…what Sort of World is This?
Sermon by Noel Lewis
Due to a mistake with the audio recorder (thanks Pastor Joe), we have sadly lost the audio of Noel’s excellent sermon. Below is the manuscript.
If Jesus is raised from the dead, what sort of world is this?
That’s the question that the pastor asked me to consider when writing this sermon. So to put it another way – what’s different about this world if Jesus is raised from the dead? What’s changed?
I think the most obvious answer is sitting all around us today. It’s us. We’r e different.
And we’re supposed to make a difference. What sort of world this is – a lot of that depends on us.
What would you have been without Jesus? Would you be lost? Scared? Angry? Hopeless? … Would you be high? Drunk? In jail? … Would you be dead? … Would you have glommed onto the first guru or philosophy that came along and promised you just a little bit of hope and happiness?
When you walk out those doors today that’s exactly the sort of world you’ll be walking into. You see the world out there, they don’t know Jesus. Oh they know ABOUT him. Some of them are very arrogant about what they know about him. But they don’t know him. They know about him the same way you and I know about George Washington. They don’t know the resurrected Christ because they haven’t met him.
And that’s where we come in.
You and I are not in this world to tell people how much we love Jesus. We’re in this world to show people how much Jesus loves them, and in doing so that’s how we show God how much we love Him. “Do you love me? Feed my sheep. Do you love me? Feed my lambs. Do. You. Love. Me? Feed my sheep. By this they will know you are My followers – by the love you show one for another. It is the one who hears my words and does them, it is they that love Me.”
It is the small acts of kindness, decency, mercy, love, acceptance, commitment, loyalty, generosity, honesty, humility, sacrifice, joy, encouragement, forgiveness – it is these things, done moment by moment, hour by hour, day by day, by ordinary Christians – that do more to hold back the powers of Hell than any sermon ever preached. We’re supposed to be salt, light, leaven. To preserve, reveal, and change. Christ said the Kingdom of God is within you, and from a good heart a good person brings forth good treasures.
We are here to pour God’s love into a world that does not deserve it. God loved us when we were useless to Him. But because Christ rose from the dead, we have been made onesimus. We have been made useful. A nail-scarred hand reached down into the muck and pulled you out, cleaned you up, CHOSE you… and now God asks you to go back into the storm to help save others.
Modern Christianity sometimes seems to have lost its focus. The gospel is good news too often carried by grave faces. The joy of the Lord is supposed to be our strength but I’ve seen a lot of hand wringing in the Christian community. People who radiate discouragement. Sometimes it’s about the direction our country is going, or terrorism, or racism, or some other global or social issue.
Sometimes it’s personal. I’ve met some Christians that have allowed themselves to be defined not by the simple acts of faith but by bigger things that failed. They wanted to do the “big thing” for God and it didn’t work out. A failed marriage or a wayward child, a folded ministry or a faltering church.
I know a bit about watching big things fall apart. I carried the altar Bible out of the church where my family worshipped four generations to a pew on the day it closed its doors forever.
When I was 9 or 10 I remember being asked what I wanted to be, and I said a pastor or a pilot. (Guess I was into p’s). So I went college, got my B.A. in world religious studies, got to seminary, and the second day there the professor who taught rhetoric was giving a presentation. To this day I swear he was looking right at me when he said “If this is not what God wants you to do with your life, then it will not work.” I had two thoughts right bang on one another. The first was, “Uh oh, I never stopped to ask God if this is where He wanted me.” And the second was, “Uh oh, what am I going to do with a religion degree?” 5 years and a whole lot of my parents money and nowhere to go with it. It wasn’t until years later when I held my daughter for the first time, and later my son, that I found out what He wanted me to be. He wanted me to be a daddy. A lot of things in my life have failed, but I like to think I made a pretty good daddy.
“A man may plan his course, but God orders his steps.”
Someday when our work is done in this world, and we go home – because this world is not our home – we may very well get to walk with Christ while he unpacks our whole life for us. I imagine a lot of people are going to be telling Him, “Lord I’m SO SORRY things didn’t work out. I wanted so much to do this big thing for you and it just fell apart. I’m so sorry I failed you.” If we’re honest some people are going to be very angry – “Lord, where WERE you?!?! I was doing this for you!!! Why did You fail me!?!” That’s when He’s going to put his hand on our shoulder and say – “Remember when you helped this person here? And when this other person made a choice that made everyone look down on them and reject them, except you? And when this person over here needed someone to talk to you paused your busy day and listened. Remember when you opened your heart here, and your mind here, and your wallet to these people, and your home to this one? Remember that?”
