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November 13- 2011

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November 13- 2011 Powered By Docstoc
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                       “Trusting Forward; Speaking Hope”
                   “Bringing Our Mission Statement to Life”
            “The Shift From Focus on Ourselves To Focus on Mission”

The Twenty-second Sunday after Pentecost                                     November 13, 2011
Reverend Randolph Sherren                                                 Berea Lutheran Church


Old Testament Lesson                                                                Jonah 4:1-11
Epistle Lesson                                                                   Revelation 2:1-7
Gospel Lesson                                                                     Mark 11:12-19


This is the second to the last installment of “Trusting Forward; Speaking Hope—Bringing Our
Mission Statement to Life.” Today the focus is “The Shift from Focus on Ourselves To Focus on
Mission”--from focus on ourselves to focus on our mission. I’m going to speak about this in five
parts. The first part is “A Simple Introduction On Sin and Grace.” The second part is “What got
Jonah So Upset?” Why was Jonah so angry? The third part is “What Got Jesus So Upset in The
Temple?”—I mean, everybody is upset in these lessons today. The fourth part is “What Was the
Warning to the Church in Ephesus?” What was that all about? And the fifth part is “Simple
Statement: Commission to Mission Is a Way That We Stay on The Path.”

“An Introduction About Sin and Grace.” “We are by nature sinful and unclean.” When we
speak those words on Sunday mornings as part of the Confession of Faith, I hope you hear them.
I hope you hear them, and I hope you internalize them, and I hope you’re committed to that,
because the foundation belief, that we are by nature sinful and unclean, keeps us on the right path
for understanding our Christian faith. It is one of our rock-bottom Christian believes that the
seeds of our own potential destruction are sown right here in our own personality. We are by
nature sinful and unclean. As Luther would have us remember, we are continually attacked from
the outside, by the Devil, and by the world in which we live. But we are also constantly being
undermined by our own sinful nature, which must be held in check and which ultimately must be
replaced by the new nature that the Holy Spirit is creating within us. It is important for us to
realize that if we ever get it right any goodness within us is a gift from the Holy Spirit—it’s not
something we have generated on our own.

There are many applications of this fact for each of our lives, but today I’m going to call your
attention to three ugly tendencies within each one of us. Three ugly tendencies against which the
Holy Spirit must constantly battle. First of all, human beings—that’s you and I. Human beings
are by nature prejudiced against people from groups other than their own. Whether it is age,
race, religion, country, gender, music preference, sports team, region of the country, style of
dress, or any of a hundred other issues, we are by nature prejudiced and not inclined to be cordial
to those not like us. It’s right in here. Second, human beings--that’s you and I--are by nature so
wrapped up in their own affairs and their own advancement that they tend to ignore the lives of
others. And third, human beings are by nature more concerned for the form of things than for the
essence of things. For example, the typical American is by nature more inclined to decorate for
Christmas than to engender the Spirit of Christ in the way they live. Form gets more focus than
the essence. People are more zealous for the form of a thing than they are for the essence of it.
Well, that’s the sin part. That’s the sin part.
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The grace part can be stated any number of ways. Here’s the way Paul says it in Ephesians:
“For it is by grace that you have been saved, through your confidence in God’s promises in
Christ. And this is not your own doing, this is a gift from God, not because of anything you have
done lest anyone should boast, for we are his workmanship created in Christ Jesus for good
works, which God prepared beforehand for us that we should walk in them.” This means that for
the sake of Jesus Christ, our Creator forgives us our sinfulness. And then beyond that the Holy
Spirit works to regenerate us so that we move beyond what we are by nature. The Holy Spirit
works within each of us for a personal transformation that moves us beyond the prejudice that is
so natural to us. The Holy Spirit works for a personal transformation within us that gets us to
notice what is going on beyond our own affairs, beyond our own advancement, so that we notice
other people’s lives and actually care about them. The Holy Spirit works for a personal
transformation within us that generates zeal for the essence of things and not just the form of
things.

