Series: The Spirit of Christ
#2: The Spirit of Christmas Past*
Matthew 11:2-6 (NRSV)
It was a cold and dreary Christmas Eve in London. A crotchety old “humbug” of a man came home from his counting house having worked late into the evening. He made his way through the dark and dank rooms of his house to his upstairs bedroom, and settled down to eat his Christmas dinner, a bowl of gruel. There was no Christmas cheer for Ebenezer Scrooge. While the rest of Christendom celebrated, Scrooge sulked. The coming of Christ meant only a business day wasted, and the loss of profits. This Christmas would be no different from all the others, he would suffer through the holiday again, locking himself away in his cell until all the wasteful frivolity had passed. As he sat there in the gloomy prison of his own making, he resigned himself to his fate.
Of course, I’m describing that wonderful Christmas classic, A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens. Our sermons during this Advent and Christmas take their inspiration from the story that Dickens published way back in 1843, a parable of the transformation that the Advent of Christ can make in us when we allow the Spirit of Christmas to work his magic in our hearts. It reminds us that, no matter how spiritually dead we may be, by the power of God’s grace, we can be born again to a new resurrected life, an abundant life that is ours when Christ comes to live within us.
Last Sunday, we reflected on this hope that a new life is possible as we focused on the visit by the fearful ghost of Jacob Marley. We took heart that the hope he offered to Scrooge, is also offered to us. But key to Scrooge’s transformation would be the visits of three Spirits of Christmas: The Spirits of Christmas Past, Present, and Future. And, if we are to experience a Christmas transformation in our lives, we too will be confronted by the visits of three Spirits. During these remaining Sundays of Advent, we will reflect on our own Spirits of Christmas: Past, Present, and Future – Christ came in the past, Christ still comes to us in the present, and Christ will come again in the future. Until we are able to affirm those three truths, our lives cannot experience transformation. But when we have accepted the message of these three “spirits,” we can receive the joy and abundant life Jesus offers us. Our “humbugs” will be transformed into “hallelujahs!”
So, this morning let us consider “The Spirit of Christmas Past.”
I’m sure everyone here in worship today can accept the historical fact that Christ has come in the past. We all are familiar with the biblical story of how Jesus was born some 2000 years ago. Even secular people don’t question the reality that Jesus was born in Bethlehem, that he preached throughout Israel, and finally died at the hands of the Romans. The fact is that lots of people who are not active Christians would even go so far as accept the claim that the baby born to Mary was actually the Son of God, the Messiah that for centuries the Jews had been waiting for. They might even go so far as to say that Jesus rose from the dead. Yet for some reason, in spite of all those claims, they still fail to live the faith they profess.
But, as professing Christians, we believe. Don’t we? We say we do, we profess it with our creeds, we sing it in our hymns and carols, we call ourselves Christians. Over and over during these weeks of Advent and Christmas, we will declare our faith that Jesus is indeed the Messiah God has sent into the world to save us from our sins and offer us eternal life, that he is our Emmanuel, the very presence of God with us. As good Christians, our faith in Jesus is unshakable. Isn’t it?
Or is it? If there is anything A Christmas Carol teaches us, it is that we ought not to be too smug about our claims to unwavering faith. We can claim to have faith, but when something happens in lives that calls our faith into question, we can become cynical and even reject our faith.
I suspect that was what had happened to Ebenezer Scrooge. No doubt, he had been exposed to Christianity in his early years, and may have even at one time considered himself a “Christian.” But somewhere along the way, things happened that soured his faith, episodes in his life that the Spirit of Christmas Past wanted to reveal to him. Scrooge had become a jaded Christian. And that’s why he chose to spend “the most joyous night of the year” alone at home, brooding, sitting in the dark.
