Proverbs 1:2-9 & Matthew 28:16-20

“Living Up To And Into Our Mission: Why We Are Franklin Circle Christian Church! – Empowering Disciples To Serve And Glorify God”

~ Today begins a four part sermon series on the Mission Statement

of Franklin Circle Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Cleveland, Ohio

Rev. Allen V. Harris, Pastor

Hear this sermon as a Podcast HERE:  110918SermonPodcast

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As part of my morning devotional, I’ve begun to read a blog by my longtime, dear friend, the Rev. Bruce Frogge.  He’s the senior pastor of First Christian Church of Naples, Florida.  He writes such thoughtful reflections on scripture, and I deeply appreciate his honest wrangling with life, faith, and this holy text he seeks to understand and live it out more fully.  This past week, reflecting on Psalm 92, he talks about being energized in realizing that the word translated as “righteous” in the phrase, “The righteous flourish like the palm tree” is an active verb, and not a static one.  That is, a righteous person is one who “continues to grow, and even in the older years, finds a way to produce fruit.”  I like that.  I want to be righteous if being righteous means growing and always producing fruit!


Bruce references a book that I want to get and read.  It is Phillip Gulley’s newest book, The Evolution Of Faith: How God Is Creating A Better Christianity.  Isn’t that the coolest title?  My friend, Bruce, and I both are taken by Gulley’s honesty when he reflected, upon coming across his Master’s Thesis, that he could no longer affirm what he once believed.  Gulley writes, “I wasn’t saddened by this realization, nor did I have any desire to return to my former beliefs.  Indeed, I felt energized by my theological journey, believing it revealed a vitality and passion often lacking in my more orthodox days.  I had pitched my tent in a new, yet unexplored land, was pleased to be there, and wanted to investigate further.” (1)  Wow!  What a thing for a pastor and theologian of his fame to say!


It reminds me of the occasional column in the journal, The Christian Century, called How My Mind Has Changed.  This column asks prominent theologians to reflect on their own struggles, disappointments, questions, and hopes as people of faith and to consider how their theological work and life have been intertwined.  Essentially, it asks the question, “Are you a static righteous person, or a growing righteous person?”  Imagine, some of the most revered and prominent church leaders over the past century openly and honestly sharing about where they have changed their thinking about such incredibly important things such as the Bible, faith, and life.


And this thought led me to reflect on a scripture that was transformative when I was a teenager, trying to grow in my own understanding of faith.  I remember Luke 2: 41-52.  It’s the story of the twelve year-old boy, Jesus, in the Temple, discussing the Torah and the faith.  It ends with this life-giving (at least for me) line: “And Jesus increased in wisdom, in stature, and in favor with God and humans.”  I clung to the fact that even Jesus, our sovereign and savior, had the need to grow!  I liked the fact that just as Jesus needed to grow physically, so, also, he needed to grow mentally, spiritually, and socially.


The Mission Statement of Franklin Circle Christian Church, as revised by the Elders and the membership of this congregation, and approved on October 12, 2008, puts as the first and most prominent line: “Our mission is to empower disciples to serve and glorify God.”  Discipleship is the primary mission of this church.  Discipleship is, first and foremost, the ongoing process of submitting ourselves to a teacher who will help us grow “in wisdom, in stature, and in favor with God and humans.”  Discipleship is an ongoing process that calls us to be just like Jesus: life-long learners.  Discipleship is committing ourselves to being actively righteous and not statically righteous.


The sad part is that the church has somehow or another become the place where we have begun to enforce static righteousness, called “orthodoxy,” which means “the right way to think and believe.”   Rather than encourage the active form of righteousness, we have made changing one’s mind a negative quality, a thing to be disdained and ridiculed.  We hold people accountable in some horrific ways to things previously written or said, accusing them of being “two-faced” or “shifty.”  Let me tell you, I could no more defend my first sermons preached as a student minister than I could affirm “The Bachelor” as a way to propose to your fiancé or “Survivor” as a way to live in community!


We’ve also made this rich, thoughtful, multifaceted scripture and the tradition that flows from it into bumper sticker theology and pithy phrases and simplistic quotes.  We put jagged fragments of Bible passages, torn from their contexts, onto wristbands, posters, and household kitsch and parade it as complete theology.  You’ve heard me preach time and time again against what I think is the worst theological statement ever, in the form of the bumper sticker that reads: “God said it.  I believe it.  That settles it!”  Talk about slapping an “active righteous” Christian in the face, not to mention offending Jesus himself!


Discipleship is about growing!  Discipleship is about changing one’s mind!  And there are some pretty clear requirements about how this discipleship happens:


1.         Discipleship must be intentional.  You don’t just ooze into discipleship.  You are called by God in Jesus to name it, claim it, and do it.  You need to be intentional about growing in the faith.  One never “happens” into discipleship.  You must go looking for it and sometimes even risk displacing other parts of your life in order to be a disciple.


2.         Discipleship must be regular.  It is not a coincidence that “disciple” is the root word for “discipline.”  You don’t take care of a baby by feeding it whenever you want.  You don’t take care of a plant by watering it or pulling the weeds out around it whenever you feel like.  Growth takes discipline, a regular, methodical, approach to becoming a disciple of Christ.


3.         Discipleship must be done it community.  From the beginning God called the people of God into community.  There were 12 tribes of Israel.  There were twelve disciples of Jesus.  How on earth do I think I can be an actively righteous, growing disciple of Christ all on my own?  It doesn’t work!  You need to be in a small group, a class, a Bible Study, a fellowship group that sees itself as a place where discipleship happens.


It is out of this kind of intentional, regular, and communal discipleship that service and worship flow.  Actually, it’s usually a circle, where the theological reflection serves to inspire us to service and praise, and the service and praise cause us to ponder our faith more deeply, and that draws us back to theological reflection.  All of this cycle is discipleship.


Please take the sheet that was given to you at the beginning of the sermon.  If you haven’t started to fill this out, please do so now.  I would respect it if you chose to keep it when you are finished.  However, I would deeply appreciate it if you were willing to give it back to me, today or later this week, so that I might know more about how our congregation in reality is doing as we, and specifically I as your pastor, seek to “empower disciples to serve and glorify God.”


I will proudly say that my mind has changed!  My theology is different today than it was when I was 13, or 21, 0r 36, or yesterday!  I want to be as righteous as a palm tree that is still bearing fruit when it is old!  I want to be a disciple of the Christ who grows “in wisdom, in stature, and in favor with God and humans!”


And, as we read in that final chapter of Matthew, where the ready-to-ascend Jesus takes his disciples to the mountain and instructed them to go and make disciples of all nations, I know that call is not to make static, unchanging, disciples, but active, growing, nurturing disciples.  This is our mission as the church, and this is our mission as Franklin Circle Christian Church.


May it be so.  Amen.



(1) The Evolution of Faith: How God Is Creating a Better Christianity, by Philip Gulley (2011: Harper Collins), quoted on Bruce Frogge’s blog, Daily Devotional 09-16-11, found online at: