Hospitality

Luke 10.38-42

At first glance, this looks like a negative example — one that it is
even anti-hospitality or anti-food. But we know that Jesus was
definitely not anti-food. Jesus was known to dine with sinners, to feed
5,000 on a hillside, and his first miracle took place at a party,
turning water into wine so that the party was a success.

Food has always been an important part of worship, from bringing food
to the tabernacle as offerings and the priests sacrificing the animals
and knowing which part they were allowed to eat, to the Last Supper
where Jesus, as host, and the disciples gathered for one final meal
together.

In Acts 2 one of the practices of the early Christians was to share
meals together. That practice continues today as we occasionally share
fellowship meals together. Some churches (i.e. the Brethren Churches)
still have a meal together as a part of their Communion. They eat bread
and gravy together in the sanctuary and then share the bread and wine.

Food is a part of hospitality.
Food and drink invites us to gather in conversation and to linger in
one another’s presence. It invites us to spend time together.

In this story, Martha is busily preparing food, and her sister, Mary is
sitting at the feet of Jesus, listening to his teaching. This reminds
me of Randy and I when we have company. We plan ahead if  the meal
is not quite ready or there are last minute preparations when the
guests come. I will finish with the preparations and he can
“entertain.” Take people’s coats; take them to the living room to be
seated; maybe find out what they would like to drink. But I am pulled.
I need to finish the meal, but I don’t want my guests ignored and alone.

Martha has chosen to prepare the food, but she is not so gracious with
Mary’s choice of listening with Jesus. Jesus response is one of
priorities. He does not condemn Martha’s choice, but commends Mary’s.

The guest comes first
Looking at hospitality, both are doing important things, but Mary
has  chosen the most important. And this brings us to an important
lesson about hospitality. If you have been exposed to business
etiquette you may have come across the mantra: “The customer is always
right.” The customer is more important than anything. Make the customer
happy and  they will be a customer for life.

In the case of hospitality, the guest is always comes first: their
comfort, their needs. “Hospitality occurs when we are not at home and
we  ‘receive’ the gift of feeling at home.”

In church, how do we make someone feel at home?
In the research for my class, as I and my other classmates interviewed
pre-Christians, when asked what they expected or wished for in a
church, the number one response was for the church to be welcoming,
inviting, friendly, accepting. You may think you are those things, but
obviously that is not
the message the church is sending.

If our goal is making a guest feel welcome, then it is more important
that we greet them and get to them a little than it is if we get to
talk to and visit with our friends. We are make a stranger feel like a
friend.

The importance of listening.
I may be pushing the meaning of our scripture text, but notice that
Mary is listening to Jesus. It is important to listen to our guests.

Host and guest sometimes reverse roles
Jesus becomes the real host. And isn’t God always the perfect host. He knows our needs before we ask.

The source of hospitality is love and it is shown through sacrifice
Jesus reaches out in his grace and his love. He sacrifices himself for
us. Jesus chooses our life over his own; he gives his life for ours. We
were strangers, and he died for us, so that we could be his friends, so
that we could be a part of his family.

"How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!" (1 John 3.1a)

"Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another." (John 13.34)

Extend hospitality to all.
Women? Why would a teacher spend time teaching women.

The “food” that lasts.
Mary has chosen the “food” that will last. In our hospitality do we offer the “food” that will last?

"Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God."

Matthew 25.34-40

The Sending 4: Conversations

Today, we’re talking about conversations. Conversation is one of the primary ways that we relate to others. To get us started, let’s look at a couple conversations that Jesus had with Nicodemus and the woman at the well.

