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Mission: Reframing

Sermon notes: July 8, 2018
The object of this puzzle is to connect all nine dots with four straight lines without lifting your pencil or retracing a line.

No matter how hard you try, thinking within the box, it can’t be done.

It cannot be done unless you apply the REFRAMING principle. Conditioning limits our solutions to lines drawn within the perimeter defined by the eight outside dots. When we realize we can extend our lines beyond that imaginary frame, we can solve the puzzle. 
Bryant Myers of the Missions Advanced Research and Communication Center tells the following story:

A company had been successfully manufacturing drill bits for over forty years, but
as the industry matured profit margins were getting thin. The son of the founder attended his first meeting after his father died. “What business are we in?” he asked the older men, who had served alongside his father for many years. “We make drill bits!” came the slightly exasperated answer. You can imagine the shaking heads and rolling eyes… “Our customers need drill bits.” The younger man looked them over and then quietly replied, “No. Our customers need holes.” Today the company is again successful. In addition to drill bits, they now manufacture lasers that make very precise holes.

The story illustrates another kind of “REFRAMING.” The older workers’ perception was that the customers needed drill bits. The heir restated, or reframed, the need more correctly by pointing out that while they bought drill bits, what they really needed was holes.

Bob Andrews of World Mission Prayer League used these two examples of reframing in one of his monthly newsletters to prove a point about missions. He went on to say:
The lessons from these examples are obvious. First) “We’ve always done it this way” is not an acceptable rationale for a mission strategy. Second) We are often guilty of making decisions based on what we think people need. We may eventually see our way beyond peripheral needs – medicine, education, development – and get to the one thing that matters for eternity, SALVATION, but still err in choosing a “delivery system.”
I might add those things are as true on the mission field as they are in the local church. 

Myers continues:
If the factory had insisted on manufacturing only drill bits they would probably have gone out of business, because someone else would have found a better way to deliver holes. If we insist on delivering salvation packaged only in traditional western church forms, liturgy, and theology, we will find the customer looking elsewhere. And Third) We need to be constantly reframing. How can we best present salvation in Christ to a world which desperately needs him but does not know it?

One of the introductions I read to these lessons today put it this way:  “The mission of the Church meets with opposition. Jesus warns his disciples that some will refuse to listen to their message. But, the task is not to succeed; it is to preach the gospel message faithfully.”

The task is not to succeed; it is to preach the gospel message faithfully. That is a word of reframing for many in the church. Unlike the older managers in his father’s company who thought their task was simply to make and sell drill bits, the young man saw clearly that the task was to provide holes to their customers. When we think that the task is to succeed in convincing others to come, or that success is measured in terms of numbers, vitality, service, and growth then we put undue pressure on ourselves which Jesus doesn’t apply to us. It is more clearly to the point that our task is to preach the gospel faithfully, no matter what the outcome may be.

Today’s assigned “Prayer of the Day” speaks of our faithful witness. Note is does not depend on results:

God of the covenant, in our baptism you call us to proclaim the coming of your kingdom. Give us the courage you gave the apostles, that we may faithfully witness to your love and peace in every circumstance of life, in the name of Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.
Ezekiel is of a priestly family from the southern nation of Judah at the time of the exile. He introduces his book by telling us that he has just begun his priestly duties, a role that always began on your thirtieth birthday if you were a member of the tribe of Levi. He tells us: “Now it came about in the thirtieth year, on the fifth day of the fourth month, while I was by the river Kebar among the exiles, the heavens were opened and I saw visions of God.” (Ezekiel 1:1) The timeline to which Ezekiel refers in this verse is his own – he’s been considered a priest for exactly four months and 5 days. But the place he refers to is far from the Temple where he should have been serving. Nebuchadnezzar has overwhelmed the nation of Judah and carried off thousands of its leading people into exile in Babylon, first in 602 BC and then again in 597 BC – that’s where the river Kebar is located. Ezekiel is part of the latter group, about 25 years old at the time. So 5 years later, at the age of 30, after attaining the role of priest, with no priestly duties to perform, by the way, he begins to have visions given by God. Their purpose was to inform the exiles of the impending doom of Judah and, in particular, Jerusalem, dashing the hopes of the early deportees that Jerusalem would be spared from destruction and that they could soon return home. Ezekiel graphically portrayed the sinfulness of the Jerusalem of his day, as well as its consequent, and certain, judgment. For five years he prophesies the utter destruction of Jerusalem and its Temple. But as our text for today points out:

He said to me, “Mortal, I am sending you to the people of Israel, to a nation of rebels who have rebelled against me; they and their ancestors have transgressed against me to this very day. The descendants are impudent and stubborn.  I am sending you to them, and
you shall say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord God.’ Whether they hear or refuse to hear (for they are a rebellious house), they shall know that there has been a prophet among them” (Ezekiel 2:3-5).

