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First Reading = Acts 2:36-47
36Therefore let the entire house of Israel know with certainty that God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified.”
37Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and to the other apostles, “Brothers, what should we do?” 38Peter said to them, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him.” 40And he testified with many other arguments and exhorted them, saying, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” 41So those who welcomed his message were baptized, and that day about three thousand persons were added.
42They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. 43Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. 44All who believed were together and had all things in common; 45they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, 47praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.
It is a bit surreal preaching a “final sermon.” I have long vowed that I would know I was a successful pastor if I set the church up to thrive without me. So today I want to summarize what I hope you’ve heard and seen and grown with me over the last seven years. And so for the next seven hours together…just kidding! I actually don’t think my core message has been all that complicated. But here’s a reminder.
Our two texts today are from the early parts of the book of Acts. This is the time after Easter when the early church started to form. Our first text was the literal founding of the church in Jerusalem. And our main text today features Jesus’ final words on earth before he went to heaven. This was his “final sermon” in a sense.
So, yes. For my final sermon I’m reading Jesus’ final sermon. Is that cheating? Or is that working smarter instead of harder? I’ll leave that as an exercise for the hearer.
Sermon Text = Acts 1:1-11
1In the first book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus did and taught from the beginning 2until the day when he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. 3After his suffering he presented himself alive to them by many convincing proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God. 4While staying with them, he ordered them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait there for the promise of the Father. “This,” he said, “is what you have heard from me; 5for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”
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.”
As the golf fans among us are well aware, the 2022 Masters at Augusta National concluded a couple of weeks ago. Now, imagine that you got to go to the Masters. And you decide you’re going to follow Jordan Spieth, chosen randomly with no influence from the fact that we’re both Texas Longhorns. So you’re following Spieth around from one hole to the next, enjoying his strong mid-range iron game. This is the player you came to watch!
Can you see the greens in your mind’s eye? And then, imagine that Jordan Spieth comes over to you. He motions to his caddie. The caddie reaches into Spieth’s bag, and pulls out…a baseball bat? Spieth hands you the bat, pats you on the shoulder, and calls out, “Batter up!” before walking away. And suddenly you’re playing a baseball game in the middle of Augusta National golf course. Would that be weird? That wasn’t where you thought I was going, was it?
That’s what I imagine Jesus’ followers felt in our text today. Here’s what they expected: “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” They came to watch the all-time-great Jesus play golf. They came to watch Jesus kick out the Romans and restore the kingdom to Israel.
And instead, Jesus handed them a baseball bat and said, “Batter up!” More specifically, he said, “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.” And then he disappeared into heaven.
They came to watch Jesus. So they asked him, “Is now the time when YOU will do it, Jesus?.” But Jesus replied, “No, YOU will receive power and YOU will be my witnesses.” This is like a game of ministry hot potato! But Jesus left the disciples holding the ministry. Jesus literally disappeared from their midst so they couldn’t just watch him do it. They came to watch Jesus play golf, and instead he handed them a baseball bat and sent them to the plate.
They were flabbergasted! “Jesus, now’s a terrible time to disappear! Jesus, you have so much more to do! Jesus, there’s so much that you can do that we can’t! Jesus, we need you!” But he said they would have the power of the Holy Spirit, and they were the ones who needed to step up to the plate.
When Jesus had his disciples walk around with him for three years, he was trying to get them ready. He was trying to get them ready to swing, ready to step up to the plate, ready for when it was their turn. And that’s what a church is supposed to do as well – get everyone ready to step up to the plate. A church is a team of players, not the crowd watching the game. A pastor is the coach getting the players – you – ready to play.
Jesus handed us a bat. Jesus called our name in the batting order. Jesus sent us out onto the field. So step up to the plate. Batter up! It’s not time to sit back and watch someone else play. It’s time to grab a baseball bat and play ball!
Batter Up at FPCL
In a time of transition, here’s what usually happens. Usually, there are five or six key leaders in a church who step up and have to do everything. And a bunch of other people pull back so they can “wait and see” how things play out. So as these key leaders start doing even more than they were already doing, they wind up getting even less help from others. And then the finance committee starts seeing less donations and investments in the mission as people “wait and see” how things play out.
In the spirit of Jesus’ final words to his disciples on earth, I challenge this church not to “wait and see.” Don’t pull back. Don’t turn into a spectator or a pew potato. Grab your bat, step up to the plate, and get in the game. Don’t wait and see. Step up and make the future happen!
