"Sent to a People Beyond Ourselves"
by Rev. Dr. Mark D. Roberts October 23 & 24, 2004
Preached at Irvine Presbyterian Church
Copyright © 2004 by Mark D. Roberts
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Scripture Reading: Matthew 28:16-20
16 Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18 And Jesus came and said to them, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age."
Sent on a Mission
When I was eighteen years old, I was sent on an exciting mission. In the summer before I started college, I worked for a small company that produced cassette recordings of professional conferences. Usually my job was to manage the home front, serving as a secretary, customer service rep, and occasional technician. But on one occasion my boss, who usually did all the traveling and live taping, had double booked himself. So while he went off to do a convention in San Francisco, he sent me to Minneapolis to cover a hotel sales managers convention in a downtown hotel.
This was quite a thrill for an eighteen year old, as you can imagine. I flew to the Twin Cities, had my very own hotel room, supervised my very own Kelly Girl who covered the sales table, mastered the peculiar details of taping three simultaneous sessions that met in different rooms, and even had my own expense account for the trip. This was heady stuff for a recent high school grad! My mission was simple: to bring back tapes of all the convention meetings, along with the sales records and income. During that three-day mission I had a great time pretending to be a grown up as I fulfilled my mission. And, to top it off, on the return trip I got bumped up to first class in a 747. Now that was the life! I was pretty jazzed that my boss sent me on that mission.
Sent on a Mission by Jesus
Well, in a matter of speaking, our Boss has sent us on a mission. As individual Christians, and as a church of Jesus Christ, we have been sent together on a mission. Our Scripture text today makes this abundantly clear. The Great Commission in Matthew 28, once given to the most intimate band of Jesus's followers, is also given by God to us. This is our commission as well as theirs.
Today I want to unpack four critical points in the Great Commission, and then draw out some practical implications for our church today.
Point 1: We exist under the authority of Jesus.
In Matthew 28:18 Jesus said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me." Now that's some authority, don't you think? The resurrected Christ has been given all the authority of God, the supreme authority in all creation.
For you and for me this means that every facet of our life is under the authority of Jesus, not just the "religious" stuff, but also every action, every thought, every dollar, every dream. Literally every part of your life should be governed by Jesus the Lord. Now, amazingly enough, Jesus has delegated to us the rule over our lives. Yet we do this with greatest success when we take our orders from him.
For us as a church, the supreme authority of Jesus means that Irvine Presbyterian Church is Jesus's church. It belongs to him. Who we are and what we do is his choice. Now I'm not making this up. It's at the very core of our Presbyterian commitments. One of the introductory statements in our Book of Order states: "It belongs to Christ alone to rule, to teach, to call, and to use the Church as he wills." How does Christ rule in Irvine Presbyterian Church? Preeminently through his Word and by his Spirit, as these guide those of us who have been appointed as leaders of this church. In all things, we seek to follow the leadership of Christ, our one true Lord.
Point #2: We Have Been Sent on a Mission
Jesus Christ, our commander, has sent us on a mission. How? Through Matthew 28. We have inherited the mission of Jesus's first disciples. "Go and make disciples of all nations . . . ."
Now, you may wonder, does this mean we all have to get up and go somewhere? No, not necessarily, though this church has a wonderful history of sending members as mission workers throughout the world, praise God! But, from God's point of view, most of us are already where we've been sent. God has placed Irvine Presbyterian Church here in the center of this city so that we might make disciples right here. Thus, not only do we not have to go elsewhere to fulfill the Great Commission, but in fact our primary mission is here, right on our doorstep, right across the street, right in our schools, neighborhoods, and offices.
Let me hasten to add that, as members of the church of Jesus Christ, we have a responsibility to participate in the worldwide mission of Christ. I thank God for the strength of our missions ministry, and I pray that it will grow steadily in the years to come. So don't let anything I've said about our mission here take away from our partnership in Christ's worldwide mission. Yet, even as we participate in the global work of Christ, we must accept our primary mission right here at home.
Point 3: Our Mission is to Make Disciples
If you could read the Greek original of Matthew 28:19-20, you'd find something that is obscured in English. Our translation reads, "Go and make disciples, baptizing and teaching." But the original language says, "Going, make disciples, baptizing and teaching." In other words, going is not the main point. The single imperative in this passage is "make disciples." This is our central mission, to make disciples.
