Monday, March 13, 2017

Sermon for March 12, 2017

The World Needs our Feet

Here are some of my favorite bumper stickers . . .
· I’m not gaining weight, I’m retaining food!.
· I brake for no apparent reason.
· Forget about World Peace. Visualize using your turn signal.
· He who laughs last, thinks slowest.
· Lottery: A tax on people who are bad at math.
· Change is inevitable, except from a vending machine.
· I may be slow, but I’m ahead of you.
· Sometimes I wake up grumpy; other times I let him sleep.
· Hard work pays off in the future. But laziness pays off right now.
· It’s lonely at the top, but you eat better.
· Always remember you’re unique, just like everyone else.
· There are 3 kinds of people: those who can count & those who can’t.
· Do you follow Jesus this close?

Some bumper stickers are funny, some are informative, some make you think, others make you mad. In any case, they’re usually a reflection of direction the person in life is traveling. When it comes to bumper stickers, the words on the outside of a car are often an indicator of the kind of person on the inside of the car. In the same way, the words that come out of our mouths are often an indicator of what kind of person we are in the inside.

From the Bible’s point of view, our feet are the indicators of what we believe. I know it sounds weird, but listen to how the Apostle Paul puts it in the book of Romans

If you openly declare that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is by believing in your heart that you are made right with God, and it is by openly declaring your faith that you are saved. As the Scriptures tell us, “Anyone who trusts in him will never be disgraced.” Jew and Gentile are the same in this respect. They have the same Lord, who gives generously to all who call on him. For “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. ”But how can they call on him to save them unless they believe in him? And how can they believe in him if they have never heard about him? And how can they hear about him unless someone tells them? And how will anyone go and tell them without being sent? That is why the Scriptures say, “How beautiful are the feet of messengers who bring good news!” Romans 10:9-15

The world needs our feet. I need to tell you, I’m surprised I’m even saying this to you, because I think feet are disgusting. I definitely have a foot hang up–a piece of information, which, is probably more than you wanted to know about me. I can think of several words to describe these appendages on the ends of my legs. The words ugly, hairy, smelly and grungy are a few that I would choose. But despite their flaws, the world needs our feet.  Paul is quite clear on this in Romans.

“ . . . how can they call on him to save them unless they believe in him? And how can they believe in him if they have never heard about him? And how can they hear about him unless someone tells them? And how will anyone go and tell them without being sent?

Our feet to carry us to the grieving and hurting, the needy and lonely, the friendless, prisoners, the poor and oppressed, anyone who needs to experience healing transformation Our feet bring us into contact with those who need to know how God’s grace and our faith can make a difference in life. So, the world needs our feet. There are, however, some problems with this. First and foremost, I don’t want to my feet to bring me into contact with friendless, with prisoners, with the poor and oppressed. I would rather my feet bring me to my comfy chair while I relax and read a good book. I would rather have my feet bring me somewhere where I don’t have to think about the pain and suffering in the world. Life is easier if I let my feet lead me to places where I can deny the reality the world is filled with pain.

And anyway, if I were to go to the suffering and poor in spirit, I wouldn’t know what to do. I wouldn’t know what to say. What in the world am I actually going to say or do once my feet carry me to the difficult places of life?

And there’s another problem --The term “congregational evangelist” sounds like a contradiction. Maybe we should let the Baptists, Nazarenes, and Pentacostals put the gospel shoes on their feet. Anyway, if God has already predestined everything, as our Puritan ancestors taught, it doesn’t really matter, does it?

All of this assumes we have some good news to share. Let’s face it, many of us have a hard time talking about the gospel as clearly and succinctly as our evangelical siblings. Sophisticated, well-educated Christians like us want to say that the gospel is too complex to reduce to two or three sentences. We’ll spend thirty minutes on caveats and qualifications. We’ll try to convince others why we are not the kind of Christian that is intolerant and inhospitable before we even dare say something simple and straightforward about what God is doing in the world through Jesus Christ. We’ll tweak our language and justify the details before answering the question: what is the good news?

