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Wednesday, July 27 2016
Here is your trivia quiz for the day. What famous prayer does Jesus teach his disciples in our Gospel lesson…? Yeah, the Lord’s Prayer. We know this prayer because we pray it at every worship service. It’s clearly a powerful and special prayer, because Jesus taught it to those who were learning from him.
And—shameless plug time. Pastor Randy and I will be doing a sermon series in September and October on the Lord’s Prayer. So, come check that out, because it’ll be a rockin’ time! If I do say so myself!
So today, we are going to look at the second half of our Gospel reading, the part that talks about prayer in a bit of a broader way.
Warren Wiersbe tells of the time when he was helping to paint the outside of his neighbors' home. His neighbors had a small black dog that had a ritual of going to the back door of the house to bark and bark until someone finally got the message and let him out.
One day, Wiersbe was painting the outside of the house when no one was home. The neighbor's little dog, who was inside the house, took up his station at the back door and barked and barked all day long. The sad thing, Wiersbe said, was that it never dawned in his little brain that all his barking was totally useless-no one was home to hear!!
Maybe some of you feel like this dog when it comes to prayer. You pray, and pray, and pray for something, and you don’t seem to be getting an answer—you may even be wondering if anyone is home!
And our Gospel reading today tells us about prayer. Jesus tells the disciples, “So I say to you, Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. 10 For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.”
It sounds like Jesus is saying that whatever we pray for, we will always receive an answer. So, if you’ve been praying for something over and over and it seems like God is silent about it, what’s up with that??
In order to answer that question, we have to talk about what prayer actually is.
The thing is, we sometimes fall into magical thinking about prayer. We pray, and then we assume God does something about what we prayed for—usually we expect something right away. And why not—there are a ton of books and preachers out there that support this thinking. They tell us if we say this one phrase, or pray in this specific way, God will DEFINITELY answer our prayers, in the way we want, in the timing we want.
But prayer isn’t like rubbing a magic lamp, or asking Santa Claus for presents. Prayer is direct, intimate communication with God. The main point of prayer is cultivating your relationship with God. Praying for specific things and people is important, of course, and we should do that. But what’s most important in prayer is that you are talking and listening with the One who knows you better than anyone else, the one who created you—your God. Effective prayer is simply a continual connection with God. And that’s why it’s so important—when we pray, we are connecting with our Maker and getting closer to God.
Jesus knew this— over and over in the Gospels, we see Jesus taking time to speak with and listen to his Father. He would spend time in prayer, even when he was busy. He knew that in order to better hear his Father’s voice, he needed to listen and talk with his Father on a regular basis.
So because prayer is about connecting with God and having a relationship with God, answers to prayer are typically not those magical results we sometimes expect. The implication of what Jesus says is that God does indeed always answer prayer. BUT—God doesn’t always answer prayer in the way we expect, or on our time frame.
It has been said that God answers prayer in one of four ways: yes, no, wait, and “Are you kidding??” Now that’s a bit funny, but I think a lot of that rings true. Maybe God is waiting to answer your prayer on God’s own time. Maybe God has answered your prayer, but not in the way you wanted or expected. Maybe you just weren’t aware God answered your prayer.
So some of you may know that my husband Will and I didn’t meet until our late 20s. That’s not so weird to hear maybe nowadays, but it felt like a ridiculously long wait for me.
You see, when I was 21, I had a failed engagement. It was a blessing at the time—it wouldn’t have been a healthy marriage had we gotten married. But going from thinking you’re going to spend the rest of your life with someone to suddenly being single and alone is really awful—if you or a loved one has gone through a serious break-up or divorce, you know how painful and awful it can be.
So I prayed. I prayed harder than I’d ever prayed before. I prayed that God would send me the man I was supposed to marry and share my life with. Years went by. And nothing happened. I dated a bit, but never found the right guy. After a few years, I got frustrated, so I started asking close friends and colleagues to pray as well, thinking maybe God would just get sick of hearing from me and just show the guy to me--- kind of like the persistent friend in our story today, who continued knocking on the door in order to get the bread for his guest!
