16 Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. 17When they saw him, they worshipped him; but some doubted. 18And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’
When I was 16 years old, I snuck out of my house once at 2:00 in the morning (sorry, Mom!). You would think that I would have gone somewhere forbidden or exciting or completely off limits, when in reality, some of my friends came to pick me up in a mini van to go to Perkins, the breakfast place in town that was open 24 hours where we ate breakfast food and chatted about life over milkshakes. I still remember that as one of the best nights of my teenage years because while it was a lot of fun, it was also one of those times when I did something I probably wasn’t supposed to be doing, and there was certainly a rush in that experience that makes it memorable.
Today, while most of the world is sleeping, there are certain groups of people who find their joy and an adrenaline rush in exploring places that are forbidden, forgotten about, or that are simply off limits to the general public. These people have adopted this practice, known as “place hacking” to share these unknown and off limits places with others through the pictures they take and the stories they share. “If computer hacking is all about gaining unauthorized access to a particular data base or hacking into someone’s email or facebook account, place hacking is all about getting into actual places where access may be forbidden.” Oftentimes, place hackers are arrested if they are caught, but many see it as kind of an urban exploration project and do it for the thrill of it while exposing the unknown. Place hackers sneak into places such as former military bases, abandoned factories, decommissioned hospitals, sewer or subway tunnels, sky scrapers under construction, or abandoned amusement parks, just to name a few (Homiletics). (Check out some great place hacking pics HERE).
While many of us are not willing to risk our lives or arrest to explore the forbidden or unknown, we are called and challenged by Jesus to “go”- to “go and make disciples of all nations.” We may not be place hackers by its original definition, but Jesus challenges us to be place hackers of another sort by hacking into places and lives that we never would have gone into otherwise, even when those people and places are as close by as our very own community. In fact, I think it’s safe to say that Jesus himself could be considered a place hacker. The gospels are full of stories where Jesus went to places no one else wanted to go. He put himself in the midst of people that no one else wanted to be around (Homiletics). He touched lepers, healed people with unclean spirits, hung out with the prostitutes and tax collectors, spent time with people who no one would dare spend time with, raised the dead, and, of course, he loved the unlovely. Jesus was definitely a place hacker.
Just the other day, I discovered that there are a few online programs where you can create your own map of places you have been around the world. The end result is your own map with pins, indicating the places you have traveled to. I love going into a person’s home where they have a map of places they have been, marked with pins or tacks. When I created my own map online, I found myself struggling to remember each and every place I had been, at least in the United States. My tacks also included mission trips from Denver to Atlanta, to Mexico, Puerto Rico, learning trips to Austria, Latvia, and Lithuania, and of course my trip to Auschwitz in Poland last summer. And in October, I will be able to add a tack to South Africa where I will travel for 2 weeks with my clergy colleagues of the Wabash Pastoral Leadership Program.
So today, Jesus asks us, “where will you place hack?” or “where are the tacks on your map?” His command of his followers is to “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.” Jesus doesn’t say, “stay and make disciples”! He commands us to GO forth, to place hack, to put tacks on our maps. He challenges us to be “place hackers” and “map tackers.” So my question for us to explore this morning is this: how are we doing as a church? As individuals? Where are the tacks on your map?
As I was remembering the places I have been and putting tacks on my map, I had fond memories of the trips I have taken and the places I have been. Some tacks represented family vacations, some reminded me of trips with friends or colleagues, some even with professors for experiential learning, and some were for various mission trips. But placing tacks on our maps is not always easy, nor should it be. One of the most difficult tacks on my map would have to be the trip I took as a youth leader to Perryville, Arkansas where the Heifer Project Ranch is located. We made the trip in the middle of July to the middle of nowhere where the average temperature was 100 degrees with a 110 degree heat index and over 100% humidity. For someone who does not like the heat and who has severe outdoor allergies, this trip was something I really had to find a way to deal with while being a leader and role model for our junior high youth students. One night of the trip included a stay in what the ranch called the Global Village. Each person drew a number, which represented where you would spent the next 24 hours. Options included anything from a Guatemalan house to a Chinese yurt, an African mud dwelling, or an abandoned urban train car…which is where I ended up. We were given one bag of rice for the whole group, a few pots and pans, things to make a fire, and we were sent on our way. The whole point of the exercise was to put ourselves in the shoes of those who lived their lives in this way every single day and to be exposed to the problems of hunger and extreme poverty. Well, it certainly worked. We lived on a meal of rice that night, drank lots of water in the 100 degree weather, and learned firsthand what it would have been like to live in an abandoned train car. We also had some fun when we visited other members of our group in the African hut and had a jam session with the pots and pans. While that night was certainly a good learning experience, it was definitely overall not a fun one. It’s a tack on my map that I’ll remember as a challenge, but one where Jesus’ words echo in my mind as a call to “Go” instead of stay.
