Tag: sharing faith

Something needs to be said 

Sermon, Augsburg Confession Day
June 28th, 2020, St Petri 

AC V and Isaiah 55:10-11 

6 Seek the Lord while he may be found;
    call on him while he is near.
7 Let the wicked forsake their ways
    and the unrighteous their thoughts.
Let them turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on them,
    and to our God, for he will freely pardon. 

8 ‘For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
    neither are your ways my ways,’
declares the Lord.
9 ‘As the heavens are higher than the earth,
    so are my ways higher than your ways
    and my thoughts than your thoughts.
10 As the rain and the snow
    come down from heaven,
and do not return to it
    without watering the earth
and making it bud and flourish,
    so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater,
11 so is my word that goes out from my mouth:
    it will not return to me empty,
but will accomplish what I desire
    and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.

Augsburg Confession, Part V:  The Office of the Ministry

1 To obtain such faith God instituted the office of the ministry, that is, provided the Gospel and the sacraments. 

2 Through these, as through means, he gives the Holy Spirit, who works faith, when and where he pleases, in those who hear the Gospel. 

3 And the Gospel teaches that we have a gracious God, not by our own merits but by the merit of Christ, when we believe this. 

4 Condemned are the Anabaptists and others who teach that the Holy Spirit comes to us through our own preparations, thoughts, and works without the external word of the Gospel. 

 

Sometimes something needs to be said about what you believe. You find yourself in situations where you just know that people are either looking to you as the nearest representative of the Christian Faith to say something on an issue or about how God sees things, or, you feel  in your conscience that you need to offer a word of truth into a conversation. 

I suspect you might get this kind of invitation now and again. You just sort of get to fill in a pregnant pause in the conversation or you just get a direct question from a person about God kind of things. That is the moment on offer from the Holy Spirit to speak God’s words of hope and truth so that his Word can do its work and never return to him empty, as Isaiah says.  

Problem is we seem to break out in a sweat, get very nervous, and try and switch the subject as quickly as possible! Why so? 

I guess that is because we know from the word, history and from experience that saying something about God and who he is an how he works can cost us – friends, family members, colleagues, status, even livelihood and maybe in extreme situations – our life. 

As a result of this fear of saying something when needed, someone suggested that  

“In the midst of a generation screaming for answers, Christians are stuttering” (Howard Henricks). 

The deeper issue is lack of faithWe struggle to believe Isaiah – that when God speaks, things happen. God’s word is like the rain. It falls to the ground and life grows. It does not return to the sky before achieving the purposes for which it fell.  

We struggle with that. I think we believe that we have to get it all right or never get anything wrong or that we have to be some bible expert to be able to be the rain of peace for a thirsty hearted person 

I have learnt that don’t need to be an expert in anything much when it comes to saying something about faith and God and hope when the moment allows.  

I have learnt that whatever I can say is a Holy Spirit moment. He is always at work in people and I get to join in with what He is already doing. The pressure on me is off me, and the joy is joining in with him in the moment. 

I have learnt that there are two things that help me more freely take the opportunity the Spirit often gives to say something when needed and appropriate; 

  1. Hope I have: I speak of the hope that is in me as a result of the relationship I have with Jesus 
  2. I speak of what I know, not what I don’t: I speak what I remember of Jesus’ words – his actions, his stories, his parables, his sayings. 

don’t need to be scared of getting it wrong or failing at being some bible expert.  

I do need to simply trust Isaiah when he says that God’s word does what it says and I get to be the mouth through which he speaks that word and does his things in a person and in me.  

So, I speak of my hope, as Peter says; 

Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect…. (1 Peter 3:15) 

And I speak of what the Spirit has already planted in me – those parables, those sayings, those actions, those stories from the whole Bible that have been poured into me by the Sprit. Use them! 

And I do need to actually use words, not only actions.  

I know it has been a good thing that we have believed that ‘actions speak louder than words’ and so, that we serve and give and help as witness to the good news in us. Of course, ‘faith without any works is dead’, as James says (James 2:20).  

On the other hand, we are to use words – God’s words, as we participate with the Spirit to ‘make disciples by teaching and baptisingWords are the means by which faith is born. We need to do AND SPEAK and the two matchSaying something is important. It is how church is born, how faith comes to a person, how faith stays with us.  

We are here because someone said something, and in a big way.  

On June 25th, 1530, in the southern German city of Augsburg, the newly gathered ‘gospel centred’ (evangelical) community forming from within the Catholic church said something about who they had become.  

