Theme: One of our fundamental reasons for existing is sending people out to proclaim Christ and to serve.
In the series, “God’s Mission; God’s Method,” we will be looking at the Book of Acts to see God at work in the early church. The series will help us start our life together by looking afresh at what it means to be God’s people, caught up in the world-changing action of the Holy Spirit. I don’t want to “play church,” just going through the motions. I want us to be the church, the church God calls us to be. ~Rev. John Schmidt
I would like to read from three different passages this morning, beginning in the Book of Acts, the 8th chapter. I am going to begin now with chapter 8, beginning in verse 1, about half way through that verse.
And Saul was there, giving approval to his death. On that day a great persecution broke out against the church at Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. Godly men buried Stephen and mourned deeply for him. Butq Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off men and women and put them in prison.
Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went. Philip went down to a city in Samaria and proclaimed the Christ there. When the crowds heard Philip and saw the miraculous signs he did, they all paid close attention to what he said. With shrieks, evil spirits came out of many, and many paralytics and cripples were healed. So there was great joy in that city.
Let’s go now to chapter 11, beginning on the 19th verse.
Now those who had been scattered by the persecution in connection with Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus and Antioch, telling the message only to Jews. Some of them, however, men from Cyprus and Cyrene, went to Antioch and began to speak to Greeks also, telling them the good news about the Lord Jesus. The Lord’s hand was with them, and a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord.
News of this reached the ears of the church at Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch. When he arrived and saw the evidence of the grace of God, he was glad and encouraged them all to remain true to the Lord with all their hearts. He was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith, and a great number of people were brought to the Lord.
Then Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, and when he found him, he brought him to Antioch. So for a whole year Barnabas and Saul met with the church and taught great numbers of people. The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch.
And now from the Book of Romans, chapter 1, verse 14.
I am obligated both to Greeks and non-Greeks, both to the wise and the foolish. That is why I am so eager to preach the gospel also to you who are at Rome. I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.”
Let’s pray. Gracious God, we thank you for this, your word. And we pray that you will open your word to us, that we might understand and respond. For we ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen.
(Pastor Schmidt speaks a phrase in Japanese)
Now most of you here probably didn’t understand what I just said, and just imagine with me being in a situation where that happens not for 15 seconds, but all day, everyday, day in and day out, week after week and month after month. It’s a very difficult thing to constantly be surrounded by words you don’t understand. And so to share that blessing we today have had a lot of things in worship that you haven’t understood the words as we have said them. And I am now going to introduce you to Japanese. I know it doesn’t have to do with Africa today, but next week is Asia and I am not preaching next week so you are going to have to bear with me. So I have got a little lesson here that I want to share with you and not forgetting you guys,(paper lesson facing the choir) I already have the lesson written out here, so you can see it right there, okay? Okay.
One of the first responsibilities any missionary has is to learn the language if they are going to be there for any amount of time. So I want to teach you about the written language of Japanese. Here is the first character that I want to share with you this morning. It’s the character for the idea now and its pronounced “Ema”, so tell me… Oh, very good. Then we have the “congi” or the Chinese character for day or for sun. It used to be a circle and over the years it was squared out and so this stands for day and its pronounced “He”, so say it with me, “He”. Now, when you put them together now and day, what do you think it means? Today, okay. It’s a no brainer. So let’s say it together, “Ema He”. No, okay? It’s ema when it is separate and it’s he when it is in other words and all, but when you put them together its “Kul”, okay? I bet you saw that coming, didn’t you? So say it with me, “Kul”. Okay. Now. So we’ve got this, now the next letter down is this one. That is “Ha”, oh don’t go ahead of me here. In the Japanese phonetic alphabetic it’s “Ha”, so “Ha” say that with me. “Ha” Now lets say that together “Kul Ha”. No. Okay? Because when it is in this position it’s a marker that shows that this is a subject and it turns to “Wah”, so it’s “Kul Wah”. Okay? So somebody guessed that real well on us here, so “Kul Wah”. Now I am going to do one more thing to complete our lesson. I am going to put the Japanese period at the end. So let’s say it together again. “Kul Wah”. No, because now that we have the period at the end we realize that this of course this is Konechiwa, which is the greeting. So, “Konechiwa”, it’s good to see you this morning. Now, this was my life for years. When you walk out today you are going to meet the K.’s, I hope, if you haven’t spent a lot of time with them, they have learned one language and are proficient in it and now they are going to another whole part of the world to learn a new language. Believe me, that is either bravery or we won’t mention what it is.
Why do something that hard? Believe me, I don’t do it because I like doing hard things. I am a lazy boy remote control sort of guy. You know, I like to just sit and flip the channels. I didn’t do this because I like the challenge. Why do missionaries make this step where you go into another culture and you do something that is so disorienting, to preach in green slippers that go halfway up my feet? Why did I do that?
