When I developed this message, I did so with the start to the new school year in mind. Starting back to school, getting back into the swing of something after a long break, can be tough. The extra stress and strain of policies and procedures that stem from the public health situation, make the return “extra” for everyone. No matter how you feel about the situation or the policies that are developed as a result, everyone has to make adjustments that can distract and detract from the experience people need to have in the classroom.
My challenge to you is that God’s people need to be the difference in situations that are divisive, difficult, distracting and dark. Jesus calls us the “Light of the World” for a reason. What are we doing to make a difference in the lives of people around us?
When I think about “difference makers” in the Bible, I think of people like Moses, who, when called upon by God, stepped up to become a hostage negotiator and helped over 2 million Jews walk out of slavery in Egypt.
Joseph comes to mind as I reflect on the fact that he had every right to play the victim, to live without a sense of purpose or destiny, to live bitter and angry. Instead, he stayed moldable, useable in the hands of God in the midst of horrendous circumstances, and through his efforts, hundreds of thousands of people’s lives were spared during a huge famine.
How about Samson who used his God-given strength to literally “bring the house down” when he exerted his strength and caused an entire temple to collapse and kill the Philistine enemies.
I also think of people like Elijah who opposed the evil of his day as he stood against the false prophets of Baal being touted by Ahab and Jezebel.
How about David who single-handedly, with a sling shot and the Lord’s help, took out a giant bully that had terrified the armies of Israel.
Can we give a shout out to Esther, who stuck her neck out and stepped in to thwart a plan to annihilate the Jews? It was the stuff epic action movies are made of.
I think of Andrew who introduced his brother, Peter, to Jesus. Oh, how the world was changed through Peter’s dramatic surrender to the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost. The boy could preach!
I’ll also lift up a little boy who was the only responsible person in a crowd of over 5,000. He alone remembered to pack a lunch on a day when thousands had gathered to hear Jesus preach. He was the only one who had any food, and instead of saying, “Y’all fend for yourselves. I brought this for me,” he shared what he had and miraculously it multiplied and the whole crowd got fed.
I will forever be grateful to the Apostle Paul for the boldness and humility he had in becoming who God had intended for him to become all along. He completely changed his outlook and position on life and all things God. He humbly admitted he had been wrong about Jesus and instead of being a persecutor and killer of Christians, he became a Preacher of the Gospel, the greatest church planter of all times, and the writer of most of the New Testament.
What a difference one person can make. I posted the question on Facebook, asking “Who made a difference in your life, and what did they do?” Amanda Baldwin recounted that she lacked confidence to pursue a career as a young adult. Her mom tweaked her resume and sent it out for her. She received a call from a law firm and has been in the legal field ever since. She also obtained a Bachelor’s degree in Paralegal Studies…all because her mom believed in her and helped her get her foot in the door.
Someone else, a friend who is a pastor in Indiana, recalled how a man at his church, a Brother Shepherd, taught him how to use various Bible study tools when he was in fifth grade. That one person’s influence set him up to become a lover and teacher of God’s Word.
Mary Beth Norman testified that Pastor Brenda Kraft spent time talking with her about hurts from her past and urged her to forgive. Mary Beth did, and when she did, she found release from a lifetime of pain and freedom to love and serve God and others like never before.
Joy Holbrook shared that Michele Ball had ministered deeply to her during a time of intense grief and healing came to her life as a result.
Beth Shamblin spoke of a 3rd grade teacher, Ms. Erlewine who took her and another student to a Social Studies fair and McDonalds on her own time which communicated that she was valued. Beth wouldn’t have been able to attend otherwise. That teacher also saw to it that Beth received a new pair of shoes that year.
These are simple moments that people recalled with ease because of the huge impact one person made in a moment when they needed comfort, they needed reassurance, they needed hope.
