doubt you have seen the footprints scattered about in
the sanctuary. They are meant to instill in you a sense
of walking, of moving your feet in a particular
direction. of leading you along a path. a path to the
cross. It is the path of discipleship. It moves you from
this very second to the moment of your death and
rebirth, but in a way you could never have imagined!
Discipleship means change - for a disciple is a student
who is ever learning, ever growing, whose defining edges
are challenged and reshaped and redefined as they
enclose and are enclosed by the experience of Christ.
The path to the cross is never
an easy one. The disciples of Christ's day left the
lives they knew to follow Jesus - learning their new
roles on the job, so to speak. They encountered many
people, from the rich and famous, to the poor and
diseased. They faced hardships, bad weather, rough seas,
hot, dusty summers, cold wet winters, hunger, beatings,
stonings, demons and jeering crowds. But still they
followed. Still they walked - all over the Mediterranean
world learning what it meant to witness to God's great
act of love in concrete ways for individual people as
well as hungry crowds.
Tradition tells us that the end
of their lives was no easier. Their witness was bold not
only in their living, but also in their dying. We know
from the Bible Stephen was stoned in the street. Then it
is told that Matthias was draped with dead animals and
left for the vultures, Jude Thaddeus shot to death with
arrows, Mark was dragged behind a chariot, James thrown
off the roof of Herod's palace. The other stories are
just as gruesome. Factual - it is hard to say? But none
the less, we are left with an impression of the depth of
their dedication and willingness to let go of their
lives in the process of witnessing to the meaning of
How can it be that these are the
men who fled in fear the night Jesus was arrested in the
Garden of Gethsemane? Yet these are also some of the men
who literally fulfilled the prophecy in our gospel text.
"They will arrest you and persecute you; they will hand
you over to synagogues and prisons, and you will be
brought before kings and governors because of my name.
They will put some of you to death." It was only a few
decades after Christ's death that the Romans had had
enough of the Jews and sent in sufficient forces to
destroy Jerusalem and level the temple. They killed,
enslaved, or carried off into exile a huge portion of
Jerusalem's population. This was a monumental event for
Israel of cataclysmic proportions, for Jerusalem was not
only the religious center, but also the political center
of their nation. Prior to this, Israel was simply
occupied, now it was destroyed. And there caught up in
the midst of all the turmoil were Christians who not so
long ago knew themselves as Jews.
A rough comparison would be if
Washington D.C. were attacked, all federal buildings
leveled to the ground, including the Smithsonian museum,
national cathedral, all the fine arts buildings, and
historic locations. Imagine the survivors, including
major political figures carried off to other lands. And
DC is now occupied with foreign troops. Six months ago
we would have laughed at the suggestion. Now, some of
that scenario is a frightening possibility. Sure, our
military forces would be there in a moment with a
counter offensive, but the center of our identity as an
American people would have suffered irreparable damage.
What if you were among the survivors, faced with the
enemy, faced with death? What would you say? How would
you behave? What would your witness be of your God and
I can hear your own inner
voices, just as mine is saying, "I don't know! I pray I
am never faced with that. I don't know if I could be as
strong as the disciples. Surely this is a new day, a new
time." Well, perhaps. But listen to the words we sang
just a few moments ago "Rise up, O saints of God! From
vain ambitions turn; Christ rose triumphant that your
hearts with nobler zeal might burn. Speak out, His word
of hope proclaim. Rise up! Redress sin's cruel
consequence. Give justice larger place. Commit your
hearts to seek the paths which Christ has trod."
Do we really know the depth of
commitment enmeshed in that hymn's petitions? We are
asking to be bold in our speech, to burn with a passion
for justice, to redress the consequences of sin. Wow!
Not a simple task. Not one that we feel prepared for nor
one that we feel trained for. Afterall, the disciples
were taught by the best - Christ - himself.
Well alright, let's leave that
image of a disciple in 70 CE and turn to the present.
Let's look at two young men, late teens in dark suits,
white shirts, ties, name tags, riding bikes or seen
walking down the street of any town in the US. You know
immediately who I'm talking about. Forget for now our
theological differences and look at their example. In
effect they are modern-day disciples. They willingly
leave family and friends for two years, go from town to
town, house to house, sometimes in foreign lands,
learning new languages and cultures, boldly sharing what
they have been taught about the gospel and a life
consistent with that good news of Jesus Christ.
It is not a someday dream of
going on a mission as an adult to some impoverished
area, or land that has never heard of Jesus. But their
mission is considered a rite of passage offered to and
gladly accepted by most teens moving into adulthood. It
is a challenge taken seriously and one they are prepared
for at the MTC or Mission Training Center. They witness
in places that have already heard of Christ. Why?
Because they know a Christian is called to proclaim what
Christ has done for them and to tell it over and over
again to uplift and encourage one another in this life.
