The Main Thing Part 2: Grow
1 Corinthians 11:1; Luke 6:46
Rev. Morris Brown
Maybe you’ve heard the story of the woman who bought a talking parrot? After a few days, she returned to the pet store to complain that the parrot wouldn’t talk. “Does the parrot have a mirror in his cage?” the pet store owner asked. “No”, the woman said, “why does he need a mirror in his cage?”
“Well”, he replied,“When a parrot sees its reflection it will talk to it.” That sounded logical. So, the woman bought a mirror, took it home, and put it in the cage. But, the parrot still wouldn’t talk. So, a few days later the woman returned to the pet store to complain again.
“Does the parrot have a ladder?” the pet store owner asked. “No”, the woman said, “Why does he need a ladder?” “Well”, the owner said, “Parrots love ladders. And when they climb up and down they tend to talk.” Now, that sounded silly, but the woman bought a ladder anyway. She took it home and put it in the cage. A few days later, however, the parrot still wouldn’t talk. So, the woman went back to the pet store and complained a third time.
“Does the parrot have a swing?” the pet store owner asked. “No”, the woman cried, “Why does he need a swing? “Swinging parrots are talking parrots!” the pet store owner said. So, the woman bought a swing, took it home, and put it in the cage.
But the parrot still wouldn’t talk. The next day the woman walked into the pet store with a sad look on her face. “What’s wrong?” the pet store owner inquired. “My parrot died last night!” the woman said. “I’m sorry!” the owner responded, “Did he say anything before he passed?”
“Actually”, the woman replied, “He did. As he took his last breath, the parrot looked me in the eye and said, “Don’t they sell food at that pet store?!”
Now, that’s a woman who forgot that the “main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing!” Which, brings us to the worship series we began sharing last week. As you know, it’s entitled, The Main Thing!
This series is based on something Stephen Covey said in his book, Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. Namely, that “people who are highly effective in life know that “the main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.” As a result, they define their “core values” and allow them to drive everything they do.
Well, last week I told you that highly effective communities of faith are like that too! They define the “core values” God has called them focus on and make them the main thing. They let those values drive their life together. So, what’s “the main thing” at Christ Church? What are the “core values” of our community of faith
Well, our core values are to: love, grow, and serve. We want to be a community of faith that’s loving God, humanity, and all creation, intentionally growing in Christlikeness and serving others. And in this series we’re exploring what that means. Last Sunday we began with the first core value, love.
Today, we move to our second core value. Today we want to talk about grow. We want Christ Church to be a church that’s helping ourselves and other intentional grow in Christlikeness. So, what does that mean? Let me put it very simply; we want to be a community of faith that’s helping people be like Jesus.
You see, in the Christian faith we believe that Jesus came into the world to show us what God is really like. We believe he came to show us that God is a God of unconditional love. But, we also believe that Jesus came to show us something else; we believe Jesus came to show us what a healthy human being looks like.
In other words, when we look at Jesus–his wisdom and values, his way of life, and his worldview–we get a picture of a human being that is healthy and whole. We get a picture of the kind of human being God created all of us to be. As a result, we want to be a church that’s helping people do what Paul said in 1 Corinthians 11.
We want to be a church that helps people imitate Christ! We want to be a church that helps people imitate Christ, because we know the more we do it, the more we become our very best selves! So, how can we be a community of faith that’s helping people intentionally grow in Christlikeness? Three ways.
First, to be a church that’s helping people grow in Christlikeness, we must provide people with creative opportunities to LEARN about Christ. We need to spend a significant amount of our time, energy, and resources providing opportunities for people to learn the wisdom, way, and worldview of our Lord.
Why? Because we can’t become like Jesus, and others can’t become like Jesus, unless we know something about him. I once read a story about a man named Harry Kahn. Mr. Kahn was a professional Abraham Lincoln impersonator. He made his living going around the country making appearances as Mr. Lincoln.
The interesting part of the story, however, was that when Mr. Kahn (who really did look like Abraham Lincoln) began going to schools and civic organizations as Mr. Lincoln, he ran into a serious problem. He said the boys and girls would ask him questions about Abraham Lincoln’s life and the ideas that Lincoln promoted.
