5 Pentecost proper 5B
Rev. D. K. Schroeder (adapted)
3 John 5-8; 1 Peter 2:9-10 Sermon
July 5, 2009
Hymns (from The Service Book and Hymnal):
521 "God Of Our Fathers, Whose Almighty Hand"
360 "My Country 'Tis Of Thee"
346 "O Beautiful For Spacious Skies"
356 "Mine Eyes Have Seen The Glory Of The Coming Of The Lord"
EVANGELISM: WORKING TOGETHER TO SHARE THE WORD
TEXT: "Dear friend, you are faithful in what you are doing for the brothers, even though they are strangers to you. They have told the church about your love. You will do well to send them on their way in a manner worthy of God. It was for the sake of the Name that they went out, receiving no help from the pagans. We ought therefore to show hospitality to such men so that we may work together for the truth."
"You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light."
Evangelism...all somebody needs to do is just mention that word, and some people get uneasy. Oh brother...somebody is going to ask me to go knocking on doors...somebody is going to ask me to beat my friends over the head with a Bible and tell them they're going to hell...somebody is going to make me do something I don't want to do. People have become so uncomfortable with the mere thought of evangelism, that they would almost rather join another church or even become a heathen than have to wrestle with the concept of evangelism.
Evangelism is one of those big words we use in the church. We use it all the time, and we even have an evangelism committee in our church. Unfortunately, many people wrestle with a lot of faulty ideas and half-truths when it comes to actually defining the word.
Maybe a little Greek lesson will help us get a better understanding. If I divide the word "Evangelism" up a little bit, you may have a clearer picture of its meaning. The first two letters tip us off right away. The first two letters, E-V are really the Greek letters E-U. Those same letters are used in words like "euthanasia" and "eulogy" and they simply mean "good." "Euthanasia" means "good death." "Eulogy" means "good word." Evangelism means "good" angelism.
Wait a minute. Do you recognize another word in there? That's right, the word is "angel." And what does "angel" mean? An angel is someone who brings a message, or someone who is a messenger. There we have it, then. The meaning of "evangelism" is "good message." And if we take this still a bit further, the Greek word "euangellion" is the word we translate into English as "Gospel." And so when we put this all together, we can see that we have the Gospel, which is a good message, and we want to share that good message with people who don't know it.
The apostle John was intent upon sharing that good message in the early Christian church. He regularly trained and sent out "evangelists" to bring that message to different cities and provinces in southwest Asia. They shared that message and established congregations, who in turn sent out evangelists of their own.
One congregation was led by a man named Gaius, to whom John wrote the words of our text for today. Gaius was a strong and faithful worker for the Lord, and John commended him for his service to the church. There was one problem, however--there was a conflict in his congregation. A man by the name of Diotrephes was stirring up trouble because of his own selfish agenda. He was causing a lack of harmony which hindered the church there from sharing the Gospel--the good message. So John had to encourage Gaius, and asked him to take special care of the evangelists coming from another congregation. Listen to the words of our text once more: "Dear friend, you are faithful in what you are doing for the brothers, even though they are strangers to you. They have told the church about your love. You will do well to send them on their way in a manner worthy of God. It was for the sake of the Name that they went out, receiving no help from the pagans. We ought therefore to show hospitality to such men so that we may work together for the truth."
So we see the purpose of the apostle John in writing this short epistle. He wanted to bring harmony back to the church where Gaius and Diotrephes were, so that the good message could continue to be shared; so that the congregation there could work together to share the entire Word of God, focusing upon the Gospel message of Jesus Christ.
Working together. That's the key isn't it? Working together. Rather than each person taking an interest in his or her own needs and wishes, everyone joins together and unites in one common purpose and goal.
If you have ever taken a moment to watch a flock of geese fly overhead in a "V" shape, you have witnessed one of the greatest results of working together. Scientists have actually discovered why they fly that way.
It has been learned that as each bird flaps its wings, it creates an uplift for the bird immediately following. By flying in this "V" formation, the whole flock adds at least 71 percent greater flying range than if each bird flew on its own.
