“What If…”

 

Message based on Matthew 28:16 – 31; John 21: 1-19:  NIV  // The Message

This message was preached by Rev. Sandra Steiner-Ball in Mt. Pleasant United Methodist church on Sunday, September 19, 2010.

 

Rev. Dr. Sandra Steiner Ball is Director of Connectional Ministries of Peninsula-Delaware Conference. Her office is in the Bishop Felton Edwin May Resource Center in Dover and she can be reached by calling the center.

 

Jesus appeared to his disciples on the mountain top and said, “Go, go make disciples of all nations. Again, so as to help his disciples really understand that yes, he did mean go, Jesus appears to the disciples on the beach this time, his message? Go, go feed my lambs, shepherd my sheep, feed my sheep. Disciples! Follow me!

 

In John’s text Jesus is standing on the beach as the sun came up. The guys had been out fishing but had caught nothing that night and they were headed back to shore for some rest. As they are headed in, Jesus – only they don’t know it’s Jesus yet, tells the disciples to throw their nets off the other side, they immediately respond by doing what he said. Think about that for a moment. If someone came into your workplace and told you how to do your job, how would you respond? Defensively? Or would you simply follow?

 

The disciples followed Jesus’ instruction that day and were blessed with an abundance of fish. By following Jesus’ direction what seemed impossible after a night of catching nothing, was made possible. In that moment they experienced the power of the One who makes those things that seem impossible, possible! When God, when Christ is truly in the mix of things – when action is infused with the presence and direction of Christ, the results change. God infused, Christ infused action reaps greater results than simply doing things the way they’ve always been done while expecting different results. [You know that is the definition of insanity don’t you – doing the same old things, in the same old ways, and expecting different results? The fact is if you continue to do the same things in the same ways, you will get the same results!]

 

Well, what’s this got to do with you? Your Church? What is a “new way of doing church” or “rethinking church” that people in this congregation have resisted? What vision of better results could be held before you – before this congregation – to make changing from “the way or ways we’ve always done it” more attractive?

 

If you ask people to form a circle and join hands, they will automatically face each other, or into the center of the circle. It’s the natural and comfortable way we have been taught since earliest childhood to form a circle for games or to say grace – or to close a meeting or service. However, we church member ought to be facing outward, not in. Jesus said, “Go, go make disciples.” Try doing it, try facing outward the next time you are invited to circle up. It’s different, and takes us out of our comfort zone. It changes our perspective.

 

This circle talk is an interesting analogy for the church. We’ve gotten comfortable in our own group, but we should be looking outward to connect with those people who are not yet a part of the group, part of the church. The fact is that the church is the only institution that exists for those who are not yet here. That’s the great commission – to go get those – go connect with those that are not here yet and make them disciples – bring them into the fold!

 

What if, the next time we made a prayer circle we faced out instead of in?

 

What if, we truly believed that the church exists not for us, but for those who are not yet here?

 

What if, we recognized that the church is not about us, our desires, our comfort, our agendas, but about God’s Will, God’s Vision, God’s Action?

 

Are you ready, ready to get out of your routine … out of your rut? Are you ready to change so that God can work through you and me to transform the world?

 

Jesus asked something of Peter in John’s Gospel. Jesus asked, “Will you feed my sheep … Will you shepherd my sheep?” These requests are much more difficult than casting a net off the other side of a boat. Feeding and shepherding requires relationship. How do you know who’s hungry until you’ve stood with them and listened to their story? How do you guide someone, lead someone, until you’ve spent enough time with them to create the trust needed for them to follow. Jesus calls us to get out of our comfort zones to experience the needs in our communities first hand and respond by demonstrating God’s love in tangible ways.

 

What if, church was less about Sunday, and more about the other days of the week – being out there demonstrating tangibly – God’s love, meeting people’s needs?

 

What if, Church wasn’t just a place we go, but something we do?

What if, church became a verb instead of a noun?

What if, this congregation were to intentionally reclaim its United Methodist identity as a movement of God’s Spirit?

That’s how Methodism began you known, as a movement of the Spirit. (Primarily a lay movement by the way). And we need to reclaim this identity. Ministry is not something we leave up to others (like the pastor) to do for us on our behalf.

 

Jesus said, “Go!” Go into the world and do the things that he did – Teach, Heal, feed hungry people, speak out about injustice, and call the world to more faithful living.

In too many places we have lost that sense of being a movement and have convinced ourselves it is enough to gather in our buildings and wait for people to come and find us. It was because of this phenomenon that John & Charles Wesley began the Methodist movement calling the Anglican Church to get up out of their Sunday morning pews – and to go out into the world – to teach, heal, feed, speak out against injustice, and call the world to more faithful living.

