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Due to some not so technical difficulties, Walt was unable to preach the sermon he prepared for September 27, 2015. The following is a written version of that sermon.
The Sermon Walt Didn’t Preach (9/27/15)
So, three scenarios in which disciples today reflect the disciples back then, as reflected in our text…..
Well, I don’t know what you think, but I think churches like Elevation have gone too far. What they do there on Sundays is not worship; it’s entertainment. It’s all designed to put fans in the stands, so to speak, or people in the pews – but they don’t have pews. Souls in the seats, I guess. And all based on emotion. The music is loud, they’ve got a praise band leading off playing songs with a driving beat, really gets folks going, and then right before the dancing, prancing preacher in his dungarees comes out on the stage, they sing a slow one to calm everyone down and get them in the mood to listen to the pithy sermons, short on biblical scholarship, but long on feel good psychology. It’s just not church, you know what I mean? You’ve got no clue who you’re sitting next to, you’re just one of the crowd. One of the numbered crowd. They are all about the numbers. They expand by sending out satellite operations with huge high-def. screens all orbiting about the massive ego that is transmitted to them Sunday after Sunday.
I will say that they do some good service in the community, but they make sure to get a good deal of publicity milage when they do. What about Jesus’ teaching in Matthew, “whenever you give alms (or do good works), do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do…. so they might be praised.” Whenever you serve, don’t call in the cameras, news media and make a spectacle of it…. so you might be praised and publicized and others might join your church. That’s not being church, it’s only boosting attendance. If that’s what you want, that’s all you’ll get. But it won’t be church. They may be jumping for Jesus, but is there any worship going on? It’s certainly not my cup of tea. And some wonder if these personality driven mega-ministries so focused on image and success actually undercut the true church seeking to bear the cross of Jesus in the world today. They are most certainly NOT Presbyterian.
He says he’s spiritual, just not religious… What’s that suppose to mean?
It means he doesn’t go to church.
Well how can he be spiritual if he doesn’t go to church?
Some might ask how you can go to church and still be spiritual?
Oh, you know what I mean. He says he prays, just not formally or out loud. And he even says he prays to God. Says he even believes in Jesus. So why not go to church?
I hear he’s had a hard time with some of those that do. So he gets together with his AA group, and that’s worship for him, besides, he can bring his coffee to the service! He’s even doing evangelism for AA church. He’s gotten five or six folks to come and join.
Well, he oughta be evangelizing for us. If you’re going to be spiritual, you need religion. And ours is as good as any. As long as AA meets here, they might as well attend worship here. A little praying, singing, and preaching would do ‘um good. Look at us.
I don’t know, looking at us might be what drove some of them to drink in the first place.
Did you hear about the evangelism explosion in Northern India? Lal was just there and said that people come from all over the place to this one mountain in order to pray to God and hear the preaching which has been ongoing, everyday, since sometime in 2013. People are being healed, and humbled and forgiven and they are so thankful that they shout, kneel, throw up their arms in praise and some are even so awed and touched by the Spirit they fall down in the isles.
That’s all well and good for over there, but it’s just not the right sort of thing for here. People here are too sophisticated. We’re above that. I can see where that sort of emotive religious service could be helpful to a certain class of people, not as intellectually oriented. But we need knowledge in order to live our lives and deal with the issues of our times. Getting carried off into some emotional frenzy, is like taking a sort of spiritual vacation from the hard decisions of life. When things calm down over there, you watch, they’ll start doing things more decently and in order, just like us.
When we get jealous of success and growth and the programs and ministries that larger churches can offer but we can’t, and go to trivializing and discrediting both their motives and means, we are acting like the disciples did when they tried to stop the exorcist who wasn’t “one of us.”
When we demand, knowingly or not, that worship and ministry be done our way, and we cannot even entertain the possibility that just because someone doesn’t worship with us, they don’t worship at all, then we are acting like the disciples did when they tried to stop the exorcist who “wasn’t one of us.”
When we put down, marginalize, cast doubt upon, minimize the spiritual experiences of others, we are acting like the disciples did when they tried to stop the exorcist who wasn’t “one of us.”
The man was casting out demons in Jesus’ name… something the disciples couldn’t do just a few verses earlier when a man brought his son to them to be healed of the demon that threw him into fits and seizures. And because the disciples could not cast out the demon, perhaps they were jealous that this man was doing just that in Jesus name, and he wasn’t one of them. So they tried to stop him. Maybe they thought they had to protect Jesus, or more accurately, protect their copyright on Jesus’ name.
