life under my own power.  I am so thankful there is a power that’s greater than mine.  The people around me have  pointed me toward Jesus, they’ve reminded me and supported me and they’ve been examples to me.  And this is the only way I’ve ever really changed at all.

 

As the Small Group You’re probably expecting me to plug small groups here.  The truth is that these are great places to learn how to aim.  But they aren’t the only place.  I’m going to speak a little more broadly than just our small groups and simply say it’s so incredibly important that we find people who can help lead us toward wisdom.  It’s equally important that we’re aiming toward wisdom ourselves.  Not something close to wisdom, not something just a little bit off.   

The real focus of the verses we’re thinking about today is not how and who to follow, though, it’s how and who to avoid.  Next week, we’ll spend a lot more time on this subject.  I’m looking foreward to hearing and learning.

You know, the verses we’re talking about are pretty scary things.  But Solomon’s dad, David, he wrote some words that are a pretty good balm for this pessimism and despair.  Let’s read Proverbs, Chapter 1 Veses 8-20 one more time:

 

 

“My Child, if sinners entice you, turn your back on them!  They may say “Come and join us.  Let’s hide and kill someone!  Let’s ambush the innocent!  Let’s swallow them alive as the grave swallows its victims.  Though they are in the prime of life, they will go down into the pit of death.  And the loot we’ll get!  We’ll fill our houses with all kinds of things!  Come on, throw in your lot with us; we’ll split our loot with you.”

“Don’t go along with them, my child!  Stay far away from their paths.  They rush to commit crimes.  They hurry to commit murder.  When a bird sees a trap being set it stays away.  But not these people!  They set an ambush for themselves; they booby trap their own lives!”

Let’s close with an antidote to that.  I wonder if you’ll Pray Psalm 23 with me:

 

The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not be in want.

 2 He makes me lie down in green pastures,
       he leads me beside quiet waters,

 3 he restores my soul.
       He guides me in paths of righteousness
       for his name’s sake.

 4 Even though I walk
       through the valley of the shadow of death, [a]
       I will fear no evil,
       for you are with me;
       your rod and your staff,
       they comfort me.

 5 You prepare a table before me
       in the presence of my enemies.
       You anoint my head with oil;
       my cup overflows.

 6 Surely goodness and love will follow me
       all the days of my life,
       and I will dwell in the house of the LORD
       forever.

We’re all Mr. Potato Heads

 
Click below to download an mp3 version of me sharing the message that this note is from. This particular message is Atom Bomb: Reach Out… However, Pastor Marty is an amazing speaker. You’d do better to click on one of his messages and listen to that.
http://feeds.feedburner.com/Connectwithfc
Today, I’m honored, terrified, excited and freaked, to get to deliver the sermon.  These are my notes:

 Before I begin I want to be clear about some things.  The first thing I want to be clear on is that you all are amazing.  Fellowship Church small groups rock.  There is so much genorisity in this room.    I’m not here to guilt you into doing more than you are.   Instead,  I want to share what I think  scripture says about reaching out.  I think we’ve gotten as far as we’re going to go, in approaching reaching out with a certain mind set.

  I want to challenge that mind set, because I think changing the way we reach out will take us to a new level.  I didn’t realize any of this until Christmas Eve.On Christmas eve, I was leaving this retail job that I’ve been working.  It was like 7 PM, and if you want to know the truth I was feeling pretty grumpy and sorry for myself as I was walking out of the store.  It was dark, lights were off, I was headed home. 

         On my way out this woman drove up in a mini van.  She looked at the darkened sign, the empty, abandoned store behind me.  Her lip quivered.  And she asked, “Are you closed?”         

 It was one of those times it seemed like there was no right answer.  Anything I could have said would have sounded pretty sarcastic, considering how obvious the answer was.  And honestly, I wasn’t feeling very nice at that particular moment.

            She filled the silence up.  It was one of those laugh-moans that people make when they are on the edge of falling apart.  “It’s such a big store.” She said, too quickly.  “I thought sure it would be open.  I have no place to go.” I noticed she was driving this 2008 version of a minivan.  I realized she basically looked like a soccer mom.  She seemed like the sort of person who up until very recently would have had somewhere to be on Christmas eve.

