Fourth Sunday After Pentecost
Texts: 2 Corinthians 6:1-10; 1 Samuel 17:3-11, 20-24, 32-50
Listen to it HERE
Hi. I’m Joe and I’m an introvert. If this were a 12-step meeting, this is the part where you would say, “Hi, Joe,” then I would launch into my story. It is difficult to confess my introversion. I don’t like that part of my personality. I would much rather be one of those people with a magnetic personality. I want to be the one in the Great Room after worship shaking everyone’s hand. I long to be the guy who shows up to my volunteer hours at the Pikes Peak Workforce Center and everyone immediately knows I am a pastor. I want to be a person who seems to know everyone at the restaurant, in the grocery store, in the coffeehouse. I wish I were more comfortable in my own skin.
Unfortunately, I’m not. Instead, I’m the guy in the corner of the coffeehouse behind his laptop or buried in a book. I’m the one who is more comfortable in my office than a church dinner. I’d rather spend a quiet couple of hours with people to whom I am close, than a night out on the town – that’s just too exhausting.
Being an introvert is not a great quality for a traditional pastor. I get that. That’s probably why I’m a deacon instead of an elder, like Pastor Bob, and will never be the lead pastor of a church.
But being an introvert brings some advantages. Because I am not always participating, I get to observe. So I see things; I hear things; I feel things. We introverts are keenly aware of the people around us, sometimes too much, but often perceive things others miss. I think I might be seeing something happening around us right now that I would like to share with you today.
Let me start with a warning: I am preaching my passion here. There is, as the prophet Jeremiah put it, a “fire shut up in my bones” (Jeremiah 20:9). Today, I want to share it and be forewarned, introverts like to speak their passion. So forgive me in advance if I say something poorly.
The question burning in me today is one I expect many others have wondered about as well: What difference does all this make – the sermons, the music, the coffee in the Great Room? Have you ever thought about what coming to church does for you, what it does for the community? Have you ever wondered what benefit the people who don’t come to our church, or any church for that matter, benefit from having us in the community? Some time ago I read an article that addressed it from a negative slant, but makes the point: If your church no longer existed would the community notice?
We have accepted everything is OK
I am concerned we have accepted the status quo, that everything is more or less OK. We have latched on to Jesus’s words, “For you always have the poor with you” (Matthew 26:11), and taken that to mean we should just accept it. We read about Jesus eating meals with the outcasts, but have reduced that to tally marks – a way of getting people to pray a particular prayer and join our clan. We remember fondly stories of Jesus performing miraculous healings of body, mind, and spirit, and throw our hands up because we don’t have the power Jesus had while walking the earth. We read about transformed lives – the blind seeing, the deaf hearing, the lame walking, those plagued by demons restored – and reluctantly accept that we cannot do those things. We hear of Jesus raising Lazarus and a 12-year-old girl from the dead, and are in awe that those things “used to happen.”
What if they could still happen today? What if we are missing out because we have accepted the way things are? What if we have bought the wrong story, and there is a much better story to which we are called?
I recently reread my favorite book Blue Like Jazz by Donald Miller, finishing it at Annual Conference last week. I picked it up several weeks ago to use the illustration of whether or not to buy an extension cord for my sermon on greed, and decided I wanted to read it again – for the third time in its entirety – not counting all the times I have re-read a chapter or two here and there over the last several years. I love MIller’s writing because he comes at things in fresh ways. For example…
At one time, Miller joined a group of other young, college-aged men living together in a house in Portland, Oregon. This was not easy for him because, like me, Miller is an introvert, and we introverts like our own space. He was given the single, so he had a room all to himself – one of the few perks of being introverted – but still had to learn to live with these other men. Before moving in to the house Miller had lived alone for some time, focusing only on himself. In the beginning of their time together Miller say he was, in his words, a jerk.
He was living, he writes, as the primary actor in his story. Life was all about him. His housemates, and others who were part of his life, were seen as “supporting cast” in the story of his life.
Eventually, Don and Jeremy, one of his housemates, were caught in a battle – over laundry, over opening the garage door and waking up the other, over chores, dishes, expenses, all the things that challenge us as we are learning to live together. Miller and Jeremy spending a long night working it out – venting what has made them angry, and apologizing for their bad actions. Miller says that night he began to see his housemates differently. No longer were they “supporting cast” but individuals. He saw his role in their lives, and their roles in his. In short, he saw the beauty of interconnectedness – the growth opportunities of community, sharing life together.
This is how he writes this epiphany: “I had been living with God’s prized possessions, His children, the dear ones to Him, and had considered them a bother to this earth that was mine, this space and time that were mine” (Miller 183).
