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A Challenge for Today's Christians: Three services for the Pentecost season in response to the Great Commission

It may seem strange for someone whose ministry career has focused on new-church development and seeker-sensitive worship to be following the lectionary. But I have found the discipline of following the series of lessons from the Old and New Testaments an ongoing discovery of the rich relevance of the Bible for contemporary hearers.

Following the Christian year and celebrating the great festival events of Christ's birth, life, death, and resurrection serve as an opportunity to tell God's good news—the gospel—in story, song, and art. Following the lectionary also connects people who are new to the church to the essential traditions of their new family in Christ. The ongoing challenge is to tell that story in creative and contemporary ways.

This three-part series follows the gospel of Matthew for the fourth, fifth, and sixth Sundays after Pentecost, as scheduled in the Revised Common Lectionary. On Pentecost, the church received the Great Commission, to "go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you." In these earlier passages from Matthew, we see how Jesus prepared his discipies to be harvesters. In the words of Leighton Ford, we need to learn how to be "leading more like Jesus, to lead more to Jesus."

FOURTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST
THE LOOK OF LOVE
Matthew 9:35-10:8

In our attempts to "lead more like Jesus," we must first learn to see people as Jesus saw them. He looked at the crowds that surrounded him and saw their bro-kenness. But he didn't despise them for it; he looked at them with eyes of love.

There is a wonderful movement in this passage from Jesus' eyes to his heart to his hands. Or, to express it another way, from vision to mission to action. The truth is, Jesus models for us the perfect paradigm for involvement in reaching those who are spiritually unaware. We must have a similar "look of love," seeing with Jesus' eyes the desperate needs of post-modern and post-Christian people.

We must see "the crowds."

North America is now the largest mission field in the Western Hemisphere and one of the largest in the world. There are only a few countries with populations larger than our unchurched population of approximately 120,000,000. You'll find a lot of excellent information on the subject in George Hunter's book How to Reach Secular People, which profiles the harvest challenges in North America.

We must see the individual.

Jesus did more than see the crowds. He is the good shepherd who calls us by name and enters into an intimate relationship with each one of his flock. And we need to follow his example. We need to break the crowd down into the neighbor next door, the colleague at work, or the family member who needs to be introduced to Jesus Christ. We need to see them one by one with Jesus' eyes.

We will then be moved from the depths of compassion (the verb esplagchnisthe is one of the strongest words rendered "compassion" and is used in the Greek New Testament only of God and his Son) to introduce these "lost ones" to Jesus. Like our sender, Jesus, who came "to seek and to save what was lost" (Luke 19:10), we go forth in genuine response to the call and anointing of God. We go forth in his strength and love, knowing it is only through kingdom power that we dare engage in this spiritual warfare of taking people "from the power of Satan to God" (Acts 26:18).

In chapter 10 Jesus names those whom he is sending out. The Lord of the harvest personally calls and names us to the honor roll of harvesters. And he equips us with the message of the kingdom, the Word (Matt. 10:7), accompanied by his own almighty power (Matt. 10:8; Rom. 1:16). He invites us to come and share in the joy of the harvest; the joy of the father who says, "Come and rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep."

In many of our cities there are long unemployment lines. This passage makes it clear that there are no unemployment lines in the kingdom. Our Lord is sounding the call for workers.

Gathering Songs and Opening Prayer

"Out of Need and Out of Custom" PsH 259

Prayer

Father, we are here because you have looked upon us with love and have invited us into your presence. We remember today the sacrifice of your

Son, Jesus, because of our sins. We joyfully come before you in awe and humility to glorify and praise your name, our Rock and Redeemer. Amen.

Songs of Praise

"In the Presence of Your People" Psh 160, SFL 25
"I Will Exalt My God, My King" PsH 186, SFL 26
"You Are the Mighty King" Integrity's Hosannal Music, Praise Worship Songbook 3, 270
"Great Is Your Faithfulness" PsH 556, PH 276, RL 155, TH 32

Service of Reconciliation

Call to Repentence: 1 John 1:5-8

Prayer of Confession: "Change My Heart, O God"
Integrity's Hosanria; Music, iPraise Worship Songbook 3, 110

Assurance of Pardon: 1 John 1:9

Service of the Word

Scripture Readings

Old Testament: Genesis 18:1-15 (21:1-7)
Psalm 116: "What Shall I Render to the Lord" PsH 178, TH 637
Epistle: Romans 5:1-8
Gospel: Matthew 9:35-10:8

Message: The Look of Love

Response and Sending Forth: Hymn Suggestions

"Sent by the Lord Am I" SFL 249
"In Heaven's Eyes" Phil McHugh, Word Music, 40 Contemporary Hits, 111
"O Christians, Haste" PsH 525
"Send Me, Lord" SFL 262

FIFTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST
FACING AND CONQUERING FEARS
Matthew 10:24-33

Have you ever been so afraid that you were unable to do something you really wanted to do or knew you should do? Have you failed to tell the story and truth of the gospel because of your fear?

