Thursday, November 07, 2013

The Mark of Sharing the Good News

Isaiah 6:1-8
In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him were seraphs, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. And they were calling to one another:
"Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty;
the whole earth is full of his glory."
At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke. "Woe to me!" I cried. "I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty."  Then one of the seraphs flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar.  With it he touched my mouth and said, "See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for."  Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, "Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?"

Luke 5:1-11
One day as Jesus was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret, with the people crowding around him and listening to the word of God, he saw at the water's edge two boats, left there by the fishermen, who were washing their nets.  He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little from shore. Then he sat down and taught the people from the boat.
When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, "Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch." 
Simon answered, "Master, we've worked hard all night and haven't caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets."
When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break.  So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them, and they came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink.
When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus' knees and said, "Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!"  For he and all his companions were astonished at the catch of fish they had taken, and so were James and John, the sons of Zebedee, Simon's partners. Then Jesus said to Simon, "Don't be afraid; from now on you will catch people." 
This is the Word of the Lord!

My 11th grade homeroom teacher came into our class one day and called us to order. "I need some volunteers. The Christmas parade is coming up soon and I'm in charge of getting drivers for some of the floats. I need some volunteers.”

We all slide down in our seats.  Crossed our arms, looked down avoiding eye contact with the teacher.  And as we best we could, each of us tried to find within us the ability to become invisible to the naked eye.

The homeroom teacher continued: “The state beauty queen will be in the parade. She'll be riding in a convertible waving at everyone. I need someone to drive the car. Who volunteers for driving the state beauty queen around in a convertible for an hour?"

"Me I'll go. I'll be glad to do it."

The teacher picked out a volunteer.

"I need another volunteer. The homecoming queen is in the parade. Who wants to be the driver of that convertible?"

"Me, pick me." Most of the class wanted that assignment.  At least, all of the boys.

"All right. I have one more assignment. It is the most important one of all.

“Our school's teacher of the year will be in the parade. MISTER Johnson will also be in a convertible. With him will be our principal.  Who wants to volunteer?"

The class suddenly seems to have decided to observe a silent prayer. "Oh Lord, don't let him ask me."

It's one thing to drive a beauty queen around. It's another to drive the teacher of the year – AND the principal!

There are some things in this life that you want to volunteer to do. There are other things that you want to be left out of.

Now in the church, we have a number of things for which one can volunteer.

As a minister, I sometimes feel like my homeroom teacher from my 11th grade, "I need a volunteer! Who's going to drive this program? I need a Sunday School teacher, or an elder, or someone to clean Silver Hall. Who volunteers?"

Most of the time, we have ample volunteers to serve in our church.

Now in a Presbyterian Church, you will almost always find enough Sunday School teachers, enough elders, enough people to cook and enough to clean up. One thing you will NOT find enough of -- evangelists.

I need a volunteer -- or several volunteers. Who will share the good news of Christ with other people?

We do not have enough people who are willing to share the Good News with others. We do not have enough volunteer evangelists.

Now why is that?

Reason number 1 – no one asked me to tell others about Christ.

If it's your reason, I suggest you pick another. Because I’m asking you right now.

And more than that, Jesus Christ has asked you to tell others about Him. Time and again we read the mandate that Jesus has given us to go and to tell the world the Good News. Nowhere is this more clearly stated perhaps than at the end of Matthew's Gospel when Jesus issues what has become known as the "Great Commission."

Standing with his now 11 disciples, Jesus said, "I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. Go, then, to all peoples everywhere and make them my disciples: baptize them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, and teach them to obey everything I have commanded you."

Now one of the reasons you call pastors and fund missionaries and hire youth directors is so that someone ELSE has this job of going into all the world and making disciples of others.

But we need to do this work too. We all need to do it. Because Christ has asked all of us to do this.

This is one of the few things that ALL Christians are expected to do. We are all expected to pray, and to love, and to study the Word.

We are NOT all expected to be Sunday School teachers. We are not all expected to be elders, or to be cooks at a congregational dinner - or to clean up. Well, maybe we do want all of you to clean up after yourselves.

But my point is this, we all have our different ministries within God's church. But we are all expected to be able to share the Good News of the Gospel with others.

So you can't use as your excuse, "No one asked me." You have been asked to be an evangelist for God.

Reason #2:  It may be embarrassment.

Evangelists do crazy things. They knock on doors at the homes of strangers. They hand out booklets in front of the movie theater.

They preach on street corners. They operate multi-million dollar television ministries. All of which are things that might not appeal to us. These are things with which we might not want to be personally involved.

It would be embarrassing for us to knock on the door of a stranger's home. It would be embarrassing for us to hand out pamphlets, preach on a street corner, or address a television audience.

But, you know, that doesn't hold much water.

For one things, we do crazy things at football games, at parties, at high school reunions --- If we can do crazy things at those times, we can do crazy things for Christ as well.

BUT another reason why this doesn't hold much water is that evangelism doesn't have to be something crazy. It doesn't have to involve television, or pamphlets or shouting on street corners.

Evangelism is sharing the Good News of Christ. Pure and simple. Sharing some news. We all do that. We share good news and bad news.

