Involvement in Outreach

(Jeremiah 18:1-11; Luke 14:25-35)

Sun, Sept 8, 2019 – UBC Digby – J G White

Yesterday, our local fire department had five calls to answer: two alarms at a local hotel, one car off the road, one pole on fire when wires were struck, and one tree landed on a house. It takes sacrifice to serve as a firefighter. What if there was no local fire department? What on earth would we do?

There is great cost in joining a fire department. But there is also great cost in not helping, in not becoming a servant. So to in Church. In our Christian Faith we speak of being disciples – followers and workers of Jesus, of God. Two thousand years ago, Jesus had dozens of close followers. Today, He has millions… supposedly.

So, recruitment into this movement is important, into this Jesus Movement, the Way. Joining up is costly, to us who have done so. In 1937, Dietrich Bonhoeffer gave the world his book ‘The Cost of Discipleship,’ and its influence is powerful still today. Bonhoeffer’s most famous phrase from it is: “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.” Perhaps this whole books comes out of Jesus’ words, “Take up your cross, and follow me.”

Let me put Bonhoeffer’s words in context with this quotation. (p. 99)
When Christ calls a [person] he bids him [or her] come and die. It may be a death like that of the first disciples who had to leave home and work to follow him, or it may be a death like that of Luther’s, who had to leave the monastery and go out into the world.

In the ways we invite people to join God, to come to Jesus, we remember that there is a cost of discipleship. We just heard words of Jesus. ‘Count the cost of being My disciple,’ He says, still today. Christ used extreme language to get His point across. ‘Hate your family, give up everything you own, carry the tool that will execute you!’ He is not a literalist, but Jesus is a realist. Discipleship to Him is costly.

There is also a cost of nondiscipleship. What do we loose out on if we convert, but do not truly follow as disciples? In 1980, Baptist thinker Dallas Willard brilliantly wrote an article about this, for the magazine Christianity Today. What do we lose? Nondiscipleship costs abiding peace, [it costs us:]
a life penetrated throughout by love,
faith that sees everything in the light of God’s overriding governance for good,
hopefulness that stands firm in the most discouraging circumstances,
power to do what is right & withstand the forces of evil.
In short, it costs exactly that abundance of life Jesus said he came to bring (John 10:10). (Willard, The Spirit of the Disciplines, 1988, p. 263)

Today, we heard that famous Bible bit from Jeremiah, about the potter forming something from the clay. We love this scene! But notice, this prophetic word is a severe warning. God is preparing to smash the people of faith, because they have been faithless, and make something new of them.
We must count the cost of non-discipleship.

We keep these things in view when we reach out into our community. When we, inside, go outside, and go on mission. We are in our mission field. Dennis Bickers says: (The Healthy Small Church, 2005, p. 115)

When one goes to the mission field, there are new languages to be learned, new foods to eat, new cultures to understand, and new stories to hear. To effectively enter into and impact the mission field, we must first understand it and then translate the biblical story into a message that can be understood and accepted by the culture we seek to reach.

This is our work together, now, Church. And we are well on our way. For I believe each of us is deployed in our community in lots of places, and we already know the culture of our mission fields.

Me? I am a hiker and nature lover. Remember my first couple years here? I got us reading Bunyan’s classic book, The Pilgrim’s Progress, and watching it on film. I preached on the pilgrimage theme all the time. I had friends who had walked the Camino de Santiago in Spain come and testify to their experience. I scheduled spiritual walks and invited you to join me outdoors.

But I did not find any of you to join me in this passion. That’s OK. If I want to start a fresh expression of Church that happens outdoors, with hikers, I will just have to do that on my own with a few hikers who are believers from other congregations. And I know a few. Pray that I will find the right teammates to help start some spiritual hiking.

You, you know the culture of the golf club, or of the fishery, or retail stores, or farming, or of a seniors apartment. Your life intersects with the Baptist Church, and something else. Those are your people. You may have a mission there.

Involvement in outreach is all about when we are out, not when we are in. When we are in, when we are here, we may be preparing and training, but outreach itself does not happen in this building, on Church property. Outreach happens when the Church – the people – are out and about.