In this gospel lesson Jesus shares truths for disarming those fears. As the disciples prepare to embark on their mission, he tells them, "Do not be afraid." Why? Because Jesus would be with them: "the very hairs of [your] heads are all numbered."

The church today needs to hear this message from Jesus too. We need to remember that Jesus gives us strength to overcome even the most paralyzing fears and to go forward proclaiming his Word. And we can start by taking an honest look at those fears.

The Fear of Failure

The first fear is that this gospel-proclaiming adventure may fail through interference (w. 26-27). Many of us entertain fears about how others will react if we begin to witness and evangelize. Like the disciples, we fear that others will have subtle ways of countering our effectiveness.

Jesus assures us that the evil intentions of our opponents will be made known. But even more hopeful and promising is that the gospel will be "revealed" and "made known." It is interesting to note the passives here, indicating an effort by someone other than the disciples. Obviously it is the Lord of the harvest, Jesus.

Since the success of the gospel is assured, Jesus' followers can get on with the business of proclaiming it and enjoying the results of its power in people's lives. We are to proclaim publicly ("upon the housetops") what we have learned privately. The words of the apostle Paul to the Romans come to mind: "For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God unto salvation for everyone who believes" (Rom. 1:16). And as Paul tells Agrippa in Acts 26, he simply shares the story of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus (the "old, old story of Jesus and his love"). Paul had the utmost confidence in the power of that gospel, leaving the results to God.

Many of us need to have our faith in the power of the gospel restored. We need to move beyond our fears of how others will respond and let the powerful gospel do its work. We also need to understand that we live among a people who are virtually ignorant of the gospel story. We must simply tell it and tell it simply.

The Fear of Death

The second fear, a fear of physical death at the hands of opponents, is presented in verse 28. If you're familiar with the history of the disciples' martyrdom, you'll know that they had good reason to fear for their lives. Again, Jesus' message is one we all need to hear. We are to take courage because people only have power to kill the body (soma). Our spirit (psyche) will live on eternally with Jesus, awaiting the resurrection of the body.

At this time in North America we are not in danger of being killed for sharing our faith. Nevertheless, our fears about witnessing still paralyze us. Every Christian needs to honestly ask the question, "What is the worst-case scenario?" As we go through that process, we begin to realize that the worst thing that could happen is that someone could take our life. We must face that fear (somewhat theoretically) and realize that we have to trust Jesus' promise here. We can overcome this fear through an awareness that our life with him is eternal. And then we can move beyond all our other lesser fears.

The Fear of Loss

The third fear, described in verses 29-31, strikes closer to home for North Americans attached to their possessions and positions in society. Perhaps we do not fear that evangelizing will cost us our lives, but we can't help wondering if it will cost us our possessions.

Jesus reassures his disciples and us with the promise of our heavenly Father's gracious and abundant providential care. Our Father knows us so intimately that he knows the number of hairs on our heads. The Father, who is so protective of his creation, will surely take care of Jesus' disciples, who are creation's crown.

The purpose of this message will be to help people deal honestly with the fears that interfere with telling the good news, and to share the words of Jesus that disarm those fears. We are empowered to overcome these fears through the strength of Jesus, the Lord of the harvest. He is the one who is enthroned, and he has power and authority over all things, power and authority that he exercises on behalf of his sent body, the church (Eph. 1:19-23). The ultimate truth expressed here is that if we acknowledge Jesus without shame here on earth, he will acknowledge us before our Father in heaven.

Gathering Songs and Opening Prayer

"Come and RejOiCe" Integrity's Hosanna! Music, Praise Worship Songbook 4,280

Prayer

Father, thank you for calling us to be your holy nation. We long to worship and adore you. Fill us with your Holy Spirit to overcome anything that stands in the way of our being clear channels of your grace, through which you summon the nations. Give us today a sense of your urgency to call people to yourself. In Jesus' name, Amen.

Songs of Praise

"God of the Ages" TWC 363

[transpose to D for smooth transition into the next song]

"I Will Sing of the Mercies of the Lord" PsH 169
"The Steadfast Love of the Lord" Integrity's Hosanna! Music, Praise Worship Songbook 2, 181

Service of Reconciliation

Call to Repentance: Isaiah 6:5

Prayer of Confession: "Have Thine Own Way, Lord" PsH 287, TH 688

Assurance of Pardon Isaiah 1:18

Service of the Word

Scripture Readings

Old Testament: Genesis 21: 8-21
Psalm 86: "Lord, My Petition Hear" PsH 86
Epistle:Romans 6:1-11
Gospel: Matthew 10:24-33

Message: Facing and Conquering Fears

Prayer of Application

Response and Sending Forth: Hymn Suggestions

"Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus" PsH 329, PH 1, 2, RL 183, SFL 122, TH 196
"On Eagles' Wings" (Michael Joncas)
"Have No Fear, Little Flock" PsH 366
"The Lord Is My Life " SFL 208
"O Christians Haste" PsH 525

SIXTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST
AN AUTHENTIC DIFFERENCE
Matthew 10:34-42

One of the characteristics of Generation X (Baby Busters) is their desire for authenticity and integrity in those who lead. Members of this generation are skeptical and cynical about the trustworthiness of church leaders. They will not abide hypocrisy or pretense.

