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Tell Them About Jesus
May 21, 2006

First United Methodist Church of Palo Alto


I am truly honored and delighted to be named Senior Pastor Emeritus!  I was pastor here for a total of fifteen years—five as Associate and ten as Senior.  Thank you, Archer and the congregation!  I am very grateful.  I am also grateful that our entire family is present here this morning.  Our three sons were nurtured in the faith by the saints of this congregation, and they are continuing the tradition.  Jack, Jennifer, Alison, Adrienne and Erin are active leaders in the Campbell UMC.  Tim, Barbara, Julia, Melanie and Amanda are active leaders in the Paradise Valley UMC in Arizona.  Craig and Laura are active leaders in this church, and the nurturing continues as their children, Sara and Tyler, are being nurtured in the faith by you.

When I was 18 years old, and a sophomore at Hamline University in St. Paul, Minnesota, the District Superintendent appointed me to pastor two Methodist churches.  Those of you who know me understand that I am somewhat brash, and tend to rush in where even angels fear to tread, so I accepted with alacrity, joyful at a chance to serve the Lord.  I attended classes during the week, and spent the weekends with the congregations.  However, I soon had a rude awakening when I began to realize what being a pastor at the age of 18 meant.  My predecessor had a rough time.  In fact, in one of the churches only three people were there on his last Sunday!

One Saturday afternoon I visited with a retired mailman who was now pastor of a neighboring Community Church.  He was Dutch, and spoke with a heavy accent.  I asked his advice.  I asked how I, an 18-year-old, could gain the respect of the congregations.  How could I handle the divisive situation?  What could I, a kid that is still wet behind the ears, preach to people three and four times my age?  How could I presume to know enough?  I can still see him as he leaned back in his chair, looked over to me, and said, "Tell them about Jesus.  Tell them the old, old story of Jesus and his love.  They won't dare fight with Jesus."

I took his advice.  I preached Jesus, and the congregations responded beautifully—over 50 in worship attendance at both churches, and over 25 in each youth group.  Some went into the ministry.  Through the years, my mantra, my theme, has been, ““Tell them about Jesus….the old, old story of Jesus and his love.”

When I retired seven years ago, my family surprised me with a website.  It includes most of the sermons I’ve preached since I started using a computer!  What a gift!  Check it out:  And, the theme my family chose for the website?  Of course, TELL THEM ABOUT JESUS.

That message is still relevant today.  In fact, the world, our nation, and popular Christianity in particular, need desperately to be told about Jesus.

There are voices today, loud voices, telling us that their version of Christianity is the correct version, and the rest of us, along with Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus are all going to hell.  When Jesus comes again, they say, millions of people will be left behind to be slaughtered, and billions will fry in hell.  What do we say to these arrogant, self-righteous bigots?

TELL THEM ABOUT JESUS!  Jesus, who said, John 10.16, “I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold.”  Jesus, who had compassion even for the pagan Roman Gentiles, and healed the centurion’s servant.  Jesus, who is bigger than any one perspective.  No one can put God in a box, nail down the cover, claim ownership and announce, “Jesus belongs to me”!  Recently, a young man wrote to tell me that his mother, who had married again, had turned Buddhist.  He went to his campus minister who told him in no uncertain terms that his mother was now going to hell.  I wrote back and said, “Tell that minister to go to hell, and you join a church that preaches the love of Jesus.”

There are voices today, loud voices, telling us to take the Bible literally, that every word is true.  Of course, they only take the passages they like literally, and ignore the others, but that’s beside the point.  What do we say to the literalists who arrogantly accuse the rest of us being unbiblical?

TELL THEM ABOUT JESUS!  Jesus did not take the scriptures literally.  Not only did Jesus not take the Bible literally, he changed it!  He upgraded it to fit his message of love.  Several times, he said, “You have heard it said of old, but I say.”  For example, Matthew 5.38, “You have heard it said ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’  But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer.”  Jesus then proceeded to give some creative alternatives to retaliation.

