SUNDAY MORNING DEVOTIONS

30th AUGUST, 2020

9.30 AM

 

WAITAKERE METHODIST PARISH

 

 

Prepared by: Rev Uesifili Unasa

 

Lighting of the Candle

 

Prayer of the Day

Let us pray:

Almighty and everlasting God,

in Christ you have revealed your glory among the nations.

Preserve the works of your mercy,

that your church throughout the world

may persevere with steadfast faith in the confession of your name;

through Jesus Christ our Lord,

who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,

one God, forever and ever. Amen.

 

Scripture

2 Timothy 3:10 – 4:5

 

LOCKDOWN REFLECTION

‘Good news people in a bad news world’

If the world needs anything right at this time … if our New Zealand society needs anything at all … if our local community needs anything right now, it is some good news … and somebody who knows how to tell it. What we need, what we really need, what we desperately need is a good news story and story teller. The old Methodist way of saying this is: we need now, more than ever, good evangelists!

Now, I know the word ‘evangelism’ is scary for woke Methodists. I was told recently at a minister’s study group meeting that a research about religion and clergy in developed countries found that when 1200 pastors and laypeople were asked the question: “What do you think about when you hear the word “evangelism?”, the most popular first answer was: “No!”

In these pandemic times when we are all too aware of the importance of social distancing in public places, I came across a cartoon in the New Yorker publication. It showed a man sitting alone on a nondescript bench seat. He is wearing a T-shirt with big bold capital letters that read: “ASK ME ABOUT MY RELIGION.” The caption then says, “Just another way to keep an empty seat beside you on the train.”

When I speak of being an evangelist, I’m not talking about transforming into a smooth-talking car salesman with slicked back hair, a white suit, and a $10,000 smile. I’m not talking about a hellfire and damnation spewing spiritual manipulator. Nor am I talking about standing on Queen St on a busy work day shouting at all the sinners in our community going about their business or going door-to-door handing out pamphlets to poor souls who are just trying to have their dinner and telling them to give their life to Jesus right now, right here. That is lunacy and idiotic.

For some years I have watched with great interest how televised professional sport, especially New Zealand rugby at Super Rugby or All Black level, has been infiltrated with images and scenes of players praying together after a game. Sometimes players from opposing teams have knelt together on the pitch to pray or console each other after the games have finished. Of course, television and rugby fans still believe team sport is all about individuals who seem to kick the goals or captain the side or scored the winning try. Individual are always singled out for their impact on the result of the game. But when these young men give time after a game is finished to pray, they are not fussed about their own individual prowess or the superlative efforts of their team mates. When they kneel to pray, they are giving praise and victory to God, win or lose. By kneeling in prayer as a group of young men they are giving the victory to God, not to themselves.

I know seeing faith expressed so publicly can be an uncomfortable thing – even for Christian themselves. Let me ask you a question: if we don’t believe in kneeling and praying for all to see, what do we believe about sharing our faith? Something in us makes us feel like we are supposed to talk about our faith – it’s something we ought to do – but we are also worried about making fools of ourselves, losing friends we want to keep, and we are not sure how to do it or what good it does anyway.

It is not unusual to hear it being said in our churches: “I don’t have the gift of evangelism” or that “I’m just not an evangelist!” Well, I say, “Sure you are!” Why is it that during morning tea after any given Sunday we can be out in the hall talking about a new car and the integrated GPS and Bluetooth and all the great features of that product or the great bargains we got from the Warehouse or even the exciting new gadgets on our latest smartphone purchase?

I say we can all exude excitement, joy, fun, and encouragement when we really want to. And whatever it is that we are excited about and takes our fancy, we are not shy to recommend it to each other. I have overheard, truth be told, many successful sale pitches made along church corridors for this or that by the most reserved and unlikely people in our congregations.

We are all evangelists for something. There are Apple evangelists and Windows evangelists, environmental evangelists and food evangelists. There are Netflix evangelists and Nike evangelists, shopping mall evangelists and online evangelists. We are all capable of getting excited to the extent we would share the good news about our favourite product or team or community service organization. Why can’t we be passionate evangelists for our faith?

Paul writes to Timothy, “Proclaim the message … exhort, teach, correct, instruct … do the work of an evangelist.” And he goes on to tell Timothy why this kind of work is so necessary. “The time is coming,” says Paul, “when people will not put up with sound doctrine, but having itching ears, they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own desires, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander away to myths.” Now, Paul is in no doubt putting a fairly negative spin on things, but I tend to view this situation a bit more favourably.

This description of “itching ears” isn’t necessarily such a bad thing. It simply means that people want to hear something … need to hear something that they are not hearing. They are eager to hear someone speak a word of hope and direction for where they are at. They are curious to hear a message that will provide something more than the empty advertisements and vacuous soundbites from modern life. They want a message that is real and honest and life giving. And sure, we hear plenty of God talk from politicians and mystics and tracts and billboards … but what we need is something more authentic. What we need … what we really need is good news and somebody who knows how to tell it. What we need is an evangelist.

