Quo Vadimus – Where are we going?
The first time I heard that phrase was on SportsNight. It was one of my favorite TV shows and it was the title of one of my favorite episodes. In it, this mystery man comes up to one of the characters from the show, Dana, and tries to cheer her up. He says to her, “I’m what the world would consider to be a phenomenally successful man, and I’ve failed much more than I’ve succeeded. And each time I’ve failed, I gather my people together and I ask them, ‘Where are we going?’ And it starts to get better.”
It’s a question we need to ask ourselves every once in a while, because if you don’t know where you’re headed, how do you know when you get there? We spend so much time on the day-to-day, we seldom take time out to really think about the future; about what we hope to accomplish and where we hope to be. Then one day, the future shows up on our doorstep and the past is history. How many people spend their lives wandering aimlessly from job to job, from place to place, without any idea of where they are headed? In that way, we’re a lot like Alice from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Alice bumps into the Cheshire Cat early on and asks him, “Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?” The Cat replies, “That depends a good deal on where you want to get to.” “I don’t care much where – “ said Alice. “Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,” said the Cat. We have to stop from time-to-time to figure out which way we are headed and then stop once in a while again to see if we’re still headed where we want to go. Otherwise it doesn’t matter and our lives lack purpose and meaning. What we need is a vision.
“Where there is no vision, the people perish.”
That’s the King James Version of Proverbs 29:18. “Where there is no vision, the people perish.” The guy who wrote this must have come from the Central Valley because he probably wrote this on a “fog day.” Don’t be surprised if you don’t know what a “fog day” is. I certainly didn’t when we first moved to Fresno, but schools in the area have built in “fog days” in the schedule. Back in Georgia we would have “snow days” and those were few and far between, but whoever heard of being held up by fog? Well, it only takes one time experiencing it before you become a believer. You can literally be driving along and your visibility goes from miles in front of you to nearly zero in seconds. It only happened to me a couple of times, but it’s scary. To have absolutely no idea if there’s a car in front of you, or worse there’s a car coming the opposite way that perhaps drifted over the line without knowing it? Pulling over doesn’t help because you’re just as likely to get rear-ended. You just have to keep going, hoping you’re headed in the right direction and not knowing what’s around you. That’s what our lives are like when we don’t have a clear idea of where we are headed. Without vision, we won’t get far.
“Vision is the bridge between the present and the future.”
It’s the connecting link between where we are and where we want to be. It provides us direction, focus, drive, passion, and so much more. It sustains us in times of doubt and in times of trouble. Vision gets us out of bed in the morning and makes us excited about the day. It can change your perspective and inspire you to see the ordinary in extraordinary ways. Back in 1671, the famous architect Christopher Wren, was commissioned to rebuild St. Paul’s Cathedral in London. He observed three bricklayers working on the project, one was crouched down, one was half-standing, and one was standing tall. He asked all three of them what they were doing. The first man said, “I’m laying bricks.” The second man said, “I’m building a wall.” The third man, who was by far the most productive of the three and eventually would become the team leader said, “I’m building a cathedral to the Lord.” That’s the power of a vision. It gives meaning to life. It helps us to realize we’re part of something bigger, something worthwhile. That third man didn’t see himself as menial labor or making a living wage. He saw himself as part of a grander vision and it motivated him, made him more productive, and made him happier about his life. And that’s what people want, a purpose in life, something to wake up to and say, “Gee, I’m about to do something worthwhile today.”
It’s no secret I loved working at Disneyland.
Sure the perks were great – getting to go into the park every day for free is amazing. But that isn’t why I worked there and it wasn’t why I stayed. I stayed because I liked being part of something that brought happiness to people’s lives. I stayed because I wanted to be part of something that was doing good in the world. I stayed because I felt like I was part of something bigger than just myself. The Disney motto is “We create happiness.” And who doesn’t want to be part of that? If you looked at what I did on a day-to-day basis, it certainly didn’t look all that grand and it certainly wasn’t all that magical. Some days, I’d be scrubbing trash cans from the inside out. Some days, I spent eight hours scraping off refried beans off of people’s plates. Some days, I would have to stand there and get yelled at by a guy who swears he didn’t have to show ID when he wrote a check, like suddenly he got his law degree because he read about it in the paper. But you were willing to take the menial moments and the embarrassing moments and the harsh moments for the moments when you put a smile on a kid’s face. When you made a parent happy. When you helped to make someone else’s day. Some of these people spent their life savings just to be able to come to Disneyland and they’ll go home and they’ll remember all the magical moments they saved up from being there and YOU get to be part of that. THAT’S what made it all worthwhile.
It’s also why I do this.
It’s why I became a pastor. Because one day it dawned on me that my life was so much better because Christ was a part of it and I wanted to do that for someone else. I wanted to help others know the love of Christ so that they too could know what I know and feel what I feel. I wanted to help others find out about God’s love so they wouldn’t have to go through life without knowing there is a God who loves them and can be there for them and help them make it through the tough times not so alone and not so afraid. Life is simply better with Christ! If you’re a Christian you know that to be true! And if you’re not, I’ve got a secret for you. Life is better with Christ! P.S. It’s not a secret.
So “Quo Vadimus?”
Where are we going? God has already given us the vision. “To make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19).” But that’s massive. That’s a vision for the world. What can we do in our little part of it? We can once again become a neighborhood church. We can make an impact on our community the same way we did when we first started. We can utilize our cultural heritage, our gifts, and our graces to reach out in love to those around us. Did you know that at one time BMUC was once a community church? It just happened to be a community of Japanese people. Due to land laws at the time, Japanese and Japanese-Americans were restricted to living within specific boundaries of the city. We were literally forbidden to live anywhere else in Berkeley, and as atrocious as that is to us now, it also opened the door of possibility. It concentrated a group of people bound by culture and heritage into one targeted area. The Methodists decided this was an opportune place to begin a Christian ministry to the Japanese, and with the help of our Issei and Nisei founders and dedicated pastors, it was the beginning of what would become Berkeley Methodist United Church. But its roots, its origin was as a neighborhood church. Eventually, the restrictions were dropped and our parents and grandparents began to spread out. But this place remains rooted in this community, and the community has changed. We have not.
Imagine for a moment what it might be like if we became a neighborhood church once again.