If we are honest, you and I have to admit that there is a dark side to our Christmas faith, as well. We may have faith in public, or when life is going well, in good times it’s easy to accept the claim that Jesus is the Christ and be joyful. But then, something happens that causes us to doubt our own faith. When trials and tribulations come into our lives, we begin to question whether Jesus is who he claims to be, or if he actually is a fraud playing a cruel joke on us, an imposter of a Messiah, not able to deliver on his promises. The Season proclaims hope, peace, love, and joy, but we don’t feel it. Instead, we feel imprisoned by circumstances, anxious and fearful. There is no Christmas cheer for us.
Now, don’t be so smug, you know there are times in our lives when the claims of the Christmas story are a little hard for us to swallow. In the secret places of your heart, maybe you’re feeling that way today. We’re told to be cheerful, we WANT to be cheerful. But we’re not. Perhaps you can identify with Scrooge’s dark and somber disposition. Perhaps, for you, Christmas is just one big “humbug.”
Of course, if we were feeling that way, none of us would have the nerve to admit it, at least not at church. We’d hide it from the preacher; we’d hide it from our friends and family. We’d even try to hide it from God. To admit our doubts would be tantamount to blasphemy.
But there was one person of outstanding faith who had the audacity to question whether Jesus was who he claimed to be, a person whose faith seemed to be unshakable.
As you must have already guessed from this morning’s scripture, I’m speaking of John the Baptist. John the Baptist was the one God sent to announce to the world that God had finally come through, that he had sent the world a Savior, the long-awaited Messiah. And John was faithful in carrying out his mission.
You’ll recall that it was John the Baptist who baptized Jesus and witnessed the heavens opening, and heard the voice of God announce, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” It was John who directed his disciples that they ought to begin to follow Jesus instead of him, saying, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” Yes, John seemed to have an unshakable faith in Jesus as the Christ.
Until he landed in Herod’s prison, that is. As he sat in Herod’s dungeon, doubts began to creep into to John’s mind. He began to question whether or not he had been right about Jesus. Could it be that he was about to sacrifice his life based on a case of mistaken identity? Not John’s identity, but Jesus’!
You see, since that day he baptized Jesus in the Jordan River, John had devoted his ministry to announcing to the world that God had finally sent the Messiah. Do you remember the boldness of his declaration? He proclaimed: “Even now the axe is being laid at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire… His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” That’s who John expected the Messiah to be, one who would come on like gang-busters, using his divine authority to mete out judgment against the kingdoms of this world, and usher in the reign of God.
Yes, John was sure of his words. Therefore, he was willing to risk everything, even putting his very life on the line, betting that Jesus was the one who would fulfill that prophecy.
But the problem was that Jesus wasn’t acting much like a Messiah. Like most Jews, John may have longed for a nationalistic Messiah, a savior of the oppressed Jewish people. This Messiah would call the people back to faithfulness to God, and then rally them to throw off the yoke of Roman oppression. He would usher in a new era of greatness for God’s people. But Jesus wasn’t fulfilling his expectations.
Rev. Patricia Gillespie was an Episcopal priest in Minnesota, who passed away in 2014. In her wonderful sermon entitled “Are You the One?” (that inspired much of my message today), she describes how John might have been feeling:
“I kind of think John saw himself as a blocker in a football game — a blocker for the running back — the Messiah. John was clearing the way through the defense, the obstacles, opening up a path for the Messiah to score a victory over the enemy. John had made some beautiful blocks… preaching his heart out, baptizing until he was waterlogged, even sacrificing his BODY blocking for the Messiah.”
“But John looks back and the Messiah doesn’t even seem to be running. Indeed, Jesus appears to have stopped and is helping some injured players, who are not even on his team! That’s not what the Messiah should be doing! Should he? Today’s gospel lesson finds John behind bars. He might be thinking, God, where did I go wrong? I did what I thought you wanted. I said what I thought you wanted me to say. You told me that the Messiah was coming. But where is he?”
“’Where’s the fire, the axe, the judgment he’s supposed to bring? And why, if he’s here, would he let me stay in this place? I thought I knew my cousin pretty well. I remember that day in the Jordan when I baptized him, what a glorious day. God, your whole plan was being put into play. But where is he now? Why isn’t he doing what I said he would do? Is he really the one or should I look for another?’”
