1 John 4:12-16
We're thinking about church; about the Christian community.
Community, real relationships - to know and be known, to love and be loved is something we all long for. It’s inherent to our humanity. The God in whose image we are all created is in himself a community of loving relationships. The glorious Trinity - Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
When humanity fell out of relationship with this God - we also lost one another. Community is fractured at every level of existence.
So.. part of God’s salvation through Jesus Christ, his restoration of humanity back to the image of our creator is to bring us back into true community together, Christ is our peace. And the beginnings of that - the full realisation will only be seen when Jesus returns to establish his kingdom - but the beginnings, the first fruits is the Christian church.
Church is not a human institution. It’s not an optional extra that you can tick or leave when you become a Christian. As if being a Christian is just about my personal relationship with Jesus which occasional church attendance may or may not resource. No, becoming a Christian means being incorporated into Christ’s body - the church. Becoming part of the new humanity.
Furthermore It is for the sake of the watching world outside that the church exists
The church at its heart has a missionary dynamic. That’s what we’re thinking about today.
William Temple, Archbishop of Canterbury during the second world war said that, ‘The church is the only society that exists for the benefit of those who are not yet members.’
Jesus’ last words on earth to his disciples, his church before he returned to his Father were things like: John 20:21 ‘As the Father sent me now I am sending you’
Matthew 28:19 Go… and make disciples of all nations’
So right at the heart of what it means to be the church is the idea of mission.. The church takes the message of Jesus to the world.
Now of course there is a big problem in our contemporary global culture with mission or, as it’s sometimes called evangelism - which comes from the greek for the word gospel- ‘evangel’.
Mission is a taboo practice. It’s fine for you to believe what you want but other people are fine believing what they want and to try and persuade them that you are right and they are wrong is not acceptable. it’s the kind of superiority and arrogance that leads to the conflict in our world. Why would you want to abuse people like that? Keep it to yourself.
So what do we do? If Mission is at the heart of who we are? Struggle with dread on the one hand guilt on the other?
Well i think we can deal with some of those of that dread, some of that fear by thinking about the gospel again, thinking about our cuture’s voice and whether it’s right and by thinking about what it means for the church to be sent on mission together with Jesus. Mission as a community project.
Lets start with the gospel the message that we share and live out because sometimes we forget, we forget what God has done.
This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. 10 This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.
In the news a few Christmasses ago, some extraordinary footage emerged of the rescue of a man who was stranded at the bottom of the Atlantic in an upturned boat. Harrison Okene, was in the tugboat off the Nigerian coast when it capsized and sank. The rest of the crew drowned but he managed to find an air pocket in the boat’s hull - where he stayed, semi submerged in pitch darkness, sipping on a bottle of coke for sustenance and praying for a miracle.
3 days later, divers arrived at the scene to search for the bodies. One was carrying a camera. In the footage, a hand can be seen suddenly emerging in the darkness. Assuming it to be attached to a corpse the diver reaches out to grab the limb, only for it to grab him back. Both the diver and those watching on a screen on the surface can then be heard screaming in shock, which turns to excitement when they realise they have found a survivor.
“The rest of my life is not enough to thank God for this wonder” so said Harrison Okene - hours after his rescue.
It’s a wonderful story of rescue, survival, relief. Light breaking into darkness and despair. But that story is only a snapshot…a tiny metaphor for the REALITY of the salvation of God that we have received if we are Christians.
Humanity turned away from God into spiritual dakness, rejecting His life and glory - the valley of the shadow of death. In a place of great danger - invoking the express train justice of a holy God.
And God who is rich in mercy came himself - the one we had irretrievably offended - and he put on flesh and bone to rescue us - Jesus. To sacrifice his innocent life. To take our place in front of the express train of God’s justice - to in himself absorb it’s full and mighty blow. That we might live through him. Forgiven forever. THIS IS LOVE. The love of God for his world. A love to be received. It’s not forced upon anyone. A love who is a person, a saviour - JESUS.
“The rest of my life is not enough to thank God for this wonder”
Sometimes we forget the wonder. You were dead and God has made you alive. Transferred from the dominion of darkness into the Kingdom of his Son. You were outside and now you are home.
