Rounding the Bases of the Christian Life

rounding the basesTo listen to Pastor Marcus’ sermon click on the audio player below:

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Sermon based on James 1:17-27 & Mark 7:1-8

Rick Warren in his book The Purpose Drive Life describes the life of a Christian as a baseball diamond. First base represents our belief and membership to a church. Second base represents a growing maturity through Bible study, prayer and Sunday school involvement. Third base stands for ministry where we identify our spiritual gifts and use them to serve the church through our time, talents and treasure. Finally home base is all about missions, venturing out to follow the Great Commission and to follow the Great Commandment of Jesus Christ that says:

 You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.  Matthew 22:37-40

If we stop to think about our journeys in faith, too many of us are content to stay at first base where all we may do is worship. Some of us may advance to second base where we study Scripture and become involved in Sunday school and other fellowship groups. Others may advance to third base where we discover our spiritual gifts and become more heavily involved in the ministry of the church. An even smaller percentage of us hit that spiritual home run. Many among us have developed the idea that the church is just about our immediate needs.  A desire among many Christian leaders is that as many members as possible would round the bases of the Christian life and follow Jesus’ Greatest Commandment by loving and serving others! Our motto as a church states this eloquently, “Loving to serve, serving to love.”  As our Scripture passage this morning from James speaks of how we can become “doers” of God’s word, we know that one of the ways we can become a “doer” is by becoming a mentor to others. We all have challenging mountains to climb outside and inside the church.  In those valleys and twists and turns of life, we need mentors who can help us climb our own personal mountains.

An exploration of Scripture shows us how important mentoring was in Biblical times. In the Old Testament we have accounts of Naomi mentoring Ruth, Samuel mentoring David who also mentored others. Jethro mentored Moses, who went on to mentor Joshua. In the New Testament one of the primary missions of Jesus was to mentor the twelve disciples who were then called upon to mentor other followers of Jesus. One of the best ways we can mentor others is by modeling the words of wisdom provided for us in the first chapter of James. As we turn our attention to the first chapter of James, there is a progression in his teaching that goes like this. First, be quick to listen; then be slow to speak; next be slow to anger; and finally do what God’s word tells us to do. Doing the word of God is at the very center of the theology and practical teaching of James. How we go about this will vary from person to person but James encourages us to begin first with self-examination. James uses the imagery of looking into a mirror.

As we look into the mirror of our spiritual lives, what do we see before us? Sometimes our spiritual lives can become stagnant when all we receive is the Word of God and we fail to translate what we have learned into action. As we explore our gospel lesson this morning from Mark we see in this text that Jesus addresses three different audiences: a group of Pharisees and scribes who raise the question of defilement, the crowd that is present, and the disciples who, true to character in Mark’s Gospel, don’t understand the actions of Jesus fully. The message is delivered differently to each of these groups, but its essence is the same: we are defiled, we are made unholy, not by what we take in, but by what we are feeling in our hearts. For some followers they have become mere spectators who enjoy listening to the Word of God preached and taught on Sundays. While people can be filled with Biblical knowledge like the rules and traditions that the Pharisees quoted in Mark’s gospel, sometimes there are difficulties translating this knowledge into active Christian living.

One of the best ways we can move into action as a follower of Christ is through mentoring.  As we think of mentoring I have always appreciated the classic story about a faithful pastor who was told by his superior that something was wrong with their ministry. The supervisor told the pastor that only one person has been added to their church membership and it was just a young boy. Later that day, heavy of heart, the pastor was praying in the sanctuary when someone walked up behind him. Turning around, he saw his only convert that year. The boy said, “Pastor, do you think I could become a preacher or missionary some day?” The pastor encouraged him to pray and seek God’s will for his life. The young boy’s name was Robert Moffit. Moffit would later become one of the pioneers that help opened the continent of Africa to missionaries to spread the gospel. Years later when Moffit spoke in London, a young doctor heard him say, “I have seen in the morning sun the smoke of a thousand villages where no missionary has ever been.” This young doctor was so deeply moved by Moffit’s message, he pledged to move to Africa to help minister and treat those in that country. This doctor was David Livingstone. In 1840, he sailed for Africa where he labored for Jesus for more than three decades. These wonderful ministries began because a pastor served as a mentor to a single person.

