Be Encouraged! This is the message that rises up from today’s scripture. The resurrected Jesus is gathered with his closest followers as the time nears for his departure for heaven. The stage is set for a new era, one without Jesus walking the earth yet empowered by the Holy Spirit.
At first, the apostles perceive Jesus as a ghost, and so the savior needs to again prove that he was their Lord. In the context of this marvelous story, the drama and sense of wonder emerge. The end of Jesus’ time on earth is nearer than ever. The apostles sense that Jesus will be gone and they dread being left alone. Jesus realizes that he needs to offer encouragement to his fearful followers.
What shall fill the void soon to be created by Jesus’ physical departure? The risk is that once Jesus leaves something bad will destroy the new movement that we now call Christianity. To keep things going, Jesus’ followers are supposed to spread the gospel but that mission is threatened. Jesus will no longer walk Israel’s dusty trails but the Holy Spirit is promised to guide and encourage each believer. Although Jesus is departing, his power and presence will be conveyed by the Holy Spirit.
How are Jesus’ followers supposed to do God’s will on earth without Jesus? The gospel message is shared by a process known as evangelism (or outreach—a less threatening word). Outreach is a marvelous process by which every Christian shares God’s message. God’s Holy Spirit empowers us, helping us to enthusiastically share love and truth. Stylistic matters aside, outreach is God’s gift to the world through us. Here it comes, that slogan of St. John’s known as “We can DO it!” The “DO” involves the “D” of discipleship (partnering with God to make existing Christians stronger) and the “O” of outreach (partnering with God to make new Christians).
Consider something that you really, really like. This may be an activity that consumes you [positively] so much that you can’t remain silent. Perhaps you have a hobby, or that you enjoy sharing pictures and stories of your children and grand-kids. Well, that’s what effective outreach. It’s your sharing with others what brings you joy and meaning. Outreach is our way of announcing to the universe what God has done and is doing in our lives.
St. John and every other church grow and become strong through discipleship and outreach. There are many ways to accomplish these foundational goals and we must find a manner in which to DO it. Today’s focus is on outreach because that is the launching point from today’s scripture. Outreach is not something to dread. Quite the contrary. It can bring us profound joy because we are designed to benefit from what God wants us to do.
Outreach is a way for us to help people who are searching for healing and fulfilment. As followers of Christ, we are supposed to love and do all sorts of other good things as an extension of our spiritual rebirth. We have been transformed into new creatures with new priorities, attitudes and behaviors. Ask a friend or neighbor to be a part of the wonderful things God is doing. Invite people to come and share the joy of our faith fellowship.
–Reverend Larry Hoxey