Chosen to Share the Good News

Romans 10:5-15 (NRSV)

Moses writes concerning the righteousness that comes from the law, that “the person who does these things will live by them.” But the righteousness that comes from faith says, “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’” (that is, to bring Christ down) “or ‘Who will descend into the abyss?’” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). But what does it say?

“The word is near you,
on your lips and in your heart”

(that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved. 11 The scripture says, “No one who believes in him will be put to shame.” 12 For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him. 13 For, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”

14 But how are they to call on one in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him? 15 And how are they to proclaim him unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”

The title of this sermon in the Chosen series is “Chosen to share the Good News.”  Before we can understand the Good News, we have to understand how good that news is.

Have you ever fallen victim to autocorrect?  It’s one thing to do it on your computer, but it’s an entirely different thing to do it on your phone.  For sure.  For example, your phones may auto-correct my name and give you the choices of “Marcie or Nancy.”

Mom to son: “Where are you?”
Son: “I’m having a little seizure.”
Mom: “Oh no! I’m calling 911 right now!”
Son: “No, mom! I meant I’m having a Little Caesar’s — I’m eating pizza!”

Guy to Friend: “How was the date?”
Friend: “Awesome! I killed her at the end.”
Guy: “That bad, eh?”
Friend: “No, I meant I kissed her. Stupid auto-correct!”

For any of us who have smart phones, we’ve been there.  One auto-corrected word can mean the difference between a great date or a life in prison!

The context for our passage in Romans is that Paul’s writing to a Roman church that’s struggling with a language disconnect between the Gentile Christians and the Jewish Christians.  You see, the Jewish Christians recently came back to Rome after being expelled by the emperor, Claudius and the Gentile Christians outnumbered them in the small house churches throughout the city.  Not only was miscommunication rampant and Paul wanted them to use a particular language and stop talking past each other.  Language is important.  Words are important.  They are powerful.  I used to have a button that had these words in big letters, “Button Your Lip” and in smaller letters, “Be quick to hear and slow to speak.”  Words can wound.  Words can show love.  Words can bring devastation.  Words can give life.  So it’s ever more important that Paul bridges the gap and gives the Roman Christians – Jews and gentiles alike – a common language.

I was with colleagues sharing a meal and someone asked me to explain the word “shade” because I had just used it in conversation.  Maybe I’ve been hanging with college students too long, but I thought “shade” had entered the mainstream because it was on primetime television.  By the way, I had to look up the word “fleek.”  I’m glad he asked me about it because that told me he was trying to understand.  We all have insider and outsider language.  We have generational language.  We have “church” language.  We often don’t notice it until someone brings it to our attention because they feel excluded. I can attest, it’s frustrating, when people don’t understand us, when we can’t explain effectively what we think clearly or we can’t find the right word.  Whether because we get tongue-tied or we’re fighting for the speaking stick, I think I’ll human beings yearn to be understood.

In her 2013 Commencement Address at Harvard Oprah Winfrey shares, “I have to say that the single most important lesson I learned in 25 years talking every single day to people, was that there is a common denominator in our human experience. Most of us, I tell you we don’t want to be divided. What we want, the common denominator that I found in every single interview, is we want to be validated. We want to be understood. I have done over 35,000 interviews in my career and as soon as that camera shuts off everyone always turns to me and inevitably in their own way asks this question “Was that okay?” I heard it from President Bush, I heard it from President Obama. I’ve heard it from heroes and from housewives. I’ve heard it from victims and perpetrators of crimes. I even heard it from Beyonce and all of her Beyonceness. She finishes performing, hands me the microphone and says, “Was that okay?” Friends and family, yours, enemies, strangers in every argument in every encounter, every exchange I will tell you, they all want to know one thing: was that okay? Did you hear me? Do you see me? Did what I say mean anything to you?”

