aefenglommung (aefenglommung) wrote,

Golden Oldie Time

I do a lot of re-preaching of my sermons (though I usually don't repeat a sermon to the same congregation). John Wesley would approve. So would caoimhinolorica, who once told me that re-preaching is to the congregation's advantage, since their preacher isn't holed up in his study writing a new sermon every week and can get other things done. But for me, the main advantage is that I am sufficiently removed from the Me who wrote that sermon to hear it preached to myself as well.

In any case, this week was too full of stuff getting back in the groove, and my brain was way too tired, for me to come up with fresh material. So I'm preaching a nice little piece from six years back. It's still as true today as it was then -- and I need to hear it, too.

If you'd like some homily grits, just click on the lj-cut. The Scripture text is Romans 1:16-17, and the title is:
For I am not ashamed of the gospel

It has been my privilege -- or maybe, my task -- to witness for Xt in some places far removed from the world of the Church & church people.

I meet a lot of people outside the church -- one way or another -- and, of course, I have "clergy" stamped all over me in bright green letters, so it is not unusual for people to pitch me some questions, once the ice is broken in our relationship. Questions like --
"What do you teach about . . . ?"
"Do Methodists do . . . ?"
"What's your opinion of . . .?"

-- stuff like that.

But the one that I get occasionally that startles me the most is,
"Do you really believe all that?"

(This usually comes from the well-educated ones, who have been taught that all believers are either cranks or simpletons.)

And I say, "Well, yeah."

I mean, I'm not naive, nor do I necessarily believe in the cartoon religion some people ascribe to us Xtns, but -- yeah -- if I didn't believe it was true I wouldn't be preaching it.

Yet, even as I say that, I am aware that there is a little something down deep inside me that's saying, "Be careful -- you don't want to look foolish," and that wants me to trim what I say to make it more palatable to the skeptic whose friendship and good opinion I'd like to keep.

It's a temptation I think we all feel, when someone asks us what we really believe; or why we do what we do. We want to have an answer ready, but we are caught unprepared, and more often than not we mumble and shuffle instead of speak as we would like. We are embarrassed to be asked something so directly. But we are also tempted to be embarrassed about our faith -- afraid we'll look silly, or be labelled odd.

"Do you really believe all that?" Well, what would you say? Paul says,
For I am not ashamed of the gospel: it is the power of God for salvation to every one who has faith, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed through faith for faith; as it is written, "He who through faith is righteous shall live."

This is the thesis statement of Paul's only comprehensive account of what Xtny is all about.

Xtny is nothing less than the power of God come into the world to save the unrighteous by sharing with them God's righteousness, that we discover in the story of Jesus Christ. And I would suggest to you that there is a connection between "not being ashamed" and experiencing that power in our lives.

For Paul says God's righteousness is revealed "through faith for faith" -- in other words, you can't trust it for yourself, if you don't believe it to be so in the first place. And what the skeptic lacks is not a desire that it be true for himself, but the faith that God is such that he would do that which the sophisticated people think impossible or unworthy of him. As the writer to the Hebrews put it, "Whoever would draw near to God must [first] believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him" (11:6).

And since faith -- all faith -- is a gift from God, you can't argue that skeptic into belief. You can only say what you believe, and pray for his or her enlightenment by the Holy Spirit.

So, you're not going to help the skeptic believe the gospel by watering it down to sound more acceptable to modern thinking -- he can't believe even your watered down gospel without the grace of God. All you or I do when we choke, and profess something less than the whole gospel enchilada, is we create doubt in ourselves where doubt did not before exist. And as we become timid in our profession of faith -- when our explanations begin to explain the gospel away -- our faith in God is constricted, and so therefore is our faith that he truly can or will deliver the gospel's promises to us.

The Cross of Jesus is still a stumbling block to the Jews and folly to the Gentiles. The world at large is never going to believe that being a Xtn is more than merely harmless. It's never going to be "cool." But that means that the only people we harm by our timidity -- are ourselves.

And you know what? Even good Xtns talking to other Xtns can get in the habit of claiming less for Xt, therefore become less able to find the power of God for themselves. We do this with conjunctions -- y'know, those little words like AND, BUT, OR that connect words and phrases in a sentence. We qualify our faith in Jesus with conjunctions that erode our faith and leave us grappling for something we can truly believe in.

For instance -- there are a lot of people who believe in "Jesus AND."

Typically, these folks find their way into the Church when they discover that the Church shares an interest they already have. Which is great -- that shared interest is a bridge that connects them to the gospel of Jesus Christ. I remember a lot of people promoting civil rights in the late 60s and early 70s who discovered that Xtny is interested in justice, and so they came to promote their faith in Jesus AND social justice.

On the other end, there are some folks who worship Jesus AND baroque organ music. I mean, where else are you going to hear a Bach prelude on a regular basis except in Snootville UMC? But whatever the interest or cause that brought them into contact with the gospel, their faith has remained Jesus AND something else.

