Sermon – 5/24/2020

Job Interview Fear
Acts 1:1-14, Luke 24:44-53

 

Do you remember the first job you ever interviewed for? Was it a great experience? Really? That would be big a surprise. I’ve rarely ever heard of anyone who felt confident, calm, and prepared for their first job interview. Or even their tenth. Interviews are generally stressful and unpredictable, and you’re working so hard to project a good image that you can easily forget pertinent information – like your own name.

On a website called snagajob.com, someone wrote about a crazy interview for a job at their local Subway restaurant. Not long after the interview, the interviewer texted him with the message – “Come up here ASAP we’re in a nonstop rush, Oh and bring a green shirt, Congrats.” That’s a remarkable way to find out you’re hired. “Come here ASAP and bring a green shirt.” Another uncomfortable job interview appeared on a website. This person had done well in the interview and they felt really comfortable and loosened up a bit. And then someone on the interview panel asked – “Do you know what job you’re here for?” The person being interviewed froze. What does that mean? Why are they asking that? Is there some big mix-up? And he blurted out – “No.” He hadn’t meant to say it. But he got so confused by the question that he couldn’t recover his composure. Needless to say, he didn’t get the job.

I want you think for a minute about what might seem to you the scariest job interview you’ll ever have – how about – to be a witness for Jesus Christ in today’s world. If you have a fear of rejection or a fear of speaking without preparation or a fear of ridicule because of your faith – Jesus’ words that we’re to be His witnesses first in Jerusalem, then in Judea and Samaria, and finally to the ends of the earth – might be pretty intimidating.

Do you ever think of the forty days between Jesus’ resurrection and His ascension to heaven as one long job interview? During this time, Jesus spends time with His disciples and teaches them about the kingdom of God. And with each day, His disciples get more and more excited. Finally, they ask Him – “Lord, are you preparing to restore the kingdom to Israel?” They think Jesus is preparing them to help build His earthly kingdom. And they’re ready, willing, and able – or so they think – to assist Him. Do they know what job they’re interviewing for? This brings us to our Bible passage for today.

Jesus says to them – “It isn’t for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by His own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be My witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” After Jesus says this, He’s taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hides Him from their sight. They’re looking intently up into the sky as Jesus is going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stand beside them. These men say to them – “Men of Galilee, why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who’s been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you’ve seen Him go into heaven.”

Then the apostles returned to Jerusalem from the hill called the Mount of Olives, a Sabbath day’s walk (approx.. 2/3 of a mile) from the city. When they arrived, they went upstairs to the room where they were staying. Those present were Peter, John, James and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James. They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with His brothers. “Okay, folks, change of plans. We’re not going to restore Israel’s kingdom at this time. Instead, we’re going to start building the kingdom of God. But I’m leaving – so good luck with that. I’m going back to My Father and I’m leaving this job to you. But hey, don’t worry, I’m sending you the Holy Spirit to give you the power to follow through.” Whoa, wait a minute, what just happened there? Did we just sign up for this job? Now we’re in fear.

Last week, we talked about how Jesus’ final command to us gives our lives purpose. His final command to us is to love one another as He has loved us. By this, all people will know we are His disciples, if we love one another. This is our life’s purpose. In our Bible passage today, Jesus gives us a plan. His plan for our lives is to be his witnesses in Jerusalem, and in Judea and in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.

Now wait, wait just a minute, before you pull up a map on your phone or head off to find an atlas let’s scale this command down to our lives. Our Jerusalem is our city or community. Our Jerusalem is the place where we have the most influence, but it’s also the place where people know our past, our flaws, our sins. Judea is the larger region around you. Samaria is the place we refuse to go because it’s outside our comfort zone, or the people there scare us, or we have some prejudice against “those people” that we don’t want to confront. Yes, Jesus did command us to go there. No more excuses.

“The ends of the earth” doesn’t need any explanation. In a day and age when technology allows any sixth-grader to communicate with strangers around the world, we have the opportunity every day to share our faith to the ends of the earth. We have never been better equipped for this calling. So what does it take for us to complete the calling Jesus gave His disciples? We’ll need help because it’s intimidating, so intimidating that very few people who say they follow Jesus actually attempt to be a witness at all.

First and foremost, if we’re going to be Jesus’ witnesses, we will need to pray. Action without prayer is like planting seeds in a desert. Or better yet, get a team together and pray. Notice what the disciples do after Jesus is taken up into heaven. They return to Jerusalem, and “join together constantly in prayer.” We can’t be witnesses to something we’ve never experienced. Prayer is the experience of taking on the mind and heart and will and wisdom of God. Prayer is the point where the Holy Spirit fills us with God’s power. God never calls us to do His work unless He empowers and equips us to do it. No need to be afraid of this job.

I read about a very successful businessman who never used the elevator in his office building. Instead, he preferred his “Prayer Stairs.” He took the stairs every morning so he could start and end his day in prayer. Each morning he’d pray for God’s guidance as he went up the stairs. And each evening as he walked down the stairs, he thanked God for His help that day. I prefer my drive to and from church – maybe that’s why things seem out of whack. I think I need the time to church to prepare for God’s work of the day and then I need the same time coming home to give it all to God and release it into God’s hands.