We go to work and somebody says, "Hey did you hear about Thelma. She's getting married!"

“Oh really,” someone else will say.  “I didn’t even know she was dating anyone.”

Or maybe you go to your favorite restaurant and see someone you know and they say, “Hey, did you hear about Thelma.  She’s getting divorced.”

"Oh really,” someone else will say.

"Oh yes, let me tell you all about it.”

Or -- "did you hear about the accident at the intersection? Did you hear about the award my grandson received?  Did you hear about that new book everyone is reading?  Let me tell you about it."

We share all sorts of news with each other. We don't do it by doing crazy things. We don't buy television time or shout it at strangers on the street corners. We just share it with our friends.

We can share the Good News the same way.

“Come with me to Grace Covenant Presbyterian Church.  We’ve got a great preacher this week – our usual preacher is on vacation.”

Or …

“Come with me to church.  We have a new Sunday School class for adults and I want to go, but I don’t want to go alone, so come with me.”

“Come to Grace Covenant.  It’s good for the soul.”

Reason #3 for not wanting to volunteer to do invite people to come to church…is because of the danger of it being so futile. Let's say, for example, that you ask people to come to church. And no one comes. Then you ask others, but they don't come. So ask still others, and still no one comes.

Evangelism is a frustrating experience. It is like beating your head against a brick wall sometimes.

Or, like our New Testament lesson, fishing.

Simon Peter and his gang have gone across the street to the bait shop, then they hit the beach and started fishing.  They’ve been out on the water all night long and have caught nothing. Jesus comes along and tells them to give it another try. And they do. I think they do it because they are humoring him, so they can pull up empty lines and say, “You see, nothing.  Let’s go home and get some sleep.”

But they catch so many, that the story almost sounds like a fish story. Catching so many fish, the boat is in danger of sinking!

And that is the way it is with evangelism. You can plug away at it over and over and over and over. Then one day, you have some results. And when you have results at evangelism, you have the greatest productivity in the world. Like casting out your net and catching an unbelievable amount of fish -- even one soul salvaged through your efforts becomes a memorable experience.

Reason #4 as to why a person might not want to become a volunteer evangelist is because of a sense of unworthiness.

You are sharing the Good News about Christ. You are telling people about God. And you are telling this to people who know you. And who know what you have done and who you've done it with.

For several years after I became a minister, I believe my father delighted telling people who he knew that his son had become a minister. Not so much because he was proud to have a minister in the family, but because he delighted in the reactions that he would get when he'd say, "You remember my son Maynard. He's a minister now."

"THAT boy? A minister? HIM?"

They know a little boy who, shall I say, had a mischievous streak. They know a teenager who, shall I say, had a taste for adventure. And they find it difficult to picture that same person just a little older, now preaching the Gospel.  Because they know all the things I used to do.

Same thing with you. People look at you and they know your shortcomings. WHO are YOU to share the Good News with ME. You aren't worthy.

And of course they are right.

We can ridicule Jimmy Swaggart.  You remember him?  He had the gall to preach the Gospel. He talked about God's plan for families. Then he went out and got caught in a motel room taking pictures of a prostitute. He asked for forgiveness, continued to preach, and then got caught with another prostitute.

     Some people would call that hypocrisy.  And probably rightfully so.

          But you know, we best be careful. Because like it or not, Jimmy Swaggart is a brother in Christ. He had his short comings and failings to temptations, just as all of us do. He just had more colorful shortcomings than most of us, more public notoriety.

A common tread in both our Old and New Testament lessons is the awareness that one has of his or her own sinfulness when face to face with God.

In the Old Testament, the prophet says, "In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord. He was sitting on his throne, high and exalted, and his robe filled the whole Temple...and I said, "There is no hope for me! I am doomed because every word that passes my lips is sinful, and I live among a people whose every word is sinful. And yet, with my own eyes I have seen the King, the Lord Almighty."

Then, the prophet goes on to describe a great thing. An angel comes to him and says, "Your guilt is taken away, your sin is atoned for.”

A similar thing happens in the New Testament lesson when Simon is confronted with Jesus and the miraculous catch of fish. He tells Jesus, "Go away from me
Lord! I am a sinful man."

Christ's response is, "don't be afraid. From now on you'll be catching people," referring to their souls.

In both cases, the individual becomes acutely aware of his sinfulness and confesses that sin. But for both Isaiah and Simon Peter, the sin is forgiven and the person is told to go and share the Good News. To go out and be a messenger. To go out fishing for the souls of others.

So our shortcomings should not be a good reason for us to keep from becoming volunteer evangelists for God.

There really is no reason-- valid reason--for us not to volunteer with enthusiasm for sharing the message of salvation with others.

I need a volunteer.

There is a parade of souls marching on. There's a fellow at work whose wife died last year and he has spent recent months grieving without comfort. There is a woman down the street who feels the burden of guilt for a lifetime of mistakes. There is young person in our schools. He's never attended church. Who will invite him?

The parade is already on. The souls are marching down through time. When are we going to volunteer?

Copyright 2013, Dr. Maynard Pittendreigh
All rights reserved.