I recently read a story in Mosaic, by Leanne Friesen, Pastor of Mount Hamilton Baptist Church, ON. Regarding evangelism, she speaks of youth today

What I certainly see is a huge passion for service and for helping others and for stepping in and really doing what I would call ‘God’s work’. At our church, we have two sisters, one is 15 and the other 22, and they actually formed an organization called Sisters for Sisters. Every year, they do a fundraiser for an organization in the city. One year, it was a breakfast to raise money for the native women’s health centre. Another year, they were doing a dinner for a different group. What’s interesting is that they don’t necessarily feel insistent that they have to get up, like I have at some point, and say, “By the way, we are all here so I can tell you about Jesus.” I was taught to do this…yet there’s such a longing in their hearts for social justice, so there’s a lot of great starting points with our next generation that may look a little different than my generation. (Mosaic, Fall 2017, p. 7)

Finding our starting point – this is so important. The Jesus we want people to have is so demanding, and so giving! To be a disciple, we go, and work at making other disciples of Jesus. We come together to be ‘boomeranged’ back out there, for the work at hand. The work of living abundantly.

So throw yourself into us, the faith community, to be boomeranged back into the wider community, where you are deployed. Don’t come in here never to zoom out into service. That would be like the problem in one of Sharon’s favourite songs of childhood. “My Boomerang Won’t Come Back.”

Let’s not let our town, our streets, say we never came back to them, once we entered the Church. Jesus is here for us. Jesus is out there for them.
Reach out!

Counting the Cost

(Psalm 139; Luke 14:25-33)  Sun, Sept 4, 2016 – UBC Digby – J G White

Just yesterday here a person came to see me to ask if I would baptize her.  This is the first time I have had this request, after being here two years.  

It opens up a great conversation about the spiritual life, and about this obedient right-of-passage we call baptism.  I certainly would welcome any other people who want to look into this.  We will have some times to get together to study what this means, and what it means to you personally. Talk with me if you are at all interested.

Christian baptism is an event that proclaims, among other things, that a person has become a disciple of the Master, Jesus Christ.  And as the stories of Luke chapter 14 today tell us, to be an apprentice to Jesus in the school of life, one must count the cost. To follow Him is to let go of things.

One way or another we each count the cost when an opportunity arises.  I get a phone call inviting me to have a bit part in a dinner theatre in November.  I must consider: do I have the time? Does it sound interesting?  Do I have even the tiny bit of talent needed for the role?  

I meet up with someone I know who asks me if I would sign up to volunteer with the Wharf Rat Rally.  Hmm.  Will I be available?  And When?  What can I do to help out?  Do I want to be involved?  

In many instances, you and I take on a new project, great or small, by letting go of other things we could have been doing.  And we are willing to pay the cost – be it our time, our talents, or our treasure – if we see the greater value of the new thing we will do? So it is in our personal spiritual pilgrimages.

Richard Rohr says All great spirituality is about letting go. I say this as an absolute statement. Francis of Assisi profoundly understood that. He let go of his life in the upper class and joyfully lived in solidarity with those at the bottom, the sick and the poor.

Rohr continues:  We tend to think that more is naturally better…  Spiritual wisdom reveals that less is more. Jesus taught this, and the holy ones live it.

The Gospel of Jesus – this Good News that is a life-changer for us – is quite counter-cultural.  So many of us have life so easy.  What do we sacrifice for the good that God is working at doing?  I see how I live, and I really enjoy it when ‘life is easy,’ and I’m ‘up on the mountain.’  I don’t want to give up the little selfish dreams and plans I have for myself.  I want to be financially safe and secure.  I want to be popular.  I want to be in control.  I want to avoid pain and problems.  I’ve gotten pretty good and achieving all these things.  But maybe they are not achivements. Something far better might be available in my life if I became willing to give these up and over to God.   

No wonder Jesus’ words of warning to a crowd of followers seem so stark and extreme: those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples. (Lk 14:33)  What part of my everything am I holding onto, when letting go would open a door?

I notice in ADC Today – the colourful newsletter of our Divinity College – an article about the late Josie Nickerson.   Years ago I knew her and her husband from my congregation in Windsor.  The article speaks about a sacrificial legacy she left behind – $300,000 for a divinity student scholarship fund. Josie’s favourite scripture was a profound one: Philippians 3:10.  I want to know Christ and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in His sufferings, becoming like Him in His death.  

