Give it a Go

Published: Monday, 08 January 2018

This new year sermon was preached by Geoff Pound on the 7 January 2018 at the Ashburton Baptist Church.

Study Guide

Readings: Isaiah 54: 1-8; Mark 1: 16-20

One evening when my sister and I were in Grades 7 & 6, our dad asked over the dinner table: “What happened at school today?” Before I could swallow my mouthful, my sister blurted out that there was an announcement at assembly about a speech contest organized by the Rotary Club.

Dad said to us both: “You’re going to enter the speech contest, aren’t you?” I said: “We don’t have to. It’s not compulsory!”

To which Dad said: “Give it a go!”

Over the next few days, despite us coming up with all the excuses as to why the speech contest was a bad idea, Dad’s speeches over the meal table convinced us both to ‘give it a go’.

We registered for the contest. We started to prepare our speeches. For Dad, the lure was not the glory of his kids on stage or the books that were to be awarded as prizes. The most important thing for him was participating, taking on a new challenge, discovering some skills and growing in confidence.

One night we took our turns on the stage in front of a hall of Rotarians with shaky voices and our knees knocking. We delivered our first speeches. When neither of us got first prize, Dad was full of encouragement because we’d given it a go.

The prophet Isaiah was urging new possibilities for his people when he said:

Enlarge the site of your tent, and let the curtains of your habitations be stretched out; do not hold back; lengthen your cords and strengthen your stakes.

-          Isaiah 54: 2

This isn’t a call to grab more land or build bigger barns but:

Extend your reach.

Stretch your imagination.

Be open to new possibilities of service.

Give it a go.

The most memorable sermon on this text was preached by such an unlikely specimen. At his interview to become a pastor they turned him down. When he became a Baptist minister, he served in a one-horse town in England. The church finances were so dismal that William Carey supplemented his stipend by mending shoes.

In his tea breaks Carey read the journals of the explorer, Captain Cook. This got him thinking of the quality of life of people in the South Pacific. He thought, if ‘Jesus came to give us life in all its fullness’ then don’t we have an obligation to share this Gospel transformation with people who’ve never heard of Christ?’

He made a globe of the world out of boot leather. He researched these islands and countries that were beginning to be opened up by explorers and traders.

When he talked to his ministerial colleagues about his newfound concern for the world, he made very little impact. In fact, at one minister’s meeting when he shared his vision, the chairperson said: “Sit down young man, you’re an enthusiast! If God wishes to convert the heathen, he’ll do so without your aid or mine.”

He received little encouragement. Yet Carey persisted. The impetus came from the Scriptures when Carey was preaching at a gathering of churches on this very text[1]:

Enlarge the site of your tent,
    and let the curtains of your habitations be stretched out;
do not hold back; lengthen your cords
    and strengthen your stakes.

Isaiah 54: 2

In the plight of exiled Judah, Carey saw a picture of a barren and desolate church.

In the promise of a new future, lay the prospect of countless new children in the Christian family drawn from all the earth. He ended his sermon with the rally cry: “Expect great things from God; attempt great things for God.” The very next day a new society was established to spread the Gospel of Christ throughout the world.[2]

This cobbler travelled with his family to Calcutta.[3] While working in an indigo factory to earn some money, he learned Bengali so well he developed the first Bengali dictionary.

When he relocated 30 kilometres to Serampore, he and his team shared their faith and, despite great opposition from the locals, the first Bengali native, Krishna Pal was baptized.[4]

He and his team translated the Scriptures into Bengali and a dozen other Indian languages. He became such a master of the language that Carey was appointed (1800) professor of Bengali at the Fort William College. He was the pastor of this Carey Baptist Church. He established the huge and thriving Serampore College that still trains men and women for various ministries in India and throughout Asia.[5]

He looked after the Botanical Gardens in Kolkata, established the Botanical Garden in Serampore, supplied plants to the Kew Gardens in England and became such a distinguished botanist that a tree is named after him.[6]

He did the work of justice and was instrumental in putting an end to suttee, the practice of killing the widows on the funeral pyre when their husbands had died.

