We Would See Jesus
This week we are launching a new three-part sermon series on the vision of our church. Seven years ago, the leaders of our church came together and agreed upon a unifying biblically-based, Holy Spirit inspired vision for our church that we believed would help carry us into the future.
Our vision is the very title of this sermon series, in fact--Know Jesus, Show Jesus.
That vision has carried us forward, and I am convinced it will carry us even farther.
Every year for the past seven years I have preached at least one sermon series a year on the vision of our church. The reason why I constantly come back to our vision is because it's far too easy to forget where you came from when you start having success.
My first ministry job was to be the youth director of the worst youth group ever. Seriously, it was a tough gig. I was called to be the youth director of a very small church in Tallahassee Florida. We had probably 80 people in worship on Sundays if we were lucky. There was barely any money to pay me, and no money at all to do anything with the kids.
And the kids... there were six teenaged kids in this church that were the most miserable kids on the planet at the time. They were dragged into church every Sunday and then had to attend an awful Sunday school class taught by someone who didn't have a clue how to speak to teenagers.
Their weekly youth meetings were at the pastor's house where he and his wife tried their best to use their old 1970's youth director books to find games and activities to keep them interested. One Sunday they made them stand up in front of the church and sing--they all wore matching white shirts and khaki pants. They looked like they were being lined up for a firing squad.
I remember thinking, "I wish I could help those kids fall in love with Jesus." God knows, the youth groups of my teen age years didn't do much of that for us. We just got preached at almost constantly about the evils of drinking, smoking, listening to rock and or roll music, going to movies and having sex.
So I took that job and I stumbled my way through it. But the whole time I just focused on helping those kids come to know Jesus and to learn to follow him.
On my last day, the very last youth meeting we held before I got into a rented moving truck with Merideth and we drove away to Chicago so I could go to seminary, there were 50 kids who showed up to say goodbye.
All I did was help those kids get to know Jesus, and when they did, they wanted to show Jesus to other people. They invited their friends, and then those friends invited friends and so on. I had no idea what I was doing, but I looked back later and realized the simplicity of it all.
When you get to know Jesus, you want to show Jesus--it's that simple. And I also learned that so many people are hungry to know Jesus, but they just need someone to show Jesus to them. And I mean really show Jesus, not religion, not a denomination, not a church, but Jesus.
The truth is, I haven't always told that story the same way.
The hard truth is, there have been times when I have started to experience success and I have forgotten where I came from. I lost sight of that original vision. And when I have done that, I've told the story I just shared like this: I took a youth group with only 6 kids and when I left there were 50.
The thing is, it's never just us, is it? We sometimes fall into that trap in church-y world when things are going great, however. And when we do, it's way too easy to start thinking that perhaps we had something to do with how the ministry, the mission or the church itself is doing so well.
When all along it was the vision--the vision of knowing and showing Jesus.
You see, it's easy to forget where you came from when you have success--it's easy to lose sight of the vision that got you there.
The most important thing I've learned about vision is that you have to keep it in front of you. You have to speak about your vision. You have to relearn it. You have to visit it again and again to remind yourself why you have it in the first place so you don't lose it.
Because if you lose sight of your vision--you risk losing everything.
And so every year for the past seven years I have told the story of our church and it's vision so we don't lose sight of it, and we never forget how we got here. We got her because we asked ourselves a question. The question was: If we cease to exist tomorrow, who would miss us?
At first, we had to answer that question with a very somber: "No one outside of the members of our church would really miss us." But then we came together to change that, and to clarify our vision.
So we figured out why we existed--to know and show Jesus--but we didn't exactly know how we were going to make that happen. So we went to the Bible to see what it taught about the purpose of the church, and we discovered five things that mattered to us a whole bunch. We decided the best way to know and to show Jesus was to worship, pray, grow, love and serve together.
We're going to hear more about that next week.
And it's that simple. We worship, pray, grow, love and serve as a church so we can come to know Jesus better for the purpose of showing Jesus to the world. Because when you know Jesus, you show Jesus.
