A young preacher starts at a new church and preaches his first sermon filled with exultations of Jesus and his love and the people’s call to share it.
After the service the preacher stands at the door to greet folks, and the people share many a compliment on the fine sermon that was offered.
The following Sunday the new preacher gets up to preach, and preaches the same sermon from the week before—a sermon filled with exultation of Jesus and his love and the people’s call to share it.
Giving him the benefit of the doubt that perhaps he is nervous in this new pastorate, the people don’t say a word about the obvious gaff, and again greet the pastor with compliments on the fine sermon that was offered.
Week three rolls around and the new preacher gets up and preaches the same sermon again—again filled with exultation of Jesus and his love and the people’s call to share it.
Now the congregation is starting to wonder if their new preacher is ok, is something wrong, has he bitten off more than he can chew. But still, on their way out they again greet the pastor with compliments on the fine sermon that was offered.
Week four arrives, and the people can hardly stand it when once again the new preacher preaches the same sermon about Jesus and his love and the people’s call to share it. And though they are annoyed and even angry, the people once again greet the pastor with compliments on the fine sermon that was offered.
But this time they decide (probably in the parking lot) that something needs to be done, something needs to be said. So they rally together—and make the Elders talk to the preacher.
So the Elders talk to the preacher, and kindly, but firmly, inform the young preacher that a new sermon is expected each Sunday.
The next Sunday rolls around, and it’s time for the sermon—and low and behold the preacher preaches…the same sermon!—Filled with exultations about Jesus and his love and the people’s call to share it.
Well the people are incredulous and at the end of the sermon one man had had enough and stood up and said, “Rev, you’ve been preaching the same sermon for over a month, and I’m mad as you know where! When are you going to preach a new sermon!?”
The young preacher calmly replied, “I’ll preach a new sermon…just as soon as you start living out this one.”
Oh, I love that joke!!
And I hope you all know it’s a joke, and not a dig at you. And I further hope you will take it in the spirit that I can give as good as I get!
I use this joke today because I want to grease the wheels with a little jocularity so that when I say the following you’ll hopefully receive it in good faith…
Theologian, professor, preacher, and author Lovett Weems of Wesley Theological Seminary and the Lewis Leadership Center said, “We (the mainline Protestant Church) have an approach to the Gospel that really matters. We have an approach to the Gospel that would reach 21st century people. We have a great approach to the Gospel that will make a difference—if we could only remember it.”
I share this quote with you, again, intentionally, because it is an imperative that we, the mainline Protestant Church, understand this truth. It’s an imperative because if we don’t then we can’t fulfill our mission which is to share and spread the Good News of Jesus Christ. And we do that by emulating what Jesus himself did.
And the one who did so most exuberantly was the Apostle Paul. Which was an unlikely possibility.
I bring this up again, in the light of today’s text, because of five words in particular. Those words being: “Appointed me to his service” (v. 12).
Paul has a job. And his “job” is to serve Christ—appointed by Christ Jesus to serve as the presence of Christ Jesus.
And Paul serves by writing letters, traveling, speaking to people, and being a spokesperson for a new movement. He addresses the poor as well as the rich, the humble as well as the proud, servants as well as kings. He visits homes, synagogues and palaces. He even gets to spend time—on numerous occasions—in jail.
He does it all because he was appointed to serve—by Christ Jesus to serve as the presence of Christ Jesus.
Yet it wasn’t always that way for Paul.
As we know Paul wasn’t appointed to serve because he was always faithful and pious and “Christian.”
In truth, Paul was the last guy in the world you’d predict would be appointed to serve. No one would have foretold that Paul, or Saul as he was known back in the day, would embrace the radical teachings of a controversial Jewish subversive who was executed by the Romans, because before his conversion, Saul was no candidate for “Christian of the Year.”
If Saul were among the applicants for the job of being an “example to those who would come to serve Christ Jesus” he would be least likely to get the job. And he admits as much, saying, I was a “blasphemer, a persecutor and a man of violence.”
Who in their right mind would appoint this guy to do anything involving sharing and spreading the Good News of Jesus Christ?
Well we know the answer.
And we know why too.
Why? Because God has an uncanny history of appointing the least likely candidate to serve God and God’s children.
So the question becomes… If God can transform a “Saul” to a “Paul”, if God can “appoint to service” a mean-spirited, blaspheming man of violence like Saul—what can God do with a group of people who already proclaim to be followers of Christ? What can God do with a group of people who are already committed to a Christ-like way of life? What can God do with a group of people who willingly gather in Christ’s name to give thanks and praise to God?
What can God do?
What will God do?
These are questions we need to ask because they are questions that will help us remember what our job is—it will help us remember our approach to the Gospel that will reach 21st Century people.
Now I tell you this, again, for two main reasons.
One, on this Welcome Sunday we stand at the beginning of a new programming year of the church. We are getting back to our normal routine from which we took a break over the summer.
It’s important that we take time to intentionally refocus—even on the obvious—so that we have this imperative at the forefront of our hearts, minds, and spirits as we begin.
And two, I tell you this because it is critical to remember we have been called and appointed by Christ Jesus to serve as the presence of Christ Jesus in our broken and fragmented world, so that by emulating Jesus others can come to know and embrace the grace, mercy, and love of Christ.
That’s our job— we, like Paul, are made into examples to those who would come to believe in Christ Jesus for eternal life.
We all know Jesus hung out in the synagogues with the religious leaders and teachers from time to time—but even when he did he challenged their approach to faith in God.
But we all know most of the time Jesus went searching and seeking the lost—the sinners, the outcasts, the broken, the infirmed, those who had been pushed to the margin—and he said to them, “Good news…you have been found. You are loved. You are a holy and beloved child of God.”
And we all know it’s this approach to the Gospel we need to remember and then share with the lost who are searching and seeking.
So let’s make a deal…
I will promise to not use the Lovett Weems quote again next week…in the sermon.
But I need you to make a promise too… Not to me, but to God.
I need all of us to make a promise to God… check that… The lost and the searching and the seeking need all of us to make a promise to God that we will remember our approach to the Gospel, and that we will remember we have been appointed by Christ Jesus to serve as the presence of Christ Jesus in our broken and fragmented world so that others would come to find and know the grace, mercy, and love of Christ.
And we do this by emulating Jesus in all aspects of our daily lives.
We can do this by striving to do 100 intentional acts of blessing, kindness, compassion, justice, and love—in a year—all in an effort to begin depicting a more faithful picture of the church, of Christians, and of the Good News of Jesus Christ.
And what better time than Welcome Sunday to make that promise and pledge.
So may we, in this New Year in the life of the church, remember our approach to the Gospel because each of us has been appointed to serve Christ Jesus in our world today. Amen.