Power To Live
We celebrated Veterans' Day this past week. Will all veteran please stand. We thank you for your service, sometimes difficult, often heart breaking. Will the spouses of veterans please stand. You are not often recognized and thanked. Thank you for your devotion to our country. What a great country we have, and unique. From e-mail:
Only in America...can a pizza get to your house faster than an ambulance...
Only in America...are there handicap parking places in front of a skating rink...
Only in America...do people order double cheeseburgers, large fries, and a diet coke...
Only in America...do banks leave both doors open and then chain the pens to the counters...
Only in America...do we leave cars worth thousands of dollars in the driveway and leave useless things and junk in boxes in the garage...
Only in America...do we use answering machines to screen calls and then have call waiting so we won't miss a call from someone we didn't want to talk to in the first place...
And, to which we can now add. Where, but in America, can a professional wrestler be elected governor! Is this a great nation, or what!
Last year during the New England ice siege, near Bangor, Maine, two motorists were driving in opposite directions when they were stopped by a fallen tree across the road. They got out of their respective cars, commiserated, shared where each one needed to go and how frustrating their day was now going to be because they were unable to get where they were going, and then they TRADED CARS! They each got into the other car, made a U-turn, and presto, they were able to complete their journeys. That evening, they switched cars back again! Are Americans ingenious, or what!
But, not all is funny and well in the land of the free and the home of the brave. The spacious skies, fields of grain, and purple mountain majesties are not always beautiful. Recent news told us of a 14-year-old boy who beat and killed his 8-year-old neighbor girl and then tied her body to the bottom of his bed. Incredible! A young man--Matthew Shepard--was horribly tortured and left to die, hanging on a fence for 18 hours, because he was gay. At his funeral, so-called Christians, including their pastor, stood across the street from the church, picketing. They held signs which read, "God Hates Fags," and announcing to Matthew's family and friends that he was now in hell!
This is a great nation, but it is a nation which badly needs Jesus. We are a people who need Jesus. Two weeks ago, at a clergy meeting, a colleague reminded me of a story I shared in a devotional years ago, a story that he remembers and which still speaks to him. I've shared this before, but many of you are new to our church, so let me repeat it. When I was 18-years-old and a sophomore at Hamline University in St. Paul, Minnesota, the District Superintendent appointed me to serve as pastor of two rural churches, one in a small village and the other in open country. It wasn't long before I realized what I got myself into. My predecessor had a difficult time, especially in one of the churches. In fact, only three people came to church on his farewell Sunday!
One Saturday afternoon I visited a neighboring pastor of another denomination, an old man full of years and wisdom! I told him the situation and asked, "What do I, 18-years-old, wet behind the ears, with more courage than sense, preach to my elders? Why will they listen to me?" I can still see him, leaning back in his chair, folding his hands over his ample stomach, looking me squarely in the eyes, saying in his heavy Dutch accent, "Tell them about Yeesus! They won't dare pick a fight with Jesus!" I followed his advice. I had a wonderful time, and a very successful ministry in those two churches. My friend, Lee, told me two weeks ago, he sees me sitting in the balcony every Sunday he preaches, saying, "Tell them about Jesus."
I'm starting a sermon series this morning that will take us to Christmas. I'm going to tell you about Jesus. Invite those friends you've thinking of bringing to church. This will be a good series to introduce them to Jesus and our church.
Controversial Episcopal bishop John Shelby Spong in his excellent book, This Hebrew Lord, gives us a succinct picture of Jesus, p. 183,
Nearly two thousand years ago a man was born in an obscure village in a conquered, downtrodden country of the Roman Empire. He grew to maturity without ever leaving the land of his birth, a nation about the size of the state of Massachusetts. He was not learned by our standards; he spoke none of the great languages of the day, only Aramaic. He earned his living as a carpenter. His close associates were social outcasts, prostitutes, tax collectors, fishermen. He established a reputation as a teacher. Stories of strange power grew up around him. Finally, he involved himself in tense conflict with the religious hierarchy. They had him arrested, tried, sentenced, tortured, and executed. They thought they had finished with him. But from that life there emanated power, love, and life such as the world has never known.
During those first centuries following the resurrection, the question which fueled and propelled the church, which gave rise to controversies resulting in church councils and creeds, was the question: Who is Jesus? Was he a human like us? Or, was he a god in a man's body?
What those early Christians knew for certain was that through Jesus and his church, they found power to live. Even though many were slaves, they found a freedom in Christ that circumvented the chains of their bondage. They found the courage to proclaim their faith--their trust in this Jesus--even in the face of terrible persecution and martyrdom.
Those early Christians tried to find words and concepts to describe and define who Jesus is and what Jesus does. Even though human language and human thinking are inadequate, they are all we have to understand, assimilate, and share with others.
One of those early attempts to define Jesus was read in the Scripture lesson this morning, John 1:1-4, 14
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people...And the Word became flesh and lived among us.
Do you understand that? Even though these words are unintelligible to us, they made sense to the thinking people, the educated people of that day who revered philosophy and wisdom. Unlike our day, the wise and learned were respected and revered. The book of Proverbs, especially chapter 8, poetically lauds the majesty, the beauty, and the importance of wisdom. The Greeks revered "logos" which is translated as "Word." So important is the Word, that it seemingly has an existence of its own, an existence that goes clear back to creation itself.
John doesn't disagree with this veneration. John jumps in and affirms, "Yes, and the Word has now become flesh, has become a human being and walked in our midst. His name is Jesus."
What I like to learn from this passage is the importance of the Word and words. Genesis, chapter one, tells us that God spoke creation into being. "And God said..." and it was done. Such is the power of the Word.
All words have power. What comes out of our mouths is what is in our minds and hearts. Our words define who we are. Our words influence, affect, even determine our lives. Say "I'm dumb" too many times and you will be dumb. Say "I'm a child of the King" and your attitude, self-image, self-worth, confidence will change.
There is power in words, and most definitely, there is power in the name of Jesus. John 1:12, "To all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God." Through Jesus' name comes the power to become children of God, the power to live. Do not only believe in his name, but say his name. There is power in your words.
For those of you who say, "I don't know how to pray; I don't know what to say," say "Jesus." What else needs to be said? To pray "Jesus" is to say it all. Paul urges us to "Pray without ceasing." (1 Thessalonians 5:17) "How can I pray without ceasing?" you might ask. With every breath, say "Jesus." As you inhale deeply, breathe the word "Jesus," audibly or silently. Get in the habit and your unconscious mind will take over, and the name of Jesus will be your prayer with every breath.
There is power in the name "Jesus" . When the earthquake freed Paul and Silas from jail and frightened the jailer, who had been very impressed with their courage and faith, he cried, "What must I do to be saved?" Paul's answer? Simple, but profound, "Believe in Jesus." (Acts 16:30-31) That's all. Trust in Jesus. Romans 10:13, "Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved." "Saved" means to be in relationship with God, to live. The power to live comes by calling on the name of Jesus. Romans 10:9 gives us the two-step method: Believe and confess. Believe in your heart, and confess (that is, speak) with your mouth, and you will be saved. There is power in your words.
Tell them about Jesus! Jesus is the Word become flesh who gives power to live.
© 1998 Douglas I. Norris
© 1998 Douglas I. Norris