This is the transcript of a sermon I delivered on Sunday 8th Oct 2011. I asked the congregation to listen whilst bearing in mind what God had been saying to them in recent days/weeks/months.
Some of you were here the other week when I talked about thread and joining in. Well this is something of a follow up from that. This is a reflection on stuff I have heard, read, talked about, prayed about and have been processing for a good few weeks now if not more.
I want to start with the words of Jesus. Not all of them! Just these 2 very important, life and world changing words: Follow Me.
In the western post-modern culture there has been a tendency to make this a Clarion Call to Watered-Down Evangelicalism (read the full article here). ‘All’ that’s needed is a personal decision to ‘follow’ Jesus: to agree with him, to confess our sin and to receive redemption. Follow me, after all, isn’t all that difficult. It doesn’t include awkward commitments like: ‘go to church’ or ‘know your bible’ or ‘have quiet times/pray’ OR DOES IT?
Biblical disciples would have grown up being taught scriptures, learning it off by heart probably. So they already had the ‘know your bible’. When the Holy Spirit was given they ‘went to church’. It was probably different to what we do, but they were faithful to teaching on the words and life of Jesus, singing psalms and praying together as well as going out and telling others. The early church grew from around 120 people in one city to around half the Roman Empire within 250 years, a truly phenomenal growth rate! What was happening? The followers were applying their knowledge of scripture to the stories that Jesus told and the person He was and passing it on, along with the Holy Spirit. I’m pretty sure each of them prayed not only with their fellow followers but on their own too, not necessarily on their knees with their heads bowed, but nonetheless prayer: seeking forgiveness, giving thanks and petitioning God.
Reading your Bible, going to church and praying on their own are not going to make us followers of Jesus – we also need to JOIN IN!
Our western culture has made us very individualistic in our faith: I believe in Jesus, I study the bible, I pray, I go to church, this is what Jesus calls ME to do. I’m beginning to think this is NOT what Jesus calls any of us to, not in the first instance. I believe this is a very important change in our thinking about our faith. We need to stop thinking: ME – my faith, my relationship with Jesus, my salvation, my ‘journey’ my prayer times – is the most important thing, get ‘ME’ sorted out, saved and growing in my faith before then finding a CHURCH, finding something that ‘suits’ ME, in this model often ‘MY role in church’ becomes attending, worshipping, giving money, listening to the sermon and then going home. In this model a successful church is measured by the number of people in a Sunday morning service. Once we have found a CHURCH where we are comfortable and happy we then consider the WORLD and here then can be a temptation for it to feel as if we’ve put our heads above the parapet of CHURCH life and look at the outside WORLD: making occasional evangelistic forays and thinking ‘EEK! How are we going to make any difference to a world that’s in such a mess??!’
Rather I think we are being pointed towards a different way of looking at faith and religion and the interaction between ourselves and our faith. My own reading/talking/reflecting is leading me much more towards this different model: the WORLD is God-created, Man-spoiled, Jesus-redeemed. Our world was made perfect and then spoiled by mankind, to the point where we are now looking at some scary ideas like extreme poverty, economic instability and societal breakdown. As human-beings we are consuming more than we can produce and the result of this is more waste than we can handle as a planet. Jesus came to redeem not only us as individuals but the WORLD: Jesus came to build his CHURCH: redeemed people; followers of The Way; a body, fully functioning meaning every member involved in ministry (there’s a loaded word! What do I mean? I mean every member using your own God-given gifts and abilities to serve him wherever He calls you, wherever He has placed you). CHURCH has been happening for centuries, Jesus’s body has been at work since he left this world and, I would venture to suggest, only sometimes on a Sunday!
I was quite caught by this image of a body. Every single part of a body is useful, and if we believe God made us, even the appendix must have a role to play! We only have to think about what life is like when one part of our body goes wrong (did you know that you need your little toe to balance properly?!) to know how important the WHOLE body is. Jesus is calling us to not be ‘bums on seats’ on a Sunday morning but to become fully participating followers of the way. Being in church every Sunday is not enough, it never has been and it never will be! To attend church is part of being faithful but if we are not actively engaged in this body, if we come expecting church to ‘give‘ us something, and feel cheated when we don’t get our needs met by a Sunday service then something is WRONG and I suggest it’s not with church, but in our own hearts and minds. We are NOT called to be Consumers of Church! I came across this quote on twitter by someone called JonathanDodson
Church is not a vending machine where you come to pick what you want; it is a family to whom you give what you have.