Notice, Jesus didn't say, "Make believers," though believing in him is an essential part of discipleship. Nor did Jesus say, "Get people to clean up their lives," though genuine disciples become more holy as they grow in Christ. Jesus didn't say, "Get people to go to church," though faithful participation in the community of Jesus is absolutely crucial to discipleship. Rather, Jesus said, "Make disciples." To paraphrase, this means, "Make people who enter into an intentional, intimate relationship with me and with my other disciples, in which they put their trust in me as Savior, in which they submit their life to me as Lord, in which they allow me to teach them both how to live and how to serve me in the world."
So our mission in this community is not merely to make converts, but to make genuine disciples of Jesus Christ.
Point 4: We Fulfill Our Mission by the Presence of Jesus through the Holy Spirit
After giving his disciples one whopper of a commission, Jesus adds a crucial promise: "And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age" (v. 20). So, though Jesus sends us on a mission, we don't go alone. He goes along with us. Now the physical Jesus isn't here, of course. Rather, Jesus is with us through his Spirit who has been given to us in our conversion. The Holy Spirit empowers us to fulfill our mission. You'll recall the verse from Acts 1:8 on which I preached a few weeks ago: "You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth."
The promise of Jesus encourages us to be bold when, left to ourselves, we would falter. Jesus says to you, "I have sent you to your classroom, or your place of work, or your group of friends, so that you might make disciples of them." Now if you're like me, your response sounds curiously like that of Moses at the burning bush, "Wait a minute, Lord. You've got the wrong person. I can't do that. I'm not good enough or smart enough or loving enough. I can't pull it off." And what is Jesus's answer to us? "Yes, I know that. That's why I will be with you. The power of my Spirit will help you. You can do all things through me as I strengthen you."
My friends, the more we take seriously the promise of Jesus, the more we depend upon the indwelling presence of his Spirit, the more we will do great things for him, and the less we'll be limited by our fears and wimpy expectations. Jesus says to us, "As you make disciples, don't worry. I will be with you. Always!"
Implications for Us Today: Beyond Ourselves
For the rest of this sermon I want to work out some implications of the Great Commission for our life together. As most of you know, we are in the midst of a capital campaign called Beyond Ourselves. That title isn't just some slogan we got off a list of popular campaign themes, however. In fact, Beyond Ourselves didn't come off any list, but it was the result of much prayer and biblical reflection. And, as I've said many times, Beyond Ourselves is about far more than raising capital for buildings. It's about becoming more fully people who embrace our calling to live Beyond Ourselves.
I could paraphrase the Great Commission in Matthew 28 in this way: Jesus says, "I am sending you to a people beyond yourselves, so that you might make disciples of them. You exist in this world as my community, not just for yourselves, but for others as well. You are to reach beyond yourselves with my gospel and my love."
So, we at Irvine Presbyterian Church have been sent by Christ to a people beyond ourselves. We have been sent to reach our neighbors for Christ. In a simple phrase, we are here for others, not just for ourselves. We are here for others.
Now as I've been sharing this vision around our church, I've run into some hesitation. Here's what I've heard: "If we are here for others, then what about us? If we exist to reach beyond ourselves, then what will happen to us? I love this church, its worship and fellowship. Yet if we're here for others, does this mean I may have to give up what I love?"
I want to address this concern from several biblical perspectives. First, I remind you that this church isn't yours and it isn't mine. It belongs to Jesus Christ and it's his sole right to determine what we should be. So none of us, even I as your pastor, can guarantee what Christ will or will not ask us to be in the future. And it's always scary to trust Jesus with things we love and value in life, including our church.
Second, Jesus is quite blunt about the call to give up what we treasure for the sake of his kingdom. It was Jesus, after all, who said, "If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me" (Mark 8:34). Now I don't care how you parse this verse, it isn't one of the more comforting ones in all of Scripture. So it may well be that Jesus will ask you and me to give up some of what we love about our church in order to fulfill our mission. I guarantee you that he's already done this with me, many times over. Of course this can be painful at times, but it is necessary. My friends, there are churches all over American today that are dying because the members loved their way of being a church more than they embraced their calling to make disciples. They protected their prized church so much that nobody was able to get into it. May we never become such a church! Ever!
