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Sunday Sermon - "Surprising the World: Living Questionable Lives"

“Surprising the World – Living Questionable Lives” Rev. Tiffany Patterson Colossians 4:2-6 Acts 16:25-34

A couple of weeks ago we had a great Easter celebration of our risen Christ. We sang with joy, each of us even playing instruments at just the mention of the word “Alleluia” and the best part about all that is that special time of celebration was not just a one time thing. Indeed every Sunday is Easter, but we are now in an intentional season of Easter – where we get to practice feasting on the goodness and surprise of love that rises to meet us where we are and transform our lives into something completely new. That’s why in this season of Easter celebration, our sermon time together over the next few weeks will focus on the surprise of the Gospel, and more specifically how we as Easter people can surprise the world with the gospel in our daily lives. In this season, I am reading a great book by Michael Frost – in fact, two of our Grow Groups are reading and discussing this book as well. It is call Surprise the World! Five Missional Habits for Highly Missional People. And we’ll be using some of this book’s teaching to frame our sermon time together as we dig deep into scripture.

So this morning, I invite you to think about what it means to be missional. Have you ever heard of the word “missional”? it’s not a word we really hear outside the church, and quite frankly we don’t often talk about inside the church either. The fact is that every single Christian is called to be a missional person. So what do you think it might mean to be a missional person? This is where this book I’m reading is helping me put words to and gain some deeper understanding about what it means to be a missional person:

Frost describes it this way: “By missional, I mean all that we do and say that alerts others to the reign of God.”

South African missiologist says (a missiologist is someone who devotes their life to studying what it means to be a missional person and church), “Mission is more than and different than recruitment to our brand of religion; it is the alerting of people to the universal reign of God through Christ". Frost says, "Mission is both the announcement and the demonstration of the reign of God through Christ. Mission is not primarily about church growth – it is primarily concerned about the reign of God."

Do you believe that God reigns in the world? Have you seen signs and glimpses of his rein in the world? They are all around us! That is what we celebrate at Easter, right? That no matter what sin does in this world, no matter the death and evil and suffering and horrible and unfair things that happen in this world – none of that has the last word – that our loving God through Jesus Christ always has the last word and reigns supreme over heaven and earth! And we are called to proclaim that truth in our daily lives through our words and actions to alerting people to the reign of God! What a powerful and worthy calling, an incredible mission that God is equipping and sending us to live out in every moment! To be a missional person is to be an Easter person – to celebrate and share every day that Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!

But that’s, like, a really big, tall order, isn’t it? And I think it’s super easy as Christians to not embrace this mission because it does seem really radical and quite frankly a little overwhelming and hard to put our minds around how to do all that when we live our daily life with complicated people, busy schedules, daily struggles…and that is all real and I am not dismissing that reality.

I think in theory all of us who claim to be Christians would nod our heads at all these words I just said and agree – YES, WE ARE CALLED TO BE “MISSIONAL PEOPLE” – sounds good….but I wonder what holds us back – what holds me back from being a more missional person each day? What about for you? There is a big temptation to be caught in a web of feeling inadequate, ill-equipped, not knowing what to say to people about our faith, and not knowing where to start in living a missional life. And so it’s easy to think that pastors or lay servants or our elders in the faith should be the ones to take on this work of being “missional people”, but if we think all this, then we are not speaking truth to ourselves. Here’s the truth, my friends that I encourage all of us to say to ourselves every day:

- You are wonderfully made by God to do great things for God -You are made in the image of God which means that when people look at you, they get to see who God is through your life -You are uniquely gifted – there is no one else like you who is able to share God’s love like you do -You have a faithful God on your side who is and will equip you to do all things God is calling you to do – even when they feel big. -You have a God who loves you and gives you a purpose in life – and that purpose is to be a missional person – a person who reveals the reign of our loving God through the way you live your life. -You have community of faith – your church family – to help and support and care for you as you live out your calling each day. -And you not are called to be a perfect super-Christian who knows all the answer and somehow walks through their day without any struggles. No, you are called to be you. All of this is the truth, and I encourage you to claim and live in that truth – and boldly dismiss anything thoughts that are not of God, that are lying to you and making you feel small and not good enough. You are good and you are enough and you are loved and called to a missional life.