Years continue to go by. I got more and more dejected, thinking that maybe God wasn’t listening to my prayers. I recruited more pray-ers for the cause. I upped my energy in dating, to no avail. I even sent in prayer requests about finding the right spouse to a Christian radio station. Nothing.
But one time when I was praying about it, like I did almost every day, I got an answer from God. It wasn’t a split the sky open, the voice of God booming from heaven type answer. It was just a still, small voice, in my head, that I knew wasn’t me—it was God. And the voice said “I hear you.” Well, I found that a bit encouraging. At least God wasn’t ignoring me. But come on, God, you didn’t tell me anything else! How about a day and time? I wanted an answer more like—“You will meet your future husband on January 15th, 2011, at 11am.” But apparently, God doesn’t always work like that!
So I continued to pray. And pray. And pray.
And then one day, I was online and a guy messaged me, just as I was giving up and about to delete my online dating profile. His name? Will.
He messaged me around 7 years after I started praying about meeting my future husband. 7 years!! Did God finally get sick of me asking, and grant me what I asked because I was persistent? Maybe! Maybe it was that God knew the best timing for us to meet—both Will and I agree that if we had met sooner in life, we would not be the same type of partner for each other we are today. Maybe it’s a little bit of both, or another reason entirely. Regardless, God was listening to my prayers the whole time and answering them—just not always in the way I wanted or expected.
And maybe this is happening to you in your prayer life. Maybe you’ve prayed for something for years and are still waiting. Maybe you are wondering why God didn’t answer your prayers, or they weren’t answered in a more obvious way.
Either way, we know from the Bible and what Jesus tells us that our prayers do not fall on deaf ears. God is listening to our prayers and wants to hear from us on a regular basis. And we know that God definitely answers our prayers—but we also know that God knows what is good for us, and God answers prayers based on what will help us become more of who God wants us to be. God answers our prayers in ways that change our heart with love.
You see, prayer isn’t about getting God to do what we want. It’s about connecting with God, as we said before—and even more than that, it’s about God changing US.
In his book A Voice Over the Water, William Breault writes:
"...Prayer is not to change God. It is to be changed by God--maybe that's why some of us avoid it. Way back in the instinctive zones of our brains is the conviction that if we keep on praying something will happen to us.
"And that is correct, for all prayer has one thing in common: a conversion. That is the occupational hazard of praying. But it isn't God who is converted, we are. Perhaps that is why we hold to the illusion that prayer does something to God. We don't want to be converted! But God doesn't let up easily.”
So, prayer isn’t just an idle thing we do once and a while, or when we are in a crisis and need something. Prayer is POWERFUL. Prayer changes things. Prayer changes US.
So during our prayer time in a few minutes, we are going to take an extended time of silence to pray for those things on your heart. You may pray out loud, or silently—it doesn’t matter how-- but during that time I invite you to really pray about those things you want to pray about. Pour out your concerns to God. Make that connection with God, let yourself be changed by God. When God acts and causes change, wonderful things can happen to us that we could never imagine or expect. Let’s really open ourselves up to what the Holy Spirit is doing through prayer.
So, as Jesus tells us to-- let’s knock, search, and ask boldly. God is listening. Knock on God’s door. Seek God. Ask God what’s on your heart. Because whoever seeks finds, whoever asks receives, and whoever knocks, God opens the door. Amen?
Monday, July 18 2016
Pastor Randy Milleville
Have you heard about this new craze that is sweeping the country? Yeah. I’m sure you have. It’s a new game for your smartphone called “Pokemon Go.” You can download the Pokemon Go app for free, and play this game where you try to capture as many Pokemon’s as you can – so you can go to a place called a gym – so you can train your Pokemon’s to duke it out with somebody else’s captured Pokemon’s. All the while you’re accumulating points. And incubating eggs. I have no idea what that’s all about!
