‘Grandpa, can you make a noise like a frog?’ ‘Darling, I’m watching the rugby at the moment, can you come back later?’ ‘Oh, Grandpa, please make a noise like a frog!’ ‘A noise like a frog – I’m not sure I can.’ ‘Oh Grandpa, pleeeease make a noise like a frog.’ ‘Darling, why do you want me to make a noise like a frog?’ ‘Because Daddy says that we can buy a house with a swimming pool when you croak’.
Motivation is a funny thing. What is it that makes us do what we do, and how do we change it?
This is the final sermon in our series on evangelism. Through June we’ve tried to dispel some of the myths about evangelism: it’s not a dirty word but a natural part of Christian life; it’s not just for extroverts, but anyone can do it; it’s not about door knocking or Billy Graham rallies but friendship and conversation. Everyone can share their faith – each one of us can talk naturally about what’s important to us, and each one of us has a story to tell. I really hope that we’re all feeling a bit more confident in our ability and more relaxed about it.
But what will turn it into action? What will turn a sermon series into speaking with others? What will be our motivation? Do you know the joke about it: ‘I was looking for a funny story about motivation, but you know after a while I couldn’t be bothered’.
In our Epistle reading from 2 Corinthians 5:10 to 6:2, St Paul describes the motivation behind his ministry. It comes in a point in the letter where the apostle has been responding to personal criticism. He’s described all the hardships he has endured for the sake of Christ, but still he carries on. What is it that makes him get up every morning and share his faith?
I think the first thing is that Paul is very clear about the good news. He’s clear about his message and why it is so important. In v. 10 it is literally a matter of life and death: he says ‘for all of us must appear before the judgement seat of Christ to receive recompense for what has been done in the body, whether good or evil.’
And then in v.14 ‘The love of Christ urges us on, because we are convinced that one died for all: therefore all have died.’ For St Paul, Christianity is a message of salvation: We will all one day face judgement, but Christ in his love died for us so that if we turn to him we can be sure of forgiveness. That’s what gets Paul up in the morning: an urgency and longing that all should be able to receive God’s love.
So I wonder if one reason we can find evangelism difficult is that ‘the church’ has sometimes lacked clarity and ambition about the message it’s trying to share, and it’s become somewhat less than it could be.
For instance, many of us were given the impression at school that Christianity is a code to live by. And yes it is, but if that’s all it is, the non-Christian will say ‘I have my own ethics thanks’ – there’s no shortage of value systems out there for them to choose.
Or if Christianity is about being good, decent and getting stuck into community life – which is certainly an implication of our faith – but if that’s all there is, then lots of people do that anyway, why do they need God and the church?
If Christianity is a support in hard times, which is undoubtedly true and a great help for many, nonetheless the non-Christian can still say ‘I’m glad that works for you, but I’m feeling fine at the moment thanks’.
And of course if people get the impression that we’re trying to draw them in to keep the institution going, that if we don’t evangelise there won’t be a church here in 20 years time – well that may be true and it’s certainly motivated some churches to look outwards, but who’s it going to attract? Who would want to be seen as pew fodder?
Let us share Paul’s clarity. May our motivation be a message about a God who loves and forgives us, a God who wants us to know him now and forever, a God who can transform our lives. Let’s not sell the gospel short but be inspired by the huge love God has for us, and the importance of giving everyone the chance to respond.
Paul is clear, in v.21: ‘For our sake God made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.’ Wonderful verse but I’m fully aware that this is asking a lot of people. That belief may be a massive motivator for Christians, but if you went up to the average non-Christian and actually quoted v.21 to them they’d barely understand a word.
You’ll have heard the phrase ‘Pie in the sky when you die’ – and what Paul is writing can sound like that. When you’ve understood it, it’s immensely powerful, hope giving and life changing. But to the average person it can sound very far off. Your typical thirty year old is perhaps wondering about getting married, maybe starting to consider having children. To a 30 year old saving for a pension may well seem far off, let alone thoughts about mortality. So talk of judgement, heaven and hell, salvation and the cross – it can sound like you’re asking them to sign up to a whole belief system, an awful lot of metaphysics, a totally different world view from anything they’ve encountered before. So we need to be very patient in explaining these beliefs.
It can sound like ‘Pie in the sky when you die’ which is why it’s important to realise there’s also ‘Steak on the plate while you wait’! In other words following Jesus makes a real difference in our experience of daily life. In v. 17 Paul writes: ‘If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation.’ Seeing the way that God changes people’s lives can be a huge motivation for us and very compelling for those who have not yet come to faith.
On the Alpha course they say the most important session is the Holy Spirit day – up till that point it has all been quite interesting. And then suddenly people see what God’s spirit can do. They experience his love, his healing power, things they cannot fully understand but know are good. And they say ‘Wow – the Christian beliefs were beginning to make sense but on the Holy Spirit day I saw that God is real’.
So motivations for us to share our faith can be that it makes an eternal difference, to let people know God’s love, and the life change now.
The final motivation St Paul gives us is that it is a gift from God. When I began preparing this sermon I thought I ought to say something about our duty to share our faith, and that God commands it. I thought I ought to say that evangelism is really a moral obligation – if you have a cure for a disease it’s right to share it. But I noticed that, while those thoughts are justifiable from elsewhere in the Bible, it’s not at all what Paul says here. The words he uses are remarkably different:
In v.18 God has given us the ministry of reconciliation. In v. 19 he has entrusted the message of reconciliation to us. These are really positive words: gift, entrust. They’re words of generosity, confidence in us, blessing. And that’s because sharing our faith is a blessing. When we begin to see people responding to Christ, when we see things happen in their lives and God doing amazing things for them, it is a great encouragement. That’s one of the biggest motivators there is – seeing it work!
Do you know what the best attended service in our Group last week was? It was Little Lights: almost 40 children and adults worshipping God together. I find the growth of Little Lights a real blessing and encouragement – it’s a privilege, a gift to be part of that service which is giving people the foundations of faith.
Seeing our efforts bear fruit through the grace of God is a great motivator – but to experience it we do have to pluck up our courage and step out in faith, see what God is doing now and join in.
For as our reading ends, in Chapter 6 v2, ‘Now is the acceptable time, now is the day of salvation’. Now let us join in with God’s work, now let us be witnesses to him. Sharing our faith is an important act of love, it is a great privilege and it can be incredibly rewarding. Let’s do it, and let’s share with one another what we get up to!