Suit Yourselves

(I would like to post this sermon from October 2004. It seems applicable today. Sadly.)

“Suit Yourselves”

2 tim 4-3 ears tickled

2 Timothy 4:1-5  –  October 17, 2004

Have you seen the comics lately? I’m sure everyone here is familiar with the comics section of the newspapers–the daily comics in black and white, and the Sunday comics in full color–even if you don’t read them regularly.

Can you picture this scene from the comics? A single panel, showing two business men by an office water cooler. One looks like a boss, and he says to the other, “If there’s one thing I hate, it’s a yes-man. Isn’t that right, Baxter?”

We chuckle, because we all are familiar with that kind of attitude. I’m sure we can recognize that tendency in other guises, other forms. Getting some yes-man to tell us what we want to hear . . . not what’s good for us to hear, not what we need to hear, but instead what we want to hear.

Many people have a yearning to hear good news today. With all the worry and anxiety, trouble and danger in this modern world, people are actively searching for good news. Many don’t know where to start. Many are searching in all the wrong places. Commercialism and consumerism are rampant, with many people accumulating more and more stuff and always needing to get something else, something more, something new. Oftentimes, these people are trying to fill a hole deep inside.

Sometimes, some people search for thrills, for that adrenaline rush, for some kind of excitement in life. It doesn’t matter if thrills come from drag racing, gambling, or risky behavior, like a wild bender at the local bar. Regardless of how hard people try or how much they want a good time, something is lacking.

Other people turn inward, searching for spiritual fulfillment. There are many ways of experiencing some kind of spirituality, like through the martial arts, or through meditative practices. Fung shui, the Chinese method of arranging furniture (and other things in this material world) is an attempt to try to find balance and proper order in this life. Sure, doing an inside job, concentrating on the inside of ourselves is a great place to start, but . . . searching for inward, spiritual fulfillment on our own just won’t work. Anyway, not without God.

We have the assurance, from our scripture passage today, that Timothy had the opportunity to know God. He had the opportunity to read some of the same texts we have to read today! Timothy was instructed, from the time he was very young, in the way of salvation through Jesus Christ. His mother and grandmother were both women of faith, and Timothy grew up in a believing household, a household that put God first.

As we read further in our passage today, we find there are people who will not put up with sound doctrine. They will not even want to listen to the truth! Even when the truth is as clear as day, and presented to them in a straight-forward manner, still, some will turn away and disregard the truth.

You probably are all familiar with that modern phenomenon–tele-evangelists, some of whom are worthy people of God. However, there are those who are frauds. Charlatans. Fakes. Preaching not of sound doctrine or biblical teaching, but instead telling their listeners exactly what they –the listenerswant to hear.

Are you familiar with the health, wealth and happiness gospel, which focuses on only a few isolated passages from scripture? Most renditions of this false gospel tell the listeners that God wants us all to be healthy, wealthy and happy! All the time! And even shows us the example of Job–why, didn’t God give back to Job everything that was taken away? And in good measure, overflowing, in superabundance? But . . . and this is a big but here . . . we must have faith! And if anything is wrong in our lives, or if our house burns down, or if we get sick, or if someone we love loses a job, or if our child gets in trouble, or . . . or . . . or . . . you get the picture. Well, then, we just didn’t have enough faith, that’s our problem. Oh, and we didn’t send enough money to the tele-evangelist, either. So, God apparently must be withholding His blessing because of our lack of faith and our stinginess.

Not so!! No way!! This is a perverse, yet skillful, twisting of the truth! I bet you can see parts of the true Gospel here in what I’ve just described, but the rest is so skillfully bent and twisted!! It sounds so similar to the Good News of God we have come to know and to understand and to love. Like, and yet unlike. The true Gospel tells us that God does indeed want to bless us abundantly! And, it is an inside job! God wants to change us, to help us change ourselves, to make us new creations from the inside out, through faith in Jesus Christ.

This twisted health, wealth and happiness gospel is just one of the horrible perversions that is out there, on television, on the radio, on the Internet, just waiting to snare unsuspecting folks, and especially people who want to turn away from the truth in God’s Word.

What did our scripture passage today say about this sort of people? It mentions that they have “itching ears.” This is a Greek phrase that can be translated several ways–another way is “having their ears tickled.” In other words, having the preacher tell you exactly what you want to hear! These people with the itching ears, who wanted nice, warm, soft, fuzzy things, nonthreatening, reassuring things preached to them from the pulpit, these people turned their backs on the truth of God’s Word and of sound doctrine.

These rebellious people with the itching ears had an agenda–and that was to hear only what they wanted to hear, at all times. None of the challenging words, none of the admonishing words, none of the emotional words of Scripture. This is another form of idolatry–putting themselves first, putting God aside as an afterthought. You know the attitude–me, me, me! I’m the most important person around here! Everything needs to go my way! Nobody else counts!

As I was thinking and praying about this text over these past days, it came to me–what would Calvin say? John Calvin was one of the foremost theologians in the Reformed tradition, the tradition we as Presbyterians follow and adhere to. What would Calvin say about these false teachers, preaching a “health, wealth and happiness” gospel, or any other sort of false gospel, for that matter?

