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Bridges (sermon video and manuscript)

The sermon from September 28, 2015, at The Patterson Avenue Baptist Church is included in this blog post (both the video and the manuscript).   The sermon is titled:  “Bridges” and is based on Jesus words recorded in Mark 938-41.

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You can watch the video below and/or read the manuscript.

 

 

 

Mark 9:38-41 (NIV)

38 “Teacher,” said John, “we saw someone driving out demons in your name and we told him to stop, because he was not one of us.”

39 “Do not stop him,” Jesus said. “For no one who does a miracle in my name can in the next moment say anything bad about me, 40 for whoever is not against us is for us. 41 Truly I tell you, anyone who gives you a cup of water in my name because you belong to the Messiah will certainly not lose their reward.

 

Aslan is the central character in C. S. Lewis’s series, The Chronicles of Narnia.  He is the only character who appears in all volumes of the series. Lewis refers to him as “the great Lion”.

 

The word Aslan is Turkish for “lion”. Throughout his books, Lewis capitalizes the word LION when used in reference to Aslan. He does this because, for Lewis, Aslan represents Jesus Christ.

 

In The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Lewis tells of an occasion when Susan and Lucy ask Mr. and Mrs. Beaver to describe Aslan. They ask if Aslan is a man.

 

Mr. Beaver replies: “Aslan a man? Certainly not. I tell you he is the King of the woods and the son of the great Emperor-beyond-the Sea. Don’t you know who is the King of Beasts? Aslan is a lion – the Lion, the great Lion.”

 

“Ooh!” said Susan. “I’d thought he was a man. Is he quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion.”

 

“That you will, dearie, and make no mistake,” said Mrs. Beaver, “if there’s anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they’re either braver than most or else just silly.”

 

“Then he isn’t safe?” said Lucy.

 

“Safe?” said Mr. Beaver. “Don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about being safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”

 

Toward the end of that book, in a scene wonderfully portrayed in the movie, Aslan majestically walks down the beach, leaving (for a time) the other characters.

 

Lewis writes, “One day you’ll see him and another you won’t. He doesn’t like being tied down – and of course he has other countries to attend to. It’s quite all right. He’ll often drop in. Only you mustn’t press him. He’s wild, you know. Not like a tame lion.”

 

Safe and Tame – two words Lewis would never associate with Aslan. These are two words we should never associate with Jesus. Yet that’s how we want Jesus to be far too often.

 

We want a “safe” Jesus, one who comfortably fits into our lifestyle. Wilber Reese wrote about this in his brief piece titled “Three Dollars Worth of God.”

 

I would like to buy three dollars worth of God, please.

 

Not enough to explode my soul or disturb my sleep,

but just enough of Him to equal a cup of warm milk or a snooze in the sunshine.

 

I do not want enough of Him to make me love a black man or pick beets with a migrant.

 

I want ecstasy, not transformation.

 

I want the warmth of the womb, not a new birth.

 

I want a pound of the Eternal in a paper sack, please.

 

I would like to buy three dollars worth of God, please.

 

A “safe” Jesus is a pliable Jesus, a Jesus we can mold in a fashion so that he accommodates our lifestyles and agenda. We want a safe Jesus.

 

We also want a “tamed” Jesus – a domesticated Christ. We want to turn the lion of Judah into a lap cat out.   We want a Jesus who is always on our side, obligated to our cause, and servant to our wants. We want a genie in a bottle who will provide us our wants, whims, and wishes. We want a Jesus who is a part of our family, tribe, culture, and society.

At the end of my studies at Stetson University in Deland, Florida, I work for a summer as an intern at the First Baptist Church of Palatka, Florida. Palatka was about a ninety minutes north of Deland.

I loaded all my belongings in my car and moved to Palatka for the summer.  Along the way, I noticed a little tiny white church building.  What made the church so noticeable was its large wooden signage.  It seemed bigger than the actual building.  In big letters, the name of the church was painted on the sign for all passersby to see.

The Inspired and Inerrant Word of God in Christ Church: Independent, Holiness, Apostolic, Spirit-Filled, Biblical, and Fundamentalist!

