Blast From the Past

I gave this sermon in June 2006 at Heritage United Methodist Church, Las Vegas, NV (blog: Matthew 28:19)

Matthew 28:19

Before we start, I have some questions for you. What moment are you in? And why? Are you really here? Or is your mind somewhere else? The other day Lonna and I were having a conversation – which I initiated, but the only actual thought in my mind was, “BUSY! BUSY! BUSY! BUSY! BUSY!” Which can translate as, “BZZZZZZZZ.”

I was reading my personal calendar. Lonna questioned one of the dates. Now what on Earth could Lonna possibly know about MY calendar? I explained that I had no idea what she was talking about, but I was talking about MY study group. Lonna didn’t whack me over the head. She didn’t call me any names or in any other way acknowledge that she was talking to an idiot. She just quietly said, “I know.” It was her quietness that cut through all the chaos in my mind. My eyes focused on her face. My brain replayed the conversation — and reminded me that Lonna drives me to my study group. My mouth – I can always count on it to be brilliant – said, “Oh!” And I – belatedly – decided to focus on the moment.

Let’s focus. Would you pray with me?

Gracious and Loving Lord, as we come before you today help us focus our minds and hearts upon worshipping you. Be with me, Lord, as I speak so that my words are God-inspired. Be with each of us as we listen so that we hear your message and incorporate it into our daily lives. Create us, Father, as both receivers and transponders, so that your word does not merely reach us, but filters through us to others. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.

Here Teresa G. sang, Amazing Grace.

We were saved by grace – AMAZING grace. We were adopted into God’s family. When you’re adopted it doesn’t mean your family is stuck with you whether they like it or not. It means they choose you. God choose us. God choose me. God choose you. God. I mean, we have to figure he knew what he was getting – right?

Anyway, I came here tonight to tell you about a purpose driven life – and no, this isn‘t a commercial about Rick Warren’s book. I want to tell you about Bill.

His childhood was one of poverty, constantly moving, never enough money, clothes or food. One day when he was 9 years old it was time to move again. He walked with his mom to the edge of the neighborhood they’d been living in. She told him to wait right there until she came back.

Bill sat down on the edge of a metal culvert in the ditch and waited – four days.

This happened almost 50 years ago during a time when people didn’t meddle in each other’s business. Still, after Bill had sat there for a couple of days a man came out of one of the houses across the street. He asked Bill what he was doing. Bill explained that his mom had said to wait right there, so he was waiting.

Toward evening the man came back with food and a jacket. The next morning he came back with more food. He even stayed to talk awhile and invited Bill to church. Bill was adamant about waiting for his mom.

The fourth day the man returned. This time he had a sandwich and a sleeping bag. He told Bill that he didn’t think his mom was coming back. Bill had already figured that out but he didn’t want to admit it.

The man told Bill that a church bus would be coming by soon and that he should take the sleeping bag and get on that bus. He said the bus would take him to church camp where he would have plenty of food to eat, a warm, safe place to sleep and plenty of time to think about what he wanted to do next. The man promised to keep an eye out for Bill’s mother.

Bill got on that crowded bus carrying the borrowed sleeping bag and wearing the same clothes he’d had on for four days. Nobody sat with him. In fact, nobody talked to him – but they did talk about him. It was a long bus ride.

It was evening when they arrived at camp. They went into a huge, brightly lit building that had a gigantic fireplace at one end. A fire was burning behind the grate and Bill got as close to it as he could. That’s how he found himself in the front row when the speakers started talking. They told this wonderful story about some guy who loved somebody so much he traded his life for theirs. Bill really wanted to believe in a love like that – but how could he?

Tables were set up and food was brought out. The other kids moved to eat but Bill’s stomach had shrunk over the four days and he was still plenty full from a snack they’d served on the bus. He took the opportunity to climb onto the hearth and sit right in front of the fire.

One of the councilors joined him. Bill had a lot of questions about that Jesus person. The councilor answered them. Bill says that there, in front of that fire, he came to understand that Jesus – who is pure and perfect and wonderful – loved him so much – HIM – Bill – filthy, smelly, unwanted even by his own mother – Jesus loved Bill so much that he died to ensure his life.

Suddenly a fire seemed to be blazing in Bill. He says that moment was the first time he ever recalled feeling total peace and security. Nine years old, homeless – without any prospects at all – yet he knew he was safe and secure in the love of Jesus. The fire kindled in Bill that day has never gone out.

