By Caleb Borchers
Recently I’ve found myself more and more drawn to learning more about space exploration and various things that humanity is doing to understand the cosmos. The Webb Telescope’s images have caused me to wonder at the size of the universe. I am excited for the Artemis I to finally lift off, if it ever does! More recently, I was intrigued by the DART program. Essentially, NASA is learning how to aim unmanned space crafts at meteors to push them off course. While this may seem an enormous waste of time and money for many, it will be an imminently helpful program if we ever face a giant hunk of rock hurtling right for Earth!
The DART program has an incredible task in front of them. I struggle to hit the trash can with a balled up piece of paper. Calculating how to hit a football stadium sized piece of rock with a rocket golf cart at a distance of 7 million miles in the immense emptiness of space blows my mind. As I watched the video of the spacecraft approaching for impact it was aesthetically pleasing, like watching a golfer hit a tiny ball 300 yards directly into a hole just large enough to hold it. I can only imagine how much of that project was sitting with a calculator and doing the math, then checking it, then rechecking it . . .
Then my cynicism started to creep in. If we can knock meteors out of orbit 7 million miles away, why can’t people parallel park? Why is the grocery store parking lot full of people that can’t fit their SUV into the lines? More seriously, why do millions of pounds of food go bad while people starve? How hard is it to make sure every kid in our community gets a good education? My complaint isn’t a political one. I am not fussing that funding for NASA should go to other things. It is more a question of care and focus. Why do human beings aspire to greatness yet can hardly bring themselves to empty a clearly full trash can? Why are we drawn to the flashy stuff but struggle to bother with the mundane?
Our sermon series right now at The Feast Church is about following Jesus and the process of discipleship. One thing that we have been investigating is how we actually become more like Christ. Surely that transformation happens by the work of God’s Spirit, but we are also called to participate in the work. Our habits and routines make a difference in how quickly we grow. It has struck me that we all want to do the lofty thing (be like Jesus) but most of us avoid the detailed work that will actually help us to get there.
If we really want to care for people like Jesus, it requires us to spend time with people who need help! Learning compassion necessarily requires time with people who drain us because they feel so needy. We marvel at Jesus' forgiveness on the cross, but we get offended whenever someone hurts our feelings. How do you learn grace if no one does anything to you that requires forgiveness? We want to share our faith, but also never want to be in a conversation that gets awkward or risks someone misunderstanding our motivations. I sometimes tire of aphorisms, but you truly cannot make omelets without breaking eggs.
As I have explored this disconnection between our high aspirations and failed experience, I realize how much our pride is wrapped up in it all. Peter is the example disciple of the Synoptic Gospels, the POV character for the reader. He is chronically mocked or patronized in modern sermons and classes. “That old impetuous Peter, always sticking his foot in his mouth!” Increasingly I think that Peter gets a bad reputation. Early adopters, those who step out in faith, inherently will make mistakes. Was he impetuous or courageous? How much did he learn on the Sea of Galilee? How much did Bartholomew or James the Less learn? Trying things, messing up, and trying them again is how you learn. That is the grind of being a disciple. Many of us fail to grow because we chronically avoid experiences where we might fail, and thus avoid experiences where we might learn.
We never learn without grinding away at the mundane tasks. It is much easier to preach a sermon that finishes with some grand, obscure idea, like “Go be Christ in the world!” or “Let us transform our minds this week!” then it is to state the harsh reality of how that happens. Those goals are good and true. The reality of getting there, however, sounds more like, “Go change those diapers!” or “This week, eat lunch with that co-worker no one likes!” or “Finally have that conversation you are dreading!” People leave church much less enthused when you talk that way! But that kind of thing is what is required to succeed at the big tasks. They are the hours of math that helps you meet a goal 7 million miles away.
Paul Lived For the Lost
As we address the Church in Crisis, we have seen the importance of placing our identity in the Gospel story. With that foundation we have looked at how we can address our challenges as architects of something new rather than just workers in something old. We then learned how Paul built his Gospel network - through radical partnerships. We conclude today by seeing how much effort will be required to accomplish our mission.
How much effort is it worth to make a new friend so that you can share with them the love from Christ? What time is worth spending? What resources are worth sacrificing?
Paul thought this question deserved a long answer. To his young disciples in Corinth, he wrote 27 verses to communicate how much he valued loving people by introducing them to Christ, even when that love came at tremendous personal cost.
“We would rather put up with anything than be an obstacle to the Good News about Christ. … Even though I am a free man with no master, I have become a slave to all people to bring many to Christ. … When I am with those who are weak, I share their weakness, for I want to bring the weak to Christ. Yes, I try to find common ground with everyone, doing everything I can to save some. I do everything to spread the Good News and share in its blessings. Don’t you realize that in a race everyone runs, but only one person gets the prize? So run to win!” (1 Corinthians 9:12, 19, 22-24)
For Paul, sharing his faith was not optional. It was an obsession he could not shake. Though undoubtedly saved by grace, sharing his faith was the way he measured how much he had been receiving God’s grace. It was a way of measuring his relationship with Christ. If Christ’s work was the world, and if he was caught up in Christ, then surely his mission should be the world as well. It was not good enough to just be one of those who share faith, he wanted to be the very best. He didn’t want his disciples to be content at their level of love or faith sharing. Instead they too should strive “to win.” His measuring stick was not about the number of conversions. It was about how much he was willing to sacrifice. Sacrifice and selflessness – agape love -- was the measure of success.