Then, as if this wasn’t clear enough, the tag line just below said: 

This is THE Church!

Of course, the implication being:

“There is NO OTHER church!”

Or at least,

“There is no other church that’s got EVERYTHING RIGHT, the way we do in here!”

 

They had domesticated Jesus to satisfy the criteria they thought was important. More than belonging to Jesus, they thought Jesus belonged to them.

 

In today’s Gospel lesson, it looks like John and the other disciples thought they had domesticated Jesus.  They come across a man who is not a part of their group, not one of the twelve, not even one of the seventy Jesus had commissioned to Kingdom work early in his ministry.  He was an outsider – an unknown commodity.  But he was doing the right stuff, healing the sick and casting out demons, all in the “name of Jesus.”

 

You’d think John and the guys would want to give Jesus a praise report.  The Kingdom of God was on display being proclaimed.  Amen.  Hallelujah.  But they were not happy.  They tried to stop the man because he wasn’t a part of their entourage.

 

I think they might have also been jealous.   Earlier in Mark 9, we read that a man brings his ill son to Jesus for attention.  He come to find Jesus, but the disciples step in, saying: “We can handle this.  No need to bother the Master.” They engage in their best healing evangelist routine, but nothing happens, and which point the Pharisees start poking fun at them.  The conflict eventually attracts Jesus, who approaches to see what’s happening.

 

The father tells his story.  “I brought my son to get help, but your disciples couldn’t do a thing.”

 

After a few words of exchange between Jesus and the boy’s father, Jesus heals his son.  In the process, he mentions how hard it is to be associated with “an unbelieving generation,” a swipe that seems to be taken toward the disciples.

 

Now John and the boys see a man they knew nothing about doing what they had been unable to do, so they try to stop him.

 

Jesus responds, “Don’t stop him.  No one who does a miracle in my name can in the next moment say anything bad about me.  Whoever is not against us is for us.”

 

John and the other wanted to build a wall.  To his way of thinking, Jesus was safe and tame, inside the compound he had built.  Jesus was for the people on the inside.  John thought he was a gatekeeper.  To John’s way of thinking, there are two kinds of people in the world.  There are the “right kind of people” and there are the “wrong kind of people.”  The “right kind of people”  are those safely nestled behind the walls he built.  The “wrong kind of people” are those on the outside!

 

John seems to be a patron saint for many Christians who spend most of their lives building walls.  Congregation’s do that when their focus in on activities and programs aimed toward the wants, whims, and wishes of its membership.  They reason:  “Jesus is in here with us.  He’s one of us.”  They see Jesus as tamed – as domesticated.

 

Now understand that these folks would love to attract people to their place.  They invite people to “come to church.”  But there are expectations.  Those who come are expected to look like the insiders, talk like the insiders, and believe like the insiders.  They are expect to “live right” and “fit in.”

 

When I lived on the Eastern Shore, I was approach by a friend who was upset with his pastor and deacons.  It seems that the son of an 87 year old, life-time member of the congregation, had come home to visit.  Fifty years earlier, he’d been a member of that church.  When he went off to college, he never returned.

 

It was his mother’s birthday, so he came home to celebrate. On Sunday he went with her to morning worship.  Here’s the problem:  the man had come out as “gay” after leaving the Shore.  As he sat with his mother and the prelude was played, the pastor and deacons went to the man and asked him to vacate the church.

People have lots of criteria for excluding folks.

 

Did you know that there are 52 language groups in the city of Richmond?  One church is trying to connect with all those groups.  They aim to start 52  house churches specific to each language group.

 

They they came to the “new work” committee of the RBA several years ago, seeking a partnership to expand their evangelistic witness.  They were very well received, except by one.  In the meeting, he stayed silent.  But afterwards he confided that if he could have his way, every church would be “English only.”  Basically, if you could not speak English, you could not meet Jesus.

 

There are walls built to keep people out who are not like us.  Keeping them out makes us feel safe with Jesus on the inside.  That mentality is killing the witness of the church.  Walls are built to exclude some, while helping church folk imagine they have Jesus tied down, locked up, and under control.

