Just Walk Across the Room 4: Grander Vision Living Church on the Rise Bassendean
This is the last of three sermons based on the Just Walk Across The Room series of Bill Hybels. So far we have seen that doing evangelism doesn’t mean being like Billy Graham or becoming a “Bible Basher”, but simply sharing what Jesus means to you. With the reputation of the Church in Australia at an all time low and it is more necessary than ever to invite people into a relationship with Jesus rather than asking them to “come to church”. The title for today’s session, Grander Vision Living, points to a new perspective on life that opens up when we give ourselves to Christ.
Generally death brings some a sense of proportion to life and we see how trivial most of life’s concerns are. At Donna’s mother’s funeral the other week I was very much aware that without faith in the resurrection there is no final hope. The world wants to pursue “Justice for the Dead” over the MH17 disaster, but it is impossible for the dead to receive justice in this world (Luke 16:25). The trauma of this tragedy will be around for a while, but pretty soon things will get back to “normal” because most of us cannot cope with the issues of eternity. This is why this has been one of the hardest sermons I have had to prepare for a long time. That we even need to do a series on evangelism is a sign that we have lost the Grander Vision Living which inspired the growth of the Early Church.
The Matthew Party
When Bill Hybels first spoke in Perth he shared on the call of Matthew (Matt 9:9-13). Matthew was so excited about being called to follow Jesus that he wanted all his friends to get to know Jesus too, and he threw the best way to do that was to throw a party. As Jesus and his friends (John 15:15) mingled with Matthew and his friends the conversation would naturally have turned to stories about Jesus’ teaching and exploits. The third group that appears in the story, the Pharisees, had a reputation like that which the Church has had in Australia for generations. They wanted to shut the party down because they couldn’t stand professing believers mingling with corrupt tax collectors who were notorious sinners. Jesus reply is unambiguous; ““Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.”” (Luke 5:31-32 ESV)
Jesus was the most inclusive religious teacher the crowds of his day had ever seen, last week’s Gospel reading of his conversation with a Samaritan women every known social and religious convention. I am friends with people who minister in gay bars, brothels, on the streets and with drug addicts. Jesus is there with them and Jesus does miracles in their midst. Some of you are probably thinking “I’ve never lived a sinful life like these people how does this relate to me?” (Luke 18:9-14). This is a question has eternal consequences.
Jesus owned his reputation with the religious of his day, “The Son of Man…feasts and drinks, and you say, ‘He’s a glutton and a drunkard, and a friend of tax collectors and other sinners!’ But wisdom is shown to be right by its results.”” (Matt 11:19). I cannot remember when the Aussie Church has had a reputation of being friendly to sinners. Rather we have been thought of as “wowsers”, party poopers who try to force their own morality onto others. In reaction to this liberal Christians have swung to the other extreme, there is no any living in sin, abortion is a right and gays are the new heroes. Neither of these forms of Christianity have anything to do with Jesus. Are St Mark’s people wowsers, liberals or something else?
My perception is that most CoR members would be pretty comfortable in a situation like Matthew’s party (RosA ex); mixing in secular social groups, sports clubs, work environments, having people over for dinner and so on. Many of us know how to listen to other people’s fears and concerns and to build trust in relationships and are convinced that coming to know Jesus would add value to anyone’s life. Deep down many traditional Anglicans long to live out the grand vision of reaching out to embrace the wider community as part of an extended family where everyone is free to share their highest highs and their lowest lows without fear of judgement, embarrassment or rejection. Yet even though we are a genuinely friendly church I sense we are stuck in being effective Grander Vision evangelists because we are yet to understand what it means to be friends of sinners. The best way I can explain what it mean to be a “sinner” is to share my own testimony.
Who is a Sinner?
There I was at 20 years of age doing outstandingly well at university but on the inside I was a terrible mess. When I visited the dermatologist about my chronic skin condition he said, “It’s psychosomatic”, when I visited the cardiologist who tested me over my chest pains he said, “It’s stress”, I was suffering depression every day and was so paranoid that I couldn’t walk down the street. Desperate to find an answer to the meaning of life the idea ran through my mind one day of reading the Bible. The very next day I came home from uni to find a box full of books from our neighbours, amongst them was a New Testament which I took secretly to my room. As I read and read the stories about Jesus something happened inside of me far deeper than any psychological state of mind. I knew infallibly that God had always loved me and that I had never loved God. I began to realise what the Bible meant by being a “sinner” and a whole new vision opened up on existence.
The language of hell became totally real. When the book of Revelation spoke of people being thrown into the lake of fire I knew this was the fate I deserved (20:15). Eternal things took on a reality and urgency far greater than this temporary world. One day I could stand it no longer, nothing was more important than coming to Jesus. Realising that I was a sinner, and not just a psych case, meant that I could do something; I could turn to God and receive forgiveness. This sense of urgency about a grander vision for human living remained after my conversion.