Question: What are we sacrificing to share our faith?
Is loving sacrifice the measure of our success?
We certainly can point to a history of giving time and money to send others on mission (missionaries/evangelists/church planters). But has the sacrifice gone into a personal place for us as disciples? Am I willing to open my time, my heart, my pride for the sake of someone else? Has sharing faith gotten into the core of how I love others?
Let me share a somewhat embarrassing story that Jesus made right. Last fall I was growing a new front lawn. I’m a grass guy and I was excited about the progress. Thousands of light green seedlings were off to a good start. I was watching TV when I noticed someone in my front yard. I stood up to see a woman and her dog leaving the yard. The dog had just peed on my lawn. Now when I say on my lawn, I don't mean on the edges or on the corner. I mean she allowed her dog to come right next to my front door and urinated on my brand new lawn!
Immediately, I told myself “Okay, don’t yell. You can’t raise your voice. Love thy neighbor!” All this while the other part of my spirit felt more than a tad violated. I called out to her as she rounded the corner, "Excuse me!"
She popped her head back and came along with her pit bull in tow.
“Did you just allow your dog to pee on my lawn?”
She replied with no hesitation “Yeah, I really don't see what the big deal is . . . It's just grass.”
“Uhhhh…” I drew out the word looking for time and composure to deal with the shock of being told what offense being done to me is not a big deal. “Uh, okay but ya know I just spent a lot of money on this lawn that I just put in. I’m trying to make it nice. And I would really appreciate it in the future if you didn’t allow your dog to go to the bathroom on my lawn.”
With that little nudge she agreed. We said a few more words and went our separate ways.
Later that afternoon, when my engines had cooled off, I felt a penetrating word from the Lord.
“Bruce, you need to apologize.” I knew I needed to do it as sure I knew anything. Even if she was a little rude, her actions did not give me the right to be so judgmental. I was not loving my neighbor. I was not granting mercy the way Jesus gave it to me. I decided to apologize for my tone the next time I saw her. But she moved away before I saw her again, which saddened me. My chance to repair or improve our relationship was gone.
Or so I thought.
A few weeks later, I started getting Amazon packages to my front door that were not mine. They were for this neighbor at her old address. Now that I had her name, I looked her up on social media and contacted her to tell her I was holding her packages and she could pick them up.
She thanked me and asked, “By the way, which one of my old neighbors are you?”
She didn't know it was me! I sheepishly wrote, “I live in the gray cape, right next door.”
“Oh you’re the lawn guy!!”
I answered, “Yes, that’s me. Ya know I’ve been meaning to apologize to you about my attitude that day. I was too animated. I was too caught up in the moment. I am so sorry.”
To which she replied, “Oh no worries. It’s understandable. I get it.”
And thus began the friendship of Bruce and Brittany.
She wrote me back a few hours later to tell me she’d picked up the packages, “You guys are the cutest!! I LOVE your wife!” (Yes, Janet is the best, I’m thinking.) We chatted a bit more and she told me she was moving out west.
I immediately asked, “Would you like for me to pray for your success there?”
She enthusiastically responded, “Yes please!”
Brittany is now in Las Vegas. We are still in touch. It doesn't feel like our tales are over. I hope not at least! I sure have enjoyed loving her and look forward to sharing more of my faith with her.
Now how did that story happen? How did we turn our relationship from being gruff neighbors to being people who care about each other and can even pray for each other?
I’d say on my end we got there because, to coin a Paul-like phrase, “to those I wronged, I made my apology.” (Granted I wish I had not placed myself in a position where I needed to apologize, but I am confident in the grace of Jesus Christ!) Apologies are a tremendous foundation for new and restored relationships. Apologies communicate, “I’m not better than you.” They say, “I want to love. I’m sorry for how I hurt you. Let’s figure this out together.”
If the church in our time is going to make any headway in our mission, perhaps it would be good to start with some apologies. Paul was willing to sacrifice his very life for his countrymen and for nations he knew nothing of. Shouldn’t we at least be willing to sacrifice our lawns? And our pride?
I began this article pointing to how much effort it will require to accomplish our mission. It will require all of our heart. It will require considering others better than ourselves. It will require an admission by the church (to God and perhaps even to the world directly) that we have hurt our relationship with the world, that we have not been a consistent light of kindness and love, and that we need to ask for forgiveness. Now, here is the super news: God is rich and abundant in mercy! He can heal and make relationships where formerly there was none. He has done this for millennia and he can do it in our time as well.
May we respond well to the challenge of our times.