Sometimes these realities don’t drive our hearts and our love and our joy like they could. we need to pray and remind each other.. And we need to step out Philemon 6
The love of Jesus compels us to go to people because they are loved and they don’t even know it. Because they are in danger but Jesus has come.
The problem with Churches deciding that they won’t do evangelism for fear or being accused of offence. The problem with that is that Jesus is not just for us. God’s love, his salvation is not just for us. The gospel is not good advice that you can take or leave. It’s Good News
The word gospel - evangelion was in existence long before the NT. For example, when the Athenian army, against all odds, defeated the mighty Persian forces at the battle of Marathon in 490BC a runner was sent immediately to announce the victory inorder to quell the panic, the suicides in Athens. That very first Marathon proclaimed literally the Gospel before he dropped down dead! ;
The Christian message is Gospel. A News announcement that needs to be heard. News of great joy for all people; News that changes everything.
There’s a probem with us deciding to be silent
But there’s also a big problem from our secular culture’s side telling Christians it’s ok to believe in Jesus but you shouldn’t try to convert anyone; you shouldn’t claim that you have the truth.
Because when a culture says that what they’re really saying is YOU christians have to abandon your view of the universe (that Jesus is God) in favour of our view of the universe (That he is not). And i want to say, OK but how is that any less narrow than me saying to you I want to persuade you to abandon your view of the universe in favour of mine!
The point is we all have our exclusive convictions. everyone is proselytising for their view of the universe.
We as a culture are rightly trying to deal with the superiority, the anger, the violence, the disunity that absolute religious truth claims can create. But The solution of saying ‘everyone can believe what they want to believe but no-one is allowed to claim they have the truth and seek to persuade others’ - is itself an exclusive truth claim. It is ONE view of the universe that trumps and silences all others - doing exactly that which it seeks to outlaw. And that at best is disingenuous at worst it is dishonest - and it doesn’t work. To silence people from talking just drives us further apart.
But this brings us to the question of How?
How do we share the gospel with people in a culture where it’s taboo to seek to convert others ideas? How do you even engage where there is such suspicion and apathy?
two things i’m gonna say now
Mission as a whole life thing
and Mission as a whole church thing
one little aside - don’t assume there is always just apathy and suspicion. I’ve been amazed by Matt and Janita doing second saturday and often the willingness of people to talk about spiritual things and even be prayed for on the street. You see God is at work he supremely is the great evangelist and we are called to get involved to seek to be sensitive to God the Holy Spirit.
Mission as a whole life thing
What comes to mind when you think about missionaries? The past and starchy englishmen travelling to Africa and India or the Jesuits in the amazon rain forest. Giving their lives. Or perhaps you think of contemporary missionaries. We pray for a family who were part of our church here in Hackney - The Aylings who felt called to go to Japan - and they were selected and trained and commissioned and now they are full time missionaries in Sapporo. Learning the language and culture, immeresed, making friends - Taking the gospel to an alien culture. Very exciting and challenging.
But here’s the thing. Sentness, Mission, evangelism is at the heart of what it means to be church. Why does the church exist? To worship God but at the heart of worship is making God known, his fame his deeds, sharing his love and calling the nations to worship Him.
The church doesn’t exist and occasionallly we do some evangelism. The church is a community of the SENT. We don’t do mission. We are missionaries.Learning the language and culture, immersed making friends. Bringing the alien message of Jesus to the community in which we find ourselves.
We need to reclaim this central part or our identity, our purpose together.
It’s so utterly differnt to the reigning worldview that biological life is just here by accident you’re not here for any purpose. Heidigger called it ‘thrownness’ You’ve just been thrown into the world. There’s no meaning, no purpose, no point.
But Jesus says no, not thrownness but sentness is the mark of your life
i send you everyone has a mission.
Perhaps you’re bored in your job and in life, a bit aimless. Perhaps you’re frustrated because you always wanted to do something for God. Perhaps you wanted to be a missionary. You read biographies of missionary courage and adventure. Well get this. YOU ARE A MISSIONARY. We all are. Here’s the mission team for Dalston. Let’s get on with it.
