SERMON: Take The Plunge
SCRIPTURE: Luke 9: 57-62
DATE: May 25, 2014
Memorial Day weekend is traditionally considered to be the beginning of the summer season and so it’s the time when the swimming pools open. I can remember many summer afternoons spent at the swimming pool when I was a kid. And though I thought that what I was doing was swimming, I really was just playing. Jumping and splashing and laughing and screeching in the shallow end. The same memories that many of you have of summer days spent at the pool. My mother would keep a close eye on me. Don’t go near the deep end, she would say. But she didn’t really need to say that because in my childish imagination, the deep end was a bottomless pit that swallowed little kids like me. I had no interest in venturing beyond the safety of the shallow end. But there eventually came a day when the lure of the mysterious deep end began to pull on me. And I’d look to see if my mother was watching and if not, I would creep closer and closer to forbidden water. Now, of course, there was a rope which separated the shallow from the deep. And for awhile the closest that I got was simply hanging on to the rope and watching the big kids on the other side. But eventually there came the day, when I ducked under the rope and surfaced . . . . in the deep end. It’s kind of a right of passage isn’t it, when you dare to venture there. Now I didn’t go very far from the rope, always within grabbing distance, and I brought a float with me so I wouldn’t sink. I brought my shallow end sensibilities into the adventure of the deep end. But, nonetheless, it was a big step. And I would wedge myself in the corner formed by the rope and the wall, and I would watch as the big kids swam from one side to the other. And eventually there came that day when I tired of being on the sidelines watching, and I threw off my float and let go of the rope and began to swim for myself. . . in the deep end. I recall that liberating feeling. I can only imagine that it was like what Peter must have felt when he stepped from the boat and started to walk on the water towards Jesus. It was exhilarating –until I started to go under. And It was at that point that I knew I had to commit to being a swimmer or get out of the deep end. Before you can change the world you’ve got to make that initial commitment to swim. Take the plunge into the deep end. Because you see, theologically speaking, it is by what Dietrich Boenhoeffer called cheap grace that we find contentment in the shallow end, and it is conviction that draws us towards the deep end, but it is commitment that makes us cast off all fears and doubts (our floats) and take the plunge into the deep waters of change. And so this morning, as we finish up this series on Changing The World I want us to think about making that commitment to be the change in the first place. And as I thought about that, it occurs to me that there are some things that often stand in the way of our commitment.
The first one, I think, are the distractions of the shallow end. Now one of the drawbacks is that it can get pretty crowded in the shallow end but we can have a lot of fun there, as long as we keep moving in unison with the rest of the crowd. Perhaps Mark says it best when we find these words in the fourth chapter of his Gospel. “The attractions of this world, the delights of wealth, the search for success and the lure of nice things come in and crowd out God.”Sometimes it’s hard to even get near the deep end, when the crowd is moving in the other direction. Changing the world often feels like swimming upstream against the world’s current. What are the attractions of this world that come in and crowd out our commitment to change, our commitment to God? There are a lot, aren’t there. We get distracted by our careers. Some of us work seven days a week and when we’re not working, we’re thinking about work. There’s not much room for God in that kind of a life. We get distracted by worldly wealth and striving for success. Society is very success oriented and sometimes we confuse worldly blessings with God’s blessings. If we make a lot of money, or have a large house, or move up at work, we say that we are blessed by God. And maybe that’s true and maybe not. But one thing is for sure, there are those who achieve success in the world, but probably not because God is blessing them. Howard Hughes was once the wealthiest man in the world. But consumed by the need to acquire more and more, Hughes eventually drifted into insanity. Paranoid that he might catch a disease, he completely isolated himself. Deathly afraid of flies. Refusing to cut his hair or his finger nails and toe nails. When he died there was a fight over his estate, all this wealth that had so distracted and consumed Hughes in life. And someone asked, “How much did he leave?”and the response was “All of it.”I don’t know about you, but when I get to the end of my days on this earth, I hope that statement does not summarize my life. That I left all of my life behind, but rather I hope it’s said that I had most my living yet to do. Because if God is going to truly use us to change the world, then we must give up the distractions of the world, and keep our eyes and life squarely fixed on Him. Sometimes we are distracted by the quest for pleasure, doing what feels good. Sometimes it’s sin that keeps us in the shallow end. And the attractions and distractions of the shallow end keep us from committing our lives to something deeper.
And then I think complacency is one of those floats we hold on to that keeps us from making a commitment to change. Why should we move out of the shallow end in the first place. As long as the problems of this world don’t really intrude upon my life, why should I try to change things. Famine elsewhere in the world doesn’t really effect me. I know that I can get in the car and drive to one of several grocery stores that have more variety and quantities of food then I will ever need. It is certainly a shame that there is starvation in our world, but that really doesn’t affect me and my family. And I know there are people who don’t have safe drinking water but God has blessed me and all I need to do is turn on the tap. Disease? There are plenty of doctors and hospitals and medicines to take care of nearly every disease that will ever effect me. For most of us the shallow end is the safe place to be. And we’re content. We’re comfortable with our lives. I love the story of Jesus telling the Disciples to get in the boat and set off for the other side of the lake.
