Around the World (Sermon video and manuscript)

The sermon from September 13 2015, at The Patterson Avenue Baptist Church is included in this blog post (both the video and the manuscript).   The sermon is titled:  “Around the World” and is based on James 2:1-8.  Each year our congregation joins 1400 others in the Baptist General Association of Virginia to collect an offering supporting the mission causes supported by our state association.  The offering is named for missions pioneer Alma Hunt.

The theme for this years offering emphasis is “Across the Street and Around the World.”  On September 6, the sermon will focus on the first part of that emphases.  In the September 13, 2015 worship gathering, the focus will be on the second part of that theme.

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

Around the World

Mark 8:27-36

And Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi. And on the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” And they told him, “John the Baptist; and others say, Elijah; and others, one of the prophets.” And he asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Christ.” And he strictly charged them to tell no one about him.

And he began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again. And he said this plainly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But turning and seeing his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”

And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?



William Willimon, former Dean of the Chapel at Duke University, tells of a time when a representative from Teach America visited the Duke campus.  Teach America recruits some of our nation’s most talented college graduates to work in some of its worst public schools in the hope of transforming those schools into something better.


The representative from Teach America stood in front of a large group of students – a larger than you might expect to attend such an event.  She said,


“I can tell by looking at you that I have probably come to the wrong place.  Somebody told me this was a BMW campus and I can believe it looking at you.  I can tell that you are all reaching toward success.  Why would you all be on this campus if you were not successful, if you were not going on to successful careers on Madison Avenue or Wall Street?


“And yet here I stand, hoping to talk one of you into giving away your life in the toughest job you will ever have.  I am looking for people to go into the hollows of West Virginia, into the ghettos of South Los Angeles to teach in some of the most difficult schools in the world.  Last year, two of our teachers were killed while on the job.


“And I can tell, just by looking at you, that none of you are interested in that.  So go on to law school, or whatever successful thing you are planning on doing.


“But if by chance, some of you just happen to be interested, I’ve got these brochures here for you to tell about Teach America.  Meeting’s over.”


Willimon said that the entire gathering of students pushed toward the front of the room to grab brochures and ask for more information.  He said he learned an important insight that evening, writing:


“People want something more out of life than just happiness.  People want their lives to matter.  People want to be part of an adventure.  People want to be part of a project greater than their lives.”


Most people hunger to make a positive impact on their world.  They want their lives to matter.  It’s not just the young and idealistic.  I hear it from older folks as well.

A few months back I was visiting at Lakewood Manor when I came across a lady I have known for a long time.  Her husband, now deceased, was a pastor on the Northern Neck when I moved there after seminary.   I asked how she was adjusting to her new surroundings.  She replied:


“It’s all fine.  I am just trying to make sure that my life still matters while I am living in this place.  In a place like this, it is so easy to allow yourself simply to exist from one day to the next, but for me that is not really living, that’s dying.  I want my life to make a difference for all the days I have left.”


We understand that feeling, don’t we?   Young and old, rich and poor, downtown or West End, we all want to make a difference.  Something inside us rejects the status quo.  We want take off the garb of the cowardly lion and roar like the wild beast of the field.  We reject the “same old same old.”  We grow tired of the mundane.  We long to be impact players.  We hunger to live a courageous life.


The great preaching professor David Buttrick writes:


“Our lives are as brief as the hyphen between the dates on a gravestone.  We all know the starting date of our lives.  We all know that there will be an ending date.  We live now in the hyphen.  We want that hyphen to matter.”


I feel it when I come into this building.  I want my life – our lives – to matter.  You feel that way, too, don’t you?  It is wired into our spiritual DNA.  We want more than to simply going through the motions.


You know the routine.  You come to church.  You listen to the choir.  You put a few dollars in the offering plate.  You listen to some preacher do his or her song and dance.  Then you come back the next week and do it all over again.  All that’s good, I suppose – but it does not satisfy.  You want to do something more than just going through the motions.  You want to make a difference.  You want your life to matter.


I suppose it is possible that some do not feel that hunger.  Maybe some of you have it all figured out.  Maybe you are saying to yourself, “My life is making a difference.  I am an impact player.  I am satisfied with the way things are moving in my life.”


If that’s you then that’s terrific.  If you’d like, just enjoy a restful little nap.  I will try not to disturb you by talking too loudly.  Somebody will wake you before we turn off the lights and lock the doors.  If, on the other hand, there is even the slightest sense of hunger to make something more of your life, then I invite you to listen for the next few minutes.


Most of us do not have it all figured out.  We still feel that hunger and thirsting for righteousness.  We have a desire to live a courageous church.  We feel a yearning to have a Jesus-style impact on our world.

