Welcome to the Waretown United Methodist Church Fall Session Discipleship Initiative! For the past few weeks we have be posting a once weekly reflection on Scripture, Mission, and the book Right Here Right Now: by Alan Hirsch & Lance Ford. This Blog/Facebook discussion is part Bible Study, part Book Discussion, and part Practical Worskshop. You may post responses to this post (either on the blog or Facebook), repost, start a new related post, or message with others regarding the posted discussion for the week. Before you begin, please observe the following practices:
1. PRAY before you start! When we are in connection with God daily… God works in and through our lives to bring insight, inspiration, and understanding.
2. ENGAGE others in the group and outside. What God reveals to us through insight, inspiration and understanding is not meant for us alone… but others as well. God wants to use all of us to bring love, grace, hope, and faith to others.
3. RESPECT everyone. Sometimes we don’t agree… that’s OK. Consider every person and post to be earnestly seeking the best that God has to offer.
4. PARTICIPATE. It’s easy to passively observe… it takes guts to get in on the action! God is not calling for armchair quarterbacks, or part-timers. The only way to experience anything from this is to be ‘ALL IN’.
Pastor Erik’s Reflections
Where I grew up in Northern NJ all of the homes in my neighborhood had front porches, and they were places for people to gather. Even strangers and those whom we wouldn’t necessarily invite into our homes for a formal visit were welcomed onto the porch. Porches are inclusive places, gathering places, but they are also transitional places, connecting the intimate inside with the big-wide-world outside. One thing about Jesus is that he is always drawing the circle of inclusivity larger and wider than any of his followers are comfortable with. Jesus is fond of inviting people onto the porch. He gives them a personal level of care and concern, inviting them into relationship with himself, making room for the least, the vulnerable, the children, and the outcast. In Mark 9 Jesus makes sure his followers know that the circle of God’s acceptance is wide: “whoever is NOT AGAINST us is for us” (Mark 9:40) Unless someone is standing against Christ and the faith, they are to be counted as potential allies, friends, brothers/sisters, fellow sojourners. In many instances we who are the church have reversed the circle Jesus drew with the one we are more familiar with: “whoever is NOT FOR us is against us” Oftentimes we exclude others because they are not like us.
In John 4, the story of ‘the woman at the well’ shows us that the process of sharing the truth, faith, and love of God STARTS with inviting people onto the porch… into the circle. In other words, building relationships with people is where our mission begins. The woman at the well was a stranger, and in Jesus’ culture she was someone to ignore and avoid. But, because Jesus took time to invite her into conversation, listen to her, and extend to her the invitation to begin a faith relationship with him, she was inspired to ‘turn her life around’ for the better AND tell all the rest of her friends and neighbors. In John 4:39 we read that this woman’s newfound faith and immediate mission to her neighbors and friends was responsible for many “who came to believe in Jesus”. Isn’t this the way it is supposed to be for us who are Christ-followers? Through real relationship investment in people around us, even those who are different or considered outside the circle, we can inspire people to start a faith relationship with Jesus? How many people through the ages has the church turned off or turned away? How many people has the church turned from being ‘not against us’ to being ‘not for us’ because we excluded them for being different, or failed to invest the time in inviting and building a relationship with them, failed to invite them into the circle or onto the porch?
Reflections from the Book ‘Right Here Right Now
The understatement of this chapter is that our culture is really not oriented towards the kind of investment in relationship necessary for sharing our faith and making disciples for Jesus as local missionaries. Our American sense of individualism puts such a high value and priority on things like privacy, personal space (physical AND emotional), and a ‘be and let be’ attitude, that most of us find it uncomfortable (if not downright unacceptable) to initiate meaningful and vulnerable conversations, invitations, relationships with ANYONE outside our personal ‘circle’. If we throw on top of this ‘cultural discomfort’ the added discomfort of being Christians and interacting with non-Christians who do not necessarily share our faith in Jesus… the reality that we are missionaries for Jesus in our neighborhood with a calling to reach others with the Gospel can be REALLY SCARY indeed. But, Alan Hirsch says (on p. 92 in the “Just Sayin’ section): “If we are truly committed to bringing Jesus as the center of our lives among others and to see the church renewed in the mission of God, we will lead it towards a greater respect for the unbeliever, a greater grace for those who, though they don’t attend church services, are nonetheless marked by God’s Image. It will lead to a greater respect for people in general.