July 18th, 2006
Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.
How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news.” (Romans 10:14-15)
If you ever need to write to someone in Berlin, you might want to think twice about sending a letter. E-mail might be a good alternative. Maybe UPS or FedEx is worth a try. Even smoke signals might be a safer bet, at least if the person you’re trying to contact lives in the area of Berlin to which Thomas H. delivers mail.
As you might have guessed from the fact that he is identified only as “Thomas H.,” Thomas is in a little trouble. It seems that he has taken a few short cuts in his job as a letter carrier. Police recently searched Thomas’ home, and in his basement they found a few pieces of undelivered mail. Cards, bills, letters, checks, magazines, newspapers, junk mail -- you name it, they found it. Thomas’ explanation is that there’s just too much in a day for him to deliver all by himself, so some days he just stops before he’s done and takes home what he hasn’t gotten to. When he gets it there, apparently, he packs it neatly in boxes and stacks them carefully in his basement.
Ninety boxes, to be precise. That’s how much mail the police found. Ninety boxes of mail, several thousand individual pieces, some of it postmarked as early as April, that Thomas H. just hadn’t managed to get to yet.
Thomas says that it was always his intention to deliver the mail. He says that some friends were going to help him get the deliveries finished.
In case you were wondering, the post office says that Thomas will face “disciplinary action.” I hope they’re not too tough on him. After all, Thomas had good intentions. He was going to deliver the mail, just as soon as he could get around to it. And he had it stored safely in his basement; he was taking very good care of the mail, preserving it and protecting it. Maybe he even had it organized by street address. OK, maybe he didn’t get the mail exactly delivered, but he didn’t totally abandon his responsibility, did he?
I guess I’m making excuses for Thomas because sometimes I see some of him in myself.
My wife had a patient come into her office the other day who asked if she could leave a stack of cards with the “sinner’s prayer” printed on them – you know, the one where you ask Jesus to come into your heart and forgive your sins and be your Lord? Truth be told, I’m kind of used to looking down my nose a little at that approach to salvation. But Laura asked me something like, “Why aren’t we that bold about sharing the gospel?” By “we”, she meant us, most of the people in my church, most in our particular fellowship of churches, in fact. And I didn’t have a good answer for her. Oh, I had answers. They just weren’t good.
As believers in Jesus Christ, we have a message to deliver. You might doubt that evangelism is your strength, argue that others are far more capable of proclaiming the gospel than you, but that’s just not true. I firmly believe that not everyone is gifted in preaching or teaching or writing or leading, but I just as firmly believe that all of us have someone in our lives who might only hear the gospel from us. Specialization in the church, whatever good it might have done, has been the death of evangelism. And it shouldn’t be. We all have a message to deliver, we’re all clergy called to bring the grace of God to the people.
The message is a fairly simple, straightforward one: “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” Oh, certainly it can do with some explanation and exposition – who is the Lord, what does it mean to call on him? – but it isn’t really very complicated at all. Our job is to deliver that message wrapped in the envelope of our own lives and personalities and experiences. After all, how can a person call on someone of whom she has not heard? How can she hear without someone to preach?
But the church constantly grapples with the temptation to protect the message instead of delivering it – protect it from heresy, from skeptics, from the encroachment of the world’s values. When we constantly debate it and argue about it amongst ourselves, we tend to have little time or energy left over for sharing it. And so we become a church that is well-acquainted with the technicalities of the message, but unable to talk about it with those who don’t already know it like we do.
Or we categorize it, take it home and keep it in our basements sorted neatly into appropriate boxes. We can intelligently discuss theories of atonement and the nature of the Trinity, but rarely find ourselves talking with hurting, sinful people about what the gospel means for them.
I’m not interested in guilt trips here, because if I send anyone on a guilt trip on this particular matter then I have to travel with them. But I hope you will think about the message with which we’ve all been entrusted and the responsibility we have to deliver it. The conventional wisdom of the times in which we lives says that we can’t do that without being strident, obnoxious, manipulative, and intolerant. Often, the world at large does not respond well when the message of Jesus is shared. That is as it’s always been, and it’s only a comparatively recent development that the church is surprised by an indifferent or hostile response. None of that, however, changes our responsibility. Who can hear without someone to preach.
So ask God to give you opportunities to share the message, and I have no doubt that you will have them. And when you do, swallow your anxiety and tell people why you love Jesus. Talk about what you know best – your experience with him. Thomas H. got one thing right. Often, friends can help. That’s what the church does for each other – we help each other deliver the message. Let’s pray for opportunities for each other, and let’s pray for wisdom and words to communicate it well.
God will bless your efforts. The Spirit will lead you, even give you words. Let nothing stop you.
Neither rain nor snow nor….
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