However, having said these two things, I also want to be clear that what I've said today about our mission in no way minimizes the value of our fellowship together in this church. In fact, the exact opposite is true. We cannot make disciples in this community unless we are living as a community of disciples, loving one another, bearing one another's burdens, teaching each other, forgiving each other, worshipping together. There is no discipleship without genuine community. And, in our day, there's no effective evangelism without genuine community. Our neighbors, those to whom we have been sent, won't believe the good news about Jesus unless they see this good news fleshed out in our fellowship together. Then, if they accept this good news and become believers, they won't live as disciples unless they can join a community of disciples.
So, when I say, "we exist for others" I am not saying, "An institution called Irvine Presbyterian Church exists for others." That's wrong. Instead, I am saying, "We, the community of disciples who have gathered together as Irvine Presbyterian Church, exist for others. We, the group of people who seek to love God, to love each other, and to love our neighbors, exist for others." If "we" become so focused upon "others" that we lose our common life, then there won't be any "we" here to exist for "others." Our fellowship is absolutely crucial to our mission.
Sometimes you'll hear Christians debate whether evangelism or fellowship is more important in the church. This is a misguided debate. It's like saying which is more important in a marriage, the love or commitment. In fact you don't have a marriage unless you have both. And so it is in the church with fellowship and evangelism.
• Evangelism won't happen correctly unless it is the function of healthy fellowship.
• Evangelism won't be complete unless there is a fellowship into which new believers are welcomed on their way to full discipleship.
• Evangelism won't make a dent in our cynical world unless people see in our fellowship the truth of our message.
At the same time,
• Fellowship isn't true fellowship unless it is intentionally open to others.
• Fellowship is not only for the sake of those inside, but also for the sake of those on the outside.
• Fellowship, when it is healthy, always flows into evangelism. If you see a church with supposedly strong fellowship but weak evangelism, you're seeing a sick church. And if you see a church that has strong evangelism but weak fellowship, you aren't really seeing a church at all.
Let me give a positive example of what I'm talking about. Over the years I've been part of this church, one of our strongest ministries has been the Wednesday Morning Women's Bible Study. Now this group majors in fellowship: in worship, prayer, Bible study, and sharing. It's not an evangelistic ministry per se. But many women have come to faith in Christ through the Wednesday morning study. Why? Because they have been folded into genuine Christian fellowship. The leaders of the Women's Bible Study have a profound concern for the women in their midst who don't know the Lord. Yet what draws these women to Christ isn't some evangelistic program, but rather the integrity of fellowship in the group.
If I had time, I could point to many other ministries in our church that are "beyond ourselves" ministries. I rejoice in the fact that we are becoming more and more a "beyond ourselves" church. Our capital campaign isn't some newfangled idea. Rather, it's simply giving expression to what the Spirit of God is already doing with us across the board.
Financial Implications of Beyond Ourselves
I do want to say a few words about the financial aspects of Beyond Ourselves. (Yes, you knew this was coming.)
If you've attended one of our capital campaign presentations - and if you haven't I strongly urge you to be sure and join one of the remaining presentations - you know that our whole master plan, including the current Administration and Youth Center, embodies a "beyond ourselves" mindset. Everything we build, both now and in the future, has been designed intentionally to help us reach out to our neighbors. We want to become a place where they can experience the genuine community of Jesus's disciples, a center of God's love and grace in our city.
That's why, for example, our current project includes a marvelous new youth center, the lower level of the Administration Building. As you know we already have a wonderful youth lounge below the sanctuary. Yet as our ministry to youth is rapidly outgrowing our space, we need more square feet if we're going to reach, not just the kids in this church, but also the young people our community, the one who lie beyond ourselves.
So when I ask you to pledge to the building campaign part of Beyond Ourselves, I'm not just saying, "Help us pay off our new building." I'm saying, "Join us through your giving in the vision of being a church beyond ourselves, a church for this community."
One other thing about the financial side of Beyond Ourselves. As is always the case this time of year, we are asking you to make a financial commitment to the ministry budget for 2005. And, yes, this budget needs to grow next year. Why? Primarily because our ministries are reaching "beyond ourselves," and we sense the opportunity to do so even more. You can find the details of next year's budgetary vision in the brochure or in the Beyond Ourselves presentation, so I won't lay them out here. But I'll simply say that our need for more money next year reflects the commitment of this church to reach out to others, to develop ministries, not only for this church family, but also for our neighbors, both here and around the world. That's why we need to up the ante of our commitment to the ministry budget.
