This sermon is focused on the stewardship of ones life. We are called into action even when times are difficult. This sermon is a great reminder of just that. The sermon has great parallels between the disciples and modern times.
This is one of a four sermon series focused on developing a picture of a biblical steward. The series is titled, "Making the Most of All We've Been Given." The stewardship topics are time, money, lives and creation.
Making the Most of Our Selves
Stewardship of Our Lives
May 11, 2008 Acts 2:1-21
Pastor Vern Christopherson
Larry Walker of Los Angeles had always wanted to fly. He joined the air force in hopes of becoming a pilot, but poor eyesight kept him from fulfilling his dream. So one day he got a bright idea. He rounded up forty-five weather balloons and began filling them with helium. He tied then to a lawn chair, which in turn was anchored to his Jeep. With the balloons in place, Larry strapped himself into the chair, along with some sandwiches, a six-pack of beer, and a pellet gun. The goal was to ascend to a certain height--say 30 feet--and then hover in place while he enjoyed happy hour. When he was ready to come down, he would use the pellet gun to pop the balloons.
Things didn't go exactly as planned. After his friends cut the rope, Larry took off as if he'd been shot out of a canon. He didn't stop at 30 feet, or 100 feet, or even 1000 feet. He leveled off at 16,000 feet, somewhere over the air space of the Los Angeles International Airport. He drifted along for fourteen nerve-wracking hours. Finally he gathered up the courage to shoot a few balloons and he slowly began to descend. When he hit the ground, the LAPD were waiting for him. They led him away in handcuffs. A reporter asked him why he had done it. Larry shrugged and said, "A man can't just sit around."
Nobody is going to give Larry Walker an award for common sense. But he did receive an honorable mention in the Darwin Awards for doing something so incredibly stupid that he almost got himself killed. Still, I think Larry Walker is right about one thing: a person can't just sit around. We're made for more than that. We're made for adventure, for challenge, even for a certain amount of risk--just stay away from the helium.
The disciples are just sitting around. They don't necessarily want to be, but their world has collapsed. It's the evening of Easter Sunday. The doors of the Upper Room are locked tight. The disciples are huddling in fear. Simon Peter is over in the corner with his head hanging low. On Thursday night he didn't have the guts to stand up for his best friend. And now his friend is dead, and there's nothing he can do about it.
Suddenly the unthinkable happens: Jesus shows up. The disciples think it's a ghost. Jesus reassures them by showing them the scars in his hands and his side. "Don't be afraid," he says, "I come bringing peace." And then he shares some words they desperately need to hear: "If you forgive the sins of anyone, they're gone for good." Jesus might as well have been looking straight at Peter when he said that. "It's okay, Peter. Sometimes bad things happen. I'm not going to let you sit around feeling sorry for yourself. You can't lead with your head hanging down. You're my disciple. I want you to be the best disciple you can be."
I know another young man named Peter who was having a rough time. Peter Winter lives in south Minneapolis and is a member of my former congregation. He plays baseball for the Minnehaha Academy Redhawks. He's tall and strong and can hit the ball a country mile. Earlier this spring Peter was taking batting practice. His coach was throwing pitches to him behind a protective screen. On one particular pitch, though, the coach didn't have time to get out of the way. Peter launched a rocket that hit the coach square in the face and shattered his jaw. He ended up in intensive care for four days. He could have been killed.
Peter was devastated. He sat around with his head hanging low. He had a crisis of confidence. His heart wasn't in the game. He was striking out at the plate. Then one day Peter got an email from an old and wise coach. In so many words the coach said, "It's okay, Peter. Sometimes bad things happen and it's nobody's fault. I don't want you sitting around feeling sorry for yourself. You can't lead with your head hanging down.You're a Redhawk. I want you to be the best Redhawk you can be."
Words like that can have a profound effect on a young man's life. They did for Peter Winter. In last Wednesday's game, he was back to his old self again. He went 4 for 4, with 3 RBIs. Words like that had a profound effect on Simon Peter too. Jesus breathed on him and the other disciples, and he said, "Receive the Holy Spirit. You were made for adventure and challenge and risk. As the Father has sent me, so I send you."
Fast forward 50 days. It's the Feast of Pentecost. Jews from all over the world are in Jerusalem celebrating the giving of the law. It's a little like July 4 and Thanksgiving rolled into one. Without warning, there's a sound like a gale-force wind. And then, like wildfire, the Holy Spirit spreads throughout the people. Somebody grabs a soapbox and stands above the crowd. It turns out to be none other than Simon Peter. There's a glint in his eye. He's left the Upper Room. He's holding his head high. And he's about to deliver the Pentecost sermon.
Right here Peter finds his mission in life. He's going to team up with God to change the world. And he's inviting others to join him. Peter proclaims: "This is what the prophet Joel was talking about centuries ago. The Spirit of God is being poured out on some of the most unlikely folks: a Mesopotamian mill worker, a Phyrigian fisherman, an Egyptian engraver." Says Peter: "Everyone--young and old, men and women, butchers and bankers--everyone gets a little taste of the Spirit. Everyone is made for adventure and challenge and risk. To quote an old friend of mine, 'As the Father has sent me, so I send you.'"
