People who make their living by monitoring the trends of our nation have some interesting observations concerning what is happening today. It has become big business to report to marketers what people are looking for and how to reach them. Obviously, not everyone who makes big salaries is worth their weight in predictions, but never doubt they are in high demand from the major producers of our time. One such person is Faith Popcorn, not a name we might think would invite big contracts but everything is not in a name. The object of the game is performance and she heads up one of the top research and marketing companies in America, located in Manhatten, New York. Many of the Fortune 500 companies such as Nissan, American Express, Eastman Kodak and IBM pay up to $1 million dollars for her advice. Fortune Magazine calls Faith Popcorn the “Nostradamus of Marketing.” And she has some important perceptions that speak to the church today. Traditionally, the church has been ten years behind the times in marketing the greatest product in the world – eternal life here and tomorrow. Now, that doesn’t mean that everything that is new is good. It certainly, is not. And what works in one part of the country won’t always fly in another. We must be as wise, however, as the tribe of Issachar of whom the Bible says, “they had an understanding of the times, to know what Israel ought to do” (1 Chronicles 12:32). This sermon is one of a series of sermons under the theme Understanding Our Times and Knowing What to Do – never an easy assignment for the church.
One of the major changes that is taking place in American culture, says Popcorn, is what she calls the “cocooning of America.” It is “looking for a haven at home – drawing their shades, plumping their pillows, clutching the remotes. Hiding . . . and everybody is digging in.” 1 It is called “hypernesting” or “reality retreat”. We install intercoms, motion-detectors, and surveillance cameras. We move into gated communities. In our front yards, instead of our names, now there is a sign naming our security company.
There is now an “urban scarecrow” named Gregory on the market for $375.00 as one of the latest weapons in the war on crime. Gregory has a muscle-bound body (and a 30-day guarantee) that you can place next to you when you are driving alone, or, you can place him by a window in your home when you are out. His physique and tough demeanor will scare away intruders. 2
Now is there anything inherently wrong in protecting yourself and your property? Of course not, but there is something wrong about withdrawing from our neighborhoods and letting them die and go to hell. That is the very opposite of what Christ commanded His followers to do. Listen to just a few of Jesus’ commands to us.
1. “Look at the fields that are already white to harvest.” (John 4:35)
2. “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few . . .” (Luke 10:2)
3. Jesus’ final words before turning over the reigns to His disciples for taking His gospel to the world were, “You shall receive power . . . and you will be my witnesses . . .” (Acts 1:8)
In A Protestant Manifesto, W.E. Garrison wrote: “Christianity is an evangelistic and missionary religion. It belongs not to one race or one place. It is by nature expansive . . . All Christian communions have this vital characteristic in common. They hear the command `Go!’ Those that do not go, die. 3
The real question is this, “Are you, am I, willing to be inconvenienced for the Gospel?” What price am I willing to pay that others may come to Christ? There is an intriguing story found in the Gospel of Mark which we read a few minutes ago. Already the fame of Jesus had preceded Him when He arrived in the seaport town of Capernaum. Soon a large crowd gathered in and outside of the little house where He was staying. It seems most likely to have been Simon Peter’s house. It stood facing the Sea of Galilee just in front of the Jewish synagogue where Jesus had driven a demon out of a man just a few days earlier. The event spread like wildfire into the homes of the Galilean countryside. Curiously, on top of the roof as Jesus is talking, dirt and debris began to fall around where He was standing. He must have smiled as He looked up at the roof being torn away. This isn’t the first time that Jesus was interrupted during a discourse. He paused as a man on a pallet was lowered down before Him. A rope tied to each corner of a rug provided an improvised gurney. Although Jesus didn’t need someone to tell Him one of the men from the roof called down to Him, “Master, our friend here is paralyzed and needs healing.”
This story is filled with people who were willing to be inconvenienced. There is, first of all, the inconvenience to Jesus. He was in the middle of an important discourse when He was interrupted by the sight and sound of falling dirt and plaster. Of course, helping people was always more important to Jesus than preaching a sermon. He put action to His words. He stopped, bent over and ministered spiritually to this man. Actually, He overlooked his physical needs temporarily to meet his greater spiritual need – the forgiveness of his sins. Jesus didn’t address immediately the man’s physical paralysis but turned to do a spiritual analysis. Then, as a confirmation of His authority to forgive the man’s sins, He healed the man on command. Sometimes He heals from a distance. At times He healed up close. Sometimes Jesus healed by touching people. In the Gospels, Jesus heals people of physical infirmities. At other times, He cast out demons. (Matthew 10:1) Occasionally there is a correlation between demonic activity and physical sickness. Just think if Jesus had not been willing to be inconvenienced.
