“It’s the most wonderful time of the year.” September is here again, and that means back to school. Now I don’t know how all of you kids feel about that, but I can tell you how your parents feel about it. Yeah, come this week, I expect to see a lot of high fives from you parents after those school buses pull away.
Around here at ZLC we’re going to be getting things in gear again too. Sunday School starts next Sunday. And I hope you know that Sunday School is not just for kids anymore. You adults can deepen your faith through a once a month class that uses music called “Tuning Into Our Faith.” Every week there’s a Bible study called “Cross Connections,” and a second weekly choice on faith and life discussions using material from the “Life Tree Café” series.
And of course for you 8th and 9th graders and 10th graders too, confirmation instructions begin next weekend! Choirs will be rehearsing, the Coffee House will be dedicated next weekend, so September means a lot of things to a lot of people. And this is a good place for us to be on this fine September weekend. Christ-centered worship. Fellowship. Education. We are here to hear that we are loved by God – to hear that our sins are forgiven – to receive instruction and encouragement.
There are lots of good reasons why you might be here today – lots of reasons why you go to church. But I gotta tell ya, there’s something about that phrase, “go to church,” that I find I always want to correct. It’s right up there with, “See you in church.” What I want to say to you today is this: “Don’t just go to church. Be the church.” So if I say, “Don’t just go to church,” I’d like you to respond, “Be the church!” So – “Don’t just go to church….” (Be the church). By George—I think you’ve got it!
Over the doors that lead to the parking lot is a sign that says, “Servants’ Entrance.” You’ve seen it, right? It’s on the way OUT of the building. I want you to see it on your way out of the building – to remind you that that’s where the service begins. When the worship is over in here – the service begins out there – through those doors.
You see – you are the church. And not just when you are here – but when you are out there. You are the church and you show that you are the church – well, I should say, we are the church – and we show what being church looks like by how we live our lives the rest of the week. What we say. What we do. How we do what we do. The places where we go. The places where we live out our faith – a faith that is nurtured and fed here in this place. But you are the church – we are the church out there – in the places where we put our faith into action.
In our Gospel reading today, we have two wonderful stories. Both of them are healing stories. But when you look beyond the healings – what I want you to see is that they are stories of faith. They are stories of faith in action. And notice carefully that these are not stories about the faith of those who were healed. It is the faith of those who interceded on their behalf that I want to focus on.
In the first case, it is the Syrophoenician woman – a gentile – an outsider to the Jewish faith – who exercises faith and comes to Jesus on behalf of her daughter. She stands up to Jesus even when he – quite frankly – calls her a dog. But she persists. “Yes Lord, but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from the children’s table.” Jesus is amazed at HER faith, and immediately her daughter is healed.
In the second story, we meet a group of people known only as “They.” “They” brought to Jesus a deaf man. “They” begged him to lay his hand on him. And Jesus with a word “Ephphatha” – “Be opened” – heals this deaf, mute man.
But in both cases I want you to see that it is the faith action of others – that brings about the results that they seek. This does not mean that our individual faith is not important. It is! But what this says to me is that:
1. We are not Christians in isolation. We need each other. We need to meet together as often as we can. I am a firm believer that God’s people want and need to be together with God’s people. To be the church together! Why is that important? Well – because church matters. You see, we need the faith that each one of us brings to this place. I need the faith that each one of you brings to this place. Why? So we can learn and grow and worship and find fellowship together. We need to meet together as often as we can here in this place.
2. But the second thing – again – is when we leave this place – when we leave here – that is when the service begins.
SO our worship of God is important. It is one of the six marks of discipleship. To worship every week. Another one of those six marks is to serve others at Zion and beyond. Again, when we leave this place – that is when our service begins.
Back to our Gospel reading. The Syrophoenician woman comes to Jesus out of love for her daughter. The unnamed, unidentified people who bring the deaf man to Jesus do so out of love for their friend. They come to Jesus NOT for themselves. And by their actions, they show what is on their hearts.
And then – strange thing – in the case of the healing of the deaf man – Jesus orders them NOT to tell anyone about him or about what he has done for them. But do they listen to Jesus? Nooooo. We are told that the more he ordered them not to say a word, the more they proclaimed it.
Hey, listen! These stories are written not just because they are interesting stories about a man named Jesus who lived a long time ago. No. They are written for our instruction. They are written to encourage us.
You see, Jesus cannot stay hidden. And he no longer asks people – he no longer asks us to remain silent about him. In fact, he commands us to do just the opposite. Remember? In Matthew 28 he says, “Go into all the world, and make disciples of all people, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.”
