There was an article on the internet that caught my attention last week. It was about how to make Pemmican, a type of dried meat that was once used by Native Americans and early explorers because it would last for months without needing to be refrigerated. I thought that might be something neat to teach the scouts, so I clicked on the 2 minute video. Well, that two minute video turned into a 30 minute commercial for a series of books geared towards doomsday preppers, people who are getting themselves ready for the next great catastrophe that they believe will sweep through the land. For example, if the power grid gets knocked out, it will be a tremendous disaster in our country. I got suckered in and I watch the whole commercial and what I found interesting was the basic message I was hearing over and over which was, “When a crisis comes, you need to circle the wagons, keep everyone else out, and do whatever you can to survive.” When the commercial was over, I thought, “That’s exactly what we do.” When a crisis comes we circle the wagons and we go into survival mode. Just like the people of Israel did long ago. By the time Jesus came along preaching the Kingdom of God, the people of Israel had gone into full survival mode. With the help and insistence of the religious leaders, the people of Israel had circled the wagons. They had tighten down the laws of God and made following the ways of God even harder, not just to outsiders, but to insiders as well. They wanted to make themselves even more holy, but to do that they had to push others away. They used their religion and the practices of their faith to keep others out. They circled the wagons and divided their world into two, us against them. And, instead of shining the light of God, instead of being the light of God to the nations, which was their calling, they chose to shine a different light, a light of judgment and condemnation. It was the only light they could shine, cowering as they were behind their wagons. If only that was the last time that God’s people chose to behave that way. Like the people of Israel long ago, the people of God today are in survival mode. The church in our day, at least here in America, is in crises, because many are turning away. Most, if not all, mainline churches are seeing decline, and so, what are we doing? We are circling the wagons. When we circle the wagons, we start pointing the finger, telling everyone else out there why they are wrong, or why they are the problem. We turn our ministry into one of criticism and judgment. A friend of mine posted something on Facebook that I would like to share with you. It was a letter written to the church by a young man named John. The title of the article is Dear Church, Here’s Why People are Really Leaving You. In this letter John lists 5 reason and number 5 was the one that caught my attention. He wrote, “Love seems to be a pretty big deal to you, but we’re not getting that when the rubber meets the road. In fact, your brand of love seems incredibly selective and decidedly narrow, filtering out all the spiritual riff-raff, which sadly includes far too many of us. We see a Jesus in the Bible who hung out with lowlifes and prostitutes and outcasts, and loved them right there, but that doesn’t seem to be your cup of tea. Can you love us if we don’t check all the doctrinal boxes and don’t have our theology all figured out? Can you love us if we cuss and drink and get tattoos? Can you love us if we’re not sure how we define love, and marriage, and Heaven, and Hell?” When I read John’s words I thought, “How dare you. Who are you talk to the church that way. You are the reason…” Suddenly I stopped. Wow! He got me. He got me good. He nailed it. That is exactly how the church is today. We circle the wagons, point the finger, and the light of God that we are supposed to be shining on the world has turned into a spotlight of accusation and recrimination. Our apple has not fallen far from the tree. The people of Israel had abandoned their calling to be the light to the nations. And so, that calling was being taken away from them. That is the meaning behind the parable that Jesus told the people that day. God, the rich land owner, has discovered that the manager, Israel, is not doing its job. So, God is going to take the job away from them. Israel’s crisis has suddenly taken a turn for the worse. What should they do? Jesus says to them, “Do what the manager did in the parable?” Do the unthinkable, the unheard of, the unprecedented. Go make friends with the very people you have been pushing away. Go make friends with the people at whom you keep pointing the accusatory finger. Go make friends with the very people who you think are the problem. Boy, what a radical idea. Sounds like just the right thing for the church today. When looking at the decline of the mainline church today, it’s hard not to wonder if God is taking our call away from us. We haven’t been doing a very good job of shining the light of God to the world around us. At times we are more concerned with circling our wagons than encircling others with the love of God. The sad truth is that, in the church, we have accepted the idea that our primary ministry is pointing out other people’s sins. But, that has never been the ministry of the church. It is simply not our job. Jesus made that very clear when he talked to the disciples about the coming of the Holy Spirit. In the gospel of John, Jesus said that the Holy Spirit will come and convict the world concerning sin. It is the Holy Spirit, working in the heart, who has the responsibility to convict people of their sin. Our responsibility is to shine the light of God’s love. Now, some of us might be thinking, “Pastor, it’s not enough for the church to simple say “God loves you. If we don’t point out people’s sins, tell them what they are doing wrong, then how will they ever change?”
Did you know that if you take a white carnation and add it to a vase filled with red water, water that has had a couple of drops of red food coloring added to it, that the white carnation will begin to turn red. Simply by being in the presence of the red water, the white carnation begins to change. Kind of neat to think about, especially when we remember that Jesus once said, “I am the vine, you are the branches.” Simply being in Jesus’ presence, we all can become someone new. That is how the Holy Spirit works.
This parable challenges us to do something radical, to shine the light once more, not the accusatory light of judgment and criticism, but the blessed light of God’s love, forgiveness, grace, and peace. This parable challenges us to be a people of light, not in a way that pits us against those who do things differently, who think differently, or who may not always agree with us, but a people of light who simply walk alongside of others, and allow the light of God to do what the light of God will do.
I want to share a little more with you from John’s letter to the church which I quoted from earlier. After he listed his five reasons for why people are leaving the church he wrote, “Maybe I am the problem. Maybe it is me, but me is all I’m capable of being right now, and that’s where I was really hoping you would meet me. It is here, in my flawed, messed-up, wounded, shell-shocked, doubting, disillusioned me-ness that I’ve been waiting for you to step in with this whole supposedly relentless, audacious, “love of Jesus” thing I hear so much about, and make it real. I have been praying for you to stop evangelizing me, preaching at me, fighting me, judging me, and sin-diagnosing me, long enough to simply hear me, even if I am the problem. Even if I am the woman in adultery, the doubting follower, the rebellious prodigal, or the demon-riddled young man, I can’t be anything else right now in this moment; and in this moment, I need a church big enough, and tough enough, and loving enough, not just for who I might one day be, but for who I am right now. I still believe that God is big enough, and tough enough, and loving enough, even if you won’t be, and that’s why even if I do walk away, it doesn’t mean I am walking away from faith; it’s just that faith right now seems more reachable elsewhere.” It is one thing to share with others where we are in our walk with God. It is another thing all together to insist that others have to join us in that place before they are acceptable. The moment we do that, we divide our world into two, us against them. And, it’s not just the conservatives in the church who do this; liberals in the church are just as guilty of doing the same thing. We may not all be in the same place in our walk with God. We may do things differently. We may see things from a different perspective. We might even disagree. But, we can still walk together, without circling the wagons, without pointing the finger of accusation, without dividing our world into us against them. We can all walk together, in the light of God’s love, because we are all children of God.
Pastor Jim's past sermons:
Links to past sermons can be found at the bottom of this page.
August 28, 2016