Heidi Baker, along with her husband, is one such person that takes Jesus’ challenge to go and make disciples very seriously. Heidi is a Christian missionary who has made it her life’s work to transform the lives of poor and homeless children in Mozambique. In 1995, they found themselves in Mozambique with nothing, but were eventually given a dilapidated orphanage for 80 children. From there, their ministries have expanded to include the drilling of wells for water, free health clinics, feeding programs, schools, and the expansion continued to include now over 5,000 churches in Mozambique and a total of over 10,000 churches in other countries. Their ministries have had reports of healing miracles with evidence of significant improvement of hearing and visual function for those with previous impairments. Let’s take a brief look at Heidi’s story and why she does what she does:
“Let’s go there.” Did you catch that? The call of Jesus to “go there” is a constant in Heidi’s life, as it should be for all of us.
But certainly not all of us are destined to go to the dangerous and far away places or feel the call to be missionaries like Heidi, and that’s okay. When Jesus challenges us to place tacks on our map and to “go,” he is challenging us to go into the places that need a word of hope or healing, whether they are far away or right here in our back yard. This command of us to go and make disciples is for each and every one of us- not just those who go to the far ends of the earth. Did you know, for example, that over 60% of people right here in Morgantown are unchurched? In our small community, over half of the people here are not associated at all with church or have a relationship with Jesus. To me, that number is staggering. We have opportunities right here, right in our back yard, to make a difference and let people know about the life changing love of God. There are places right here in town that need to be “place hacked” by us as followers of Jesus. There are places right here in town that need a tack on the map because they have yet to be explored or ventured into. There are people right here in town who have yet to be invited to experience the richness of God’s grace as a gift that is freely available to everyone.
Where does Morgantown need a tack on the map? I hope to explore this question further next week as our community participates in the prayer walk, and I hope you will plan to join me. As we pray over the community, there will be opportunities to see the places where people are hurting or are in need. There are always opportunities for us to venture into the unknown and live into this command of Jesus to go and make disciples. But we have to be willing to take that first step. We have to be willing to take it even if we are scared or tentative because Jesus gives us the authority to go and make disciples, which at times sounds like a daunting task. When I was ordained 3 years ago, the bishop laid his hands on my head and told me to “take thou authority” as an elder to preach, teach, administer the sacraments and to care for the people of God. Looking back on that moment, I remember feeling the weight of the world on my shoulders as real as those who were laying hands on me, but I also felt joy as I was ready and willing to live into that call as a pastor. I heard and continue to hear in those words a call and challenge on my own life to go forth, even when the road ahead is not easy. I hear those words, “take thou authority” echoing in Jesus’ words for all of us that we will go forth and make disciples, and that we should not disappoint him.
I don’t know about you, but I find comfort in knowing that even some who were present in this post-resurrection moment with Jesus doubted- we are told that some worshiped, but some also doubted him. This says to me that even if we have doubts, even if we are scared or unsure, even if we are tempted to make excuses and often do, that Jesus still uses us- yes, even us, to further the love and good news of God, whether it’s to the ends of the earth or in our own back yard. And to quote John Wesley, “the best of all, God is with us.” We do not go forth alone as we are reminded still today directly from Jesus, “I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Jesus is still place hacking and map tacking among us, and urges us to go with him on the journey, wherever that may lead.
Bishop Mike Coyner of the Indiana conference in his weekly message this past week challenged us to be careful not to shrink the gospel or the church down to what we need or want it to be. He used the great example of the movie, Honey I Shrunk the Kids, to make this point that we do not want to be caught saying, “Honey, I shrunk the church.” We have to be careful of shrinking the church by reducing ministry simply to those who are already here or becoming what one writer has called “tenders of the aquarium” rather than “fishers of people.” We must always be ready and willing to minister to those of us already here in this community, but to continue to hear the challenge ourselves to be in ministry to reach new people for Christ as well. May we not ever shrink from that challenge, because if are not making disciples, then what are we doing?
Where are you being called to place a tack on your map? Is it right here in town? Your own community or back yard? Is it somewhere nearby or far away? Where are you being called to go or who are you being called to love? Who are you being called to go and invite to church? Jesus calls us to go. He doesn’t call us to sit. He calls us to stretch ourselves beyond our comfort zones, beyond ourselves, beyond our church walls so that we will be place hackers and map tackers in our world that is so much in need of a good word and a promise of hope. If we as Christians will not be on the front lines of putting ourselves out there to make a difference, then who will? May we go forth to place our tacks on the map, wherever we are being called to go- in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.