I would like to give you some background about me, since I am still new around here. In my early 20’s, I had a strong sense of God’s power and presence in my life. I read all kinds of books on bible and theology. One summer, I especially remember reading Calvin’s Institutes, his great systematic presentation of the Christian faith. I said an internal “yes!” to the biblical and theological concepts as presented by Calvin, and since that time, my personal theology began travelling down a Reformed path in earnest.

Since that time, I have always had a great appreciation for the great number of writings that John Calvin left to us. And so, it is natural for me to wonder, what would Calvin say? How would he deal with these false teachers, leading people astray? Checking the Institutes, I find that Calvin spoke strong words against these false teachers, saying that they, in fact, pose the greatest danger to the church! These false teachers take the lead! They lead people away from true scripture and sound doctrine, and are responsible for bringing in destructive heresies!

But . . . that’s not what we learned. That’s not what Timothy learned. We have the “sacred writings that are able to instruct us for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.” We have the opportunity to come into a relationship with Jesus Christ. We have the Good News, in and through Jesus Christ our Lord. How wonderful, how awesome, and how sobering that Jesus entrusted us with the message of His Good News.

 

Now what? I’ve been teaching the adult Sunday school class here for several weeks, and I’ve said this phrase–now what?–each week as I’ve taught. The different New Testament letters do indeed tell us definite things about doctrine, about theology . . . but then . . . what do we do with all of this information? How do we put it into practice? How do we live the Christian life? Now what, in other words?

I consider the commands in this passage to be good advice to anyone wanting to follow Christ more nearly. We are to proclaim the message. Communicate the Good News! In whatever way we can.

This command may give some people pause. How can  I  preach the Good News? Am I supposed to go to some cable television station and get on the air as yet another tele-evangelist? Or how about standing out on a street corner, preaching with a megaphone? Both of these are perfectly valid ways of proclaiming God’s Good News, but I don’t think most of us here in this church could ever see ourselves doing either of these things. But there are other ways to proclaim the message.

Preach the Gospel. Proclaim the message. Every believer in Jesus Christ is told this! Another way of thinking about it is . . . telling what God has done in your life. What has God done for you? How has God made a difference in your life? How has God made a difference in mine? What new things have you and I learned from the Lord lately? What an opportunity it is to share these things with others, with our friends, with those who might not know God in a personal way.

Do we need advanced degrees in divinity or theology to do this? To share what God has done for us? No!! Oftentimes, we are excited to tell people about other things, like who won the latest ball game, or about the neighbor next door spraining her ankle, or what exciting story we just heard on the news. Why can’t I tell people about Jesus, and what He’s done for me?

 I  can tell about answers to prayer I’ve gotten recently–and I have gotten some exciting ones! And if anyone wants to hear about them, I’d be happy to tell you after the service. I can tell about God’s faithfulness in my busy, hectic life. I can praise God for helping me to walk the Christian walk, one day at a time.

Thank God we have been given this Good News! What a opportunity! What a thing to celebrate! Praise God, we have been granted salvation through faith in Jesus Christ. That’s truly something to celebrate. That’s truly Good News to share.

Alleluia, Amen.

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2019: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!

God’s Abundance

“God’s Abundance”

John 2-8 Miracle Wedding at Cana Coptic icon

John 2:8 – January 17, 2016

Weddings are so often a joyful time! Busy, yes. Stressful, yes. But joy-filled, too!

Have you ever known a wedding where something unexpected happened? I mean, a mistake happened, or something just went plain wrong? These are just a few things that actually happened to a real-life pastor, the Rev. Dr. Alyce McKenzie.

  • The groom and best man got to the church on time, but they forgot to bring the suit for the 6-year-old ring bearer.
  • The matron of honor had surgery a little too recently to be standing for a long time and collapsed during the vows.
  • The pastor got the time wrong and showed up an hour late for the wedding.
  • People on the guest list didn’t bother to rsvp for the reception, but showed up anyway, assuming there would be enough food and drink for them. And there wasn’t. [1]

This last one happened at the commentator’s daughter’s wedding a few years ago. Can you imagine what kinds of consternation this might cause at a wedding? Surprise? Frustration? Embarrassment?

Imagine that wedding in the town of Cana, at the very beginning of the ministry of Jesus. It doesn’t so much matter when the wedding was celebrated, then or now. An awful problem, no matter where or when. Except, even more so in the Middle East, where hospitality is such an important, foundational part of life.

Today, we know how important it is to offer guests something to eat or drink when they come to our homes for a visit. Think of that, and then multiply it. Times ten, and even more. I suspect not only many of the local townspeople were there, but also friends and relatives from near-by towns. We read in the Gospel record that the Rabbi Jesus was also there, with His disciples. And, His mother was invited, too. Large crowd of people!

Reminding everyone, in the first century, Jewish custom held that most any wedding would be an event of celebration for several days. Our Scripture passage today shows a wealthy Jewish family—with a number of servants and a household steward.

