Why is Jesus important to you?
This was the question one of the presenters at the theological conference I attended earlier this week asked a group of clergy. She asked everyone in attendance to take a moment or two to respond to this question with people sitting next to them. She was met by silence.
In some ways, this isn’t remarkable. Many times, those of us who belong to mainline denominations have a difficult time talking about our personal lives of faith. We have a difficult time talking about what we believe and why we believe it. If I were to ask you this morning to turn to the person next to you and tell that person why Jesus is important to you, odds are, you would pause too. You’d probably have a difficult time finding something to say. Those are just the odds, even though there are exceptions. As I said, the fact that the question was met with silence isn’t all that surprising.
It may not have been surprising, but it was a bit disconcerting. This room was not filled with doctors and lawyers and ranchers and teachers. It was not filled with nurses and retirees and stay at home moms. It was not filled with teenagers and college students and elementary school children. It was filled with pastors and church workers. It was filled with people who held degrees in Bible and theology and youth ministry and worship music. The room was filled with men and women who talk about Jesus all the time, and yet, despite this, when the presenter asked the question, there was silence.
Head scratching to say the least.
Why is it so hard to answer such a question? I mean, we are people of faith, or at least we proclaim to be. We say that we are followers of Jesus. We say that we come to Him for salvation and forgiveness and that He is a part of our lives. So why is it so difficult to share with others why Jesus is so important?
I understand that faith is deeply personal. I understand that it goes to our core identity. I understand that sometimes it is so deep and so emotional that trying to express it in words becomes very, very difficult. From early on, many of us have seeped in a culture which regards faith in just such a fashion. Our culture tries to make faith matters as personal and as individualistic as possible. It is quite alright to believe in something, but it is not necessarily good and right to share that belief with others or to convince them that they should believe as we do. This pervades our culture.
And yet, our culture bumps squarely up against the reality of our calling as Christians. That clash can be a bit unpleasant at times since our faith really does not allow for us to remain private. Our faith drives us out into public to proclaim the message of Jesus Christ. In Matthew 28, Jesus spoke these words to the disciples, "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And lo, I am with you always to the end of the age."
This is formally known as the Great Commission. It is spoken not only to Jesus’ disciples on that hillside two thousand years ago, it is also spoke to you and to me this day. It is placed on our hearts as something we are called to participate in as we respond to the great mercy, grace, and love that God has first shown to us.
Of course, whenever we hear this calling, many of us think we have to go out into the streets and consult strangers and begin giving our testimonies. Perhaps that is part of the call, but I’d like to suggest something a bit more radical. What if this proclamation isn’t just for strangers, but it is for friends and family members–it’s for your children and grandchildren–its for those you have known for a lifetime and have walked many a mile with in your journey on earth.
You see, the presenter at this conference was talking about passing faith down to our youth. She wasn’t talking about engaging a host of unbelievers and atheists. She was trying to get us to understand the importance of helping another generation of Christians come to see the importance of Jesus, and she said what many of us know–kids oftentimes model their parents. And if we as parents and grandparents don’t model our faith to our kids, how will they come to see it as important?
Hint: they won’t. Neither will anyone around us. If we can’t share why our faith is important within our families–those we are closest to; how can we expect to even begin sharing it with those whom we barely know?
Oh, and I know now that the difficulty begins. How do I talk about this stuff with my kids? How do I know what to say? How do I share something like this with kids who may not even care? How do I break through the communication barriers? Or even scarier: I’m really not sure why I believe what I believe. I’m not sure why I know it’s important. I might do more harm than good. Perhaps it’s better to be silent and leave it up to those who are better at it than I am.
All throughout scripture there are those who had these same thoughts. All throughout scripture there are those who didn’t want to share God’s word with others for the exact same reasons. Jeremiah was one such person, and part of his story is shared in our first lesson. God was calling Jeremiah, and Jeremiah didn’t want to go. Jeremiah didn’t want to speak. Jeremiah believed he was too young and too inexperienced to do the task God had appointed.
But God replied, "Do not say, "I am only a boy"; for you shall go to all to whom I send you, and you shall speak whatever I command you. 8 Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you, says the Lord.’ 9Then the Lord put out his hand and touched my mouth; and the Lord said to me, ‘Now I have put my words in your mouth. 10 See, today I appoint you over nations and over kingdoms, to pluck up and to pull down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant."
Hear again the promises of God given to Jeremiah and know those same promises hold true for you–"Do not be afraid for I am with you to deliver you. I put words in your mouth, and I appoint you over nations and kingdoms to pluck up and to pull down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant." God has given us power and promise! We have no excuses!
Why is Jesus important to you? After giving it some thought, here is my response:
I cannot imagine my life without Jesus. I’ve personally seen too much of the brokenness in our world. I’ve seen children who were laughing and playing one day lying in a hospital bed debilitated the next. I’ve seen people eat up with cancer and in tremendous pain. I’ve seen families broken by divorce. I’ve seen widows and widowers torn up by the grief of losing their spouse. I’ve seen extreme poverty and anger and malice. I’ve known people who so overcome by despair took their own lives. Week after week, I get at least three or four phone calls asking me to pray for people whose lives have been turned upside down by loss of job, disease, or death. Week after week, I’m exposed to the broken nature of humanity.
And I know I can’t fix any of it. I do not have the gift of healing to restore people to health and cure them of disease and sickness. I cannot keep couples from separating when they no longer wish to be together. I cannot take away a person’s grief or worry or agony. I can’t defeat death or even postpone it. And if all of that stuff were the end of it, then I would be in despair.
And that’s where Jesus comes in. For He promises two important things: first to be with people in the midst of their suffering. He never leaves us or abandons us when such things happen in our lives. And, secondly, He promises to one day fix what is wrong, and not only to fix it but to make every wrong right. Because Jesus died and was raised from the dead, there is now the promise that suffering, pain, cancer, divorce, death, anger, malice, poverty and whatever else you want to throw in there will not be the end. Christ will make all things new. Yes, I see brokenness, but through Jesus, I have hope, and it is a hope that gives me strength, courage, and an unwavering desire to serve Him in my life. This is why Jesus is important to me.
I had plenty of time to think about such a thing this week. Do you have time this week to think about why Jesus is important to you? Do you have time to dig down and wonder why you believe what you believe? Do you have time to put your thoughts together so that you can pass your faith on to another generation and tell others why it is you believe what you believe? Before venturing out and trying to tell anyone why you believe Jesus is important to you, spend some time thinking about it. Spend some time putting your thoughts together. That simple step is a beginning. It requires nothing but some brain power. And putting it together will enable you to begin following the Great Commission Christ gave to each and every one of us. No excuses. Amen.