These two stories in John 3-4, where Jesus has a conversation with Nicodemus, followed by a conversation with an unnamed woman at Jacob’s well, really go well together. There’s a …

  • A man who is named and a woman who is unnamed
  • A man who comes to Jesus and a woman whom Jesus approaches
  • A man who comes to Jesus at night and a woman who meets with Jesus during the day
  • A man whose status is high and a woman who is on the bottom side of
    everything (the fact that she was alone at the well during the day;
    other women went in groups during the cool of the day)
  • Both talk about water, Spirit, life, Jews. Both show Jesus’ capacity for penetrating insight
  • Both Nicodemus and the woman both want to engage him in spiritual conversation
  • Nicodemus fades into the night; we can’t tell where his story ends; her story ends with a type of confession

These two conversations show that Jesus knows people at the extremes; the implication is that he knows people in between as well. Whereas the woman at the well appears to make an immediate response to follow Jesus, Nicodemus’ journey was spread out over a longer period of time. Read John 7.50-52 and John 19.38-42.

In the burial scene, Nicodemus moves from the shadows and identifies himself with Jesus. Some people come to Jesus agonizingly slow, like Nicodemus, whereas for the woman at the well was more instantaneous.

We tend to compartmentalize life — secular vs. spiritual. In Hebrew culture, there were no words for secular/spiritual. It was just life — and God was part of people’s lives. Our conversations should reflect that.

It seems to me, evangelism isn’t a method as much as it is a relationship, and a relationship involves conversations. It’s about being who you are. If you are a follower of Jesus, and Jesus is the center of our lives, then he will also be part of our conversations.

The good news is that, just as each of us has a unique DNA make-up, so too we have different approaches to spiritual conversations (i.e. evangelism). These six approaches come from Bill Hybels and Mark Mittelberg’s, Becoming a Contagious Christian

  • Confrontational [Peter]
  • Intellectual [Paul]
  • Testimonial [Blind man, John 9]
  • Interpersonal [Matthew]
  • Invitational [Samaritan woman, john 4]
  • Service [Dorcas, Acts 9]

What do you have to know in order to have spiritual conversations?

"Instead, you must worship Christ as Lord of your life. And if you
are asked about your Christian hope, always be ready to explain it." (1
Peter 3.15)

You don’t have to be an expert on spiritual matters. You don’t have to know everything. You simply have to be on a spiritual journey of following Jesus. When questions come up that you don’t know how to respond to, as they often will, it’s an opportunity for you to learn and grow in an area that you’ve not considered very much, perhaps.

Is it necessary to talk about Jesus in every conversation?
No. Not every conversation has to be “spiritual.” If we’re living for God, and Jesus is truly a part of our lives, I believe that will be noticeable, and will sometimes lead to spiritual conversations. For example, Nicodemus came to Jesus because there was something about him that drew Nicodemus to him. The woman at the well, though she had never met Jesus, was drawn to him through their conversation.

O God, you have invited us to be in conversation with you since creation. And you reach out to the world you love so much, one person, one conversation, at a time. Please use us — our lives and our conversations — to spread your revolution in this world! Amen.

The Sending 3: Let’s Go fishing!

Mark 1.16-20

“Evangelizing in the church is like fishing in a bathtub: it’s terribly convenient, but you don’t catch much.” (Dr. Roy Fish)

Evangelism is hard work! It requires dedication and perseverance! Listen to Paul’s commitment and dedication in1 Corinthians 9.20-27.

Stay on task!
“Too many Christians are no longer fishers of [people] but keepers of the aquarium.” (Paul Harvey)

“When Fisherman Don’t Fish” (Max Lucado)
Max Lucado tells the story about going fishing with his dad and friend when he was in high school. It was something Max looked forward to every year.

But one year, in particular, it was tough …
“We arrived late at night, unfolded the camper, and went to bed – dreaming of tomorrow’s day in the sun. But during the night, an unseasonably strong norther blew in. It got cold fast! The wind was so strong that we could barely open the camper door the next morning. The sky was gray. The lake was a mountain range of white-topped waves.

There was no way we could fish in that weather. The next morning it wasn’t the wind that made the door hard to open, it was the ice! It was a long day. It was a long, cold night. When we awoke the next morning to the sound of sleet slapping the canvas, we didn’t even pretend to be cheerful. We were flat-out grumpy. The next day was even colder. "We’re going home" were my father’s first words. No one objected.

I learned a hard lesson that week. Not about fishing, but about people. When those who are called to fish don’t fish, they fight. … [But] When those who are called to fish, fish – they flourish!”

