“Inviting Others to Grow in Faith”                                                September 29, 2013

Romans 12:1-8 & Ephesians 4:11-16                                           Stephens City UMC

 

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

 

I.                   The three pastors enjoyed watching our church members get after it and my, did they get after it.

A.    Welcoming people to church wasn’t enough, they invited.

1.     It was the decade of the 1980’s and Stafford County, located between Woodbridge and Fredericksburg with I-95 going right through the center of it, was the second fastest growing county in the state of Virginia.

2.     I had been assigned as the pastor of Regester Chapel United Methodist Church and had church members who worked at Quantico Marine Base, the Pentagon, and the Department of Agriculture.

3.     These were people whose tours of duty would last two-three years so they would join a church, throw themselves and everything they had, into the work and then they were gone.

4.     So as the pastor I’d have a great Sunday School Superintendent when suddenly they’d unexpectedly get re-deployed in the middle of the year and I had to replace them.

5.     The other pastors and their congregations were the same way so as I was saying, whenever someone new moved into the area, there were members of the three churches inviting the new folks to Sunday school and to worship.

6.     The pitch was that if you liked high worship in a beautiful new building with gorgeous wood and stained glass then you’d like the Lutheran Church.

7.     The downside to the Lutheran Church was the huge debt on the building.

8.     The second pitch was that if you were looking for mission after mission after mission with high energy then you’d like the Presbyterian Church.

9.     The downside to the Presbyterian Church was that it was incredibly disorganized – nobody ever knew the answers to when, what or where.

10.             The third pitch was for Regester Chapel United Methodist Church and that was the church for you if you were looking for a great Sunday school and youth group.

11.             The downside to Regester Chapel was that it literally was a chapel so when you came to worship it was almost impossible to find a place to sit and at times you couldn’t even sit with your family.

12.             I’d look out and see one child with the mother sitting on the right, the teenager on the left and the dad in the back in the overflow area. 

B.     What was wonderful was that the members of all three churches were evangelistic and they were not shy about inviting people to their church to encounter Jesus Christ and learn more about how to serve as his disciple.

1.     Everyone was a potential disciple and what could be better in life than to be a disciple of Jesus Christ?

2.     So they invited anyone and everyone.

C.     The other day I came across a story that illustrates what I’m talking about when I say invite anyone and everyone.

1.     The story was entitled “Welcome the Child, Welcome Jesus” and it was in the September/October 2013 issue of The Interpreter which is a magazine about the United Methodist Church in mission.

2.     Timmy was a rambunctious little guy who lived a couple of houses up the block from Larry Holden and his wife.

3.     Timmy’s house was in a deteriorating neighborhood in an economically depressed small town in central Oklahoma.

4.     The house needed repairs to the roof and the outside walls.

5.     Old plastic toys, tin cans, plastic jugs and other debris littered the yard so mowing was impossible.

6.     To say it was an eyesore is an understatement.

7.     Larry was not enthralled with Timmy as Timmy would tease Larry’s golden retriever until the dog charged the fence, making Larry fearful that the dog would scale the fence and attack the boy.

8.     The fact was that Timmy was a bundle of unrefined raw energy, seeking expression in every unacceptable way possible.

9.     But Larry Holden was a Christian and although it wasn’t easy, he tried to reach out to the little heathen.

10.             One day Timmy brought his old bicycle to Larry and asked him to put air in the flat tires.

11.             Larry walked out to the shed to get the pump which allowed him to keep Timmy outside of the fence and away from the dog, but the tube wouldn’t hold air.

12.             Fixing the bike would take more work so he had to get some tools to remove the tube from the rim in order to patch it.

13.             The old tires were cracked and the tube had so many holes that it required another couple of trips to get all the patches and glue necessary to get the job done.

14.             As Larry and Timmy kneeled next to the old worn-out tube and Larry worked to patch it, Timmy said, without looking at him and with no self-consciousness, “How come you’re so nice to me?”

15.             Larry wasn’t prepared for that question.

16.             It almost took his breath away.

17.             Larry looked down and in a quiet, fumbling sort of way said, “Well, you’re a nice boy, why wouldn’t I be nice to you?”

18.             Timmy replied, “Well, most people ain’t very nice to me.”

19.             Suddenly Larry realized that he was in a sacred moment.

20.             He says it was as if God had jerked him by the shoulders and said, “Wake up! There’s more going on here than patching an old bicycle tire. I told you I would appear when you least expect it.”

21.             At that moment Larry saw Timmy with new eyes, a vulnerable, naïve, rambunctious, innocent little boy who was already discovering his place in society, where he was viewed more as a problem than as a possibility.

22.             And Larry thought to himself that no child should every have to ask, “Why are you so nice to me?”

D.    That question shouldn’t need to be asked in church because we know that God has a purpose for us as individuals and for His church and that purpose is in keeping the purpose of God’s Son Jesus who once said, “Bring the little children to me, for of such is the Kingdom of God.” (Matthew 19:14)

1.     And who are God’s children?

2.     Well, some are age 7 and some are age 97.

3.     We are to care for the weakest and the most vulnerable among us and to invite anyone and everyone to experience Jesus who wants to hold all his children in his arms of love and grace.

E.     So before we are asked, “Why are you so nice to me?” let us commit ourselves to fulfilling God’s purpose for our lives and for the world by taking action.

1.     That action of inviting others to grow in faith is part of our profession of faith because we Christians understand that we are to join with Jesus in the ongoing transformation of the world in order that all God’s children might not just exist but flourish.

F.     And the next time you invite Timmy or others like him, take a real good look at their face.

1.     You will probably experience what Hebrews 13:2 encourages “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.”

2.     In fact, I suspicion you will see the face of Jesus, and he will smile.