Topical Scripture: Isaiah 61:1-2
The little crowd of 102 persons finally arrived, after surviving two months of stormy seas on a crowded little boat. Their first year, about half died in the severe winter, most of pneumonia. The next year, in the fall of 1621, the survivors planned a time of memorial and sorrow for those who had died in the previous year. But as they looked about themselves at all God had given them—their first harvest, the friendly Indians, their blessings from heaven—they chose to turn that service from one of memorial to gratitude. And so Thanksgiving was born.
On Monday last, at 12:10 in the afternoon, Mr. Rip Parker went home to be with his Father in heaven. He was adamant that there be no memorial service, no funeral, no obituary in the paper. Nothing which would draw attention away from Jesus to him. And so against our wishes, we have planned no memorial service. But he can’t tell me what to preach about. In the context of his physical death, when our souls so want to mourn our loss, Rip would have us count our blessings. And give thanks to our God.
My one point today is clear and simple: our greatest joy comes from giving God’s good news to others. Here is our greatest cause for thanksgiving—our greatest purpose, significance and legacy. Rip was convinced that it is so. Here’s proof that he was right.
Know the purpose of your empowering (v. 1)
God’s word begins, “The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me.” The Holy Spirit of the Sovereign ruler of the universe, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords—he is “on me.” After Pentecost, he came to dwell “in” us. Now we would say, “The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is in us.”
Why? “Because the Lord has anointed me to preach good news.”
“Because,” for this reason or purpose. This is why you and I exist. It’s why God left us on earth after he saved us for heaven. We’re not here to make money, or earn status or acclaim.
We are anointed, chosen and empower and gifted, to “preach good news.” The “good news” that our Creator loves us, that the Lord of the universe knows our names, our needs, our hurts and our hearts. We are called and commanded, privileged and purposed by God to tell such good news.
To the “poor”—physically, financially, and also spiritually.
To the “brokenhearted,” those who are suffering from despair, discouragement, loneliness, hopelessness.
To the “captives,” those who are enslaved by men or themselves, sin or Satan.
To the “prisoners,” in jails made of bars or sins, of men or devils.
To “all who mourn,” those who have suffered death, loss, grief, pain.
In each case, we are to go “to” them. Not to wait for them to come to us. To give them the good news of God’s love, God’s healing, God’s help and hope, grace and mercy and peace.
Evangelism, preaching, missions and ministry is not imposing our beliefs on others. It is not about getting more people to join our church. It is about gift-giving, giving to others what God has given to us. Nothing more, but nothing less.
It is significant beyond words that Jesus chose these verses as the text for his first recorded sermon. He was invited to bring the message at the synagogue in his hometown of Nazareth. The scroll of Isaiah was handed to him, apparently the chosen book for the day. But he “found the place” where these words were written, and read them deliberately and intentionally. And he “rolled up the scroll, gave it to back to the attendant and sat down” (Luke 4:20). Then “he began by saying, ‘Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing'” (v. 21).
What his Father called him to do, he called his followers to do. To “make disciples of all nations,” to be his witnesses to the ends of the earth, to be his salt and light, his ambassadors and representatives, his hands and feet and flesh. As the reason we exist, the purpose of our lives and days.
Claim the privilege of your purpose
But most of us are insecure with such a calling and purpose. It’s not primarily a lack of training. Say John 3:16 with me—that’s all the theology you need to explain salvation. It’s not a lack of opportunity—119,000 souls within three miles of us are not in church this morning. This of someone you know who doesn’t know Jesus. Have you given them the good news of God’s love? If not, why?
Here’s the number one answer for most of us: we’re afraid. Afraid of being rejected, of offending them. We’re not sure they need our faith; after all, they seem to be doing just fine. We’re not sure that we have the right to give it to them; after all, religion is a private matter.
So let’s learn a simple fact today: ministry is gift-giving. It is giving to someone you care about that which someone gave to you. The privilege of learning how to have a personal relationship with the God of the universe. The privilege of learning how to have your sins forgiven, your soul cleansed, your life given a thrilling purpose and direction, a joy you can find nowhere else.
There is joy in gift-giving. Already, I’m looking forward to Christmas gifts for that reason. Every parent knows the joy of pleasing your children. Every person in love knows the joy of pleasing the person you love. You’re not imposing your possessions on them. You’re not assuming that they need what you have. Rather, you’re simply giving them your very best gift. You’re giving them Jesus. And there’s true joy in that.
Rip Parker knew such joy, more than any human being I’ve ever encountered.
He knew the joy of worshiping Jesus each Sunday morning, no matter his life circumstances. Did you ever see him without his smile? Even after his left eye was removed because of the cancer which took his life, he was here with a smile, welcoming us to worship. His only fear was that his bandage would keep the children from coming to him for the candy which filled his pockets each week.
He knew the joy of growing in faith each day, no matter his life problems. Each Thursday morning at men’s Bible study, Rip was in his seat. Each Thursday prayer meeting at 6 a.m., Rip was in his chair. Each time we called a prayer meeting, Rip came. In the joy of a faith which never stopped growing.
He knew the joy of serving Jesus each day, no matter his own struggles. Rain or shine, cold or hot, every day he was with his “boys,” the homeless men of downtown Dallas. With food, blankets, clothing, and God’s grace. To someone else such a ministry would be a burden beyond ability. To Rip, it was a joy beyond compare.
He knew the joy of inviting others into his ministry. Each Tuesday night he gathered with any who wanted to help with his “boys,” and so many of you did. Bible study groups, Sunday school classes, men and women, boys and girls. So many of you have been with Rip. And you knew you had been with Jesus.
If I could speak with Rip Parker one more time in the church he loved so dearly, and ask him why all the sacrifices of his witness, his evangelism, his ministry and missions, he wouldn’t understand the question. Because he learned that when we give the good news to others, we give ourselves joy.
Now it is up to us to continue the work. Rip’s life verse was simple: to whom much is given, much is required (Luke 12:48b). In insisting that there be no memorial service in his honor, Rip said again and again, “If you want to honor me, feed my boys.” Wherever you find them. And you’ll find joy. Joy you’ll find nowhere else. The joy of Jesus. Joy now, and joy forever.
Rip Parker would never end a conversation with “good-bye,” because that meant he might not see you again, and he knew that’s not so for God’s people. Instead, he would always say, “See you later.” See you later, Rip. Amen.