Into this body of Christ he calls ME, he wants ME, to join my heart, soul, body and mind to his body, to be consumed by the things that consume him, to reach out to the broken-hearted, to bring comfort to those who mourn, to raise up the widows and orphans in distress, to show his love and mercy to all sorts of people: from the poor and sick, to the wealthy and the healthy! The gospel isn’t just for ME or YOU, or just for the poor and the sick, it isn’t just for a select group of people, it is FOR ALL.
[This model of World Church Me isn't my own idea, but came, I believe, from Brian McLaren via a friend]
So let’s just go back to Discipleship and Mission. Discipleship is important, if we are going to be of any use to God in mending his broken WORLD we need to know about Him, what He has to say about his world and the people he has created. Learning about God and Jesus from the Bible is an important part of following The Way. Mission too is crucial and the Bible has some very strong words to say about this:
James 1 v 27 – looking after widows and orphans
Matt 19v16 – rich young ruler. Entering the kingdom of God is not easy, and Jesus doesn’t try to make it easy for this man. Although the Kingdom is for everyone, not everyone will want to meet the standard, which is…
Rom 12v1 – offer yourself as living sacrifice
1 Thess 5v14 – warn the idle and disruptive. Paul’s words here suggest that those who do nothing within their faith community (or Church) should be told to get moving, to either join in or be on their way. This is the same passage from The Message:
13-15Get along among yourselves, each of you doing your part. Our counsel is that you warn the freeloaders to get a move on. Gently encourage the stragglers, and reach out for the exhausted, pulling them to their feet. Be patient with each person, attentive to individual needs. And be careful that when you get on each other's nerves you don't snap at each other. Look for the best in each other, and always do your best to bring it out.
Rev 3v 14-22 Full passage from The Message:
14Write to Laodicea, to the Angel of the church. God's Yes, the Faithful and Accurate Witness, the First of God's creation, says:
15-17"I know you inside and out, and find little to my liking. You're not cold, you're not hot—far better to be either cold or hot! You're stale. You're stagnant. You make me want to vomit. You brag, 'I'm rich, I've got it made, I need nothing from anyone,' oblivious that in fact you're a pitiful, blind beggar, threadbare and homeless.
18"Here's what I want you to do: Buy your gold from me, gold that's been through the refiner's fire. Then you'll be rich. Buy your clothes from me, clothes designed in Heaven. You've gone around half-naked long enough. And buy medicine for your eyes from me so you can see, really see.
19"The people I love, I call to account—prod and correct and guide so that they'll live at their best. Up on your feet, then! About face! Run after God!
20-21"Look at me. I stand at the door. I knock. If you hear me call and open the door, I'll come right in and sit down to supper with you. Conquerors will sit alongside me at the head table, just as I, having conquered, took the place of honor at the side of my Father. That's my gift to the conquerors!
22"Are your ears awake? Listen. Listen to the Wind Words, the Spirit blowing through the churches."
Friends, a person can believe in Jesus, has confessed their sin and been redeemed by Jesus’ death on the cross, they can have a ‘personal’ faith that is closeted away. As I said earlier, it is possible to be a Xian without going to church, reading your bible, I could add to those, without telling anyone else, without talking to others about your faith. This is like being given a skein of thread and then hiding it in a drawer for careful preservation. You might take the thread out once in a while and ponder what could be done with it; eventually it’ll get forgotten about. But imagine using that thread for an arguably greater, definitely more colourful more public purpose? Use the thread in an embroidery and suddenly we see a MUCH bigger picture, one with all the colours imaginable glowing together. This, my friends, is what Jesus calls us to – a life lived out as part of an embroidery piece, or to put it another way: part of a living, breathing, practical, efficient, purposeful, well-designed BODY of Christ.
So how do we do this? I don’t think much of this will be surprising to many people here. After all, every member ministry is very much a part of the Living Stones creed.
I read something just the other day which I thought was particularly relevant, the language is a little Americanised but there are some good ideas here!
If these things frighten you then let’s pray for boldness and an awareness of God in the ordinary. Remembering that when we join our seemingly ordinary thread in with God’s weaving pattern of saving his broken world, it becomes something EXTRAORDINARY.
As we take communion together this morning let’s re-dedicate ourselves to follow Jesus: in all the fullness of his BODY; to follow The Way, wherever it make take us; to become part of something MUCH bigger than ourselves, or even just this congregation. As we take communion we take part in something that joins us with every saint or believer who has ever lived and celebrated the same meal.
As a visual element to this message I’m going to invite you to bring the thread you were given as you came in this morning up to the table. Swap that thread for one of THESE (friendship bracelet). Your thread will be used in the border of this embroidery piece and you can take this bracelet home to remind and challenge us to not just be hearers of the word but doers also.