Monday, February 4, 2013

Sunday's Sermon: No Excuses

Why is Jesus important to you?

This was the question one of the presenters at the theological conference I attended earlier this week asked a group of clergy. She asked everyone in attendance to take a moment or two to respond to this question with people sitting next to them. She was met by silence.

In some ways, this isn’t remarkable. Many times, those of us who belong to mainline denominations have a difficult time talking about our personal lives of faith. We have a difficult time talking about what we believe and why we believe it. If I were to ask you this morning to turn to the person next to you and tell that person why Jesus is important to you, odds are, you would pause too. You’d probably have a difficult time finding something to say. Those are just the odds, even though there are exceptions. As I said, the fact that the question was met with silence isn’t all that surprising.

It may not have been surprising, but it was a bit disconcerting. This room was not filled with doctors and lawyers and ranchers and teachers. It was not filled with nurses and retirees and stay at home moms. It was not filled with teenagers and college students and elementary school children. It was filled with pastors and church workers. It was filled with people who held degrees in Bible and theology and youth ministry and worship music. The room was filled with men and women who talk about Jesus all the time, and yet, despite this, when the presenter asked the question, there was silence.

Head scratching to say the least.

Why is it so hard to answer such a question? I mean, we are people of faith, or at least we proclaim to be. We say that we are followers of Jesus. We say that we come to Him for salvation and forgiveness and that He is a part of our lives. So why is it so difficult to share with others why Jesus is so important?

I understand that faith is deeply personal. I understand that it goes to our core identity. I understand that sometimes it is so deep and so emotional that trying to express it in words becomes very, very difficult. From early on, many of us have seeped in a culture which regards faith in just such a fashion. Our culture tries to make faith matters as personal and as individualistic as possible. It is quite alright to believe in something, but it is not necessarily good and right to share that belief with others or to convince them that they should believe as we do. This pervades our culture.

And yet, our culture bumps squarely up against the reality of our calling as Christians. That clash can be a bit unpleasant at times since our faith really does not allow for us to remain private. Our faith drives us out into public to proclaim the message of Jesus Christ. In Matthew 28, Jesus spoke these words to the disciples, "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And lo, I am with you always to the end of the age."

This is formally known as the Great Commission. It is spoken not only to Jesus’ disciples on that hillside two thousand years ago, it is also spoke to you and to me this day. It is placed on our hearts as something we are called to participate in as we respond to the great mercy, grace, and love that God has first shown to us.
Of course, whenever we hear this calling, many of us think we have to go out into the streets and consult strangers and begin giving our testimonies. Perhaps that is part of the call, but I’d like to suggest something a bit more radical. What if this proclamation isn’t just for strangers, but it is for friends and family members–it’s for your children and grandchildren–its for those you have known for a lifetime and have walked many a mile with in your journey on earth.

You see, the presenter at this conference was talking about passing faith down to our youth. She wasn’t talking about engaging a host of unbelievers and atheists. She was trying to get us to understand the importance of helping another generation of Christians come to see the importance of Jesus, and she said what many of us know–kids oftentimes model their parents. And if we as parents and grandparents don’t model our faith to our kids, how will they come to see it as important?

Hint: they won’t. Neither will anyone around us. If we can’t share why our faith is important within our families–those we are closest to; how can we expect to even begin sharing it with those whom we barely know?

Oh, and I know now that the difficulty begins. How do I talk about this stuff with my kids? How do I know what to say? How do I share something like this with kids who may not even care? How do I break through the communication barriers? Or even scarier: I’m really not sure why I believe what I believe. I’m not sure why I know it’s important. I might do more harm than good. Perhaps it’s better to be silent and leave it up to those who are better at it than I am.

All throughout scripture there are those who had these same thoughts. All throughout scripture there are those who didn’t want to share God’s word with others for the exact same reasons. Jeremiah was one such person, and part of his story is shared in our first lesson. God was calling Jeremiah, and Jeremiah didn’t want to go. Jeremiah didn’t want to speak. Jeremiah believed he was too young and too inexperienced to do the task God had appointed.

But God replied, "Do not say, "I am only a boy"; for you shall go to all to whom I send you, and you shall speak whatever I command you. 8 Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you, says the Lord.’ 9Then the Lord put out his hand and touched my mouth; and the Lord said to me, ‘Now I have put my words in your mouth. 10 See, today I appoint you over nations and over kingdoms, to pluck up and to pull down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant."