“The greatest sin of the church today is not any sin of commission, or any sin of omission, but the sin of ‘no mission.’” (Unknown)

How to fish …
Mend your nets!
One way of looking at the nets, is to see them as our relationships with people, namely our “neighbors.” In the NT, our neighbor is the person who is near to us. Think about the people Jesus interacted with in his life: lepers, prostitutes, blind beggars, outcasts.

“The first man in history to reach out and voluntarily touch lepers didn’t die of leprosy. He died at the hands of religious leaders who wouldn’t have touched a leper on a bet.” (Jimmy Allen)

Cast your nets!
Simply love your neighbor as yourself. Be in conversation with people, simply to to love them! As you listen to the stories of your "neighbors," and share your story, God will have opportunity to work in your lives inviting you both into God’s story!

Fishers of people must rely on God for the results! (John 21.1-6)

This certainly doesn’t mean that we sit around and do nothing. It means that we must work hard, and trust and know that the results of our labor comes from God alone!

Commercial fisherman in Jesus’ day spent much of their time mending their nets, preparing for the day or night on the water. We, too, must prepare ourselves for the task at hand, and experiencing God’s transformation. It’s the greatest adventure!

I love what Rob Bell says about this kind of adventure:“What we have learned time and time again is that we are students. Learners. Figuring it out. The spirit of God is messy. And that’s not heresy. The Spirit moves in wild and unrestrained ways and demands that we run as fast as we can to keep up. The most dangerous place to be in the universe is the center of God’s will. That is where we want to be. I hope we never think we’ve nailed it. I hope we never believe that we have arrived. I hope it is always dangerous. Always chaotic. Always flying by the seat of our pants. Never settled. Messy. I hope the struggles keep us begging God for guidance. I often hear Christian leaders tell what God has been saying to them in their times of meditation and study and prayer and I’m often amazed. He tells them the most profound, eloquent things. All I seem to ever hear is: ‘Rob, get out of my way.’”

As we go fishing for God and yield ourselves to God’s mission in the world, may God create a spiritual community that only he gets credit for!

The Sending 2: Blessed to Be a Blessing

"Every good and perfect gift comes down from the Father who created all the lights in the heavens." (James 1.17)

One
of my favorite images for us is a cup or a clay jar. I am an empty
vessel, and I depend on God to fill me. If my cup runs over, it’s only
because God has filled my life to overflowing! The same is true for
you. And the life God pours into our lives, we must not keep in our
own little container, but we must freely share it with others. Jesus said, "If you want
to save your life, you will destroy it. But if you give up your life
for me and for the good news, you will save it" (Mark 8.35). Also, "It
is more blessed to give than to receive" (Acts 25.30b).

“When
religions assume that their adherents are chosen only to be blessed,
and forget that they are blessed to be a blessing … they become part of
the problem instead of part of the solution.” (Brian McLaren)

Last
week we began a series to help us understand and embrace our role as
missionaries to the Juniata Valley and beyond! As missionaries, we have
a responsibility to serve God and the world. Jesus said, "Much is
required from those to whom much is given, and much more is required
from those to whom much more is given" (Luke 12.48b). And remember
Jesus words following the resurrection: "As the Father has sent me, I
am sending you" (John 20.21).

You and I have been sent into the
world with the same mission that Jesus had — to love the world and
announce that God’s kingdom is here! And Jesus was clearly on a
mission. He came "not to be served but to serve others, and to give
(his) life as a ransom for many" (Mark 10.45).

God is a
missionary God, and we are a missionary people! We are people who are
sent as Christ’s missionaries, or ambassadors, to the world. “Missions”
is not a program of the church, or something we do on the side; it’s
who we are!

With blessing comes responsibility!
Abraham certainly discovered that (Genesis 12.1-3).
God called Abraham while he was in the city of Ur, to leave his home
and to go to the place where God leads him. Abraham’s call begins with
a command: “Go out!” or “Leave your country!” If we’re going to follow
God, it’s going to require total surrender — dying to ourselves, our own agendas, and
surrendering completely to God’s leadership. Like Paul, our lives are
"a drink offering being poured out on the altar" (2 Timothy 4.6b).