No wonder Jesus Himself spoke with such strong language, that day, to a crowd of followers:  If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple. And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.  (Lk 14:26-27)

We have this sense of who our Jesus is that tells us He did not really mean this hatred.  Yet He sure was a strong preacher with strong verbs to get his point across.  To take one of the Ten Commandments – honour your father and your mother – and turn it upside down was a powerful tool of public speaking then, and now.  His point is the primacy of being His disciple.  Jesus takes first place, I am second.  

Dietrich Bonhoeffer famously said, in his book, The Cost of Discipleship, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.”  Bonhoeffer went on to say:  It may be a death like that of the first disciples who had to leave home and work and follow him, or it may be a death like Luther’s, who had to leave the monastery and go out into the world.  But it is the same death every time – death in Jesus Christ, the death of the old man at his call.  (p. 99)

Bonhoeffer is hinting at New Testament imagery from various places, such as Colossians 3:9&10  …you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.  Jesus said,  Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it. (Mtt 10:39)

There is a great and common danger: to be a ‘follower’ of Jesus without being a disciple.  Jesus almost becomes, to many, more of a celebrity than a Sovereign. Jesus may have more fans than followers.

Once someone was talking to a great scholar about a younger man.  He said, “So and so tells me that he was one of your students.”  The teacher answered [devastatingly], “He may have attended my lectures, but he was not one of my students.”

I would tend to preach a gentle gospel, week by week, not crying out that most of you are not very devoted disciples.  But I wonder if many of us are feeble followers, not avid apprentices of Jesus.

Watch events at a Wharf Rat Rally, see the stunt drivers, the drift Tryke drivers, the time trials.  Some riders are very accomplished.   They have worked hard to do what they can now do.  

Now consider our walk with Jesus.  I’ve barely learned to take my salvation out for a spin and see what it will really do.

William Barclay claimed: It is one of the supreme handicaps of the church that in it there are so many distant followers of Jesus and so few real disciples.  (Wm Barclay, The Daily Study Bible, Luke, p.196)

Are you a distant follower?  Even a happy, satisfied, but distant follower of Christ?  To be a deeply devoted disciple should not be optional.  But it has been so – in all our of lifetimes.  Do you, like me, have your better moments when you wish to do better with God?  Long for more and to make more of a difference?  Regret the wasted years of following far behind where the action is in the spiritual world?

The stories of Jesus live on and on as His warnings are repeated.  Count the cost.  It is costly to be His disciple.  And it is so worth it.  Jesus’ little parables of building a tower, or a king going into battle, warn us that following the happy crowd is not enough.  

But let me tell another parable.  A contemporary parable.  A new story about following our Jesus.

The Parable of the Blackberry Picker.

Once upon a time – it was the last day of August – a man decided it was time to get out and pick blackberries.  How delicious and healthy they would be!  The fellow grabbed three little buckets and jumped in his car, looking forward to the harvest.

But the man did not remember for sure where he had seen good patches of blackberry bushes. So he drove here and there, up and down dirt roads, wasting time.

When he found some and wandered around, he did not have a backpack to put his berry buckets in.

When he found a good blackberry patch, he just had a short-sleeve shirt and short pants on, so the thorns kept him from many of the best berries.

And when he stopped to pick for a while, the mosquitos came, and where the thorns did not prick him, the bugs bit.

You might think that is the end of the Parable – and that you know the moral of the story.  But…

The next day – the first day of September – the same man went out again to pick blackberries.  This time he asked a friend where they grew.

This time he put his berry buckets in a backpack.

This time he wore a long-sleeve shirt and heavy, long pants.

This time he was ready for the mosquitos.

And this time he harvested more berries, in a shorter period of time, than the day before.

However well you and I have followed the Master in the past – or how poorly – tomorrow is a new day.  We can count the cost, be better prepared, and decide to follow Jesus.  Perhaps some of us who are already baptised can study again, and retrain together for a deeper discipleship, a closer following of Jesus.

May it be so, with His grace and power. AMEN.