Just church: show & tell

photo(2)This final sermon in our Just Church series at St Peter’s Bethnal Green was co-authored by Adam Atkinson and Angus Ritchie.

The text for the sermon was Acts 1.1-11, and its theme was the role of evangelism in the mission of the church.


This is a sermon that Angus was to have preached. I’ve taken over his material and adapted it, so the health warning is all the good bits are his and the bad bits mine.

Every 21st Century organisation needs a mission statement. Don’t you think? I wonder if you can guess what organisations these mission statements are from?

‘To refresh the world – in mind, body and spirit
To inspire moments of optimism – through our brands & actions
To create value & make a difference everywhere we engage’

Surprisingly, that’s Coca-cola – and you thought they just made sugared fizzy drinks.

I wonder if you’ve heard this mission statement before:

‘Worship God, make friends, and change the world’.

Yes, that’s us, that’s St Peter’s Bethnal Green!

Now, what about this:

‘Protecting people from harm with a range of outcome focused functions that are professionally competent and understand the operational context of their services, ensuring that they are quality assured, effective & efficient’.

That piece of gobbledegook came from Warwickshire Police.

Joking apart, mission statements can be a good thing, if they are clear and focused. If any organisation – a company, a police force, a trade union – is going to do something together, its people need to know some simple things

1. What they are trying to do – the mission statement
2. and then how they are going to do it.

I wonder, what do you think was Jesus’ mission?
And what is what is our mission as members of his Church?

Luke Chapter 4 records Jesus’ very first sermon, where he uses these words to begin his public ministry:

‘The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.’

Here, we might say, is Jesus’ mission statement. He has had 30 years to prepare it – from his infancy to the start of his public ministry. And the words he chooses are from Isaiah 61 and these words define his work and chart his course.

Our mission as members of his church comes just before his ascension. It is recorded in Matthew 28 where Jesus gives his disciples their mission:

‘Go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. ‘

Jesus’ mission and our mission. Thanks Adam and Angus. Got it, I’m onto it, thanks!

But how is this to be done? Check today’s reading from Acts 1:8 and be encouraged:

‘But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.’

You might receive power and you ought to be my witnesses?
No, you will receive power and you will be my witnesses.

This is St Luke telling the story to Theophilus – Jesus is the central character of his story and he’s doing a sequel to his first book – er, Luke’s gospel. The disciples saw the ‘many convincing proofs’ of Jesus’ resurrection but were still a bit unclear about what to do next. They wonder if it is time for action so they ask about restoring the Kingdom to Israel – missing the point still that the kingdom of God is not about human action but God’s action first, so they are told to wait.

The authority to change the world is that of the Father – but, v8, ‘But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses’. Not my authority, not my power – the Father has the authority and the Holy Spirit gives us power, the consequence of which is the disciples – followers of Jesus – will be his witnesses.

First we worship God. Jesus is good news for the poor; the disciples go as his witnesses throughout the world because the Holy Spirit us upon them, because they have “power from on high”. God is the only one in whose service is perfect freedom, he is King, we bow the knee to King Jesus alone.

Then we make friends – a community of disciples is created, following the servant King. We gather in love of Jesus and one another, we’re baptised and empowered by the Spirit.

And we change the world – in God’s power this community lives out everything Jesus commanded – we show and tell.

Did you ever do that at school? Monday morning, I’ve got my teddy bear to show and tell the rest of the class. If I just go round showing them but saying nothing then they don’t know his name, or anything much about him, he just looks good! But if I just tell them about him they might get information but they can’t picture him, instead they just make him up in their minds.

Show and tell is what we do – show and tell good news for the poor, show and tell bringing freedom to those who are oppressed, and food to those who hunger. Show and tell – that’s whole, integrated mission.

Sometimes, Christians emphasise one aspect of mission over and against the other: as if the Gospel is either tell: making disciples, introducing people to the King of Kings; or it is only show: social transformation, justice for the poor and food for the hungry. But Jesus’ mission isn’t either/or, it is both/and.

Angus has often pointed out that this past year, the Church has been blessed by the arrival of a new Pope and a new Archbishop of Canterbury who embody ‘show and tell’ Christianity: holding together the Gospel call to personal and social transformation, the call to proclaim the Word and to be Good News with and for the poorest in society.

Speaking here in East London a couple of months ago, Archbishop Justin explained:

‘The common good of the community and justice are absolutely central to what it means to be a Christian. They flow from the love of Jesus on the Cross, offering salvation, enabling justice and human freedom.’

There’s a calling here for us to go back to a deeper personal encounter with Jesus and a reminder that each of us can only share with others what we have first received.

