Remain Faithful & Serve (sermon)

2 Corinthians 5:17-21 (Living Bible)

17 When someone becomes a Christian, he becomes a brand new person inside. He is not the same anymore. A new life has begun!

18 All these new things are from God who brought us back to himself through what Christ Jesus did. And God has given us the privilege of urging everyone to come into his favor and be reconciled to him. 19 For God was in Christ, restoring the world to himself, no longer counting men’s sins against them but blotting them out. This is the wonderful message he has given us to tell others. 20 We are Christ’s ambassadors. God is using us to speak to you: we beg you, as though Christ himself were here pleading with you, receive the love he offers you—be reconciled to God. 21 For God took the sinless Christ and poured into him our sins. Then, in exchange, he poured God’s goodness into us!

Sermon Notes: REMAIN FAITHFUL AND SERVE [#3 in sermon series COVENANT]

Will you remain faithful members of Christ’s holy church, and serve as Christ’s representatives in the world? Will you remain faithful members of Christ’s holy church?

1. REMAIN – Will you stick around? Remain in me, and I will remain in you. For a branch cannot produce fruit if it is severed from the vine, and you cannot be fruitful unless you remain in me. [John 15:4 (NLT)]

2. FAITHFUL – Will you have integrity and be dependable? …Epaphras, our dear fellow servant, who is a faithful minister of Christ on your behalf… Tychicus, a beloved brother, faithful minister, and fellow servant in the Lord…with Onesimus, a faithful and beloved brother, who is one of you… [Colossians 1:7, 4:7, 4:9 (NKJV)]

3. MEMBERS – Will you be connected to other Christians? But now indeed there are many members, yet one body. And the eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you”; nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” [1 Corinthians 12:20-21 (NKJV)]

4. SERVE – Will you be a worker and not just a watcher? I commend to you Phoebe our sister, who is a servant of the church in Cenchrea, [Romans 16:1 (NKJV)]

5. CHRIST’S REPRESENTATIVE – Will you represent Jesus? We are Christ’s ambassadors. God is using us to speak to you: we beg you, as though Christ himself were here pleading with you, receive the love he offers you—be reconciled to God. [2 Corinthians 5:20 (LB)]

Thanks for being with us online this weekend, due to the coronavirus and the state of emergency in Maryland. May God help you and encourage you and keep you safe in this time of crisis.

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Many of you are familiar with a children’s book called “Horton Hatches the Egg” by Dr. Seuss. It’s one of my wife’s favorites and it tells a story of Horton the elephant. Horton gets caught in a conversation with Mayzie, a lazy bird tired of sitting on her egg. She asks HIM to sit on her egg, and part of the conversation goes like this:

“I can’t,” said the elephant.

“PL-E-E-ASE!” begged the bird.

“I won’t be gone long, sir, I give you my word.

I’ll hurry right back. Why, I’ll never be missed….”

“Very well,” said the elephant, “since you insist….

You want a vacation. Go fly off and take it.

I’ll sit on your egg and I’ll try not to break it.

I’ll stay and be faithful. I mean what I say.”

“Toodle-oo!” sang out Maysie and fluttered away.

More about Horton the faithful elephant in a few minutes…

During this season of Lent we’re focusing on how to grow in our walk with God. And we’re looking at the promises we make when we’re baptized and when we become members of Brook Hill United Methodist Church.

On this third Sunday of Lent, let’s look at one of the questions we’re asked for baptism or membership:

Will you remain faithful members of Christ’s holy church, and serve as Christ’s representatives in the world?

This one long question is really two shorter questions, and we want to look at each of them today:

1. Will you remain faithful members of Christ’s holy church?

2. Will you serve as Christ’s representative in the world?

And (partly because I’m a nerd as well as a preacher) we’re breaking these two questions apart into five questions that YOU hope I will look at, BRIEFLY!