When I thought about someone who had been a difference maker in my life, I thought of Pastor Mitchell Burch. He currently pastors the Buffalo Church of God. I know there are some people here today who will corroborate my story. When this church was looking for a pastor, 14 ½ years ago, Rev. Mitchell Burch was the State Pastor for the Church of God here in WV. He was giving counsel to the Search Committee that was tasked with finding your next Pastor. There had been no shortage of resumes, but Mitchell kept pushing the committee to specifically speak to me, to bring me in for a face-to-face interview. Judy Lindsay, John Sargent, Elaine McClaugherty, Melissa Isaacs, and Nancy Parsons can all back me up here. He kept saying to them, “You’ve got to talk to Melissa.” I think there was a smidge of hesitancy about the idea of bringing forth a female’s name to the church for consideration. Not that any of them had a personal problem with it; It would just be a change from what had always been. And as resumes were evaluated and Mitchell kept encouraging them to give me just one in-person interview; the committee moved forward with me. Had Mitchell Burch not been such an advocate, I don’t believe I would be standing here today. Mitchell’s recommendation gave them the confidence to move forward. He was a “door opener” for me. I truly believe he made the difference.
It only takes one person to be the difference between bondage and liberation, between isolation and inclusion, between insecurity and confidence, between helplessness and hope, between broken and whole, between mediocrity or failure and success, and sometimes it takes just one person to be the difference between life and death.
In Luke 10:30 Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32 So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii[c] and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’ 36 “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” 37 The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.” Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”
Don’t let the familiarity with this story cause you to disengage. If you do, you run the risk of being like the priest and the Levite who missed the point, who missed the purpose, who dismissed the pain and who failed to be the difference maker in a man’s life who really needed someone to stop, someone to care, someone to do something to help him.
Three people had an opportunity to be involved in saving a man’s life. Only one took advantage of the opportunity. Only one took responsibility to be a good neighbor and friend. Only one person’s actions honored God. Only one person became a difference maker.
Imagine being the man lying by the side of the road. Imagine how terrified you would be to think that this was the way your life would end, that your body would just be found alongside the road, like trash that had been discarded. Imagine how you would long for the comfort of a family member or friend to be with you in that bleak moment. Imagine the physical pain that comes with being beaten. Maybe there were broken legs or punctured lungs. Maybe he had tried to get up and walk but fell back down, defeated and terrified. Imagine the emotional wounds that result from having people walk by you without stopping; people who didn’t think you were valuable enough, that you were worth stopping for, that you were worth trying to save. Imagine having that happen not once, but twice. Would there even be a third person to pass by before it was too late?
Thank God a third person did pass by, and even though it was a Samaritan, someone considered an enemy of the Jews, he “saw” the man. Oh, the others had seen him. They don’t get a pass on that. They couldn’t plead ignorance. Their eyes saw the man, but their hearts did not. The Samaritan looked at the man with his heart. He put himself in the man’s place. How would he feel if it had been him? What would he have desperately needed and wanted for someone to do for him? What would make the difference in this situation?
The phrase, “He took pity on him,” means he was moved in his heart to be a difference maker. I am sure the half-dead man looked awful. I doubt he smelled very good by this point. His clothes would have been torn and bloodied. He would have been covered in sweat. He may have had to use the bathroom by this point. I don’t know if that is TMI on a Sunday morning, but I’m just helping us understand the guy wasn’t just lying there in good condition. Just the sight of the man would have been repulsive. The Good Samaritan may have been nauseated by the sight, but he didn’t let what he saw keep him from doing something. He let the sight move him to action.
Verse 34 says, “He went to him.” The others had passed by on the other side of the road, putting as much physical distance between them and the dying man. They didn’t even check for a pulse, but the Good Samaritan got close. Getting close can be costly, friends. Getting close has implications beyond just knowing about the situation. Getting close means, you are committed to move from knowing to doing. But I have come to tell you today that Getting close is the only way a difference can be made.
The text says he bandaged his wounds. Have you ever stopped to think about where he got the materials to bandage the guy? He wasn’t traveling with a first-aid kit. There weren’t bandages readily available. He couldn’t run to Walmart and pick up supplies to meet the need. The beaten man’s clothes wouldn’t be in any shape to use. I’m guessing he tore his own clothing to make bandages to fit the bill. That moment was the beginning of a series of personal investments.