Where
did God tell Abraham to go? “To the land that I will show you.” God
doesn’t tell Abram where he’s going to send him. Following God begins
with a step of faith. God requires faith (see Hebrew 11.8-10).

It
reminds me of the movie, "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade," where
Indiana Jones is involved in a search for the Holy Grail, the cup from
which Christ drank at the Last Supper. As the film reaches its climax,
Indiana must go through three tests in order to reach the Grail. In the
final test Indiana Jones comes a huge chasm with no visible way to get
to the other side. He recalls the instructions from his father’s diary,
and finally steps into the void, and to his amazement, his foot comes
down on solid ground. A bridge appeared, but he had to take the step of
faith first.

What’s keeping us from being missionaries to our
community? Perhaps we don’t grasp the magnitude of God’s love for the
world around us. Or maybe is spiritual apathy, lack of compassion, or
even a tendency to be selfish.

At the recent Men’s Rally,
speaking of drinking from the deep well (i.e. Christ), Bishop Middleton
said, “The deep well is not just for your own benefit. You’re not
called together just for your own enlightenment, but to work together —
the whole is bigger than the sum of its parts. Jesus is laying on you
this night to give your heart to Christ, for the sake of yourself and
the world that is hurting.”

This selfishness can even manifest
itself in our ministry. Instead of helping others beyond the Valley, we
can say we’re going to keep all of our efforts and money here in the
Valley. Yes, this Valley is our primary responsibility, but we also
have a responsibility, particularly as United Methodists who
participate in a larger connection, to bless our world.

Jesus
said, "But when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, you will receive
power and will tell people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout
Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth" (Acts 1.8). Similarly, I believe
Jesus is sending us to the Juniata Valley, to Huntingdon County, to
Pennsylvania, to the US, and to the ends of the earth!

If we’re going to be missionaries, we must take a step of faith, and live out our faith in Christ, so let’s talk about action.

Action! Being a Blessing
“Our actions are a presentation of our name, our integrity or identity.
… We are not saved by our actions, but we are known by them.” (Michael
Frost and Alan Hirsch)

Matthew 5.16; 1 Peter 2.12; 1 Peter 4.11

God has called us to be the church for a purpose. He has sent us on a mission.

“The
church is where the Spirit of God is forming a people who are the
expression of God’s redeeming work in the world. They are the people in
whom the dwelling of God is forming a new creation. They are God’s
witnesses in the world.” (Robert Webber)

The Summons (song by John Bell)

  • Will you come and follow me if I but call your name? Will you go
    where you don’t know and never be the same? Will you let my love be
    shown, will you let my name be known, will you let my life be grown in
    you and you in me?
  • Will you leave yourself behind if I but call your name? Will you
    care for cruel and kind and never be the same? Will you risk the
    hostile stare should your life attract or scare? Will you let me answer
    prayer in you and you in me?
  • Will you let the blinded see if I but call your name? Will you
    set the prisoners free and never be the same? Will you kiss the leper
    clean, and do such as this unseen, and admit to what I mean to you and
    you in me?
  • Will you love the “you” you hide if I but call your name? Will
    you quell the fear inside and never be the same? Will you use the faith
    you’ve found to reshape the world around, through my sight and touch
    and sound in you and you in me?
  • Lord, your summons echoes true when you but call my name. Let me
    turn and follow you and never be the same. In your company I’ll go
    where your love and footsteps show. Thus I’ll move and live and grow in
    you and you in me.