But did I get any of that right? Anybody here playing Pokemon Go? I don’t know – Pastor Becca tried to explain it to me. SO if I got that explanation wrong, you can blame it on her – or actually it’s my understanding – or maybe my misunderstanding of what she told me.
Anyway, it’s only been a few weeks that this thing has really caught on. But I guess there are some dangers associated with playing this game. Some unintended consequences. Let’s listen to a news broadcast from earlier this week.
Did you see what was going on there? People so glued to their phones that they’re running into poles – and each other. And getting hurt. Some of these folks are sporting their Pokemon injuries as though they were a badge of honor!
And just in case you didn’t know – Zion is a Pokemon stop. You can capture a Pokemon here. Of course, if you’re playing the game, you already know that. I kinda wish they had planted that character inside so people would have to come inside to capture that Pokemon – especially on a Saturday evening or a Sunday morning. You want a Pokemon? You’ll have to sit here for an hour first. Anyway—it would get people inside the building, wouldn’t it?
But here’s the thing. Pokemon can be a major source of distraction. People become addicted to this game – and they’re distracted because as they’re walking down the street they’re staring at they’re phones and not watching where they’re going.
So if you’re playing Pokemon – don’t let yourself be distracted. Be careful out there.
I couldn’t help thinking of that this week when I heard Jesus say to his friend, Martha, “Martha! You are distracted by many things.”
Now – if you were paying attention – if you yourself weren’t distracted – while I was reading our Gospel lesson just a few moments ago – then you know that our reading today is that marvelous story of Jesus at the home of his friends Mary and Martha.
Most of you know the story. Martha hurried about doing all the household preparations necessary to make Jesus feel at home. At the same time, Mary sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he had to say. Martha finally got fed up – leaves the kitchen – goes into the living room, and say, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? You tell her to come and help me!”
“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered. You know, sometimes Nancy talks to me like that when she says, “Randy, Randy!” And I say, “What! What!”
“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and – distracted – by many things; but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” Mary has done only one thing – the one thing that Jesus is talking about. She sits at the feet of Jesus. And she listens. She listens to what Jesus has to say.
Martha is working her tail off in the kitchen – flour up to her elbows – and Mary takes time simply to be with the Lord. It’s a wonderful story with a very important message: As important as some things are – we can become easily distracted by these things – when the one thing – the most important thing – is spending time with Jesus.
A religious poll asked people this question: “Do you believe in the Second Coming of Christ?” If the respondent said yes, a subsequent question was put to them: “What would you do if you knew Jesus was coming back today?”
One young man replied, “Look busy, Man! Look busy!”
Hey! Most of us don’t have to look busy. We already are busy. Doing good things – at our jobs – for our families – for our communities. Doing good things for the Lord and for His church! Good things. Like Martha – doing good things on behalf of her guest – Jesus.
But I want to say to you today that sometimes – sometimes – the good gets in the way of the better. Sometimes the good gets in the way of the great. Sometimes, the good gets in the way of the one things that is needful. We can be so easily distracted by the good that we neglect the one thing that is really important.
Let me tell you a story told by a pastor by the name of John Gable. He tells about Al and Betty Johnson who live on a farm some distance from Rapid City, S.D.
Interesting thing about Rapid City. My family and I stayed at a hotel one Saturday night on our cross country trip back in the late 90’s. The next day was Sunday, and when you have two pastors in the family – where do you go on Sunday morning? No—not out to breakfast – although we did that too. To church! We went to church! Even when you’re on vacation – you go to church. OK? Got that?
The folks at the church were friendly, and one of them asked us which motel we had stayed at. When we told them, they all went “ewwww.” Yeah. That hotel in Rapid City was one of the worst hotels I have ever stayed at in my life.
Now that has nothing to do with my sermon – or the story I started about Pastor Gable’s story about Al and Betty Johnson – who lived some distance outside Rapid City, SD. But I just felt like telling my story about that awful hotel in Rapid City, SD. See how easy it is for us pastors to get distracted from the main message of the sermon?
