I See A New Church: Open Minds

This sermon was originally preached at Mission Hills United Methodist Church in San Diego, California on September 8, 2019. To watch the full recording, visit Mission Hills’ Facebook Page.

Philemon 1:3-21

Grace to you and peace from God our Creator and the Lord Jesus Christ.

When I remember you in my prayers, I always thank my God because I hear of your love for all the saints and your faith toward the Lord Jesus. I pray that the sharing of your faith may become effective when you perceive all the good that we may do for Christ. I have indeed received much joy and encouragement from your love, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you, my brother.

For this reason, though I am bold enough in Christ to command you to do your duty, yet I would rather appeal to you on the basis of love—and I, Paul, do this as an old man, and now also as a prisoner of Christ Jesus. I am appealing to you for my child, Onesimus, whose father I have become during my imprisonment. Formerly he was useless to you, but now he is indeed useful both to you and to me. I am sending him, that is, my own heart, back to you. I wanted to keep him with me, so that he might be of service to me in your place during my imprisonment for the gospel; but I preferred to do nothing without your consent, in order that your good deed might be voluntary and not something forced. Perhaps this is the reason he was separated from you for a while, so that you might have him back forever, no longer as a slave but more than a slave, a beloved brother—especially to me but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord.

So if you consider me your partner, welcome him as you would welcome me. If he has wronged you in any way, or owes you anything, charge that to my account. I, Paul, am writing this with my own hand: I will repay it. I say nothing about your owing me even your own self. Yes, brother, let me have this benefit from you in the Lord! Refresh my heart in Christ. Confident of your obedience, I am writing to you, knowing that you will do even more than I say.

 

Luke 14:25-33

Now large crowds were traveling with him; and he turned and said to them, “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it will begin to ridicule him, saying, ‘This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.’ Or what king, going out to wage war against another king, will not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to oppose the one who comes against him with twenty thousand? If he cannot, then, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for the terms of peace. So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.

Let’s start out today with a poll from you all. I want you to raise your hands if, when you sign up for a new service or newsletter or app, if you always read the fine print. Before you raise your hands, I’m talking consistently, not just scrolling through to get to the bottom so you can click ‘accept’. Do you really read it all the time? Now go ahead and answer. Judging by the number of hands raised, I’m not alone.

I ran across this funny example of fine print, that nobody usually reads, but someone did once. It’s from Subway, and it was added after someone complained that their footlong sandwich was only 11 inches. Here’s what the fine print reads:

“With regards to the size of the bread and calling it a footlong, ‘SUBWAY FOOTLONG’ is a registered trademark as a descriptive name for the sub sold in Subway® Restaurants and not intended to be a measurement of length.”

It makes me wonder what other things I have voluntarily signed on to without having a clue what it entailed.

While the fine print is annoying and time consuming and takes a lot of energy to get through, something it does well is help us understand what we are getting ourselves into. It shows us the cost that goes beyond the initial marketing of something.

Both of our passages today point to the commitment we must have to sign up for something, that something, being discipleship, being a follower of Jesus. In the first scripture, from Philemon, Paul writes a personal letter to his friend, Philemon, and in it, he challenges those who believe to step out of their comfort zones, to do things that are against the status quo. This, Paul says, leads to the people tearing down the walls that divide them.

This is the fine print. Paul urges people to ask those tough questions, about the walls that have been built up, and the walls that we refuse to tear down.

  • What are the ways we separate ourselves from others?
  • How have our minds remained closed because of walls we’ve built to divide?
  • How does our fear, our status, our relationships hinder us from coming together, from a spirit of open mindedness?

Through Jesus, our call is to be leaders in change, leaders in lessening the divide that is present now, between God and God’s people, a divide that, if we are honest, we really put there in the first place.

Many of those listening to Paul’s letter were probably thinking, wait, I didn’t sign up for this. This wasn’t in the commercial. I just wanted to be a better person, or help people, or do a good deed, etc. But again, this letter begins to lay out the fine print, the true commitment we are making when we say we want to follow God.