Like the disciples, we pray passionately for God to heal and transform this world. And God says – Yes, I will answer your prayers. I will transform the world. But here’s the catch – God says I will do it through you. Jesus spent His short life on this earth praying to the Father and preparing us for service. You’re a witness, whether you know it or not. You’re either a compelling witness for Jesus Christ, or you’re a surprising witness against Jesus Christ. If the world is going to be healed and transformed, it will happen through our witness.

Believe it or not – you’re God’s answer to the questions of the skeptic. The skeptic wants to know – Is God real? Are the promises of God true? . . . You’re the answer . . . We are Exhibit A of Jesus Christ. Like it or not. The burden of this can be staggering – but the blessing is wonderful.

So, if we’re Exhibit A of Jesus Christ, what’s our witness in our family? In our community? In the world? Do people see and experience the character, the blessings, and the message of God when they look at us? If that question doesn’t make us want to stop right now and pray passionately for God’s power and guidance, then nothing will.

The next essential step if we’re to be God’s witnesses is – to go.  Yes, we can share our faith and Jesus’ love in our homes and in our churches. Those are the first and best places to live our faith enthusiastically and consistently. But we have to get outside our homes and our churches to prove that we’re living out our purpose as Jesus-followers. Jesus shared His counter-cultural attitude and priorities and truth with people in the workplace, in the market, in the synagogues, in the streets. He spoke to the powerful and the powerless. He spoke to His friends and family, and He spoke to strangers and outcasts. He’s amazing as he loves the unlovable, heals the hopeless, frees those in bondage, stands firm in the face of persecution. By some estimates, Jesus traveled over 3,000 miles during His three years of ministry. And everywhere He went, He shared the message and the love of God by His words and by His actions. By the people He hung out with and ate with and healed and befriended. And that is what following Jesus entails.

In doing what we’re given we get to love people really well who would never step foot in a church. God isn’t contained inside four walls. This is a great reason to use this time of not being in the four walls to realize it was never the building making us the church – it’s the people. The whole purpose of the Holy Spirit – is so the living presence of God can take up residence inside every believer, every one of us. This means wherever we go, God goes too. The presence and the power and the love of God go with us into every situation. Doesn’t that make you want to get out there and fulfill your purpose? Doesn’t it reassure you that Jesus didn’t make a mistake when He chose you as His witness? Doesn’t it make you want to do God’s will for your life?

The final step is to trust God. This is the hardest step, right? Messages and discussions about sharing our faith make us feel nervous or guilty. Guilty because we think we don’t have the right personality, or the exciting faith story, or the eloquence, or the charisma. You know what’s wrong with that previous sentence? The word “we.” It’s not about you or me. It’s about God’s Spirit working in us. Trust that the Holy Spirit is putting power behind your efforts and conviction behind your words. Trust that the Holy Spirit is going before you, preparing the minds and hearts of those you encounter. Trust that the Holy Spirit was given to us so we are never alone. We may never know how God will use – our attitude, our choices, our priorities, our caring, our words – to touch another life and open someone’s mind to the message of Jesus. Can you live with that? Can you commit to being a witness every day, in every situation, even if you never feel capable, even if you never feel ready, even if you never know how God is working in you to heal and transform the world?

In the book “Second Calling: Finding Passion and Purpose for the Rest of Your Life”, the author writes about a conference she attended years ago. She and her friend planned to drive to the airport after the conference when another attendee asked if he could ride with them. On their ride, She asked this gentleman where he worked, and he mentioned a Christian organization. Surprised, her friend remarked that he’d become a Christian in 1972 at a conference sponsored by that very organization. His witness eventually brought his whole family to Christ. Now he works at a major Christian publishing company and his sister became a missionary. They’d dedicated their careers to sharing the message of Jesus around the world. The gentleman sat silently for a moment, then he said – “I led that retreat. It was my first time as a conference leader, and I felt like a total failure. Until this moment, I have always believed it was one of the biggest failures of my life.” You never know when you give your witness to what God has done in your life when God will use that to turn someone’s life around.

“Jesus said to them – ‘It’s not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by His own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you – and you will be my witnesses in your Jerusalem, and in your Judea and in your Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.’”

Jesus could’ve shared the whole plan with us. He could’ve answered all our questions. Would that make us more powerful witnesses for Him? Probably not. Because it’s not about you or me. He doesn’t need you to be more eloquent or more charismatic or more extroverted. He needs to fill you with the Holy Spirit, the living presence and power of God, and send you out to live like He did, love like He did and share the message of God like He did. There’s a whole big world outside waiting to be healed and transformed and if we’re willing to pray, to go, to trust God to work in us, then we’ll be His witnesses to the ends of the earth. No fear – God has us, has our lives, has our future right in the palm of His hand. This job isn’t a piece of cake it’s sometimes fearful and sometimes a bit daunting – but it’s an absolute blessing. Amen.