Paul wants everyone on the same page to limit the misunderstandings and he reminds everyone in Romans chapters 1-3 that all of them are under slavery to sin and death, much more than slavery to a Verizon or Sprint contract, and all have fallen short of the glory of God.  In chapter 4 Paul talks about God’s covenant with Abraham that he may have descendants as the stars all over the world, drawing all nations to God, and through Moses gave Israel the law as to set God’s children apart.  In chapters 5-8, Paul points out that Israel had a problem keeping the law.  If you ever glanced at the Old Testament, you know it’s a constant spin cycle of the people disobeying God, God giving them multiple chances to turn back sending various prophets, they end up being in exile, and after a period of time God welcomes the people back.  And then it repeats and repeats.  Paul is making the case that the law wasn’t the ultimate solution to the world’s problems.  Paul says very rightly, that the law only pointed out how sinful we are not how to get out from it.  The law itself won’t save us, only faith in Christ and he points out the lineage of Christ that he was a good Jew as the bridge.  What Paul has been doing the entire time in Romans has been giving them a common language and that link was Jesus.

This is not to say, we fall into the pit of sinfulness or we don’t have to follow God’s commands, after all in Matthew 5:17, Jesus says, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.”  Paul never denies obedience to the law, but just checking off a set of rules is not what it’s all about.  The “righteousness of faith” he’s talking about, acknowledges that God came to earth, Emmanuel, to proclaim release of the captives and recovery of sight to the blind.  The fact that God sent God’s son Jesus to be one with us and because of his sacrifice our sins are forgiven and we have eternal life is really Good News.  Faith isn’t merely a set of rules, it’s a way of life.  Instead of auto-correct, it’s Christ-corrected as the Holy Spirit guides us in walking the way of Christ and it’s not just about being personally Christ-connected, but it’s sharing the Good News of Jesus with the whole world that the Great God of the Universe would pay attention to someone as insignificant as me and that that very God pursues me with an abundant love and wants a relationship with me is crazy, beautiful news.  Why wouldn’t I want to serve that kind of God?  The One who walks with us every step of the way.  The One who gives us nudges or God-things so we can tangibly see.  I’ll follow that God and seek to walk in the way of Jesus, knowing that grace can’t be earned, only trusted and believed in.

In verses 14 and 15 a series of 4 questions are asked, “14 But how are they to call on one in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him? 15 And how are they to proclaim him unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”

We have to share Jesus with the world.  God’s grace is not something we hoard because it’s a limited supply, it’s unending, unstoppable, and unlimited.  We all have a story of Christ’s redemption.  We may have several stories.  We have to know our story in order to share it and more yet, we have to be willing to claim our story, all the highs and all the lows, in order to risk being vulnerable enough to share it.

Donald Miller writes in A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, “We live in a world where bad stories are told, stories that teach us life doesn’t mean anything and that humanity has no great purpose.  It’s a good calling, then, to speak a better story.  How brightly a better story shines.  How easily the world looks to it in wonder.  How grateful are we to hear these stories, and how happy it makes us to repeat them.”  Many of y’all have told me that what you remember most about my sermons are the stories.  Stories have a way of piercing through all of the layers that we wear as armor to the soul.

Earlier in her Commencement address Oprah says, “As you heard this morning I was in the Miss Fire Prevention contest. That was when I was 16 years old in Nashville, Tennessee, and you had the requirement of having to have red hair in order to win up until the year that I entered. So they were doing the question and answer period because I knew I wasn’t going to win under the swimsuit competition. So during the question and answer period the question came “Why, young lady, what would you like to be when you grow up?” And by the time they got to me all the good answers were gone. So I had seen Barbara Walters on the “Today Show” that morning so I answered, “I would like to be a journalist. I would like to tell other people’s stories in a way that makes a difference in their lives and the world.”  And she sure did.

Mary Oliver writes, “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”  What will you do with your one wild and precious life?  Do you know yet?  Have you been living it?

