This is the talk I gave for tonight’s worship service:
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.
Matthew 28:16-20 — Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. [NIV]
[Monologue, directed toward heaven, given by Amoeba from the midst of the congregation.]
Everything? Everything?!? Are you lolo? Some days I get up in the morning, I can’t remember my own name, and you want me to remember everything you said while you were on this earth? That you said in Greek?!? I got news for you, Jesus ol’ savior ol’ pal, 2000 years have gone by, and there must be 58 translations of your word online, and it’s still all Greek to me.
And what’s this “all nations” business? The way the economy is now, I can’t afford a trip to Pearl City, especially since they jacked up the bus fare. And you want me to go on a world tour? Look, Lord, go sign up Rona, or Nobuko, or Wayne Cordiero or Amy Grant or one of your other big guns. Leave me out of this.
You know, that’s a pretty common response. It even has a few valid points – and it reminds me of a story you just might find interesting:
I want to tell you about Bill. His childhood was one of poverty, constantly moving, never enough money, or 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.
He waited for four days.
This happened almost 50 years ago during a time when people didn’t meddle too much 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 returned. A church family took Bill in. For once he had steady meals and clean clothes. He went to school on a regular basis, graduated from high school and went on college, eventually becoming 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.
Bill started his first ministry 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 and he designed it to take church, via truck, into the ghetto neighborhoods. That program is now a part of Metro-ministries and spans several denominations, as well as the globe – Europe, Australia, Asia, Canada, and the United States.
I worked as a Director of Sidewalk Sunday School in Las Vegas for 6 years. During that time I 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 he is no different than me or you or anybody else here, except that when most of us sing, “I will go Lord if you lead me,” –we really mean it, right up until we get to the gate that stands between our comfort zone and the unknown. That’s where 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 stop at the gate. The enormity of the big, bad world terrifies us.
We need to quit worrying about the “all nations” and start worrying instead about the “Go!” Realistically, are we all called to be Rev. Bill Wilson? No, of course not. Even Rev. Bill Wilson wasn’t called to be Rev. Bill Wilson; God grew him to that point.
All we have to do is open the gate and take one step beyond our comfort zone – just one — what is it Jesus would have you do from right where you are – be it work, school, shopping, the bus stop, wherever — that would speak of your faith to non-believers?
Consider — is it too much for you to think of yourself 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 is 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.
From here on out, let’s all be just a little bit more like Rev. Bill. Let’s go therefore and witness wherever we are – and who knows, we might just 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 that we share that knowledge. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.
As you leave here you will be stepping into your mission field. Open the gate and take that first step.”