REACHING THE WORLD, ONE BY ONE
Pastor Jim Kniseley presented this sermon at Resurrection on January 20, 2008, the Second Sunday after Epiphany. The gospel reading is John 1:29-42.
Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
You and I are halfway through the church season of Epiphany. Epiphany, we’ve been reminded these past 3 Sundays is the Season of Light (represented here by our Bethlehem Star that pointed the Wisemen to the Christ Child). Epiphany has other names too for us in the church. It is the Season of Manifesting or Revealing the Good News of God for the World. It is the Season for Evangelism or reaching out to others who have not heard this good news. It is the Season to focus on the mission of the Church as the bearers of good news.
I have two stories that come from experiences of church life this past week. The first was shared with me by Bonnie Hughes. A week ago Bonnie and five other women drove to New Market for a day-long church conference on the subject of creating a ministry for seniors. Pastor Brad Hales from Culpeper was the leader. Pastor Brad is a most enthusiastic pastor and speaker and has really been encouraging good growth in his congregation that meets in downtown Culpeper. Often on Sunday mornings he and other members of the congregation stand in front of the rented church facility and simply wave at every car that passes by, just to get their attention that this is where Reformation Lutheran meets. Pastor Brad asked the folks at the conference, “How many of you first came to your congregation because someone invited you?” Bonnie reported that about 80% said this was true for them.
My second story simply comes from a synod meeting this week. I heard a pastor say that in the entire first year she was at her church, not a single visitor came, unless is was an out of town relative. The congregation was grieving, wondering what they could do to get more people to join them. No wonder then that she reported the congregation declined both in attendance and membership.
In today’s gospel lesson, there is a formula for how God wants to change the world, to spread his good news, for growing the church. Did you hear the formula?
After Jesus’ baptism, John the Baptist has the light shining on him as he gives his testimony, his witness, to who Jesus is. John especially tells 2 of his closest friends about Jesus and invited them to meet Jesus. They do meet Jesus and spend time listening (One of them for sure comes to believe Jesus is the Messiah. This is Andrew). Andrew then did this: he went to his brother, Simon Peter, and invited him to come and meet Jesus.
And so the formula: one by one sharing the good news and giving an invitation to come and meet Jesus. This formula works whether it is for evangelizing, or growing the church or working to make this a better world or simply helping people.
Pastor Carol and I watched a movie the other evening called Pay It Forward. It is several years old now. A main character is Trevor, a middle schooler, played by Haley Joel Osment. The teacher gives the students an assignment to be completed during the year that seems mind-boggling: What can do you that will help change the world? While his classmates don’t really give this assignment much thought, Trevor comes up with an idea that catches on, if ever so slowly. Here’s the idea: you do a favor that really helps someone and tell him or her not to pay it back, but to pay it forward to three other people who, in turn, pay it forward to three more – and on and on into a global outpouring of kindness and decency.
Sound far-fetched? It seems to me that this far-fetched idea picks up the sense of what being a witness for Christ is all about. You want the good news to touch others, you want God’s love and justice and wonderful promises to spread from person to person.
Tomorrow we are remembering the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. His words ring even more powerfully today than they did when he first presented them. This comes from a sermon he preached not long before his death:
“Yes, if you want to say that I was a drum major, say that I was a drum major for justice; say that I was a drum major for peace; I was a drum major for righteousness. And all of the other shallow things will not matter. I won’t have any money to leave behind. I won’t have the fine and luxurious things of life to leave behind. But I just want to leave a committed life behind. And that’s all I want to say…if I can help somebody as I pass along, if I can cheer somebody with a word or song, if I can show somebody he’s traveling wrong, then my living will not be in vain. If I can do my duty as a Christian ought, if I can bring salvation to a world once wrought, if I can spread the message as the master taught, then my living would not be in vain.”
May God permit us also to catch this spirit, and one by one be a part of changing the world for good.
Thanks be to God. Amen!