In the scriptures we read: “Faith is the substance of things hoped for the evidence of things not seen.” This is what it’s all about. To be people of faith, to be people of hope but they always ask the obvious question from whence comes this hope? Where do you get this faith? Is it part of your DNA? Or is it a gift of God? I believe it’s a gift of God. And I want to tell you how I access that gift. It’s in my prayer life. There are many ways of praying. I make my requests known unto God but the praying of the Christian, the praying of anyone has to be more than just reading off a list of non-negotiable demands to the Almighty. So often our prayers are nothing more than wish lists, requests, and that’s important, but there’s another dimension to prayer and it’s a dimension that I encounter in the early morning. I get up before I have to and I lie in bed in stillness and wait for the Holy Spirit to invade me. Wait for Christ to take possession of me. Your prayers have to go beyond requests.
Sometimes I think our prayers are like my boy when he was seven years old, coming into the living room and saying “I’m going to bed. I’m going to be praying. Anybody want anything?” Obviously it’s got to be more than that. And in the morning I center down on Jesus. There’s an old African American spiritual that goes “woke up this morning with my mind stayed on Jesus.” And I just say His name over and over again and just focus on Jesus. I drive everything else out of my mind. I don’t ask God for anything. They asked Mother Teresa once “When you pray what do you say to God?” She said, “I don’t say anything; I listen.” So the interviewer said “All right. When you pray what does God say to you?” She said “God doesn’t say anything. God listens and if you don’t understand that I can’t explain it to you.”
Well I’ve got news for you. I do understand it. I do understand that kind of praying where you say nothing and you hear nothing but in quietude and in stillness you surrender and you wait for the Holy Spirit, for Christ Himself to invade you. Its one thing to believe in Jesus; It’s quite another to surrender and allow Jesus to become a living presence to invite Him into your life.
It says in Revelation “Behold I stand at the door and knock if anyone opens I will come in. I will dwell with that person.” And Christ hopes that you will open yourself up and say Jesus I not only believe in what You did for me on the cross two thousand years ago. I want to surrender so that You can become a living presence in my life here and now creating within me hope and faith and have that joy that spirituality is all about. Isn’t that what you want? Isn’t that what you need?
I have to tell you, I’m Baptist. Now you don’t have to be Baptist to go to heaven. Amen? But why take a chance? That’s what I want to know. Why? But Baptist’ are not allowed to read their prayers. I mean Episcopalians can read their prayers, Lutheran’s can read their prayers but Baptist’s have to make them up with their eyes closed. And that’s hard to do especially if you really get into Jesus because you forget the congregation. And one day I was really into Jesus and I wasn’t thinking about the congregation at all and my street language from Philadelphia surfaced. On the way out of church a lady said to me, “Reverend, do you know how many grammatical errors you made in the prayer this morning?” Before I could catch myself I said, “I wasn’t talking to you anyway.”
There is a kind of praying where you ask nothing, you hear nothing, you surrender and the spirit of the living Christ, the Christ who died on Calvary invades you and possesses you and transforms you from within. And that’s what gives hope and that’s what creates faith. The spirit of God creates faith. The Holy Spirit creates faith. Jesus entering into us creates faith.
I work with young people coming out of Eastern University in St. David’s Pennsylvania. It’s a Christian University and we have deployed so many of our young people to work in third world countries and in cities across the United States. It’s important that we recognize that you don’t have to go to the third world to go to the third world anymore. Sadly the third world is right in our own back yard. You can find the third world in your neighborhood if you look for it. And they are working in cities that are really in terrible condition. In one particular city they started this program where they took some thirty to thirty-five young people out of high school.
We have a summer program that works with thousands of children, but these thirty young people were obviously special, obviously bright; superior in every way and yet every one of them were flunking out of school. It’s hard to do in some school systems. In this case they were flunking out of school for the simple reason that they had missed more than half of all the school days the previous school year. None of them could read above a fifth grade level. All of them had come from single parent homes. None of them was living above the poverty level. We put them in a basement of a church and volunteers, largely lovely elderly women from suburban communities came in and sitting around the table with these African American young men and young women they home schooled them five to a table.
