Saturday, June 12, 2010

Grow and Go!

Grow and Go: Five “Takes” on a Great Theme

NW MN Synod Women’s Organization Convention
June 12, 2010 at Calvary, Perham

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

Thanks so much for inviting Joy and me to be with you. We love being part of these annual SWO Conventions.

Thanks, as well, for all the ways you Women of the ELCA are partners in doing God’s work with our hands. I especially want to thank the SWO for the generous gift of $2000 to the synod fund for mission during the tight economic times we’ve been facing. You helped keep our synod strong and moving forward in God’s work.

What a great theme you have chosen for this convention: Grow and Go! Just three little words….but boy, do they pack a punch. “Grow and Go!” That’s enough to keep us out of mischief until the day we die!

Grow and Go: a short, snappy theme…..summing up an enormous, life-stretching way of life!

As I prepared to preach this morning, though, I realized that I had material for at least five sermons….and I was pretty sure that preaching five sermons might throw the whole convention schedule off kilter.

So what I’d like to do instead is offer you five quick “takes” on your theme…five nuggets, five thoughts about this rich theme you have chosen for your convention. Here goes…

TAKE ONE: “Go? And Grow?” Yes, it’s OK…Lutherans can talk this way!

Surprise! Lutherans sometimes get nervous around words like “Grow and Go.” Why? Because they’re verbs aimed at you and me….imperatives, commands we’re asked to take seriously.

But why be nervous about that? Because we Lutherans are most comfortable when God “has the verbs,” when we’re focusing on what God does to save us, 100% by God’s grace, for Jesus’ sake….while we simply drink it in.

God gives. We receive. Easy as that.

Talk about “good works,” and Lutherans grow anxious. Back during the Reformation of the 16th century, one of Luther’s buddies even wondered out loud whether good works might be detrimental to our salvation.

So we get nervous around words like “Go and Grow”…even though the Bible is filled with such verbs, even though Paul (the original justification-by-grace guy!)….even though Paul can speak quite naturally in our second lesson about our growing “up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ…” (v. 15)

“Grow? And Go?” Can Lutherans talk this way without placing God’s grace at risk? Or course we can, simply because any growing we do and any going we attempt are also God’s gifts to us--lavished upon us, for the sake of God’s mission for which we are saved to serve.

Eugene Peterson puts it this way: “What we know about God and what we do for God have a way of getting broken apart in our lives. The moment the organic unity of belief and behavior is damaged in any way, we are incapable of living out the full humanity for which we were created. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians joins together what has been torn apart in our sin-wrecked world.” (Practice Resurrection, p. 30)

TAKE TWO: Grow and Go! It’s not either/or. It’s both/and.

As I travel around our synod, engaging with servants of Christ in our congregations….one of the craziest things I hear goes like this: “Mission is fine, but we have to take care of our own, first.” Or, they could just as easily say: We must grow (as individuals)…and if we get around to, we’ll go.

I’m always nervous when anyone treats these as either-ors….either we grow the Christians we already have (we sometimes call that “nurture”); or else we go and invite others into life with Christ (we sometimes call that “outreach”).

What I like about your theme is that it weds these two realities together….like two sides of the same coin. And I know that you Women of the ELCA “get it”—that growing and going are “both/and” activities that characterize a living, breathing, “reproducing” Body of Christ.

TAKE THREE: Go and Grow….Switching the Order “Works” Too!

There’s at least chronological “sense” to the order of those words as you have them in your theme: Grow and Go!

Obviously, for all of us who are followers of Jesus Christ, after we are joined to Christ, first there is some growing that we need to do….growing that we will do, as the seed of faith takes root, blossoms, and puts forth shoots and fruits in the world.

But such growth is never just for us or for our benefit. The one who grows in Christ will inevitably be the one who goes with Christ into the world, sent out to bear the Word wherever you go.

So having grown, we feel equipped to go…and there’s a certain logic to that, too.

But it also “works” the other way around…..sometimes the going precedes, indeed triggers, the growing.

If you want to learn how to swim, first get out of the boat. Go into the water, and watch how you’ll grow as a swimmer….the going pushing the growing.

I think of our friends at Immanuel Lutheran of Osage. A while back their own dwelling in God’s Word triggered a curiosity about their neighbors. They ran off 500 brochures, inviting their neighbors to some events at their church—but when they started delivering those brochures and meeting their neighbors, they discovered they had three times as many neighbors as they thought they did--many of them without a church home.

Their “going” at Immanuel church led to their “growing” into a mission partnership with a new ELCA outreach ministry in the Frazee-Vergas area. If you go, if you venture out of your comfort zone, you may grow in ways you never imagined!

TAKE FOUR: Grow and go and grow and go and grow and go….a rhythm over a lifetime

Growing and going, once established in our lives of faith, morph into a regular rhythm of life….”a long obedience in the same direction,” to borrow another phrase from Eugene Peterson.

There is nothing instant about this way of life…it is life lived over the long haul.

Something like that is envisioned in our first lesson from Deuteronomy, where Moses invites the children of Israel—on the cusp of the Promised Land—to take a long view of their life under God. Faith isn’t so much an instant, “microwave” thing…as it is a long, slow-cooking “crockpot” thing. So, Moses tells his people, “Recite [these words] to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise. 8Bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem* on your forehead, 9and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.”

Are you born again? A good Lutheran response is: “Yes, when I was baptized into Christ I was born again. And it has continued every day since—I am born again and again and again and again…”

Are you growing and going? Though sometimes it feels like “two steps forward, three steps backward”….God’s grace is always growing, moving in upon us. God’s new creation is always going, advancing toward us, from the future, into this moment… in Christ is a continual growing and going and growing and going.

TAKE FIVE: “You All” Grow and Go. It’s a “Together” Thing.

The Greek language in which our New Testament is written is so much more textured and colorful than our mother tongue. In English, verbs just are—they indicate action by or for “whoever”—you, me, us, them—whoever.

But in the Greek of the New Testament….verbs also describe who engages in the action, who is commanded to act.

And these words, “grow and go” are plural in the Greek. We might translate them: YOU ALL Grow….YOU ALL Go.

These gifted activities of God in our lives are too vital to be carried out individually. God invites and empowers us to grow and go, always in the company of others.

In our gospel lesson, Jesus sends out his 70 disciples in such Spartan fashion because he is counting on them running into allies along the way. There may be wolves out there in the mission field—but there are also other lambs out there. Jesus’ representatives can “pack light” because he’s assuming that others will help them, supply their wants, look after their needs…

….all of which is to say that “growing and going” in Jesus’ name is always a group endeavor; discipleship is inherently communal. It’s a “we” thing, not a “me” thing. Following Jesus is something we do best when we do it together.

God bless you today with the gifts of growing and going…a “both/and” reality….a lively rhythm of life…a venturing forth together, rooted in God’s Word, serving God’s mission, infiltrating God’s world for the sake of Jesus Christ. Amen.

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