Sunday is not Game Day
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When I was growing up, I played a lot of sports. I played basketball and did power cheerleading in high school and then continued on with basketball in university and picked up volleyball later on. I loved everything about sports; the early morning practices, the teamwork, the gradual improvement in your game, and, of course, game day. I’ll never forget the hours of preparation that went into game day. I remember cheerleading especially well because it was the only sport I was in, where my team ever won a championship. We spent hours on strength-training in the gym and doing choreography and tumbling and stunts until everything was perfect. And then we would have three and a half minutes to show what we were all about. I always struggled with the fact that all those hours of preparation boiled down to three and a half minutes. It’s a lot of pressure to put on a short amount of time. And yet, because of all the preparation, we were ready. Going on stage, you didn’t feel the pressure, you felt the energy of the of the music you know so well, the movement of your team as one entity and the familiarity of the well-rehearsed rituals.
We start with Isaiah crying out “Comfort, Comfort my people”. This cry is declaring what is to come, but it is also a command for the people of God. We are all called to comfort one another. At the end of the book of Job, we saw how his community came and comforted him. The book of Isaiah illuminates actions that are incompatible with God’s desire for community while showing us what God wants for his people. God wants his community to be one where each one comforts the other and where people do not suffer alone.
The other meaning for this comfort is that the Lord is coming. This coming means transformation; we see that in the transformation of the wilderness and the desert. And we have this proclamation from God “Prepare the way, for I am coming!”. God’s not waiting for his people to get ready. He’s on the plane and he is about to land. Are you ready? If you’re not, then get ready!
Moving forward to Mark 1, John the Baptist, sees that these words from Isaiah were meant for him to declare. He knows that the time has come and that God has landed. Mark’s gospel is all about this ‘God-landing’, or to use a more familiar word, this Advent. Mark is writing about the coming of Jesus and about what it means to live in the Kingdom of God. The first thing that is required is preparation.
Preparing for a pandemic is to prepare for bad news, but in this case, we’re preparing for good news; the Coming of God. It’s not about judgment, it’s about establishing the kingdom. One theologian writes that the good news is this; that God is here, God is victorious, God reigns. This is the message that John is sharing. He is here to help people prepare for Jesus. Essentially, he is telling people how to be a disciple of Christ; repent and believe. To repent means to turn around. It means to confess your sins and commit not to go back to the way things were before. To believe means to trust that Jesus is who he says he is; the Son of God.
Any move towards God requires repentance. This repentance is a word called metanoia. It’s not just about feeling remorse or regret over what one has done. Metanoia is an invitation to a personal unconditional surrender to God. In this way, repentance isn’t so much about what you’ve done in the past, but about a choice you’re making now to surrender to God so that he can transform you.
As we hear this call to repentance this morning, we need to ask ourselves what God is calling us to surrender to him? Maybe something springs to mind right away. If not, then take time this week to pray about what God is asking you to surrender. What area of your life are you holding onto that you have yet to let God transform? This is a call to surrender all to Jesus. Your work life, your family, your plans, your time, your money and your heart. The call to repent is for all of us. We are all invited to surrender to God.
This is what baptism symbolizes, that outward sign of an inward truth. An indication that you have decided to follow Jesus and that you’re not turning back. It’s not so much about giving Jesus a place in your life as it is about giving him your whole life. This is what John means by ‘repent and believe’. And Mark takes these words of Isaiah, spoken 700 years earlier and he gives them new life. At the same time, he uses them to show that the prophecy has been fulfilled. John, the voice who cries out in the wilderness, the one who will prepare the way of the Lord, is here.
There is a word that applies here – Kairos. This word describes time that is appointed by God. Mark 1:15 reads that the ‘Kairos’ is fulfilled and the kingdom of God is at hand. The opening words of Mark declare that this is the decisive moment of the inbreaking of God. God is on the loose, working to reclaim and redeem the fallen world and lost humanity. And as we are baptized in the Holy Spirit, we are called into this mission.
I’ve had a lot of time to think and reflect about the mission of the church over the past few months. This pandemic has reminded us of what church is and of what church is not. We tend to think of ‘church’ as an event that happens on Sunday morning. We focus on the ‘gathering’ aspect (which is important). When we suddenly can’t gather, we are reminded that the church was not meant to be only a gathering place. The church does not describe a ‘what’ but a ‘who’. Simply put, the church is the plural of disciple. The church is a community of those who are sent out in the name of Jesus.
Blythwood Road Baptist Church has remained a church over the last 6 months, not because we were meeting on 80 Blythwood Road, but because we are disciples of Christ, sent out into our neighbourhoods to share the good news of Jesus Christ. We have seen a huge cultural shift in the last few months, in that, everyone has been at home. Day and night, people are at home and spending much more time in their neighbourhoods than usual. I’ve met more of my neighbours in the last few months than I have in the last 3 years. And I’ve seen people taking care of their neighbours in new and meaningful ways. I’ve also discovered that a lot of my neighbours are Christians. You can identify them when you go for a walk on a Sunday morning and see them looking forlorn in their yards, not sure what to do. Because we all love the gathering. We’ve missed the gathering.
