John 9:1-41 (2017 – back to Church Sunday)
1 Samuel 16:1-13 Psalm 23 Ephesians 5:8-14
In our reading from 1 Samuel 16– verse 7 it states – The LORD does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.”
As we gather today – we need to know that God is looking at our hearts – and I would like us to keep that thought in the back of our minds as I share with you today.
Today the Christian churches of Katikati are observing ‘Back to Church Sunday’.
The idea behind the day is simple: regular churchgoers invite friends, who are not normally in the habit of churchgoing, to come and join them for worship.
It’s not meant to be a big song and dance, and we’re not meant to put on a show that’s hugely different from what we normally do on a Sunday.
It’s simply an invitation for people who may be standing on the edge of the swimming pool to put their toe in and see if they like the temperature of the water. Some might decide they like it, and dive right in. Others might say, “No thanks”, and turn away instead.
But some may well ask, “Isn’t this really just about recruiting?
Aren’t you just trying to get more people to come to church and put more money into the collection plate? After all, we’ve all heard the statistics about how church attendance is declining; isn’t this ‘Back to Church Sunday’ just a desperate attempt to reverse those statistics so that you won’t have to close down more struggling churches?”
Now that’s a fair question, and there’s actually an even bigger one behind it: what is it that we actually want to see happen in the lives of those who have been invited to come to church with us today?
Is it just about persuading more people to join us for services each week?
Is it just about getting more volunteers to help out with our job roster, and more money to help us meet our budget?
Or is it deeper than that?
Is it in any way about God, and about Jesus, and about the enrichment and transformation of our daily lives?
Here is a quote by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
He said – Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.
If you read the paper article on “Back to Church Sunday” you will have read the story of the man who lived alone and had stopped coming to church. He told his Vicar that he didn’t need to go to church to believe in Jesus – he could just believe. The minister took a hot coal out of the fire and put it on the hearth and it slowly became black – losing its glow – after a few minutes of saying why he didn’t need the church – the minister placed the coal back into the fire – where it quickly became bright and put out a ray of glow and warmth. All the time the minster was quiet – the man understood from that point on and said – see you Sunday.
Or maybe you have heard this story about a Church goer who wrote a letter to the editor of the newspaper and complained that it made no sense to go to Church every Sunday. “I’ve gone for 30 years now, and in that time I have heard something like 3,000 sermons but for the life of me I can’t remember a single one of them” he wrote. “So I think I’m wasting my time and the Vicar’s are wasting theirs by giving sermons at all”, he continued. This started a real controversy in the Letters to the Editor column much to the delight of the Editor.
It went on for weeks until someone wrote this:
”I have been married for 30 years now. In that time my wife has cooked some 32,000 meals but for the life of me I cannot recall the entire menu for a single one of those meals.
But I do know this: they all nourished me and gave me the strength I needed to do my work. If my wife had not given me these meals I would be physically dead today.
Likewise, if I had not gone to Church for nourishment I would be spiritually dead today!”
When you are DOWN to nothing … God is UP to something! Faith sees the invisible, believes the incredible, and receives the impossible! Thank God for our physical AND our spiritual nourishment.
Also the Church Growth Movement found in their research that people come to church for many reasons but stay mainly for one – that of friendship.
Often these friends become the people we travel with on our physical and spiritual journey. These friends that we make, journey with us without judgement, and with acceptance. Making our lives make more sense.
In our reading from John there is a theme that breaks through of – who is this person Jesus, is he the Son of God?
As a church we don’t have all the answers’, we don’t always get things right, we make mistakes, sometimes unintentionally hurting or offending people. But together we can explore, read and discuss the issues we face together – all part of being a family.
As that well known passage from Revelations states, Seek and you will find, knock and the door will be opened to you.
As a people of faith we are always asking the same question – who is this Jesus.
The answer is, we think he’s God. We think that, in some mysterious way, the God who created everything that exists actually came to live among us as a human being on this planet. He was like an author writing himself into his own story, while at the same time continuing to exist outside the story as the supreme originator of the whole narrative.
