Years ago in the area where I grew up, there was a preacher who was notorious for taking the Sunday newspaper into the pulpit with him every week. He must have misinterpreted Barth’s metaphor as fact. (Karl Barth advised preachers to enter the pulpit with a Bible in one hand and a newspaper in the other – He didn’t mean to do so literally, but rather to write sermons that bridge the gap between the world of scripture and the world of the worshiper in the pew.) Anyway, the minister from my home state would point out two or three stories from the front page and then talk about them (throwing in a biblical text here and there to make certain it sounded sufficiently sermonic). No doubt he thought it made him look up-to-date and relevant. But all his church members thought it made him look unprepared. They would sometimes joke that he was too lazy to write a sermon. Instead, he let The Charlotte Observer do it for him.
There is a fine line between what we do and what we trust will be done in spite of us … a fine line between our efforts and The Spirits’ movement. Certainly God is the one who brings the harvest. But, as Paul indicated in I Corinthians 3: 5-9, we are first expected to plant the seeds.
Planting the seeds is what we call “discipleship.” The Greek word for “disciple” actually meant “student.” We have popularized the word to mean “follower” or “servant.” It’s really kind of a both/and thing. We learn what God desires for us and from us (students), then we take action to live into that Divine Will (servants). Discipleship.
Sometimes the challenges before us are almost overwhelming. Take a look at the status of things in our world and our nation – the divisiveness, the anger, the polarization, the placing of loyalty to one’s political party over loyalty to God. How does one respond to moments like these? Becca Stevens said in a recent sermon: “We don’t numb out, and we don’t freak out.” Perfect advice. We do not think that we have to fix everything by day’s end (freak out), but neither do we think things have become impossible to fix, so why even try (numb out). We do that which lies at hand. We seek to discern God’s will (we learn), and then we take whatever action we can, corporately and individually, to do what we think God desires of us (we serve). Discipleship.
Often the challenges are personal. I may not know how to repair all the broken issues regarding global terrorism, climate irresponsibility, negative ideologues, war, etc. I will do what I can, and I will communicate what I believe to those who are in positions to make decisions. However, there are other issues (not lesser, but more personal) over which I do have some measure of influence. I can take action that makes a difference in relationships with friends and family, in how I do my work, in how I use my words, in choosing forgiveness rather than vengeance, in practicing random acts of kindness that set waves of kindness into motion, in personal morality, in choosing to be tolerant and patient with others, etc. Those may not be the sorts of deeds that will be discussed on the floor of The U.N., but they are deeds that improve the quality of life within my corner of the world and have the potential to create a ripple effect. “Do unto others what you would have them do unto you.” “Love your enemy.” “Forgive not seventy times but seventy times seven.” “If someone needs a coat, give them a cloak as well.” Discipleship.
If we have a Bible in one hand (i.e., if we learn the Truths and Calls of God) and a newspaper in the other (if we observe the realities of life when and where we live it), then we are prepared to do something to make bad matters better. You hear me say it so often: “No one can do everything, but everyone can do something.” Prayerfully discern what you think God asks of you, then make a spiritual commitment to accomplish that. If we all do just that much, we will be used to create a world that becomes safe, sane, and sacred.