“That was Me. You did that for Me. And because you were faithful **I** took those little things you did and two generations later **I** did this BIGGER thing, one you never even dreamed of. Well done thou good and faithful servant. You have been faithful in a few things, I will make you master over many things. Enter now into the joy of your Lord.”
We are not defined by failings. We are defined by faithfulness. His. And ours.
Once there was a man who caught a fish. He sold or gave that fish to a woman who packed it in a little boy’s bundle and he went off to see a preacher. That preacher took that fish and fed five THOUSAND people with it. You think that fisherman knew where that fish came from? Even if he was there, you think he looked over that vast crowd and said “HEY! THAT’S MY FISH! I caught that yesterday! YES! GO ME!!!” Or … do you think maybe he was out fishing that day? Do you think maybe he was doing his job?We don’t always get to see what God is doing with the good we do. Do it anyway. I know the world can be painful & discouraging. Economies falter, terrorists attack, disease cripples, ships sink, churches close, dreams shatter, people die. None of that matters. Because 2000 years ago the one and only eternal God left the glory and the majesty of heaven and suffered torture and death AND ROSE so that one day those things will be swept aside for good. But until that day – We’re still children of the Kingdom and we still got a job to do. We are here to represent.
“In this world you will have tribulation. But fear not, for I have overcome the world.”
John Harper was a prominent evangelist in England at the turn of the last century. His friends kept pushing him to come to America to preach and by many accounts, he didn’t really want to. But at last he relented and he booked passage.. on the Titanic. As the ship went down he was in the water , swimming from person to person –“BELIEVE ON THE LORD JESUS CHRIST AND YOU WILL BE SAVED! BELIEVE ON THE LORD JESUS CHRIST AND YOU WILL BE SAVED!”
At one point he offered his coat to a young lady who tried to demur, but he told her “Don’t worry about me, I’m going up not down” (this was one bad dude) You know how we know this story? One of the people who was rescued that night, according to at least one account a crewman, later reported upon seeing the preacher’s faithfulness, “There, in the icy water of the North Atlantic, with the stars above me and the depths below, I believed. I am John Harper’s last convert.” That preacher may never have known that an eternal soul was saved thanks to his faithfulness. Whether or not he did isn’t the point. He was dying. Everyone around him was dying. 1500+ people lost their lives that night. But he was faithful anyway. He was Jesus to them right to the end.
Mother Theresa said “Don’t worry about the numbers, just help the person in front of you.” Who’s in front of you today? Who needs you? Someone does whether you know it or not. Maybe it’s someone you don’t particularly like right now. Maybe they’re different from you. Maybe they’re weird, or foreign, or they don’t believe the same things you do. Maybe they’re unpleasant. Maybe they hurt you. That doesn’t mean they don’t need to see Jesus in you. It may mean they need to see Him more.
You’re someone’s Paul. You’re someone’s Lydia. Do you know how I know someone needs you? Because you’re here. You opened your eyes and drew a breath this morning. That wasn’t an accident. God doesn’t make mistakes. He’s not going to look down tomorrow and go, “Oops. You’re still down there? I meant to call you home 5 years ago. My bad!” You’re here for a reason. You’re here to represent Him. Day by day. Hour by hour. Moment by moment.
God doesn’t use the Hillarys and the Donalds of the world to work His will. God chooses the weak, the meek, the lowly, the ordinary, the crippled, the forgotten, and the broken. He uses 80 year old exiles, teenage virgin girls, and dying preachers. And he’ll use you if you let Him. If you’re willing to step up. If you’re ready to stay faithful in a world that doesn’t make staying faithful easy.
What sort of world this is to some extent that depends on you, child of God. What will your life represent? What will you do with the gift of another day?
What difference will it make to the world outside those doors that you have lived? What will it mean to the Father?
Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying – “Whom shall I send? Who will go for us?”