Made to Make a Difference: Conclusion
Scott Bayles, pastor
Blooming Grove Christian Church: 7/31/2011
This series is inspired by and portions adapted from Max Lucado’s Out Live Your Life.
In case you’ve forgotten what our little starfish friend here (on the PowerPoint slides) is all about, I started this series several weeks ago by telling the story of an elderly man walking the beach at dawn. If you remember, he noticed a young man ahead of him picking up starfish and flinging them into the sea. Catching up with the youth, he asked the boy what he was doing. The youngster said that the stranded starfish would die if left in the morning sun. “But the beach goes on for miles and miles, and there are millions of starfish,” countered the man. “How can your effort make any difference?” The young man looked at the starfish in his hand and, throwing it into the safety of the waves, replied, “It makes a difference to this one!”
There are billions of people on this planet. Nearly two billion of them are desperately poor. One billion are hungry. Some live in your neighborhood; others live in jungles you can’t find with names you can’t pronounce. Some curl up in cardboard boxes to stay warm at night. Some walk for three hours every day just to get clean water, while others wait all day for a shot of penicillin. Some brought their woes on themselves; others inherited the mess from their parents. Earthquakes, tsunamis and tornadoes devastate neighborhoods and nations. And in the midst of it all, here we stand.
Life can feel a lot like that beach sometimes, can’t it?
You and I were made to make a difference.
I’m convinced that most believers really want our lives to matter. We want to make the world a better place. But you take a look around you and you feel like that little boy standing on the beach. How can your effort make any difference? The book of Acts provides us with 120 answers to that question.
Peter, Andrew, James, John, Paul, Barnabas, Pricilla and Aquilla, Pheobe and all the rest—they stepped up to the challenge and made a difference that changed the history of humanity. We’ve only considered a handful of their stories. What began on Pentecost with the 120 disciples spilled into every corner of the world. Antioch. Corinth. Ephesus. Rome. And the book of Acts, unlike other New Testament books, has no real conclusion. That’s because the work hasn’t been finished. You and I are writing the next chapter. And we’ll continue to do so, until Christ comes.
Have you thought much about that day? The day Christ comes. Jesus focused on it in one of his last public sermons in Matthew 25. This is how he describes that day:
“The Son of Man will come again in his great glory, with all his angels. He will be King and sit on his great throne. All the nations of the world will be gathered before him, and he will separate them into two groups as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. The Son of Man will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. Then the King will say to the people on his right, ‘Come, my Father has given you his blessing. Receive the kingdom God has prepared for you since the world was made. I was hungry, and you gave me food. I was thirsty, and you gave me something to drink. I was alone and away from home, and you invited me into your house. I was without clothes, and you gave me something to wear. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.’” (Matthew 25:31-36 NCV)
Picture this scene with me. Jesus wading through the flock of humanity. Shepherds do this. They walk among the flock and, one by one, with the use of their staff direct goats to one side and sheep to another. Only the Good Shepherd isn’t separating sheep; he’s separating people. All people. You are there. I’m there. Our parents. Our kids. Everyone is there. “You go this way. You go that way,” he says.
And what determines his choice? How does Jesus separate the people. Well, Jesus gives the answer. Those on the right, the sheep, will be those who fed him when he was hungry, brought him water when he was thirsty, gave him lodging when he was lonely, clothing when he was naked, and comforted him when he was sick or imprisoned. This is how he separates them.
But then the sheep respond with a sincere question: When? “Lord, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you? Or thirsty and give you something to drink? Or a stranger and show you hospitality? Or naked and give you clothing? When did we ever see you sick or in prison and visit you?” (Matthew 25:37-39 NLT).
A good question, don’t you think? And one deserving an answer.
Jesus replies this way: “I tell you the truth, anything you did for even the least of my people here, you also did for me” (Matthew 25:40 NCV).
At 7:51 a.m., January 12, 2007 a young musician took his position against a wall in a Washington, D.C. metro station. He wore jeans, a long-sleeve shirt, and a Washington Nationals baseball cap. He opened a violin case, removed his instrument, threw a few dollars and pocket change into the case in hopes that passers-by would take the hint, and began to play. He played for the next forty-three minutes, performing six classical pieces. During that time 1097 people passed by—only seven of whom paused for more than a sixty seconds—and tossed a total of $32.17 into his violin case.
That same week, the violinist, whose name is Joshua Bell, played to a sold-out crowd at Boston’s Symphony Hall, where the cheap tickets sold for $100 a seat. On Average Joshua’s performances command $1000 a minute, but that day in the subway station, he barely made enough to buy a pair of shoes.
You can’t fault the instrument. He was playing a Stradivarius worth around $3.5 million. You can’t fault the music. He played some of the most well-known pieces of the most accomplished composers, like Mozart, Beethoven and Bach. But still, scarcely anyone noticed. No one expected majesty in subway station. People were busy buying magazines, newspapers and lotto tickets. They had trains to catch, places to go, jobs to do. No one had time to notice beauty in the midst of busyness.
Most of us don’t.
Like Joshua Bell, Jesus often hides in plain sight. Waiting for someone to notice. “…anything you did for even the least of my people here, you also did for me.”
Jesus will someday recount, one by one, all the acts of kindness. Every deed done to improve the lot of another person. Even the small ones. In fact, they all seem small, don’t they? Giving water. Offering food. Sharing clothing. He didn’t say, “I was sick and you healed me,” or, “I was in prison and you set me free.” He just says, “you comforted me” and “you visited me.” The works of mercy are simple deeds. And yet in these simple deeds, we serve Jesus. The sign of the saved is their concern for those in need. Please understand, compassion doesn’t save them—or us. Salvation is the gift of God to everyone who believes. But compassion is the consequence of salvation. It’s not that we’re saved because we show kindness to those in need; rather, it’s the other way around. If we’re truly saved, then we’ll show kindness to those in need.
None of us can help everyone. But all of us can help someone. And when we help them, we serve Jesus. Who would want to miss a chance to do that?
So let’s wake up early, walk down to the beach, pick a starfish and make a difference—one person at a time.
Before the worship team comes up here, I want to invite John Murphy to come up and share some of the stories and sites he and others experienced on their recent service trip to Joplin. I believe that someday Jesus is going to say to those who participated in this opportunity, “My house was destroyed by a tornado, and you were there for me.”