Just like the Aylings sent to Japan. You and I - sent to London. On Mission. Primary identity
And if we take that to heart how will that affect our lives?
How will it affect our prayers? for each others’ workplaces and colleagues and book clubs? do we need up together at lunchtimes if we work near each other? do we attend each others book clubs?
How will it affect the way we use our money? our giving?
The way we use our time? Are you too busy with the practicalities of your life, your job to think about people? Have you forgotten what you were sent here for?
How will our missionary identity affect the way we make decisions about our jobs? about our future? about our children? presumably we make those decisions with lots of advice and prayer from one another??
I was talking to my 9 year old Zac about this aspect of the sermon while he was playing Roblox on my laptop. And i told him that He was a missionary to Queensbridge Primary school to which he answered, “Then I don’t do my job good.” I said, well people know you’re a christian and you invite your friends to church and to TRU. ..How can your parents and your church help you to do your job better?”
“Teach me what to say to people”
“OK .. and we could pray for you?”
“Yeah” he said
how do we communicate the alien message of Jesus to people. It was Leslie Newbigin who was a missionary in India in the early 20th C and who thought and wrote loads about mission who said that the the Church is the explanantion of the gospel - the bridge of understanding to our culture.
This is why - second point. Mission is a
Whole church thing
Talking to friends about concepts like sin, judgement, salvation, resurrection can just feel very difficult - so weird, such a gear change. Perhaps we have spoken to our friends and they’re just not interested. We want people to know Jesus and what he has done but where do we go to try and make connection.
Here’s a suggestion. Start with church. People understand concepts of friendship, support,, love, challenges of forgiveness, reconciliation. Community - to truly know and be known, love and be loved is what we all long for. So start with church. Tell people what you did this weekend. Cos there’s nothing like the church when it’s working right
When our kids were small and at nursery or reception at school we invited some of their little friends over for a Chrismas dinner. One couple - it was the first time they had been out in a year! another couple - the first time since their kids were born! because baby sitters - you can’t get them, and you don’t know if you can trust em, and it’s such an expensive night out! Fiona and I rather embarassedly told them that we’d been going out quite alot. Because we were part of a church where people we love and who love us and our kids want to and offer to come and be with our kids for FREE!! These other parents couldn’t believe this. Tell us about your church they said.
I remember a good friend of mine telling his colleagues on a monday morning that 15 different people from his church had been round through the weekend and helped him completely redecorate the council flat he had just bought and moved into saving him thousands of pound or hours of work. They couldn’t believe it. tell us about your church.
Even if you can never bring friends or work colleagues who live in the depths of surrey to meet your church family you can tell them. And describing this community of different persons united by love could open a doorway…
It’s great if you can invite your friends to meet your church.
In fact it’s good to maybe have a slightky different perspective of what evanglism could be. Rather than thinking how can i convert my friends, think of it this way, we want to extend our family how can we welcome people into that?
Jodi was telling me about getting invited to Joel Palmer’s 8th birthday last sunday. Taking Zoe, hanging out with parents of Joel’s school friends. It reminded me that Pete is always first person on my son Zac’s birthday party invite list. We are family. We love each other like brothers and sisters abd love our neighbours like they are the lost children of God.
One of my greatest joys is a Saint Barnabas’ wedding. And not just because we tear up the dance floor and welcome new friends into the party. But because friends and family of the bride and groom say to me. “Your church people are amazing: the welcome, the friendliness, the musicians, the flower arrangers, the people who cleaned the church and decorated the garden and made a thousand cucumber sandwiches” and i say thanks ‘and did you like my sermon?”
whether it’s a wedding, or our carol service and kids party, or the arts festival and 5th birthday we did here involving performances by all our friends who create music or theatre here. these are amazing examples of mission as a community project. all the different parts of the body, different gifts and strengths working together. one person who designs invites, another who moves chairs and get’s things ready, another who’s an inviter and welcomer, another who makes music, another who’s a delightful encourager, another who cracks ridiculous jokes, another who explains things really well.. We need each other, We work together..
And it is as we are seen to love one another - a community of different persons united in love that the true community of different persons united in love - God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit is SEEN
1 John 4v12 No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.