          I wish I’d called on Jesus for the right words, for the right thing to do.  I stood there, realizing I’d been feeling sorry for myself because I had somewhere to go.  I stood there, and my whole attitude shifted.  But not enough to really help the situation. 

         “I think the movie theater is opened” I said lamely.  There is a hundred things I should have said.  A hundred things I could have said.  But I didn’t say any of them .  I told her about the movie theater. 

         I wish I had a happy ending to that story.  I wish I knew what became of her.  I wonder if she ended up at a movie, and if that movie was any good.  But I don’t have the answers to any of those questions.

          There are some questions I do have some answers to.  That event helped me to take a look at myself, and at the church, and at Jesus.             One of the things I realized is this: I would have been more ready to reach out if I hadn’t been preoccupied with feeling sorry for myself about working on Christmas Eve.  I would have done better if I hadn’t been thinking about my own junk.

          I’ve never been a soccer mom with nowhere to go on Christmas eve.  But I’ve got my struggles, and they in some ways weren’t so far off from this womens.  If I’d done a better job of handling my stuff, I would have been more ready to help her.  If I had reached out to somebody else, before that Christmas eve, then I would have been ready when she reached out  for help from me to offer more than pointing her to the movie theater.    It would be so easy to skip this difficult stuff.  There are aspects of reaching out that are much  more fun to talk about. Things like the service projects I’ve heard about from our small groups, and the ones that  I’ve been personally involved with. I could spend time talking about   the less formal ways we’ve  supported people.  Reaching out to people who are hurt or lost and lonely, inside the groups and out.

          It’d be so easy to talk about midnight phone calls and emails that I’ve answered and  The blood sweat and tears I’ve put into helping this group or that organization.

          But the truth is that this is half– maybe even less– of the picture.  The truth is that I have received at least as much as I’ve gotten.  The truth is that my back has been up against a wall, and I’ve had no where to turn, but people– you people– have come through for me.  It’s no fun to realize this.  In fact it’s kind of painful to think about.  But it’s the truth.

          If I was going to be more even more truthful, I’d have to say that there have been times when I’ve let you all down.  Times I should have reached out to you and didn’t.  Times that I knew what you needn’t and I just didn’t give it to you because I wanted it for me, or those other times when I just didn’t know what to do, like when I stood there on Christmas Eve.

          The nature of reaching out really isn’t that complicated.  We can see it even in preschoolers, and in the end, I’m not really so different from them.  Sometimes they reach out just to be picked up.  Sometimes they reach out with with a cookie in  hand, a cookie that’s so good and soft and warm that they just have to share it.  they  want to put the spit-covered thing right in somebody else’s mouth, and really, who among us doesn’t atleast fake a bite when we’re offered one?  Sometimes toddlers, are selfish, and they try and keep the cookie to themselves; sometimes they get older, and they want to be held, but they don’t tell anybody, and so they are stuck, lonely.

          And I’ve come to realize, that I’m not much different, and you, I don’t think you’re much different either.  Sometimes we reach out to be held.  Sometimes we reach out with a cookie.  Sometimes we want to reach out– for either reason– but we don’t. There is that part of us that tells us that we are supposed to be self sufficient.  That voice that tells us we’re supposed to be independent.  We’re not supposed to need anybody else.  We don’t want to ask to be held. 

                     I think we’re alot like my friend, Mr. Potato head here.          The normal way of being either a person or a Mr. Potato head is to have two arms.  (Hold up Mr. Potato head.)

          Arms on a person– or a potato — are the things we need if we’re going to reach out.  We need them to reach out to offer others a cookie.  We need them to reach out to be held.

            Every time we leave our broken places broken, every time we leave our wounds unhealed, we are like a Mr. Potato head who ditched his arms. (Pluck off the arms)  We tried only to be independent, we never wanted to be selfish… but when it comes time to use our arms for reaching out to help somebody else… They are gone.  We can’t offer that cookie to anyone, if we don’t have arms to hold it with.

                        The truth is we’re all a mess.  The truth is that we all have those broken places.  The truth is that none of us enjoy asking each other for help.

            Have you ever thought about it?  It would be silly if it weren’t so sad.  I can stand up here and announce that we’re a mess.  And you can sit out there and maybe nod your head and agree with me.  But this service will end.    And then we all go about our lives and live this unspoken agreement to pretend that we’re not a mess.  We all participate in this giant lie together, living in denial of our brokenness and need for each other.

