ACTS 2: 29-41
LUKE 24: 44-53


November 17, 2019

Click here for today’s INSERT

I just looked at the calendar and amazingly discovered that the year 2019 is rapidly approaching its end.   Another year, that for some of us has some remarkable memories and perhaps for some of you this is a year that won’t stand out in your personal histories at all.

As I thought about the closure of a year, I again realized that memories rarely involve isolated moments of being alone … being unconnected to other people … we don’t remember and treasure our solitary moments as being momentous or even important although I do believe that having alone time is good to refresh the soul. But, if we each lived on a desert island staring into our own horizons with no other human beings to interact with our sanity, our reason to live for another day, and perhaps even our ability to progress in any meaningful way would vanish without other people to share it with.

Eleanor Rigby picks up the rice in a church where the wedding has been.  Lives in a dream.  Waits at the window … wearing a face that she keeps in a jar by the door.  Who is it for? Ah, the lonely people. .. where do they all come from.?”

As we have considered the need to Build our Faith and have a Workout for Life leading to the prize of God’s upward call in Jesus Christ, we have examined a process that involves personal healing, stretching ourselves so that we can be ready to live each day with God’s personal trainer, the Holy Spirit.   We have considered our diet to get right with the Holy as well as feeling the change that building our faith will cause.  Last week we realized that God is there to help us get past tired but friends, the truth of a faith walk is that we cannot do it alone.   Jesus didn’t tell His disciples to hit the highway by themselves … in Mark’s Gospel He called for the Twelve and sent them out in pairs … If Bev had read a little further in the 2nd chapter of Acts we would have heard that “the believers dedicated themselves to the community with shared meals.  All the believers were united and shared everything.  Every day they met together in the temple and ate in their homes … they shared food with gladness and simplicity.  They praised God and the Lord added to their community.” 

Wait … they went to church together daily? … Must be a Biblical typo! It sure is  hard enough to go once a week isn’t it?  Anyhow …

A good workout … to be successful in getting fit requires workout partners because having someone to share a workout pushes us to do more and to keep on track and grow together.  When we are our only inspiration that big banana split and bag of chips is frequently more tempting than walking or jogging another mile.  It’s true with faith too … it really is.   And, if you and I are serious about adding to our life’s journal that today we are stronger in faith than yesterday … if friends … and this is my pastoral challenge … IF YOU WANT TO be closer to God; grow your faith; and live for Jesus Christ then you can’t get lazy in your faith out of convenience for you. So, having someone or a group of people partnering in your faith journey is so so important.  That’s why churches exist … we aren’t meant to be pretty buildings where special ceremonies get held and days like Easter and Christmas exist to offer entertainment programs as preludes to the family meals and the unwrapping of presents.

You cannot … I cannot … no person who is a believer can truly be a believer in Jesus Christ if our faith is kept in a jar by the door all by its lonesome until we pick up the occasional grain of rice at our random moment in church … we need to connect the dots of faith; we need to grow as individuals who are part of a faith community.  If you are serious about your faith … truth is you know and I know whether we are.  If you have taken the time to pray without interruption … if you have repeatedly read those key Scriptures that link you to God … if you invest time to discover who God is so that you can be a person of faith not just a person who attends church on occasion then you know you need to have brothers and sisters in faith who believe with you and challenge you.

This special church had more than 75 people here on Friday evening for our pot luck dinner and CANDY BINGO with the families who are homeless right now.  And, no … I didn’t win a single game of bingo.   That was an awesome gathering on a Friday night of church folks … we laughed, we ate and we connected.  If our invitation had been ‘come to a special Friday evening Bible Study’ … would 75 have shown up?  Would the RSVP’s have flown in from the members and friends of this special church?

Friends are you RSVP’ing to the opportunities given to you to grow your faith with other believers?  Are you saying YES to getting together as people of faith so that you can go together out into God’s world for God … is your faith a priority?  Does God matter in your Monday through Saturday world or have you placed your faith face in the jar by the door not even caring who it is for?

