The Proclaimers

Sunday,  June 12, 2016, 11 AM, UBC Digby

J G White (Mark 16:9-20; Galatians 1:11-24)

Scottish Pop duo “The Proclaimers” had a big hit in 1993, ‘I’m Gonna Be.’ But I would walk five hundred miles

And I would walk five hundred more

Just to be the man who walked a thousand miles

To fall down at your door

In Christianity, the Spirit calls His people to be ‘proclaimers,’ proclaimers of the Good News.  Jesus commissioned His disciples, saying, Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation. (Mark 16:15) Paul testified to the young churches of Galatia, God… was pleased to reveal his Son in me so that I might preach him… (1:15-16)

So, where is our preaching?  How is our proclaiming going?  So, you would walk five hundred miles?

And you would walk five hundred more

Just to be the one who walked a thousand miles

To preach Christ at some door?

Knocking on the doors of acquaintances or strangers is not going to be our best evangelistic method; and we often think we need to start with The Gospel as Facts and Plans.  

Baptists and other evangelical Christians through the past century or more have seemed to be giving out facts and truth, and a plan of action a person must take if they accept the facts about God. The Gospel in five important steps.

Scripture like ‘the Romans Road’ is used:

 Romans 3:10 There is no one who is righteous, not even one;

Romans 3:23 since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God;

Romans 5:8 But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.

Romans 6:23 For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Romans 10:9-10  because if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved.

Romans 10:13 For, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”

This has undoubtedly helped many a person into saving Faith in Christ.  But one could just as easily build a strange series of proof-texts and claim it to be the gospel of Jesus.   It would be Biblical, after all. How about this?

Genesis 3:4-5 The serpent led Eve and Adam astray, and they fall from grace.

Genesis 3:15 God curses the serpent, and says, I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will strike your head, and you will strike his heel. Ah, there is the promise of a Saviour who will conquer the evil one.  Jesus will strike Satan’s head!  

Now, words of Jesus Himself:

John 3:14-16  And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.  16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.

(And, saved believers will also conquer snakes:)

Mark 16:17-18  And these signs will accompany those who believe: …they will pick up snakes in their hands, and if they drink any deadly thing, it will not hurt them…”

A snakey Gospel?!  Maybe this scripture method would help reach a few people who work in the reptile show or a zoo, but I’m not recommending it.  I just want to make the point that anyone can concoct a series of scriptures for whatever purpose one has – good or bad.  You know as well as I that strange things get proclaimed in the name of the Gospel all the time.  And what this Good News really is gets confused pretty quickly.

I must give credit to Canadian Ralph Milton for this next bit…  (Sermon Seasonings, 1997, p. 154)

Jeff: Step right up folks, salvation in a bottle.  Save your eternal soul.  $9.99, plus tax, of course.

Peter: What do you mean?  You can’t save my soul for $9.99. You can’t sell God’s grace in a bottle.

Jeff: Of course I can.  What is God’s grace except feeling good?  When you’re feeling good, you know God likes you. When you’re not feeling good, you know God hates you.  For $9.99 my bottled salvation will keep you feeling good.

Peter: You mean I don’t have to do anything?  No loving my neighbour?  No giving to help the poor?  No caring for justice?

Jeff: Justice, shmustice.  You look after yourself, let the others look after themselves.  Salvation is just between you and God.  God helps those who help themselves.  Take home a bottle of salvation, you’ll feel good about everything, you’ll be set for this life.

Peter: What about the next life?

Jeff: No problem.  Jeffrey’s bottled salvation will grease the skids right into heaven for you.  If you feel good here, you’re bound to feel good in the hereafter.

Peter: Do you take credit cards?

Jeff: Absolutely.  Feel good now, pray later.

Well, we have not had evangelistic campaigns lately, and may feel we are failing.  We have not got organized to go door to door in our neighbourhoods with Gospel tracts in hand to give out.  We have not stood on street corners singing with signs in hand and preaching Good News.  

But this is OK.  Our usual methods are likely far better – friendship, inviting people alongside, going slow-and-steady.

We must remember too that The Gospel is a Story.  

Tell me the stories of Jesus I love to hear;

Things I would ask Him to tell me if He were here:

(William H. Parker)

The stories about Jesus – and the stories He told – are simply transformative.  People are changed, the Holy Spirit reaches the heart and soul, when stories are told.  

