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When we track the ministry of Jesus, we discover that he simply didn't like funerals. In fact, he broke up every funeral he ever attended including his own.
· One day he went to the city of Nain. As he entered, he met a funeral procession. A widow's son had died. Jesus stopped the funeral procession, touched the funeral bier, brought the young man back to life and returned him to his mother. He broke up the funeral.
· He went to the home of Jairus, the ruler of the synagogue whose little girl had died. The mourners had already begun their weeping and wailing. Jesus entered the room, took her by the hand, and restored her life. He broke up the funeral.
· He went to Bethany because he had learned that his friend Lazarus had died. He had been buried in a tomb for three days. Jesus went to the tomb, called him forth, and Lazarus walked out alive. Jesus broke up the funeral.
· Early in the morning of that first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other women went to the tomb to complete the burial process. They found the stone rolled away, and an angel announced to them, "He is not here; he is risen." Our Lord Jesus Christ even broke up his own funeral.
Jesus Christ is the Lord of the living. He stormed the dark dungeon of death and set the captives free. Our God is a living God.
One day Jesus asked his disciples, "Who do people say that I am?" They answered, "Some say John the Baptist. Others say Elijah or Jeremiah or one of the prophets." Jesus pushed further. "But who do you say that I am?" Simon Peter answered, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." Jesus answered, "Blessed are you, Simon, Son of Jonah. Flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but my Father who is in heaven."
One clear simple, immutable, unalterable, eternal truth emerges from this dialogue:
Our God is a living God. Our God is the God of people who are alive. We are God's living people.
Therefore, therefore, I think it is fair to ask, "Is there any evidence that we can give to demonstrate that we are indeed alive?" Is it possible for the world to look at Christian people and the lives we live and conclude, "These people are dead. They give no signs, no evidence, that they are alive."
A woman went to her pastor and said, "Reverend, I need to tell you that I'm going to divorce my husband." The minister replied, "I need to remind you, madam, that when you were married you made a vow that you would stay with him until death." The distraught woman answered, "I know, Reverend, but for the last five years, I haven't seen one single sign of life." Are there any signs of life in the church today? Are there any signs of energy, joy, and celebration in our worship?
I read an article recently about one of our major denominations. They were meeting in a convention in Omaha, Nebraska. The worship planners wanted to find a way for participants to express the joy, gladness, and thanksgiving that should be a natural part of worship. Knowing that they were a conservative and formal group and would not give free or spontaneous expression to their feelings, a plan was devised to give every worshipper a helium-filled balloon. Along with the balloons, instructions were given that at any point in the worship should someone be moved by the Spirit and desire to express in some outward way the enthusiasm, excitement in their souls, they should joyfully release their balloons that they might ascend as an expression of praise and gratitude. The worship began. Sure enough, during the service balloons began to ascend all over the worship center. Astonishingly, however, when worship was over, fully one-third of the people were still clutching tightly their balloons. We can only assume that either the worship was dead or the people were dead, or perhaps both. We are called by God to be his living people, but somehow we must learn to give some sign of life, some evidence to the world and to ourselves that we are alive, that the power of God is active, moving, and stirring within us.
So, what are some of the signs of life?
The first one is faith. We must be able to demonstrate faith. Faith is not an opinion that we have about God. Faith is a conviction in our souls about God. It is something that we hold powerfully and deeply within us. It is something that we will never, never surrender under any condition. That faith, then, opens us to God and permits his power to flow into our lives.
When my brother and I were in high school, he owned an old 1934 Plymouth. He bought it for $50 and was cheated in the deal. It was one of those old cars that looked like a hearse. It was long and black; it had four doors, a tarpaper roof and running boards two-feet wide. My brother and I bought gas for the old car 50-cents' worth at a time. That would take us maybe 25 or 30 miles. I have to confess that the old car was not reliable transportation. In fact, I pushed that old bucket of bolts a lot farther than I ever rode it. One day my brother wanted to go across town, and he asked me to help because, of course, the battery was dead, as it always was. He wanted me to push the thing so he could jumpstart the motor. I agreed, since I, too, wanted to go across town. He climbed in under the steering wheel in the driver's seat and called back to me, "All right, push!" I put my shoulder to the trunk and my hand on the bumper and I pushed and I pushed, and the car began to move. My brother let out on the clutch and the motor coughed and jumped, but it didn't start. He called out, "Push again!" I took hold of the back bumper and pushed and the car rolled faster and faster, and he let out on the clutch, and the motor jumped and jerked and spit and coughed. But it didn't start. I pushed that old car down the third block and a fourth block. All in all, I pushed it seven blocks, and it never started. By that time, I was so tired I could hardly walk. I staggered up to the window on the driver's side. I was about to tell my brother what he could do with his miserable, old car when I looked in at the dashboard and saw something that stunned me. I'm telling you, friends, my mind was filled with plans for serious bodily harm for my brother. For what I noticed was that my dear brother had never turned on the key. I could have pushed that old Plymouth the rest of my life, and it would never have started. I remember that day vividly because I learned a great lesson. I learned that no matter how hard you work, struggle, push, shove, and try to go forward, you will make no progress until you turn the key and connect with the source of power. Finally, my brother turned the key and I pushed one more time. The motor started, and we sailed merrily down the road. So, in your spiritual life, once you turn the key of faith, you connect with the power of God, and God's power gives life.