When I read those words this time (maybe because I was at annual conference), I began to reflect on them on a macro level. I began to wonder if those words could be applied to the Church – capital C, church universal. It appears to me that the church often acts like Miller – treating the rest of the world as “supporting cast” in our story. Think about it.
Many Christians function out of the mindset that our primary objective is to have others enter into our story. That’s what most traditional evangelism is about – getting others to agree to our story. We want the “supporting cast” to come to us, to visit our website, enter our building, come to our worship services, drink our coffee, sing our songs, learn our language, join our church, adapt to our culture, plug into our story.
We, the Church – the Christians, have been “living with God’s prized possessions, His children, the dear ones to Him, and [have] considered them a bother to this earth that [is ours], this space and time that [are ours].”
That is not the story of Jesus. In fact, the very heart of the Jesus-story moves in the opposite direction. Christianity is not the story of God sitting on high calling people to himself. Instead it is the story of God coming, to a poor mom in a nondescript town, being born in a stable, growing up in anonymity, ministering to the poorest of the poor, calling fishermen and tax collectors to follow him. We do not celebrate someone who found their way to God/enlightenment/heaven/etc. We celebrate a God who left all of that to come to us. That is what “incarnation” is all about.
This is our call. Jesus sent out apostles, literally messengers, to share the Good News with the world. It was not about having people coming to them, but about them being sent to the people around them.
This is the call of the church: We are to be proclaimers that the others around us are not just bit-players in our story. We are players in each other’s stories. The question we need to ask ourselves is the one Miller had to come to grips with: Do we see the “others” as “dear ones” or as “a bother”; are they the “children of God” or a nuisance?
Do we exist for our nonmembers?
You have probably heard this quote somewhere along the line, “The church is the only cooperative society in the world that exists for the benefit of its non-members” (William Temple as quoted at http://www.sermonillustrations.com/a-z/c/church.htm). I love that quote. I believe that quote. I have often used that quote. The issue I am raising today is I’m not sure we live that quote. Not much of what we do is actually for the benefit of the nonmembers around us. Or to ask that question again, “If Tri-Lakes United Methodist Church ceased to exist, would Monument, Palmer Lake, Woodmoor, Gleneagle, Black Forest, and the surrounding communities notice?”
In many ways the answer to that question is “Yes!” Tri-Lakes Cares would notice a major dropoff in donations and volunteers; Crawford House would miss the quilts; the senior lunches at Big Red would need to do a volunteer drive; Marian House Soup Kitchen would need to fill several dates each month. We, Tri-Lakes United Methodist Church, are making a difference in the lives of our community. But we can do more.
John Wesley said his goal was “to spread scriptural holiness across England.” Our United Methodist Church, which grew out of Wesley’s ministry, states our purpose is “to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.” I believe the purpose for Tri-Lakes United Methodist Church ought to be to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the Tri-Lakes region. Yes, that’s a BHAG – a big, hairy, audacious goal. But as Pastor Bob said in his sermon upon returning from Africa – we simply don’t dream big enough. We need bigger dreams. We need a BHAG.
David and Goliath
That’s what the story of David and Goliath is all about. We often read this story to children and share the lesson that the little guys can do be things too – that’s what VeggieTales has taught me. But that is not the primary point of this story. This story teaches us something about God.
Last week, Pastor Bob shared the story of David being anointed by Samuel to be the next king of Israel. The little brother, the not-even-a-person-yet member of the family, who was left out to tend the sheep because there was no way this was the one God had in mind – is anointed because he is exactly the one God had in mind. In today’s reading, we find David, still too young and too small, out tending the sheep while his brothers fight the war.
He comes upon this conflict and hears Goliath’s challenge to Israel to send out their “best man” to fight him in a winner-take-all battle. Your guy wins, you win the war; our guy wins, we win the war.
To say Goliath is intimidating is an understatement. The measurements given to describe him are outrageous: approximately 10 feet tall, carrying a giant spear with a 15 pound head, and wearing armor weighing about 125 pounds – maybe more than David weighs. By all accounts this guy is unbeatable. Everyone freezes.
Saul, the king chosen because he fit the “Arnold” model Bob mentioned last week, is cowering in his tent. David’s brothers whom Samuel thought were certainly whom God had chosen to be the new king because they too fit that model, were paralyzed with fear. The whole army that had won battle after battle, were shaking in their sandals. How can we defeat one who is so much bigger than us?
David enters and reframes the question: “who is this,” David asks, “that he should defy the armies of the living God?” (1 Samuel 17:26). David is not looking at Goliath in comparison to himself. He is looking at Goliath in comparison to God. That makes all the difference.
