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Why Not You? Why Not Me? Why Not Now?

John 21:15-19

Scott Levy was a pastor who was preaching for a friend on Sunday morning in Nebraska. He went early to the church on that Sunday morning to see what it was like and to get a feel for the church’s atmosphere. He was walking down the hallway with his Bible and sermon notes in one hand, and his pulpit robe draped over his other arm. He passed a large room being used as a nursery for preschoolers. As Scott Levy glanced into the room, he saw a little boy who looked to be about four-years-old. There was no one else in the room. The little boy said: “Hi! My name’s Tommy. I’m all alone in this big room.”

Scott Levy decided to use his best pastoral counseling technique on the little boy and he said: “You feel all alone in this room?” The little boy quickly replied: “I don’t just feel it, I am. There’s nobody here but me.” Scott Levy, trying to reassure the boy, replied confidently: “Well, don’t worry. I’m sure that before too long someone will come to be with you.” With wistful eyes, little Tommy looked up at Scott Levy and said: “Why not you?”

Why not you? The question resounds across the ages, and yet more often than not, we reject it, neglect it, deflect it, fail to hear it, or refuse to act upon it. We see and know what needs to be done in the world around us, but we feel that someone else more talented, more eloquent, more capable, more committed, more authoritative will come along and do what needs to be done. But the question of God directed personally to each one of us is simply this: “Why not you?”

Charles Kuralt, in one of his famous “On the Road” segments, talked to an elderly gentleman in Virginia. This older man had bought some land and built a public park at his own expense. He put in picnic tables and recreational equipment and all the other things that make a park so attractive and enjoyable. It was open to everyone! And for free! Not only that, but he also raised vegetables and tomatoes and he would place them on the picnic tables in the park for anyone who wanted to come and eat them. Charles Kuralt asked him: “Why do you do all of this?” The man answered: “Why not? If you don’t leave the world a better place than the way you found it, then what’s the sense of your being here?” That elderly gentleman in Virginia has heard God’s question : “Why not you?” And he has responded creatively and productively.

Today I am going to back away from the normal practice I employ in preaching. Today I have only one point to make and it is this: the key to faithful, successful, meaningful living is to see something which needs to be done, to take it on, and to do something about it. That’s my one point, and I’m going to drive it into your mind and heart by looking at people—six of them to be precise. Of course, when you stop to think about it, the great people of faith in the Bible and in the church’s history have always been people who saw a situation that needed to be made better, heard the penetrating question from God, “Why not you?” and then had the courage to take up the torch, to dare the task, to speak the word, to do the deed. Let me show you what I mean…

I’m thinking here of Moses.

He sits on a quiet hillside in Midian, so calm and serene, but he is not at peace within. Inside he is churning. Inside he is burning with concern for his people caught in Egyptian slavery. How can he know serenity of spirit when he knows the anguish of his people? He thinks of their miserable circumstances and he says to himself: “It’s wrong. It’s cruel. The people are being overworked, underfed, used and abused and misused by the Egyptian Pharaoh. These people should not be slaves. They should be free. Someone ought to do something about this terrible situation!”

Then God appears to Moses in a burning bush and in essence asks: “Why not you, Moses? You go and tell Pharoah to let my people go, and I will go with you.” Notice how Moses responds. It’s the way we often respond. Moses says rather feebly: “Who me? Surely not me. Who am I that I could take this on. I’m not eloquent. I’m not a leader. Someone else would be more capable. Surely, Lord, you don’t expect me to do this?”

But God will not be denied. “Yes, Moses, why not you? Go and I will go with you.” You know the rest of the story—how Moses, with the help of God took up the torch and led the people to freedom. Moses saw a problem and he knew somebody ought to do something about it. When God said “Why not you?”, Moses rose to the occasion.

And I’m thinking of Isaiah.

He, too, was discouraged. He lived in a time when his people had drifted away from the basics of their faith. Their religion was shallow, their ethics were questionable, their business practices were shady. The poor were being exploited, people were being cheated, the nation was in danger of collapsing, and then their king, Uzziah, died. Isaiah, down at the mouth and down in heart, went to the temple to pray. There God exploded into his life in a fresh new way. He saw the Lord, as he put it, “high and lifted up”.

In the overpowering emotion of that profound spiritual experience, he recognized that a prophet was needed for that hour. Someone needed to speak out. Someone needed to address their problems. Someone needed to call the people back to an active faith in God. And then God’s question rang in Isaiah’s ear: “Why not you?” Isaiah saw the problem, heard the call, rose to the occasion and said: “Here I am, Lord, send me!”

I’m thinking of Jesus.

He was having a successful ministry in Galilee, people were clamoring to be in His presence and to hear Him preach. But at the same time He was pained by what He saw was happening in the capitol city of Jerusalem. He saw the people being exploited in the Temple. He saw how minute, regressive laws were getting in the way of love, compassion, and kindness. He saw religious hypocrisy transform the Temple of God into a den of dangerous and destructive thieves.