Now the second part: “What Got Jonah So Upset?” Jonah got so upset because God did not
share his prejudice. God would not allow him to live in his own prejudice. And in fact, God
forced Jonah to do God’s will, to carry out God’s mission totally contrary to Jonah’s prejudice.
And that got him so angry he wanted to die. Jonah despised the people of Nineveh. Nineveh is
now a heap of ruins in northern Iraq, across the river from this large city called Mosul. History
would teach Jonah that he had good reason to despise them and he did. Now God comes asking
Jonah to go speak to the people of Nineveh, so they will shape up and so that they will escape the
judgment that will otherwise come to them. Well you know the story. Jonah refused to go, but
God got his attention you might say. God pretty much made him do what he didn’t’ want to do,
and that got him so upset. But you have to understand that Jonah wasn’t motivated by fear of the
people of Nineveh—he wasn’t afraid of them. He wasn’t motivated by fear of speaking God’s
Word. He was more than happy to speak God’s Word and do it affectively. He didn’t want to
go to preach to these people because he figured that if he did they would straighten out a bit and
then God would not destroy them. And that got him so angry! Jonah wanted them to be
destroyed, because he hated them. He saw no value in them. In the end God spared these
people—one hundred and twenty thousand people who morally didn’t know their right hand
from their left. That’s what got Jonah so upset. He simply could not get past his prejudice to
support God’s mission.

“What God Jesus So Upset In The Temple?” Jesus was not upset because there was buying and
selling going on. This is not the text you go to to speak against Fall Festivals. That is not at all
the point that Jesus was making. The people needed to have sacrificial animals that would pass
inspection, and they needed offerings in the right kind of coinage. They couldn’t bring these
things with them; somebody had to supply them for them when they got to Jerusalem. The
people coming to Passover and other celebrations needed these services and they had been
provided on the Mount of Olives for decades. Then, the people who ran the temple decided to go
into competition with them and set up shop in the temple itself. When the merchants in
competition with merchants on the Mount of Olives set up shop in the forecourt of the temple,
there were two problems. There were two problems. First of all they overcharged for shoddy
merchandise. That was an irritation. But worse than that, they set up shop in the one place
Gentiles had available for worship and prayer within the temple. There was one place where
Gentiles could come, draw near to God, worship him and pray to him, and receive teaching from
his Word, and that’s where these merchants set up shop. And that is what got Jesus so upset.
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Look at it this way—I’ll try to help you see what is going on. Let’s say that we at Berea decided
to have a community meal here for handicapped people in our community. We’re going to invite
them in for a meal, and we’re going to have a program—people speak to them—that will help
them deal with their handicaps as they live in their homes. So we set the time for this. We
advertise the event: “Come To Our Church All You Handicapped In Our Neighborhood.” We
get volunteers from church to prepare the meal and to serve the meal, organize the program. We
prepare the meal, the program is ready. Now, the time comes and when the handicap people
from our neighborhood come to the event they discover that every handicap parking space has
been taken by able-bodied volunteers. They discover that no handicap entrance to the church has
been unlocked for them. The ones who had been expressly invited would be shut-out and in
affect turned away from the event. Do you see the issue? You advertise that you are going to do
something and when it comes down to it you turn away the very people who are invited. This is
what got Jesus so upset, and he was as angry as could be. From the very beginning God had
intended the Jewish nation to be the means for reaching the Gentiles. The temple had been
designed with ample room for Gentiles to come, to worship the Living God, to pray to the Living
God, and to hear his Word preached to them. Jesus had worked hard throughout his ministry to
invite them—“Come, come you are welcome.” And when they got there they were shut out,
because the good people of the temple were so focused on their own affairs, they were so
focused on their own advancement that they ignored the mission of God.

What was the warning to the church in Ephesus? The church in Ephesus had much to
recommend it. You hear that in the Epistle Lesson don’t you? They were hard-working. These
people loved their church; they loved their congregation; they were hard-working people. They
persevered. They had problems they had to overcome, but they persevered. They did not
tolerate wicked people. They stood for what was right in the midst of a horrible pagan culture.
They tested those who claimed to be evangelists and pastors and they weeded out the liars. They
weeded out the crooks, the abusers. There was no funny business among them. They knew their
doctrine. They were solid. They had endured hardships with great perseverance, and they had
not grown weary. It’s a good congregation. “Yet I hold this against you: you have forsaken the
love you had at first.” Here was a congregation that was doing everything right with one
exception. But according to Jesus, who is dictating this letter to John, this one exception could
be fatal, “Yet this I hold against you: you have forsaken the love you had at first.” What was
that love they had at first? It was the love for the lost person living without God that had moved
them to develop their congregation in the first place. That’s how the congregation got there in
the first place. There were people concerned about lost people, and they brought them in. And
that’s how they built their congregation. And after they had got their congregation going they
had gotten so wrapped up in doing church correctly, that they had forgotten their basic mission
which was the reason for their existence in the first place. God had put them there in the middle
of one of the largest pagan cities in the world to make an impact on that pagan city. But they had
forgotten that in favor of doing church correctly among themselves in a closed situation.

