Second in the “Marks of a Disciple” Series,
Delivered January 16, 2005 by Bill Pitts.

Theme: Group – Christ followers participate in biblically-based community in order to grow in Christ-likeness, to express and receive love, and to carry out the mission of the church.

Sermon Text:
Micah 6:8
and Matthew 22:34-38

Why is it that you are here? Not in the big “Why are any of us here, do we have a purpose in life?” sense of the question, but why are you here this morning? I think all of us have some different variations on the following three things. The first would be hunger. Some of you have not identified what that hunger is. For some of you it’s a spiritual yearning to know more. For some of you it’s what kind of bagels are going to be out after the service. But hunger is one thing; tradition is another. Not the style of service, but the tradition of “Well, you know , we grew up going to church. We always go to church. It’s Sunday morning, you go to church.” That tradition, and the comfort that comes from that tradition. And then some of you, I think, are here for community. You are longing for a place to be known, a place to belong. Some of you came with a friend and you are trying to figure out if this is a place that you want to come back. Of these three things, I think that community is what will keep the church alive or will ultimately see us fail. Here’s the reason. Hunger: you can read books to get your spiritual knowledge. You can talk to people outside. You don’t have to come to church for your hunger. You can get that at other places. Tradition: unfortunately every year the numbers are down. Church is not a part of a lot people’s lives today and that number dwindles every year. It’s just not part of the tradition that most people today consider theirs. And while there are other places to find community – Starbucks, book clubs, sport teams – church is still a place where suburbia, anyway, feels like they can find a place to be known.

I want to show you a clip this morning of some people that I believe are searching for community, and we will talk about whether or not they found it when it’s through.

[Film clip from The Least of These]

Is a diner like a church? In some ways I think it is. Seats are not all that comfortable. Lots of people coming in different times to get fed, because it’s where they have always gone, and looking to connect with other people. Lots of people who show up longing to be known, but they never connect. You know, I really like this clip because it shows some everyday stuff: people that know each other, talking; other people just want to be in the same room with people; and some people who come and go. You know what I really like lately is movies that seem more like real life, not with some big plot that I have to figure out, but just getting a chance to watch a slice of somebody else’s life. Two movies that I have seen recently have been like that. My wife and I watched “Garden State” and “Napoleon Dynamite.” Some of these you either like them or you don’t and some people that I have recommended them to have come away going, “That was so boring. Why would you ever encourage me to watch that?” But you know what, to me they were refreshing. Most of the time I want a movie to be an escape from reality, but sometimes I need it to be real. That’s how a diner and a church are the same. It’s not all about the supernatural here at church. We are not just here waiting for the next miracle to take place. We are here for the everyday reality of being a community and learning how living as Christ-followers can be the norm. Most people at diners are not looking for miracles either. They are not looking to find the absolutely best meal they have ever had or the love of their life sitting in the booth next to them. They just want to be fed and be known. The problem is, we are also like the diner in that people can come in here and walk out without anyone paying them any attention. We can then show up and be so wrapped up with being known ourselves that we ignore those who are crying out softly for our attention. What would happen if someone really cared about each person here? What would happen if we offer the time to not only care for each person in this room, but the people outside these walls as well? That’s the revolution that I believe has to happen for the church as a whole to survive. You know, I know it’s easy to throw out terms like “revolution,” big ideas and motivational speech acts to keep you fired up until you get to lunch. I want you to see a little bit more of this movie and demonstrate what the revolution can look like in practical terms.

[Film clip from The Least of These]

In one of those last lines that go, “This place. There’s no such thing. That kind of place doesn’t exist. That’s too bad.” And the owner says “Yeah, if it did, I might join it.” What do we want in church? A church where people don’t judge me. A church where I can be myself. A church where I am loved for who I am. A church that loves me whether I change or not. A church that notices and cares when I don’t show up. A church that cares about the world around them and not just their little bubble. Don’t shut me off at this point, I am not bashing who we are or what we do. I think we do some of these things better than lots of other churches around us, but I also think if we are not going to be, as a church as a whole, marginalized, we have to do even better.

We have started this series on “Marks of a Disciple.” I think we should start with, “What is a disciple?” I think we tend to get disciples mixed up with Biblical Pharisees sometimes. See, the Pharisees were the religious leaders that studied the Bible; they memorized scripture; they prayed; they worked in the temple. They were the holy people. Biblical disciples? They were the ones who simply followed Jesus. It’s not that as followers of Christ we don’t do those things, but to do those things without following Christ, without doing what He did, I am not sure we are really following Him. I want to read Matthew 23. This might be familiar to some of you. To others: Jesus has been asked by the Pharisees, “What’s the most important commandment?” and He replies, “‘You must love the LORD your God with all your heart, all your soul and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as you love yourself.'”