That, of course, meant sailing through the deep waters where they did not like to go. They were afraid of the deep. Most of the fishing on the Sea of Galilee took place within shouting distance of the shore. And I can just imagine those fishermen looking at the gathering skies. They knew the sea like the back of their hand and knew that meant a storm was brewing. They must have been tempted to take the long way to the other side even if it meant that Jesus would have to wait- hugging the shore line all the way around just in case the storm got bad. They didn’t want to risk getting stuck in the deep. There is no place for complacency in the deep end. It’s not the place to go if you want to be comfortable. Going into the deep end changes everything about our swimming experience. But if the Disciples had stayed near the shore, they would have never experienced the power and presence of God in such a profound way as they did in the deep, in the midst of the storm. They would not have learned that everything changes when God is present. Even the storms of life. When we become complacent in our faith, when we become comfortable with our lives apart from God, we’ll always be defeated. We’ll never move from the shallow end to the deep end. We’ll never be able to change the world.
So sometimes it’s distractions that keep us from changing the world. And sometimes it’s our complacent, comfortable attitude.
And then a third thing that keeps us from making the commitment to change the world is fear. Before I could truly experience the joys of the deep end, I had to let go of my float and the rope and the side of the pool. I am convinced that many of us miss the richest of God’s blessings, the fullness of the life He created for us, because we’re afraid to let go. It was fear that nearly kept the Jews from entering the promised land. It was fear that nearly kept the Disciples behind locked doors rather than out “turning their world upside down.”There is freedom and joy in the depths of God’s riches and blessings that He is anxious to share with us, but we’ve got to have the courage to let go of the counterfeits that we often settle for. The courage to commit. To take the plunge. The Gospels are filled with persons with that kind of courage, but scripture is also filled with people who were too locked up in fear to receive the blessings of God. The young ruler, the Pharisees, and scribes and priests, Judas Iscariot. The deep waters beckon, but we hold on tight to our floats, cling to the side, and hope against hope that that’s enough. But it’s not. Christ expects more from His disciples than that. He expects us to go straight across the lake and not hug the shore. And if we’re going to change the world, Jesus will need more than that from us.
So here’s the bottom line, I am convinced that if we are really going to change the world which I believe has drifted as far from God as was the world that Jesus was born into, we must be the most committed generation of Christians since the disciples of the early church. We must be committed enough to turn our world upside down, and inside out, in the name of Jesus Christ. Because what or who we are committed to shows the world our values. Our priorities. What is truly important in God’s Kingdom. It is our commitments that shape our lives. In a very real sense we become that which we are committed to. For instance, if we are committed to being well liked and popular then that’s the direction that we’re going to choose for our life. We will do anything we can to be well liked and popular. And our commitments determine our destiny. Today is Memorial Day. In a very real sense the destiny of this country was determined by the commitment of those we remember today. They were committed to freedom and we remain free today because of that commitment. The same is true of faith. If we are truly committed to Christ, then we become Christ in our world. To change the world we must first be totally committed to Jesus Christ. Jesus must come first in our lives. In the fourteenth chapter of Luke we find these words of Jesus. If you want to be my followers, you must love me more than your own father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, more than your own life. Otherwise, you cannot be My disciple. That’s what Jesus was saying to the three that we read about in this ninth chapter of Luke. It’s pretty clear isn’t it. We must first be committed to Christ. Most of us try to fit Christ into our lives along with everything else that’s important to us. Our family. Our jobs. Our leisure pursuits. But commitment to Christ says that we must fit our lives into Christ’s. C.S. Lewis once wrote that the only thing that Christianity cannot be is moderately important in our lives. In other words, Jesus demands to either be most important in our life, or of no importance at all. No such thing as a lukewarm disciple. There is no middle ground. If Jesus Christ is not the primary commitment in your life, the commitment from which all others flow, then you can not move into the deep waters of your relationship with God. Changing the world will require disciples who are totally committed to Jesus Christ. Disciples for whom every day belongs to God. The writer of the 5th Psalm writes: “Each morning I will look to You in heaven and lay my requests before you.”I read this commentary on this Psalm:
Talk to God before you talk to anyone else each day. Read the Good News before you read the bad news in the paper. It will help you keep everything in focus and realize who’s in charge. It’s no wonder so many people are stressed out and negative. They get up in the morning to an “Alarm”clock. Not just music, but ALARM, so they wake up alarmed. The first thing they do is turn on talk radio and news radio and listen to all the violence, and all the people who got murdered, and all the international conflict that’s going on. Then they go and fix their breakfast and read the paper about more problems in the economy and business and education. Then they turn on the T. V. and watch thirty minutes of “Bad Morning America, hearing about more problems. Then on the way to work, they listen to more talk radio, more news, hearing about traffic jams, more problems, more crime. Then they wonder, “Why do I feel so bad when I get to work?”You’re feeding yourself this constant diet. Let your first thoughts each day be of God.
