Acts 1:15-17; John 17:6-19
I have done a fair amount of traveling in my life. I did a count. Something like nine European countries, four in Asia, three in Africa, and one in South America. Oh, and Canada. Lots of times to Canada. And what is the one question you always get asked when you come through customs back into the United States? Yeah – that’s right. “Do you have anything to declare?” Now, I’ve never had anything to declare, so I’ve always said no.
Today, I want to talk about the church. And I want to ask you – as members of Christ’s church – do you have anything to declare? The world is asking. “You Christians. Tell me about this Jesus of yours. What do you have to say about him? Do you have anything to declare?”
I think – I hope – you’ll agree with me – that we do have a message to declare. That we worship and serve the living God who makes Himself known to us in Jesus Christ. And what we have to declare is the Good News of what it means to be loved and forgiven. What we declare is that through Jesus Christ God has entered into our world and made life-changing transformations in who we are and how we look at life – how we live our lives. And that that has made all the difference.
Because a church with nothing to declare has lost its purpose. A church with nothing to declare has lost its reason to exist. The church – this church – needs to remember that we are in the business of declaring what it is that we believe – and in who it is in that we place our faith and our trust. And just as important – why it is we believe what it is that we do believe.
So as far as I’m concerned – what we have to declare is a life changing message. The question is, how far are we willing to go to share that message? What risks are we willing to take? Or do we play it safe – and keep it to ourselves? I think it’s a lot like planting seeds.
Let me tell you a story. “A young reporter wanted to get a feel for agriculture, so he called upon a farmer and said, ‘How’s your wheat coming along?’
“The farmer replied, ‘I didn’t plant any.’
“‘Really?” asked the reporter. ‘I thought this was supposed to be wheat country.’
“‘Some say it is,’ came the reply. ‘But I was afraid we might not see enough rain this year.’
“‘Well, what about your corn. How is it doing?’ the young man inquired.
“‘Didn’t plant corn this year.’ the farmer said. ‘I was afraid of corn blight.’
“‘Nope. Afraid the price might drop.’
“‘Well then, what did you plant?’
“‘Nothin’,’ the farmer said. ‘I just played it safe.’”
Yeah, well, farmers who play it safe by NOT planting crops are really not farmers at all, are they? If you want to raise a crop, you’ve got to plant some seeds.
As disciples of Jesus Christ – we are seed planters. When it comes to the Good News of Jesus Christ – what we are is seed planters. But let me tell you – the moment you start planting seeds there are going to be some people are going to tell you, “No way.” No way is what you’re telling me about God and Jesus Christ true. No way.
Here's the thing. Jesus did some pretty amazing stuff. And a lot of people told him, “No way.” Like the time when he was in the synagogue, and a man possessed by a demon comes roaring into the place, and Jesus says, “Be silent, and come out of him.” You can just hear the doubters in the crowd saying, “No way, Jesus.” Say it with me, “No way, Jesus.”
Later on, the friends of a paralyzed man bring the man to Jesus, and Jesus says to him, “I say to you, stand up and take your bed and go to your home.” But the doubters in the crowd say, “No way, Jesus.” Okay, good, you’re catching on.
Still later on, in the house of a girl who has just died, Jesus takes her by the hand and calls out, “Little girl, I say to you, arise.” But the doubters in the crowd say, “No way, Jesus.”
And not only does Jesus do things that for others would have been impossible, but he says some things that sound impossible. Like the time he said, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who hurt you.” But the people said, “No way, Jesus.”
Then there was the time he told his disciples “The Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.” And the disciples said, “No way, Jesus.”
And then – after his resurrection – and just before he ascends into heaven, he says to his disciples, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” And the disciples said, “No way, Jesus.”
When Jesus was told, “no way,” he did it anyway. When he was told it wasn’t going to happen, it happened anyway.
What we have to declare is that Jesus did indeed drive out demons, he healed the sick, he taught us that God is a God of love, he taught us how to love each other – even when that's not so easy to do. We declare that Christ died – and yes – he was raised from the dead back to life again. We declare that the risen Christ revealed himself to his disciples and promised the gift of the Holy Spirit to them – and to all who would follow him.
Unfortunately, there are still folks today who hear this message – this Good News of Jesus Christ – and they say, “No way. No way that this is true!” And yet, I declare that everything that I have said to you today about Jesus Christ is true.
So you see, we’ve got some work to do. When Jesus says, “You shall be my witnesses,” he isn’t just talking to his original disciples. He’s talking to us too.
Now before you say, “Who me? No way,” let me remind you that you do indeed have something to declare. What you have heard. What you have seen. What you have experienced. Just look at the changed lives of those around you – and I would hope – the change you have seen in yourself. To the point where you can say, “It’s all about Jesus. This change you see in me? Jesus made the difference.” It’s OK to declare that.
Now no one said it was going to be easy. It’s not always. We are not being asked to do the impossible. In fact, I would like to suggest that it is more often in the little things that we do that we have the greatest impact on our families – among our friends – and in our communities. A smile. A word of kindness and encouragement. A helping hand. Prayer.
It all starts when we learn to plant some seeds. We will never raise a crop – we will never get results – unless and until we plant some seeds. When we learn to take a risk. Because you know that if you always play it safe, nothing is ever going to happen. So – how far are you willing to go? What risks are you willing to take?
Would your experience of Jesus Christ in this place be something you would be willing to share on Face Book? Over the past few months, I have seen a couple of postings – two or three – from folks who got the word out before or just as they left this place. That’s just one way – a new way that wasn’t available to us just a few years ago – for someone here to say, “I have something to declare.” SO – I won’t mind if you keep your phones turned on when you come to worship. Silence them, please – but if you feel you have something to declare – something you’ve heard – something you’ve experienced – here in this place – and you want your Face Book friends to know about it – well, I say go for it.
But no matter where or how or when you feel you have something to declare – Face Book – whatever social media you use – they are one thing. Some others just might push you to step outside of your comfort zone.
– to share the Good News of Jesus Christ with someone you know, or maybe even someone you don’t know.
– to teach a child about Jesus
– or simply to touch a life in order to make a difference for good.
Let me close by pointing out to you that through it all, Jesus is praying for you. Take some time to reread our Gospel lesson today. He’s praying for you. Listen again to what Jesus says as he prays to the Father, “As you have sent me, so I have sent them.” He's praying for you. He's praying for me. He prays for our protection – and he prays that we would remain faithful – especially as he sends us out into the world to declare the Good News of Jesus Christ.
So let me ask you. Do you have anything to declare? Are you willing to take a risk declaring it? I think it’s a risk worth taking. So let’s take the risk. In this church. Together. We can make a difference for Jesus Christ. Together.