When we share a common goal and direction, we can get where we are going a whole lot easier by relying on others to help lift us up as we work together. Because of the uplift provided by this flying formation of geese, whenever a goose falls out of formation, it suddenly feels the drag of trying to go it alone and quickly falls back in line. If we have as much sense as a goose, we will stay with those who are headed the same direction we are and work together.
Now think of that poor old lead goose; doesn't he get tired? Yes, but when he can't lead anymore he simply rotates to the back and another goose takes the lead. It pays to take turns doing the hard jobs, doesn't it, whether we are members of Mighty Fortress Evangelical Lutheran Church or geese flying south.
Scientists have also noted that geese honk from behind to encourage those up front to keep up the speed. The lesson we can learn from this, is that it is important to encourage each other in the work of the Gospel.
Finally, when a goose gets sick or is wounded or falls out, two geese always fall out of formation and follow him to the ground to help and protect him. They stay with him until he is able to fly again. In a similar sense, we must always be willing to come to the aid of those amongst us who need our help. Sometimes it may seem difficult or awkward; but we need to remember that people need to know that we care, and they need to hear it from us as individuals.
Working together. That's the key, isn't it? Certainly if geese have enough sense to know that it works every time for them, we'll have enough sense to know that it will work for us, and that we need to follow through.
So each and every one of us need to work together as an harmonious unti as we spread the good message and share the Word of God. Let us do so first of all by walking together in its truth! The apostle John commended Gaius for walking in the truth in the verses preceding our text. 3 John 3 says, "It gave me great joy to have some brothers come and tell about your faithfulness to the truth and how you continue to walk in the truth."
We can walk in a lot of different things, can't we? If we walk in the rain we get wet. If we walk in the mud we get dirty. If we walk in dark we bump our shins. What happens when we walk in the truth? Jesus gives us the answer in John chapter 8 verses 31b-32: "If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free."
First of all, we walk in the truth by holding to God's holy, inspired, and inerrant Word, and therefore the teachings of Jesus as his disciples. Now, a disciple is someone who learns by following. It is a presumed fact, then, that the only way we can hold to God's Word and the teachings of Jesus is to know what they are. And the only way we can know what they are is to learn about them. And the only way we can learn about them is to follow Jesus. And the only way we can follow Jesus, since we are not living in Bible times, is to get into God's Word. Working together to share the Word means that we gather together to study the Word. In that way, we walk in the truth, because we will know and hold onto the teachings of Jesus. And when we walk in the truth, we are better able to carry out Jesus' command to share the Gospel--to share the good message.
There's nothing more precious and fulfilling than absolute truth, is there? To be able to read or hear something and say without one speck of a doubt, "That is absolute truth--period." No questions. No discussion. No options. Just the plain truth.
There's no where else we find the absolute truth, but in the firm and unchanging Word of God recorded for us in the Bible. God does not lie. God does not go back on a promise. God does not contradict himself. God is truth. God's Word is truth.
When God says that the universe was created in six actual days, we know it's the truth, and we believe it. When God says that the world was destroyed by a flood, it's the truth, and we believe it. When God says Jesus was born of a virgin and physically rose from the dead, it's the truth, and we believe it. When God says that he really should curse us and send us to everlasting hell because we've sinned against him, but he cursed his Son Jesus instead and therefore we're forgiven, we believe it. When God promises that he will take direct responsibility to work out any unfortunate circumstances in our own lives for our own good, it's the truth, and we believe it. When God calls us by name and claims us as his dear children who he will take to heaven, it's the truth, and we believe it. When God gives us the true body and blood of his Son Jesus in the Lord's Supper as a real assurance that Jesus died for our sins, it's the truth, and we believe it.
As we are working together to share the Word, we need to see the prime importance to study its teachings and walk in its truth. Only then will we be able to testify together to its good message of the Gospel.