For the first 32 chapters Ezekiel tries to explain to the exiles the coming destruction and how the unfaithfulness of the people is its downfall. But they will not listen.  Then in chapter 33 the report of the Temple’s ruin and the destruction of Jerusalem reaches them in Babylon and everything changes. Ezekiel calls the people to repentance and indeed they repent. Before the fall of Jerusalem in 586 BC he was primarily a preacher of repentance and judgment. To a people rebellious, inclined to idolatry, and susceptible to a pagan environment, he brought constant warnings. To his despairing hearers, after the fall of Jerusalem, he became a consoler, a herald of salvation, calling for the people to strengthen their inner faith in the absence of the Temple. Ultimately, his message was received. The exile after 586 became a time of religious purging. In Babylon the Jews were cured permanently of their idolatry, and Ezekiel, their major religious leader, must be given much credit for that.

The point is, even in the face of a rebellious people who would neither listen nor heed, Ezekiel remained faithful to his call. He did his job so that when his message was confirmed by the Temple’s destruction the people saw the validity of the rest of his message, and true change began to occur. In the same way, we are sent into the world to share the message of salvation, and frankly, salvation from impending doom that the world does not want to hear. And all we are called to do is to proclaim the message faithfully, as God has revealed it to us in His Word.

The Gospel for today also describes what it means to be faithful to the task, and not to focus on an unrealistic view of success. After he suffers his own rejection from those of his own hometown

Where did this man get all this? What is this wisdom that has been given to him? What deeds of power are being done by his hands!  Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him… (Mark 6:2b-3)

 Jesus calls together his twelve hand-chosen disciples and prepares to send them out. Giving them authority over unclean spirits, he continues by instructing them in their task, by reframing their concepts of bringing the Kingdom of God into this world. 

He said to them, “Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave the place. If any place will not welcome you and they refuse to hear you, as you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.” (Mark 6:10-11)

Jesus taught them that the task was not to stay until everyone agreed with them, that indeed there would be places where they would be unwelcome and ignored, at the best. (And in some cases they would be persecuted and put to death, but that’s a message which Jesus saves for another time!) But the task they were given was to be faithful to proclaim the Word of God. So they went out, we are told, “and proclaimed that all should repent.” (Mark 6:12) Very simply, they remained faithful to their call. And the text records the effect that their faithful preaching had: “They drove out many demons, and they anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.” (Mark 6:13)
But note what it doesn’t say as well. It doesn’t say that great throngs of people followed them back to Jesus. It doesn’t say that because of their proclamation people recognized in Jesus the Messiah. It doesn’t even say that a single convert was made. What it does say by inference is that the disciples were faithful to do the task they had been sent to do. Jesus had simply “reframed” their ideas concerning the Kingdom of God and the task they were personally called to do.

Jesus calls us to be faithful as we proclaim him to the world, because the world doesn’t simply need someone who will give it a helping hand; the world doesn’t simply need someone who will work for justice, as important as that is. The world doesn’t simply need officials who will perform baptisms and marriages and funerals. The world doesn’t simply need a place to go on Sunday mornings to hear inspiring and theologically correct discourses about life in general. This world needs Jesus, simply put… It needs the One and only One who has come to offer redemption from sin, salvation, and eternal life, free of charge. Our success will not be measured by our numbers, by our benevolence, by our zeal for justice, or our desire to help the needy. Those are all merely results of having heard the message proclaimed faithfully in the first place. Our success is actually measured in our fulfillment of the task: proclaiming the gospel faithfully.

The mission of the Church, Jesus says, meets with opposition. And yet I have not heard of much opposition to feeding the poor or helping the downtrodden. I have heard of some opposition to working for justice, but that is because the powerful will lose their influence and power, and so they oppose change. But even yet, when justice finally prevails it is welcomed as people come to see the benefits of justice for all peoples. It is also true that almost any organization can do these sorts of tasks without the motivation of the Gospel, and do them successfully. But the faithful proclamation of the Word of God meets with opposition because it admits the human dilemma, our need for saving, it means that we are dependent on God. Beyond all that, the faithful proclamation of the Word is the sole task of God’s people, the Church.

The question of reframing remains: How can we best present salvation in Christ to our world which desperately needs him but doesn’t even know it?

A certain church on a certain corner in San Jose had been successfully keeping its doors open for 62 years. Many “customers” had been taken care of through its many ministries over time. It had cared for the poor, it had fed the hungry, it had sought after justice for the downtrodden, it had baptized, married, and buried as it felt called to do. When the Son of the owner of the church came and sat down with them in Church one Sunday morning, he asked of those who had been in that place, “What business are we in?” Many answers were given. Some said, “Well, it’s our job to be sure that this inner city church stays alive and keeps its doors open here in San Jose.” Some others said, “It’s really important that we reach out to others with a helping hand.” Another responded that it was our job to make clear that God’s commandments were still being followed and respected. One summed it all up by saying, “Why, it’s clear that our task is to make Christians here.” With a warm, loving smile, the Son of the owner of that church quietly replied to that certain church on a certain corner in San Jose, as well as to his whole church on earth, “No, our customers need to hear of the love God shown in the Word of God to receive the gift of salvation.”

Let us pray:
Lord God, use our lives to touch the world with your love by proclaiming you faithfully. Reframe us in your image to fulfill your goals. We don’t ask that you bless what we are doing. Instead we ask that we might be doing that which blesses you. Then, as we are fulfilling your command to go forth and proclaim the gospel throughout the world, stir us then, by your Spirit, to be neighbor to those in need, serving them with willing hearts; through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

Pastor Pat Fitzgerald, July 8, 2018 sermon notes