We have been working rather loosely through Bill Hybels & Mark Mittelberg’s book, ‘Becoming a Contagious Christian’. Over the past few weeks each preacher has been given a different chapter as the basis for our sermon for the Sunday and study notes for the Fellowship Groups and Bible Studies that meet during the week. I say “loosely” because we have followed the idea and not necessarily the content of the chapter. It was my turn today and the chapter was entitled “Starting Spiritual Conversations.”
PRESTBURY METHODIST CHURCH
26 September 2010, 09h00
SCRIPTURE: Psalm 130:1-8; 2 Corinthians 4:1-6; Matthew 13:44-46
What are you passionate about?
Of course, when a preacher asks you what you are passionate about, you’re supposed to say religious things and talk about God and faith and things like that. And I hope we are passionate about these things, but what else are you passionate about?
Does anyone know about your passion?
I’m pretty sure they do……………..
We are at the heart of the Contagious Christianity series about sharing our faith. This is the crunch message. This is the one we were all dreading. We all knew it was coming. Somewhere along the way, someone was going to tell us we have to go out there and tell people about Jesus. Well, this is it! In spite of all we’ve said about the importance of relationships, you’ve still got to actually open your mouth and say something about your faith. And I’m supposed to tell you what to say.
STARTING SPIRITUAL CONVERSATIONS
The most difficult person to communicate effectively with is the self-confident, self-made individual who has no sense of need or weakness, and for whom God and religion are simply a crutch for weaker individuals. In this chapter of Contagious Christianity, Bill Hybels tells us various ways to start conversations even with such individuals, and I recommend the book for further reading. I’m not going into that sort of detail today because very few of us are able to get through to such folk simply through conversation. It’s our lives that will make a difference, and when pain comes to them your life will be the beacon of hope that guides them home. I am more concerned about the people around us who are ready to talk, and who are asking real questions. Are we ready to answer them? Do we have anything to say? Are we able to help? Or are we a disappointment to them at their time of need?
DID THEY SEE THE PEARL?
My favourite parable is in fact a double parable about the Treasure hidden in the field and the Pearl of great price.
“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.” Matthew 13:44-46 (GNB)
There is just so much in those brief sentences about our mission as Christians, and about evangelism.
When preachers get together to talk about preaching, I always ask the same question, “Did we preach the Good News? Was it law or was it gospel?” Sometimes i wonder if we really know what we mean by ‘law’ and ‘Gospel’ when it comes to preaching. But in this parable Jesus says it so clearly. He asks the same question, but he says, “Did you show them the treasure? Did you show them the pearl?”
That is the heart of preaching, and it’s the heart of evangelism. “Did you show them the treasure? Did they see the pearl?” Not, “Did you persuade them to give up all they have?” Or “Did you convert them?” Simply, “Did they see the treasure?” Because, Jesus tells us, if they get a glimpse of the treasure, if they see the pearl of God’s kingdom, they will want it so badly, they’ll come running, whatever the cost.
“IMITATE ME, THEN, AS I IMITATE CHRIST”
In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul twice tells his readers to follow his example. In 4:16 he says, “I beg you, then, to follow my example.” And in 11:1 he writes, “Imitate me, then, as I imitate Christ.” Again in Philippians 4:17 he says, “Keep on imitating me…(and) follow the right example we have set for you.”
In our anti-Paul moments we say, “What arrogance.”
In our more humble moments, we say, “Wow! I wish I could say that. But I’ll never be good enough.”
Yet, whether we say it or not, others are saying it about us.
If your friend, or your neighbour, or the person God has thrown into your path, if that person is to see what Jesus is like then it may well be that you are all they’ve got. You and I may be the closest thing to Jesus that our friends have. How scary is that? So, whether we like it or acknowledge it or not, if our neighbours want to learn about Jesus, they start by looking at us.
“WHY DO PEOPLE SUFFER?”
And I want to suggest to you that what neighbours and strangers alike want to know more than anything else is,
“Does it work?”
“Is God big enough (for my worries)?”
“Does he care?”
The big questions are not, “Explain the Trinity.” “What happens when we die?” Or, “Why do bad things happen?”
Well, actually, that last one is a big question. But here’s the deal, you don’t have to know the answer. Most of the questions people ask are an attempt to hide from the real question; the one they really want to ask, but are afraid to, because it comes too close to the pain that is deep within.
Let’s look at that last question, Why do bad things happen? Why do people suffer?
Even if you knew the right answer, you wouldn’t satisfy the person asking it. Because we don’t really want to know why “people” suffer, we want to know why our friend James had to suffer; we want to know why bad things have happened to Sally. And how can you and I possibly know the answer to that one?
