Power To Risk
We're talking about Jesus in this sermon series. What adjectives would you use to describe Jesus? Think of one and call it out. Is your picture of Jesus changing, or expanding, as a result of these sermons? I may be unfair, but I suspect that most of us were taught to picture Jesus as gentle, meek and mild, sort of like Mister Rogers! The carol Silent Night sings, "Holy infant, so tender and mild." No doubt Jesus was a tender and mild baby, but he didn't grow up to be very mild.
What is your picture of Jesus? Norm Evans, former Miami Dolphins lineman, wrote in his book On God's Squad, "I guarantee you Christ would be the toughest guy who ever played this game...If he were alive today I would picture a six-foot-six-inch 260-pound defensive tackle who would always make the big plays." Somehow I find it difficult to picture Jesus as a professional football player, but I do like the picture of a tough Jesus!
What is your picture of Jesus? I hope you are beginning to see Jesus as one who was free to be who he essentially was, and free to do what he came to this earth to do, free of the restraints, inhibitions, and limitations imposed upon most of us. Jesus, secure in himself, lived life to the fullest. He loved, he gave, he cared, he scolded, he condemned, he forgave to the utmost. Philip Yancy in his book The Jesus I Never Knew describes Jesus:
"Obstinacy frustrated him, self-righteousness infuriated him, simple faith thrilled him...He urged obedience to the Mosaic law while acquiring the reputation as a lawbreaker. He could be stabbed by sympathy for a stranger, yet turn on his best friend with the flinty rebuke, 'Get behind me, Satan!' He had uncompromising views on rich men and loose women, yet both types enjoyed his company."
Continuing to fill in a picture of Jesus, this morning's topic is: Jesus took risks, and he gives us the power to risk. Can we even imagine the risk Jesus took in being born? Through the ages, God sent prophet after prophet to bring the people, the chosen people, back to God, back to living the Ten Commandments, back to holiness and worship, back to their mission to bring the world to God. But, to no avail. Eventually, they lost their nation, and by the time the New Testament begins, were living under Roman occupation. God, never giving up, then decided to become a human being, live in the midst of people with the same needs and desires, and lead them into God's kingdom.
But, the risk God took was phenomenal. Born as a human baby, he was vulnerable, trusting completely in his parents to care for him, protect him, raise him, and prepare him for his mission. Jesus risked everything he had on his mission. He called people to help him. He taught them and sent them on missions. When faced with opposition, Jesus did not cringe or fold. Like a defensive tackle, he confronted and tackled God's enemies. What a risk! And, they did him in. They hung him on a cross where he died. But, God had the final word, and raised him from the dead.
Jesus is alive today in spirit. We call him the Holy Spirit, and he now calls us--you and me--to be disciples, to be his body in the world, to carry on his work, to take the risks necessary to do God's work, to reveal God's love and compassion, to tackle injustice and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves. We are called to risk and Jesus gives us the power to risk.
Sometimes we would prefer life to be comfortable and easy. Taking chances, risking, gets the stomach juices flowing. Few of us enjoy confrontation. Yet, life is full of risks; every day is risky. From e-mail, reminding us of the risk in flying. These are actual announcements made by airline personnel who must get terribly bored with the canned announcements they are required to make on every flight. When Ellie and I flew out of Merced before Thanksgiving, there were only five on us on board; yet the flight attendant and pilot gave us the full spiels. Here are some exceptions.
"Your seat cushions can be used for flotation, and in the event of an emergency water landing, please take them with our compliments."
"As you exit the plane, please make sure to gather all of your belongings. Anything left behind will be distributed evenly among the flight attendants. Please do not leave children or spouses."
"Last one off the plane must clean it."
Heard on Southwest Airlines after a very hard landing, "That was quite a bump and I know what y'all are thinking. I'm here to tell you it wasn't the airline's fault, it wasn't the pilots' fault, it wasn't the flight attendants' fault...it was the asphalt!"
