The St. John’s Pulpit
St. John’s Baptist Church 300 Hawthorne Lane Charlotte, NC 28204
BEYOND BEING USELESS
Ephesians 4:1-7, 11-16; (Matthew 11:28-30; 28:18-20; Mark 3:14a)
Sixteenth Sunday After Pentecost, September 29, 2019
by Senior Minister, Rev. Dennis W. Foust, PhD
A WORD ABOUT WORSHIP TODAY:
This is our third Sunday focused on the theme:
STRENGTHENING OUR CONNECTION WITH GOD’S HEART – A SEASON OF COVENANT RENEWAL:
God’s Mission Is Our Mission
“As my Father sent me, so send I you.”
(Jesus, in John 20:21)
This autumn, we are renewing our commitments in the St. John’s Church Covenant. Thus far, we have renewed our commitments to be God’s Covenant People and to be a Worshipping Church. Today, we renew our commitment to Spiritual Growth:
“We will take seriously the responsibility and privilege of personal Christian growth, diligently seeking to establish and maintain
a Christian atmosphere in our homes.”
Today, I call to your attention an open window in this sanctuary; the baptism window.
Baptism begins our commitment to ‘take seriously the responsibility and privilege of personal Christian growth.” Today, we acknowledge God who nurtures our faith.
God strengthens us toward spiritual maturity. As we become the Gathered Church on Sundays, we are better equipped and empowered to be the Scattered Church between Sundays. Just as there is a reason why ‘Worship’ is the first commitment in our covenant, there is a reason why spiritual growth in Christlikeness is second.
Beloved, as we worship The Living God in this hour, let us take seriously the responsibility and privilege of personal Christian growth.
As the family of the Church, please greet one another as a covenant community!
MANUSCRIPT OF THE MESSAGE:
When Henri Nouwen was a young priest, he served as a chaplain on a Holland-America cruise line. One day, the fog was so thick that fear seized the captain. The chaplain, like any good minister, went toward the pain and anxiety to offer support in time of need. The captain cursed Chaplain Nouwen saying, “Get out of here; you’re completely useless to me.” Then, as Nouwen started to leave, the gruff captain shouted again, “Where are you going? Stay around. This may be the only time I need you.”
Respectfully acknowledging Martin Luther King, “I have a dream today.”
My dream is that every person connected with St. John’s will know WHY our church covenant includes these words of commitment: “We will take seriously the responsibility and privilege of personal Christian growth, …”
Let me reemphasize; my dream is NOT that, “We will take seriously the responsibility and privilege of personal Christian growth, …” Although that is a worthy vision, my dream is for each of us is to know WHY we live this commitment.
In this message, I will:
- Name a problem we must address to be a vital church in the 21st century;
- Use Ephesians 4 to explain how the early Church dealt with this problem;
- Introduce two phrases and ideas to respond to this problem today; and
- Suggest how we can implement these ideas in the life and ministry of St. John’s.
- THE PROBLEM WE MUST ADDRESS TO BE A VITAL CHURCH IN THE 21st CENTURY:
Is the disconnection between our Sunday faith and our Monday world.
When this is your experience, you cannot realize WHY you are committed to ‘take seriously the responsibility and privilege of personal Christian growth.’
This Sunday-Monday Disconnection happens when the church becomes a religious organization rather than a living spiritual organism.
As your pastor, I have never and will never ask you to be more committed to the church for the sake of the organization. I ask you to increase your commitment to BEING CHURCH!
ACCORDING TO JESUS, You ARE the people of God to be in the world but not of it.
You ARE to live in God’s Real World of Transformation, incarnating hope, light and life.
Therefore, if we are ‘take seriously the responsibility and privilege of personal Christian growth,’ we must constantly confront The Sunday-Monday Disconnection.
Like the captain who told Henri Nouwen he was ‘useless,’ we too can feel ‘useless’ considering all the troubles of the world and the troubled people we come across.
For this reason, we must ‘take seriously the responsibility and privilege of personal Christian growth.’ God needs us to be equipped as God’s people in the world.
- HOW DID THE EARLY CHURCH DEAL WITH THIS PROBLEM?
The early Church also had to address feeling useless and disconnected.
Consider the passage we read from Ephesians 4, as Paul offers a way to deal with The Sunday-Monday Disconnection.
First, Paul defines discipleship as your vocation.
He writes, “…Lead a life worthy of the vocation to which you have been called…”
The idea here is that your life’s vocation is discipleship.
