Third in series: 40 Days of Faith 2017
We talked last week about how at BLV we have come to mark the church season of Lent (the 40 days leading up to Easter) SLIDE With an experiment meant to get us trying to live with high faith SLIDE Believing God to be alive and active and able to pull off observable, measurable things (miraculous things even) on our behalf that we can't on our own We acknowledged that for many of us, we don't actually have this high faith, I would certainly put myself in that camp, but that that's just the reason for the experiment - SLIDE To give up our sense of exclusive-control over our lives and our "life all comes down to me" thoughts, and act as though we do have high faith in a good God for a set amount of time - the 40 days of Lent - And then to see what happens
And this has been a time of year that I have really come to look forward to. On a personal level, each year we have done this I have had a powerful sense of God actually caring for me and being Good to me. Like last year, I spent Lent praying that Michelle and I would be able to make it work financially for her to not have to work so she could stay home with our son. And we unexpectedly, and to us miraculously we were able to do that, we actually didn’t even make it to Easter. Her last day of work was the Friday before Palm Sunday. Cool stuff!
It's not at all too late for you to join in the experiment this year! Just start right now (need a half sheet? raise your hand) SLIDE Praying everyday for Your Big Ask That could be for a new job, for the next step in your personal life to happen, to end a bad habit or start a good one... like that your wife would be able to stay home with your son. We encourage you to share with others here your big ask! And for Your 6 6 people in your everyday life you're on the fringe of relationship with And for BLV Our growth, our fundraising, our positive impact on people Reading the Bible’s book of Acts This is the story of the early church in the time immediately after Jesus’ death & resurrection, and it is serving as our guide for this experiment We will do this together in a moment… so look you’re already joining us! Lastly, investing in our church's next big step, particularly our Brown Line Ball -- about which we have more fun details to share with you later
SLIDE Now, as Vince has talked about each of the last two weeks, the story of the book of Acts Can be described as the early church's move from start-up project to sustainable movement, setting it up for enduring and ever-expanding impact Think of a diagram of moving outward in concentric circles They start with just Jewish people in the city of Jerusalem Then they get out to the wider region around Jerusalem -- Judea and Samaria -- to a more diverse group of people than just Jewish background people And then they begin looking to influence their entire known world. SLIDE for the sake of this Lenten series we will be walking through the first 12 chapters of Acts, which document that first big step. The move outward from Jews in Jerusalem to reaching more diverse groups in their wider region. SLIDE SLIDE We (BLV) are dreaming of making our own next big step. And I think what Vince rather wonderfully highlighted or us in Acts is that this step forwards was not accomplished by the early Jesus Followers planning better, or strategizing better, rather it was by them living out of a place of high faith, looking for and believing that Jesus can pull that seem so much bigger than they could pull off on their themselves And we have taken this as an invitation to wonder if Our Next Big Step at BLV is not going to be the result of us just strategizing better, but rather looking for God to do some things that bigger than us, miraculous things. Things like doubling the size of this church over the next two years
SLIDE From where Vince left off last week These early followers of Jesus have been in Jerusalem growing and adding Jewish background people to their numbers. More and more Jerusalemites and Jewish travelers to Jerusalem are beginning to follow Jesus. And as they gain some momentum they face some persecution from the Jewish authorities who are beginning to feel threatened. as we pick it up for today, it has come time for them to make their first leap, leaving Jerusalem to begin bringing the Good News of Jesus to their wider region.
we come to Acts 8 where we join Philip, one of the early leaders of this Jesus movement.
Starting in verse 26
26 As for Philip, an angel of the Lord said to him, “Go south down the desert road that runs from Jerusalem to Gaza.” 27 So he started out, and he met the treasurer of Ethiopia, a eunuch of great authority under the Kandake, the queen of Ethiopia. The eunuch had gone to Jerusalem to worship, 28 and he was now returning. Seated in his carriage, he was reading aloud from the book of the prophet Isaiah.
