Lay Reader = Acts 1:1-11
1In the first book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus did and taught from the beginning 2until the day when he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. 3After his suffering he presented himself alive to them by many convincing proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God. 4While staying with them, he ordered them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait there for the promise of the Father. “This,” he said, “is what you have heard from me; 5for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”
6So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” 7He replied, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. 8But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” 9When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. 10While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. 11They said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”
We are almost at the end of our series on the Great Ends of the Church. These six statements are the job description of the church – they are why we exist. If God’s handing out a report card for our church, these are the ways we’ll be graded.
Last week Pastor Carol talked about the promotion of social righteousness. She shared that righteousness is whatever God thinks is right, so promoting social righteousness means trying to shape our society to look more and more the way God would have it look. And that requires asking deeper questions, in addition to serving the person in front of you.
This week we are looking at “the exhibition of the Kingdom of Heaven to the world.” To get at the root of this phrase, what’s an exhibit? Many of you went to the museum when the Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit was in town. I received many good reports on this exhibit. And what happened? You heard about it, and you wanted to know more. So you went to see it for yourself. And while you were there, you saw the Dead Sea Scrolls and learned more about them from an expert. You heard the story of how they were found, and learned what makes them important. That’s the exhibition of the Dead Sea Scrolls to the world.
So when we are responsible for the exhibition of the Kingdom of Heaven to the world, we want people to hear about God, to be interested in learning more, to experience something meaningful when they encounter the followers of Jesus, we want them to want to participate going forward, and hopefully they’ll share about this exhibit with their friends and family and neighbors, too.
And I also think it’s important that we’re exhibiting the Kingdom of Heaven. Not the kingdom of humans. Not the kingdom of Cody. Based on how little my children listen to my pronouncements, my kingdom doesn’t even encompass my house. The kingdom of Cody is very tiny.
So the desired outcome isn’t that people like your pastor. The desired outcome isn’t that people like your church. The desired outcome isn’t that people like the church in general. The desired outcome is that people connect with and value Jesus. His kingdom, not ours. Are you with me?
Our text today is from Paul’s second letter to the church in Corinth. In this part, he feels the need to defend himself. We look back and see how Jesus worked through Paul to plant churches all over the Mediterranean. We see how many of Paul’s letters were included in the New Testament. We see all the amazing things Paul did after he became a follower of Jesus.
But at the time, that legacy was far from secure. Some people thought Paul was a little intense. Others thought he was insane. I don’t mean that euphemistically, I mean that literally. There were enough people who thought Paul’s mind was damaged that in this text he feels the need to address it. And in a minute I’ll get to why I think this is the perfect Scripture for us to consider today. Listen to how Paul defends his way of life as a fully-committed follower of Jesus.
2 Corinthians 5:11-21
11Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we try to persuade others; but we ourselves are well known to God, and I hope that we are also well known to your consciences.
12We are not commending ourselves to you again, but giving you an opportunity to boast about us, so that you may be able to answer those who boast in outward appearance and not in the heart. 13For if we are beside ourselves, it is for God; if we are in our right mind, it is for you. 14For the love of Christ urges us on, because we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died. 15And he died for all, so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised for them.
16From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way. 17So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! 18All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; 19that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. 20So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
The Green Goddess
I want you to picture something in your head. Are you ready? Try to imagine your perfectly relaxing morning. What can you see around you on this perfectly relaxing morning? What can you smell? What can you hear? What can you taste? What can you feel? Do you have it? Your perfectly relaxing morning?
Now, everyone’s going to have a little different image in their minds. When we were in Hawaii for our tenth anniversary, my wife wanted to go sit by the beach. Just sit in the sun listening to the waves. That might be part of your relaxing morning. While she was doing that, I sat outside on the balcony of our room, staring into my laptop, and I created an entire children’s book about rocket ships. Did anyone have that image of relaxation in their heads? I’m a little weird. But you already knew this.
