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Most of you have probably noticed by now that our theme for the 2017-18 program year
uses the same language as our Capital Campaign emphasis – Wide Open Doors.
We began exploring our Wide Open Doors theme in worship on Rally Day, August 20.
In Alex Rogers’s sermon, she spoke of a good place to start –
first, opening wide the doors of our hearts to God and then to others.
Of course, opening our hearts involves great opportunity for renewal, for transformation, for joy…
while also some measure of fear and vulnerability.
The next week, we turned to the Letter to the Hebrews to hear ancient wisdom:
do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for in doing so some have entertained angels unawares.
Hospitality has long been an endemic spiritual practice for Christian community.
Radical hospitality is a way of life that we are called to live as followers of Jesus…but admittedly,
when it comes to daily practice, offering hospitality can also be challenging and fearful.
On Labor Day weekend, Allysen brought a mini-trampoline to the pulpit to encourage open-mindedness.
As followers of Christ, we follow the one who stretched the minds of the crowds and the rulers
and who ministered to the ones who had been excluded in the name of God.
Instead of being stuck like bricks in a wall that separates people from others,
perhaps we can be more like springs on a trampoline, that connect others and invite possibility.
If we open wide our minds to new ideas and new people,
we just might understand new angles of God’s story
and discover new ways of living as brothers and sisters.
Last week, we were reminded that the doors of this church will always be wide open for praise!
Worship is the first, the primary action, of the church.
Our faith and service flow from worship which binds us together as community.
Worship gives eternal perspective, inspires us, comforts us, challenges us, and then sends us forth.
Worship is the heartbeat of the Church – like the beating of a heart, we are gathered in, then sent out.
Today, we turn to the Great Commission from Matthew 28 –
the last instruction from Jesus to his disciples – in order to reflect upon the locus of our mission.
There was a time when the church in North America thought of Christian mission as something
that was done over there, across the ocean, a long way away.
Today, the mission is right at our doorstep.
Hear the Word of God. Matthew 28:16-20
Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. When they saw him, they worshipped him; but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’
I have been given all authority over heaven and earth. Go, therefore…
Go, make disciples of all nations.
Go, baptize people and teach them to obey all that I have commanded you.
The disciples must have been sorely tempted to stay.
They were surely tempted to stay in their comfort zone of Galilee,
to stay among the people who looked like them and spoke like them.
In the gospel of John, we hear that they initially went back to the business of daily life –
like fishing – but they were called…to go.
In former decades, when a healthy majority of our neighbors would get up and get dressed
on Sunday mornings, and make their way to Sunday School and worship,
when many were involved in some manner in Christian service,
we would speak of the Christian mission overseas.
Our congregation and many others, for generations, has sent missionaries overseas
to people and places who do not know the name of Jesus or what it means to follow him.
In 1904, a group from DPC travelled to a global missions conference held on Lookout Mountain,
near Chattanooga. Three of the youth that attended that conference became global missionaries.
In 1912, DPC Elder Charlie Crane’s oldest son and his wife were sent as missionaries to Africa,
and the salary was split between the session and Ladies Aid, a former iteration of Presbyterian Women.
Over the years, you, the members of DPC, have supported missionaries in almost every continent.
Today, you support our dear friends, Dan and Elizabeth Turk, in their work in Madagascar.
You support Shelvis and Nancy Smith-Mather in the work of peace and reconciliation
among South Sudanese refugees.
You make possible Choon and Yen Hee Lim’s ministry in East Asia,
where they oversee Presbyterian missions for that whole region.
Jim and Jodi McGill have just begun a new ministry in the remote city of Niamey,
where you help make possible their work with the Evangelical Church of the Republic of Niger.
And you support the ministry of Mark and Miriam Adams, on the border of Mexico,
where churches on both sides of the border come together to encourage economic development.
Each of these missions is vital and life-changing to the communities being served,
and we are committed to this important work being accomplished in the name of Jesus Christ.
Yet today, more than ever, the mission of the Church is right at our doorstep.
Not only have people from all over the world come to Dekalb County,
the local people themselves often do not know or live the love of Jesus Christ.
I mentioned last week one of my first mission trips, which was for Hurricane Andrew Relief
in Homestead, Florida. We were working in an area south of Miami, Florida.
In the neighborhood where we were working, we set up a Vacation Bible School
and invited the local community.
Craig Foster, a high school junior from Greenville, SC,
was leading a Bible lesson for the neighborhood children
when a six year old boy from raised his hand and asked, “Who is this Jesus?”
Craig had been telling one of the gospel stories about something Jesus said or did,
and the little boy honestly did not recognize the name.
I can still picture the boy’s honest and open face. “Who is this Jesus you keep talking about?”
It was 1993 in Homestead, Florida, just south of Miami, and a local kid from the neighborhood
did not know the name of Jesus. I was shocked.
To Craig Foster’s credit, he stopped the lesson he was supposed to be teaching,
closed the curriculum book, took a deep breath, and proceeded to tell that young boy
and all the others who would listen what he knew about Jesus.
It was a beautiful scene. I do not know whatever happened to that young boy and his friends
from the neighborhood in Homestead, but I do know that Craig’s life took a new direction that day.
Craig is now a Presbyterian minister in Spartanburg, SC,
where he is especially appreciated for his work in education and discipleship.
Friends, we live in a small and diverse city, and a dramatically diverse county,
where many young children, and a surprising number of adults, do not know the name of Jesus.
If they do know his name, they know very little about him or his teachings.
