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Happy? Take Risks
February 5, 1995

LUKE 6:22-23, 26

Sometimes we hear parents say, "I want my child brought up in a Christian atmosphere, so he will stay out of trouble." Can you imagine a parent in Jesus' day saying to Jesus, "I want my boy to go with you, because you will keep him out of trouble." Trouble is what Jesus did! He attacked the temple authorities by driving out of the money changers. He angered the Pharisees by the names he called them. He alienated the religious leaders by disobeying their laws. He taught his followers to get into trouble. Luke 6:22-23, 26

Blessed, happy, are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets...Woe to you when all speak well of you!"

Woe to you, unhappy are you, a failure are you when you stay out of trouble and everyone speaks well of you. Those who are comfortable, safe, and uninvolved are not necessarily happy; in fact, they are probably not Christians. A Christian's values are not often the same as everyone else's. A Christian is committed to someone higher than public opinion. A Christian takes risks for Jesus.

Taking risks are a part of life; and Jesus says taking risks in his name make for happiness and fulfillment, even if we are hated, reviled, and ostracized. The public school in Bristol, Virginia, for over 40 years, conducted weekly Bible classes for fourth and fifth graders, where they were taught about hell, damnation, virtue and sin, all through a distinctly fundamentalist lens. The few Jews and Catholics in town found the sessions objectionable; but, they either withdrew their children and said nothing; or, let them attend without complaint. No one did anything until nine-year-old Kathleen Crockett came home crying. Her parents decided enough was enough, that it was not right for a public school to act like a parochial school and force a particular religion on the children.

Sam and Sally Crockett were church-going Methodists. Sam was a member of the city council and Sally was a schoolteacher. They filed a federal lawsuit, in conjunction with the American Civil Liberties Union. The school abandoned its Bible classes, and the Crocketts paid the price. Their telephone rang after midnight with hate calls. Sally lost her job, and had to go to a neighboring county to get work. Sam was ousted from the city council. They fulfilled Jesus' teaching, Happy are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man.

Taking risks for Jesus is like walking on thin ice. The ice may break and you fall into the cold water, but the safety rope you are wearing pulls you to safety, where you are sheltered in the arms of Jesus. There's a provocative line in the movie, Grumpy Old Men, the things in life you regret are the risks you didn't take. Justice often calls us to take risks. When there is child abuse in your neighborhood, or spousal abuse, dare you get involved, or do you shut your eyes and walk on the other side, hoping some good Samaritan will come along and take care of the victim? Do you risk talking about your faith? After a man's funeral, a co-worker exclaimed, "I worked with him over 30 years, and I never knew he was a Methodist." Was there never an opportunity to share his faith? Never an opportunity to talk about Jesus, and what believing in Jesus has meant in his life? Or, did he not dare take the risk? Was he afraid of offending someone? Sometimes we seem to care more about the risk of offending someone than being faithful and helpful. Jesus said, Woe to you when all speak well of you!

Donald Messer, President of the United Methodist Iliff School of Theology in Denver, defines Christian mission as a Conspiracy of Goodness, where in the name of the God of love, we dare to do good in the midst of cynicism, hatred, prejudice, and bigotry. He cites examples of Christians who risked their lives to save Jews during World War II. Over six million Jews were slaughtered in the concentration camps, but over one million were saved because Christians defied authorities under the penalty of death. The movie, Schindler's List, told of one hero. There were many others. An entire French Protestant village hid, sheltered and saved some 2,500 Jews. 90% of the entire Jewish population in Denmark was saved. When the Nazi invaders ordered Jews to wear the Star of David, the King of Denmark and most of the Danes in his country wore the Star of David. Jews call the Gentiles who risked their lives, righteous Gentiles. 8,000 of the righteous Gentiles are honored at the Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem.

I like that term--a conspiracy of goodness. I would like to think that our church is a haven where everyone is welcome, where those who feel rejected, persecuted and excluded can find a home here--people of all colors, nationalities, sexual orientations, economic conditions. You are welcome here. You are loved in the name of Christ. The mood of the country today is angry and vengeful, trying to find people to blame, looking for scapegoats, often agitated by so-called Christians. Dare we risk a conspiracy of goodness in the midst of fear and hate?

Churches must constantly face the choice of taking risks or remaining complacent, docile, and deadly comfortable. This evening the Finance Committee will recommend to the Administrative Council a budget for 1995 that is in deficit. We have not received enough pledges to date to underwrite our church's ministry and mission. We are going to take a risk, and pray that you, the congregation, will contribute generously this year to keep our present staff and do what we believe God wants us to do. In addition, in April and May we will be conducting an Expanding Our Vision campaign in which we expect to raise some $200,000--$100,000 to help build new churches throughout northern California and Nevada, and new buildings on our conference campgrounds; and $100,000 to improve our facilities. We have already begun the courtyard project.

Some might feel we are crazy to think we can take such risks. But, if we don't, the alternative is a slow death. Our buildings are 40 years old. Look at your own homes and families. If you are not constantly improving, fixing and making new, the process of decay quickly takes over. Before the cathedral in Seville, Spain, was constructed in 1401, the congregation wrote a resolution, Let us build here a church so great that those who come after us will think us mad ever to have dreamed of it. Let them call us crazy. Let's do something significant for Christ, and continue to build here a great church with outstanding facilities where a growing congregation can meet, study, serve and worship, a congregation where all people, all kinds of people are welcome.

Are you happy? As happy a disciple as you would like to be? Take risks.

© 1995 Douglas I. Norris