Certain responsibilities within church life; belong to us all. For example, Godly love, which is of the will, as well as of the heart, is commanded of all of us (Deut. 6:5 and John 15:17)
Love is not an option, but a duty; a responsibility to be taken up, and lived out. The same applies to forgiveness, and caring, and much more.
The gifts and graces of the Christian life, are designed to bless and strengthen Christ’s followers, and to equip them for outreach
Therefore, another of Christ's commands; to evangelize; (Matthew 28: 18-20) relates to the Church’s duties and responsibilities towards the world.
Evangelism takes the 'Good News' from the 'here and now' of a church’s life, to the 'there and then' of every opportunity for outreach.
However, that is not the general view. Instead, a broad either/or approach to the matter is taken: creating two extremes, with a vast gap in between.
That broad approach sees evangelism either as taking place in great rallies, such as at Earls Court, in London; or else considers it to be the particular business of the denomination known as 'The Evangelical church'.
The vast gap between the extremes; is filled with churches that appear to consider themselves as 'middle of the road'.
For many of them, 'success' is measured in such ways as well-handled business meetings, finances that balance, good maintenance of buildings, a 'church-family' atmosphere, efficient pastoral care, and services of worship that are attractive.
That sounds good: but modern church history appears to show that most congregations seem content with being 'church-family' to themselves; and that comparatively few are empowered by the vision of evangelism, and actually reach out to the world beyond their doors.
A good atmosphere within a 'church ­family', and the loving care and meaningful worship found there, may seem enough to attract new people to join, and to be built into the congregation - but is it?
Jesus said, and still says: 'Go: tell!' but, largely, and instead, the Church says: 'Come: listen!' - and this to a world that is otherwise occupied.
Christ's parable of 'The Great Banquet' has particular application to today's theme. The banquet was going to be rather special, and to be invited was a great privilege. However, those invited had their minds on other matters, and made their excuses. What was offered, failed to attract them.
So, the host sent his servants out, to invite the less privileged; those who, probably, were unaware that a 'great feast' was being held; and surprised to be told that there was, and that they could share in it – and they crowded in.
For long years, the Church has invited the world to share in the systems, rites and rituals of its religion. However, the world has its mind on other matters; does not even bother to make excuses, and stays away.
For even longer years, Christ has sought to persuade his followers, his servants, to go out into the world: not to offer yet more religion, set within the boundaries of Church practice…
…but release into new dimensions; where the challenge, delight and fulfillment of Christian spirituality, will overcome all human boundaries, and thrive in the limitless love of God.
The religious things that appear to please congregations: do not attract those beyond their walls. This may be because, largely, the Church has no greater vision than that of making other people like itself, and building them into its own fabric – and that the ‘other people’ just don’t want to know.
If the people 'out there' have little understanding of the Christian faith; then each church would do well to consider afresh the nature and depth of its own understanding…
…and to pray, in relation to what Christ has appointed it to do about things; where needs are greatest, and how spirituality may be shared.
Christ took an Old Testament challenge; saw that it applied to him, accepted it, lived it out, and spoke it out. He expects us to take his challenge to us; and see how it applies to ourselves; accept it, live it out, and speak it out.
The challenge is the commission to preach the 'Good News'; first given through the prophet Isaiah. He prophesied that, one day, a far greater prophet would bring new life; mercy, love, grace and hope to all who would receive it. Here are some touches on that message.
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because…’ God’s intention to offer new beginnings; would commence with a spiritual anointing.
A physical anointing, with oil, related to those appointed to be prophets, priests or kings. Therefore, the spiritual anointing of the one awaited, would emphasize his prophetic, priestly and kingly stature.
God's new way of doing things; would be through a love that would no longer exclude people, because of sin, but which would include them, if they accepted the new way itself.
The physically poor, and the spiritually poor - those without a vision of anything higher than they were born into - would receive exactly the same invitation and offer, as the physically and spiritually rich.
Release would be proclaimed, for all those caught up in the bondage of a religious legalism that fostered the needs of the system, rather than the needs of the people. Greater still: a release from the imprisonment of sin and death; was promised to all who would accept God's new way.
Spiritual blindness to the truth would be removed, and the truth revealed.
To set at liberty those who are oppressed', and we can ask: oppressed by what? It could be by physical and mental regimes and restraints that beset people; or by expectations and moral nearsightedness that overlook true needs, or perhaps by things that we can hardly guess at.
'To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord'. In scriptural terms, the 'year' in question, can mean any length of time that relates to notable events and processes, and the fulfillment of particular intentions.
For us, The acceptable year of the Lord' is the span of time between Christ's first advent, at Bethlehem, and his Second Advent, whenever that may be: a time during which God's intentions will be fulfilled.
In the synagogue, Christ read the prophecy; knew that it pointed to himself; knew also that he had made a good beginning to the ministry set before him, and that he would bring it to a perfect conclusion.
Therefore, quietly but firmly, he could say: 'Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing'.
'The acceptable year of the Lord' moves on. God's intentions are gradually being fulfilled, partly, at least, through the obedience of Christ's followers, whom he commissions to speak and act as him, through him, and for him
Christ fulfilled all that was expected of him, and he requires us to do as he did. His Spirit will provide the necessary gifts and graces, to enable us to fulfill our calling.
The Lord outlined the principles of his ministries (Luke 4: 16-21) and established the precedent of his followers acting in his name, when he sent them out on their own (Luke 10:1-9). The early Christians lived out what they believed, and the Lord worked in them, and through them, to very great effect (Acts 2: 37-47).
Now, as then, Christ calls and commissions his followers, his servants, to live and act in his name, and to reach out to the world that he loves.
When we receive Christ’s ‘call’, and know that it applies to us; and respond to it, then we, too, become followers who live out what we believe.
If, for whatever reason, our ‘following the Lord’ has never really got off the ground: or else, if it once did, but has now slowed, more than a little…
…then: ‘Why are we waiting?’ Let us pray that we hear Christ’s ‘Follow me’ command afresh; and then move on, where he leads. Amen.