           Every time we live this lie, Every time we refuse to let others help us, every time we refuse to reach out to others, we’re taking off our arms.  When we want them, to reach out to somebody else, to offer someone that symbolic cookie, they won’t be there.

          Of course we want to fix ourselves, by ourselves.  But That’s the whole problem.  It was on our own we got to the places we’re at, wherever that is.  What’re the odds that we’re going to get ourselves out on our own?

          I don’t think it’s going to happen.  If we could do it by ourselves, I think we would’ve.  Our deepest problems aren’t usually new.  These things  might not be getting any worse, but when we try to handle them ourselves, they aren’t getting much better.

            We’ve all got something.  Maybe it’s something that part of you knows that you haven’t admitted to the rest of you.  Maybe it’s something you’re fighting about all the time, with the people you love the most.  Maybe it sneaks up on you when you wake up in the middle of the night.  Maybe it’s something that happened  a long time ago, that seems like it should be in the past but it keeps rearing it’s ugly head and effecting you in your present.

          And we all know somebody: somebody who’s hurting.  Maybe we’re doing a little bit for them.  Maybe we’re doing a lot.  We’re probably wondering, are we supposed to be doing more?  How could we doing more? Maybe we’re doing things for them, but it doesn’t make us feel as good as we want to.  I think we can fake it and force it for a while.  We can try an opposite extreme.  We can do our devotionals and we can pray, we can get ourselves all fired up and we end up making  ourselves into the opposite of this little freaky thing here.(Put him back) So we decide to reach out more.  We write these plans into our palm pilots or scheduling book… or maybe you’re like me, and you don’t have a palm pilot or a scheduling book. I claim that I don’t do lists… But really, we all do lists.  Every one of us knows the things we plan to do.  Some of you organized people right it down.  Some of us less organized people try to keep it all in our heads.  But we’ve all got a list.  And maybe, our list of things to do begins like this: (to be projected)

1.  Grocery shopping.

2 Oil change.

3 Watch the game at the bar.

As a result of our new understanding, we add #4.  (To be projected)

4. Reach out somehow.

(Put an arm in the top of his head.)

We can represent this decision to reach by   giving our friend a new arm.  It’ll help him reach out more. Perhaps we  go work in a soup kitchen Maybe that one day a week that we serve the hungry doesn’t feel like enough.  Maybe we discover some other cause that seems just as worthy.  Maybe somebody in our small group asks us to engage in a service project.  And we keep going, realizing that reaching out to help others shouldn’t just be on our list.  We ought to move it to the top.  Reaching out to help others becomes our top priority.So now, our list looks like this: (on the screen)

1.  Reach out by going to work in a soup kitchen this week. 

2 Oil change.

3 Watch the game at the bar.

4.  Grocery shopping.(More arms.)

Already the ways we try to juggle our schedule becomes complicated.   Because grocery shopping is at the bottom of the list it takes us longer to get to.  And maybe we end up eating out some night, because there’s nothing left in the cubbards.  We end up spending extra money on food for the family that week.  We feel guilty when we realize we can’t give as much financially to some organizations, charity, or church… In our attempt to reach out one way we hurt our reaching out in another.But more than this, it still isn’t enough.  Reaching out is still a fraction of our lives.  We cut things out, and we give away, and we’re still not living up to Jesus’ example. (Take pretty much everything out of MR. Potato Head: nothing but arms in their places.)Our list for the next week looks like this:

1.  Reach out by going to work in a soup kitchen. 

2 Get the kids to baseball.

3.  Reach out financially by supporting __________, and make up for the amount we skimped last week.4 Watch the game at the bar.

5.  Reach out by participating in small group’s service project.

6.  Grocery shopping.

One of the problem with these lists is that they tend to neglect the fact that there are  two reasons to reach out.    Maybe we even work this way so that we can forget.  It’s easy to make reaching out with that cookie a priority.  But we don’t generally plan to reach out to be held.  And maybe, somewhere deep inside, this is our plan.  If we spend all our energy saving the world, we can begin to forget how deeply and thoroughly we need to be saved, too.When all is said and done, we’re nothing but arms, nothing but reaching out.  We can’t see what we’re doing, we can’t talk about it because we have no mouths.  We’ve stopped doing everything else.  And you know what? We’re still miserable.   We think about the abundant life Jesus promised, we think about all the good things we’re doing, and we wonder why we’re still empty.  Sometimes we redouble our efforts.We keep going like this, and our lists get bigger, and we hope something changes on the inside for us, but we keep doing things on the outside the same way. Other times we give up completely.

