Part 3: What God Expects from Us?
John 20:19-23; Acts 2:1-11
Rev. Morris Brown
Someone once asked Sam Walton, the founder of Wal-Mart, to describe the secret to his success. Now, you might think he would say, “The secret to our success has been LOW PRICES!” But that’s not what Sam Walton said. Instead he said, “The secret to our success has been EXPECTATIONS! Expectations have been the key to everything!”
Well, I don’t know if that’s completely true. My guess is “low prices” also had something to do with Wal-Mart’s success. On the other hand, I do know that expectations are really important! Consequently, I’ve been sharing a worship series this month entitled, Great Expectations. As a way to help us begin our journey together, I’ve been talking about expectations!
The first week I talked about some things you can expect from me as your new senior pastor. Then, last week I talked about some thing I hope I can expect from you as my new family of faith. Today, I want to conclude our series with a message entitled, “What God Expects from All of Us.” In other words, what kind of church does God expect us to be?
Well first, I think God expects us to be a church that offers people God’s amazing GRACE. In other words, God expects us to be a community of faith where people who’ve made mistakes, experienced failure, been beaten up by life in one way or another, can come and find shelter, hope, peace and love. Jesus reminds us of this in our Gospel story.
In this story, the resurrected Jesus appears to his disciples. The disciples had failed him, denied him, and abandoned him to die on a Roman cross only three days before. Now, when Jesus appears to them you might expect him to berate them for the mistakes they’d made, scold them for their failure, or yell at them for abandoning him.
But, he doesn’t! Instead, when Jesus appears to his disciples, he offers them his love. He offers them forgiveness. He offers them his peace. He offers them a new beginning, a fresh new start! What Jesus offers those disciples–who’ve made mistakes, stumbled, fallen and made a mess of their lives in a number of ways–is God’s incredibly amazing grace!
Can I ask you something? When you were in elementary school, did you ever have Arts and Crafts class? When I was in elementary school, we did. And because it was the early 70’s and nearly every adult smoked, guess what our Arts and Crafts teacher had us all make our mothers for Mother’s Day? Clay ashtrays!
Whether your mom smoked or not, you had to make one. Well, my mom didn’t smoke. But I don’t mind telling you that I made the best clay darn ashtray in the entire class. In fact, I was so proud of the clay ashtray I made that I rushed home from school that day and burst into the house to give my mom her wonderful gift! And, that’s when it happened!
As I bounded through the door and ran toward the kitchen to show my mom what I’d made, I tripped and fell. And when I did, the beautiful clay ashtray I had made for my non-smoking mom went flying through the air, and in what seemed like slow-motion, it hit floor and smashed into a thousand pieces. Well, it was really only about five pieces.
But, it seemed like a thousand! Anyway, I did what any self-respecting 7-year old boy who had just broken his mother’s handmade clay ashtray would do. I started crying! Well, when my mom, who was in the kitchen, heard the crash and my crying, she rushed into the room. When she saw what had happened, she said, “Morris, are you alright?"
I said, “Yes, but look at my ashtray! It’s broken!” Looking down at the ashtray, do you know what my mom did? She wiped the tears from my eyes, gave me a hug and said, “Don’t worry! I’ll help you pick up the pieces and put it back together again.” And she did - although that ashtray never looked quite the same! So, what’s my point? Simply this!
There are a lot of people in our community, in our world, who feel the way I did when I stumbled and fell and broke that clay ashtray. In many ways, they have stumbled and fallen and broken their lives. Sometimes because of poor decisions they’ve made or things they’ve done. Sometimes because of what other people or life in general has done to them.
Whatever the case, what those people need–what we all need when we’re broken–is not someone to judge them or berate them or fill them with guilt. What they need is a sanctuary; a safe place they can come to, a community of faith where they can find love, forgiveness, hope and peace. What they need is what Jesus gave those disciples.
What they need is what my mom gave me. What they need is someone to say, “Don’t worry. With God’s help, we will help you pick up the pieces and put your life back together again!” What they need is a community of faith that is willing to offer them God’s amazing grace! So, the first thing God expects from us is to be a church that offers grace!
