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Your Subscription is About to Expire
From the five scripture verses on the front page of this morning's bulletin, have you selected which one represents the basic, foundational message of Jesus? Based on my understanding of the gospel and research of biblical scholars, number three is the answer, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent, and believe in the gospel." Mark 1:14-15. Jesus did not come to give us a new code of ethics. Much of what Jesus said had been said before. Jesus did not come to teach us new ideas about God. Jesus did not come to found a new religion to replace Judaism. Yes, Jesus taught us to love one another. Yes, Jesus came because God so loved the world that he gave his Son. Yes, we are saved, not by our own doings, but by faith. But, these verses follow Jesus' basic message, and are built upon the basic message.
Jesus came with a relatively simple message, a message for his time: Your subscription is about to expire, and it is time to renew, or you will miss out on the good news! Our Old Testament lesson this morning is from Jonah. The story of Jonah and the whale is about the need for "urban renewal." The city of Nineveh's subscription was about to expire, and God sent Jonah to warn them. Jonah went reluctantly and preached, "Nineveh, your subscription is about to expire,and it is time to renew!" Nineveh heeded Jonah's message and was saved.
Jesus appeared on the human scene with a similar message of renewal and hope, and it cost him his life. Some heard him and followed. Some were angered and took his life. Most ignored him, and the tense relations with Rome broke out in rebellion. The Israelites chose violence and terrorism to express their desire for independence, and it cost them their country. They lost their temple which has not yet been rebuilt. The Muslim Dome of the Rock now sits on the spot. They lost their holy city, Jerusalem, and they were dispersed. Jesus was right; their subscription was about to expire, and it did.
Jesus delivered his message, not in the spirit of harsh judgment, but in the spirit of compassionate love. Jesus was persistent. God doesn't give up easily. Just like the magazines we subscribe to, God doesn't give up. When a magazine subscription is about to expire, they send one renewal notice after another. Then they send letters indicating that this is absolutely the last opportunity to renew the subscription at a substantial savings. If the letters don't produce a result, then they telephone! They are persistent, so is Jesus.
Jesus is persistent because of the urgency. The message of Jonah and Jesus is the same today. They both would walk through our land and preach, "Your subscription is about to expire." Your subscription to clean air and water, your subscription to the natural resources, your subscription to life on this planet, is about to expire. You Americans do not own the land and resources to do with as you please! You have been granted a privilege to be a wealthy, favored nation, and that privilege is about to expire! America, your values and priorities are twisted. You interfere in the business of other nations, and support rebels like the Contras, rather than support the process of negotiation and peacemaking. America, you are headed for disaster with a monstrous national debt of nearly $2 1/2 trillion, an inflated military budget, and a staggering trade deficit. Japan has a trade surplus of $81 billion; we have a trade deficit of $185 billion. Something has got to give. Our subscription is about to expire. As a nation, our priorities are upside down, where money, where greed, is more important than people. A recent editorial in the Los Angeles Times stated, "Just before the stock market crashed, Forbes magazine announced that the number of billionaires in America had doubled in the past year. Just before the stock market crashed, Shasta County, California, closed its entire 10-branch library system for lack of money. Is there any question that something had gone wrong in America?"
Yes, something's wrong in America, and what about you? What subscription in your life is about to expire? What is the judgment on your life? Where are you headed? What are your priorities? What is more important to you--people or greed? What is happening in your relationships with other people, with your loved ones? This message is not one of harsh judgment, but a warning. The judgment is not administered by the strong, mighty arm of an angry, harsh God. If your subscription is about to expire, it is not because an angry God says so, but because of what you are doing to yourself. If you find yourself in some kind of a hell, it was essentially designed by you. Yes, those around you helped, and circumstances, sometimes beyond your control, contributed to your hell, but essentially, you built it. You choose your attitude. You determine your estrangements. You design the furniture for your hell, gather the brimstone, and set the fire yourself.
The hell which might be in the future for our world was designed by all of us. The hell to which our nation seems to be headed was built by all of us. But that path is not the only path. The decisions are not irrevocable. The future is not predestined and inevitable. In theological terms, we as a nation, we as a world, we as individuals, can create a heaven or a hell. We can choose between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of Satan. We can choose between good and evil, right and wrong. We have that privilege, and we have that power. The good news of the gospel is: wake up, don't continue to go through life blindly. Don't continue to be the victim of your decisions. Don't continue to pursue destruction. Wake up! Realize, recognize that your subscription is about to expire. And do something about it.
