B.EL.L.S Mission Series - Bless
Scripture readings: Philippians 2, Matthew 28:18-20
I remember when I was a kid seeing the faces on the fridge magnets. Theses mysterious folks called “missionaries” captured my imagination. For me they were an ecclesiological Yeti. They existed in far off places, in countries I had barely heard of in the far-flung regions of Africa, South America, or Asia. Very occasionally they might visit the church when they were on “furlough” – another mystery – what on earth is a “furlough” I thought? Again, this just added to the mystique.
But the deep impression all of this gave me is that mission was something that happened “out there” wherever “out there” was. Mission was for missionaries, those people who lived on my fridge.
For the rest of us, we turned up at church on a Sunday to worship and did our best to make a good go at following Jesus during the week.
It wasn’t until much later in my faith that I realized there was much more to mission than I thought.
In today’s Gospel reading we hear Jesus commission his first followers. He gives the disciples a briefing. Like a coach huddling together his team before a big match, he huddles the disciples together and he says 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.”
Here is the crucial moment where Jesus gives his disciples the mandate for mission – go out and make disciples.
Ever since, the call to followers of Jesus is to go out and announce the good news of Jesus in word and deed and sign, making disciples of Jesus.
Today we kick off a new series here at St John’s – a five week series looking at how we might make disciples, taking seriously Jesus’ commission to go out and do this.
This series is grounded in a fantastic book by an Aussie theologian and Pastor Mike Frost. The book is called “Surprise the World: The Five Habits of Highly Missional People.”
This book makes the valuable point that we are all called to mission. It isn’t just for so called missionaries. Every single Christian is called to mission, to sharing the good news of Jesus.
This idea can freak many people out.
You might think, I didn’t sign up for this, I just wanted to sit in the back row at church and enjoy some peace and quiet on a Sunday.
This idea isn’t a ploy by enthusiastic Pastor’s to get their congregations fired up, this is an idea grounded in Scripture, a commission given by Jesus himself to his followers. The good news is good news to be shared.
Let’s face it though, not all of us are natural evangelists, telling every single person we ever meet about Jesus. I know people like this and frankly they make me uncomfortable. I would feel exhausted if I felt that every time I went to the supermarket or the coffee shop that I should be giving my testimony and asking people if they feel confident about their eternal destiny. Sometimes I just want to buy chocolate at 8.55pm at night just before the supermarket closes and go home and eat it.
So not all of us feel like natural evangelists, but the wonderful truth is that this doesn’t count us out. Some are gifted evangelists, some teachers and pastors, some prophets, some apostles. God pours out all kinds of giftings on His church and each of us have our own personalities to work with.
The point is that all of us are called to be doing mission and we can do it in an everyday and natural kind of way right where we are.
I think this is what Paul is getting at in his letter to the Colossians when in Chapter 4 he says:
“Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. 6 Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.” (Colossians 4:5-6)
Are we making the best of our time? Are our lives seasoned with salt, a living example of Jesus?
Mike Frost lays down a challenge for the church saying
“We need to become a godly, intriguing, socially adventurous, joyous presence in the lives of others.”
What a wonderful description that is of our posture toward our community – Godly – first it is all about God after all. Intriguing – perhaps there is something wonderfully different about us. Adventurous – are we willing to take risks for God? And a Joyous presence – we know that our world needs this right?
Of course, our everyday life is formed by all kinds of habits, daily routines and things we “just do.”
In Mike’s book he outlines 5 missional habits that shape us to be people of mission. We are going to explore one each week.
These five habits are made memorable by an acronym B.E.L.L.S - Bless, Eat, Listen, Learn, Sent
The idea is that as we lean into these habits our lives are formed to be people who naturally do mission as Jesus has called us to.
Today we are looking at the embracing the habit of blessing.
But before we do, an important digression
THE CENTRAL PRINCIPLE:
The central principle of all Christian mission is that it is based in the work of Jesus that has already been accomplished. We aren’t building God’s kingdom on our own talent – rather God uses us to extend his kingdom and to announce all that he has done in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.
Matthew 28:18 “All authority on heaven and earth has been given to me.”
Philippians – “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus”
The first missionary humbling himself and pouring out his life on the cross, exalted by God was Jesus Christ.
It is his mission of reconciling broken and sinful humanity to God that we announce with joy and that we express in the way that we live.
WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BLESS?
The first habit we are encouraged to embrace is the habit of blessing. So what does it mean to bless?
Blessing can be described in lots of ways.
We might say it is to speak well of, to praise to make happy, to build others up. “Anything that relieves their burden in life. Anything that helps them breathe more easily. Anything that lifts their spirit or alleviates their distress. It can be a small thing or large.” (Mike Frost)
If we look to Scripture for a notion of blessing, a helpful place to look is Philippians chapter 2.
Philippians chapter 2 is all about looking to the interests of others.
Jesus is given as the ultimate example because of his sacrificial love and his death upon the cross making possible our salvation.
In Paul’s letter to the Philippians he encourages them that this reality that Jesus humbly gives himself to this world in love should shape the life of the church at Philippi and so it should shape our communities.