Sisters and brothers, our best and brightest goal is to show Jesus to a world that wants to see him.
Because there are so very many people who crave something more, something real. In a world that is full of uncertainty, strife, violence, shootings every other week, terror threats and so many things that keep us filled with anxiety--people crave something solid, something meaningful.
And so many of them don't even know how to articulate how much they really want to see Jesus, who could give them meaning, purpose, grace and peace. The problem is that when people show up at church to find Jesus, they typically find church-y people instead.
And let me be clear about what I mean when I say church-y people. I mean people who are more interested in fashioning their faith to fit their politics, their world view, their preferences...
A few years ago Dan Kimball wrote a book about how so many people in our culture love Jesus but hate the church. There's a reason for that. The church is having a hard time just showing Jesus to people lately.
We have got to start knowing and showing Jesus.
In the Gospel of John chapter 12:20-21 there is a poignant moment in Jesus' ministry that speaks right into what we are are talking about today. It's only two verses, but they are powerful.
20 Now there were some Greeks among those who went up to worship at the festival. 21 They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, with a request. “Sir,” they said, “we would like to see Jesus.”That last line gets to me every time I read it. "Sir... we would like to see Jesus."
These people were the wrong people, they weren't even Jewish. To Jesus' disciples, these guys were "not one of us." But yet they want to see Jesus. They heard about him and there was something in the stories that spoke to them.
This moment in the Gospel represents a turning point in Jesus' ministry. For the disciples it was a turning point as well. No longer was Jesus' ministry focused on just a few people. Word was spreading to people outside of that group and beyond. The disciples were getting the first solid realization that the Good News was indeed for everybody.
There are so many people who just want to see Jesus.
And the church is nothing if we don't reveal Jesus to them. It is our only purpose. It is our only true north. It is our ultimate goal. To know and to show Jesus to the world.
In I Corinthians chapter 15:13-14 the Apostle Paul writes about the centrality of Jesus for the church:
13 If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.If Christ has not been raised... If the resurrected and exalted Jesus isn't at the center... our preaching is useless.
Beloved, our best and brightest goal is to show Jesus to a world that wants to see him.
Here's the good news on all of this vis a vis our church...
We are know and showing Jesus. We are doing it. We are making this happen. It's all around you.
It's in the way we are planting Lifetree Cafe locations all around our community, meeting people where they are, having conversations, making relationships, showing Jesus.
It's in the way we feed hundreds of people every week at Center St. Kitchen, providing not only food but a safe place to rest, to find connections and to experience the love of Jesus.
It's in the way we opened our campus at the end of the summer for a Back to School Bash where our neighbors showed up with their kids to play, share a meal and experience Jesus.
It's in the way we give away clothes to anyone who needs them at our Clothes Closet every single week...
It's in the way we help kids who would probably fail their classes if they didn't get help through our free tutoring programs...
It's in the the loving hands that pack boxes to send care packages overseas to our troops who need to know someone back home is rooting for them...
It's in the way our members and friends are teaching immigrants to the U.S. how to speak English as a second language...
It's in the way that we welcome everyone--no matter who you are, where you came from or what you believe. We show Jesus in the way we open our arms and value every single person regardless of race, gender, class, sexual identity, beliefs, politics, background... it doesn't matter...
It's in the way that we ROCKED THE PRESBYTERY MEETING LAST MONTH showing radical hospitality and absolutely showing the frozen chosen in our presbytery how to welcome as Jesus would welcome--come on!!
And that's only a few of the many, many ways we are showing Jesus to the world around us. It's incredible to think about, isn't it.
But listen... listen to me carefully...
No matter how successful we might feel we've become... We can never, ever, ever forget where we came from.
We have to remember our vision is bigger than any one of us.
It's not about one person. It's not about one pastor. Or one staff member. Or one volunteer leader.
It's about knowing and showing Jesus... together.
What is our vision, Church? To Know And To Show Jesus. Say it with me! To Know and To Show Jesus.
Sisters and brothers, our best and brightest goal is to reflect Jesus to a world that wants to see him.
Let's go know and show Jesus together.