Sermon for 05-15-11: “Eyewitness News, Part 3: So I Send You”

May 19, 2011

Sermon Text: John 20:19-29

The sermon was preceded by this video in honor of graduating seniors.

The following is my original manuscript.

When I was 17, my sister Susan got married. She’s seven years older than I am. She went to college at Georgia State when it was still only a commuter school, before it had dorms, and so she had lived at home for 23 years of her life. For 18 years, she had lived in the house I grew up in. For all of my life, Susan’s bedroom had been down the hall from me. The week she got married and went on her honeymoon, I went into her room and “borrowed” her stereo speakers—because her speakers were much better than mine. I guess a part of me hoped that I would inherit her stereo now that she was moving out. Maybe she was leaving it for me! Regardless, I enjoyed listening to her speakers during this week that she was gone.

When she came back from her honeymoon to pack up her last few things before moving to Memphis, where her husband was in medical school, she was furious with me for taking her speakers. I mean, strangely upset, yelling at me. Why would I think I could go in her room and borrow her speakers? They weren’t mine; they were hers. How rude!

I didn’t understand it. My sister wasn’t an ungenerous person. This wasn’t like her at all.

I’m no psychologist, but looking back on that incident, I’m pretty sure that she wasn’t really upset about the speakers. Don’t you think? She’s remained happily married to this day, but I think at the time she was grieving that her home for 18 years of her life was no longer her home—that her cozy, comfortable bedroom, her safe place of refuge, her sanctuary, was no longer her room. For all of her life, she had lived with our parents, and most of her life she had been able to call this place home, and now it was no longer her home. She no longer belonged here. Her life had changed dramatically. My taking her speakers just sort of reinforced that fact.

Likewise, in today’s scripture, these disciples are facing change—big time! More than they could begin to imagine! Their lives had already been turned upside down a couple of days earlier by Jesus’ death on the cross. They had hardly gotten over the shock and fear of seeing their resurrected Lord. And now Jesus was telling them something that was nothing less than jaw-dropping: “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”

As the Father has sent me… If I were among these disciples gathered in this upper room on Easter Sunday evening, I’m sure I would be tempted to say, “Wait a minute, Jesus! Just as the Father sent you, you’re sending us? You mean, we disciples are supposed to continue doing the work that you started, in the same way that you did it? Are you sure about that? What is it about us that makes you think we’re up to this task? We’ve spent the last three years being confused, afraid, prideful, weak in faith, filled with doubt. We’ve constantly misunderstood you. We’ve constantly failed to grasp the meaning of your teaching. At times we’ve been petty and childish. At times we’ve been vindictive. At times we’ve second-guessed you. And when your life was on the line, and you needed us most, we let you down. Are you sure that you want to send us to continue your work of teaching, preaching, and healing? Are you sure that we’re up to the task?”

Many of you saw Michael Scott’s last episode on The Office. He gave each of his employees a parting gift of some kind. To Dwight, he gave the opportunity to play paintball with him in the parking lot—Dwight’s favorite activity is paintball. To Toby, he actually carried on a friendly conversation for a change without insulting him even once. To Kelly, in a rare moment of self-awareness, he said: “I bet the best gift I could give you is to just stop talking to you, right?” And to Andy, the beleaguered salesman with very questionable fashion sense who isn’t good at sales, Michael gave a stack of folders representing the company’s best, most profitable accounts. Andy, who knows he isn’t any good at selling, objects: “Michael, I don’t think you want to do that! I’ll lose the accounts, I know I will!” But Michael won’t hear of it. “No, you’re going to do this. You’re going to be successful.” And Michael holds fast to this conviction, even when—sure enough—Andy loses the first account in record time.

But Michael believed in Andy, despite his many deficiencies, and—even by the end of the episode—Andy rescues one of the accounts after Deangelo, the new boss played by Will Ferrell, loses it.

Have you ever had someone—a teacher, a coach, a boss—believe in you the way Michael believed in Andy? Jesus is like that. Jesus knows that his disciples can do this job. Jesus believed in his disciples. But, in order to be successful, these disciples would have to move out of their comfort zones, dramatically change the direction of their lives, leave behind the comfort and security of the old world and enter this new world—a world which would turn out to be, in almost equal measures, exciting, scary, risky, fun, and not a little dangerous.

We can relate to this, can’t we? All the best things in life, the things worth having and working for, are at least a little like this: taking off the training wheels and learning to ride a bike; taking off the water wings in the pool and swimming without assistance for the first time; diving in the deep end for the first time (can you tell my mind is on summer?); being tall enough to ride a roller-coaster for the first time; being old enough to fall in love and risk getting your heart broken for the first time; getting a license and driving a car on your own for the first time; and—as we are celebrating today—graduating high school. For most of our seniors, this will mean leaving some friends and familiar faces behind, moving out of the house, and going off to college—and for some of you it could mean going into service. But whatever it means, it means getting on with the next phase of your life—which will be dramatically different from this present phase. And that’s exciting, exhilarating, and at least a little scary, isn’t it?

Because regardless whether you’re going off somewhere to college or staying at at home, all of you graduating seniors will be leaving something important behind—something far more important than a stereo or a pair of speakers or even a bedroom. You are leaving most of your childhood behind.

