“Go, Tell It”
Running the Race: Following Jesus Through Life’s Stages
Hebrews 12:1; Jeremiah 1:4-10; Acts 4:5-12
Rev. Tasha Blackburn
October 14, 2018
For at least the last 40 years my dad has been a member of his local water board. He has served year after year and attended a board meeting each month. When I was about 7 or 8 years old I remember he was tucking me in bed. When he kissed me good night he said, “Well, I’m headed for water board. I’ll see you in the morning.” I looked at him confused and I asked, “Where’s your swimsuit?” He looked at me like I’d grown a third ear. I persisted: “I said, where is your swimsuit? Do you have it in the car already?” It took several moments before he realized what had happened. All of those years of service on the local water board, the many nights of monthly meetings with committee minutes and budgets to review and I had envisioned that he was going to a recurring swim party.
So often we make assumptions about what people do and do not know: about our lives, about this world, about what really matters. In the assumption, we leave out what might seem like details but could actually change the meaning of everything.
We’ve just had a new guest move into our Guesthouse from the Crisis Intervention Center. She has several children and you can guess that it has been a difficult week for them. I visited with the family the other day as they were waiting for a friend. We were standing outside the sanctuary along B Street. Our guest’s elementary school-aged son introduced himself and then he pointed to the walls of the sanctuary and he said: “What’s that?” I answered that it was a sanctuary. He asked, “What do you do there?” I explained, “We go there on Sundays to worship.” “Are you open now?” he interrupted. “No,” I told him. “Today is not Sunday.”
He gave me a strange look after that, a look that spoke of confusion and disenchantment. Looking back on it. My answers were such bland generalities mixed with esoteric vocabulary that I wouldn’t be surprised if he wondered where I was hiding my swimsuit!
Yes, our faith should be shared by showing it to others through our actions but it also has to be translated. We’ve got to fill in the details of what we are doing or else the meaning will not be clear. We have got to be, not only faith show-ers, but also faith tellers.
Especially in this time and place, we do not want our faith to be misunderstood or, even worse, completely missed. To even share with someone that you are a Christian has sadly become a loaded term. You might tell a stranger this and, depending on their background, you will say “Christian” but they will hear a trough of other things: all the way from you must hate anything fun to all the people you must hate—women, or homosexuals, or democrats.
We are not sharing enough of our story if we simply tell people we are Christian and leave it at that. We are Christians who do not want to carry all of that extra baggage around the name. We want to redeem the term Christian into someone who always strives to follow the Way of Christ and who is living out of gratitude for all that God has done for us. To do that, we cannot just show: we must tell too.
Yes, especially now we must tell of our faith but also, especially, we are the ones who need to tell it. One of the differences between how we are to relate with the world and how our Jewish friends are to relate with the world is this: the great commandment for Jews is to listen. “Hear, O Israel,” begins their calling in Deuteronomy. “Hear: the Lord your God is One.” It is called the Shema and it is repeated throughout the day by faithful Jews as their calling in this world. It begins with Listen.
For Christians, the calling changes and we are commissioned to Tell. It is Jesus’ last words to us. He says, “Go and make disciples…teaching them everything I have commanded.” Our calling in this world is not just to listen although listening for God is incredibly important. But we worship the One who is called Logos, the Word, and so we Christians also talk.
We go out and we tell what the Lord has done for us. It is the great opportunity of our lives to share the answer to this question: By what power did you do this? Face your demons, overcome hardship, succeed at something difficult, experience a miracle, retain hope and joy—by what power did you do these things?
The question comes to Peter in the fourth chapter of Acts as an interrogation. He and John have been arrested and are now being tried. Their crime is that they healed a man and their interrogators want to know “by what power did you do this?” What began as an interrogation quickly becomes Peter’s offering. Peter does not hold back. He tells them that it was Jesus Christ of Nazareth who healed that man. Peter boldly announces the salvation that comes through Jesus and that no other name can save.
By what power did you do this? Who has been at work in you? The answer to that question is what we are called to tell. You might be thinking to yourself: I can’t do that. I am not eloquent or articulate or brave. And you may be right. But you would not be the first person that God wants to speak who does not feel up to it. Moses famously was not up to the job because of a stutter. Gideon ran away from the pressure of it. Jeremiah said, “I am too young” and Abraham said, “I am too old.” None of the greats felt up to the task. Neither will you.
By what power did you do this? You might be thinking to yourself: I shouldn’t answer that. Perhaps your life story has not gone from height to height. You are not often the hero, you are more often the sinner. You have not been showered in miracles like some people describe. Their story would be better to share so you shouldn’t share yours. And again, the club you’re in is large.
Peter is nothing but a let down in one of the key moments of his life, denying he even knew who Jesus was. That shame could have kept him quiet the rest of his years: who is he to dare to speak now? Jeremiah would face a life of suffering and setbacks. His ministry was so difficult that he has been given the name the Weeping Prophet. Why should he tell us anything? He doesn’t seem like someone we’d want to hear from.
But Jeremiah spoke anyway. Peter spoke anyway. Your life story does not have to fit some mold to be a faithful witness.
By what power did you do this? You might be thinking to yourself: I won’t answer that. I won’t tell of my faith; I won’t answer the question, “By what power did you do this?” because it won’t affect anything anyway. Whether or not I tell the details of my faith, whether or not I translate this for others, it will not matter. It won’t change anything.
Which is simply not true. A couple of years ago we had the Christian educator, Dr. Rodger Nishioka, here from Columbia Seminary. He has studied the faith of youth and young adults his entire adult life. He explained that there is only one commonality between young people who remain Christian as they grow. Some had had personal experiences with God but not all of them, that was not the commonality. Some had made good friends in church and had formed an important community there but not all of them, that was not the commonality. The only thing they all had in common was that their parents had told them about why faith was important in their lives. Parents had not just shown them but had told them, they had translated the details and, because of that, their meaning was not lost.
That is not just true for youth and young adults. How many of us are worshipping here today because someone to the time to translate the faith to us? They did not just say things like: “We worship in a sanctuary; but only on Sundays.” No, they said, “I follow Jesus Christ because he offers me a way out of the mess I make of things and he leads me to be who I know God wants me to be. I am a Christian because the best thing I can do with my life is to live in gratitude for what God has done for me. I go to worship because there I am reminded that I am not just junk but a beloved child of God.”
By what power did you do this? Who has been at work in you? It is not an interrogation; it is an opportunity. These last three weeks we have been considering how we can follow Jesus no matter what age and stage we are in. No matter what, we can pray and praying reaches heaven. No matter what, we can show our faith in how we live and showing reshapes us. And no matter what, we can tell. We can answer the question: By what power have you lived thus far? We can tell our story so there is no mistranslation and, in the telling, we take our lives and ensure they are full of meaning. Amen.