The Sermon

I was in India during one of the most stirring cross-cultural mission experiences I have ever known. While I was speaking in southern India to the General Conference of the St. Thomas Evangelical Church, the police arrived and vigorously opposed, in their native tongue, my preaching the gospel. Seeing that I was confused due to my linguistic ignorance, an Indian translator calmly explained to me that the police did not want me to continue. Fear immediately shot through me like electricity as I found myself confronted by official opposition to my carrying on ministry. Actually, "terror" seems a reasonable description of my emotional state. With that terror I sensed afresh the enormous gap between my spiritually fragile inner man and the remarkably high calling upon my life as Christ's servant. My fear and his calling seemed separated by an unimaginably huge chasm.

This hardly seemed an appropriate moment to discuss options, but I awkwardly sought counsel from an Indian Christian near me.

"What should I do?" I stammered.

He calmly counseled me in great contrast to my obvious abject terror. In a very matter-of-fact manner, he indicated that his Bible had a few verses in it that said to keep preaching when people told us to stop. Then, in the same matter-of-fact tone, he inquired whether or not those verses were in my Bible as well.

Needless to say, his gentle rebuke to my fear hit me like a brick bat across the bridge of my nose, and I began to cry. I realized, in my fear, that I was now standing where, for thousands of years, my forefathers and foremothers had stood when the authorities ordered them not to preach God's truth. This brief mental connection with

Christian history heightened my sense of the gap between my horribly fearful and weak condition and God's incredibly high calling upon my life.

Now it was my turn to stand! Me? No, it couldn't be! It was almost overwhelming. I began a familiar and vigorous internal argument with myself, and all within seconds:

"Who are you to preach in a place like this? You're afraid to preach when you are told to stop . . . but you just can't give up. . . . Who are you to be a representative of Jesus to these brothers and sisters in India?"
"I can't do this! I need to stop! But I can't! I simply can't!" 
"You bet you can't! What will people think?"
"Who cares, I don't want to go to jail."
"But what about trusting God?"

The gap I was sensing seemed almost to drip from my pores like perspiration. Surely, it was sadly obvious to my Indian brothers and sisters that all I had within me was a frightened, self-absorbed, broken little heart.

Apply my experience to us all because I believe my time in India merely illustrates a foundational and critical question that must be asked by all Christians: how can the living God advance his kingdom through weak and shattered little people like me and like you? Putting it another way: what possible resources does God impart to his church in order that his way and his wonder may advance, despite all the human frailty and failure so obviously present in us, even after we're redeemed?

A vulnerable acknowledgement of one's own sense of the enormity of the gap between our human condition and God's calling raises just such questions. However, it seems, at least to me, that we Christians avoid these questions by committing two errors.

First, we dodge the gap between God's high call and our frailty through false humility. We hide behind what is understood or portrayed as humility when we describe our condition as "far too broken and so terribly weak" and "too foolish or simple" to even enter into any courageous ministry, mercy, sacrifice, or evangelism. Certainly we could not serve believers and unbelievers so radically as to change the world. We imply or plainly state our excuse: "I am just too spiritually immature."