Second; God expects us to be a community of faith that is helping people GET BETTER. You see, while God expects us to be a church that offers people grace that loves them as they are. God doesn’t want us to let people stay where they are. Instead, God wants us to help people improve, get better, and become their very best self.
I believe God expects us to be a community of faith that is helping people become the person God created them to be. We also see this in our passage from John. You see, after the resurrected Christ appeared to the disciples and offered the forgiveness, grace and peace the scripture says he breathed the Spirit of God into them.
Then he essentially said, “I know you’ve been a frightened, self-centered bunch of guys that have made a mess of things. But, you’re better than that. You have received God’s grace. And I have breathed the power of the Holy Spirit into you. So, go out into the world and use your lives to offer God’s love and peace and grace with everyone you meet!”
And that’s exactly what they did. As our reading from Acts reminds us, the disciples who were once fearful failures changed. Filled with God’s Spirit they became people with courage and purpose. They grew into the kind of people God created them to be – people who took to the streets and used their lives to share God’s love and grace with others!
You know who Alfred Nobel is, right? He was famous for instituting the Nobel Prize for Peace – an award given each year to the man or woman who has done the most to promote world peace. What you may not know, however, is that Mr. Nobel was NOT originally famous for the Nobel Peace Prize. Do you know what he was originally famous for?
Alfred Nobel was originally famous for the invention of dynamite. And he made a fortune selling it to the armies of the world. One morning in 1888, however, something happened that changed his life. You see, that morning, Mr. Nobel picked up his morning paper and when he looked at the front page he was shocked! Why? The headline read,
“The Merchant of Death is Dead”
“Alfred Nobel,” the article said, “who became rich by finding more ways to kill people faster, has died!” You see, the paper had made a mistake. They thought Alfred Nobel had died. In reality, it was Nobel’s brother, Ludwig, who’d passed away. Well, the mistake the paper made became a turning point.
Realizing that the world was going to remember him as “The Merchant of Death” Alfred Nobel said, “I can be better than that!” And he decided to turn his life in a new direction. He decided to spend his fortune for the cause of peace. Through his experience, Alfred Nobel grew into a better human being. He became the person God wanted him to be.
Listen, what Jesus did for the disciples when he filled them with the Holy Spirit, what that article in the paper did for Mr. Nobel through their mistake in the article, is exactly what God expects our community of faith to try to do for every person who comes through our doors. God expects us to love them as they are but not to let them stay where they are.
God expects us to do whatever we need to do to help people get better; to help them become the wonderful person God created them to be. John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist movement called this ‘sanctifying grace.” He said the community of faith should be helping all of us “move on to perfection,” and become the person God intended us to be.
To do that however, God expects us to a community of faith that does a third thing. Namely, God expects us to be a church that’s always GOT ROOM FOR EVERYONE. God expects us to be a church where everyone who walks through our door feels welcome, no matter who they are, what they’ve done, or where they are on their journey!
We see this clearly in our story from Acts 2. Do you remember what the story says? It says that on Pentecost, after the disciples had been filled with the Holy Spirit, they went out into the streets and they shared the good news of God’s love and forgiveness with people from every nation - Parthians, Medes, Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia.
People from Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus, Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt, Libya and Rome! Do you hear it? From the very beginning God intended–no, expected–every community of Jesus followers to be an inclusive community, a community where everyone is welcome no matter who they are, where they’re from, or what they’ve done!
Some of you may have watched the Summer Olympics from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil last summer. If you did, you may have seen the opening ceremonies. The folks in Brazil put on quite a show. The show included incredible dancing, fireworks and the lighting the Olympic flame! My favorite part of the opening ceremony, however, was not any of this.
My favorite part was the Parade of Nations! That’s when the athletes from all the competing countries entered the Olympic stadium. Now, as they entered I saw athletes from countries I expected - England, France, China, Japan, South Korea, the United States, and of course, Brazil. But, there were also athletes from countries I did not expect to see.
In fact, there were athletes from countries I've never even heard of - countries like: Andorra, Bhutan, Nauru and Tuvalu. They even had ten refugee athletes marching under the Olympic flag because they had no home! So, what did I learn from the Parade of Nations? In the Olympics, there’s room for EVERYONE! No one gets left out.
