How do we witness?

Sermon for 26 October 2008

1 Thessalonians 2.1-8
Matthew 22.34-46

Rev Michelle Cook is a deacon and the minister of St Luke’s Weipa, a cooperative congregation of the Uniting and Anglican Churches. She is also the patrol padre of the Cape York Patrol of Frontier Services, and it is this she spoke to us about:

As you know and as God is our witness, we never came with words of flattery or with a pretext for greed; nor did we seek praise from mortals whether from you or from others…

No, we never did and we never do – why, because people in the bush have a very good bs detectors. They can see right through you. 

My name is Michelle Cook – and I am a patrol minister up in Cape York.

To confuse people I usually say that I live on the West Coast of Queensland. Most people just look at me funny and say ‘wha?’. 

That’s right, there is a west coast of Queensland – and I live near the top of it. 

I live in Weipa – a mining town of about 3000 people – 10 hours drive from Cairns across Cape York.

You may notice that on the screen there will be some photos – this is just to give you a taste for the area that I travel around and the people that I meet.

So while you look at some photos you might be asking yourselves – what is a patrol minister? And how can I get a job that involves driving around some of the most beautiful country in the whole world.

Well I think I have been asking myself that since I was about 10 when I stuck a Frontier Services sticker on my bookcase at home. I don’t think I really knew what Frontier Services was then – but I liked the idea of travelling around the back of beyond helping people who lived without electricity, running water and television – of course I had a romantic view of these things imagining life was like “We of the never, never”. But in my three years in the Cape York Patrol I have found out what a patrol minister is…

A patrol minister is many things –
a friend, 
a confidante, 
a person you are not related to who is willing to drive a long way to visit you, 
a house safety inspector, 
a child entertainer.

But above all a patrol minister is someone who points to the work of God in the remote places of Australia.

We give care to people in Christ’s name.

We are witnesses to the love of God.

And for me, we are like the ambassadors for Christ talked of in First Thessalonians.

As you know and as God is our witness, we never came with words of flattery or with a pretext for greed; nor did we seek praise from mortals, whether from you or from others, though we might have made demands as apostles of Christ. But we were gentle among you, like a nurse tenderly caring for her own children. So deeply do we care for you that we are determined to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you have become very dear to us.

This passage sums up authentic witnessing – whether we are working in Cape York driving 6 hours just to visit a family
Or whether we are living in suburban Brisbane, driving six hours just to get into the city!

God calls each one of us to witness to the world of God’s love and care for God’s children. As tenderly as a nurse cares for those in her charge.

My call is to be in Cape York, but I grew up here in Brisbane.

Until I was 30 I had lived in Brisbane my whole life. Usually in the area of Toowong and Indooroopilly. 

I was a city girl – grateful for coffee shops, movies, cultural festivals, live theatre and cheap Thai food.

But there was always something pulling at me – to leave this place where I was so comfortable and go somewhere where I had to rely on God absolutely – and not on coffee shops, retail therapy and strong support networks.

That is how I got to Cape York – to Weipa, Coen, Laura, Lockhart, Musgrave, 

God has asked me to travel great distances to be of service to people and to show them how much God loves them.

I now no longer think that driving 3 hours is a burden – that is such a short trip in order to visit someone whose child has a chronic debilitating illness.

I now no longer get too scared about driving down a driveway that is 40klm long, crosses two rivers and three dry sandy creek beds and four gates just to have home made sausages and listen to the history of the Cape.

I now no longer think that I haven’t done my job unless I have prayed with people.

Do you know why?

Because God has asked me to be gentle among the people I minister – like a nurse tenderly caring for her children – because these people have become very dear to me.

When we think about witnessing to God’s love and the life, death and resurrection of Christ I don’t think this passage from Thessalonians comes to mind.

I usually – and perhaps you do too, think of great evangelical rallies like the Billy Graham crusades; or Hillsong altar calls, or Youth With a Mission (YWAM) rallies.

Or we think of words like ‘relationship evangelism’ and small group evangelism or activity-based evangelism.

Rallies are great – they are a great way of getting the gospel out to people.

Types of evangelism are great as well – they give people an way to spread God’s good news that is familiar.

But what this passage from First Thessalonians says to us is that all this witnessing should be done with a certain attitude.

Paul writes of their mistreatment at Philippi and, as usual, justifies his actions through an appeal to his motives.

Authentic witnessing is done with one aim in mind – to please God – not to please mortals.

It is done out of love for people – not out of some desire to make new friends and influence people.

It is done without recall to a special privileged position as Christians, as disciples or apostles, but with love and care.

And above all, with humility.

When we witness to what Christ has done in our lives are we gentle – or are we trying to prove that we are right to have followed Christ.

When we witness to what Christ has done for the world are we caring for people as a nurse cares for her children? Is that our motivation?

Is our motivation to love the Lord our God with all our hearts, our souls and minds?

Is our motivation to love our neighbours as we love ourselves?

In my travels around the Cape that is what I have found.

People respond to the gospel when they know that the bottom line of motivation is that you care for them – tenderly and truly.

In that care – that love – people know that the good news of God is real. Love for the stranger, for the neighbour is a real thing – not just some airy fairy concept that is not applied to people who live too far away.

The good news of God in Christ is real and true when people see love and care that has no ulterior motive other than to show the love of God.

Think about this when you want to do relationship evangelism or rallies or witnessing.

God does not call us to witness for witnessing’s sake.

God calls us to witness for love’s sake – to show the world that the Creator loves us – loves us so much that to be restored in communion with us is the greatest desire.

Ulterior motives – even if they are good and worthy ulterior motives – are not what God is about.

God is about love – loving so much and so unconditionally ‘that we are determined to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you have become very dear to us’. 

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