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Matthew 28:18-20 – 18And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
We are still in our series about cultivating gratitude in our lives. Last week we talked about how grateful we are for the Word of God. I encouraged everyone to recommit to our spiritual roots, and we still have those Life Journal handouts if you want to pick one up. And we’re going to use the Life Journal reading plan as the basis for our Sunday school adult Bible study as well.
This week we are grateful for impact. We just heard some incredible examples of impact in the name of Christ through Gilbert. And I don’t expect all of us to have the same kind of life-altering impact Gilbert has had on so many. But all of us have a context for true impact. That could be impact on our families. That could be impact on our places of work. That could be impact on our neighborhoods. That could be impact on our friends. That could be impact in a ministry or mission. If you are around other people, you have an opportunity for impact on those people.
We already heard one of the most important texts about purpose and impact in the whole Bible in our first reading. The Great Commission from Jesus really gives us our core marching orders – go and make disciples of all nations. Our other text today is the final commissioning from Jesus before he ascended into heaven. Jesus knew these would be his last words while walking on earth, so let’s listen in on what he wanted to leave with his followers.
Acts 1:6-11 – 6So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” 7He replied, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. 8But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” 9When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. 10While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. 11They said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”
Well my younger son loves the swings on a playground. He loves to go high and fast. But this summer I pointed out something that would become a problem soon. I told him, “You know, in kindergarten, there won’t be anyone to push you. It’s time to learn how to swing on your own!”
I told him he had to alternate leaning forward and backward. So the first attempt, of course, was just that – leaning back and forth without getting any swinging motion. Eventually we taught him to time his movements to build momentum. And we taught him that the hardest part is the start – if you can get a little swinging at first, you can build it higher and faster from there.
I was reminded of that while thinking about this sermon because those first attempts at swinging – leaning back and forth randomly – had a lot of motion but no momentum – no impact. You can’t have impact without motion. But you can definitely have motion without impact.
Or picture driving in your car. You can be pushing the pedal to the metal without going anywhere. The first way? If you’re pushing the brake pedal to the metal. And if you are pushing the gas pedal, you might not go anywhere if you forgot to shift the car out of park and into drive. Or forgot to turn the car on at all.
To have impact, you have to do the right thing at the right time – and for the right amount of time. If you get the car into drive and push the gas pedal for one second and then never again, it’s going to take you a while to get anywhere. And you better not be going uphill. On the other hand, if you push the gas pedal down and never let up, you better be trained in power sliding or you’re going to wind up inside someone’s living room! And then in jail.
To have impact, you have to do the right thing at the right time – and for the right amount of time.
All three aspects were in question for the disciples in our text today. They asked Jesus, and listen to my emphasis here, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” Got that? Listen one more time: “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?”
Contrast their question with Jesus’ reply. “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Did you pick up the differences?
To try to put this into a modern context, imagine that the disciples are Texans. And imagine that they ask Jesus, “Is this the time when you will restore the Republic of Texas to independence and self-rule?” And then Jesus replies, “Only God gets to know the timing of things. But the Holy Spirit will give you what you need to be my witnesses in Austin, in Texas and Mexico, and to the ends of the earth.”
First, notice who is doing the action. The disciples ask Jesus if he’s going to act. Jesus replies “YOU will receive power…YOU will be my witnesses.” So Jesus says we are the ones who have the power and mission to have an impact on our world now. Their vision was of someone else doing the work, but Jesus turned around and handed the job to them.
Second, notice what action they’re talking about. The disciples ask about restoring the kingdom to Israel. And Jesus replies “will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” They ask about a kingdom, and he talks about witnesses. They ask about Israel, and he starts them there but takes them to their neighbors they looked down on, the Samaritans, and even to the ends of the earth. Their vision was too small. Their vision was too comfortable.