Most of that time the hunger starts as just a tiny little voice calling us to take a simple steps toward something more.  It begins as a seed – but the seed becomes a tree, and then the tree becomes a forest.


When I served on the Eastern Shore, a couple of senior citizens in my church (Burleigh and Jewel ) helped our little church start a ministry that ended up having an international footprint.


One afternoon they were grocery shopping.  They notice something they had seen hundreds of times, but on this occasion it was different.   That afternoon that migrant workers from one of the labor camps had just been paid and they had all converge on the area grocery store to do their shopping.


Burleigh and Jewel has seen them before, harvesting crops, living in the labor work camps, stopped at the gas station, the clinic, the hospital, or the shopping center.  On this day they saw them with spiritual eyesight.  They wondered together if anyone was telling these migrants about Jesus.  So at the next church business session, Burleigh asked:  “Is there something we can do to witness to these people?”


That next summer, from that seed question, the Red Bank Baptist Church entered into a partnership with our local association and the Baptist General Association of Virginia.  With resources from the Alma Hunt Offering for State Missions, we began hosting a summer mission project to connect to the migrant community.   Each week we bused willing  migrants from area labor camps to our facility.  Members in my church provided a meal.  A Spanish language Bible for everyone who attended.  The Rev. Saul Hernandez, whose ministry was supported by the Alma Hunt offering, taught a Bible study and preached the gospel.


Throughout the week, folks from the church (many of them over 80 years old and who couldn’t speak a word of Spanish) would visit the labor camps and hand out flyers, inviting people to attend the meal and worship gathering.  Throughout the summer, we had at least 110 people from Nicaragua, El Salvador, Columbia, Mexico, and beyond, attend these gatherings.   On several occasions, Saul offered an evangelistic invitation.  By the end of the summer at least 50 migrant workers had made a faith profession.

That’s just the seed.  Now what about the tree?


By the end of the summer, we had attracted about a dozen local Hispanic citizens.  They worshipped with our congregation on Sunday morning as a lovely young lady named Maria interpreted the service into Spanish.  Within a few months, again with help again from the Alma Hunt offering, we established a Hispanic new church plant.  That group is now a full-fledge, growing and self-supporting congregation.


That’s the tree.  Now what about the forest?


As that first migrant season concluded, we held a big gathering to celebrate what God had accomplished.   At the end of that gathering, the migrants who had made faith professions lined up to ask Saul and myself to sign their Bibles.


I leaned over toward Saul and said, “They do know that we didn’t write this book, right?”


He smile and said, “Hermano (which means brother), they are asking us to sign the Bible so that when they go back to El Salvador, or Columbia, or wherever they are from, they can tell their friends and family who it was who that told them about Jesus.”


What had begun as seed planted in the hearts of two senior citizens turned into a mission project, which turned into a church, which became a ministry that had an international footprint.  To use the theme for the Alma Hunt State Mission’s Offering, it started “Across the Street” and reached “Around the World.”


In the scripture we read a few minutes ago, Jesus calls His disciples to a life of courageous discipleship.   He calls them toward a lifestyle that make a difference in their world.


Initially, he called them to come and learn.  “Follow me and I will teach you how to become fishers of people.”  He had said that earlier in Mark’s gospel, speaking to James and John, Andrew and Peter.  It was an exciting offer, the chance to learn at the feet of Rabbi Jesus.  They jumped at the opportunity and dropped everything to follow.


In time, the call became more intense – and was made to a guy that society considered worthless scum.  He said to Levi, the tax collector.  “Come, and be my disciple!” The religious crowd thought this guy to be a traitor, a cheat, and a swindler.  But Jesus did not treat him that way.  Jesus treated him as if he might amount to something.  Levi responded by leaving his tax-collecting business to follow Jesus.


He kept calling more and more followers.   Not just the twelve.  He called hundreds, perhaps thousands – men and women, rich and poor, the morally upright and the morally bankrupt.  He called them all.


He’s still us all today.


For many, however, the challenge is just too much.  Read Mark’s Gospel from the beginning up to the text we read this morning.  You will be amazed and dazzled by the emphasis on the power of Jesus.


We see Jesus…


…overcome Satan’s temptations  and cast out demons

…heals lepers, the crippled, the blind, and the deaf

…silences a raging storm, feeds thousand, and walks on water

… raise a little girl from the dead.


If we had seen all these miracles, we probably would have followed Jesus too.  For eight chapters, the refrain is: power – power over Satan, power over sickness, power over suffering, power over the grave.


Then we arrive at Mark chapter eight and the tone changes.  Did you notice it?   The end of the eighth chapter of Mark is the hinge of the entire gospel.  From here forward, the emphasis changes dramatically.  For eight chapters we read of Jesus doing ministry, proclaiming God’s Kingdom, and inviting people to follow Him.


