Seven years and four months ago my oldest sister Marion told us that she had leukemia and was getting ready to begin treatments. She had put off taking care of herself as long as she possibly could as she had been caring of her husband Jim at home with progressive dementia for the past five years.
Her leukemia had moved into more advanced stages, and she could no longer provide adequate care for Jim. Marion admitted herself into the hospital long term to receive more aggressive treatment for her leukemia. Their children tried to take care of their dad at home but after a couple of life-threatening incidents they soon accepted the fact that he would be safer in a home. But because Jim didn’t understand where Marion was and why the Children put him in the home – his health deteriorated quickly.
Marion soon accepted the idea of setting all their affairs in order. She started giving away some of their possessions to their children and grandchildren. One day while I was there visiting her, Marion asked if I would do their funerals. She explained that she felt that it would be easier on the family if their Uncle Gail led the services rather than their Pastor. I told Marion that I would be honored to do so. Jim passed in January of 2015 and Marion passed in March of the same year.
Marion was an extremely hard worker and took great pride in what she did. However, she understood that everything they had, belonged to God who had blessed her and her family by letting them use those gifts! Everything, including her very life, belonged to the one, to whom she ultimately returned.
Today, I want to ask you two questions. The first question is, are you ready today for God to say to you, “This very night your life is being demanded of you.”? I’m not all that worried about your house, or your furniture, or your pension plan – since none of that belongs to you anyway. What I am concerned about is your personal relationship with God in and through Jesus Christ.
I’m not asking you if you know about Jesus. Most of you have been coming here for years and have heard lots about Jesus. You can probably recite to me the Christmas story and the Easter story, and some of the miracle stories. But do you have a personal relationship with Jesus? Can you tell me stories about how you have come to know and experience Jesus personally – A) in ways that are deeper than your relationship with your own mom or dad, B) your own husband or wife, C) your own children or grandchildren? I want to hear your stories about how your relationship with God in and through Jesus Christ, has become the richest treasure in your life.
You see, that’s what Jesus said really matters. Here at Salem Lutheran Church, we can have the prettiest church in all of Salem, with lots of dedicated people giving their blood, sweat and tears to maintain it; but if the actual people of this congregation are not rich toward God, what difference does it make? “This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?”
So again – the first question is, are you ready to hear those words yourself; “This very night your life is being demanded of you.”?
The second question is, what about those who live right around us in this neighborhood? Does God love the people of this neighborhood as much as He loves you? Absolutely! Does God want the people who live here to know him personally, in the same way and the same amount as He wants you to know Him personally? Absolutely! Will the people of this neighborhood come to Salem Lutheran Church to grow in their relationship with God because we have a beautiful building here? Absolutely Not!
Recent studies have shown that 70% or better of people who come to a church for the first time, come because they were directly asked and invited to come with someone. Having a big, beautiful building won’t bring people to church, nor will it establish a life-giving, personal relationship God.
The idea of “Evangelism” scares the heck out of a lot of people. And yet, it’s been said, “that evangelism is simply one beggar telling another beggar where to find bread”. Since, according to Jesus, nothing belongs to us – we have no treasures we can call our own – we are all beggars in need of that living bread from heaven, Jesus Christ. In John 6:27 Jesus says: “Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you.”
- Are you a beggar who has already experienced that living bread from heaven, Jesus Christ? B) Have you experienced Jesus filling your life? If you have, then not only is it your responsibility, but it is also your joyous opportunity to simply tell another beggar where they can find bread.
- Back when I was the Chaplin at Centralia Correctional Center, one of the inmates was giving me a testimony of his life. He said: the reason I got involved with drugs (Meth) was because I had a void in my life. But since I’ve has been in prison where I don’t have access to drugs, I’ve filled that void with Jesus Christ. Now I’m “hooked on Jesus” – and Jesus fills that void so much more than drugs ever did. That’s because God wants to have an eternal relationship with me because He loves me with a complete (Agape) love.
The Holy Spirit moved several churches in the SID and CID of the LCMS to get involved with the prison ministry at Centralia Correctional center. These churches sent 150 copies of the “Lutheran Study Bible” to the prison, connecting the Good News of God in Jesus Christ with those beggars hungry for His Word. The donation of these “Study Bible” was simply one beggar providing the “Bread of Life” to another beggar. I had all kinds of Bibles at the prison, and they will feed the hungry. But these “Study Bibles” were given to those who indicate a special desire to be closer to God’s Word.
It’s not about you. It’s not about me. It’s not about Salem Lutheran Church. It is all about Jesus. Believe it or not, that’s why this church exists – to serve as a vessel for people to come into a living relationship with Jesus Christ.
God has placed us here, for such a time as this, to invite our neighbors into a personal and living relationship with Jesus Christ.
Is your relationship with God such, that you are ready to hear the words, “This very night your life is being demanded of you.”? A) Since God desires no one to be lost, B) and since God’s love for you is the same as it is for those who live in this neighborhood, the prisons, or the streets of our towns and cities; how will you reach out with the love of Jesus to those around us who will hear the exact same words as you; “This very night your life is being demanded of you.”?
Paul says in Romans 10:13ff – For “Anyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” A) But how can they call on him to save them unless they believe in him? B) And how can they believe in him if they have never heard about him? C) And how can they hear about him unless someone tells them? D) And how will anyone tell them without being sent? That is what the Scriptures mean when they say, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news.”
So, the second question comes down to this; “How will you choose to be involved?” A) How will you choose to be the one who brings Good News to your neighbors? B) How will you choose to respond to Jesus by demonstrating his love, so that someone else can come to believe in Him and be saved? C) How will you be that beggar who simply tells another beggar where to find bread?”
God has provided you all the treasures of your faith, and all the treasures of your life for such a time as this. All you need to figure out is, HOW WILL YOU ANSWER THE CALL?