Third, notice the timing. The disciples ask, “is THIS the time…?” They want it to be now. And Jesus replies, “when the Holy Spirit has come upon you.” And Jesus ups the ante even further. Because he implies what we know from our vantage point – the mission he gave them that day in Acts 1 hasn’t been completed even today. We haven’t reached the time set by God to be the final redemption. The “right amount of time” has been two thousand years and counting. We’re not done. Their vision was limited to their lifetimes, but Jesus’ mission extended into eternity.
So when we’re talking about impacting the world in the name of Jesus Christ, Jesus himself gives us some key points. Impacting the world for Jesus isn’t someone else’s job. It’s our job. Impacting the world for Jesus isn’t solely based on what we can do. The Holy Spirit will give us extra support. Impacting the world for Jesus isn’t a one-time thing you can plan around. It happens whenever the Holy Spirit shows up, and the mission is never completed.
The faithful saints of First Presbyterian Church of Littleton in the 1950’s and 60’s did some amazing things. They built the Friendship House to help refugees after World War II. The church expanded quickly. Pastor Rusty Chandler became one of the persons of the decade in Littleton. They were certainly witnesses to Jesus. But do you think they ever said, “We’ve done all there is to do. I hope First Pres Littleton in 2021 can just sit back and relax.” Do you think they ever thought that? I can’t imagine that they did.
Or do you hope that the church twenty or thirty years from now can just sit back and relax because we did everything there was to do? I can’t imagine you’ve ever thought we could do everything there is to do. Every church of every era, every follower of Jesus in every time and place, has the ability to impact people for Jesus. That includes you and me. That includes right now.
Grateful for Impact
Speaking of those saints from the past, let’s lean into our gratitude for a minute. Who had an impact on you over the years? Who invested in you? Who was there for you? Who blessed you? Who helped you follow Jesus? Who was a positive model for you? Who made a positive impact on your life?
Take a moment to think about that. Or maybe take some time this week to think about that if names don’t come to you immediately. Take some time to be grateful for those people who did the right thing at the right time for the right amount of time in your life. If they’re still around, maybe it’s even worth sending them a note or a text or a phone call to thank them. As I was writing this sermon, I sent some texts to people who came to mind. Be grateful for those who positively impacted you.
We can also be grateful for the impact we have had on others. Have you been the comfort to a friend? Have you provided the sorely needed laugh out loud moment? Have you been a faithful follower of Jesus to a friend who doubts that God exists? Have you gone out of your way to help someone in a time of need? Have you delivered a meal? Made a connection? Volunteered and made an impact? Have you been a model of faith in your family? How have you positively impacted people? How has Jesus worked through you? Take some time to be grateful for those moments. That’s one of the things I did on my sabbatical. I took time to take stock of my impact in Austin, in Bethlehem, and in Littleton. Be grateful for your own impact.
And finally, we can be grateful that our impact isn’t over. One of my mentors used to say, “if you’re not dead, you’re not done.” If you’re not dead, Jesus can still use you as a witness. You may be a witness to Jesus at work. You may be a witness to Jesus at school. You may be a witness to Jesus in a ministry or volunteer role. You may be a witness to Jesus in your suffering. You may be a witness to Jesus through your grandchildren. You may be a witness to Jesus at the dinner table. You may be a witness to Jesus in how you handle a terrible diagnosis. You may be a witness to Jesus in how you handle blessings and success. You may be a witness to Jesus in any phase of life in ways big or small.
Be grateful for that! Jesus looks at everyone hearing my voice right now and sees potential to impact at least one more life. That includes you and me. That includes right now. Spend some time being grateful that Jesus still sees potential in you, and pray for the Holy Spirit to reveal the way and the time.
Sisters and brothers, Jesus told his disciples that he would impact the world through them. Jesus tells us that he will impact the world through us. We can be grateful for those who impacted us. We can be grateful for the ways we have had an impact. We can be grateful that Jesus still sees us with the potential to impact at least one more life. How might Jesus work through you? Amen.