Not to abandon our cultural roots, but to embrace them; to use them as the basis for ministry in this area. We have a lot to offer our neighborhood. Berkeley is a city known for its willingness to accept the “other;” and who better than us to embrace that philosophy? For those of us of Japanese ancestry, we all know someone if not many people who were thrown into internment camps. We know what it’s like to be shunned or despised based on the color of your skin, the way you speak the language, the food you eat, or the people you associate with. We know what it’s like to be victims of prejudice and hatred for simply being YOU! Who better than us to reach out to the community and say to this city of “others,” “Come into this place where you will be accepted just as you are?” Who better than us to reach out to the disenfranchised and say, “You are a beloved child of God?” Everyone is looking for a place to belong. Everyone is looking for a place where they matter. We can be that place, right here, right now. Our cultural heritage isn’t a barrier to our community, it is the backbone of our strength that will help fuel our vision to reach out and show the love of Christ. It is because of our cultural heritage that we should feel compelled to reach out and help others grow in their faith. We are uniquely equipped to do just that.
Within a one-mile radius of our church live 53,307 people.
Most of whom are not involved in a church or faith community. Only 26.3% are projected to be involved leaving 73.8% not involved at all. That’s almost 40,000 people in a one-mile radius of our church not involved in a faith community. Of all the people likely to become active in a church or faith community? Not quite 4%. Almost four times as many people are likely to become inactive than active. Those numbers seem to be depressing. Almost daunting. But consider this, 4% are likely to become active in a church. In an area within just one mile of our church 4% of people would move from inactive to active faith, that would be over 2,000 people. Could you even imagine over 2,000 people coming to worship here at BMUC? Let’s say of that 4% we only aimed for 1%. That would still be over 500 new people in worship with us, connecting to God with us, and finding strength in their faith with us. Last year, when our leadership team envisioned what they would like to see BMUC look like in five years, almost all of them had us growing as a church. Why can’t that be our vision? Why can’t we utilize the strength of our cultural heritage to fuel our passion and desire to reach out to a new generation? Imagine if this place was filled with people of all different colors, and all different cultures, and all different gender identities, and all different backgrounds, united by a desire to reach out to our community and embrace them for their unique being. Imagine if we became known as the church who loved others just because of who they are because we know what it’s like not to be loved just because you are different. Why don’t we bring THAT vision into our community?
 From Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (Penguin Classics), p.36.
Procrastination can be deadly.
In some cases, literally. When I was in high school, I would put off doing my term papers until the night before they were due. If it was a particularly tough assignment, maybe I would start it that week. But I put it off as long as I could. Then it was a mad dash to the finish! I’d work all day and sometimes all night to get it done. There were days I literally stayed up all night long. One time, I was printing the last page right before my mom had to take me to school. When my mom would ask me why I waited so long to do it, I told her I thrived under pressure. How many of you have used that same excuse? I THRIVE under pressure! And there was some truth to that statement. There’s nothing like having a deadline looming in front of you to get you to produce something quickly. But was it always my best work? Probably not. When I look back, I can see that my failure to plan ahead was mostly a result of avoiding what I didn’t want to do. Not that schoolwork wasn’t important. I had big plans after all. But that as long as I was still getting the grades I wanted, why change? Why disrupt the way I was used to doing things? It wasn’t until I got to UCLA that I realized my lack of planning had some real-world consequences. Like not getting the grades I expected. In high school, I was near the top of my class. I graduated in the top 5%, but at UCLA everyone graduated in the top 5% or they wouldn’t be there and suddenly I found myself struggling in school. But did I immediately turn things around? Did the realization I wasn’t getting the results I wanted enough to make me change my ways? Nope.
Psychologists believe that procrastination is largely avoidance behavior.
There’s something we know we should be doing, but we don’t really want to do it. It could be for any number of reasons, but whatever the reason, we’re not doing it. Maybe for you it’s doing the dishes. For others, it’s getting that monthly report in to your boss. Some of you might be putting off something really important like going to the doctor or starting an exercise routine. I know too many people who avoid going to the doctor because they are afraid of what they doctor is going to say. But why? Better to hear it early when you can do something about it than too late when there’s nothing left to do. Some of you have put off God. God is important to you, but you don’t spend any time with God. You don’t spend time developing your faith. You figure you have all the time in the world, until you don’t. Whatever it is, you’re procrastinating. You’re making up excuses for not doing what needs to be done. On some gut level, you know what you have to do, but you’re still not doing it. We’re going to read about someone very much like us in our Bible reading this morning so if you have a Bible or a Bible app on your phone would you find Matthew’s Gospel and go to chapter 25 beginning with verse 14. Matthew 25:14. What we want to avoid is going so far down that road that it’s too late. Whatever it is. Whether we procrastinate about the simple stuff like doing dishes or the really important stuff like our health or our faith, we don’t want to wait so long that there’s really nothing we can do. The guy in our story waited and for him there were dire consequences.
14 “Again, it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his wealth to them. 15 To one he gave five bags of gold, to another two bags, and to another one bag, each according to his ability. Then he went on his journey. 16 The man who had received five bags of gold went at once and put his money to work and gained five bags more. 17 So also, the one with two bags of gold gained two more. 18 But the man who had received one bag went off, dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money.
19 “After a long time the master of those servants returned and settled accounts with them. 20 The man who had received five bags of gold brought the other five. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with five bags of gold. See, I have gained five more.’
21 “His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’
22 “The man with two bags of gold also came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with two bags of gold; see, I have gained two more.’
23 “His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’
24 “Then the man who had received one bag of gold came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. 25 So I was afraid and went out and hid your gold in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you.’
26 “His master replied, ‘You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed? 27 Well then, you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest.
28 “‘So take the bag of gold from him and give it to the one who has ten bags. 29 For whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them. 30 And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’” – Matthew 25:14-30
What did the servant with one bag of gold do wrong?
