Beautiful Lives (1), August 30th 2020.
Twelfth Sunday after Trinity
1 Peter 3:1-16, Luke 10:25-37.
Father, in these coming minutes, give us the gift of your Holy Spirit, pour your heart for your world into us, teach and equip us to be witnesses of your good news. Amen.
Peter the apostle, after 30 or so years of ministry, wrote to Christians scattered across what is modern day Turkey, as they faced suffering and lived among people, many of whom did not believe. He writes
‘may they be won over without words… when they see the purity and reverence of your lives. Let your beauty be your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle quiet spirit.’ (1 Peter 3:2-4).
Minucius Felix lived in the c2nd and 3rd centuries. He wrote about Church Life in Rome He said: ‘Beauty of life causes strangers to join our ranks. We do not talk about great things; we live them.’’
The values we seek to have at the heart of All Saints are Up (worship and prayer), In (deep community and lifelong discipleship), Out. Out – evangelism and serving others. Over the next Sundays until end of September, we will focus on evangelism.
When you heard this word evangelism, what do you thnk? How do you feel?
Does it make you feel inadequate – I’m no good at it, never was.
Does it make you feel excited?
Some people are called as evangelists, all of us are called to evangelise – to share the good news of the Christian faith with a needy world.
The aim, through these sermons is that we are helped by making evangelism seem much more possible than it probably feels right now!
At the end of Matthew, Mark and Luke, and the start of Acts, we see the Father heart of God revealed – as Jesus shares his desire – for the Good news to be shared, to all sorts, all ages, all backgrounds, all nationalities. In John’s gospel, John shares his reason for his events from Jesus life: ‘’These are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, and by believing you may have life in his name.’’
So a question. I want us to imagine that we have a choice. Imagine that we can choose that five years from now – the church – or the group we are part of – will be exactly as it is now, except that everyone is five years older. Apart from this, we will still be doing much the same things with much the same people.
Alternatively, we can choose that the church will become twice the size it is now and that the new people are all newcomers to the faith and have been introduced to Christ through our efforts.
Which of these options will we choose? And why?
Usually we would love to see our church double in size? Who wouldn’t.
A second question: What might it cost us, to achieve this? Are there any drawbacks?
God’s plan is that his Church should grow. If that is what he wants, if we co-operate with him, rely on his resources, then there will be fruit from our evangelism.
He gave the commissions to his followers wanting the church to grow. And grow it did. Remember, Christianity began with Jesus – at the beginning there was only him. Yet since then the Christian faith has been expanding and expanding – in fact the biggest period of expansion since the days of the early church, was the c20th.
Who were the first to respond to Jesus and why?. John 1:35-2:11. There is Andrew and an unnamed disciple probably John, who were disciples of John the Baptist. There was Philip and Nathanael. Then after the wedding of Cana, the group of disciples believed.
Why did they respond? Andrew and John heard words. John the Baptist said: Look the Lamb of God. It says ‘they heard what John said and they followed Jesus. Immediately Andrew goes back, finds his brother Simon and tells him ‘We have found the Messiah’ and brings him to meet Jesus. Jesus declares his name will be Peter. Peter’s journey of faith is helped by his brother bringing him to meet Jesus. Jesus met with and spoke to Philip and he followed. Philip goes to Nathanael. Nathanael is cynical. Philip says ‘Come and see’ – he does, to his credit, and he meets Jesus and believes in him. At the wedding of Cana, God’s power is quietly expressed and the disciples believe. So people come to believe through a variety of means – words, direct encounters with Jesus, invitations to come and see, God’s power at work.
’’It had began with Andrew, Peter, the unnamed disciple, Philip, Nathanael, believed in Jesus and gave up everything to follow him. After that, the number of disciples grew. Soon there were 12 male disciples and a number of women as well. On one occasion Jesus sent out 70 of his disciples to spread his message. These earliest disciples went through many adventures, learning a lot, seeing a lot. Eventually they went through the terrible experience of the crucifixion and then they became the joyful witnesses of the resurrection. By the time of Acts 1:15, after Jesus ascension, there were 120 disciples meeting together. So it began with Jesus, three years later, there were 120 Christian disciples. From that beginning, the Church has grown and grown until today.’’ (Roger Morgan, Beautiful Lives,p.9).
