Beyond and Within
Mark 8: 34-37
I hope this sermon series has been a little eye opening for you. Next week we will finish this Pilgrimage Journey as we then go into the holy season of Lent. I hope that you have learned some things, I know I have. This series has been eye opening for me to preach and teach. I too have learned some things along the way.
One of those things is that Jesus really gives two invitations to his disciples. I had heard and knew both of these passages but never really connected the dots until this week. The first invitation that Jesus gives his disciples is found in Mark 1:16-20. It says, “As Jesus passed alongside the Galilee Sea, he saw two brothers, Simon and Andrew, throwing fishing nets into the sea, for they were fishermen. “Come, follow me,” he said, “and I’ll show you how to fish for people.” Right away, they left their nets and followed him. After going a little farther, he saw James and John, Zebedee’s sons, in their boat repairing the fishing nets. At that very moment he called them. They followed him, leaving their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired workers.”
Many of us have heard that phrase in this scripture, “Follow me and I’ll show you how to fish for people.” Another translation which is not gender inclusive says, “Follow me and I will make you fishers of men.” This is Jesus’ first invitation. All the disciples drop everything they are doing and follow Jesus. It is the beginning of their journey. It is the start of this three year pilgrimage which will lead them from being disciples to apostles; from learning the faith to growing it and sharing it with the world. In the terms of Wesleyan theology this was a moment of Justifying Grace. It was a time when Simon and Andrew, James and John, agreed in their hearts to follow Christ. Here in the south it may be referred to as “being saved.”
We have similar moments in our Christian walk. I can still remember when I was in 16 and in high school I was attending a Lay Witness Mission at my church. We had mapped out our walk with God on paper and I could see right there in front of me the Prevenient Grace of God in my life. I could see where God had reached out to me, desired me to follow and where I turned away. We were in an outdoor chapel and at the end I knew I had to commit my life to God. I made a determined walk from the outdoor chapel, through the education building, and to the prayer rail in the sanctuary. It is there, on my knees, with tears flowing that I prayed to God and I told him I was ready to follow him. That was my moment of Justifying Grace, or the moment I felt God’s grace work inside of me.
As Jesus walked the shores of Galilee he offered this opportunity to Simon and Andrew, James and John. They all dropped what they were doing and decided to follow him. This first invitation of Jesus changed their lives. But the second invitation would be a little harder for them and to be honest it is the one that hardest for me and maybe you.
Haywood UMC is part of Central UMC in Asheville, NC. They are doing some amazing ministry to the people of that town. What they are doing really lives into Jesus’ second invitation. What this video about them and you may see why.
As the disciples are following Jesus and they are deep into their ministry together Jesus realizes that the realities of their ministry are changing. This is when he offers them the second invitation which is today’s text, Mark 8:34-37. Here Jesus tells his disciples, “All who want to come after me must say no to themselves, take up their cross and follow me. All who want to save their lives will lose them. But all who lose their lives because of me and because of the good news will save them.”
This is the second invitation of Jesus. Once again we hear the familiar words, “follow me.” The first time it was on a journey, on an adventure to fish for people! This second invitation to follow Jesus doesn’t sound as exciting. First invitation, a bunch of fishermen agree to go fish for people. Seems to be right in their wheelhouse doesn’t it. This second invitation isn’t in anyone’s wheel house. We are supposed to lose ourselves, carry OUR cross, lose our lives for the sake of Jesus and the good news? This sounds very self-sacrificing and the opposite of what our culture tells us to do. I bet there are no Super Bowl commercials on tonight that tell us if we want happiness, if we want satisfaction, if we want purpose, than we need to forget about ourselves and follow Jesus. Nope, they will probably say this can all be found in a can of Budweiser or on GoDaddy.com.
There is a story of a church in a fast growing suburban community. They were running out of room and needed more parking. They did a Capital Campaign and raised enough funds to purchase a piece of land and create a new parking lot. When it was finished the parking lot was warm and inviting. It wasn’t just inviting to the people who came to worship but also the local teenage skate boarders. The fresh pavement was too much for them to pass up and soon they would gather to skate on the new parking lot. Like a good UMC a Trustee meeting was called to deal with the problem. They all cried out “What! Skateboarders on the new pavement!” What are we to do?” They did have some options. They could put up NO Trespassing sings to hopefully keep the youth off the pavement. They could set up patrols to make sure the parking lot was secure at all hours. How were they going to protect THEIR church?
