(shared with the people of Friendship Church, May 30, 2004)
Back in the 1950s, the operator of a lighthouse on the Atlantic coast was a popular man. That’s because he was so kind and considerate. Recreational boaters knew that if they ever ran out of gas while out cruising or fishing, they could contact the man at the lighthouse and he would show up with a few gallons of gas to get them going again.
One week, a large number of boaters had asked for the lighthouse operator’s help. He hadn’t noticed that with all the gas he gave away, he was running low. This was the same fuel he needed to operate the generator that powered the lighthouse.
You can imagine what happened. That week, there was a ferocious storm. Just when an incoming ship needed its way lighted into the harbor, there was no gas to power the lighthouse. Without its light, hundreds of people died at sea.
The lighthouse operator was charged with criminal negligence. One person after another testified on his behalf. They told of how helpful the man was, how he was always willing to give a hand to those in distress.
Ultimately though, the jury convicted him. When it came time for the judge to sentence the man, he meted out the maximum penalty and explained: “We’ve heard the compelling testimony of many people regarding your kindness and compassion, sir. But in doing all your good deeds, you forgot one important thing: the fundamental mission of a lighthouse operator is operating the lighthouse.”
Pentecost comes around every year to remind the Church that while there may be many things in which you and I can be involved and the world may hail us for being kind and compassionate, friendly and considerate, we really have just one mission. And if we fail at that, we may as well go out of business.
Jesus’ first followers, about one-hundred-twenty of them, we’re told, were gathered in a locked room in Jerusalem. This was during Pentecost, one of the great feasts of the Jewish faith, a time when Jerusalem’s streets were clogged with people, much as Washington, D.C. has been this weekend for the dedication of the World War Two Memorial. Pentecost fell fifty days after Passover. For those first Jesus-Followers that year, it had been fifty days since Jesus rose from the dead and ten days since He had ascended back into heaven. When Jesus last saw them, He gave them instructions: “Go back to Jerusalem and pray. At the right time, I’ll send My Holy Spirit. Filled with His power, you’ll be able to fulfill your mission in life. You’ll be able to share the Good News that everyone who turns from sin and entrusts their lives to Me...whoever will believe in Me...will have peace in their souls, peace with God, peace with others, and live forever with God.”
Sharing Jesus with others. Letting people know that they can turn from sin and through Jesus, be with God forever. That is the mission of the Church. It’s the mission of every believer in Jesus Christ—whether we’re plumbers, teachers, engineers, homemakers, or even preachers. With words, deeds, and lives, we’re to let people know about the free gift of new and never ending life offered to all by our God-in-the-flesh Savior, Jesus Christ.
And on that special Pentecost Day in Jerusalem, the Holy Spirit came to make it possible for Jesus-Followers to do their job. The Spirit still comes to believers who are open to Him. And yet, when we look at the sorry mess the world is in today, the Church seems powerless and irrelevant. We get involved in millions of different things from social gatherings to road clean-up projects. All of these activities may be laudable. But you and I know that what the world needs more than anything is Jesus Christ. If we who are part of Christ’s Church don’t share Christ with the world, who will?
The actions of Jesus' followers on that special Pentecost following Jesus’ ascension can help us learn how to share Christ with a world in desperate need of Him.
First, we must be humble. A man decided to try skydiving one day. On his first jump, his chute wouldn’t open. The auxiliary chute didn’t either. He was falling with no more options. To his amazement, something started coming towards him from the ground at a rapid speed. It was a man. At the moment when they passed each other, the parachutist cried out, “Do you know anything about parachutes?” “No,” the guy shouted back. “Do you know anything about gas stoves?” Both of those guys could have used some help! It might have been theirs had they humbly asked for it earlier.
If you’re a normal human being, you’re bound to get frightened by the prospect of sharing your faith in Christ with someone else. Inviting them to worship. Telling them what Christ has done for you. We wonder if people will like us or dismiss us or see us as Bible-thumpers. We need to be humble enough to go to God and admit our need of His help.
Jesus’ first followers, a crowd not known for their boldness, were given a huge mission: share Christ with the world. They had already seen Jesus murdered. They knew that doing anything in Jesus’ Name was going to be risky business. And yet, they’d also seen Jesus rise from the dead. They knew that He gave forgiveness and hope to anyone who follows Him, no matter how far a person they may have wandered from God. They knew that the lives of people who follow Jesus are better forever. So, they humbly went to God and admitted they couldn’t do the mission that Jesus gave them without the Holy Spirit Jesus had promised to them.
It’s amazing the promises God makes to people who humbly rely on Him. Listen to two of them:
“If My people, who are called by My Name, will humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”
“Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, so that He may exalt you in due time.”
When we empty ourselves of egotism and self-doubt, God fills us with His power. He sends us confidence, healthy self-esteem, and the ability to fulfill our mission as followers of Christ.
We need humility. We also need to be honest. We need to admit to our helplessness not just to God, but to each other. The world’s problems are huge. We can’t face them, solve them, or deal with them without God.
I was once talking with a woman active in her church, but unencumbered by that fusty churchiness that can turn people off of God. She was real. She told me convincingly one day that there is great power that comes when people are able to admit their helplessness to each other. “You know where I learned that?” she asked me. When I said, “No,” she told me, “The sad thing is that I didn’t learn it in church. I learned it at Alcoholics Anonymous.”
AA, rooted as it is in Christ and the Church, understands the power that comes to people when they admit their powerlessness. Too often in the institutionalized Church, we’re so busy trying to fool people into thinking that everything is okay in our lives, that we forget this truth. But God’s Word tells us that His power is perfected in our weakness. God can only use people honest enough to admit their weakness.
A pastor I read about was a talented preacher. People would flock to hear him from miles around. Then a strange thing happened. He developed the most horrible case of stage fright and stuttering. He literally could not preach any more. He left his church. His wife took on a second job and they and their family moved in with her parents. He wrote desperate letters to colleagues and classmates, asking for their prayers on his behalf. That pastor never did get over his stage fright or stuttering. But in owning his weakness and asking for prayers, several people got the idea for a new ministry for him. They invited him to wrtie for a magazine. He was so good at that, he was later hired as an editor. Later still, he became a writer and eventually, a producer of inspiring TV and radio shows that touched millions of people.
Just before the events we’re told about in today’s Bible lesson happened, the book of Acts says that Jesus’ followers huddled together, “constantly devoting themselves to prayer.” They were humble before God and honest with one another and God sent the Holy Spirit so that they could fulfill their mission.
And finally, those first followers of Jesus show us another critical element to explain how you and I can share Christ with others: They did it. They trusted God’s promise and went out into the city and shared the Good News of Jesus with the world around them. And thank God they did! Because they did, you and I live each day in the hope of Christ and the peace of God. They passed the message of Christ onto others. And now it’s up to us. May we never forget our mission of sharing Christ with others. And may we take the three simple steps taken by those first followers of Jesus: humbly asking for God’s help; honestly owning our weakness to one another; and then, powered by God’s Spirit, sharing the best news the world will ever hear, the Good News of Jesus Christ!
[The story of the lighthouse operator is one told by Pastor Gerald Mann in one of his messages. The story of the parachutist was told by Steve Goodier in his book, Touching Moments: 60-second readings that touch the mind and the heart. Inspiration for much of this message comes from the book, Humility by C. Peter Wagner.]