Authentic evangelism is not like a door to door salesman, trying to convince people to buy the product of faith. Effective evangelism doesn’t happen by way of bumper stickers and t-shirts and poster board signs threatening eternal damnation. Real evangelism happens when we extend God’s love, mercy, and compassion to others.

One of my best experiences of ministry happened some years ago in Mangere-Otahuhu. I was part of the local minister’s association which met monthly at the Mangere KFC store. We were all local parish ministers, we were friends and we were comfortable enough with each other to eat as much as we wanted and not be shy about it. On one occasion, when lunch was finished a colleague of ours invited the young man who had served us lunch to sit at our table. He thanked him, gave him $20 and then said a prayer for him and his family. Now, that could come across as fake or gimmicky and, to be honest, it did kind of embarrassed me. But my clergy friend was sincere. The young man himself was at first hesitant but at the end of the prayer thanked my colleague for acknowledging his work and for his gravely ill father. Evangelism can be as simple as that - if it is an act offered in sincere love and care. Real, authentic evangelism happens when you simply share the story of how God’s grace has shaped and helped you.

If we are willing to risk being real with people and if we are willing to open up our lives to their questions, their longings, their hope, then we are capable of sharing the good news of Christ with them. Because in the midst of their struggles, we are able from our own experience to say, “I know what you’re going through. I’ve had those struggles, too. I’ve asked those same questions and had some of those same worries and doubts.” And when they know they are not alone, they are willing to listen to a fellow traveller share with them some good news.

All evangelism has to be is telling the story of you and God. There are two stories in life – there is your story and there is God’s story. Sometimes those stories run on a parallel course, but the moment of good news is when those two stories meet.

I have heard one definition of an evangelist as that of “a practitioner of gospel medicine.” It is not a bad way of putting it. When we share the good news of hope we are practicing gospel medicine. When we tell of forgiveness for the past we are practicing gospel medicine. When we work for reconciliation where there is division we are practicing gospel medicine. When we do all of these things in Jesus’ name we are doing the work of an evangelist.

Every morning the great Swiss Reformed theologian Karl Barth would wake up, read the newspaper, and stare at a painting by Grunewald called “Crucifixion.” Jesus is hanging from the cross, apparently dead, while Mary and others mourn. John the Baptist, holding the Scriptures and leaning away from Christ, extends a long bony finger, pointing to Jesus on the Cross. Before he would teach theology or write in his famous work ‘Church Dogmatics, Barth would meditate on this painting, particularly on John the Baptist. He said that, as Christians, our job is to be the finger of John the Baptist. The only thing we should do; indeed, the only thing we can do is simply point to Jesus on the cross.

The work of the evangelist is to simply point to Jesus. To name the love that welcomes us, embraces us, forgives us, and changes us. And when we do that, we are good news people, indeed.

 

Let us pray.

Loving God,

you know us better than we know ourselves.

You know where we have seized upon the good news,

rejoicing and celebrating your love and faithfulness.

You know where we desperately need to hear good news.

Speak life … speak healing … speak empowerment into our lives.

We pray for your church,

that you would make of us people with good news of salvation.

Use us as bold evangelists who proclaim your redemptive love

and embody your abundant life.

Keep us steadfast in faith and relentless in hope.

We pray for the world.

Where hostility or anger or despair seems to be the answer,

help us to ask the question again

and show us the other way –

the way of justice, the way of understanding,

and the way peace.

It is our prayer, Lord,

that you might give purpose to our day,

and serenity to our hearts,

and the grace to be your hands in this world.

Meet us in every joy and in every struggle,

in every happiness and in every pain,

in every moment of laughter

and in every tear that is shed,

and help us there to know

the blessing of your presence and your peace.

Amen.

 

The Lord’s Prayer

(in our own language).

 

Hymn: ‘Jesu, Jesu, fill us with you love’ – Thomas Colvin

Jesu, Jesu, fill us with your love,
show us how to serve the neighbours
we have from you.

Kneels at the feet of his friends,
silently washes their feet,
master who acts as a slave to them.

Jesu, Jesu, fill us with your love,
show us how to serve the neighbours
we have from you.

 

Neighbours are rich folk and poor,
neighbours are black, brown, and white,
neighbours are nearby and far away.

Jesu, Jesu, fill us with your love,
show us how to serve the neighbours
we have from you.

These are the ones we should serve,
these are the ones we should love;
all these are neighbours to us and you.

Jesu, Jesu, fill us with your love,
show us how to serve the neighbours
we have from you.

 

Loving puts us on our knees,
serving as though we are slaves:
this is the way we should live with you.

Jesu, Jesu, fill us with your love,
show us how to serve the neighbours
we have from you.

 

Blessing

May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God

and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with us all.

Amen.