"Umbrella and Harness: Benefits of a Member's Commitment"
Mt.11:25-30 June 22/08 Baptism/Membership Sunday
Age of Autono-Me
This is the age of 'autono-ME': we live in an increasingly self-centred society where 'it's all about me' - my comfort, my pleasure, my success, my choice, my desires. At least that's what the advertisers would have us believe. It's a 'self-serve' generation, instant gratification: order it online, it often ships the same day. This breeds an unhealthy, if not sinful, self-centredness.
Here's an example. A young man applying for a job as usher in a theatre was asked by the owner, "In case of fire, what would you do?" "Oh, don't be concerned about me," was the reply. "I'd be able to escape immediately." Do you think he got the job? Of course not! He didn't even think of his responsibility toward others.
Yet in spite of widespread self-centredness, today in this service some individuals are doing something unusual, counter-cultural: they are committing themselves to membership in an organization that brings with it both privileges and responsibilities. That self-centred usher applicant might say to them, "Are you crazy? Why would you do such a thing - take on obligations? Don't you know that's going to hamper your individual freedom? Isn't it easier just to think about yourself rather than take on a responsibility in an organization?"
But Christianity is not about 'me': it's about loving God and others beyond ourselves, discovering the fulfilment that comes from being part of something greater 'out there' - ministering God's love to others in His Kingdom. Jesus invites us to break free from the imprisonment of "I": to discover His Lordship, and the meaning of joining Him in what He and His church are doing in the lives of our families, community, the whole world.
Get Under the Umbrella
The first symbol we might use to talk about the benefits of membership, or submission in general, is the umbrella. Summer is a great time of year: we get up to 15.5 hours of sunlight - much nicer than on the dark days of December. Sunshine is good for our health to a point, it lets our bodies produce Vitamin D; but too much sun burns our skin and can eventually lead to skin cancer. So we use sunscreen, hats, and shades. Last week Chuck Talbot showed us a picture of a crowd watching a tribal dance demonstration in the Philippines; there were many umbrellas - not because of rain, but to protect from the sunshine. Or if clouds suddenly obscure the sun and a thunderstorm comes, it's good to have an umbrella on hand so we don't get soaked by the rain!
Jesus wants us to recognize God offers us protection under His 'umbrella' of authority. In Matthew 11:27 Jesus says, "All things have been committed to Me by My Father." Think about that - let the force of it hit you! "All things" have been committed to Jesus by God the Father. Who's making the commitment there? The Heavenly Father. What's the Father handed over or entrusted to the Son? 'All things'. Such authority and empowerment has been given to Jesus! But this is like Mt 28:18 where Jesus says, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me." Or in Jn 13(3), before He washed the disciples' feet it says, "Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power..." The apostle expresses the same truth this way to the Ephesians (1:22), "And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church..." So we see Jesus' authorization by the Father is very broad.
Although the Bible doesn't mention the word 'umbrella', the same concept of God's protective covering is expressed in similar ways. Psalm 121:5 promises, "The LORD watches over you-- the LORD is your shade at your right hand; the sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night." Psalm 17(8b-9) uses the imagery of a bird sheltering their young: "hide me in the shadow of your wings from the wicked who assail me, from my mortal enemies who surround me." At one point Jesus said He longed to gather Jerusalem's children together 'as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings' (Mt 23:37). So God's power and authority are like a shade, or wings, or umbrella-covering that we can get in underneath to enjoy His protection.
The Lord shares this authority out in an orderly manner through God-ordained institutions. At the beginning of the previous chapter, Matthew 10, Jesus sent the disciples out, giving them authority to drive out evil spirits and heal the sick. The New Testament understands there to be 3 enduring institutions to which we are to submit for good order and protection. First, the family: Paul writes in Ephesians 6(1f), "Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. "Honor your father and mother"-- which is the first commandment with a promise-- "that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth."" This 'getting under the umbrella' is for our good.
