Monday, December 13, 2010

Tell What You Have Heard and Seen

As Christians we all share a responsibility to grow the kingdom of God.
There are other religions in the world that rely on national or familiar blood lines to continue growth.
But Christianity from its beginning has been about going out and telling the story of Jesus Christ.
Christianity has always been about spreading the Good News of Jesus Christ.
It started really with the shepherds that night in Bethlehem when Jesus was born.
What they heard and saw was so magnificent so awe inspiring that they left “glorifying and praising God” telling everyone what they had heard and seen.
Today the importance of telling what we know about Jesus is even more important.
No longer can we assume the culture we live in will tell the story for us.
No longer can we assume that the majority of people around us are Christian or know God in a personal way.
We have to tell what we have heard and seen.

“Go and tell John what you hear and see.”
This is the instruction that Jesus gives to John’s disciples who come and ask if Jesus is the Messiah.
And it could be Jesus instruction to us.
Have you ever been asked, “You don’t really believe all that stuff about God do you?”
I have been asked this question on more than one occasion in my life.
And the question that I want us to wrestle with this morning is what we are going to say when asked that question.
What will be your answer?

I think that there are many different ways to answer this question.
For some Christians the answer is to take a very aggressive approach.
To almost brow beat non Christians over the head with a lot of scripture about how they will go to hell.
I have experienced this many times and I have to say it makes me not want to be a Christian when I see it in action.
One time I was riding on the T in Boston with a friend of mine who happened to be Jewish.
This very nice looking young man sat next to her and said, “Do you know Jesus Christ as your savior?”
She then looked at me and said, “Jon help me.”
We switched seats and I started to talk to this young man.
I have to say it ended badly he told me that I was going to hell for not trying to convert my friend.
He got off at the next stop I told him as he left, “Well, I much rather be in hell then in heaven with you.”
At which time the other riders on the train started to clap.
Not my finest hour, but it really made me mad or sad that this is how someone was presenting the Christian life.
Hey get on board or God hates you….
I just can’t get on board with that kind of evangelism.

This kind of evangelism reminds me of the John the Baptist we read from last week’s Gospel.
John came warning people of the wrath to come if they did not repent.
He warned of being burned like the Chaff.
This was John’s expectation of what Jesus would be.

And this morning in our Gospel reading we have John wondering if Jesus is really the Messiah.
He is not acting in a way that John thought he would.
Where was the fire and brimstone, where was the condemning words, where was the militant stance against the Romans.
Instead we have Jesus wasting time with sinners, forgiving sins, preaching about blessings to the poor and outcast.

This leads me to another type of evangelism.
The type of evangelism where showing what we hear and see by what we do and who we are.
It is about living the Gospel instead of talking about it.
It is about helping the lame walk, the deaf hear, the lepers healed, and the poor.
It is about showing God’s love given in Jesus Christ through who we are as Christians.
It is not about condemning others for who they are but showing love to them.
This seems to be Jesus stance this morning.
Instead of saying, “yeah I am the Messiah look how great I am.” Jesus simply says that he is bringing the kingdom of God by doing what God would do.
And I think as Christians this is our calling.
Who do you think had a more positive impact on my Jewish friend the guy on the train condemning her to hell?
Or me the person who served with her in an inner city school in Dorchester?
Who showed her Christ through simply being himself?

All of us are called to tell what we have heard and seen in Jesus Christ.
And we have all heard and seen some miraculous things in our time as Christians.
We have seen sins forgiven.
We have seen the poor tended to.
We have seen strangers welcomed as friends.
We have heard of how our God takes us from the wilderness and makes ground springs of water flow.
We have heard how our God is one of everlasting joy and gladness.
We have seen the bereaved comforted.
Yes, those of us here can say that our God is good all the time.
We can join with the prophet Isaiah and say that we are strong and not fearful because we know that our God is here.
It is a call to share this with others.

Now there are times when words need to be used.
There are times when we have to say something about what God has done in our lives.
Perhaps us Lutherans have been too quiet about our faith.
There is that old joke: The only part of the Bible that Lutherans take literally is when Jesus ordered those who he healed to, “Go and tell no one.”

That same Jewish friend was having some difficult things happening in her life.
She asked me how my faith helped me in difficult times.
Then I needed to use words.
I had to use words to explain all the wonderful things that God had done for me.
How God had saved my life and given it purpose and direction.
How God was my constant friend and comforted as I faced difficult times.
Then I needed words.

Perhaps the message should be that at different times and different places we will use a variety of ways to express our faith.
At times we will be like Isaiah we will be the one calling for change in our world.
At times we will be like Jesus healing others, bringing hope, expressing joy, and caring for the poor.
At times we will be like shepherds praising and glorifying God for all the miraculous things God is doing in our lives.
Let us stay away from being too much like John the Baptist condemning others, passing judgment, and offering a God of small minded ultimatums.

So go and tell this day what you have heard and seen.
In this advent season when we are filled with the expectations of what God will do share your faith with others so that they may know the goodness of God.
Remember that God has done great things in our lives.
Let us go and tell what we hear and see.
The wilderness is filled with water, the lame walk, the deaf hear, the blind see, and the poor have good news brought to them.

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