“The Time to Stand and Look is Past”
Rev. Louis Timberlake
May 28, 2017
I’m starting to learn something about being a parent. I say starting to learn because Felder’s only two, and he doesn’t have any siblings yet, so I don’t think that we have yet experienced the full unpleasantness of this particular aspect of parenthood. But, I’m starting to learn to dread long car trips. Before kids, car trips were kind of pleasant. Depending on where you’re driving, you might get to enjoy nice scenery, you can listen to music or podcasts, and you can take a break from rushing around to just enjoy the drive.
It’s different with kids, and I only have one right now. Now, those of you a couple of generations before me, I don’t know how you did it. My dad has told me about car trips when he was a kid. He and his two brothers would share a bench seat in the back of a station wagon. No seatbelts. His older brother would claim half of the seat, leaving the other half for my dad and his younger brother. As you might expect with three boys, it was not a quiet ride. When the noise level hit a certain threshold, my grandfather’s hand would come back over the front seat, just trying to catch skin.
When I was a kid, electronics came into the picture. We could keep ourselves pretty occupied with gameboys and those little dvd players with a screen about the size of today’s smartphones. These days, it’s even easier. We have a little iPad mount on the seat, so we download videos onto the iPad before a long trip, pop it on the mount, and Felder is good to go.
But regardless of iPads, toys, snacks, or anything else, at a certain point, long car trips just aren’t a pleasant experience with kids. Elmo can only hold his attention for so long. At a certain point, you’re just ready for the trip to be over.
Movies always have kids asking the question, “Are we there yet?” But, the reality is, parents are far more interested in the answer to that question.
Now, if you have young kids, the next time you’re on a road trip and one of them asks you that question, just respond the way that Jesus responds in this passage. “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority.”
Because, truly, that’s the question the disciples are asking. “Are we there yet? We walked beside you for three years, we dropped everything to follow you, we put our hope in the promise of God doing something significant in our world, we thought all was lost when you died, but now you’ve defeated death. Is this it? Are you finally going to put everything right with the world? Are we there yet?”
Now, did you pay attention to the second half of Jesus’ response? He tells them, “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.”
“Are we there yet?” “Well, I don’t know. That depends on you. I’ve done my part and I’m sending help, but the ball is in your court.”
Now, this is a pretty lofty charge Jesus gives. “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” That’s the city, the nation, and the world. Greensboro, the United
States, and the world. But, we’re talking about the twelve disciples here. I mean, they’re the professionals. They just completed a three-year seminar on how to act and talk like Jesus.
The preacher Leighton Ford tells a story about speaking at an open-air crusade in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Billy Graham was scheduled to speak the following night, but he arrived a day early, so he came and sat on the grass at the back of the crowd to listen to Dr. Ford. He wore a hat and dark glasses, so no one recognized him. Sitting in front of Dr. Graham was an older gentleman who seemed to be listening intently to Dr. Ford. At the end, Dr. Ford did an altar call, inviting people to come forward and make a commitment to Christ. At that point, Dr. Graham, still incognito, decided to do a little personal evangelism. He tapped the older man on the shoulder and asked, "Would you like to make a commitment? I'd be glad to walk down front with you." The old man looked back at him, seemed to consider it, and answered, "Naw, I think I'll just wait till the big gun comes tomorrow night."1
I wonder if we get this idea in our minds that witnessing, sharing Christ with our words and our lives, is for the big guns. Most of you have been in what we refer to as the Disciple Room for a meeting, or a lunch, or something. And, we call it that because there are portraits of the disciples along one of the walls. Those portraits were painted by the artist Kenneth Wyatt. Now, Wyatt used regular people as models for each of those portraits and the story of Thomas is particularly interesting. He was eating lunch at a little restaurant in his Texas hometown when a truck driver stopped in for a bite to eat. Wyatt immediately walked over to him and said, “Thomas?” “No, my name is Larry Smith.” “Well, it will be Thomas before the day is over!”2
What I love about this passage is that the disciples seem to be just as confused and out of sync as the day Jesus said to them, “Follow me and I will make you fishers of men.” I mean, you’d think after three years that they’d have some of it figured out. But, then again, many of us have been trying to follow Jesus for far longer and we often find that there’s much we haven’t figure out. But, I love that about this passage, because it gives a little hope to us regular people. We need to remember that these are fishermen and tax collectors by trade. That paintings of them are modeled on truck drivers. These are the people to which Jesus said, “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” God doesn’t call big guns, God calls regular people and equips them through the Holy Spirit.
Our church is going through a fair amount of transition right now, including a change in Senior Pastors. For some of you who have been a part of Christ Church for quite a while, I know that it feels like you’ve been in a state of transition for about six years. In times of transition, sometimes we can find ourselves thinking like that older man listening to Dr. Ford, waiting on the big gun. Waiting for everything to be just right before we make that commitment, before we take that next step.
But, it’s interesting to me that Jesus often sends people and then equips them later. Jesus doesn’t send to the Holy Spirit upon the disciples and equip them and then say, “Now go and be my witnesses.” No, he sends a bunch of confused fishermen and tax collectors out into the mission field and then sends the Holy Spirit. The preparation comes once they are engaged in the mission.
So often, we get the idea that we have to be equipped before we go. That we have to be an expert teacher before we can teach kids Sunday school, that we need special training before we can go serve among the homeless, the hungry, and the imprisoned, that we have to have a certain skill set to help demonstrate
1 Leighton Ford, Good News is for Sharing, 1977, David C. Cook Publishing Co., p. 67.
hospitality to others as a greeter or Connection Point servant. But Jesus tells them to go before they’re equipped.
Now, since this is the last time I’ll get to preach before he leaves, I want to say something about Mike Bailey. He is one of the most generous, kind, and faithful men that I’ve ever known. It has been a joy to serve alongside him. But, perhaps his greatest legacy at Christ Church, in my mind, is the way that he has empowered the laity to lead the church. A great part of our heritage as Methodists is the notion that pastors are sent to churches for a season. They are stops along a career-long journey through the mission field.
Meaningful stops that can last many year and be full of wonderful relationships, but stops nonetheless. However, the people of the church are there for a lifetime. And, ultimately, while pastors and staff can help a church discern it’s God-given vision, the laity are the trustees of that vision.
When you talk about rolling out a refresh of the mission, vision, and core values of a church right before a lead pastor transition, many people would consider that a poor strategic decision. Because, so often, that conversation is heavily anchored within the pastoral leadership. But, at Christ Church, the lay leadership has been the driving force. The laity have embraced the call of Christ to witness to the city, the nation, and the world. The laity are the trustees of the vision. Laity who are teachers, professors, managers, executives, insurance agents, advisors, healthcare providers, lawyers, real estate agents, retirees, parents, grandparents, and spouses. People in this church have heard Jesus say, if we’re going to get there, I need you to be my witnesses. And they’ve said, “Ok.”
The best line in this entire passage is verse 11. Jesus has just ascended to heaven and, long after he’s gone, the disciples are just standing there looking up. Until a couple of angels show up and ask, “Why are you still standing here looking up? There’s work to be done.”
Brothers and Sisters, there is work to be done in this city, this nation, and this world. Let us seek the equipping power of the Holy Spirit and let us be about that work.
Discussion Questions for May 28
- The passage essentially begins with the question, “Jesus, is it time yet for you to make everything right?” How does Jesus respond to this? What do you think about his response?
- What does it mean to be Christ’s “witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth?” How are you serving as a witness?
- Are you standing and looking or going and serving? What step do you need to take in order to serve more fully as Christ’s witness?