It’s not because we see a physical need all the time. You know, when you see a physical need it is so much easier to respond. You look at a place like Haiti or Bangladesh or Ethiopia and you say, “My goodness, look at the incredible need. Someone’s got to help.” And that has been the motivation behind much of protestant mission across the years. We have sent doctors. We have sent people who brought food, agricultural practices, and so they would bring the medicine and the gospel. But what about a place like Japan? They don’t need our medicine. Their medicine is fine. I got tests in Japan. I got an MRI there and brought the pictures to my doctor here in the United States and he said that these were the clearest ones he had ever seen. They have fine medicine. They have food. They have less homeless than we do. Why go? It’s because we see not only physical needs, but we see spiritual needs.
We learn from the Apostle Paul. Here is the Apostle Paul talking about his desire to go to Rome. Now think about Rome at that time. It’s the center of the whole known world. It’s the political center. The most powerful people alive at that time lived in Rome. It’s also the center of all of the most famous religions. It’s the center of culture. It dictated what language people used in commerce. And here is this itinerant Jewish scholar who says, “I need to get to Rome because they need to hear what I have got to say.” Now why? It’s because he had a spiritually-tuned eye and he was not ashamed of the gospel, because he knew that it was the power of God to bring salvation to all who believed. We’ve got people out there who spiritually have great needs. They might not have material needs, but they are separated from God and they need to hear the gospel and they need to have their relationship with God healed and so we send people out. We send people even out to places like Japan that don’t have clear physical needs because of those spiritual needs.
And so Paul was confident because of the message of the gospel. And so when we went to Japan, we went knowing that there was spiritual needs there that could be met by the gospel. Only 1% of the population is Christian in Japan, even after 150 years of the church being present there. In addition, there is a breakdown in Japanese family with the fathers working from 6:00 in the morning to 11:00 at night. Children don’t know their fathers. There are young girls in Japan that won’t let their clothes be washed in the same washing machines as their fathers because he’s the older dirty guy that lives with us. Hardly know each other. It’s an incredible breakdown. We have our own problems here, but they have serious problems that have spiritual roots because they are worshipping things that aren’t God. It’s not that they have so many idols, it’s the company, it’s their careers, and it’s money. It is the same sort of things that surround us here. We send people out to places like Japan and others because we know those needs are out there.
But that’s why you are here as well. You are God’s missionary to this culture,because think about it. Japan and America are somewhat alike because the first needs we see aren’t necessarily fiscal, financial or physical needs. Sometimes the first thing that we notice is that the person next door is extremely lonely. They are closed in on themselves. They are selfish. They are unlovable. And we see people around us who are trying to find satisfaction, trying to find satisfaction in sexual relationships, in power, in money, in entertainment, in drugs, in gambling. There are all kinds of things and people are trying to fill this inner need, this incompletion in their lives and it does not matter how old they are. It can be young kids. It can be older people in our communities. There is an emptiness in us when we don’t know God and people are trying to fill that in all kinds of destructive ways. And God has happened to put you right next door or right in the next cubicle or in the next office or in the next desk and that is not by chance.
We are a church whose mission statement says, “We are moving people towards Christ by being a community of faith that loves, encourages and equips them in Christ sending them out to serve,” sending them out to serve. Now, that includes the missionaries that we have sent out and I hope that you get a chance to meet some of these wonderful people that are here. It also includes those people who have a burden for things that are happening in Baltimore and go that five or ten miles into the city to serve there, to do something special to help with some needs, to hold hands with other Christians and get something to happen. These are all wonderful ways that we as a congregation send people out to serve. But, we send you out to serve as well in your workplace. We send you out to serve in your family. We send you out to serve in your neighborhood. We are sending them all out to serve, not just a special professional group, we are all sent out to serve.
Now, what’s holding you back if you are not serving in this way? If you are not sharing Christ, what’s standing in your way? Well, for some of us it might be that we don’t feel equipped. We don’t feel like we have the right tools. We are not ready. We don’t understand enough. There is things we just don’t feel comfortable about and we need help. If that is the case, we want to be the kind of church that equips you. We have classes and we put you together with people that can help you grow. We provide books and give you some kind of guidance. We want to be that kind of church that equips you, if that is your problem. So, if you’re not equipped, talk to a leader in this church. Tell them what you need and we are going to do what we can to respond to that need so that you can go out equipped. You will have the tools. Nobody likes to do a job without the right tools. If you need the tools, then lets work together to get you those.
