Wowed, urged on and imploring
I was reminded the other day that on this site you can read about how the church began. But, one question that I think is of more interest is "why?" Why did they do it? Why in such a time of difficulty did they add to their own problems by trying to start a church? After all it was wartime and there were only the three of them (all women) at the outset. To the outside world it looks as though they must have been mad! So few of them in such difficult circumstances. But maybe they had in mind Chapter 5 and verse 13 from Paul's second letter to the Corinthians: “If we are “out of our mind,” as some say, it is for God; if we are in our right mind, it is for you.”
In fact, I suspect that what was true of the apostle Paul when he wrote this letter was also true of them as well. They were wowed by God, urged on by Christ’s love for all people and they wanted all people to turn back to God.
They were wowed by God and wanted others to be wowed as well. Paul says that he knows what it is to "fear the Lord" (2 Corinthians 5:11). Now we need to understand what Paul means by fear here. I know it can sound a bit like a kid cowering in bedroom in terror of the bogey man who lives in the cupboard (And those who refuse God’s offer of forgiveness and throw back in his face his loving kindness may well need to learn that kind of fear. The Bible says it’s a terrible thing to fall into the hands of an angry God). But for Paul it’s not that kind of fear. It’s awe – being wowed.
When we see, for the first time, something like the Grand canyon or Great Glen, or something like them, it causes awe. We are astounded by the amazing, awesome, powerful, mighty and beautiful thing that overwhelms us. And that is how it should be with God.
And the apostle Paul had that sense of "Wow!" when he met Jesus and when he thought of God. And I very much suspect that sister Doris Adams and her friends (you can read the story in "About us") also were wowed by God and by his amazing goodness to them and they wanted to persuade others, as did Paul. Paul says, "Since, then, we know what it is to fear the Lord, we try to persuade others." He wants others to be wowed too!
And there is no doubt that Doris Adams and her friends sought to persuade others. But why? Was it to browbeat them into the club? To get in extra pew fodder? No, it was to persuade them that they should be wowed by God as well. Drawn by his awesome loveliness. If you go on holiday and see something extraordinarily wonderful or jaw-droppingly beautiful – don’t you want to tell everyone about it? And I think Sister Doris Adams and her friends had been wowed by God and wanted others to be as well. And that meant they were prepared to be considered nuts. And for whose sake? Ø The very people who might call them nuts!
Why bother? Why bring this message to people who more than likely don’t want it and would quite possibly reject it if they heard it, would not even listen? It’s a question that still applies today. Why do we still seek to persuade people? Why do we bother trying to share Jesus with people who for the most part don't think they need him and who may, at best, smile and move on?
The reason, in our case, and I suspect for Doris Adams and her friends, is the same one that Paul gives: "For Christ's love compels us." They were urged on by Christ’s love for all people
When on earth Jesus mixed with the broken, the outcast, the despised and rejected, the law breakers and the wrong doers. People who knew they had nothing to offer God and couldn’t pretend to good living or anything like it. That’s who Jesus mixed with and he loved them. He loved those that the rest of upright society hated or looked down on. They were called tax-collectors and sinners. Tax collectors were hated because they sided with the occupying Romans who ruled Israel at the time of Jesus. They were traitors and collaborators and were treated as such by their fellow countrymen and women. Those referred to as "sinners" were those who had rejected all of God's ways and had made themselves outcasts. And Jesus not only did not avoid these people, he ate with them and shared with them the good news (which is what "gospel" means) that their wrong doing, and rebellion against God, could be forgiven. Now he also shared the gospel with the well-to-do and morally upright. But most of them didn't think they needed to be saved and so rejected Jesus. Which is sad because they were just as far away from God as the down-and-outs were.
Jesus loved also the rich young man who was so attached to his wealth that he could not let it go in order to follow Jesus. Money meant more to him than loving, and being loved by, God. Jesus knew that for those who seemed to have everythiung together, good home, upright morality, good job, ambitious and talented children etc., the idea that they needed God to do anything for them was preposterous. They were, after all, not like those dreadful tax collectors and sinners. And many people still feel that way today. They are mostly good and any "mistakes" they make will be outweighed by the good they have done and so, if there is a God and a heaven they will be entitled to be there. But they are only "good" by their own standard and by comparison with others who are less good. God's standard is that we love him with all our being, our mind, heart and strength perfectly all the time, and that we love our neighbour (which is everyone) perfectly and all the time. And none of us does that. And God's law says that the person who fails to follow it will be condemned because one act of unloving behaviour is enough and cannot be outweighed by all the good. Can you imagine how the victims of a vicious murder, for example, would react if the murderer was to escape justice because, although he had killed this once, at all other times he had been pretty good?
So all of us need God to do something for us. We need the love of Jesus. The love that he showed people when he was with us. And it was the cross that showed them just how much he loved. It was a love for those who did not love him – rejected him – spat on him. He died not for those who were his best mates – or those who had hung out with him from time to time. But for all.
When Jesus died on the cross he reconciling the world to God. The apostle Paul tells us that "God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God." In other words Jesus took the punishment we deserved and in return we get more than just freedom from condemnation. That is the offer made to all. But it is effective only to those who love and follow Jesus. "Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God's one and only Son." Jesus loved people enough to die for them so that they could live.
And it was this love for others – the undeserved love - love that made it possible for new and changed lives; it was this that drove those three young women to undergo all they did. Christ’s love worked through them to bring a love for the people of this area. And they wanted all people to accept God’s offer of friendship. An offer of reconciliation. Reconciliation between God and humans. And that is needed because of our sin. Our rejection of God's right to rule. Our dismissing him from even having much more than a bity part in our lives. What happens when relationships break down – one or more party rejects the other and it hurts. We did that to God and deserved to be cast away by him but instead we got, through what Jesus did, the offer of a free return to a reconciled relationship.
But we need to accept. The poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning earned her parents disapproival when she married and they simply cut her off. She sent them several letters offering reconciliation. All were returned unopened. Many here never read or wanted to read the offer of God’s friendship – what about you?