It certainly was an inconvenience to Jesus’ critics there that day. It disturbed their theology. They must have been sitting there on the front row for a long time waiting for Jesus to speak. They had come to evaluate His theology, as they had every right to do, but they were critical and judgmental. Instead of being open to who Jesus was and what He could do, they looked down their long noses waiting to catch Him on something He said. And when Jesus forgave the man’s sin, they pounced on Him. “Who is this that claims to be able to forgive sins?” they asked. “None, but God could do that!” They were sitting at the feet of the Son of God and God the Son and they didn’t even realize it.
There was also the inconvenience to the man’s four friends. Although I hardly think they considered it any kind of inconvenience to them. They could have found a good reason not to press through to get the man to Jesus. They could have said, “Well, it is too crowded today” or “Jesus is too busy, we can come back another time.” They could have said, “It is too difficult and the sun is too hot to take that roof off.” They could of chosen to go fishing or golfing or take their wives shopping. Naw! No man in his right mind would do a thing like that.
We must not forget the inconvenience to the owner of the house, who possibly was Simon Peter. I believe it is safe to imagine these four men may have inquired of Simon Peter for permission to take his roof off. In the biblical homes of Palestine, there was usually an outside stairs leading up to the roof where people often retreated in the evening. Peter could have asked, “Who is going to replace my roof?” He could have counted the cost and the inconvenience and said “no.”
There is a final person inconvenienced we need to mention – the owner’s wife. After all, she had opened her home for the meeting what more could anyone ask? Wasn’t she inconvenienced enough? All the furniture had to be moved into another room. And who was going to clean up the mess from that gapping hole in the roof?
I couldn’t help thinking about a house church in Cuba where I was asked to speak one Sunday morning by a student at the seminary. It was packed out. There were approximately 80 people in that small house. We hardly had a place to preach and the interpreter to stand. In the side rooms were people sitting and standing to be a part of the service. Outside, people stood on the porch and listened through the windows. As I left the building, I was taken to the roof where a second floor was being built for larger worship space. I have thought several times about the inconvenience to that family, Sunday after Sunday, to provide space for those who desired to worship the Lord – the lack of privacy, the trouble of setting up and putting away the chairs and moving the furniture back into the living room. After the sermon, as we drove back through the drenching rain, the young seminary pastor told me that this house church was provided by a faithful family in the church.
Let me ask you this morning as I ask myself, are you as concerned that your friends and family get the spiritual help they need? Do you have the faith of these four men to believe Jesus can heal miraculously today? Would you be as persistent as they were to get such a person to Jesus? Can it be said of you that you would be willing to be inconvenienced in order that someone might come to Jesus?
Are you willing to be inconvenienced by parking in the back lot so we could reach guests who need a place to park? Would you be willing to be inconvenienced by bringing someone to church who didn’t have a way each Sunday? Will you risk being rejected by inviting others to come to church? Are you willing to give your talents in His service? Would you be willing to stand or sit in an out-of-the-way place so a stranger could have a good seat? Would you be willing to turn your home into a Bible study once a week?
Invitation: Well, if you are here today without Christ, the truth is that there is One who was willing to be inconvenienced so that you could be saved. Jesus gave up His throne in glory to come to earth and die for your sins. The people who came before most of us had a dream of providing a place where people could get saved and they were willing to be inconvenienced that we might be here today. If you are here today and you know that your life is not in sync with Jesus’ plan for you, you can come forward today and we will pray with you.
If you need to make this your church home, don’t you think it is time today to do it?
Allen F. Harrod is pastor of First Baptist Church in Orange Park, FL.
1. Faith Popcorn, The Popcorn Report: Faith Popcorn and the Future of Your Company, Your World, Your Life (New York: Doubleday, 1991), 27.
2. Leonard Sweet, FaithQuakes (Nashville: Abingdon Press. 1994), 23.
3. W.E. Garrison, A Protestant Manifesto (Nashville: Abingdon-Cokesbury,Press, 1952), 99.