July 26 2020 - New Beginnings 5 - To Start Fresh, we need to go Small!
26th July 2020
Lord, thank You for the opportunity to turn our thoughts and hearts to You. Thank You for Your mercy – Mercy is found in You – that You gave Yourself for us – that we might know Your love, forgiveness and grace. Give us a deeper understanding of that. That it might empower us to live as we ought to live. Speak through these words – in Your Name we pray.
I am going to tell you a parable. This is not Jesus’ parable, but one I made up. So – it is not nearly as good as Jesus’ parables, nor will it be as creative, because I am not that creative of a person – and you’ll see how uncreative it is immediately!
The reign of God is a well-run business. Its leadership is smart and talented. They only hire the best people. They make and sell the stuff people want and they make huge profits.
Here is another parable:
The reign of God is like a man who took up a new hobby, brewing beer in his basement. He fills the jug with hops and barley and water and all the other ingredients. He sets it in a cool, dry place in his basement. Early on, he checks it every hour to see how it is doing! Soon, microorganisms work together to transform his concoction through the process of fermentation. When it is ready, he pours himself a tall glass and no matter how awful it tastes, he tells himself that it the best thing he has ever tasted!
There you go, what a way to start a sermon!
Acts 28:30 – Referring to Paul – the last two verses of the book of Acts:
Acts 28:30 30 He lived there two whole years at his own expense and welcomed all who came to him, 31 proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance.
The last two years of the book of Acts – proclaiming Jesus without hindrance. This opportunity is about to come to an end.
Shortly after this – there was the first coordinated persecution of the church by Nero. Sometimes we think the church was under coordinated persecution – but there was only one earlier, and that was by Paul himself! From the end of the Apostolic age until 312 AD or CE – there were numerous waves of persecution – but there was also significant, yet improbable, growth. Those 200 years may have been the greatest growth in church history.
I’m reading this book about the fermentation of the early church (The Patient Ferment of the Early Church – the Improbable Rise of Christianity in the Roman Empire.)
If the church had a strategy – it was to grow and expand by becoming small and inconspicuous! That was the strategy! Very different from what we may think of today. Today we will look at a couple parables – and sometimes, to start fresh – we need to go small! Our tendency is to want to start things with a big splash.
Matthew 13: 31 He told them another parable: "The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. 32 Though it is the smallest of all seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches."
Sometimes people say – AHA! The Bible is wrong! It is not the SMALLEST SEED! But this is a PARABLE! Things are explained in hyperbole. Jesus is explaining that God works the opposite of how the world would work. But people think that the world’s way is more productive. Thus the business parable that I made up. That is not saying that the church should be disorganized or led by knuckleheads! Although, to some in the congregation, it might feel that way!
Paul explains it this way:
1 Cor. 1: 26 For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble; 27 but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, 28 and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen, the things that are not, so that He may nullify the things that are,
So he takes it from just being SMALL to words like WEAK and INSIGNIFICANT. We would think – to have talent and power and significance – that would be the best of both worlds! That would be better, wouldn’t it? Now, there is nothing wrong with being smart, strong, noble – you can be a Christian and be all those things – but it is not an advantage in God’s kingdom – but when we THINK it is an advantage, that is when it becomes a handicap.
This book gives key characteristics of the early church and how they went about accomplishing this incredible thing.
First – Patience. He goes through the early church fathers – numerous things we have copies of today. They call patience the greatest of all Christian virtues. When we think of patience, like waiting in line at the grocery store or waiting for your family to get ready – but this is talking about trusting in God’s timing and not our own. To know that God has a way of doing things – and rather than trying to manipulate circumstances to get what we want. There are many ways to do this – rather than patience and trust.
They also trusted that you would not have to use violence to accomplish God’s work – and it is accomplished by love of enemy. They really had enemies. For us it can relate to ‘those in opposition to our values and belief’ – we tend to turn those into our enemies – theologically, culturally, and politically, we make them our enemies – but we must learn to love those we consider to be an enemy – and that is sorely lacking in our world right now. The church has a phenomenal opportunity in this moment – to love those who are in opposition to our values and beliefs.
The next parable:
Matthew 13: 33 He told them another parable: "The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened." 34 Jesus told the crowds all these things in parables; without a parable he told them nothing.