When he returned from camp his mother had still not been found. A church family took him in. For once he had steady meals and clean clothes. He went to school on a regular basis, graduated and went on to become a minister.

Rev. Bill worked primarily with inner-city youth right there out of the same church that rescued him. He had a comfortable life doing a job he loved. He could have stayed forever. Instead he followed God to Florida, to Texas, to New York — and right into the Bronx during a time when it was an urban war zone. He set about ministering to inner-city children who had been abandoned by their parents and society. To this day he preaches to drug dealers, prostitutes and their offspring. He’s been knifed a half a dozen times, shot twice and had almost every bone in his face broken by a thrown brick – yet every day he steps right back out onto those streets.

He’s had many opportunities to leave. George Bush Senior was so impressed with him that for a time he served on the President’s Advisory Council. Bill said his work there may have helped a few kids in poverty, but it didn’t fulfill his calling. He resigned and returned to the streets.

No one can say Rev. Bill doesn’t live an amazing, purpose driven life. He started out in Indiana with a little program he wrote himself — a simple way to introduce Jesus into neighborhoods that had never heard of him. He called his program Sidewalk Sunday School. That program is now a part of Metro-ministries and spans several denominations, as well as the globe – Europe, Australia, Asia, Canada, the United States – including Heritage and University United Methodist Churches right here in our city.

I once had the privilege of hearing Rev. Bill Wilson speak. He said the only thing that separates him from the average pew sitter is his willingness to serve. He explained that most of us sing, “Led me, I will follow” – and we really mean it, right up until we get to the gate that stands between our comfort zone and the unknown. There we back up and tell God to go on ahead without us.

In Matthew 28:19 Jesus charges us to, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.” We know this command and most of us truly want to follow it, but we get so caught up in the buzz caused by the words “all nations” that we’re overwhelmed. The enormity of that busy, busy, busy calendar distracts us from the current moment.

We have to quit worrying about the “all nations” and start worrying instead about the “Go!” What is it Jesus would have you do in this moment that would speak of your faith to non-believers? Realistically, are we all called to be Rev. Bill Wilson? No of course not. Even Rev. Bill Wilson was not called to be Rev. Bill Wilson; God grew him to that point.

So, right now, is it too much for us to think of ourselves as the church camp councilor who answered Bill’s questions, or the bus driver who took him to camp, or the man who made sure he had a sleeping bag and a spot on the bus? Each of those men was as responsible for beginning Metro-Ministries as Rev. Bill Wilson. They faithfully answered God’s call by reaching out in that one moment to that one person.

Like Bill, we were all saved by grace – AMAZING grace. We were adopted into God’s family by the shed blood of Jesus– and like Bill, we are expected to take up our Father’s business.

Go therefore and witness to just one person – and who knows, you might change a nation.

Pray with me.

Heavenly Father, when we raise our hands and say we will go where you lead us, help us to remember that you put us in our jobs and neighborhoods for a purpose. Open our eyes to those around us in need of our knowledge of you, then open our mouths, Lord, so we share that knowledge. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.

Benediction –

As you leave here you will be stepping into your mission field. Focus on the moment and, “Go!”

27 thoughts on “Blast From the Past

    • Betty — I think so, too — if we are open and allow it. Sometimes I have said the most inspired and profound things — and I know they didn’t come from me!

  1. Great speech!
    We need to put more God out there. You be surprised how many young people don;t know him.
    I thought they all did. but he gets lost very quickly . Every one can benefit with even a little bit of God.

    • LAdy, I wouldn’t be surprised at all. I taught school for 11 years and spent 6 years as a children’s evangelist. There are far too many people who have no idea who God is.

  2. Great sermon. At nine years of age he stepped over the line from unbelief to faith but more than that happened. He experienced Jesus. From that point on he would walk with Him. Nobody could tell him it was nonsense because Jesus was real as you and I.

    Dr. John’s last blog post..Flash 55-No Rules

    • Dr. John — when people ask me how I can possibly believe in Jesus, I tell them, “Because I have met him, personally.”

    • Jules — have you heard Bill speak as well? He is truly inspiring. One of Rev.Bill’s disciples was my Sidewalk Sunday School mentor. She is just as awesome and committed as Rev Bill.

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