And that is why we are called to be more than just people who go to church. We are to be the church. We have already received God’s love – God’s grace – God’s mercy – God’s forgiveness. But we are more than just recipients of these things. We are also the messengers. We are the conduits of God’s love and grace and mercy and forgiveness. We cannot keep silent.
So where are we going to find men and women and children like the Syrophoenician woman – people like the friends of the deaf man – men, women and children who will bring their loved ones to a place where they can encounter the living Christ? Where are we going to find people like that? You know where. And so do I. Pastor Becca and I are counting on you –we are relying on you – to do the inviting. Because we don’t know the people you know. And then once people are here – we are counting on you to do the greeting as well. I mean, we’ll do that too. But it really means something when someone other than the pastor says hello to people who are here for the first, or the second, or the third, or more – times.
We are a growing church. Ask anyone who has ever joined Zion how they came here in the first place, and it may be the case that they found us on the internet. Fair enough. BUT it will be more highly likely that they – that any one of you are here because someone invited you, or told you about us. That’s living life – putting faith into action – both inside and outside of this building.
So let me make a request. It’s something all of us can do. We get a lot of visitors at this church. And we do a pretty good job of making people feel welcome. But I feel the need to say it again. We are all involved in what I call the ministry of hospitality. And this is why I really want to encourage everybody to wear your name tag. It just makes the job of hospitality so much easier. And Pastor Becca would reeeally appreciate it too! Hey! She’s been here just two months, and she’s trying to learn all of your names.
Anyway. With that name tag on you’re ready to go. When you see somebody you don’t know, you can walk up to them and say, “Hi! I am so and so. I don’t believe we’ve met.” And let the conversation flow from there. Everyone can be a minister of hospitality – whether you’re sharing the peace – and by the way – don’t reach past the person you don’t know to shake hands with a friend that you do know. Shake the hand of the person you don’t know first – and greet the friend second. Friends – this is so important. Just remember the word SAGE. Anybody remember what that means? Smile and Greet Everybody.
Yesterday was my beloved wife Nancy’s and my 33rd wedding anniversary. We went to dinner at Russell’s. If you’ve ever been there then you know that Russ Salvatore greets you – as he greets everybody as though you are his best friend. Since we were coming from two different directions, Nancy got there first, and Russ greeted her by saying, “Hello gorgeous!” Well, of course I can’t greet people here that way at Zion, but there’s something to be said about greeting people with a smile and a handshake that says, “Glad to see you here!”
Listen! I guess what I am saying – what I want you to hear today – can be boiled down to two words. Invite and welcome. Invite and welcome. Like the Syrophoenician woman – like the friends of the deaf man – bring someone you know to meet Jesus here in this place. And don’t give up! Be persistent.
Let me share with you a story. “In Keeping Pace, Ernest Fitzgerald relayed the true story of a magazine company which several years ago purchased a new computer. Its function was to compile data and send out subscription notices to customers whose subscriptions had lapsed. One day something went wrong with the machine, and before the error was discovered (about a month later), a certain rancher in Colorado had received 9,374 notices that his subscription had expired. Someone in the magazine office posted the letter the company received from him. Inside was a check for one year's subscription along with a handwritten note saying: ‘I give up! Send me the magazine.’ He was won over by their consistent, persistent attention.
Folks, may I suggest to you, that persistence – stick-to-it-tiveness – works when it comes to sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ with others. Don’t stop praying, and don’t give up on anybody.
I don’t know anything about the singing group, “One Direction,” that was here in Buffalo this week. But when it comes to getting the word out about Jesus Christ – I have one direction I want to give you – and that’s learning what it means to be the church.
You see, being the church matters. How we live our lives in front of others. Compassionate. Forgiving. Showing kindness. The smile that’s always there. The warm handshake or hug when they are needed. Doing what’s right. Words are important, but it’s the actions of our lives that say the most, wouldn’t you agree? Doing what’s right. These are the things that win people over to Jesus Christ.
Our Gospel lesson today started out by saying that Jesus entered a house and did not want anyone to know he was there. Yet, he could not escape notice. The reading ends with Jesus ordering the people to tell no one about the healing miracle. Yet, the more he ordered them, the more they proclaimed it.
Friends – the Good News – the Gospel of Jesus Christ cannot be hidden. It cannot be silenced. It cannot be kept secret. And we are the ones who will not let that happen.
Hey! Let’s get the word out. Invite and welcome. AND – Don’t just go to church – (Be the church!) Amen