I wonder why you’re here this morning. It’s a lovely day, the sun is shining. Most people in this country aren’t in church. They are doing other things. Maybe they’re having a lie in or are out with the family. Maybe playing sport or shopping. Perhaps mowing the lawn or washing their cars. That is what most people are doing. So why are you here, and not doing one of the things that normal people do?
There is usually more than one reason why we do anything. I expect that this is true for why we are here this morning. There is the pleasure we get from meeting with friends and family. Getting together with people who think like us, who speak the same language, who understand us. Perhaps there is the force of habit. It’s Sunday morning, and what we’re used to doing on Sunday morning is going to church. I would hope also, given that this is church, that there is something about God. I expect for most of us, at some time in the past, we will have decided that we want to live in God’s way, that we are going to follow Jesus.
I grew up in a Christian household. My parents were missionaries in East Africa. I lived in Tanzania until I was 7 years old. When we came back to the UK, my father went to theological college and became a church minister. I have been going to church since I was a baby. The habit is very strong for me. I can’t remember a time when I didn’t know about Jesus. God has always been a part of my life, and I have always wanted to follow Jesus. When I was thirty I also went to theological college and trained to be a church minister. I worked for three years in Stoke on Trent and then, two years ago, I moved to Priorslee with my family. We moved here because we felt that God was calling us here to be part of planting a new church in Priorslee, made up mostly of people who have come to faith here and decided to follow Jesus.
Some of the people we met in Priorslee were Lawrence and Jessica. It has been good to get to know them, along with Chris and Isaac. They talked with Stephen and asked me if I would like to come and share something about what we are doing with your fellowship.
So, I am here this morning because Jesus has rescued me from the death I deserve. I am also here because God called me to Telford. I am also here because I have been invited. If any of these things had not happened then I would not be here.
In our Bible reading this morning we heard from Paul’s letter to the church in Rome. He is writing to lay out some of his understanding of the Christian faith. In the part that we heard this morning he is talking about how people come to faith, how they come to follow Jesus and be rescued from sin and death.
The first thing that Paul says is that becoming a Christian is simple. In verse 9 it says, “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.” In many of the religions that were around in Paul’s time there were many complicated rituals that people had to go through. There were people who claimed to be very spiritual who taught that there were deep mysteries that only a few could understand. Paul makes it clear that for followers of Jesus there is no hidden knowledge, it is all in the open. It’s very straightforward. Firstly, choose to put Jesus in charge of your life, and be willing to tell other people that is what you have done. (At the time this was dangerous because it was against the Roman culture that said that Caesar is Lord) Secondly, believe that God raised Jesus from the dead. This is something that is difficult to believe. I don’t know anybody who has been raised from the dead. I don’t think that I know anybody who knows somebody who has been raised from the dead. It is not something that happens very often. Paul is very clear, here and elsewhere, that our Christian faith is rooted in the truth of the resurrection. It was in the resurrection that Jesus showed us, proved to us, that death is beaten and that eternal life is possible.
The second thing that Paul says is that the Christian faith is for everybody. In verses 12 and 13 he writes, “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.” In the church that Paul was writing to, they were still talking about whether Jesus had come just for the Jewish people, or whether his mission was to the whole world. The Holy Spirit had revealed to Peter in a vision that Jesus’ message was for all nations. This had been shown also by the fact that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been given to some Greeks who Paul had told about Jesus. Despite this there was still some confusion – did Greeks have to convert to Judaism before becoming Christians? Paul’s answer is a very strong no. All anybody has to do is confess that Jesus is Lord and believe that God raised him from the dead. There is no distinction between Jew and Greek. Elsewhere Paul writes that in Christ there is no Jew or Gentile, no male and female, no slave or free. Paul teaches us very clearly that Jesus came for all people. He came for the English, for Chinese; for rich, for poor; for east, for west.
The third thing that Paul says is that the Christian faith comes with a responsibility. He has said that becoming a Christian is straightforward, he has said that it is for everybody, but now he points out that unless people are told these things then they won’t know. How can they call if they haven’t believed? How can they believe if they haven’t heard? How can they hear if no one proclaims him? How can they proclaim if they haven’t been sent? If any of these things do not happen, then people will miss out on getting to know Jesus and joining us in the church, will miss out on becoming part of the body of Christ.
Paul knew that he had been sent to proclaim the good news about Jesus. He started out as a very religious Jew who hated Christians, who persecuted them. Jesus broke through into his life and it changed direction completely. Paul’s deep thankfulness for his rescue and his love for Jesus can be seen in his desire to tell others about Jesus. But actually, all of us have been sent. At the end of Matthew’s account of Jesus’ life we read one of the last things that Jesus said to his disciples, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”
Those disciples obeyed that command and taught the new disciples to obey everything Jesus had commanded, including the command to make disciples. Those disciples were obedient as well, and so the chain started. Down through the ages and across the world the good news of Jesus spread, and each generation of believers passed on the sending command of Jesus to the next generation. Now it has reached us. We are here this morning because someone began making us disciples of Jesus. We have received the command to make more disciples. We have been sent. We must proclaim Jesus so that people can hear and have the opportunity to believe. Some people won’t believe, but that is not our responsibility. Our responsibility is to proclaim Jesus to all kinds of people, our friends and neighbours, our work colleagues, our families.
That is our task, but I know that it is not an easy one. There are barriers to this message. There are many people who think that Christians are a bit odd, and that God is a fairy tale for children, or who iallcauses disasters. These people aren’t ready to even think about whether Jesus is Lord, or if God raised him from the dead because they have a negative view of Christianity. In our work in Priorslee we believe that one of the first steps in proclaiming the good news of Jesus to these people is to be good news. To show people that Christians are OK and that God is good. We do this by encouraging community and helping run community events. By being generous with our time and hospitality. By looking out for our neighbours. We are thinking of running an English Club for people who live in Priorslee, who want to meet for conversation to practice their English.
The next step is to start telling people a bit about Jesus. We have started doing this by going into schools and sharing stories from the Bible. In a couple of weeks we are running a holiday activity day where we hope children will come along and prepare short dramas to present Bible stories to their parents. In this way we hope that people will hear the stories of Jesus and want to find out more. Then it will be time to ask if they want to find out more about what following Jesus means. Eventually to ask whether they want to decide to do that and become Christians.
This way of doing what we have been sent to do, of proclaiming Jesus, is fitted to our situation. Just as all of us have different stories about why we are today, so we all live in different communities, with different people around us. We have all been sent to proclaim Jesus, but that does not mean that we are all going do to that in the same way. It is important that we all listen to what God is showing us about the right way to do it in our situation. We don’t have to do that on our own. This week our small team went away for a day to pray and think about the right way to proclaim Jesus in Priorslee. We can work together on this, and help and encourage each other.
We all have different stories to tell about why we are here today. All of us, though, are here because somebody told us about Jesus and invited us to find out more. Paul teaches us that starting to follow Jesus is not complicated. He tells us that everyone is invited to follow Jesus. He also shows us that all who do follow Jesus have been sent to invite others. How we do that will depend on our own situation, but we need to understand that we have all been sent to proclaim Jesus so that people can hear and have the opportunity to believe.