He wasn’t one of them, so they tried to stop him. Just two verses earlier Jesus had taken a child, a little child, who in that culture was essentially worthless and considered least in the family and society, and held him in his arms and declared that welcoming one such child, is welcoming him and the One who sent him. Welcome. Instead of welcoming the loose cannon who was exorcising demons in Jesus name, they tried to stop him. They put a hurdle in front of him. They told him he had to be one of them, and go to seminary and get ordained, and receive a call from a church, and be examined by the presbytery and installed as “one of us,” a teaching elder, a pastor – and then, and only then, could he legitimately cast out some demons.
I believe that Jesus is saying here that there are a lot of ways to be Christian (to live “in Jesus’ name”), and we shouldn’t try to stop people from doing that, whether or not they are CLU’s (Christians Like Us). I believe Jesus is saying here that no one has a copyright on his name. I believe Jesus is saying here that there are a lot of ways to be the church in his name. If those who aren’t against us are for us, then perhaps we could be a bit more FOR them and FOR others, and less against them just cause they aren’t “one of us.” Maybe we could let the “in Jesus’ name” be that which unites us, not the demand that they be the same as us. Maybe we could welcome one another with open arms and celebrate what each does in Jesus’ name. For, as Jesus declared, “no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me.”
A side comment……
The Unknown, not-one-of-us, exorcist doing a deed in Jesus’ name, will not be soon afterward able to speak evil of Jesus.
A college mission trip was just such a leap for me, and I didn’t know I’d taken it until it was all over. I signed up to go to W. VA for a week because there were some mighty cute girls going on that trip. But over the course of the week, remodeling, scraping and painting a church by day, leading some 170 kids in VBS in the evening, and planning what to do the next evening way into the wee hours of the morning, we 7 college kids and two adults learned through experience something about the power of the Holy Spirit working within us.
We’ve got folks who stepped out on faith to go to Chimbote’ Peru and serve Christ there, in whatever way they were called upon to do so. I’m not saying you can’t learn about faith through various intellectual pursuits, education and reading. But these folks put their feet down on it and found it was real. And some of them started thinking differently. They think first not of conserving themselves, but of extending themselves in service. Dan Kunkleman came back and knew not everyone could go serve in Peru, so he started an Adult Mission trip to W. VA. Now that’s a man who’s lived his way into a new way of thinking.
Our Middle Schoolers stayed in town this year for their mission trip. They served at a variety of places in Charlotte, Urban Ministry, Crisis Assistance, and so forth. Their week of living mission work changed their way of thinking about youth group for the rest of the year and they’ve expressed a desire to continue to serve in many of the places where they were for the week this summer. They’ve lived into a new way of thinking.
That’s what I think Jesus is getting at when he says that “no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me.” But there is more…..
Whoever is not against us is for us… opens the door even wider. And truly, Jesus says, anyone who gives you a cup of water because you bear my name will by no means lose their reward. Jesus may be referring to the poor, who may have nothing more than a cup of water to offer. Don’t turn it down out of some misguided sense that you are the privileged one helping this poor person. Welcome it, receive it, for in doing so both of you stand on the same footing. Privileged and poor alike need to receive and give. Let us not treat the less fortunate as some underclass to whom we give, but from whom we never receive what they can offer.
A cup of water is all it takes
to make us partners for Christ’s sake.
And just as the poor need what the privileged can give, so the privileged need what the poor offer. For every offering comes with the grace of humility, that allows us – the privileged – to recognize where our poverty lies and be ministered unto. In this way we preserve the dignity of one another.
Hard sayings about stumbling blocks…..
Simply put, Jesus says, using exaggeration for emphasis, don’t be a stumbling block to anyone, and especially to children, less mature disciples, and to anyone you may consider less than you. All that is indicated by the term, “little ones.”
And if putting stumbling blocks in the way of little ones is the negative side of being church, what is the positive side? “Love one another as I have loved you,” Jesus declares in John’s gospel. Serve one another as I have served you, which Jesus enacted by washing the disciples’ feet. Encourage one another as Barnabas did for John Mark when Barnabas gave him a second chance to go on a mission trip when Paul wouldn’t. Lift each other up, pray for each other (our James 5 lectionary text teaches).
Treat each other with grace and welcome, with toleration and affirmation; let us, as Paul writes to the Romans and to us, “pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding.” That’s church. That’s the fellowship in Jesus’ name. (Eph. 4:25-32 – we are to speak the truth (in love) for we are members of one another. No evil talk, but only what is useful for building up… so your words may give grace to those who hear. “Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice; and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another as God in Christ has forgiven you.”)
