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You Belong - The People We are Sent To or Surprised By - Part 1 - Sermon #07

a2vc.org • October 29, 2017 • Rev. Donnell T. Wyche, Senior Pastor

 

Preamble

We're so glad you are here with us this morning. We're grateful for you and the gifts of God that you bring with you into this space this morning. As we gather together as a church, we do so in the active presence of God through our worship, community, and engagement with scripture, which we hope will lead to transformational growth in our everyday life. As a congregation we want to experience belonging, cultivate tangible joy, activate hope, and know comfort as we learn to trust Jesus more and more, enabling us to reflect the welcome and peace of Jesus to those closest to us. We pray that whether this is your first time with us this morning, or you've been a part of our community for a while, that you will feel the invitation of the Holy Spirit to join in with our vision.

 

You Belong Video

This morning we are continuing in our “You Belong” sermon series. We are in part seven of our “You Belong” sermon series. If you've missed a sermon in this series, please download the audio or watch the video of the service/celebration you missed. Let's get started with a video testimony detailing our past, present, and future as a church. This week's video is from Tyrone Kelsey. If the team is ready, let's go ahead and play the video.

 

Our Invitations Matter

Last week, I asked us to consider what it means for us to create breathing room for others, and practically, I asked that you consider how are you inviting people into life or death. I noted that a lot of us are in this room this morning because someone saw us and invited us. After preaching last weekend, I've heard more stories from you; one person's co-worker invited them to church, this co-worker didn't attend the Vineyard, but had heard it was a welcoming place. Another person used to attend when they were in grad school and loved it so much that they recommend the church to all of their friends in grad school in the area. This week I was meeting with a congregant, and this congregant reminded that it was an Easter invitation that got them to the Vineyard.

These invitations take on many forms, for some it was a post card, a social media post; others, it was an event; for some it was driving by a sign. Many of us are in this room because of an invitation.

 

I don't want to over-state this friends, but our invitations can change people's lives. When we see people and create breathing room for them, God shows up.

 

Remember what Jesus said to the disciples in John 19:21-23:

21Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” 22And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23If you forgive the sins of anyone, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.” (John 19:21-23)

 

Our Faithful Presence

People want to confess and receive forgiveness, but we have to be the faithful presence of God in their lives, practicing the one anothers, in order to receive their confessions and to offer absolution.

 

Let me pause here for a second, I skipped this part of this scripture last week because its a lot to unpack. There are so many ways for us to interpret and understand this scripture. Plus many of us don't know what to do with the idea that we forgive the sins of others. As sinners ourselves, we may be reluctant or not feel qualified to offer absolution for anyone, let alone ourselves, but think of it this way. People feel disconnected, disfavored, and discounted. When you create breathing room, you create space for confession and together you can ask God for forgiveness.

 

Remember what Jesus says in John 15:16:

 

16You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. 17This is my command: Love each other. (John 15:16)

 

One of the ways that we bear fruit in people lives is by helping to change the stories that people tell themselves about themselves. When people say, “I'm worthless. I'm a failure. I don't belong.” We respond with the truth, “You were wonderfully and fearfully made. You are not what you produce or accomplish. You belong.”] This only happens when when we create breathing room for the disfavored to find favor, for the discounted to count, and for the disconnected to connect.

 

Let me encourage some more you here.

 

People confess their sins to me all of the time. That might not surprise you, but it surprises me. People confess to many of you too, you just haven't been trained to see it yet. Have you ever found yourself asking, “Why is this person telling me this?” Because they want forgiveness and you are present. People I don't know and who don't know me or that I'm a pastor will confess all sort of things. Things they have overlooked, things they have taken for granted, things that didn't belong to them, things they regret, things they did that broke relationship, things that harmed themselves and others. They confess because I create space to be interrupted and to be present with others. I had to train myself to do this because it didn't come naturally to me and you can do it too.

 

When I'm ordering my drink in Starbucks the baristas confess. At first, I was like, “Why are you telling me this? You don't know me from Adam. Why are you telling me this story, why are you confessing.” Over time, I started to figured it out. First, I'm not inviting you to adopt a Messiah complex, quite the opposite. I'm inviting you to realize that God is at work in the people we are sent to or surprised by. This reality requires humility because we are being Christ in the world, which is about our partnership with the Holy Spirit recognizing that our activity is at once real and significant, and at the same time, only a small part of God's work in someone's life. I so want to down play this, but I think it's important for us to understand that “As the Father has sent me, Jesus says, I'm am sending you.” People need us to be bearers of good news. People need us to be people of peace. As a friend of mine says, “People need space for amnesty without our judgment.” People need us to forgive their sins and reveal the hope, mercy, and grace of a Messiah who is restoring, healing, and transforming us so that we might heal, restore, and transform the world.

 

Okay, back to these Starbucks confessions — these confessions occurred because I created space for them by showing up regularly, learning their names, sharing mine, and asking them about themselves. It's not just at Starbucks, it's also at the dry cleaner, it's at bars on date night, it's on the phone with vendors, it's in my family, and among my friends and with strangers. People want to unburden themselves, and when you create breathing room, you offer people something they desperately need, forgiveness. Because our faithful presence is revealing a Messiah who wants to restore, heal, and transform the world.

 

Interruption, Obedience, Redemption, and Transformation

In order to receive confessions, we have to be available and present, not only to others, but to ourselves, and most importantly to the Holy Spirit. Simply put, we have to be interruptible.

