Committed to Christ: Witness; Matthew 28:18-20
Plymouth First United Methodist; October 3, 2021
Pastor Toni Carmer
Every Sunday when we gather to worship together, we’re reminded that our mission, our purpose, is to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. We say that we do that by loving God, loving others and serving others. That’s the plan. That’s the foundation of why we do what we do as a church. We gather on Sunday mornings to worship God and to be empowered for mission and ministry and outreach. That’s why, as much as we’re able, we offer activities and small groups and support ASK ministries. That’s why we have Social Concerns and Missions and why they do all that they do. That’s why we offer a Community meal. We want to worship God through our actions, to teach others, to share with others, to demonstrate our knowledge of God’s love for us and our desire to respond to that love by loving and serving and trying to make a difference in people’s lives. But we don’t always say why we do these things. We don’t always share our motivation. We don’t always take that extra step of saying, I do this because I believe in God, because I know God loves me, that Jesus died for me, and he died for you, too. Did you know that? Do you know how much you’re loved?
We don’t always do that.
We hesitate to talk about our faith, to share with others.
We think of it as such a personal thing: maybe I’ll say the wrong thing, maybe I’ll go too far, maybe they’ll think I’m some kind of crazy person or that I’m being obnoxious. I don’t want to violate any boundaries, to make another person uncomfortable.
And so we stay quiet.
We don’t talk about how important our faith is to us.
We don’t invite someone to church because…well, it’s their choice not to attend church, you know? I probably shouldn’t be involved. Plus, there’s this Covid thing. Maybe they would be uncomfortable being around other people.
And so, because of that, some folks will never know. Some folks will never come. Because we didn’t invite them. We didn’t ask. We didn’t share.
The purpose of talking about witnessing this morning isn’t to shame anyone for something you haven’t done or for something you feel really uncomfortable doing. The purpose is to be an encouragement. To let you know that your story is important. That your story is just right, not matter what it is, no matter where you’ve been: whether it might seem kind of dramatic because of the things you’ve been through—or maybe you think your story is kind of boring. You don’t have a big conversion story, you didn’t hear God’s voice one night when you were down and out. But whatever your story is, it’s yours. It’s important. And there’s someone, somewhere, someday, who will need to hear it.
The 4th chapter of the Gospel of Matthew gives us some details about the start of Jesus’ earthly ministry. After spending 40 days in the desert/wilderness, Jesus returns to Galilee, the territory to the north where he grew up. Jesus hears that John, his friend and relative and brother in the faith has been arrested, and he goes back home. He settles in and he begins to preach.
One day he is walking along the sea of Galilee and he sees 2 men fishing. They’re brothers: Simon Peter and Andrew. We’re not sure if they knew Jesus, if they had some contact along the way; maybe they had played with one another as children, played basketball together as teenagers. Or maybe they’ve heard him preach: listened to him talk about God, about how God has this better way. We don’t know if there’s any previous relationship, but what we do know is that when Jesus turned to these two fishermen while they were casting their nets into the sea…when he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of people”—they did this amazing thing. Scriptures tell us they immediately left their nets and followed him. They didn’t ask any questions, they didn’t make sure someone else was around to take care of their fishing chores—but they immediately turned away from what they were doing and followed him.
Jesus’ disciple recruitment continues in the very next verse: he sees two more brothers, James and John. They’re in their family fishing boat, repairing nets with their father, Zebedee. Jesus calls to them, apparently with the same invitation he extended earlier, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” Scripture tells us in verse 22 that the brothers immediately left their boat and their father and followed him.
Jesus knew that others needed to be included in the mission and on the journey. Sharing good news isn’t the task of one person, even when that one person is Jesus. And, I think that it’s significant to note that Jesus didn’t recruit his disciples from the synagogue or the university. He didn’t check their credentials to be sure they’d passed the Dale Carnegie courses in leadership and public speaking. He didn’t check to make sure they were licensed local pastors or seeking ordination to the priestly office. He called them as they worked in their ordinary, everyday occupations. He simply said come, follow me. And they did. He extended an invitation and they followed.
