5th Sunday After Pentecost (A)
Sunday, June 19, 2005
There was this guy I knew in college, Scott, who seemed to take the words of Jesus in Matthew chapter 10 to the extreme.
Jesus tells the disciples that they’re supposed to tell everyone the message of salvation. What He whispered in their ears, meaning all of the things that Jesus taught the disciples when they were alone, Jesus tells them to shout those things from the rooftops.
Instead of rooftops, Scott shouted about Jesus from the top of a table in the cafeteria. Scott would talk the cafeteria attendant into letting him into the cafeteria without paying. He’d then stand on a table and start talking about Jesus. The message was Jesus, forgiveness, and life after death. It was the message that people need to hear, and I guess He was following what Jesus said about shouting it from rooftops and table tops.
But most people ignored Scott. A lot of people laughed. Some people started to yell back, mean stuff, or wanted to debate him. Scott would then ask all of the Christians in the room to stand up and to show that we believed in Jesus.
I didn’t want to stand up. I didn’t want to hide the fact that I was a Christian. I firmly believe in Jesus for forgiveness and salvation. I didn’t want to be ashamed of Jesus.
But I didn’t want to stand up, because I didn’t want to be associated with Scott’s table top, pushy, yelling preaching in the cafeteria. I wanted to stand up and say, “I believe in Jesus, but I don’t think Scott’s going about this the right way.” I’m not sure that would’ve worked, though.
So I remember one time standing there with my Christian friends, a little humiliated. Another time I didn’t stand up, kind of slunking out of the cafeteria as soon as I knew Scott was about to get to that part.
The whole experience made me really wonder: was Scott doing what Jesus meant us to do when He told the disciples to shout the message from the rooftops? When I saw Scott getting on the table in college, I felt like there was no way I’d ever be able to follow the commandment of Jesus to shout from the rooftops. I’m not that bold; I don’t like breaking the rules.
Yet, I don’t think Jesus meant for the disciples to trespass and go on people’s rooftops without their permission. And Scott essentially was trespassing. He didn’t pay to eat in the cafeteria; I’m sure his actions broke a rule of the cafeteria about solicitation; and Scott had to talk an employee into letting him in and break those rules. I don’t think Jesus meant for us to break rules, not respect people, break laws, when sharing the Gospel.
That’s why after reading today’s Gospel lesson, I’m not telling you all to go outside into Menasha Avenue and block traffic while we tell people about Jesus. If we did that, it might seem like we’re shouting from the rooftops, but in the process, we’re breaking the law. We have to respect the laws and rules of society as we look for ways to tell people about Jesus.
For instance, during the second half of the school year, I went to be a lunch monitor at Washington Junior High every other week. I was there to get to know the students, help keep order, and generally just encourage the youth. I was there by invitation of the administration. While I could tell the kids that my name is Pastor Squires, that I’m a pastor at Redeemer Lutheran Church, I couldn’t preach or teach. I was there to make a connection with the students, but I had to respect the rules of the school.
So maybe you’ve had the idea that you had to be some rebel and make a scene in order to tell people about Jesus, but then this is your first reminder: Jesus isn’t sending you out to trespass on rooftops. He’s sending you to look for ways to tell people about salvation according to the rules and laws of society. It’s not that radical to shout from the rooftops; it’s more a part of how we already live.
So the disciples didn’t go out two by two to trespass, and Jesus also told the disciples to go and preach in places where they’d be accepted. Jesus even said that if a village doesn’t welcome them that they should leave. In other words, Jesus sent them to shout from the rooftops of places where they were invited to speak, where they earned the right to speak.
Back in college, Scott wasn’t invited to speak in the cafeteria. Scott didn’t earn the right to speak. In the end, people didn’t listen, he turned some people off, and a few times he was escorted from the cafeteria for breaking the rules.
Watching Scott, you’d think that in order to follow the commandment of Jesus to shout from rooftops that you’d have to barge in, break down doors, grab the microphone at public events, steal the show, run onto the field, send SPAM emails. Yet, again, that isn’t what Jesus told the disciples to do; that’s not even what Jesus did.
Jesus taught in the synagogues, places that were set aside for discussion about God. He taught at the invitation of the leaders, because Jesus was known as a teacher. He taught at people’s homes when they invited Him to dinner. He taught in the streets when people gathered to hear Him speak. Jesus taught at times and places where He had earned the right to speak.
You’ve given me the right to preach in this pulpit, called me to be your pastor, told me that you’d allow me to preach in this place. That’s earning the right.
Many of you have told me about situations where you’ve earned the right to speak about God. Public school teachers say that if a student asks, then they can tell the student about their faith. Others have said they have gotten to talk about their faith with relatives when those relatives say they want to know more about church.
It’s not about barging into the cafeteria to stand on a table. It’s about seeing all of the times and places where people will give you the right, allow you, encourage you to tell them about the hope you have in Jesus.
So as Jesus commands us all to go out to tell people about salvation, these are hopeful, freeing reminders about what that means. We don’t have to trespass, and we don’t have to barge our way in. Jesus is calling you to speak in the appropriate places and times in your life.
