Pastor Jim Kniseley presented this sermon at Trinity and St. Jacob’s on March 26, 2017, the Fourth Sunday in Lent. The gospel reading is John 9:1-41.
Dear Friends in Christ,
The United Methodists have a Bishop that intrigues me. His name is Robert Schnase and he serves in Missouri. He wrote a book entitled Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations. I have Bishop Schnase’s thinking in my mind as I give you this sermon.
Jesus does something out of the ordinary in our gospel reading today. He heals a blind man and in doing so breaks the laws of convention; he healed a man on the Sabbath Day when no work was supposed to be done. The Pharisees take the opportunity to slam Jesus. They say he disrespects Jews and is not from God.
Bishop Schnase would applaud Jesus’ actions for something he terms “risk-taking mission and service.” He greatly encourages all of us who say we are Christians to also be “risk-takers for the sake of mission and service.”
Some of us here today are so comfortable in our lives as Christians. We make sure we stay in the “safe” zone and don’t do anything that would for us to stretch ourselves or take a risk. Please hear the emphasis today on “risk-taking”. I would like to think that all Christians and all congregations do mission and service. But “risk-taking” pushes us out of our comfort zone, stretching us beyond service to people we already know, exposes us to people, situations and needs that we would ordinarily not encounter apart from our deliberate intention to serve.
Risk-taking mission and service involves the efforts to alleviate suffering and injustice in order to alleviate the conditions of others in the name of Christ.
Right now, I am thinking of my friend, Cary Mangus. Cary lives in Roanoke, is a retired businessman, a member of Christ Lutheran in Roanoke, and worked with me in stewardship for the synod. Cary has a passion that came to him after his retirement from his business. He is a volunteer with Kairos Ministries. This is a prison ministry and Cary helps with Bible Studies and Counseling and plays guitar for worship services. Why would Cary do such a thing? Because he has listened to the words of Jesus in scripture: “I was in prison and you visited me” (Matthew 25:36).
Robert Schnase say that when even a small percentage of the membership of a congregation immerse themselves in significant mission and service, the texture of church life changes. The language of service and outreach begins to form conversations and practices.
I had conversation recently with a friend of mine from another congregation. We talked about how much churches reflect or don’t reflect the love and mission of Jesus. Some congregations seem to keep Jesus in a “box”. They see Jesus as there for them and just them. Other congregations have caught the spirit of outreach and practice the love of Jesus by going out into the world in service to folks not connected to their congregation.
Robert Schnase has a question for all congregations he visits: How do you think your congregation is perceived by those in the community who have little power – the poor, the unemployed, and the migrant?
When Jesus was about to start his earthly ministry, he declared his mission by reading from the scroll of the Isaiah the prophet: The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.
So, we heard the reaction of the Pharisees to the news that Jesus has healed a man who was blind, restoring his sight and giving him release. The reaction of the Pharisees has everything to do with control, keeping God in their box, and discrediting Jesus and his good news of salvation.
Bishop Schnase is a real fan of mission trips. A mission trip means getting a group of folks together to travel to a place where there is real human need. How many of you have ever participated in a mission trip in your life? The most memorable mission trip I ever participated took place early in my ministry in Glendale, California. It was the 50th anniversary of the congregation and the folks planned a mission trip to Hawaii. Who wouldn’t want to go to Hawaii for a mission trip? In this instance, there had been a hurricane and the oldest Lutheran Church, Lihue Lutheran, had their buildings severely damaged. So, for a year First Lutheran Church of Glendale raised funds and recruited participants. We all paid our own travel and lodging and food expenses. Those who went were carpenters and electricians and plumbers. Also going were folks like me who put on Vacation Bible School for all the children of that community. We worked alongside the members of Lihue Lutheran. At the worship service on Sunday morning, we presented a check from the members at First Lutheran to help them fund continuing needs.
What did that trip do for our congregation? It focused us on the needs of others, helped us to become a more caring community, and helped us to know what it means to love Christ by serving others.
Remember the words of Jesus in Matthew 25: Come you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in. I needed clothes and you clothed me. I was sick and you looked after me. I was in prison and you came to visit me…I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of my family, you did for me.
This day, people of God, may we be anything but safe in our ministry in the name of Jesus Christ. What’s the opposite of risk-taking? It’s safe, predictable, comfortable, certain, convenient, fearful. This does not describe the ministry of Jesus Christ.
Lord Jesus, help us and all members of this congregation to be “risk-takers” in our mission and service.
Thank you, Lord. Amen!