“DOES GOD CARE?”
The much bigger question, the much more important question, the question you and I can answer is, “Does God care?”
Yes, you can answer it. It doesn’t matter how old or young you are, how clever or ignorant you feel. You’ve been there. I know you have. You have been through the pain, the uncertainty, the loss, the failure, the fear, the weakness. You know what it’s like to ask that question yourself, “Does God care?” And you know what it’s like to find God in the middle of that; to find that God doesn’t, in fact, take us away from it all, but walks through it with us, experiencing our pain and giving us hope. You and I have been there, you and I do have a story to tell. You and I can answer the big questions.
· Who wrote the Bible?
· Did God create the sun and moon first, or humankind first?
· What about evolution?
We don’t know the answers to all these questions. Does it matter? Not really. It’s OK to say, “I don’t know.” Because we can go on to say, “But what I do know about God is more than enough to keep me going, whatever the answers to those questions might be. What I do know about God is much more important to me and to you than the answers to those questions.”
Evangelism has three parties and they are interrelated, like this triangle. There is God, there’s us, you and me, and there’s the other person we are trying to reach. There are three sets of relationships and they affect each other.
Our relationship with God is the most important for evangelism. It affects how others relate to us and, ultimately, how they relate or refuse to relate to God. Is our relationship with God authentic? Is it attractive? Is it contagious? People are watching; people notice; people are asking questions.
Our relationship with other people also affects how and whether they relate to God. Do we care? Are we real? Are we genuine?
“Does God care?” people ask. They don’t know how to find out, so they look at you and me and they ask themselves, “Does this person who believes in God, who talks about God, does this person demonstrate the care of God? Does it look like God cares about them?”
The one relationship we do not have to work on because it has nothing to do with us, is the relationship between the other person and God. That’s the work of the Holy Spirit.
That relationship is not our business. We don’t know where this person is in their journey, or what our role is. Are we sowing the seed that God will harvest years from now? Are we watering plants that others have sown? Or is this person ready for the Kingdom? That’s God’s business, not yours or mine. We are called to be faithful: faithful in our relationship with God and with others.
Your holy hearsay is not evidence.
Give me the good news in the present tense.
What happened nineteen hundred years ago
May not have happened.
How am I to know?
So shut your Bibles up and show me how
The Christ you talk about
Is living now.
People aren’t interested how well we know the Bible. They want to know what difference knowing the Bible has made to us. They don’t want our theological expertise; they want to know about God’s involvement in our lives and in his world.
“The legacy of Steve Biko…should go beyond quotations and vague recollections of his ideals. The ideals and goals need to be shared and espoused as our own.”
Isn’t that what we have been learning these past weeks about evangelism?
It’s not what is in the Bible that matters so much, it’s not even what Jesus said that is so important for evangelism. It’s what Jesus, the Bible, the Church, means for you and me that really matters when it comes to evangelism; the difference it makes in your life and mine, and in our relationships with others.
“EXPLAIN THE HOPE”
Peter writes in 1 Peter 3:15-16,
“Be ready at all times to answer anyone who asks you to explain the hope you have in you, but do it with gentleness and respect.”
Please read that again. Let it sink in.
Peter doesn’t say:
“Be ready at all times to answer anyone who asks you to explain:
• the Trinity,
• The origins of the universe,
• Why a God of love allows suffering,
• Predestination vs. free will,
• All the different denominations,
• The duck-billed platypus….”
He says simply, “Be ready … to answer anyone who asks you to explain the hope you have in you, but do it with gentleness and respect.”
There is work to be done, and here it is. What difference has Jesus made in your life? What is the great treasure, or the simple pearl, that you have discovered in Jesus; the gift that he has given you, that you can to share with others? Is it healing? Is it forgiveness? The gentleness of his presence? Is it peace; a sense of calmness? Is it love for others?
Take a bit of time out this next week and think about it. And I want to challenge you seriously to put it down on paper. Write it down, in words, or draw a picture that expresses it; write a poem or a mind map; whatever works for you, but think about it and put it down on paper. That’s the first step. Now you are ready, as Peter said, “to explain the hope you have in you”.
And, one more thing. If, at the end of the week, your page is empty and you find you have nothing to say; you realise that you don’t have hope within you to share with others; then perhaps it’s time to listen to the Jesus who longs to share your life—longs to give you the treasure of his love, the pearl of his forgiveness; his healing, and his joy. This isn’t for a chosen few; it’s a gift for you; for you to have, to enjoy, and to share with others.