Now you might find this an outrageous idea, and you may find it hard to understand how anyone could believe it. But what I want to say is this: this is one of the things we want to see happen in the lives of the people we’re trying to reach.
We want to help people grapple with the question of who Jesus is.
We want to help people look at the story of his life, the sort of person he was, the way he reached out to the poor and marginalized, the women and children, the lepers and the ones no one else had time for, the way he related to ordinary people, and the things he taught about what God was like and what life was all about.
But we also want to help people come to terms with some of the things Jesus said about himself: the way he assumed he had authority to forgive sins, for instance, or the way he claimed to be the one who had sent the prophets and preachers of hundreds of years ago, or his claim that he and God the Father were one, and if you had seen him you had seen the Father.
How do we make all this fit together? What do we do with a man who lives such an attractive and godly life – who says such wise and powerful things – and yet seems to have this fundamental megalomania about his own identity?
What if the answer is that his claims – his direct and indirect claims – are true? What if God has come among us to show us the way and to save us from ourselves? Well, then, I’m sure you’d agree that if that is who Jesus is, it would be important for us to listen to him, and to follow him.
You might say, “Well, I’m not there yet. I’m prepared to consider the question, though, so what’s the next step for me?”
You see, coming to church is the easy part! We’d love to think that some of you who are our guests today would come back and join us on a regular basis, but that’s only the beginning.
What we’re really about is helping people figure out who Jesus is, and then helping them to follow Jesus by learning to do the will of the Father in their daily lives.
So let me close with a suggestion. I make this suggestion not just to our guests, but to our regular members too, because I’ve learned over the years that regular churchgoers don’t always have it together or are as sure about Jesus as I’d like to think they are!
Here’s my suggestion.
Maybe you’re not sure if you believe in God, or maybe you believe in God but you’ve always thought Jesus is just a human being, not the Son of God or anything like that.
Today you’ve heard me say that it really matters who we think Jesus is, and this has got you wondering whether or not there’s more to Jesus than you thought.
I suggest you do two things.
First, pray to God for help. Maybe you’re not even sure God is there; that’s fine. A prayer something like this would be good.
“God, I’m not even sure whether or not you exist, and if you do, I’m not sure whether Jesus is your Son – whatever that means – or if he’s just an ordinary religious leader, or if he’s a charlatan or a lunatic or something worse. But I really want to know. So I’m going to try to find out, and I want you to make it clear to me. Please help me to know whether or not you are real and whether or not Jesus is your Son. Amen”.
The actual words aren’t important – God knows what’s on your heart – but something like this will do the trick.
Here’s the second thing.
There are four biographies of Jesus in the Bible – the four gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. John is a bit harder to understand, but the first three, Matthew, Mark, and Luke, are very accessible. Pick one of them – it doesn’t matter which one – and commit yourself to reading from it every day. But here’s the catch. I can guarantee you that on some days, in the passage you read, there will be some command of Jesus that jumps off the page and hits you between the eyes. If that happens, stop reading right away, think about what it would mean for you to obey that command, and then ask God to help you obey it. Does that sound radical?
I believe that anyone who starts making a serious attempt to actually put the teaching of Jesus into practice will sooner or later discover for themselves that Jesus is in fact who Christians say he is – the Son of God. And on the other hand, I think that people who are only willing to study Jesus on an intellectual level – or who are only willing to become churchgoers, and nothing more – will not be in a position to receive any sort of revelation from God about who Jesus is.
They’ll be like the son who said he would go and work in the vineyard, but then didn’t.
So this is what we want to see happen. We don’t just want more people to come to our church, although we’d be glad if that happened.
We want more people, in and outside the church, to understand who Jesus is, and to commit themselves to doing the will of the Father as Jesus has explained it to us.
We believe that’s how God is changing the world, one life at a time. That’s what Christianity is all about, and that’s what Back to Church Sunday is all about too.
Let me finish with this quote:
You can be committed to Church but not committed to Christ, but you cannot be committed to Christ and not committed to church. – Joel Osteen