Recently, I’ve been reading Unbinding the Gospel by Martha Grace Reese. Very early on in the book Pastor Reese makes a statement that struck me as being so incredibly profound, while at the same time being a sad commentary on the state of the mainline Christian Churches. She writes, “I couldn’t believe—I STILL can’t believe—how the liberal church that knows so much about God’s grace doesn’t understand the power of what it has to share. And they don’t share it!”
I wrote in the margin, “Is it true? Are we—we who are so blessed to be filled with God’s Grace—are we so uncomfortable in that Grace that we truly fail to share the Good News with others?” Notice I didn’t ask, “Are we so comfortable in that Grace?” I asked, “Are we so UNcomfortable in that Grace?”
It is by God’s grace that we are saved; that we are justified before God. As I’ve said so many times before, our justification—our salvation—has nothing at all to do with any work that we might do; it is all because of God’s grace. Shouldn’t we be shouting that from the rooftops? Shouldn’t we be telling everyone? Shouldn’t we at least share that Good News on a regular basis with everyone we know and meet?
Unfortunately I have to agree that Pastor Reese is probably right. Many times—and I pray that it is not most of the time—but many times we do fail to share the Good News with others. And I have to think it’s because it somehow makes us UNcomfortable. Think about it. How often do you—do we—find ourselves in a situation where we might witness to the blessings we have received from God . . . but we remain quiet? As I read Pastor Reese’s book, I wondered why this is true, and found as I read that she opened up the reasons for our behavior in ways that I had never before really seen expressed so clearly—and perhaps so bluntly.
Although her book is written for all Christians, I found myself writing in the margins time and time again—”that is so true of Lutherans.” Then I read what I believe is a statement that summarizes much of what I believe Christians in 21st Century America need to take to heart. Listen to what Pastor Reese writes in the Section titled “How’s Your Church Doing?” This is what she writes:
“Most mainline Christians have little fear of Hell, but a horror of being embarrassed or looking obnoxious. Dismantling the barriers for most mainline Christians involves serious thinking, talking and praying about our relationships with Christ. If we are going to share faith, we need to know why we think it matters that we, or anyone else, are Christian.”
So . . . why DOES it matter to you that you are a Christian? Why does it matter to you that anyone else is a Christian? Does it matter? Have you ever really thought about it?
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“For you, brothers, were called for freedom.
Only don’t use your freedom for gain to the flesh,
but through love be servants to one another.
For the whole law is fulfilled in one word, in this:
‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself'” (Galatians 5:13-14).
If we truly love our neighbors, shouldn’t we be telling them the Good News—sharing the Gospel with them? I know, I know; some would ask, “Why do we need to tell people about the Good News? Don’t most people already know the Gospel story?” You would think so wouldn’t you? But the reality is very different. Many people do not have the basic foundational knowledge of our Christian faith that you might expect them to have. Why? Because there is a whole generation out there that has basically been un-churched for their entire lives.
Consider this, in the weeks immediately following December 7, 1941—the attack on Pearl Harbor—church attendance soared throughout this nation. Why? Because those who were not regular church attendees knew that they could go back to church to receive comfort in God’s word and from the community of believers. Yet in the weeks following 9/11, no such surge in attendance occurred. Again, why? Primarily because many of the people who could have benefitted most from the comfort of God’s word and from the community of believers—had never in their lives been inside a church previously. Historically, during bad economic times, church attendance increases . . . but not this time. A whole generation of people has grown up not hearing the good news.
If we truly love our neighbors, we would tell them the Good News . . . show them that in Christ there is not only salvation—there is hope. We have this wonderful, incredible news to share and witness to, but we often remain silent.
But before we can understand why it matters that others are Christian, we need to understand why it matters that we ourselves are Christian. Pastor Reese asked people why it was important for them to be Christian, and I think the reasons she heard can serve as examples for us. Here are some of the response she received:
• A relationship with Christ makes life make sense.
• Being in a church community gives you a way to serve others and keep growing.
• I used to be so afraid—with my church and with God, I’m learning to trust.
• As a Christian you’re part of something important that lasts forever.
• I used to feel so guilty about things I had done. Christ has forgiven me, and my church friends love me. I want to help others now.
• Life with the Spirit is exciting.
Did you hear those words? People who come to God find that life makes sense. They learn to trust, they’re part of something that lasts forever, they know they’re forgiven, they feel loved, they find life exciting, and they want to help others. There is no downside there! Everything is so positive! We need to share those feelings!
But we can’t do it on our own. In the very last verse—the 25th verse—of today’s 2nd lesson from the 5th Chapter of Paul’s letter to the Galatians, Paul writes, ” If we live by the Spirit, let’s also walk by the Spirit” (Galatians 5:25).
“Let’s be guided by the Spirit!” How are we guided by the Spirit?
We are guided when we pray. So, today, I’m challenging you—all of you—all of us—to work on our prayer lives. A few weeks ago, I said to you that I am confident that St. Paul’s is being called to a ministry in this community, and that God is gradually revealing what we are being called to do. But the revelation of God’s plan for this congregation will only be revealed if we open ourselves to his word—through prayer. Through prayer we gain understanding not only of what God wants of us, but also of why this relationship with Christ matters so much. And once we understand that, it will become oh so apparent why it matters so much that others have the same relationship. Then—then we can be about God’s work.
On my wall in my office I have hung four prayers that mean so much to me. I have the Lord’s Prayer, Martin Luther’s Morning Prayer, Martin Luther’s Evening Prayer, and I have the Prayer of St. Patrick. I want to end today with this beautiful prayer that St. Patrick wrote. It’s a prayer that speaks of total confidence in the presence, wisdom, and strength of God. Let us pray:
I arise today
Through the strength of heaven;
Light of the sun,
Splendor of fire,
Speed of lightning,
Swiftness of the wind,
Depth of the sea,
Stability of the earth,
Firmness of the rock.
I arise today
Through God’s strength to pilot me;
God’s might to uphold me,
God’s wisdom to guide me,
God’s eye to look before me,
God’s ear to hear me,
God’s word to speak for me,
God’s hand to guard me,
God’s way to lie before me,
God’s shield to protect me,
God’s hosts to save me
Afar and anear,
Alone or in a multitude.
Christ shield me today
Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me,
Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ on my right, Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down,
Christ in the heart of everyone who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,
Christ in the eye that sees me,
Christ in the ear that hears me.
I arise today
Through the mighty strength
Of the Lord of creation.
May the peace of God which passes all understanding, keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus so that we might share the Good News with our neighbors. Amen.
Scripture quotations from the World English Bible
Copyright 2010, Daniel W. Brettell. Used by permission.