10/1/2017 Sermon: “A Great Opportunity!”

Last year, I was driving to the church along the Mount Joy road and saw the strangest thing.  I stopped the car and took this photo.  How would you like to have this guy’s job?  I guess that’s the only way to do repairs or maintenance on higher electrical wire that can’t be reached with a ladder.

I’m trying to imagine being that guy on the helicopter skid doing something technical… with electrical wires.  Think he had to have some training?  And the pilot had to be pretty good; I’m not sure whether you can put a helicopter on auto-pilot.  And there was probably somebody somewhere who had to know when to shut off the power to that line.  A bunch of people trusting each other, having faith in each other.  It isn’t just one person doing that work.  All about the trust, right?

It isn’t just one person doing this work either.  The more teamwork in the church, the more people using the gifts God gave them, the more God is able to do.  Especially these days, when there is so much to be done to bring healing and wholeness and forgiveness to a hurting world.

And all God has to work with is flawed human beings.  God knows this, and still does amazing things when we say yes. Take Paul for instance…

1 Timothy 1:12 I am grateful to Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, because he judged me faithful and appointed me to his service, 13even though I was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and a man of violence. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, 14and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. 15The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the foremost. 16But for that very reason I received mercy, so that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display the utmost patience, making me an example to those who would come to believe in him for eternal life.17To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen.

As an older man and a seasoned church leader (I’m about the same age as Paul when finished his ministry as a martyr). Paul writes to his young friend Timothy and says,  “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners – of whom I am the foremost.”  (1 Timothy 1:15)

I would have loved to hear the Apostle Paul preach and expand on those words.  I think he was probably much more graphic than he let himself be in this letter to Timothy.  You see, this man who wrote about half of the material that was later collected into the New Testament, whom, of all the followers of Jesus, is probably the most responsible for us being gathered in this church, was an accomplice to the murder of a man named Stephen.  He was part of the first persecution of Christians (Acts 8).  Actually, he wasn’t just part of it, he was leading it!

…[he] was ravaging the church by entering house after house; dragging off both men and women, he committed them to prison.  (Acts 8:3)

Okay, not long after that he had a powerful conversion experience and his life changed dramatically.  You would think that after this huge change, after he turned away from his sin and let Christ take over, that his life would be totally pure, and he would be proud of that halo over his head, but years later he writes and says…

“I can will what is right, but I cannot do it.  For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do… wretched man that I am.”  (Romans 7:18-19, 24)

To paraphrase, “I was and am a sinner.”  This, from the most significant church father who lived. I have sinned.  A spiritual statement.  You know, in one way or another, we say that almost every week.  Let’s say it: “God, I have sinned, and I come to you for forgiveness.”  In the context of our worship, it feels normal, doesn’t it?

And, as scripture says, “If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9)

There is a release that comes with confession.  The burden lists when you admit to God that you need God, that you need healing and forgiveness.

If you stop and think about it, sin permeates everything we do.  We are part of a flawed human race that desperately needs a Savior.  That is why we are here this morning.  That confession opens the door to Jesus and gives God space to work.  The point of Paul’s confession is that God does his best work in the darkest places in the most unlikely people, including you and me.

Paul confessed that he was a sinner.  When somebody can say, “I have sinned,” they are also saying “God save me and change me.”   When we turn to God and say, “I have sinned,” we hear God say, “What a coincidence!  I sent Jesus to save sinners!”

Think of the awful stuff that’s happened just in the last few months: Fires, Hurricane Harvey, Hurricane Irma, never-ending wars, topped off with just a little political conflict.

And here we are in Manheim, PA.  In one way or another, the stuff that goes on in the world affects us here.  We think it doesn’t, but it does.  I have tried to persuade us to find the needs of our town and do something about them. Then do something to meet needs in places that are not Manheim because we don’t live in a vacuum.  Because it’s our calling.  To be fulfilled as Christ’s people, we need to think about more people than just us.  The church is not just about us getting our spiritual needs met.

If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill’, and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.  (James 2:15-17).

Some people think that our country and the world are “going to hell in a hand-basket.”  I actually think the opposite.  I think, in my lifetime, there has never been a greater opportunity for faith, and we need to be part of that.  God is reaching people; God is working and people are seeing the good works done by this church. Our God is bigger than the problems we read about or see on TV. We have a mission to be an outpost for Christ and there have never been greater opportunities for people to open themselves to God, and to know what it means to find healing in Jesus Christ.

It’s not just us; sin is everywhere.  We have all sinned.  It does not take a theological rocket scientist to figure this out.  We live in a big mess of humanity and a flawed world.  We live in an imperfect country, with state and town governments that are less than perfect.  We have churches that are less than perfect.  Families that are less than perfect.

When we have faith together, God gives us the ability through the Spirit in us to make the good stronger than the evil.  God gives us a vision of what we can do to make a difference in this mess and then shows us how to be a team, how to make even more of a difference when we work together.

I’ve often said that I can picture myself in a crowd around Jesus.  I love to imagine that he has just walked into the room and sat in a pew.  In his presence, I am utterly and completely aware that I am not who I should be.  It’s at that moment, with my head in my hands, that I feel this tap on the shoulder, and this voice saying, “Let’s have dinner.”  It’s at that moment, when I realize that he wants to be with me, that I realize God is much more concerned with how I live my future than how I’ve lived my past.  And he will be there with me, and I am not lost anymore.

Prayer

God, we have sensed over and over again that something is not right, that something is missing.  Deep within ourselves, we know that the something we are missing is you, and now we know, you have been walking with us all the time.  At the moment of our deepest need, when it seemed healing and forgiveness was so far away, you are there.  We confess our need, and knowing you sent your son Jesus for us, invite you to be our savior through him.  Now use us to be lights in a dark world, live through us, and use us to make a difference in this world you love.  (Pray with me…)

God, I know I need you.

I have always needed you.

And so, today, I give myself to you,

Knowing that you will always be with me,

Directing my life, and giving me peace.

In Jesus’ name.  Amen.