In the Name of God Almighty, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, amen.
What are Jesus’ disciples supposed to be doing? For us today, the equivalent question is what is Jesus’ church supposed to be doing? It may seem like an obvious question and answer and yet many, perhaps most churches are failing at it.
“What were you discussing on the way?” It seems like an innocent enough question, doesn’t it? What are you talking about? It’s a question we pose all the time. And yet, the question is met with embarrassed silence, the kind of silence that often occurs when someone has been caught doing something they shouldn’t be doing. St. Mark lets us in on the secret. They had argued with one another about who was the greatest.” Or in other words, “who would end up serving whom?”
As he oftentimes does, Jesus does not answer the question. Instead he tells them why the question they are asking is the wrong question. In his response to his disciples Jesus says that those who focus on their own welfare and personal advancement (those who want to be greatest) are going to end up at the bottom of the food chain. Looking at it from the flip side of the coin, Jesus is saying that those who sacrifice their personal wants and ambitions in order to care for the weak, frail, innocent and helpless ones (like children), they will find themselves living in the blessed company of Jesus himself, and in the center of God’s kingdom.
Here again, Jesus tells us that his Father and He have turned the world right side up. Contrary to common opinion, the surest way for Christ’s disciples to fail in God’s kingdom is for them to turn inward and design programs to meet their own preferences, wants and needs. We think that is how one gets ahead but Jesus disagrees. If we continue to design for self-service we will find the Master taking away from us the little we have left and giving it to the one who is actually invested in reaching out to the needy world around him.
There are thousands of dying churches in America and they all share one thing in common. They are all focused in taking no risks, not allowing any resources to be directed towards outwardly focused initiatives, choosing instead to use their few remaining resources to meet the demands of their few remaining members. It is a recipe for certain death.
Now of course, churches are made up of individuals and what is true for the church is true for each of us as well. If our attitude is “me first,” if the dominant question is “How do I get served” then we can expect to find ourselves on the losing end of eternal life.
But of course, in America the question, “How do I get served” is encouraged. We are taught from little on to look out for Number 1. And that means that many of us are behind the spiritual eight ball, and not only that but the churches we attend are also in trouble because if the dominant attitude among church members is “Me First” then that church is dying.
And this is really hard to admit but if “Me First” is the prevailing attitude in a church, then it really needs to die because it has lost the Lord’s Vision! It no longer serves the Master. When “Me first” is the attitude of the church that church has ceased to be the Body of Christ and has become anti-Christ.
You can tell churches where “me first” attitudes prevail:
· They are always sick and ailing
· They focus on the past instead of the future
· They focus on serving insiders instead of meeting the needs of outsiders
· They greedily guard their increasingly limited resources rather than using them to do the Lord’s bidding
To the extent that this “Me First” attitude prevails in our decision making we are being led, like lambs to the slaughter. As Jesus looked down on Jerusalem, and lamented their unwillingness to receive him as Lord, Jesus wept. In Luke 19.43-44 he tells us why he wept. ‘Jerusalem is facing certain destruction because “[they] did not know the time of [their] visitation.”’ That is to say that the religious leaders and the decision makers were completely focused inward and would not accept King Jesus nor would they acknowledge his command to look outward and to share the Kingdom with the whole world.
The destruction that Jesus laments in Luke 19 is what we call God’s wrath. It is the consequence of being found wanting in God’s eyes. It is the worst possible case because we find our eternal hope compromised. It is to be avoided at all cost. How, by making a decision to live your life as a servant of the Lord Jesus Christ and accepting his leadership in all the decisions of life.
This is good news. Jesus has not come to condemn his disciples this morning. Rather he has come to bring them to the abundant life. God’s blessing—being found in God’s good favor—living for eternity in our blessed heavenly home is to be desired above all things. We can hope, we can even have some assurance, that we will hear the most blessed words anyone can possibly hear: “Well, done good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your Master.” Matthew 25.23
We can live the rest of our lives in blessed assurance. We really can know that Jesus is ours! It begins with a very simple attitude adjustment from “Me First” to “You First.” In our Anglican spirituality we speak this every time we say the Creed—with conviction. We say the world is God’s not mine. We say we live and thrive because of Jesus Christ. We say that we believe in the right and the ability of God to direct our lives, the Church and the world.
