Sermon: How Big Is Our World?
Scripture: Mark 16: 14-15
We are continuing our series on Changing the World this morning. Our Change The World Wall is filling up. I have enjoyed each day reading about how persons at St. Luke are changing the world. But I am afraid that for many of us in the church today, our understanding of what Jesus meant when he spoke of world has become too limited. Too often our world is limited to what we can see, rather than what we, through God’s Spirit, can envision. You know, Jesus spent his whole life in a very small area. Most of the events that are written about in scripture took place around the Sea of Galilee, which is roughly the size of Washington D.C. He grew up in Nazareth which was about 30 miles from Galilee. The longest journey he would ever take was the one through the Jordan Valley and up the Jericho road to Jerusalem. That trip was about 70 miles. That was all the further that Jesus traveled in his lifetime. And for the average Jew, that’s how he or she would have understood the world. But yet, when Jesus emerged from the Tomb, He emerged with a more global view. And he wanted the Disciples to go beyond His world as experienced and take the Gospel into those places that He, himself, had not gone in his short time on earth. So it seems to me as we contemplate the ways that we can change the world, we must first come to terms with what we mean when we talk about the world. Resurrection power is power that changes our world and in doing so enlarges our understanding of what our world is.
With that in mind, hear these additional words of scripture from the Old Testament book of I Chronicles.
Jabez was more honorable than his brothers. (And he) cried out to the God of Israel, “Oh, that you would bless me and enlarge my territory!” And God granted his request. 1 Chron. 4:9-10
Now we really don’t know much about this man Jabez. His name shows up as part of this long genealogy of the clans of Judah. Not only does he appear to have little significance in the overall story of God’s people, neither do any of those members of his family that are mentioned in that Genealogy. He apparently was a faithful man, who labored for the Lord in relative obscurity. But yet his prayer could have very well been the model of the kind of prayer the Disciples might have prayed as Jesus commissioned them to go into all the world. Because it was clear that Jesus had in mind more than just the limited world that had contained His ministry while He was on this earth. Both Matthew and Mark present the great commission that Jesus spoke as words designed to broaden the Disciples’ understanding of the territory that He was sending them into to be making Disciples. The world was more than just the Sea of Galille, or Jerusalem, or their families. In fact much of the world was unknown to them. And so before they were sent out, they needed to have a greater understanding of how broad the world was. And as we hear these words from Mark’s Gospel that as His disciples we are to go into all the world, many of us need to have our understanding of world clarified and expanded.
And so first, by using the term world, Jesus is speaking a word that requires that we enlarge our territory. Jabez, in his desire to be faithful, is asking that God enlarge his ministry, his area of service beyond just his family and the territory in which he was familiar. The empty tomb challenges each one of us to expand our understanding of life and this world. It says to us that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is larger than our experience of the world. In Christ’s world people can come to new life. In Christ’s world a thief crucified is promised paradise. In Christ’s world the multitudes are fed. Disciple’s are those who are extravagantly blessed by God. But it is also a world of huge expectations. Take up your cross and follow Me. Leave everything behind and follow Me. Even leave your father in the boat and follow me. Go into all the world Jesus says (not just Jerusalem, or Judea or Galilee. Not just the familiar places. Not just the comfortable places.) but go into all the world. We are called to ministry without borders, and service without limits. The empty tomb signals to us that God is about to enlarge our territory. But here’s the thing. That has always been God’s desire for us. It is the world that has tried to place limits on God, rather than God trying to limit the world. The words that Jabez spoke were not magic words that somehow opened up a part of God’s nature that had not been opened before to Jabez. And neither did the Empty Tomb usher in eternity. God had always existed in the eternal realms. And he had created humanity to live forever. But because of sin, and ignorance, and disobedience, we had placed limits on our world. Several years ago, Bruce Wilkinson, wrote a book that reflected on the meaning of Jabez’s prayer for us today, and he talks about praying the prayer of Jabez every day for more than thirty years, asking God to enlarge his ministry. And there’s nothing wrong with that. As long as we understand that the power of prayer is not in the words we speak, but rather in the spirit in which we pray. If we don’t want God’s blessings, if we don’t want Him to enlarge our territory, we shouldn’t ask, but if we ask, we should expect it to happen. If we don’t want to change the world, then we should not accept God’s call to be disciples, but if we do want to follow, then we had better be ready to follow Him to the end of the earth and beyond. Resurrection faith is world changing faith, because it says to us that there are no longer any limits on what God can do through us, if we are willing to move beyond the familiar and the comfortable. Beyond the familiarity of family and territory. Because it is God’s will that His church, His ministry, the faith, continue to grow and expand until everyone is reached with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. If we choose to follow the resurrected Christ into all the world, then we must accept the responsibilities and challenges of those expanding territories. Just as the disciples could not have been Disciples