"Now It Is Time To Really Share"
Sermon Preached By Rev. Richard E. Stetler - January 1, 2006
Psalms 148; Galatians 4:4-7
Most of us have been in groups where people openly discussed what they believe. Through years of such exposure, it often becomes quite clear to us that Christians are among the most opinionated people in the world! The only difference between our more secular counterparts and us is that sometimes we back up our words with passion. Words spoken from a powerful conviction can enormously frighten people who are insecure with their beliefs. I cannot tell you the number of times each year I talk with people who are visibly upset because of judgmental words that were said to them by some evangelical Christian.
Certain ideas, supported by faith, can cause people to perceive without love. Such people often remain convinced and resolute that their truth stands alone and must be preserved and spread at all costs. Today we see this process unfolding very clearly in Iraq where three very visible streams of Islam remain locked in conflict over their politics. We know historically that Christians have shared their faith with the same passion.
It was the arrogance of many Christians through the centuries that caused them to act from an unrecognized belief, “Thank you God for giving us your truth in the Scriptures! Now, we can take it from here.” The great divide among Christians had its genesis when various groups began interpreting God’s truth according to their needs. Beliefs among the faithful differed. Theology differed. Interpretations of the Scriptures differed. Soon a number of the more extreme beliefs assumed a violent form and the bloodshed started in the name of Jesus.
For example, it was faith that caused the Pope to tell Galileo that he must recant his proven theory that the sun was the center of our solar system, or be put to death. If you can imagine this, both men had been college roommates. It was faith that caused 1,000 documented cases of Protestant Reformers in England to be burned at the stake between the years 1400 and 1557.
Among those martyred was William Tyndale who gave the English language its first translation of the Scriptures. He also taught many people in England how to read. Can you imagine such a giant being put to death because he wanted people to read the Bible in their own language? It happened because Church officials thought they were protecting God’s revealed truth. They did not want those not properly trained to interpret the Scriptures for themselves.
In our lesson today Paul wrote, “To show you that you are God’s children, God sent the spirit of his son into your hearts. You are no longer slaves to all the traditions, taboos, and superstitions associated with special days, seasons and years that belong to other gods. You are now children of God. As such, God will give you everything that you need to be a light in the world. This gift represents the complete inheritance that has always awaited you.” (From Peterson’s translation, The Message)
What is that inheritance? What happens to people when we help them access this inheritance? How do we translate what is within our minds and hearts so that others willingly become disciples of Jesus Christ? Our being a sent people is part of the mission and vision statements that our congregation formulated years ago when the Conference engaged churches in strategic planning. Helping others understand this message is among the most challenging things we have to do.
People need to experience something out of this world. People need to be led to open their minds and hearts to God’s spirit. They need to learn how to reframe their experiences so that they grow from them rather than remain sabotaged by them. Words alone often do not convince anyone of anything, unless we intend to frighten people with our thundering theological judgments. If we use the model Jesus used, we simply invite people to join us. Jesus said, “Follow me.”
While in West Virginia a group of us gathered a number of churches from across our Conference to repair three or four homes each year in the Martinsburg area much like St. Matthew’s does now through the Christmas In April program. We asked retired electricians, roofers, carpenters and drywall specialists to join us in the mission project.
What was fascinating is the transformation that took place in the workers when they became part of our community. “Love your neighbor” was taking form in the lives of these craftsmen, many who had not given much thought to their spiritual growth.
Shepherd College gave us dormitory space. During the down time after supper, we told our story. After a brief devotional period each evening, workers shared what they had encountered during the day. The feeling of being needed, useful and appreciated was a common theme that workers shared. God’s spirit had the opportunity to move within them because they had become part of a community of faith.
For a number of people, these moments inspired an awakening. Christianity became a contact sport rather than a topic for group discussions or debate. By incorporating newcomers into a community, we made visible the substance of our faith. Ideas about life and faith were often quite different among the workers but the results those beliefs generated remained the same.
In last Sunday’s sermon I said, “If God stood in front of us this morning, God’s communication to us would be, “Love each other. Show compassion. Be kind. This is who I created you to be. I will do the rest.”
When is the last time you invited someone to become involved in the work of our church? Sometimes all that we need to do is to invite others into our community where God’s spirit will have access to them. Extend the invitation, “Go on an Appalachian Service Project with us! Go to the Gulf coast with us! Join the Knit Wits! Become a member of a Disciples class. Become a bell ringer or join the choir. Join the mothers support group. Come to church services.” The opportunities in our congregation are incredible in number.
Does God really need our help? Why do we think that Jesus invited his listeners to go forth and make disciples? The world and its values needed to be turned upside down just as it does today. As in every generation, many people today are concentrating and focusing their lives on the external world. We know that absolutely no one lives out there. We think and feel from our inner world. Cultivating and nurturing our inner world is what so many of us neglect doing. We grow accustomed to the “pay off” we receive from the world of physical forms even though that world is forever changing.
Paul wrote, “You are no longer a slave to the dictates of other gods,” -- whatever they may be for people today – “you are now a child of God.” God has given us everything we need to bring light into the world. We have to let our light shine. We need to demonstrate our story to others through our community of faith. To help more people to become acquainted with God’s Kingdom, we need to extend that invitation. God will do the rest!
THE CONGREGATIONAL PRAYER
Loving God, as we enter the New Year, each of us has a list of the desires and habits we would like to change. Not everything is what it appears to be. You created us with the capability to understand our conflicts, and we resist change by clinging to familiar patterns of thinking. You created us to find fulfillment through growing and maturing in spirit. We appear to prefer the goals that preserve our comfort, security and well-being. Lead us, O God, to take greater risks of faith. Lead us to places where others need our compassion. Help us lead strangers and friends to become part of our community of faith. Lead us with an inspired vision that prevents us from remaining satisfied where we are in our faith journey. Amen.