Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Sermon for January 4, 2009

Jesus the Word
John 1:1-18

I once had a friend who claimed to hear the voice of God. His name was Willie. Willie always made me a little nervous when I was around him because the things God told him were not very pleasant. For some reason, God usually let it be known to him that those who failed to follow God’s commands would receive harsh punishment. It usually involved eternal fire and endless abandonment. Willie wasn’t the kind of guy you wanted around at your New Year’s party. In fact, when he moved to Florida, we were all relieved. For the most part, his messages from God made me nervous for selfish reasons. I was afraid God was going to tell Willie some secret detail of my past, and I didn’t want to be around if the Lord was going to embarrass me in front of my friends.

I had a similar experience at a place called the Church of Brotherly Love. It was a small African American church on a country road in the middle of nowhere. The pastor, Sister Bradley, had been the minister for 30 years. Sister Bradley invited me out to one of her church’s weeknight revival services. Sister Bradley invited a woman from Florida to be the guest speaker. I guess Florida is a hot bed for Christian prophets. Anyway, the woman was known to be a prophet. She preached for an hour and a half, telling us that she was telling us what she was hearing from God as God said it. I thought to myself, “This lady is repeating herself. With a good sermon outline, she could have said the same thing in 20 minutes.” As she wrapped it up, the Prophet Lady began to pray and God started giving her messages about specific people who needed to hear a word. She called specific people whom the Lord wanted to free from various sinful ways. She would say, “There is a woman here with 4 children who can’t pay her bills. She has been drinking a lot to escape her pain. God wants her to know that there is another way to solve her problems, and the answer is Jesus. Where is that woman?” We were supposed to be praying, but I secretly scanned the room, looking for someone to arise. Finally, a tearful woman stood up and walked down the small center aisle of the church. This happened with three or four other people. The Prophet Lady would close her eyes in silence, nod her head in agreement with the voices in her head, call people forward, lay her hands on them and pray over them. Then the people would shake and fall to the ground, filled with the Holy Spirit. That’s when I started praying. I did not want to be called forward. I didn’t want to be exposed. I didn’t know when to fall down. “Lord,” I said, “I know what I’ve done. You know what I’ve done. Let’s just keep it between you and me and not tell the Prophet Lady about it. OK?” Then the Prophet Lady spoke. “You, the young pastor over there.” I was going to be wise and point to someone else behind me, but I knew to whom she spoke. She said, “The Lord has a message for you.” Meanwhile I’m thinking, “God we had a deal here.” Mercifully, I never had to go forward. She gave an encouraging message, and let me sit back down. God is good!

Do you ever wonder if God still speaks to us?

We often walk a fine line when trying to answer this question. If someone claims to directly hear the voice of God, we usually consider the person to be a fanatic or demented. The other side of the line is that we want to hear from God. Many of us desire to hear directly from God. In our age of competing spiritualities, we want to know that the God we worship is real and involved in our lives. We desire God to communicate a message of love directly to our hearts. We often wonder why we can’t hear God’s voice.

The author of John’s gospel had a challenge. He wanted to write an account of the life of Jesus that would appeal to a large audience of Jews and Greeks. There was little good in telling the Greeks that Jesus was the Messiah or the Son of David—they are terms from Jewish Scripture that had no meaning to Greeks. Even the term “Son of God” had different meanings to Jews and Greeks. The Greeks knew all about sons of gods who were products of the affairs of immortals who came to earth and seduced mortal maidens. And in Imperial Rome, the Emperor was the only one called the Son of God. The author of the gospel needed a different vocabulary. So, John referred to Jesus by using the Greek word logos, which means “Word”. In Jewish literature and Greek philosophy, logos refers to the mind of God. Words do things. Through the Word of God, chaos became the ordered cosmos. The logos was seen as God’s instrument of creation. The logos holds the universe together. John took the familiar concept of logos and applied it to Jesus.

