Monday, April 22, 2013

Sunday's Sermon: Reflecting Jesus

Last Sunday, I finished my sermon by leaving everyone with the idea that as Christians we should reflect the light of Christ into the world. We do this because it is our job as the Church and as Christians to bring people to Christ–not necessarily to worship or to Sunday School or to argue them to belief. Only Christ can change hearts and bring people to faith, not us.

But this leads us to now ask, what does it mean to reflect Jesus? How do we as people who live in a relationship with Him, reflect His goodness in this world?

I mean, let’s ponder this for just a moment and ask a few questions.

What happens if a person who is seeking Christ comes to worship at a church on a particular morning and encounters a group of people that looks like this :-(. What will that person infer about being a believer in Jesus?

Or, not to poke fun at majorly serious people, I’ll be an equal opportunity offender. What if someone who is seeking Jesus runs into a person like this: "Oh, it’s a great day. God is so good. Yes, my mother just passed away. My spouse just lost a job. My child is in the hospital with an infection, and my dog just ran away. But praise the Lord! I know He is a good God and I must rejoice and be glad!"

Or, what happens if someone walks into church and tentatively sits down close to a couple of congregation members. As worship begins, this person hears two folks talking. "Can you believe it! Do you see what the pastor is wearing today underneath that robe. Oh the scandal! Can you believe he has blue jeans on. And boots. And I bet those boots have something on them. It’s a shame. On the Lord’s Day, he doesn’t even wear his finest to preach in. Scandalous, I tell you. Scandalous." What impression will the seeker come away with?

Or, what reflection does a person leave if they go through life with a constant scowl on their face being critical of everything? For instance, the guy who was asked by a friend how church was that morning. The guy replied, "Geez. It was horrible. The sermon was too long and boring. The hymns were too slow. The choir was off key. The prayers were too general. The communion wine too sweet, and the room too hot." Of course, at this point, the guy’s son looks at him and says, "Gee, Dad, I didn’t think it was all that bad for only a dollar."

Oh, and I know I might step on a toe or two here, but I’m sorry. I just have to do it. What reflection does it leave with others when a person stands up during a song or a hymn looking like this :-\. "Hey, can I ask you a question? What are you doing?" "I’m praising God."

You see, our words, our actions, how we look, and how we deal with our feelings and events that happen to us all leave an impression on those we come into contact with. If they know we claim to be a Christian, they will watch these things and see what kind of reflection we make of our Lord and Savior.

This leads us to the place where we must ask: what does it mean to reflect Jesus in this day and age even though we know we cannot do the job perfectly?

Let’s take a moment to look again at our second lesson from the book of Revelation. This might sound like a strange book of the Bible to turn to in order to answer that question, but I think there are some strong clues here for us this morning.

Let’s focus our attention on John’s description of heaven beginning in verse 15, "For this reason they [the multitudes in heaven] are before the throne of God, and worship him day and night within his temple, and the one who is seated on the throne will shelter them. 16 They will hunger no more, and thirst no more; the sun will not strike them, nor any scorching heat; 17 for the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of the water of life, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes."

Let’s break this down a moment:

First, the multitude in heaven makes God the center of their life and being. They worship Him day and night. Now, we know we cannot spend every waking moment in church. Believe me, I don’t even want to hear myself preach that long! But can we keep God at the center of our lives and beings? Can He be our chief concern as we live and move and have our being? What would our lives look like if we worked, played, and interacted with others as if we were interacting with Christ Himself? Would it change how we do things? Perhaps.

Second, we see in heaven that God shelters the multitude. What would it mean for you and me to reflect this reality? This, I think is pretty easy. We reflect God by doing what He does at this point. We shelter those who have none. We feed the hungry. We give drink to the thirsty. We provide shelter from the heat and cold. This isn’t much in dispute. Most Christians know this, and I know this is something that is near and dear to many of you. You have and continue to practice reflecting Jesus in this way, and I have little more to add than "Good job. Keep up the work!"

Third, the Shepherd guides the flock to the springs of the water of life. This might be a little tricky here. We must ask what are the springs of the water of life? What might they be in this day and age? I believe this is more than physical needs. We addressed those above. Perhaps this refers to helping others fill their spiritual needs. Again, I say, this is tricky. Many times people do not realize their spiritual hunger. A lot of times they know they sense something. They sense they are not being filled. And so they experiment with all sorts of things. They will turn to drinking, drugs, obtaining possessions, sex, food, exercise, success, and a host of other ways to feel fulfilled. And what does it mean for us to lead people to the spiritual waters that quench such thirst?

I believe it is more than us telling folks, "You shouldn’t do this." That’s like telling an addict they need to give things up. They will turn on you immediately. Perhaps, just perhaps to reflect Jesus in this manner, we must be willing to offer other options–other things that will satisfy–particularly, we must somehow be willing to lead them to Christ. And this is best done by reflecting Him. It can’t be done with argument or logic or otherwise.

And so we move on to the last piece from revelation. God wipes away every tear. Stop a moment and think about that. As I hear this, it tells me two things. Number one, our emotions aren’t taken away from us in heaven. Think about it! Those in heaven are crying. They feel things. Now, I know there are such things as tears of joy, but the vast majority of tears are shed in sadness. I don’t think John is referring to tears of joy. I think he is referring to tears of sadness.

To me, I think this tells us we can be authentic in our emotions. Far from the example I provided above, I believe authenticity compels us to honestly tell one another what is going on in our lives. If a parent has died, a spouse has lost a job, a child is in the hospital and a pet has run off, you don’t try to put on a smiley face as if everything is O.K. Be real. Shed tears. Be angry. Be frustrated. And if you are happy, be happy. Radiate joy. Smile. Laugh out loud. Don’t believe you have to put on some sort of mask to hide what is really going on down deep. They don’t in heaven. We shouldn’t on earth.

And then, there is the second thing that comes forward. How God acts. If we aren’t particularly unhappy or what have you, it is we who wipe those tears. It is we who laugh with those who are joyful. It is we who offer a word of comfort to those who are angry. We reflect Christ by walking with others in their grief, anger, happiness, and so forth.

If this list is helpful in understanding how we are called to reflect Christ, let’s put it to the task in light of the events of this week. How does a Christian reflect Jesus in light of bombings, explosions, poison being sent to our top elected officials, gun fights and manhunts covered by a 24 hour news coverage which seeks to instill fear and anxiety?

Does a Christian walk around with a smile on their face saying, "I’m happy?" No. That doesn’t seem too authentic.

Does a Christian frown and mourn and wallow in misery saying, "Oh this is terrible. The world is terrible. We should all be so sad." No. Again, not to authentic.

Does a Christian stamp his or her foot and say, "By God, I am angry. Justice must be done. Retribution must be forthcoming." Not exactly Christ-like in my estimation.

As I thought about these things, I hearkened back to the memory of one of our departed saints who I got to know in the past several years. She had a recurring saying when faced with life’s issues. It didn’t matter if her husband had died, her son-in-law had committed suicide, if she was confronted with health issues or listening to her granddaughter talk about life’s issues; she would repeat the same sentence over and over and over. "It will get better."

This seems to me an authentic, Christian response. It acknowledges the severity of a given situation. It doesn’t say things are O.K., but it also doesn’t wallow in misery. It trusts that there is more to come–more that is good. It is a statement of resurrection.

How do we reflect Jesus? By being authentic and proclaiming hope. For it will get better. Amen.

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