The tone of the Augsburg Confession is quite invitational. It is not speaking stuff about some new extremist cult rising up. Neither are we.  

It is founded faithfully on the bible and the three great universal creeds (Athanasian, Nicene and Apostle’s Creed). This is the faith of ALL Christians. So is our faith here.   

Its gift is that it is centred around that golden light at the heart of our relationships with God– we have peace with God only by God’s gracious act of love in Jesus Christ, only received by faith in Jesus by the power of the Spirit working through the Word. May this be us forever! 

We are speaking in ways we have never spoken before at the moment. We are now speaking digitally to a very large audience. We can’t know exactly who is listening and we may never know many of the people listening, but people are listening.   

We can know some of the people now listening to God’s Word through us in two ways 

  1. We can share what is being said with others. 
  2. We can talk about what is being said with others. 

We are sharing what God is saying through digital means. I hear stories of DVD’s going all over the place – from to the neighbour over the back fence to friends interstate by post! I see people forwarding on emails and Facebook and You Tube links…. Let’s keep sharing because God’s word does things in people – people we may never know, but he does.  

We are talking about what God is saying through us. I hear stories of so called ‘chance meetings and conversations’ at the CoOp or at school or at the coffee shop or at home with people who you are surprised to discover are listening to us. 

It seems right and good for us to keep speaking in this new digital space that has been opened up in this COVID time.  

We are trying to figure out how we can continue to say something of God’s grace, as those Reformers did in their day by public confession of their hope and understanding of God and by the newly invented printing press 

We have a new ‘printing press’. It is called the internet! We should find ways to use it for God’s Word to rain down into people’s hearts. 

Our front door is now very large. There are listening people and God is speaking into their lives and doing what he intends – to speak truth, to confront sin, to invite repentance, to forgive and restore, to create new life and new love or us all until he finally completes all things in his way and his time.  

Of course, our exciting challenge now, is to participate with the Holy Spirit in helping the many people listening at the front door into the kitchen and even give them rights to go to the fridge and find a snack. 

The Lord is calling us to offer contact and community and belonging in our homes and in these streets; to turn at least some of the largely unknown listening community into a real, person-to-person community of faith, hope and love in Jesus.  

We need to say something. We don’t need to be perfect or to be an expert. We simply need to trust Isaiah – that the Word the Spirit sends do their work as we speak them.  

Long may you be spoken to by the Lord as he gives you hope for these times and long may we use our words with our actions to speak his words so they fall and life grows here.  

Inside Out

Sermon, Ascension Day, Sunday May 25, 2014.Pantor Crator
St Petri

Inside Out

Luke 24:44-53
44 Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.” 45 Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, 46 and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things. 49 And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.” 50 Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and, lifting up his hands, he blessed them. 51 While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven. 52 And they worshiped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy; 53 and they were continually in the temple blessing God.

And Acts 17: 16-34
22 Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: “People of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. 23 For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD. So you are ignorant of the very thing you worship—and this is what I am going to proclaim to you.
24 “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. 25 And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else. 26 From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. 27 God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. 28 ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’[b] As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’[c]
29 “Therefore since we are God’s offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone—an image made by human design and skill. 30 In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. 31 For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead.”
32 When they heard about the resurrection of the dead, some of them sneered, but others said, “We want to hear you again on this subject.” 33 At that, Paul left the Council. 34 Some of the people became followers of Paul and believed. Among them was Dionysius, a member of the Areopagus, also a woman named Damaris, and a number of others.

If I wanted to make a group of Christians feel totally inadequate, scared, confused and guilty I would only have to use one word and the job would most times be done.

Now I don’t want t make anyone here feel like that! But this text from the Gospel of Luke and the Book of Acts raises the word that has this effect. What’s the word? ……..Witnessing!

Yes, there it is: “Witnessing to others”: Bearing witness to the gospel among other people who don’t believe in Jesus. Fulfilling the great commission of Jesus to preach the gospel to all the world….

If there is one area of the Christian life that we know we need to do but struggle so much to have any freedom in and joy in it seems to be this one.

We hear this great commissioning text and shudder in our boots a bit because we hear as being a challenge that seems totally dependent on us!

“….that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things…”.

When I think of “witnessing” I think of “Mission” and then i think of THE great missionary, Paul.

I think of him boldly showing us how it is to be done as he mixes it with the Greek philosophers at the Areopagus in Athens in Acts 17! The model of witnessing?!

Paul does have demonstrate the courage to stand up in public and launch the case for the Christian faith right in one of the leading cities of the world, and in the leading place of that city! Can you feel your flimsy witnessing courage ebbing away already?!

