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Sermon for 25 June 2017


James 1:19-25, Matthew 10:24-39 - Mission shaped life

For the past few weeks I have been talking about mission, a word we usually associate with courageous Christians heading off to distant countries to share the gospel with people that have never heard of Jesus. But I have been suggesting instead that we are all called to be missionaries precisely where we are - in our communities, families and work places. 

God is constantly pouring out his love and forgiveness to the world. And our calling as Christians is to model our life on God. Mission isn’t an add on extra for those with a special calling, it’s part of the DNA of anyone who’s a Christian.

And today, I want to get a bit more specific, and to talk about how we - each one of us - can learn to talk about God to others. 

Before I get into that, I hope you’re aware of the short course we’re running at the moment on this topic. It started last week, and went really well. There were 40 people there, and I wanted to give you all a chance to hear a bit about what Jean Kerr, who led the session, said - and Maggie is going to come up and answer a couple of questions about it. 

1. Why did you decide to do the course?

2. What one thing was most striking/important for you?

3. Is there anything you will do/do differently as a result of what Jean said?

The course is called Talking the Good News and the first thing we need to be clear about is that it is Good News that we have to share. The word ‘Gospel’ means ‘Good News’. It’s what Jesus said he had come to bring. His first words in Luke’s gospel are ‘The spirit of the Lord is upon me, to bring Good News to the poor’. And that really matters - that it’s Good News that we are here to share. 

So what is the Good News? Someone once said that there are only three things that we really need to hear in life.  ‘I love you. I forgive you. Dinner’s ready.’  And that’s a pretty neat summary of Jesus’ Good News. 

God loves you, completely and utterly. And whatever is going on in your life, that love remains constant. We aren’t cosmic dust, randomly come together around some DNA, here for a time and then gone. The Psalmist says we are ‘fearfully and wonderfully made’ and Isaiah that our names are written on the very hands of the One who made it all. The Good News is that God is saying ‘I love you’.

But we know that we mess up - sometimes horribly - and that despite all that love - we spend much of our time far from God, far from kindness, generosity and mercy. We all know just how far we are from living the kind of life that God made us for. And yet God has come to meet us in the midst of that mess, and in Jesus, has dealt with it. The Good news is that God says ‘I forgive you’.

But that’s not all - loved, forgiven and then called to join God’s great meal. The meal that we share here, as church - a community in which are invited to love God and one another, and the great heavenly meal that awaits us when we die. Dinner’s ready, says God, and you can enjoy it here on earth as we seek God’s love together, and you can enjoy it forever in glory, when the final call comes to each of us.

‘I love you, I forgive you, dinner’s ready’

That’s good news. And if you come along to Talking the Good News, you’ll have the chance to figure out what, specifically, is the version of that Good News which you have to share.

But, something stops us talking doesn’t it. Something makes the thought of sharing that good news with others, almost impossible. ‘I can do that’, we think to ourselves, but then when the opportunity arises, we stay silent.

Here are some possible reasons that Jean Kerr gave that might explain why we find it so hard to talk about God - and on Wednesday night, everyone was asked to put these in order.

Have a think about those reasons that you’ve picked. Ask yourself, ‘why does that thing stop me talking to someone about God?’ Try to be really specific about the fear or anxiety that holds you back. Ask God to help you figure it out. 

We can’t go through them all now - but here are four things that I find helpful, and which address most of the anxieties up on the screen.

The first is that the key to sharing our faith isn’t talking - it’s listening. We are not asked to head out to the streets to proclaim the gospel to all who pass by. All I’m suggesting is that we have some simple conversations about God with a few people who seem interested. That means asking a great question and then listening - because the person we’re talking to is precious and loved by God, who has something glorious to offer them. Very often, it’s listening that changes lives, not talking.

Secondly, we aren’t trying to persuade people to change their minds. One of the best descriptions of evangelism is ‘one beggar telling another where to find bread’. That’s all we’re asked to do - not to preach like Billy Graham, nor to pray like Mother Theresa, but simply, as one beggar, stumbling through life with all its struggles, offering to bring another beggar along with us to the source of love and forgiveness so that they can share in it too. 

And that also means that we don’t have to do this with someone who really isn’t interested. We saw last week how Jesus sends his disciples out to go around the towns and villages. When they get to a community, he tells them to find out who’s interested in what they have to share;  and then to stay with the ones who are and to leave those that aren’t alone. It’s the people who are already asking questions that we’re to pay attention to. We aren’t trying to persuade people to change their minds.

Thirdly, we don’t need to have all the answers. If we share our faith with someone, and they ask us a question that we can’t answer, that’s fine. We simply say ‘that’s a great question, and to be honest, I don’t know the answer. If you’d like, I’ll find someone who does - but what I do know is…..’ and then we can say something about what is meaningful and authentic to our faith. And in the end, the bible is very clear that it’s not down to us. We have a part to play, but it’s the Holy Spirit that changes hearts. We don’t need all the answers, we just open the door, and then let God do the rest. 

Finally, if we talk calmly and sensibly, most people will welcome the opportunity to talk about what matters to them, and to hear about what matters to you.  We worry about being thought of as weird, or that people might think we’re a religious nut - but if we mainly listen and then when we do speak, we talk openly and honestly, it’s hard for that to be weird. And anyway, the world is changing. The days when it was impolite to talk about sex, politics and religion are ending - 5 minutes with a newspaper or on Facebook will make that very clear. We talk openly about stuff these days, and people are open about God and Jesus. That doesn’t mean they’re all about to become Christians, but it does mean that many are interested and up for a discussion.

So, we have good news, we know there are things that get in the way of talking about God - but what do we actually say?

The key is to have a question that opens up the discussion, and to have something that we’re ready to say about our own faith. You can find out more by coming on the Talking the Good News course on Wednesday, but here’s one great way to open a discussion, and then a simple exercise for you to do.

First, the question - When you sense that someone is open to talking about God or faith, ask someone this:

’Do you feel close to or far from God at the moment?’ 

‘Do you feel close to or far from God at the moment?’ 

It’s a really open question. It’s not remotely threatening or challenging and it’s easily closed down if the other person doesn’t want to take it any further. 

And if they to start to talk, of course, we do great listening, but there’s a moment when we’ll need to say something as well. We’ll need to say something about our own faith and our own relationship with God.

The bible puts it like this Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect. So we need to have an answer ready. ‘Why do you believe in Jesus?’ - ‘Why do you go to Church?’

And that answer will be different for each of us, and it needs to be, because our relationship with God is personal and unique. And for most of us, that truth will be best captured in a story - not in a theology lecture. 

So here’s the simple exercise - this week, think through ‘the reason for the hope you have’. Try to say, as simply and clearly as possible - without using any churchy jargon - what it is about God that matters to you, and if you can, tell it as a story. Then, when the topic comes up, you will feel prepared; you’ll have a reason for your hope already prepared.

I finish with a prayer which I find very helpful, written by Cardinal Newman, 

"Somehow I am necessary for His purposes;

I have a part in this great work.

I am a link in a chain, a bond of connection between persons.

He has not created me for naught.

I shall do good.

I shall do His work” 

God is Good News. Our call is to be part of bringing that Good News to a world that longs to hear those wonderful words. ‘I love you. I forgive you. Dinner’s ready.’

There is nothing - absolutely nothing - as wonderful as seeing someone’s life changed by God.  And we have a part to play. 

We are not created for naught. Let’s do his work.

Posted: 25-06-2017 at 22:53
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