"Marching Orders for Disciples"
October 1, 2006 LWCF 5th Anniversary Mark 6:7-13
Surprisingly, Jesus never told His disciples, "Go therefore and build ecclesiastical structures called churches." Today as we celebrate our 5th anniversary as a congregation, it's appropriate for us to stop and ask, "Why are we here? What are we about?" It's apparently not about maintaining a building where we can come together once a week, make some fine-sounding music, and help each other feel good. Mark 6:7 says, "Calling the Twelve to Him, He [Jesus] sent them out two by two..." Christianity is a movement, not a monument. There is a "calling together": Hebrews 10(25) commands, "Let us not give up meeting together"; yet there is also a "sending out." This is but the huddle before the scrimmage. The real action takes place beyond the church's walls.
Recently a fellow clergyman was describing how back in the 1950s-70s their denominational leadership noted the booming suburbs in Canadian cities and took the initiative to plonk churches in each suburb. However they overlooked the fact that people were now prepared to drive across town to get to the church of their choice. The English model where people walk to the nearby church did not apply. Consequently, many of these post-war church buildings have been closing their doors. Simply having a building there didn't guarantee a thriving congregation. Misplaced structures become expensive monuments.
It's exciting that LWCF's land purchase is imminent. But what's more exciting is that our people, as Jesus' sent-out disciples, are taking His message out into their homes, community, and workplaces. The Word is being sown in tasteful, innovative, and intriguing. There's Debbie's hair salon where Christian materials are evident but don't hit you in the eye when you walk in the door. Harvey and Deanna have a bed-and-breakfast ministry where excellent service and sensitively placed reading materials witness for their Master. Even the verses on the Howson&Howson calendar could spark some dialogue, in contrast to what you might find on the back wall of an auto-repair shop. Diane and the Lisles open their homes to small groups that welcome people for study and prayer from outside our fellowship. We're already using our existing walls for ministry!
Jesus' vision for His followers is that they propagate a movement of multiplication. This constitutes quite a sudden change in the flow of Mark's gospel. Up to chapter 6, the focus has been on Jesus' teaching and miraculous powers as the wonder-working Son of God. As we've been seeing, He's "Mr Impossible", stilling the storm, raising the dead, healing the incurable. But His parables in chapter 4 hint that God's Kingdom has a living, multiplying, biotic nature: seeds that grow and sprout and produce grain; a tiny mustard seed that explodes to become the biggest bush in the garden. So, just when it seems He's "got it made" as a solo performer, Christ suddenly clones Himself (at least functionally), sending pairs of disciples off in 6 directions to pepper many Galilean villages. The directions He gives help us yet today to understand what should characterize us as disciples in living for Him.
It's kind of an unnatural thing to be a Christian disciple in a consumer society. As consumers, we're brainwashed to accept that it's normal to follow the unspoken mantra: "feed me, entertain me, make me comfortable..." By contrast, discipleship involves being stretched, discovering your gifts through being introduced into new settings, having to lean on God, serving others rather than instant "self-serve". So as we consider the mission of the Twelve this morning, we are challenged by this question - "Are you a disciple - or a bump on a pew?" Many churches today hobble along occupied by bumps on the pews...often it's the 20% (or less) of the people that do 80% of the work. But Jesus didn't give Peter a "by" because he had a family to support; the Lord didn't exempt Nathanael from the task because his personality was more the introspective type, suited to contemplation beneath the fig tree (John 1:50). He sent them ALL out. If you're a Christian, you're a disciple, and disciples are expected to be about the Master's business.
The first few verses of Jesus' instructions focus on the disciple's "without-ness" - their bare-bones supplies encourage them to be depending on God, and weaned from this world's temptations. Vv 8-10 specify that they're to "Take nothing for the journey except a staff-- no bread, no bag, no money in your belts.Wear sandals but not an extra tunic.Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you leave that town." No bread, no bag, no money, not two coats which although assuring extra warmth would be a burden, no moving from house to house in search of the ritziest accommodations. They weren't out to line their pocketbooks, or build theme parks from the donations mailed in by well-meaning widows impacted by the broadcast. At the other extreme, Jesus wasn't advocating asceticism for its own sake, just wanted them to understand and experience that God could be trusted to provide their needs. As He said in Matthew 10(10), "the worker is worth his keep." They had something to offer people, they weren't out to be consumers.
Discipleship in affluent North American culture also calls for a certain degree of "without-ness". Until we let go of our carefully constructed and condoned cocoons, we won't have really tested God's capacity to provide. Satan would love to get us off track: it doesn't have to be through discouragement and hardship; the enemy can just as easily derail us by success and ease. In chapter 4(19), the parable of the sower and the seed, the thorns choking the grain and making it unfruitful represent "the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things..."