Is this where the guilt and the fear come from when it comes to our calling to bear witness to the gospel among people we know? Are we scared because know we are not Paul and guilty because we just don’t say anything much as a result?

Or is it that we, unlike Paul, just have no confidence to say much about our hope? Here Paul is using the rhetorical skills of the day to provide a strong case for repenting before God and receiving God’s forgiveness in the resurrected Jesus. Are we all meant to be able to do that? Is that why we just find witnessing so scary and something to suffered at best – if we ever pluck up the courage to say anything?

Or is because we are just scared messing it up? We have had a go with family members and we just end up in a bad place. It seems to turn into an argument and no one enjoys it and we feel like we have failed. So we have put the witnessing thing back in the box and left it there for the Paul’s of the world, or the pastors or the church staff or anyone but me!

I found some good news on this recently.

I heard someone say that the whole thing of witnessing to others need have no fear for us at all and that in our culture, in our time, there are ways to approach it and actually do it that are quite natural and actually quite easy. Even in this Ascension moment when Jesus commissions us he gives the good news that this work is his from start to finish
• “These are my words that I spoke to you”
• “to be proclaimed in his name”
• “clothed with power from on high.”
• “lifting up his hands, he blessed them”

I heard someone say that the whole thing of witnessing to others need have no fear for us at all and that in our culture, in our time, there are ways to approach it and actually do it that are quite natural and actually quite easy.

See, the gospel will sound different in every different situation and with every different person. And that is because the gospel of Jesus’ forgiveness is not some set text or formula that you just have to slavishly work into any conversation to achieve your goal of witnessing!

As an example….., on a few occasions in my life a friend has dared me to cleverly find some way of saying a weird word in a conversation with someone (stranger or friend) – just for fun. So the dare is, “I dare you to use the word ‘perfunctory’ (or some such other hardly used word) in a conversation with say “a taxi driver”.

So you jump in the taxi together. You have the word in your head and the conversation is going on and your friend who dared you to do this is keeping the score and you get nervous and your don’t know how to use the word and your scared of confusing the person or offending them (It could be his Indian grandmother’s name or something!)….

And now we are in the space we might find ourselves in if we thought that witnessing was using some set formula that we have to cleverly slip into to a conversation to pat ourselves on the back that we have won Jesus’ dare.

Well, Paul does not do that. The gospel comes out uniquely here because he is in a unique situation and he listens to the situation first.

In the particular situation he finds himself, he responds to the call of Jesus to bear witness for THAT situation. Here he uses all his awareness of the city and the people to invite people into the good news of the “unknown god”, whom he names as the righteous man whom God the creator has raised from the dead to give assurance of his love for the world to all (Acts 17;30-31).

Paul has a story, a nationality, a time and he has skills. He is steeped in the academic rigour of his day. He has rhetorical skills that fit this crowd. He uses them accordingly. I doubt whether Peter could have done this in this place. He has another background. Put Peter on the shore line with beefy blokes sharing a BBQ ad talking fishing and he could speak of faith in Jesus that would bear fruit. Then Paul would be out of his depth.

The good news comes out differently all the time.

OK. So this morning if can you accept that;
• You don’t have to be anyone else or
• You don’t have to use the magic word perfectly or set formula
• You don’t need to speak like someone else

Can you also just for a minute at least allow that
• You are free in your baptism into Christ to be yourself,
• Listen carefully and notice the other person,
• and when invited or when appropriate give YOUR account of the hope that is in you?

If so, then we might be able go a little further and can hear about a way to do this in much more natural ways, free from guilt or fear, express the “reason for your hope”.

“Inside Out” is the name for the way to be yourself, share your faith whenever and with whoever is appropriate.

Start from the ordinary things we already have inside of us to share then move on to those heavenly things of God with the person outside us – “inside out”.

Conversations about ordinary things and everyday concerns using Jesus own words for the moment is bearing witness inside out. His words are inside our hearts and minds and they simple come out for the moment as they are brought to mind by the Holy Spirit in that moment.

Jesus spoke about wheat and vines and water and business people and church buildings, and the like.

And we can do it like this…

You are chatting in the street with a person you know who is telling you about a really difficult situation they are having with their grown-up daughter. She is off the rails and this person is worried and a little bit angry and just wanting the daughter to come back home and talk about it.

What Jesus stories are in your mind now? I know which one comes to my mind straight away: the story about the prodigal sons – especially the young son.