Mentors are those types of people who offer encouragement and who are good listeners. Often they are someone older, patient and wise, who understood us when we were young and searching, and who helped us see the world in a different light and gave us sound advice. Maybe that person was a grandparent, teacher, or colleague who helped mentor us. Bob Biehl in his book Mentoring writes: Mentoring is a lifelong relationship, in which a mentor helps a protégé reach his or her God-given potential.

As shared earlier we have a number of biblical examples of mentoring, but the word for mentor comes actually from the Greek culture. In Homer’s Odyssey, Odysseus left his son, Telemachus under the watch care of a trusted guardian by the name of Mentor. When Odysseus returned from the Trojan War he discovered that his son had matured under the care of Mentor. In Christian theology, we too have a mentor. Jesus Christ is a mentor for everyone who believes in him. Jesus is a mentor who never disappoints us. Jesus himself said:

A student is not above his teacher; but everyone who is fully trained will be like his teacher.  Luke 6:40

If we were to study the demographics of our congregation we would recognize that we have several adults born in the years of 1925-1942. They have become known in some circles as the Builder generation. This is the generation who although they didn’t live through the Great Depression heard about it often. This is the generation that saw America move from the farm to the city and then from a blue-collar economy to the information age. While they have seen this mind-boggling change, they can remember when life was simpler, slower, and more sensible. They helped build a great nation, and they can help build the next generation. Our congregation also has people who are part of the Builders, Baby Boomers (born 1943-1960) and Generation X (born 1961-1979) and young people who are becoming known as the millennial generation. Together we can learn from each other. In learning from each other we need to realize at times this may require a new way of thinking.

There was a wonderful movie that came out in 2000 that illustrated the importance of mentoring. This movie was entitled, Finding Forrester,starring Sean Connery.  Connery’s character, William Forrester was a reclusive writer who, after winning the Pulitzer Prize for his first novel, locks himself inside his apartment to hide from the world. Forrester lives off the royalties generated by his classic novel and spends his time reading and writing an occasional article. He refused to write another book. From his window, Forrester uses binoculars to watch the world outside. To the kids playing basketball in the playground below, Forrester is known simply as “The Window.”On a dare, a high school student, Jamal, breaks into Forrester’s apartment. Jamal is frightened by Forrester and runs off, leaving his book bag behind. Forrester opens his book bag and discovers Jamal’s writings. Forrester edits several of Jamal’s writing journals and later throws the book bag with the journals out the window as Jamal passes below. Those events initiate a friendship and mentoring relationship. Forrester mentors Jamal, developing him into a writer of such skill that his teachers suspect him of plagiarism. Forrester helps transform Jamal from a person with great potential into a person of accomplishment. Jamal also transforms Forrester. As Forrester helps Jamal progress as a writer, Jamal helps Forrester end his self-imposed exile. Because of Jamal’s encouragement, Forrester has the courage to go outside alone, ride his bike again, and even travel to visit his homeland, Scotland, before he dies of cancer. It is largely due to Jamal’s friendship that Forrester writes a second novel just before his death. The final scene shows Jamal reading a letter from Forrester, who had already died. Forrester writes: “While I may have waited until the winter of my life to see the things I have seen this past year, there is no doubt I would have waited too long, had it not been for you.” Forrester spurred Jamal to become an accomplished writer while Jamal spurred Forrester to live his life fully.

Mentoring is a reciprocal relationship. We are designed for relationship, and God allows us to grow through the people who help us and through the people whom we help. Together let us round the bases of the Christian life and help mentor the next generation for Christ.

The Rev. Dr. David A. Marcus, Jr.

May 6, 2018

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