Technically nothing. But that’s also what he did wrong. He did nothing. He kept the money safe, but he did nothing to make it grow. He knew what was expected, but instead of risking failure, he chose to risk nothing. Sure, he didn’t lose any money, but he lost an opportunity. He lost time and as any person who is running short of it could tell you, time is more precious than gold. When we squander it, we are doing a disservice, not only to ourselves but to God, because it’s God who has given us these gifts. In the story we just read, it’s why the servant who buried the money is sent packing. He has squandered the gifts he was given. My dad had a saying, “You’ve got to spend money to make money.” I don’t know if that was really his saying or something he just believes in, but it was something he said to me when I was a child and it stuck with me ever since. You’ve got to spend money to make money. And he was right. He was trying to tell me you had to invest in something if you really wanted it to get something out of it, no matter what it was. If you wanted results, you had to be willing to put in the time, energy, and effort to make it happen. Does that mean every time you put in time, energy and effort things will work out the way you want? Not at all. But it’s guaranteed you won’t get the results you want if you do nothing. We need to realize inaction IS an action. Not doing anything is a choice we make like any other, and like our other choices it has consequences, too. And that’s what the lazy servant found out when he told the man what he did. The servant thought he was playing it safe by doing nothing, but instead it cost him everything.
Take a moment and think about something you know you should be doing.
And then forgive yourself for it. Sometimes we dwell too much on our mistakes. We dwell too much on our faults and that alone holds us back from doing the right thing. We wonder if we’ll compound out mistakes. We worry about making the same mistakes again, and then we end up putting it off for fear of failure. Which of course guarantees we won’t get anything done. The second thing you can do is DO SOMETHING. Dr. Tim Pychyl who has been studying procrastination for over 20 years says that too often we wait until we’re “in the mood” before doing what needs to be done. We use our feelings as an excuse for not doing what we know needs to be done. Instead, he suggests taking a task, breaking it down into bite-sized chunks, and then doing that first step. And then the next one. It’s hardly ground-breaking knowledge, but again how often do you still put off doing something you know you should do? So it may not be ground-breaking but obviously we need reminders to do it.
This applies to organizations as much as it does to people.
So many churches are in decline. Mostly because they are unwilling to change. They like things the way they are and even though year by year, week by week, they can see the congregation aging and fewer young people in worship, they fail to realize it’s because they stopped changing a long time ago. They stopped innovating. They stopped trying new things. Most churches explode during their first 15 to 20 years and then they taper off over the next few decades. At a certain point, they start to go into decline. At first it’s slow, but as time continues, the decline becomes more noticeable until it becomes so rapid that a church is barely hanging on. At that point, they start to make excuses for their lack of growth, pointing instead to the past or to programs they are doing to grow in their faith. But rarely do they use the metric that Christ himself gave us – to make disciples for Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.
As we celebrate the past, let us also look into the future.
Because if we don’t take care of the future, the past is made irrelevant. Every church enters into a season of decline. The churches that are successful in coming out of it are the ones that constantly reinvent themselves. They make change part of their DNA and embrace it. They don’t wait for something not to work before doing something different. They realize how important it is to stay ahead of the times instead of behind them. We are a strong and vital church, and we can continue to be one. We just have to embrace change as part of who we are and realize we do it to help others know a God who loves them. The same is true in our personal lives. We know there are things we’ve been avoiding and we know what we need to do. We just need to do them. Stop avoiding it and get it done. We need to remember that inaction IS an action and it has consequences like anything else. The good news is we can do something about it. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
All are welcome at Christ’s table – unless you have Celiac disease.
Holy Communion is one of the most important rites and rituals of the church. Since the church was established, we have hearkened back to the Last Supper through this important sacrament – one of only two that we celebrate. For us it is more than simply a reminder of Christ’s call for us to remember him. We feel there is a holy mystery around communion that draws us closer to God. We don’t know how exactly, but even John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, believed it to be one of the ordinary means of grace – meaning it is one of the simple ways Christians can deepen their faith and draw closer to God. Except if you have Celiac disease or are gluten-free. Add them to the growing list of people who are not welcome at the table of Jesus. As of 2017, the Pope announced that all bread at the communion table must be made with at least some element of gluten. According to the “rules” the bread must be “unleavened, purely of wheat, and recently made.” For what purpose? Just because Christ used what we assume to be bread with gluten. But do we really think Jesus would see this as a necessity for communion? Where is God’s legendary grace and mercy in this?
By the way, there is a list.
The Catholic Church has a list of people who can’t come forward for communion. Not an actual list of names, but of deeds deemed to be unworthy. If you ever been divorced, had an abortion or participated in one, had sex outside of marriage or even deliberately had impure thoughts, you can’t come forward. If you haven’t fasted for at least one hour prior to receiving communion you can’t come forward. If you haven’t gone to confession since your last grave sin, and there’s a list you need to memorize, you can’t come forward. If you aren’t Catholic, you can’t come forward. If you are Catholic but don’t believe the wafer and the wine ACTUALLY turn into the literal body and blood of Christ, you can’t come forward. There are literally billions of people not welcome at Christ’s table.
I always assumed we were all brothers and sisters in Christ. But I was wrong.
The first time I found out about “the rules” was when one of my friends was getting married. He asked me to be best man at his wedding and as part of the ceremony each of us – the groom, the bride, the maid of honor, and myself – were all to receive communion. The priest asked me if I was Catholic and I innocently told him I wasn’t. He smiled and just said, “That’s okay, we just won’t tell anyone.” I was grateful for the grace, but had to ask why that was even a question and that’s when I found out – Catholics only. Sounds pretty exclusionary for a faith that claims to be for everyone. I read a Catholic blog that says the rules are there for MY well-being. Someone who comes to the table without the proper requirements is putting themselves in “spiritual danger!” I guess billions of people every Sunday are putting their lives and souls at risk.
Before we pile on the Catholics, let us not forget how much WE all love “the rules.”
They may not be as formal as those in the Catholic Church, but that doesn’t make our rules any less real. The words we say, the elements we bless, the way we do communion are all traditions that build up over time and we begin worshipping the WAY WE DO THINGS instead of worshipping God. We forget the meaning behind the traditions and begin to worship the traditions themselves. And Heaven forbid anyone should change those traditions. You’d think we’d brought back stoning. But that kind of thinking has been happening since the Pharisees. And probably before that, too. The Pharisees especially were known for following the rules. They were proud of it. They would remind you if you didn’t follow the rules, and tell you what the consequences were because they had memorized the list. But when Jesus came he pointed them out as an example NOT to follow, because they had become so obsessed with the rules themselves, they had forgotten the purpose behind them. They had forgotten that tradition was only important as long as it continued to draw us closer to God. That’s what happens to us in worship and in particular communion. We praise the form and functions of communion instead of our Lord who we came to praise in the first place. Part of that focus on the rules comes from this short passage in the Bible we’re going to read from this morning.
