Low Sunday Reflections

In the days following Easter, I begin hearing stories about how happy people were to see the church so full on Easter Day. It does make us feel good. Our ranks are fuller, and when there are more folks people generally feel good. But why? I think there are good reasons and bad reasons and today I hope to bring the objectives of the apostles alive – and remind us why we even assemble ourselves together.

So we begin with the aftermath of the Easter event. Peter and the other apostles , Luke records in the Acts of the Apostles , have a boldness and conviction – something, quite frankly many of us in 21st century churches lack. I think it is this simple – we live in a world that rewards winners and dismisses losers. Growing up in the South, I even heard street evangelists called “soul winners”. I think it is a ghastly title that makes it all about us. We don’t ‘win’ anything! No, Peter and the others knew it was about the message. The message is not about us or how able we are to present it perfectly, because the message has power in itself.

Peter is recorded as saying, “We must obey God rather than human authority.” (Acts 5:29) To be clear, this is not long after the disciples had seen the Lord killed, and had witnessed resurrection and ascension. Their message had power because it was centered upon the deity and witness of God in the Flesh. This was the new authority – not a religious system, not a secular power – and they knew that not even death had the power to topple that.

Humans crucified, but God exalted – in other words, as Paul tells us, God’s power is made perfect – in weakness. Ancient rulers often used the title “Savior” and “Leader”. If Jesus is Lord, the government is not, and, in fact, the church is not.

There is a severe problem brewing in the 21st century American church, and we continue to look at corporate solutions where scripture already has given us the remedy. Peter’s solution is a simple message. He says,
“The God of our ancestors raised up Jesus,
whom you had killed, by hanging him on a tree;
God exalted him at his right hand as leader and savior
That he might give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins” (Acts 5:30-31)

If we want the church to be filled, we need to abandon what makes sense. When we proclaim Jesus as Lord with radical self-abandon, it will not make sense, but it is the message that will transform the world – and our churches. We have gone about it the wrong way for generations. Consider these “solutions” to the reality of dwindling church attendance and the increase in our own anxieties:
1. Better programming
2. Inclusive language
3. Seeker sensitivity
4. Updated music
5. Less stringent membership requirements
6. Eliminating difficult language like tithing and sacrifice.

I suppose all of those things could have a place, but that is not what will grow a church, because those are not a message that saves. I have a hard time thinking Peter, the itinerant fisherman, would have ever imagined a corporate model church. He would however, have begun with the vantage point of changed lives.

The God of our ancestors raised up Jesus,
whom you had killed, by hanging him on a tree;
God exalted him at his right hand as leader and savior

THAT is a message. When JESUS is what we are trying to spread, the Holy Spirit looks for a way to touch someone. When we choose to reflect that back on us, we make lords of ourselves and the Holy Spirit is squeezed out little by little until the church becomes dead.

Here in Grand Island, there are 60 active churches. In many cases we compete for market share – and precious few of us are really out there looking for new souls to meet with the message of the Gospel. Instead of seeking unity in Jesus, we promote diversity in product, or try to sell others the idea that we somehow are special.

That is one thing that makes me so excited about Shared Ministry between Messiah and St. Stephen’s. It is about Jesus, not us. What if our delight was in the person saved and sanctified and set on fire with a new life. and not in the typical self-serving way we look at numbers of attendees and pledged dollars.

Now how do we grow in this. How do we get soaked in the spirit so that our witness looks different from doing what we always did and getting what we always got?

1. Make ministry about Jesus. In our conversations, let’s talk about Jesus. Let’s talk about what he means to us, how he is leader and savior to us. How his death and resurrection is about his choosing us. How has it changed our families and how has it given us hope for tomorrow. If we can’t answer that, it is time to make an appointment with the pastor/priest.

2. Let’s make our message about SOULS, not attendees or members. If the church could get that right, what we do would look a lot different. We have long prized the attendance byproduct and avoided the salvation cause. What if every new person that came in the door was not a commodity for us to acquire, but a soul to be set on fire with the Holy Spirit. Such perspective will change what we do, perhaps. Rich souls and poor souls are equal to God and we are not to spend more time attempting to acquire one and reject another. Likewise God regards the souls of Anglos, Africans, and Hispanics the same, but do we act like that? Do we rejoice when someone comes alive in Jesus who looks, acts, behaves, loves, or cherishes things different from us?

3. Let’s make this about ETERNITY. Peter’s boldness was not to save his skin, but to covert souls in error. Peter knows the temple police and the Council of the Sanhedrin need what once he too did not have. The job of Christians is to be midwives for eternity, not recruiters and fundraisers for a social club.

The successful 21st century Church needs to begin looking more like the first century church, or it is going to become a dead church. We need always remember that it was the temple council who were the educated ones, the apostles were not, and yet their message changed the world. It was the temple officials who were the wealthy ones, and the temple now lay in ruins. On the contrary, the apostles had a message, but no lands, no silver or gold, and yet you and I are here.

Jesus, souls, and eternity. It is that message that made Peter speak with boldness, and it is that message that will give us a hope and a future too.

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