As he sat in chains John began to ask, “What if I had been wrong?” He was about to lose his head (literally), and he wanted to make certain that his martyrdom would be worth the price. He had to find out.
So, from his prison cell, he sent some of his disciples to Jesus to ask a question that must have cut Jesus to the quick; “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” Ouch!
I think we can all identify with the question John puts to Jesus. It’s one each of us have asked from time to time. That’s because we all have invested a lot in our faith that Jesus is the Christ. We have made sacrifices to remain true to our convictions. We sometimes have risked a great deal for Jesus. But life has turned hard, and we begin to doubt. And so, like John, as we sit in our own prisons of circumstance, we may feel like asking Jesus, “Are you really the One, or should I look for someone else to save me?”
*This holiday season finds many people feeling like John might have: imprisoned, wondering to themselves, “Are you the One, Jesus? Can you speak to me in my prison? Behind my bars of pain? Are you the One? Or should we look for another?”
Many people find themselves in a prison called loneliness this time of year: Military personnel serving far from home, retirees far from families up north, families broken by divorce or separation, shut-ins, even those with family and friends, but who strangely feel very much alone. Lonely people often think nobody cares about what they need or think. Well-meaning people ask, “How are you doing?” But don’t really want to take the time to listen to the answer. It seems that no one cares. In loneliness it’s easy to wonder if even God cares.
Are you the One, Jesus? Can you help us cut through these prison bars of loneliness? Or should we look for another?
Others find themselves imprisoned in a fortress of fear at Christmas: fear about the future, fear for their families, fear for their own health and well-being. John the Baptist must have felt fear as he waited day after day for word of his own fate. Or imagine the fear for the family whose main wage earner has just lost his or her job! What’s this going to do to the family? What about the future? It could be a lean Christmas for a family in that situation.
Are you the One, Jesus? Can you help us face and overcome our fears? Or should we look for another?
Christmas finds many people locked in prisons of grief; the loss of a parent, a grandparent, a child, sibling, or friend; a husband or wife who’s died during the year and won’t be here for the holiday. Can the light of Christmas penetrate such deep darkness? How can Christmas ever be the same?
Are you the One, Jesus? Can you bring light into this darkest of prison cells? Or should we look for another?
John the Baptist sent some of his followers to Jesus, to ask this same question: Are you the one? And, basically, Jesus said, “Look around you at the evidence, and decide for yourselves. What does the evidence show?”
Have the blind received sight? Remember the blind man Jesus met on the road? Making a paste from the dust in the road, Jesus touched his eyes and his vision returned. Ask that man, “Is he the One?” And ask the millions of others who have been blind to the truth about themselves and about God, but who’ve found that Jesus opened their eyes. Ask them, “Is he the One?”
Have the lame walked? Go and ask the man whose friends lowered him through the roof on a mat before Jesus because the man was paralyzed. Ask him, if you can catch up with him, “Is he the One?” And ask the thousands whose feet never seemed strong enough to stay on the right paths, but in Jesus have found the strength to turn around and walk with God. Ask them, “Is he the One?”
Have the prisoners been released? Ask that dying thief beside Jesus on the cross, who that very day knew paradise. Ask him, “Is he the One?” And ask the countless numbers who have found Jesus to be the liberator from the prison of drugs, greed, loneliness, and fear. Ask them, “Is he the One?”
But what of that greatest fear, that great prison? What of death? Matthew, who wrote the gospel our text comes from, would encourage us to ask the father whose daughter had died, who heard those simple words, “Little one, arise.” Ask that father, “Is he the One?” And ask all those who have received in Jesus a resurrection from the dead, an abundant life, a new beginning. Ask them how much difference it makes facing death when the One who rose from the dead promises eternal life to all who believe in him. Ask them, “Is he the One?”
Are you the One, Jesus? Can you speak to us behind our thick prison walls this Christmas? Can you give strength to our feet? Sight to our eyes? Hope to our hearts? Wholeness to our brokenness? Life to our death? Are you the One, Jesus?