Living in such luxury as southwestern Ontario presents means there are many opportunities for diversions, ways we can spend our time. Athletic opportunities, service clubs, family demands, interesting hobbies - it's easy to get overcommitted and become simply too busy. An overloaded schedule can burden and derail us from Kingdom availability just as easily as an overstuffed backpack and extra coat would have slowed the Twelve.
In his classic work Cost of Discipleship, Dietrich Bonhoeffer warned: "The demand for absolute liberty brings men to the depths of slavery." We can become enslaved to cultural clamour is we constantly say "yes" and yield to its attractions. Being a disciple involves doing without for the purpose of having time and energy for Jesus' priorities.
Our daughter Meredith has been going through a transition from west to east, and full-time studies to part-time with work at a new employer. This past week she wrote a poem on her blog that relates to this depending on God:
Compelled by the Spirit / Called to follow
For eternal gain / I choose to let go
Of that which the world / So dearly holds
Where am I destined? / That I don't know
Why am I leaving? / God has some great goal
Wherever I am / His Word I must sow
Compelled by the Spirit / Called to follow
For eternal gain / I choose to let go
V11 begins, "And if any place will not welcome you or listen to you..." The Twelve were sent forth to bring a message, not to blend in and just be assimilated. There should be something noticeable about a Christian that draws attention, that attracts and - yes - discernibly challenges those who are just guided by the impulses of the fallen nature. A disciple doesn't just "fit right in" like a chameleon that changes the colour of its skin to match the environment.
Jesus warns the Twelve that they will encounter opposition. Those hearing them will usually have a tendency to keep the 'status quo', to remain hobbled by their prejudices and habitual sins. The preachers will be rejected on occasion, yet they're not to be cowed or perturbed by such rejection, but soberly and confidently warn those who refuse news of such great salvation (Heb 2:3). V11 again, "And if any place will not welcome you or listen to you, shake the dust off your feet when you leave, as a testimony against them." Jews returning from foreign lands would as a custom shake the dust off their sandals lest the Holy Land be contaminated by the dust of heathen cities.
Ken Campbell, who died August 28, was one Canadian Christian who spoke out against various evils and encountered much opposition for his views. ChristianWeek notes Campbell "crusaded in favour of prayer in public schools, resisted 'the militant homosexual agenda' and was a staunch and highly visible opponent of abortion." Editor Doug Koop notes the incessant campaigning "exacted a severe personal price.He was imprisoned.He lost his home.His organization lost its charitable status.He was penniless.He was hauled before the Human Rights Commission.The intensity of his rhetoric and the clarity of his personal calling to 'apostolic, confrontational evangelism' ended up costing him friends and fortune." Wow - would I be prepared to give up all that?
Ken Campbell was prepared to do without, to be seen as different, to depend totally on God. In a funeral tribute, his pastor said, "For me and many others he was a model of what it means to be a fearless and loyal warrior of Christ...When called to a task, it mattered little the challenge or cost. Ken believed the One who called would supply the need."
As for our own congregation's history, our initial exit from faltering mainline doctrine was difficult, but we sensed like Campbell Christ was calling us to dare to be different for the sake of His holiness. We are not to be "of the world"; such a church cannot minister to the world. Roof and McKinney are two sociologists of religion who have studied congregational statistics in recent decades in the States. They note: "Careful analysis of membership trends shows that the churches hardest hit were those highest in socioeconomic status, those stressing individualism and pluralism in belief, and those most affirming of American culture.Evidently, there is a high price to be paid by churches who cater to current cultural trends at the expense of orthodox Christianity." (American Mainline Religion, p.176) Discipleship means you can't follow Christ AND follow the crowd.
Vv8-10 stressed what we can get along without; vv7,12-13 are more positive, emphasizing a "value-added component" so disciples are more than moochers, out visiting villages for a free lunch. V7 says Jesus "gave them authority over evil spirits," literally "unclean" spirits...The word 'unclean' suggests a broader realm than the translation "evil": Jesus empowers the disciples to act in His Name (as His agents or representatives) against the enemy, or whatever they run up against that's unclean or impure, from the realm of the world or the flesh; whatever takes away from God or would diminish the glory He intended.
V13, "They drove out many demons and anointed many sick people with oil and healed them." They drove out [hence title for this section, the Disciple's Drive] - the root word for 'drove' means "to throw out", like Jimmy Stewart is "driven out" of the tavern in It's a Wonderful Life. We're not messing around here! They drove out many demons and anointed the un-well and healed them ('therapied' them). In other words, they contributed positively and practically to better people's lives.