 Because the good news, for Mr. Potato Heads, is that it’s easy to go back to how we were before.  And the bad news, for Mr. Potato Heads, is that it’s easy to go back to how we were before.  These arms come out as easily as they go in. 

 (Take arms out, put him back to normal.)We return to our lives as originally scheduled.  The more things change, the more they stay the same.  (Original list, back on screen)  Our to do list looks pretty familiar, at this point:

1.  Grocery shopping.

2 Oil change.

3 Watch the game at the bar.

We pull back into our shells.  We were hurting while we helped people.  We we’re hurting still, and now maybe we’re burned out and confused on top of it.There’s a pretty interesting study I’d like to share with you.  It’s quoted in Malcom ___’s great book, the tipping point.  In this study, they went to this seminary, And the scientists stood there, at one end of this campus.  And they told the students that they wanted to hear these students preach a message.  They asked the students to speak on the parable of the good samitaritian.If you don’t know this story, basically, a guy gets robbed, beaten, and left for dead. All the people we’d expect to help him: Priests and priests helpers walk on by.  Jesus praises the ordinary person from a hated group who does rescue this man.So the researches plant this seed, in the students head.  And then they planted an actor,who pretended to be in need of help, in the path of the students.  Would the students be like the Pharisees or the Samiritans?

These scientists figured out who would help the man in need.  It wasn’t the people I would have expected.But I want to put that thought on hold for a moment and switch gears a little.   Because there is insight more important than the sort we get from psychologists and studies.

             God new that it wouldn’t be easy to work this stuff out.  The good news is that God left us some stories and some instructions that walk us through this stuff. 

 I’d like you to turn with me to Mathew 10:7-11  Jesus is giving instructions to his disciples.  It’s one of the first times we see them all together: and Jesus is dispersing them, sending them out into the world to reach out to the lost, lonely, and broken.7As you go, preach this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven is near.’ 8Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy,[b]drive out demons. Freely you have received, freely give. 9Do not take along any gold or silver or copper in your belts; 10take no bag for the journey, or extra tunic, or sandals or a staff; for the worker is worth his keep.  11“Whatever town or village you enter, search for some worthy person there and stay at his house until you leave.”

Jesus was of course so brilliant in how he did this.  He sent his disciples out with nothing so that they’d have to reach out in both senses of the word.           The disciples probably planned on reaching out to help the world around them.  The way Jesus sent them out, though, required them to reach out for support, to reach out for help, as well.  Jesus said “. Freely you have received, freely give.” Reaching out to help others and reaching out to be helped by others, it’s two sides of the same coin.  It’s inhaling and exhaling.  We can’t do one for long without the other.If we all sat here, and only exhaled for a while, it’d be a pretty wild service.  We’d passing out in the aisles and hyperventilating in our seats.  Though it might look like one of those churches that they call spirit-filled, in fact, all it would be is a church full or people that are oxygen deprived.

It’s easy to see that We can’t exhale for long without inhaling.  IT’s not as easy to see that   We can’t reach out to help others for very long when we’re in desperate need of help ourselves.

Maybe reaching out shouldn’t be just a neat little category of things to do, between getting our teeth cleaned and doing the grocery shopping.  Maybe it’s wrong headed to put it on our to-do list at all.   I wonder how Jesus feels about the fact that we have these nice and neat little boxes not only for our lives but also for the church.: Fellowship on this date.  Evangelize on that one.  Go on a missions trip over here, or over there during the vacation.All those things are awesome things to do.

   I’m not saying that we should stop them.   But I’m not always convinced we’re doing them the way that Jesus did.When you look at Jesus, you can’t tell where the fellowship ends, and the evangelizing begins.  You can’t tell the difference between his plans for a missions trip and his plans for a church plant. 

In that passage we just read, in todays terms, how we would we categorize what he sent his disciples out to do?  Really, we couldn’t.  It’s a missions trip, it’s a church plant, it’s evangelizing, it’s fellowship… and it’s really more simple than all these things, too. He just reaches out.  In so many different ways.  When he reached out, all these things that we categorize seperately end up melting together. 

