Sunday, January 23, 2011

Isaiah 9:1-4 - “Epiphanies in Evangelism: A Light Dawns”

Third Sunday after the Epiphany (Year A - Lutheran Service Book readings)
Sunday, January 23, 2011

This is a rough draft of what I eventually preached.

Let me introduce you to the Moonball. The Moonball is a glow-in-the-dark ball shaped like the moon. I found it on the roof of my first congregation. Don’t ask why I was up on the roof? I was doing youth ministry. Anyway, I’ve used the Moonball now for years as something to throw around to pass the time, as a way to get people talking—pass it to someone and they have to tell you their favorite food. But the best thing about the Moonball is trying to find a dark place to play, to throw around the ball in the dark with it glowing. Hold it underneath a light and then hurry to a dark room and play a round of Moonball.

I think the mission of Jesus is to play Moonball. I think that’s what we learn from Isaiah today as Isaiah talks about the coming Messiah, the Christ, Jesus. I think it’s all about playing Moonball.

Can you hear the Moonball thing in the words of Isaiah? Listen to verse 2 again. “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.” Sure, you hear the Moonball thing, right? Bringing light to a dark place, that’s like bringing the Moonball into a dark room with it glowing. The people in the dark room have seen a Moonball; the people walking in darkness have seen a great light.

But it’s even more than that. It’s the way in which Jesus clamored to go to a dark place, the way in which He rushed into a dark place, to bring light to a dark place. He chose to leave the throne room of God to become a man, to live among us, to live in this dark world, clamored to come to live among people who live in darkness, clamored to bring the light to a dark place.

That’s why the mission of Jesus is like Moonball. You purposely go out looking for dark places so that you can play Moonball, and to do the mission of God, to tell people about salvation through the forgiveness and grace of God, to do that mission, you’ve got to go to dark places, you’ve got to clamor to go to dark places in order to bring the light to the people.

The mission of Jesus is to glow in the dark, to glow in the dark with His forgiveness, love, and mercy, to glow in the dark places of our lives, to show us His plan of salvation, to show us the hope of eternal life.

And if that’s the mission of Jesus, if the mission of Jesus is to glow in the dark, to clamor to get to dark places, to clamor to bring light to dark places, if the mission of Jesus is to play Moonball, well, then that’s our mission, too. We’ve got to clamor to get to dark places, to find people who are living in the darkness, to find people going through dark times and living with darkness in their hearts. We’ve got to clamor to get out of the Christian bubble, to get out of our safe little world at church, and to go out into the dark world, to bring the Moonball, to bring our A-game, to bring the light of Christ to the world around us.

I once showed up early and stood in line to share the light with someone. OK, truth is, I showed up early for a concert and stood in line waiting for the doors to open, but meanwhile, God used that situation to allow me to share my faith with a fellow fan. We’ll call him Jake, and at first, we just talked about the upcoming concert which happened to be by the Old 97’s, a band I’ve mentioned before. But anyway, we talked about the concert and then where we were from and our backgrounds, and as we waited for the show to start, well, things turned spiritual when I told him about being a pastor. At first, he shied away from me when he learned about my faith in God, but I tried to show him that I wasn’t going to reject him. As our conversation continued, I could see how God was giving me words to speak, words that would bring light into the darkness. Looking back on it now, I realize that God made it so that I was glowing in the dark.

But to glow in the dark, I had to go to a dark place. I had to be available to someone like Jake who was living with darkness in his life. I had to be there. Now, I didn’t go to that dark place and jump fully in. When Jake got drunk later that night, I didn’t follow him down that path. But if I had never left the safety of the Christian bubble, I would never have met Jake, never been used by God in his life.

That’s what it means to play Moonball, that’s what it means to be a part of God’s mission, that what it means to take light to dark places. You’ve got to make yourself available to people who are outside of the faith, you’ve got to go to places where people are living in darkness, you’ve got to see how God could use you in many ways and in many places.

Jesus came to play Moonball, Jesus came glow in the dark, Jesus came to be with the sinners and prostitutes and people rejected by society. Jesus has called us to go play Moonball, too, so what’s keeping us from following the mission? What’s keeping us from taking our Moonball into dark places? What’s keeping us from sharing the light of Christ with others?

I’d guess it’s fear. Fear of how people might react. Fear about not knowing what to say. Fear keeps us from going to play Moonball.

But what’s going to happen if you share your faith with someone? I mean, I suppose sometimes you’ll get rejected. I know it’s happened to me. I remember one time in St. Louis, it was the night of the 1998 Super Bowl, Super Bowl XXXII, the Broncos had just beat the Packers. Now I had been waiting for the game to end before taking the trash out since the next day was trash day. When I emerged from our apartment, I met another guy doing the same thing. He was a new neighbor I hadn’t met before. We chuckled about both waiting until the game was over to take out the trash. We chatted about the game, and then started to share a little bit about where we’re from, what we do. In the process, I told him I was studying to be a pastor, and that’s when our conversation abruptly came to an end.

You see, this guy had been cussing up a storm, and I think when he realized I was going to be a pastor, I think he felt ashamed or something, he clamed up, said goodnight, and he never really talked to me again—just kind of waved and avoided me. I had come to play Moonball, I started to think that God was going to use the conversation by the trash cans to bring light into this guy’s dark world, but instead, the conversation ended. I was rejected.

Those kind of experiences sometimes have made me afraid to open my mouth, afraid to try to share light with the people around me, share my faith, but the thing is, I don’t know how God might’ve used that conversation with the guy after the Super Bowl. I don’t know what happened next, I don’t know if someone else came along and shared the faith with him later. All I know is that God wants me to go out to play Moonball, all I know is that God is with me when I’m bringing light into dark places, all I know is that sometimes it’ll be a good conversation and sometimes it won’t, but either way, God is with me, God will give me words to say, God will use it for His good, for His mission.

So set aside your fear. Let God work in you to remove your fear, and see that God is setting you up to go play Moonball, God is setting you up to go out and share something about your faith. God is preparing you to have conversations with family and friends, to have conversations with strangers, to have conversations where you start to let the light of Christ shine.

Playing Moonball, it doesn’t mean having to have all the answers. It means being prepared to at least try to point things in a spiritual direction, saying something about your church, your faith in God, that you pray, that you’ll pray for someone, ending a conversation by saying, “God bless you.”

Playing Moonball, it means letting God’s light shine through your words and your actions. It means reacting with love and compassion. It means not being afraid to tell people that you believe in Jesus and that it changes how you live your life. It means telling your story, telling people how faith in God has given you hope through difficult times, it means telling people that you’ve needed God’s light in your dark life.