A second institution God gives for people's benefit is government. Paul writes to the church at Rome (13:1ff), "Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God... rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong.[The ruler] is God's servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God's servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer." So government is another 'umbrella' we get in under the authority of, by paying taxes, voting, and behaving as good citizens. Peter adds, "Submit yourselves for the Lord's sake (note!) to every authority instituted among men: whether to the king, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right." (1Pet 2:13f)
A third divinely-ordained institution - the one that's the focus of our service today - is the church. Jesus told Peter "on this rock I will build My church..." and delegated corresponding authority or 'keys' to the apostles. (Mt 16:18) His Great Commission ordered that they make disciples, baptizing and teaching them to observe all He commanded (Mt 28:19). That presumes some organization, a systematic approach, and that those baptized learn obedience to the teaching that's passed on. Paul exhorted the church at Corinth to demonstrate consideration and good order in worship; he said, "everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way." (1Cor 14:40) Church membership in the Bible is a bit like the doctrine of the Trinity: you don't find the actual word, but some sort of formal submission and orderly governing is implicit. 1Timothy 5(17), "The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honour, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching." Hebrews 13(17), "Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you." It's not a lording-over type of authority, but shepherding or managerial responsibility, as those who must themselves answer for how they look after the flock. So the formal action of joining a church as a member makes that a voluntary choice, in which we seek that accountability and connection for the benefit of both ourselves and the church.
The EMCC statement of faith says this in its description of the church: "The local church is an organized body of believers in Christ who are voluntarily joined for public worship and evangelism, teaching the Word, fellowship with the saints, observance of the ordinances, exercise in prayer, and who are commissioned with the responsibility to administer discipline." All that involves some formal structure - and people's voluntary commitment and obedience. So in joining, we are saying in effect, "These are Christ-honouring purposes and standards I want to support and be held accountable to."
The 'umbrella' is a symbolic way to talk about protective authority. Words like authority, submission, and obedience are not always popular these days. Bill Gotthard was involved in ministering to troubled young people and gangs before he founded the "Institute in Basic Youth Conflicts". Here's how he defines these terms, very positively: Authority - "a specified jurisdiction delegated by God along with the resources and power to carry it out." Submission - "an attitude of reverence in which a person voluntarily places himself under God-given authority as an act of faith in the sovereignty of God." Obedience - "the freedom to be creative under the protection of divinely appointed authority while carrying out their righteous wishes." That doesn't sound so bad!
Gotthard lists over a dozen rewards (with Scripture references) God has promised to those who get under His authority/umbrella: things will go well with you; you will - have a long life; bring delight to the Lord; avoid fear of condemnation; maintain a good conscience; obtain a good report; receive God's inheritance and God's glory; not blaspheme God or His word; be given clear direction; be protected from evil people; gain discernment; receive God's praise; honour those God put over you; and escape the destruction of pride. (Eph 6:1-3; Col 3:20,23f; Rom 13:3,5; Heb 13:17; 2Pet 2:18-20; 1Tim 6:1; Prov 6:20-24; Prov 15:5; 1Pet 2:13f; 1Thess 5:12f; 2Tim 6:2-4) How many reasons do we need to decide that under God's umbrella's a good place to be?
Step Into the Harness
[OBJECT: HALTER/REINS/SADDLE] What about the harness on a horse - is it a hindrance, or a help? If I tried to ride bareback, with no halter on the animal, I fear I'd have slid off in short order! Harness is a good thing because it permits communication (between horse and rider), safety; and when pulling a load, harness is what allows useful work to be done.
Jesus uses a very simple word-picture to invite us to be hitched to the 'draft-horse' or tractor of God's almighty power. Look at Matthew 11:28: Jesus said, "Come to Me" (it's an invitation) "all of you who are weary and burdened" (that is, who labour with wearisome effort, who are carrying a heavy load) "and I will give you rest." Literally, I will 'anapauo' you - give you rest, refresh you, REJUVENATE you. The lexicon defines anapauo as "to cause or permit one to cease from any movement or labour in order to recover and collect his strength." Jesus gives the pause that refreshes - in electronic terms, He's our heavenly re-charger!