53 Jesus said to them, “Very truly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. 54 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day. 55 For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. 56 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in them. 57 Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me. 58 This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your ancestors ate manna and died, but whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.”
The flesh and blood of Christ.
Personally, I wouldn’t want to eat the literal flesh and blood of Christ. Sounds a bit like the zombie apocalypse. But this belief is what is called transubstantiation – that the elements of communion literally turn into the body and blood of Jesus. There must be some kid who has reached into his mouth during communion to see if it was true. Jesus often talked in hyperbole. He did not literally mean that it was easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of Heaven (Matt 19:24). He did not literally mean that when you give to the needy you shouldn’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing (Matt 6:3). And he did not literally mean that the Kingdom of God is like a mustard seed that turned into a tree (Luke 13:19). So why is it that some people take this passage as (excuse the pun) gospel? When Jesus declared himself the Bread of Life, no one thought he was made out of wheat. As one writer put it, “He was simply comparing himself to food in general, the most common staple of the diet. Just as bread is the basis of physical life, Jesus is the basis of eternal life.” Most of us inherently understand that interpretation. Jesus is trying to emphasize the things of this world are fleeting. But if we nourish ourselves by living a Christ-like life then we are feeding our eternal soul which is much more valuable to us and to God. He didn’t literally mean we should eat and drink him.
By the way, did you now that the word “communion” isn’t in the Bible?
The King James Bible used the word to translate a portion of 1 Corinthians 10:16, but it means “sharing” or “participation” which is the essence of what communion is. We sometimes refer to it as the Eucharist, but this too is a translation of the Greek word eucharisteo in 1 Corinthians 11:24 meaning to “give thanks” something that is also an essential part of what we do in communion. We share and we give thanks. When Jesus said, “Do this in remembrance of me” (something by the way that is only in Luke’s recounting of the Gospel story), he wasn’t big on the details because the details weren’t important. It was the sharing and the gratitude that were the main focus of the meal. It was a time to draw closer to Christ. Yet, somehow we develop these unwritten “rules” and then hold everyone to them as if THEY were the focus of the sacrament. Yet we feel free to ignore some of the other details. Jesus didn’t use wafers for one. Yet some churches use wafers instead of a loaf of bread. We use grape juice instead of wine and no one seems to have a problem with that. Why we get hung up on some details instead of others says more about us than about Christ.
What we need to do is be open to different ways of doing things.
“Different” doesn’t mean “wrong.” It just means “different.” As long as we keep to the meaning behind what we do, then we can still honor God and find new ways to communicate Christ’s love for us. We’re able to tell his story in different ways so more people can understand what it means to know that love. In one of his letters, Paul was being critical of those who came to communion in an “unworthy” manner, but he wasn’t criticizing the rituals of communion. He was criticizing those who were using communion for their own purposes. Basically, they were having a big party and labeled it “communion” but it had nothing to do with Jesus or honoring what Christ did for us. My hope is that in our effort to reach people for Jesus, we are open to interpret everything with fresh eyes including our most sacred traditions like communion. Not to upset the apple cart, but to try things that might help others understand Christ in new and different ways. I hope we will constantly be introspective about our own ideas of “right” and “wrong” and be open to the Spirit and the heart of what we are doing.
Communion is important.
It is an opportunity for the people of God to gather together in worship and to lift up thanks for God’s work in us and in the world. Communion is important as a reminder of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross and to help keep us humble when we are tempted to think more of ourselves and less of others. But there is something special and sacred about communion that is more than just a shared meal. As John Wesley himself once said, “I haste to this Sacrament for the same purpose that St. Peter and John hasted to His sepulchre; because I hope to find Him there. I come then to God’s altar, with a full persuasion that these words, This is My body, promise me more than a figure; that this holy banquet is not a bare memorial only […] in what manner this is done I know not; it is enough for me to admire. And thus His body and blood have everywhere, but especially at this Sacrament, a true and real presence.” Those are very important words for us as we understand communion. More than any other ritual, ceremony, or liturgy we perform, this one for us brings forth the “real presence” of Christ. It is, as John said, a mystery. One we do not fully comprehend but we experience by faith. Let us come to the table then, with gratitude in our heart, praise for the love of Christ, the memory of his great sacrifice for us on the cross, and open to the movement of the Holy Spirit.
 http://en.radiovaticana.va/news/2017/07/08/letter_to_bishops_on_the_bread_and_wine_for_the_eucharist/1323886; https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/acts-of-faith/wp/2017/07/11/the-catholic-church-says-no-to-gluten-free-communion-heres-why/
What was it like your first time?
Doesn’t matter what it was. Your first kiss. Your first award. Your first time riding a roller coaster. What was it like? Hopefully, it was a great experience. Sometimes it’s not. But our first time experiencing anything is like painting on a blank slate. That’s what tablua rasa means – “blank slate.” It’s like watching colors unfold onto an empty white canvas, a sudden burst of color on a pristine background. It just pours out in a brilliant rainbow of moments and you get to experience the world through fresh eyes, see things in a brand-new way, or sometimes we see things we’ve taken for granted in a new light. We had the chance to do that when we welcomed Kristina into our home. She was an exchange student from Russia we hosted back in 2010 and we were so blessed to have her! She was sweet and thoughtful, always polite, and open to all the different experiences we were able to share with her. We took her horseback riding at Pismo, brought her to Georgia for a traditional Thanksgiving dinner (Southern style), traveled for the weekend up to San Francisco, took her to Las Vegas for the New Year, and of course to Disneyland. We’d been to each of those places many times ourselves, but for Kristina it was all so new! Everything was exciting! Everything was a new adventure! Even things we might think were ordinary were extraordinary in her eyes. And being able to see things from her point of view helped us to appreciate even more the blessings we have. But I also admired her bravery and strength of character. Can you imagine what it must have been like to travel half way across the world and spend nine months in a foreign land? Away from family and friends, away from what is familiar and comfortable, for the chance to experience life somewhere else. It must have been a strange mix of both excitement and anxiety, of hope and of fear all at the same time.
I imagine that’s what it’s like for people coming to church for the first time.