A prayer of missionaries ….
Dear Jesus, help us to spread your fragrance everywhere we go. Flood
our souls with your spirit and life. Penetrate and possess our whole
being so utterly that our lives may only be a radiance of yours. Shine
through us and be so in us that every soul we come in contact with may
feel your presence in our soul. Let them look up and see no longer us,
but only Jesus. Stay with us and then we shall begin to shine as you
shine, so to shine as to be light to others. The light, O Jesus, will
be all from you. None of it will be ours. It will be you shining on
others through us. Let us thus praise you in the way you love best by
shining on those around us. Let us preach you without preaching, not by
words, but by our example; by the catching force – the sympathetic
influence of what we do, the evident fullness of the love our hearts
bear to you. Amen. (Mother Teresa)

Gone Fishin’: The Sending

John 20.19-23

We began the year with a series on discipleship entitled “Follow me.” The series was based on Jesus’ calling to the first disciples. But the calling did not stop with “Come, follow me.” Jesus continued with the ultimate purpose of the call: “and I will make you fishers of men & women.” (Matthew 4.19)

My question when I look at Jesus’ words of sending in John 20 is how is he is sending us? As the Father has sent me, I am sending you. How did the Father send Jesus; how is he sending us? At first two words came to my mind in summing up Jesus life: love and sacrifice. But then I thought it would not be complete without adding a third: life. I realized all three of these words appear in a key verse, the verse that probably most of us have memorized, especially we who grew up in the church. John 3.16: For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.

1.    Love
God loved the world
loved sinners
didn’t love sin, but loved sinners
loved you and I
continues to love those who do not love him
loves his creation
loves his fallen creation
loves those who are unlovable

Jesus loved sinners so much that
he ate with them
he drank with them
he went to their homes
he let them wash his feet
he called them
he talked with them
he spent time with them
he defended them
he saved them from stonings
he forgave them

God now sends us into the world to love. We are to love as he loves.

We are to love the world. That may sound a little foreign to some of our ears. I think somewhere along the line we, as Christians, have gotten this wrong. I did a word search in the Bible for the two words "hate" and "world." No where are we told to hate the world. We are told that the world will hate us. But we are to love the world as God loved the world. We are to love the sinner – we don’t love sin, but love the sinner.

We know John 3.16, but do we know John 3.17?
John 3.17
For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.

Christians sometimes are quick to condemn. We cannot condemn someone’s lifestyle and then expect them to listen to a message of love. The church has been too quick to condemn, be it out of pride or arrogance, and the world will not listen to us anymore. I read an article in the local paper shortly after I moved here of a young woman who was a homosexual and she voiced disdain for the church. She felt hated by the church. The church had condemned her, instead of reaching out to her in love.

Above I stated that Jesus defended sinners, saved them from stonings, and he forgave them. I had a specific story in mind. When Jesus came across the adulterous woman who was about to be stoned by  the religious. He defended her. He saved her from being stoned. He said that the one who was without sin should cast the first stone. And when all had walked away, he offered her the gift of forgiveness.

2.    Gave – Sacrifice
Philippians 2.5-8

God the Father gave his only begotten Son.
God the Son gave up the heavenlies to become human, to become a servant. He humbled himself and became obedient to death.

We are called to a life of self-sacrifice. We are sent into the world to give and give and give.
To give of our time to love others.
To give of our energy to serve others.
To give of our love to the most undeserving.

3.    Life
To offer the gift of life to the world; the gift of forgiveness.

John 20.23
If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.

Romans 10.14-15
14How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?  15And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”

We are sent to tell others of the new life, the everlasting life, that is made available through Christ Jesus. We are sent to offer the forgiveness that comes in Christ Jesus.

Spirit
John 20.22
And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.

Breathe is the same word used in the Greek Old Testament to describe God’s action when he formed the man from the dust of the ground and "breathed into his face the breath of life" and the man became a living being. Gen 2:7

It is the same used in Ezekiel 37:
‘Dry bones, hear the word of the LORD !  5 This is what the Sovereign LORD says to these bones: I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life.  6 I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the LORD .’

This is not Pentecost (Acts 2), because at this point the disciples are not fulfilling their call. They are still behind locked doors. They are not yet out being witnesses of the Christ.

There is progressive giving of the Spirit. It is a process.

Just as Jesus was completely dependent upon the Father, we are completely dependent upon God. We need breathed on; we need the Holy Spirit in our lives in order to love as God has called us to love and in order to give as God has called us give. We cannot love without the love of God in us. We have nothing to give without the Spirit of God with us. God loves us and we give his love away.

