Sermon 3 of 4: Be Brave, by Justin Rossow (Definition Structure)
The sermon notes for this manuscript are available here.
Grace, mercy, and peace be to you from God, our Father, and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
The Great Commission gets lived out at the intersection of three stories.
Jesus says: “As you go,”…
The Great Commission is connected to your story.
Jesus says: “As you go, disciples the nations,” …
The Great Commission is connected to their story.
Jesus says: “As you go, disciples the nations, … and I am with you always.”
The Great Commission is ultimately and irrevocably connected to the story of Jesus.
As Jesus sends you out into your everyday lives with his eyes and with his heart and with his words on your lips—as Jesus enlists you to engage in his ongoing work for the sake of the world—as you encounter people at Kroger, and Chile’s, and Huron High School, people for whom Christ died, the Great Commission gets lived out at the intersection of your story, their story, and the story of Jesus.
Faithfulness to Complex Truth means holding all three of those stories together at the same time.
A. YOUR STORY
“As you go,” Jesus says. As you go about your everyday, ordinary, seemingly inconsequential life, Jesus is using you to disciple the nations. And when your story intersects with the nations, sparks can fly.
Just look at what kind of culture Jesus is sending you into! It wasn’t too long ago that the Christian Worldview was respected, if not assumed. Not so any more.
Listen to how Don Everts and Doug Schaup describe the people they know and the culture around them in their book, I Once Was Lost: What Postmodern Skeptics Taught Us About Their Path to Jesus: [cite page 31]
In another day and age, God, religion and church enjoyed the general respect of the culture. Not today. Religion is suspect, church is weird, and Christians are hypocrites. Distrust has become the norm. People are tired of the “sales tactics” often employed by Christians and are offended by our bait-and-switch attempts at introducing them to Jesus. In the past, the occupation of evangelist was viewed as a respectable profession, even by secular society. Today evangelist has fallen to the very bottom of the pit, among the most distrusted occupations.
When people first find out we are Christians, we often literally see them shift from relaxed to rigid, from warm to suspicious. This is because when our friends first hear us call ourselves “Christian,” several negative things often immediately flash through their minds: “Christians are self-righteous, and they always think they’re better than me.” “I’m about to be judged, so I better get my defenses up.” “Christians are always pressing politics, so watch out!”
When your story intersects with a Culture of Distrust, a couple kinds of responses seem to come naturally. And both of our typical, knee-jerk responses are based on a different kind of fear.
When your story intersects with a person who is naturally skeptical of your faith, you might naturally experience fear of looking foolish, fear of being vulnerable, fear of losing an argument, or being offended or even marginalized.
The natural response to a fear of vulnerability is to attack, to fight back. We noticed that kind of response last week, the “I’m right—you’re wrong—shut up” approach to theological conversation. Your friend says something that belittles your faith or your Jesus, and you throw the Good Book at him, blow him out of the water with some no holds barred, take no prisoners kind of apologetics. And it might not go well, but at least you will have defended your faith.
The other natural kind of fear in the face of a Culture of Distrust is of a different, more relational character. In an environment where people you know are naturally skeptical of your faith, you might be afraid of looking mean rather than foolish. You become more afraid of giving offense than taking it, of marginalizing others rather than of being marginalized. In this situation, you wouldn’t mind losing and argument nearly as much as you would losing a friend.
The natural response to relational fear is to avoid any controversial topic altogether. They can’t take offense at your faith if you never mention it. They won’t think you are close-minded if you remain close-lipped. And that might not go so well, either, but at least you will have kept a relationship intact.
When your story intersects with naturally skeptic people who grew up in a culture of distrust of everything, but especially of Christians, two different kinds of fears lead to two different kinds of response. I know which response is more typical for me. Which one is your go-to response? Attack or avoid? Fight or flight?
While either fight or flight can help you manage the discomfort you feel, neither serves the other person well. The Great Commission isn’t simply lived out in the context of your story. The Great Commission invites you to think in terms of their story, to flip your perspective and see things also from their point of view.
B. THEIR STORY
One of the things I really appreciate about that book, I Once Was Lost, is that it helps me see from the perspective of the Postmodern Skeptic before they have come to faith. It sheds light on what “the nations” are thinking as my story intersects with their story. Keep the people who live in your neighborhood in mind as you listen to this paragraph:
When trust has not yet been established, lostness feels like wise skepticism and right thinking. If Christians are fanatical and narrow-minded, keeping one’s distance seems like the smartest posture to take toward us. “There is something twisted about those smarmy Christians. And they want to fix me with that twisted agenda.” Until this framework of distrust is shifted, growth is nearly impossible. (32)
Can you imagine viewing the world that way? Can you imagine viewing faith that way? Can you imagine viewing Christians that way?
Your story of faith intersects with the stories of people who naturally distrust faith of any kind, and who especially distrust “church people.” And the first threshold people like that have to cross on their path to Jesus is simply trusting a Christian. [See the chapter THRESHOLD ONE: Trusting a Christian in I Once Was Lost by Everts and Schaup.]
Let me say that again. For people raised in a culture of skepticism and distrust, the first threshold they have to cross on their path to Jesus—the first thing standing in their way to faith—the first step on their journey of knowing and loving the One who knows and loves them first—the first threshold people in your culture have to cross in order to have a relationship with Jesus is trusting a Christian like you.