Read on, v29: "Take my yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls [from anapauo again]. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light." See the yoke or harness metaphor here? Team up with Jesus. He wants to share your load. He's not an overbearing ogre, but gentle, humble; "A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out." (Isa 42:3) Although He has all power, He doesn't throw His weight around, but comes alongside to support us in Kingdom purposes. Maybe you've taken on more than what's God's will for you right now; that's part of accepting His yoke, rather than following your own impulses. His yoke is 'easy' / 'fits perfectly' (NLT), custom-shaped for your make-up.
The wonder or miracle of Jesus' harness is that it's not actually restrictive but helpful, transforming. His yoke shapes us into faithful, glorifying servants, friends in the Father's force. There are positive results to taking His yoke and learning to obey Him. Isaiah 48(17f): "This is what the LORD says-- your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel: "I am the LORD your God, who teaches you what is best for you, who directs you in the way you should go. If only you had paid attention to my commands, your peace would have been like a river, your righteousness like the waves of the sea." Harnessing ourselves by heeding God's commands results in peace like a torrent, righteousness like an ocean!
The EMC statement of faith hints at how members 'harness' themselves in the church to be truly fruitful: "God equips individuals in the body for service in the world-wide multi-faceted ministry of his church. He gives to each woman and man at least one spiritual gift, by the Holy Spirit, to be used, under the direction of the Head, Jesus Christ, as an integrated part of the total ministry of his church. Each member has a role, whether as a lay person or as vocational leader, all of whom God chooses and equips."
Our LWCF Membership Covenant summarizes various ways members commit or 'harness' themselves to carrying this out: "I will serve the ministry of my church - by discovering my gifts and talents; by being equipped by my pastors to serve; by developing a servant's heart. (And) I will support the testimony of my church - by attending faithfully; by living a godly life; by giving regularly." So, with the Lord's help and direction, together we can do what one person can't do alone: supporting missionaries like the Talbots by a significant amount; prompting a Youth Park; partnering in area ministries like YFC; even planning a facility on 4.5 acres beside Highway 4 for Kingdom purposes, to be a witness and sort of divine 'pit stop'.
Hidden Benefits of Membership
Jesus promises those who come to Him, acknowledge His umbrella of authority, and take up His yoke, will receive rest, refreshment, rejuvenation. That's not necessarily just emotional or spiritual.
The Alban Institute, based on research, offers these reasons why people should become active members of a Christian church: Active church members have a 60 percent less chance of a heart attack. Active church members have a 55 percent less chance of a one-car accident. Active church members live an average of 5.7 years longer. While only 30 percent of the highly unchurched say they are very happy, 70 percent of the highly committed church people say they are very happy. The National Institute of Health has now developed five protective factors that help fight coronary disease; the leading one is weekly church attendance.
But in addition to health reasons, joining oneself to Christ offers eternal benefits. God rewards commitment - with benefits that no one can take away. Chrysostom, the ancient Church Father, was a great example of true Christian courage. When he stood before the Roman Emperor, he was threatened with banishment if he still remained a Christian. Chrysostom replied, "You cannot, for the world is my Father's house; you cannot banish me."
"But I will slay you," said the Emperor. "No, but you cannot," said the noble champion of the faith again, "for my life is hid with Christ in God:'
"I will take away [your] treasures." "No, but you cannot," was the retort; "in the first place, I have nothing you know anything about. My treasure is in heaven, and my heart is there."
"But I will drive you away from man, and you shall have no friend left." "No, and that you cannot," once more said the faithful witness, "for I have a Friend in heaven from whom you shall not separate me. I defy you; there is nothing you can do to hurt me."
Praise God for His protection and blessing! let's pray.