What do we do about it? Jesus is crystal clear. Jesus said, "Renew your subscription." Renew your subscription to life. Renew your subscription to salvation. Renew your subscription to a good life for everyone on this planet. Renew your subscription to a land of liberty and justice for all. Except Jesus didn't actually use the word "renew". His word was "repent." Renewing your subscription to the gospel, to the good news of Jesus Christ, is not a matter of sending in a few dollars; it isn't a matter of dropping a coin in the offering plate, or even trying to bribe God with good works. Renewing your subscription is a matter of repentance, of digging out the root of the problem, not just pulling the weed. When I weeded the garden as a child, I couldn't get by with just pulling off the top of the weed. "The weed will grow back," I was told. "Pull out the root as well. If it won't pull out, if the weed breaks off and leaves the root in the ground, then dig down and get it all." Repentance means to dig out the root.
Repentance means to turn around. Repentance means to make a clean break and change direction. Repentance means to turn your life from hell and turn it toward heaven, turn it towards God. Repentance means to orient your life to Jesus Christ, and not to things, or greed, or materialism, or even false patriotism. Repentance means to orient our nation towards what is right, what is just. Repentance means to make those changes necessary to put the concern of people first in our priorities, as our Constitution and our Declaration of Independence affirm. Repentance means to be willing to admit mistakes, accept yourself, quit pretending to be someone you're not, and turn yourself to Jesus Christ. Repentance means for you to be big enough to confess your sin, and ask God for forgiveness and a new chance.
Tony Campolo in his book, Who Switched the Price Tags? tells a beautiful story about a schoolteacher named Miss Thompson. Miss Thompson was a conscientious teacher who tried to treat all her students the same. There was one little boy, though, named Teddy, who was difficult even for her to like. Teddy was not interested in school. His schoolwork was poor. He was not an attractive, lovable child, and his attitude was no better. Miss Thompson felt resentment towards Teddy. There was something about him that irritated her, and she almost enjoyed giving him "Fs." Then she investigated Teddy's background. In the first grade he showed some promise but he had problems at home. In the second grade his mother fell seriously ill and Teddy started falling behind. In the third grade his mother died. By this time Teddy was tabbed as a slow learner. He fell further and further behind, and his father showed no interest in Teddy's lack of progress.
Christmas came and the students brought gifts to Miss Thompson. One of the gifts was a very crudely wrapped present from Teddy. Opening it in front of the other children, she discovered a gaudy rhinestone bracelet, with half the stones missing, and a bottle of cheap perfume. Sensing that the other children were beginning to smirk and giggle at the gift, Miss Thompson put on the bracelet and opened the perfume. "Isn't this bracelet beautiful? Doesn't this perfume smell lovely?" she asked the students. At the end of the school day, Teddy came to Miss Thompson's desk and said, "Miss Thompson, you smell just like my mother...and her bracelet looks real pretty on you, too. I'm glad you like my presents."
When Teddy left, Miss Thompson got down on her knees right there in the classroom, and asked God to forgive her for her attitude towards Teddy. Miss Thompson became a new teacher and Teddy became a new pupil. Several years later Miss Thompson received a letter from Teddy telling her he was graduating from high school second in his class. Four years later she received another letter from Teddy telling her he was graduating from college first in his class. Four years later there was another letter to inform her that the little guy who once presented her with a gaudy bracelet with half the rhinestones missing and a cheap bottle of perfume was now a medical doctor, was getting married, and would Miss Thompson be willing to sit in his mother's seat at the wedding? Miss Thompson repented and God saved not only her life, but the life of a lonely, rejected, discouraged little boy.
The situation was not hopeless. The process was in place for a little boy to become a failure, and for a schoolteacher to become callous and indifferent, but the outcome was not inevitable. Wherever your life is headed, wherever our nation is headed, the outcome is not inevitable. The subscription may be about to expire, but it can be renewed. Repentance--falling on our knees, admitting the situation, asking God for forgiveness and the power of the Holy Spirit--can open to us a new world, a new chance, the gift of the kingdom of God.
Will you renew your subscription?
© 1988 Douglas I. Norris