sermon notes from the Vineyard Church of Milan 10/10/2010
Invitation to turn to John 5.
Religious scholars talk about observant Muslims (5 pillars: bearing witness, prayer, Zakat, Ramadhan, pilgrimage to Mecca) observant Jews (abiding by the Torah, keeping kosher, the feasts and festivals, etc.), but not observant Christians. What would it mean to be an observant Christian?
The rabbis say that to be an observant Jew is to be observant not just in the sense we've spoken of, but in two other senses as well. First, "To observe is to say something, to make a comment or remark, as on a text. An observant Jew does not just "study," does not merely read the text or go through the motions of ritual. An observant Jew makes a comment, makes a mark, makes it hers." Secondly, "To observe is to take notice; to perceive, to watch attentively. See the world. Listen to your heart. Notice the joy and pain of another human being. Attend to Creation. Notice the task at hand, and show your respect for it, and for yourself (created, of course, in the image of G-d), by really Being There."
It is this last sense that points the way to the aspect of observance that is central to Christianity.
Leonard Sweet: Christianity is a religion that is less wrapped up in rituals and observances than it is in rapt attention to what God is doing in the world so that we can beat a path to where Jesus is living his resurrected presence.
Why do we serve the poor? It's what God is doing in the world, it's where Jesus is living his resurrected presence, so we run to join in. Why do we tithe? Because God is doing something in the world through the local church, and so we beat a path to join in with him as Jesus lives his resurrected presence through it. Because God is doing something in our hearts with his generosity to us, and we join in with him as our generosity reflects the resurrected presence of Jesus in the world. Why do we forgive those who wrong us? Because it's what God is doing in the world, and our forgiveness of others is how we join in, step into the middle of Jesus' resurrection life. Why do we gather to worship? Because what God is doing in the world is setting his beloved Son on the throne of a new creation, and Jesus is living his resurrected presence through his gathered body, the church, and worship is how we place ourselves in the center of it all. Why do you do youth ministry, or children's ministry, or pray for the sick, or help people fix things that have been broken, or work at a shelter for battered women, or provide places for mom's of troubled pregnancies to have their babies? Because you can see God at work in those places and activities, because you want to be near when Jesus shows up with his resurrected presence, because this is how you step into the action.
Show me someone who isn't doing any of these things that it means to be a practicing Jesus follower, and I'll show you someone who has lost sight of God at work in those ways and places. It's not getting their act together that will re-engage them. It's someone nudging them awake to the presence of God that they've lost sight of, either because they've given their attention to lesser but shinier things, or because they've fallen asleep at the wheel of their life.
That's why we're talking about Nudge evangelism. About awakening each other to the God who is already there, everywhere around us, at work all the time if we only had eyes to see him, ears to hear him, a nose to catch his scent, a tongue with a well-developed taste for his sweetness, skin sensitive to his touch and texture and temperature. About bringing the good news of Jesus in a way that lands like Jesus brought good news to us, with a series of nudges. And at the heart of nudge evangelism is paying attention, is keeping all of our senses alert to signs of the presence & activity of God around us.
JOHN 5 Some time later, Jesus went up to Jerusalem for one of the Jewish festivals. 2Now there is in Jerusalem near the Sheep Gate a pool, which in Aramaic is called Bethesda and which is surrounded by five covered colonnades. 3Here a great number of disabled people used to lie—the blind, the lame, the paralyzed. 5One who was there had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. 6When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, “Do you want to get well?”
7“Sir,” the invalid replied, “I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me.”
8Then Jesus said to him, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” 9At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked.
The day on which this took place was a Sabbath, 10and so the Jewish leaders said to the man who had been healed, “It is the Sabbath; the law forbids you to carry your mat.”
11But he replied, “The man who made me well said to me, ‘Pick up your mat and walk.’ ”
12So they asked him, “Who is this fellow who told you to pick it up and walk?”
13The man who was healed had no idea who it was, for Jesus had slipped away into the crowd that was there.
14Later Jesus found him at the temple and said to him, “See, you are well again. Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you.” 15The man went away and told the Jewish leaders that it was Jesus who had made him well.
16So, because Jesus was doing these things on the Sabbath, the Jewish leaders began to persecute him. 17In his defense Jesus said to them, “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I too am working.” 18For this reason they tried all the more to kill him; not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God.
19Jesus gave them this answer: “Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does. 20For the Father loves the Son and shows him all he does. Yes, and he will show him even greater works than these, so that you will be amazed."
Let's pay close attention to this text, see what we might learn about Nudge evangelism.
What's the scene? A great number of disabled people. poor, hurting. Hoping that when the water moved they could be first in and get healed. The pagans believed the pool had healing properties first, so it's probably a local superstition fueling the hope.
