Preaching: Pastor Rebecca Henry
Date Presented: Sunday, October 30, 2016
Scripture Reference: John 1:35-46, Colossians 4:5-6
Sermon: Committed to Christ: Witness
This video certainly gets me thinking. It leads you down this path, this story, of seeing all the ways this young man’s life changes all because the other guy made the most out of an opportunity. He saw someone needing help, and rather than simply help him pick up the fruit he shows an interest in the person. He talks with him. He invites him to play basketball. He takes the opportunity to start a relationship. And from there things develop: he gets involved in the church; he meets someone and gets married. His life is different. Only the film ends with us thinking about and realizing instead the missed opportunity.
We can do the same thing with today’s reading from John. Andrew hears John the Baptist announce the presence of Jesus and he follows Jesus to see for himself. Only having spent the day with Jesus, having decided for himself that Jesus is the Son of God, he realizes this is too good, too exciting, not to share with others. He makes the most of an opportunity and goes to tell his brother Simon Peter. Peter, of course, stays with Jesus and becomes one of his apostles. He sees Jesus turn water into wine, heal a blind man, feed 5,000 people, raise Lazarus from the dead, and yes, he watches Jesus die on the cross. But then Peter is there in the empty tomb seeing the linen cloths. He drags in a net full of fish and eats with Jesus. He watches Jesus ascend into heaven, and then filled with the Holy Spirit on Pentecost, he begins to preach, to tell others about Jesus, and thousands are baptized. With the help of the Holy Spirit Peter heals a lame man outside the Temple, and he speaks before religious authorities. Peter has visions about needing to reach out and include Gentiles, and finds himself in prison for speaking of Jesus. Peters helps spread the good news of Jesus, but what if Andrew never told him about Jesus, never invited him to “come and see” Jesus for himself? What if, like in the film with the young man and his oranges, Andrew missed an opportunity?
In his letter to the Colossians Paul urges us “to make good use of every opportunity you have.” We are called by Jesus to be witnesses, to tell the story of Jesus, and not just what we read in the Bible, but our own story of how we have experienced Jesus. It doesn’t mean we have to share our whole story right away. It can be as simple as what we hear in the Gospel, “come and see for yourselves.” Maybe it’s saying to someone, “I am loving Wednesday nights at our church and seeing all the excitement of the kids as they worship. I would love it if you would come this Wednesday with me and experience it for yourself.” It’s how our Tuesday evening Bible study has grown, people sharing something they are enjoying and extending an invitation. That is being a witness.
People may not respond right away, but that doesn’t mean we stop inviting. At a training event by the Billy Graham Association, Bob Crossman learned that new believers, on average, received 24 invitations before they finally said yes. That means that as witnesses we make the most of every opportunity.
The question for many of us is: how and when? Jesus answers that in Matthew 10:5-10, “Don’t begin by traveling to some far-off place to convert unbelievers. And don’t try to be dramatic by tackling some public enemy. Go to the lost, confused people right here in the neighborhood.” Jesus is telling us to make the most of our opportunities in our daily routines. Maybe it is later today when you are eating out, or stopping to get gas, and you ask the person serving you if they have to work every Sunday or if they ever get to go to church. Maybe it is picking up one of our orange cards about the Halloween dinner, and using it to invite someone. Maybe it is reaching out to neighbors and beginning a relationship with them by helping with their leaves. There are many opportunities if we don’t miss them.
I have shared with some of you that last year that Halloween sign in our yard made a huge difference. A grandmother was out trick-or-treating with her grandsons and she was getting tired and cold. She happened to see the sign and came in. Only that wasn’t all that happened. Vicky noticed her and the boys and she sat down to visit. Soon she was telling them about God’s School and inviting them to come. Vicky made the most out of that opportunity, and because she did that grandmother has been bringing her grandchildren to God’s School regularly ever since then.
I can remember when I was serving in Juneau. During the summer months I would often prop open the church doors so people would know I was there. One day a boy from the neighborhood, Tony, came in and started talking with me. I told him to come back again, and then next time I would have. The next week he was back, and we went outside to draw. Tony insisted I draw something. I drew 5 loaves and two fish, and when he asked me about it I told him the story. I invited Ton y to come to church, but he didn’t come. I kept inviting him though, and every once in a while he was there. Eventually he started bringing his grandmother Diane to church and in time they became members.
In his book, Committed to Christ, Bob Crossman tells a story he heard from Dr. Mordecai Johnson, former president of Howard University. An evangelist was coming to a small town to hold a tent revival. One little boy was curious and so every night he was there watching and listening. As the week was coming to an end it was announced that Sunday morning anyone who was ready to receive Christ would be baptized. Those who wanted to be baptized were to come dressed in white.
The little boy hurried home and told his mother what he wanted to do. At his request, his mother took a sheet off one of the beds and made him a little white robe.
Proudly and full of excitement, but also some fear, the little boy made his way to the tent on Sunday morning. And what a crowd there was! There was singing and praying! It was truly a celebration. And as the ushers would see someone dressed in white they would lead them forward to be baptized.
Later that night, as the crowd dispersed after the service, the little boy stood there alone, still waiting to be baptized, because no one saw him, no one talked to him.
There are people hungry for community, for meaning, eager for someone to notice them, and as Jesus said, they are right in our community. The question is are we overlooking them? Are we missing opportunities? Jesus needs us. Maybe it starts with prayer. Maybe it is praying for courage to overcome our inhibitions. Maybe it is praying for our eyes to be opened. Maybe it is praying for someone you know that God is leading you to reach out to. We start with prayer, but then as Paul writes we make good use of every opportunity. It can be life changing.