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Engaging with Our Community

As of today we are half way through our Whole Church Initiative for the summer. As you may recall, we started off in May by focusing on Engaging with God. We talked about how the first step is simply acknowledging God and submitting ourselves under his authority. We talked about why and how we worship God. And we talked about prayer and how it allows us to be constantly connected with God and how our relationship with Him grows as we constantly see Him answering our prayers.

Then we began to focus on Engaging with God’s people – the Church. That’s the reason  we’ve been enjoying all these ‘engagement parties’ over the past month. We started by looking at why God gives us this new family when we become disciples. We also looked at some of our responsibilities and some of our roles in this family. Then just last week we looked at how God uses the more spiritually mature members of our family to help us grow and develop in our Christian life.

And now today, we begin a third focus. For the next few weeks, we want to focus on  engaging with our community.

Now if we were living 100 years ago, we probably wouldn’t have to talk about this. Back then, the church was the central point of the community. Community events were church events. They didn’t have community halls, they had church buildings. Leaders in the church were looked to as the leaders in the community.  But things have changed over the years. Now the church is seen as it’s own separate society. These days church and community typically don’t mix.

And that creates a problem for us. The Bible tells us that one of our main responsibilities as a church is to “go into the world and make disciples”. To be the light of the world and the salt of the earth. If the church is over here and our community is over there…
…How is our community going to hear the Gospel?
…How is our community going experience to God’s love?
…How will our community come to know and love the Lord Jesus?

They can’t! As long as we are over here and they are over there, they’re not going to hear the Gospel, they’re not going to experience God’s love, and they’re not going to come to know and love the Lord Jesus.

Somehow we need to bridge the gap. Somehow we need to get the church back into the community. But how do we do that?

This a huge question – and it’s probably one of the most important questions that the church today needs to answer.  So I think the next few weeks are going to be quite significant and quite exciting for our church. Because not only are we going to search out some Scriptural principles for connecting church & community, we are also going to put those principles into action. But I’ll give you more information about that a little later on.

For now, this morning I want to look at and compare two passages in the Bible. The first is in John 4 where we read about the Samaritan Woman at the Well and the second is in Matthew 9 where we read about Jesus having dinner with Matthew the tax collector and several of his friends. So let’s start by reading John 4:1-10.

Jesus knew the Pharisees had heard that he was baptizing and making more disciples than John 2 (though Jesus himself didn’t baptize them—his disciples did). 3 So he left Judea and returned to Galilee.
4 He had to go through Samaria on the way. 5 Eventually he came to the Samaritan village of Sychar, near the field that Jacob gave to his son Joseph. 6 Jacob’s well was there; and Jesus, tired from the long walk, sat wearily beside the well about noontime. 7 Soon a Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Please give me a drink.” 8 He was alone at the time because his disciples had gone into the village to buy some food.
9 The woman was surprised, for Jews refuse to have anything to do with Samaritans. She said to Jesus, “You are a Jew, and I am a Samaritan woman. Why are you asking me for a drink?”
10 Jesus replied, “If you only knew the gift God has for you and who you are speaking to, you would ask me, and I would give you living water.”

Ok, keep that in mind while we look at Matthew 9:9-13.

9 As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at his tax collector’s booth. “Follow me and be my disciple,” Jesus said to him. So Matthew got up and followed him.
10 Later, Matthew invited Jesus and his disciples to his home as dinner guests, along with many tax collectors and other disreputable sinners. 11 But when the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with such scum?”
12 When Jesus heard this, he said, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor—sick people do.” 13 Then he added, “Now go and learn the meaning of this Scripture: ‘I want you to show mercy, not offer sacrifices.’ For I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners.”

These two stories are actually very similar. There are some common threads that weave through both stories. And I think we can use those common threads to bridge the gap between the church and the community.

Common Thread #1. Jesus met them where they were.

You’ll notice in both of these stories that Jesus was not in the local synagogue. He wasn’t at the temple. If he had been, I’m pretty sure that He never would have met that Samaritan woman or those ‘other disreputable sinners’. From the sounds of it, these people were not your regular church-going folks. But that didn’t stop Jesus. He met them where they were.

Let’s look first at the woman was at the well. In case you didn’t know, Jews & Samaritans did not get along. In fact, most Jews would avoid even walking through a Samaritan town. So when we read that Jesus went into the village of Sycar – a Samaritan village – that’s a little odd. Odder yet, is that Jesus talked to the Samaritan woman. For a Jewish man to talk to a Samaritan woman, that was completely unheard of. So if Jesus had followed the cultural norm, He never, ever would have had this life changing conversation with this woman.

And to eat with tax collectors – that was a serious no no by anyone who considered himself a good Jew. So for a Jewish rabbi to eat with ‘disreputable sinners’ – that was scandalous. But yet Jesus did it anyway.

