April 28, 2019 Sermon
Response to Resurrection:
Tell Someone About It
First Scripture Reading: Psalm 40:9-10
9 I proclaim your saving acts in the great assembly;
I do not seal my lips, Lord,
as you know.
10 I do not hide your righteousness in my heart;
I speak of your faithfulness and your saving help.
I do not conceal your love and your faithfulness
from the great assembly.
Second Scripture Reading: Matthew 28:16-20
16 Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
Message – “Response to Resurrection: Tell Someone About It”
Before I responded to God’s call to ministry and went to seminary, I was a marketing person in the business world. Most of you know that. What I may not have told you is that I was also very active in my local Disciples congregation.
And before making the leap of dropping everything and giving 100% of my life – including my career – to God, I tried to straddle the fence a bit. I decided to use my marketing talents for the church.
I talked with ministers and participated in an online Disciples chat group to talk with leaders of Disciples congregations all over the country. I bought as many books as I could find on the topic something called “church marketing.” And I produced a model that I thought would help congregations do something called “congregational marketing”, what ministers would call evangelism at congregational level.
And one of the books I read proposed an idea that was both new and fascinating to me. I wish I could remember the name of the book, so I could share with you the exact quote. The idea is something like this: presently, the modern American Church finds itself in an external environment much more like Apostolic times than at any point since Apostolic times. What this means is that we’re in a situation in which the vast majority of people around us either don’t KNOW the good news of Jesus or are so misinformed about the good news of Jesus that they might be better off not knowing at all. That’s the EXTERNAL situation. The INTERNAL situation makes matters much more difficult for us. Because in apostolic times Jesus’ disciples-turned-apostles roamed the earth sharing everything they knew about Jesus to everyone they encountered…which helped the gospel spread and the Church grow. But in our time, things have turned so suddenly and so dramatically that the Church finds itself absolutely, positively needing to share the gospel just to survive, but we’ve almost totally and completely lost the skills needed to share the gospel. For several generations we in the Church acted as if we believed everyone knew the gospel, the good news, of Jesus, so we focused on other things: we focused inward, we focused on taking care of the flock, which means we stopped learning the skills of sharing the gospel. But even worse than having lost the skills, we in the Church have lost the URGENCY to share the gospel…because the dwindling number of people inside the walls of church buildings everywhere still seem to believe that the people outside these walls know. In other words, we’re out of touch with reality…and we don’t even know it; likely we don’t even care to know it…because we like church being about the people inside these walls, church being about us and meeting our needs. I talk to Christians regularly who believe all their friends, all their neighbors already KNOW. And if everyone already knows, there’s little urgency to learn how to tell them. But a Barna Institute study reveals that while 73% of Americans identify as Christian, only 31% are “practicing Christians”, a term the Barna institute applies to people who attend Christian services at least once a month and say their Christian faith is very important in their life. Further, only 20% of Americans have read the Bible all the way through, and well under 20% regularly study the scriptures. My point is simple: while you might THINK your friends and neighbors know the good news of Jesus, statistics suggest a great many of them DO NOT know the gospel of Jesus. And, let’s face it, we can’t ALL be the statistical anomaly for whom ALL our friends and neighbors and loved ones know. We just can’t.
Wow. That was a downer, wasn’t it? Hardly seems befitting of the introduction to a sermon on the second Sunday of Eastertide. But, it is. You’ll soon see why. For now, let’s pick ourselves back up, as we remember:
Christ is risen!
(Christ is risen indeed!)
If you worshipped with us last Sunday, you know we’ve just begun an Eastertide sermon series about responding to resurrection. Which is an important topic because, so often, we celebrate resurrection each year on Easter Sunday but we depart not knowing so much what to DO with Easter. Well, starting last Sunday and continuing on until June 2, we will explore how to respond to resurrection, what to DO with Easter in our everyday lives…guided by the readings provided by the makers of the Narrative Lectionary for the season of Eastertide this year.
And today, we get a real live COMMANDMENT from Jesus to respond to resurrection in a particular way: tell someone about it.
