GOSPEL LESSON Matthew 28:16-20
EPISTLE LESSON II Peter 1:1-11
SERMON: “The Great Omission”
What a joy it is every year to celebrate and honor our musicians and our Christian Education leaders! One of the very small changes I recall making soon after I came to NKPC was to expand this celebration from “choir appreciation” Sunday to “musician appreciation.” That wasn’t to diminish the role of the choir members, but to recognize the keyboardists, the director, and those who do special music throughout the year. I think I managed to list them all on the insert in your bulletin, but if I missed someone, please accept my apology. They say the memory is the second thing to go. I forget what the first thing is.
I know that for a few of you, music in worship isn’t a big deal. For others of you, the anthem or special music is the high point of each worship service. As we appreciate these folks today, keep in mind that with Thursday evening choir practices about than 35 weeks of the year and the commitment to be here Sunday mornings for practice and worship, that these folks are giving over 100 hours a year – just for that, and many of them are also serving as elders, deacons, committee members, counters, ushers . . .
Statistically a church's chancel choir includes approximately 10% of the number of people in worship. NKPC has more than twice that many faithful choir members. That may be part of the reason we’ve been able to keep a talented (range!), generous (choral library/party!) and good-natured director like Dennis.
Micki couldn’t be here today – of all the days to miss. But I will share with you the most frequently made comment from liturgists as they sit up here with me during the prelude is something to the effect of “She’s really good!” [at the piano].
And we are also blessed to have Emily who graciously, and with ease, steps in whenever Micki can’t be here – and then of course, Dana, who shares his voice with us any time we need a musical offering.
I remember the first time I got a bill from the surgeon after I had been in the hospital for about ten days (long time ago!). $50/day for ten days. (Multiply that by 10 for inflation). He poked his head in the door, asked how I was doing, and was gone in about three minutes. $50 for 3 minutes?! My mom explained it to me. “You’re not paying for the three minutes. You’re paying for years of medical school, educational loans and tuition, and years of experience for your doctor to have taken good care of you. Musicians – same thing. Whenever you look at the church budget and see what we pay – for one hour on Sunday mornings?! No, for years of training and hours of practice. I only wish we could credit the singers on their annual giving statements for the hours they donate.
Today isn’t just about our musicians; it’s also about those who teach around here – Sunday school, Adult Education, Bible study. . . How many of you have taught Sunday school at some point? Well, JEV and Deb are still doing it with our children and youth. A lot of time, effort, expense and commitment go into that. How many of you have led a Bible study? The JOY Bible study is led by Bob Douglas, Ny Dettmer and Bob Delmont. I apologize that I have lost track of how many people have ‘moderated’ our Sunday morning adult class/discussions.
In the fall of 2010 we had what is called a “triennial visit’ from presbytery. For those of you who’ve never participated in one of those, it’s a time when usually 2 representatives from the Committee on Ministry ask the current active elders to answer some questions and then they come and chat with me, with the session, and with us all together, just to see how things are going in the church and if there are any ways the presbytery can be helpful to us.
In answer to one of the questions an elder (I have no idea who) wrote, “the pastor does most tasks.” After about two seconds of satisfaction at being recognized for my contributions, my thoughts quickly jumped to: “there’s a ton of stuff I don’t do around here.” For my own benefit I started making a list of things I don’t do. I don’t ever touch church money if I can avoid it, and I do none of the financial record-keeping. I don’t bake the communion bread or set up all those little cups of grape juice. Most of the missions work, kitchen work, property care, taking barrel donations to the Service Center . . . you people do those things. When my list got to 35 or 40 things that members and friends do, I quit adding to the list. I didn’t want anyone I might share the list
with to get the idea that I don’t do anything around here. J
So today we honor and celebrate everyone who volunteers their time, talent, training and resources to make this church family effective, to make it work. We have reason to be proud of the work and mission that we do.
Then, a few weeks ago I came across a book with the startling title, “The Great Omission.” Not “The Great Commission” or “The Great Mission.” But “The Great Omission.” What are we not doing?
Dallas Willard’s book zeroes in on Matthew 28:16-20, the verses we know as “The Great Commission.” After his account of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and Mary’s astonished reaction and the disciples’ trip to Galilee, Matthew records Jesus’ instruction to his followers: “Go 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 I have commanded you.” We do baptize people. We do teach people what Jesus commanded. We extend that to all nations (understand ‘nations’ as ethnic groups, not geographical/political states). What we miss – is making disciples.
In another of his books, “The Spirit of the Disciplines: Understanding How God Changes Lives, Dallas writes, “For at least several decades the churches of the Western world have not made discipleship a condition of being a Christian. One is not required to be, or to intend to be, a disciple in order to become a Christian, and one may remain a Christian without any signs of progress toward or in discipleship. Contemporary American churches in particular do not require following Christ in his example, spirit and teachings as a condition of membership. . .discipleship clearly is optional.” (258)
Given this premise, his conclusion is predictable, though no less startling: Most problems in contemporary churches can be explained by the fact that members have not yet decided to follow Christ (259). Dallas points out that the word disciple is used 269 times in the New Testament. The word Christian is found only three times - and the first time is to introduce the disciples (Acts 11:26). The New Testament is a book about disciples, by disciples and for disciples of Jesus Christ (258). No one yet knows what changes would be wrought if the way of Christ were truly tried in human affairs.
Acts 1:8 records Jesus words to his disciples before he ascended to heaven. “He said to them: ‘you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.’ ” But discipleship is sharing the love of Jesus with those around us, whether it be through a formal discipling relationship in which we have a set agenda of material to cover each week or if discipling through just the time we spend together. It is loving, caring people - more than materials and programs - that make disciples.
At the 1968 World Congress on Evangelism, John R. W. Stott said, "The Church engages in evangelism today, not because it wants to or because it chooses to or because it likes to, but because it has been told to. Evangelistic inactivity is disobedience. It is easy to determine when something is aflame. It ignites other material." "Any fire that does not spread will eventually go out. A church without evangelism is a contradiction in terms; just as a fire that does not burn is a contradiction." (Christian Theology in Plain Language, p. 162)
We know the words of the Great Commission: go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,20 and teachingthem to obey everything I have commanded you.
We are a generous people with ministry and mission.
How are we at making disciples?
We are good at gathering.
How good are we at being sent?
If we struggle with disciple-making, we are not alone. We shouldn’t beat ourselves up. A 4-year study funded by the Lily Endowment designed to identify and analyze highly effective examples of evangelism by congregations in 7 mainline denominations found that of the 30,000 churches that qualified for the Mainline Evangelism Project, only 1/2 of 1% are baptizing a significant number of adults (conversion baptisms).
NKPC is called to be a growing, viable and vital congregation of followers of the Lord Jesus Christ. And we know that God doesn’t always call the equipped, but he always equips the called. We can remedy the Great Omission if together we unpack and fulfill the Great Commission. Don’t let it discourage or overwhelm you, for the Lord has promised us: Surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”