Easter Left – Overs: A Challenge
Sunday, April 24, 2016
In recent years, visitors to the gift shop at Mount Rushmore in South Dakota have encountered an interesting individual. His name is Donald Nick Clifford and he has often sat at his own table while accompanied by his wife Carolyn. Nick and Carolyn would greet visitors to the monument, answer questions about Mount Rushmore and sign copies of the book that they authored about this significant destination in the American West.
But, there was something else that made Nick Clifford particularly special and an incredibly valuable part of the gift shop. At well over 90 years of age, he was the last surviving carver of the monument.
The Nick Clifford story is an All-American one. When he was 18 years of age, Clifford was an excellent baseball player, and, the Mount Rushmore crew had a baseball team that played in a local Sunday afternoon league. The Rushmore Memorial Drillers, as they were called, needed a few more good players and Nick desperately wanted the chance to work on the mountain. So Nick became a member of the baseball team and received as a result the grander prize of getting to work on the monument. In turn, from 1938 to 1940, Clifford helped bring Mount Rushmore to life working primarily on the face on President Roosevelt.
Since that time, equally amazing has been his dedication, for all of these years since, to keeping the story of the monument and its workers alive by serving as the last living witness to a profound moment in American history. (“Last Mount Rushmore Worker Remembers Monumental Task”, examiner.com, October 17, 2010)
As Luke 24 comes to a close, Jesus is very specific with the disciples about what he wants them to do. He is preparing to return to God the father after his 33-year tenure on earth. He is leaving them and those who will follow them in charge of this work that he has been about primarily over the course of his three-year public ministry. As he does, he boils down their task to one basic responsibility. After reminding them once more of how his life, death and resurrection fit into God’s grand plan, Jesus says this in verse 48 – “you are witnesses of these things”.
As a result, I don’t think it is too much of an exaggeration to say that if we want to also boil down who we are to be and what we are to do in light of the Easter event into one succinct idea then this verse, verse 48, is an excellent summery statement. We too “are to be witnesses to these things”. Just as Nick Clifford spent the bulk of his life bearing witness to what happened at Mount Rushmore, we are to spend our lives bearing witness to the Easter event through both being clear about what we believe happened on that fateful day and through sharing about our own real and personal encounters with this same living Christ.
This is our job. This is our primary task and yet it is tremendously easy for us to forget to do it. Life is busy. Life is hectic. Life on a daily and weekly basis takes us all in a million different directions while constantly tempting us to make other things more important than they should be.
Honestly, I am not sure that any of us will every completely fix this. To a large degree it simply is the human condition. And, yet, our challenge remains the same – to recognize that as children of the resurrection, we are to bear witness. So, how do we do it well? How do we do it affectively?
I think an important thing for us to recognize is that the call to bear witness is both a general and a specific challenge. What I mean by that is simply this. In general, all of us have this mandate on our lives. All of us are called to tell the Easter story as well as the story of how Christ is alive in us and of how our relationship with Christ has made the difference in our living. So there is this general challenge. But, at the same time, I want to suggest to us and perhaps I should say encourage us with the realization that I believe this is a very specific challenge too.
Like the earliest disciples, we are all very different. We have different gifts, talents and interests. Likewise, we have all had very different life experiences. In turn, what it means for me to bear witness to the living Christ of Easter and the living Christ of my life may be very different from what that looks like for you. In turn, I think the question for all of us becomes how is it that I can uniquely bear witness to Christ in the midst of who I am and in light of how I have been uniquely created and formed? If we dare to answer these questions I think that we will see where our passions in life intersect with God’s purpose for our lives.
When I think about this, I think about countless people who have lived out the task of “being witnesses to these things” as verse 48 suggests but who have done so in very, very different ways.
I think about a friend who was very passionate about a shelter for homeless men in her community. As someone who loved to cook, she organized a group within her church who would feed those same men a home cooked meal once a month. In so doing, she and her team shared friendship, faith and Christ’s love.
I think about two retired women that I once knew who developed a deep interest in a growing international community in their town. They were most interested in the wives of men who had come from other countries to work in local businesses. These ladies from all over the world had few friends and felt very lonely. So, the two retired friends of mine decided to befriend them and knowing that many of these ladies desired to learn basic English; they decided to teach them. In turn, they started a weekly time for coffee and learning English as a second language. Interestingly, they decided to use basic Bible stories as their curriculum for the English time giving them a chance to teach the language and share their faith.
I also think about a good friend who loves golf. He plays all of the time and has built some deep relationships through his love for the game. I remember when he helped to bring a lunchtime Bible study to the clubhouse of the course where he is a member. The study is on Tuesdays from 12-1 and he always reserves one or two tee times on the course for 1:15, or, right after the study ends. This allows him to invite guys to golf but also to the study that takes place right beforehand. I can name two gentlemen who are where they are in their relationship with Christ specifically because of this man’s combining of golf and his faith.
Serving a monthly meal to the homeless, teaching English and playing golf are very distinct and different activities. But, in all three, these folks have connected their passions, their interests and their specific gifts with the general call of Easter that we are to be witnesses of these things.
Again, the challenge here is for us to ask what does this look like in our lives? Some of us know the answer to this question and are living out our specific sense of call to be a witness. If this is you, let me commend your faithfulness and encourage you to keep it up. For most of us, we know what our passions, interests and loves are. But, we are doing little if anything to leverage those aspects of our lives in creative ways as extensions of our call as Easter people to be “witnesses of these things”. Let me gently yet clearly remind us that in the end, this is the primary thing that Jesus asked the first disciples to do and I believe that it remains what we are asked to do. Likewise, as I have already said, I believe that we must honestly work to discover this intersection where our passions and God’s purpose for our lives intersect. If we will, it will bring meaning to both the lives of others and to our own.
In closing, I want to invite you to turn your attention to the altar table this morning. You will see that it is scattered with keys. These are keys that have been kept for years in the Maintenance office at the church. At one time, or maybe still today, they all fit a lock, door or cabinet around First Baptist. They are all the key to unlocking specific doors. But, over time, as their particular purpose has been forgotten, they have lost their value and use. We keep them around, I guess, for the sheer reason that one day we might figure out what they go to and thus might find a use for them. But for now, all they do is sit there gathering dust while serving no real purpose.
I want to say the same thing about us. As unique people, with unique gifts and different interests, we are all, distinct keys that have the ability to open different hearts for the kingdom of God. Those that you may have the ability to be affective with may very well be quite different from those people whom I can reach or touch with God’s love. We all have a role to play.
And, so, will we boldly and courageously discover what door our lives are the key to unlocking? Or, we will simply be content to allow our lives to be what these keys have become – once valuable tools that are now ineffective and only here to take up space and gather dust? Amen.