On the Cutting Edge

Today, we find out what it means to be the Church of Jesus Christ “on the cutting edge.”

One of my favorite posters depicts a solitary ship with sails at the ready for the slightest breeze, silhouetted against the setting sun on a vast body of water. The caption under this masterpiece is one of those simple sayings that periodically reappear when I am trying to take a safe or procrastinating position in a situation.

A ship in a harbor is safe.

But that is not what ships are for.

The Edmund Fitzgerald

A painting of the Edmund Fitzgerald in the rough waters of Lake SuperiorI remember when Michigan residents were stunned over forty-five years ago to hear that one of the massive ore freighters that plied the Great Lakes had gone down in a treacherous Lake Superior November storm. The Edmund Fitzgerald disappeared in the wind-whipped waters off Whitefish Point the in Upper Peninsula, taking all twenty-nine crew members to their death.

If you’ve ever visited the Soo Locks in Sault Ste Marie and had a chance to view those giant ships up close, it seems inconceivable that something so massive could suddenly just…disappear. Those who worked the lakes joined with landlubbers like you and me to discuss theories and causes for the great ship’s demise. Among all the conjectures offered, several people were heard to say, “If only the Fitz hadn’t tried to leave Duluth…”

A ship in the harbor is safe, but the Edmund Fitzgerald was not built to sit in a harbor. It was designed to haul cargo from one end of the Great Lakes to the other. It could have stayed in Duluth, where it was safe. But that was not its function or purpose.

Can’t Stay On the Mountain…

In Mark’s gospel, we read the story of the Transfiguration of Jesus on the mountain in front of three of His followers—Peter, James and John. They were so awestruck by what they had just witnessed that Peter was ready to set up a permanent camp on that mountain. Master…let us make three booths—one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah. (Mark 9:5)

But that wasn’t Jesus’ plan at all. He knew they couldn’t stay there on that spiritually high plain where it was safe and secure and blessed. In the words of a Bill Gaither song—“Can’t stay on the mountain—the work is down below”. Jesus knew His purpose was to be where the people were, to minister to their needs, heal their diseases, ultimately to die for them. And, as Mark points out so well, when the quartet came down from that mountaintop of glory, they were immediately confronted by an angry father with an epileptic son who had not been helped by the nine other followers of Jesus.

The Work Is Down Below

Painting of the Apostle Paul being arrested.
Publisher of Bible Cards, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The early Church had a reputation for always being in hot water. If there was agitation or trouble in a village or town, usually Paul or one of the other apostles was in the center of it. They were so excited about the good news of Jesus and so eager to share it with others—taking the Great Commission seriously—that they were always keeping things stirred up.

It was hard to ignore the early Christian Church. They were always in the spotlight and where the action was. They heard this commission from their Master—go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation (Mark 16:15) and they took it at face value. To them, the Great Commission was a command to MOVE, and not to sit still. And they did just that—they moved out.

The results, as we read in the Acts of the Apostles, were nothing short of phenomenal. The prophetic words of Jesus had come true about driving out demons, speaking in new tongues, placing hand on sick people to make them better. Miracles happened; lives were changed; phenomenal growth took place all because the apostles were always “on the cutting edge.”

We Are the Church

Like our forefathers, we are called to be on the cutting edge of our faith. But what exactly does that mean? Does it require us to be street-corner prophets, doorbell-ringing witnesses, pulpit-pounding preachers? Perhaps—but not necessarily. Does it require us to carry placards declaring “The World Ends Tomorrow. Prepare to Meet Thy God” or we will rush to hospitals to lay hands on the injured and ill? Maybe…but more likely not.

On the Cutting Edge

What does it mean? It means, in part, that we refuse to be content with the status quo and become like the world. Part of the reason that the 21st century Christian Church is so unlike its 1st century parent is simply because, over the centuries, the Church has allowed itself to be molded and shaped by the society in which it exists.

The infant Church grew by leaps and bounds because it refused to be conformed to the image of its legalistic, rigid, and judgmental Jewish counterpart. It also resisted the temptation to be swayed by the sensual, humanistic emphases of the Romans and Greeks. The early followers of “the Way” knew they were a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own special purchased people. (1 Peter 1:9)

As such they knew they were responsible for each other and for their world. They believed they could provide answers to the world’s questions, give solutions to society’s problems, bring healing for humanity’s hurts, and hope for those caught in the throes of despair.

What About Today?

The world of the fledgling Church was really not all that much different from outs. There was inflation and soul-sapping poverty. Crime and injustice were no stranger to any village, town or city. There were unexplained illnesses and maladies that defied common medical practices. Political, social and even religious differences were plagued by insecurity, anxiety, frustration and despair. Many believed they lived in a world that did not care, that provided no forgiveness for the past, so understanding for the present and no hope for the future. It was a world that was ready for the “good news” of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

The early Christians recognized that. They also recognized that the world would NOT beat a path to their door. They only way the confused, chaotic, and gasping world would hear the message of salvation would be if those who called themselves by Christ’s name broke out of the four walls that housed them and took the “good News” TO the people. The Church of Jesus Christ in the 1st century did not sit on its laurels. It was on the cutting edge and making a difference in the society in which it lived.

Rethink Church logo from The United Methodist ChurchOur world is every bit as needy, hungry and desperate as the Judeao-Roman society twenty plus centuries ago. And it will take more than our gathering together here for an hour or two on Sunday morning to make a difference in the society in which WE live. If there is going to be any change in our world, we need to break out of these four walls and be the Church in the world. The ”Re-Think Church” effort in the United Methodist denominations was meant to challenge us to see “Church” as an action VERB rather than a passive NOUN. If we hope to make a difference in our world…

Rethink Church

It will take a Church that dares to dream big, work long, pray desperately, plan carefully, fight bravely, storm the gates of evil and lethargy. It will take a Church that is unwilling to compromise, more than willing to sacrifice, more than ready to be inconvenienced, and more than anxious to risk. It will take a church whose strength is equal to Her tasks, a Church that is claiming all the gifts of the Spirit, all the power available and all the authority given. I will take a church with Godly gusto, prevailing prayer, demonstrative determination, and victorious venture to win the battle. It will take a church divinely sent, moving, planning, and conq1uering with super-natural power. Christ never intended His Church to be a refrigerator in which to preserve perishable piety. He intended it to be an incubator in which to hatch the faithful.

A Ship In a Harbor Is Safe, But That Is Not What Ships Are For

It is wonderful to be part of a “covenant community”, an inter-dependent network of people where our needs can be addressed and met and where we are needed as well. It’s awesome to realize that, as a community of God’s people, we are called to be “God made visible” in our world, reaching beyond these four walls to represent God’s love, forgiveness, guidance and grace to those whose paths intersect ours.

But, the Church of Jesus Christ is more than that. We are called to be “on the cutting edge” and where the action is, working in our Father’s business of binding up the broken and wounded, healing the sick (in body and mind as well as in spirit), delivering the captive, reconciling the alienated.

We are the Church—you and me. And if we are on the cutting edge following the lead of our Lord, we will be preaching good news to the poor…proclaiming release to the captives…and recovery of sight to the blind…setting free those who are in bondage (physically and mentally)…proclaiming the year of our Lord. (Cf. Luke 4:18-19)

The hymn declares “I am the Church. You are the Church. We are the Church together. Are we? Are we “on the cutting edge?”

Scriptures Used in Today’s Message

Maple UMC Calendar

November 2021

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