Part 1 of our 4 part God’s Not Dead Sermon Series – inspired by the movie of the same name.
Preach the Gospel at all times. Use words if necessary.
“Preach the Gospel at all times. Use words if necessary.” That quote has often been attributed to St. Francis of Assisi although scholars have never been able to accurately link him to ever saying it or writing it. But whether or not those words came directly from him, these words are certainly consistent with what we read in the Bible. The apostle John wrote in one of his letters, “Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth. (1 John 3:18)” and James, the brother of Jesus, wrote down for us, “14 What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? 15 Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. 16 If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? 17 In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.” This coming from two of the people closest to Jesus while he was alive. It’s not saying that words are unimportant. In fact, James writes in the same letter that words are EXTREMELY powerful and that we must hold back the temptation to let loose whatever we feel like coming from our mouths to prevent us from doing harm to ourselves and to others. So it’s not that words don’t have ANY effect, but simply that we are too fond of speaking and not fond enough of doing.
It’s easy to talk a good game, but to follow through is where the substance lies.
And to God it is very important for us to follow through. This morning we’re going to read a passage from Matthew that illustrates that point clearly. If you have a Bible or a Bible app on your phone, please go to the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 10 beginning with verse 32. Matthew 10:32. Now we can say we are Christian but until we ACT like we are Christian, it’s just little more than words. I’ve said it before, “Being in church doesn’t make you a Christian any more than being in a garage makes you a car.” Being in church doesn’t make you a Christian any more than being in a garage makes you a car. We have to take what we hear in here and carry it out into the world out there. The passage we’re about to read comes from a situation probably similar to this one. The followers of Jesus are assembled before him and he’s about to send the twelve disciples out into the world to spread the good news of his existence. And he warns them that it won’t be easy, far more difficult than the circumstances we face today. He said to them in verse 16 and 17, “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves. 17 Be on your guard; you will be handed over to the local councils and be flogged in the synagogues.” Probably not something they were looking forward to. And then it gets worse. Jesus tells them that whole families will turn on one another because of him. They’ll turn each other over to the authorities and some of them will be put to death. This would discourage most of us from wanting to go on this mission – even for God, but then he assures them there is no need to be afraid. Despite all of the problems and possible pain, he tells them they have nothing to fear and here’s the reason why.
32 “Whoever acknowledges me before others, I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven. 33 But whoever disowns me before others, I will disown before my Father in heaven.
34 “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35 For I have come to turn
“‘a man against his father,
a daughter against her mother,
a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law—
36 a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.’[a]
37 “Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. 38 Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39 Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.
40 “Anyone who welcomes you welcomes me, and anyone who welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. 41 Whoever welcomes a prophet as a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward, and whoever welcomes a righteous person as a righteous person will receive a righteous person’s reward. 42 And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones who is my disciple, truly I tell you, that person will certainly not lose their reward.”
Actions speak louder than words.
Actions speak louder than words. Don’t get me wrong, sometimes actions involve words – like when we pray for someone or when we offer words of encouragement – because there is more to it than just the words involved. When we pray with someone, we are physically standing WITH them. We are being a presence in their lives. We are shoulder-to-shoulder in the trenches with their pain. And we are together offering a plea to God. When we give words of encouragement, it’s not just the words that are important, it’s taking the time to be there. It’s laying a hand on someone’s shoulder or giving them a shoulder to cry on. Words may be involved, but more often than not it’s our actions that make a difference. It’s the same reason why letters are more meaningful than emails. They could both contain the same words, and in fact an email might even have more words or cute pictures of puppies or bunnies attached, but taking the time to write those words in your own hand, addressing the envelope, and putting it in the mail makes a letter that much more special. That’s why when Jesus says, “…if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones who is my disciple, truly I tell you, that person will certainly not lose their reward.” These actions Jesus speaks about at the end, of welcoming the disciples or receiving a prophet into their home or giving a glass of cold water, these are the actions that back up our faith. It’s words and deeds together that form the foundation of our faith. We need both to make our faith meaningful.