Imagine the huge amount of time and the money that went into a celebration of that size. Plus, the logistics! We read that the family provided extravagant feasting for days. In the case of today’s Scripture, if there were any miscalculation or lack in provisions in food or drink, not only the bride and groom but also their families would most likely suffer great humiliation. And what if—God forbid—something should go very wrong? What then? The surprise, the frustration, the embarrassment that potentially could happen at that wedding celebration in Cana.

John begins his narrative in the middle of things. He opens the scene on the third day of the wedding feast. The party is in full swing! And it is a party. Huge celebration.

The miracles in John’s gospel are called signs; they show everyone Jesus the Son of God, and His Godly power, might and glory. As commentator Nancy Rockwell said, John’s signs deal with ordinary human things, set in the course of human events. Like, a wedding feast. [2] And the Son of God, the Divine Word made flesh, is human, too! He enjoys Himself at a big party, with His friends and family.

We aren’t sure, since the Gospel writer does not say. Perhaps Jesus’s mother Mary is related to the family, or is good friends with one or more family members. Regardless, she is concerned about the situation. “Weddings epitomize the fact that even the best planned and most auspicious of human scenarios are imperfect, flawed, and lacking. Something always goes wrong. Something is always askew. It is the role of the mother of Jesus to express that reality and to look expectantly (I imagine) in the direction of her Son.” [3]

His mother Mary comes to her Son—I suspect quietly. “When the wine was gone, Jesus’ mother said to him, ‘They have no more wine.’” What’s to be done? This is a huge problem, and a terrible embarrassment to both families! Talk about public humiliation! Mary knows very well what is going on. So, she goes to Jesus for assistance.

When we have problems, or embarrassment, or difficulty today, how do we handle it? Do we keep it to ourselves? How about sweeping awkward problems under the rug? Or do we do what Mary did? Do we go to Jesus?

Our commentator Nancy Rockwell says, “Consistent with the other signs in John’s gospel, and in keeping with John’s exact words, would be this: Mary cannot stand by and watch an injustice, will not watch the groom and his bride be disgraced;  she does not want their marriage celebration to have a lasting shame as its memory. And in response to her compassion for them Jesus does what Mary, in her famous song in Luke’s gospel proclaimed:  he fills the hungry with a good thing.  He replenishes the wine.” [4]

Yes, I could tell you about the expression Jesus uses to address His mother—“Woman,” which can be a term of respect. I could talk about the way Mary sidles up to the servants and tells them “Do whatever he tells you.” But, instead, I want to focus on the large stone jars that Jesus used. These were six large containers of water with anywhere from twenty to thirty gallons apiece. There was a large crowd gathered at the party—or, banquet. Jewish ceremonial tradition demanded that there be a large amount of water nearby for observant Jews to wash ceremonially before they ate.

Jesus knew all about this custom, and He told the servants to fill the jars. Let’s say there were twenty gallons in each one. That was one hundred twenty gallons of water, just waiting!

As Nancy Rockwell said so well, Jesus responded to His mother’s compassion for her friends. Jesus replenished the wine! Notice He did not shake His finger at the crowd for enjoying some wine. Neither did Jesus sneak out the back door, not wanting to have anything to do with such a “shameful happening.” Imagine, not having enough wine for a big, multi-day celebration like this!

Instead, Jesus replenished the wine. Over one hundred gallons of it! He allowed the party, the feasting, the celebration to continue. He stepped into potential humiliation and family embarrassment at a significant event in the town of Cana. Jesus transformed it into something abundant.

Jesus worked a miracle! Another way of looking at it is that God abundantly provided for this situation at the wedding party. God reached out and touched this event, transforming it into something miraculous. Jesus transformed the potential injustice and embarrassment of these families into something wonderful.

I remember another situation, another place, another time, where injustice, frustration and embarrassment were gradually transformed into something amazing. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and his words, and his actions? Transformed our country through the miracles of what was accomplished through the civil rights marches, through Dr. King’s earthshaking speeches and sermons. What a transformation, taking something hurtful and potentially embarrassing, and transcending the flawed and faulty world.

Thank God! God’s Son saw fit to provide for this family situation at the wedding. Jesus can provide for us when we get into embarrassing situations, or difficult situations. Let’s thank Jesus for His love and care for each one of us. For reaching out and giving abundantly from God’s overflowing resources.

Amen, alleluia!

 

[1] http://www.patheos.com/Progressive-Christian/Wedding-Mishaps-Alyce-McKenzie-01-14-2013

[2] http://www.patheos.com/blogs/biteintheapple/cana-an-unexpected-time/ Nancy Rockwell

[3] http://www.patheos.com/Progressive-Christian/Wedding-Mishaps-Alyce-McKenzie-01-14-2013

[4] http://www.patheos.com/blogs/biteintheapple/cana-an-unexpected-time/ Nancy Rockwell

@chaplaineliza

Suggestion: visit me at my sometimes-blog: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind .  Thanks!