[Then] Jesus said, “God’s kingdom is like seed thrown on a field by a man who then goes to bed and forgets about it. The seed sprouts and grows—he has no idea how it happens. The earth does it all without his help: first a green stem of grass, then a bud, then the ripened grain. When the grain is fully formed, he reaps—harvest time!

“How can we picture God’s kingdom? What kind of story can we use? It’s like a pine nut. When it lands on the ground it is quite small as seeds go, yet once it is planted it grows into a huge pine tree with thick branches. Eagles nest in it.”

With many stories like these, he presented his message to them, fitting the stories to their experience and maturity. He was never without a story when he spoke. When he was alone with his disciples, he went over everything, sorting out the tangles, untying the knots. (Mark 4: 26-34 – The Message)

I remember a lecture last August at Kingswood University, in which Paul Borden suggested to preachers that we plan our sermons not with an outline, but with a plot.  The sermon as a story. I must order the book he recommended, The Homiletical Plot.  (Eugene L. Lowry, 2000)

The power of storytelling is great, and I wish I had cultivated more of this myself by now.  Yet, I’m only halfway through my preaching career, so there is time.  

Not all believers are cut out to be preachers: called to be preachers.  But even most non-preachers get to proclaim good news.  Do not forget The Gospel as Testimony / as Witness.  This is telling your own story.  Relating your experience.  Saying what you have seen.  Paul said of the gospel, I did not receive it from a human source, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ. (Gal 1:12)

Paul famously had his ‘Damascus road’ experience.  You and I have our own stories to tell. Our experiences with God.

What did I see?  As a child, I saw the warm welcome of adults at a Church in Middleton.  From my parents I leaned a pattern of prayer each evening when I went to bed.  I learned the stories of Jesus, of Paul, of Daniel and Jonah and Adam and Eve, or Joseph and his brothers.  I like the lessons, I liked the music, I liked the people of the Church.

I saw that faith was for all ages, and was all about Jesus.  The one who lived, and died, and lived again.  The one who taught.  The Son of the Creator God who gave us this beautiful world to live in, with all its fascinating details.  

Sometime – maybe when I was ten years old or so? – I thought to myself, ‘I’m following Jesus, but I am supposed to pray a prayer to confess and to receive Him.”  So, after reading something or other in the Bible – one of the stories about Moses, as I recall – I prayed alone in my room, ‘just in case’ I still needed to do that.

Several years later I almost felt embarrassed finally to be baptized – at long last, I thought – at the ripe old age of 14 ½.  I remember that moment of making that commitment, publically confessing my faith through a watery action.  I was baptized inside the church building, along with my mother and a number of others, by our Pastor, Don Robertson.  And the presence of God seems close and clear.

I have many other stories.  And so do you.  May the Good News be proclaimed through our lessons, through the stories of scripture, and through our life stories.  We also are the Proclaimers.  Jesus saves!  AMEN.

Glacial Gospel

Sunday,  June 5, 2016, 11 AM, UBC Digby

J G White (Isaiah 55:1-2, 6-8; Galatians 1:1-12)

I stood on a glacier once… the Athabasca glacier in Alberta.  Likely some of you have done the same.  Seen and touched a giant river of ice, creeping down from the high mountains. And we’ve read stories of the perilous journeys explorers made upon the incredible icefields around the globe.

Galatians’ is a name for a little letter in the Bible, and refers to the people of a region bordering the Mediterranean Ocean.  Some early Churches were formed in the towns there. I play on this word, and preach a Glacial Gospel this morning, using a text from the book of Galatians. Not that this message is slow and barely moving, nor deadly cold and chilling, nor very old and shrinking. The Christian Gospel is huge and relentless and unstoppable.  

When a church service was over, a visitor in the pews asked: “Do you preach the whole Gospel?”

The preacher replied: “Not every Sunday.”

In a book about the Gospel, written by a friend of mine, the preface says: You see, while the gospel is so simple that a child can understand it, it is also so complex that a theologian can study it all his life and never fully plumb its depths. (Sean Crowe in the gospel & giving answer, Grant Fawcett, 2014, p. 7)

I plan for us to explore this New Testament text – the Book of Galatians – for several weeks.  At issue here is how Christians go astray with the gospel.  We may see what happened to them, and what the Apostle Paul does to set them on the right track again.  In our day, we can discover the ways we are on the right track with Jesus’ Good News, or not.

