Friday, November 17, 2017

Bringing People to the Lord (John 1:35-42) by Rev. Dr. Alan W. Deuel

In September of this year, Pat Payaso ran for an open seat on Boston's city council.  He felt he needed a gimmick for his campaign. Payaso donned a rainbow wig, a red nose, and clown makeup and decided to run as a clown.  He thought this would get people’s attention so they would listen to his message.

He showed up at a polling place dressed like a clown, talking and glad handing everyone.  He got their attention:  people were frightened, uncomfortable, nervous, they wouldn’t speak to him, they hugged their children close to their side, they turned and walked away.   Someone called the police who came out to check him out.  By the way, he wasn’t elected.

Payaso wasn't trying to scare anyone, he just wanted to find an unusual way to spread the word about his ideas for city government and garner some interest from potential voters.  Jesus commands us as His followers to spread the word.  But perhaps there are more effective ways to spread the good news, the gospel, than standing on a corner screaming at people or dressing up like a clown.

On this St. Andrew’s Sunday we recall our vision statement:  PBPC - People bringing people to Christ.  Today is about sharing our faith by word or deed or both.  Why?  Because Jesus’ disciple Andrew was known in Jesus’ day and has been celebrated by the church down through the centuries, as an evangelist.  Andrew was one of the 12 original disciples of Jesus.  He is Scotland’s patron saint and Protestant churches around the world celebrate his life in November of each year.

The soft, delicate, faint, whispering sound of the bagpipes sets the mood.   And we thank Charlie Rosenberger for playing today.  The names of families of Scottish heritage from our congregation are shown on the screens.  You see colorful tartans representing Scottish clans around you this morning.  Though I am not Scottish, I am wearing the official clergy tartan of Scotland, a gift from a member of another church I served.  A word to the wise; you never call someone of Scottish descent, Scotch, he’s scotch.  As a Scot told me, Scotch is something you drink, a Scot or Scottish is who you are.

We know from life experience that politics and religion are two subjects which many people try to avoid, and that is true for people we know well, like family members or close friends, especially if we disagree on these subjects, as well as acquaintances and strangers.   Roughly four-in-ten people today say they seldom or never discuss religion even with members of their immediate family.  So sharing or spreading the word is counter-intuitive.   But here we are.

Who was Andrew?   He was originally a disciple of John the Baptist.  But after he and another disciple met Jesus and spent the day with him, learning Jesus was the Messiah, Andrew became a follower of Jesus.  He was ardent about bringing people to Jesus.  Andrew’s heart burned with the desire for persons to encounter Jesus.

For instance, Andrew found a young boy, who had five loaves and two fish, and brought him to meet Jesus.  Jesus performed a miracle that day and fed 5,000 people.  Andrew invited some gentiles, Greeks, to go with him and he introduced them to Jesus.  But the incident, for which he is most remembered, happened after he and another disciple spent that day with Jesus, a day that changed their lives forever.  Andrew was so euphoric that he immediately set out to find his brother Simon Peter.  “Peter, we have found the Messiah.”  He brought Peter to Jesus, introduced him and the rest is history.

Tradition says that Andrew was crucified upside down, on a cross which looks like an X.  It is actually the Greek letter Chi, the first letter of the word Christ.  Andrew asked to die this way, because he felt unworthy to be crucified in the same manner as Jesus.  The cross is called the St. Andrew’s cross.

There are numerous ways to spread the word.  I spoke to a man about a year ago at a meeting at one of our Presbyterian churches here in SD Presbytery.  At the meeting, we were sitting in small groups at separate tables, sharing with each other about how we came to faith.  He said his family were non-believers and that he wasn’t raised in a Christian home.  He had never gone to church.  As an adult he was married, was raising a family and working.  But he said he had nagging questions about faith and God and religion. He had an interest but never pursed it.

Then one day his neighbor invited his family over for a barbeque.  They found that they worked in the same field and immediately hit it off.  They became friends.  One day, the neighbor asked him if he ever thought about spiritual or religious matters.  This man said: “Well, actually I do have some questions.”  Over time, they began to talk about spirituality, God and faith.  Then his neighbor invited him to a Bible study at their church.  He loved it and continued attending.  Eventually the man started coming to worship.   Long story short, this is the man I met who is an active member and leader in this Presbyterian Church.   God used his neighbor’s witness to reach him.  Though we sometimes think people don’t have spiritual questions or interests, you never know who may be interested in discussing spiritual issues and where it might lead to.

God is a seeking God, a reaching God, a loving God, and we know this because God sent Jesus Christ into the world.  God is searching for us before we even think about searching for him.    Know this, God is seeking after you.

Why does Jesus reach out to us?  Because of his deep and abiding love for us.   Because people are sinners and need a savior and forgiveness and power for living a new life.  Because God wants to rescue people who are lost.  Because God values human beings whom He created.  Because God wants people to know Him and enter into a personal relationship with Him.  Because God wants to reach people who are far from him and draw them near, he wants to change hard hearts into receptive hearts.  Because God wants people to worship Him rather than idols and serve His purposes in this world.  Because God desires to bring hope and light and joy and peace to us.  Because as scripture says: The wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life.  Witnessing is sharing the story of God’s forgiving love and how His love has affected, even transformed your life.

Today, we live in an increasingly diverse and divided culture.  People still search for the answers to age old questions – who am I, why am I here, what is my purpose, what happens after I die?   God, Christ, the Christian faith, is one of a number of answers to these questions.  As a Christian, I personally believe it is ultimately the best answer and the only answer.  Certainly many would disagree.

The gospel is God’s word of truth and power in the story of the birth, life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus, the Son of God.  This gospel brings freedom, forgiveness, healing and hope and the power of the Holy Spirit to all who receive it in faith.  1 Peter 3:15 says:  “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.”  This is our content.  “But do so with gentleness and respect.”  This is our style.

Your style of witnessing must be natural to you, for we are different and have different personalities.  Our style is as important as the content of our witness.   Jesus commands us to spread the word out of love, but he doesn’t tell us how.  It can range from talking to someone face to face, to writing a letter, or email, from inviting someone to church or Bible study, to inviting them to tea or a barbeque.

Lord, here I am, use me as your messenger.”  God wants to use you.  You never know how God will use your style of witnessing.   Rev. Rick Warren writes: “God has given you a life message to share.  When you became a believer, you also became God’s messenger.  God wants to speak to the world through you.  You may feel you don’t have anything to share, but that’s the Devil trying to keep you silent.  You have a storehouse of experiences that God wants to use to bring others into His family.”

Is God calling you to witness to someone?  Pray daily for that person.  Ask God to guide you as to the how. Pray for courage.  God is thrilled when by our witness the Holy Spirit brings someone into God's family, into God's Kingdom, into eternal life.

Jesus says witness with courage and joy, with gentleness and respect, with perseverance and faith.  May the power of Jesus Christ, the witness of St. Andrew and the melodious sound of the bagpipes inspire you.  Amen!

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