Hear again the promises of God given to Jeremiah and know those same promises hold true for you–"Do not be afraid for I am with you to deliver you. I put words in your mouth, and I appoint you over nations and kingdoms to pluck up and to pull down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant." God has given us power and promise! We have no excuses!

Why is Jesus important to you? After giving it some thought, here is my response:

I cannot imagine my life without Jesus. I’ve personally seen too much of the brokenness in our world. I’ve seen children who were laughing and playing one day lying in a hospital bed debilitated the next. I’ve seen people eat up with cancer and in tremendous pain. I’ve seen families broken by divorce. I’ve seen widows and widowers torn up by the grief of losing their spouse. I’ve seen extreme poverty and anger and malice. I’ve known people who so overcome by despair took their own lives. Week after week, I get at least three or four phone calls asking me to pray for people whose lives have been turned upside down by loss of job, disease, or death. Week after week, I’m exposed to the broken nature of humanity.

And I know I can’t fix any of it. I do not have the gift of healing to restore people to health and cure them of disease and sickness. I cannot keep couples from separating when they no longer wish to be together. I cannot take away a person’s grief or worry or agony. I can’t defeat death or even postpone it. And if all of that stuff were the end of it, then I would be in despair.

And that’s where Jesus comes in. For He promises two important things: first to be with people in the midst of their suffering. He never leaves us or abandons us when such things happen in our lives. And, secondly, He promises to one day fix what is wrong, and not only to fix it but to make every wrong right. Because Jesus died and was raised from the dead, there is now the promise that suffering, pain, cancer, divorce, death, anger, malice, poverty and whatever else you want to throw in there will not be the end. Christ will make all things new. Yes, I see brokenness, but through Jesus, I have hope, and it is a hope that gives me strength, courage, and an unwavering desire to serve Him in my life. This is why Jesus is important to me.

I had plenty of time to think about such a thing this week. Do you have time this week to think about why Jesus is important to you? Do you have time to dig down and wonder why you believe what you believe? Do you have time to put your thoughts together so that you can pass your faith on to another generation and tell others why it is you believe what you believe? Before venturing out and trying to tell anyone why you believe Jesus is important to you, spend some time thinking about it. Spend some time putting your thoughts together. That simple step is a beginning. It requires nothing but some brain power. And putting it together will enable you to begin following the Great Commission Christ gave to each and every one of us. No excuses. Amen.


Kathy said...

Killer post. But then, take the next step: Which is the True Church of Jesus? They dern-shootin can't all be, because their theologies are radically different.

Kevin Haug said...

The True Church is the one that follows Jesus unapologetically, compassionately, and humbly.

Kathy said...

That is the True Invisible Church. Who is the Head of the Visible Church on Earth? The Church Militant?

Kevin Haug said...

Christ is the head of that Church too, and the same criteria apply.

Kathy said...

You know that makes no sense.

Kevin Haug said...

To whom? Makes perfect sense to me.

Kathy said...

Yes, of course it makes sense to you! You can "see" Christ; He is visible to you.

What about the other 5,999,999,999
dummies on the planet?

You know from the earliest times the Church has taught about the "Church Triumphant" -- the Church in Heaven, the "Church Suffering" -- the Church in Purgatory, and the "Church Militant" -- the visible Church on Earth.

If the Church Militant does not have a commanding officer, and a hierarchy of officers, the Battle will be lost.

The ELCA is proof -- in living color -- of this Truth.

Kevin Haug said...

First off, the 5,999,999,999 aren't dummies. They are all created in the image of God and deserve respect instead of insults.

Second, because I see Christ, I also try to reflect Him, be like Him, do as He did. All Christians have this calling.

Third, Christians look to Christ Himself as the author and perfector of the Faith. No human being can even come close. The saints give us encouragement, but they have clay feet. Christ does not. As such, He is already the Commander, and those of us who are officers take orders from Him--even when there are those above who try to convince us to do something contrary to His teachings.

Kathy said...

Actually, I think all 6 billion are dummies -- except me, of course.

Try this: Take a plane or drive your car to that big, boxy, modern office building near O'Hare Airport: 8765 West Higgins Road. If you can, go up to the office of the Head, the Commander, the Leader. Open the door. Will Jesus Christ be sitting at the desk? Well, maybe, but I think it will probably be Mark Seth Hansen.