Jesus assured John by telling him to consider the evidence. John was right that Jesus is the Messiah – he was just mistaken about the kind of Messiah Jesus came to be. All that talk of “axes laid to the root of the trees, and burning the chaff in unquenchable fire” is a little premature. That will occur in the future, at Christ’s Second Coming. But for now, the Messiah has come to liberate all those who are in prisons of despair, to shine light on those who sit in dark dungeons of doubt, to give hope to all those who have given up all hope.
So, take heart Ebenezer Scrooge. Because Christ has come, there is hope, even for you.
*Note: Large portions of the material and ideas for this message (especially from the * on) come from an excellent sermon by Rev. Patricia Gillespie who was rector of the East Range Episcopal Churches of the Diocese of Minnesota. Http://www.speravi.com/church/river.htm Rev. Gillespie died in 2014. This (my) sermon was preached first in 2009 while Rev. Gillespie was living and I communicated with her asking for her permission to draw from and quote her sermon. She graciously gave permission. I offer this sermon in gratitude and tribute to her life and ministry.
Sermon Series: The Gospel according to Scrooge
#1: The Spirit of Christmas Foretold
Isaiah 8:20 – 9:3a (NLT)
This morning is the first Sunday of Advent as we prepare ourselves to receive Christ once again. Year after year, we need to be reminded that, in order for our faith to be genuine, we must constantly be open to welcoming Jesus into our world and into our lives. It’s also a time when we are reminded of the transformation Christ makes in our lives when we invite him to dwell in our hearts and in our midst.
That’s why, for our Advent and Christmas season this year, our sermons will be inspired by the most beloved Christmas story found outside of the Scriptures. No Christmas story is more adored, or illustrates the impact Christ’s advent can make on our lives better than Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.
Why has this story about that old curmudgeon named Ebenezer Scrooge become so venerated by generations – so much so that it doesn’t seem like Christmas unless we’ve watched one of the many tellings of the story on film? I think it is because, we instinctively recognize Christian values and truths that are woven throughout this story. It is something of a parable that explains the meaning of Christ’s coming in ways all of us can understand.
Many people don’t realize it, but Charles Dickens was a devout Christian. Even though he was never overt in writing about his faith, all throughout his books and stories Christian principles are held up as the standard we are to live by. In fact, on the night before his death in 1870, Charles Dickens wrote this in a letter to a friend: “I have always striven in my writings to express veneration for the life and lessons of our Savior.”
Nowhere is this more clear than in his little book, A Christmas Carol. Hidden in the story are deep insights and truths about the meaning of Christ’s coming, and the impact the advent of Christ has on the hearts of individuals. There have been countless retellings of this beloved story. It’s been adapted by the Muppets and cartoon characters. It’s been turned into stage plays and musicals. It’s been set in other times and places, in children’s books and television specials. And of course, there have been multiple movies made of this Dickens tale – it seems that a new one comes out every Christmas season. Even non-Christians and unbelievers have fallen in love with this story of the transformation that is possible when the Spirit of Christ breaks into our lives.
It could be argued that Charles Dickens should be considered one of the most effective evangelists who have ever lived – especially in today’s world where the vast majority of people seldom darken the doors of a church. Through his story, the seed of the Gospel is planted in unsuspecting hearts, that by God’s grace, may one day grow. That’s why I have decided that we would spend our Christmas season reflecting on the Spirit of Christmas as seen through the lens of Dickens’ story. This morning, we will consider “the Spirit of Christmas: Foretold.”
In the Peanuts cartoon strip, Snoopy is sometime depicted as a frustrated author, hoping to write the next great American novel. There he sits atop his doghouse with an old manual typewriter. And do you recall the first line of his novel? “It was a dark and stormy night…”
It’s amazing how often authors set their stories in darkness, or in the midst of storms, as if to underscore the seriousness of the drama that is unfolding. Dickens certainly does this in his novel. For it is in Scrooges’ dark and gloomy bedroom that he is visited by the ghost of Jacob Marley to warn Scrooge that unless he changes his ways, he too will end up in eternal chains. Such a gloomy and even frightening scene – it seems an odd choice for a Christmas story. But in fact, it was perfect – because the darkness of Scrooges house reflects the darkness of Scrooges soul.
