Scripture Reading: Romans 1:1-17

Being connected is an important part of being human. Life gets lonely when you think no one else is like you. So when you start to find people who think and act like you think and act, you get excited and you find yourself really wanting to be in the company of those people.

There are many different ways we can find this fulfillment. It can be through a favourite sport, or a favourite movie genre. It could be for food or for hobbies. There pretty much is no limit as to how we could connect with other people.

That’s part of the reason why I go to Cruxifusion every year. It’s an opportunity to meet with other clergy of my age who love Jesus and love the church. Sure I could go to Maritime Conference, or our regional meetings, but those rarely engage in the type of conversations I like to engage in around the topic of church. Which are primarily around sharing the gifts of God expressed in our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ and what he is doing in our churches.

We are designed to have relationship with others. Our bodies even crave it at times when we haven’t been able to connect with those who are like us. Geeks like to hang out with geeks. Jocks with jocks. Artists with artists. Musicians with musicians. And so on and so on.

And church people like to hang out with church people. I think we get a taste of that as Paul opens up his letter to the church in Rome. Paul has been hearing about the great faith people have in that particular church. People are talking about it all over the world! Clearly knowing Jesus Christ in Rome is having a strong impact on people’s lives!

Paul even lets them know he’s been trying so very hard to come and visit with them, but things just don’t seem to be working out. It is no doubt frustrating for him as he wants to be an eye witness to the great movement of God in that far away city.

I know the feeling. When I hear about churches doing great things, things like building disciples, like doing great evangelism, like bringing people into relationship with God through the sharing of Jesus and his Gospel message, I want to go and visit these places!

There’s an organization that has meetings in Halifax a couple of times a year, and I know they are bringing together church leaders who are doing amazing things… the problem is they have a great gift in picking dates I can’t make. Like last fall it was Remembrance Day weekend. Or it was just a few days ago… a couple of days after I just got home from a two weeks away, including just leaving Halifax 3 days before their meeting.

But I have made it to some places. I made it to Manitoba a few times to see the great work that church is doing. And maybe on vacation we’ll check out a few other maritime churches that are doing good things.

I guess I just need to clone myself since I can’t get to all the places I would really like to go. Oh, and have an unlimited bank account too. That would also help.

I’m sure Paul would love to be doing the same. Talk about a guy being pulled in all directions! Paul really wants to get to Rome. Just as I’m sure he’d love to visit Corinth, Philippi, and many other cities that he’s been writing to over the years. But it’s just not physically possible. It’s good to go places where people are excited about Jesus and want to do his work.

There are people who work for the United Church national office who make it a point to come to Cruxifusion every year. Why? Because they see the joy we have and share among each other as we celebrate Jesus and the gifts of God in each other. There are many places in the church where this rarely happens. And working for the national office, they see these places each and every day. So why wouldn’t they take the opportunity to go somewhere where there is joy and life? I know I certainly would, especially if it’s in your backyard.

We want to be with people who enjoy life. We want to be among people who share common goals and common passions.

When I went to General Council last summer, I was invited to share a few words as part of the opening worship. The theme of the week was “Risk Faith. Dare Hope.”

They had asked me to be the “conservative storyteller” as part of the service. There were other groups within the church also sharing a few words. It was kind of nice, there were a bunch of us on the platform from different corners of the church, sharing how the United Church is our home.

I was the middle speaker. And before me all the speakers were short. So I had the job of adjusting the microphone for myself and the other tall’ish speakers after me. As I fumbled with the mic stand, during which I managed to put my phone into some sort of strange mode that took me a moment to get out of, my phone that held what I was going to say, the words “Conservative Storyteller” popped up on the screen.

The place went completely silent. Like a really awkward silence, as if the room was trying to figure out if they should hate me before I even speak. All that was missing was that feedback loop you hear in the movies when the awkward kid goes to the microphone in the school assemblies.

And then I read these words.

“I love Jesus Christ as my Lord and Saviour, and believe that all we need to know is revealed to us in scripture and a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. I am a conservative Christian, and the United Church is my home. Our denomination is grieving, shrinking, cynical, and fumbling for a purpose. I wonder why we are so afraid to share our faith in Christ? We have lost our prophetic voice. I am passionate about showing the world who Jesus Christ is. As a church, we are at our best when we embrace the breadth of our diverse experiences and relationships with God, those are moments when we grow in faith together. I, too, risk faith, dare hope.”

And I believe these things. I do want people to know about Jesus. I do want the church to be a prophetic voice in the world again. I want us all to share our faith and bring life back to our churches.

I believe these things because of people like Paul, who write to the church in Rome and says things like,

“For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes…” (Romans 1:16)

It is the power of God that brings life, brings salvation, and makes believers in and through Jesus Christ. Without these things, then what’s the point?

Worship is a lot of what we do. Sunday mornings are our primary focus, they are the highlight of our week, no question. But is Sunday morning enough? Is coming and listening to some head up front prattle on and on for 15 to 20 minutes each week enough?

What is enough?
Is there ever enough?

What is church for you? Is it only Sunday mornings? Or is it a 7 day a week lifestyle? There’s a difference.

Sure we can simply come here on Sunday mornings and worship God. That’s a good thing to do! We need to be together to worship and experience God in community. This is a critical aspect in being a Christian. But it’s only one aspect of being a Christian.

