Romans 10:1-17 Brothers and sisters, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved. I can testify that they have a zeal for God, but it is not enlightened. For, being ignorant of the righteousness that comes from God, and seeking to establish their own, they have not submitted to God’s righteousness. For Christ is the end of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes.
Moses writes concerning the righteousness that comes from the law, that ‘the person who does these things will live by them.’ But the righteousness that comes from faith says, ‘Do not say in your heart, “Who will ascend into heaven?” ’ (that is, to bring Christ down) ‘or “Who will descend into the abyss?” ’ (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). But what does it say? ‘The word is near you, on your lips and in your heart’ (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved. The scripture says, ‘No one who believes in him will be put to shame.’ For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him. For, ‘Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’
But how are they to call on one in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him? And how are they to proclaim him unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!’ But not all have obeyed the good news; for Isaiah says, ‘Lord, who has believed our message?’ So faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes through the word of Christ.
Matthew 9:35-38 Then Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and curing every disease and every sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.’
Keith Boyette is the pastor of Wilderness Community United Methodist Church, west of Fredericksburg. Keith was a lawyer who experienced the transforming power of Jesus Christ in his life, and left a lucrative law career to become a United Methodist pastor. Eleven years ago Keith was the founding pastor of Wilderness Church, and I got to know him as his District Superintendent as he grew the congregation and built their church building on Rt. 3. Keith has a great passion for unchurched people to know the love and grace of Jesus in their lives.
Four years ago, Keith went to the microphone at Annual Conference after the Conference Statistician read the dismal news of the continuing decline in membership of United Methodist churches in Virginia. Keith moved that the Conference design a plan to build 250 new faith communities in Virginia in the next thirty years. Keith’s motion was adopted, and we’ve been trying to figure out what to do with it ever since.
For the next five weeks I want us to talk in some very specific ways about how you and I need to reach out to our neighbors and invite them to make Jesus Christ the center of their lives. I have asked you to pray and fast during Lent about five people you know who need to know the transforming love of Christ. On Easter Sunday, I want you to bring at least one of those people to worship with you, so they can experience the power of the resurrection through our congregation. I want this to become an evangelistic congregation, centered around bringing other people to the abundant life Jesus offers to the world.
Let’s begin with some statistics:
· Virginia is one of the fastest growing states in the nation, and it is projected to grow by 25% by 2030.
· Virginia is a young adult magnet state – unlike Florida or Arizona
· By 2030, 25% of our projected growth will be people under the age of 18, and the median age of the state will be under 38.
· In 1975, United Methodists represented 6.67% of residents of Virginia. By 2005 that shrank to 5%.
· Between 1990 and 2005, the population of Virginia grew 26%, but United Methodist membership shrank 3%.
· Providence Church has actually grown faster than has New Kent County! Between 1990 and 2000, the County grew by 28%, but Providence grew by 33%. Between 2000 and 2010, both the county and Providence grew by 34%.
· Providence Church, for the last twenty years, has claimed 3.5% of the residents of the county as members. BUT – if Providence claimed the same percentage of New Kent County as members as the state average of United Methodists – 5% – our congregation would be half again as large as it is now (from 600 to 900 members).
· There are 18,112 residents of New Kent County. Of course, we also draw from Hanover, Henrico, Richmond, and a few other localities, but let’s just use the New Kent numbers. There are 35 churches listed on the newkent.net web site. Our church is one of the larger churches in the county, at 600 members. If every resident of the county belonged to one of those churches, they’d average 512 members, so we don’t have to do anything, do we? Wrong. The majority of our neighbors are not active church members.
I want to be clear that the issue is not church membership – the issue is the transforming power of Jesus Christ in people’s lives. The issue is life in Christ. But people who are not involved in the spiritual disciplines of worship, study, mission, stewardship, and community through a Christian congregation are not likely to be experiencing abundant life in Jesus. We want to invite people to Christ, not to church. But this is the most likely place where people are going to come to know and follow and serve Christ. That’s God’s plan for communicating the gospel, not ours.
I’ve talked before about how American Christians used to let the schools and the government and the culture in general do our work for us in teaching people about God and reinforcing gospel values and church involvement. While there have always been problems with what values were actually being promoted, like racism, the day of Christians letting someone else do our job for us is done, and it’s not coming back. It’s not the school’s job to teach our children to pray or to read the Bible – it’s ours. It’s not the state’s job to help people keep Sabbath – it’s ours. It’s not the government’s job to keep garbage off the television – it’s our job to turn the wretched thing off. If people are going to learn about Jesus, they’re not going to learn by osmosis – by simply breathing the pure holy air of American culture. As St. Paul said to the church at Rome, of people are going to come to faith, they’re going to have to hear the word of God from believers who have been sent out to share the good news with their neighbors. I mean, you and I.
Many Christian thinkers are saying – and I believe they’re right – that we live in a “new apostolic age,” much like the first century when Paul and the other apostles were in ministry. Paul, in particular, understood that new life in Christ was not just for Jews – the insiders who knew the history of God’s love for the world – but was for everyone. Life in Christ was also for – maybe even especially for – people who knew absolutely nothing about Hebrew history, the nation of Israel, the Exodus, the commandments, or the hope for a Messiah. People who believed in different gods and in no gods at all needed to hear, in ways they could understand, what God had done in this carpenter from Nazareth, and how it was possible because of him to be at peace with heaven and with other people. Paul and the apostles knew they were strangers in a strange land, telling a story to people who had never heard anything like it before. Those people weren’t going to learn the story, or experience the life-changing power of its author, by accident. The apostles needed to be deliberate and intentional about their work.
You and I live in an alien and pagan world. I have said before and will say again until people believe it, it doesn’t matter who you elect – America isn’t going to become a “Christian nation.” It never really was, because if you’ll read your Bible, you’ll discover that’s not how God works anymore anyhow. God is depending on you and on me – but especially on you – to deliberately, intentionally, and lovingly share the good news of God’s love in Jesus Christ with our families, our neighbors, our friends, our classmates, and our coworkers. If you want to go door to door through Patriot’s Landing and tell people about Jesus, then you follow God where God is calling you. But I believe that you already have in your everyday life people who desperately need to know they are loved and forgiven, that God has a purpose for their lives, and that there is a new church family ready to receive them and love them and help them experience more joy then they ever knew was possible.
Next week we’re going to talk about what the Good News really is: what’s the heart of the gospel message? March 27th we’re going to talk about the obstacles in us and in others to us sharing our faith – the fear that people are going to think we’re weird, and that we’re going to get it all wrong. April 3 we’re going to think about who God is calling us to reach out to. And then we’ll end up April 10 with some really specific how-to’s for sharing our faith.
But right now I just want us to confess that we’ve done a lousy job telling other people about the person who’s supposed to be the most important person in our lives, which has made other people think maybe he must not be all that important for them, either. I want us to confess that we don’t want other people to think we’re weird. And I want us to ask God to show us who God is already preparing to receive the love of Christ from us, and for the courage and opportunity to simply do that, for the love of our friend, and for the love of Jesus.
You and I are not here by accident – we are here because a relative or a friend loved us enough to share Jesus with us. We are here because God deliberately and intentionally chose that person to love you. And now God is choosing you, and you, and you, and me, to share that same love with someone else. And if we will pray about that for the next five weeks, God will not only change our lives, but God will use us to change someone else’s. And that will change the world.