Whether they have been a part of church before and are just coming back or if they’ve never been at all, it must be a mix of both hope and fear at the same time. On one hand, it’s an adventure. On the other, it’s a place where you don’t know the customs, the people, or what to expect. There’s a tension from the moment you walk in. And just as if you were welcoming someone new into your home for the first time, you wouldn’t just be friendly at the door, but you’d want to make it nice and clean and comfortable for them. You’d try to anticipate what might make them feel welcome. Maybe have their favorite drink on hand or a favorite snack. You’d also want them to feel safe. The obstacle course you normally live in would be picked up, things put in their place. Nice and welcoming is great, but it’s that extra step that can really make a difference. The same thing is true as we prepare for new people walking in the door. We want to be more proactive than reactive; to anticipate their needs BEFORE so they feel this is a safe space to explore their faith. It’s been so long since many of us have been new to church we don’t often think about the little things that might make people feel out of place or unwelcome. The words we use, the assumptions we make, why we stand up and sit down are all concepts that are unknown to new visitors. I’m hoping we will take a step back and try to see things from their perspective. Not from the perspective of someone who comes to church or is familiar with church but from someone for whom worship is a new experience. Like my family’s experience with Kristina, we can’t assume that what we might consider “normal” is at all normal to those who are visiting for the first time.
The apostle Paul thought about this a lot.
Maybe Paul was drawing on his own experience being one of the newest of Jesus’ disciples and the only one (that we know of) who was recruited by Christ AFTER he died. But for Paul it seemed vitally important to find ways to reach out to those who did not know Jesus or who were starting to explore a life of faith with Christ. He probably also remembered clearly what it took to convince him. It literally took a miracle. So he knows how tough it is for someone unfamiliar with Jesus beyond Christmas ad Easter to suddenly become a follower, and he determined to do whatever it would take to get people to listen to him.
19 Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. 20 To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. 21 To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. 23 I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings. – 1 Corinthians 9:19-23
Paul is speaking to us.
His message is clear. It is OUR responsibility to bring the Gospel to others. It is not THEIR responsibility to come and get it. We sometimes act as if it is. We act as if it is the responsibility of other people to come and seek the Gospel. But a man who doesn’t know he’s lost isn’t going to ask for directions. Before a person looks for help, they have to be convinced that help is needed. That’s where we come in. There is a whole world out there chock full of people who don’t know why they should bother to follow Jesus if they even know who he is, and we have to be willing to do whatever it takes to bring the Gospel message into their hearts. That’s what Paul did. He became whatever he needed to become to bring people the Word of God. To his Jewish friends, he practiced all the Jewish customs. He celebrated the Jewish festivals. He worshipped with them and loved them and helped them so that they would come to trust him when he shared God’s word with them. He obeyed the traditional religious laws even though he didn’t have to. Jesus had set him free, but in order to reach those who still held to those laws, he followed them so they knew he was one of them, so that he could speak to them and they would listen. He showed empathy to the weak even though he was emboldened by Christ so that in his weakness, in his vulnerability, he could make a connection with others they felt they could trust. As Paul said, he became all things to all people so that he might save some.
Hospitality literally means the love of strangers
Hospitality literally means the love of strangers. We are called upon to offer love to everyone, even those we don’t know. Maybe especially to those we don’t know. More radically, we are meant to be self-sacrificial when it comes to showing love to others. When we exhibit THAT kind of hospitality, when we show love for others with our gifts, our words, and our service, we honor God and we become a living testimony to his work in the world today. You matter. While a pastor plays a big role in getting people to stay with a church, it’s the congregation who decides if a visitor is coming back in the first place. Did you know that a person decides whether or not they are going to come back to your church within the first seven minutes? A person decides whether or not they are coming back to your church within the first seven minutes. Generally, that’s long before they ever meet the pastor and certainly before they hear if he can even preach anything meaningful. It’s in the little things that make a difference. How they are greeted, how easy was it to find parking, whether or not it was obvious where they could find out what was going on; these are all important to people who have finally made the decision to come to worship. That alone is a huge deal.
What happens before a person enters those doors is more than we’ll ever know.
If someone makes the choice to come to church after years of being away or if they’ve never come to church and decide there might be something here for them, there is likely a story behind that. I remember taking a seminar on communication and our leader told us people are like icebergs. What we see on the surface, the things people say with their mouths, are often only 10% of what’s really going on. The other 90% is all hidden beneath. We are not going to know the 90% on their first visit or even their fiftieth. What we need to do is realize they didn’t come to this decision easily or quickly, but with some serious thought. And we have to make the adjustment to worship as painless and as comfortable as possible. We need to offer grace. We need to offer understanding. We need to exhibit patience and kindness. And we need to be self-sacrificial. They are probably already wondering as they walk in the door if they made a mistake. Whatever we can do to help can make a big difference.
When Kristina first came to stay with us, we hoped we made her feel safe.
As a host family we wanted her to feel like this was home as much as it could be thousands of miles away. We wanted to make her feel welcome and wanted. And we tried to imagine being in her shoes and what would make her feel like this was a safe space. I hope we did this well. We probably learned as much from her as she learned from us. I believe that is the vision God has for our church, too. And every church like it. To make our spaces feel like home to those who wander in. To remember the courage it takes for people to enter through those doors. And to look at the world through their eyes, to better help them know the love of Christ. There can be no greater reward for us as followers of Christ than to be a part of what God is doing in the world. There can be no greater reward than for us to see the paint spill onto that blank canvas of someone’s faith and to be a part of that moment when they know deep in their heart that there is a God who loves them.
Self-fulfilling prophecies can be deadly.
If you haven’t heard the term before, A self-fulfilling prophecy is a belief or expectation that an individual holds about a future event that manifests because the individual holds it. It’s scary, but sometimes we create our own reality. Our minds are remarkably powerful tools, and like any tool it can be used for harm or for good. But we still get to choose how we use it. Over the course of our lives, our minds get bent and twisted, molded and remade over and over. Outside forces teach us false truths about who we are and what we are capable of. We have notions planted in our heads that tell us we can achieve only so much, rise only so far, do only so little. Sometimes, we’ve lost the battle before it even starts. Self-fulfilling prophecies. Eventually, we start to believe in these limitations so we stop trying. Or we don’t even start. And our self-fulfilling prophecy comes true. We look around and we take a perverse sense of pride in being right without realizing that our own preconceptions helped to bring about this reality in the first place.
Our church will die in ten years.