Second, Paul explains how church is to work: various gifts of leadership are entrusted to the Church – including pastor-teachers – to, “equip the saints for the work of ministry.”
Third, Paul says we should grow in Christ, “Pastor-Teachers equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Jesus Christ.”
Fourth, Paul describes what Christian growth looks like: “We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people’s trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming. Rather, as we mature in Christlikeness, we speak the truth in love and we grow up in every way into Christ who is the head of the Church.”
- THIS BRINGS ME TO TWO PHRASES OFFERING NEW IDEAS TO YOU.
If you have been listening for the past eight years, you’ve already heard these phrases.
First, I offer you the phrase, VOCATIONAL DISCIPLESHIP.
The word, VOCATION, stems from a word meaning ‘a calling; an occupation for which a person is equipped, trained or prepared.’
No matter your job, career, position or profession, you have one vocation.
Your vocation is Christian discipleship. You infuse the ethics of Jesus into your decisions;
You relate the compassion of Jesus in your interactions;
You incarnate the priorities of Jesus in your daily lifestyle choices.
Teaching on this topic, I once asked a group how they express Vocational Discipleship. A lawyer described how he guides clients to clarify their ethics, values and relationships. He said the questions came to him as he was involved in a series of studies on the beatitudes.
A business woman explained how her study of ethics in a Sunday School group opened her eyes to new approaches in her interpretation of policies at work.
A school teacher told of how a woman in the church in which he grew up shaped his understanding as a teacher. She taught him to always try to understand the student before making judgements about them. She had also been his Sunday School teacher.
The second phrase I offer to you is MINISTRY IN DAILY LIFE or MDL. I use this phrase to describe how your VOCATIONAL DISCIPLESHIP shows up in your daily living. As my calling to be a pastoral person clarified through time, I became increasingly aware of my responsibility and privilege to equip the saints for the work of ministry. I want to equip you for the work of Ministry in Daily Life.
Your Ministry in Daily Life has impact as you become more Christ-like by being Jesus-like.
Being Jesus-like includes – being open-minded, compassionate to the poor,
inclusive toward the outsider, forgiving of the one who falls short,
focused on a living relationship with God, pursuing a discipline of prayer,
initiating understanding of people with differing religious views,
being attentive to the sick and poor who are ignored and the wealthy looking for meaning,
expressing a fullness of acceptance toward all social outcasts and outsiders,
and presenting patient hope to persons who are wafting in the winds of uncertainty.
Like Jesus, confront religious power structures for turning the Kingdom of God into a
corporate business determining who can qualify for membership and who cannot.
The only people Jesus ever called sinner were legalists who called other people ‘sinner.’
Jesus quoted a scripture passage to people saying, “you have heard it said…”
And then he would say, “…but I say unto you…”
Although Jesus was not a scriptural inerrantist – he fulfilled God’s law of loving God and
neighbor by loving kindness and doing justice and walking humbly with God.
In a day when many people try to remake Jesus in their own image (politician, CEO or
entertainer), let us follow Jesus by making his ministry our Ministry In Daily Life.
It will continue to be my vocation to equip you for MDL.
- THIS BRINGS ME TO HOW THESE IDEAS CAN BE IMPLEMENTED IN ST. JOHN’S.
A few weeks ago, you learned that Allison Benfield’s ministry among us is expanding to include spiritual growth for all ages. Allison and I have been discussing this expanded role for several months. In the next few months, some ideas will be implemented. We will seek to equip you for Ministry in Daily Life as Vocational Disciples. This will mean some changes as we offer directed choices to you. We will be reminding you, as Paul reminded the Ephesians, to pursue maturity.
In coming months, as Allison broadens her ministry among us,
We will begin by enlisting some members to help revitalize our Sunday School Ministry.
We will also officially enlist a Spiritual Formation Resource Team.
In 2020, we will introduce a new and expanded approach to adult learning.
We will create a collection of resources and a faculty of specialized focus teachers.
I once took our 5-year old son to a cafeteria for an experiment. I explained that I would choose two items for his lunch and he could choose any three other items. I chose chicken fingers and green beans for him; he chose orange Jello with fruit cocktail, red Jello topped with whipped cream and banana pudding. This happens in churches when we allow our tastes to dictate our diet rather than our desire to ‘take seriously the responsibility and privilege of personal Christian growth.’
As we strengthen our connection with God’s heart, we remember God’s desire for us to grow. Let us grow as Vocational Disciples for our Ministry in Daily Life.
We will know we are maturing when we enjoy Jello, banana pudding AND meat and vegetables. Amen and AMEN!