I have a ball attached to the end of a string. I’m swinging the ball in a circle around my head. As I swing it faster, it feels as if the ball is getting heavier and wants to fly off the string. That feeling is called centrifugal force.(1) But the string is strong, and I’m holding tight. The string that keeps the ball attached is exerting centripetal force. The fact that I couldn’t understand this in high school physics is one of the things that made me turn to biology.
Believers are called to a community with Christ at its center. But one of the last things Jesus said to his disciples before he left the earth was “Go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation.” Ever since then, Christians have been on the end of a string, drawn to the center of fellowship (centripetal force), yet impelled to reach out with the gospel (centrifugal force). Sometimes believers have stretched the string to the breaking point, and they’ve flown off into caring ministries without the gospel focus that could bring the greatest good. But perhaps more often, believers have huddled into a tighter and tighter circle of right doctrine and behavior. Ironically, this centripetal error also leads to a loss of the gospel distinctive; that’s why ingrown Christian communities are often harsh toward one another.
Our current sermon series is on “Dynamic Christian Living in 2014.” The centrifugal/centripetal model of a Christian’s calling is certainly dynamic. If the ball on the end of the string stops spinning, everything falls to the floor. The same thing happens to an immobile Christian.
This Sunday will be “MISSIONS SUNDAY” at ABC. Daniel Dama, a Fuller Seminary student from Benin, will be our speaker for the worship service. We are all asked to wear international clothing, if possible, and bring food from many cultures to the potluck meal.
So, we’ll be stretched in our vision for outreach (centrifugal force) as we gather for worship and fellowship (centripetal force). That’s the way it should be in a dynamic community of believers.
Sam Shoemaker (1893-1963), Episcopal priest and co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous, wrote this poem in 1958 about his desire to make his personal string as long as possible:
I stand by the door.
I neither go to far in, nor stay to far out.
The door is the most important door in the world –
It is the door through which people walk when they find God.
There is no use my going way inside and staying there,
When so many are still outside and they, as much as I,
Crave to know where the door is.
And all that so many ever find
Is only the wall where the door ought to be.
They creep along the wall like blind people,
With outstretched, groping hands,
Feeling for a door, knowing there must be a door,
Yet they never find it.
So I stand by the door.
I admire the people who go way in. But I wish they would not forget how it was
Before they got in. Then they would be able to help
The people who have not yet even found the door.
Or the people who want to run away again from God.
You can go in too deeply and stay in too long
And forget the people outside the door.
As for me, I shall take my old accustomed place,
Near enough to God to hear Him and know He is there,
But not so far from people as not to hear them,
And remember they are there too.
Where? Outside the door –
Thousands of them. Millions of them.
But – more important for me —
One of them, two of them, ten of them.
Whose hands I am intended to put on the latch.
So I shall stand by the door and wait
For those who seek it.
“I had rather be a door-keeper . . .”
So I stand by the door.(2)
(1) Yeah, I know. Centrifugal force isn’t a real thing. The true force is inertia; yada, yada. yada. So you aced physics!
(2) The entire poem is worth reading. Check it out online.
— Pastor George Van Alstine