Seward United Methodist Church
Tuesday, January 25, 2022
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Fixing Church 2: Passion


Luke 10:1-20

Some of you might remember the black Subaru wagon I drove when I first came here to Seward. Not a bad car, but it did have a few quirks. One was that the gas gauge really didn’t work quite right. It would hit the “E” long before the tank was actually empty. But I figured out early on that it also had a “low fuel” light that would come on when I only had about 50 miles of gas left. So as long as that light wasn’t on, I didn’t really sweat it.

One day, I was out in the mountains near Ohiopyle, getting ready to do some paddling with my brother on the Yough River. We were halfway up a big hill, the last hill before we came to town, of course, and it ran out of gas. Light never came on. About a week later, the exact same thing happened, this time ALMOST within sight of the gas station. And of course, the second time I had Sharon and the kids in the car with me. Sharon was, shall we say, not amused.

After that, I never let it hit the “E” again. I no longer had any way of knowing how much farther I could go. “Empty” might mean 100 miles or 0 miles. So I got in the habit of filling it up around a quarter tank every time.

The Church also has a fuel tank. And it determines how far we can go. Our fuel is our passion for God.

How is our fuel level? And what would it look like if the Church was serious about increasing the passion level of every member?

Our text this morning comes from Luke 10. This is the second time Jesus is sending out his disciples. The first time it was just the Twelve, this time there are 72 of them, and he is sending them to all the cities and towns and villages he is planning to visit. He wants them to prepare people for his arrival. He wants them to get people excited to see and hear him.

But there are only 72 of them. That’s not a whole lot, is it? I mean, 72 people in a room looks like a pretty good number. But remember that Judea and Galilee combined represent an area about half the size of New Jersey. And according to what I’ve read in New Testament history books, there were about 4 million people in that region. And that’s assuming that Jesus wasn’t planning to visit Samaria, or Tyre and

Sidon, or the Decapolis, regions outside the land of Canaan. Seventy-two doesn’t sound like a whole lot of people then. Maybe you should get some more people first, Jesus!

And these disciples of Jesus still don’t really “get it.” They don’t yet understand that Jesus is not raising an army to fight the Romans. They don’t get that he’s going to die on the cross. Maybe you should do some more teaching first, Jesus!

It’s not about having more people. And it’s not about the people having all the right answers. Passion doesn’t depend on either of those, and these disciples are passionate about Jesus. They have seen something good and powerful and moving in him, and they are willing to share it with others.

Jesus sends them out with this message: First, there is a great harvest out there, so pray for God to send more workers into the fields. That is, pray that others will catch the passion of the disciples. That’s the secret of getting the word to the whole region.

Be careful of the dangers out there, but travel light and with purpose. Accept hospitality as it is offered to you, but remember that you should be focused on the mission at hand. The mission was to preach about Jesus, heal the sick, and warn of the consequences of faithlessness. And finally, remember that you represent Jesus. If people won’t listen, it’s really Jesus they won’t hear. But the other side of that is that we need to represent Jesus faithfully.

They return from the mission full of joyful enthusiasm! And the result: “Satan has been knocked off his throne.” Seventy-two people went out, passionate about Jesus, and the Kingdom of God came with power, even dethroning Satan.

How do we increase our passion?

First, pray expectantly. Don’t just pray, but expect God to answer and look for what God does! When you get together with other believers, don’t just share your prayer concerns, but also talk about what God has done with your prayers.

This is where a prayer journal helps. I’ve never been a journal keeper, I’ll admit. But I decided a couple months ago it was well past time I start. And already, it’s been interesting and encouraging to see how prayers are answered.

Second, read Scripture and relate it to daily life. It’s not just a matter of reading the Scriptures. You need to pay attention to what God is saying to you through the Word. And again, a journal helps with that.

Third, witness to your faith with joy. Can you talk about your faith and what God is doing with joy?

In Luke 15, there are three parables about lost things being found. At the end of each story, you find a public display of joy. We heard earlier from Acts 3, part of the story of Peter healing a crippled beggar. His response: Joyful enthusiasm.

If we can’t talk about what God is doing in our lives and what our faith means to us without joy, then, quite frankly, why should anyone care what we believe?

And fourth, worship with passion.

Let me ask you a question: How often do you eat? Once a month? Once a week? Once a day? Three times a day? Pretty much all the time?

Now we would not expect one meal a week to sustain vital life, would we? Then why do we think one hour of worship a week will sustain a passionate spiritual life? Or once every other week? Or once a month? Or Christmas and Easter?

That hour of weekly worship in the fellowship of the Church should flow out of our daily worship. Worship should take place daily in our lives. We should read God’s word, meditate on it, and pray daily. We can even sing daily. That’s why there’s a radio in your car. We should view that weekly hour of worship as a “nutritional supplement” to a daily diet of worship, not as the only meal of the week.

Another pastor told me some time ago that he encourages people to think of their life of faith in terms of daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly. Daily, we should participate in the private worship of prayer and study. Weekly, we should participate in public worship and be with a group of fellow believers for accountability and encouragement. Monthly, we should put our faith into action and do something for God: Serve in a ministry, teach a class, witness about our faith. And yearly, we should take time to come apart from our regular life for more than a day to renew our passionate spiritual connection to God: Go on a retreat, serve on a mission trip, or volunteer for a week at summer camp.

Passion is the fuel of a church. But churches with low levels of passion make an awful mistake: They turn their attention inwards. That becomes a self-destructive cycle because the more we lose sight of the world outside our walls, the more our passion ebbs away. The attitude of “We need to take care of ourselves” just doesn’t work. And sadly, I have heard too many churches and church people over the years say, “We need to focus more on ourselves.” The more we focus inward, the less passion we have, and the less passion we have, the less we care about God’s work outside the walls of our buildings. It’s a vicious cycle. It’s a death spiral.

The Church is not a social club. Social clubs exist for the benefit of their members. There’s nothing wrong with that, per se. It’s just that God doesn’t want the Church to be a social club.

If we lose our passion for God, or if we misplace our passion on something other than God (a church building, a pet program, our own desires), then we cease to be a church, and we begin to die. And sadly, there are many churches out there in the world that are dying because they have lost their passion. They might continue to exist for some time, but they have lost their essential purpose. If ministry happens, it’s only by accident or by God’s intervention, not through the passion of God’s people.

A church will only go as far as its passion for God will take it.

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