Paul encourages them that they are to be of one mind, not to do things out of selfish ambition.
What Paul might have in mind here is the way that friendship was viewed in the Greco-Roman world. In many circles friendship worked within an honour shame economy.
Aristotle – “For (the noble man) will surrender wealth and power and all the goods that men struggle to win, if he can secure nobility for himself…Also the virtuous man is ready to forgo money if by that means his friends may gain more money; for thus, thought his friends get money, he himself achieves nobility and so assigns the greater good to his own share.”-Nicomachean Ethics
In the world Paul was writing to this honour system was strong. But Paul’s logic is based on something entirely different – in a giving without return. Paul is very counter-cultural here and goes as far to say that this new Christian community should be focused on other’s concerns rather than their own.
Several years ago, Rowan Williams, the former Archbishop of Canterbury came to Christchurch and he said something that really stuck with me. He said that we as Christians should be so busy loving God and loving our neighbours that we don’t have the time to get bogged down in our own concerns.
This is what true humility looks like. Humility isn’t doing that thing that Kiwi’s are good at where we tell everyone how terrible we are before they can pull us down. True humility according to Paul is seeing others as of a higher status, seeking others first.
With this in mind Paul encourages the community in Philippi to do all things without grumbling and to have the same mind. The practical reasoning that flows from understanding how Jesus humbled himself to be with us ought to provide a counter-cultural way of life for us here at St John’s
We live in a world where the individual is king. We live in a consumeristic society in which we have all confused our wants with our needs and we are consistently told to seek out what is best for us. Climb the ladder, take what is yours by right and hold onto it as tightly as you can.
But the counter-intuitive invitation that Paul is giving in his letter to the Philippians is to follow Jesus by pouring out our lives for others – to live our lives to bless not to receive.
HOW CAN WE BLESS? THREE PRACTICAL SUGGESTIONS FROM MIKE FROST’S book
THREE KINDS OF BLESSING:
1) Words of affirmation
Counter to the old rhyme about sticks and and stones, we know that words actually mean a lot. Words have power to bring life or to bring death. In the Hebrew tradition words are deeply important, after all when God creates in Genesis he speaks and ushers in life.
One very practical way we can bless is with words.
It might be a note of encouragement to others. It could be a card, It could be a well timed comment that helps lift someone’s spirit.
When I was at youth group we used to play a game where would all take a piece of paper and we would take an hour or so to sit and think about every person in the group. We would then write something that we appreciated or admired about that person. There were about 40 people in the group, but we did it for everyone. Then we would sit in a circle and we would go around each person and everyone would share what they had written. Tears would often flow as the person would hear all of the things people appreciated about them. This was a life-changing activity for many people I am sure.
It was a very deeply prophetic activity in my mind because it spoke into a culture which so often spends a lot of time tearing other people down.
A very dark part of our collective psyche as New Zealanders is our inclination to tear one another down, to speak words of death rather than life.
We have massive problems with bullying in our schools and our workplaces. We have some of the highest suicide statistics in the world. I can see a strong connection between this and our uncanny ability to tear one another down.
What if the church could be salty in a good way, offering words that build up and encourage and bring life. Here we have a great opportunity to model the good news of Jesus that each of us is a deeply loved child of God.
2) Acts of kindness
The second thing we might do is an act of kindness. This begins with noticing what people need. We might notice that our neighbours lawns are getting long and instead of thinking – “What’s wrong with him, doesn’t he have any pride in his garden!”, we might instead think “I wonder what is going on in his world.” It might turn out that his wife is sick or he has been stressed at work and we could mow the lawn for him.
Let me just say, I see a lot of these acts of kindness going on here at St John’s. You are a very caring bunch and for that I am deeply grateful. The question for us to keep on asking is this – how can we extend this loving kindness out to our community?
Finally, gifts are a wonderful way of blessing others. A book, some chocolates, a bottle of wine, whatever the person might like. A well-timed gift can express the wonderful abundance of God. It illustrates that God isn’t stingy, God gives good gifts to us every day in creation.
Let me add a little caveat to all of this talk about blessing. A great example of how not to do it is given by the character Ned Flanders from the Simpsons.
He is always in Homer’s ear being syrupy sweet and kind. “Howdy Ho Neighbour” is his catch cry.
He is constantly presented as self-righteous, condescending and irritating. He is constantly driving Homer Mad.
Blessing, must be just that, a blessing, particularly from the perspective of the one being blessed. The point isn’t to bless so that we convert our neighbours. The point is to illustrate the love of God as we bless. It is good to bless in and of itself.
God does the work in the hearts of our neighbours as we go out blessing and sharing God’s love.
Of course, as Paul reminds us, there will be a time when we must point to the source of all blessing – to Jesus. So let’s finish with his words from Colossians that remind us of our call to be people of everyday mission:
Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. 6 Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.” AMEN.
 Frost, Michael. Surprise the World: The Five Habits of Highly Missional People (p. 14). The Navigators. Kindle Edition.