Finding yourself in God’s good favor does not require a seminary degree. These guys with collars on are no better able than you but what many priests have that many lay people do not is a commitment to follow.
You don’t have to pray for hours with flowery language but you do need to be able to talk to God honestly and sincerely.
You don’t have to become a nun or a monk: you don’t have to take vows of poverty, chastity or silence but you do need to take a vow of servitude and determine that Jesus will be the director of your life. And that means Jesus has the right to manage your finances, guide your moral decisions, and teach you how to live the “You First” life. For us in the church, the blessed life hinges on our commitment to being Great Commandment and Great Commission motivated.
· It means we seek God’s will in all things through prayer.
· It means that when we think we have landed on God’s will we act on it, no matter how scary it might seem.
· It means that our talents, time resources and money resources do not exist in order to protect ourselves or provide for ourselves—rather they are tools to complete Christ’s mission in the world.
How many of you remember when you first heard Jesus’ call to follow and you did follow? For many of us that decision came decades ago. And we have been walking in “the way” followers of Jesus for a long time. We have become comfortable in the path we walk. We don’t like the prospect of a new or different path. For those original 12, sometimes they fell into traps set by the enemy, and they were embarrassed to admit that they had fallen into a “Me First” mentality.
Jesus’ question to us this morning is: ‘As we walk in the way, what is it that we are discussing? Are we discussing strategies for taking the Gospel out into the towns and villages? Are we discussing our testimony and how best to present it? Are we taking Jesus’ teaching on prayer and learning to speak to God authentically and often? Are we discussing how we can multiply? How we can bless? How we can receive the weak, the innocent and the frail and serve them? Is that what we are talking about? Or have we fallen into the trap set by the enemy? Have we succumbed to “Me First”…take care of me…please me…serve me…only let people in here that look and act like me... spend what you have left taking care of me?
The statistics are clear. Thousands of churches in America are sick and many, in fact, most will die in the next few years. Will Trinity be one of them? It the dominant voices in the parish are demanding “Me First,” if we are unwilling or incapable of assuming a “You first” mindset we may very well become a statistic. But our story does not have to end as a tragedy. God’s desire, most of your leadership’s desire and my desire is that we will renew the Lord’s Vision; that we will become a Great Commandment and Great Commission Church and we will find new life and new hope as the church heals, grows and fulfills its calling.
There was a time when Trinity was deeply mired in “Me First” attitude but in recent years we have begun to see “You First” initiative take root and succeed. They were hard won victories. Some of us had to really fight for them. There was real resistence...guess from whom? But they succeeded:
· Mustard Seed Café is not only feeding people. It is blessing them with a word from the Lord and enriching their lives with real Christian friendships.
· Thousands of Africans, men, women and children, are benefiting from clean water. Their crop yields are better and their herds are protected against drought because of the Kajire Well Project.
· Intercessors are praying for others at every Sunday Service.
· Financial Peace University is teaching people to live debt free and to become responsible stewards of God’s riches.
· We have launched three successful home groups that are leading everyone who participates closer to Christ.
· But what’s next? Where is Christ calling? Where is the Spirit leading? That must always be the question for God’s church.
Jesus teaches his disciples to give their lives for the benefit of others. Eventually they would understand but it would not be until after Jesus died and rose again for them. Even then they would not really get it until the day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit would come in power and transform them. Jesus told his disciples to stay together and pray. I think we need to pray. Pray that the Holy Spirit will move in this Church, in each of our hearts and that we will be transformed.
Will you pray with me?
· That the “Me First” voice in each of us would hear God’s word and be convicted and fall on your mercy.
· Holy Spirit will bring healing, restoration and transformation
· Trinity Church becomes a wholly committed Great Commandment and Commission church
· Time, talent and treasure wholly committed to healing the broken and saving the lost
· That God would have mercy on us in our weakness, build us up in strength and infuse us with his Holy Spirit power and glory so that we might become light and salt to the world
· That God would break down the barriers that prevent us and would use us to reach thousands