This is the third in a 3-part Easter sermon series entitled “Set Free!” Each of these messages focuses on one aspect of life that Jesus Christ’s resurrection accomplished for us. Today’s message is that his resurrection enables us to play a vital role in the transformation of the world — one person at a time.
Scripture readings: Jeremiah 17:5-8; Romans 8:31-39
Set free to transform the world.
Does this sermon title seem a bit grandiose or lofty to you? I think it does. Do any of us have the power to transform the world? Do we as a congregation have the power to transform the world? My hope this morning is to convince you that the answer is yes. The title may be grand in scope, but how we get there really isn’t all that daunting, as you’ll soon see.
Let’s begin by watching this short animated story entitled “Scrat’s Continental Crack-Up,” a teaser for one of the early Ice Age films. Scrat is a squirrel who loves acorn nuts. What I want you to notice is the domino effect of Scrat’s actions, specifically the effect it has on our globe. Enjoy…. (video)…. And here we thought that plate tectonics and continental drift was responsible for the creation of the current continental design of our world.
Have you ever heard of the “Ripple Effect”? It’s a real phenomenon that has a definition. It’s the spreading series of effects or consequences caused by a single event. The Ripple Effect is a term used to describe a situation in which a certain event can make an impact and even grow in influence as it gets further from the source. It can be experienced as both a negative and a positive.
For example, overfishing has results that go beyond simply thinning out the quantity of fish in a certain area of the ocean. Overfishing of prey species like sardines and anchovies can result in little no more food left for predators to eat. Likewise, overfishing of predator species like salmon and tuna may lead to an overpopulation of prey species, which then might experience a population crash because they exhaust their own food supplies. In addition to that, these negative changes in predator-prey relationships within the aquatic ecosystem can have the unintended consequence of diminishing the population of other marine life such as dolphins and whales as their food sources are diminished.
Overfishing doesn’t only effect fish; it also effects people. Fewer fish caught means fewer fishermen, which means some of them loose their livelihood and source of income. They will either have to move elsewhere or work in another profession. Loss of income often leads to poverty, which then comes with an entire host of negative consequences that can have bad effects for generations. Coastal communities that relied on the fishing industry begin to die off. Schools that were once bustling have fewer students; teachers leave; educational opportunities diminish; and so on.
On the other hand, we can see positive examples of the Ripple Effect. For example, installing a water pump in an community that doesn’t have any access to clean drinking water has results beyond simply providing drinking water. As a child, disease from lack of clean water, sanitation, and hygiene carries over into the schoolhouse. A child’s education is affected by an increase in absenteeism, decrease in cognitive potential, and increased attention deficits. Young girls often stop going to school if the school lacks adequate sanitation facilities. However with the benefits of clean water, adequate sanitation, and good hygiene in place, educated individuals grow up to be enterprising adults, who become the owners of businesses, as well as corporate, community and national leaders. Again, you can see where this is going. A leads to B, which leads to C, which leads to D, and so on.
Here’s another example. Most of us associate World War 2 with the rise of Hitler. But historians tell us that the seeds of World War 2 were planted with how the First World War was brought to an end. Everything that eventually lead up to the rise of Hitler’s power and eventually the war is rooted in the events of Armistice Day, Nov. 11, 1918. But isn’t it possible to go back even further? What were the various factors that resulted in the First World War? The adults who were the main players of World War 1 were once children. As children, they had certain life experiences which resulted in them being in their various positions of power as adults, which resulted in them leading their people into war. And, of course, if we had the means of clearly seeing all the details of the past, we could trace things back even further. D was the result of C, which was the result of B, which was the result of A. And again, this would be so for both the negative things in this world and the positive things.
Who here can point to the influence of a particular person in your life who had a significant impact on your life choices? Maybe you chose your profession because of the influence of a teacher. And because of your choice of profession, you’ve had certain life experiences that have effected countless others in ways you’ll never know.
I probably wouldn’t have Rachel as a daughter had I not married Caroline. And I wouldn’t have married Caroline had I not stayed in touch with her sister when I was in college. And I wouldn’t have known her sister had I not been a part of the youth group at my home church in Ann Arbor. And I wouldn’t have been a part of that youth group had my father not been the church choir director. And he wouldn’t have been their choir director had his predecessor not left the position. And he wouldn’t have left that position had some factor not come up that result in his decision to resign. And so on, and so on. You see, it was not only the things that happened to my father that led to his employment in Ann Arbor, but it was also the result of the life experiences of countless other people remotely associated and not associated with my father that played a part in Rachel eventually being my daughter.