The second sign that we are God's living people is seen in our willingness to go with the Master wherever the Master leads. Most of us naively believe that the Master will lead us into the sunshine, where everything is glorious, good, and beautiful. The truth is that the Master sometimes leads us into hard, harsh, dark, and difficult places. The Master will sometimes lead you out onto the tightrope of life where your faith is truly tested.
On June 30th, 1859, the Frenchman Emile Blondin strung a wire across Niagara Falls and announced to the world that he would walk the tightrope from one side to the other. Thousands gathered to witness the historic moment. Blondin, true to his word, walked on a tightrope across Niagara Falls. On the far side, the people cheered and Blondin turned to a young boy in the crowd and said, "Son, do you believe that I can walk back across this tightrope to the other side?" The boy shouted, "I believe! I believe!" Blondin said, "Good, then come climb on my back and go with me." The young boy quickly vanished into the crowd.
We must have enough trust and courage in our Lord to go with him wherever he leads, even out on the tightrope of life, for what is life, if it is not a tightrope, a place where we are always in danger of falling. What we must learn to believe is that the Master is there with us on the tightrope. He will not let us fall. He will not let us tumble into the water and go over the edge. He will go with us and take us to the other side to life and to life eternal. If we are truly living people, we will serve Christ and pay the price of service, no matter what that cost may be.
Many years ago the Roman Catholic Church wanted to record something of the life and ministry of Mother Teresa in Calcutta. For a number of days, a camera crew went with her in her journeys throughout the city. One day in the back streets of the city, Mother Teresa came across a man in a gutter who was sick and dying. It was a horrible sight to see. The man's body was full of running sores. The smell was almost unbearable. Mother Teresa stopped, called for a basin of water, a cloth, and a towel, knelt down, and began to wash the body of the dying man. Someone off camera said, "I wouldn't do that for a million dollars." Mother Teresa, without looking up, answered, "Neither would I."
There are some things in life we do as service to the Master that cannot be measured in terms of the amount of money that may be required. Faith as a deep personal conviction can only be measured in terms of your willingness to serve.
Jesus said, "As you have done it to the least of these, my brothers and sisters, you have done it unto me." If we are to give some evidence that we are God's living people, then we must be willing to serve and to pay the cost.
Finally, if we are to give evidence that we are God's living people, we must be willing to finish the work that the Master began. Our Lord Jesus came into this world and preached the coming of the kingdom. He taught the love of God. He performed miracles to show the power of the Almighty. He suffered and died on a cross to forgive our sins. He rose from the dead to show us the power of his conquering and redeeming grace. After the resurrection, he said to his disciples, "Go into all the world, baptizing in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, making disciples of all people." Clearly, he asks us to finish the work that he began. That is our task. If we are to give evidence that we are God's living people, we must be willing to finish the work.
One of the great musicians in history was a composer named Puccini. He wrote some of the great operas like Madame Butterfly and La Tosca In 1922 Puccini learned from his doctor that he had cancer. He declared that he wanted to write one final work: Turandot. His students said, "But, master, what will happen if you're not able to finish the work?" Puccini answered, "My disciples will finish it for me." In 1924 Puccini died, and the work of Turandot was not yet finished. But his disciples completed the work. The first performance of Turandot was given in Milan in the La Scala theater. It was directed by Puccini's greatest student, Toscanini. Toscanini directed the music through to the point where the master lay down his pen and answered the call to eternal life. At that point, Toscanini stopped the orchestra, laid down his baton, turned to the audience, and said, "Thus far, the master wrote, and then the master died." After a long pause, he picked up the baton, addressed the audience, and said, "But his disciples will finish the work." Toscanini directed the music to its conclusion.
My friends, we are the disciples of the Master. We are called to complete the work he began, and so I say to you, "Let us be about the task of giving evidence everyday that we are God's living people. Connect to the source of power through faith, go with the Master wherever leads. Serve the Master whatever the cost, and finish the work that he has begun among us. Whatever you do, do not sit there for the rest of your life holding on to the balloon. Let it go! Let it go! Let the power of the Spirit move in you so that the joy of your faith may rise to glorify the name of God. We are believers of a God who is the God of the living, not of the dead. Jesus Christ lives and because he lives, we live also. We are truly God's living people. Amen.
Let us pray.
Holy Lord Jesus Christ, we thank you for coming to our world and giving us life. Enable us through the power of your Holy Spirit to carry out the ministry you have given in such a way that all will know we are truly your living people. Amen.
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