Needless to say, there isn’t a Wal‑Mart near where the Johnson’s live, so whenever the Johnsons have a reason to go into Rapid City, they keep a running list of things they want to do and need to buy.
A while back, Betty’s mother was flying in for a visit. Al made a list of all the things he needed to do in Rapid City on his way to the airport to pick up his mother-in-law.
When he finally got home late that evening, he was so pleased to tell Betty about all he had accomplished. He had gotten new tires put on the truck and found everything she wanted at the mall. He had even bought her a new dress that he couldn’t wait to show her.
Finally, she interrupted him and asked, “Al, where’s Mom?” Poor Al’s face turned ashen, and then red. It seems, in his determination to complete the list, he had forgotten to go to the airport. He had forgotten the only real purpose he had for going to town in the first place.
Poor Al. Say that with me. “Poor Al.” It’s easy to do, to be so busy that you forget the one thing you’re supposed to do.
Martha was hurrying around doing those little things that are so important when you have guests in your home, and we know Jesus appreciated her efforts. So when he gently rebukes Martha – and I’d like to think that he had a smile on his face – he says, “Martha, chill out. You are worried and upset – and distracted – by many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better . . .”
Only one thing – one thing – is needed. That is what Jesus said to Martha. Only. One. Thing.
By now, you may be asking what that one thing is. Some of you may remember, because I’ve preached on this one thing before. In fact, I preach on the one thing all the time.
Are you ready? Christ is that one thing that is needed. This is what Mary understood – and Martha seemed not to understand at first. The main thing about Christianity is our focus on Jesus Christ. Believing in him – trusting him – listening to him – learning from him.
Believing that Jesus is the Son of God. Trusting Jesus to be the only way by which we are reconciled to God. Trusting Jesus to be our source – our only source – for God’s love, mercy, peace, pardon and forgiveness. Taking time to listen to what he has to say – and then learning what that means as you live your life day by day.
Now, all of that then should lead us to doing good things for others for the sake of – and in the name of – Jesus Christ. Doing good – and if you want to use the words – being busy – for the sake of Jesus Christ – is how we witness to our faith in Jesus Christ. These are important because being a Christian without a witness – is like Pepsi without the fizz. Doing good is how we show others that we love God and love our neighbor as we love ourselves. But being busy and doing good are not the main thing – focusing on social ministry is not the main thing. These are not the one thing – about Christianity–as important as they are.
The main thing about Christianity at its heart is the recognition that Jesus Christ is the Lord of life. He is our Leader. He is the One who saves us from our sins.
And he wants us to spend time with him. No matter how busy we get with the rest of the things that are going on in our lives – Jesus wants us to spend time with him. In worship. In prayer. In the reading of Scripture. Spending time with other Christ followers.
So, whether you’re distracted by Pokemon Go – or you’re distracted by people who are distracted by Pokemon Go – or whatever your distractions are – let me invite you today to learn this from this story about Mary and Martha. The one thing – the one thing that is needed – the most important thing you can do – today and every day – is to take a few moments each day and sit at the feet of Jesus. Amen
Monday, July 11 2016
It's a beautiful day in this neighborhood,
A beautiful day for a neighbor,
Would you be mine?
Could you be mine?
Would you be my neighbor?
Anyone know what that song is from….? Mister Roger’s Neighborhood! I grew up watching that show—it was great! The train, King Friday, and Mr. Roger’s amazing sweaters—what more could a kid ask for???
But back to the theme song. What does Mr. Rogers ask the viewers….? “Would you be my neighbor?”
Now when we think of the word “neighbor,” who do we usually think of….? Usually the people who live next to us, right? Or maybe even the people a few houses down. But clearly, we don’t live next to Mr. Rogers! So his definition of a neighbor must be different!
In Old Testament times and in Jesus’ time, for those of the Jewish religion, a neighbor was considered a close kin, or an Israelite—a fellow Jew. That meant only those who were followers of the same religion and followed the same rules of living were neighbors to one another. Anyone else outside of that definition was not a neighbor.