We flip over to Micah, Chapter 6, verse 8. Iit says, “No, O people, the LORD has already told you what is good, and this is what he requires: to do what is right, to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” Micah says do what is right. Love mercy. It seems we get caught up with loving God ourselves and leave out the loving our neighbor, leave out the doing what is right, leave out the loving people and showing them mercy.

So today we are talking about one mark of a disciple as being part of a group. We have defined that here at Central as being a part of a Biblically-based community. I think that we are a Biblically-based community that’s missing half of the Biblically-based methods. I think we often boil down God’s story to the fall of man and redemption of Christ. And I think that is why we miss community. We make it all about us. Those two things are focused on us. But we miss the other two main points. Before the fall there was God’s creation. God’s perfect intent. The way He set it up. In Genesis we see God’s creation of community. God created Eve because He said it wasn’t good for man to be alone. But Adam wasn’t alone. Adam was walking and talking with God Himself. I think this indicates God desired community of more than just one or two, and that’s why I believe these verses in Micah and Matthew are not for us to do alone, but as a group of believers.

You know, after creation and God’s perfect plan, we see the fall. The fall of community. Cain killed his brother Abel. Adam and Eve had messed up their relationship with God through their son and now their children destroy community between people. They have gone from living out God’s perfect plan to living in a sinful world where the devil is out to destroy relationships. But God in His mercy gives us a new plan. He redeems the situation for those of us who will take a chance and follow Christ. Christ redeems us, our relationships and His plan. And then the end of the story is this: we can have a part in bringing that plan to bear for people who don’t know. We can be a part of the restorative work that He continues to do in people’s lives, in our community and in the groups that He has called us to be part of until His return. That’s the whole story. If we just focus on the fall and the redemption, we miss out on what was intended in creation and what will be again in the restoration.

Central is all about helping you find your place in God’s story. Where are you on the journey? Are you just discovering that God even has a plan? Maybe you are just discovering that you have been outside that plan. Some of you are ready to take the leap of faith to start following Him and see where all He’ll lead. And I am guessing that a lot of you, you have been following Him and letting Him use you in His ongoing work. Wherever you are, that’s why we are here. To walk together in community, as a group of believers, nonbelievers, and “I am not sure yet what I believe.” We are all walking this path together. That’s what makes us a community, but that is also where we can get off track. Are we friends with others here based on the unity of money we share? Of our jobs? Of our stations of life? See, I think we get caught up in relating to only those that are like us because, you know, it’s awkward to talk to people that are different. We are comfortable with how things are. We don’t want them to change. And sometimes it’s just that we don’t even notice that somebody else is waiting to talk to us or needing the community we are involved with. But I just don’t think that is what we want to be known for. You know, we have been happy being known as a community that’s based on this college of knowledge that we can provide. We have been happy being known as a place that offers tremendous support for overseas missions, that has a great pre-school and children’s ministry. And all of those things are great. They are part of a successful ministry – to people who are already interested in church. But Jesus says in Matthew that he came for the sick, not the healthy, and because of that message I think it is time we are being known for a community based on the way we love our neighbors, the justice we seek to be shown and the mercy we demonstrate. We need to be a community that is focused on Jesus, not only knowing Him, which we do a good job at, but doing what He did.

Early in the Old Testament we see God’s story transition from the story of Abraham – one man who would make a mark on the world – to Jacob whose family would make a mark on the world, then to Moses whose people would make a mark on the world. I think that is the same transition we make in our following Christ. We first feel the need to make a mark by becoming more knowledgeable in our faith, then we realize we can’t do it alone, so we look for a church family. But ultimately we have to see that it’s about all people, no matter what they look like, how they choose to live, what they believe – all of us experiencing the love of Christ through us living out the calling for community. See, we can live out each of these commands on our own. The Matthew and Micah verses there, they are singular. They are individual calls for each of us, but I think they indicate the community call as well. What works better, one guy building a house or twenty guys working together? One girl playing soccer or a team? One mom changing a diaper or – well, yeah, just one mom should change a diaper. One of the marks of a disciple is living in community. The challenges expanding our community include those outside the walls of this church: putting aside our prejudices, our fears, our comfort level, and finding together that people are coming to know Jesus because we are loving and living like He did. As I pray, the band is going to come up, and they are going to sing a song, and I just want you to look at the words on the screen. Just read the words and hear them and think about who it is that is speaking to you. Feel free to sing along on the chorus. It’s easy. It says “Breathe deep. Breathe deep the breath of God.” Our call in community is for all of us to breathe deep the breath of God.

Let’s pray. Lord, thanks that we can be here today and be part of this community. And I pray that people in here, that not one person will leave without knowing that someone else in here cared about him. That every one of us will make a new connection this morning or just strengthen an old connection and that we’ll be willing to do that same thing outside of this place. In Your name we pray. Amen.

Note: the video clip is from The Least of These

clip1: 8:09 – 11:03
clip2: 11:40 – 17:37