Going Deeper 1-20-20

From our Gospel reading, selected verses: The next day [John] saw Jesus coming toward him and declared, "Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” … One of the two who heard John speak and followed him was Andrew, Simon Peter's brother.  He first found his brother Simon and said to him, "We have found the Messiah" (which is translated Anointed).  He brought Simon to Jesus, who looked at him and said, "You are Simon son of John. You are to be called Cephas" (which is translated Peter).  Thus far our text.
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ.  Amen.
A mostly rhetorical question: Was Peter an important part of the birth and growth of the Church? Obviously, he was, and probably only a little less vital than Paul.  Following his confession of Jesus as “the Christ,” Jesus referred to Peter as “the rock on which I will build my Church.”  That is a rather important role, wouldn’t you agree?  (I guess that’s another rhetorical question.)
Please note how Peter came to Jesus in the first place.  He came at the invitation of his brother, Andrew.  So, it’s obvious that Andrew’s bringing Peter to Jesus was extremely important.  And from that point onward, bringing people to Jesus became the most important task that followers of Jesus could ever fulfill… including me and including you.  I’m going to preach a short series of sermons on this theme of outreach, of seeking to bring others to Jesus.
Let’s start with a not-so-rhetorical question: How are we doing with this vital task of bringing people to Jesus?  Collectively, as a part of the body of Christ known as Zion, how effective have we been?  And as individual parts of the body, how effective have you and I been?  If you are like me, the answer is: “Not nearly as effective as I ought to be.”  And this likely produces in us either feelings of defensiveness-- “Hey, that’s really not my job!  That’s why we pay a pastor!” or “that’s only for people who have the gift of evangelist”; or, we might feel a bit of shame or guilt.  Perhaps we might try to come up with some other excuse-- (time out for humor- illustration.)  The truth is, all attempts to ignore or excuse away our responsibilities as children of God demonstrate how we might just be missing the point... perhaps even missing the boat.
Just like everything else we are called to do as followers of Jesus, if we are driven primarily by guilt, shame, or pressure, then it’s probably not going too well.  Yes, we need to be challenged and pushed at times to do the right things.  But what primarily ought to drive us to seek to bring others to Jesus is simple: compassion and love.  As we ourselves personally experience the love and the compassion of God in more and more profound ways, we are filled with increasing love and compassion for others.  That is how this all ideally works.  Beloved people love people.
Now a story: Chaim Potok was an intensely religious man; a Jew who explored the dimensions of faith in our lives. From an early age, Potok knew he wanted to be a writer. But his mother wasn't so sure. When he went away to college she said, "Son, now I know you want to be a writer. But I want you to think about brain surgery. You'll keep a lot of people from dying. And you'll make a lot of money." To which Potok responded, "No, Mama, I want to be a writer."
But, "No," is not what Mama wanted to hear. So, every vacation break for 4 years she’d repeat her comments about his becoming a brain surgeon and keeping people from dying and making a lot of money, and always his response was the same. Finally the son had enough, and, when the same mantra began, he cut off his mother with exasperation, and with great passion he told her, "Mama, I don't want to keep people from dying, I want to show them how to live."
You see, as we experience the life-giving and life-transforming grace and love of God, we come to embrace our calling to share His love with others because we come to love them, too, and want to show them how to live as beloved children of God.  Our desire is to be used by God to lead others into living the type of abundant life Jesus desires for us all to live.
And let’s remember that the love we are talking about here is agape love, love that is not an emotion but rather is a decision and a commitment to respond to the needs of others… whether we like them or not.  And I hope and pray we understand that the greatest need of others is to experience the healing and transforming love and grace of God.  Nothing is more important. That’s why we desire to bring them to Jesus…. to show them how to live now and into eternity.
With all of that being said, there are some who have concluded that the United States now represents one of the most—if not the very most—challenging mission fields in the world.  There are a few key factors involved with why this is the case, but we are not going to get into that right here and now.  But the fact of the matter is that one of the great challenges of seeking to bring people to Jesus is that we seem to be surrounded by people who are not interested in connecting with Jesus, or who simply do not feel the need.
We can’t just write those folks off and give up.  Next week we will take a look at strategies for trying to connect with those who are disinterested.  For now, let’s focus on the bigger picture, and on how to reach those who may be most open to our invitation. The challenge here may be the tendency to judge some of these folks as being too badly broken, too distant from God.
So let’s talk about compassion, which is linked to agape love, but is something which does involve emotion.  Compassion is a deep stirring within us when we see someone in need and are moved to care about that need.  And compassion is perhaps a little more difficult to create… we certainly need to be filled with the heart and Spirit of Jesus, as well as an ability to understand.
What I mean by that is that it can be all too easy to let judging impair our judgment.  In other words, we might look at someone whose life appears to be “messed up,” who appears to be living without an awareness of God and of His love, and/or without any desire to live in line with God’s will, and we might look down our noses at them in judgment.  We might determine that they are bad people, or just too far gone to have any real hope of bringing them to Jesus.
One of the very valuable insights I have gained in our ministry with the guys at Harvest Farm has come by way of hearing their stories.  Most of them have had some extremely hard and painful experiences in their life journey… some because of their own mistakes and failures, but many because of the mistakes and failures of others, of being part of family systems and other kinds of systems that are so horribly dysfunctional and traumatic and pain-producing that it breaks them in deep and lasting ways.   Some of them are still experiencing things that are so much harder than most of us have ever experienced… or can even imagine.  
When we can move beyond judging to loving, we can begin to see the lives of others who seem to be terribly broken and be moved to compassion, and to see them as fellow beloved children of God who share our own great need for amazing grace.  And as we reach out in love and compassion, we do not do so with an air of superiority, but as beggars telling other beggars where we found bread.  Truthfully, that is at the very heart of effective outreach.  Amen.