Sunday, September 28, 2008

Sermon 9/28/08 "The Gospel According to the Office Part 2: Beyond Paper Thin Missions"

Moving Beyond Paper Thin Missions

1 John 3:18

We are continuing our sermon series on missions this morning. We have been using the hit television show, The Office to introduce our theme. I want to use some clips from the episode “Dunder Mifflin Infinity” from the fourth season this morning.

In this episode, Ryan, who is now the youngest Vice President in the history of Dunder Mifflin comes back to the Scranton office to help them move into the digital age. He has given them new Black Berry phones and he is introducing a new system using the internet so that they can compete with larger paper companies. This technology is not going over so well with Michael Scott, the regional manager in Scranton. He decides to win customers back the old fashion way, with gift baskets. In this clip, Michael and Dwight try to win back Larry from Office Depot.

Time: 29:23

Setting: Larry’s office

Michael and Dwight bring in basket and put it on Larry’s desk.
Michael WOW, These things are heavy. There’s a lot of stuff in their. We have macadamia nuts cookies and honey mustard pretzels.
Larry You know we closed our account with you right.
Michael Yes, we know
Larry We are with Office Depot now
Dwight We just have not gotten over you and we are dedicated to provide you with the best customer service, the very best personal relationship we can if you ever decide to come back
Larry OK, but I don’t think we are coming back
Dwight Please come back
Michael You know, just enjoy the gift basket and remember we provide a personal touch.
Dwight Remember what we had
Larry Really, it is about the money
Michael Well, just enjoy the gift basket
Larry OK, thanks. You know, it is just that they have the website that makes it easy
Dwight and Michael look upset and leave

Setting: Michael’s car

Michael That guy was so st…. How does he not know how much better we are.
Dwight Sometimes people are impossible and they make you miserable.

Time 30:28

This seems like a very nice gesture Michael and Dwight are making to Larry, an ex-customer. You could even argue that the gesture itself the loving thing to do. However, if we take a closer look, we will discover that the motivation behind the gift basket says something quite different. Michael and Dwight hardly care at all about Larry as a person. They expect that when they give him the gift basket, he will become go back to them as a customer. They are dumbfounded when Larry tells them no. Michael twice tells Larry just to enjoy the gift basket, but both times he thinks that by taking the high road, Larry will change his mind. When Michael gets back to his car, he reveals his true feelings. He cannot believe Larry would not respond positively to his message.

Although this is a business deal, oftentimes I believe we approach mission work in the very same way. We are often motivated to be in missions for the wrong reason so when our efforts are not received well, we often find ourselves disheartened and frustrated.

I want to begin by examining two motivations for mission work that I believe is faulty. I think sometimes we engage in mission work in order to go out and correct people. We have a feeling of superiority and we want to show everyone how much better off we are. I also think that people get involved in mission work because somehow they think God will give them all kinds of rewards. If they are faithful in mission work God will give them blessings here and now and they will be storing up treasures in heaven.

I want to share with you a verse in 1 John that I believe sums up what our true motivations should be for missions. “Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.” To put this into context, let me read the verses that come before this verse.
For this is the message you heard from the beginning: We should love one another. Do not be like Cain, who belonged to the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own actions were evil and his brother's were righteous. Do not be surprised, my brothers and sisters, if the world hates you. We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love each other. Anyone who does not love remains in death. Anyone who hates a fellow believer is a murderer, and you know that no murderers have eternal life in them. This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for one another. If any one of you has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in you?

John begins this section by repeating a truth that we should already know: “To love one another.” He then uses Cain as an example of what not to do. Cain hated his brother and physically harmed him. He them compares those who are not Christians to Cain by saying that those who are in the world hate you and we as Christians do not want to act like that to each other because we are different. Then John makes the jump in his comparison to say that those who hate other Christians are in essence like Cain, a murderer. Instead we are to follow the example of Jesus and lay down our lives for others. John then gives us a practical application to this by telling us that if we have material possessions and we see our brother and sister in need, we better take pity in them or the love of God is not really in us. John then uses these verses to help us draw the conclusion to not just love with words, but with action.

It does not really take an astute biblical scholar to understand that in these verses, John is primarily talking about how Christians ought to act towards other Christians. He goes out of his way in these verses to say that Christians are responsible to take care of other Christians. My focus is not really on whom we should be reaching out to; rather I want us to focus on the motivation behind reaching out that John points to in this letter. I do think that John would not disagree that we need to love those in the world, he was just not addressing this issue in the this passage.

The reason John says we love those in the world, is because we follow the example of love that Jesus gave to us. In several places John tells his readers that that our example of love comes from Jesus in that he gave his life for others. I want to submit that first and foremost, missions should not come from fear of God or from thinking we are going to get some kind of reward when we get to heaven, but missions should come out of a desire to follow the example of Jesus. We love others the way that Jesus did. We serve in mission because we are following the example of Jesus’ self giving and sacrifice. How do we follow the example of Jesus? We need to give out of what we have to those we see in need.

If we approach mission work as a means to follow the example of Jesus in self-sacrifice, we will not be upset when people do not respond the way we hope they would. After all, we know that people nailed Jesus to a cross when he reached out in love.

Moving Beyond Words to Action

At the end of the show “Dunder Mifflin Infinity” Michael spells out some important truths about mission work. He just gotten back to the office after being rejected by two customers and following the directions on the GPS into the lake.

Time :40:00

Setting: Back in the office

Phyllis Did you get any customers back?
Michael Maybe, maybe not; time will tell, but I’ll tell you one thing, these goodie baskets never endangered anyone’s lives.
Micheal and Dwight walk into Michael’s office

Setting: Michael to the camera

Michael Everybody wants new things, new technology. People will never be replaced by machines. In the end business and life are about human connections and computers are about trying to murder people in a lake.
Time 41:00

In Michael’s rant about machines running him into the lake, he makes some important comments. First, he acknowledges that he does not know if his baskets will win anyone over. Only time will tell. When we are doing missions out of the love that Jesus passed down to us, we may not know how people will respond to out efforts. We have to leave that in God’s hand.

Secondly, Michael comments that business and life are about human connections. Mission work is also about human connections. It is about people getting involved in other people lives. Mission work is moving away from mere words and theories to taking action in the lives of people. If we are unwilling to love people and we don’t want to get connected to people, then we are in the wrong business. The thing that separates mission for the sake of mission and mission in the name of Jesus is our willingness to connect our lives with other people. Mission in Jesus’ name means that we have to come to the level of those we are ministering to and we have to care about their lives.

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