Mother Theresa made this astute observation:
“I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples.”
This is exactly how we transform the world. We transform the world by throwing one stone at a time.
Here’s what we have to remember: God doesn’t actually call us to transform the world. The only thing he calls us to do is to live faithfully to him one day at a time. As we live for the Lord for the sake of today, and respond in obedience to his call today, he then takes our singular offerings of service and kindness, combines them with what others are doing today, and then HE works out the transformation we all want to see happen. We’re a part of it, but God’s the one unfolding it.
Our effectiveness at being agents of transformation come down to each of us being a faithful follower of Jesus Christ. When you and I are living in God’s grace, doing the best we can according to the faith he’s poured into each of us, then we simply need to know (as a fact) that he’s using us to accomplish his will and purpose.
Jeremiah 17:7-8 says this: Happy are those who trust [and] rely on the Lord. They (meaning ‘we’) will be like trees planted by the streams, whose roots reach down to the water. [We] won’t fear drought when it comes; [our] leaves will remain green. [We] won’t be stressed in the time of drought or fail to bear fruit.
Jeremiah reminds us of the spiritual truth that when we’re plugged into God, what we do will bear fruit. When we’re living as the branch in the vine that is Jesus Christ, God will produce fruit in and through us. ‘Producing fruit’ is a metaphor for being effective. Again, what’s important to remember is that it’s not YOU AND I that’s producing the fruit; it’s God’s doing. Our part is simply to live in trust and reliance on God. Or, put in the negative, to NOT trust in our own strength, wisdom, or worldly power. Happy and fruitful are those who trust and rely on the LORD!
Here’s a good question: how will we know we’re being fruitful and fulfilling God’s purposes? Well, that’s actually an easy question to answer. We know we’re being fruitful when we’re effectively fulfilling the singular mission Jesus Christ gave his Church. Giving us our mission was literally the last thing he did before he returned to his glory. Here it is in his own words: “Go and make disciples of all people, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey everything that I’ve commanded you” (Mt 28:19-20).
As a local church, raising up followers of Jesus Christ is really the one thing we’ve been charged to do. This singular task is reflected in our church’s mission statement:
Our mission is to develop new and maturing followers of Jesus Christ.
The primary task of Adrian First United Methodist Church is to introduce Jesus to those who don’t know him, and to provide a way for people who do know him to deepen their relationship with him.
The process of people coming to faith in Christ and followers growing in their relationship with him has a name; we call it “making disciples,” or discipleship for short. I know, that’s a word that most of us don’t use on a daily basis, and for some in conjures up images of religious cults. But the truth is, it’s not a word you need to be afraid if. Being a disciple of Christ is also the same as being a follower of Christ; they mean the same thing.
Anyway, we believe that effective discipleship results ultimately in the transformation of communities such as Adrian. But it begins with the individual. Effective discipleship leads to the transformation of persons from the inside out. And the transformation of persons results in the transformation of their own “little worlds,” their personal spheres of influence. And the transformation of their individual spheres of influence begins to have the effect of transforming the “world” around them. How so? Because when Jesus transforms the life of person A, and then person B, and then person C, and so on, the people associated with each of them also benefit from their transformation.
As a church, we believe that living into our mission of developing new and maturing followers of Jesus Christ can and will lead to the transformation of our community. And that’s our vision statement:
we envision the transformation of the Adrian community.
And how does it happen? By sharing the love of Jesus Christ with one person at a time.
Jesus’ resurrection had the result of setting him free from his tomb. And the good news is that his resurrection results in the same thing for us: we’ve been set free. Set free from the consequences of sin. Set free from power of death. Set free from the emotional and spiritual chains that would otherwise enslave us. On Easter I stated that on account of the resurrection we’ve been set free in order to truly live. Last week I suggested that truly living culminates in serve others with gladness. And today I’m saying that serving others results in the transformation of the world…beginning right here in Adrian.
In his letter to the church in Rome, Paul acknowledges the reality that life for them was terribly difficult. But he wanted them to understand that their difficulties in life were not a sign that God had pulled away from them, or stopped loving them. He asks, “Who will separate us from Christ’s love? Will we be separated by trouble, or distress, or harassment, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?” His answer, of course, is NO! But he also uses this opportunity to plant an important truth deep in their hearts and minds. He tells them, “In all of these challenges, we win a sweeping victory through him [Jesus] who loved us.” That is, who loved us enough to die for us and set us free. The victory he speaks of is the fulfillment of the mission he’s given us. The transformation of our lives, of our community, and of our world.