So now that you know the truth, I invite you to think about some simple ways you can be a missional person. Over the next few weeks we’ll be talking about these simple ways all of us can do to be missional people.

For just a few moments, I invite you think about one person in your life who sparked your curiosity about faith - that made you question your life and beliefs enough to get you to grow in your faith, or maybe even embrace faith for the first time. Maybe it was a family member, whose faithful and loving presence in your life continually taught you how to live a Christian life. Maybe it was a friend or a coworker who did something so out of the ordinary – like show forgiveness or grace when most people would have lashed out or become bitter OR spoke a gentle or encouraging word in the midst of your struggle or a tough situation OR chooses to spend their time helping others OR choosing a path less taken in order to do more good in the world. My colleagues Kate and Kimberly did that to me through their quiet listening, and different ways of framing the faith through poetry and meditation and deep questions. Christian writers and theologians can do this for us as well. Today in particular I am grateful the writer Rachel Held Evans, who, at age 37, died this week, from a sudden illness, and I have been in deep prayer for her husband and two young children as well as the community of faith that she devoted so deeply to engaging and molding. I am grateful for her life, her witness, her writing, her bold telling of the gospel, her challenge and questioning of status quo Christianity, and her deep faith that propelled her to stand and speak for justice. These folks are what being a “missional person” is all about. They are Christians who lives the kind of life that evokes questions about our own lives – a Christian who lives a “questionable” life - who surprises the world with their faithful living just by the way they relate to others and live an authentic life of faith – Michael Frost calls this “wise socializing”. Actually Paul said it first. In our Collosians passage, Paul says, “Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. 6 Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt…” Salt releases the flavor in food – so that people can be delighted and even surprised by the great taste, and maybe even want more of it, and want to eat it again! That’s what being a missional person does for people when it comes to faith. This is what happens in our scripture lesson in Acts this morning. This story about Paul and Silas in prison is full of surprise! First of all Paul and Silas were sitting in jail, in chains, and they were singing hymns and praying boldly to God – enough that the other prisoners were listening to them, intrigued by it all. And then there is this earthquake that is powerful enough to loose the chains of all the prisoners. But what happens next is not what you would expect – none of the prisoners escape. They choose to stay put. That completely catchest the jailer off guard – scripture says that he was ready to kill himself over the very thought that under his watch all these prisoners escaped. But that’s when Paul and Silas stopped him and told him “We’re still here”. And that was enough for this jailer to completely question all he knew to the point where he wanted the kind of faith that Paul and Silas had – the kind of faith that is different than the rest of the world and proclaims the reign of God that brings hope and new life. Out of a horrible circumstance, Paul and Silas used that as an opportunity to live out their faith and alert people to the reign of God, which even exists in a jail cell. Think about this - Frost reminds us "It wasn’t just great evangelistic apostles like Paul and Silas and Peter who surprised the world with their great faith." The early first century church spread and grew rapidly because there were ordinary people like you and me who lived missional, questionable lives – not through a lot of grand gestures but through every day kindness, loving their enemies, forgiving their persecuters, caring for the poor, feeding the hungry, caring in ways that the Roman Empire was simply neglecting and living counter to every day. They were missional people who surprised the world through living differently than the rest of the world.

So over the next few weeks, I invite you to think about some very simple practices that will help you live more fully as a missional person. We might call these habits – in the very best since of the word – habits not just for habit-sake but habits that are meaningful and joyful. We’ll focus on one habit a week so not to overwhelm ourselves. The point of each habit is to connect us to God and to connect us to unbelievers – those who have not yet experienced or claimed the great love of Jesus in their lives. I invite us to take an honest look at our lives and find ways to let our faith shine through the every day stuff that we do to surprise the world with Jesus’ love –

as we live out our vision at Cranberry - "Live God's Word, learn God's Word, and love God's people so that all will know Jesus. And at Presbury as we live out our vision - “to strive to be a beacon in our community by sharing God’s love"

I look forward to growing with you as we learn to surprise the world through our loving habits. AMEN

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