Of course, even when we earn the right to speak, we’re not always so good at using those opportunities. At the State Youth Gathering from which the youth, leaders, and I just got back from on Friday, I led one of the workshops and talked about U2, a rock band. For those of you not familiar with U2, just know that for my generation U2 are a bit like Glenn Miller, Frank Sinatra, Elvis, or the Beatles, an artist that helped define our generation. That’s why I’m passionate about U2, plus the band includes 3 Christians. U2 has become one of the biggest bands in the world, and they’ve often used their music, concerts, and lives to talk about their faith in Jesus. U2 has earned the right to speak about their faith. Lots of people would love for them to shout on their rooftops.
However, U2’s life is also a very public example of how we often fail to shout from the rooftops, skipping opportunities to point to Jesus, or even denying Jesus by our lifestyle.
That’s been the problem for U2. They earned the right to speak. Millions of people around the world listen to their music—even as it clearly points to God. Yet, they spent a good part of the 1990’s living like rock stars, enjoying sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll. They talked about helping people around the world, but then lived like kings in wild excess. Even though they continued to talk about believing in Jesus, their lives didn’t match what they said. As far as I could see, they weren’t shouting the truth from the rooftops anymore. They were on top of the world, and yet, they weren’t using that opportunity to keep pointing to hope and salvation in Jesus.
Since then, though, U2’s music has been more focused on faith in God. The most recent album includes a song called “Yahweh,” the name of God the Father in Hebrew. So while it might have seemed like U2 had walked away from Jesus ten years ago, I think it’s probably just a very public, very big example of failing to be disciples of Jesus.
Sure, when you and I fail to talk about Jesus, we don’t fail in front of thousands of screaming fans, on CDs that are sold worldwide, or in interviews with magazines, but still we’re not that different from U2, are we? You have times and places in your life when you’ve earned the right to speak, but then you don’t tell people about Jesus. You have times when people are expecting you to live like a Christian, but then you end up going against the values of Jesus.
And that’s when you know that you left the rooftop, crept down the stairs, and are hiding in the basement. That’s when you know that you’re trying to hide your faith in Jesus.
So is that it, then? When you skip those opportunities to speak, when you sin instead of living for Christ, is that it? We break the commandment of Jesus, and so that’s the end of our relationship with Jesus, the end of being His disciples?
Well, that’d be skipping right over the message that we’re supposed to talk about in the first place. Jesus came to forgive all of our sins—even when we sin by not telling people we believe in Jesus. Jesus forgives us for mumbling instead of speaking clearly; of saying we “kind of” believe in Him instead of saying we “without a doubt” believe in Him.
We’re not talking about denying Jesus in our hearts. If you don’t believe in Jesus, there is no forgiveness or salvation. Instead here we’re talking about how our words and lives don’t always match what we believe in our hearts.
We’re talking about what those 12 disciples did. Jesus gathers this inner circle of disciples and tells them to go and out to preach in His Name. Yet, the whole crew ran away when Jesus was arrested. Peter denied Him three times in that public square. These guys weren’t much different than U2—they didn’t always shout from the rooftops. These guys weren’t much different than you and me—we don’t always speak clearly about our faith in Jesus.
Yet, if failure meant the end of our relationship with God, well, then, there’d be no Good News to preach. You and I have failed too many times to count. Failure just helps us to understand all the more our need for Jesus and forgiveness.
If failure meant that God couldn’t use us anymore, well, then, there’d no one to tell others about the Gospel. There are no perfect Christians, no perfect preachers, teachers, evangelists. God keeps using us despite the fact that we fail. U2’s music still helps people realize the truth of Jesus. Somehow God’s Word still comes through my words. God still uses you to help other people know about the love of Jesus.
Forgiveness for our failures. Using us even though we’re failures. That’s the kind of thing that makes you want to shout from the rooftops. I mean, there’s a lot of good messages out there, helpful ways to live your life, but there’s nothing as incredible as the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
That’s why when Jesus invites us to shout from the rooftops, it’s not like He gave us a boring message. God forgives your sins! God gives you eternal life! It’s a big message made for rooftops, billboards, and rock concerts.
But more than being some big message to put on the side of a building, it’s a message that we get to speak to individuals, people we know, people we meet. It’s a big message, because it changes lives.
You meet someone who feels lonely, like no one in world cares for them, and you get to tell them that God cares about them very deeply. You might be saying this in a normal-sized voice, but for that person, it’s a shout, it’s a huge cheer for their heart.
You’re talking to someone who feels like they’ve done so many bad things that God would never accept them, and you get to tell them that God forgives all of their sins, mistakes, and failures. You might be saying this in a comforting, quiet voice, but for that person, it’s a shout, it’s an electric guitar solo raising the hope in their heart.
You see, Jesus isn’t so much telling us how to do evangelism: 1) go up on roof, 2) shout about me. Instead, He has given us a message that is so powerful, so incredible, so hopeful that wherever we are, however we speak about Jesus, it’s like shouting from the rooftops. It’s that kind of message, the kind that makes the heart leap for joy.
We’re going to shout from the rooftop a little longer here today, sing and pray and talk about Jesus, but then we’re going to go out of this place, shouting from the rooftops, talking about Jesus wherever we’ve earned the right to speak, telling everyone the message of God’s forgiveness.
Last night the sound of the Smithereens playing at MetroJam in Manitowoc, that sound reverberated around town, but trust me, the sound of you all going out there to talk about Jesus—now that’s an even better, bigger sound echoing around this community, a sound powered by Jesus.