And when they did, Mr. Kahn suddenly realized that he knew very little about this amazing man. He realized that although he could make appearances looking like Abraham Lincoln and dressing like Abraham Lincoln, he really didn’t know much about Abraham Lincoln at all. So, Mr. Kahn decided to go to the library. He checked out all the books about Abraham Lincoln he could find. He learned about Lincoln’s childhood and youth, his struggles in his adult life, his thoughts, and his ideas about a variety of topics. He even read and memorized some of Lincoln’s speeches and studied his thoughts about slavery and The Civil War.
“It was then, and only then,” Mr. Kahn later said, “that I was truly able begin to imitate the power of this great man.”
Listen, if we’re going to be a church that’s helping people grow in Christlikeness, we need to be a church that creates all kinds of exciting opportunities for children, youth, and adults to learn about Jesus. We need to be a church that’s devoting a significant amount of our time, energy and resources developing Sunday small groups, short-term bible studies and other experiences where people can learn wisdom, way and worldview Christ.
Now, we already have some great opportunities for people to do that right here on our campus. We have a number of wonderful Sunday school classes and small groups that meet on here on Sunday mornings and throughout the week. And two weeks from today, on August 27th, we’ll have “Start Up Sunday,” which will not only provide you the opportunity to learn about many of these groups but sign up for one as well!
But, we don’t want to limit ourselves to these groups. Why? Because Sunday morning or coming to our campus doesn’t work for everyone. As a result, we also need to make sure we offer learning groups that meet off sight, on other days. For example, at a previous church I had some young adults who didn’t go to Sunday school. Nor did they participate in a small group that met on our campus. It wasn’t that there was anything wrong with Sunday school or our campus or that they didn’t want to learn about Jesus. It’s just that traditional ways of doing it didn’t work for them. So, what did we do? We started a group called The Message at McCouls. It was a small group that met on Tuesday evenings at McCoul’s Pub in downtown Greensboro. Almost every week 15-20 people gathered in this very informal place to learn about Christ.
Here’s the point! To be a church that’s helping people grow in Christlikeness, we need to provide creative opportunities to learn about Jesus.
Second, to be a community of faith that’s helping people grow in Christlikeness, we need to teach people how to LINGER in the presence of Christ. You see, one way to become like a person is certainly to learn about them. But sometimes, to really become like them, we also need to spend time in their presence.
For example, a few years ago, Will Smith starred in the movie Ali, which was about the the life story of three- time heavy weight champion of the world Mohammed Ali. Now, to prepare to play the role of Mohammed Ali, Will Smith spent a lot of time doing research on Ali’s life, learning everything he could about him
He read every book and article he could get his hands on. He spent hours watching films of Ali fighting or being interviewed by reporters. But, when it came down to it, Will Smith said, “I still didn’t feel I had what I needed to play the role of Ali. So, I made a decision. I decided to travel to Africa, where Ali was living. I spent three months living with him, sharing meals with him, and just being in his presence. Doing this, immersing myself in the aura of his spirit, for an extended period of time helped me become like him.”
In order for Will Smith to become like Muhammad Ali, he had to spend time in his presence.
Well, as Christians, we believe that although Jesus lived 2000 years ago, the presence of the risen Christ is still with us and available to us. And when we take the time to open ourselves to his presence by engaging in various practices, his Spirit goes to work on us, shaping us and molding us to make us more like him.
And if we’re going to grow in Christlikeness and help others do it too, we must teach people how to open themselves up to that presence. So, how do we do this? By introducing them to a variety of spiritual practices. For, at their root, the intention of all spiritual practices is to open us up to the presence of Christ.
The good news is, we’re already teaching people these practices! For example, we have a “centering prayer” group that meets at our church. It gives people the opportunity to practice the art of Christian contemplation – sitting quietly in the presence of Christ. We also have a portable labyrinth that’s set up several times a year. It gives people the opportunity to come and practice the art of “walking meditation” as we way to open themselves up to Christ’s presence.
We have a number of yoga classes that teach people how to open themselves to the presence of Christ not only with their mind, but with their body.
We offer several spiritual retreats. Through these retreats, both on and off campus, we offer people the opportunity to step out of their busy lives for a more extended period of time to attend to their soul. And to top it all off, we have Alice Kunka, our pastor of spiritual formation, who continues to help us create new opportunities to linger in the presence of Christ.