In this gospel lesson we meet the Jesus who is wholly authentic and honest, and who invites us to follow in the path he has already walked and will walk with us. This gospel lesson calls for the tough-minded loyalty and commitment to Jesus that will give authenticity to our witness. It challenges us with the realities of the spiritual warfare we enter when we follow Jesus. It calls us to uncompromising obedience by putting Jesus first in our priorities. And it calls for courage: the gospel issues a challenge to "count the cost" that tells the truth about the life of any who would follow Jesus (v. 16). We are not above our master. If he suffered in this mission, who are we to think we will not? (v. 24).

However, the life of the follower is also the way of victory, the way of truly making a difference. It is a life of adventure and great promise—being the living presence of Christ himself, bringing life and healing to broken and searching people. The greatest blessings ever to be experienced, the blessings of harvest joy, are assured to those who will follow their captain, Jesus. "Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning the shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart" (Heb. 12:2-3).

The passage begins with Jesus revealing his powerful kind of peace. It is not a cheap, sentimental, and compromising peace that does not make a difference. Rather it is a peace that destroys sin and all love of evil as it faces the truth of the brokenness and ugliness of sin's consequences. In doing so it divides. There is no room left for compromise. Either we are for or against.

The resulting separation cuts through all relationships. It roots out every sinful relationship. It calls us to ultimate loyalty to Jesus as Lord. The key expression in verse 37 is "more than me." There is obviously nothing wrong with loving our fathers and mothers or family members. We are in fact called to do so in the fourth commandment. It is a question of priority. All other loyalties must be defined by our loyalty to Jesus.

The point is, only in total surrender and "losing our lives" in the way of dying to our selfish and egocentric purposes will we enter into the abundance of life and wholeness that Jesus brings. The principle to emphasize in this section (w. 37-39) is that grace alone—the grace of the cross (v. 38)—will keep us and sustain us. Finally, we hear the awesome promise of being so identified with Jesus and the coming of his kingdom that when we find receptive seekers who receive us and the good news we bring, they are receiving Christ himself. Even the smallest act of kindness (a cup of cold water) toward a follower of Jesus will be rewarded.

This lesson has a level of severity from which the preacher might shrink. However, it is an essential part of the good news that must be told with confidence (see ch. 10:24-33). We are not to be ashamed of the gospel. It is an empowered Word. We must have the confidence that the Lord of the harvest will accomplish his purpose through it. We may also be wonderfully surprised at how many are eager to hear about a no-nonsense Jesus who completely lived and practiced what he taught.

The great challenge, of course, is for the community of faith to be an authentic expression of identity with Christ. This is what the spiritually disoriented and hopeless ones are longing to discover and experience.

Gathering Songs and Opening Prayer

"Come,Thou Fount of Every Blessing" PsH 486, PH 356, RL 449, TH 457

Prayer

Father, we are here at your invitation, and we long to know you better. Thank you for your love and grace in our lives. Transform us today through your Word and Spirit. Break our hearts of stone and give us hearts for you alone. Please grant us the ability and will to love you more dearly and to follow you more clearly. In Jesus' name, Amen.

Songs of Praise

"O Give Thanks" Integrity's Hosanna! Music, Praise Worship Songbook 6,512
"It Is Good to Sing Your Praises" PsH 171
"The Lord Is My Light" Integrity's Hosanna! Music, Praise Worship Songbook 6, 529

Service of Reconciliation

Call to Confession: 2 Chronicles 7:14

Prayer of Repentance: "Lord, Listen to My Righteous Plea" PsH 17

Service of the Word

Scripture Readings

Old Testament: Genesis 22:1-14
Psalm 13: "How Long Will You Forget Me, Lord" PsH 13
Epistle: Romans 6:12-23
Gospel: Matthew 10:34-42

Message: An Authentic Difference

Prayer of Application

Response and Sending Forth: Hymn Suggestions

"When I Needed a Neighbor" SFL 247
"Lord, Our Lives in Humble Service" PsH 603
"The Servant Song" SFL 248
"O Christians Haste"PsH 525

The bulletin covers on this and the following pages were designed by Scott Holladay.