But the most important thing that I can tell you—which applies equally to these disciples in today’s scripture—is that, despite everything else that you will be leaving behind, you will not be leaving Jesus behind! Or, more accurately, Jesus will not be leaving you. Just as Jesus gives his disciples his own Spirit as a promise that no matter where they go, he’ll go with them, so Jesus is promising to go with you. Jesus is going with you! When you graduate, you can count on your world turning upside down—and nearly everything else in your life changing—but I’m telling, Jesus is not going to change! He’s going to be with you wherever you are—wherever life takes you from this point forward. In fact, through the power of the Spirit, Jesus has already gone ahead of you into your future, because he has your life and your future in his hands. And he has something amazing waiting for you in your future—so long as you keep trusting, keep believing, keep following him.

Look at what Jesus had in store for the disciples in today’s scripture! Jesus’ words spoken earlier in John’s gospel, during the Last Supper, must have seemed far-fetched and hard-to-believe at the time but were about to be proven true: Jesus said, “It’s a good thing that I’m leaving you because unless I leave you, I can’t send you the Holy Spirit, and through the Spirit, you’ll be able to accomplish even greater things than you could if I stayed with you.”

When we consider how these same disciples took this gospel message and successfully brought it to Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth, such that we ourselves, 2,000 years later, are here as part of their legacy, well… Jesus’ faith in these disciples was repaid a thousand times over!

And guess what? When Jesus says, “Just as the Father sent me, so I send you,” he doesn’t just mean the 11 remaining disciples of that core group of twelve, and he doesn’t just mean that larger group of disciples gathered in this upper room, and he’s certainly not just talking to people like me who get paid to be pastors, deacons, ministers, or priests… No! He’s talking to all of us baptized believers. In other words, when Jesus says, “So I send you,” he means that he sends you! “You” means you and me. None of us who has placed our faith in Jesus and calls ourselves a Christian is exempt from this mission. See, Jesus has called you and me. And because he has called us, that literally means that we have a vocation. Vocation means “calling.”

And please listen to me, graduating seniors… Are you listening? We don’t get to take a vacation from our vocation. When you were baptized and when you stood up in the sanctuary for confirmation, you signed up for this job. And being a Christian is not a part-time job. All of us, in a sense, are full-time ministers—whether we’re paid to do the job or not. God help those ministers who are only in it for the money! The point is, as tempting as it may be now that many of you are leaving home and going to college and gaining a greater measure of freedom and independence, you don’t get to drop out of church—not if you want to be a faithful disciple of Jesus Christ. You are disobeying the Lord if you’re not in church. Do you understand? So dropping out of church for four or five years of college isn’t an option.

In today’s scripture poor Thomas gets a bad rap for being a doubter—for not believing the other disciples when they tell him that they encountered the risen Lord. But notice something important: even in his doubt and unbelief, Thomas keeps on gathering together with his fellow disciples until his doubts are resolved. Right? He has this encounter with Jesus because he is with the disciples a week after Easter, in church. Follow his example! If you want to encounter Jesus, you are far more likely to do so in the context of a believing community.

Graduating seniors, I also believe that you might need to change the way you think about this next phase of your life. See, it’s not that you’re “going off to college” so much as you are being sent. And you’re not even really being sent by your parents—even though they may believe that they’re sending you because they happen to be paying the bills. Whether your parents know it or not, they are being used by Jesus as part of God’s plan. See, you’re not going off to college, and you’re not really being sent by your parents to college. Rather, Jesus is sending you to college. Because Jesus has a plan for you there. You are going there on a mission from God—and it’s really a part of the same mission that these disciples in today’s scripture are on.

So the question is not what will I major in or what will I study for the next four or five years that will help me get a better job when I graduate or get me into a better graduate school. The question is, How is God calling me to develop the gifts and talents and abilities he’s given me in service to God and God’s mission in this world?

Here’s what it might look like in practice… My wife Lisa was really good at chemistry, math, and other sciences when she was in high school. So she thought she would major in chemical engineering. And she was offered a full-ride scholarship in chemical engineering at Auburn. And she aced all of her math and science classes and she was doing great as a chemical engineering major. But while she was doing so, God showed her that she had a gift for teaching. And she finally decided, after much prayer, that she would use this gift in teaching high school science and math, which she continues to do to this day. And she’s incredibly happy using this gift in this way.

Even though her decision to become a teacher made no financial sense, and cost her hundreds of thousands of dollars in income over the years, she could make this decision because she understood that her life didn’t belong to her to do with as she pleased. Your life doesn’t belong to you to do with as you wish. It belongs to Jesus. Lisa might have gone to college expecting her life to unfold in a certain way, according to the script that she had written for herself, according to her plan, but God had other plans. And God’s plans were much better!

What I’m saying doesn’t just apply to graduating high school seniors… Our lives belong to Jesus. Jesus has given us gifts to use for his mission in this world. And as long as you have life and breath in your body, it’s never too late to get started. Open up your heart to Jesus! Open up your life to Jesus! This is the path to true happiness and success. “As the Father sent me, so I send you.” Will you go where Jesus sends you? 

2 Responses to “Sermon for 05-15-11: “Eyewitness News, Part 3: So I Send You””

  1. Tom Harkins Says:

    Good post, Brent. As you say, we all need to remember we are “on assignment” from Christ our Lord all the time. And, as with the parable of the talents, God is expecting us to give a return on his investment in us.

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