Kevin Haug said...

Bishop Hansen is the bishop of the ELCA. I can choose to follow his lead or not. I have no choice with Christ. He is the Leader.

Kathy said...

You're jumping levels. "Wives, obey your husbands." A good wife obeys Christ by obeying her husband. A good priest obeys Christ by obeying his bishop. This is not my teaching. It is the teaching of Teresa de Jesus. This is the Doctrine of the Catholic Church.

Secondarily, we have the problem of spiritual direction and discernment. How do you know you are following Christ? Maybe it is Christ's Will that some criminal be blown away by one of Obama's drones. How do you know? Maybe it is Christ's will that we can buy assault rifles. How do you know?

Kevin Haug said...

As to your first point: a good priest follows his bishop when his bishop follows Christ. A priest is not being good if his bishop tells him to do something contrary to what Christ teaches.

As to how do I know when I am following Christ: that's easy, I sit at His feet, listen to what He says, and then go do it. Of course, I find that actually accomplishing what He says to be quite difficult.

How do you know you are following Him? Do you take your priest's word or Christ's own as revealed in Scripture?

Kathy said...

Please, Kevin, use your brain. I will address all your questions and objections -- either here or on my blog.

Your comment on LL is Prayer Level 1. The spiritual life is not on only one level. This is the heresy of Luther: sola, sola, sola.

Kathy said...

Kevin -- These are excellent questions, and I have already saved them for a blog post. Since I, unfortunately, do not have as much talent for writing as you, a formal post takes me a long time and a lot of effort. Right now, I am super-busy with a major construction project, and I don't have much time.

However, I consider this an urgent matter and I will respond.

You must separate issues. Look at the lives of the saints. Look at the teachings of Christ. He teaches a general principle, and then we must deduce the following applications in our lives. This is partly why he said "I have much more to tell you, but you cannot bear it now."

St Teresa of Avila is the best example to answer your question. She got a lot of bad advice from priests, bishops. She listened to Christ. Christ told her to obey the priest, even if he was wrong. This is the Principle. Now what about the applications? It depends on the circumstances.

Right now you are in this situation. Hanson says gay is OK. You know that he is wrong. You do not publicly disobey him. You stay in the church. THIS IS THE WAY OF THE SAINTS! By your life, you answer your question! You are a Catholic!!!!!!! Dummy!!!

Kevin Haug said...

Kathy, my dear. My brain is fully engaged. I am sorry you cannot see it.

And of course my comment on LL was prayer level 1. The poster was trying to suggest that there is something wrong with prayer level 1, which there is not. Prayer level 1 leads us to the other forms of prayer: meditation, contemplation, lecctio divina, etc.

It actually is the beginning step into the spiritual life. I really don't need you to tell me such things. I've read. I've practiced. I am practicing, working my way to the place of practicing the presence of God. It's taking a bit of time to get there, but I know the saints who have trod that path say it takes quite a while.

I really think you need to come to grips in your battle with Luther. Even the Church of Rome recognizes he was correct in nearly all of the reforms he instituted. I am truly sorry you cannot grasp that.

Kathy said...

Oh, Kevin, you are not reading my blog! I said I bash Luther to make a point!!! Please, I cannot be so nice nice. We will get nowhere!

I know Luther did great good in reforming and causing reform in the Church. Teresa was re-acting in the Counter Reformation.

I am not stupid either! The bottom line is that Luther created schism, and the Lutheran Church today is finally fully disintegrating. It is time to come to grips with this.

I am not trying to make you feel bad by bashing Luther.

Kevin Haug said...

Luther was not the only party involved in the Schism. The Church of Rome had its hands quite dirty in that particular instance. And if we decide to talk schism, let's remember that the Church of Rome was responsible for the first schism in the Church as it stubbornly added the filioque over the protestations of the Eastern Orthodox. The Church of Rome started the break ups. That's a historical fact.

Secondly, the Lutheran Church isn't disintegrating. Many Protestant denominations in the U.S. are declining, but world-wide, the Lutheran Church is thriving! Those are simply the facts. Of note, the Church of Rome in the U.S. would also be in decline if it were not for Latin American immigration. Your denomination is in exactly the same boat we are in here in the U.S., but you don't quite see it because of the influx of people.

Kathy said...

I am posting now about you -- but not by name.

Kathy said...
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