Sunday, January 19, 2020

The season of Epiphany that time in the church year after Christmas and before lent is the church’s time to invite folks to “come and see” who this one born in a manger will be. It’s an opportunity to “come and see” and discover what this one born to a young refugee in first century Palestine might mean for us and for the world.

Today’s gospel tells us that Jesus is the “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world,” “the Son of God,” and “the Messiah.” These appellations show us that the coming of Jesus has meaning not just for those who follow him, but for all people and all the world. 

In the gospel, neither John nor Andrew can contain their testimony about who Jesus is. They have had an encounter with Christ that has had such an impact on their lives that they cannot help but tell others about it. John tells his disciples and everyone else within earshot about Jesus. Andrew runs to find his brother, Peter, and brings him to Jesus so that Peter might have the same life-changing encounter he himself has experienced.

We are invited to “come and see” who Jesus is. We are reminded that God’s forgiveness and love proclaimed in Jesus Christ is meant to be good news for us and for all people. As we encounter Christ, our lives are changed. Like John and Andrew in today’s gospel, we are called to share with others who we have seen Jesus to be.

Today following worship we’ll have a chance as a congregation to witness to what God has been able to do through us this past year.  We’ll share the news of worship services, fellowship events, and outreach ministries.  But it will take eyes of faith for us to see Christ, the Son of God, peaking through those experiences.  It will take eyes of faith for us to identify the source of those events and experiences as a congregation are due to meeting Jesus, the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.  So often our eyes of faith can become dull, distracted, dimmed by the world’s worries and sins cares.

That’s why I think our founding fathers and mothers of our church said “Let’s make it a requirement in our constitution to at least once a year take a look at what we’re doing. Are we proclaiming Christ to a lost and hurting world?  Are we honoring Jesus the lamb of God?  If the answer is “Yes,” then let’s celebrate that.  If the answer is I’m not sure or not so much, then let’s confess that and ask God for guidance in correcting that.”

One of the catchy slogans of our larger nation church body, Lutheran Congregation’s in Mission for Christ, is “A first century church for a Twenty-first century.”  That’s not to say we are so technologically backwards we’re back in the first century.  It means we want to reflect that first century church when the gospel of Jesus was so fresh and new it spread like wildfire despite the efforts of powerful people and governments to stop it.  The good news of God among that first century church was so powerful it could not be contained.

The idea of God’s love being undeserved and free was amazing for those laboring under the idea of God is simply a wrathful vengeful God just waiting to catch you in a screw up to put the screws to you. No this was a new idea about God.  God wasn’t remote uncaring but God in Jesus was willing to experience the problems, the pitfalls, the personal hurts and injuries that come with life.  Jesus was a lamb and Lord.  Jesus, able to lay down his life for us.  Jesus was Lord, so powerful that even death could not hold him.  Into this world of judgement and sin, came Jesus and his message of salvation through God’s love on the cross.  And it was so transformative that folks that took it to heart could not keep their mouth shut.  They had to tell others, invite others, and show others God’s love.

I sometimes fear that we’ve lost touch with those first century Christians.  We’ve come to think of church in twentyfirst century terms of being a corporation for the business for our Lord, rather than an outpost for the in breaking Kingdom of God found in Christ Jesus.  One way thinks of putting our relationship with God as something normal for day to day.  The later thinks of our relationship with Jesus as something so transformative it changes life as we know it.

One of the things we’ll share at our congregational meeting is some of the preliminary results of the survey we invited folks to fill out last November.  We were only able to quickly summarize the easy responses of rate things from “1 to 5” or answer “Yes or No” and that gives us some good information.  Give us a little more time and we’ll be able to compile and analyze the more intricate essay answers where many of you gave great feedback.

But I’d like to give a sneak peek of what I’ve seen folks say to the question what’s the major reason or reasons you attend Greenford Lutheran.  I have to tell you I was worried.  I remembered a presentation by an expert in church conflict, Peter Stienke.  Peter travels the country as a consultant that helps churches in conflict to work to solve that conflict and become healthy once again.  He was telling how one church, a very successful huge church I think located in Toledo had brought him in because they were such conflict they’d chewed up and spit out four consecutive pastors within a four year time span.  Their attendance was draining, and so now was their finances and they wondered what they could do to correct their course.

Peter and the congregation did a survey and got a great number of responses.  After taking time to analyze the data Peter reported to the congregational leadership.  The problem Peter explained was evident in the responses as to the reason for being church at this spot in Toledo.  The vast majority of the congregation believed to be a good church you needed a good music program, good youth program, and good preacher. If you didn’t have that you were not a good church.  The leadership looked at each other and responded “What’s wrong with that?” Peter said if you don’t know, I can’t tell you.

If you haven’t figured out what Peter was saying the basic problem this mega church had, the reason they had so much turnover and conflict was their reason for being church wasn’t first and foremost the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. You can have a good preacher who speaks with enthusiasm, entertains with stories but isn’t centered on Christ, and that’s not good.  You can have a good music program, that wows with skill, and impresses with their precision and beautiful notes but if it isn’t an expression of glory to the long awaited Messiah, its not good.  If you have a good youth program that brings kids off the streets, provides a safe spot to gather and a great place to play but doesn’t proclaim a God of love, it isn’t good.

Getting back to that slogan “A first century church for the twenty-first century” the first century church didn’t have a church with beautiful music to invite people to.  It didn’t have a well-developed youth program or Sunday School hour to invite people to.  It often didn’t even have well trained and excellent speakers to invite people to listen to.  Often it was simply a house church, where friends and neighbors were invited to study God’s word, and share in prayer and praise to God and finish with a simple meal of forgiveness and fellowship all centered on the lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world.

That first century church didn’t have all those patented twenty first century reasons to invite people to church- no great buildings, no wonderful preachers, no elaborate youth ministries, no excellent music programs- just simply Jesus and people in love and transformed by Jesus.  Do you know where the Christian church is growing fastest in the globe right now? Where its being persecuted- The two places, according to Voice of the Martyrs, the church is growing the fastest is in China and Iran!  What do they have to offer people?  Certainly not cushy pews and not a cushy life… but they do offer Christ Jesus, the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.

I was pleased that in quickly reading through the essay answers to what’s the reason folks attend Greenford Lutheran many said something different from the twenty-first century definition of church. It wasn’t a majority but a significant number stayed away from simply listing music, programs, preacher.  You actually talked about the reason for being here is God, your faith in God through Christ Jesus.  The love of God in Christ Jesus that you find through the worship experiences, the people, and yes even the programs and preacher.  But I’m so glad we’re so close to having “first things first” here at Greenford.  It means Jesus is in our midst! It means were close to being a “First century church for a twenty first century.”  In a myriad of ways and we can say to others in our community who don’t know Jesus “Come and See Jesus with me at Greenford Lutheran.”  Let us continue to be true to our mission so that its not just a saying on the front of our bulletin- we are folks who want "to know Christ and make Christ known."  Go in peace to love and serve the Lord.