Did you know that survey after survey shows that more than half the people who don’t go to church would go if they were invited? And of all of the reasons that people give for becoming a part of a faith community, a church, that 79% say it has to do with a friend or relative invited them? (While the pastor, by the way, is the reason for only about 3% of why people are where they are?) So YOU have a lot more to do with people finding their way into a worshiping community than the person in the pulpit. Do you know that? (Whatever good—or negative things you might have to say about your church impacts others decisions on whether or not they’ll give the church a try.)
As I’ve listened to you talk over the past several years, you’ve said things that support these ideas. Many of you are here because someone invited you to come. Some of you came on your own and found a friendly place and so you stayed. This is now your home and you can’t imagine being anywhere else. But the invitation, offered by someone you know or someone you’re related to, is what brought you here in the first place.
I’d like to share with you the responses to the survey that 47 of you completed over the past several weeks:
- 2 of us have never told anyone about our faith.
- 2 of us think we might do that someday.
- 1 of us hasn’t, but wants to with all their heart.
- 25 share that they have witnessed to their faith, once or twice a year, while 6 say they share frequently, perhaps once a week.
- One of us shares daily, and 10 have shared their faith and will continue to seek opportunities to tell others.
As we talk about witnessing to our faith, I invite you to look at your commitment card and consider if you’re ready to take a next step forward…
Why would you consider doing that? It’s because we are a people who reach out. We’re meant to be a people who invite. We’re meant to be a people whose arms are open to embrace others, to invite them to join us on the journey. Jesus calls us to throw out our nets to catch people for God.
And yet we’re timid. Hesitant. Not so sure.
Our scripture has some wisdom to offer that can help.
The first thing we can do is pray. Jesus prayed. Before he called his first disciples, he was fasting and praying in the wilderness. Through prayer he resisted the temptations of the devil, and defined his ministry. In so many ways and at so many times we read how Jesus withdraws to pray. His life is framed in prayer.
We talked about prayer just a couple of weeks ago, and it is so important to our faith and to our ability to reach out, to share, to discern who might need to hear our story…to see people who we might otherwise miss. Pray that our eyes might be open, that the opportunity will come to us. That we’ll have the patience to listen, the courage to share.
Sometimes we witness with our ears.
Second, if we are a reaching out people, then we need to go to people. Not wait for people to find us, but to go to them. Jesus didn’t wait for those fishermen to come to him, but he went to them. He took the initiative.
Too often as the church we wait for others to come to us. We let them find us, if they can. We let them figure out what time we meet, expect that they will check out our website or make a phone call. We don’t always make it very easy.
But if we issue the invitation, it can make all the difference.
Sometimes we witness through invitation.
Third, think about how you might tell the story of what God has done in your life through Jesus. It doesn’t require any memorized scripts, knowledge of the 4 spiritual laws, no specific words that need to be said or repeated. What it takes is a willingness to tell your story. Keep it simple. Short. Honest.
Sometimes we witness by telling our story.
Fourth, if we are to be a people who are catching people for God, we need to create room in our lives and in our church for new people. We need to be ready to welcome people to worship, to Bible study, to small group, or whatever else we’re involved in in the life of the church, if we are to be people who work the nets for God.
Sometimes we witness by keeping our eyes open, being aware, extending a welcome hand, making room.
Why do we bother? Because we have a God who seeks the lost, who welcomes home the wayward child, who washes dirty feet. Our God is the one who gave up his life for us, that we might live abundantly, joyfully, with hope.
All of us together touch a lot of lives. We can do amazing things. We don’t have to do it all. Remember, even Jesus didn’t expect to witness all by himself. But together, we can do amazing things…
Look at your card and I’ll read the small print for you. Check everything that applies…
May we be confident in sharing our story. It’s important.
In Jesus’ name. Amen.