This is a metaphor for our world, isn't it? Hurting people, their best hope a superstition that rewards the fastest, the best connected, the closest to the water, but that probably doesn't actually work...Money? Power? Popularity?
Although it's in the city of God, it's a pagan place at heart, with a pagan hope. That doesn't stop Jesus from keeping his eyes open for the Kingdom of God, does it?
Man himself doesn't know who Jesus is. Sir, he calls him. Not Rabbi, certainly not Lord. He's spent 38 years preoccupied with the stirring of the water, and he's totally missed the buzz about Jesus, or if he's heard it, it hasn't registered. Not even when Jesus is talking directly to him. Not even when Jesus heals him. He's asleep, isn't he? Have any of us been that man?
Jewish leaders are only paying attention to one thing - the law they are so protective of, the law that keeps them in business. So when the guy shows up walking with his mat, all they see is a violation of law. They seem to not even hear the fact that he was healed. They hear only that somebody told him to break the law.
When they find out what has just happened, they completely miss the activity of God again. They are preoccupied with his perceived violations of the object of their attention. Jesus healed - that's work. He called God his Father - that's blasphemy. God is healing and walking among them on the day set aside for giving attention to the things of God, and they miss him entirely. In fact they oppose him. They're asleep, aren't they?
Now look at the verbs connected to Jesus. Saw, learned, asked, said. (the implied verb is listened.)
Jesus is looking for something before he acts, isn't he? He noticed a man lying there who has been overlooked for 38 years. He inquired after him, found out his story, that he'd been lying there a long time. Asked him a question that only someone who was really looking would ask. "Do you want to get well?" It's a custom-fit nudge. In other words, are you lying here all your life because you've given up, because it's the life you've gotten used to, have you become satisfied with your lot in life? It's a question that awakens something in the man. His desire to be well. To be strong, to re-engage with purpose, and activity, to re-enter life itself in the wide world, in the city of God. A desire that is born of the image of God in him. Jesus awakens him, just a bit, to that. With a simple nudge made possible by Jesus paying closer attention perhaps than anyone has ever paid to this man.
Jesus listens to his answer, and in his answer, hears underneath the complaint, underneath the defensiveness, hears the man's yes to his question. Yes, he wants to get well. Jesus' Kingdom=radar is blinking now. Something has registered on it and it's moving. We don't know if it's a glimmer of faith in the man's eye, desperation in the tone of the man's voice, a shiver up Jesus' back, an accompanying surge of faith in Jesus' heart, a word from the Holy Spirit running through the neurons of Jesus' brain.
We only know that now Jesus says something. Saw. Learned. Asked. Then says. Nudgers are like that. More looking and listening and asking and hearing than saying. But when love is ripe the time for the nudge does come. Get up. Pick up your mat and walk.
Get up! is the word for rise. Like rise out of bed. Like rise from the dead rise. Jesus is looking at more than just this man. He's got the eyes of his heart peeled for the Father. (I only do what I see the Father doing, he explains later.) What's the Father doing? He knows the work the Father is doing is new creation work in a dying world. He knows new creation will begin with resurrection. Something registers for him here and now that the Father is opening a window from the heavens, where the Father is storing the earth's future, and resurrection life is leaking out. So he joins in by simply naming what he sees the Father doing. Get up!
Will the man receive the nudge? Yes. And when he does, he's cured. Picks up his mat. Walks.
C'mon! This is what nudging is all about. The kingdom, the rule and reign of God that brings freedom and restoration and wholeness and re-entry into Shalom and purpose and life itself.
Of course, the man still doesn't know who Jesus is. That doesn't happen until a little later, when Jesus finds him again and speaks to him again. But once he does, like the disciples on the road to Emmaus, he turns around and goes back to bear witness. To become a nudger himself.
Because the man's not the only one nudged in this story, is he? When the critique about working on the Sabbath comes to Jesus from the religious leaders, Jesus calls to their attention the fact that the root of the Sabbath is joining with the Father in the 7th day rest of the Father from the work of the first creation. A new creation is happening, Jesus is saying, and the Father is at work right now. Do you want to be truly faithful to what God is up to? (He knows that's the thing at work deepest in their hearts - he's been listening!) To be faithful is to work alongside of the God who is right now working, because a new creation has begun. It's not day 7, it's just about to be day 1 - the light of the new world is dawning.
Of course, his nudge isn't received. They try to kill him all them more. Be encouraged. Even Jesus' nudges were rejected from time. But that doesn't discourage him. He nudges again.
The son can only do what the Father is doing, Jesus says. We hear this as Jesus referring to himself, and surely he is. But the son of God to the religious leaders is Israel (God to Pharaoh - Israel is my son, my first born son). Because they are the religious leaders of Israel, the son is also them, as representatives of Israel. Israel can do nothing by himself; he can only do what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does, Israel also does. (Do you hear the invitation, the nudge? Join me, join the Father, stop resisting him - it's in vain.) For the Father loves Israel (do you hear that, he loves you!) and shows him all he does (do you hear that, you too can see him at work, you don't have to keep your eyes closed by fixating on the object of your current attention. Wake up!). Yes, and he will show him even greater works than these, so that you will be amazed.
