August 12, 2012
I. On July 8, when you were meeting Pastor David, Sheila and Chris, Candy and I were in Midwest City, OK meeting the people of 1st Christian Church. When we walked into worship, no one had any idea who we were. We were greeted by a pleasant couple who engaged us in conversation. “Welcome. Good to see you today. Do you live in the area or are you visiting? How long will you be here? How did you find our church? Hope you will come back.” We giggled inside at our evasive answers, knowing we shouldn’t be making the announcement that the Search Committee had called me as interim pastor. As people from the Search Committee arrived for Sunday school, they greeted us and introduced us appropriately. Being an incognito guest in worship is an instructive experience.
A. Have you ever visited a church where you knew no one? We received a friendly welcome in Midwest City. A few times Candy and I have visited some well-known, larger churches on vacation. I would characterize our welcomes as cordial, institutional and informative. If you have been an unaccompanied worship guest, what did you look for? What did you notice? What did you expect? What did you experience? What did you feel? How did all of this match or not? Did you feel that you’d like to return? Why?
B. I know that Pastor David asked leaders to visit worship with other churches. If you haven’t done it yet, I suggest you pick a close by church with a service at the time you don’t worship here. Please don’t skip out on Emily or Glenn in the next couple of weeks. I don’t know everything Pastor David had in mind, but I doubt he wanted to spy on the competition. I expect wanted you to experience walking into unfamiliar territory so you could see through the eyes of worship guests. We know our way around; we know each other; we know what to expect. Appreciating someone else’s perspective is not easy. Yet, it is essential for growth.
II. What do you think someone notices the first time they come to worship with 1st Christian Church, Duncanville? I know people ask themselves, where do we go in and where is the best place to park? If they come in by the office, they notice a change in smell as they pass through the education wing hallway. They may feel they came into the sanctuary from the wrong end, especially if the service has already started. Despite our best efforts at welcoming people to the Lord’s Table, most people are not from Disciples of Christ background and may feel uncertain about participating.
A. This week a pastor friend circulated on the internet a list of nine questions church visitors are not asking. They probably make us both chuckle and squirm. I ask you to suppress your inclination to be defensive and just try to put yourself in the shoes of someone who has not been to church in a long time if ever but has decided to try it out. http://www.mattrosine.com/2012/08/nine-questions-church-visitors-arent.html?m=1
2. Can I get a longer bulletin – maybe something with more detail?
3. Will you please single me out in front of all the people during worship this morning?
4. Will you please send some "callers" by my house later and interrupt me while I fix dinner?
5. Can you please seat us in those uncomfortable pews with our fidgety kids and aging parents?
6. How quickly can I fill out a pledge card?
7. Does this church have weekly meetings, rehearsals and other activities that will consume most of our family's free time?
8. I need more paperwork! Can you give me a folder filled with glossy pamphlets, old newsletters and denominational statements of belief?
9. During the worship service, can someone with a monotone voice speak (at length) about all the insider church happenings and people's private health matters?
B. Perhaps some church veterans just moving into the community are looking for some of this, but people who are checking out church to see if it is for them are looking for something totally different.
1. Sometimes they are looking for help with a practical or personal problem. They want to get married. They just had a baby. They recently divorced. They just lost their job. They are facing a significant health challenge. A loved one just died. Something happened on their life journey by which the Holy Spirit is tugging them toward Jesus and the Church.
2. They are looking for authentic community – friendship and love they can trust. Sometimes they are reaching out of lonely isolation. Sometimes they are craving stable relationships in a hubbub of activity and superficial acquaintances.
3. They are looking to connect with God. They might not be able to describe it, but they are hungry for something a lot bigger than their current experience. As the Apostle Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 14:25, they come to church looking for some sign that God is really among us.
C. In order to introduce people to Jesus, we need to get in touch with what they are looking for, which might be different than our expectations. If a congregation thinks of themselves as “customers” expecting to be served by the staff, stagnation is certain. Growing congregations, on the other hand, see the people around them as “customers” and the people of the congregation as the “service staff.” Pastors and leaders train, organize and deploy the congregation to serve the “customers.”