 

The church needs to be a place of building bridges.  We do live in the River City, right?  So let’s build some ministry bridges.

 

By the way, bridges travel in two directions.  Sometimes ministry bridges will provide people (all kinds of people) access to our fellowship.  We need to be creating more avenues that let people know they will be included here.

 

But bridges also connect those on the inside with the rest of the world.  Bridges give us the chance to connect with our neighbors, to discern their needs, and to provide ministry for NO OTHER REASON than to express God’s love.

 

Now here’s are two difficult truths that many congregation’s have to wrestle with.  First, most do not want “certain kinds of people” to come to their church.  Second, most do not want to go to where “certain kinds of people” are known to congregate.  .

 

When I moved Richmond, I kept getting lost.  One day I ended up in Shocko Bottom.  I made reference to that with a  member who is no longer with us.

 

“That’s one place a preacher shouldn’t be.  There are lots of sinful people down there,” he said.

 

“If there are lots of sinful people down there,” I replied, “that’s exactly where a Christian should be.  Those are the kind of people Jesus hung out.”

 

But it’s not just a place like Shocko Bottom.  For many, anyplace outside the walls of the church seems dangerous.  For many, walls look more attractive than bridges.

 

We need to build bridges toward families and children.  We need to be a place and people known for having fun.  Children need to see that the God who is revealed is Jesus includes them.  Jesus said, “Don’t hinder the children.  They are of the God’s Kingdom.”

 

We need to build bridges toward folks from all races, colors, languages, and ethnic groups.  At Pentecost the church was made up of people from every nation, color, and stripe – and the Holy Spirit united them as one family.

 

We need to be build bridges so that we will be reminded that God’s love and grace does not stop at the walls of our building, but extends outward toward all (no exceptions, no exclusions).

 

We need to build bridges.

 

In my first post seminary church, I preached about the need to do outreach and engage in hands-on ministry.  A deacon responded:  “This church has been here for over two hundred years.  People know where we’re located.  They can come here whenever they want too!”

 

I responded to that Jesus never told people to go to church.  But he did instruct his disciples, saying:  “Go into all the world and preach the Gospel!”

 

I want us to build bridges that encourage access to this place for as many people as we can possibly reach.  But more than that, I want each of us to see that we are called to be bridges for the sake of God’s Kingdom.  We must GO.

 

This week you can be a bridge builder.

 

You can build a bridge to that coworker who is having a bad day and needs some encouragement.

 

You can build a bridge to that home-bound person whose feeling a bit lonely.

 

You can build a bridge a homeless man by volunteering at a nearby shelter.

 

When this gathering of worship is over, you will exit from behind the walls of this building.   When you do, you will have an option.  You can pretend Jesus is safe and tamed with us behind the walls of this place.  Or you can make the

courageous faith decision to partner with the Holy Spirit by becoming a bridge builder.

 

Jesus is wandering the world, as the Lion of Judah, revealing the love and grace of the Father to all the world.  As a bridge builder, you can be a part of that ministry with him.

 

When the benediction ends, remember that your ministry begins.  Be a bridge builder.

 

Missional Church: A Vision for the Sending of the Church in North America (The Gospel and Our Culture Series)
publisher: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., published: 1998-02-09
ASIN: 0802843506
EAN: 9780802843500
sales rank: 113018
price: $10.75 (new), $3.50 (used)
What would a theology of the Church look like that took seriously the fact that North America is now itself a mission field? This question lies at the foundation of this volume written by an ecumenical team of six noted missiologists—Lois Barrett, Inagrace T. Dietterich, Darrell L. Guder, George R. Hunsberger, Alan J. Roxburgh, and Craig Van Gelder.

The result of a three-year research project undertaken by The Gospel and Our Culture Network, this book issues a firm challenge for the church to recover its missional call right here in North America, while also offering the tools to help it do so.

The authors examine North America?s secular culture and the church?s loss of dominance in today?s society. They then present a biblically based theology that takes seriously the church?s missional vocation and draw out the consequences of this theology for the structure and institutions of the church.

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