Well, what is true for the Olympics is true for the church! Like the Olympics, the story of Pentecost reminds us that God expects the church, our church, to be a community that’s GOT ROOM, it’s always MAKING ROOM for everyone to join us on the journey of faith: young and old, rich and poor, gay and straight, black and white.
God expects us to be a community of faith that welcomes all people from every nation, every stage and station of life. Now, to do this is not always easy. Sometimes it requires us to get out of our comfort zone, to be creative, to do things in ways we have never done them before. But, God expect us to be a church for ALL GOD’S CHILDREN!
So, what does God expect from us? God expects us to be a community of faith that offers GRACE to people who feel broken, beaten up by life. God expects us to be a community of faith that is helping people GET BETTER, become the kind of person God create them to be. God expects us to be a community of faith that’s always GOT ROOM everyone.
But, there’s one more thing! God expects us to be a community of faith that gives people a GLOBAL VISION! God wants us to be a church that is always reminding all of us that life is not “all about us”. In other words, that we are to use our lives to make a difference in the city of Greensboro, throughout the Triad, in the whole world!
After Jesus forgave the disciples and offered them his peace, he could have said, “Okay, now you can relax and enjoy the rest of your lives!” But, he didn’t. Instead, the gospel of John says Jesus sent them out to use their lives to offer God’s grace and peace to others. And our reading from Acts says that the Holy Spirit of God gave every disciple gifts.
The Spirit gave them the ability to speak different languages. The Spirit could have said, “Okay, you’ve got gifts. Now, sit around and talk amongst yourselves!” But the Spirit didn’t. Instead, the Spirit inspired each the disciple to take the gifts and talents they had been given “into the streets,” and begin to use their lives to make a positive difference. The Spirit led them to use their gifts and lives to make a positive difference in the lives of hurting people wherever they were in the world. So, each of these stories reminds us that the God doesn’t want us to be a church that allows people to sit around on their hands. Instead, God expects us to be a church where we constantly remind each other that life is not about us.
God expects us to be a church that’s encouraging each of us to use our gifts, our lives make a positive difference in the lives of people we encounter at work, at school, in the grocery store, on the soccer fields, wherever we happen to be. Some of you may be too young to remember this, but back in 1980 the Los Angeles Lakers won the NBA Championship.
The next year however, in 1981, the Lakers, who had the same team, got destroyed in the first round of the playoffs. After their embarrassing defeat, Pat Riley, who was the coach of the Lakers back then, held a press conference. During the conference, a reporter raised his hand and said, “Coach Riley, you have the same players you had last year. You have a fantastic team. Can you tell us what happened?”
Riley looked the reporter in the eye and said, “Sure I can. This year my players were suffering from the disease of me!” “What do you mean - the disease of me?” the reporter replied. “Well”, Coach Riley said, “last year we had a great TEAM and because we did, we won the championship. Because of our success however, this year’s team was full of big egos. Our players began to focus only on their careers, their contracts, and their star status. As a result, their attitude shifted from “winning” to “whining” and that led to a humiliating defeat! This team has now learned an important lesson – the disease of me leads to the defeat of us.”
Jesus didn’t want the disciples didn’t suffer the “disease of me,” so he sent them out into the world to make a positive difference in the lives of others. The Holy Spirit didn’t want the early church did not suffer from the “disease of me,” so the Spirit empowered them and sent them out into the streets to make a positive difference in the lives of others.
God doesn’t want our community of faith to suffer from the “disease of me.” Instead, God wants, God expects us to continue to be a community of faith that is healing people of “the disease of me.” God expects us to be a church where we are constantly reminding each other and every person who enters our doors that ultimately “life is not all about us.”
God expects us to be a community of faith that’s giving people a global vision, a church where people are constantly reminded that God has given all of us gifts and lives God wants us to use to make a positive difference in the lives of people we encounter, wherever we are in the world! So, what does God expect of us ALL at Christ Church?
God expects us to be a church where people experience God’s GRACE. God expects us to be a church that’s helping people GET BETTER, become the kind of person God created them to be. God expects us to be a church that’s GOT ROOM for everyone. And God expects us to be a church that’s giving people get a GLOBAL vision of their lives.