There is a basic question about the Apostle Paul we are going to address this morning. How on earth did Paul, an academic, Pharisee, former zealot, and persecutor of Christians set off the kind of religious and political depth charge which has impacted much of human history since the first and second century A.D.? How did Paul set off such a massive cultural changing world-wide shift without a telephone, much less a cell phone? How did Paul spread the message of the Gospel around the world without the internet; without so much as a newspaper? How was Paul able to connect with so many people of different races, ethnicities, religious backgrounds, genders and ages in his first century context? Today we live at a point in history when Christians are polarized against one another with a focus on republican or democrat, conservative or liberal, whether to wear a mask or not, whether to run back inside the sanctuary or not. Jesus gave us the great commission, to go therefore, and make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:19). It seems to me we need to be thinking about how do I reach the people who are not like me? What can I be doing to do a better job of serving in ministry with people who hold opinions vastly different from my own?
Here’s what the Apostle Paul did. The Apostle Paul entered the city of Athens and he walked around. Paul didn’t stay glued to his phone. Paul didn’t stay in his hotel room. Paul got outside and walked around. Paul looked at what people did for fun. Paul looked at where people went to work. Maybe Paul sat down at a local diner or restaurant to see what people eat, or to hear what people talk about. Maybe Paul became such a regular at this restaurant that people started to feel comfortable. Maybe people started to come and talk to him. Paul explains his approach in Paul’s first letter to the church in Corinth.
“I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some” (1 Cor 9:22).
To be very clear, God saves people. We cannot save people. God can and does save people. God is offering salvation to everyone. All we can do is offer God’s salvation to others. To put it another way, God is in management and everyone of us is in sales. It is not our job to make the product. It’s our job to sell the product. It is not our job to manage how salvation works or to whom salvation goes. It’s our job to share salvation with everybody – everybody. For the Apostle Paul it does not matter who those people are. In Paul’s letter to Galatians Paul says in Christ there are neither Jew nor Greek nor slave nor free (Galatians 3:28). Paul is trying to get the word out to everyone. Some will listen. Some won’t. Paul is not concerned with those who won’t. Paul is going to keep reaching out to the next person.
Now, you might be thinking, “But Paul was brilliant. Paul was absolutely brilliant. I’m not brilliant. I don’t have all of the answers. How am I to share the Gospel when I don’t know it?” (pause) You may be right. You may not be brilliant. You may not feel as though you have all of the answers. It is okay not to have all of the answers. Not having all of the answers is not a good enough excuse to keep the answers we do have to ourselves. God has called us to share what we know. So here are some things I think everybody knows.
#1 Pretty much everybody knows what it is like to be alone, or to feel lonely. Many of us may know what it’s like to stand or sit in large room filled with people and feel absolutely alone. It isn’t hard to be lonely when you don’t know anyone. Most of us when we come to church have a particular pew we claim as ours. We sit there every week. We may sit there because it is easier for us to see. We may sit there because it is easier to hear. Or, more than likely, we sit there because we know someone who sits near there. Then we become comfortable. Then we don’t want to move. Then we forget. Pretty soon someone new walks in. Are we too comfortable to get up and go say hello to the new person? Are we too comfortable to get up and go sit with the new person during worship? Trust me. If the people you usually sit with are friends they’ll understand. If the people you usually sit with are really Christians they will get up and come with you to sit down with the new person. Why? Because nobody likes to be alone. There is a difference between the mother of four kids under 10 who just needs 15 minutes to herself without someone walking in on her using the bathroom. There is a difference between the mother of 4 who just needs 5 min to brush her teeth and get dressed without her kids or her husband coming in the room. There is a difference between that woman and the woman who has been lonely for years because her husband has died and her children have all moved away. As Christians we have to be able to spot the difference. Some people need that space. Some people need someone to be there. When someone walks into this church for any reason – not just reason they need to know that they are not alone, God is with them, and so are we.
#2 Pretty much everybody knows what it feels like to be told they are not good enough. Everybody knows what it is like to be judged. From the time we are little kids someone is telling us what we are doing wrong. Timmy your elbows are on the table. Jenny, put your dress down when you’re playing soft ball. The whole world can see your business! Maybe it was Bobby, you made and “F” again in math. You’ve gotta do better. Or maybe it was Susan, that shade of lip stick is too daring for a 16 year old young lady. Maybe you know what it’s like to be fired from a job. Maybe you know what it’s like to go through a divorce. Or even you never experienced any of those things we all know what it feels like to be told we’re not right. Everybody knows what it feels like to be told we’re not good enough. Hear the good news. God knows we are not good enough. God knows you are not good enough; and God loves you anyway. God love us all even though God knows we’re not right. We are all sinners in need of grace. So maybe our job is to show a little grace toward someone who has been told all of their lives they are not good enough. God loves us. Why can’t God love “them.” Why can’t God love all of the “thems” who are not like you and me. What are we doing to show the love of God with others.
These are just two examples. If we think about it following Paul’s example is not all that hard. What we have to do is go. Step out of our house. Put down our phones. Get away from our TV’s and go. We need to go where people are. Every community has a third place. Everyone spends their day in one of three places usually. We are at home, at school or work, and we are can be found in that third place. For a lot of young families in the 40’s and younger that third place is South Davidson Youth Sports. There are kids playing baseball, t-ball, basketball, football, flag football and soccer nearly every night of the week here in Denton. Nearly all of it is taking place here at the fields behind Denton Elementary school or down at Bombay park. Where these kids are playing their parents are there also. Why aren’t we there also? Why isn’t the church in these third places? Is it because we don’t want to go? Is it because we don’t feel like we have anything in common with “those people”? I honestly don’t know what it is. What I know is this. Jesus said, “Go therefore, and make disciples.” We are not going to be successful making disciples if we only connect with the people in our circle of friends. We have got to go out and meet new people. We have to go out and connect with the young families in our communities today. There are plenty of things with which we can connect with other people. Now is the time to stop hiding behind excuses, put on our masks, and go talk to people.
I have been authorized by the Open Doors Committee to make this announcement. Starting November 1st we hope to move back inside the sanctuary for worship. The list of precautions we are taking will be made available in the coming weeks. Please share this news with someone who does not already have a church home. Please spread the news to your friends and family. November first is the Sunday to come on home.
In the Name of Jesus Christ,