6.30 service at TRINITY // 28/5/17
Witness and Mission // Acts 1:8
But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.
Before I get into this preach tonight, I just want to say, I first sat down to write this sermon on Tuesday morning. I had just woken up and seen the terrible news from Manchester. A lot of thoughts and emotions went through my mind. And I have to be honest I just completely floundered, where was God is in this?
During the day I read an article which highlighted the good that was bring done in the wake of the tragedy but did so my suggesting Jesus came to Manchester after the bombing.
And I’ve got to be honest it just made me really angry.
I mean, ‘And then Jesus came?’
What was he not there before? Did Jesus not grace the doorstep of Manchester before this terrible thing? Does goodness only come out in response to terror and fear? What nonsense.
Look I think it’s almost impossible to come up with an answer to the why? in situations like this. We can talk theology or politics but it actually doesn’t really help us to understand why someone would do something so awful, to cause so much pain deliberately and equate that with an all powerful loving God.
But what I do say to people with those sorts of questions is that we need to hold the truth of who God is alongside the things we don’t understand. And I expect that is what the writer of that piece was trying to do.
Questions are ok, I’m not saying don’t question, don’t ask, because actually I think our faith grows through that, but we have to hold them in tension with the truth.
Now I know some people think that is a cop out, they want to explore and argue and come up with answers to everything and I know because as a Christian I’ve been accused of being foolish, thick, naiive, brainwashed.
They think faith without proof is mumbo jumbo, a crux for the weak. But I say the opposite, wow I mean how much strength and courage and boldness does it take to believe in Jesus? It’s rarely easy!
The thing is he is God, He’s God! If we could fathom him out and answer all our questions then we’d have no need of him in the first place!
We have to get to a place where we can be comfortable with an element of mystery. Or of not understanding.
So whilst what I say tonight I believe, it’s something I am passionate about and I believe it is what God has for us right now, I also recognise that sometimes it’s hard to hold that truth in tension with what we don’t understand. Perhaps what I say tonight will sound crass in the light of what’s happened, though I hope not, that is not my intention, or maybe you’d rather hear me say something about God and suffering, but I just encourage you just to try and hold what you hear tonight together with what you don’t understand if that’s ok.
And the truth of our passage tonight is that we are called to be witnesses for Jesus Christ. And I don’t suppose the disciples when they heard this fully understood what they were to do but they trusted in him.
But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
Jesus is speaking here to his disciples, literally seconds before he ascended and returned into heaven – and its very appropriate for this week, because did you know it was Ascension day this week?
Now, there are many times in the bible when Jesus sends out his disciples, but I think it’s hugely significant that these are, his very last words to them.
You will receive power
The Holy Spirit will come upon you
You will be my witnesses
In all the earth
And before I go on I want us all to understand that this is as much for us now as it was for them then – how do we know that?
Matthew 28 The Great Commission, another passage like this one, sending them out:
Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and (now here’s the key) and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age…
And teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. So the disciples are told to teach others to do what Jesus has taught them, so then the next generation of believers has the same commission, to continue to teach what they have been taught, and so on… right up to us in this day.
Whatever Jesus commanded the disciples to do, we can therefore say is for us too.
Does that make sense?
So for example. Matthew 10:7-8 one of my fave passages, Jesus sends out the 12 with these instructions:
As you go, proclaim this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received; freely give.
Yes? Come on!
That’s what I want to see, the sick healed, the dead raised, lives transformed…
and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. Remember…
So just as the disciples were, WE are Jesus’ witnesses – anyone who is a Christian who has been made a disciple is called to be a witness for Jesus to all nations, to the ends of the earth.
So, are you a witness for Jesus? Are we as a church a witness for Christ?
And what does that even mean anyway?
Well 2 words that strike fear into the hearts of many:
Mission and evangelism… that is what witness means.
But why is that we hear words like them and break out in a cold sweat?
Well maybe it’s because we have seen really bad evangelism and want nothing to do with it? Maybe we’re worried people will think us weird if we talk about you know, (hushed) Jesus.
Or because the church often has a bad reputation, and we don’t want to have to deal with difficult questions about suffering or evil or homosexuality or women in the church…? Goodness whatever next!
Or maybe it’s just that we don’t really know what it means or what we’re supposed to do?!