 

Today, once again we need to face out instead of in and regain that sense – our identity – of being a movement of the Spirit. Jesus sent the disciples and sends us out to meet the world. We do that when we encounter the world at its points of greatest need. Jesus calls us to move beyond bricks and mortar to engage a world longing for love, compassion, healing and hope.

What if the church today reclaimed the call to the mission, to the purpose for which it exists: To make disciples of Jesus Christ. To truly accept this mission drives us to rethink, re-examine and re-mold how we see our church and how we live as the church. No longer can we afford to do business or church as usual – doing the same things, in the same ways, reaping the same results.

 

What if, the churches were intentional about making disciples?

Well, to be honest, first we need to rethink ourselves! We need to do this in order to be effective in building relationships with those whom we seek to make disciples.

What if, we were positive people, People of Good News – people who spoke, thought, and behaved in the living of Good News? What a Difference this could make.

 

We are a people of Good News! Now, being a people devoted, committed to Good News … What if we came to church expecting something exciting – came expecting to meet Christ and to hear God’s voice! What if, we came to church expecting – even wanting to be transformed?

Any teacher will tell you – you usually get what you expect! What do you expect from worship? We need to think about that and how the world sucks us into life lived in ways that are not centered on Good News.

 

Reaching out, making disciples, Evangelism begins with us! We need to begin with ourselves! We need to be transformed. That’s kind of what Jesus was saying to Peter – It’s not just about what you believe, it’s about how that belief causes you to live. If we believe we love Jesus, then we need to feed and shepherd. Faith is belief fused with action.

If we are serious about a new way of outreach and Evangelism, then we can’t come to church feeling like church is an obligation or duty. We can’t come to church with chips on our shoulders, thinking about the other places we have to go, people to meet, things to do. We can’t come to church with the heart and mind of a critic! – “The music is too loud, It’s too cold, Who moved the furniture, Why isn’t the pastor wearing a tie, Who put ‘that’ on the altar, What is she doing in my seat – everyone knows I always it there!” We shoot ourselves in the foot with all our criticism – with all our negativity! Who wants to be a part of all that???? The scripture tells us we are to be people of Good news!

 

What if you were to prepare for the worship experience the other 6 days of the week by intentionally doing something that would continually transform you into a person of Good News? (Worship should not be just about Sunday mornings! Worship really should be much more about the other 6 days of the week and Sunday mornings should be the place and time where the body of Christ gathers to celebrate, to witness to what God has enabled, inspired, healed, moved, transformed, the other 6 days of the week.)

Think about it! Could you pray for the worship experience – pray to hear the voice of Christ? Could you pray for the pastor, for the leadership, for the church family, for expectancy, for eagerness, for enthusiasm? Could you pray for the expectation to hear God Speak?

 

What if you were to make a covenant with just one or two other people to intentionally get started on putting these ideas into practice? We need to do it! And we need to include others so that we have some accountability for doing what we say we need and will do. We need to do it for the world draws us into another way – draws us into a language of death instead of a language of life. We need to speak and to practice life!

What one or two things can you intentionally work on to help change your attitude and increase your expectancy in the ministry of the church? Who will you invite to join you in this effort?

How will you be a person who speaks about the Good News? How can you be a person who brings the Good News in the midst of worship, in the midst of meetings, in the midst of change, in the midst of Ministry? If you don’t find church exciting, why would anyone else???

Church is more than just Sunday mornings. Get out into the world – You are “the church” wherever you – be “the church” wherever you find yourself! Transforming the world is not a clean and easy job. But you can be a person of Good News in the midst of it. Hands will get dirty and you can be a person of Good News! Getting a team of people to move in the same direction may be tough. Building trust in new relationships may be difficult – but again we can be Good News people in the midst of these things and remind others that we do what we do because God calls us to love others as God loves us.

Today’s life challenge is that we be receptive to change in our own lives, so that we can become the pliable tools of God to transform, to change the world.

 

What if you were intentional about a FRAN (Friends, Relatives, Associates, Neighbors) plan? What if you were to name 4 of those persons right now and commit to pray for them, pray for your relationship with them, pray that they might know Christ, pray for opportunities to share the Good News of your congregation and to invite them.

But, none of this will happen unless you plan for a change in your routine. A failure to plan is a plan to fail and when we don’t plan to do something new we fall back to doing the same things we’ve always done. God’s plan is to build the Kingdom. I hope and pray that your plan is to be an active, intentional, committed, faithful, accountable part of God’s plan, an intentionally relational people with Good News on your hearts, minds, and lips who heed the call to Go, to teach, to heal, to speak against injustice, to call people to faithful living.

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