Sunday, October 26, 2014

Everybody's fine ... sort of

Deuteronomy 6:1-9
Revelation 3:1-6
Matthew 23:31-39

"I'm a good person, so I don't need the Church."  So says the "fool" (Psalm 14:1).

This will have been the fourth revision or downright re-write of a sermon I have been struggling to prepare.  I often think I have my own good ideas about a sermon topic, and there is so much going on in the world that it would be impossible not to have some kind of idea about how The Lord speaks to us today.  Whether it is a strong message of hope for the future through the delighted laughter of children who have found some new thing or a message of judgment through the anguished cries of other children confronted once again with an empty plate, The Lord speaks to us - the Church.  The Bible is not written for those who do not care about its content.

The challenges we face today seem overwhelming ... that is, of course, if we are fully engaged with the world we live in.  If we isolate ourselves from that world and try to pretend our own little corner of the world is doing just fine, then everything will seem just fine.  Our lives, however (that is, the people of the Church), are not defined strictly by what we merely acknowledge - as in a Creed.  Our lives are defined by what we choose to engage in - and HOW we will engage. 

If we choose to engage only in what is pleasing to self ... well, that pretty much says it all.  It is this lie which convinces us "everybody's fine".  "I'm fine, you're fine, and therefore everyone else must be fine.  And if they are not fine, they have only themselves to blame.  Not my fault; not my problem."  It is the greatest lie perpetuated by the people of the Church that makes American Christianity so "easy" - and laughable - because our faith has been reduced to little more than personal comfort, personal security, personal happiness, personal salvation.  And if we can take one extra step, we can convince ourselves of the greatest lie of all: "Well, I'm a good person."

How "good" can we be if we know there is hunger right in our own community, and we do not lift a finger to help?

Like the Holy Spirit, however, it is not enough to simply acknowledge this reality of Divine Presence.  We must engage.  So I must admit that in the past few weeks I have been running on my own fumes in trying to put things together and have not fully engaged in meaningful prayer time; the kind of prayer time that will give me real fuel to "move", much more than mere fumes that allow me to putter in idle.

Would it make a difference?  I spend plenty of time in study of the Scriptures, though it can easily be said there is always a need for more time in the Word.  Yet if more time is given to the study of The Word and nothing comes from that time but more knowledge or the satisfaction of having spent some time with friends or having covered yet another chapter, what has been accomplished if we do not "move"; if we do not take the Word to heart?  If we look up a passage just to prove a point or if we avoid passages that make us uncomfortable, what is it we truly seek?

It has occurred to me this past week that high school and college literature teachers spend substantial time in the study of what they will offer to their classes, but they do not need the help of the Holy Spirit to find deeper meaning in Shakespeare.  Yet at the end of each class session, good teachers wonder if all the work and time they put into preparing for the class made one bit of difference to their students.  More often than not, they will come to the same conclusion many preachers do; that only the students who care will get anything out of the effort.  If they are not "seeking" anything, they will not "find" anything (Matthew 7:7). 

Neither will we. 

Everything we do and everything we are is predicated on what Jesus calls "the first and great commandment".  Evidence of our embrace of and belief in the "first" is fulfilled in the "second commandment which is like the first".  We are to love The Lord and our neighbor as ourselves.  But if this love is expressed only in mere words as nothing more than a memorized Bible passage, then we are the church in Sardis (Rev 3:1-6): "You have a name of being alive, but you are dead."  A church which does not embrace the reality of Divine commandments and the fruit produced by our faithfulness cannot even claim the status of the "lukewarm" church in Laodicea!   We cannot be spat out of the mouth of The Lord because we are already dead.

"Wake up", The Lord says, "and strengthen what remains and is on the point of death, for I have not found your works perfect in the sight of My God.  Remember what you have received and heard; obey it and repent." 

"I have not found your works perfect in the sight of My God."  "Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven."  "Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect."

There can be no more stinging indictment than the reality of Messiah's direct words NOT to unbelievers who won't act right - but to believers who claim to act right!  To believers who claim to have been saved but give nothing back to The Lord (love the Lord your God) or to neighbor (love your neighbor as yourself)!  "You are already dead", says The Lord.

Even though the indictment has been served, the sentence has yet to be carried out.  It is a little too shallow to say the sentence was finally and completely carried out at the Cross because this is the Resurrected Christ speaking through the Revelation!  This is the POST- Resurrection Church that is being addressed. 

The Eternal Light is pulling out all the stops to break through the darkness which has overwhelmed us; actually the darkness we have embraced!  "Obey Me".  "Repent".  Or perhaps the most grief-stricken statement I think our Lord has ever made: "How often I have desired to gather [you] together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and YOU WERE NOT WILLING!"  Because we have convinced ourselves we are "good people", "saved people", and that "everybody's fine".

Someone once said if compromise could be portrayed by color, the color would be gray.  Dear friends, in The Lord there is no compromise.  If we try to convince ourselves we are "good people" strictly by our own or by our culture's constantly shifting standards, we are only trying to keep The Lord at a safe distance and yet within easy reach "just in case" things go badly.  The only one who is convinced we are "good" is ourselves.  Maybe some other fool can be fooled by our empty words, but The Lord is no one's fool.

Rather than simply give up on us and hand us over to the judgment we seem to be begging for, He continually reaches out through the written Word and the Church through the few "who have not soiled their clothes, who are walking with The Lord"!  He has not closed the door just yet, but we cannot ignore His ominous warning that if we do not awaken from our spiritual slumber, we will not see Him coming.

We must not run to the altar only to save ourselves.  Rather we must run to the altar to offer ourselves so we may "be about our Father's business" as the boy Jesus was when His parents found Him in the Temple.  That business is mercy, justice, and love.  "Everybody is NOT fine", so it is time for us to get "about our Father's business". 

"If you conquer, you will be clothed ... in white robes, and I will not blot your name out of the Book of Life; I will confess your name before My Father and His angels.  If anyone has an ear, listen to what the Spirit is saying to the Church!"

All honor and glory to the Most High God.  Amen.

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