(The plaque) It became something of a family joke – despite the fact that every time we saw the saying it annoyed our daughters -- or perhaps actually because of it. It started when a member of the church gave me the plaque when the girls were in their early teens. It looked like a scroll, mounted on wood and read: “If at first you don’t succeed, try it the way your mom told you to in the beginning.” There came a point when I would just point to the plaque when our older daughter came in complaining about something – until the day that she lost her temper and took it out of the house. We never figured out where she took it, because it wasn’t in our trash. But the really funny thing was that it kept reappearing. It would be on a sign at Cracker Barrel, or on a jewelry box in a gift shop, or in a thrift shop – even with the PLAQUE gone, the saying kept invading our air space. Randy and I thought it was funny even if the girls didn’t – but the message hung around until the girls left home.
I. One of the clear messages of Easter and the Resurrection is that neither Jesus’ death, nor his resurrection are the end of the story. In ways we cannot understand, Jesus was present with the disciples for more training even after his resurrection. He taught them what they must do to continue the ministry that he began with them and that now they must carry on without him.
In Mark 6, Jesus is still alive and sends the disciples out on a training mission. They are sent in pairs into the countryside to do the work that Jesus had been doing: preach repentance, teach about God’s kingdom, heal, and exorcise demons. They weren’t to take provisions – not even a second tunic, which would have allowed them to sleep outdoors. They were to trust to the hospitality of a place – or else move on. This wasn’t a fundraising operation – they weren’t preaching and healing to make money, just serving people in need. And they succeeded. 12 They went out and preached that people should repent. 13 They drove out many demons and anointed many sick people with oil and healed them.
While Jesus was still alive they had this training experience to teach them that they COULD and SHOULD SHARE in Jesus’ ministry. They were not just to follow Jesus – they were called to DO ministry. In the next story about Jesus and the disciples, they had a hungry crowd and came to Jesus to solve that problem. He turned it back on them – “YOU give them something to eat.” He wasn’t being unkind or uncaring – he wanted them to know that THEY had the power of the Holy Spirit to carry on this ministry!
PARENT. Much like a parent who when a child comes complaining about something responds, “It sounds like you have a problem, doesn’t it?” In simply turning it back to the child, the parent gives them a vote of confidence that they have the ABILITY to solve the problem. Jesus says: you can do this!
Interestingly, and perhaps to emphasize this particular point, this experience of the disciples being sent out in pairs to do ministry is placed in Mark’s story immediately following Jesus’ less-than-successful stop in his hometown of Nazareth where people didn’t want to believe what he preached or credit that God was at work in him. And it is right before the story of the death of John the Baptist. The disciples’ ministry seems to be a positive point in the midst of discouraging results by Jesus and the death of John. It may be a hint of promise that the message is not dependent on the special gifts of the messengers!
In the Acts 1 text, Jesus says this explicitly. “YOU will be my witnesses – and the Holy Spirit will be with you.” The work of Jesus has a planned continuance through the disciples. They are called and sent for this purpose – and the growing number of followers will become the church. It is all a part of the plan!
Jesus is ensuring that he is teaching the disciples, even before his death, that they can carry on this work with the help of the Holy Spirit. The work must continue and they are called to do it.
II. After Jesus’ death it was a bit more complicated. Of course it was harder. And the Romans were out to get them. They were more worried because they had a less naïve idea about what they were doing. And even after the resurrection, they weren’t sure what to make of all of the events that had happened.
STAY. We talked on Easter Sunday about the instructions sent through the women to go to Galilee and there the disciples would see Jesus. In Luke and Acts the instructions changed location – they were to stay in Jerusalem until they received the Holy Spirit. For the writer of Luke and Acts, Jerusalem was the center of the story, not Galilee as in Mark. It would be in Jerusalem that the Holy Spirit would be poured out on them and give them power to carry on this work in the face of fierce persecution and great difficulty. And they “would be his witnesses.”
But Step 1 is to STAY. We could be forgiven, I think, for thinking that this instruction, although applying to the disciples generally, might also be particularly for Peter. Peter, after all, tends to act impulsively. When things aren’t happening – Peter MAKES things happen. But Jesus particularly tells them to STAY – to WAIT. They have to stay long enough to wait for what God is going to do.
We understand the impatience they probably felt. We feel it too. We get impatient. We want things to happen quickly – on our terms. But, Jesus says, you’ve got to wait long enough….wait on the action of God. And God doesn’t act on our schedules. (Or perhaps we aren’t on God’s timetable.)
Step 2 is to RECEIVE the power of the Holy Spirit. The truth is, what Jesus is asking them to do will be hard enough WITH the help of the Holy Spirit. Without that help, they’re toast. It’s a bit like training before a big sports event. You have to be ready in order to endure. The ministry Jesus is asking the disciples to do will require not only training, but also endurance and power that they don’t have yet. So they are told to wait until they receive the power of the Holy Spirit. Like being told, “Don’t get in the water until you have on your life vest.” You need this!