Please read the five questions aloud with me:

1. REMAIN – Will you stick around?

2. FAITHFUL – Will you have integrity and be dependable?

3. MEMBERS – Will you be connected to other Christians?

4. SERVE – Will you be a worker and not just a watcher?

5. CHRIST’S REPRESENTATIVE – Will you represent Jesus?

The first question is: 1. REMAIN – Will you stick around?

Remain in me, and I will remain in you. For a branch cannot produce fruit if it is severed from the vine, and you cannot be fruitful unless you remain in me. [John 15:4 (NLT)]

Jesus reminds us that if we want to become everything He’s created us for, we’ll need to abide in Him, we’ll need to live in connection with Him, we’ll need to remain in Him.

The God of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob wants to live in us. The God of Moses and David and Nehemiah wants dwell in our minds and hearts and lives. The God of Peter and Paul and Mary Magdalene wants to inhabit us in such a way that we become everything He created us for.

But will we stick around? Will we stay connected to the true vine?

If it weren’t for the grace of God we could quickly move on to the various spirits of this age. We could move on to intellectual pride or human ingenuity or digital preoccupation. We could move on to self-indulgence or hopelessness and despair or self-destructive behavior.

But will we stick around? Remaining in Christ means submitting to a Higher Power. Abiding in Christ means putting God first, giving priority to our time alone with Him, giving priority to feeding on the scriptures and hearing His voice.

Remaining in Christ means humbling ourselves to love and serve and encourage and bless.

I’m grateful for the saints who have stuck around, who have remained with Jesus when it meant criticism and verbal abuse or worse.

I’m thinking of 21 Coptic Christians who were beheaded by the seashore in Tripoli, Libya in 2015. A video of this event was posted on Twitter, with the following title: “a message signed with blood to the nation of the cross.”

And I’m grateful for the saints of Brook Hill who have stuck around.

The second question is: 2. FAITHFUL – Will you have integrity and be dependable?

…Epaphras, our dear fellow servant, who is a faithful minister of Christ on your behalf… Tychicus, a beloved brother, faithful minister, and fellow servant in the Lord…with Onesimus, a faithful and beloved brother, who is one of you… [Colossians 1:7, 4:7, 4:9 (NKJV)]

Here Paul mentions three of his Christian friends, and he calls each of them faithful.

We say that a husband or wife has been faithful to their marriage vows if they have been true to their word, and reserved their affections only for each other.

The promises of a faithful person are reliable and dependable. You’ll hear someone say that a person’s word is their bond. They will do everything within their power to keep a commitment they have made.

It may not be “COOL” to be faithful. But look at the long-term consequences of unfaithfulness. You’ll see broken families and damaged churches and lives full of regret.

Horton the elephant was faithful. Let me just read one page of this children’s book:

So Horton kept sitting there, day after day.

And soon it was Autumn. The leaves blew away.

And then came the winter… the snow and the sleet!

And icicles hung from his trunk and his feet.

But Horton kept sitting, and said with a sneeze,

“I’ll stay on this egg and I won’t let it freeze.

I meant what I said

And I said what I meant….

An elephant’s faithful

One hundred per cent!”

Five times in this short book Horton repeats those lines:

I meant what I said

And I said what I meant….

An elephant’s faithful

One hundred per cent!”

When the chips are down, and the going gets tough, will we be found to be faithful? Reliable? Dependable?

The third question is: 3. MEMBERS – Will you be connected to other Christians?

But now indeed there are many members, yet one body. And the eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you”; nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” [1 Corinthians 12:20-21 (NKJV)]

In this 12th chapter of 1 Corinthians, the Apostle Paul describes those who believe in Jesus as the Body of Christ. In this metaphor, Jesus Himself is the Head. You and I are members of His body – hands and feet, toes and fingers, shoulders and knees.

God’s plan when we come to be Christians is that we will be connected to one another.

There are no living toes who have life unless they’re connected to the leg-bone, and the leg-bone is connected to the hip-bone, and so on.

