Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Oh no! Not the "E" word!

It is difficult for some of us to share our faith in Christ with others. However, that is a necessary component of discipleship and the growth of God's kingdom. This is the sermon I shared at Bethel Lutheran Church. I shared the same basic message later Sunday with the folks at Bethany Lutheran Church. The biblical text is from the John 1:29-42.

Did you ever experience something that was so fantastic that you had to share it with everyone you meet? Did you see that new movie that’s out? It was so exciting. The special effects were unbelievable! You have to go see it! 

Or what about that new restaurant that has just opened up? The food is great; the service is wonderful; the atmosphere is so relaxing; and to top it all off, the prices are very reasonable. I’m telling all my friends about it!

Today’s gospel reading is a whole series of people telling each other that they have seen Jesus, who they think he is and inviting those people to come with them to see for themselves. That is the way God grew the church then; and how He grows the Church now. God gives us the basic tools we need in order to grow the church today. It’s that E word called evangelism. Simply put, it is noticing what God is doing in our lives, sharing that with others and inviting them to come and see for themselves. 

In today’s Gospel, a very simple pattern emerges in the encounters that the folks have: notice, share, and invite.
 
John the Baptist was the first person to do the noticing. He noticed Jesus as the Lamb of God—who he was and what he would do. I love the way that John the Baptist spoke plainly, and made things crystal clear to his followers. He said, “This is he of whom I said...” (v. 30). In other words, “There’s the guy I’ve been telling you about!”

John also noticed the Holy Spirit remaining on Jesus (vv. 32-33). In John’s gospel, the word “remain,” is an important one. We can think of this word as “staying power.” The Holy Spirit has “staying power” with Jesus.

Jesus also noticed things. He noticed that some of John the Baptist’s disciples were following him and asked them what they are looking for. This probing question went far beyond the bounds of “What do you want?” Jesus was giving the disciples of John the opportunity to search their own hearts and express what they were seeking. When Jesus initiated this conversation, he “turned” to John the Baptist’s followers. In John’s gospel, this is a sign of a deepening relationship.

And what did John’s disciples say to Jesus’ question? “Rabbi, where are you staying?” Aren’t you puzzled by the disciples’ response? They want to know where Jesus is staying. Doesn’t that seem odd? Were they just so nervous that they blurted out the first thing that came to mind?But given that the time of day is 4:00 in the afternoon and the fact that the Sabbath would begin at sundown, this would mean they might have to find lodging until the Sabbath ended. Their question makes perfect sense.

In John’s gospel, the word “stay” or “remain” is used to assert that the relationship of God, Jesus and the Spirit with one another and believers is permanent, not sporadic.

It is always God who initiates contact with humanity. Jesus initiated the contact with John the Baptist’s followers (v. 38). It is Jesus who first spoke to Simon Peter (v. 42). We must never lose sight of the fact that it is God and his grace that seeks us out and evokes our response to him.

The second concept in today’s gospel is that of sharing. John the Baptist was not an insecure man. It didn’t bother him that by pointing out Jesus, his disciples would become Jesus’ disciples. John did not keep his knowledge to himself. 

Later in the reading, we find out that one of John the Baptist’s followers was Andrew. Andrew shared the good news with his brother Peter. Think of how different the church would be, and how the band of disciples would have been without Peter. Things were changed all because of a simple invitation.

This leads into the third concept in today’s gospel: which is inviting. Jesus’ response to John’s followers was simple, “Come and see” (v. 39). It was late afternoon and so they remained with Jesus (v. 39). This would allow the disciples to find the answer, to see for themselves. They stay with Jesus and Jesus’ actions become their way of life.

Notice, share and invite.

We do well sharing about things that excite us, like a new grandchild, a new home, but sharing about a new life in Christ, our faith, that’s quite another thing. The only way we get good at it is to do it. In this case, the cliché “Practice makes perfect” is absolutely true.

Inviting someone into the life of faith is the hardest step of all. What if this person tells us to go away and mind our own business?But think about it. We invite people to things all the time. Whether it’s a concert, play, football or basketball game, or inviting someone over for dinner or a Super Bowl party. We’re really quite good at inviting people to come to things...just not church! 

But why not church? We invite people to things we like, the things we’ve enjoyed and think others might enjoy as well. 

So again, why not church? Don’t we enjoy being here?
Hopefully we’re coming not because we have to, but because we want to; and there are elements of our life here at Bethel that we enjoy.

What do we personally value most about our community of faith here at Bethel? All we have to do is think about someone who might enjoy a particular event or activity going on here. 

We might encounter someone who is yearning to know about Christ. Or someone who is looking for “something” in his or her life, but is not sure what that something is. There could be someone who had a relationship with the Lord as a younger person, and let it slip away as they entered their teens or twenties.  

And I’m sure that you can think of many other scenarios that could come up.  All we have to do is wait for the right opportunity.  In other words: notice, share what we have here, and invite them. 

If you’re squeamish about inviting someone to come to church directly, you can always use the subtle approach.  There are always the potluck dinners, spaghetti dinners, chicken barbeques, or the church picnic. After all, we are the church that likes to eat—and knows how to cook. 

Just think about Andrew. You don’t hear that much about him in scripture on his own. Each time we hear about Andrew, he is bringing someone to Jesus!  He was one of the two disciples who heard what John the Baptist said about Jesus and followed him (v. 40). 

John shared the wonder of what he saw and Jesus now had his first disciples, who will eventually carry the message to the ends of the earth. Jesus invites them to come and see and they embark on a completely new adventure with God. Andrew tells his brother that he should really meet this Jesus, which results in Peter falling into faith and becoming the rock upon which Jesus builds his church. Maybe this inviting thing isn’t as hard as it seems after all.

What will people see when they have been invited here to Bethel?
Will they see God’s love?
Will they see joyful worship?
Will they see people that care?
Will they see us pointing to ourselves and what we have done or will they see us pointing to Jesus?
Will they see us as sinners who have confessed and received new life in Jesus? 

I know what newcomers will see. They will see a wonderful, loving, Spirit filled congregation. They will see Jesus in us.

We may not be as big or as well known as some other churches, but that does not mean we can’t share God’s love and invite people to join us. After all, we are the church that loves to eat!

God delights in taking little things and doing something wonderful through them. In this New Year, our identities are bound to be shaped by someone and something. Shouldn’t our lives be shaped by God’s Son, the Messiah who is here in our midst? Jesus is a home, a place to belong and a whole way of life. 

Let’s notice those around us, share this good news with them, and invite them into a new life of God’s grace in Christ.
Amen.

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