But you know what, the bigger problem for most of us is not that we are not equipped, it’s because it is hard. You know going to another culture and learning another language is hard. But so is reaching out in the workplace. It’s a different kind of hard. It’s a social difficulty. You know you are about to do something that people just don’t do. You are going to tell them about God and that is hard. That requires a change in your lifestyle. It requires a change in your priorities. It means that you open up your friendship network so that you have new friends and not just these old ones that are comfortable. It means that you learn how to love some unlovely people and that’s not easy. And yet, it’s what God wants to do in our lives.
And God understands that we have that kind of problem because even the early church seems to have had the same sort of struggle in not reaching out. Remember in the very start Jesus said, “I am sending you to Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and to the ends of the earth.” And so what happens? Thousands of people hear the gospel. That’s in chapter two. And in chapter eight, near as we can tell, they are all still huddled together in Jerusalem. Why? Because that’s where the apostles were. Because that is where it was comfortable. They could get together with all these thousands of other people who believe, they can praise God in the temple courts, they can hear a good word and go home and have bread you know with friends, but God doesn’t let that happen very long. Look what happens in chapter eight. In chapter eight it says, a great persecution broke out against the church at Jerusalem. And what’s the result? Those who have been scattered preached the word wherever they went. Again, in chapter eleven it says, “Now those who have been scattered by the persecution traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus and Antioch, telling the message, at first only to Jews and then some started to share it with Greeks as well.” One of the results of this incredible persecution against the church was that the gospel was spread. God used the terrible thing for good. He shook up the church because they were getting sort of comfortable there. And when does God first use Paul as an agent to spread the gospel? It’s before he even believes in Christ. Because in chapter eight it says, “Saul was there giving approval to the death of Stephen that started this persecution that scattered the church.” Even before Paul believed in Christ, God was using him to push the church out in mission. God is serious about missions and God wants us, the church, to be serious about mission. And so that means that sometimes God is going to shake up our lives too. It won’t be necessarily a persecution like this, but God steps into our lives and all of the sudden shakes something. Maybe it’s our job, we lose our job. Maybe we have to get transferred and we have to uproot and go to a community we never envisioned living. Maybe it’s a problem in the family, an illness. Where God takes comfortable life and gives it a shake so that we can start re-evaluating who we are and what our response to God would be. God sometimes does drastic things to get our attention and the Bible calls that pruning, where you cut something down, cut something off in our life so that we will bear more fruit.
And if you don’t think that this happens, you need to talk to some of the elders and deacons of this church. I have never heard so many stories of pruning, of God taking a life and giving it a shake, a painful shake, but that results by God’s grace in good things. We don’t like that difficulty, but we really don’t get a choice. God does this sovereignly in our lives, and what we can testify to is that it bears good fruit. And so we as a church want to cooperate with that work of God because God calls us as a church to one of our fundamental reasons for existing, is sending people out to proclaim and to serve. And so that means that those missionaries that you are going to meet, I hope you take part in a lot of the activities that happened this week and the mission into generation dinner that is happening next Saturday, all of these things I hope you take part in them and go hear things this afternoon. That is one part. And when you go see some of these tables and you meet the people behind that, you see another key part. The part that is not only overseas, but that’s here in Baltimore. We sent people to the ends of the earth. We send people all over Baltimore to serve. But we also send you. It’s not just them. It’s you. And so let’s all now commit ourselves again to what it means to be God’s person in your workplace, in your home. You’ve got that natural bridge and God wants to use it.
Let’s pray. Gracious God, we thank you. We thank you that we each are somehow called and can be equipped to be your servants in this world. So we thank you. We thank you even though we don’t fully understand it, and even though we really don’t feel that ready, but we invite you to work in our lives so that we can represent Jesus Christ to the needy people around us. For we ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Sermon Outline Notes:
Why do something as hard as overseas mission?
Not because we like doing difficult things!
Not always because there are clear physical needs.
So why do something that hard?
Because we have confidence in the Gospel
Seeing w/ spiritually tuned eyes
Materially no need
Spiritually great need
Separation from God
Need for Gospel/ Healing
That’s the same reason you are here in Baltimore!
Deepest needs of most Americans aren’t financial
And God has put you here to serve
Our Mission Statement – “Sending them out to serve”
Not just our missionaries
Not just people here with special interest in ministries to the inner city
Sending you out to serve Christ in your everyday life
What stands in the way of you being sent out to serve?
Do you need to be better equipped?
Classes, books, mentors
Or is it because it’s hard!
Requires changes in our lifestyle
Take some risks
Effort to make new friends
Love some unlovely people
Sometimes God has to do something drastic to get our attention
To move us out into mission
One of the core reasons for the church existing is to spread the gospel
And so we send people out to serve
Not just the nice people behind the tables outside today
Not just the brave missionaries who are visiting this week