See the way Carey’s tent was being enlarged? See how his work was extended?

From his boot mending shop in England to his global work that radiated throughout the world from his base in Calcutta. There are now about ten Colleges around the world that are named after him, including the Carey Baptist Theological College in New Zealand and the Carey Baptist Grammar School here in Melbourne.

The sermon he preached to others he lived out in his own life:

Enlarge the site of your tent,
    and let the curtains of your habitations be stretched out;
do not hold back; lengthen your cords
    and strengthen your stakes.

Isaiah 54: 2

For us at the threshold of this new year, is it going to be just more of the same? Or are we preparing to be captivated by a stirring vision of all that God is calling us to be and do?

I’m struck by Isaiah’s words, ‘Don’t hold back.’[7] We’re often much better at holding back than pushing forward. We prefer to stay where we are.

It makes us think of all those forces that want to keep us in the old year with old ways and old habits rather than propelling us into the new year on new adventures, calling on God for new faith and new power.

If you have a favourite café or restaurant it’s very easy to look at the menu and say: “Now what was it I had last time?” We stick to what we know. We hold back from trying something new. Isaiah said: “Don’t hold back.”

While we’re experiencing sun and heat here Down Under many in the northern hemisphere are encountering intense cold and snowfalls. There’s a sign alongside a highway in Alaska that reads: “Choose your rut carefully. You’ll be in it for the next 60 miles.”

What a shame to be sitting in the same place as we were 5 years ago, with the same choices, the same habits and the same activities.

Brian Eno, the producer of U2, has a strategy to avoid the band getting into a creative rut.[8] When they start recording a new album, Brian has the band members play each other’s instruments for a while. He says to Bono, “You play the drums.” The lead guitarist, David Evans, nicknamed ‘Edge’, is asked to play bass and so on. And they sound terrible. Bono’s not a great drummer. But they sound different and there’s often some fragment of a new sound that they can build into their song that’s unique and innovative.

They find ways to switch it up and try different things to jolt them out of their rut and resistance and this helps them develop as a band and go in new ways.

Give it a go.

Don’t hold back.

Can we try something different this year that might sound terrible at first but eventually, we might produce something that’s amazing?

When we stick to what we know, we won’t know what we’re good at. If we don’t give it a go we won’t know what we like and what we’re capable of doing.

The Bible calls us not only to ‘give it a go’ but to start small.

It says:

“The one who is faithful in little things will be faithful in large ones.”

-          Luke 16:10

Start small. Develop some ability. Get some runs on the board and then, gradually step it up. You’ll be surprised at what you can do. But we won’t do that bigger task if we don’t start in the small.

Last Sunday after church I got a text message from Peter N.

He said: “Thanks for the sermon today. I really enjoyed it. I wanted to know how I can get onto the roster to help out on Sunday mornings. Have a fantastic new year.”

What a great question. That was music to my ears. I wrote back and I said:

“Thank you so much for offering to help out on Sunday mornings… Let’s have coffee this week to talk further.”

We met and I reminded Peter that our church runs on rosters and willing volunteers.

I told him about the different Sunday morning rosters:

We have people who welcome and greet. Peter said, “I’d like to do that.”

I wrote down on the serviette at the café: ‘Welcomer and Greeter’.

Peter said: “I’d like to help prepare and pour the coffee and tea and clean up.”

I wrote down ‘coffee’.

I also wrote down: “Taking up the offering.”

I said: “What about doing a Bible Reading?”

He said, “Yes but so long as it doesn’t have long and difficult words like the doozy that David W was given last year!”

Thanks to Peter for leading the way. Check out the green Contact Forms in the pews in front of you and let Peter inspire you to volunteer for these and other rosters like the flowers, the garden or whatever takes your fancy.

The moral of the story is: ‘Don’t be a rooster. Get on the roster!’