But then we fast-forward to Jesus talking with a lawyer in the 10th chapter of the Gospel of Luke. The lawyer asks Jesus: “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
Jesus, a typical teacher, responds with more questions: “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” The lawyer says: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.”
Did he give the right answer….? Yeah, he did. Jesus tells him “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.” It sounds very much like our motto here at Zion Lutheran Church, that we talk about all the time: LOVE GOD. LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR. NOTHING ELSE MATTERS.
But the lawyer needs more clarification. He wants to know who he has to love as a neighbor. So what does he ask Jesus…? “And who is my neighbor?”
What a great question. Who is our neighbor, indeed? Is it just someone who lives next to us? Is it just people who follow the same religion and live like we do? It it only people who look like us and talk like us? Or is our neighbor something else entirely?
In typical Jesus fashion, he answers the question with a story.
And it’s very likely you have heard this story before—it’s one of the most famous in the Bible. A man is traveling and gets robbed and beat up by a gang. He’s lying on the side of the road, bleeding and barely able to move, in desperate need of help.
So a priest walks by—sees him, but walks by on the other side of the road. A Levite— a guy from the tribe of Israelites who worked in the Temple walks by—sees him, but walks by on the other side of the road. Two people you would expect to help this poor guy, don’t.
But a Samaritan— a man from a race and religion that the Israelites HATED—walks by, sees the man, and it moved with pity. He cleans his wounds and bandages them. He transports the man to an inn, and tells them to take care of him, and that when the Samaritan returns, he will pay whatever it costs.
The story done, Jesus turns to the lawyer. “Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” The lawyer responds—“The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus says: “Go and do likewise.”
A great story, right? So, based on that story, what would you say is the definition of a neighbor…?
Quite simply, a neighbor, according to how the lawyer responded, is “the one who shows mercy to someone.” So, a neighbor isn’t just someone who lives next to us, or just someone who follows the same religion or lives the same way we do, or looks or talks like us--- it’s anyone—and everyone.
It could be an enemy. The Samaritan was an enemy to the Israelites, and yet he helped that poor Israelite that was beat up and in need of help.
So, someone is a neighbor to us when we are in need and they have mercy on us, and help us. How many of us have ever been helped by someone….? And how many of us have been helped by people we didn’t expect…? Our neighbors can be anyone and everyone. And it goes both ways.
Figuring out who our neighbors are and who we should show mercy to is not something that was just in the past. We are still trying to figure out who our neighbors are. Take a look at what’s happening in our country, right now. When two black men, one in Minnesota and one in Louisiana are killed, who is our neighbor? When 5 police officers are killed and 7 are injured in Dallas at a peaceful protest, in revenge of the two men’s deaths, who is our neighbor?
Jesus tells us. Jesus tells us 2000 years in ago the story of a Samaritan, a guy from a religion and race that was despised by the Jews. The Samaritans had intermarried with Gentiles (non-Jews), and practiced their own version of religion. They were considered less-than because they were not a pure race like the Israelite Jews.
So race issues are not new. Race issues have been around for thousands and thousands of years. The hearers of Jesus’ story back then would have expected the Samaritan to do something terrible, because he was part of a race and religion that were considered inferior to the Jews.
But who is a neighbor to the hurt man…? The Samaritan. Not the priest. Not the temple worker. Not the men who were part of the same religion and same race as the hurt man. It was the Samaritan. The one who, if the broken man and he had seen each other in any other situation, they would have avoided each other like the plague.
But the different religion and different race didn’t enter into that Samaritan’s mind. He just saw a human being who needed help. He helped that guy. He showed mercy to that guy. He was a neighbor to that guy.
This cycle of violence needs to stop. We are not enemies to one another. Jesus told us this story to show us that race and religion should not enter into how we treat one another. Jesus shows us that a neighbor shows mercy, regardless of race, religion, gender, sexuality, past actions… none of that matters. We are to love each other as neighbors, not treat each other with hatred and killing each other in a never-ending cycle of violence. We are to show mercy to one another. We are to be neighbors to one another.