I’ve heard that three times since I’ve been here in just one year. “Our church will die in ten years.” Well, not if I can help it and I know many of you share that same passion I have for growing God’s church. But it’s that kind of negative thinking that turns into a self-fulfilling prophecy. Because if you really believe that the church is dying you start going into “turtle mode.” “Turtle mode” is when we hunker down, withdraw into our shell, and do our best to survive as long as we can. Like a turtle. When there is a perceived threat, a turtle will withdraw into its shell and wait it out until the danger has passed. But when churches go into “turtle mode” there usually is no coming out. They stop reaching out. They stop inviting. They let the building go. They save as much money as they possibly can so the church will be around to bury them. Literally. I had someone say that to me once about another church. I just want it to be around long enough that they can bury me. I once served a church that had barely any money in its operating fund, but they had over $300,000 in the cemetery fund. They paid a caretaker to mow and weed the grounds out of the interest they earned on that money. The church was on the verge of financial collapse, but someone would be there to take care of the graveyard even if the church itself was dead. “Our church will die in ten years.”
Here’s the thing about self-fulfilling prophecies – they work the other way, too.
We can believe in something so completely it seems we almost will it to happen. Jesus once told his disciples, “Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you. (Matthew 17:20)” Often, the key ingredient we need is faith. Which doesn’t mean we aren’t allowed to have doubts. One of my favorite stories in the Bible is about Jesus and the dad who brings his son to him for healing (Mark 9:17-23). The father says to Jesus, “…if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.” And Jesus responds, “If you can? …Everything is possible for one who believes.” And the dad responds by saying, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” For as many stories there are of people who had the strongest faith, there are stories about people who had doubts, too. People like Gideon who told the angel he was just the weakest member of his clan and his clan was the weakest among all the clans and how could God want to use him? Or someone like Abraham who pointed out to God that nobody as old as he was ever had a child so how could he? Yet these same people had faith, maybe even when there was no real reason to have any.
Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. 2 This is what the ancients were commended for.
8 By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. 9 By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. 10 For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God. 11 And by faith even Sarah, who was past childbearing age, was enabled to bear children because she considered him faithful who had made the promise. 12 And so from this one man, and he as good as dead, came descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless as the sand on the seashore.
13 All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth. 14 People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. 15 If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. 16 Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them. (Hebrews 11:1-2, 8-12)
They were longing for a better country.
Abraham and Sarah and Isaac and Jacob were longing for a brighter future, a future God had promised to them. They didn’t know for sure what this would look like, but they trusted in the vision that God had presented to them and held true to their faith in God. And even though they never lived long enough to see it all come to fruition, they trusted that their efforts would lead them toward a brighter future. The Scripture says to us, “they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance.” The things God promised to the people of Israel and by extension to all of us was not something they could tangibly touch or experience, but they honored God with their efforts even though they didn’t know how it would all work out and that pleased God. Even if they DOUBTED, they still carried on. And by their efforts, they didn’t achieve their dreams, but they unknowingly were part of something bigger and more amazing in the end. We can’t always see where God is leading us, but we need to have faith that it is toward a brighter future.
God is future-oriented.
If you look in the Old Testament or the New, you’ll find evidence of it through the writings of so many different people. God promised Abraham his people would spread throughout the Earth. Abraham surely thought God meant then and now. He couldn’t imagine the scope of what God truly meant or how that would come to be true. Today there are over 2 BILLION Christians in the world, probably far more than in Abraham’s wildest dreams. God promised Moses, he would lead his people to the promised land and even though Moses didn’t live to see it, that promise came true. It would be Joshua who would lead God’s people to that place. These are just a couple of examples of how God’s vision is so much better than ours. Our vision is often limited, but God is future-oriented.
We need to be future-oriented, too.
We need to approach life with a goal and a vision and live into that reality. You need to be the change you want to be. What do I mean by that? There’s an old saying that you should dress for the job you want, not the job you have. And there’s some real truth to that. Not just because you make an impression on the people you’re hoping to impress, but it gives us a sense of self-confidence by doing so. When you feel confident, you radiate that confidence, and it’s that confidence more than anything that people are inspired by. There was an interesting study done at Northwestern University where they had three groups of people do a task where they had to spot the differences between two pictures. One group was told they were wearing lab coats, one group was told they were wearing painter’s smocks, and one group was simply shown a lab coat. All three groups saw or wore the same exact coats, but as you probably already guessed the group wearing “lab coats” did significantly better. The research concluded that wearing certain clothes could improve your performance. The clothes really do “make the man.”
We can also “dress” our attitudes.
Has anyone ever told you to “turn that frown upside down?” Did you want to hit them at that moment? Me, too. But maybe, they were doing us a favor. Scientific studies have shown that putting on a smile actually makes us happier, whether we were happy to begin with or not. The physical manifestations of a smile have effects beyond the muscles in our mouth. They also release chemicals into the body that reduce stress, depression, and aggression. And various studies have shown that smiling can lower your heart rate, lower your blood pressure, and may even lead to a longer life.
These principles can be applied to our community as well.
Whether it’s your workplace, your family, or our church. If we behave like a thriving, successful church we might start feeling like a thriving, successful church. And if we start feeling like a thriving, successful church, we might very well BE a thriving, successful church. We need to ACT as if every Sunday we are going to have visitors come in through those doors. I want us to develop the mindset of successful church growth. A church with a mindset of growth prints extra bulletins because they don’t question IF they’re going to have 1st time guests, but HOW MANY. A church with a mindset of growth sits closer to the front because they know 1st time visitors will feel more comfortable sitting in the back. Churches with a mindset of growth are always aware of how someone new might feel, how intimidating that might be, and does whatever it can to make them feel comfortable, welcome, and at ease. We live into the reality of what we hope to see. I don’t want us to fake it ‘til we make it. I want us to FAITH it ‘til we make it. I want us to live in faith into the reality we hope to see in our church and to be open to where God is leading us. Just remember, our vision for success may be different than God’s vision for success. Let us provide our best effort and allow for the Holy Spirit to do with it what God needs it to be.
When John Wesley was struggling with his faith, this was the attitude he adopted.