 

It was a mom who helped me understand this. She was studying the life of Jesus and discovered that she and Jesus had a lot in common. Let me explain — this mom found that Jesus' sleep was interrupted, Jesus had to deal with a lot of whining, Jesus had all sorts of people pulling on his clothes, sharing his food, interrupting his meals. When we consider Jesus, we should be mindful that most of the miraculous encounters that happen in his ministry were the result of interruptions.

 

  • The healing of Jairus Daughter (Luke 8)
  • The Paralytic (Mark 2 - Jesus was working; he was teaching)
  • The Woman with the issue of blood (Luke 8)
  • The healing of Blind Bartimaeus (Luke 18:35–43)

How are you creating space for interruptions? How are you being present to yourself and to others? How you creating opportunities for Holy Spirit encounters? What spiritual disciplines and practices are you using to put your self in the presence of God, so that God might speak, and to speak to you? We have a church-retreat coming up on November 11th where we are hoping to introduce you to some spiritual practices that invite the presence of God. Friends, we want to be people of peace, people of rest, people of mercy, people of grace, and that starts with creating space for ourselves in the presence of God.

 

Let's consider together the way the Spirit of Truth interrupts the disciple Philip in Acts, chapter 8 starting in verse 26. Let's listen to this scripture together. [Play an audio clip of this passage]

 

26Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Go south to the road—the desert road—that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” 27So he started out, and on his way he met an Ethiopian eunuch, an important official in charge of all the treasury of the Kandake (which means “queen of the Ethiopians”). This man had gone to Jerusalem to worship, 28and on his way home was sitting in his chariot reading the Book of Isaiah the prophet. 29The Spirit told Philip, “Go to that chariot and stay near it.” 30Then Philip ran up to the chariot and heard the man reading Isaiah the prophet. “Do you understand what you are reading?” Philip asked. 31“How can I,” he said, “unless someone explains it to me?” So he invited Philip to come up and sit with him.

 

32This is the passage of Scripture the eunuch was reading: “He was led like a sheep to the slaughter, and as a lamb before its shearer is silent, so he did not open his mouth.

33In his humiliation he was deprived of justice. Who can speak of his descendants?

For his life was taken from the earth.”

 

34The eunuch asked Philip, “Tell me, please, who is the prophet talking about, himself or someone else?” 35Then Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus. 36[37]As they traveled along the road, they came to some water and the eunuch said, “Look, here is water. What can stand in the way of my being baptized?” 38And he gave orders to stop the chariot. Then both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water and Philip baptized him. 39When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord suddenly took Philip away, and the eunuch did not see him again, but went on his way rejoicing. 40Philip, however, appeared at Azotus and traveled about, preaching the gospel in all the towns until he reached Caesarea. (Acts 8:26-40)

 

I want to make some observations and offer an encouragement. First, this is a story of interruption, obedience, redemption, and transformation.

 

What's going on this passage? Philip, hears the Spirit, has space to be interrupted, is obedient to the Spirit's prompting by chasing down a moving chariot. This is divine intentionally at work. I love this scene, you have Philip, a servant in his community serving the widows and the poor having a Holy Spirit inspired worldview collision with a royal official who has enormous power. A simple reading of this passage is that the Ethiopia eunuch is being converted for future evangelism. It's the idea that the eunuch will return to Ethiopia, share the gospel and transform a community, which may indeed happen, but this isn't the point of the passage.

 

Are we living lives that are interruptible by the Spirit of God or have we accepted the gospel of the Empire that fills us with activities every moment of our lives? Are we living lives with habits and space to hear the gentle nudge, the soft promptings, the quiet calling of our names by the Spirit of God. Are we living lives that hear a Spirit that tells us to wander on the road?

 

I've been struck by the power of interruption. As the people of God, our discipleship requires an active connection with God through the Holy Spirit. How are you creating space for the Spirit to speak to you? How are you inviting the presence of the Divine in your everyday? Or have you surrendered to the liturgy of the Empire that wants to keep you busy, distracted, and overwhelmed. Which is why only the Holy Spirit inspired worldview collisions (or interruptions) can disrupt and reorient us.

 

God is so passionately in love with us that God rescues us. God does this by partnering with God's people to reveal grace, mercy, and forgiveness. This requires something of all of us, it requires that we are obedient and surrender the places that we fail to trust and rely on Jesus. God wants to reveal grace through us to declare over people that their identity doesn't determine their destiny; that their definition doesn't dictate their trajectory, that God is a story-changing God.

 

As much as the Ethiopian eunuch wants God, God wants the Ethiopian eunuch and not to use the Ethiopian eunuch as a tool, but to liberate. I love the way Paul says it,

 

1It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. (Galatians 5:1)

 

This is what God does through God's people, interruptible, obedient, and ready people who are willing to create breathing room for redemption, forgiveness, and transformation. God declares freedom.

 

Having had the passage explained, the Ethiopian eunuch is baptized, and did you notice that after the baptism, Philip is taken away. More freedom. Philip doesn't stay on to define the Ethiopian eunuch's discipleship. This work is Holy Spirit work. This Holy Spirit work requires us to trust that God is good. It requires us to live with our hands opened.

 

Our neighbors, friends, family members, and strangers we encounter on the desert roads of our lives need us to be the people of God revealing grace, mercy, forgiveness, and redemption so that they can go free.

 

I just want us to be the people of God, willing to have our lives interrupted, so that people might discover and surrender to the King of Glory who is renewing all things.

 
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