III. The image of Jesus as the Bread of Life in John 6:35, suggests he gave himself away to be consumed and devoured. What may seem a comfortable, homey image to us evoked a strong reaction from some of Jesus’ audience in verses 41-51. His response to their offense startles with the drastic depth of his sacrificial service.
Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.
41Then the Jews began to complain about him because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.”42They were saying, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?”43Jesus answered them, “Do not complain among yourselves.44No one can come to me unless drawn by the Father who sent me; and I will raise that person up on the last day. 45It is written in the prophets, ‘And they shall all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me.46Not that anyone has seen the Father except the one who is from God; he has seen the Father. 47Very truly, I tell you, whoever believes has eternal life.48I am the bread of life.49Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. 50This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die.51I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”
A. Those who come to Jesus, the Bread of Life, are fully satisfied. They neither hunger nor thirst. Jesus as the Bread of Life is not literal physical food, but it is more than a metaphor. Jesus touches the deepest longings of all humans, and those who are vulnerable enough to bring their hunger and thirst to him are satisfied.
B. As we saw last week, feeding on Jesus is much more that becoming knowledgeable about him and believing facts about him. Feeding on Jesus is absorbing him. He nourishes the eternal life that he has already given to all who feed on him.
C. Jesus intended to shock his audience when he said that the bread that he would give for the life of the world was his flesh. He went even farther in the next paragraph and said that those who ate his flesh and drank his blood had eternal life. For Jews this went way beyond the “ick factor” offending every sensibility of diet purity. For Jesus, eternal life is about giving himself away totally for our benefit.
IV. Ephesians 4:25-5:2 is a detailed description of what it means to start eternal life now. It is to live for others with Jesus. This passage is not a list of noble ways to live an admirable life. It is not rules to follow or virtues to cultivate. It illuminates the eternal life of living for others with Jesus.
A. In Matthew 20:28 and Mark 10:45, James and John had asked Jesus for the top spots in his kingdom, and the other disciples are offended. Jesus warns all the disciples not to be like the world’s leaders who like to elevate themselves. Instead whoever want to be great must serve. Then Jesus describes his own mission: to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.
B. Philippians 2:4 captures not only what Jesus was getting at but expresses it as the core of the present reality of eternal life. “Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.” The great theologian of the Confessing Church in Nazi Germany, Dietrich Bonhoeffer drew of this verse when he called Jesus “the man for others” in his Letter and Papers from Prison.
C. Open a Bible and take a look at Ephesians 4:25-5:2. Living for others is the theme that ties the whole passage together.
1. We are to speak the truth to our neighbors because we are members of one another. (v. 25)
2. The word for the devil (v. 27) is the accuser, recalling hasatan in Job 1-2 who attacks Job’s integrity. In Revelation 12:10 it is the “accuser of our comrades.” The work of the devil is to divide Christians and pit them against each other with slander.
3. Thieves are to work with their hands, not to support themselves, but to have something to give to the needy. (v. 28) The orientation is not to self but to others.
4. Our speech builds up others and gives grace to those who hear. (v. 29)
5. Our kindness to others extends to them the same forgiveness we have received from Christ. (v. 32) No room is left for grudges. To imitate God (5:1) is to forgive!
6. All of this rests on rests on Jesus who gave himself up for us. (5:2)
D. Maybe you’re thinking I wandered far away from trying to see the church from the perspective of worship guests. Theology is not only eminently practical, theology and practice are inseparably intertwined. You will experience that this fall as you begin to work and plan with Pastor David on how to introduce people to Jesus and welcome them into the life of the congregation. Instead of asking how you would like your building and campus to look, you’ll start asking, how can we make our facilities as inviting and guest friendly as possible? Instead of asking what programs would I like our church to offer, you’ll start asking, what can our church offer to address the needs and interest of the people outside of the church? Instead of asking what would I enjoy in worship, you’ll start asking, how can our worship be a sign to outsiders that God is really among us?