It’s like in the movie God Is Not Dead.
The main character, Josh, has been challenged by his philosophy professor, an avowed atheist, to defend the position that God is not dead. He has to go toe-to-toe with this man who is not only his teacher, but someone who has had YEARS to develop his defense and if he fails, he’ll get an “F” which is right off the top 30% of his final grade. The professor tells Josh that if he wants to get out of it, all he has to do is turn in a paper with the words, “God is dead” and he’ll ace that section of the class. Josh is torn about what to do. He could just do what all the other kids did and write “God is dead.” After all, it’s only a piece of paper. Or he could just drop the class and take something else. But there’s something pulling at Josh that wants him to defend God to his classmates so he goes to a nearby church to pray about it and ends up talking to the pastor. He tells the pastor what’s going on and the pastor asks him, “How many people are in the class?” And Josh responds, “80 maybe.” And the pastor says, “And how many of them do you think would ever step foot in here or any other church for that matter?” Josh admits, “Well, none probably.” The pastor tells him, “So you’re acceptance of this challenge…may be the only meaningful exposure to God and Jesus they’ll ever have.” What we don’t always realize is that our journey with God doesn’t begin once we enter the church. It doesn’t start at our baptism and it doesn’t start at our first worship service. Our journey with God begins out there, beyond the walls of the church. And whether we like it or not, as followers of Christ we are also his representatives out there. Sometimes we have to be bold in our faith. There are times when God puts people in our lives we are meant to witness to, that we are meant to share our faith with. People looking for hope. People looking for comfort. People who are looking for answers to questions that truly only God can answer. And we are there to point them in the right direction. And if we fail to act, we miss out on our chance to acknowledge our Father in heaven. The pastor says one more thing to Josh that really strikes home. He tells Josh that he’s at the church looking for answers because there’s a still small voice inside of him that isn’t happy with the choices everyone else wants him to make and he tells him it’s the Holy Spirit trying to guide him and he says, “All you have to decide is if you’re willing to listen. It’s not easy, but it’s simple.” It’s not easy, but it’s simple.
How true is that? How true is it that we often know the right thing to do but fail to do it?
Sometimes we miss golden opportunities in life because we aren’t bold enough to do what needs to be done. But sometimes we are. And when we listen to the Holy Spirit within us wonderful things can happen. I often wonder what would have happened if all of the people in my life didn’t speak up when they did. If my mom hadn’t shared her thoughts about God and heaven when I was so young. If Lisa hadn’t asked to go to Easter worship before going to my family get-together. If Mark and Steve didn’t invite me to go with them to church week after week. If Cassie hadn’t asked me if I wanted to go to Sunday worship. If the other Steve hadn’t taken the time to share his own thoughts about God and Christ when I was going through my own time of doubt. If my pastor, Jane, hadn’t taken the time to encourage me. What if? Would I be the person I am today? Would I have ever found my way to you right here, right now? I think about these things and it makes me bold in my own life. It gives me the courage to do things that are challenging for me because I think of how grateful I am that all of these people took that step forward for me. How could I not do the same for someone else? Who are the people in your life that stepped forward and helped you grow in your faith? Imagine what your life would have been like had they not done so. Let us give thanks for the people in our lives who have stepped forward to save our souls and let us asked God for the bravery to be so bold ourselves when the time is right and not be fearful of the consequences. Let us preach the Gospel at all times and use words if necessary. Would you pray with me?
Father of grace and mercy, we give all thanks and glory to you. You know our hearts. You know how hard they can be. You alone know what it took for us to come to faith in Christ. The world today tests us it seems as never before. It challenges our faith. It tasks us with difficult questions that we don’t always know the answers to. And it makes us doubt. But as the pastor said in the movie, we all have a choice to make. Will we listen to that still small voice inside of us that begs for us to follow you? Will we be bold when we are most needed to be? We pray today Lord for the strength to be that bold and to do what needs to be done. Help us Lord to discern the moments we are supposed to act and the courage to do so. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.