THEN BE WITNESSES. Jesus gives the disciples a purpose for the rest of their lives. They are to be witnesses to the work of God that they have experienced. To share the story. Continue the ministry. Change the world.
Yes, this will be harder with Jesus gone and the Romans breathing down their necks. But if they wait until the receive the power of the Holy Spirit, they will be able to do this work that Jesus has called them to do, trained them to do. They can bear witness to a story bigger and truer than their own, a story big enough to change lives, even to change the world.
III. We would ALL like this sermon better if it could be a bible and history lesson about the disciples who followed Jesus during his ministry carrying on after he was gone. But that wouldn’t be faithful to the story. A bit like the 1984 fantasy movie, The Neverending Story, this story, these instructions are meant to continue in a never-ending cycle.
The work of Jesus wasn’t limited by his lifetime, or the lifetimes of his original disciples. They were to be witnesses to share the work, who would be witnesses to others – who would share the work. And the story has been told and the work has continued until it has come to us.
NEED. God calls followers to be God’s presence in the world to meet the needs of hurting people. Just as Jesus did, just as the disciples did, people are called today to relieve the suffering, to confront evil, and to tell people about a different set of values that confronts what is evil and encourages people to align their lives with God’s principles.
THE LIST. At a special event about prison ministry, the state prison commissioner, Chuck Colson and Bill Glass (visionaries about prison ministry) were speaking to a congregation in Alabama. At the end, the prison commissioner was asked if he had anything to say. He reached into his billfold and took out a piece of paper. He explained that it had the names of three people who had been executed since he became commissioner. He said, “and for each of them, just before they were executed, the man pulling the switch looked at me because I had to give the final nod.” He said that he carried “those names with him every day and often wondered: Didn’t they know somebody who was a Christian? Didn’t they work for somebody who was a Christian? Didn’t they have a Sunday school class that cared for them? Didn’t they have a neighbor? Those names reminded him, he said, that people can totally escape the faith witness of anybody.”[i]
EVEN THIS WEEK, people have shared that what they want in a faith community is a group of people with a different set of values than those commonly held in the world – where caring for others is the norm and considering what is RIGHT, not just what is profitable, is the determining value. We have had people through these doors longing to hear that God loves them – just that – and they are welcome just as they are. Even just this week people have expressed their longing to be a part of a group of people who are changing the world to be a place more reflective of what God wants it to be.
God wants witnesses – so We need to share the story. Our stories are not just our own – they are a part of something larger. God needs a group of people who are willing to “astonish this present world, in its loneliness and disconnection, with the peace and joy that comes from the future.”[ii] God wants to touch others through us – through you, through me. Consider for a moment: How have you experienced God recently in your life? How has God been working a restoration in your life that might help someone else?
Maybe in the fresh encouragement of young people exploring how to use their talents for God
Maybe a sense of comfort when you prayed in the midst of a storm
Maybe the healing of old wounds, bit by bit as you immerse yourself in God’s love
Maybe reading scripture and finding a sense of direction or instruction from God
Maybe in Christian conversation where another person has shared an insight you were missing
Perhaps in something in creation or in another person so beautiful that it took your breath away and you whispered, “This must be from the finger of God.”
RARELY do we have a sense of the Audible voice of God or image of God – and these times often tend to be correction. (Ask me later)
It is important to consider what we would share if someone asked us, “How have you experienced God recently in your life?” We have to pay attention in order to see these things.
WITNESS. How shall we share the good news? We know that Jesus was pretty specific in his instructions – we have heard the story. And we are the current generation of Jesus’ followers. So, these instructions are for US!
Card. You should have a blank index card given to you this morning. If you don’t, please raise your hand for an usher to give you one.[iii]
1. Write the names of three people that you know who are not connected to any church or faith community.
2. Commit to pray for their welfare daily – and pray for an opportunity to invite them to worship. Be open to a conversation to talk about your faith.
3. Take your card home and put it where you will see it daily as a reminder to pray for these persons. Just keep praying.
We ALL need to share our faith with people we know. Because they are hurting. Because WE have something VITAL to share. And yes, because Jesus told us to do it – because it matters.
The world doesn’t need more people with messiah complexes, or even more heroes. What it needs is witnesses – people who have learned to live by this gift of new life in Jesus and can tell the story of how the world is already changed through Jesus Christ. Especially people who will tell their own stories of how their lives are being transformed by what Jesus taught about the kingdom, the kingdom of God.
[i] John Ed Mathison, Treasures of the Transformed Life, 294.
[ii] Jonathan Martin, Prototype. 204.
[iii] Comes from Joe Harding, explained in Bob Farr, Doug Anderson and Kay Kotan, Get Their Name. 23-4