At the end of the first year one student out of that group had missed one day of school. All the rest of them had perfect attendance. When I asked one of them “how come you always show up at school now? You never used to do that.” He said “well man you try to miss around here, Miss Jones, they get in the car and they come over and get you.” That kind of personal attention. At the end of that school year every one of these young people had a wonderful record. At the end of three years all of them had graduated high school, all of them went on to a college or a University, one of them a free ride in an Ivy League school not because she was African American, not because she was poor, but because her SAT scores were fourteen seventy five. Close to genius. You see she had been living without hope, she had been living without faith, but when Christ is within us, “we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us.” Nothing is impossible. That’s the gospel. That’s why they call it the good news, the good news.
In my own life I’ve had some experiences. We have some work down in Haiti. We have a literacy program down there where we’re, at any given day, working with fifty-thousand adults teaching them how to read and write because that’s their ticket to a better life in this most despairing nation. And I go down from time to time to check out the work to see that things are going well. I got out of the van in Puerto Prince. I’m looking across the sidewalk to go into the Holiday Inn where I always stay in Puerto Prince. I was intercepted by three girls. I call them girls because the oldest could not have been more than seventeen. The one in the middle looked at me and said “mister, for ten dollars you can have me all night long.” I was stunned. I turned to the one next to her, I said, “What about you? Do I get you for ten dollars?” She nodded. I said to the other one, “What about you?” She tried to smile but it’s hard to look sexy when your mother and father are dead and you’ve got younger siblings who are on the verge of starvation, it’s hard to look sexy. She said “yes.” I said “okay. I’m in room 210. I want you up there in a half hour. I’ve got thirty dollars; I want to hire all three of you for the night.”
I rushed up to the room. I got on the telephone called down to the concierge desk. I said “I want every Walt Disney video you’ve got. Every one of them, send them to room 210.” I called down to the restaurant. I said “banana splits but I want them extra large. I want whipped cream and lots of nuts and cherries. I want them huge. I want.. I want four of them.”
When the girls came and the videos came and the banana splits came and we sat on the edge of the bed and until about one o’clock in the morning we watched Disney and laughed together and had a good time and it was about one o’clock when the last of them fell asleep across the bed. And as I sat there in that stuffed chair I thought to myself nothing’s changed. Nothing’s changed. I didn’t know enough Creole, their language, to lead them to Christ and I thought to myself tomorrow they will be back on the streets selling themselves to dirty filthy johns because there are always dirty filthy men who for ten dollars will destroy a little girl. Nothings changed but a voice within me said but for one night, for one night you let them be children again. For one night you let them be little girls again. You did what you could. You did what you could and that’s all that God ever asks of any of us that we do what we can.
Are you doing what you can? Have you allowed Christ to come into you and work through you to do the loving and gracious things that God would want to do through you if you’d just give God the chance.
I was in Farmington New Mexico at a speaking engagement and I was to catch a little commuter plane that would take me on to Denver. I was in this little tiny air terminal and as I looked around there was this woman that was elderly, very old as a matter of fact, but worse than that she had a mean look on her face. I didn’t have anything else to do so I decided I would go over and try to see if I could get her to smile. Well I got her not only smiling I got her laughing. And once I got her laughing the other eight guys in the air terminal gathered around and we all worked on this woman and she was just laughing and convulsing she said “stop, please stop. I’m an old lady. You’ve got me laughing too hard. You have no idea what’s going to happen.”
The airplane landed, her friend got off the airplane, she hugged her friend and she left. I was waiting for them to call us to go through the metal detector and get on the plane when I looked out the glass doors and here was this car, her car coming back up the lane. She got out of the car, she came back into the air terminal, this elderly woman shuffled up to me and she said “mister you could not have known this but it was two years ago today that my husband of sixty-four years died. You didn’t know that. But on the way home I realized today was the first day since then that I’ve been able to laugh and I wanted to come back and thank you.”
