Sermon 10.23.2016 Pentecost 23

Pastor Walther / Pentecost 23 / October 23, 2016 / Romans 10:8-15 / In Our Heart and Out for Others
    On a cold ski lift, a skier and a snowboarder sat, swaying back and forth as they ascended to the top of the mountain. The conversation began the same way most conversations begin when you’re stuck on the same chair: it was a beautiful sunny day perfect for riding the snow. Or, as most skiers or snowboarders might say, “Any day skiing is better than a day in the office!” The conversation continued in the general vagueness that would resemble the conversation of two people stuck next to each other in an airplane. The conversation began to go a little deeper as the skier asked the snowboarder if he was a student somewhere close. Sure enough, the snowboarder was a student, in fact, he was studying to be a pastor and worked for the local church.  The jaw of the skier nearly dropped, his goggles were raised up. The conversation became immediately interesting.  If you’re unfamiliar with ski and snowboard culture, there used to be drama between skiers and snowboarders, but the drama isn’t nearly as bad as when snowboarding was first allowed on ski hills.  However, the stigma of snowboarders can often still be there: that snowboarders are unintelligent rebels of society.  To hear that a snowboarder was studying to be a pastor was something this skier was not expecting.  Yet, what an amazing opportunity for this snowboarder who was able to talk to a skier who had such a bad experience with church and religion.  It was a simple ski lift that provided the opportunity to network between the skier and the snowboarder and to share an invitation to this snowboarder’s church.
     The mind of this snowboarder could have looked at the statistical probability of talking with a skier, getting past general weather conversation, and talking about a spiritual conversation all within the time limit of the chairlift, but the heart doesn’t care about those details. Our mind looks at things statistically, but our heart looks at things with emotion and faith. What is in your heart is reflected in the way you speak and act. The heart is happy to talk about shared interests and ultimately the good news.
    But so often our heart doesn’t want to talk. We like, the world around us, are intimidated with ourselves, we become enslaved to our haunting past, enslaved to our pains and our fears, or enslaved by our shame.  Think about how many people’s hearts and lives are fueled by their pains or their fears or their shame, be it addictions or relationship problems, or simply shame in the conceived weakness of sharing our problems. It’s less embarrassing, less invasive if we don’t share what’s bothering our heart.  If these are the things that we often struggle with as Christians, wouldn’t you think the sinful world around us would have some of the same problems in their heart?  The world around us agonizes with intense pain and fear that drive people to do the things that they do, which is why the human machine tends to repeat itself because the sinful nature has always struggled with the same difficulties.
    That is one of the best reasons why we study the bible, especially the Old Testament.  I’ll be honest, it’s difficult to relate to the ancient Israel nation when we have smart phones and we have countries with nuclear threats and we have the knowledge that Christ has already come.  However, our spiritual journey often reflects what Israel went through.  The difficulties that people face, the lack of trust in God, the ups and the downs in our lives were all experienced by the Israel nation.  If you have questions about your own spiritual life, you can learn a lot from Israel.  
    The best self help book isn’t hard to access because it’s right in front of you, it’s been near you this whole time.  As Christians we sometimes need that reminder, don’t we? We freak out about our issues and our shame and despair like the Israel nation.  That’s often because we push what is near to us away from us: we fail to use God’s Word, we fail to see how God loves us the way that we are, we fail to see that he promises forgiveness of sins, we fail to see the guilt and shame of our lives removed.  We can be so close and yet so far. We can be around after church to pick up our kids who sang during church, we can pass the bible on the table to get to Netflix on our iPad, we can skim right over the bible app on your phone to get to our favorite game. We can be so close to the bible and yet fail to make time to study God’s word for ourselves.  A Christian without God’s Word in their heart is merely a shell of a person.  Your heart is who you are!  Jesus said, “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matt 6:21)
    So many people’s lives today are aimlessly directed by their heart, because they are directed by the shame of their past and despair for the future.  Our God has given to us that treasure to share with people that no matter who you are or what your vice is, you will be liberated from that shame and despair because God’s love is for all people!  God gives to us the news that our guilt is removed forever.  You can take a deep breath because God gives to us a greater reason for living, we have something to live for, rather than running from something.  There needs to be no despair in the hearts of those who are in Christ, because we can rest in Christ with all of our confidence.