Jesus was sent by the Father; we are sent by Jesus. Jesus is the presence of God; if the Spirit of God lives in us, we take the presence of God with us wherever we go. We are called to be the presence of God to the world.

Summary
Sent in love to love.
Sent to Give.
Sent to give Life that comes through the forgiveness offered in Christ.
Sent to be the presence of God in the world as the Spirit lives in us.

The Sending 1: People after God’s own Heart

Psalm 67

I have been saying for since the end of 2004 that I believe these first four months of 2005 are a vitally important time in the life of our spiritual journey together. We began the year talking about “revolutionary
discipleship” (what it means to be a Christ-follower). During Lent, we looked at a few of the “habits of growing disciples.” And last week, we talked about being “Easter People,” people who have experienced Christ’s resurrection power in their lives.

I believe that everything in recent months (and perhaps, recent years) has brought us to this point, where we will more fully devote our attention to being people of mission, invitational people who invite others along on the journey of following Christ.

You may recall this quote from Reggie McNeal’s book, This Present Future, that I read two weeks ago. It’s a good segue into this series:

Member values clash with missionary values. Member values are all about church real estate, church programming, who’s in and who’s out, member services, member issues (translated: am I getting what I want out of this church?). Missionary values are about the street, people’s needs, breaking down barriers, community issues (translated: am I partnering with God’s work in people?). One of these value sets will triumph over the other. They do not coexist peacefully.

Missionary Training
So, for the next few weeks, I want to do some intensive and focused missionary training. I am not an “expert missionary.” Like you, I am a disciple/learner/apprentice, a Christ-follower sent on the mission of inviting others to come along on the journey, the mission of forming disciples. This is simply an opportunity for us to grow together. As a “lead missionary” (a leader of missionaries), my goal is to equip Christ-follower to be missionaries.

 My goal is not to guilt you into embracing missionary values and see yourself as a missionary. Rather, my goal is simply to invite you to joining the Jesus revolution, participating in a missional community (a community of missionaries) in the Juniata Valley and beyond.

I want to begin by talking about God’s heart for the world, which I think has to be the starting place. As we begin to see the world through God’s eyes, we will be more likely to see ourselves as missionaries to the world.

Glimpses of God’s Heart …

  • "For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that
    everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life."
    (John 3.16) 
  • "The Lord isn’t really being slow about his promise to return, as
    some people think. No, he is being patient for your sake. He does not
    want anyone to perish, so he is giving more time for everyone to
    repent." (2 Peter 3.9)

We get another glimpse at God’s heart for the world in the person of Jesus Christ. There’s a great example is Matthew 9.35–38. There, we see God’s heart when Jesus “felt great pity for the crowds (i.e. he was “moved with compassion”) because the people were like sheep without a shepherd." Jesus, the Good Shepherd, loves the world and wants to be our shepherd!

Because there’s such a huge harvest to be gathered, Jesus tells us to pray for help, to pray for laborers (workers, farmers) — people that God will “send out” into the fields. I love the language in The Message: “What a huge harvest!” he said to his disciples. “How few workers! On your knees and pray for harvest hands!” I invite and encourage you to join me in praying that God will send out workers (missionaries) into the harvest here in the Juniata Valley and beyond!

Missionaries: Sent ones
God’s values must become our values, and God’s values are missionary values. As followers of Jesus Christ, we are missionaries — people who are sent on a mission! But it’s not just any mission, it’s the mission of spreading the revolution, of forming disciples of Jesus Christ!

Ecclesia (“church”) means “called out ones.” As member’s of the church, we are not “called out” to live in isolation, to be a club (even a spiritual club), we are called out for mission! Jesus said, "As the Father has sent me, I am sending you" (John 20.21).