Because-- Since Jesus defines a neighbor as one who shows mercy, who is the ultimate neighbor to us….?
Jesus. Jesus shows us mercy and helps us when we are in need. When we are lying by the side of the road of life, bleeding and bruised and barely able to move, Jesus is the one who cleans and bandages our wounds. Jesus is the one who introduces us to others who can help us heal. Jesus is the ultimate neighbor to us. Jesus is the ultimate neighbor to everyone. Jesus loves all people, no matter their race or religion or anything else.
And because Jesus is the ultimate neighbor, we are able to be neighbors to others. We can do as Jesus said, “Go and do likewise.” We are able to show others mercy because Jesus first shows us mercy. We are able to help others because Jesus first helps us. We are able to show mercy to all people, regardless of race or religion, or anything else, because Jesus first shows mercy to all of us.
Last week, Pastor Randy talked about the Bible story of the 70 people Jesus sent out to share the Good News. And you were encouraged to share that Good News of Jesus Christ by inviting others and by telling others on social media. Anyone do that…? What was it like? Did any of your friends comment about it?
Sharing the Good News of Jesus is really important. We are all called to do that as Christians. And doing it through social media is an effective way to reach many people very quickly. It’s pretty awesome.
And we are going to take this one step further today. Close your eyes for a second. I want you to think about someone in your life—could be a family member, a friend, a co-worker, a classmate, maybe someone you actually don’t know that well, maybe someone you don’t like or even an enemy—who really needs to hear that Jesus loves them and that you are praying for them. That person may be going through a rough time in their life, or they may be in a rut or struggling with purpose and meaning in their life. No matter what their situation is, think of someone who needs to hear that Jesus loves them and that you’re praying for them. Everyone have someone…?
OK, now if you have a smart phone, take it out, right now. Text them. Right now. Send them a private Facebook message. Right now. Snapchat them. Right now. Tell them that Jesus loves them and that you are praying for them. And you can say that you are praying for them, because we are going to pray for them, in a minute. If you don’t have a smart phone—call that person, or email that person, the minute you get home and do the same thing.
We are called to be neighbors and show mercy to those around us, no matter what. We are called to “go and do likewise.” We are called to LOVE GOD. LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR. NOTHING ELSE MATTERS. When our neighbors are hurting and broken by the side of the road, Jesus helps us to help them, no matter who they are and what their background is. Because of Jesus, we are able to a respond with a resounding “YES” when we see someone asking “Would you be my neighbor?” THAT is being a neighbor Welcome to the neighborhood!
Let us pray.
Lord, we thank you for loving us. We thank you for being our ultimate neighbor, the one who cares for us when we are broken and hopeless. We love you, Lord. We pray for those who have been victims of violence, and their families and loved ones, because we don’t yet know how to be neighbors to one another. Help us to love and show mercy to one another, regardless of race, religion, or anything else.
Lord, we pray for those people we just texted or messaged or will call or email later. We name their names now, out loud. _____ Show them your love and mercy, Lord. Help us to show them your love and mercy, and to be neighbors to them as Jesus said.
And Lord, challenge us to love our neighbors. Open our eyes so that we notice our neighbors who need help, even when they are people who are different than us or someone we don’t like. Push us to love them and help them and pray for them. Challenge us to share Jesus’ love with them so that they can know, like we know, that they are loved, no matter what. In Jesus’ name, amen.
Wednesday, July 06 2016
Luke 10:1-11; 16-20
Let me tell you a story. It’s kind of a terrible story, but it involves two young Mormon missionaries who were going door to door. They knocked on the door of one woman who was not at all happy to see them.
The woman told them in no uncertain terms that she did not want to hear their message and slammed the door in their faces. To her surprise, however, the door did not close and, in fact, almost magically bounced back open. She tried again, really putting her back into it and slammed the door again with the same amazing result – the door bounced back open.
