The question that I think sums up our response to this week’s hypothesis is - why not take advantage of the great we have been given of a comfortable growing vibrant community of faith and use it to venture out into our immediate neighborhood, the community of South Bend, or even our global community and be engaged in ministry in the places where we are not quite as confident about what we are doing, where we will probably make some mistakes, but where we might find some unexpected life and grace?
Why not? Well you might be shocked to know that I have come up with three reasons why we shouldn’t.
The first reason is wonderfully illustrated by the story we heard from Genesis this morning – when we venture out of our comfort zones, when we are in a place where we don’t know what exactly to expect, we get scared, we get out of wack, we make bad decisions.
Even though God has promised great things to Abraham, many descendents despite the barrenness that he and his wife have experienced so far in their long lives and a great land on which his decedents will come to live. God asks Abraham to step outside of his comfort zone in order to redeem those promises, to pick up and leave everything they had ever known. Old Testament scholar Walter Bruggeman describes this whole section of the stories of Abraham this way – that to stay in safety is to remain barren; to leave in risk is to have hope. Abraham takes the risk and we celebrate him for that and what does it give him – famine in the land of Canaan. Where is the evidence of God’s promises? Forced to leave that place to go to Egypt seeking food, he starts to panic as they are about to enter the land. He is scared, out of his element, and he asks Sarah to pose as his sister instead of his wife so that he will not be put in danger from those who would seek to take her as their own.
Now there is a whole other sermon here about women in the Old Testament and what it means to value your wife, but for our purposes this morning I want us to focus in on how Abraham allowed his fears, his displacement to lead him to such a poor decision, a decision that was in exact opposition to the promises that God had already made to him.
How often as a culture to we allow fear to keep us from believing in God’s promises? I am not going to try to convince you that there is nothing to be afraid of in the world – because we all know that is not true. I am going to argue that we often allow fears to stand in for excuses to not live up to who God has called us to be both as a church and as individuals.
I don’t want to list for you all of the things that we are afraid of, but rather ask this morning what are the things we might be doing if there was nothing to be afraid of – would we take our youth on international mission trips? Would we open our doors on cold nights like we had this past week to the homeless overflow from local agencies? Would we go out on Saturday afternoons in our immediate neighborhood knocking on doors and inviting people to join us in church the next morning?
Looking at a formidable list like that takes us to the second reason why we shouldn’t venture out beyond the comfort of our own walls and community – it is too hard. It is so attractively easy to be in a group of people who are all alike. I know that we often like to celebrate our diversity here at Sunnyside, and it is true that we represent a wide variety of political views, theological perspectives, and generations, but at the end of the day we are all pretty similar people – people that are easy to be with, people with whom we can identify.
I love this passage from the Sermon on the Mount, not just because it contains some of the most poinient and memorable teachings of Jesus, but because it also shows his edginess, his willingness to push people outside of their comfort zones. I hear him speaking directly to me in loving critique as he reminds me that even tax collectors love other tax collectors, even Gentiles love other Gentiles. So what if you love and care for, form relationships with take risks for people who are just like you that’s a piece of cake. It is so easy even people who don’t follow our belief system can do that. What credit is it to me if I limit my world to loving the people who it is easy for me to love. I can do that without even being a part of a church.
A few weeks ago I was on my way to pick up Owen at school and ran into the Meijer over off of Grape Road. I don’t remember what was on my mind that particular day, or what made it a little different than any other day, but as I walked out I noticed women standing in the large entry way, looking out the windows and weeping. I can still remember exactly what she looked like, and I thought I wonder if she needs help. And as I walked past her I thought, maybe if I had more time today, maybe if I didn’t have to go and get Owen, honestly maybe if I were a better person, I would have put my day on hold to ask this woman what she needed and help her in whatever way I could. How many times do we walk past people in need, people who more often than not we have the ability to help just because it is easier to keep walking?
What made that day different for me was that I kept thinking about her as I got in my car and pulled away, and tried to imagine who I would be, what my life would be like if I had stopped to help her, if I stopped to help everyone I ever saw who was in need standing outside of a grocery store. First I admitted that I probably wouldn’t get as much of the things done in my life that I have categorized as being more important. I also figured that I wouldn’t be able to give as much to my family or be as much at their beck and call as I normally am, but then I also figured that if I was going to live my life helping every distressed person I met in the entryway of a grocery store I would start wearing a lot more comfortable clothing. What kind of person is unconstrained by the demands of the world and family and who just walked around helping everyone he came across in need and who wore loose fitting clothing? Then I realized that I would need to pretty much be Jesus Christ himself…and he encourages us to aspire to that to be perfect as our father in heaven is perfect
And that brings us to the third reason why we shouldn’t pop the comfort bubble and reach out to our neighbors far and near…we cling to perfection.
Clearly the perfection that Jesus describes and the perfection that we value are completely different. We find comfort in the ways we can control our lives – to be perfect like Christ means giving up control. We love and value this perfect and beautiful building – to be perfect like Christ may mean a little more wear and tear than perfection would normally stand for. We seek out perfect environments for our children to be perfect like Christ may mean that they have experiences and meet friends at church who are totally different from them. We expect people to put their best foot forward when they come to church, to be perfect like Christ may mean giving grace to another’s imperfections in his name. We come dressed in our Sunday best – to be perfect like Christ may mean that we need to start wearing more comfortable shoes when we are about the business of bearing Christ’s love into the world.
So we are afraid, it’s hard, and we don’t want to burst the bubble of our perfect world – I can’t think of any better reasons to curl up in the fetal position, cover our heads with the proverbial blanket and go back to bed and worship as some of our youth used to tell me - at the church of St. Mattress.
I know that a lot of this stepping stones stuff seems kind of out there or a lot of talk and not a lot of action or change, but the talking is good andt he listening is even better. We can’t expect all of us to be willing to break free of our comfort zones in just one sermon or even one Sunday. We are doing it together step by step, stretching it a little here and there, feeling our way towards what the new comfortable might be for us as a church.
This week Bill Lamie wrote some very compelling things about what it means to venture out of our comfort zones and he very aptly quoted from Martin Luther King Jr, and he included a quote that I think fits for this hypothesis as well as all that it is we are doing in this process: He said “Take the first step in faith. You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step.”
Just take one moment to say no to the things that you are afraid of, take one step in a direction that is hard instead of taking the easy way out, just one step away from the need for things to be under control. Each of those together from all of us will get us there together, to this thing we are looking for – the place where God has called us to be. Amen.