 And he doesn’t just blend the ways we reach out to help others.  He blends our serving and our need.  He makes us interdependent.  He wants us to offer what we have even as we take what we need.  We reach out to help others with our left hand as we reach out to be helped by others with our right.Now, let’s get back to the’ study that I mentioned before:  There’s a lot of things that I wish I could tell you determined whether or not people would stop to help the person in need.  But it’s actually something that doesn’t look all that important  The thing that most often determined whether or not people would stop was  whether or not the they  felt rushed.

You see, sometimes the folks giving the test told the students that they only had a few minutes to get across campus to deliver the sermons because they were running late.  Other times they did not.  Whenever the students new they were running late, they were highly unlikely to stop.I’d like to suggest that maybe there’s a wider issue than just being rushed.  My experience tells me that whenever my world is cluttered, I tend to have trouble doing what I ought to be doing.One kind of clutter that can invade our world is busyness.  They did that in this test.  They simply made the people busy, and this was enough to cause them to forget the whole point of the parable that we know was on their minds.

   When we’re busy, we forget to slow down.  But I think there’s other ways we get distracted, that our lives get cluttered.  When we’re hurting, we have trouble climbing out of our hurt.  When we live in denial of our own junk, it’s hard to see other people’s.  When we’re occupied with not reaching out to get help, it’s tough to reach out to help anybody else.  In a way, this study is going on for all of us, all the time.  Jesus is watching us.  He knows we’re in a rush.  And he’s wondering if we’re going to stop anyway.This is what our first list looked like:

  1. Oil change.

2. Watch the game at the bar.

3.  Grocery shopping.

And this is what our last list looked like:

1.  Reach out by going to work in a soup kitchen this week.

 2 Get the kids to baseball.

3.  Reach out financially by supporting __________, and make up for the amount we skimped last week.4 Watch the game at the bar.

5.  Reach out by participating in small group’s service project.

6.  Grocery shopping.

I want to be clear: I’m not saying that we shouldn’t plan to reach out.  But I neeed to ask a question:Are we more likely to notice and help those around us if we’ve got 3 things on our mind, or 6?

  I’m not saying that we shouldn’t make lists.  I’m not saying that we shouldn’t oirganize service projects.  Organization and time management are incredibly important if we’re going to be powerful in the ways we reach out.The deal is that I think we can simplify our lists and simplify our lives.

 Recently my wife and I were at a restaurant with a bar.  We were wondering about those people sitting there, maybe they came with somebody and maybe they didn’t;  but they certainly weren’t really with each other.   They were sitting there, alone together with these empty expressions. They were watching the weather on the bar TV  and drinking. 

 My wife and I started wondering why they were there and what they were doing.  I have to wonder if these people had this on their lists, all week: come to a noisy room full of strangers, spend money on overpriced drinks, and watch the weather.

   Because it seems like if they didn’t want to be there, they would have left.

I am not saying that they shouldn’t be drinking, probably though, at least some of them should be drinking less.  I’m not saying that bars or alchohol are evil.I am wondering if this was worth there time.  My guess is that for most of these people, it wasn’t that this was actively destructive.   But spending time doing that, it stood in the way of better things to do.

  I don’t go sit in bars and watch the weather.  But I do other things just to fill my  time up.  And even if I don’t write it down, there is a to-do list in my head and these actvities gets a high priority.  I think we all do some things just to take our brains out of my heads.  I’m resisting the urge to offer up my own opinions of things that aren’t worthy of our time. 

 I think you know what these things are.  They are the things that offer nobody– including you– any real benefits.  The things that you might not be able to explain why you do them.  Things you spend an absurd amount of time at, and feel kind-of silly afterwards: what did you really get out of them, when all is said and done.As we think about the things we do, as we think about how busy we get, as we think about our lists there are some important questions I’d like to challenge us with.