Want to change your life; you’ve got to commit your life to Jesus Christ. If we want to change our world, commit it to Jesus Christ. Want to change our family, commit it to Jesus Christ. We agonize over people who hurt us, who we can’t seem to get along with, commit them to Jesus. “Pray for those who persecute you,”Jesus said.
(I read once that it was impossible to continue to hold someone as an enemy, if you pray for them everyday. Now that’s commitment. I heard a pastor who serves one of the most dynamic churches in United Methodism. Rapidly growing. A mission oriented church. Making a positive change in the world in so many ways. And what made it that way, according to his testimony. Prayer. He said the church established a prayer room and every time there was a service going on, there were people in that prayer room on their knees praying for that service. And he said every time there was a meeting of the leadership council or the Staff Parish Committee or the finance committee, there were people in that prayer room, on their knees praying for that meeting. When they sent out mission teams all around the world, for as long as those teams were gone there were people round the clock in that prayer room praying for them. They became committed to prayer and the church set out to change the world.)
So to change the world we must first be committed to Jesus Christ.
And we must be committed to each other. And I don’t just mean one another in this church. I mean one another as human beings. One of the keys to the ability of the 1st Century church to so dramatically change their world was their commitment to one another. Those early converts came from all walks of life. They were Jews and Greeks, rich and slaves, sinners and borderline saints. Jesus came from the tomb to offer life to every one of God’s children. Luke tells us in Acts that, “On the first day of the week, all the disciples came together. They worshipped together.”More and more, we tend to think that attending worship is optional. We come if we feel like it, or we don’t have something else to do. But in God’s eyes worship is not an option. And if we as the church are to truly commit to change the world, worship cannot be an option for us. True worship is not a selfish act. We don’t worship for our own edification. We worship because God desires our worship. And if God is our greatest priority, our greatest commitment, then nothing in our human lives should come before worship. The Apostle Paul says, “The body is diminished when one part is not present, when one part is missing.”And our worship is a testimony to those who are unchurched. Whether we realize it or like it, we are under constant scrutiny by those who are outside of the church. And if our witness to them through our actions is that church is not that important to us, that we are willing to put other things in front of the worship of God, then there isn’t much that we can say to them about our commitment to Christ. Now I know that’s a hard word because most of us only miss worship when there is something important going on. But the point is that nothing should be more important to us than God.
And while I’ve got your attention, while I feel like I’m out here on a limb and each one of you has a saw in your hand, I need to say this. Our commitment to the church is more than just a commitment to the worship of God. It is a commitment to support all of the ministries of the church. To give our best to the work and mission of the church where change most often begins. If as members of Christ’s church we are going to change the world, we must be Disciples who are all in, who are willing to give our all. Stephen May writes:
Today, the church is making a difference all around the world because it is made up of millions and millions and millions of givers. In fact, if all the good things being done in the name of Christ were to suddenly stop, the world would spin into chaos.
(In America, thousands (more) would become homeless; hundreds of thousands would have no food to eat; millions of children wouldn’t have decent clothes to wear or wouldn’t receive any gifts at Christmas. If all the good being done in the name of Christ were to stop, it would be only weeks before tens of millions of people throughout the world starved to death. Considering this, it could be argued that the church is holding the world together.)
We are making a difference in the world because Christians, for the most part, are committed to giving their all.
You see, God desires our heart. Where our treasure is, that’s where our heart is. Before we can be Disciples who change the world, Christ must change our heart. To change the world, we must give our heart. Disciples who respond to Christ’s great commission to go into all the world are ones who commit everything to following Jesus. And, friends, there is nothing optional about Christ’s commission. We either go or we don’t.
Keith Tonkel, an inner city minister in Mississippi, tells about a Sunday evening service in his church when he learned an important lesson about being all in for Christ. When it came time to take up the offering, Tonkel realized that he had forgotten to ask anyone to usher prior to the service. And so when the time came, he asked two young men to come and serve as ushers. Both of these men were new to the church and both were men who Tonkel had been working through the prison ministry because they were just out of prison on parole. To Tonkel’s surprise they readily agreed and stepped forward. So he handed them the plates and they began to take up the offering. One of the young men came to a man who was about 4 rows from the front. And Pastor Tonkel said that he watched in horror as the young usher offered the plate and the man waived him off. But the young man was persistent. He held the plate in front of him and it soon became clear that he had no intention of moving on until the man put something in it. So finally the man reached into his pocket and took out his wallet. He pulled out a ten-dollar bill and leaned to his wife and said “I don’t have anything smaller.”To which the usher replied in a loud voice, “Come on man. Put it all in.”They received a record offering that night. We change the world when we put it all in, all of ourselves. Christ is searching for Disciples who are committed to change the world, who are willing to put our whole selves in to bring God’s Kingdom to this upside down world.