Give it a go!

But what if we give it a go and mess up? What if we fail?

What if we give it a go and can’t do it as well as others?

They might laugh at us.

Adam Grant is a psychologist, best-selling author and the top-rated professor at Wharton College in the US.[9] He said that when we look at role models, we tend to see them at the top of their game, when they’ve already made it. We don’t get to see all of the stumbles that were part of their journey.

So, in Adam Grant’s first class at the beginning of a new course he tells his students about his first job straight out of university. His first job was selling advertisements for the Let’s Go travel guide books. He was a disaster at it. He was supposed to call clients to renew their ads to the book. They had a 95% renewal rate the previous year.

In his first week Adam Grant made loads of calls but he didn’t get a single sale. Not only that, he had three clients who demanded a refund from the previous year. He became the first worker in the 40-year history of the company to not only bring in no revenue in the first week but to lose on the books from the previous year.

He was so uncomfortable about selling and cold calling. Added to his introversion, he knew nothing about travel. He’d never left the USA. He called his mother and told her that he was going to quit and she said, “I didn’t raise my son to be a quitter. You work at that job until they fire you.”

Why does Adam Grant share this story with his students? He wants to be authentic. He wants to share his mistakes, his bad decisions, his failures so they can see the ups and downs along his journey to getting to where he is today.

He tells these stories of failure because, we’ve got to try things to test out what we’re like, to see what we’re good at, to learn how we can bounce back from the knocks. It’s about growing in confidence as a learner.

When we share our failures in a group, when we share our embarrassing stories, we evoke a greater openness, we spark a new depth of sharing and we prompt the willingness of others to give it a go.[10]

What a challenge for us as a church community to encourage each other to step out and do something new and then to support one another when we mess up, when we fail, when we don’t pull things off to perfection.

At the beginning of the New Testament in the oldest Gospel, Mark records how Jesus called some unlikely people to join him in his work.

He called fishermen and said,

“Follow me and I will make you fish for people.”

-          Mark 1: 17

They weren’t already trained. They weren’t the finished product. They weren’t the real deal. They were simply called to follow. To take the first step not knowing where it was to end.

From the lake to the land, they were enlarging the site of their tent. They didn’t hold back. They gave it a go. They fell on their faces. But the grace is in the words:

“Follow me and I will make you.”

“He comes to us today, as One unknown, without a name, as of old, by the lake, he came to those men who knew Him not.

He calls us by name. He speaks to us the same words: "Follow me!"

He sets us to the tasks which He has us for us to fulfil in our time.

He commands.

And to those who obey Him, whether they be wise or simple, weak or strong, He will reveal himself in the service, the conflicts, the sufferings which we shall pass through in His fellowship, and, in this profound mystery, we shall learn in our own experience who Jesus is.”[11]

 

[1] The date was 30 May 1792.

[2] This happened at Nottingham and it signaled the start of the Baptist Missionary Society.

[3] They left England on 13 June 1793.

[4] Krishna Pal was baptized on 28 December 1800.

[5] On 15 July 1818, William Carey, Joshua Marshman and William Ward created the prospectus for a College and so the Serampore College was born.

[6] Careya herbacea is one of the three varieties of eucalyptus found only in India. Carey also introduced to India the Linnaean system of gardening.

[7] Basil Amey, Isaiah 54:2 Hold Not Back, The Baptist Quarterly. This is an exposition on Carey’s text, preached at the 200th anniversary of the BMS and the 175th anniversary of the founding of the Serampore College.

[8] Heleo Editors, A Neuroscientist and a Composer on how the brain generates new ideas, Heleo, 19 December 2017.

[9] Heleo Editors, Wharton’s Top Professor on How to Power Through Failure, Heleo, 1 December 2017.

[10] Leigh Thompson, Research for Better Brainstorming, Tell an Embarrassing Story, Harvard Business Review, 2 October 2017.

[11] A saying by Albert Schweitzer, slightly modified and made more personal.