Would you engage in these activites that are not worthy of you, if you were more healed, more whole?  If you weren’t a mess would you do whatever it is you do?There are all kinds of ways we try to escape our brokenness.  If we spent this time dealing with our brokenness by reaching out to be healed,  I think we would begin to find our lists simplifying themselves.It’s awesome to be able to do things just for ourselves, sometimes.  But a lot of the things we claim are just for us, they don’t really help.  Those people could spend the rest of their lives watching the weather in bars.  Whatever things that are motivating them to do this, these things won’t go away.  So here’s our first step toward more powerfully reaching out: cross everything off our list that isn’t worthy of our time.  But the truth is that even if we take things off that list that aren’t worthy of our time, we still end up with pretty big, intimidating lists.  I think Jesus wants more than just this for us.And it’s easy to think that Jesus just didn’t get it.  It easy to say that Life at his time isn’t like life in our time.  I’m going to leave aside the fact that he knows everything for the moment, and just take a look at what it was like in his day and age.  I’d like to look for Jesus wisdom about reaching out.  As we do that, lets follow him around for a day.  We’ll try to use some of the space up here to get a sense about where he came from and where he was going. What I want to do now is take a little trip, back to Mark, chapter 5.

This day starts for Jesus and his followers after a broken night’s sleep: the disciples had woken Jesus up to calm a storm they were afraid was going to sink them.

After the storm was calmed, morning came,  they came up on shore, Let’s say it was Over here (stage left, bottom of the stairs)  They came up  and discovered that there was a possessed man who they used to chain up,  over here (climbing stairs, stage left)The man broke the chains, shed his clothes, and lived in the tombs, over here.  (stage center, back.)Jesus caught up with him,  had a confrontation with the demons that were possessing the man.

  He casts them into pigs, over here (left back)  Pigs apparently don’t like being possessed.  They jumped off a cliff and killed themselves back here, in the water, where Jesus started his day.If my day started with a boat ride, lead to a fight with a demon, which lead into a mass pork suicide, I’m about ready to call it a day.  But Jesus is just getting started.So the villagers, afraid, came maybe from over here (left front) up to Jesus and his followers. 

 They  asked Jesus and his followers to go away.And they did.I imagine they had to climb over pig corpses as they made their way back to the boat.  They took another trip, and ended up back where people new Jesus.(Below stairs, walk to stage left) 

Jesus and the disciples end up here, come out of their boat, and are rushed by a crowd excited to see him.And in the middle of the festivities, up comes a synagogue ruler, probably from back there somewhere.  The synagogue ruler interupts the festivities.  His daughter is dying.  He needs Jesus.  Now.Me?  At this point, I’m pretty much done.  I’m exhausted, it’s been a long day, I just want to hang out and feel good about the guy I freed.  But Jesus?

(Toward center stage) he heads to the home of the synagogue ruler, and he’s mobbed again.  And a woman sneaks a touch  of his cloak.  And she is healed.  Jesus uses it as a teaching moment for the disciples, which we’ll get to in a moment. 

 (Toward stage left)After this, Jesus keeps going. Now, finally, he nears the home of the synogoe ruler.  People come out, and tell them that the daughter is dead.  That sounds like a pretty good reason to give up on the whole healing plan to me.   Jesus?  Jesus keeps going.  After all, if you tallied up the day, you’d see that on the plus side you’ve got a man free of possession, a woman freed of bleeding, and probably an enomorus pork barbecue somewhere. 

They didn’t quite get there in time for the girl, but hey, they tried, right?  Not Jesus.  Jesus keeps going.He ends up here, and  capped that day off by bringing somebody back from the dead.

And so, there’s some things that are worth noticing out of all this: The first is that Jesus never let himself get rushed.  He doesn’t ignore the opportunities to reach out that are in front of him.  My agenda, so often, is a list of places to go and of things to get done.   Jesus agenda was people.

  His agenda  was about reaching out from somewhere deep inside.    Jesus life was not cluttered in any sense of the word.  He noticed the people around him, even when he had somewhere to go.

And what about those people?There were people that saw one of their own freed of a demon, and somehow they were afraid of Jesus.  Never mind that the best they could do on their own was chains for the afflicted.  Never mind that Jesus sets him free.    The bible tells us that they were afraid and asked Jesus to leave.  There is no record of Jesus being either angry or surprised that some people are afraid when we reach out, that some people seem to fear the possibility of being set free.

