• I showed a comic slide to start, which asked the question, "Did anyone hear what the chairman of the board’s parting words were?" The point is how we can walk through an experience, meeting, etc., and totally miss what it was all about.
The big question facing us this morning is that very question. Did anyone catch the parting words of our Chairman (Jesus and his parting words before he left the world)?
EASTER reminds us of what mattered most to Jesus now that his work on earth was finished and he was about to hand it over to his followers. Before he returned to God, he left them with a parting word, the burning thing on his heart which was of greatest importance. He shared what he wanted his followers as far away as the 21st century, to remember.
• The burning message: verse 15 – “Go…Preach”
• 277 words in verses 9-20 of Mark 16. Only two of them are imperative commands (which means the subject to whom the command is given is implied): - “You Go…You Preach”
We must search our hearts to understand the importance of this responsibility. It is the charge that consumed Jesus’ energies and message. After Jesus was tempted by Satan in the wilderness – Matthew 4:17 – “From then on, Jesus began to preach, “Turn from your sins and turn to God, because the Kingdom of Heaven is near.” Your opportunity for a whole and lasting relationship with God is here – that is the Good News Jesus preached and wants preached.
So, here we are in the 21st century wondering what we are to do with this personal instruction. The times are in our favor actually. Leonard Sweet, Church historian, author and futurist, says in his book “Aqua Church” that we are in a very “unstable, unsteady and turbulent postmodern world.” Sweet goes on to offer, “what we face can be seen as a threat, but also as an opportunity of perhaps unprecedented proportions.” (p. 8) He argues that people have never been more open to the supernatural and spiritual discussions than they are today.
- E.g. - “The DaVinci Code” – more than 3 million copies in print
- The Passion of the Christ – #1 film three weeks in a row
- "The Shack" By William Paul Young is creating a stir in Christian circles
Another comment by Sweet however does not correspond to the reality of people searching for answers. People’s interest in spiritual things which includes Jesus is not pursued in the life of the church. Sweet shows us that people are actually hostile toward the church and organized religion.
I believe his comment is a stinging wakeup call for the church. We hold the answer to life in the Person of Jesus Christ. We commemorate his crucifixion and resurrection annually and claim to personally experience the resurrection of Christ in our own lives. If however there is hostility toward the church and organized religion, something about the resurrection of Christ is out of sync. To what extent has the resurrection of Christ engaged our total person beyond Easter Sunday? With whom have we shared the Good News lately – the message that there is forgiveness for sins and God’s Kingdom is open to you? To what measure are we speaking to and witnessing about Salvation on a personal level? Are we finding that our talk and expression of God is often confined to our corporate time on Sunday morning? We need to honestly face the answers to these questions because the answers will give some important clues as to whether or not we are out of step with the message of resurrection.
If we fail in any respect in this matter of “go…preach” it is probably related to our limited understanding of what the church is. Bishop Leslie Newbigin, labeled as “one of the leading influences on the theology of mission” (Wilbert R. Shenk) in the 20th century, was once quoted as saying, “The key focus of the church’s mission is not the church but the world.” Have we gotten off track? Have we been influenced to compromise the message of Jesus Christ for man-made religious piety? Have we been guilty of focusing internally instead of externally; more concerned about being coddled than caring for the lost; more intentional about ourselves when it should be about ‘them’? Are we well-intentioned and at the same time missing the mark?
We need to look to our relationship with Jesus Christ. I contest that we cannot walk in fresh experience of God, of resurrection Sunday and not be affected that there are thousands, even millions, who don’t know Him. If the world’s response to organized religion and the church is hostile so that it sees an exclusive group that is more concerned about itself than it is about them, we must question whether or not we really have experienced resurrection. The fire that ignited the disciples to “go…preach” was one of experiencing God through the Person of Jesus Christ. One cannot experience the resurrection and be a spiritual recluse (a hermit) and hold the view, “Glad I have a whole and lasting life, too bad you don’t.” It cries “I have a whole and lasting life and I want you to have it too!”
There are more than 100 million people in Canada and the United States who are unchurched and do not know Jesus Christ. Is that not enough reason for us to take this call seriously and decide to “go…preach.”?
George Barna, an American researcher, tells us about a project that seeks to address the great divide between church and Barna released the book in March 2007 (web report ). It is entitled “Jim and Casper Go to Church.” That book describes the experience of a former pastor and an avowed atheist who together visited a dozen significant churches across the nation. Jim Henderson, who has been a pastor of small and large churches, interviewed the atheist (Matt Casper) during and after each church service they attended to gain insights into what it’s like for an outsider to attend such churches. Among the congregations visited were well-known ministries such as Willow Creek (pastored by Bill Hybels), Saddleback (led by Rick Warren), Lakewood (featuring Joel Osteen), and The Potter’s House (home of T.D. Jakes). Many of the insights drawn from the experiences of "Jim and Casper" parallel the findings of Barna Group studies among the unchurched. Some of the critical discoveries (citing Barna):
- The relative indifference of most churched Christians to unchurched people;
- The overt emphasis upon a personal rather than communal faith journey;
- Tthe tendency of congregations to perform rituals and exercise talents rather than invite and experience the presence of God;
- The absence of a compelling call to action given to those who attend; and
- The failure to listen to dissident voices and spiritual guidance to dig deeper in one’s faith.”