Our Gospel passage is another challenging one. Jesus, as we know, is great at making bold, provocative, sometimes seemingly offensive statements.

Today, Jesus asks his people, “For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it?” He wants to know, in other words, why none of them read the fine print.

Wouldn’t you want to know what you signed up for, before you committed to it, Jesus asks. He reads them the fine print here. You’re going to have to give up a lot of the things that used to be normal to you, a lot of the things you’ve been doing for generations are going to change. You will change. If you’re still on board, follow me. But don’t say I didn’t warn you of the risk and the sacrifice being a disciple is going to be.

Being a disciple is not easy, we learn through this passage. It is something we have to invest in, plan for, say yes to, again and again. Jesus encouraged his followers to say yes, to commit to the work, then go out on the journey alongside him and do the work. It was a big ask. It was costly and dangerous and countercultural. And still, the ask from Jesus was for his followers to invest and to commit to radical love.

There is a cost to this kind of radical love, because it’s just that, radical. People won’t understand it. People will maybe think you are going off the deep end, are irrational, aren’t thinking clearly. Jesus warns us that might happen. We might receive pushback, by our community, by our fellow church folk, by our denomination even. Jesus lets us know that there is a cost to radical love, to letting a new vision run its course in the world. And through his story, we know that the benefit far outweighs any cost, because love can never be overpowered. Not by life. Not by persecution. Not even by death.

What does this mean for us? It means a few things. Today, we have centered our worship experience around “Open Minds”. Through the gospel, we are being invited to do just that. To open our minds to all that being a follower of Jesus entails, all that being the church entails. We are being invited to see past all the commercialization and the blurry-visioned ideals of church we know, so that God’s vision can be revealed.

Today, right after worship, we’ll be meeting in the Parlor for an opportunity to do that together. We will be listening to one another, sharing stories, and learning about all of the beautiful ways this church has impacted one another. Through this time of listening, your pastors and staff will be looking for common threads, for the ways our stories tie together from past to present to future. In the next month or so, we will be presenting a vision statement for Mission Hills United Methodist Church, an affirmation of who we are and who we want our church to be. And the best part about that, is that we then get to be that church! We are being given this permission to say yes, to know that now is a time of being resurrection people, people whose minds are open to the possibilities of God’s new church. If you are able to, I really want to invite you to be a part of this time, whether you’ve been a part of this community for years, or whether this is your first Sunday. Your story is valid and vital and meaningful to capture.

Jesus lays out the challenges to us today. It will be different. It will be messy. It will change the ways you are used to doing things. And, it is our only option. Because we have said yes to this important invitation, we will never be the same, and thank God for that.

I invite you again into these questions we asked before:

  • What are the ways we separate ourselves from others?
  • How have our minds remained closed because of walls we’ve built to divide?
  • How does our fear, our status, our relationships hinder us from coming together, from a spirit of open mindedness?

And here are some new questions:

  • How is Mission Hills United Methodist Church needed right now?
  • How do we want to be known in the next 1, 3, or 5 years?
  • Who do we need to reach, and if it is not through Sunday morning worship, how will we reach them?
  • How are you being called to be a leader and an advocate in this new time for our church?

Friends, our scriptures today are urging us to take seriously the call to following God. We are being urged to not take lightly the sacrifice, the cost, the risk. We are being warned, like a commercial for a new medication, of the side effects we may experience.

And amidst the fine print, Jesus reminds us all that we, the resurrection people, have no choice but to embark, knowing that our being as people of God resides in the place between tradition and newness, between risk and reward, between sacrifice and resurrection.

You’ve read the fine print. Now is your chance to sign on the dotted line, to grace, to transformation, and to being the church we are.

Let us pray:

God of wholeness and truth, you challenge us to be the church for all your people. You challenge us, through your word, to remember our identity as beloved children of God. Help us to recognize the opportunities you give us to love, to grow, and to challenge ourselves. We thank you for your wisdom and your divine revelation. In your holy name we pray, Amen.

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