In Mark eight, Jesus revolutionizes the invitation.  He looks at those who are following him and says, “If you want to really, truly, and honestly be my follower, then this is what your life will look like.”  Do you see the difference?


There comes a point when we realize that discipleship is not just about listening and learning, it is also about acting and doing.  There comes a point where orthodoxy gives way to orthopraxy, where right doctrines must lend itself to right living.


Grace does not leads to a life of legalistic rules and regulations, but it does lead toward sacrificial discipleship.  That’s how the Spirit of God works.  There is no way around it.


There is an interesting linguistic formula in Jesus teachings.  As Jesus reveals what it means to have an impact on the world, he peels away the layers of misconception and misunderstand that had gripped the minds of His disciples.


“If you want to be my follower,” Jesus says, “Your life is not about this, it is about this!”


Our world teaches us to value the drive to achieve, the aspiration to succeed, the ambition to climb to the top of the mountain.  Jesus has a different set of values.


He give specifics.


“If you want to be my follower, your life is not about selfish ambition, it’s about service and sacrifice!”


“If you want to be my follower, your life is not a pursuit to gain more, but to give more away.”


“If you want to be my follower, your life is not about achieving power, but denying yourself daily!”


These are the kinds of values that back the desire to be impact players for the Kingdom of God.  It is not about the selfish ambition to make a name for ourselves – but the Jesus style of ambition to serve and give ourselves away for the sake of the Gospel.  It is not about how much we can accumulate in the bank, but how much we can give to advance the Redeemer’s Kingdom.   It is not about wielding power, but loving people.


Then Jesus says something else – something foundational to all these other value statements.  He says…


“If you want to be my follower, shoulder the cross and follow me!”


Those are hard words.  I guess we can understand why Peter called Jesus aside to rebuke Him concerning this talk of the cross and sacrifice.   He knew the cross.  The road into every major town and city, especially Jerusalem, was littered with dozens of crosses that held the bodies of dissidents and rabble rousers.


Peter had this question in mind:  “Which represents the will of God?”


Is it the miraculous displays of God’s power reveal in Jesus, or is it the suffering, rejection, and death of the cross?


Jesus spoke in terms of the suffering, the rejection, and the approaching reality of the cross.


“No way!” Peter said.  “This can’t be the plan of God!”


“Shut up, Peter,” Jesus replied.  “You sound just like Satan!”


Here’s the tough part.  Jesus is not just speaking about him carrying his cross.  He says that the cross is the futures of those who follow Jesus.  “If you want to be my follower, shoulder your cross and follow me!”


All that talk about service and sacrifice is just fine, up to a point.  Certainly, we are content to give, as long as we still have a bit held back in reserve.  We do not have to be large and in charge – but we don’t want to be small and overlooked, either!


When Jesus speaks of taking up the cross, He’s telling us to remove all qualifiers and restrictions.  He is speaking about a no limitation style of discipleship.  We follow Jesus even if the path makes us look like an failure.


Jesus looked like a failure, by the way.  How else can we define the way things looked on Friday as he hung from the cross.


So, we want to make an impact.  We want our lives to matter.  We want our lives to make a difference.  You feel that passion, don’t you?


All those students that Will Willimon mentioned were jockeying for position to grab one of those brochures after the Teach America:  I wonder how many signed on the dotted line?
We want to make an impact.   It is easy to feel that way.  It’s easy to make that commitment.  But are we willing to shoulder the cross?


So here’s the thing.  I believe that if we listen, we will hear God’s call to make a difference.  It might start small. We might feel a call to share an act of love for somebody across the street, down the road, or just across town.  You might feel it visiting the nursing home, or when seeing a homeless man at a street corner.  It might happen when you meet somebody struggling to recover from addiction.  It might happen when you meet a neighborhood family at the upcoming fall festival.  It might happen when you bring a bag of canned goods to feed the hungry through our partnership with the Food Bank.


I don’t know when, where, or how it will happen, but I know that it will.  God will speak.  God is going to call you to make a impact.  God is going to reveal within you a passion to make a difference.  His grace has already programmed that into your spiritual DNA.


Now, it’s going to require sacrificing a certain level of comfort.  It might mean donating an unreasonable amount of time.  It might demand things like writing a very big check.  It might mean that you give yourself away is sacrificial service.  But here’s the thing:  we will do that gladly if our hearts have been taken captive by a glimpse of God’s Kingdom.


And you may never see the forest.  You might not even see the tree.  Don’t count on that kind of reward.  My friends Burleigh and Jewel both died before the seed had become a tree or an forest.  But they saw the see the seed, grabbed it, planted it, and prayed that God would bless it.  And God did.


So, God is going to speak to us.  I really believe that.  And I believe that if we look and listen, we will see and hear.  Now here’s the question:  Will we turn and follow?

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