How would it be that you simple said that this situation reminds me of a story Jesus told about a Father who also lost his wayward son….. Tell it your way how you remember it in whatever time you have.

And here is the best thing about this “inside out” way of bearing witness. You really don’t need to say anymore.

You might be tempted to go on and try and make all those links you know: God is our Father and he accepts us all and welcomes us back and calls us to do this for others and etc, etc…OR NOT.

What if you just related a story of Jesus or of any Bible story if it fits the conversation and trusted the Holy Spirit to make all the links for that person in his time and way?

I reckon we can trust the Holy Spirit to do that.
After all, doesn’t Jesus tell us that the Holy Spirit is the Director of mission?

‘Peace be with you. As the Father sent me so I send you. …Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any they are forgiven” (John 20:21-23).

When Jesus sends out the 70 to the places he intended to soon go, he encouraged them to “pray to the Lord of the Harvest to send workers into His harvest. (Luke 10). This conversation and the story and you are the Lord’s right there and then.

The Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said. Peace I leave with you….” (John 14)

Is witnessing less scary now and less about you knowing how to say thing right, and less about getting it right, having all your questions and answers right?

Isn’t it more about conversations about ordinary things and everyday concerns using Jesus own words for the moment? I reckon so and I am trying it. It is much easier and I am not so scared anymore.

Trusting the Holy Spirit is in our conversations and our simple talking about everyday things and concerns and offering the story of Jesus we know already that seems to match our Areopagus, our town square, our Valley, our skills and understandings and our century.

And one more freeing thing I notice with Paul and with ourselves….

If while you are talking to your friend in the street and nothing comes to mind, no story of Jesus appears, or his lift arrives and he has to go or you sense that the time is not right, you can stop it right there. Leave it to the Holy Spirit for another time.

Right at the end we hear this:

32 When they heard about the resurrection of the dead, some of them sneered, but others said, “We want to hear you again on this subject.”

And that is always the way. This is the Holy Spirits work. We hand our conversations to him and ask him to help us recall Jesus and tell of him when and where we can, but he has the final say.
Amen

 

CONVERSATION STARTERS

Read the texts out loud in some way carefully, noting what questions come to mind and what makes your mind wander into thought…

Share you initial reactions to the Word for a short time…

What makes you scared or intimidated with the action of witnessing? Make a list together…..

Share a bad experience of witnessing to Jesus and a good one.

What makes us tentative about sharing our faith? Which one is more a concern for you:

  • Don’t know what to say about Jesus
  • Scared of a negative response
  • Might lose a friendship
  • Might say something wrong – tell the person a wrong thing about God
  • Might say something wrong – something that offends the person.

Are you convinced that it is your responsibility to bear witness in words (and actions) or is this something you are unsure of?

Talk about people’s responses and experiences…

 

I suggested that this task Jesus gave his people (his church) is his work and that there is a way to bear witness to the hope we share in Jesus’ forgiveness and peace that fits our culture. I called it “Inside Out”. The letting what you already know – particularly the stories you know of Jesus and simply relating them in your own words to fit the situation as it presents itself – So moving from what God has already placed inside you to letting that outside of you in conversation.

I also suggested that telling of Jesus and the stories that reveal who he is and what he has done for people in OUR OWN words is certainly good enough. Ho to do feel about this idea? What would it require of you to engage in more often/ Share your thoughts….

Paul is the great model of mission mindedness and that is great, but we are not Paul. But we can do what Paul did to begin the conversation about God’s grace and the hope we have in his Son. he watched and listened to the people and the town and their idols and values and simply told of God’s creating all things and giving of his Son and raising him from the grave so that all could live at peace with the God of the universe. Is this something you think you could do for a friend as the opportunity comes – in your own words and way – why/why not?

I said we are free to be ourselves in this and if the conversation does not have time to develop or we just cant think of a Jesus story or whatever, that is OK because this is the Holy Spirit’s work and he is the “Director of Mission”. However, I guess it does mean that we need to know stories of Jesus and be able to share the hope we have in him. That’s our “homework” and yet, it is still the Holy Spirit’s work from beginning to end.

Would you think of a person with whom you are in a relationship now who is searching for help or advice or even faith and with their situation in ind, try and think of a bible story that relates to their situation and ponder how you might go about simple speak about that story as a gentle and friendly way of bearing witness to Jesus’ hope with that person. Take a few minutes individually and then share your thoughts.

 

PRAY

Lord of the Church, help us to bear witness to you in the ordinary things of life and the stories of your Word as we are able and as you decide so that more people move from worshiping unknown gods to knowing and loving Jesus. Amen.