But you know, there is something about us that wants to be judgmental. There’s a certain insecurity that makes us want to be critical, and sometimes it is so easy, indeed satisfying to point out faults and shortcomings. Well, Jesus says, in rather shocking terms, “go ahead and do so; only not with others, but with yourself. Jesus speaks not literally, but uses hyperbole to drive home the seriousness of his point. “If your hand, or your foot, or your eye causes you to sin, or another translation says, “causes you to turn away from God,” cut it off. Whatever you see in yourself that has you turning from God and going in quite the opposite direction, cut it out. The actions you take that lead you away from the Kingdom of God Jesus taught us to seek and pray for: quit! Examine your life, take a hard look, see if there is anything keeping you from more fully experiencing the love of God, and from more completely following Christ. If there is, cut it out.
What might that be today? What might be hindering our relationship with God and our service to one another? Busyness? (Jason Herman’s devotion at Session meeting really struck me hard as he laid out the unrelenting demands that piled up upon his time. Yet he still found time to ponder what he called, the “end game,” that kingdom of God already alive in us and among us by the Spirit.) Still, busyness claims much of our lives. Related to it are anxiety and worry. Then there are money and mammon, status and security, achieving success and avoiding failure, addictions and distractions. (Speaking of distractions, I’ve been reading a Sun magazine interview with Francis Weller who is a psychotherapist specializing in grief and sorrow. He says, “In this culture we display a compulsive avoidance of difficult matters and an obsession with distraction.” He goes on to talk about our inability to acknowledge our grief, thus forcing us to stay on the surface of life. But I think we do that with just about everything. We’ll deal with the urgent, and almost everything is presented to us as urgent these days: from anything prefaced with “Oh my God,” to ads that finish with, “Get yours today.” But if everything is urgent, how can we ever find out what is truly important? We end up living from one assumed urgency to another, and in between we skip from one distraction to another … where is it leading us?
Examine your life. Is there anything, or is there one thing, or something, you can identify that is tearing you away from the love of God (in whom we live and move and have our being). Can you think of any steps you might take to “cut it out?” I can think of many things in my life: distractions, worries, living solely by the tyranny of the urgent; internally there are cravings for approval, fears of both success and failure, and the list goes on. The frustrating thing is I can’t cut just them out, certainly not all at once. But, just as we walk by taking one step and then another, I think that when we haven’t the courage to let one stroke of the knife cut away all, we can perhaps take one step, in one area, toward cutting out that which cuts short our experience of, our living in the love of God. Maybe, with God’s grace, we’ll be able to take another step tomorrow, or next week, or next year. It’s OK. It turns us and gets us moving in the right direction. As our James 4 text from last week said: “Draw near to God and God will draw near to you.” Start somewhere, take a step. Follow Jesus who walks the road with you.
The Daily Examen is a technique of prayerful reflection on the events of the day in order to detect God’s presence and discern his direction for us. The Examen is an ancient practice in the Church that can help us see God’s hand at work in our whole experience.
The method presented here is adapted from a technique described by Ignatius Loyola in his Spiritual Exercises. St. Ignatius thought that the Examen was a gift that came directly from God, and that God wanted it to be shared as widely as possible. One of the few rules of prayer that Ignatius made for the Jesuit order was the requirement that Jesuits practice the Examen twice daily—at noon and at the end of the day. It’s a habit that Jesuits, and many other Christians, practice to this day.
This is a version of the five-step Daily Examen that St. Ignatius practiced.
B.A. Gerrish in “The Pilgrim Road” summarizes our text:
In relation to others, “judge not.” In relation to ourselves, “Examine yourself.”
Last two verses – strange. And there are a variety of interpretations. “Everyone will be salted with fire.” In the OT, sacrifices were salted. It reflected the oriental practice of making a covenant by eating a meal seasoned with salt. The salt symbolized the covenant relationship between Israel and YHWH that undergirded the whole sacrificial system.
Fire purifies, and then there is the fire of the Holy Spirit. It might be that this saying means something like – The New Covenant I make with you (Jer. 31:31-33) is the salt and its is sealed with the fire of the Holy Spirit. Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness how can you restore it? In other words, if you lose that that distinctiveness characterized by lowly service and openness to others different from you, and care for the young in the faith, and rigorous self-discipline, then you’ve become flavorless salt. “Have salt in yourselves.” In other words, “stay in covenant relation with me, abide in me and I in you… and be at peace with one another (quit squabbling about who is greatest!).
That’s the salt-life…. The salt symbolizes the covenant relationship we each have with the living God. It is the covenant God has established: a covenant of grace, forgiveness, love and presence. And that covenant leads to peace, shalom: which encompasses wholeness, unity, well-being, harmony, with one another; justice and mercy for all. You are the salt of the earth, Jesus said. Let’s live it. Amen.
No stumbling blocks; but service and support
No jealousy but Joy in one another
No privilege over brothers and sisters, but priests one to another,
Examine yourselves, remove stumbling blocks
Have salt in yourselves, live in the grace of God’s covenant
be at peace with one another; shalom!