And Jesus said “the work that I do ye shall do and greater works than these shall ye do because I go unto My Father.” And you’re saying wait a minute Campolo you’re not going to compare getting an old lady to laugh with Jesus walking on the water, are you? I ask you if Jesus had a choice between making an old lady laugh again, a brokenhearted woman laugh again and walking on water, which do you think He would call the greater work? That’s why He looks at this congregation and all of you out there in the television audience and say I want to do great works through you and because there are so many of you, you will be able to do even more than I was able to do when I was only incarnated in one man, Jesus Christ, to do what you can.
They asked Mother Teresa once, they said in the interview and it was recorded in Time Magazine, “you’re old, you’re sick and it’s not long before you’re going to die. You’ve been the one who raised the money. You’ve been the one who’s brought in the recruits to work for the sisters of charity. What will happen to this ministry after you’re dead? Her answer was brilliant. She answered “it’s none of my business.” What a good answer. You do what you can and you leave the results in the hands of Jesus. Amen?
Now people of God it’s been a joy to be with you today. Dr. Schuller you have lovely people here and it’s a good congregation to preach to considering it is predominantly white. Nothing against white people. Some of my best friends are white. But white people are hard. You ought to come to my church. It’s an African American church. I belong to this small Baptist church in Philadelphia that closed down and we moved to the nearest Baptist church which is Mt. Carmel Baptist church and it’s a wonderful church and it’s easy to preach there. Very easy because the deacons sit right up front, right underneath the pulpit. Every time you say something good, my deacons yell; preach. Preach brother, preach! I would have done much better today if I’d had my deacons here. And the women in my church when you are delivering the word, I mean when you have as my pastor said gotten down. They’ll put one hand in the air and they’ll go, well. Just like that. Well? Doesn’t sound like much to you, but you get fifty/sixty women going well. Your hormones bubble. And the men in my church when you are pumping on all cylinders they’ll actually stand up and yell; keep going. Keep going baby, keep going, keep going! I don’t get that from white people in the Crystal Cathedral. They don’t yell keep going, keep going. They yell, stop. Stop!
Once a year in our church we have a preach off. Now you folks, for the most part, don’t even know what that is. That’s when you get about five, six, seven preachers and you preach back to back to see whose best. You never say that, you say it’s for the glory of God. But we know what it’s about. And it was my turn. And I don’t want to brag, people, I really don’t want to brag. I was good. I mean I knew I was good because the deacons were yelling preach! And women were going, well. And men were standing up and yelling; keep going, keep going, keep going and I feed on that stuff. The more they did it the better I got; the better I got the more they did it. People I kept getting better and better and better. I got so good I wanted to take notes on me. When I finished that place went ballistic, it went wild. I sat down my pastor, hit my knee, he said you did all right. You did all right. I said, you’re next pastor. You going to be able to top that? He said son sit back because the old man is going to do you in. I don’t want to brag but I was so hot that day I didn’t think that anybody could do me in.
People hear me. That sucker got up and for the next hour he did me in. He did me in with one line over and over again. “It’s Friday, but Sunday’s coming.” It doesn’t sound like much but you weren’t there. He started nice and soft with “It was Friday. It was Friday and my Jesus was dead on the cross but that’s because it was Friday. Sunday’s coming!” Somebody yelled, keep going, keep going! That’s all he needed; he took off. “Friday, Friday people are saying as things have been so they shall be. You can’t change things in this world, but they didn’t know it was only Friday; Sunday’s coming!”
See now I thought I’d get something from this crowd by now. We got to de-honkytize the Crystal Cathedral. So I’ll give you one more shot. It’s Friday and they’re saying a bunch of middle class folks in the Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove can not impact the community, can not change things in the world, but I’m here to give you the good news; it’s only Friday! Sunday’s coming! He went on like that for an hour and by the time he finished I was exhausted. He just yelled at the top of his lungs “Friday!” Without hesitation that whole congregation yelled back “Sunday’s coming!”
People of God “faith is the substance of things hoped for the evidence of things not seen.” You can have it. All you have to do is say spirit of the living God fall fresh on me. Enter into my life. Christ I not only believe in You, I’m not only going to be a believer, I’m going to be a disciple. I’m going to be filled with Your presence. Used by You to bring hope and faith to the rest of the world and then the world will get the good news. Are you ready?