Convinced that one of the young men was sticking his foot in the door, she reared back to give it a third slam. But before she could act, one of them stopped her and politely said, “Ma'am, before you do that again, you really should move your cat.”
I told you it was a terrible story. Especially if you’re a cat lover. If you’re not a cat lover, well…
When it comes to evangelism, there are a couple of religious groups that have a reputation for going door to door. I haven’t seen any at my door lately. Maybe that’s because I’m usually not home during the day. Or maybe it’s because my house is marked. You know, “Don’t go to that guy at 9406 Pine Breeze.” Because those times that I have had them at my door, I like to engage them in conversation. For one thing, I figure if they’re talking to me – they’re not bothering my neighbors. And the second thing I like to do is to ask them hard questions about what they believe – you know – I kinda like to put them on the spot – and point out where I disagree with what they have to say. I know, that’s probably not very nice of me, but there are just a few things that these door to door evangelists teach that we, as Lutherans, just do not agree with.
But the one thing that I do admire about these groups – even though I don’t agree with their message – is that they are not afraid to be out there – knocking on doors – telling others about what it is that they believe.
And that’s what’s happening in our Gospel lesson today. Jesus is sending out 70 disciples to proclaim the Good News message of the Kingdom of God. In other words – Jesus is sending them out to do the work of evangelism. Village to village. Door to door.
By the way – the Good News message is the same today as it was when these 70 were sent out. Telling that message is simply a way of telling others what God is up to. Do you know what God is up to? God is in the business of transforming lives. God is in the business of bringing people into a right relationship with Himself through His Son Jesus Christ.
Our motto – sometimes we call it our mission statement – but our motto here is “Love God. Love your neighbor. Nothing else matters.” And if you were here two weeks ago, you’ll recall that I have started calling this motto, “The Jesus Creed.” And the wonderful thing about the Jesus Creed is that it has the power to transform lives. When we put the Jesus Creed into action – loving God – loving our neighbor – we cannot but be transformed in our very nature – right down to the very core of who we are.
That’s the power of the Good News of Jesus Christ. So this Good News message of Jesus – this Good News message of the Kingdom of God is something that we cannot keep to ourselves. Whoever it is that first told you about Jesus – and everyone from that moment until right now who shared that Good News with you – they did not keep that Good News to themselves.
It’s too late for me to thank some of the many folks who shared the Good News with me. You know, sometimes we just don’t think to do that. But I thank God for them. And some day I hope to meet them again. And tell them thank you. I’m sure there are people that you can thank. And if it’s too late, well, you can thank God for those people who told you about Jesus – and who helped you to grow as a disciple of Jesus Christ.
You see, the whole purpose in sharing the Good News – in whatever ways we share that Good News – is to bring people into a relationship with Jesus Christ. Sometimes it’s inviting and welcoming that person who has wandered away back into the church. Sometimes it’s welcoming someone who has never heard – or never believed – the Good News message that we proclaim. But in all cases, it’s bringing people – sometimes restoring people – to the table of God through forgiveness and healing.
Some of the time our evangelism is directed at children – and families with young children. I like to tell parents of infants and young children that we are partners with them in bringing the Good News of Jesus to their children.
And I am just wondering – who our youngest baby or child is here today? How old is your baby? May I hold him/her? This little baby is on a journey. And we are on this same journey with him/her and his/her parents. And it is an awesome journey!
For all of us who are parents – there is – something exciting about watching these kiddos grow. From crawling to standing to walking to running. Getting into mischief. Learning what life is all about through trial and error. The same thing can be said about disciples of Jesus Christ. First we crawl, then we stand, then we walk, and then we run. Sometimes we get into a little mischief. But it’s a process – learning what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ through trial and error.
I have had the great privilege of watching many of you grow and change and develop over the past 25 years. I’ve watched you grow from toddlers to college graduates to getting married and having children of your own. Some of you are turning 40 this year. Why – you were only teenagers when I first met you.