Our scripture text from Isaiah speaks of spiritual darkness, as well. This passage is one of many examples from Jewish scripture that foretell the coming of the Messiah. There are dozens of Old Testament passages that point to the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus. But our scripture for this morning is probably among the most famous and most important of those prophecies.
Isaiah prophesied to the people of Judah warning them to change their ways. God’s chosen people had turned their back on God and were living self-centered and sinful lives, following idols of their own making. For centuries prophets had been calling the Jewish people to repent and return to faithfulness. But they continued in their disobedience. In our text, Isaiah, like Dickens, speaks of the spiritual darkness in which the people were living. But then, he allows a glimmer of hope to shine through:
Hear again, Isaiah’s words, and see if they don’t describe Ebenezer Scrooge: “People who contradict (God’s) word are completely in the dark… They will look up to heaven and down at the earth, but wherever they look, there will be trouble and anguish and dark despair. They will be thrown out into the darkness. Nevertheless, that time of darkness and despair will not go on forever… The people who walk in darkness will see a great light. For those who live in a land of deep darkness, a light will shine.”
The people of Judah walked in spiritual darkness. By their words and actions they denied and mocked God’s Spirit. They were unaware of how lost and in the dark they really were. If they continued to live in the darkness of their sin, they would face a grim future. Isaiah and the other prophets God sent named the darkness and foretold the coming of the Light.
That’s why I selected this passage for us to reflect on this morning. In many ways, Ebenezer Scrooge was just like the people of Judah. Like them, he lived a selfish life following idols of his own making. He had denied and mocked God. He was a lost soul living in spiritual darkness. Unless he had a change of heart, he was doomed. And like the Jewish people, he didn’t know how lost and in the dark he truly was.
At least, until that dark December night when he was haunted by the ghostly appearance of his former business partner, Jacob Marley. Just like the prophets of old, Marley named Scrooges darkness and offered him the opportunity to repent, so he could receive the light of God’s Spirit. In the midst of the darkness and gloom, Marley offers Scrooge an opportunity to change his destiny – he holds out a glimmer of hope.
Marley’s ghost tells Scrooge that he will be visited by three Spirits who will point his way out of the darkness and into the light. Scrooge’s life and eternal destiny can be transformed, if only he will take to heart the lessons the three Spirits wish to teach him.
I think the reason A Christmas Carolis so enduring is because so many people in our world today are just like the people of Judah and like Ebenezer Scrooge. In fact, there is a little bit of Ebenezer in each one of us, too. We live self-centered lives, following idols of our own making. By the way we live, we deny and mock God. We reject God’s Spirit. Many of us are living in spiritual darkness, and we don’t even realize it. The ghost of Jacob Marley haunts the dark chambers of our hearts – unless we change, we are doomed.
But there is hope. The words the Prophet Isaiah spoke to Judah are for us, as well. The “time of darkness and despair will not go on forever (Isaiah says)… (We) will be humbled, but there will be a time in the future when… (we) will be filled with glory.”
There will be “no more gloom for those in anguish,”for a glorious light will shine, dispelling the darkness – the dawning of the Christ.
When Marley departed the gloom of that bedroom, Scrooge was left with anticipation, laced with fear and with hope – fear that the ghosts would force him to look on the dark recesses of his heart; and hope that beyond the darkness of the night, there might be the hope of a new dawn in the morning.
In the three remaining Sundays of Advent, we also will be visited by three Spirits – what I am calling the three Spirits of Christmas: Past, Present, Future. Over the next three weeks, we will consider Christ’s coming in history asGod’s incarnate Son in Bethlehem; we will rejoice that Christ comes to us even today, in the form of his Spirit dwelling in our hearts: and we will look forward to the coming of Christ in glory at the close of the age. Then finally, on Christmas Eve, you and I will celebrate with joy the coming of the light of Christ – a dawn that has the power to transform all our “humbugs,” into “hallelujahs!”