This growth continued, as we briefly explore Acts.
Acts 1:8 – Jesus tells his disciples at his last physical appearance, that the Holy Spirit will come upon them and they will be his witnesses.
Acts 2:1-4 – Holy Spirit comes upon the disciples as Jesus promised.
2:22-24 – the disciples actively begin to witness to the gathered crowds as Jesus told them to.
Acts 2:41 – the 120 see 3000 people come to faith in Jesus on a single day.
Acts 2:42-46 a new community is formed in Jerusalem, filled by the Holy Spirit.
Acts 2:47 – people see the new community, its lifestyle, and also become believers
Acts 8:7 – church is established in neighbouring Samaria
Acts 11:19-21 – the good news – through the cause of persecution – has spread to other cities, including Antioch.
Acts 13:1-5 – Paul and Barnabas, are sent out, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, to take the gospel to the next unreached parts of the world – the gospel begins moving towards the ends of the earth.
So we have seen, beginning with Jesus, the gospel reached 120 people in 3 years, and we have now seen how this expanded to included thousands of people across many cities in the next few years. How does the expansion of the Christian faith end in Jesus eyes? Matthew 24:14 – ‘’Gospel preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations – then the end will come.’’ Evangelism is to continue until there are disciples in every part of the world.
So this is God’s plan. His heart for the world he loves. We are part of his plan, everyone one of us. At every stage in the past 2000 years, some Christians have done nothing about evangelism while other Christians have done all that they can to share their faith – in word and action – with others. Those who worked at it, have found God at work with them, he has always been with them. We are ourselves Christians because of their efforts. Imagine if the message about Jesus had stayed in the Middle East, nobody took it further…
Go and Stay.
Matthew 28 Jesus, as we heard, said ‘go!’ The disciples are to go to new places, take the gospel to new people, and eventually the call to follow Jesus will be taken to every nation and people and tribe on earth. The gospel came to our lands, including the Netherlands, as people, like Willibrord, Boniface etc went…
However, consider Luke 8:38-39. A man demonized by demons. He is set free. It says ‘the man begged Jesus to go with him’ but Jesus sent him away saying: ‘’Return home and tell how much God has done for you.’’ So the man went away and told all over the town how much Jesus had done for him.’’
There is a term: go evangelism. When Jesus calls someone to leave their home and go to another place in order to evangelise the people there – it may be for a few weeks, years, or longer term. That was part of my Christian story, called by God, to leave UK and work in evangelism and discipleship among young people with a Hungarian church in Budapest.
There is another phrase. ‘Stay Evangelism’. When Jesus does not call a person to go anywhere, but rather asks them to stay and witness to the people at home, those around them. Like the man set free from demons.
Question: Who was the person who most influenced you to become a Christian?
What happened? Was it their words? Or was it something special about the person?
Did you ever thank them?
Finally did this crucial person come to you from another place, or was it somewhere from where you lived?
Most people in All Saints, and likely in your church, has come to faith through stay evangelism, than go evangelism. These Sundays we are focused on being trained as stay evangelists – stay evangelism is the method God uses the most.
Two examples of these types. Colossians 1. Epaphras. He was a go evangelism person – he went to Colossae to bring the message of the Gospel. The Colossians responded to the message about Jesus and a new church community was formed.
In 1 Peter 3, the wives were the people of good news. They were stay evangelism people. They would win their husbands for Christ by the way they live, it was their behavior that spoke. A behavior anointed by the Hly Spirit, as effectively as Epaphras’ words had been.
Peter, says the way the people lived, it is beautiful lives that win others. Other times, people ask us, we witness by our words. That is one of the challenge of stay evangelism – to learn how to live a beautiful life in the power of the Holy Spirit. A beautiful life is a powerful witness.
In His Strength
However. Whoever tries to do evangelism – go evangelism or stay evangelism – in their own wisdom, understanding, strength, will fail. That was never the plan of God. When Jesus appointed his disciples to be witnesses, he said the Holy Spirit would come upon them. As Jesus ministry began after his anointing with the Spirit at his baptism, the disciples were to be filled, equipped, anointed too.