The other aspects of being a Christian are all related to what we do when we leave this place and go about the rest of our week.

The Roman church is having a huge influence in its community because it is spreading beyond just a weekly church service. The people of that church are taking church with them wherever they go. They are sharing the Gospel in their homes, the streets, the marketplace, the workplace, everywhere! And the church is exploding with growth!

This is what Paul says he is hearing about all over the world. He’s not hearing about what they are doing on Sunday morning, but what they are doing all week long.

This is what living as a follower of Jesus looks like. It means being courageous enough to wear our faith on our sleeves and sharing the Gospel message freely.

We in the western world, and we all do it, have become a consumer society. What can the world give me? It’s been like this for some time. The scary part is were working to make this the way the world works globally. It’s partly why we’re destroying the planet. We want the world to serve us. To give us the latest fad and toy. We’re forgetting that God asks us to serve the world and take care of it, all the way back to the story of creation!

And as result, the world is now broken to brink of being unrepairable. I’m optimistic that we can fix it, but it’s going to take a movement of Biblical proportion for it to happen.

In this attitude of “what can the world give me?” we have abandoned practices of serving others and sharing our stories. Stories which tell of what God is doing in our lives. Stories which inspire others to consider welcoming this loving God into their own lives. Stories which will impact the world as people come to know Jesus for themselves.

It’s not about us.
It’s about others and how God wants us to serve them.

It’s not about us.
It’s about sharing the Good News of Jesus and inviting people to know him and the new life he offers.

It’s not about us.
It’s about bringing God’s kingdom to this earth as part of God’s team of people who love all of God’s children.

A few weeks ago we looked at the final instructions Jesus gave to his disciples in Matthew 28. Do you remember what they were?

“Go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”

The church in Rome has done these things. The church in Corinth has done these things. The church in Philippi has done these things. And Paul writes to encourage these churches to continue doing this work and keep their focus on the source of this mission, Jesus Christ their Lord.

We’ve also done these things. But the world around us has changed. We need to resist the urge to conform to these changes. Why? Because many of these changes work against what Jesus has commanded us. These changes tell us to be selfish. These changes tell us to fight against our neighbour. These changes tell us we need to believe what the world says because it must be right, even if our Bibles tell us differently, such as love your neighbour and help them.

The current trajectory of this world worries me. The current state of politics and public debate worries me. Everyone is in it for themselves. “What can I get out of this world?” seems to be the dominant theme. “Build the wall! Keep people out! Protect my stuff!” These are not helpful in spreading the Good News of Jesus and bringing hope to people without hope.

Sadly I missed the Watoto choir a few weeks ago. I’ve seen the choir a few times now. And they bring so much hope. Hope for their brothers and sisters in Uganda. Hope for those of us who hear their stories of how they have experienced God’s love in their lives.

Sure it may seem like innocent hope. They are children after all. But at the same time, these children have not had easy lives. Their part of the world is not an easy place to live in. Yet, in knowing God has a plan, in knowing God is in their lives, they have hope.

Remember what Jesus said to the disciples when they tried to figure out who was the greatest disciple?

Jesus invited a child into the middle of the crowd and he said this,

“Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.” (Matthew 18:3-5)

It’s not about us.

It’s about serving in the name of Jesus Christ, in a world without hope. In a world lost in greed and selfishness. In a world where children are expected to grow up too soon and serve themselves.

This is not the world God created. This is the world greed and ego has created. And people are losing hope. We need to recapture a child-like hope and trust in God, and let him lead us and guide us in the ways to live for a healthy world and future for all God’s children.

Jesus asks us to be part of the healing of this world. To be part of the restoration plan God has for it. To share his Good News for those who need to hear it.

Will it be easy? No it won’t. We have much opposition in the world right now. To the point churches and villages are being burnt to the ground around the world on the sole basis that they are Christian. Christians in China and Africa are being thrown in jail, they are being killed because of their relationship with Jesus. So yeah, it will not be easy. There are hard days still to come.

We’re going to look more into this verse in a few weeks, but in Romans 8:31 Paul says this, “If God is for us, who can be against us?”

These are words of hope to the church.

It’s not about us.

It’s about Jesus and the love of our Father he came to share with all who need hope in their lives.

A hope we can share each and every day by telling our stories of God’s work in our church, and even more importantly, in our own lives.

It’s about God’s children, the ones he loves and wants them to know it for themselves. We can be that beacon of hope that draws people to our Father in heaven, just like the Roman church of old, being a light in a hostile world towards a new and growing church.

May we share in their hope, their excitement, their joy in knowing Jesus Christ as Lord of all as we continue to do God’s work in this world still today.

Let us pray,

Lord Jesus,
Thank you for reminding us it’s not about us, but about the love of our Father for his children. Even children who don’t even know of this love yet.

It’s a struggle at times when we see the world walking down a highway away from God, when you invite us down the narrow path into his love.

Help us to see where we have the opportunities to share in hope. Help us to see where we have the opportunities to serve.
Help us to see where you are at work and where we can join you.

We know it’s not about us. But this is a struggle we face every day as the world tells us differently. And so we pray Lord Jesus, for strength, wisdom and hope, so we may share these things with those around us, and slowly begin to win this world back for God.

We ask you to guide us and lead us, as we follow in your way. We pray this in your strong name. Amen and amen.