Brennan Manning writes, “The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today Is Christians who acknowledge Jesus with their lips Then walk out the door and deny him by their lifestyle. That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable.”  It doesn’t have to be a perfect, beautiful image, carefully curated for social media consumption, but it has to be your one, true, authentic story.  If it’s fake, like those fake bags or watches, the world is going to know.  The world needs real Jesus followers, not afraid to get dirty, followers of Jesus, who sat with tax collectors and prostitutes and again and again choose the least of these:  the widow, the orphan, the immigrant, the paralyzed.  God can redeem all of your story.  God can redeem even the parts that you don’t want the world to see and give you the courage, peace, confidence and love for you to boldly proclaim it because you know who you are and more importantly Whose you are.

I kept thinking about the Matthew West song “Do Something” as I wrote this sermon.

I’m so tired of talking
About how we are God’s hands and feet
But it’s easier to say than to be
Live like angels of apathy who tell ourselves
It’s alright, “somebody else will do something”
Well, I don’t know about you
But I’m sick and tired of life with no desire
I don’t want a flame, I want a fire
I wanna be the one who stands up and says,
“I’m gonna do something”

If not us, then who
If not me and you
Right now, it’s time for us to do something
If not now, then when
Will we see an end
To all this pain
It’s not enough to do nothing
It’s time for us to do something

Have we done something?  Are we actively making the world a better place?  Are we actively helping people?  God calls us each to spread all the good we can in the world.  N. T. Wright says, “God is putting the world right, so God puts people right, so that they might be his right-putting people.” We have to show the world the Good News of Jesus Christ.  It’s not just good, it’s great.  We are set apart to share the beautiful, life giving Good News of Jesus Christ.  I’ll end with a passage from Colossians that is my prayer for you all.

Colossians 3:12-17 (NRSV)

12 As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. 13 Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. 14 Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. 15 And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful. 16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God. 17 And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”

Amen and amen.

Full text of Oprah’s Commencement Speech:  http://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2013/05/winfreys-commencement-address/

 

More or Less? Enough?

Do you ever compare yourselves to others?

I think we all do it at one point or another.  In some ways it gets better as you get older….or does it?  It seems like it’s mostly outward comparisons – looks, nice car, awesome clothes, a perfect plus one.  But then again it can also be inward comparisons.  That person is so much (funnier, smarter, more personable, more extroverted, more centered, more…) than I am.  Why do we see others as more and that naturally leading to us thinking that we are somehow less?

God gifts each of us in mighty ways and just because our “gift” isn’t the same as the next person’s, that doesn’t mean that it’s any less.

One of the texts for Sunday is Romans 13:8-14 and it speaks hugely to these desires of the flesh – this coveting – this jealousy.

There’s all sorts of thoughts that run through our heads on a daily basis.  For me today some have been pretty small like it’s a bad hair day and maybe I should actually get a hair cut, that’s not my feet smelling up Wesley are they, or I wish I wasn’t so old and didn’t have aches and pains.  Others strike to the heart…if only I could spend hours of leisure with my children so I can see how their first day of school went, one of my constants – I wish we had a yard even though I love our lovely town house so that our kids could play in the back, or that question that I hate coming up this time of year…the one about whether what I’m doing is good enough.

I don’t think it’s just pastors that feel this way.  I’m sure it’s many in the work place or any who begin the lovely comparison dance.  I love seeing other campus ministers post on facebook this time of year and it’s great being able to cheer them on and glean great ideas from them.  I like the fellowship building of that and the collegiality.  And although I truly am excited when things are going well and there are more folks coming to Christ and finding that essential community, if I were completely honest with myself, this also often brings a list of questions and worries to mind as well.  Am I working hard enough?  Do we have enough students?  Are we going to have enough supporters or money coming in?  Is the job enough to count as ministry?  Why can’t we just rejoice with those and not have it automatically mean that something about us is less or not enough?

That’s the thing about ministry sometimes.  We think that it’s all about us.  Are we cool enough?  Hipster enough (don’t get me started Mac people)?  Funny enough?  Spiritual enough?  Know our Bible backwards and forwards enough?  Do we have enough activities?  Do we have a big enough crowd?  Are we marketing ourselves well?  It can drive you crazy.

