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Perhaps we are familiar with the story of a small town that had a volunteer fire department that was the envy of all the surrounding towns. Many years ago, a terrible fire had destroyed the home of someone. The townspeople came together in response to that disaster and formed a volunteer Fire Brigade, determined to prevent a similar disaster. At the first meeting of the new Fire Brigade, three primary goals were established.
- They would fight fires.
- They would work to prevent fires.
- They would become the social outlet for the community.
While they were training to carry out the first two goals they also made plans to plan social activities in the community. They established a training schedule that was second to none. They held “fire drills”, improving their response time. Within six months of the formation of the Fire Brigade, a fire broke out in a local business, and because of the quick response, damage was limited and lives were saved. Fighting fires and saving lives became the glue that held the Fire Brigade together. They never seemed to grow tired of training and being prepared. Over the years new and expensive fire trucks were added. New tools and equipment were also purchased. The Fire Brigade continued to focus on their three goals. They were able to teach fire prevention, reducing by 75% the number of fires that were occurring in the community. A new building was constructed right next to the Old Fire Station. It even had a community room that could be rented out for wedding receptions and other social events. The children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren of the founders served as volunteer fire fighters. The Fire Brigade was a community of people who cared for one another. Yet over time a change began to take place in the Fire Brigade. This was a change that few noticed until it was too late. More and more time was devoted to the running of the Fire Station and the social events taking place in the community room. Agenda items at meetings often dealt with money, fundraising functions and the business of managing the fire hall. Fewer expectations were placed on training. Fire prevention was taken for granted. While there were many things to explain why this took place, the main reason was because the Fire Brigade no longer focused upon their three purposes. One year the ultimate fundraiser was held to expand their social hall. Upon reaching their goal, they sold their fire truck and all of their equipment to a fire brigade in another town nearby. Today, in this community you can get pamphlets on fire prevention and occasionally there will be someone speaking in the local school. However, if there were a fire, people would need to call the Fire Brigade in the next town, and hope they would be there in time.
While merely a fictional story, perhaps we can see a connection between the Fire Brigade and the Church. Like the Fire Brigade, the Church has been given several tasks. Christ Moravian Church has expressed our tasks in our mission statement that appears each week in our Sunday bulletin.
Christ Church seeks to be a caring congregation, worshipping God and encouraging one another, as we serve outside the walls of our congregation in the name and spirit of Jesus Christ.
As we speak of mission statements, our scripture passages this morning inform us of another mission of the church. Jesus gave the disciples his mission statement in Luke and this statement was repeated in our epistle lesson from the book of Acts. Jesus’ words from Luke are the following:
“And that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be preached in his name to all nations; beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. Luke 24:47-48
In the book of Acts the ascending Jesus says:
But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth. Acts 1:8
That is the mission statement for all churches. The mission stated in a phrase repeated by Luke and Acts “you will be witnesses.” We as a Church have been given three tasks. When we witness:
- We care for one another.
- We provide for those in need.
- We spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ to those who do not know him.
We might say that these three tasks are the three-legged stool upon which the church sits. If one leg of this stool is shorter than the others the church could be on shaky ground. As a church, if we carry out only the first two tasks given to us, those being caring for one another and providing for those in need, our future as a congregation will be uncertain. How are we doing when it comes to following these tasks of caring for one another, providing for those in need and spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ to those who do not know him? I believe that our congregation and we as individuals do excellent jobs of caring for each other and providing for those in need. Whether it is members of our Women’s Fellowship preparing a meal or reception for a family grieving, whether it is bringing food each Sunday for Sunnyside ministry, creating a prayer shawl for church members or visiting each other when someone is ill and providing our love, support and prayers we are excellent in these areas!
However, when it comes to the third task, spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ to those who do not know him, I believe all of us can become a better witness for Jesus. Jesus has commissioned the church, and that means us, to be his witnesses. As we think of the subject of being a witness, whether it is watching Court TV or watching a fictional television series set in a courtroom, we have all seen witnesses; perhaps we have even been a witness in a court case. The most important thing for the witness to do is to tell what they know simply and truthfully. Witnesses are people who know something others don’t. Witnesses tell what they have experienced. That is our responsibility as Christians, to witness, to tell others how we have experienced God’s love. Like the Fire Brigade it’s easy to lose focus. It’s not hard for the Church to almost entirely focus on taking care of their members and taking care of bricks and mortar. Members and pastors can become so caught up in looking after the Church and its programs that it loses sight of one of the important legs of that three-legged stool. Certainly caring for others and providing for those in need are very important roles of the church, but Christ has commissioned us all to be a witness. Remembering the words of the Great Commission of Jesus Christ:
Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. (Matthew 28:19-20)
Our primary reason for the church’s existence is spreading the Gospel. If we fail to witness is the church really the church? If we as members become so comfortable in our sanctuaries and don’t leave our building to spread the Good News of the Gospel, perhaps we are not reaching our full potential as a church. We need to to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ to those who do not know Jesus. In the words of Francis of Assisi, the great Catholic friar now recognized as a Saint: “Preach the Gospel at all times and when necessary use words.” We need to open our eyes to the fact people all around us are in need of having a deeper and growing relationship with God. When Jesus spoke to his disciples just before he ascended into heaven he knew just how difficult a task this would be. Jesus knew that we would have trouble focusing on being a witness to the Gospel, which was why the Holy Spirit was given to help us. Through the power of Holy Spirit we can communicate the Good News of the Gospel which offers us forgiveness, support for the present and hope for the future. What a great message to share with our friends and neighbors!
Together let us continue to care for one another, provide for those in need and spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ to those who do not know Him. These are the three tasks upon which our future rests!
The Rev. Dr. David A. Marcus, Jr.
April 15, 2018