The alarming message is clear – church has become a PLACE where people meet for the PURPOSE of looking after their PERSONAL desires. It is ALL ABOUT ME. This is not what Jesus had in mind, nor is it really the Church. We are only the Church when we pay attention to the personal command, “YOU go…YOU preach” – that’s the only time the Church is about ME. The real Church of Jesus Christ is committed to one message and one mission – sharing the message with everyone about how we have a whole and lasting life in relationship with God and God desires that they have the same experience and relationship with Him. The aim is to bring other people into the Kingdom of God and being prepared to do whatever is necessary to make that happen. If we are to do this work well and be serious about this message and mission we need to grab hold of the picture that that Leonard Sweet shares with us. He speaks about how we must learn to present Jesus in containers that post-modern people can understand to which they will clamor to drink.
Most times we want to present Christ in old containers. How many of us are using typewriters with the modern era of computers? I didn’t see anyone pull in this morning with a 60’s classic or wearing a style from the 80’s (except people who wear uniforms!). In the same way the church cannot be stagnant in its thinking that we can use the same methods as 10 years ago or even 5 years ago, and expect to connect with the post-modern, fluid world we live in.
Rick Warren, founder and pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California saw his church grow to 10,000 people in worship attendance in fifteen years. In his book “The Purpose Driven Church” he said something that is offensive but at the same time is true for too many churches. He wrote “We invite the unchurched to come and sit on seventeenth-century chairs (which we called pews), sing eighteenth-century songs (which we call hymns), and listen to nineteenth-century instrument (a pipe organ), and then we wonder why they think we’re out of date! I’m afraid that we’ll be well into the twenty-first century before some churches start using the instruments of the twentieth century.”
- Cautionary word regarding these things. The emphasis is one of being complacent to new forms of worship and means of connecting with community so that they understand our message.
Many churches are taking these issues seriously according to the premier tracker of Canadian Statistics, Reginald Bibby. His most recent surveys include information that churches in Canada are emphasizing youth ministry, and there is much more activity as it relates to personal transformation, Bible study and prayer. People want change. People want to BE the Church of Jesus Christ. Bob Harvey, writing for Christianity.ca draws our attention to church attendance now being the highest it has been since 1985. Citing Bibby’s findings he notes that “By 2000, weekly attendance had hit a low of 21 percent of Canadians, but surveys in 2002 and 2003 by Mr. Bibby, Vision TV, and Allan Gregg’s Strategic Counsel pegged weekly attendance at levels ranging from 26 to 30 percent.”
How are we to preach it? What does that mean actually?
E.g. – many understand preaching as doing what I’m doing now.
• Verse 9 – Jesus appeared to Mary Magdalene and “she went and told”
• Verse 12 – Jesus appeared to two of his followers who “reported it to the rest.”
• Preaching the Good News is simply telling other people what you experience first-hand and know to be true.
Mary Magdalene never realized on that Sunday morning that she would represent the hearts of many. She did not go to the tomb to praise a risen Christ – she had gone to put spices and oils on a dead One. This is true for so many in the 21st century. Case in point: Michael Wilmington of the Chicago Tribune. In his review of Mil Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ” he commented, “In the end, one can respect Gibson’s high intentions and dedicated work, while remaining spiritually and dramatically unmoved by the result.”
The extent of our personal experience determines the extent of our message – our preaching – our telling. Too many are living as if Christ is still in the tomb and, like Michael Wilmington, remain spiritually and dramatically unmoved because their experience with God is nearly as dead like Christ in the tomb. Many people approach God from an intellectual position. As soon as emotions come into our expression of God we feel foolish and fanatical. When we decide there is no place for emotion in our walk with God, we had better set that against the emotions of Christ during Calvary and Resurrection. God engages all of our senses. When we cannot feel God, we may be deader than we realize.
There is wonderful news today! We, like Mary, can experience the power of the resurrection! When we do, it engages our emotions AND our intellect and our experience of truth (not the mere knowledge of it) changes us forever! This experience though comes with a certain responsibility. One writer offers the important observation that “the universal, timeless element in Christ’s teaching constitutes for all who receive it an obligation to make it known.”
You’ve likely heard it said, “Preach the gospel – and if necessary use words.” This phrase was drawn from St. Francis who wrote, “Let all the brothers…preach by their deeds.”
• There is a definite place for human speech in sharing your story with others who do not follow Jesus.
• In all times, it involves life witness.
While the command to “go…preach” is personal, it is also a corporate order. While we must live this message and speak this message in the context of our personal, individual lives we also have an obligation as a worshiping faith community to preach this message. It is what author Brad J. Kallenberg calls “Living the Story” in his book “Live to Tell”. He pushes home the lesson that “What makes a community “Christian” isn’t simply the fact that all the members hold roughly the same beliefs, but that they live out those beliefs with each other in ways that are faithful to the story of Jesus.” He goes on to suggest that it is God being personal through the lives of other believers. As someone else once noted, we become Jesus “with skin on”.
What a sad ending to the story of any believer whose experience of resurrection was as the story of the three women in Mark 16 when the passage ended at verse 8. They discovered the empty tomb and “trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.” Whether afraid of the apparition that confronted them, or afraid that they would be charge with stealing Jesus’ body to make it appear he had risen from the dead we don’t know. Whatever it was, they were afraid.
How regrettable and sad that we often remain silent because we’re afraid; afraid of rejection or afraid of criticism; or we remain silent because we really don’t care or think anything of it.
How desperately we should prefer the extended ending of verse 9 where we read that Mary “went and told.”
Which ending do you want at the close of your life’s journey – Do you want Jesus to say, “You said nothing. Why didn’t you say something?” OR “In life and speech, you told my story; you shared my message!”