That’s what it means:
- To make disciples of all nations;
- To baptize those you disciple in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit;
- To teach those we disciple everything Jesus has commanded us;
That’s what these things mean, right? And Jesus commanded his original followers to do these things…which means Jesus commands us to do these things.
And so we are supposed to respond to resurrection by telling someone about it.
You know that Jesus didn’t command us to do a great many specific things, right? Jesus made relatively few commands – it seems because he saw what God’s people had done over the preceding millennium with specific commands – so Jesus gave a relatively few general commands:
- Love God;
- Love other people as yourself;
- Deny yourself and help others;
- Forgive people;
- And, yes, tell people about what God did through Jesus; tell people about resurrection;
Jesus gave His followers a relatively few general commands and expected them to figure out how to apply those commands to their specific context.
And in modern Christian worship, we do a pretty good job of at least acknowledging that Jesus commanded us to do most of these things, that Jesus still commands us to do these things.
We talk all the time about loving God and what that means and looks like. And we get that we are ALL supposed to do this. We talk all the time about loving other people as ourselves, about denying ourselves and helping others, and what that means and looks like. And we get that we are ALL supposed to do this. We talk all the time about forgiving people, and what that means and looks like. I’m not suggesting we do any of these things perfectly. We are, after all, FOLLOWERS of Jesus; we are not Jesus. But we at least recognize Jesus commands these things of all of us, and so we work and struggle to follow as best we can.
But almost as soon we start talking about telling someone about the good news, telling someone about Jesus, telling someone about resurrection, the conversation goes differently, doesn’t it?
And this happens in every congregation I’ve served, even every congregation of which I was a member before I started serving as a pastor. We start talking about sharing the good news, what we call evangelism, and so many people, so many Christians, start showing a deep anxiety, start getting defensive, even angry. Maybe that’s happening to YOU, right here, right now.
And the conversation typically starts going in one of these directions:
- But, pastor, some people don’t KNOW enough about the gospel to share the gospel!
- But pastor, some people don’t have the GIFT of evangelism!
- But pastor, some people aren’t good at talking about faith; those people would do more harm than good if they tried;
- But pastor, some people aren’t COMFORTABLE talking about faith!
- But pastor, everybody already KNOWS about Jesus!
- But pastor, so many people out there are HOSTILE to conversations about faith…they just don’t want to hear what I have to say about Jesus, so I keep this part of my life to myself!
- But pastor, talking about faith is YOUR job! That’s what we pay you to do.
Surely, you’ve heard some of these responses before. Surely, you’ve HAD some of these thoughts or feelings inside of you…UNLESS you have the gift of evangelism, in which case, you might have no idea what I’m talking about.
But, for most of us, we have a really good JUSTIFICATION for why this evangelism thing, this telling someone about resurrection thing, isn’t for us.
And I could respond to each and every one of the justifications, the explanations, I just mentioned, I could tell you the flaw in the logic of each one, because there IS a flaw in the logic of each one…but I’m not going to. I’m not going to for the simple reason that it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter for a whole lot of reasons, but I’ll offer the three most important as I see them.
Reason Number 1: Regardless of what I say, if you’re clinging tightly to one of those justifications, you’ll find something wrong in the logic of whatever I say that will allow you to cling even more tightly to your conviction. And since I won’t know exactly what your response is, there will be no dialog, and you’ll just leave here convinced more than ever that you are right to NOT share the news of resurrection. And that would be unfortunate, that would be bad. Nothing good would come out of that. So, I’m not going to do it.
Reason Number 2: Our explanations, our justifications, are born out of the era called Christendom that I described earlier, the era when everyone knew. Y’all, we’re not comfortable with evangelism NOT because we shouldn’t evangelize but because we entered the Church or were raised in the Church at a time when church leaders thought something else was more urgent…and so those leaders left us unequipped. But our being unequipped to do something important and necessary doesn’t change the reality of that something being important and necessary.
