Making a Difference
42 When evening had come, and since it was the day of Preparation, that is, the day before the sabbath, 43 Joseph of Arimathea, a respected member of the council, who was also himself waiting expectantly for the kingdom of God, went boldly to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. 44 Then Pilate wondered if he were already dead; and summoning the centurion, he asked him whether he had been dead for some time. 45 When he learned from the centurion that he was dead, he granted the body to Joseph. 46 Then Joseph bought a linen cloth, taking down the body, wrapped it in the linen cloth, and laid it in a tomb that had been hewn out of the rock. He then rolled a stone against the door of the tomb. 47 Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Jesus saw where the body was laid.
THE WORD OF THE LORD.
As the Academy Awards showed recently, people want recognition for their achievements. All want an Oscar. As the poet, Carl Sandburg said: “We all want to play Hamlet.” We want people to know we exist. “I am, I said,” Neil Diamond sang out. Some people want recognition so badly they will do negative acts, such as violence to achieve recognition. Lee Harvey Oswald and John Hinckley were such people. Or as I read in the newspaper this week (Washington Post – March 6, 2018) school shooters want recognition by being causing the most deaths, to beat the body count of Columbine, Sandy Hook, and Virginia Tech.
Most people would not act violently to be recognized.
Nevertheless, people want to feel their life makes a difference.
Our Scripture lesson reminds us that one person can make a difference no matter how insignificant the act might seem to be at the time. Joseph of Arimathea shines as an example for us.
Let us briefly review the story around Joseph.
Jesus has entered Jerusalem, has disrupted the moneychangers in the Temple, has eaten the Passover meal, and has agonized in Gethsemane. The Temple leaders and the Good Friday crowd have judged Jesus, and Pilate has sentenced him to execution. Jesus is crucified on Golgotha. In a few hours, Jesus dies from suffocation.
At this point, something unusual happens. An unknown person steps forward. Joseph sees Jesus has died, and Jesus’ family has no place to bury him. Joseph sees no one acting to help this family in their grief. The family has no means or place for burial. At this point Joseph of Arimathea acts when no one else did. Then, our Scripture lesson says -
Joseph of Arimathea, a respected member of the council, went boldly to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Pilate wondered if Jesus was already dead; and summoning the centurion, he asked him whether he had been dead for some time. When he learned he was dead, he granted the body to Joseph. Then Joseph bought a linen cloth, and taking down the body, wrapped it in cloth, and laid Jesus in a tomb carved out of the rock. He then rolled a stone against the door of the tomb.
If you think you are not valued, if you think the small acts you do for others is not making a difference in people’s lives, then remember Joseph of Arimathea. He did not stand by and watch, he saw a need and he acted boldly.
This story gives us insight on how we can make a difference.
The first insight is – You never know what difference you make unless you speak or ask.
Joseph made a difference because he boldly spoke. Pilate responded because Joseph asked.
Opportunities arise for us to act, but we fail sometimes by our timidity. We live so much with seeing the same things happen repeatedly, we fail to see our power. Inertia causes us to accept the same things again and again. Those who overcome the inertia are those who make the difference.
These may be opportunities in your family or personal life, in your work, in your school, or in society. To do this, you have to extend yourself.
. We have seen lately in our society in response to violence students’ act when leaders vacillated. The students raised the conscience of society. Their voices have made a difference. Some corporations have responded by looking at something other than the bottom line.
Today, if a few people act, what crimes could be avoided or good done?
This is how Joseph of Arimathea moved from being an extra in the story of Jesus’ crucifixion to the center making a difference.
Small acts, like small seeds, produce mighty results
The second insight is – the value of what you do is something you create. It is not a role assigned, like a movie script. You create this role yourself. It is an opportunity observed and taken.
When Joseph saw the violence of the cross, he asked, what can I do?
He discovered what he could do. He could bury Jesus in his own tomb. Joseph created this role and made a difference. Love and courage changed him from a spectator into a participant.
What does your love for Christ call you to do today?
The Gospels tell of a boy who had a few loaves and fishes. 5,000 people were hungry. What could he do? He took the small step, and offered what he had to Jesus. God used this small act to feed the multitude.
An ambitious young man asked an experienced salesperson the secret of success. The salesperson said: “There’s no great secret. You just jump at every opportunity that comes along.” The young man replied, “But how can I tell when an opportunity is coming?” The salesperson responded: “You can’t. You just have to keep jumping.”
The third insight is that God needs us to act in the world.
God and the world needs us. We are co-creators or co-actors with the Creator.
For example, God has fashioned the world so God could not make a Stradivarius violin without the help of human hands, and human collaboration – Stradivarius himself. . The problems you and I face seem massive. Yet, when we break them into steps, you and I make a difference. You build a cathedral stone by stone. You build a sanctuary brick by brick. You make a great society person by person, one by one.
We cannot privatize our faith, and leave the world to the ones who follow money and power. We cannot merely wish for peace in the world, we have to will it, and to will it is the step towards making a difference.
You may feel you cannot do anything. You think the world unkind and unfair; therefore, why do anything. If the world is unkind and violent, it is because of us not God. To change it we must join with God.
The fourth insight is to act our conscience.
You know what needs to be done in your personal life, your life at work, your life at school, your life as a citizen. Your conscience – informed by what is Christ-like – tells you what to do to make a difference.
We know, for example, children are being used in the Republic of the Congo as laborers to mine the cobalt used in parts for our cell phones. We become participants in the hardship and demise of children.
Socrates is a hero because he acted his conscience. He did not know if his life would be remembered when executed in Athens in 399 BC. Yet, he continued to speak out his conscience. It cost him his life.
In this world we have to do what is right – what is Christ-like. Those who inherit the earth - to use Jesus’ phrase - are those who act their conscience informed by Christ.
We look to a higher authority to decide what we must do in a society gone astray. As the disciples said in the book of Acts – “We must obey God rather than man.” They paid the price for it. In fact, the Acts of the Apostles could be called the Arrests of the Apostles.
The one miracle we can pray and act towards is that we will act our conscience and become good people.
Finally this, we know we cannot do everything – we have only so much time. The little you do makes a difference. An act of caring let Joseph of Arimathea to become part of the story of redemption. Your acts in your personal life, your work, your school or in your community and nation make a difference.
We come here each Sunday to be strengthened to go out and make a difference in the life of others and the life of the world. We do not know if our acts will bring us recognition or an Oscar, but what counts is not recognition but acting. Do what you can in the time you can, then leave the rest to God.
God uses our acts to bring about redemption. That is our hope, which keeps us moving day after day. Hope springs eternal because God’s love is eternal. If we die to Christ, we also rise with him. Amen! (Copyright by Jack Hughes Robinson – 2018. Use by permission only.)