When David comes out to fight it must have looked ridiculous. He is not wearing armor, Saul’s didn’t fit. He carries no sword, no spear, just a shepherd’s slingshot. Goliath seems insulted Israel has sent one so nondescript for this battle. He taunts, “Am I a dog, that you come to me with sticks?” (I wonder if he is calling David a stick). Certainly, he felt he was worthy of better.
David’s response to Goliath’s taunts is the true lesson of this story: “This very day the Lord will deliver you into my hand … so that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel, and that all this assembly may know that the Lord does not save by sword and spear; for the battle is the Lord’s and he will give you into our hand” (1 Samuel 17:46-47).
That is, of course, exactly what happens. David defeats Goliath, not with sword or spear, but with the power of God. David had a BHAG that his brothers and all of those in Saul’s army thought was ridiculous. By all accounts it was unachievable – except for one thing. God. In the light of God, a big, hairy, audacious goal becomes a goal.
When we focus on Goliath, the problem, we can be paralyzed into inaction – as Saul and his army were. When we dare to dream beyond our ability, to what God can do, we wind up facing giants. Goliath-sized problems may be beyond our ability, but they are no match for God.
What is our Goliath?
So what’s our Goliath? What would it look like if the Tri-Lakes region were transformed by God through us? What’s the BHAG? I’ve thought about a ton of stuff. Maybe our goal is to eradicate poverty in the Tri-Lakes region. Maybe it is to made sure every child has all they need to succeed in school – including free tutors, supplies, rides, money for field trips, and the ability to participate in extra-curricular activities free of charge. Maybe it is that everyone have access to home repairs they can afford, or car repairs for free so they have reliable transportation to get to and from work. Maybe it is offering a day care for children so parents can work, or one for the elderly so children can work, or maybe one for both so they can give life to one another. Maybe the goal is heal relationships between parents and children, husbands and wives, neighbors and friends. Maybe the goal is to eradicate addiction, not by driving out dealers, but by healing addicts. Maybe it is to make sure that no one eats alone.
In other words, maybe all of those things we long for Jesus to do again – all the healings, feedings, transformations, and new life – are available for us to continue today. Maybe that is what Jesus meant when he said those who have faith in him will do even greater things than he did (John 14:12). We have accepted is the wrong story – Saul’s story of fear, instead of David’s.
Several Sundays ago, Bob shared stories about how this is happening in Kenya – poverty is being tackled by small groups; a church is working to supply clean drinking water. It was reported at Annual Conference how the Goliath of malaria is being eradicated by the efforts of the United Methodist Church and others – cutting malaria deaths in half in the last four years. I saw a banner this week at Tri-Lakes Cares how they are providing lunch to any child under 18 this summer – meeting a need for those who miss their free school lunches while on summer vacation. Giants being faced by the church. Again, we can do more.
What would it look like if we began to view the community around us, not as bit players we wish would join our story or a bother because they don’t, but as God’s dear ones we have been charged to take care of? How would things change if we really lived as though the church existed for the benefit of its nonmembers, if we used all our resources for the good of all?
What if… What if…
Where is Tri-Lakes United Methodist Church?
As I reflected on this, I thought about how we have often joked about how difficult it is to find our church. We have no signs on the road. Google and GPS take followers to the wrong side of the property. We are on a dead-end so no one just drives by on their way someplace else. We are difficult to find, to say the least.
This is a living parable to us. Our location reminds us the people of Tri-Lakes don’t need to know where our building is. We need to know where they are. We need to meet them, get to know them, hear their stories, and begin to meet their needs in the name of Jesus. Then we will be living into the call of “thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
I wanted to come to you today with a plan, but God has not given it to me. I believe he has instead given it to you.
So I am asking you to share that with us today. What have you heard? Who do you know? What are the issues in the Tri-Lakes area about which you are passionate? If you are following along with the YouVersion Bible App today, you will see a place to answer the question, if not there are cards in the Great Room for you to write your answers (those reading this online, feel free to comment below):
What needs in our Tri-Lakes area need to be transformed? What big, hairy, audacious goal for our community has God laid on your heart? What is your vision of what it would look like if the Kingdom of God were to come to Tri-Lakes as it is in heaven?
May God give us a vision to see his Kingdom come to Tri-Lakes as it is in heaven.
Borg, Marcus J. Speaking Christian: Why Christian Words Have Lost Their Meaning and Power – and How They Can Be Restored. New York: HarperCollins, 2011. Kindle edition.
Miller, Donald. Blue Like Jazz: Nonreligious thoughts on Christian spirituality. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2003. Print.
Unless otherwise noted, all quotations of Scripture are from the New Revised Standard Version available online at http://bible.oremus.org.