Think about what a word is in our own times. We use words to communicate with one another. We choose words that best convey the message we want to speak and we relate those words in ways that another person can understand. On the most basic level, this is what Jesus is for us. Jesus Christ is God’s Word to us. The theological word for this is “incarnation.” God becomes flesh. God takes on human form to tell us something. Jesus is God’s ultimate way of communicating with us. When John calls Jesus the Word, he says that Jesus is God’s way of trying to tell us something crucially important.

In Jesus, we hear how God feels toward us. Some people would have you believe that we humans are rotten to the core without a shred of worth to God. Listen to me when I tell you that these are lies. God would never come to us in Jesus Christ if we were worthless in the first place. In fact, by sending Jesus Christ to live with us, God communicates a message of hope to us. Yes, we sin. Yes, we make bad decisions and operate with misguided motives, but God still loves us. Jesus Christ is God’s love letter to us. Remember for a moment the things that Jesus did while he lived on this earth. He healed the sick and fed the hungry. He comforted the grieving. Jesus was a friend to outcasts and sinners. God would never heal, feed, or comfort those whom he despises. God wouldn’t have bothered if God didn’t care. God would only show such care to those whom he loves with a passionate, all-consuming love. Jesus is God’s message to us that God understands us. God became a human being to walk with us, to experience this world with us, and even to die with us. Incarnation means that God became human so that nothing human would lie beyond God’s experience. Jesus, the Word of God, communicates the heart of God to us.

God is still sending a word of love to us today. At all times, in all places, God is speaking tender words of love and belonging to us in Jesus Christ. Can you hear God’s Word?

Imagine if we were to get a letter from Jesus in the mail and this is what it said:
Dear Christians: I came into the world to show you God’s love. I healed the sick, I raised people from the dead. I didn’t do this to show off, but to show you that God, the Father, cares for you. Now I ask you to do the same. Take care of the sick. Befriend the poor and needy. Go to all people everywhere and call them to be my followers. Teach them to obey everything I have commanded you. And don’t forget, I will be with you always, even to the end of the world. I will never leave you nor forsake you. With all my love, Jesus.
I can just imagine many churches responding with a letter like this:
Dear Jesus Christ: We acknowledge the receipt of your recent communication. Your proposal is interesting and challenging. However, due to a shortage of personnel, as well as several other financial and personal considerations, we do not feel that we can give proper emphasis to your challenge at this time. A committee has been appointed to study the feasibility of the plan. We should have a report to bring to our congregation sometime in the future. You may rest assured that we will give this our careful consideration, and we will be praying for you and your efforts to find additional disciples. We do appreciate your offer to serve as a resource person, and should we decide to undertake this project at some point in the future, we will get back to you. Cordially, The Christians.
God speaks the Word to us because God wants us to respond. That’s what communication is all about. If we really understand God’s love and how God speaksit to us, we will do something to let God know that we understand. We hear the Word, and then we obey it in life and death. As followers of Christ, we are liberators who free others from the shackles of despair with the Word of love. We don’t keep the glorious Word of hope to ourselves. We let it flow from us to touch the lives of the hurting. We are called to live lives that communicate to others the fact that Jesus is the light and life of all people. We can share the word that God understands us because God walked in our shoes.

We hear many messages out there today. Each one is competing for our attention and allegiance. My hope is that we will all hear the strong and clear Word of God’s love for us. May it ring louder in our ears than all other rivals. May Jesus, God’s Word, remind us just how much God cares. May the record of Jesus’ life, and the leading of God’s Spirit lead you. Allow the Word of God to comfort your soul, giving you the assurance that God wants to be close to you.

And in hearing, may you find the ability to trust and obey. Trust that God’s message of love is for all people. Allow God to use you as a messenger of this good news. May you find strength in obedience, and inner-peace in the knowledge that God is using you to being his beloved people closer and closer to God’s Word of love.

Sermon for January 21, 2018

How Far Would You Go? 1 Samuel 17 I had a sermon all ready to go today. It was a NICE sermon. You would have felt really good about i...