Summary: When I was thirteen, a young lad only three years older than me said something that would change my life for ever. A single sentence of his is the reason I am a Christian today. What was it? (A sermon for Epiphany 3)
When I was thirteen, a young lad only three years older than me said something that would change my life for ever. A single sentence of his is the reason I am a Christian today. What could you say in just ONE sentence that could switch someone from being an agnositic to being a passionately committed Christian? Now bear in mind that this wasn't a vicar or someone with a theology degree. This wasn't a professional evangelist who had years of experience of explaining doctrines. This was just a teenager, himself quite new to the faith - yet he managed to find the right single sentence to change my life for ever.
Any ideas what that sentence might have been? [take suggestions from congregation]
No - it was much simpler than that.... The single sentence that changed my life was "Why don't you come along to the Christian Union tonight?"
That young person happened to be my brother - I don't know if that made it easier or harder for him to say that. It can feel quite scary talking to your families about these things. Yet somehow he plucked up the courage and said the sentence and changed my life. And if anything I have ever preached or done has effected your life in any way - then he changed your life too. Through just one simple sentence. "Why don't you come along to the Christian Union tonight?"
You see, the hard work had been done for him. Once I got to the meeting there was a friendly lively environment that was attractive enough to make me want to come back and come back again. Once I got to the meeting there were preachers who would talk of a God who loved us enough to die for us on the cross, who would explain how each one of us matters and has value to God, and how whatever mess we may make of our lives we could have forgiveness through the cross and a fresh fresh start.
Of course I had to hear all that before I gave my life to Jesus and became a Christian. The people putting the sermons together had the HARD job. But you know - they could have preached their hearts out; they could have preached the best sermon that has ever been preached in history of Christianity ... and it would have made ... NO difference, unless someone had said the simple words "Why don't you come along to the Christian Union tonight?" It does not matter how good what went on in that Christian Union meeting was. Without the invitation I would never have heard it, never have experienced it, never have become a Christian.
Now something happened on 12th December last year. I don't know if you remember back to the Carols by Candlelight two years ago. There were about 80 people there ... which was lovely. Well this year there were 160 people there. How come that number doubled? Because you - yes I'm looking at you - you did something very very simple. The same thing my brother did that Friday evening in 1986. You invited them.
Apparently, according to surveys conducted by Christian Sociologist George Barna, 53% of Christians feel a sense of responsibility to tell others about their faith. Well you are clearly in that 53% ... because there is no way a service could go from 80 people to 160 people by accident. There were 160 people because you invited them.
Now you may not think of inviting a friend, a neighbour or a family service to a carol service as a particularly significant action. But if so, you are underestimating what you have done. This IS evangelism. And as you grow in confidence and just as you invited people to that so invite people to other services, it won't just be the carol service that doubles in size, it will be the church.
last year there was a speaker at a diocesan event at the Cathedral. His talk was entitled the secret to doubling your church overnight. And you can guess what that secret was. If every person in a church brings not twenty new people, not ten new people, not five new people, but just ONE new person, then the church would double in size. And indeed that was our experience at the carol service a month ago.
In our bible reading today, Jesus invites us to be "fishers of people" - not keepers of the aquarium, but "fishers of people". Thinking of real fishing - the stuff you do with rods and lines and maggots - I've only ever caught one single fish. It's not that I'm a bad fisherman. Nor is it that there were not waters teaming with fish waiting to be caught. I've only ever caught one fish ... because I've only ever been fishing once. That sounds so basic. The first and most important rule of catching fish, is that if you want to catch fish, you actually have to GO - go fishing. and it's exactly the same for us when we respond to Jesus's call to be fishers of people. We have to take our fishing rod, cast our line [mime it] .... and invite people.