29 The Holy Spirit said to Philip, “Go over and walk along beside the carriage.”
30 Philip ran over and heard the man reading from the prophet Isaiah. Philip asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?”
31 The man replied, “How can I, unless someone instructs me?” And he urged Philip to come up into the carriage and sit with him.
32 The passage of Scripture he had been reading was this:
“He was led like a sheep to the slaughter.
And as a lamb is silent before the shearers,
he did not open his mouth.
33 He was humiliated and received no justice.
Who can speak of his descendants?
For his life was taken from the earth.”
34 The eunuch asked Philip, “Tell me, was the prophet talking about himself or someone else?” 35 So beginning with this same Scripture, Philip told him the Good News about Jesus.
36 As they rode along, they came to some water, and the eunuch said, “Look! There’s some water! Why can’t I be baptized?” 38 He ordered the carriage to stop, and they went down into the water, and Philip baptized him.
39 When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away. The eunuch never saw him again but went on his way rejoicing.
This is a powerful story on several levels
Philip is on the road outside of Jerusalem, in the greater region of Judea and Samaria.
And on this journey outward, SLIDE this Ethiopian Eunuch becomes the First non-Jewish background person that comes to follow Jesus It’s the first “outsider” to join this early Jesus movement First off, this man was Ethopian He is coming from a different place that was dealing with with different issues, a different culture, with different customs and norms. And secondly he was a Eunuch This means someone who was originally taken in as a slave, and put into service of a high ranking family. Now, he is a Eunuch because when he was taken into service he had… hmm let’s say, his nether regions removed. This was done as a fairly cruel way to insured no hanky-panky occurred between him and those he served. And it was also a way to ensure he stayed in service to the family, by making him more docile and ensuring he could have no family of his own. Now this is particularly notable because by Jewish law, Eunuchs were excluded from participation in Temple rituals and excluded from full admittance into Israel's community. So, the first non-Jewish Jerusalemite to join this Jesus movement was a foreigner who by religious law should have been excluded, Man, this has some major implication. SLIDE What does this means? That Jesus is here for Not just the religious insiders - SLIDE not just jews, but for all people This is the first picture we get of it, but it becomes clear throughout Act, that Key to the Early Jesus Movement stepping forward is the inclusion of religious outsiders. Inclusion of those who were previously not considered, not welcome, people who culturally, religiously, racially, socially different. You know, in some ways the Jewish people were uniquely prepared to hear the message of Jesus with the specific questions they were asking based on their religious and cultural starting points, But, Here we see a person who represents a totally different cultural and religious starting point in the ancient world wrestling with related but different questions than Jews were, AND what does the Holy Spirit tell Philip? That I (God) want to connect with this person… that I have reponses to his questions, just as I have to Jewish questions The message is that Jesus is not just here to welcome only those who are culturally predisposed to welcome him.
Jesus is here to welcome everyone
This point here, this is core to our vision here at BLV
I want to let you in on something
We could have done things to grow this church faster
In America if you want to grow a church, the fastest way to do it is by appealing to people who are already going to church. Or people who are already looking for a church
You figure out what churchgoers in a certain area are looking for, what they like, and then you do that.
It makes sense, it’s a known market.
People going to churches today are very likely to keep going to next week, and the week after that. This is a super proven and successful model. But, the vision we felt as if God had given us for BLV was not primarily about growing fast.