The promise of the prophet is good news for us this Advent:
“The people who walk in darkness will see a great light. For those who live in a land of deep darkness, a light will shine.”
*Video: David C. Scott version. From when Marley sits through exit out window. 5 min.
This weekend we will mark the beginning of the Advent Season as we prepare to celebrate the coming of Christ. Join us at Mims United Methodist Church for a four week Advent sermon series based on Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.” This weekend, our Saturday service will be our Christmas Cantata so the sermon will be delivered on Sunday at 8:30 or 11:00 am. We hope you will join us!
Series: The Other Lord’s Prayer
#6: That the World May Know
John 17:20-26 (NCV)
It was “Show and Tell” day for a 3rd Grade class at the local elementary school. The teacher had asked her students to bring something for Show and Tell that symbolizes their core values or belief system.
A boy named Ali was the first to come forward, holding something rolled up under his arm: “I am Muslim,” he said, “and this is a prayer rug.” After he unrolled it so the class could look at it, he returned to his seat.
A boy named Benjamin headed to the front of the room and pulled something out of his backpack. He said, “I’m Jewish. This is a menorah, and is a symbol of my religion.” He then sat down.
Next a little girl named Anna came forward. She removed something from her pocket and said, “This is a rosary, and it’s a symbol of my Catholic religion.”
Finally a boy named Pete moved to the front of the room and carefully pulled something out of a paper sack and said, “I go to the Methodist Church, and this is a casserole dish.”
As I was growing up, I fondly remember “show and tell” days at school. Teachers often used it as a way for them and the other students to get to know one-another better. It was always interesting to see what items other children selected to bring to school and share with the class – as you might imagine, sometimes the things they brought would be bizarre. It was even more fascinating to listen to their explanations as to why they chose that particular item. Show and Tell revealed a lot about who people were and what they thought to be important. When we had all finished our Show and Tell, we felt we knew one another much better, and had a clearer understanding about what motivated each person.
As I was reflecting on our text this morning, I kept being reminded of those Show and Tell days in elementary school. Show and Tell is not just a great teaching technique that elementary school teachers have developed, it was a method Jesus used, as well. Like the “master teacher” he was, Jesus gives his students an assignment, to announce to the world what our core values or belief system is. He challenges us to go Show and Tell. And in our Showing and Telling, the world would come to know the God we serve.
Yes, Jesus calls us to Show and Tell. But he wasn’t about to ask anything of us that he wasn’t willing to do, himself.
The context of our scripture today is the prayer Jesus prayed in the Upper Room the night before his crucifixion. During that week we call “holy,” over and over Jesus “shows” and “tells” the world who he is, and why he came.
The week began with Palm Sunday. Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey, with adoring crowds who waved palm branches and proclaimed him to be their king. It was a day filled with symbolic gestures, each one deliberately chosen by Jesus to fulfill Old Testament prophecy about the coming of the Messiah. Like the kids in that 3rdgrade class, Jesus was “showing” the world that he was the Messiah and the Son of God. And, as the week progressed, over and over again, in many and varied ways, he would “show and tell” the world who he is. Through his actions and words throughout that holy week, we become well acquainted with who Jesus is, and come to better understand what Jesus believed was important. I think it’s fair to describe Holy Week as God’s “Show and Tell” week. It was God’s last-ditch effort to “show and tell” by deed and word just how much he loves us.
Our scripture today is smack dab in the middle of God’s “show and tell” week. Our lesson this morning is the concluding verses of Jesus’ extensive prayer we find recorded in the 17thchapter of John’s Gospel, a prayer that we have been focusing on now for the past month or so. In the Upper Room following the Last Supper, Jesus prayed for his Disciples, and for all those who would one day come to believe in him through their witness. And in his prayer, he thanks his Father that, by his coming death on the cross and the glorious resurrection to follow, he would finally show his disciples and all the world who he truly is. He also thanks God that he has been able to tell the disciples the truth of the Gospel, and that they have been receptive to that truth. In other words, by his deeds and his words, Jesus has both “shown and told” us who he is.