All of a sudden other students at uni came out of the woodwork as Christians when they heard me talking openly about Jesus and the Christian fellowship group on campus started up a prayer meeting to help my enthusiasm. My mother, sister, brother-in-law and several old friends turned to Christ. Everywhere I went Jesus was in the picture, this revitalised the faith of some, and embarrassed others. Some people stopped inviting me to parties. This didn’t bother me too much because in coming to Christ I had a vision of eternity. I have never stopped praying for opportunities to talk about Jesus, though embarrassingly in the last few days the Lord has made me aware that my expectation that others will meet Jesus through my testimony is much less than it was 40 years ago. To come to a place where we expect others to turn to Jesus through our witness will require a transformation in our prayers.
The clip we played at the start of the sermon shows Bill Hybels talking about prayer as the key to Grander Vision Living. He daily asks God to give him opportunities to care for people and to point others to Christ. It is through prayer we can imagine what other people’s lives would be like with God at the centre. Years ago when Hybels was preaching in Perth he mentioned something he said to a friend that has stuck in my memory, echoing what he felt was the heart of God he said; “I can’t stand the thought of spending one day of eternity without you.” This is our great struggle: imagining people becoming Christians and imagining them as lost forever (Rev 22:15). Only Jesus can reshape our minds about these weighty eternal things (cf. Eph 3:20) for unlike us Jesus does not have to imagine the conditions of hell and heaven.
When members of the Maslin family who lost 3 children and a grandfather in the MH 17 tragedy spoke of their experience of loss like this, “Our pain is intense and relentless. We live in a hell beyond hell,”; they left nothing to the imagination. But unlike their hell on earth which will end with their own deaths the sufferings of those sent to the real hell will never end (Rev 14:11).. It is not the murderers who brought down MH17 who throw a light on the nature of evil and sin, only Jesus can teach us about the consequences of our failure to “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and to love our neighbours as ourselves” (Matt 22:37-39).
Entering the Garden of Gethsemane in great agony and sorrow Jesus sweats drops of blood (Luke 22:44) and prays, ““Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.”” (Mark 14:36). The content of the cup is revealed in his dreadful cry from the cross, ““My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”” (Mark 15:34). This is Jesus descent into hell, the moment he endured the state of being without God and without hope forever (Eph 2:12). No matter how powerful evil may be it could never subdue the love of Christ and three days later he rose from the dead and ascended into heaven (Luke 24:51; Acts 1:11; Heb 8:1).
Jesus has never forgotten the difference between his experience of hell and his enjoyment of heaven, by his Spirit he wants to share with us the seriousness of eternal punishment (Matt 25:46) and the infinite joys of the heavenly life. When we experience these realities we will be fully motivated with a vision of Grander Living to Walk Across the Room and do whatever it takes to see others come with us into Paradise (Luke 23:43).
St Mark’s is a church full of folk who sincerely pray for husbands, wives, children, grandchildren, neighbours, friends, workmates and the world, praying that others will have a sound, peaceful, wise and happy lives. Most people for whom we pray would not describe themselves as followers of Jesus or say that God is the most important person in their lives. They do not love God, they are sinners. Jesus said about such folk, ““Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.”” (John 3:36 ESV). Sadly my sense is that most of us find it far too hard to pray for others as sinners who every day are in danger of being lost forever (Heb 9:27).
Depending Upon God
If the evil of MH 17 overwhelms us, there is no way we can live with the seriousness of sin, judgement, hell and heaven without the supernatural power of the Holy Spirit (John 16:7-11 cf. Heb 9:14). To pray each day for opportunities to present the grander vision living of Christ, to regularly pray for the lost by name, to get over our self-consciousness about embarrassment and rejection, we must be filled with the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:8).
Two points for a conclusion.
1. At the personal level if you have never had the joy of coming to Jesus as a sinner you must come to him today. I promise you if you turn to him in repentance he will throw a party on your behalf.
2. At the level of our church community. The future growth of CoR is tied to a little expression people use to describe Bill Hybels, which could easily be used of Alison and is God’s call on each of us. This expression is “radical inclusiveness”. Wowser churches only embrace people like them, many “progressive” churches will avoid all talk to people sin, a true Jesus Church is a family that welcomes all sorts of men and women as sinners whom Jesus would befriend and lead to repentance and eternal life. As Jesus declared so publically and unapologetically, “I have come to call sinners to repentance” (Luke 5:32). To Walk Across the Room to embrace sinners, this is the love of God, this is Grander Vision Living.