    People don’t figure this idea out on their own that shame and despair don’t have to run their lives. People don’t simply come to faith by thinking hard about where they stand with God in their free time.  People are waiting for the remedy to the issues in their hearts, but how will they ever know about this beautiful news if you never speak to them about it?  It’s like a person coming into the doctor and explaining their problems but the doctor refuses to give the prescription.  In your heart, God has given to you the answers through God’s Word because you understand reality and the big picture.
    What you say in a conversation is how people may define you or at least they see what is most important to you.  When you have a passion like sports or books or music, you heart can’t help but convey that passion in regular normal conversations, because that’s who you are and that’s your personality.  If God’s Word is near you, in you, all around you, in your heart, it becomes part of who you are.  The best way to prepare to share God’s Word it is to have it in your heart. Then, bringing up God’s Word isn’t this whole awkward ordeal, but it’s simply natural and part of YOU.
    However, Evangelism is often more than just talking about the bible.  Evangelism is about building relationships.  It’s about being a good listener.  Any Joe Schmo can sympathize with a person going through difficulties in their lives.  Anyone can say to someone suffering, “Well at least, you have the two feet beneath you.” I don’t think that really helps anyone! But empathizing is something completely different.  To understand another person’s perspective, we need to understand our own and be willing to listen.  When a person finally feels like they are heard, and cared about, they feel loved and connected.  
    Now, I have never experienced the loss of a spouse or having gone through deadly effects of cancer, or having a child that struggles in school, but I know so many of you have suffered and struggled through this life. I go through my own struggles.  We all have been crushed by the effects of sin around us, by death, by ruined relationships, and by physical problems.  So many people in the world around us feel burdened with the same problems but they don’t have any eternal hope.  God uses our own personal struggles that we have gone through or are going through as the perfect point of comparison, not to show that their struggles aren’t relevant or real, but that there is hope for them that comes from outside of us. As Christians we know that God works for our eternal good, even when the temporary doesn’t look good. God gives to us those simple opportunities to connect with people.  We don’t always have the words to say, but we can have the materials and the resources to share the hope and comfort of God’s Word, like invitations to events at our Church or simply a meditational devotion that speaks to a certain difficulty.
    You and I both know, just as much as the person that we befriend, that our hearts want to run from pain or fear but we can’t get away because the quicksand of the situation drags us down.  We can often feel defeated in this life.  Imagine Isaiah seeing the destruction of Jerusalem and the Israelites carried away from their homes into Babylon.  All would be lost.  But how beautiful the messenger was sprinting down the side of the mountain to bring the good news that all was NOT lost.  How beautiful the dirty, stinky, bloodied feet were, the feet that had gone through so many difficult roads and people trying to slow him down, all to share that God loved them and there was no reason to be afraid.  
    Despair and shame fuel the lives of so many people.  Their feet are burdened, worn out, scarred, and bloodied from life.  Even your feet are dirty, stinky, worn out, scarred, and bloodied from your own journey just getting here.  But your feet are beautiful in the eyes of those people because you bring good news.  
    The word for “beautiful” in this passage also has the meaning of timely and fitting.  We often say, we’ll get around to evangelizing our friends or speaking up to our family members.  But, if our timing is off because we are scared or afraid, then we may never get an opportunity.  Evangelism is like brushing your teeth. It a good thing to be done everyday, whether its on the small scale of being there for a friend or the large scale of sharing the gospel.  Every time you bring the good news and you reflect God’s love it is timely and fitting!  It is beautiful. You could say that about anything, how beautiful are the thumbs that text the good news to a friend who is struggling with pornography, how beautiful is the hair that the barber cuts that allows you to talk about your weekend plan of going to church, how beautiful are the snowboards that allow us to share God’s word on the slopes, how beautiful are the struggles we go through, that we might be able to share the hope that we have in our heart.  May God continue to give our heart the excitement for reading the gospel, and the excitement in our heart to share the beautiful and timely gospel. Amen.