You Make an Important Difference

December 7, 2008

 

The Rev. Dr. Anthony J. Godlefski, Pastor

Montgomery United Methodist Church

 

Isaiah 40:1-11

1Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God. 2Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that she has served her term, that her penalty is paid, that she has received from the Lord's hand double for all her sins. 3A voice cries out: "In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. 4Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. 5Then the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together, for the mouth of the LORD has spoken." 6A voice says, "Cry out!" And I said, "What shall I cry?" All people are grass, their constancy is like the flower of the field. 7The grass withers, the flower fades, when the breath of the LORD blows upon it; surely the people are grass. 8The grass withers, the flower fades; but the word of our God will stand forever. 9Get you up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good tidings; lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good tidings, lift it up, do not fear; say to the cities of Judah, "Here is your God!" 10See, the Lord GOD comes with might, and his arm rules for him; his reward is with him, and his recompense before him. 11He will feed his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms, and carry them in his bosom, and gently lead the mother sheep.

 

Mark 1:1-8

1The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. 2As it is written in the prophet Isaiah, "See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way; 3the voice of one crying out in the wilderness: 'Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight,'" 4John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. 6Now John was clothed with camel's hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. 7He proclaimed, "The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. 8I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit."

 

 

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, good morning! Our title and our topic for today is “You Make an Important Difference.” My friend, you have more influence and power in the world than you ever imagined. You are a powerful influence for good in the world, and I’d like to talk with you about that today.

 

This is the second part of a two-part series called “From Chaos to Confidence.” It seems that as we look around our world and as we watch the news there is chaos in so many places – economic chaos, political chaos, even spiritual chaos. I confess to you, as one who once advocated not looking at the news at all, I have become somewhat addicted to CNN, looking at the headlines and seeing what’s happening in the world several times a day. There is so much chaos out there.

 

There is chaos even in our personal lives sometimes. What do we do about it? Should we ignore it? Should we be troubled by it? Should we join in and spread the gloom and doom and the terror that we see, over here and over there? What should we do about the chaos in the world?

 

In our scripture readings today we can see that the Bible is right on the mark. The Bible acknowledges chaos in the world. Let’s take a look together. The Book of Isaiah is sometimes called the fifth gospel, because Isaiah is a powerful prophet who anticipates the coming of Jesus in a unique way. It’s like a dialogue between God and the prophet. The prophet talks about the chaos on the earth, and God talks about what to do about it.

 

The voice of the Lord says to the prophet – and to you and to me – “Comfort, comfort you, my people. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem [that is, to our souls]. Cry to her that she has served her term, that her inequity is pardoned, that she has received from the Lord's hand double for all her sins. Take comfort, my people.”

 

And the prophet says, “What shall I cry?”

 

The Lord says, “Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain.” God is saying, “I know you have chaos in your world. I know that the ground seems rough and hard to get along on, that the road seems twisty and confusing, that there seem to be mountainous problems in your lives, and scary valleys, too.” But God says, “Make the rough places plain. Straighten out those paths. Make the mountain low. It’s doable. Lift up the valley so it’s not so scary.” That’s the world of the Lord.

 

And then Isaiah counters, “But wait a minute! I’ve got chaos in my soul. It’s like the people are grass, and everything seems so futile.”

 

But then, in verse 9, everything shifts, and God says, “Get you up to a high mountain, O Zion. Be a herald of good tidings; lift up your voice with strength; be not afraid.  Say to the cities of Judah [that means all the situations around you], ‘Behold your God; God is here. God comes with might, and His arm rules for Him; His reward is with Him. His reward is for you. Here is what God will do for you, O people of God; He will feed you. He will feed his flock like a shepherd. He will gather you tenderly in His arms, and He will take care of those who take care of others.’” That’s what the Lord says.

 

In the midst of the chaos of our world, we have the word of God who says, “Keep hope alive. Keep possibilities alive. Keep the positive approach alive.”

John the Baptist heard those words loud and clear, and he came into the world as one who was going to do all those things and make the way possible for the Lord Jesus Christ and His good news to come to the world. Now, John the Baptist was an ordinary kind of guy. He was not a handsome, well-groomed sort of ‘movie star.’ Let’s see what he was like. Take a look at the gospel of Mark, verse 6: “Now John was clothed with camel's hair…” Camel’s hair? Sounds kind of scratchy, don’t you think?  “… he ate locusts and wild honey.” Does that make him a vegetarian or not? I’m not exactly sure. [Ed. Note: No, not in the strict sense of the word, if the locusts were in fact insects rather than locust beans, that is, carob pods. For an interesting commentary on this topic, see http://www.forward.com/articles/a-brief-on-bokser/.] But he proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and take care of His shoes. I baptize you with water, but even better things are coming.”

You see, John the Baptist affected this world. He made an important difference. And so can you and I. Friend, in the midst of the chaos in the world, you can make a difference. You know the song we like to sing, “Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me.” This is where the peace and the confidence from the chaos need to arise – with me, with you – and it can happen. You have great influence over your world.

And to illustrate that, I’d like to share with you another article from CNN, a marvelous article called “Happiness Is Contagious in Social Networks.” Check this out (http://www.cnn.com/2008/HEALTH/12/05/happiness.social.network/index.html) : “If you're feeling great today, you may end up inadvertently spreading the joy to someone you don't even know.... New research shows that in a social network, happiness spreads among people up to three degrees removed from one another. That means when you feel happy, a friend of a friend of a friend has a slightly higher likelihood of feeling happy too.”

Can you imagine that? Your own personal happiness and your faith are good in and of themselves. But did you know that scientists are now looking into the fact that there is a chain reaction effect? So, because you’ve been in church today, someone – a friend of a friend of a friend – will be touched by it. Because you’ve decided to have a positive attitude today, a friend of a friend of a friend will be blessed by it. Because you decided to give your smile away, someone that you don’t even know will be touched by your influence. See, you can make positive difference in this chaotic world. Just be the positive, faithful Christian that you are, and your positive energy will have a ripple effect in the world.

“The study, published in the British Medical Journal, used data from the Framingham Heart Study to recreate a network of 4,739. Fowler and co-author Dr. Nicholas Christakis of Harvard Medical School charted friends, spouses and siblings in the network, and used their self-reported happiness ratings from 1983 to 2003.” Your faith and your joy and your positive attitude have a ripple effect in the world.

Joel Nystrom is a name that some of you remember and perhaps some not. Joel Nystrom was one of the founding members of the Montgomery United Methodist Church. He died about five years ago, in his late nineties. But wherever the man went, he spread positive energy. He touched my heart in inordinate ways. And I am blessed by him still.

I have a dear friend in this church who gave me an extraordinarily welcome blessing. I was profoundly grateful for it, and it motivated me to bless others. And I thanked him for it. He shook his head and said, “Any good that I do in the world is because of my dear and wonderful mother.” His mom died I think about 25 years ago. I never knew her. But just think of it! The ripple effect of her faith and her positive energy reflects from him and from me and from you and who knows where else!

My friends, in this world, where you inhabit chaos and are tempted to be scared by it, just look it in the eye and say, “Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me.” Let your positive light shine forth. Let your faith shine forth, and there will be an echo through the hills of human personality that will amplify what you have to do and will amplify your energy, because you can make a positive difference. And I know you will. God loves you. I do, too. Have a wonderful week. Amen.

© 2008 Anthony J. Godlefski