Now – to yeast – this goes back to the fermentation parable I told – the guy with the beer(d)…
Yeast can have this massive effect. It has to be mixed into the dough completely – and this energy starts to work – you can’t see it, but you can see its results – and he is saying – for God to reign through us – we need to be mixed fully into the world – into the fabric of the world, throughout the dough – without being OF the world.
Our tendency is to pick up what the world is doing and to be the same way. And the tendency is to pull ourselves out! To not become corrupted! But that is not an option. In the world but not of it. Engaged in the world in every way except in ways we become part of it.
We are not to be in the world in any way that competes for allegiance and loyalty to Jesus. As we engage the world, we must make sure it does not compete with our wholehearted devotion to Jesus. Often, the best things of a society will compete the most!
The second thing – engaging the world in any way that compromises our Christian walk with God. We get that – we understand that – a simple thing – it is okay to be on social media, to engage in the world that way – but it is not okay to engage in certain conversations that occur on social media.
The very same thing you are supposed to be involved in can be the very same thing that steals your allegiance and loyalty to Christ.
We have to be careful. It is a hard balance. Our tendency, as humans, is to go one way or the other – or to pendulum back and forth.
After the apostolic age, it was anonymous Christians who sparked what might be the greatest growth period in history. There were a few who may have been evangelists – but the gospel spread through normal people going about their normal circumstances. They were like yeast! As time went on – they got mixed into the entire lump of dough – through family and work – migrant work that would move from town to town.
They might live here – but would live in places doing the project – and as they went, they carried the gospel with them – and carried a certain lifestyle with them – as followers of Christ – and they carried with them this characteristic patience – love of neighbor and enemy! It was through that, being different from the world around them, that people would come to Christ in circumstances where there was nothing cool about it – and often, it could be risky – even to their lives – and the church was growing.
In 250 AD – there was a Bishop – Bishop of Carthage – and the emperor declared that sacrifices must be offered to the Roman gods – and persecution occurred. It lasted about 2 years – and at the end of the time – a plague entered the city – and it killed many people – and they were blaming the Christians for the plague. The church, really from the early days of the church – was the first to create a system for those who were sick and dying – caring for one another – caring for the sick – and both Christians and non-Christians were dying. Their way of dealing with it was to throw the bodies out into the streets – and Cyprian created a system of going into the streets to care for the sick and dying. We’d like to think that none of the Christians died – but they did. Here they were, risking their lives to minister to those who had been persecuting them. Love of enemy – it had a powerful impact.
Today, we have hospitals and PPE – but here is the thing – this concept of a system of caring for the sick – began with the church. A small beginning of regular Christians going out and helping. Through history – it is churches and Christians starting hospitals. The influence came from the church. This little seed that grows up so the whole world can receive its benefits. We need to look for small, inconspicuous ways to do what Cyprian did – ministering our lives – the gospel, through our deeds and of course, through our communication.
We have had many stories in this church – people with a heart for the gospel – and they have had opportunities in their normal, everyday lives, to minister to people – naturally – on the job and in neighborhoods. There are some who are called to evangelism – but most of us are just called as the early church understood – to live out the gospel and communicate it out in our normal world. That is the small mustard seed – that is the yeast!
It is okay to do big events like Billy Graham – but when every Christian is in their world being light and salt.
We do that – when we live the lifestyle of a follower of Jesus. And then – we learn to tell our story and the gospel story. That is not just your testimony of how you came to Christ – but learning to tell our real story in our current story – our right-now story.
Folks have opportunities – you might think – no one ever comes up to me and asks about my faith –
But those that happens to – tend to be really open people who share their struggles. Then what happens – those kind of folks, because of their openness – when others have something going on, they feel free to share with them. Then, what those folks do – they listen carefully with concern to the other person’s struggle – and they relate to that struggle – and can share their struggle with the other person. And through that – there is this wonderful opportunity to share the gospel story and how it connects to both stories.
That is the amazing thing about the gospel It is not a speech – it is not a sermon – it is a life lived and spoken! And that is where the power comes from – when it is lived – and then spoken!
Lord, I thank You. Thank You for the gospel and the power it has. Help us, Lord, to live the gospel in our situations and then, God, as Paul wrote, as the opportunity is provided, that our words would be with grace that we might share and communicate how others can experience the power of the Gospel in their own lives – the story of Jesus, in their own lives. In Your Name we pray. Amen.