• Dr. Bruce A. Havens

What if...?


a message by Dr. Bruce Havens

based on the theme: “2020 Vision”

Arlington Congregational Church, U.C.C.

January 26, 2020


This morning I am going to do things a bit differently. There is going to be – I hope – audience participation. Think of it as a “pop quiz.” No, just kidding I don’t want you to run for the exits. Think of it as a more fun way to listen to a sermon – how about that? Oh, and I am going to read a bit more than I usually do. Let’s go over the Scripture lesson verse by verse this morning and ask the question, “What if…”


Matthew 4:12-23

12Now when Jesus heard that John had been arrested,
  • Who remembers why John was arrested?

  • [ isn’t until Mt 14 that we hear the whole story – he had condemned Herod for taking the wife of his brother…not clear if brother had died or Herod just “took” her. ]

he withdrew to Galilee.
  • Why do you think he went to Galilee; to escape danger, to prepare for the next phase of his life, some other reason?

13He left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum by the sea,
in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali,
  • Who knows why it was “the territory of Z & N? each of 12 sons of “Israel/Jacob” were given regions upon return from Egypt. Why does that matter enough to Mt to mention all this detail?

14so that what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled: 15“Land of Zebulun, land of Naphtali, on the road by the sea, across the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles— 16the people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death light has dawned.”
  • Why does Mt have all these reasons what Jesus did was “to fulfill the prophet’s words?”

17From that time Jesus began to proclaim,
“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”
  • What does “repent” mean [ be transformed ]

  • What does it mean to say KOH has come near?


What if….

Repent means to be transformed – to turn from trusting in false gods and false versions of God/ limited versions of God to trusting and building our lives around the values of the Living God – the God of Jesus


Most of us would say we believe in “repenting” because the Bible says we should, but for most of us even if we confess our sins, we never really change, we never really are transformed. So let me ask the question – What if Jesus meant transform the world so that we can be transformed. It might be easier to transform the systems of our world, the political, economic, and religious systems first so that we can be transformed as individuals. Bruce, you are cra- cray. The systems of the world never get transformed for real. Well, let me share an example of transformation that gives me hope.


In Miami they have transformed the way they deal with people who have mental health issues. While in Jacksonville the largest “mental health provider” is the jail and while thousands are arrested every year and rearrested because they have major mental health issues, including addictions, PTSD, schizophrenia, bi-polar issues, Miami has taken a transformative approach.


Miami gives all its Police Officers in “Crisis Intervention Training” or “CIT” for short. As a result from 2010 to 2018 there were 91,000 calls and only 152 arrests. Miami Dade has 70 trained officers and they handled over 8,000 calls and only arrested 3 people. 7900 were baker acted and then went into the mental health diversion system to get treatment! The number of people in jail went from 7,000 to 4,000 when they started tracking this. The county closed one jail for a savings of over $12 million in one year and it has been closed 7 years. Police shootings went way down and police injuries are almost 100% eliminated. They have a treatment program for police officers many of whom deal with severe cases of PTSD.


So how would it transform our city and every city if we insisted that our taxpayer dollars were spent to train our police officers so that they could more adequately, effectively, safely, and compassionately respond to as many as 95% of their calls ended in actually helping people transform their lives rather than a cycle of jail, punishment, suffering, and continued illness?


I would say that when we do these things we too can proclaim, “The Kingdom of Heaven/God has come near!

Then it says,

18As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw 2 brothers,
Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. 19And he said to them,
“Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.”
20Immediately they left their nets and followed him.
21As he went from there, he saw two other brothers,
James son of Zebedee and his brother John,
in the boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets,
and he called them.
22Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him.
  • Why did he choose these people?

  • Why did they leave everything?

  • What does it mean to “fish for people.”

what does it mean that Jesus called them to follow him and he was going to make them “fish for people?”

  • How many of you would say that the Crusades were a good way to do that?

  • Spanish inquisition?

  • Salem witch trials?

  • How about modern times:

  • Some churches believe that if you haven’t “saved” anyone your “salvation” is in peril. In other words, if you haven’t got enough “scalps for Jesus” – you might not “get into heaven.”

  • Do you buy that? How many of you doubt that?

We have “Evangelism Explosion” programs that teach how to “convert” people. Did Jesus say anything about “converting” people? Anywhere?


At the end of Matthew, he says: Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.


Now let’s ask ourselves why we assumed “make” meant to forcibly or at least coercively ask people to confess belief in Jesus as their Savior?

What is a disciple? A follower or student of a teacher whose goal is to learn the subject that the teacher is teaching. Jesus said, “teach them to obey all that I have commanded.”


What does it mean to “teach them to obey my commandments?”


What were Jesus’ “commandments?”


In the Gospel the use of the word “commandment” is about the Hebrew commandments, primarily what we call the Ten Commandments and in particular, he is asked about the “greatest” commandment and he references “you shall love the Lord your God…” then adds “and the second is [equal] to it, ‘you shall love your neighbor as yourself.’


Churches all over America are dying because people feel they are no longer relevant to their world. Either our bait stinks or our nets are so torn and useless we aren’t doing much of a job of fishing, are we? Even the so-called “evangelical” or “fundamentalist” theological churches are, overall, losing members faster than they are gaining. That means whatever we thought church and faith were supposed to be about needs to be transformed. Maybe it is time to trust that God will lead us into the future if we trust God to make us become what we need to be to do God’s work. What is God’s vision of what the church needs to be?

How does God want to transform the church to more faithfully be “the body of Christ,” the hands and feet of the one who we say, called us to “follow” him? Most of us aren’t going anywhere, are we? We come in, we sit down, we listen – sort of – to the parts we like, ignore the parts we don’t and we go out unchanged. Every day I wonder how it is I have failed as a preacher to accurately convey what God is calling us to be and do. Every day I pray that God will work beyond my limited abilities to fully transform this church into what God wants it to be. Every day I ask God to forgive me for being such an ineffective servant of God’s mission.


As we hold our Annual Meeting and look back at last year and vote for a budget for next year I wonder…


What if we were truly transformed as followers of Christ

  • How would our work as a church look different?

  • How would our activities, our missions, and even our worship be different?

  • What if we were asking the question at every meeting and every worship, how do we need to change what we are doing to reach the people God needs us to reach with the good news of the reign of God here on earth right now?

  • What if we became that church?

  • How would God transform us so that we could transform this church, this community, this world?

  • What if God really was able to transform?

  • What if we really believed that God can and would and does?

  • What if we prayed, really hard, for God to do that?

  • What if, when we prayed that, we heard Jesus saying, “come, follow me.”

  • And what if we really, truly did? AMEN.

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