Could you do something like
that? What gives those young missionaries the courage to
witness to so many people? Perhaps it is the fact that
they are taught what to say and trained for a variety of
situations. Perhaps it is because their parents did it
and their brothers or sisters before them paved the way.
But let's look back at the words
of our litany of discipleship. God's call bids us to
follow. And we ask to clearly hear that call. We ask God
for the courage and strength for the sake of the Gospel.
As Jesus called disciples to walk with him, we respond
with, O Master, let us walk with you. And finally, we
ask, Open our hearts to new ways of walking with you in
this new day, this new time.
Hmmmm, Open our hearts to new
ways of walking with you. PERHAPS it is as Jesus
counsels us. "Make up your minds not to prepare your
defense in advance; for I will give you words and a
wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to
withstand or contradict." Whew! Can our trust be that
strong? Most of the time, we shy away umm, no, we run
from public witnessing because we don't know what to
say. We are afraid of saying something wrong, or we'll
stumble over our words, look foolish, get embarrassed,
people will talk about us later when we're not present.
Or maybe we're afraid to take a stand on what we
believe. It might affect how people relate to us later
in our friendships or business dealings.
So, let's get this straight then
- what we're saying is that sharing the gospel is for
whose sake? Mine? or yours? or theirs? or Christ's?
Well, I don't know. What do you think? If you are
worried about your appearance or your job, then maybe
it's not such good news. Let me ask you, folks. If you
were jogging down the street one early morning and you
passed by a major department store that was putting
signs up that read - Going Out of Business - All
merchandise must go. 90% off regular price. Would you
keep jogging? Yeah! An about face as fast as you could
go to get home to get your wallet. Or maybe you'd whip
out your cell phone and call up your parents and friends
and say get on over here now and bring my credit card
with you. .No you wouldn't! I know you! You'd try to
keep it a secret. You'd go rent a U-haul, buy it all up
yourself and store it for the future. NOT! You'd share
that good news and not have any trouble coming up with
the words to say
Then what is it about the gospel
that is so difficult to share? Do we not care about
anyone else? Do we not love that relative or friend
whose life doesn't know or reflect Christ? What does it
mean to care anyway? Doesn't it mean giving up a part of
yourself to help the other, to be with the other, to
talk together, to think about them when you are apart?
To be aware of their needs and act upon those needs. You
offer rides when the car goes in the shop, you take
meals in times of crisis, mow the lawn when they're laid
up, loan money if they are short, listen when they are
sad, let them know if their lipstick is smeared, share
the gospel if they need encouragement. Ah hah, look how
easily that fits the list. Okay, that's one. Now, go and
do that for everyone you meet!
No, that's not that easy. I
know. Ten years ago I would never have dreamed of being
up here speaking to you today. Throughout my school
years, I never once raised my hand to answer a question.
To do any kind of public speaking I donned another
personality, pretended to be speaking through another
character. (PAUSE) But when the moment comes and God
calls you, you know you can do nothing else. The words
come. You know it. You've had moments when you've talked
about Jesus to others. And it felt good didn't it?
You've had moments when you've been Christ for others.
That was rewarding for both of you, wasn't it? But can
you move it out of your comfort zone? There is a world
of people out there that need to hear God's word of
assurance to get them through the difficult moments of
life. Will you be the bearers of that word? Jesus calls
you daily. Do you hear that call?
To handle our anxieties and
fears we need to realize our lives are not our
possession to be defended and protected, but a gift to
be shared. We have to make room in our lives for one
more, and then one more, and one more. But when our
hands, and heads, and hearts are filled with worries,
concerns and fears, we aren't honestly welcoming the
other person into our presence much less into Christ's
presence. So, how can our witness be genuine? Instead,
can we listen to what the other says without worrying
about how we will answer? Can we pay attention to what
they are offering us without being concerned about what
we can give? Can we see who they are at that moment
without wondering what we can be for them? Somehow in
just being there for someone we are speaking words of
Christ and sharing in his wisdom. This is a new day and
a new time. We have asked Christ to open our hearts to
hear him and to walk with him. Can we then extend that
to hear and walk with others? And when we do, the words
will come. Don't be anxious about what to say, for we
have the promise of Christ that if we listen, we will
know what to say.
As disciples you have learned
something today. That God will give you what you need.
And now I'd like you to practice it. I'd like invite
some of you to end my sermon for me with your testimony.
Listen to your hearts and finish this sentence for me.
Jesus is my _____________ my what? Think of everything
you know about him and give me one word, okay. If you
can say more, go ahead. I know some of you can do this
Then that is enough for today.
It was at a time just like this
that God sent God's son into the world to walk with us,
listen to us, talk with us, touch us. To help us to know
God. The day is coming when we will see him again
face-to-face. But until that time you and I are the
means by which others can come to know God's love
through Christ. Do you accept the challenge? If so, say