Sunday, January 8, 2017

Epiphany I - God's Missions Movement

Epiphany 1
Jan 8, 2017
Fr. Phil Eberhart

God's Missions Movement

With acknowledgement of Rev. John Stott, and his article in Path Light:  The Bible in World Evangelization, pp. 3-7.

I want this morning to prime the pump - to whet the appetite for the course we are embarking on beginning next Sunday morning in our Adult Forum Time called Path Light, Toward Global Awareness.  This is going to be a 5 week study of the paths that God uses to "get the Word out!"  

This sermon is taken from the very first article in the book, by Rev. John Stott.  I will be quoting directly from the article in some parts of the sermon this morning.

Epiphany is the season of light - specifically the Light of the World as it is revealed to the World, the whole world.

During this Epiphany we are going to be studying the ways that the Light of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is taken to the world by ... us!  If you remember the video a few weeks back ...  "WE are the plan!"

And the plan - God's Plan - for US is entirely found in The Bible!  Here is the first Stott quote:

"The Church's commitment to world evangelization is commensurate with the degree of its conviction about the authority of the Bible!"

The more we are convinced and convicted that the Bible is actually TRUE, the more likely we are to actually GO! Our hope here this month and next is to begin to understand our Christian movement as a missionary one!  We are sent from a missionary God!  We'll develop that a bit.

So first of all, the Bible gives us our MANDATE (first M) for Missions... for World Evangelization.

In our world today we see two opposite and equal poles that have developed in the world: on the one hand, a radical fanaticism has developed, which sees its job as conversion by any means possible, including violence, warfare, ... any means possible!  We see it on the news almost daily.  

The other, opposite pole of that pendulum is a religious pluralism that claims that all religion is the same!  It asks us to COEXIST in the famous bumper sticker.  Can't we all just get along, because all religion is the same... it takes us all to the same place!  Right?   Um... no.

Even a cursory study of the world's religions will reveal that to be an out and out lie.  No such claims are made by any religion, except the Johnny-come-lately pablum that is being fed to those who so want it to be true!  

Both poles severely resent and openly oppose any kind of evangelism.  The one because it represents departure from its aims, the other because it means that there are exclusive claims among the religions of the world.

Let's look at our MANDATE in that light.

Abraham was called by God.  Abraham didn't invent Judaism!  This is revealed by God.  And the promise to Abraham, when it was revealed to Him in Genesis 12, was that "all nations will be blessed through you."  God has always had the whole earth in view, from the very beginning.  Our Mandate is the whole bible!  From beginning to end - from Creation to Maps!  "The Spirit and the Bride say come!"  God is the Spirit and We are the Bride!  With one voice the invitation is made to the whole world, "COME!"

We pray it ... "...So clothe us with Your Spirit, that we, reaching forth our hands in love may bring those who do not know you to the knowledge and love of you, for the honor of Your Name!"

Our MANDATE is clear to anyone who will see!  We must "hear, read, mark, learn and inwardly digest" this Word of God and we will "hear, read, mark, learn and inwardly digest" the Missio Dei - the Mission of God - the MANDATE of God to US, his people, from Abraham to REZ!  The Mandate has never changed.

So lets look to the Bible also for our MESSAGE (2nd M).

It's the whole story!!  We encapsulate it every Sunday when we say The Nicene Creed.

We believe... in God the Father Almighty, creator of heaven and earth!  

From before time in eternity, God the creator has been a missionary God. The Psalmist tells us that Creation itself speaks without end!  This God chose Abraham some 4000 years ago - chose him and made a covenant with him to "bless him, and his family, and through him all the families of the earth." (Gen 12:1-4)

Paul tells us in Romans that we who believe, we who have faith, are counted as Abraham's descendants!  The People of Christ are the descendants of Abraham. The Old Testament prophets are prolific with words about the coming Messiah - words which Christ claimed and endorsed while here on earth in His incarnation.  Jesus equally had the whole world in view as He was "sent from the Father."  Likewise the apostles and the church took up this view as they were filled with the same Holy Spirit and sent to "Jerusalem, all Judea, to Samaria and the Uttermost Parts of the Earth!" (Acts 1:8)  As I've preached before, the movement of the Spirit of God is ever outward!

Jesus claims "all authority in heaven and on earth" - and on that basis commissions us to GO!  To spread the news, the Good News, the "Euangelion" of His coming and of His death, His resurrection, and ascension!  The news of His soon return and the ACCESS to God that we have as believers.  We have become the Bride who says COME!

Quoting Stott again:  "The Church of God is a multinational, missionary community, under orders to evanglize until Christ returns."

Not only has God given us the Mandate and the Message, He has provided for us THE MODEL! (3rd M)
He has given us not only the What but the HOW!  "We learn how to preach the Gospel by considering how God has done it!"

What we learn as we read how God has done it is about His Humility - the humiliation of coming as a baby, being born in a cattle stall, living in abject poverty as a refugee, and growing up as a worker in the world.  The mystery of the Incarnation is the key to understanding the HOW of God!  Stott calls it "the climax of the self-communicating God!"

The Word became flesh!  And made it's habitation among us! (Jn 1:1-14)  

The same principle of Incarnation is seen in the giving of the written Word of God!  100% God AND 100% Men! The divine communicated through the human!  The principle is "identification without loss of identity" and it is the "model for all evangelism, especially cross-cultural evangelism." (p. 5)  So often failure in evangelism, means that we have failed to identify with those we are going to!  Jesus fully identified with us, in every way tempted as we are, yet without sin. The Kenotic Principle of Philippians 2 applies clearly.  He humbled himself - emptied himself-  and became a man, even to the kind of death he suffered!  Likewise our MODEL is a radical self-sacrifice, all the while maintaining the love that God pours out, into our hearts, as we have access to Him, to His presence and to His power.

That brings us finally to the 4th M - MOTIVE POWER!  Our only way forward is by the Motive Power of the Holy Spirit!

We cannot bring change of life!  Our fight is not against flesh and blood!  Paul tells us up front (Ro 1:16) that the Gospel IS the Power of God for salvation, to the Jew first and then to the Greek!   Our power is not found in our strategies or our methods, nor in our willpower or determination!  Our power is found in the Gospel preached!  The Word of God spoken!  It is the Word of God that is the Power of God.  It is in fact called the Sword of the Spirit!   Not even our sword!  Our job is to simply speak it.  To let it loose in the world!  

One more Stott quote:  "Without the Bible we have no gospel to take to the nations, no warrant to take it to them, no idea of how to set about the task, and no hope of any success!"

But with the Bible God gives us the mandate, the message, the model and the motive power we need to GO - to Go with God's Word and tell the world.  "So let's seek to repossess it (the Bible) by diligent study and meditation.  "Hear, Read, Mark, Learn and Inwardly Digest".  "Let's heed its summons, grasp its message, follow its directions, and trust its power.  Let's lift up our voices and make it known."

Amen and Amen!

Our closing prayer today is the opening collect you will hear next Sunday:

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.