As he was on board that old creaking boat in the midst of a storm, he saw this group of Moravians singing on deck. In the middle of a storm! He had been going through a difficult time in his own faith so he asked them for their secret. How could they be so happy in the midst of this disaster? They told him to have faith. When he asked what to do if he didn’t have faith, the Moravians told him to keep soldiering on until the faith he preached was felt in his heart once again. He wasn’t being told to fake it. He was being told to have faith IN it. John knew that God was out there, but he was having a hard time feeling his presence and the Moravians inspired him to have faith that it would one day come back. And it did. My hope for our church is that whether we are 50 or 500, we will always be future-oriented; that we will live with the expectation that God is doing something great in us right now. And that we simply need to be prepared for whatever that is. We can’t afford to live lives of meekness and timidity. We need to live lives of boldness and audacity, because we serve a God we know can do the impossible. Let us live into the vision of the church God wants us to be. Let us take a step out in faith and BE the church we want to create – a place that welcomes those and loves those who do not yet know the love of God.
 From the BibleGateway blog: https://www.biblegateway.com/blog/2012/08/three-bible-heroes-who-doubted/
 This section was inspired by Thom Rainer’s book Autopsy of A Deceased Church, Chapter 3.
How well do you deal with change?
If you’re George Banks…not very well. George’s daughter is getting married. That alone is enough to trigger the panic that overcomes people going through change, but because it happens so suddenly George is REALLY out of sorts. And when his daughter and his wife have different ideas about what the wedding will look like, George becomes overwhelmed. He becomes obsessed with how much this is going to cost and is ruining what should otherwise be a happy time for all of them. So after another “wedding rant,” his wife Nina sends him to the store to get something for dinner. And this is what happens.
One of my favorite scenes from the modern day version of Father of the Bride (if you can call the 80’s modern day). George LOSES it! He becomes irrational in a quirky, charming, “he’s kinda right” sort of way. But there’s no doubt he goes a little off the deep end. And we laugh or smile because it’s funny, but you think to yourself, “I would never do that,” but are you sure? Because all of us have had times in our lives when we were resistant to change. All of us have had doubts or fears about what the future holds for us. And at least most of us have, at one time or another, not reacted very well to it. Every church I’ve ever served has had its share of George Banks. Every pastor I know can tell you a George Banks story. My friend Brett was serving a church that at one time was a thriving downtown church, but as things go, people moved away, the congregation stopped reaching out to the neighborhood, and this one growing and vibrant community of faith was shrinking every year. So Brett decided to energize the congregation to reach out to the community! He started doing programs to help the church grow! He found ways to engage people and to make the church relevant again! And people started to come. Not in droves, but new faces started showing up. Not long afterward, one of the members of the church, an older guy who had been there a very long time, came up to him and said very plainly, “I don’t want the church to grow. I like it just the way it is. I don’t want people from the neighborhood to come to our church and if they do I might just have to leave.” I have to admire the man’s honesty if nothing else (and truly nothing else). He said out loud what many people think or subconsciously feel. He didn’t sit around and criticize the programs or the pastor, he was honest that deep down, he liked things the way they were and didn’t want that to get all messed up. Sadly, he left.
Deep down, he had a fear of change.
But the question I wonder if he ever asked himself was, “What if it could be even better?” What if this once thriving church could become thriving once again? What if there were kids roaming the halls like there used to be? What if worship looked like 200 instead of 20? What if? Did he ever ask himself THAT question? It might have inspired him to stay. It reminds me of a quote Bobby Kennedy once said, “Some people see things as they are and say why? I dream things that never were and say, why not?” Do you ask why or why not? Maybe this guy who didn’t want things to change subscribed to the old adage, “A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.” I’d have to question him on that one. I’d say to him, “a bird in the hand is great, but then what? Eventually the bird will die and you’ll have nothing, but two birds? Two birds could have baby birds and could become many and together they could last you your whole life!” True, you have to take a chance for that all to work out. And there’s no guarantee it will. But isn’t that just part of life? Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t, but do we fear change so much or failure so much that we won’t even try? I would hope we have enough trust in God to overcome that fear.
Fear is nothing new.
It was a problem from the very beginning of time. If we use the Bible as a reference, we see the topic of fear come up from Genesis to Revelation. God and Jesus are constantly telling us “do not be afraid.” And yet so often we are. Not without good reason. But fear often paralyzes us or worse compels us to do things that are hurtful or mean or unkind. Now, the Pharisees and others like them, liked things the way they were. They got pretty comfortable with how things were being run and then here comes this guy, Jesus, who kept trying to shake things up. He eats with sinners, he associates with women and children, and as we’re about to read, he works on the Sabbath! Sacrilege! But is it? Let’s hear what Luke writes about it.
10On a Sabbath Jesus was teaching in one of the synagogues, 11and a woman was there who had been crippled by a spirit for eighteen years. She was bent over and could not straighten up at all. 12When Jesus saw her, he called her forward and said to her, “Woman, you are set free from your infirmity.” 13Then he put his hands on her, and immediately she straightened up and praised God.
(For eighteen YEARS this poor woman has been afflicted and Jesus comes and just by putting his hands on her, heals her instantly, but that’s not what the leaders of the synagogue focus on. Here’s what it says):
14Indignant because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, the synagogue ruler said to the people, “There are six days for work. So come and be healed on those days, not on the Sabbath.”
15The Lord answered him, “You hypocrites! Doesn’t each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or donkey from the stall and lead it out to give it water? 16Then should not this woman, a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has kept bound for eighteen long years, be set free on the Sabbath day from what bound her?”
(Jesus is shocked at the synagogue ruler who completely disregards the miracle he has just witnessed and instead focuses on “following the rules.” He calls them hypocrites and then basically scolds them by saying, “If you believe that God cares about you, his finest creation, more than he cares about an ox or a donkey, then why wouldn’t he show mercy on the Sabbath to one of his children if you’re allowed to give water to your animals?”)
17When he said this, all his opponents were humiliated, but the people were delighted with all the wonderful things he was doing.