A story has been told of a man driving on a lonely road one summer day. He saw a car with a flat tire pulled over on the side of the road. A woman was standing next to the car with a jack and a lug wrench in her hands, and looking down in dismay at the flat tire. So the man decided to pull over and lend her a helping hand. The beads of sweat quickly started to pour down his face as he changed the tire, and his hands were caked with dirt and grime.
The woman watched him carefully; and when he was finished said, "Be sure and let the jack down easily now. My husband is sleeping in the back seat."
Some people say that a normal statistic in the church is that 10% of the people do 90% of the work. Some people say that in the church there are those who accept responsibility for what needs to be done, and those who would just as well avoid responsibility. Some people say that church members think it's the pastor's job to "run" the congregation and carry out the gospel work.
That's not the way things happen here at Mighty Fortress. I would say that at Mighty Fortress, we are all working together to share the Word, and evangelism is a team effort. Evangelism at Mighty Fortress is accomplished and supported by each one of us.
As I look at our congregation, and as I think about the things we have accomplished, I can certainly be thankful that we have this pool of talented and gifted people here. We work together in our mission and ministry here at Mighty Fortress. And thankfully we have a good vision of what we all need to do to make things work.
I need only to think of what has been happening this past week. We hosted the Majesty team and had them in concert at the band shell this past Wednesday. Just yesterday we served over 200 people in our "lunch for a buck" fundraiser for the Blue Valley food pantry. In our congregation, it is virtually impossible to find someone who isn't involved in one way or another in carrying out our gospel work.
In our congregation, I believe that 100% of us are doing the work. I believe that we have a congregation of people who accept responsibility rather than avoiding it. I think we have developed a "get-'er-done" attitude, like Larry the Cable Guy would say. We have dedicated individuals who believe that ministry isn't just the Pastor's job, but it is something we do together as a team. Certainly we need to work together as the various tasks dictate, and we faithfully contribute funds so we can meet our budget; but we must never forget how much is accomplished by bringing the cause of our ministry to the throne of grace in prayer. Remember the words recorded in the Epistle of James, chapter 5 verse 16b: "The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man (or woman) availeth much."
Doing ministry together. That, my friends, is the work of God. That is none other than the Holy Spirit guiding us in a joyful response to our Saviour Jesus Christ and his forgiving love for your soul. That is the message of God's Word taking a firm root in your heart and producing fruit that lasts forever. That is the arsenal of spiritual talents you have been given to help you accomplish the work of the gospel among us. That is all to the glory of God. He is great! And he makes us great through his Son Jesus!
The Apostle Paul, when writing to the church at Thessalonica describes their work in the ministry of the Gospel in very glowing terms. In 1 Thessalonians chapter 1 verse 3 we read: "I continually remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ." I would pray that Paul would say the same thing about Mighty Fortress in Seward, Nebraska.
Now, as we continue to humbly serve our Saviour together and offer our time, talents and treasure, there is always need for improvement. As dedicated as we are, we are still sinful human beings living in a sinful world. We are confronted with this sin each and every day.
That's why this Gospel of Jesus Christ, this "good message" is so important to us. When Satan tries to drive us to despair because of our faults and failures, the Holy Spirit directs us to the cross of Jesus Christ our Saviour. The forgiveness and peace we find there is the very heart and core of our ministry. Our focus is upon Jesus Christ and the gift of forgiveness and eternal life that he has brought to this world.
When it comes to our Gospel ministry as a congregation, remember to take it to the Lord in prayer. Ask him to use you as he sees best in humble service for the work of the gospel among us. Don't wait to be asked. Take every opportunity you can to offer Jesus your hands and hearts and voices and lives. Above all, be faithful in studying God's Word and in encouraging one another in our works of service. It's all for the sake of the good message--the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and to the glory of God.
We are working together to share the Word. There is no responsibility on earth that is more important and more urgent. God's Word contains the precious promises of sinners saved by the blood of Jesus. God's Word contains daily guidance for the Christian. God's Word is the answer to all our problems. May we take it to heart and make it our responsibility to share it with our community and the world.
Evangelism. It's one of those big words. But it's not so big that we can't accomplish it together!