You know, there’s that great section in the 42 Seconds book about Eleazar, son of Dodai from 1 Chronicles 11 (75-79). You remember Eleazar, right? He was one of David’s three Mighty Men, and he took a stand in a barley field against an advancing Philistine army, and by making that uncompromising stand, Eleazar turned the tide of the battle.
Carl Medearis uses the story of that barley field to talk about being brave, to talk about being willing to take a stand when it counts, and step out in faith even when the odds seem against you.
But Carl also cautions against using “bravery” as a cover for your own knee-jerk reactions. He writes, “Bravery isn’t bravery if your ego and need to be right get in the way” (74). That reminds me of those natural responses to distrust in our culture. Since one natural tendency is to avoid conflict altogether, I wonder if we sometimes frame “bravery” as the opposite of avoiding a fight. Maybe Christian bravery simply becomes the label for when we attack instead of avoid, when choose fight over flight.
But Carl won’t let us get away with that kind of simplistic view. “Bravery isn’t bravery if your ego and need to be right get in the way,” he says. And then he goes on: “True bravery is bold love. True bravery is being like Jesus” (74).
You might say it this way: being brave does not mean taking a stand in every barley, corn, or soybean field that comes your way. Being brave means serving people who naturally distrust you. Being brave means serving people who naturally distrust you.
If your focus is only on YOUR STORY, then when your story intersects with the story of someone who has been shaped by a culture of distrust, you are going to naturally respond out of fear. Without giving it a second thought, you will likely either attack or avoid that person and their perspective.
But if you can hold YOUR STORY together with THEIR STORY, then you can begin to imagine the world from their point of view. You can begin to serve someone who’s first step on the journey of faith is to cross the threshold of trusting a Christian like you.
Being brave means holding that other person in prayer before God instead of defending evert theological position every chance you get.
Being brave means being genuinely interested in their story and their perspective instead of taking immediate offense every time they show their natural skepticism.
Being brave means actually going out of your way to meet them on their turf, and finding opportunities to invite them into your life, instead of avoiding or arguing at every opportunity. [The dichotomies in this section are discussed in-depth in I Once Was Lost by Everts and Schaup.]
Being brave will sometimes mean taking a stand, even if you have to stand alone; and true bravery also means letting go of your natural tendency to judge others, and finding “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise—” finding those kinds of things in the lives of your non-Christian friends and coworkers and family members and affirming them whenever and wherever possible, because their first and best chance of getting to know Jesus just might be getting to know someone like you.
I’m not saying it’s easy; in fact, it can be almost overwhelmingly hard. Holding on to YOUR STORY and THEIR STORY at the same time is a pretty high challenge. And Jesus knows it is. That’s why he doesn’t leave you to your own devices.
“As you go,” Jesus says, “disciple the nations … And behold! I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” The Great Commission is all about your story. The Great Commission is all about their story. But most importantly, the Great Commission is all about HIS story.
C. The Story of Jesus
Jesus knows what it means to stand alone. Jesus knows what its like to be vulnerable, to be marginalized, to be under attack. Jesus knows what it is like to have people he cares about turn away simply because he spoke the truth and they didn’t like it.
For Jesus, bravery meant the opposite of ego; true bravery meant making himself a servant, submitting even to death on a cross, for the sake of people who didn’t trust him, wouldn’t agree with his theology, and thought his twisted agenda was a threat to their way of life.
Jesus knows your fear of looking foolish. Jesus knows your fear of looking narrow-minded. Jesus knows your natural tendency to attack or to avoid. And still Jesus loves you, still Jesus forgives you, still Jesus chooses to accomplish his mission not only to you, but through you into the lives of the people around you.
Jesus takes your story and he weaves it into the stories of people who are far away from him. At that intersection of your story and their story, His story is present and active.
By the waters of your baptism, Jesus commissions you and sends you out into a culture that won’t naturally trust you any more than it naturally trusted him. And that is scary. But it is also exciting! Because it’s not about you. Your story isn’t the most important thing going on in your life. There are people in your life who may never come to know and trust Jesus if they don’t come to know and trust someone like you first.
And instead of that being an overwhelming challenge that makes you never want to get out of bed for fear of messing it up, your story becomes an adventure of discovery, an adventure of seeking other people’s stories and wondering about how Jesus is connecting them to his story through your story.
And when you find your natural knee-jerk response back in full force, when you find yourself attacking or avoiding people who naturally distrust you, when you notice patterns of judging others, and taking offense at their skepticism, and trying to make every disagreement a hill to die on, you take all that back to the cross and leave it there.
Jesus knows your failure. Jesus knows your fear. Jesus restores you and releases you of the burden of having to get it right so the people around you can be saved.
Instead, Jesus saves you first, and saves you again and again; and then he uses your story where it intersects with their story to bring his saving story into their lives and yours.
The Great Commission gets lived out at the intersection of your story (As you go…), their story (disciple the nations…), and the story of Jesus (I am with you always, to the end of the age). Faithfulness to Complex Truth means holding all three of those stories together at a single intersection of grace. Amen.
Editor’s Note: This resource supports preachers and congregations in the use of the book 42 Seconds: The Jesus Model for Everyday Interactions by Carl Medearis. You can visit the 42 Seconds Resource page at justinrossow.com to see more (when it is ready).