Whenever I think of our mission, I think of the Great Commandment and the Great Commission (Matthew 22.35-40; Matthew 28.18-20). I also like what Peter says: "But you are God’s chosen and special people. You are a group of royal priests and a holy nation. God has brought you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Now you must tell all the wonderful things that he has done." (1 Peter 2.9, emphasis added)

I recently read The Story We Find Ourselves In (by Brian McLaren). In it, there are some great words on mission and the missional community. Here are a couple quotes …

“So Jesus brings together this community of men and women who are called out from the crowds to be disciples, and then these disciples will be sent back into the world on a mission of expressing Jesus’ message of God’s kingdom, and helping others become disciples who will in turn help others, and so on. I guess that’s the way the revolution spreads.” (127)

“Jesus was sent into the world to express, in word and deed, the saving love of God. We, as a community of faith, are similarly sent into the world to express, in word and deed, the saving love of God. Jesus was sent here on a mission, and he said, ‘As the Father sent me, so I send you.’ We have the mission, or … God’s mission has us.” (133)

Pope John Paul II was a great example of someone who ran the race till the very end. He was an 84 year-old guy who simply never quit! Even in recent days, he defied the advice of his doctors and recommendations of his advisers and attempted to speak to the people from his window. Even though he was unable to do so, he at least demonstrated great tenacity.

If you and I are going to be faithful to God in our mission, I believe it requires a life of commitment to God’s mission on earth. God calls and invites us to let God work through us in our world!

Maintain a heart connection with God
The journey gets difficult at times, but the key is for us to maintain a vital connection with God.

“If you’re drinking deep enough from the well, you’ll be wet enough to avoid burnout.” (Bishop Jane Allen Middleton)

God works through us. When we maintain a vital connection with God, it’s not us doing the work; it’s God working in and through us!

A Step of Faith

John 20.24-29
Hebrews 11.1
Deuteronomy 8

Indiana Jones’ Step of Faith
In Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Indiana Jones is involved in a search for the Holy Grail, the cup from which Christ drank at the Last Supper. As the film reaches its climax, Indy must go through three tests in order to reach the Grail. In the final test Indiana Jones comes a chasm that appeared to be thirty feet across, so deep one cannot see the bottom, and without any visible way to reach the other side. Following the instructions from his father’s diary, Indiana Jones steps into the void, and to his amazement, his foot comes down on solid ground. The bridge across the chasm is the same  rocky texture perfectly matching the wall of the cavern.

Hebrew 11.1 translates faith as being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.

Have you ever been asked to believe in something you don’t see? Probably more times than you can count, when you really sit and think about it. Of most essence is our belief in God.

John 20.29
“… blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

Belief is tested in many ways. It is tested to grow our faith/belief; it is tested in order for God to see what is really in our hearts.

Faith in action
When our faith is tested, many times action is recquired. We are required to do something.

Hebrews 11 gives a list of people who stepped out in action in faith.

Noah was told the earth was going to be flooded. The action: build an ark! Noah had never seen rain, let alone a flood. “Build a ship Noah! You can be sure it’s going to rain and flood; you can be certain of what you have never seen.” “Yes, Lord.”

Abraham was directed by God to go to a place where he did not know where he was going. A place hadn’t seen or heard of. A place that he couldn’t look up and study in the tourist or travel guides. “Go” the Lord commanded. You can be sure it’s all you ever hoped for; you can be certain even though you have not seen it yet. And Abraham obeyed.

Mary never saw her son do a miracle, yet she came to him at the wedding at Cana, telling her of the wedding party’s dilemma, “The wine is gone. Do something.” She was certain Jesus could remedy this embarrassing problem. Mary’s action, was to ask and believe.

At the pool of Bethesda, the disabled (the blind, the lame, the paralyzed) would lay and wait for the water to be stirred and to get to the water to be healed. Jesus asked a man, “Do you want to get well?” “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” The man had to believe and act on his belief. Had he heard of Jesus before? Had he seen Jesus heal others? No, for the scriptures say, The man who was healed had no idea who it was, for Jesus had slipped away into the crowd that was there. (John 5)

Ananias was told by the Lord in a vision to go and see Saul of Tarsus. Ananias knew that Saul persecuted Christians, but Jesus assured Ananias that he had chosen Saul to do a great work for him. Ananias acted; Ananias obeyed and went and prayed for Saul. (Acts 9)

Faith in action. Obedience follows faith. Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.

