Monday, March 16, 2015

25 Words or Less -- 4 Lent 2015

Numbers 21:4-9
Psalm 107:1-3,17-22
Epshesians 2:1-10
John 3:14-21

In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

Anybody here watch football? Do you remember, 15-20 years ago on NFL games, there used to be a guy at every televised game who had a seat in the front row in the end zone.

Now, for those of you who are not fans, that means you would see that person whenever one of the teams was close to scoring. Because the camera would show the end zone in the shot, where they were headed for a touchdown or a field goal.

Of course, you wouldn't be looking at the people in the stands, you'd be looking at the teams. Except you couldn't miss this one fan, who had a sign, a big sign. The sign said, John 3:16. You'd see that sign, I don't know, at least fifteen times a game.

Do you know that verse? Can you say it by heart? I didn't grow up memorizing bible verses. But I have that one down. Say it with me.

Now, those were expensive seats. And I heard it was just one guy who went to all those games, all over the country, to hold up that sign. Some people thought he was pushy, embarrassing even, that he put the gospel in our faces, when we just wanted to watch a football game.

Lately, we don't see that verse in public places. The only verse I see put in my face these days is on Facebook.

Those who are ashamed of me and my words, of them
the Son of Man will be ashamed when he comes in this glory.

If one of your Facebook friends posts that, then you are supposed to prove you are a Christian  by sharing the same shaming statement for all your other Facebook friends to see and be ashamed into sharing it themselves. Or go to hell, I suppose.

It's not just on Facebook. There is this notion that to be a good American, you have to be a good Christian. And to be a good Christian, you have to support a particular stripe of American politics.

In the face of such taking the Lord's name in vain (And not everyone who says "Lord, Lord" will enter the kingdom of heaven -- that's Matthew 7, if you want another bible verse) other Christians allow ourselves to be silenced. I find ,myself downright nostalgic for the days when the public proclamation of Christianity was, For God so loved the world.

But we can't do that. We can't allow ourselves to be silenced. We have promised to proclaim by word and example the good news of God in Christ. Yes, St. Francis said, Preach always, use words if necessary. Today, given what people hear, given what young people think Christianity is, hostile, judgmental, even young Christians, words are necessary. We need to use words.

So how do we navigate these rocky shoals, when just to say we are Christian in many circles immediately associates us with a nastiness that is no part of the God who so loved the world that he sent his Son whom we endeavor to follow?

First I'll tell you why this matters, that we keep our promise to proclaim by word and example the good news of God in Christ.

Jeff sent me his sermon from last week. I will tell you, it was balm to my soul. I'll get back to that.

I stopped watching the news in 2005, because frankly, my mental health was too fragile that year to handle it anymore. That doesn't mean I don't know what is going on. If nothing else, now there's Facebook. And every day, I wonder what will kill us first. Fracking, climate change, corporations that pollute with impunity, poison in our food, that nuclear power plant in Japan they never have gotten under control...

And anyone who stands up in protest faces a police force that has armed itself as though they are at war with American citizens.

The Old Testament prophets blamed drought and famine on the sins of the nation, its idolatry of military might, its pursuit of economic gain for the few at the expense of the many, its failure to obey God's command to care for widows, children and immigrants.

This association of natural phenomena with national sin used to seem far-fetched, the kind of thing you skim over when you are reading the bible from cover to cover. Today it is clear that our own environmental and economic messes are the logical consequences of greed, short-sightedness and our disrespect for the planet and the people who live on it.

I find I need Scripture more than ever, the Psalms, the prophets, I need the Book of Revelation, just to keep my head from exploding.

That's why Jeff's sermon last week reached out and grabbed me. He said, My personal challenge is to keep my eye on the unfolding picture of the Kingdom, and not get drawn into the constant tribulations that punctuate our journey in getting there.

My ways are not your ways, nor my thoughts your thoughts, says the Lord. The congregation repeated these words last week. It is the canticle I find myself choosing most often in Morning Prayer.

My word will not return to me empty, but will accomplish that for which I have purposed it.

That is another verse worth learning by heart, worth learning by a frightened and empty heart.

I need the good news of God in Christ more than ever. I need it every time I open up Facebook, God help me, or even the Bend Bulletin, every time I witness the meanness of our public discourse, or learn of the troubles facing a friend, or overhear the struggles of somebody in a restaurant. I need the good news of God in Christ.

I expect you do, too. And you know what? So does everybody else. So does everybody else.

God so loved the world, the world, not this cozy collection of people who are in on the secret.

What a treasure we hold. And I'm not talking about the church. Come to St. Andrew's, we all like each other so much. I'm talking about the good news of God in Christ.

So what is that good news for me?

I think the world is going to hell in a hand basket and is going to get a whole lot worse. I have no idea what our future will bring, except that I don't expect it to be as cushy as we have it right now. But that's alright. When we have a whole lot less, when we face much harder trials, we will have everything we need. At the center of the universe, holding it together, holding us together is the God who loves us. I am loved. You are cherished. No bad thing that ever happens will ever take that away. That is the good news of God in Christ for me.

I can get it down to 25 words or less.

My worth, my well-being do not depend on my circumstances. Many battles will be lost. But at the end, the God of love wins.

That's it. The good news of God in Christ for me.

I read the Psalms every day to renew that vision, and to get all that other garbage out of my brain. I go to church, and I listen to the gospel in the context of community, so that I stay in the game.

What about you? What is the good news of God in Christ for you?

That is not a rhetorical question. I do want to know. I have asked my congregation to tell me their answers on Easter, when their statements will be our Easter sermon. I ask my readers to answer, as well.

Click on link to comments below, and leave a comment. Just 25 words, or a little more, I don't care. What is the good news of God in Christ for you? The shorter version will be easier to remember for somebody else who needs to hear it.

And somebody else does need to hear it.

Jesus was talking with Nicodemus in today's gospel. Do you know who he was? He was on the ruling council, a politician. You know, the suit, the hair, the smile. Nobody would have looked at Nicodemus and thought, Now there is a man hungry for some good news. And that was the way Nicodemus wanted it. He didn't go out when Jesus was preaching to the crowds. Jesus had to come to him by night, a private conversation.

Jesus kept his secret, that Nicodemus was hungry. He was confused. He was hurting and empty. Jesus didn't expose him or shame him. But he loved him. He met him where he was, and he took him seriously, and he loved him.

He would have loved him at church. He would have loved him out fishing, or at work, or in jail. He would have loved him at a football game. In this case, he loved him in Nicodemus' own house, maybe at dinner, after a few glasses of wine, when, by the grace of God, Nicodemus asked a question. How do you do these things? And Jesus seized the opportunity, and said what a totally together man with an empty heart needed to hear, that God loved him.

And we have promised not to keep that a secret.  Amen.

photo of field goal from flickr/sethhenry1
John 3:16 sticker from
text of John 3:16 from
photo of man with sign from
Flair from
photo of Sarah Palin in public domain
Steel engraving of the Strait of Messina by A.H.Payne in public domain
photo of Wall Street Bull by Ingfbruno, used under Creative Commons license
photo of newspaper reader by James Cretan, used under Creative Commons license
photo of Martin Luther King, Jr. from the National Park Service, in public domain
photo of  crowd by  The Community - Pop  Culture Geek, used under Creative Commons license

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