If the church is not a monument, neither is it a service club. But as disciples we should be bringing Christ's light and love into our community, our relationships. Five years is long enough for a church to develop a bit of a reputation out on the street - what's ours? Hopefully it's not that we're "so heavenly minded [we're] no earthly good." We're not to be just another weekly assembly off by ourselves: we're to be offering Jesus' 'living water' to the thirsty outside our doors. In this regard, it's exciting to see Angela come forward to carry on Amy's work with Junior Girls (being actually approached by them). It's great to see continued enthusiasm for local Youth For Christ outreach, and area women's ministry. Our involvement in the Youth Activity Park would be another example. And recently a family member from one of the more notorious local "drug houses" dropped in for Youth Group. What an opportunity to bring heaven's light and Biblical truth into a spiritual war zone! Another congregation member seized the moment to ask a co-worker if he could pray with her after she shared about a prior personal tragedy. Wherever we find ourselves, as the Holy Spirit leads, let's let Jesus 'out of the bottle' so He can continue to heal the hurting and confront the forces holding souls captive.
V12, we find the disciples' drive had a verbal component: "They went out and preached that people should repent." They proclaimed that they should change their mind, "heartily to amend with abhorrence of one's past sins". Matthew 10(7) says they were to preach, 'The kingdom of heaven is near." God's rule was pressing upon and ready to revolutionize their being.
How do we put that into everyday terms? "Jesus made a world of difference in my life, and He can do the same for you"? Hmm- so can a day at the spa. No, that doesn't cut it. How about, "I was making a mess of my life - turned destructively in upon my self, bound for hell and eternity cut off from God. But Jesus died to clean up my mess. Now He's my backer and my hope. Have you considered what that might do in your life?" Each time we need to lean on the Spirit for the right words to express His gracious power for a turn-around.
The call to repentance is all the more needed as culture continues its moral slide. What is that, "heartily to amend with abhorrence of one's past sins"? Does the public even know what sin IS any more? A sorry tale this past week involved a 19-year-old Alberta woman who gave birth in her parents' basement then strangled the baby and discarded it in the neighbour's backyard. The court sentenced her to at least 10 years in prison for second-degree murder. CBC reports that outside the courtroom the girl's mother "said the family is a victim because their daughter had been charged with something she is not responsible for." If not, then where does responsibility begin? We have a deeply-ingrained tendency to justify and excuse ourselves, to deny our sin. This is even more pronounced when you consider that under current Canadian law, killing the baby just before it's born is not a crime. We'd like to adjust the moral law to suit our preferences. Repentance involves acknowledging we have fallen short in view of God's standards. Only then can His grace abound to us, through the cross of Jesus.
The Twelve disciples were given authority and sent out to preach and confront evil and lead people into God's wholeness. The Lord's authority drives our mission. This calls for commitment, because there'll be conflict: more is at stake here than just being nice in the coffee shop. Eduard Schweizer comments, "Preaching is not theoretical instruction, but exhortation in which God's power is expressed and every hostile power is assailed."
Christ's command challenges us as disciples to be more than bumps on the pew; to become active in obedience, and put into practice the Kingdom gifts and message God has entrusted to us.
Disciple-making is a movement: that involves multiplication, having "each one reach one". That's how Christ's Kingdom grows - naturally. We don't have to preach to villages, but be on the look-out for those in your circle you can influence and mentor - so they in turn can make disciples. Pray for the Lord to open the ears and make the soul receptive to whom you speak.
Hugh Latimer (1485-1555) is known as the "Preacher of the English Reformation". But behind him was Thomas Bilney, his mentor. As a quiet scholar at Cambridge University, Bilney acquired a Greek New Testament from the famous Erasmus. As he pored over it, one verse seemed to be written in letters of light, and it led to his conversion: 'Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners!'
Bilney wanted to share his experience with others, but this was Reformation truth, and the Reformation had not yet reached England. Teachers such as Martin Luther were being fiercely attacked by English churchmen like Hugh Latimer. But as Bilney listened to young Latimer rail against the Reformation, he prayed this unusual prayer: "O God, I am but 'little Bilney', and shall never do any great thing for Thee.But give me the soul of that man, Hugh Latimer, and what wonders he shall do in Thy most holy name."
One day Bilney pulled Latimer aside. Using his own conversion verse - 1Timothy 1:15 - he led the great Latimer to simple faith in Christ, and the English Reformation was born. Let's pray.