Sermon in a nutshell: “Have your personal testimony ready!” (Acts 21:37-22:21)
Today we read Paul’s personal testimony. Actually we saw it in a dramatic performance of the story. It is a long text. However, if you tell it as a story, it will take about 3-4 minutes. Basically Paul told about three things:
1) His life before he met the risen Jesus (Acts 21:37-22:5)
2) His experience when he met the risen Jesus (Acts 22:6-16)
3) The change he had in his life after meeting the risen Jesus (22:17-21)
God wants every one of us to have a story like this. We have read the story of the early church: how it started with the power of the Holy Spirit; how it went beyond the boundary of the Jewish community; how it grew among the Greek-speaking people. Within the story of the universal church, each individual church has its own story.
For example, our church has a story. Our church was started 60 years ago. A retired pastor, Rev. Oglesby, went around Concord, knocking on doors of the townspeople. He invited people to start a new church here in Concord. Within a year, about 100 people responded to the invitation and our church was chartered as a new church! Since then, our church has grown in three stages:
1953-1963 10 years of Invitational ministry. We invited people and grew continuously.
1963-1973 10 years of Nurturing ministry. We transformed people into disciples of Jesus.
1973-1983 10 years of Serving ministry. We sent people into the community and served people.
Through these 30 years of ministry, our church grew to a thousand worshipping members. In a sense, our church went through a whole cycle of church growth.
We could have gone through the same cycle of Invitation-Nurturing-Serving ministry during the last 30 years. However, we have had a wonderful Serving ministry continuously for the last 30 years.
1983-2013 30 years of Serving, serving, and serving ministry. We are involved in all the wonderful ministries that the community needs: Homeless ministry, Social Justice ministry, and Inter-faith ministry.
That means that we have given all we have to serve our community and people without any strings attached. This is great service. In the meantime, our church members have been getting older and weaker. Our children and grandchildren have found jobs and schools and gone away. Without invitation, we have kept on giving for the last 30 years. We can continue to do that. Or, we can invite people to join this great serving ministry.
We have two choices:
1) We can say, “We have had a wonderful life! Thank you God! I am ready to go home!” In this case, we will be remembered as a once-great church-but now-forgotten legacy.
2) We can say, “We can start a new cycle again! Help us, God! I will give everything to have a new beginning!” In this case, we will continue our life in a vital form for the next 60 years.
A key to this congregational choice lies in the stories that each one of us tells to our neighbors and families. We need a story like Paul’s. We know that in the Old Testament there was a man, Samson. He had great power but he spent his life going after ladies and wasting his power. He died as a blind prisoner. We also know the story of Nicodemus. He was a high position council member in the Jewish community. He was told that he had to be born again by the Holy Spirit. He did not understand this and he went away without having the joy of being born again. If our stories were like Samson’s or Nicodemus’, people would not come to our church. I suggest that all of us have a story like Paul’s. It has three parts:
1) The life before I came to this church
2) The experience that I had when I came to this church
3) The change that I had in my life after I came to this church
It should be short enough for you to share at any table. It should be also personal and genuine so that others want to hear it. Then we can invite people to our church and start the vital cycle again.
Brothers and sisters! Do you want our church to have a new cycle of growth again? Then pledge to share your stories with your neighbors. Pledge to give your time, talent, and money to our church mission and ministry! God will allow us to have a new cycle of growth again!
1) What is your pledge for God’s mission and ministry?
2) What is your story that you want to share with your neighbors?