Sunday, January 16, 2011

The Three Conversions

Epiphany II
16 January 2011

The Three Conversions

What a perfect set of readings for this morning, as we prepare to bless and send the LIGHT out into the world in very tangible hands and feet ways this morning. Today we are going to bless four separate mission teams with seven different participants from this congregation who are all going to be going on their missions in the next three weeks. This Epiphany has become a World Missions two months.

This year we have a long Epiphany season and a late Easter. And I think that’s by design for us here at REZ as we hear, more and more what it means to be a people sent by God and a sending people of God.

It cannot be mistaken, if you’ve listened to more than two sermons at this church, that we are ALL missionaries, -- every day, everywhere we go, to everyone we meet.

Our prayers and our giving minister in many corners of the globe. Today we have another of our famous Men’s Bake Sales to help fund the translation of the Bible into the Dungan tongue, a language of the Muslim Dungan People in Kirghiztan, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, descendants of Chinese Muslims. This bake sale has been happening now for over a decade to fund a translator, and the whole New Testament and large parts of the Old Testament are completed. When we began this project at St. George’s Church there were 6 identified Christians in this people group!! Now there is a Bible and a growing church, 10 years on.

Today we will bless teams and individuals who are joining teams that will touch Brazil, Mexico, Honduras, Rwanda and Uganda with the Light of Jesus Christ.

And I want to talk for a few moments before we do that, about three conversions that we must go through, as believers to be turned into missionaries. We can see these in our collect – our opening prayer for the day, appointed for this day by the calendar of the church year!! Let’s read it together again:

Almighty God, whose Son our Savior Jesus Christ is the light of the world: Grant that your people, illumined by your Word and Sacraments, may shine with the radiance of Christ's glory, that he may be known, worshipped, and obeyed to the ends of the earth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

I just want to point to three bases that have to be touched on the way around to home plate!!

Almighty God, whose Son our Savior Jesus Christ is the light of the world

We must, if we are going to be a missionary church, be rooted in and convinced of the faith once received by the saints. We must be converted – saved – born from above, of water and the Spirit of God, to quote Jesus himself. We must be convinced, with Peter, that “you are the Messiah, the Son of God”, when Jesus asks US “who do YOU say I am?”

This faith is the foundation of all else that we are called to do. Understanding who Jesus is, what He said and did, how he did these things and why, even to the why of his death and unshakeable belief in his resurrection, is the bedrock on which this whole enterprise rests. “APART FROM ME, YOU CAN DO NOTHING!” is the gospel truth in this regard!

There is NO FAITH apart from Jesus Christ of Nazareth. He is the unique Son of God, as John testifies in our gospel this morning: “I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God." The Apostle Paul is clear as well in his introduction to the Corinthian letter:

“… the grace of God… has been given you in Christ Jesus, for in every way you have been enriched in him, in speech and knowledge of every kind-- just as the testimony of Christ has been strengthened among you-- so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

We know from the preaching of Acts and Romans that the Apostle to the Gentiles saw Jesus as vital and central to all that he was doing. Paul said that “There is no other Name given among men by which we must be saved!” And later in his letter to the Roman church he set this out as the bedrock of the gospel:

"But what does it say? "The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart" (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. … For "everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved."

This is First Base, but there is more.

“Grant that your people, illumined by your Word and Sacraments, may shine with the radiance of Christ's glory,…”

This conversion is perhaps the most difficult in our day and age, when the church is being bypassed in the equation. But we cannot overlook what God has put an emphasis on – His People! We must be converted to The Church – to believe in the beauty and usefulness of the Sanctorum Communio – the Fellowship of All Believers. There is no plan B for God – we are the plan.

Just as Jesus is the Light of the World, so He has given into our hands the stewardship of that Light – we too, are the light of the world. He said it himself, "You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven."

It is the church on the earth that God has appointed as the heralds of His Good News of Jesus, the Christ; and has anointed to be the very hands and feet of Jesus, active in good works, just as He was while He was on earth, where “he went throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction among the people.”

This is the churches destiny and purpose in the earth – just as it was Jesus’ destiny and purpose. As He was in the world, so are we now as His Body! But conversion to the Church, isn’t seeking some perfection in the here and now… it is seeking to be perfected in the communion of the Saints. As Paul tells the Corinthians in our reading: “He will also strengthen you to the end, so that you may be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful; by him you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.” Our blamelessness, our “life” is hidden in Christ and will be revealed, when He is revealed, ON THAT DAY. So we are called, the writer of Hebrews tells us to “not give up meeting together, as the custom of some is, but all the more, to encourage one another, as we see the day approaching.” (Heb 10:24)

“…that he may be known, worshipped, and obeyed to the ends of the earth”

Once we have been converted to Christ, our savior – the Author and the Finisher of our faith – and to the Church, His chosen instrument for the spread of the Gospel to the ends of the earth, we must be converted to the World! We must gain the heart of God (or a small part of it) for the world that He created and that He loved so much that He came, in Jesus, "extending His hands on the hard wood of the cross that everyone might experience his saving embrace." (BCP, 101)

The Spirit was sent in power to EM-POWER the witness of the People of God. The whole force of the book of ACTS is outwardly focused – taking the Gospel to the ends of the known world – “to Jerusalem and Judea, to Samaria and to the Ends of the Earth” (Acts 1:8). Today this is our work and our call, just as it was those who received the Spirit on that first Pentecost, the birthday of the Church. The Church has no purpose beyond this single greatest task ever given into the hands of men and women!

Paul puts it most beautifully as he writes in his Second letter to the Corinthian church on this subject:

"Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart. … what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus' sake. For God, who said, "Let light shine out of darkness," has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us."

And further on in the same letter he concludes with this:

"All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God."

So what is HOME PLATE?

HOMEPLATE is going out. SCORING is winning someone to Christ! Bringing someone who does NOT know Him to the knowledge and love of Him, for the honor of His Name! Not just around the world, but next door. It has to start here today.

The saddest game to go home from is the one where the winning runs were left on base at the bottom of the last inning. Let’s go the distance for the Kingdom.


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