You won’t see a knee sitting in a chair by the side of the road, saying, “Oh, no, that’s all right, I don’t need to be connected to an ear or an esophagus. Oh, no, that’s all right, I’m fine without arteries or veins or capillaries.”

And as Christians, we’re meant to be connected to each other as well as being connected to Jesus.

You may think that you don’t need Joe Shmo Christian, but maybe he needs you. And maybe you’ll need his prayers or his mechanical skills at some point.

The Church is not just an organization. At a more fundamental level the church is an ORGANISM, and, organically, we are meant to be connected to one another.

Last week in Guatemala I met Juan Carlos Aguilar. He is a machinist by trade, but also a bi-vocational pastor. He shepherds a church of about 50 people in San Pedro Sacatepequez.

Juan Carlos invited me and Irving my interpreter to Friday night coffee at the Redemption of Jesus House of Prayer.

He says of his church, “We need to be a family together.” He understands that we are members of a spiritual family, members who are meant to be organically connected to one another.

The fourth question is: 4. SERVE – Will you be a worker and not just a watcher?

I commend to you Phoebe our sister, who is a servant of the church in Cenchrea, [Romans 16:1 (NKJV)]

Paul is talking about Phoebe, who lived in the town of Cenchrea (near Corinth). We’re guessing that Phoebe was a person of some wealth and social standing. When Paul was living in Corinth he wrote a letter to the church in Rome, and Phoebe was the person who delivered the letter. She was a worker and not just a watcher.

The Methodist movement has included some pretty good workers over the years – Harriet Tubman and Nelson Mandela, and, of course, thousands of others, including many of our friends here at Brook Hill.

Not that it matters, but I’ve learned from Wikipedia that Superman (Clark Kent) was a fictional Methodist. His adoptive parents were Jonathan and Martha Kent, and Clark was raised in the Midwest in a Methodist Church.

Don’t just be a watcher, be a worker. Don’t just be a fan, be a follower. Don’t just be just an attender, be active.

The fifth and final question is: 5. CHRIST’S REPRESENTATIVE – Will you represent Jesus?

We are Christ’s ambassadors. God is using us to speak to you: we beg you, as though Christ himself were here pleading with you, receive the love he offers you—be reconciled to God. [2 Corinthians 5:20 (LB)]

We have the privilege of being Christ’s representatives on Planet Earth. We have the privilege of being “Jesus with skin on” for a whole host of people. People who need to see what love looks like. People who need to feel loved and accepted by someone. And that someone can be you or me.

We have the privilege of being Christ’s ambassadors, not necessarily to the government leaders in Washington, but to people in our neighborhoods, men and women in our places of employment, fellow students in our schools, and frail people in our hospitals and nursing homes.

To whom have you been Christ’s representative this past week?

All Christians have been given the ministry of reconciliation. God wants to use us to speak to others. Our task is to encourage others to be reconciled to God, to receive the love He offers, to open their lives to faith in Jesus Christ.

Last week I saw it in Guatemala. One woman, Kari Engen, a Marylander who has now been fully Guatemalan for many years. She represents Christ to hundreds of children and their families. She’s not a pastor… she’s an educator. She started a school that teaches reading and math and science, but also love and respect and responsibility. And above all, students at Mi Refugio School learn Jesus.

They learn that God so loved the world that He sent His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in him shall NOT perish, but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that through Jesus the world might be saved.

Kari Engen is a representative of Christ in Guatemala. Are you His representative in Frederick, Maryland?

So how will you answer these five questions?

1. Will you REMAIN, will you stick around? (YES!)

2. Will you be FAITHFUL, a dependable person? (YES!)

3. Will you be a MEMBER, connected to other Christians? (YES!)

4. Will you SERVE as a worker and not just a watcher? (YES!)

5. Will you be CHRIST’S REPRESENTATIVE in the world? (YES!)

Let it be so! And all God’s people said “AMEN!”

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