So, one of the main themes of Jesus’ prayer revolves around Jesus’ Show and Tell, as he reveals his identity to the world in the cross and the empty tomb. But there is another aspect of Show and Tell at work in the prayer: Jesus calls on you and me, as his disciples, to also be about the business of “showing and telling.” It is Jesus’ prayer that, as his disciples, we can also be empowered by the Spirit to “Show and Tell,” – so “that the world may know.” That for me is the key verse for understanding the meaning of Jesus’ prayer:
“I pray for these followers, but I am also praying for all those who will believe in me because of their teaching. Father, I pray that they can be one… Then the world will believe that you sent me. I have given these people the glory that you gave me so that they can be one, just as you and I are one… Then the world will know that you sent me… “ (John 17:20-23, excerpts NCV)
What was Jesus’ dying wish? That you and I might be faithful disciples who will Show and Tell the world who he is.
But sadly, the world around us is far from knowing Jesus. Our society is lost, and it seems to be headed to destruction, yet good faithful churchgoers like you and me often pretend not to see notice. The lives of the neighbors around us are devoid of meaning and are spiritually hungry, and yet we withhold the spiritual nourishment that would satisfy them and give their lives purpose. Even members of our own families are floundering through life without a spiritual compass, and we seem not to be overly concerned. In his prayer, it is Jesus’ most ardent desire that you and I Show and Tell the truth about Jesus, “that the world might know.”
Tragically, that prayer of Jesu is yet to be fully answered. If our mission as disciples of Jesus is to Show and Tell the Good News of salvation through Christ, frankly, we aren’t doing a very good job. The undeniable fact is that many people in the world around us don’t know Jesus. We’ve failed at our Show and Tell.
In his prayer, Jesus warns us of two pitfalls that can hamper our witness – the reasons unbelievers around us haven’t come to faith: One is our failure to Show; the other is our failure to Tell.
First, we don’t Show our faith the way we ought to. At the very close of his prayer, Jesus prays that his love might be evident in our lives… He says to his Father, “Then they will have the same love that you have for me, and I will live in them.” Earlier that same evening, Jesus said much the same: “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples – when they see the love you have for one another.” (John 13:35)
When our unbelieving neighbors and friends look at our lives, sometimes they don’t see the Glory of Christ dwelling in us. We don’t always love the way we should. And since our actions speak louder than our words, people decide all this talk about love they hear from Christians is just that – all talk. And so, they turn away. (the ‘nones’ and the ‘dones’)
Another way we fail to show our faith to an unbelieving world is our lack of unity as the church. (This is a timely word to our denomination right now, as we are struggling with what it means for us to be “united.”)
All throughout his long prayer, Jesus prays for the unity of the Church. Listen again to what Jesus prays: “Father, I pray that they can be one. As you are in me and I am in you, I pray that they can also be one in us. Then the world will believe that you sent me.”
The secular world looks at all the division and infighting within the Christian church and concludes that they don’t want anything to do with our God. We preach love and unity, but we practice suspicion, envy, and hostility toward our brothers and sisters in Christ. If Christians don’t even love each other, how can they claim to love the world? It’s no wonder many unbelievers are not interested – we have failed to Show them Christ by our love.
But we also have neglected to Tell them about Jesus, as well. Showing is essential – but Telling is equally important. Our words must match our deeds, and visa versa.
Jesus’ prayer is that his disciples would tell all the world about the good news of salvation through him. “I pray for these followers, but I am also praying for all those who will believe in me because of their teaching.” The disciples were to testify to the world about Jesus, so that the world would come to believe.
And those first disciples followed through. They did a miraculous job at spreading the gospel, and you and I are the fruit of their labor. We believe, because they, and untold millions of other followers of Jesus, have been faithful in passing the truth of God down to us.
