As has been my tradition, every sermon that I preach will be posted here. This sermon, Don’t get stuck in the room, was given at The Salvation Army Devonport on Sunday 23 November, 2014, in our first Sunday back in our building following renovations. The Reading was John 20:19-23.
Who knows what next Sunday is, in the Church’s calendar? That’s right, the first Sunday of Advent. Hands up, who puts their Christmas Decorations up on the first Sunday in Advent? And who puts them up on December 1? And who’s got them up already?
Here’s a trickier question – who knows what today is, in the Church Calendar? Today, in the Church Calendar, is what’s known as Christ the King Sunday. And it’s this day that confused me for a long time with the set readings for the day.
If you don’t know, many churches use what’s called a lectionary, which is usually a three year cycle of readings that they will use for their services. There’s a few different ones around, but for the most part – particularly for the high feast days, they will have the same, or similar readings. And this day is one of them, where they will usually have a story related to the crucifixion.
Now, I never really got that until recently. It seemed to make no chronological sense – we were right about to get into Advent, the period of time where we prepare for Christmas, and all of a sudden, we’re brought back to Easter.
I didn’t get it for a long time, until a realised that – through the lectionary – we were being reminded that the whole purpose of Christ’s birth, the whole reason we have Christmas, was so that he would eventually die on that cross, and rise again, and be able to invite us all into eternal life.
Now, I didn’t choose one of the Christ the King readings for today, but it’s good to remind ourselves of the scene.
At the beginning of this chapter, Mary Magdalene comes to the tomb and sees that the stone has been rolled away. She runs and gets Simon Peter, and the disciple whom Jesus loved (who we believe to have been John), who go and inspect the tomb, and we read that “the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead.”
The disciples went home, but Mary remained, and encountered Jesus – though she thought he was the gardener at first. After her encounter with the risen Lord, she goes and tells the disciples that she has seen Jesus, and tells them the things that he said.
So it is with all of this having happened that we come to our passage from today. It is evening, the first day of the week, and the disciples have locked themselves in a house out of fear of the Jews. So what do they know at this point? They know that Jesus was killed, they know that because they saw it happen. They know that Jesus’ body isn’t in the tomb anymore – they know that because two of them have seen and inspected the tomb. They know that no-one could have moved the stone by themselves, it was too large (which interestingly, we don’t read about the stone being placed there, only Mary seeing that the stone had been removed). And they know that Mary, one of the women who travelled around with Jesus, and someone that they trust, has said she has seen Jesus, alive.
We also have reference to the disciple whom Jesus loved having ‘Seen and believed” – in that seeing that Jesus’ body was no longer there, believed that Jesus had risen from the dead.
So with all that they know, what do they do? They lock themselves up in a room. They’re scared, and even with all the things that they know, they still don’t know what to do.
And that’s when Jesus turns up. He appears in front of them all, and says “Peace be with you” and shows them his hands and side, so that they could see the marks where the nail and the spear were. Then he says to them “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” This is John’s version of the great commission at the end of Matthew. He breaths on them, and says to them “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”
I kind of see this part as Jesus telling them “What are you guys doing cooped up in this tiny room?” That’s not where you’ll find the kingdom of God. The kingdom of God is to be found out there, with the people – as the Father sent me to be with the people, so I send you to be with the people.
So where do we find ourselves today? I guess we’re in a bit of a similar place to the disciples. It’s been a rough year. We’re feeling a bit fragile, a bit rough around the edges. Things haven’t gone exactly to plan. Yup, sounds a bit like the disciples – they’d had a rough week, having gone from the high of Palm Sunday to the low of Good Friday, and yea, I’d be feeling a bit fragile as well.
Then, they get some good news – Jesus is alive… or maybe it was, We think Jesus is alive. So they’re joyful, but at the same time, they don’t really know what’s happening, so they retreat to a place of safety out of fear.