Remember, the Good Samaritan was headed somewhere. There was no cell phone to call the family or the friends to say, “Hey, I’m not going to make it” or “Go on without me; Something came up.” He just resigned himself to the reality that what was immediately in front of him was more important than anything he was headed to do. His plans would wait. He had a new priority. He got the man up somehow on his personal donkey and took him to an inn.
We see the words, “The next day,” in the text which tell us that the Good Samaritan spent the night with the man. He was going to make sure he made it through, that he was headed in the right direction. He didn’t just drop him off and put the responsibility on someone else to see him through.
The investment continued when he opened his wallet and took out the money to pay for the stay at the inn. Look at his words to the innkeeper again: ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’
That is a huge commitment. That is extreme dedication. The Good Samaritan couldn’t stay, but he offered to pay not only for the man’s lodging, but for any expense the innkeeper might incur. In that moment, he was handing the man a blank check. He either had deep pockets or deep faith or both. He had no idea exactly what he was getting into, just how much it could wind up costing him, but what a difference was made in that man’s life that day. Listen, if we have to know up front exactly what a situation will call for and when our duty might be finished so we can be free from the commitment, we will likely never make the kind of difference in someone’s life the way Jesus would call us to.
Three people encountered the dying man. Two were indifferent and did nothing. One made all the difference. It just takes one person to make all the difference. One person’s obedience and repentance can spark a revival. One person getting on fire in worship and letting God have His way can cause others to get hungry for God. One person’s sacrificial prayer life can produce miracles that create real faith in people’s lives. One person’s desire to see a youth group grow or a kids ministry grow can create an enthusiasm that is contagious. One person’s obedience to start a new ministry can become the stuff that generations will be talking about for decade. One person’s love for a child without parents can change the whole trajectory of that kid’s life. One person’s willingness to witness to a friend could result in the conversion of the next Billy Graham. Difference makers are simply people who make up their mind to make a positive difference in someone’s life.
Now imagine yourself as the man who was beaten and left for dead. Think of how the man’s extreme efforts would make you feel. After having been left for dead by two people, think of how being made alive by one, one who you considered to be an enemy, how that would make you feel. Once you recovered, how would your view of others be forever changed? How would you begin to live differently as a result?
Here’s the thing: You have one life to live. You have talents and resources to steward. You have networks of influence. You have a God-given destiny to live out and none of it will ever include indifferently walking by people who are hurt, broken, bloodied and bruised. Indifference and Christianity are incompatible. Compassion and apathy are opposites. You cannot have a Christ-like compassion and distance yourself from people in need.
Dramatic change, radical transformation all begins with one person. One person who dares to believe God…One person who dares to be used of God…One person who dares to speak out for God…One person who dares to exercise faith in God…One person who boldly expresses the love of God…One person can change someone’s world.
You be the Moses that leads people out of bondage. You be the Joseph who willingly cares for your enemies when they are in need. You be the David who shuts down the bully that is taunting people and keeping them bound up in fear. You be the one to share your lunch. You be the one who won’t walk by the student who is lonely, the widower who is grieving, the single parent who is struggling, the scared teen who is pregnant, the defeated man who has lost his job, and the friend who didn’t make the team. You be the one who will show someone their value and worth by the way you speak to them, the time you spend with them and the encouragement you offer them.
Don’t walk by the student who sits alone in the cafeteria. Don’t walk by the person who sits alone here in the church house. Don’t walk by the co-worker whose eyes are red and is obviously upset about something. Don’t walk by the college student who needs some direction. Don’t walk by the addict and write them off as a lost cause. Live with your eyes open. Live with your heart open. Live with your hands open. Live with your mouth open to tell somebody that God loves them. How would someone you know say you have been a difference maker in their lives?
This morning, as we think about going back to school, I want to encourage us to think about getting back on mission, back to being the called ones, back to being the salt and light God has commissioned us to be. People won’t see the difference Christ makes until they see it through us. Be the difference for someone today.