Jesus was infuriated by what He saw. He knew that something should be done. He knew that someone should speak out. He knew that someone should strike a blow for justice. Then God’s question “Why not you?” rang in His ears. It is at that point that we read these words in Scripture: “He set His face toward Jerusalem”…”He cleansed the Temple”. It was a costly thing to do. Ultimately, it cost Him his life. But what He was and what He said and what He did and what He lived for could not be killed, could not be sealed in a tomb, could not be silenced in a grave. Jesus saw the problem, heard the call, and rose to the occasion. He was quite literally raised from the dead. And the torch of faith He carried into the city of Jerusalem still burns brightly.

I’m thinking of Simon Peter.

You remember how after the resurrection, Peter shared breakfast with the risen Lord. Three times Jesus asked: “Simon, do you love me?” Three times Simon Peter answered: “Yes Lord, you know I love you.” And each time Jesus then said: “If you love me, feed my sheep.” Do you see what was happening here? The earthly ministry of Jesus was just about over. He would soon return to His earthly Father in heaven. What would happen then? Someone would have to take up His ministry and continue it. Someone would have to pick up the torch—or better said, someone would have to take up the cross. Someone would have to exert strong leadership. Someone would have to feed Christ’s sheep.

And what was happening over that early morning breakfast was that Jesus was asking Simon Peter: “Why not you?” In other words, Jesus was saying “If you love me, then you must help to shepherd my flock in the world.” And you know what happened. Peter took up the torch and became one of the great leaders of the early church. He heard the question “Why not you?”—and he responded with his life.

I’m thinking of Bruce Olson.

He may be the best-known missionary of our day. He has earned the right to be so labeled. Interestingly enough, he did not go through the “proper channels” of working with a missionary board. Instead, he just flew to Venezuela, landing on a hot August day back in 1962. He had $72.00 in his pocket. He was just 19 years old, all alone, and unable to speak Spanish, but he was convinced that that was where God wanted him to be. He made some friends and he learned enough Spanish to get by. One of his friends asked if he had ever heard of the Motilone tribe, a Stone Age tribe which had resisted civilization and which had developed a reputation as a bloodthirsty warring band of people. No one outside the tribe had ever learned their language. No one who went out into the jungles to find them ever returned. Bruce Olson wondered how anyone could ever reach the Motilone people. Then he heard God ask: “Why not you?”

It seemed implausible at best, impossible at worst. To even get to the region where the Motilones lived required cutting through the thick jungle for seven days. One day, as Bruce Olson was hacking away at that all-but-impenetrable jungle, an arrow pierced his thigh. He fell to the ground and when he did, he was immediately surrounded by five small brown men, with eyes that glittered under short-cropped hair. Peter Olson wrote: “I had met the Motilones.” They dragged him to his feet and forced him to walk to one of their villages. As the days passed, his wound festered. He developed dysentery and began hemorrhaging. For two weeks he lay in a hut dying, but even in his weakened condition, he found little ways to communicate to them his understanding of a loving God. Finally, several members of the tribe took him to a clearing where he radioed for help. A helicopter airlifted him to Maracaibo. His physician told him that while he would survive, he would never recover enough to go back into the jungle. However, Bruce Olson would not accept that. He believed that God had called him to the Motilones and God would help him continue. Within three weeks, he was back among them. Now, years later, those people know Jesus Christ and their tribe has been transformed into people of peace and love. By the way, this church has a stake in Bruce Olson’s work. He has been here to work with our Missionary Computer Fellowship and his own mission service has been enhanced. All because he responded to God’s question, “Why not you?”

And I am thinking today of Ken Bailey.

He has spent years as one of our Presbyterian ministers in the Middle East. He is a man whom I dearly love and deeply admire. Some of you will remember when he spoke here several years ago. Well, on one occasion, an American oil company approached him about coming to work for them. His fluency in the Arabic language, his knowledge of the customs and the culture of that region, and his contacts with people of influence would have proved a valuable asset to that company. They offered him a position which carried a six-figure salary. He turned it down. They responded by offering a salary double the first offer. He sat down and wrote them a letter. The letter said: “Don’t waste your time making any more offers to me. Your first offer was more money than I have ever made or ever hoped to make in my life. It isn’t that your salary isn’t big enough, it’s that your job isn’t big enough. Why would I ever want to give myself to trying to win a contract for your company when I am presently engaged in trying to win a continent for Jesus Christ?” When God said: “Ken Bailey, why not you?”—Ken Bailey rose to the occasion, and what a difference he has made in that part of the world.

Now you may be saying to yourself: “Come on preacher, what has this to do with me? I’m not a missionary!”. Wrong! You are a missionary. If you have been baptized in Christ and claim Him as Savior and Lord, then you are a missionary and you have a specific place where He is calling you to serve. It might be in an office building downtown. It may be in an operating room or a chemical lab or the showroom floor of an automobile dealership or in a high school classroom or in the cockpit of a 727 or in the dining hall of a retirement center. You are a missionary, and you have a special place where you are called to serve Jesus Christ every day.

That’s the point I want to make today, and that’s the only point I want to make today. It’s one thing to wear a cross around our neck and tell others that we belong to such-and-such a church. It’s quite another thing to actually bear that cross and let our lives do the talking for us.

We look at a troubled world filled with troubled people living in troubled times, and we say: “Someone needs to do something about it all in the name of Jesus Christ.” And God then says: “Why not you?”
Good question.

Why not you? Why not me? Why not us?

Why not indeed…

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