Beyond Ourselves and the Third Sunday Service
I want to finish this sermon by drawing out a few implications of Matthew 28 for the third Sunday service that will start up in January. I've explained both the plan and the rationale for this service in past sermons and in Salt Shaker articles, but I'll give a quick recap here.
As a result of a six-month process of discernment, Session voted in May to start a new service on Sunday mornings at 11:30 a.m. This third Sunday service will be in a so-called "contemporary," rock-music genre, with strong biblical content. Session also voted to hire Dale Huntington to be the primary worship leader for this service, even as he is now leading on Saturday evenings.
What is the purpose of the new service? Like all of our worship services, the chief purpose of this service is to glorify God through worship in Spirit and Truth. The distinctive purpose of the third service is to draw into worship the lost and the disconnected who would be attracted to an informal, diversely artistic, rock-music genre service with a strong emphasis on biblical truth. In other words, this service is a "beyond ourselves" service. It is meant, not for those of us who already love the worship in our existing services, but for those who would relate to a different genre.
Why are we adding another service, rather than changing one of our existing services on Sunday mornings? Great question. The vast majority of churches that have felt the need to do a "contemporary" service have changed one of their existing services, rather than adding another. In fact, I don't know another church that has done exactly what we're doing. So, why another service? Simply put, the Session of this church believes that what we're doing in our existing services (on Saturday evening and Sunday morning) is right, strong, and God honoring, and shouldn't be substantially changed. We believe this, not only because most of us like our existing worship services, though we do indeed. Rather, we believe that we should maintain our existing services because God has brought to this church a large number of people with gifts and talents that are best expressed in ministries like our Chancel Choir, or Bell Choir, etc. We need to use these gifts well. Moreover, we believe that God has given IPC a rather unique ministry of offering to our community vital worship that continues to use many of the traditional elements of worship not employed by many other churches today. What we do in our existing services has enabled us to worship God, and others are coming to join us. Thus we ought to continue our three existing services.
Yet, there are many people in our community, and even some in our own church, mostly among the younger generations, who don't readily relate to our more traditional forms of worship. It's not enough for us to say, "Well, that's too bad. I guess they'll have to worship elsewhere." No, we are called to reach out to others in our community - and to many of the young people in our own church family - so that they might be drawn to worship the Lord. Thus it's time for us to add another worship option on Sunday mornings so that we might reach beyond ourselves more effectively than we have done in the past.
I don't imagine that most of us will become regulars at the third Sunday service, and that's just fine. The idea is not to move around our existing faithful, but rather to draw in those who, as I said, are lost and/or disconnected right now.
Now many of us will need to help this third service get off the ground. Some of us will sense God's call to be greeters or third service Sunday School teachers. In fact I'd ask you to see if the Lord wants you to help out in some way as we develop this service. Most of all, you can help at this time by praying for all the preparations for this new service. It's a huge undertaking, one that promises huge benefits for God's kingdom, to be sure, but one for which we desperately need the strength and wisdom of Christ.
My friends, let me close by saying, once again, that Irvine Presbyterian Church will only be the church God has called us to be if you help. We are a body together, and every part of this body is essential . . . even you! So if you have not found your place to serve, I'd urge you to pray about it. Talk to your deacon, or one of the pastors. God has placed astounding possibilities before us. But we won't be able to realize them without you.
Of course this puts us all in the perfect place to experience afresh the closing promise of Matthew 28. As I look at the fantastic opportunities and overwhelming challenges before us, I find myself again and again coming back to the words of Jesus: "And, remember, I am with you always" (28:20). Several times each day I pray, "Lord, you've promised to be with us as we reach out to make disciples. We're trying our best to do this, Lord, but we can't manage without you. Please guide us. Empower us. Embolden us. As Beyond Ourselves draws to a conclusion, may we give faithfully to you, not only of our material resources, but also of our lives. Lord, let your Spirit so fill our church that we are able to do all you have called us to do, by your strength, and for your glory!" Amen.