The conclusion of the sermon: “Commitment to Mission Is The Way We Stay On The Path.”
God has saved us from our sinful human nature, and he has begun the process within each of us
by which that sinful human nature is being replaced by a regenerate nature, and this is a gift of
our loving God. But the pull against us, the pull against that process is so strong. It is so strong.
We have such a strong tendency to get wrapped up in ourselves and to do what comes naturally.
We are pulled as individuals. The pull is to take us back where we were. We are pulled as a
congregation--as is every congregation--pulled back to simply focus on ourselves. This is a fact
of life this side of heaven. You can’t get away from it. It’s a fact of life. If we succumb we lose
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our way; we lose our sense of mission. It affects all aspects of our lives. For example, I hear it
when a couple comes to talk to me and the couple finally says, “I don’t know why we got
married in the first place.” Can you hear it? Can you hear it in those words?--the loss of sense
of mission in that marriage. I hear it when I talk to people who have drifted from the
congregation and they say to me, “Oh, I don’t know. We just stopped coming to church for no
real reason. Now we can’t seem to find any reason to come back.” Can you hear it? Can you
hear the loss of the sense of mission, drift, reverting back to the default position?

As individuals and as a congregation the pull is constantly there to be like Jonah and to set aside
God’s mission in favor of our prejudices that close us off from opportunities to reach people for
Christ. The pull is always there. The pull is always there within us as individuals and as a
congregation to be like the Jewish leaders in the temple who got so wrapped up in their own
affairs and their own financial advancement that they closed out and turned away the very people
whom God had invited. The pull is there within us as individuals and within us as a
congregation to be like the congregation in Ephesus who got so wrapped up in doing church
correctly that they lost their love for the lost people around them, and they just did church
correctly locked up in their own correct world.

A clear sense of mission, articulated, focused upon, and committed to daily calls us away from
our natural, sinful, default positions both as individuals and as a congregation. Quite a few years
ago I spent time, over a period of a week or ten days, I concentrated on this, I pondered things, I
took notes on yellow paper, I wrote out ideas and I rewrote them, I would take a break and read
the Bible, then I would pray, I would pray about it, and after ten days I arrived at my own
personal mission statement. I typed it out, I dated it, and I posted it on my desk where I look at it
every day. Right in the midst of the stress that is my life, the temptations that are my life, the
busyness that is my life, the inertia of each day, because of my focus on that mission statement
and my commitment to that mission statement, I know what I’m about before I start the day. I
know what I am supposed to be doing. It is certainly not a target I always hit and I would never
say that. But it is a target which is always in front of me and that is a blessed thing. That is a
blessed thing. I recommend it to each of you. I highly recommend it. Have a clear mission for
your life. Think about it. Ponder it. Pray about it. Write it out. Focus on it. Follow it. Know
what the mission of your life is.

Berea congregation has a mission statement as well. It took us a few months to write it. We
worked on it a lot. “We gather as Christians to worship God in all we do, grow in spiritual
maturity, live lives of service, and increase the number of believers in Christ.” That’s a solid
mission statement. As individuals and as a congregation it can be a blessing to us and to those
that God has placed us here to reach. It was a good exercise for me to write down my own
personal mission statement, as it was a good exercise for us as a congregation to write our
mission statement. But writing mission statements is nothing compared to focusing on them
once they’re written, and committing ourselves to them once they are written.

I look around me and I conclude that the world already has enough Jonahs. The world already
has enough temples that have shut out the Gentiles that God has invited. The world already has
enough Ephesian congregations who have lost their first love and do church correctly among
themselves. Let’s never let those things happen to us as individuals or as a congregation. Let’s
commit ourselves to a clear sense of mission which will keep us on the path where God has
placed us. Amen

				
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