And I can only imagine this bigwig synagogue ruler.  This guy is one of the trendsetters, one of the cool kids.  He sees a big crowd of the ordinary people like you and me.  They are all celebrating with Jesus, so happy to have him back among them.But the synagogue ruler,  he doesn’t play it cool.  He doesn’t try to take it casual.  He doesn’t wait for Jesus to come to him.  He doesn’t try to pull Jesus aside.  He doesn’t worry about the fact that he’s going to bum them all out and crash the party, nor about his social status.  He drops to his knees right there.  He begs Jesus for help.  He probably knows Jesus has just gotten out of the boat.  He knows Jesus will have to some traveling to get to his home.  But he knows what he needs and he reaches out.Eventually there are people in the story who tell that man not to bother Jesus because his girl is dead.  Notice that we aren’t told that they’re worried about the father.  They aren’t offering condolences.  They only come with a lack of faith and a strange belief that the man was bothering Jesus. They seem to be saying “Maybe he could have helped you once, but not now.” 

I find it interesting that it appears that these are  the very same people who later laugh at Jesus when he says the girl is sleeping.  Early on they seem so interested in helping Jesus maintain a schedule.  Now, they laugh at him?  I wonder just what their motivation was.  There daughter is healed, there reaching out rewarded.  The man knew what he reached out and asked for it.

And in the middle of all this is the bleeding woman.  She, too, approaches Jesus in the middle of a crowd.   one of the things that  surprises me is Jesus reaction to her.  She’s sneaking in.  It seems like she’s taking advantage of this needy, crushing crowd.  She comes up from behind, and as much as admits that she was trying to sneak some healing from Jesus, as if he had on some sort-of Harry Potter magic cloak.

The society they lived in gave her every reason not to want to reach out; not to consider herself worthy of Jesus time and energies.  She was a woman living in a sexist society.  Her bleeding would have caused her to be viewed as unclean.   She was poor from the money she’d lost trying to fix her problems.  But she reached out, anyway.  And if we take a look at the text, we can see that she had it right.  The folks that followed Jesus… not so much.

  Scripture tells us: When she heard about Jesus, she came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, 28because she thought, “If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed.” 29Immediately her bleeding stopped and she felt in her body that she was freed from her suffering.  30At once Jesus realized that power had gone out from him. He turned around in the crowd and asked, “Who touched my clothes?”  31“You see the people crowding against you,” his disciples answered, “and yet you can ask, ‘Who touched me?’ ”  32But Jesus kept looking around to see who had done it. 33Then the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came and fell at his feet and, trembling with fear, told him the whole truth. 34He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.”

Even if we forget the cultural stuff, the disciples confusion is understandable.  Picture the most annoying crowd you can imagine.  Target on Christmas Eve, a crowd finding their seats right before the concert starts.People are up in your space, all around.  They’re pressing in from all sides.  If you looked at me and said “Who touched me?”  I’d probably say “Everybody, you idiot.”And this is what happens.  Jesus is in the middle of the crowd.  All kinds of people are pushing up against him.  And he says “Who touched me” and the disciples… They basically said “Everybody, touched you, you idiot Rabbi.”But who’s really the idiot?  Not likely Jesus.  Jesus of course knew that he was in a crowd.  But he wanted to draw everyone’s attention to the fact that there is touching, and then there is reaching out in longing, reaching out in pain.  And this is a whole different deal. We might expect that Jesus would confront her on sneaking around.  We might expect that there’d be issues with her thinking that the healing was in Jesus’ clothes.  We might think he’d yell at her saying “how dare you slow me down?  There’s a dying little girl and you think your problems are important!?!?”But he didn’t.  He said a thing that he says a lot to people we wouldn’t expect.  He says “Your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.”Unlike our lists, Jesus probably only had one or two things on his at any given time.  And somehow, he got so much more done.  Partially, I think this is because Jesus life wasn’t cluttered.  His mind wasn’t on an overwhelming list of things he felt like he was supposed to do.

Jesus lived his life reaching out.  Reaching out wasn’t something he added to his list: reaching out was something that ran through every item on his list.Jesus allowed people to serve him.  In the bible, we hear about people who anointed his head and who washed his feet.  Jesus praised those who came and asked him for help, as we saw with the women who was bleeding in the synagogue ruler.  We should reach out, to Jesus, too.  When we do, we will become so much more powerful when we reach out to help others.

