Having One Mission
First Baptist Church Laurens
February 11, 2018
In his memoir, Life is Mostly Edges, writer, teacher and minister Calvin Miller tells the story of a man by the name of Ralph Greenway. According to Miller’s description, Ralph had been a lifelong bachelor, rarely combed his hair and wasn’t too good at brushing his teeth. As Miller put it, Ralph’s mind “had not been complicated by striving to fit into the modern world” and that was a good thing!
Despite his unorthodox ways that left him out of step with many folks, Calvin Miller as a young man found in Ralph Greenway a wise, sage and prophetic voice. He may not have looked like much but his appearance was not an indication of his faith, his intelligence or his wisdom. In turn, Miller, as a young adult often turned to Greenway for advice.
Ralph the Prophet, as Miller called him, was a farmer. He spent many of his hours riding his John Deere tractor around one field or another. As Miller remembers him, he also remembers how their conversations often took place. Miller would go out to the field that Ralph was working at the time, hop on the tractor with Ralph and ride around while they plowed the field and talked over life at the same time. (Chapter 8, “Beating the Underwear People” in Life is Mostly Edges, Calvin Miller)
It seems to me that Miller’s image of his relationship as a young man with Ralph Greenway creates a beautiful image for us. Calvin and Ralph were traveling through life together, literally on Ralph’s big, green, John Deere. And, as they went, they shared life with each other, talked about life’s issues, wrestled with the gospel, helped each other and built a friendship.
In many ways, the heart of Calvin Miller’s story is also the heart of Jesus’ gospel and the heart of Jesus’ final words to the disciples in Matthew. In my opinion the heart of this story is also the heart of our singular unified mission, carried out in multiple ways as a people of faith. Our mission said clearly is to allow our relationship with God in the flesh in the person of Jesus to compel us and drive us to be people who build relationships with others for the sake of this same gospel.
There is something interesting about how Matthew offers the Great Commission. It is something that is so easy to miss. I think this is the case because all of us have a sense of what these pivotal last directives of Jesus are all about. In Matthew, the emphasis of the Great Commission is on teaching and discipleship making not on preaching. Hear again what Matthew says, “go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and of the Holy Spirit and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.” Did you hear it? Teach. Make disciples. No mention of preaching!?!
Now, why is that important and what does it have to do with Calvin Miller, Ralph the Prophet and our mission as a church as relationship builders?
It is important because there are two big differences for you and I as modern believers between teaching and preaching. Preaching, we think, is the work of ordained clergy but teaching, we understand, is what we all do as we help each other to grow, learn and become who God has called us to be.
Preaching, also, is impersonal. It is one person talking, others listening and no real room for dialogue just as is happening right now in this very place. But, teaching and discipleship making are very personal. They are activities the are best done over time. Teaching and discipleship making are the result of time spent together and the forming of relationships. It is what is meant when the bible says in Proverbs that “as iron sharpens iron so one person sharpens another.” (Proverbs 27:17)
Teaching and disciple making are not really events. They are the result of life lived together in relationship, conversation and in mutual care for each other. It is what Calvin and Ralph were offering to each other.
Yes, there is a place for preaching – at least I hope there is a place. But in the Great Commission in Matthew, it is teaching and disciple making that Jesus calls all of us to and again in happens in the context of relationships.
This is our one mission – to build friendships and relationships – with each other and with the world for the purpose, the purpose of growing disciples and for the purpose of taking the gospel to the world. This is our one mission. Yes, we carry out our calling through programs, ministries, studies – but at the very heart, at the very core of each and every one of these is the idea of building relationships for the express purpose of helping one another to grow in faith.
Last week we said that as one family, we are called to recognize our responsibility to the family and our need to invite others into the family. Yet, today, I want us to hear it said that we can’t stop with a simply invitation. The invitation must be imbedded in the idea of building a relationship, being a friend and being willing to invest in each other over the long haul.
When I think of this, I am reminded of a ministry at the first church I served out of seminary in Western Kentucky. They had a ministry there in which they helped Internationals in their community to learn basic English. They did this, using members of the church. Each week these volunteers helped people from all of the world learn English through reading Bible studies written using a very basic vocabulary. Together, they read the Bible, learned the stories therein and learned basic English in the process. Every week also featured a social time too in which they simply sat around tables and visited together as they learned about each other. That class, that ministry was called Friendship International. It was a program, it was a ministry but at its core it was relationship building for the gospel’s sake.
Yes, we have programs. Yes, we have ministries. Yes, we have the high calling to evangelize the world. But, the bedrock of all of this work is a commitment to getting to know people, to being friends, to building relationships. This is our one mission. For it is through this life lived together as friends that we fulfill the Great Commission to teach and build disciples.
This past week, we lost Bill Bobo. One of the things you may not have know about Bill was that he kept bees. When I left he and Mary Kate’s home the other night after his death, I found myself remembering a story that I shared with Bill in a visit with him one day. It was a story that I first heard from the American Historian David McCullough in his terrific book about the Wright Brothers. In the book, McCullough tells about Amos Root, a bee keeper, who believe it or not, was the first American journalist according to McCullough to believe in Wilbur and Orville Wright. Root believe in what they had accomplished and was the first to write about them. Root’s articles appeared in his journal called “Gleanings in Bee Culture”.
Now, why would Root be a believer I’m the Wright Brothers when few others were? Well, if nothing else, for the very practical reason that he had experience with flying. He knew it was possible, understood a little about how it worked and had up close, daily experience with a flyer in the bees under his care. Root knew from observation and experience about flight ,albeit from a bee, and thus he believed. (As told in The Wright Brothers, David McCullough, Simon & Schuster, 2015)
We too should be the believers in the value of building relationships as the heartbeat of our mission for the simple reason that we have experience with it. Every one of us here today are people of faith at least in part because people invested in us, spent time with us, built a friendship with us. I dare say that the vast majority of us could quickly write down the names of three or four people who through investing in us led us to be who we are in Christ today. Their friendship with us shaped us, taught us, discipled us. We are not people of faith because we came up with this on our own.
Who is it that God is inviting us as individuals into relationship with today? Or, who are we already in relationship with where we know that we also need to include faith as part of the conversation? Or, who in the life of our church are we aware of that sits by themselves and could use a friend to encourage them and support them? And, what does it look like for us to support the Capital Campaign so that this singular mission continues in our church through its programs and ministries as we seek to be a place of gospel centered friendship making?
What a friend we have in Jesus the old gospel song says…what a friend in Jesus others have been to us…what a friend we as individuals and as a church can still be… Amen.