“3 Steps to Change the World”
September 27, 2015
By John Partridge
Scripture: Esther 7:1-10, 9:20-22 James 5:13-20 Mark 9:38-50
It has been quite a while since I mentioned it, probably too long, but does anyone here (besides David Hartong, who knows the inner workings of our church very well) remember the mission statement of The United Methodist Church?
I knew that it wouldn’t be many. So here it is:
“The mission of the church is to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.”
– Mission Statement of The United Methodist Church
So if we are United Methodists, and we are, we have signed on to team that has every intention of changing the world.
But how do we do that?
Our mission statement says that we do that by making disciples and that makes sense, but if you’ve been in the local church for even a little while, it isn’t long before you realize that making disciples isn’t always an easy thing to do.
So how do we do that?
In our scripture today, first from Esther, then Jesus, and finally James, we can see a 3-step pattern repeated that should clearly be a model for each of us, and for the local church, today. We begin at the high point of the book of Esther. The evil Haman had tricked king Xerxes into condemning to death, all of the Jews throughout the known world but neither Haman nor Xerxes realized that Xerxes own queen, Esther, was a Jew. In this confrontation, Esther exposes Haman and his evil to the king (Esther 7:1-10, 9:20-22)
7:1 So the king and Haman went to Queen Esther’s banquet, 2 and as they were drinking wine on the second day, the king again asked, “Queen Esther, what is your petition? It will be given you. What is your request? Even up to half the kingdom, it will be granted.”
3 Then Queen Esther answered, “If I have found favor with you, Your Majesty, and if it pleases you, grant me my life—this is my petition. And spare my people—this is my request. 4 For I and my people have been sold to be destroyed, killed and annihilated. If we had merely been sold as male and female slaves, I would have kept quiet, because no such distress would justify disturbing the king.”
5 King Xerxes asked Queen Esther, “Who is he? Where is he—the man who has dared to do such a thing?”
6 Esther said, “An adversary and enemy! This vile Haman!”
Then Haman was terrified before the king and queen
7 The king got up in a rage, left his wine and went out into the palace garden. But Haman, realizing that the king had already decided his fate, stayed behind to beg Queen Esther for his life.
8 Just as the king returned from the palace garden to the banquet hall, Haman was falling on the couch where Esther was reclining.
The king exclaimed, “Will he even molest the queen while she is with me in the house?”
As soon as the word left the king’s mouth, they covered Haman’s face. 9 Then Harbona, one of the eunuchs attending the king, said, “A pole reaching to a height of fifty cubits stands by Haman’s house. He had it set up for Mordecai, who spoke up to help the king.”
The king said, “Impale him on it!” 10 So they impaled Haman on the pole he had set up for Mordecai. Then the king’s fury subsided.
9:20 Mordecai recorded these events, and he sent letters to all the Jews throughout the provinces of King Xerxes, near and far, 21 to have them celebrate annually the fourteenth and fifteenth days of the month of Adar 22 as the time when the Jews got relief from their enemies, and as the month when their sorrow was turned into joy and their mourning into a day of celebration. He wrote them to observe the days as days of feasting and joy and giving presents of food to one another and gifts to the poor. [This holiday is known as Purim]
While most of us will never be called upon to rescue our entire nation, or an entire people, we can still learn something from the way that Esther approached her problem and so that we can apply it to the smaller problems that we face. Despite the fact that she was his wife, before Esther would even approach the king she declared a time of fasting and prayer and asked everyone that she knew, to fast and pray with her as she did so. Only then would she invite the king to dinner, and only then would she make the request that would save the life and property of every Jew in the known world.
Another key step can be found in Mark 9:38-50, as Jesus explains how his followers should live their lives.
38 “Teacher,” said John, “we saw someone driving out demons in your name and we told him to stop, because he was not one of us.”
39 “Do not stop him,” Jesus said. “For no one who does a miracle in my name can in the next moment say anything bad about me, 40 for whoever is not against us is for us. 41 Truly I tell you, anyone who gives you a cup of water in my name because you belong to the Messiah will certainly not lose their reward.
42 “If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them if a large millstone were hung around their neck and they were thrown into the sea. 43 If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go into hell, where the fire never goes out. 45 And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than to have two feet and be thrown into hell. 47 And if your eye causes you to stumble, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell, 48 where
“‘the worms that eat them do not die,
and the fire is not quenched.’
49 Everyone will be salted with fire.
50 “Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can you make it salty again? Have salt among yourselves, and be at peace with each other.”
There is a lot there and I could probably write an entire sermon on that passage alone, but for the moment, let’s focus on Jesus’ main point that we find at the end. ” Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can you make it salty again?”
After reading the rest of that passage and understanding that Jesus is warning his followers that they should live their lives with purity and a pursuit of perfection, then we understand that his point is the same as we often hear in James. The followers of Jesus are expected to act like Jesus. Jesus compares us to salt. If salt isn’t salty, it isn’t good for much of anything except as gravel.
If the followers of Jesus do not act like Jesus, then we really aren’t good for much of anything.
Finally, James puts all of these ideas together for us in James 5:13-20.
13 Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise. 14 Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. 15 And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven. 16 Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.
17 Elijah was a human being, even as we are. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. 18 Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops.
19 My brothers and sisters, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring that person back, 20 remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of their way will save them from death and cover over a multitude of sins.
In this passage, James connects the dots for us and lays out three steps to making disciples, three steps to rescuing people who have been condemned to death (which is, after all, what we are doing when we bring people to faith in Jesus Christ), and three steps to changing the world.
First, if you are in trouble, or if you’re sick, if you have sinned, then you should pray. In this case, you are not praying for the other guy yet, you are praying for you, for your trouble, for your healing, or for your forgiveness. What James is telling us is that the first step in changing the world is to start with ourselves. Before I can change the world, I have to change me. Before you can change the world, you have to change you. Get right with God. Ask for forgiveness. Forgive those who have hurt you and, as we heard Jesus say in Mark, start acting like Christians.
As much as possible, be like Jesus.
Step two comes to us from both Esther and James and that is, simply, pray. This is where we pray for the other guy. Pray for the people that you are trying to rescue, pray for those to whom you hope to witness, pray for the people that your mission teams hope to connect with, pray for the mission and outreach of your church, pray for your neighborhood, but in all that you do, and for all of those who are in need of rescue, pray.
Finally, step three is spelled out in the simplest of terms by James, “Whoever turns a sinner from the error of their way will save them from death.” What James is saying, is that in order for the lost to be saved, in order for the dying to be rescued, someone needs to get out there and save them. Someone needs to get out there and do the rescuing. It wouldn’t do any good if the Coast Guard spent all of their time sitting in lecture halls talking about rescuing people but never actually set foot in a boat. It isn’t enough to sit in the church and pray that people would be rescued; someone needs to actually put “boots on the ground” and make the attempt. And that someone has to be those of us in the church, the followers of Jesus Christ.
So there you are. Three steps to changing the world.
First, get right with God and with others. Do the things that Jesus has taught us to do and act like Jesus teaches us to act.
And third, get out there and get it done. Go out there and rescue others or at least make the attempt. Talk to people. Share Jesus with them. Tell them what Jesus has done for you and let them know that Jesus wants to get to know them, that Jesus loves them. Let them know that Jesus came so that they could be forgiven and rescued from death.
It might sound simple, but that’s all there is to it.
Because whenever you save a life…
…you change the world.