  Our lists will begin to simplify themselves as the useless things, the spinning of our wheels, the stuff we do to take our brains out of heads, as this all falls away.

we can not go to Jesus in the same way that  the synagogue ruler or the woman who was bleeding went to him.  But we can go to him.  We can go to him directly in prayer, and we should go to him in prayer.  But there are other options open to us.  Things that we should do, too.  Things that are hard, things that we try to avoid.  Scripture describes the church as Jesus body.

   If we take Jesus seriously we have to take seriously what he told us: We are his body.  And we are told that what he did will be nothing compared to what we do.  Do we take Jesus at his words when he says these things?

When we reach out to heal others, it’s with Jesus hand that we’re doing it.  But it’s even stranger and more amazing than that: Because Jesus is already in the hurting.  He tells us he is with us when we are suffering.  He says that when we feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the prisoner, we are feeding, clothing, and visiting him.

  When we reach out for healing of ourselves, we are also reaching out for the healing of him.Some of you know that I’m a teacher.  That means that I’m licensed by the state of Massachusetts to issue homework.  I’m going to ignore all the stuff about a separation of church and state and give you some homework now.

    If you don’t do it, I think I’ll have to issue you a detention or something.

  Take a step toward reaching out to be healed this week.  Close your eyes right now, and think about something that not many people know about you.  Who would want to know this thing?  Who can you trust with this? 

 If you’re in a small group, I’d like to challenge you to share it with somebody in your group.  If somebody dragged you here today, maybe you can share something with them over lunch.  Maybe it’s something that’s been bugging you.  Maybe it’s time to tell somebody where you’re at spiritually.  Maybe it’s something deeper.  Maybe it’s something that won’t seem so deep at all.If you can’t think of anybody, one possibility is that maybe you’re thinking too big.  I’m not saying go to the deepest depths of the closet and drag your most rotten skeleton out of it.

   I am saying that there is some small way that you can be like the synagogue ruler.   I am saying that Jesus praised the woman who reached out and touched his cloak.

Reach out to somebody.  Trust them with a little something.  As you sit here, take a moment, in the silence, and make a plan: Who are you going to reach out to trust?  What are you going to trust them with?And please remember.  I’ll be checking in next week.  And issuing detentions.

The challenge for you, and the challenge for me, is not to see how many times we can add reaching out on to our to-do list.  It’s to see how many ways we can reach out in the middle of our every day reaching out.When we’re less distracted with our own brokenness, when our time is less filled up with things that don’t help, we will be more open to the opportunities that are right in front of us.  Jesus didn’t rush to the synagogue rulers house so that he would have enough time afterwards to do something else.  He saw needs along the way and took care of them.

If we don’t rush through our grocery shopping, in order to get to the next thing we feel like we have to do, maybe we’ll see somebody who needs a smile.  Maybe we’ll notice one of those carts that they leave our for donations to the local food pantry.  Maybe we’ll drop something in there.If we spend a night hanging out with friends instead of watching a TV screen, maybe we’ll talk about things that are important to us.  Maybe they’ll spend a night talking about things that are important to them.

Maybe after we do these things we feel refreshed.  I think at the end of all this that we’re going to have more time and energy to go out and take on those projects.  We’re freed up to be excited about going to that soup kitchen that we had tacked on to our list out of guilt.

And so many of you are reaching out.  I don’t need to tell you that’s important.  But I’d like to close today with a suggestion around maybe why it’s important.  One of those reasons is that this is practice, this is a dress rehearsal.  At the foundation of the Christian faith is the belief that God has given us all sorts of things that we could never earn.  They are undeserved, gratitious, and over the top.When we serve others, when we give to someone more than they deserve  we are working with God in showing others His love.  We are not only fixing the problem: we are not only showing that we care: we are helping them to believe that there is someone so much greater than us, who cares too.

And when we receive kindness: When we reach out so that others might know our needs, we are practicing at receiving some of the deepest and greatest undeserved gifts of all.  There can be something almost horrifying about taking that which we need yet don’t deserve.  But the fact that it’s horrifying doesn’t make it unnecessary.  And if start with the little things, it makes it easier to accept the big things.

My dream and hope and prayer is that Fellowship Church could be a community that reaches out… in both senses of the word.   I hope that someday Jesus will be in someone who reaches out to you, to heal you.  And I pray that Jesus will work through your hands, too, in the healing of somebody else.  And through your reaching out, whether it’s for you or for somebody else, somewhere deep inside, you’ll hear those amazing words: “Your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.”