And sure enough, that's exactly what happens. As soon as Pentecost is over, the crowds pack up and go home. And get this: they take the Holy Spirit with them. The good news of Jesus and his love spreads like wildfire all over the world.
That's the purpose of mission, after all, to spread the good news of Jesus as far as possible. That's what the quilters have been doing [quilts are on display this morning]. Late last fall they received a letter from a man named Alfred Gorvie. Alfred lives in Sierra Leone which happens to be in Africa. He wrote to say that he'd had received one of our quilts. He found the address for our church stitched into the quilt and he wanted to say thank you. He wrote: "Each time I enjoy the comfort of my gift, I thank our Father and pray for you. It helps keep me warm and comfortable during my African nights." And then Alfred added, "Please continue the good work of being a blessing to God's people all over the world."
That sounds like Pentecost to me. Sounds like adventure. We're made for a mission. We're made to team up with the Spirit of God to change the world.
Please note: rarely in the Bible does God interrupt someone's life and ask him or her to do something easy. God doesn't ask Moses to take on a few more sheep, but to stand up to Pharaoh. God doesn't ask Sarah to go to an old-folks home, but to start painting the nursery. God is constantly giving people challenging assignments: to spend a night in a lion's den, to take a walk in a fiery furnace, to marry a pregnant girl who claims she's still a virgin.
You can guess people's initial response: fear. I can't do that. I can't go there. I can't say those things. I suspect that a lot of people in Bible-times simply say no to God. They think, God wouldn't ask me to do something that makes me uncomfortable, right? Think again. God is in the adventure business. Author John Ortberg writes: "If there's a challenge in front of you, a course of action that could cause you to grow and that would be helpful to the people around you, but you find yourself scared about it, there's a real good chance that God is in that challenge."
So, here's the question: when was the last time God asked you to do something adventuresome and risky? Did you do it? Scientists have done studies showing that some people are genetically predisposed to be risk takers. No kidding. They have an abundance of a certain chemical called GABA---gamma-aminobutyric acid. They require vast amounts of risk to keep from getting bored, things like bumping jumping and sky diving and karaoke bars. People on the opposite end of the spectrum are risk avoiders. They have low levels of GABA. They break out in a cold sweat at the beginning of a Scrabble game. Between these two extremes is everybody else.
Now, of course, you can't control the amount of GABA in your system. That's a matter of genetics. The goal is that, when God comes along and taps you on the shoulder, you take what counts as risk for you, one step at a time. For you that could mean just about anything: introducing yourself to a new neighbor even though you're shy; inviting a friend to church even though you're a Lutheran; going on a mission trip to Mexico; finding a more meaningful job; dealing with a messy family addiction; working to clean up the environment; speaking the truth in love to a friend who really needs to hear it; making a pledge to the capital campaign; blowing the whistle on wrongdoing at work. And why would you do it--why would you take the risk? Because a person can't just sit around. You're made for a mission.
Gene Kerz was on a mission for God. In his retirement years, he did volunteer work at Wilderness Canoe Base at the end of the Gunflint Trail. In case you didn't know, Wilderness Canoe Base is a Lutheran Bible camp. Gene stretched himself and got out of his comfort zone because he wanted to become a mentor to young men. A big reason for Gene's passion might have been the large hole in his heart: he had lost his two sons. One was killed when his small plane got tangled up in some power lines. The other was killed in a motorcycle accident when he got home from Vietnam.
Every weekend Gene went to the camp. He brought along his power tools. He showed the kids at camp how to use them. Especially the guys were interested. They fixed up broken-down cabins. They built things together. And most importantly, they formed lasting friendships.
Gene became a mentor to young men wherever he went. One of those young men was a gymnast in the 5th Grade. Gene saw great potential in him. He encouraged him to work hard, stay out of trouble, and develop his incredible talent. The young man went on to win a gold medal in Seoul, South Korea. You've probably heard of him. His name is Bart Conner.
When Bart came back to the United States, there was a reception in his honor. Bart was up on the stage. He called Gene to come up and stand beside him. He took off his gold medal and put it around Gene's neck. And he said, "At least half of this medal belongs to you."
Friends, imagine someday being gathered around the great throne of God. You're called to give an account of your life. You're standing before the King of Kings. As you rehearse the stewardship of your life, you're anxious because you know that you could have done more. The King of Kings looks at you and says, "Don't be anxious. You're not going to get in because of what you've done, but because of what I've done. I'd just like to hear what you've been up to."
As you get close to the King, you notice that he's wearing a cross on a chain around his neck. All of a sudden he takes it off and puts it around your neck, and he says, "Well done, good and faithful servant. This belongs to you." And then he adds, "You were one of my Pentecost people. You lived with a spirit of adventure and challenge and risk. You stretched yourself with a sense of mission. You made the most of all you were given. And you changed the world." Amen
Other semons in the series:
Making the Most of our Time
Making the Most of our Planet
Making the Most of our Money
Rev. Vern Christopherson is Senior Pastor at Lutheran Church of the Transfiguration in Bloomington, MN and a Doctor of Mininstry student at Luther Seminary.