“Hands down best CofC sermon I have ever heard in my 56 years of life on this earth!!! Two thumbs up!!!”
“You need to get out more often. Just kidding. I appreciate those kind words. The response has been tremendous. Now we’ve got to put it into action.”
“I’ve heard others try to preach that sermon and they’ve done pretty good at it but could never simplify it down and just spell it out like you did where there was no doubt left in anyone’s mind that grace covers all believers! Even the Methodists, Baptists, and Presbyterians!”
“Thanks, sister. You’re a blessing to me.”
“I’m glad you have gotten good response because, realistically, you drew a line in the sand for us as CofC people. You are right, we can enjoy that sermon, but now comes the hard part…living it.”
A line in the sand, huh? The intent of the build up to that sermon and that day and us as a church going forward is to erase the lines, to eradicate the barriers between Christian denominations. Of course, I know what this dear lady means. Drawing the line means we’ve said very clearly and very forcefully now that we understand our Lord’s holy will is for his people to worship and serve together, to fellowship with each other, to show love and esteem for one another in order to evangelize the world. And we intend to practice it. We intend to make it a part of who we are and how we think and behave.
From another email written by a Central member: “Thank you for that sermon this past Sunday. The term ‘sermon’ and ‘thank you’ seem so inadequate for such a powerful message. That is a message we should all hear. And often. Ever since our family moved to Central it has felt like a rock lifted off my shoulders in the sense that I was free of the baggage of years of animosity toward and from the Churches of Christ. I didn’t realize however that there was still a fair bit of baggage on my shoulders until I felt it being lifted Sunday morning. That fact that we can recognize and then work with other churches and Christians is such an unreal feeling… maybe a little like we’ll all feel together in heaven. I have said that I have never heard John 10:16 (at least the way I understand it) preached at a Church of Christ. Well, I have now! Grace for 14th and Monroe as well as those down the street? Hallelujah, preach on, brother!”
That email is just one of several I’ve received that express a sense of the powerful words of Jesus’ prayer lifting a weight from their shoulders. A lot of it seems to do with their own personal feelings and beliefs, which have been at odds with their understanding of traditional CofC beliefs and practices, being validated and encouraged from the pulpit on a Sunday morning by their elders and ministers. And, again, if some line in some sand was drawn, it’s about visibly and emphatically renouncing the long-time perception that we think we’re the only ones going to heaven.
Our elders are also receiving emails, of which this is a sample: “Thank you for having the courage in your leadership to take a position that embraces neighbor churches. You set the tone. You foster the culture and the atmosphere that allows and promotes a message like the one we heard Sunday. What a great feeling it is to look past our differences and work together with other Christians. I have told you before that I cannot express my appreciation enough for the impact Central and its staff has had on my family. Now, I want to thank you for the impact Central and its staff has had on me.”
I think the message from John 17 is liberating. I think it frees us to truly be the new people we were created to be at our baptisms. We are full of God’s Holy Spirit, we are re-created to experience all of life in brand new ways, we are united with all of God’s children and all followers of the Christ. Now, we’ve given our people permission — a mandate, even — to act like it. That’s why it feels so good, I think. Because we’re doing what we were created to do. We’re actually pursuing, for a change, what God really wants. That’s why it feels good.
Another way we empowered our congregation was by giving them an argument against those who disapprove fellowshipping other churches and Christians. Immediately following the sermon, one of our oldest members walked down front and confessed to me, “Allan, I’ve been struggling for the past several weeks with this partnership with these other churches because of baptism. My concern has always been about fellowshipping people who are baptized differently than us and for different reasons. You answered it for me. It’s God’s grace. The same grace he has for me, he has for all Christians.”
God’s grace covers all Christians. It covers practice and doctrine. It covers behavior and belief. How does anyone read the Scriptures and come to any other conclusion?
A couple of days ago I received a text from a good friend of mine in Fort Worth: “You are not thinking big enough with “4 Amarillo.” Your reach is much bigger than you think. Make it easy for people to donate who read the blog and get excited, yet aren’t in Amarillo.”
“But it’s a local thing. People who read the blog and get excited about it should pursue a similar path with their own churches, right?”
“In a more perfect world they would. There might be people who will write a check instead of work. While you may prefer they do it locally, if they want to give money to a very good cause, let them.”
One of our plans is to build several Habitat for Humanity houses together next summer. At some point, we may have to organize more officially in order to keep up with the money and other necessary things that go with big projects. So, yeah, there may be a way to donate to “4 Amarillo” later. For now, if you don’t live in our city, I urge you to begin laying the groundwork for similar demonstrations of Christian unity in your own place. Pray about it. Study it. Consider the evangelistic implications for the Kingdom of God. And then do it. It feels good, because it’s right.
If it will help, here’s a link to the audio of the sermon we preached on August 11. It’s called “The Time Has Come: That the World May Believe.” Click here to listen or to download.
One last email: “We’ve had 4+ inches of rain this past week. When I heard a group of farmers this morning wonder why we are getting so much now all of a sudden, I told them it’s because the Church of Christ, the Presbyterians, the Baptists, and the Methodists are finally working together!”