It was about creating a space for all people to connect with Jesus, not just those predisposed to church. Creating space for the Ethopian Eunuch if you will. The thing is, I believe the reason many people don’t go to church has nothing to do with belief systems, it nothing to do with Jesus It has do with culture It so often comes down to the culture of American Christianity that is found in churches We believe God has called BLV to be a community that is made up of people from diverse backgrounds in terms of churchgoing experience (or lack thereof), so our inclination is toward our world’s wider conversations. Thus, the sorts of things we talk about at our Sunday services or at our weeknight groups or in groups of two to three over dinner or drinks are things we’ve experienced all sorts of people, not just longtime churchgoers, to find engaging, important, and helpful. Our take is that no matter who we are or where we’re coming from, trying to connect with Jesus and point ourselves his way offers a ton to the pursuit of a deep, full life -- in ways that seem pretty uniquely wonderful and helpful to us! Doing church like this is not the best plan to attract more church goers. It was never going to be the best way to grow big fast But, the result is that about ⅓ of community is made up of people who prior to coming to BLV would not of considered themselves a churchgoer To put that in perspective that number most churches in America, we’re told, average somewhere between 5-8% And we think that is pretty awesome. We think many of us here are the Ethopian Eunuchs of our day who feel pretty at home here but may not elsewhere. And although it is our goal to double the size of the church over the next two years It is still our vision to do so by welcoming all people, not just more church goers. If we were to grow and hit that goal, but do so by only bringing in more people of one background, all predisposed to already go to church, it wouldn’t actually be hitting our goal at all. SLIDE Pause
One more note from to make from our passage today: This interaction was totally set up by God This passage describes Philip literally being taken in different direction And it just happens to be that the Eunuch is reading a from the prophet of Isaiah as Philip walks past. No, God was setting up that interaction You see God was already working in the life of Eunuch before that. Philip did not wow this man with some super compelling point about why he should follow Jesus Philip didn't badger him or argue with him. Rather Philip paid attention to what God was already doing SLIDE And when Philip came along side what God was already doing, the good news of Jesus was self evident. The Eunuch went away rejoicing We at BLV want to introduce people to the good and loving Jesus, because, in our experience, he is in fact… good and loving… our goal is to make space for people to experience that for themselves…
SLIDE In a way this is what praying for our 6 is all about. SLIDE X2 Part of the high faith this 40 day experiment is encouraging us to live with is a belief that God is constantly working in people’s lives And if we choose to pray for people, then we get to be a part of what God is doing
To talk a little moore about praying for other people, I want to invite up someone to share their experience of doing a more expansive version of this over these 40 days
Invite up Maria to share
Thanks Maria, I personally find some more energy and excitement about praying for my 6 after that So, I encourage you to think of 6 people that, to best of your knowledge, are not experiencing much from God. And pray for them to experience God to be alive active on their behalf Maybe this is a way our 40 day experiment in high faith becomes an ongoing reality for you And perhaps our upcoming Brown Line Ball SLIDE can be a unique opportunity to connect with folks, especially if they are part of your 6, people who may for any number of reasons not be likely to connect with us on a Sunday, but would very much like to go to a party like this. I have friends that are coming the to ball that fit that category I would say there will likely be plenty of people who just come to Ball, and that is where it ends, and I think would be great, Have a good time, raise some money, good things. But, I wonder if for someone the Ball might be the right setting to begin a longer term connection with BLV. That it might open up doors for more people from more different backgrounds to connect with as a community. And I believe that that’s exactly what God is calling us to do as a community. I believe he has given us a unique commission to be reaching out, connecting with, and welcoming people who are not likely thinking, You know what I need in life, a church. So many of us in this room are exactly those people who were not likely to think that before connecting in here. What if God really does have help, care, support, healing for everyone? And I want to do everything I can to help connect people to that.
Well, in moment I will pray, and we will enter into a time of singing and prayer. Something that spiritual communities have done for centuries. And I invite you to engage in that time in whatever way feels best to you. Maybe it is singing along and dancing. Maybe it is just sitting back and letting the music hit you. And, as we are doing that we will have a team of people in the back who would love to pray with you, It can be a really meaningful thing to have somebody else pray along with you. And I have found that God tends to show up in surprising and powerful ways when I have asked someone else to pray for me. It’s a safe and good group of people, no one is going to make you feel uncomfortable or give you unasked for advice.
So if you will stand with me