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Say No By Saying Yes
February 28, 1999

MATTHEW 4:1-11

It's not easy saying "No." Especially today when our culture teaches us that it is our right to get anything we want and to do anything we want, it is not easy saying "No" to our own wants and desires, not easy saying "No" to our children, not easy teaching our children to say "No."

Willie Nolte, pastor of the First Baptist Church in Fresno, tells of a counseling session he had when he was pastor in Santa Cruz. A single parent mother brought in her two teen-age daughters for family counseling. At one point, the older daughter stood up, screamed at her mother, and stormed out of the pastor's office. The distraught mother threw up her hands and said, "I don't know what it's going to take to hold this family together." At that moment, the 1989 earthquake shook Santa Cruz. The mother and younger daughter ducked under a table, and the frightened older daughter ran into the room and threw herself into her mother's arms. Pastor Willie comments, "Am I a great counselor or what?"

Most of the time we can't count on earthquakes to save us, We have to rely on less dramatic solutions. Let me offer two this morning. First, let your No be No. Be consistent. Pity the child who has wishy-washy parents, parents who say "No" one day and "Yes" the next; or parents who give in, who allow themselves to be worn down. Let your no be no.

"No, you may not run into the street for your ball."

"No, you may not reach for the steaming pot on the stove."

"No, you may not have candy until you've eaten your lunch, especially the vegetables."

"No, your whining and tantrums are not going to change my mind." As someone asked, "What is there about no you don't understand?"

"No, a thirteen-year old may not stay at the mall until it closes and then ride the bus home."

"No, you may not sleep in through Sunday School and Worship."

"No, you may not use drugs or alcohol or be sexually active."

"No, you may not talk back or show disrespect to your parents or anyone else." No! Let your no be no.

Secondly, to help you say "No" and to teach your children to say "No" for themselves, say no by saying yes. Following his baptism, Jesus began his mission on this earth by going off by himself into the wilderness to get clarity and direction for his mission. When we seriously look inside ourselves to discover who we really are and what God put us on this earth to do, the devil is right in there tempting, luring, enticing us to be less than what we can be, and to do what we think we want to do instead of what God wants us to do. Jesus was not immune from those subtle, tempting, alluring songs of the devil.

The devil is clever. To Jesus, the devil said, Be a miracle worker. Throw yourself down from the temple; show them how you can defy the law of gravity. If you want people to follow you, turn stones into bread; feed them and they will follow you. Look how popular you will be. You can be rich. You can own the whole world, you can rule the world. Worship me, whispered the devil. Jesus was tempted with popularity, possessions, and power, temptations that still are active. How tempted we all are to be powerful, rich, and popular!

How did Jesus handle the temptations? How did Jesus say "No"? He quoted scripture. In each instance, he answered the devil with a verse of scripture. And each scripture he quoted put him on God's side. "One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God." "Do not put the Lord your God to the test." And, "Worship the Lord your God, and serve only Him." Jesus said "No" to the devil by saying "Yes" to God. Jesus said "No" to obeying the devil by saying "Yes" to obeying God. Jesus said "No" to the devil by saying "Yes" to the mission God had sent him to this earth to do, a mission which would have been compromised, even destroyed, by using the tactics the devil tempted him to use.

Say no by saying yes. In other words, we can say "No" and teach our children to say "No" by seeing the vision of a greater good, seeing the larger picture. We can teach our youth to say "No" to pre-marital sex by saying "Yes" to marriage and family, by saying "Yes" to love for and loyalty to their future spouse.

You can say "No" to drugs by saying "Yes" to clean living.

You can say "No" to fat and chocolates by saying "Yes" to the vision of a lean, strong, healthy body.

You can say "No" to revenge by saying "Yes" to forgiveness.

You can say "No" to racism by saying "Yes" to love.

You can say "No" to oppression by saying "Yes" to justice.

You can say "No" to crankiness by saying "Yes" to kindness.

You can say "No" to temptation by saying "Yes" to discipline and self-control.

We've all been shocked by the murder of James Byrd, Jr. who was dragged behind a pickup. His sister, Mary Nell Verrett, said,

"People may well expect that my family and I are filled with hate and fear. Here's the truth: My brother would have wanted the world to grow from this, and I think it will. Our family has no use for destructive hate. We have done our best to communicate a message my brother would have wanted the world to know: We are all here to stay. It is just as well we learn to live together as one community."

His family says "No" to hatred and fear by saying "Yes" to the vision of living together as one community.

Pope John Paul II stirred again the waters of controversy during his visit to St. Louis. Even though polls show that a majority of American Catholics support the death penalty, the pope not only preaches against the death penalty but he persuaded the governor of Missouri to commute the death sentence of Darrell Mease. It did not matter to the pope that Mease had been convicted of a triple murder and had not shown remorse. I must respect the pope for his consistency. By saying "Yes" to life in all circumstances, the pope says "No" to abortion, assisted suicide and the death penalty. Unlike many others who are against abortion but are in favor of executing them once they are born, the pope is consistent in saying "No" by saying "Yes" to life.

More than 600 law school graduates were taking the State Bar exams in the Pasadena Convention Center when a 50-year-old man taking the test suffered a heart attack. Only two of the 600 test takers stopped to help him. John Leslie and Eunice Morgan administered CPR until paramedics arrived. Citing policy, the test supervisor refused to allow the two additional time to make up for the 40 minutes they spent helping the victim. The State Bar's senior executive for admissions backed the decision stating, "If these two want to be lawyers, they should learn a lesson about priorities." A dilemma: would you say "No" to helping someone in need by saying "Yes" to the rules; or would you say "No" to the rules by saying "Yes" to someone in need?

Judith Stone, pastor of the United Methodist Church in Saratoga, was a fearful child. She had trouble sleeping at night. She was afraid of dying. Her heart would pound, terror would rise. Her parents tried to calm her but she was sure they couldn't comprehend her terror. She was sure no one else was afraid of dying. Fortunately, in her Sunday School room there was a picture of Jesus. He was a radiant brown--brown hair, brown skin, pink-brown cheeks. There was a lamb across his shoulders. It looked safe and happy on Jesus' shoulders. She began to identify with the lamb. She began to feel safe and happy with Jesus. She felt Jesus was with her and would take care of her, so she could relax, be a child, and enjoy life. Judith said "No" to her fear and terror by saying "Yes" to Jesus.

When faced with the necessity of saying "No", look at the larger picture, the greater good; look at Jesus and say "No" by saying "Yes."

© 1999 Douglas I. Norris