Because we’ve already established that this is for everyone, right – we’re all supposed to be doing this, because we are supposed to be following what Jesus taught his disciples, yes?
Now look, some of us ARE called to be out and out evangelists. We are called to be project starters, to be pioneering new ideas out there… And that is great, we need pioneers to have ideas to get things going, to be out there among the people. And some of us aren’t called to that specifically as a calling or gifting, but we must not be people who sit back and think, well that’s ok – they, them over there are the missional types, they are the evangelists – I’ll let them get on with it…
But equally I’m not saying we all need to be out there on a street corner with a soap box and a loud haler telling people they are going to hell,
but we should be doing something.
So what can we do? And I’m going to focus on us as individuals though it’s as much a call for the church together as it is for us.
So we’re going to use Forrest Gump as an example.
Now I love Forrest Gump – how many of you have seen the film?
If you haven’t it’s the story is of a guy who, well I guess today he’d be classed as having learning difficulties, and it’s his journey through life. And he gets into all sorts of amazing situations mostly by accident.
And the reason I wanted to show it to you today is because I think Forrest is a great example of someone who is missional and evangelistic.
So here’s 3 things we can learn from FG about being a good witness, about being evangelistic and missional.
We can be incarnational
We can tell our story
We can go wider
1) We can be incarnational
Had to get that clip in, the most iconic line!
So, being incarnational – literally means in this context – just being who you are, a Christian – being a light for Jesus wherever you are. Jesus was the ultimate incarnation – he came to earth and took on human form in order to fulfil God’s mission. So for us that might mean intentionally seeking to be a shining light wherever we are. We can bring a Christian presence in any given situation, bring a different viewpoint, a bringer of peace and light.
So for example, Forrest makes the most of wherever he is, or wherever he is sent, or wherever he finds himself. He is just himself and takes everything in his stride. No matter what the situation – at war, in business, siting on a park bench – he embraces the place where he is. I am sure sometimes people think him weird but he either doesn’t notice or doesn’t care.
So great example here – he’s just waiting for a bus and he doesn’t just sit there and ignore everyone, he is the same as he always is and so he just chats to people who come and sit next to him, or offers them a chocolate!
Jeremiah 29:4-7 says this:
This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.”
These are people who were sent to exile, sent away from homes and family and all that they knew, but God tells them to embrace where they are, to bless where they are, where he’s placed them.
We have to own where God has put us! I don’t think any of us are where we are by accident!
So, where has God put you? What’s your mission field? College, work, home, football club… where do you hang out with people?
Wherever you are, you are bringing the presence of God, because we carry that within us anyway. You don’t necessarily have to be talking about Jesus. sometimes just people knowing you are a Christian or that you go to church, is enough. It means that when they have questions or they need support they might just come to you.
John 13:35 tell us:
“By this everyone will know that you are my disciples- if you love one another”
that’s how people will know about God, if we love people and love one another. That’s quite simple isn’t it?
And I always tell the story of my husband who had a work colleague who was a Christian, she didn’t go on about it a lot, he just knew because she’d said occasionally, that she went to church. So when he started having questions about faith, he knew exactly who to ask!
Be incarnational and embrace where God has put you.
OK so what else can we learn from Forrest Gump?
2.We can tell our story – we can talk about what God has done for us.
FG, talks about his faith quite openly and without shame or being embarrassed, he just talks matter of factly about it. And because he does that, people respond – so here you see Lieutenant Dan saying ‘where’s this God of yours’ but actually there is more to it that just teasing, he is on a journey, and later on FG says that he thinks Lt Dan made his peace with God.
But because he is open about his faith it’s easy for God to move! Here we see an amazing miracle but it’s the same in our lives too wherever we are open and seeking God, it just creates ways for him to move and for us to reach into peoples lives.
Your story is one of the best tools for evangelism that you have. Testimony is so powerful, we are a people who love stories, we especially love personal stories and stories of people going from sad to happy, from a bad place to a good one. Some of the stories we see in Alpha, like the guy who had been in prison and the became a Christian and his life was turned around. How many of you watch movies on Facebook or Social Media of heart warming stories? It makes you feel good right!? Your story could do that for someone else.