There may be some people who feel like we need to do like the disciples and just stay in our safe place for a while. To stay within our building and to allow ourselves time to work out what has happened. I want to say to you what Jesus said to his disciples – “As the father sent me, so I send you.”
It would be a mistake of us to feel like this building is going to bring people in. Sure, it might. There will probably be a few people who will want to come in and have a stickybeak. But let me tell you that this building isn’t going to turn sticky beaks into Christians. And once the newness of the building wears off, and the sticky beaks have come and gone, how will we be meeting the mission of God?
One of my favourite motivational speeches is by Art Williams, and it’s titled Just Do it, and at one point he poses the question, “What does a 500,000 dollar a year man do that a 50,000 dollar a year man doesn’t do?” He says that both men could have had the same appearances, same education, same opportunities, but he says that there is one crucial difference. The 500,000 dollar a year man just does it, and does it, and does it, until the job gets done. Then he sits back and reflects on a job well done, then he does the next job.
I want to suggest to you that there is a similar difference between a church that is growing, and a church that is shrinking. They could be in the same location, have the same history, the same theology, the same worship style, but there is one difference – a church that is growing will get out there, and form relationships, and do it, and do it, and do it, until the job gets done.
Some people may come and say, but I don’t like talking to people. And to them I’ll say, I get you, I know what you’re talking about. But just do it.
Some people may say, I don’t know what to say. That’s fine, just be yourself. Just do it.
Some people may say, but what if they ask me a question I don’t know the answer to? That’s fine, just do it.
But what if I say the wrong thing? No worries, do it anyway.
See, when we put ourselves out there, and allow the holy spirit to guide us in the conversations we have with people, and we get over our own self doubts, we can start forming relationships that will bring people to Christ. I’m not asking you to go out and convert every person you meet then and there, but you can form a relationship with them, and one day, they might accept Christ into their lives.
Liesl, Sally and myself have been having some discussions about the sorts of things we want to do for next year. And while there are going to be some exciting programs that will bring new people into the church, I’m really calling on all of you to lead the way – everything that we do will only work if it is supported well by each and every one of you here today.
Earlier this year, another Lieutenant who is an officer in Melbourne issued a challenge to all soldiers. Pete Brookshaw has been building his church in Craigieburn, issued the Global Soldier’s Challenge 2015, and says that while making Soldier’s doesn’t encapsulate everything within the mission of The Salvation army, if every soldier recruited one other soldier, we would have double the legs on the ground to do the work.
What I say to that is, why limit it to just Soldiers? We have, amongst our corps, some very active and valuable adherants, who are just a vital part of our mission as our soldiers. We have some people who have chosen to make our Corps their home of worship, and they are just as valuable and active as our adherents and soldiers.
So this is what I’m calling on each and every one of you here today. I want you to think of one person, just one person, that you want to invite to our church. I want to ask you to commit to praying for them every day. I want to ask you to commit to seeking out ways to form a relationship with them, and to ask the holy spirit to guide you into ways to talk about Jesus with them. I truly believe that we can double our church, if we all commit to doing this one thing.
What does a 100 member church do that a 50 member church doesn’t do? They pray. They talk. They have coffee. They intentionally seek out opportunities to talk about Jesus to those that they know need Jesus. They don’t lock themselves into their building.
When Jesus sent them out, what happened? As we read in Acts, on the day of Pentecost, after Peter’s sermon, 3,000 people were baptised. When we get out where Jesus wants us to be, amazing things can happen. So go on, do it. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.
This song talks about how sometimes we rely on others – the preachers, the singers and the teachers – to string the perfect line together to convince our friend of God, but in the end, it’s up to us to love them with the truth. When we love, we earn the right to speak the truth. When we speak truth, we show the world we truly love. I lay it all on the line now to see God save my friend. Let my life and my words be the proof, I’m gonna love you with the truth.
So come, commit to praying for your friend, and then let’s get out there and do it.