He knew that these people would not be found in a temple or synagogue, so He went to where they were.

And that’s what we need to do too. We can’t expect people to come to the church, we need to go to them. We need to meet them where they are.

I was recently talking with a friend of mine who has a passion for sharing Christ with his community. And I think he has a great evangelism strategy. His strategy is not to invite his community to church service or a big outreach event. But instead, his strategy is to become involved in his community. One thing he did was he volunteered to help at the local rodeo. And by doing that, he was meeting people where they were. He didn’t have to convince them to come to church or anything – He brought church to them. That’s not to say that He stood around preaching or passing out tracts, but by simply getting involved with the people in his community, that begins to build relationships and open doors and create opportunities to share Christ that he may not have otherwise had.

Another example is the ladies from our church that are involved in the pancake breakfast at the Jolly Seniors each month. By meeting people where they are, they are being salt and light to our community. And that’s exactly what we need to do.

So I would encourage each one of you, if you are not already involve in someway with your community, get involved. Join a sewing club or coach a sports team or just sit have have coffee with people down at the restaurant, but go out and meet people where they are.

Common Thread #2: Jesus had compassion on them

Now we didn’t read the entire story of the woman at the well, but if we had, we would have discovered that she had been married five times and that she was now living with a man who was not her husband. And judging by the fact that she came to draw water from the well at noon – in the heat of the day, instead of the morning or evening when all the other women would be drawing water – it seems to me that this woman did not have a great reputation in her village. She would probably fit in quite well with Matthew’s dinner guests – tax collectors and ‘other disreputable sinners’.

And yet, how does Jesus act towards her? Well, really, the same way he acts towards us. Mercy.

He did not treat her with contempt. He didn’t look at her in disgust. But instead, he offered her mercy.

Jesus replied, “If you only knew the gift God has for you and who you are speaking to, you would ask me, and I would give you living water.”  John 4:10

Jesus is not only willing, but he seems eager to give her this gift of eternal life. We see the same attitude in Jesus in our story of Matthew’s dinner guests.

12 When Jesus heard this, he said, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor—sick people do.” 13 Then he added, “Now go and learn the meaning of this Scripture: ‘I want you to show mercy, not offer sacrifices.’ For I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners.”  Matthew 9:12-13

Jesus doesn’t see sinners as enemies. He sees them as people with a life-threatening disease. Isaiah 61:1 gives us some further insight as to how God views sinners.

1 The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me,
because the LORD has anointed me
to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from darkness for the prisoners,

Poor. Broken-hearted. Captives. Prisoners. And even in our own church language we call them lost or unsaved. So to me, that doesn’t sound like we’re talking about enemies. It sounds like their on the same side. Maybe they’re even our friends or family.

So if that’s the case – why do we so often treat them as lepers? People to be avoided. Like the Pharisees we ask “Why does your teach eat with such scum?”

But that should not be. We will not be able to connect church & community unless we see them through eyes of compassion.

Remember, at one time, you were them. You were lost. You were deceived by sin. And only by the grace and compassion of God are you here today.

I don’t remember where I heard this, but recently I heard someone refer to the lost or unsaved as “pre-Christians”. And I think that’s a great term. They aren’t Christians yet, but I’m going to treat them like they soon will be.

Do you remember the Apostle Paul? At one time he was a pre-Christian. I wonder how the other Christians viewed him before he was saved? After all, he was going around throwing Christians in prison and He was even responsible for the deaths of some Christians. I wonder if they looked at him with eyes of compassion.

So maybe that would be a good exercise for us. Think of the worst sinner that you can think of. It’s probably someone that really bugs you. They do things that are annoying or even hurtful to you. But then consider that that person might just be a pre-Christian. They might one day be the next Paul. The next Billy Graham. The next Chuck Swindoll. If you knew that that ‘sinner’ would one day become saved and that God would work through him in such a way that thousands would come to know Christ – would that change how you treat him today?

To close this morning I want to tell you about something that I am very excited about. In three weeks, on August 8th, we are going to have an opportunity to put all that we’ve talked about into practice. This is probably going to seem rather strange, but on that Sunday, I invite you, please “Don’t come to church – Be the church.” Instead of our regular Sunday morning service, we are going to gather together to go out and serve our community. We want to meet people where they are and we want to serve them out of compassion. There will be no sermon. No offering. No Sunday school. But we are going to go out and serve our community in a variety of ways. I think this is going to be great for us as a church and it’ll be great for our community too.

I will be giving you more information at the time draws nearer. I’m in the process of gathering projects for us to do on that Sunday, so if you have some ideas, please talk to me so we can get things lined up.

But until then, I encourage you to go out and meet people where they are and show them the compassion of Christ.

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