The Bible is the story of God’s faithful action toward his faithful people. It is the story of God’s people acting in faithfulness toward their God. The Bible is also about the unfaithfulness of God’s people. Because God has given us free will, God’s people sometimes do not trust God and turn from God’s way to their own way and the Bible reveals God’s disappointment and even his righteous judgment.

Giving as an act of faith
One way we are called to honor God is in our giving. Some time ago we talked about our giving being an act of worship. This year I am reading the Bible through in a year, and as I am reading through the OT, especially Deuteronomy, it is overwhelmingly evident how much giving is a part of worship. The major celebrations are marked by the people bringing their offerings to the Lord. An aspect of that worship, is an acknowledgement that God is Provider – that all that we have comes from his hand.

In Deuteronomy 8, God is with Israel both in times of plenty and times of want. God reminds Israel that it is by Him that they were sustained in the wilderness. For forty years, God provided manna, God made their clothes last. And it is in this chapter that God warns Israel not to forget about him in times of plenty. Israel is soon to enter the Promised Land. They will have more than they can imagine. God says,

10 When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the LORD your God for the good land he has given you.  11 Be careful that you do not forget the LORD your God… 12 Otherwise, when you eat and are satisfied, when you build fine houses and settle down … 14 then your heart will become proud and you will forget the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. 17 You may say to yourself, "My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me."  18 But remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth, and so confirms his covenant, which he swore to your forefathers, as it is today.

Faith is about the future
Our giving is an act of faith. Giving acknowledges what we have comes from God. Giving also reaches into the future, to what we do not yet see, and believes that God will take care of our every need. The examples of faith given earlier: Noah prepared for the future by building a boat. Abraham looked to a future place of residence, as he set out traveling. Mary saw a future of Jesus performing miracles before he ever performed one. The crippled man at the pool, after laying there 38 years, he held onto a future of wholeness. Ananias saw a future of Gentiles following Christ.

Faith is about the future; about the things we do not see. Giving to Christ is about believing in the future. It’s about believing in God to provide for your every need.

1 Kings 17.7-16 – The Widow of Zarephath
Elijah approaches a widow for water and bread. She has just a little flour and oil, which she plans to bake for her and her son as their last meal before they die. Elijah instructs her, “Don’t be afraid. Go home and do as you have said. But first make a small cake of bread fro me from what you have and bring it to me, and then make something for yourself and your son. For this what the Lord, the God of Israel, says ‘The jar of flour will not be used up and the jar of oil will not run dry until the day the Lord gives rain on the land.’”

God will provide for your every need: today and in the future.

Giving to Christ is about believing in the future. I believe that God will provide through you for the work of this church, because I believe in the future of this church. As I said earlier, God tests us, he puts challenges in our midst, to see what is in our hearts. And to strengthen our faith, to build our faith.

I believe God has a series of challenges for Faith UMC, because he has a future for you. You have stepped out in faith in many ways. And God is going to keep challenging you. You have come together as a merged congregation, and I believe God is still at work, making you one.

Ministry
Your ministry has grown in the past few years. And I believe that it will continue to expand and grow. We have a core of committed lay leaders and some of them at time carry too heavy a load. I believe we have a future of more than a few carrying the load. We have a future of every member a minister. Everyone who is connected to this body will be involved in ministry. (And I already see that sphere growing!)

Neighborhood
I believe we have a future of being more involved in our neighborhoods; more visible in our neighborhoods; more in love with our neighbors.

Jabez prays in 1 Chronicles 4 “enlarge my territory.” I believe that God is going to enlarge our territory, our circle of influence, our impact on our neighbors.

I believe that in order for these things to happen that you are all going to have some very important decisions to make.

Faith is about believing in someone bigger than yourself
You can make God small. You can set limits on what he can do. Or you can let God be God. The God who is bigger than what you can understand. The God who is bigger than what you can accomplish in your own strength. The God who you are totally dependent upon for every breath you take. The God who is the Creator of this world – who made everything we see out of what was not seen.

The God who
“is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us” (Eph 3.20)

Will you dare to believe?
Will you take a step of faith?