Messengers of the Light
January 13, 2008 Speaker: Rev. Braun Campbell
Topic: Biblical Verse: Acts 10:34–10:43
Baptism of Our Lord
"Messengers of the Light"
What do you think about Jesus?
Now, I really enjoy learning about new gadgets and the like, even though I don't often actually buy them. I love to hear about all the new ways that these consumer electronics could make a difference in going about day-to-day life. And if they can do so in a sleek and shiny little device, then all the better! Knowing that, you might understand how I would follow the news coming out of this past week's Consumer Electronics Show. The Consumer Electronics Show, or CES, is a massive happening in the gadget industry. At this annual tradeshow, companies get together with journalists and vendors to announce their latest developments and to highlight the products that they'll be releasing in the year ahead. Looking back on some of the big announcements of upcoming products, it seems that a common theme is emerging: overcoming obstacles to the message. For some companies, that means going BIG. Panasonic, for example, unveiled its new 150-inch plasma HDTV to display messages far and wide. (That means that the diagonal measurement of its screen is twice my height!) In other corners of the industry, companies are looking to help people get to information seamlessly, regardless of platform, so that you could use your phone, computer, or TV, for example, to check your calendar or buy movie tickets for a date. These products and services promise to connect you with what you need - again, overcoming the obstacles to whatever message needs to get through.
You and I are called to be messengers, to spread the Good News about Jesus, the same message that Peter spoke to the Gentiles in our reading today from Acts. That's our focus during these weeks of Epiphany, as we look to how we can share the Light which dawned upon us at Christmas. The trouble, though, is that we usually spend more time putting up obstacles to the message than we do communicating it.
One of the main obstacles we encounter is our apathy - lack of caring. As Christians, you and I possess a life-changing message. So why don't we feel compelled to share it? Is it that we aren't concerned about people dying without having heard the message? Don't we feel that the Gospel can make a difference in the lives of people who are struggling with the challenges they face? Thinking of gadgets and mobile phones and the like, take a look at our younger generations. Some young people - some of you hearing this message - have made texting (sending text messages to friends' devices, like a really short e-mail) a part of your everyday life. Imagine how they'd feel if the means to message were taken away. The shock! The horror! Working adults, including our staff here at St. John's, exchange messages in e-mail as we go about our tasks. For those of you that live alone, or in retirement developments, how disheartening would it be if you lost the chance to catch up with friends and family about the latest-goings on, or to reminisce about times past. If our ability to communicate instantly via computers and phones were taken away, we might responsd with the same kind of emotions as our young, text-less family members. And for what? Because we couldn't chat about business projects or the latest gossip? Yet we as Christians don't always connect our faith to our mouth, and we allow our apathy to become an obstacle to the message we are called to proclaim.
But even if we do fix our resolve to telling Peter's message, our ignorance can get in the way. Lutherans, like other Christians, might not be at a loss for words when talking about our faith; however, we don't spend much time learning how to share the message of that faith. When you have an opportunity to speak the good news of peace through Christ Jesus, how do you do it? Do you confront someone with a question like, "Are you saved?" Or, "Have you accepted Jesus Christ as your personal Savior?" If you want to drive people away, those questions can be great openers - and closers! Neither seeks to invite someone into a conversation, to hear the message that we bear. What does it say about the state of our lives in this world when we can do a far better job of engaging someone in a discussion about restaurants, movies, the 2008 Presidential campaign, or the latest in consumer electronics than about the life-transforming message of salvation through Christ? Our ignorance of how to speak with others about our Christian faith can be a formidable obstacle.
And should we know how to speak with others, we face another daunting obstacle: our fear. Talking to others about your beliefs means taking a risk. And when it comes to sharing the message of Jesus Christ, the Light of the world, you're confronting the darkness. As a messenger of the Light, you risk getting hurt in this world: rejected by friends or colleagues, dismissed as a "Jesus freak." Rejection hurts, and we fear getting hurt because it's, well, painful. It'd be safer, we might feel, to say nothing. It's easier to remain silent - to let sleeping dogs lie, as it were - and let our family members, friends, and the people in the world around us go on in their unbelief. Our fear of imagined reactions can keep us from ever acting in the first place. We stand by while others are thirsting for forgiveness and renewal, casting about in the dark.
Apathy. Ignorance. Fear. All these obstacles to mission are symptoms of the real problem, our sin. We were separated from God, and we still see the effects of this separation in our lives. This is why we need this Jesus who God anointed with the Holy Spirit and with power: Jesus overcomes the obstacles. He forgives our sin by hanging it on the tree in his death, taking away that which separated us from our Father in heaven. And he did this not just for us, but for all people. Even now, the Holy Spirit is in His people, overcoming the obstacles of apathy, ignorance, and fear. He sends us out as the forgiven, people whose lives are transformed by the work of Christ, people who are now commissioned as messengers of the light.
So how do we do that?
"What do you think about Jesus?" With this question, we can go out and engage the people around us. We can open conversations that allow us to learn about the people that Jesus died to save, and we can share our faith that God raised him from the dead, that he lives even now, and that he will come again. The Holy Spirit will work through you, as He does wherever the Good News of the gospel is proclaimed. "What do you think about Jesus?" Instead of entering into this conversation with an agenda, pray that God will give you the words that your hearer needs as you listen to how they need His forgiving and renewing power in their life. Engage in a dialog that points to Christ as the sole source of a soul's salvation. We don't convert people to faith; God does.
As God's people here at St. John's, you can get equipped with a number of tools for your work as a messenger of the Light. In our worship services this weekend, we have a guest speaker from The Gideons International, to share information about how we may work with them in spreading the gospel. Our ministry of Outreach is conducting training sessions where you can learn to participate in our neighborhood evangelism efforts. And today, as we remember the Baptism of Our Lord, we gather around His cross to receive His Sacraments and His Word, through which the Holy Spirit works to strengthen us to overcome obstacles to His message. To hear that message that we bear, read again Peter's words in Acts 10.
What do you think about Jesus?