Mark 1:14-15; Romans 10:14-15
“Following Jesus Today: Words and Deeds”
April 12, 2015
Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church
You are our refuge and our strength, O Lord. We pour our lives into Your hands that we may discover all the benefits of Your grace and all the power of Your presence. Amen.
Look over the past year-in-the-news. There has been a lot of “religion” based news stories: wars in the Middle East appear to be caused by differing religious world-views; the massacre at the college in Kenya two weeks ago was definitely about religion; the Religious Freedom Referendum Acts in Indiana and Arkansas have the word “religion” right in their legal monikers; the news stories about florists and wedding chapels right here in our own backyard not wanting to allow their services/facilities for same-sex weddings were definitely “religion-based” news stories.
But this is not just recent news events. My entire adult life, and much of my childhood, has been dominated by debates, debacles, and divisions between “evangelical Christians” and “social Gospel Christians”. The names of these two sides have evolved as the topic-du jour has changed – but the words of hate and fear have not changed all that much.
Here’s an experiment any of us could do: (at work, on the street, at the mall) stand with a clip board and ask strangers what they think of when they hear the word “Christian”.
According to professional surveys, the common answer from the “person on the street” says that they think of judgmental, hypocritical, hateful bigots. That’s what the word “Christian” has come to mean for those outside the Church (and for many within the Church). That is one of the saddest commentaries I have ever heard. It’s especially sad because it is, at least partly, true.
People, in the name of Christ, have killed people who believe differently from them; in the name of the Church, people have disruptively demonstrated at funerals of people who lived differently from them; and simply because of their differing interpretation of Scripture, people have used the name of Jesus to fight and argue and blame and criticize, even other people who use the same name of Jesus.
Right now our own denomination is all stirred up over same-sex wedding ceremonies. And it is right to stand up for what we believe to be God’s revealed Word on the subject – but not in a way that doesn’t also welcome and receive those who disagree with us into the Family!
What makes these images of the Christian Church wrong is that they depict the people of Christ but not the Person of Christ! When the people of Christ act like the Person of Christ – we might still be hated by the society around us, but it will be for doing good in the world according to God’s call, not for obviously malicious acts of fear and hate.
No one has built more hospitals, saved more lives, cured more diseases than the Christian Church! No organization has built more schools, educated more girls, raised more awareness than the Christian Church! No group has served more hungry, housed more homeless, protected more vulnerable people-groups than the Christian Church! Why can’t we be known for these things? But, we’re not; we’re remembered for the ways we fight!
But because the word “Christian” can so easily be misunderstood in this 21st Century, for the next several weeks we’ll be defining “Christian” as “one who FOLLOWS Jesus Christ”.
When Jesus was gathering His original 12 Disciples, He would approach them and simply invite them to FOLLOW Him – Simon and Andrew, James and John, Matthew, and the rest.
I dream of the impact Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church can have, you can have, if we simply choose to FOLLOW Jesus well.
So between Easter (last Sunday) and Pentecost (May 24), we will explore what it means to Follow Jesus Today. Step One involves our Words and Deeds.
At the very beginning of Jesus’ ministry, we’re told in Mark 1:14-15 …. —-
14 After John [the Baptist] was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the Good News of God. 15 “The time has come,” He said. “The Kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the Good News!”
May God bless the reading, the hearing, the receiving of His Word which never fails.
So … if we claim to be a people who follow in the footsteps of our Lord Jesus Christ (that is what being “Christian” is supposed to mean), how do we cause an effective change in the world’s perception of us as haters who judge and discriminate against them?
Jesus started by “proclaiming the Good News of God”. As followers of Jesus, do we proclaim the Good News of God? I mean, do we do that outside the safe walls of this monastic enclave? Do we proclaim the Good News of God at work? At school? At the bank? In line at the grocery store? At the bus stop? In the dining hall or the restaurant?
What is this “Good News of God” we’re supposed to be proclaiming? Jesus answered that with His challenge to “repent” and His invitation to “believe the Good News” (and the Gospel stories reveal that that “Good News” always meant that He is our means of true relationship with God – He is our salvation – Jesus is the Way and the Truth and the Life – Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life – do you believe that Good News?
What does it mean to “proclaim” the Good News? Proclamation always begins with JESUS CHRIST!
But what are some ways Followers of Jesus Christ (Christians, you) might proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ … without preaching on the street corner? Without a sandwich board announcing that “the end is near”?
If you work at a public school – how would you share your faith, legally? If you work in a business whose policy is to not be religious, how do you proclaim your faith? If you’re a government employee, how do you “follow Jesus”?
St Francis of Assisi is credited with saying, “Preach the Gospel; if necessary, use words.” What did he mean? Our actions, our lifestyles, the way we care for one another, the love we show – all of that – should proclaim the Good News of Jesus. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus said, “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven … let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:11-16)
Our passage from Paul’s letter to the Followers of Jesus Christ in Rome (Romans 10:14-15) reminds us of our responsibility – that God invites us to be His sales-personnel, God trusts His Good News in your hands!:
“How can those [who do not know Jesus Christ] call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they [possibly] believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone proclaiming to them? And how can anyone proclaim unless they are sent? As it is written [in Isaiah 52:7] ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who bring Good News!’”
Good deeds should be our life-plan – but even Francis of Assisi recognized that there are times when it is necessary to use words. What are ways we can/should use words to proclaim our faith?
¬On the floor, in the yard, at the lot, in the office, at the movies, at the game, on the bus, in the classroom, at the supper table, with your spouse, with your friend, with your client, with your children, with your teacher, what words do you use to offer the challenge to repent and the invitation to believe the Good News? [Let’s hear some shout-outs on this – what words might introduce the subject of Jesus Christ in these relationships?]
Your Sermon Notes Page has one Homework assignment: Name one person to whom you will proclaim Jesus Christ this week – and how will you do it?
Friends, brothers and sisters in Christ, today you are sent to proclaim the Good News of God wherever you may be!
Loving God, when You said, “Let there be light,” creation dawned. Shine that light into our hearts, that we may receive Your Good News and know that it is good. You have called us out of spiritual darkness and made us a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation – Your own people. You have revealed Yourself to us in Jesus Christ. Help us face the darkness in this world with confidence through Your Holy Spirit, and nurture us to become proclaimers of Your Word in all we say and do. We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Detterman, Paul; Following Jesus Today: Challenges and Opportunities (Participant’s Book); Presbyterian Mission Agency; Louisville, KY; 2014; Pp. 3-12.