But while everyone has a different version of a perfectly relaxing morning, I want to describe for you a morning experience that you will all agree is relaxing. Are you ready?
You’re sitting in a room with dozens of other people. You’re on a hard wooden bench. You’re dressed in nice clothes that are a little uncomfortable. And you’re listening to someone explain a 2000 year old book to you. Did anyone have that as their image of perfect relaxation? That’s what you’re doing this morning!
In fact, we should be quaking in our boots right now as a church, because our greatest competition is opening its doors. A new house of worship is opening nearby. You’ve probably seen it. The followers of this religion are so committed they’ll gather at all hours of the day – though the morning is also their primary worship time. They look to the green goddess for energy, and she almost always delivers. Her house of worship helps people get their work done, and she helps them develop deeper relationships by giving them a place to spend time together. The house of the green goddess is otherwise known as Starbucks. And it’s somewhat ironic that I wrote that whole section of the sermon while sipping a chai latte at a Starbucks.
You may not be able to have your perfectly relaxing morning every Sunday, but you could run to Starbucks every week. Our primary competition is NOT other churches. It’s not even other religions. It’s lattes. It’s relaxation. It’s golf. It’s pedicures. It’s sleeping in.
In business, they talk about the elevator speech. Anyone heard of that? It’s what you say to someone in one elevator ride to explain and sell them on your company. In thirty seconds – one minute tops – how do you capture the heart of what your company does?
So what’s your elevator speech? Or more realistically, what’s your “waiting in line at Starbucks” speech? If someone asked you, why do you spend your Sunday morning at church instead of here sipping a latte, what’s your answer in thirty seconds – one minute tops?
Mine’s pretty simple. My life is better when I have the community of the followers of Jesus. I tried to just do things on my own, and I felt drained and bored. But the church gives me support when I can’t stand on my own. Jesus gives me hope when I can’t see a way forward. And following the guidance of the Holy Spirit fills me with purpose and energy no amount of pumpkin spice lattes can offer. Coffee can help me stay awake, but Jesus gives me the reason to even get up out of bed in the first place.
Pretty simple, right? That’s my elevator speech. No complex theology needed. That’s my waiting in line at Starbucks speech. What’s yours? How would you answer? Why do you come here instead of having your perfectly relaxing Sunday morning? If someone calls you crazy for coming to church on Sunday, what’s your response?
Well they told Paul he was crazy, and what did he say?
He basically said, “you’re right. I am crazy. Everything I’m doing now, my old self would have considered crazy. But everything about my life and how I see things in this world changed when I started following Jesus. So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away, see everything has become new!”
In other words, Paul is acknowledging he is acting strangely in the eyes of the world. But his elevator speech is that Jesus changed his life, and he likes how it changed. Everything he used to value – his status in the Jewish community, his Roman citizenship, his path to power as a respected member of the Jewish elite – those things don’t move the dial for him anymore.
We talked about this a little bit in our last church leadership meeting. I asked why people in their lives don’t come to church, and why they do come to church. And I think the answers were pretty telling. They weren’t overly complicated. Some people came because of the relationships. “I can’t find the kind of relationships that fill me anywhere else.”
Some people came because their life the rest of the week kept dragging them down, and coming to church gave them the energy and inspiration to keep going. “I can’t find the sense of purpose and hope and vitality about my upcoming week anywhere else.”
Others came to church because they found guidance or wisdom to tackle problems in their lives. “I can’t find the kind of insight I need for my life anywhere else.”
Sisters and brothers, the exhibition of the Kingdom of Heaven to the world is when you can tell someone in one elevator ride, or in one Starbucks line, why you think it’s worth it to spend your Sunday mornings listening to someone like this geeky Texan explain a two thousand-year-old book. Why do you choose Jesus over a latte? And hopefully you choose Jesus in your daily living, not just Sunday morning. Because Paul says, “God is making his appeal through us.” We’re on display. We’re an exhibit. Do we look like the Kingdom of Heaven? Amen.