By Dick Barrett
I write this in preparation for our 2021 Annual Conference Assembly, scheduled to be held virtually this year on Saturday, March 6. On March 7, 2020, we were able to meet in person at Sharon Mennonite Church. Little did we know that in less than a week our world would be turned upside down as the coronavirus spread throughout America, as well as much of the world. Most of our churches stopped meeting in person and despite a slowdown in its spread throughout the summer months, the virus returned with vengeance as fall and winter came upon us. While hope has come with a vaccine, we still do not know how many lives will be claimed.
The year 2020 was also one in which we witnessed racial unrest, the killings of black men by police officers in numbers disproportionate to those of white men, and violence in many American cities. The year ended with a presidential election that left the nation of America divided. That division seems just as prevalent in and among our churches as it does in the nation. I am reminded of the words of the prophet Jeremiah (6:14), “They dress the wound of my people as though it were not serious. ‘Peace, peace,’ they say, when there is no peace.” Today, very few of us would even say there is peace.
Our theme for ACA 2021 is “Come and See: The Mission of the Church in God’s Country.” While much of the focus will be trying to (re)discover God’s mission for our rural churches, we need to remind ourselves that God is on a mission to save the world. That was the mission that he gave his son some 2,000 years ago. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).
All four gospel accounts begin with John the Baptist coming to prepare the way for Jesus’ coming, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. The preparation for Jesus’ first coming 2,000 years ago was the recognition that each person and the whole world were in need of a savior. If there is anything that the events of 2020 should have taught us, it is that each of us and the world are still in need of a savior.
The gospel passage for this year’s assembly is John 1:35-51 with John the Baptist pointing out Jesus: “Behold, the Lamb of God!” The previous day John had done the very same thing with the words, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” After discovering who Jesus is, Andrew goes and tells his brother Simon. The next day Jesus himself finds Philip. When Philip recognizes Jesus as the long-awaited promised Messiah, he goes and finds Nathanael and reports the good news to him.
Word of mouth is how the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ was spread when Jesus walked the earth, and it was how the good news was spread in the early days of the church. My fear is that many of us in the church today have lost the sense of Jesus’ primary calling on our lives as his disciples. Jesus’ first words as recorded in the Gospel of Mark are, “The time has come, the kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” followed by, “Come, follow me and I will send you out to fish for people.”
In the year 2021, what each person in the whole world needs to hear is that we are in need of a savior, as well as the good news that the Savior has already come, and that he is Jesus Christ. Yes, Jesus’ Great Commission tells us to “Go and make disciples of all nations,” but the truth is one does not become a disciple of Jesus until she or he recognizes their own need for a savior from sin, and that salvation is found only in Jesus Christ. Evangelism comes before discipleship. Jesus becomes one’s Savior before he becomes one’s Lord. We do not save the world; Jesus saves the world. But we disciples are his ambassadors, called to share the Good News and to point people to him: “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”