Just as fear is nothing new, change is nothing new either. Change is LITERALLY as old as time. Once there was nothing, and then there was light! But change was something the Pharisees had a hard time accepting. While intellectually they might have understood things change, in their heart they didn’t want to believe that included them. It’s hard to give up doing things the way we are used to doing them. These men trained their whole lives to achieve their position in society. They sacrificed, they worked hard, they did what they thought they were supposed to do and then here comes this upstart trying to tell them to do it differently? They became offended as if Jesus was telling them they were bad people, even though that’s not what he was saying. That’s true of many of us, too. When we’re told we need to change, it’s hard not to take it personally as if we did something wrong. But often change isn’t about our character, but about our effectiveness. For us to achieve the goals, dreams, and desires of our heart, we have to find better ways of doing things. We’ve always got to be willing to change, to let go of the old ways in order to get the results we hope for. And that’s what was happening here. Jesus was trying to show them a better way. The Pharisees were all hung up on observing the Sabbath, but they forgot why the Sabbath was created in the first place. It was meant to be a day to honor God. To pay homage to the greatest feat in all of creation – creation itself! And so Jesus challenged them. He challenged them to remember what was truly important. Not this so-called definition of “work” but the idea that the Sabbath was created to honor God, and could any of them really say that healing this woman wasn’t a way to honor God? The Pharisees had a lot of George Banks in them that day.
Change is inevitable.
But it doesn’t have to be bad. Change is necessary. But we can choose to embrace it or fight it. How we deal with it, how we confront it, will often determine how effective we can be. Will you be like George Banks or will you instead trust in God to lead you through the change?
What is the legacy you will leave behind?
There is a deep-seated need in each of us to know we matter, to know that our lives made a difference. We want to feel like we contributed something to this great tapestry of life and we want to leave the world a better place than we found it. And that’s great. That is something God wants us to strive for, to leave the world better than we found it. But in our need to leave some kind of lasting legacy, sometimes we get confused as to what that legacy should be. Sometimes we forget what is truly important and we focus on the wrong things or pursue our legacy in ultimately meaningless ways. Many people think fame or even infamy is the key to a lasting legacy. That if somehow our name gets written down in some history book that we will live on forever. But I have news for you. Your eternal destiny isn’t determined by having your name in some book other than the Book of Life. If you’ve never heard that term before, the Book of Life is a metaphor for the people who make it into Heaven. That’s the only “book” that matters if your name is in it. If you believe in an afterlife, and if you’re here you probably do or at least you’re thinking about it, then the key to success in the afterlife isn’t by your fame here on Earth, or your wealth, or your power. When Matthew encouraged us to store up treasures in Heaven instead of down here, this is what he was writing about. To leave a legacy that matters isn’t about building up ourselves on Earth but building up the Kingdom of God.
History is fickle.
If we’re relying on history to make us immortal, we need something better. What actually happens in the world and what becomes “fact” are sometimes very different things. And the “facts” can change rapidly. In my own lifetime, I found out Christopher Columbus did NOT discover America despite being told that was the case for many, many years. In fact, Columbus wasn’t even the first European to land in North America. That distinction goes to Leif Erikson and the Viking people who came sometime in the 10th century, fully five hundred years earlier. But even Erikson didn’t “discover” America. Long before either one of them came, the ancestors of what we know today as Native Americans had migrated at least 10 to 13,000 years before. It’s only a Euro-centric view of the world that has us believe America didn’t exist before Europeans came to colonize it. Here’s something interesting. The names of the boats Columbus used were NOT the Nina, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria. Nina was actually a nickname for his boat called the Santa Clara. But I guess that doesn’t roll off the tongue as well. Next thing you know, someone will tell me that Pluto is not a planet. If we’re looking to leave a legacy that matters, we have to abandon the usual standards we’ve been brought up on and instead embrace an idea that is far more personal and ultimately more meaningful.
Jesus tried to tell his followers that through a parable.
In this story, there are literally thousands of people trying to listen to what Jesus has to say. Luke doesn’t tell us and he probably didn’t know how many of those people were actually followers of Christ and how many were just there to be with the “in crowd.” Jesus is the greatest show in town! This guy is performing downright miracles! At any time, he might heal a sick child or turn water into wine or bring someone back from the dead. Who knows what might happen next? So there are thousands crowded around and hoping to be part of history and from out of the crowd, one guy shouts, “Jesus, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.” Back in Jesus’ time, if you were the firstborn male, you received a double portion of the inheritance and in all likelihood this guy wasn’t the firstborn. So instead of answering him directly, Jesus tells him this parable.
And he told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. 17 He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’
18 “Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. 19 And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”’
20 “But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’
21 “This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.”
First world problems.
That’s what my friend John would call this. These are problems of abundance instead of scarcity. This guy’s big problem is not starvation or homelessness. His big problem is he doesn’t have enough room for all the grain he has. “What shall I do?” he says, “I have no place to store my crops.” It’s like that scene from Friends where Ross is torn between Julie and Rachel and he says, “What am I gonna do? This is a complete nightmare.” And Chandler responds, “Oh, I know. This must be so hard. Oh, no! Two women love me. They’re both gorgeous and sexy. My wallet’s too small for my fifties and my diamond shoes are too tight!” Which is essentially what God says to the guy in the parable. “You think you have a problem? Tonight, you’re going to die and then what will you do with all of your wealth?” With all of that food, he could have feed the hungry or helped the poor but instead he’s worried about how he can hoard his wealth so he can kick back and relax for the rest of his life. The same is true to a lesser degree to the guy who wanted Jesus to tell his brother to share his inheritance. Instead of bemoaning his father’s death, instead of being grateful for this sudden windfall in his life, he looks to what his brother has and decides to ruin his relationship with him instead. He is focused on the wrong things. Jesus wants us to spend more time on what’s really important and let go of what the world tells us is important. The Greek statesman Pericles said it best when he said, “What you leave behind is not what is engraved in stone monuments, but what is woven into the lives of others.”
What will be your legacy?
How will you make a difference in the lives of those around you? We gather today to celebrate one of our own. Someone who has made a difference in our lives and who we will miss. He has accomplished much personally. He is a doctor, he has just become the first Director of Student Life at GTU, but we will miss him not for his achievements but because of the way he loved all of us. His legacy will live on inside of us. Chai…we will miss you.
The legacy of our lives is not in stone monuments, but in the impact we make in the lives of others.
Each of us may show it in different ways, but we all have something to share that can make a life changing impact in the people around us. Our names may not be remembered specifically for the difference we make. We might be like Leif Erikson and be largely forgotten. But the impact of what we do and of who we are might be felt for generations to come. There’s a song by Randy Travis, the country singer, called “Three Wooden Crosses” and in it he sings a line that particular rings home for me. He sings, “I guess it’s not what you take when you leave this world behind you. It’s what you leave behind you when you go.” My hope is that we remember this life lesson as we celebrate Chai’s time with us and we lift him up in prayer for whatever adventure God brings into his life next.