There are voices today, loud voices, who believe in an eye for an eye urging America to return evil for evil, to hate and annihilate our enemies.  What do we say to them?

TELL THEM ABOUT JESUS!  Again, Jesus did not take the scriptures literally, and even had the nerve to change the Law of Moses.  Matthew 5.43, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’  But I say to you, Love your enemies.”  

There are voices today, loud voices, who want to make the United States a Christian nation.  They are ardently, forcefully, and politically pushing mandatory school prayer and demanding that their brand of right wing, fundamentalist Christianity be named the state religion of the United States of America.  What do we say to them?

TELL THEM ABOUT JESUS!  Jesus, who said, Matthew 22.21, “Give to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”  Separate!  Jesus died on the cross at the hands of religious leaders who forced the Roman Emperor to do their will. Jesus died at the hands of state religion.  

There are voices today, loud voices, who preach that not everyone is created equal, that women are subservient to men, and that gays and lesbians should not have rights that the rest of us have.  After 9/11, Jerry Falwell, founder of the so-called Moral Majority, said, “I really believe that the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle…I point the finger in their face and say, ‘You helped this happen.’”  What do we say to Falwell and his ilk?

TELL THEM ABOUT JESUS.  Jesus, whose embrace included all the sinners of his day.  His entourage included poor folks, tax collectors, women, children, prostitutes, even men and rich people.  Jesus said that how we treat the least of the lowly, the rejected and persecuted, the hungry, the thirsty, the imprisoned, the stranger, is how we treat Jesus.  

And, what about the disciple Jesus loved?  Certainly, he loved all his disciples, but only one is recorded, and recorded five times, as “the disciple whom Jesus loved.”  The later translations have tried to sterilize the language, but the King James Version is closest to the original Greek.  John 13.25, During the last supper, the disciple Jesus loved, was “lying on Jesus’ breast.”  What is all that about?  I don’t know.  Let’s ask Falwell and homophobic fundamentalists who take the Bible literally to explain it!

The point is that Jesus’ embrace includes everyone.  There are voices today, loud voices, crying for help.  They are struggling with alcohol, drugs, marital problems, divorce.  There are folks who are lost, lonely, depressed, looking for someone to save them, looking for a savior.  Tell them about Jesus and his love.  There are arrogant, prejudiced bigots searching for security by putting down all those who disagree with them.  

Yes, tell them about Jesus.  On Easter Sunday, a group left Phoenix on the CrossWalk to America.  The group is getting larger as other Christians join them.  On Labor Day, in Washington D.C., they will proclaim the Phoenix Affirmations, twelve Affirmations telling the country about the real Jesus, giving an alternative to popular fundamentalism.

Yes, tell them about Jesus.  But, sisters and brothers, “them” includes us.  We, also, need to know Jesus.  We all like sheep have gone astray.  We all are in need of a savior.  We all stand in judgment and need God’s grace.  We are no better, and no worse, than anyone else.

Furthermore, Jesus cannot be put into a box.  We dare not attempt to contain the love of God, and keep it for ourselves.  God so loved the world, and the world includes everyone.  There is no one outside the love of God, no one, including you. 

Mere words cannot adequately express or convey the love of God.  Frederick Lehman has put music to the words.

The love of God is greater far than tongue or pen can ever tell,

It goes beyond the highest star, and reaches to the lowest hell;

The guilty pair, bowed down with care, God gave His Son to win

His erring child, he reconciled and pardoned from his sin.

O love of God, how rich and pure! How measureless and strong!

It shall forevermore endure the saints’ and angels’ song.

Could we with ink the ocean fill, 

And all the sky of parchment made

Were every stalk on earth a quill, and everyone a scribe by trade

To write the love of God above would drain the ocean dry;

Nor could the scroll contain the whole, 

tho stretched from sky to sky.

May the love of God fill your heart—to overflowing, so that it flows through you to touch those on both sides of you.  No restriction, no boundary, no rules, no man-made theology, no religious system; nothing can separate you from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.


© 2006 Douglas I. Norris