Did you hear Jesus this morning?  Speaking with His followers … you are a follower of the Son of God aren’t you?  Are you?  You? Am I?   So, let’s expand who Jesus is speaking to this morning in the Gospel of Luke and include us, we were followers, right? First thing, Jesus opened their minds.  That takes a partnership … that takes more than hearing a liturgist or pastor read the Bible.  You have to be open to hear … then you know what really helps?  Talking about God’s Word with friends of faith to really get into the message that God has for us.  We need a Workout Partner in our faith life … we need to be part of church not just an occasional pew warmer … so Jesus wants us to open our minds, our hearts and our doors .. oh wait that’s the church’s calling …

Hear again Jesus He says to us, “This is what is written, the Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day HE IS RISEN <<HE IS RISEN INDEED>> and a change of heart and life for the forgiveness of sins MUST be preached in His name to all nations.  YOU and YOU and YOU and YOU and YOU and ME Jesus is teaching ARE HIS WITNESSES.  Look I am sending you what my Father promised …” Jesus concludes, the Holy Spirit.

And in ACTS we hear Peter declare “CHANGE YOUR HEARTS … be SAVED from this perverse generation.” And, while he wasn’t talking about 2019 he actually was and if we are to be saved we need to walk in faith with others who believe.  We need to be the church that is the witness to the world not just within the doors or as door greeters who lovingly say welcome to our church … we need to be going out there  and SAYING COME IN … you are welcome here and we have a gift named JESUS THE CHRIST who will change your life like our lives have been changed … these pews should be filled … people should be filling DeHart’s parking lot rushing to get in … if and it’s a big question IF we are telling the story of this special place and of Jesus.

And, then on October 17, 2019 the respected PEW RESEARCH CENTER, which has focused on religion and public life for many years, issued a new report with this headline … IN THE UNITED STATES … DECLINE of CHRISTIANITY CONTINUES at RAPID PACE.  A rapid pace friends … not a drip or dribble … a rapid pace.  A smaller share of adults identify as Christians in this nation than ever before and the religious NONES with no faith absolutely none … have grown to over ONE QUARTER of our nation’s population.  You only have to listen to the dialogue of our neighborhoods and communities to realize that the pervasive hate is not faith based … self declared ATHEISTS now account for FOUR PERCENT … FOUR PERCENT of our neighbors.

So, what do we do?  Shhhh …. Can’t invite folks to church … you know pastor I don’t want to lose friends or get family members mad at me.  Too busy pastor … can’t be active in our church life … kids don’t need church; friends don’t need God …. Shhh … let people find us we will welcome them.  Heck, I don’t have time to study God’s Word alone much less in a small group Bible study.  Too many missions I have heard whispered about over these past few days rather than what can we do next for Jesus, for God …

Once again in today’s bulletin I have posed a couple of questions as part of this sermon series.  These are for you to think about.  The insert also has challenging news about our realities.  I am asking you to take that sheet home read the three questions and seriously answer them.  You can do it alone or you can talk about it at breakfast.

I know that when people start getting into good shape and enjoying the new ‘feel good’ ‘feeling and look’ that most people want their friends to know what’s going on.  The dresses whose size numbers are shrinking along with the body size … the speedos at the beach … ok, let’s skip the speedos but friends when you start to get in shape … when you lose unwanted fat and others notice don’t you just want to share how you did it.

When you have found the right diet or exercise program that keeps you healthy and extends your life don’t you want those you love to be healthy along with you and have a life that is extended in happiness and joy? You want good things and good health and long life for friends and family, right?

I know I will take this to my grave but I will never understand why people say that they don’t talk about their faith … you know, “religion” is a subject to avoid in social settings but religion is not what God is about … God and Jesus are all about love.  God is all about offering ETERNAL LIFE and FORGIVENESS of our screw-ups and sins.  Jesus provides the life lessons … life lessons that the CREATOR expects from human beings.  Why in the world … why in the world would we want to keep others from knowing about God’s love … about how to live a better life; how to experience joy; ETERNAL LIFE.

These church doors do not require a secret handshake to walk through … even though it costs money for the doors to be open there is no ticket to be purchased … the love is real … so why aren’t the invites going out and the RSVP’s coming in.

Find a workout partner for Christ … together reach out to the world and invite others without a church home or faith to know what we know.  Jesus blessed His disciples but also continues to bless His followers like us too! When we believe, if we believe, then can we agree with the last words from Luke … “They worshiped Jesus overwhelmed with joy and they were continuously in the temple praising God?”

The numbers show we aren’t inviting our neighbors … we need to build our personal faith, show our joy, praise God, and then this church can have 130 or more in the pews each week.  Ah, the lonely people where do they all come from?  Let’s help bring some God into their lives and we can change the future while directing some towards eternal life with God and Christ!


© 2017- St. Paul's United Methodist Church, West Deptford, NJ