After a real crusher of a landing in Phoenix, the Flight Attendant announced, "Ladies and gentlemen, please remain in your seats until Captain Crash and the crew have brought the aircraft to a screeching halt up against the gate. And, once the tire smoke has cleared and the warning bells are silenced, we'll open the door and you can pick your way through the wreckage to the terminal."
"We'd like to thank you folks for flying with us today. And, the next time you get the insane urge to go blasting through the skies in a pressurized metal tube, we hope you'll think of us here at US Airways."
Yes, there are risks in life that we must take everyday, and doing God's work is no exception. Sometimes it's hard to determine where to draw the line between being nice and not hurting people's feelings, and standing up for what you believe. But, take the risk! You can't steal second base and keep your foot on first! Rather than shy away from risking to do God's work, settle the butterflies in your stomach, pray a prayer to God, and Jesus will give you the power to risk.
Chiune Sugihara was a Japanese Christian. As a boy, he dreamed of foreign service. By the 1930s, he was the Japanese ambassador to Lithuania. One morning a huge throng of people gathered outside his home. They were Jews who had made their way across treacherous terrain from Poland, seeking escape from the Nazis. They wanted Japanese visas which would enable them to flee Eastern Europe. Three times Sugihara wired Tokyo for permission to provide the visas; three times he was denied. He had to choose between his career and the desperate need of the Jewish refugees. He decided to risk. He disobeyed orders. He risked his job and his life. Jesus gave him the power to risk. For 28 days he wrote visas, barely sleeping or eating. When he was recalled, he was still writing visas and shoving them through the train windows into the hands of refugees who ran alongside. Sugihara saved 6,000 lives.
During the early hours of Sunday morning, December 8, 1996, after the third night of Chanukah, someone took a baseball bat and broke the front window of a house in Newtown, Pennsylvania. It was the only house on the street with a lighted menorah in the window. The criminals reached through the shattered glass and smashed the menorah. The menorah is used to celebrate the Jewish Festival of Lights. The woman who lived in the vandalized house had come to the United States with her parents to escape persecution in the Soviet Union. Her mother was a Holocaust survivor.
When Lisa Keeling, a young mother who lived down the street, returned from Mass at the Catholic Church that morning, she was horrified to learn of the hate crime. She told her husband, "We have to do something." She said, "I'd like to put a menorah in our front window. If the vandals return, they will have to attack our house too." She decvided to risk, putting herself and her family on the line. Her husband said, "Go for it." She asked a neighbor where to buy a menorah. The word spread, and that evening when the Jewish woman returned home from work, the houses of 18 Christian families in her block had lighted menorahs in their front windows.
Dare you take risks for Jesus? I have a challenge this morning. For some of you, this will be easy; for some of you, it will require courage. You will risk rejection, or embarrassment. Please find the Christmas card that is in your bulletin. On the back, you will see an invitation to our church this Christmas. Times of the three Christmas Eve services are listed, as well as a regular Sunday schedule. This card is not for you; it is for you to take and give to someone else with an invitation to come to your church this Christmas. Give it to someone who has no church, and there is no shortage of unchurched persons in Merced County! There are hundreds of people out there who do not know Jesus. They have not experienced his love. They need a loving church family. Give the card with your personal invitation to a neighbor, or friend, or a clerk in the supermarket, pharmacy or doctor's office! And, make sure they understand we are located on Yosemite Park Way, not Yosemite Avenue. Better yet, offer to bring them with you. We lost a Methodist family who moved to Merced, drove up and down Yosemite Avenue looking for us; finally they gave up and went to another church! If you need more cards, there is a stack at the rear of the sanctuary on the glass cabinet.
Risk for Jesus. Remember how much Jesus risked for you. You do not risk all by yourself. Jesus will be with you and will give you the power to risk.
© 1998 Douglas I. Norris
© 1998 Douglas I. Norris