And it has been a joy to watch you grow and mature – and to develop in your walk with Jesus – and in connection with this church. All because of – not just me – but many someone’s who were not afraid to share with you all along the way – the Good News message of Jesus Christ.
It is our call – it is our responsibility – to share the Good News. With whoever is willing to listen. Wherever those opportunities might take place.
Jesus sent the 70 out – village to village – door to door. Now I want to suggest that door to door evangelism probably doesn’t work so well anymore. There are times when Lutherans will use that method – usually in a new church start in a community where there is little or no Lutheran presence. But I’m really not so sure that that method is encouraged all that much anymore.
And that might just be the reason why evangelism is not a popular word among us Lutherans, precisely because it conjures up visions of going door to door. But here’s the thing. We are a worshipping community. We are a fellowship. We enjoy and look forward to being with each other. Again – I believe that God’s people want to be where God’s people are. But we are more than just a worshipping community that gathers in this place a couple of times on the weekend. We are also an equipping and sending community.
I like what Michael Green says about this. Michael is an Anglican Church leader and an evangelist. Listen to what he has to say. “God’s church exists not for itself but for the benefit of those who are not yet members…. [and] the church which lives for itself will be sure to die by itself.” We are a church for others.
And we are evangelical. Evangelical is in our name. What is this church’s full name? Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church. We are a part of the ELCA – the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
We are a worshipping community to be sure. But we are an equipping and sending community. We don’t exist for ourselves as much as we exist for others. And since door knocking is probably not the best method to use these days, it’s safe to ask, “Well then, how do we take the Good News message of Jesus to the street? What works?” Glad you asked.
When asked how it is that this church has grown over the years, my response is always, “invitation and reputation.” Many – I’d say most people – are here because someone invited them – or told them about us.
I would like to say that invitation works best. One way for that to work is through friendship. Inviting people you already know – and who don’t already have a church home. Or who are looking for a church home. Or – are simply waiting to be asked – to be invited. And don’t give up. Even though you’ve invited someone 99 times – maybe the 100th time will be the one that works. SO friendship works. Showing someone that you care – that you genuinely care. That works too!
And then there’s the internet. Some people find us on the internet. That’s why we always try to keep our website up to date and attractive. More and more people are finding us first because of our website.
But let me also say that a growing area where evangelism works is through social media. Do you like what you’ve heard – what you’ve experienced here today? Now that’s a dangerous question for any preacher to ask – but if you like what you’ve heard here today or on any previous weekend – invite your un-churched friends to take a listen. These weekly messages from Pastor Becca and me are on our website by late Sunday – or sometime on Monday at the latest. Check it out! Invite your unchurched friends to take a listen. Or maybe you might want to listen a second time. Maybe because you fell asleep the first time – I don’t know.
If you’re on Facebook – why not tell folks about us? You can do that right now if you’d like. Tell them where you are – and make a comment. Go on. I dare you! How many times do you see posts on Facebook of your friends letting you know when they’re out at their favorite restaurant – or fitness center or emergency care center? I’ve even seen posts of people in the hospital. So why not church? Why not now? Or – you can wait until after the service is over.
You know, a lot of us have the same Facebook friends. Can you imagine if they got 50 of us here this weekend telling them what we’ve heard and experienced here in this place? We have this great tool that lets us share our faith – not just to share where you are right now – but why. What you’ve heard – what you believe – and to whom you belong. To let people know you are a disciple of Jesus Christ. Go on! I dare you!
The tools – tools like Facebook – that we use to get the word out have changed. But the message has not changed. “Jesus loves me this I know. For the Bible tells me so.” The Jesus Creed calls us to love God and love our neighbor. That’s who we are. That’s what we do.
Caring. Inviting. Loving that friend – that neighbor – that stranger – into the Kingdom. Being a church for others – by sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ. By being both an inviting and welcoming congregation. That’s taking the Good News of Jesus to the street.