Reason Number 3: (And, by the way, I find this to be the most important reason.) When Jesus commands us to do something, if we want to be followers of Jesus, OUR justifications or explanations for why we don’t want to do what Jesus commands are just plain irrelevant. Really they are.
So…where does that leave us? Well, it leaves us with a command from Jesus to share the news of resurrection, to share even the whole of the good news of Jesus, and a whole bunch of us wanting very strongly NOT to do so.
Which gets me wondering: if we refuse to do something Jesus commanded us to do, are we really following Jesus? (Let me ask that again…)
Fortunately, the situation doesn’t have to be so dire. If we remember that Jesus commanded us to respond to resurrection by sharing it, and if we GET that being a follower of Jesus means we must at least TRY to do this thing Jesus has commanded us to do, then we can open our minds and hearts to hearing how God calls to us as individuals and as congregation to share the news of resurrection.
And there ARE things everyone one of you can do.
The first thing you can do is have a conversation with God, a prayer that includes as much of you listening as it does you talking, in which you express your true feelings about this task, this command, with God and listen for God’s response. Talk to God about what it means that you don’t feel gifted to share the good news. Ask God what it means that this commandment is given to all, even those who are not gifted in this way. Talk to God about what it means that you don’t feel equipped. Instead of getting mad or frustrated with the PEOPLE who encourage you to follow Jesus’ commands, have an honest conversation with God, and LISTEN for how God directs you.
The second thing each of us, each of you, can do is remind yourself everyday that Jesus commanded YOU to share the news of resurrection. For too long, the Church in the USA has not reminded you…so you need regular, intentional, reminding. One of the best ways I can imagine for doing this is taking these words the resurrected Christ commanded us in Matthew 28 and place them somewhere you will see them every day…kind of like how God told God’s ancient people to write the words of God’s commands on the doorframes and gates of their houses, even to write the words and affix them to their foreheads and their wrists. I don’t know what this looks like for you. Maybe it’s placing these words on your bathroom mirror or your breakfast table. Maybe it’s opening your Bible to this passage FIRST every time you read the scriptures. Maybe it’s getting them tattooed on your arm. I’m not sure what this looks like for you, but it’s critical that you find a way to remind yourself daily…at the least…that Jesus commands YOU to share the gospel in response to resurrection.
The third thing each of us, each of you, can do will likely change your view of evangelism forever, if you do it. Find an hour in your upcoming week, mark it off on your calendar so you won’t forget or do something else, and prayerfully write down all the ways the gospel makes a difference in your life, even all the ways being part of this organization known as “church” makes a difference in your life. Write them down. Then, regularly and intentionally, read the list and make additions. Even if you feel like you know very LITTLE about the Bible, what you write on this list is what you should be sharing with people. If each of us, each you, gets in touch with how the gospel impacts your life – and it must…because you’re here – you will be equipped with everything you need to authentically share the gospel.
The fourth thing each of us, each of you, can do is to start talking about your faith with other Christians you already know, like the people of this congregation. I am regularly baffled that I hear people who spend hours a week with their church family and still say they don’t know how to talk about their faith with non-Christians. Then, I sit with them during coffee mingle or other church gatherings and hear them talking about everything BUT their faith with the safest audience for practicing faith-talk they are EVER going to find. Y’all, I encourage you to think of each other at least PARTLY as members of a practice audience for faith-sharing. The more you talk about your faith here, in this SAFE place, with these SAFE people, the more comfortable you’ll become with everyone else.
Finally, if you’ve done everything else I’ve mentioned and you STILL don’t feel equipped to share the gospel in response to resurrection, I have one more suggestion: get involved in a regular Bible study. Bible studies are place in which your Christian education will grow, and Bible studies are places in which you will be encouraged to think about and even talk about your faith. The more learned in the faith and practiced you become in talking about it, the better equipped you will feel to share the gospel with people who don’t know.
My friends, Christ is risen!
And the risen Christ calls us, no, COMMANDS us, to respond to resurrection by sharing the gospel of Jesus. It may seem scary, but you can do it. I KNOW you can do it. And, Jesus commands you to do it. So…let’s get started. Amen.