Summary: The mission of the church (and individuals) is to demonstrate Christ’s love in ways which bring others to him and therefore is inherently risky.
Good morning everyone! Now, this is my third Prairiefest and we have been blessed year after year with a great partnership with the park district. We serve at the gates. We promote the event in the community and we’ve truly seen God at work in our community. All of which is a perfect example of what we’ve been wrestling with the last few weeks. You see, we know the world is asking the question, It’s the same question a friend of mine asked when I told him we were doing worship at the Prairiefest grounds on Sunday. He said, “Why? Don’t you like your building?” What he was really asking is a question I often get when people don’t understand why the church is showing up at Prairiefest or soccer tryouts or Christmas walks or Mayor’s breakfasts. The question underneath the question is, “Does the church even have a role in the community today?” The world asks the question because it rarely sees what the church (the body of believers) does in times of trouble. Irrelevant and out of touch are frequent responses to the word: church. So what is the role of the church (the body of believers) in the community today?” The question is not a simple one. Every church in the area has an answer. Books have been written and key phrases coined but the question remains the same. What is the role of the church today? The role of the church can be summed up in a single word, “RUN!” By using this word, we are not talking about running away from the crises of heroin in our schools, the changing face of our community or even the invasion of privacy by our government through internet spying. “RUN” is actually not about running away but running towards the people, places and activities which seem to need the greatest help.
Scripture backs this idea up in several places but one that always amazes me comes from a letter written by the Apostle Paul towards the end of his life. Many don’t recognize how much this man endured. He took all of his gifts, talents and skills offered them to the Lord. He literally took his gift of yearning to know God, his talent for sharing and persevering as well as his skills of writing, debate and even, tent making, to further the message until his final breath. One particularly impactful writing to his protégé Timothy just before his final breath is profound. He writes 2 Tim 4:1-5 and says,
“In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry.”
So how do we, as disciples of Jesus and of Paul and of Timothy, walk this road? I can think of two demonstrations – one from a movie and one from real life.
When I think of someone running towards the ills of this world, I can’t stop thinking about a movie from a few years ago with Clint Eastwood called Grand Torino. In the movie, Walt Kowalski (Clint Eastwood) is a gruff, retired assembly line worker and Korean War veteran, who was recently widowed after 50 years of marriage and dying of lung cancer. Over the course of the movie, Walt befriends an Asian immigrant family and especially a young man by the name of Thao. By the end of the movie, Walt stands up to the Asian gang that is terrorizing the neighborhood by sacrificing himself for the good of his new friends in the community and especially Thao. Walt stands before the gangster’s house and shouts all kinds of threats and asks them to come out. As they come to the porch, armed to the hilt, he reaches inside his jacket for his lighter only to be gunned down by the fearful gang. After the community witnesses His death, they begin to have courage and speak out against the criminals. This fictional character demonstrates by his actions what Christ achieved for us on that cross and what His disciples passed on.
In real life, I see the most recent role of the believer running toward those in need in what happened in Oklahoma City. A good friend of mine pastor’s a church just 4 miles from ground zero. In talking with him, he told me some amazing stories of God at work and suggested I check out some footage from CNN of the teachers of Briarwood Elementary. I couldn’t find the exact footage but the stories were written up on line. The church needs to take a lesson from three of the teachers in particular.