if they stayed closed away in the Upper Room, we can not be Disciples if we choose to just stay in our little territory, receiving the blessings but rejecting the responsibilities. Just as on the day of Pentecost, God’s Spirit blew out the windows and doors of the Upper Room and enlarged the territory of the Disciples, it is His will to do the same for us today. A pastor tells of going to a small, struggling church. He said they had a lot of problems that hindered their growth, but they began to pray that God would send them people to minister to. And God was faithful. Every Sunday more and more people came. It wasn’t too long before they had outgrown their Sanctuary and so they built a new church. And they kept praying. And the people kept coming. Finally when they were talking about building their fourth Sanctuary in about 10 years, the pastor said he was ashamed to admit that he went back to The Lord , and said, “Lord, everywhere we look there are people. More and more people. We can’t minister to all of them. We don’t have the resources. What are we going to do with all of these people? Can’t you send them someplace else?’And in his devotional time, he was directed to these words from Luke, “for everyone to whom much is given, much will be required”. And he said he got the point. God was saying you need minister to everyone that He sent to them. Last week I talked about the story of the Fish and the loaves. Remember. 5000 people. The Disciples said we can’t minister to all these people. Send them someplace else. But Jesus said, “you feed them”. It is God’s desire to enlarge our territory, our ministry. But moving into new territory can be uncomfortable, even seemingly impossible. Sometimes we are tempted to look back. But the empty tomb tells us that going back is not an option for God’s church, for God’s people. God has blessed us abundantly with new life, eternal life, and with more people, more children, more ministries and He expects us to minister to everyone He sends to us, to go into all the world. By praying this prayer, this everyman Jabez was placing himself in the will of God. He had no particular skills that would spell success. He just had a willingness to serve – in an every expanding territory – an ever expanding world. And scripture says that God granted his request. And that is what we must continue to do as His disciples. Lord, use me to change the world and, while you’re at it, help me to see the world as you see it. Not just through the limited view of the cross, but the unlimited view from the empty tomb.
And then, let me say one more thing and then we will celebrate the sacrament. When Christ emerged from the tomb, He changed the concept of world entirely. His resurrection transcended earthly bounds. No longer would creation be limited to temporal understandings or even geographical definitions. Christ’s world would now transcend time and place. When Jabez spoke of enlarging his territory, he was still bound by space and time. His prayer was for a ministry to the people who lived in the next valley or village. But when Jesus sends His disciples into the world, He has more in mind then Samaria or Egypt or Asia. The empty tomb allows us to see the world through Christ’s eyes. In our world, Jesus was put on the cross. Life is finite. Discipleship is limited. But the Empty Tomb lets us see the world through Christ’s eyes. Infinite. Unlimited. Eternal. And Christ’s invitation to follow is not an invitation to just follow him to the Cross. It is an invitation to follow Him beyond the Cross into the dawn of empty tombs which are the gateways to eternity. Resurrection faith is the power to change the world because it removes all the barriers to ministry and service in our world. When placed into our understanding of the world, the task may look overwhelming, but not to Christ. Because the world that is ushered in by the empty tomb, is a world of endless possibilities. Even death, the greatest barrier to life on this earth, is no longer a barrier. The only limits, the only restrictions, on the great commission are ones that we have imposed on ourselves. Jabez knew that our ministry and our service is limited by the size of our territory. But the resurrected Christ says that there are on longer any limits on our ministry. That which previously seemed to be impossible, becomes possible because of the empty tomb. But beware because the larger our territory becomes, the more resistance we will encounter. Some translations say that Jabez prayed “enlarge my coastline”. And I like that because it gives us the image of trying to enlarge our territory while the waves and the tides seek to drive us back. Remember the story of the Exodus and the Israelites wandering in the wilderness because their view was too limited. They looked into the unknown and all they could see were giants as they stood on the edge of the Promised land and they were so afraid that they turned back and wandered in the wilderness for another generation. World changing ministry and service calls on us to seek ever enlarging territories. One writer says: “Suppose we were to pray as a church, “God, enlarge our territory.”Would we not be praying, “enlarge our ministry.”“Help us, God, to minister to more people who are in pain. More people who are in need.”Help us to bring the new life in Jesus Christ to all of those who continue to lie in the darkness and death of the tombs of this world. Imagine if all of the 600 to 700 people that will worship at St. Luke prayed that God would enlarge our territory, expand our world, what opportunities God would open before us. But is that what we want. Because if it is, then God will use each one of us, use this church, to change the whole world, not just your little piece of the world. He will enlarge your territory and everywhere you go, the witness of the resurrected Christ will change your world. That is resurrection faith. That is what true discipleship is all about. Jesus, we love you, enlarge our territory. Okay, then, He says. Go to every nation. All people. Go into all the world. It doesn’t get much larger than that. It’s then that you can change the world.