In Mark 5, where Jesus healed a demon possessed man and when the man asks to go with him, Jesus says no – just go and tell people what the Lord has done for you.
As Jesus was getting into the boat, the man who had been demon-possessed begged to go with him. Jesus did not let him, but said, “Go home to your own people and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.” So the man went away and began to tell in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him. And all the people were amazed.
This man had been healed by the Lord. And what did Jesus tell him to do – just go and tell people what had happened to him. And that is key. Our story, our testimony.
You know someone close to me who is not a Christian, we’ve had so many conversations about faith and God and the bible, and he is very antagonistic and the only thing that gets him to really listen is when I talk about what God has done and is doing in my life. My story.
I’m not trying to be a theological expert or answer all his questions and get out of the traps he lays for me! I’m just telling him what’s going on in my life.
He even once said, ‘I wish I had what you have’. I’m still praying for him, he hasn’t recognised Jesus yet but I have faith that he will!
And you don’t have to have some amazing healing or dramatic conversion, it might just be that because of your faith you are able to feel peaceful in a stressful situation. Or are the one who can be a peacemaker between arguing friends, or the one who encourages people to help someone worse off than them. That’s your cue, your opportunity when people notice those things, that’s just as much you story…
And, we don’t see in this clip but the man sat next to FG on the bench doesn’t believe him and goes off laughing. But FG just carries on talking to the woman next to him. Just like in the parable where the seed falls on rocky ground, in weeds and in good soil, we still need to sow it! That man might never have believed but the woman next to him certainly does!
But in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect…
Use your story you know it well!
And finally. FG shows us that we might go further, go the extra mile.
3.We can go wider/further
FG ends up in all kinds of situations that as a child no one thought him capable of, they didn’t even want him in school because they thought he couldn’t cope with it.
The truth is we just don’t know where God might take us. And that might be a one off situation where he calls you in that moment to do something radical or bold or courageous for him. Or it might be wider calling to go somewhere like Lisa from our congregation here who God has called to Uganda for example. Or I have friends that moved to a particular estate locally because that’s where God led them to.
We might end up in places we never thought we could go or doing things we never thought we could do. We need to be open to the leading of God. In our passage it says that the Holy Spirit will come on them. We need to be aware of the HS in our lives, to listen, to hear and be led by him.
I think this is one of the most inspiring scenes in the movie. FG is fighting in Vietnam and despite the danger, despite the fear, he is completely focussed on rescuing people, saving his fellow soldiers.
Isn’t that what we’re about at the end of the day? Seeing people saved? Rescued?
Where might God send you? Who might he be calling you to see saved or rescued?
And more than that, FG did in that moment more than he could have done without the adrenaline and fear and desperation to find his friend. It’s just like that when the HS comes on us, we can achieve so much more than in our own strength!
and one more thing I want to pick up on..
Mark 16:15 says
And he said to them, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation
And in our passage from Acts:
and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.
To the ends of the earth…
Did you know that According to Finishing the Task, (evangelistic organization) there are 506 unengaged, unreached people groups with populations over 10,000, together numbering over 51 million souls that are still beyond the reach of the Gospel.
Most of which lay in what’s often referred to as the 10/40 window – a band which lies across Africa and Asia from 10 degrees latitude north of the equator to 40 degrees latitude north of the equator.
But what if we’re not called to actually go to somewhere across the world, does that mean we can’t share the gospel across the world?
No – in our technological era, with the internet and social media, I can put something online that can be seen across the world in seconds. Even in remote places. Of course there are people without access to the internet but it is still a very useful tool.
So for example, I went on my blog stats and looked at where people were viewing my blog from.
There was a huge list of countries. But some had just 1 or 2 views. So if I wanted it would be very easy to write stuff to reach a particular country, or to set my profile and settings to reach a different area. All without leaving the comfort of my sofa!
Social media – we can contact people all over the world. I have friend who runs a school and orphanage in rural Haiti and they keep in touch via Facebook because its the easiest way to get the news out to lots of people and quickly (and it’s free!).
Going into all the world might not necessarily mean actually physically going there…
We are ALL called to be witnesses for Jesus. There can be no excuses!
We could be incarnational
We can share our story and
We might just be able to go a bit further…
Lead into prayer….