But, how well do we do at Telling the story of Jesus? How quick are we to speak a good word for Christ? Are we prepared to share our faith when the opportunity presents itself – to tell others about Jesus? As Peter counseled us in his first letter, “Always be ready to answer everyone who asks you to explain about the hope you have.” (1 Pet 3:15 NCV)
Can you explain your hope in Christ? The unbelieving world has never heard us share the truth of the gospel in a compelling enough way to cause them to want to surrender their lives to Jesus. Do we know how to share our faith? Do we even have a faith to share? Most of us don’t do as good a job as we ought to in Telling others of our faith.
But there is another way we fall short in Telling others about Jesus: We fail to invite unbelievers and skeptics to come and see for themselves. Maybe we feel we don’t have the answers or the courage to witness to someone about Jesus. But we could, at the very least, invite them to church so they might hear the Gospel for themselves. Many of you do this, I know. But we could all be much more intentional about this than we are.
In the first chapter of John’s Gospel, we find a story that illustrates the importance of Telling, both in sharing our faith, and by inviting others. There, we find the story of Jesus as he called his disciples. The first two disciples who followed Jesus were Andrew and Philip. Andrew didn’t hesitate to witness to his new-found faith when he told his brother Simon Peter, “We have found the Messiah.” And Philip simply invited his brother, Nathaniel, to “come and see” and discover Jesus for himself. Both approaches to evangelism (witnessing and inviting) are essential if the unbelieving world is to come to faith. We must Tell how Jesus has saved us whenever we get the opportunity, and we must look for opportunities to invite others to worship so they can meet Jesus themselves. Showing and Telling are both key to helping others to come to Christ. Jesus knew it – and now we do too.
So “class,” as your “teacher,” I am giving you an assignment to complete – an assignment for Show and Tell. I want to challenge each of you to not only Show your faith in Jesus by how you live your life, but also to Tell the truth of God’s love by sharing your own journey of faith with all those who will listen. Too hard to do? Then, at the very least, I am asking you to invite two or three people who don’t have a relationship with Christ, or don’t have an active involvement in a congregation, to come and see for themselves, so they might have an encounter with Jesus. And we’re going to help you do just that:
As you leave this morning, you will be given a couple of invitation cards for you to use as you invite neighbors and friends who are not currently active in a church to join you for our Christmas Eve services. All the details are printed on the card. (Now, don’t just throw them away or drop them on the floor of your car. Take them home and pray about who you will give the invitations to, and then follow through, and do it!)
Christmas is a great time to reach out. Many unchurched people are open to attending these special holiday services – if they are invited. One study showed that 41% of people who were formerly churched said that they would return to the local church if a friend or acquaintance invited them. You may be surprised just how many will say “yes,” when they know that the person who invited them really cares about them.
So, I want to challenge you to step out of your comfort zone in the next few weeks and invite folks to come with you to worship during the holidays, especially Christmas Eve. In fact, why not pick them up and bring them with you? The more welcomed they feel in their visit, the more open they will be to the movement of the Holy Spirit in their hearts.
The goal is not just to “fill the church” on Christmas Eve (although that would be wonderful to see). It is so that “the world may know” the Good News of salvation. Our purpose comes directly from the lips of Jesus:
“I want them to see my glory,” Jesus says plainly in our text. It is Jesus’ hope and prayer that all the unbelieving world would one day behold his glory, and believe. Friends, there are no days in the church year when we see Jesus in all his glory more vividly than the High Holy Days of Christmas and Easter. It’s a great opportunity for people struggling to find meaning in their lives to have an encounter with Jesus, God’s gift to the world!
So, class, that is your assignment for Show and Tell this week. Bring a friend with you to worship. And, who knows? By your faithfulness in “Showing and Telling,” you may actually win them for Jesus!
And with that, my friends, YOU just might become the answer to Jesus’ prayer.
1Thom Rainer & Sam Rainer—From Outreach magazine, “Features,” July/August 2007.