In our first text today, we heard how the very first Christian church was formed. It says they spent time in worship regularly. They spent time in their homes together discussing what they heard from the apostles. They spent time on their own in prayer. They spent time serving people around them and making wonders happen. They spent their resources to generously support those in need. They spent their time, their talent, and their treasure in the pursuit of a Christ-like life. That’s not “wait and see.” That’s “batter up!”
I challenge everyone hearing this to pick one thing. Pick one way you can step up. Pick one way you can get into the game or get more engaged in the game.
Can you step up to the plate in worship? If you come once a month, what about making it twice a month? If you come regularly, what about becoming a liturgist? I created sample templates you can say for each part of the worship service as a liturgist. You can literally pick between three options for every part, or write your own. Or sign up to bring snacks after worship some Sunday! Or sign up to be a greeter or usher on some Sundays! Committing to worship more frequently, engaging as a liturgist, or bringing snacks or being a greeter are all ways to step up to the plate in worship.
Can you step up to the plate in relationships? Our first text says they broke bread at home, ate together, had fellowship and prayers with glad and generous hearts. They were in groups where people knew them by name, knew how to pray for them specifically, and they must’ve been Presbyterian because they ate together, too! Do you have a group of people here who know how to pray for you specifically right now?
One of the men’s Bible studies just took a field trip and met at one of the guys’ homes with breakfast included. There is something qualitatively different about meeting in a home. There is something qualitatively different about sharing a meal. That’s what the early church did. If you don’t have a group of people who know you well enough to pray for you specifically right now, then step up to the plate by joining one of our groups. Many of them are in the bulletin, or call/email the church office to ask for more details. Step up to the plate in relationships.
Can you step up to the plate in serving? The Community Dinner is returning after a two-year COVID layoff. It’s returning THIS TUESDAY! Yay! Tell me this, though. Do you think Lynda Kizer and the Community Dinner team need more help or less right now? They need more help! They’re coming back from a two year hiatus! Many of the people on that team are also stepping up to the plate during this transition time. They need your help as a door greeter, as a table host, as a server, as clean up crew!
That ministry has been successful precisely because so many people have stepped up to the plate. When we sent out thank you cards a couple of years ago to everyone who participated, the cards filled the entire conference table in my office. They need you now, more than ever! Step up to the plate!
Vacation Bible School is coming up. Melissa needs more help, not less! Step up to the plate! From donations to being a shepherd or a game leader or a group leader or a craft person, that’s an all-hands-on-deck kind of ministry. Don’t make her chase you down. Step up to the plate!
We are so grateful that there are co-leaders for the Thanksgiving Dinner later this year. That’s another all-hands-on-deck kind of ministry. Roberta Wheeler and Stacey Ryan need you now more than ever! It takes a lot of people and time and donations to deliver meals to hundreds of people on Thanksgiving Day. Don’t make them chase you down. Don’t “wait and see.” Step up to the plate later this year!
If none of those fit you, here’s another way to get in the game. Think of one staff person and ask them, “What’s one thing I can do to help you?” Because the staff don’t need you less right now. They need you more. So helping a staff person is a way to step up to the plate.
I challenge everyone hearing this to pick one thing. Pick one way you can step up. Pick one way you can get into the game or get more engaged in the game. Don’t become a pew potato. Don’t go into “wait and see” mode. Step up to the plate! “Batter up!”
Now, we have a bunch of students and families joining us today from Heritage High School, so I don’t want to only address the First Pres Littleton folk. If you’re not a part of this church, how can you step up to the plate in your own life?
I was a guest speaker last week at the School of Mines for a campus ministry, and we had a little extra time at the end so one of the students asked me the classic, “What is the meaning of life?” I gave the cliché answer, but then I pivoted to what I actually believe is the meaning of life.
Each and every person was designed by God with particular spiritual DNA. You were designed by God very specifically. You are wonderfully made. The more you discover your spiritual DNA, the more you discover your divine design, the more you discover your Godly purpose for this phase of your life, well that’s the meaning of life for you. Live how the Creator made YOU. If you don’t know those things about yourself, spend some time discovering them. If you do know those things about yourself, live them. Live how God made YOU – with a particular spiritual DNA, a particular divine design, a particular way to point to God in this phase of life. That’s at least my approach to the meaning of life.
And that’s a way all of us can get out of the stands and into the game. Batter up! Amen.