There are plenty of ways we go astray – as believers.  I don’t even mean how we humans go astray when we are not saved.  After we have joined Christ we still get disjointed!

This past week I ran into some of you, and was told more than once, “We missed you.”  I was away for four days, last weekend, including Sunday morning and evening.  Thank-you for your fond words of welcome and appreciation.  But now I wonder, do the rest of you experience this?  Or am I favoured? If you were away from here last Sunday, from your pew, would anyone fawn all over you, telling you how much your absence was noticed, and how good it is to have you back?  

There is such danger in a local church being too focused upon the Pastor, being too ‘pastor centric,’ I call it.  Sunday mornings and weekday activities depend upon the Pastor, and what he or she leads.  People invite friends to services saying good things about the Pastor, or about the music, or the Pastor’s good music, instead of saying good things about the Saviour.  

I for one easily fall into this habit of clinging to a gospel of good times, rather than of Christ, and Him crucified.  I want hymns and music I like. I evaluate the preaching, and prayers, and scripture reading.  I start to believe that my congregation is just right when it is stable, happy, and peaceful, with no conflict.  Some brave preacher said this about churches being stable: Stable?  Corpses are stable!

Turning to a ‘different gospel’ can be a matter of turning to comfort, looking for prosperity, seeking to get what we want from God, and God’s Church.  And if we don’t get it, there is another congregation just down the road where we might get what we want.  

I think I saw this Facebook post the other day: “Share and God will take care of all your bills.”  The Good News of Christ is gigantic and blessed, but I don’t think it is financial magic for middle-class Canadians.  A ‘gospel’ that is all blessings and prosperity for us is not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.

In his letter to the Galatian Christians, Paul starts off not with the customary prayer for the recipients, but with this!

6 I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— 7 not that there is another gospel, but there are some who are confusing you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ.  

The Gospel of Jesus Christ also gets watered down by grasping at one or two elements of it, and making that the whole thing. But the Good News is glacial, as I say, it is gigantic and through history is always on the move.  

The message of salvation we have to share is not simply believe in Jesus if you want to go to heaven when you die.  

My friend, Grant, is a missionary of sorts, working from a Christian Camp on Grand Lake, NB.  A couple years ago he had this experience:  …I had a teenager tell me she had “become a Christian” every summer for nine summers at bible [sic] camp, but she couldn’t tell me the first thing about the gospel other than she “prayed the prayer” every year. (Grant Fawcett, the gospel & giving answer, 2014, p. 45)  To know what is right and true about the Good News of Jesus – and how to be saved – we start to notice the ways we go astray: the false teachings and false conversions.  

Then again, as some have claimed, bank tellers do not study counterfeit in order to pick it out.  They study real currency, in detail – the paper and fibers and inks and holograms and such – and then a counterfeit is easily noticed when it comes along. So too in our faith.  As we know our Saviour better and better through the years, and study the Word of truth, what is false shows up more easily before our eyes.

As Paul begins his scathing letter to the churches in Galatia, his words of greeting point out some essentials of the gospel.  The gospel which, we will see, was such an issue for these new Christians.  They’d gotten mixed up about it.

To the churches in Galatia: Grace to you and peace from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins…  

That tiny word, so burdened with meaning and feeling: SIN – it reminds us what we know so well.  All is not well in this life.  There is wrong.  There is evil.  There is hurt and harm.  There is pain.  There is failure.  There is unfairness.

All this – the whole constellation of what’s wrong in the world – is handled by God in Christ, dying by execution.  …to deliver us from the present evil age…  Paul says.  To be set free where we are, even in the middle of things, is possible, by God’s amazing actions.  

In my bare feet the other day I stood on a hornet; so, naturally, it stung me.  If I had stood on a whole bees nest, you would have seen my flying fast!  But a beekeeper, with know- how and proper equipment, can go among the bees and work in their hive with freedom.  

The Good News of Jesus is how we can be set free in this evil, unfair world.  While we are still here. We enter the heavenly, eternal Kingdom Life now.  We can take steps farther into it, week by week.

And Paul says this is …According to the will of our God and Father; to whom be the glory for ever and ever.  The whole Gospel starts with God, actually.  To talk about the Good News is to talk, first of all, about who this God is.  

So, we will continue to explore this, with Paul’s challenging letter to the Galatians, Christians of long ago.  We shall hear our Master speak again, from these pages.

The Christian Gospel is huge and relentless and unstoppable.