That’s why, at this and every act of Christian worship, we’re fed first, before we are sent out to feed and serve our neighbours. It is only when we are fed by Christ, when we are rooted and incorporated in Him that we are truly the Church.

Only then will our ‘show’ as well as our ‘tell’ proclaim Jesus Christ. For we convey the Gospel in our character as well as our achievements, in the manner of our actions as well as in the goals we are seeking to pursue.

I know that Angus is a follower of Pope Francis – on Twitter. In fact he’s a fan, though I’m fairly sure he gets the English language twitter feed, rather than the tweets that come in Latin. The Pope put it like this in a recent sermon:

‘We need Christians who make God’s mercy and tenderness for every creature visible to the men and women of our day… [We must] have the courage to swim against the tide and to be converted from idols to the true God…

The Church says as she stands amid humanity today: Come to Jesus, all you who labour and are heavy laden, and you will find rest for your souls. Come to Jesus. He alone has the words of eternal life.

Every baptized Christian is a … Christ-bearer. Whoever has encountered Christ … cannot keep this experience to himself but feels the need to share it and to lead others to Jesus. We all need to ask ourselves if those who encounter us perceive the warmth of faith in our lives, if they see in our faces the joy of having encountered Christ!’

You can see why the approach of our new Pope and of our Archbishop is catching the imagination of so many people. These two men of God are confident in the truth of the Gospel – the good news about Jesus – serious about spreading the Gospel, and passionate about proclaiming the Gospel – to show and tell God’s good news with and to the poor – and to do that with people far beyond the Church’s walls.

Here in Bethnal Green, where we minister alongside people of many different faiths and none, we do ‘show and tell’ Christianity. We work with many different people to feed the hungry and make the streets safer, to challenge the blight of loan sharks and addictive machines in betting shops.

As public relationships develop, we hope and expect more personal conversations will occur. For us to love our neighbour involves sharing the most precious thing given to us: a relationship with Jesus. We don’t care for our neighbours in order to make them Christians. But sharing our faith is a major expression of that care.

What holds these things together is love: Love causes us to ‘show’ – work for flourishing of our neighbours here on earth. It is the same love which compels us to ‘tell’ – speak of life to the full today and for eternity if we’re found in Christ.

So, on the one hand, it needs to be true that our love for people is unconditional. We don’t love people in order to make them into Christians. The paradox is that it’s when we love people regardless of what they believe and whether we think they’re likely to join our church we witness powerfully to the unconditional love of God.

On the other hand, as Jesus is “the Way, the Truth and the Life,” part of what it is to love people is to share who He is with them. People are fearful of death, searching for a way to eternal life and peace. Jesus said “I’m the way.” If you’re searching for some kind of value system: Jesus said “I’m the truth.” If you are looking for the point of life. What’s its meaning? What is its purpose? Jesus said “I am the life.”

Our mission is to ‘show and tell’ the love of God who we know in the person of Jesus.

Some of us get fired up by the going out and the mission taking place outside the walls of the church – and you’ve been called there and I’d like to pray that you’ll be equipped to ‘show and tell’ in your workplace, in your neighbourhood, among the people of peace whom God is showing you.

Tell me about them, tell your Life Group about them and keep praying for them – we’d love to draw alongside you as you are sent out on a mission from God to show and tell!

There are also those of us who are motivated by drawing people in, to church, into Life Group, to Alpha, to events that we hold here, to relationships. That’s good as well and I want you to tell me and tell your Life Group whom you are inviting, bringing and doing ‘show and tell’ with in church and to pray for you as well for fresh gifts for your mission.

Show? Put a tin in our Foodbank collection box at the back, join us in some of our community organising work – such as the community listening campaign, offer some time to visit someone in need and be part of acting for justice for our neighbours by supporting a CitySafe Haven.

Tell? Make sure you have a story on your lips – most of us do – but a story which names Jesus as the focus of your life and not yourself, paraphrase a story from the Bible, be ready to pray for someone, go looking for and expect spiritual conversations. I have a little rule that I try to make sure that the name of Jesus is in my conversation – go on – it is fun!

The thing is this: we’re inevitably going to fail. Fail, that is, if I go on a mission in my authority, with my power.

But it is not my gig, its God’s. Instead, lets bow the knee and acknowledge that God the Father has the authority; lets put Jesus the Son and not ourselves at the centre of the story, he is the one about whom we witness, we show and tell; and lets receive with open arms the gift promised to us, power when the Holy Spirit comes on us.

If we are a disciple of Jesus we’re on a mission to show and tell in the places and among
the people who seem far from God’s good Kingdom. To do that we need the Holy Spirit’s power to receive that we need to pray – so lets do just that.


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