They know almost nothing about what Jesus means to you, to the people of this church.
The mission of the church is now at our very doorstep.
South Highland Presbyterian Church in Birmingham, Alabama, where my father grew up,
has a sign on the wall in its narthex, obviously noticed as one exits the sanctuary.
The sign reads: “You are now entering the mission field.”
The mission field is right at our doorstep. D.T. Niles once said that:
“Evangelism is nothing more than one beggar telling another where he found some bread.”
If perchance you have received “bread” from the teachings of Jesus,
if you have received sustenance from the grace of God at work in your life,
if you have received any measure of comfort or inspiration from the ministry of this church
or the wondrous music of this choir,
if you have felt the love of Jesus Christ in this place
and heard the challenge to live a more holy and upright life,
then, for God’s sake, tell some other beggar where to come to get some bread.
It should be said that because of some vocal brothers and sisters
in some of the “conservative evangelical” circles, many have been told and believe
some very wrong-headed ideas about the church of Jesus Christ and her members.
Many people just beyond our doors have no idea what this church stands for and is committed to.
Many people hold false suppositions about what you believe, how you live,
and how you feel about the world around you.
Who will share the good news of Jesus Christ and his love?
Who will tell our neighbors that Decatur Presbyterian Church is a place of welcome, not of judgment,
a place of hospitality, and not of division,
a hospital for sinners, not a sanctuary for the sanctimonious,
a center for worship and learning and service,
where every child of God can belong, engage, and find transformation,
and not some exclusive club for nice white people who may have some Scottish ancestry…
St. Francis of Assisi, known for his loving ministry to all the people of his village and to animals,
supposedly said: “Preach the Gospel at all times. When necessary, use words.”
We live in a time and social context where it has become necessary for Presbyterians to use words.
The Presbyterian Church and its members can no longer simply act with good repute and intentions
and expect neighbors to know “why” we do what we do or what we believe the compels us.
Jesus sends us beyond these doors to extend the love of God in baptism and to make disciples of all,
to share the love that claims us before we can claim it ourselves,
and to call for faithful living through obedience to Jesus’ teachings.
This is no small task. This Great Commission is the same as the one given to the eleven
gathered on a mountaintop in Galilee.
After the resurrection, they had walked 60 miles from Jerusalem to the top of a mountain in Galilee
to experience the risen Jesus, but still…some doubted!
There is no small measure of grace in that small phrase.
Doubt and worship often go together.
“If you are among the many of us who both doubt and worship, you are in very good company.
The founders and leaders of our faith consistently struggled with God’s word.
Sarah literally laughed at the impossibility of God’s promise (and who could blame her).
Jonah and Moses and Jeremiah argued with God about their mission.
Even Jesus prayed for another way – if it be your will, Lord, take this cup from me…” (Vernon’s blog)
Did you catch the promise in the last verse that makes our ministry possible?
“Remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
As Vernon Gramling wrote in his blog this week:
“We cannot sustain love for neighbor unless we are loved.
The walk is too hard and the destination too uncertain without the memory that God has been with you
and God will be with you— even to end of the age.”
The key is that we remember the summary of Jesus’ teachings –
Love God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength,
and love your neighbor as you love yourself.
When you depart the sanctuary today, you will enter the mission field.
Your service may begin with helping us fill a disaster relief bucket
or perhaps with sharing Christian love with someone you meet on the sidewalk,
but your mission will certainly continue as you return to your neighborhood this afternoon
and to your place of work tomorrow.
The spiritual needs and the physical needs of the people of Decatur and of Dekalb County are vast.
There are many who suffer from isolation and spiritual alienation.
There are many whose economic needs are overwhelming.
Go, my friends, and make disciples.
Go, offer the love and grace and help of Jesus Christ to everyone you meet,
and teach the people by your actions, and occasionally your words,
what it means to follow Jesus Christ.
And remember that holy promise – he will be with you, always,
to strengthen you, to uphold you, to guide you and protect you. Amen.
Rev. Dr. Todd Speed
Decatur Presbyterian Church
September 17, 2017
Allysen Schaaf graduated from Union Presbyterian Seminary in Richmond, Virginia with a Master of Divinity and a Master of Arts in Christian Education. Prior to that she received a Bachelor of Arts in Exercise and Sport Science from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
The Rev. Dr. Todd Speed has served Decatur Presbyterian Church since August, 2007 and has been an integral part of the Decatur community ever since. As a part of his personal calling and service, Dr. Speed regularly serves on local non-profit or education-related boards, has led or co-led over 20 mission trips in various cultural contexts, and has participated in learning seminars on five continents.
Rev. Alexandra Rodgers was born and raised in Dallas, Texas. She grew up in a large Presbyterian church where she and her family were very involved. Alex has a degree in interdisciplinary studies from Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches, Texas, and a master of divinity from Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary in Austin, Texas.
Join us for worship on Sunday mornings at 10:30 a.m.
Worship is the heartbeat of Decatur Presbyterian Church, the most important hour of the week. In worship, we offer praise, receive forgiveness, listen to God's Word, pray for the needs of the world, and offer ourselves as living sacrifices to God.
The mission of DPC is to share Jesus Christ's love for the world.
Founded in 1825, Decatur Presbyterian Church has contributed in numerous ways to the cultural development of Decatur over nearly two centuries, transforming Decatur from a tiny frontier settlement to building the foundations of the city we live in today.
205 Sycamore Street, Decatur, GA 30030