Now, what happens when things change -- and new causes -- or new instruments -- or new programs or pastors or relationships or buildings or whatever -- replace the old? Well, their double allegiance forces a choice upon the "Jesus AND" believers -- and they often choose their original interest or cause over Jesus himself -- and they lose interest in the Church. As Jesus said, "No one can serve two masters" -- you'll always wind up choosing one over the other.

And yet, if they had chosen Jesus alone, instead of Jesus AND, they could have kept their other interest, for in Jesus dwells all the sufficiency of God -- and whoever possesses Jesus possesses all things. The AND doesn't add anything to Jesus. It only serves to set up a conflict that weakens our ability to receive the gifts God would give us. The gospel of "Jesus AND" is not the power of God for salvation to all who believe it.

Nor is the gospel of "Jesus BUT."

Now, we've all met the Jesus-BUT-ers -- the people who define themselves by who they're not instead of by who they are. I meet a lot of evangelical Xtns who define themselves that way: we're not liberals; we're not neo-pagans like those awful UMs; we don't believe in this, we avoid that, blah blah blah. (Quite a stirring testimony for Jesus, I must say.) Nevertheless, you find faith in Jesus BUT everywhere.

Yes, I'm a Xtn, BUT I don't believe in sending money to overseas causes (or denominational HQ).

Yes, I'll follow Jesus anywhere -- BUT not in company with those people.

I believe in Jesus, BUT I get uncomfortable when you talk about salvation.

Sure, I'm for Xtn unity -- BUT if you start waving your hands in the air, I'm leaving.

"Jesus BUT" believers are threatened by others' enthusiasms. They often tend to be "aginners" -- you know, whatever it is, they're "agin' it."

And what do all their BUTs get them, but a whittled down Jesus no bigger than their prejudices or their fears -- not a Jesus who reveals the righteousness of God, but only a pitiful thing that must defend their righteousness at all costs. Their God is too small to save them. It was their constricted faith that limited him. And so when they need him to come with power greater than themselves, they cannot find the power, and their faith dies.

Jesus AND . . . Jesus BUT . . . Jesus OR.

In the NT, we find Paul contending for a universal gospel, to be offered to all mankind: "to the Jew first and also to the Greek" -- and the Scythian -- and the Arab -- and the Celt -- and the German -- and the Nubian . . . "one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of us all."

There are a lot of folks who are uncomfortable with this. They say, well of course we're Xtns -- that's the way we were raised. But it would be arrogant of us to foist our religion on other peoples who have their own religions. And besides, we're all trying to get to the same place. It really doesn't matter if you follow Jesus OR Buddha OR Muhammad OR Moses OR Zoroaster OR Plato OR Joseph Smith OR Confucius OR Sophia -- aren't they all the same, in the end?

Now, I have rarely met a serious follower of another religion who really believed this. It is a Xtn (or post-Xtn) peculiarity, I'm afraid. Nor have I ever met an adult convert who believed this. It is basically a belief of people who have grown up in and around the Church -- who may or may not be church-goers now. They are embarrassed by Xtny's claim that "no one comes to the Father but by" Jesus. So they promote Jesus OR as a non-imperialistic way of being Xtn.

But y'know what -- if all choices are the same, then no choice is particularly important. And if the choice isn't important, then the offer can't be worth much, either. Faith in Jesus OR winds up as faith in nothing in particular -- and thus, as no faith at all.

Deanne and I took a bright young woman on one of our backpacking treks some years ago. We'll call her "Becky."

Becky's parents grew up in a rather strict religious environment, so they didn't want her to grow up in a narrow, bigoted way. They sent her to a school for bright, multicultured students where they celebrated every religion's holidays. Becky knew all about Kwanzaa, and Rosh Hoshanah, and St. Lucy's Day, and Christmas, and Ramadan. But she was bewildered by everybody else on the trek, and how we went about being Xtns. We prayed together, for instance. We said grace before meals, and did devotions at night -- and Becky took part.

But one night alone in her tent with her tentmate, she said, "How do you pray? I just don't know how. I'm the only one here who can't seem to do this."

In trying to give their daughter every religion, they had deprived her of any religion of her own, and that's what the gospel of Jesus OR will do for you.

Jesus AND . . . Jesus BUT . . . Jesus OR: those little conjunctions -- those little things we use to make the gospel less of an embarrassment -- in the end make us unable to believe our own confession of faith. And so, as we begin another Conference year, I call upon us all to repent of our weasel words, our hidden reservations, the escape clauses in our covenants, our desire to profess a faith that is easy to believe and admired by the world.

And I call upon us all to repent of our low expectations, our defeatist attitudes, our God-can't-probably-help-but-it's-worth-a-shot prayers.

I call upon us all to once again repent and believe the gospel -- that not only did Jesus come from God to reveal his righteousness, he came for me -- and he came for you. And if you will dare to believe that he came for you, then you will find that he is greater even than you could imagine or hope -- and through your faith in Jesus you will find the power of God for yourself. And you will truly begin to live.
For I am not ashamed of the gospel: it is the power of God for salvation to every one who has faith, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed through faith for faith; as it is written, "He who through faith is righteous shall live."

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Tags: sermons

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