Marvel, wonder will be the result of Jesus paying attention to the Father and cooperating with him. With the kingdom coming, there is also coming a shift from critique to marvel, wonder. Jesus is waking them up. The healing obviously wasn't enough of a nudge to awaken them to God's presence. But more is coming, and it will awaken them. Because Jesus knows if Israel begins to pay attention to the Father at work among them again, and they cooperate, it will awaken the whole world to the Kingdom coming: the gentiles, the Romans, everyone will be able to pick up their mats and walk! [wonder is the definitive sign of someone who is awake, isn't it...? servant evangelism, encounters with God...]
Consider non-nudging evangelism in light of this story...
My experience learning evangelism as a teenager... Role-playing with 4 spiritual laws... 1. God loves you and offers a wonderful plan for your life. 2. Man is sinful and separated from God. Therefore he cannot know and experience God's love and plan for his life. 3. Jesus is God's only provision for man's sin. Through him you can know and experience God's love and plan for your life. 4. We must individually receive Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord; then we can know and experience God's love and plan for our lives. Bridge diagram. Circles around thrones.
Practicing. Memorizing. Praying for chances to use live ammunition. Looking for opportunities to work the conversation to the laws. Looking for opportunities to close. Rest of relationship a function of response.
Old-School Evangelism Tool-kit: Calculator (need a sharp mind). Concordance (needed superior biblical knowledge). Stop Watch (needed a 3 minute and 10 minute testimony). Microphone (needed good verbal skills). blue prints (needed evangelism formulas and diagrams, like the 4 spiritual laws, bridge diagram, Roman road.) Otoscope (needed to identify problems, sin, infection). Oil (needed "evangelism anointing"). Megaphone (needed boldness).
Success measured in first time commitments. Sure, sometimes seeds were planted, but everyone knew that was just a consolation.
That kind of evangelism comes from love - (sometimes you needed to work up, if you weren't feeling it)...but ends up so far away from love you can't remember where you started, and it's scent isn't on you anymore.
Compare to nudging evangelism...
Paying attention to what the Father is doing always flows from your love of God (you pay attention to what you love, don't you?), leads you to love others (because that's what the Father is always doing), and is experienced by others as love (because that's what it can't help being when your actions are an attempt to join God in what he is doing - it is by definition a self-giving act, and therefore has its roots in the God who is love).
Success in nudging is measured in love noticed and love joined and love growing. It has no agenda other than love. Because it is to love that we are awakening people and being awakened ourselves when we practice the art of nudge evangelism. Seeds are planted, and that's no consolation - that's what our Father is doing, that's how the kingdom comes - yes, some will fall on stony ground, some will grow up and get scorched, some will be eaten by birds or choked out by weeds, but some will take root, and rise up, and produce a crop 30,60, 100 times what was planted. And the world will be overrun with love.
Put together a nudging tool kit...
Duct tape. Practice talking less. [neighbor...]
"You never resemble Jesus more than when you have your mouth shut."
- St. Ignatius of Antioch.
Stethoscope. Practice listening closely. Listen for the heart underneath the words. Say what more often. Tell me more about that. Listen not for flaws but for faith.
If you have ten minutes to share the gospel with someone, spend the first nine asking questions and listening. when we speak more than we listen, it is like flying a kite in the dark. Our words go out but we have no idea if they ever get off the ground.
- David Henderson
Binoculars. Remember that what God is doing is bringing near the things that seem far off. Look closely when you catch hints of that. Look for dreams buried far in the past, and hopes hidden far in the future. God may be present in both, and ready to realize them.
Noise canceling headphones. Being silent before people is important. But even more-so is spending time with God in silence, listening for him to speak to you, learning to recognize his voice. And to do that, sometimes you need to eliminate the noise.
Silence is God's first language.
-St. John of the Cross
Molasses. We've got to slow down if we're going to pay attention.
Praise without end for the go ahead zeal
of whoever it was invented the wheel;
But never a word for the poor soul's sake
that thought ahead, and invented the brake.
- Howard Nemerov
Stocking. Nudge evangelism is born out of a sense of wonder. God's up to something, all around us, all the time. My Father is always at his work to this very day. What gifts will he put in the stocking of my life today, in the stockings of my friends, my co-workers, my neighbors, my enemies. How can I wake up with wonder?
The sense of wonder
That is the sixth sense
And it is the natural religious sense.
Not to mention, from the other toolkit, Oil; but not for the "evangelism anointing (we're all anointed to be good news bringers), but for blessing others...