I’ve been thinking about all my neighbours who know and love Jesus and who are spread out at different places of worship across the city. And I wonder what it would look like for us to be a neighbourhood church. I don’t mean to have a gathering place, but what it means that we are all ‘sent’ into the same neighbourhood. If you look at the early church, it was very much a neighbourhood movement. Churches set up in little clusters. They were committed to shared belief and doctrine, but more than that, they were committed to lifestyle. They wanted their lives to reflect that they were disciples of Jesus. For many of us today, being a Christian is about our beliefs and doctrines, and we choose a church community based on those beliefs. The danger there is that being a Christian can become about what we do on Sunday morning.
Dallas Willard writes that disciples of Jesus are not those who share certain views, but those who apply a growing understanding of what it means to live in the kingdom of God, to their lives. Alison Morgan, a theologian who writes about discipleship, says that discipleship may not be about learning new information, so much as it is about changing our patterns of living.
This is why now is the time for us to be looking for ways that God is moving among us. This is why now is the time for us to prepare the way of the Lord in our neighbourhoods. We have all had to change our patterns of living. Most of us, in ways that we thought were impossible. We’ve adapted and we’ve learned. And not just us, but the entire world. And because of that, there is an openness to change. You’ve heard the phrase “Necessity is the mother of invention”. When something needs to change, that’s when you have a chance to be the most creative and to think outside the box.
We’ve done well to maintain a semblance of gathering, while we can’t gather. But I hope we know that Sunday morning, isn’t about Sunday morning. I hope we know that Sunday morning isn’t game day, it’s a practice. Sunday morning serves as a time to prepare us for the rest of the week. Sunday morning gives us the encouragement and reminders and hope that we need to live a life changed by Jesus the rest of the week. What would it look like if the words we heard on Sunday morning, we took home and proclaimed in our neighbourhoods Monday to Saturday? What would it look like if the praises we sang on Sunday morning, we sang throughout the rest of the week? And what would it look like if the prayers we prayed on Sunday, we committed to living out throughout the week? Sunday morning is meant to prepare us to declare and to live out the Word that we hear while sitting in our pews.
I spoke earlier about preparing for a pandemic, but it’s good to ask what this pandemic has prepared us for. What has this time of staying at home prepared us for? And I think of the testimony we heard from our brother Juri back in July about how God has called him during this time to abide in Christ. God has called us during this time to abide in him and listen to him and to rekindle the love and the passion we once felt for our Saviour that we have let fade. My prayer is that it has prepared us to prepare the way of the Lord in our neighbourhoods. And I’m saying neighbourhoods, but I know that some of you have been called to prepare the way within your own homes. Some of you are living with people who have yet to surrender to Jesus. And this is what it means to be ‘sent’. If you look in our Sunday folder, you’ll see that our services are divided into 4 parts; Gather, Word, Response and Sending. And that sending is what I’m talking about here. We have gathered, we have heard God’s word, we have responded to God with our ‘Yes’ with our ‘Amen’ and then with the blessing of God over us, we are sent into our small corner of the world to gather people together, to preach the Word of God and to give them a chance to respond.
Perhaps as you hear this, you’re like Isaiah. You hear the voice of God say “Cry out” and you ask “What shall I cry?”. “Get ready, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand” doesn’t exactly translate well to those who are unchurched. But whatever words we use, we cry out that God is making a way where there was no way. We cry out that God is here, that he has broken into our time and he is making all things new. We cry out that God loves you, and that he knows you and that he wants you to know him. This is evangelism, this is sharing the good news of Jesus Christ.
When we talk about evangelism, I often hear people say that they don’t want to impose their beliefs on another person. I’m not sure where this fear comes from but it strikes me as a very Canadian fear. I’m reminded of being in Jamaica, Sunday morning at 7am, Mr. Jones gets in his pick up with his loudspeakers and starts praising God. He has music, he has announcements, and he is declaring that Jesus is Lord. Perhaps our concern shouldn’t be with imposing our beliefs on another, because that doesn’t give the other person much credit. If they are not interested, they will let us know. But it’s about sharing what God has done in us and for us and this is a joyful endeavour. It’s the treasure that causes us to buy a field so it can be ours, it’s the pearl that we search for. This is something that we do with our lives and with our words.
I’ve found that the most important part of sharing the gospel is that preparation piece. It’s prayer. Before we speak, before we listen, we ask the Holy Spirit to intercede. And the openness that happens when you invite God into the conversation is amazing. I’ve found that talking to people about God can be like talking to people about cheerleading. A lot of people have an idea of what it is that isn’t quite right. People might think cheerleading exists for the football team the way people think being a Christian is about going to church on Sunday morning. I love seeing people’s reactions when they see power cheerleading for the first time. It’s powerful and dangerous and exciting. It leaves you amazed at what cheerleaders can do. In this same way, when we declare and live the word, people should see the Kingdom of God and that it is powerful and exciting and even maybe even dangerous. It should leave them amazed at what Christ has done and wanting more of what he is doing. And that begins with us, abiding in him and putting in the preparation. That begins with us saying “Yes God, I surrender it all to you”. When it comes down to it, preparation isn’t about winning. You won’t put in the hours if you don’t love the game. We put in the time and energy for preparation because of our love for Jesus. That’s why our worship doesn’t end when the service does. Let’s prepare the way of the Lord by declaring the goodness of God. Because God is here. God is moving. And God is inviting us into his kingdom-building activity, not just on Sunday, but every day.