Sermon – 16 Dec 18 – Philip

Sharing our Faith
Readings: Colossians 4: 2 – 6 and Luke 10: 1- 17

We are looking at sharing our faith this morning and so I’d like to turn to some words of Jesus from our Gospel reading and they’re found in verse 2 where he says:
‘The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into the harvest field.’
And Jesus says this as he’s about to send 72 of his followers out on an evangelistic mission. They are to go in pairs to towns and places where Jesus is about to visit.

Now it’s important to bear in mind these were just ordinary lay people like us who had responded to Jesus and made a commitment to follow him. They were quite distinct from the 12 disciples. They were followers from a much wider group. And in a way, as his followers today we are their successors. And like them we are called to be ambassadors for the Lord Jesus and to be ready to share our faith with others.

And, of course, sharing our faith is about pointing others to Jesus. And I suppose I should mention John the Baptist at this point – as it’s the tradition of the Church on the third Sunday of Advent to remember what he came to do. And that was to point people to Jesus. But I’m not going to say any more about John today. But I am going to talk about pointing people to Jesus.
Let me share with you a story I first heard a number of years ago when I was attending a weekend retreat led by the Evangelist Canon J John. And it’s one that’s stayed with me over the years and it goes something like this:
‘Now it came to pass there was a group who called themselves fishermen. And in the waters all around them were many fish. In fact, the whole area was surrounded by streams and lakes filled with fish. And the fish were hungry.

Week after week, month after month, and year after year these who called themselves fishermen met in meetings and talked about their ‘call to fish’, the abundance of fish, and how they might go about fishing. They carefully defined what fishing means, defended fishing as an occupation, and declared that fishing was always to be the primary task of fishermen.

They loved slogans such as ‘Fishing is the task of every fisherman,’ ‘Every fisherman is a fisher.’ They built large, beautiful buildings called ‘Fishing Fellowships’. The plea was that everyone should be a fisherman and every fisherman should fish. One thing they didn’t have time to do, however; was to go out and catch any fish.
They formed a board to promote the idea of fishing in far-away streams and lakes but its members did not fish. Training centres were built to teach fishermen how to fish but the teachers only taught fishing, they did not fish.
A panel was established to invite special speakers on the subject of fishing. And after one stirring meeting on ‘The Necessity for Fishing,’ one young man left the meeting and went fishing and the following day he reported he had caught two fish. Amazing! He was told that he had a special ‘gift of fishing.’ He was honoured for his excellent catch and scheduled to visit all the big meetings possible to tell how he did it. He was also placed on the Board as a person having considerable experience. But in order to have time to tell about his experience to all the other fishermen, he gave up fishing.

‘Well it’s a modern day parable but how true it is. As followers of Jesus we are encouraged to share our faith. Jesus called his disciples to be ‘fishers of men’ but the reality is that as modern day disciples we are bit like the fishermen in the story. There are not many of us out there doing any fishing.

Now I’m quite familiar with the thoughts that immediately spring to mind when we start talking about sharing our faith with others. And they go something like this: ‘Oh I couldn’t possibly do that.’ ‘I’d find it too embarrassing’; or ‘my faith is a private matter’; or ‘I wouldn’t know what to say’ and so on with endless variations along the same lines. And I think there is something a little fearful at the back of them.

But then there are other things we love to talk about and sacrifice for. And so for example, if we are passionate about football (and I say football but it could be anything); it’s something on which we’ll be happy to sacrifice our time and our money and emotional energy upon. And if we are a fan we’ll like to talk about it endlessly to others.

And so do we have a passion for Jesus I wonder? Do we love to talk about him? Have we been set ablaze with a love for him? And does that love we have for him create a desire within us to share it with others?

Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury says this: ‘We share the good news, not because it’s a duty….but because we are consumed with knowing how wonderful Jesus is – we want to talk to others about him.’

As many of you know I was involved in street evangelism with the ‘Healing on the Streets’ team for a number of years. And often, as we were about to go out on to the street, I’d tend to get a little anxious worrying that people would think we were absolutely crazy – standing out there on the street in the town centre or down near the Sands inviting people to receive prayer. But in the back of my mind were always some words from the Apostle Paul in his letter to the Romans where he says: ‘I am not ashamed of the gospel because it’s the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes.’ ‘I am not ashamed’ says Paul and we should not be either.
Actually when we got started and out on to the street itself it was quite exhilarating listening to people’s stories and having the privilege of praying for them. It was quite exhausting and draining at times but when we’d finished the session we were, in a way, a bit like the 72 that Jesus sent out in Luke’s gospel. When they reported back to Jesus and he was asking them how they got on they were saying things like: ‘it was great seeing what God was doing. He did this and he did that.’ And it was a bit like that for us too when we did a debrief after a session on the street.

The evangelist Luis Palau says this: ‘Evangelising is not as hard as sometimes we think it is, if we are willing to go out on a limb and obey the Holy Spirit.’
And I’d go along with that although it probably means being prepared step outside our own personal comfort zone.

But then how do we share our faith without appearing a bit weird? It’s a good question. Well I think the Apostle Paul gives us some help on that in our first reading from Colossians. And if we turn to that what we see is Paul giving a very balanced, gracious and thoughtful approach to how we might reach out to others who do not yet know Christ. And he makes three important points.

Firstly he says: ‘Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful.’ And you know there are a countless number of Christians who will be quick to tell you that the reason they came to Christ in the first place was because someone spent time praying for them. And that could even have been over a period of many years. But it was that ongoing prayer that eventually brought them to Christ.

Secondly he says: ‘be wise in the way you act towards outsiders; make the most of every opportunity.’ And do we make the most of every opportunity to share the love of Christ with someone? And I don’t mean trying to force a conversation around to something we think we should say. But there are times when opportunities do present themselves where we can share something of our faith. And it’s a shame if we miss these opportunities as they may never come again.

And then thirdly he says: ‘Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” And what this says to me is that we have to be graceful and respectful in how we respond to others about our faith and avoid being judgemental. But not to be ashamed of letting others know that we are a follower of Jesus.
Sharing our faith is just talking to others about Jesus – being ready to give a reason for the hope that’s within us. There’s no prescribed method or way of doing it. It’s just sharing what’s important to us – ‘This little light of mine I’m going to let it shine’ if you remember the old children’s chorus.

Well I’ve already mentioned Justin Welby once. And so let me finish these few reflections with one more quote from him which I’ve taken from the Church of England website. And he says this: ‘The only way anyone knows of God’s love is because someone tells them. There is no greater privilege in life than to see God at work in changing lives.’ And I’m sure that’s something we’d all love to see happening in the parish here. Amen

Philip Newell (Reader)

Sermon preached at a service of Morning Worship at St Laurence’s, Scalby on Sunday 16th December 2018.