It’s 6 April. I remember 6 April 1968 (forty six years ago for the arithmetically challenged among our number). It was a Saturday; 6 April was the first day I awoke after accepting Jesus into my life. Today, I want to talk a bit about that time.
The night before, I had gone to the local Methodist youth group for the first time. I hadn’t known about this, but they were off to the Billy Graham rally in the Exhibition grounds that night.
I decided that I was glad to be going there. I had been wondering about God. I thought Jesus was a good man. I was distressed that Martin Luther King had just been assassinated. I felt confused about life.
I listened to Billy Graham preach. I didn’t understand much, but I did note he spoke well of Martin Luther King’s legacy. But the rhetorical flourishes of a preacher from the South of the good ol’ US of A were quite foreign to me. And he did go on a bit.
Billy Graham finished (finally!), and there was an altar call. I felt an irresistible magnetic pull on me. I can recall the feeling still. I had to leave my seat—me, quite possibly the most introverted kid in the whole place that night. I knew I had to leave the people who had brought me, not yet knowing the leaders’ names, not knowing how to find them later.
I just couldn’t stay in my seat.
It struck me reflecting on the story of Lazarus this week that I can identify with him. When Jesus says, ‘Lazarus, come out!’, he just came. It wasn’t a suggestion, it was a summons. Just so, I felt summoned that day. I had to come.
Jesus summons each one of us. Sometimes, we might even have given up on life when he summons us. We may as well be dead.
As I reflect on identifying with Lazarus, I think How was I dead? After all, in the story Lazarus was dead. As a doornail. How was I dead?
I could simply say I was dead in my trespasses and sins, unable to know God. And while that may sound harsh, it’s an image that works. I was constructing a life that kept God at bay, while at the same time wanting to know God better. We could use other language too; I was AWOL, and I was afraid to return to barracks. The scriptures also use other language, and we’ve come across it the past few weeks. So with the man blind from birth, I too was blind from birth. I couldn’t see Jesus, the true image of God.
And like the Samaritan woman, I needed to drink of the living water. I was spiritually dehydrated. I was being poisoned at the wells of false hopes and plastic dreams.
I was in need of a new birth. Just as Nicodemus had to be born of the Spirit, I needed the Spirit-wind to breeze through my life and turn me right around.
I think if I were telling a story like this for today, I’d use yet another image. I’d remind people of the frustration of trying to get your computer to work, asking around your friends for suggestions, finally gritting your teeth and calling the help desk only to be asked: ‘Is it plugged in? Is it switched on?’
Once you plug it in, everything is different. Just that one little change makes all the difference!
It seems a little grandiose to say that I was born again, drank of living water, made to see and brought to life that night. (Oh, and that I was plugged in to the transcendent Source of power.) Yet if you judge that night by the effect it has had on me, then these words are as good as any and better than most.
Those early days of April 1968 brought other discoveries to me.