One of the Trustees was a retired, lifelong athlete. He said he would talk to the skaters and see what came up. One day he approached them and had a conversation with them. The result from the parking lot conversation was interesting. Instead of the church shunning this group, they welcomed them. A weekly Bible study was started that included time to skate on the new pavement. Later on the group took trips to different skating locations around the area and bam, a youth ministry was born.
There is a biblical principle entitled Beyond and Within. What this idea is revolves around the two invitation with Jesus. The first one is an invitation to build yourself up from within. To understand, feel and agree to follow Jesus. The second invitation is to go beyond yourself, to give yourself up, for the sake of Christ and the Good News. We are to move beyond ourselves and focus outside instead of inside. We are to lose ourselves or die to self in order for people to come to know the God we worship. We look at our current reality and we know if we want it to change, if we want to be transformed into the mission and vision that Jesus has for us than we have to move beyond a vision that focuses inward and one that moves us beyond and within; Beyond the walls and within the lives of those out there.
John Wesley organized his movement into classes and bands all throughout England. They are exactly what many churches now call life groups or small groups. Within these groups John Wesley had two focuses, personal holiness and social holiness. Personal Holiness was the act of sanctifying grace, the work that God does through you to become more Christ like in this world. He also believed in Social Holiness too. Actually he said you cannot have one without the other. He believed that Christians could not have authentic personal holiness without social holiness. In other words, unless you accept the second invitation of Christ, the one that moves us beyond and within, you may not be as faithful as you think.
On Haywood Street in Asheville, people give of themselves, open themselves up to reach out to the least of these in their community. They welcome the smelly, addicted, and funny looking homeless people to worship on a Wednesday. They feed them, know them, pray with them and for them. They are transformed themselves by this interaction and sharing of love. The church that opened their freshly paved parking lot to skateboards did the same thing. Instead of seeing them as ‘one of those’ they opened their hearts to be transformed by accepting them, making room for them, and letting themselves be changed because of them.
Too many times we think church is for us. Unless we like the music; feel connected to the sermon; are greeted by the right people; acknowledged when we feel we should be, we feel like church was a bad experience. Then when change happens, when new people come and start to make suggestions. Or when you get older and new people come into leadership and they don’t do what was always done, things don’t feel quite right. What we are doing though is making these few hours a week that we come together about us. It is all about my experience, my class, my pew, my seat, my friends. Yet worship is not supposed to be anything about us. We aren’t here to prop each other up and pat each other on the back. We are here to praise God, glorify the creator, worship the savoir and be touched by the Holy Spirit. Have you done that yet this morning?
On my first Sunday I passed out those index cards and asked you to tell me what your hope and dreams are for this church. Almost 90% of them came back and said you wanted Indian Trail UMC to grow. There will only be one way that truly happens. If we really, REALLY want to see growth in this church we need to make sure we are doing it for the right reasons. It can’t be that if we bring in more people we will have more money. It can’t be so our choir may get bigger or that we will have more volunteers. The only way we will see growth is if we truly feel, in every fiber of our body, that we want to grow because there are too many people in this world that need Jesus.
Our focus has to be on the second invitation of Christ. We have to be transformed by the principle of Beyond and Within. We have to realize it is not about us. There is nothing in the being a disciple of Jesus Christ that says it is about us. Listen to the scripture again today, “After calling the crowd together with his disciples, Jesus said to them, “All who want to come after me must say no to themselves, take up their cross, and follow me. All who want to save their lives will lose them. But all who lose their lives because of me and because of the good news will save them. Why would people gain the whole world but lose their lives? What will people give in exchange for their lives?”
You want this congregation to be transformed and enter the Promised Land of God? Then you come down during communion and you knee before him and ask, “What can I do? How can I lose myself for your sake Lord Jesus?” Only if we take this second invitation seriously will we get to that promise land. Only if we are ready to die to self, take up our cross and truly follow Christ will we find the life we hope for, dream of, and desire deep in our hearts.
And all God’s people said…Amen.