For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” Romans 10:13-15.
It used to be that people felt an obligation to attend and participate in a church congregation. Everyone went to church, and if you didn’t go to church, you were morally suspect. Back then, you did not have to question whether or not people knew about Jesus Christ, they all came to church and heard the Word from the pastor each week. But this is not the world we live in today. More people in our community do not attend church than do. In this world, we cannot assume our neighbors have heard the good news of Jesus Christ, and we cannot assume our congregation will continue to thrive or even exist. If the Body of Christ is to continue to be present in our community, it is up to us to make His presence known in our community. So, how can we show our neighbors that Jesus Christ is present among us?
Martin Luther taught that Jesus Christ and His kingdom are not made visible simply in the presence of the church. The visible church is not the same thing as the visible kingdom of heaven. Jesus Christ and His kingdom are made visible in this world in only three ways: through the sharing of the Good News (Proclamation), the forgiveness of sins (Reconciliation), and the loving of a neighbor (Consolation). It is only when one of these three signs of the kingdom is brought in contact with our neighbors that they are able to witness Jesus Christ and His kingdom present with them. These three signs represent the three types of ministry with which the Body of Christ should be engaged.
Ministry of Proclamation – This is sharing of the Good News with our neighbor. The proclamation of the Good News is essential for the salvation of our neighbor. This also tends to be the type of ministry with which members of the congregation feel most uncomfortable. There are two types of proclamation ministry: active and passive. The active proclamation of the Gospel is what you hear me do each week in my sermon. The passive proclamation is the sharing of the good news of Jesus Christ with another when asked by that person. This is the responsibility of each one of us. “In your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15).
Ministry of Reconciliation – As sinners we live lives of alienation. Alienated from one another and alienated from God. It is through God’s forgiveness that He reconciles Himself to us. This reconciliation is the substance of the Good News that we proclaim. However, a ministry of reconciliation is engaged in reconciling the members of our community, one to another. Jesus Christ and His kingdom is not only concerned with our individual reconciliations between God and each of us. Our Lord is equally concerned with reconciling us to one another. When we sin against God we should repent and confess that sin to God and through that repentance and confession, receive His forgiveness. In the same way, when we sin against our neighbor, we should repent and confess to our neighbor so that we might be reconciled to that neighbor. And when our neighbor repents and confessed a sin against us, we must forgive and be reconciled. In a ministry of reconciliation, we foster confession, forgiveness, and reconciliation in our community. “So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift” (Matthew 5:23-24).
Ministry of Consolation – We all have needs in this life and we all at times suffer. We suffer hunger and thirst, we suffer loneliness, we suffer in the cold and the heat, we suffer sickness, and we suffer grief. A ministry of consolation is the showing the love of Jesus Christ to our neighbor by relieving the suffering they are experiencing. “’Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’” (Matthew 25:34-40).
We are the Body of Christ in our community and we are charged with making Jesus Christ and His kingdom visible in our community. If we do not do this, then how can we expect our neighbor to come to know Jesus. God saves by His grace, not by our works. But God has given each of us the great honor to serve as means of that grace, using us to bring the knowledge of Jesus Christ and His kingdom to our neighbor. So, how will we show our neighbors that Jesus Christ is present among us?
“Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies–in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.” 1 Peter 4:8-11.