I am not interested in my feet bring me door to door, spreading belief in a story about a resuscitated corpse that somehow is still walking the city streets today, scaring people into proper behavior. Instead of hellfire and damnation, the good news from places like CCC is the realm of God, where compassion rules, is here now. The  good news is there are places like CCC where we try to put self-interest in the service of radical love. Following Jesus does not simply mean repeating what Jesus said. It involves taking the stories and principles of Jesus and of the movement founded in his name and into new and challenging contexts. It means speaking words of truth to brokers of power who advance unholy agendas. It means being active and visible in the face of bigotry and sexism. It means embracing the blessings and challenges of radical hospitality as we worship with marginalized communities. It means continuing our dedication to safe, nurturing space for LGBTQ+ persons. I’m not talking about flinging wide the doors of the church and saying, “We are nice people, and we have the lawn signs to prove it. Won’t you come and check us out?” The Scripture says, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” Isaiah actually writes this: “How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, ‘Your God reigns!’” (Isa. 52:7, NIV). The world needs our feet. They are beautiful feet.
It’s important to understand that in Biblical times they didn’t have email or phones. In order for leaders to relay messages to their hearers they sent messengers. Often times the messenger would travel by foot for miles to get the message to his hearer. The ancient Greek myth of Phidippides is an example. In 490 B.C. Persia’s fleet of 600 ships loomed off the Greek Shores not far from Athens. According to legend, the general of the Athenian troops sent his fastest runner, Phidippides to ask for help from Sparta. Phidippides ran for two days and two nights to reach Sparta, about 140 miles away. He gave the message to the Spartans. The Spartans agreed to send troops, but not until after their religious festival was completed in nine days. Phidippides ran back to Athens, but the general couldn’t wait that long, so he ordered his troops to advance on the Persians. The Persian army was no match for the Athenians and 6,400 Persians were slain. The general then ordered Phidippides back to Marathon to spread the good news. The distance between marathon and Athens was approximately 25 miles. Phidippides made the distance, managed to gasp “Rejoice!” before he collapsed and died. That reminds me of another bumper sticker: “Walk, don’t run.”

You can imagine what people and communities would be thinking when word got out a messenger was bringing word to them? Their hearts would pound not knowing if the news was going to be tragic or good. When the news was good, the messenger became the most popular person around. People would say the messenger’s feet were beautiful. Now the word beautiful here does not mean lovely in appearance—thank goodness. It means “in time” or “timely”. It was as if the people were saying, “your feet brought you just when I needed to hear something good.”

There are people all around us in desperate need of some Good News. They are going through a trying time. They don’t need to hear “suck it up buttercup” or “hang in there” or “our church has great music.” They need to experience Good News. Jesus shows us just how much God loves us and cares for us. Sin and death are defeated, here and now. As much as I resist going to those tough places, I love it when I hear someone say, “Your feet brought you just when I needed to hear something good.” Where our feet bring us shows the condition of our heart. How you walk and where you walk to is an indication of the health of your relationship with God.

The desires of our hearts, the words of our mouths, and the actions of our hands and feet are all connected. Our heart gives us the will to go. Our feet respond and bring us. Our mouths speak the Good News and our hands do the work of compassionate justice. An active heart leads to an active mouth, which also shows itself in active feet. And active feet are beautiful to God. Or, to quote another bumper sticker:
Dance With Your Heart and Your Feet Will Follow!

I find that there is a prayer that God always answers. I will say, “God, lead me to someone who needs to know your love today.” I have prayed that prayer, and then promptly forgotten what I said. At some point in the day, usually my most hectic day, someone will call – someone who is hurting and needs help. At that point I have a decision, be patient with the interruption and take time to listen, or brush the person off. Even before I became a minister, I would pray, “God, lead me to someone who needs to know your love today,” and people would bare their souls to me in the strangest of places. Once I was in a restaurant, ready to order my dinner. The server came and said, “Hi, I’m Ashley. How are you all?” “Fine, how are you?” I asked. I didn’t really mean it. It’s just what you say, right? Before I knew what was happening, Ashley was sitting in our booth, telling my family and me about all her problems at work. I’m thinking to myself, “Can I just order my pizza now?” But I prayed that God would help me walk to the places and people who need to know God’s love. I have had the same thing happen at the grocery store check out line and school events. It even happened on my honeymoon. Chris and I became acquainted with an older couple who were vacationing in Bermuda at the same place we were staying. From our perspective, it was a superficial relationship – small talk and shallow chat. Somehow, weeks after we went our separate ways, the wife of the other couple tracked us down and called us to tell us how bad her life had become. I was not a minister. I was not even in seminary. Chris and I were just out of college. We just showed some compassion – the ability to listen, and the willingness to stay put so that we could listen and respond with love.

I must admit, I am not always proud of where my feet take me. At times, my feet and I have chosen the path not lit by the Word of God. However, my prayer is that I can be described as follows:

“How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, ‘Your God reigns.”’

I would be thrilled people thought of me and said, “Matt is a man with beautiful feet.”

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