Seward United Methodist Church
Tuesday, August 14, 2018
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Darkness Into Light

2 Corinthians 4:1-7

 If there is a single area of the Christian life where I think the Church is struggling the most today, it might be evangelism, sharing the gospel, making new disciples.  We’re uncomfortable with it.  We’ve been bad at it for so long that many of us might say, “Well, I wouldn’t even know where to start when it comes to sharing the gospel.”  

 We might even try to excuse ourselves from the task by saying something like, “Well, most of the people I know are already believers.”  Not likely.  Or maybe, “Evangelism just isn’t my gift.  Let someone else do it.”  Or we might say, “I just try to proclaim Jesus by how I live and let that speak for itself.  Like ol’ Francis of Assissi used to say, ‘Proclaim the gospel wherever you go, and when necessary use words.”  I’ve always enjoyed that quote, except that there are two problems with it.  The first is that Francis of Assissi never said it, and the second is that it isn’t even true.  We must be able to talk about what we believe, why we believe it, and to make a compelling case for why others should believe it if we ever want to be faithful messengers of God’s good news. 

 Even if it’s difficult to share the gospel, we shouldn’t give up.  “Since God in his wonderful mercy has given us this wonderful ministry, we never give up.”  There are two compelling reasons why we shouldn’t give up.  

 The first is that if we have truly experienced the mercy of God, then we have received the most marvelous gift of all.  If we have truly experienced God’s gift, then the memory of mercy received should compel us to share it with others.  If we experience something wonderful, should we not be motivated to share it?  

Twenty-four years ago, for the first time I really experienced the joy and the goodness of God’s created world when I went to Algonquin on the Conference canoe trip as a teenager.  It was so wonderful, I kept going back.  And I want others to experience it as well, because of the memory of what it’s meant for me.  It should be that way with the gospel as well.  

The second reason we should be compelled to share the gospel is because we have such a great and important task given to us.  This is important.  The fate of people’s eternal souls is in our hands.  If we are unwilling to take our part in God’s plan, then where can they find hope?  God is counting on us.

One of the most remarkable things is that God would entrust such an important job to us, frail though we are.  We have a privilege greater than Moses and Elijah.  Moses brought the Law.  Elijah reminded people to keep it.  But we bring the good news of God’s grace that is greater.  God entrusted this to us, even though we are like “clay jars,” as verse 7 says.  

Clay jars were the closest thing the first century world had to a “disposable product.”  They were the “plastic bags” or “Styrofoam containers” of the first century world.  That might seem to reflect poorly on the worth of human beings, but that’s not the point.  The point is that we are frail.  Our lives are short.  Our wills are weak.  And if we fail in our appointed task, then there is no “back-up plan,” so to say.  God’s work will not be done if we don’t do our part.  So we must be diligent about our task.  

First, we have to keep the focus off of ourselves and on Christ.  

It’s always tempting to inject ourselves into the conversation and make it about us.  We are sinful beings.  Pride and self-centeredness are at the heart of what it means to be sinful.  But as Paul reminds us, we are servants.  We are clay jars.  We are not the light.  We only reflect the light.  

Christ is the light of the world.  He is the EIKON, the exact representation of God the Father.  Christ re-presents God to the world.  The world forgot who God is, so Christ presents him again to the world.  And if Christ is in us and working through us, then we also re-present Christ to the world.  

Darkness can only be dispelled by light, and light is from God.  Just as God dispelled the physical darkness in the act of creation (Genesis 1:3), so Christ dispels the spiritual darkness in bringing us to new life, the act of re-creation.  As Peter says, “You are a chosen people, a kingdom of priests, God’s holy nation.  This is so that you can show others the goodness of God who has called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.”  (1 Peter 2:9)

Second, we must do our task with the utmost integrity.  