Reality though is that God has gifted each of us and we’re not going to be all things to all people.  Wesley is going to always be a place that emphasizes community and justice and following Christ – not just nice and clean but down and dirty.  It is what it is.  Narcie is not ever going to have unlimited energy, a nice and witty thing always to say, perfect patience with everyone even in the most random of requests or the poof of suddenly being turned into a hot male with skinny jeans, muscle shirts, the strategic tattoo and gelled hair.  It ain’t happening.

I’m me.  No less than anyone else.  But all the more because of the One who has called us each by name.  I don’t have to feel unworthy or ashamed or less than.  I just have to trust the One who made me and created me as me.  I am enough.  You are enough.  We are plenty.  Isn’t a theology of abundance that much more life-giving than a theology of scarcity?  It’s not that someone got our gift and since they took it, we can’t have it.  It’s not that someone is doing so super well that there’s not enough for us.

We are enough.  As Romans 13 verse 12 says, “Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light…”  May we lay down the words of darkness that creep into our heads and our hearts and may we put on the armor of light that protects us and surrounds us and sees us through to the other side.

Andrew Ripp – You Will Find Me (speaks so well to these feelings – great song!)

 

Mind Your Own Plate

You know those people who think they need to comment on everything and that they’re obviously the most brilliant people in the world and you just MUST know their opinion because it will change your universe?  Maybe it’s one of your parents, maybe the little old lady at church, maybe your next door neighbor that loves to comment on your gardening, or maybe it’s even your pastor that thinks they have it all figured out and that you must be brainless or oblivious.

I know some of these folks are sincerely trying to be helpful.  Some are doing it out of love.  Some are doing it because they genuinely care what happens to you and they want you to have the happiest life possible.

Others are being nit-picky, patronizing, and annoying.

We used to tell my not very quiet grandmother – “Mind your own plate.”  You may think to yourself, who would talk to their grandmother that way?  True statement.  But we’re a mouthy family and Lord knows that if any outside observer saw all of us interacting they would think we’re nuts or a real life crazy reality show unscripted.  It’s not that we didn’t want her love or care or concern, but we could do without the constant commentary and opinion.  Constant.  Love her and miss her but I find myself wanting to give people “Mind your own plate” checks all over the place.  We actually kidded with her that we were going to cross-stitch it and hang it in her kitchen.

You see, there’s a balance to offering one’s opinion to someone or giving advice or making random commentary about someone’s life choices or even day-to-day living.  You need to do it in love and you need to give that person a little respect.  If you think they’re a moron and you’re giving the advice or the telling what to do from a place of arrogance or superiority or just bossy-ness, than shush.  Don’t even say anything.  People can see through that stuff.  And no one likes to be talked down to.  No one wants to be that “dumb” person that doesn’t get it.  And who do you think you are to think that you have all the answers to the questions of the universe?

Did Jesus give all the answers?  Did he walk up to each of the disciples and dissect their every problem and shortcoming and say here you go, fix it?  Did he go around criticizing everything around him?  Nope.  He did speak a prophetic word when people needed it.  He did speak the truth in love.  He did have a deep enough relationship with people that he could do that with sincerity and not come off like a jerk.

Maybe this is a bit of a rant but particularly at the start of a semester when people are sizing one another up and making judgments, maybe we should think twice about the assumptions we’re making.  We all have our stuff that we deal with and if we’re to be community in the world, than we share with each other and want to get to know one another better.  So let’s give a little grace.  Not frowns or unwarranted disapproval.  But treating each other in love.

One of the Wesley interns posted Romans 12:9-10 the other day on facebook and I think it sums up what I’m trying to say, “Don’t just pretend to love others. Really love them. Hate what is wrong. Hold tightly to what is good. 10 Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other.”  Honor each other.  Don’t cut each other down.  Don’t make those comments under your breath that don’t build anyone up.  Don’t make assumptions.  Give one another the benefit of the doubt and ask yourself – in all seriousness – what would Jesus do?