To what kind of person is the Spirit given? Well the Holy Spirit resides in each believer. Paul reminds us in Ephesians 5, that we should also seek to be filled and go on being filled with the Spirit. Who can ask for a fresh reception of the Spirit? Jesus said: ‘’How much more will the Father in heaven give his Holy Spirit to those who ask him.’ Anyone can ask. And when the Spirit comes, Paul reminds us, among his workings, our lives become more beautiful. Galatians 5:22-23 – ‘But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control.’’
As we turn from other things – repentance – and put our hope and trust in Jesus – belief – and when we do that and ask the Holy Sprit to be given to us, he will come and fill our lives afresh., Then our lives will begin to change – perhaps quickly or slowly – love, joy, peace, and all the fruits of the Spirit will grow within our hearts and become evident in our lives. Our evangelism, faith sharing, is to be done in his strength.
Each Sunday we want to give practical ideas and help. The first lesson of effective evangelism is love. We cannot evangelise, share our faith with others, unless we first learn to love people.
To show us what love looked like – Jesus told the story of the Good Samaritan.
You can say the difference between the Levite, the Priest and the Good Samaritan is seen in v33. ‘And he saw him, he took pity on him.’ Our plan in the coming week is to have pity for each person we meet. The word ‘pity’ means ‘sympathy’. Inspired by his teaching, we want to treat each person we meet each day in the coming week, as a person of great importance, in fact as someone as important to us as ourselves. How to do this. We begin our day praying to God asking him to fill you with his love as you prepare to meet new people – online, in person, in passing – on the day ahead. We want to go through our day as slowly as possible, so we have time to notice the people around us and to respond sympathetically to them.
The level of involvement we can have with people will vary a great deal from person to person. But try to treat each person as being important to you, because each one is important to God. People matter to God – let them matter to you more than they have ever mattered before. They mattered so much he came and died for them.
Give your absolute attention to each person across your path this week. Some people you will notice as you pass them in the street. You look at their faces, wonder what life is like for them, and pray for them. There is no opportunity to speak.
With other people, you will have an opportunity to smile or to say something polite, such as thank you or hello. It is important to do these things well.
With other people, it will be possible to stop and have a conversation. Often we have that conversation because it is someone you know, or it may be the situation is an easy way to start a conversation. The purpose of the conversation – to encourage the other person and send them on their way lifted by what you said to them.
With some people this conversation may turn into a heart to heart. You ask them how they are, they share not just facts, but opinions and feelings about how they are how is life for them at this time.
In some cases, you will find, as the Good Samaritan found, that there is something for you to do. There is some way to put yourself out to meet the need in the other person, or at least offer to do so. At the start of the next day, you pray for the people you met yesterday and ask again for God to fill you with his love, to ask him to help you notice, to slow down.
Father’s heart is for growth of his church and spread of the good news. The Church grew over the centuries. Much was due to ‘go evangelism’, but also right from the start, stay evangelism had impact. For many of us, like the man Jesus spoke to, he calls us to stay, to share how much God has done for us with those we know around us. We aren’t all called to be evangelists. But all called to share our faith, to do the work of an evangelist. But the plan has always been – in his power and strength, his very presence within us, his Holy Spirit. He has a plan, and he walks with us as he wants us to play our part in this plan.
Shall we pray?
Lord Jesus, thank you for the gift of life you have given me.
From today I commit myself to making a new start. I am sometimes tempted to trust in myself or in other things, but I promise that from today I will try to trust you for all the big issues in my life. I know I have not always lived as I should and sometimes I get my priorities all wrong. I want to become the person you made me to be. I want to turn away from anything that is wrong, and today I promise to try to make you the most important thing in my life.
Lord, I commit myself today to love and serve you by giving time to developing my relationship with you, and by the way I live among other people. Please Lord, fill me with your Holy Spirit, so that I may display your presence by the way I live. May your love flow from me to every person I meet. May my heart shine because it is filled with your joy and your peace. May I be gentle, patient, kind and good. May I learn faithfulness , reliability and self control, so that my choices are Christ like, in Jesus name. Amen.