We see in our text that Paul was accused of wrongdoing, of deceitful tricks.  The Greek is often translated that he “adulterated” the word of God.  Corinth was a center of commerce, and merchants were often accused of “adulterating” their products, mixing in something worthless with the real thing to increase their profits.  Speakers and

philosophers were sometimes accused of the same thing, trying to trick people by choosing “style” over substance.  

Deceit of any kind is inappropriate to the gospel.  It takes away from the message when we share it with underhanded methods.  But that happens.  I’ve sometimes heard of churches being accused of “bait and switch” tactics, offering people one thing to get them to come, but then “switching” to a hard sell on the gospel.  Some even might justify it by saying, “Well, the important thing is that people are hearing the gospel.”   What good is it to share the gospel if you’re not doing it with integrity?  You’re just as likely to turn people off to the message if they say afterwards, “It was a trick.”  

If we engage in deceitful tactics, then we follow the example of Satan, the “god of this world” or “god of this age.”  Sharing the gospel is part of a spiritual struggle.  Satan has blinded the minds of those who don’t believe.  

Paul calls Satan the “god of this world.”  As Paul says in 1 Corinthains 8, there are “many gods.”  Whatever is central to our thinking and living is our god.  “The world” is a way of thinking and living that is functionally atheistic.  It is functioning, living as if there is no God, even if you say, “Well, yes, I believe God exists.”  Paul reminds us that there is a conscious power behind this way of thinking.  And so there is a spiritual struggle in sharing the gospel, sharing the light of God. 

As I said before, the Church is struggling in this area.  We can see it in the declining numbers in most churches across America.  We often want to blame it on the world, and say things like, “People just don’t want to commit anymore.”  Or “People just aren’t interested in spiritual matters anymore.”  

But the truth is that we can’t blame it all on the world.  The surveys out there tell us that people are still interested in God, still interested in spiritual things.  They are just as interested as ever in those things.  The difference is that they aren’t finding answers from the Church.  

A couple times in the last year I’ve seen an article go around on Facebook about “Five reasons people are leaving the Church.”  I read it a couple months ago, and thought about it when I was preparing this message because I thought there were some real points of connection.  

The first reason was that the Church offers too much “flash” and not enough substance.  In other words, we’ve chosen style over substance.  The author was especially hard on the “mega church” model of a slick and well-rehearsed worship service that feels more like a rock concert than a church gathering.  There’s nothing wrong with contemporary worship, but it has to be centered around authentic, biblical proclamation.

The second reason was that the Church is speaking a foreign language.  We no longer talk to people in ways that they can understand.  We are too “church-y” in our language.  And that’s a good point.  We need to tell the story in a way it can be heard.  There’s a difference between changing the message and changing how we tell it.  One is wrong, the other is necessary to continue to be able to reach people.

The third reason was that the Church is too inward-focused, especially on their buildings.  And he’s really right.  As someone pointed out, Jesus did not tell the world to go to the church; he told the Church to go to the world.  We need to go where people are, physically and spiritually, if we want to be able to share the message with them.  And getting the heck out of the church building is a good start on that!

The fourth reason is that the Church is too busy fighting the wrong battles.  We were used to a “culturally Christian” society.  We were used to a society where Christianity had a privileged place, and the culture at least gave lip service to Christian ideals, and we keep fighting to keep it that way.  So we get caught up in trying to preserve “cultural Christianity.”  What our nation really needs is to hear the gospel proclaimed by the Church, not given lip service by the media.  

And the last reason he gave was that our “love doesn’t look like love.”  This was the one where I took issue with him.  Because I think what he meant is that the Church should stop calling sin sin.  His definition of love seemed to be that if you love someone, you accept who they are and what they do.  My definition of love is that love means accepting people where they are, but not leaving them where they are.  Because that’s what God does with us.  Still, he has a point.  Christ accepts us where we are and then moves us toward where he wants us to be.  If we put conditions on people and say, “You can’t come to Jesus until after you stop doing this or that,” then we are being disingenuous to the gospel.  We are adulterating the message.

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