There are a number of ways we are doing it, and there are many new ways we can do it. But if we are going to be a church that helps every person who walks through our doors grow in Christlikeness, become more like Jesus, we need to be teaching people spiritual practices that can help them linger in the presence Christ.
Finally, to grow in Christlikeness and help others do it too, we must be a church that helps people LIVE like Jesus lived. Why? Sometimes, the best way to become like someone is live how they live, to do what they do! Back in 1921, Calvin Coolidge invited some friends from his hometown to dinner at the White House.
Now, since these people had never been to the White House and didn’t know how to behave at such an occasion, they decided that the best policy would be to do exactly what the president did. So, when President Coolidge sat down to dinner, they sat down. When President Coolidge stared eating dinner, they started eating dinner.
Everything went well until it came time for coffee. You see, when the coffee was served, the President took his cup and poured some of the coffee into a saucer. This seemed a little odd to the hometown folks. But they wanted to be like the president. So, they took their cups and poured some coffee into their saucers!
Next, the President poured some milk and sugar into the coffee in the saucer. So, the home folks did the same. They thought the next step would be for the President to take the saucer with the coffee and begin sipping it. But he didn’t. Instead the President Coolidge leaned over, placed the saucer on the floor, and called the cat!
Now, I don’t know if that story’s true, but I do know there is truth in that story. Sometimes, the best way to become like someone is to do what that person does. And so, if we want to be a community of faith that’s growing in Christlikeness, that’s helping people become like Christ, we need to help them do what Jesus did, to live the way Jesus lived.
So, how did Jesus live? He lived a life of radical hospitality. He served the poor. He ate with the outcast. He cared for the lonely. He loved the unlovable. And as he reminded us in this morning’s gospel lesson, if we want to be like him, we need to do the same thing.
Remember how he put it: “Why do you call me call me Lord, Lord, but do not do what I say, or do what I do?”
Several years ago, at my church in Reidsville, we had the opportunity to merge with a downtown church that was dying. One of the conditions we set for the merger was that we would be able to turn the church into a mission outpost; a place where all kinds of folks in town could come on a week night to share a free meal, build relationships, worship and discover the truth that we’re all God’s children. We called our experiment, Monday Night Live. We started on the first Monday in June, which by the way, is a lousy time to start a brand new worship service.
To make a long story short, the first week 50 people showed up. By the third week, 90 people were there. And by the end of six weeks, we had well over 125 people of all kinds gathering to share a meal, build friendships, and experience the joy of worship together. That was three years ago, and it’s still going strong!
What’s most interesting, however, is what a very well to do man in our church told me one night. He pulled me aside and said, “You know, Pastor Morris, for years I’ve been generous with my resources. I’ve written checks to my church and nearly every ministry in town. And I’ll continue to do that. But, this is different. Each week, when I come to this place, I share a meal with people I’d otherwise never encounter. I make friends with people I probably wouldn’t speak to on the street. I worship with people I’d never see at our church’s other campus. In this place”, he said, “I’m learning to live like Jesus – and it’s changed my life!”
If we want to be a church that’s helping people grow in Christlikeness, we must help them live like Jesus. In addition to asking people to write a check for missions – which is important - we need to create opportunities for people to have “hands on” experiences, where they can build real relationships with all kinds of folks.
For when we truly encounter the poor, embrace the outcast, and build relationships with those who differ from us, we discover the wonderful truth that we really are ALL God’s children. And that not only changes their lives, it changes ours! It changes the world.
And what happened in Charlottesville, VA yesterday reminds us that we live in a world that desperately needs to be changed.
To grow in Christlikeness, we must help people do what Jesus did and live like Jesus lived!
So, highly effective churches are churches that understand “the main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.” And one of the main things at Christ Church is to be a church that’s helping people grow in Christlikeness. How do we do that? By being a community of faith that helps people learn about Christ. By being a community of faith that’s teaching people how to linger in the presence of Christ. And by being a community of faith that’s doing all we can to help people live like Christ. For as we do this, we’ll be a community of faith that’s producing Christlike people God can use to transform the world for love!
1. Describe a class/small group that has helped grow in Christlikeness. What made it so helpful?
2. Is there a spiritual practice that has helped you grow in Christlikeness? What is it, and what makes it so helpful?
3. Do you think “hands on” serving helps people grow in Christlikeness? Why or why not?