For the Glory of Christ
"Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
be acceptable to you, O Lord, my strength and my redeemer."
"For the Glory of Christ"
(Hebrews 5:5-10; John 12:20-33)
Maybe you've had a similar experience. There was a mother who asked her two and 1/2 year old daughter: "Would you like an ice cream sundae?" The daughter got real upset and replied, "No...I want ice cream now." (1)
Then some time back, in the comic strip The Ryatts, the little boy, Winky is sitting on the couch, Mom comes in and says, "Winky, your socks don't match." Winky looks at his socks and then says, "I tried to find some...but none of the socks in the drawer belong to the same family." (2)
Sometimes family life is like the first story. No matter what we say, we're misunderstood. Sometimes family life is like the second story. Sometimes we don't feel like we match with the family God has given us. There are days when you wake up and wonder if everyone else in the family hasn't been taken over by some alien life form. You feel like you don't belong.
But most of the time family life is great. It's great to belong to a family. It's great to know there are people who care about you and people who love you. Oh, at times, family life is challenging. "Family life teaches you loyalty, patience, understanding, perseverance, ....and a lot of other things you wouldn't need if you'd stayed single." (3) Seriously, family and family life are very important to each of us.
A recent national survey asked the question: "What do you enjoy doing most in your spare time?" The answer, from seventy four percent of the people surveyed, was "spending time with family and friends." (4)
So what does all this talk about family have to do with today's scripture? None of the passages seem to directly mention family, yet they do talk about the relationship Jesus had with God and with the world. Hebrews 5:8 says, "Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered." Jesus was the Son of God, yet he didn't come to lord it over the world. Jesus was the Son of God but he came to bring glory to God through being God's servant. And I believe that's a model for both the family and especially for the Church.
I. JESUS IS LORD OF ALL:
A. JESUS IS LORD OF ALL. We begin with that affirmation. Jesus, the Son of God, is Lord of all--Jews, Christians, rich and poor, righteous and unrighteous, sick or healthy. No one is excluded. All of us are equal in God's sight. And that makes a difference. Being Lord of all. Being the Son of God, Jesus could have used all the powers at his disposal to bring about the conversion of the world. He could have wowed us with miracle after miracle after miracle. Instead he did only enough to show us who He really was and the power at his disposal. And rather than use the powers of all creation, Jesus chose to show us just how much God loves us through submission and suffering and obedience. Jesus chose the least powerful thing of all, the cross, and turned it into the most powerful symbol of all. Jesus IS Lord of all. Because Jesus is the Son of God and equal to God and yet was obedient to God in bearing the cross for our salvation, that makes a difference and that difference became the model for the Church.
When describing the early Christians to the Emperor Hadrian, Aristides wrote: "They love one another. They never fail to help widows; they save orphans from those who hurt them. If they have something, they give freely to the person who has nothing; if they see a stranger, they take him home as a brother or sister in the spirit, the Spirit of God."
The work and ministry of Jesus became the model for the work and ministry of the Church. The reason some people in the Church refer to one another as brother so and so and sister so and so is because the family was seen as the model for the life of the Church. Paul refers to us as brothers and sisters in Christ. In Galatians Paul refers to us as "the family of faith." We're said to belong to the family of God. Peter in his first letter, chapter 2:17, writes: "Honor everyone. Love the family of believers. Fear God." In Matthew 12:50 Jesus says: "whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother."
B. I could go on and on with passages which refer to us as sons and daughters of God or the family of God. We in the Church are learning, growing in our faith and trying to do God's will. In my book, that makes us family. As family we can look to Christ for guidance and as a role model for our relationships within our families at home and for our relationships within the church.
Jesus wanted us to know that God is like a loving parent. It is within the family of God that we also get our values. It is within the family of God that we draw our support when we venture out into the world. It is God's family that should be the ultimate place we turn for love. "Once we were no people, but now we are God's people." That's who we are, we are God's people. We are the Church, the family of God and that makes a difference in how we treat each other.
II. STICK TOGETHER:
A. One of the characteristics of a strong family is that it sticks together, no matter what the situation, even in the tough times.
Picture the scene. A wife lovingly picks a daisy and begins playing that old game of "He loves me" "He loves me not" as she pulls off each petal. Unfortunately she ends on 'He loves me not" just as her husband walks in the door. The wife immediately turns on the dumbfounded husband and says, "Well, frankly, I'm not too wild about you, either."
We need to realize that there are going to be times in the life of this family known as the Church, when we're not going to be wild about each other. And that's OK. But we don't give up on each other. And we're called to act in love towards each other even though we disagree. We do this, not to glorify ourselves but as Christ did, to glorify God. That's our purpose in all that we do in the Church, to bring glory to God and to act out of the same love which was shown to us. Love is the acid test of our faith. If we do not care about others in our fellowship or family of faith, then our faith is meaningless.
B. Sometimes family life can get hectic. Some pretty rough times can come up over night. Our whole world can fall apart in a split second. There are so many problems facing our world and our children and families today that it's frightening. But that's the way it has been in every generation. The philosopher Thucydides wrote his observation of the five major problems during the time of Christ: "1) Fear that superpowers would draw the world into conflict; 2) Divorce and the breakdown of the family; 3) Children not showing respect for elders and the wisdom of the previous generation; 4) Political corruption; 5) Potholes in the streets."
That sounds just like now doesn't it. The only two things not on the list are gang violence and drugs. There are a lot of things that threaten family life today. The storms of life can swoop in unexpectedly and wreak havoc. But the mark of a healthy family is that healthy families ride the storms out together.
A fisherman was once in his boat off the coast of Alaska where the tides vary up to 25 feet. The tide was going out fast and he was too close to the shore. His boat got stuck on the rocky ocean bottom. It was rocking back and forth and would break a part shortly, destroying his whole livelihood.
A fellow fisherman further out to sea saw his plight. Without hesitation, he drove his boat alongside the mired boat and threw lines to the other boat, lashing them together catamaran fashion so that both boats could ride out the low tide together without rocking back and forth. When high tide returned, they could both back off to safer, deeper water and go their separate ways.
As the Church, as the family of God, following the ministry of our Savior, we're call to be willing to lash ourselves to others who are in distress and ride out the storm with them so that they might know that God is alive in the world and acting in their lives. So that they might know the love and help of God through us.
III. CALLED TO CARE:
A. The Church is a family. And that's a unique relationship. We're not a club. You don't have to pay a membership or initiation fee and monthly dues like at the country club. We're not a fraternity or sorority where you have to be voted in. The one who bought your membership gave the highest possible price, His life so that you could belong. All you have to do is accept what He did for you. We're not a social organization, though we do some social things together. Instead we're family. And as family, we're called to care about one another. We're called to care about each other's needs and welfare. We're called to care about each other's feelings.
Some of the Baseball fans might remember the name Larry Doby. Doby was one of baseball's finest hitters. Maybe you remember the story of Doby's entrance into major league baseball.
Larry Doby was the first African-American to play for an American League team. The year was 1947. Doby was a promising rookie for the Cleveland Indians. However, he didn't look very promising during his first time at bat. He was tense and nervous. He swung at three pitches and missed each of them badly. His first time at bat in the major leagues with hundreds of eyes watching and he didn't get within a foot of the ball. With his head down, he slowly walked back to the dugout. He picked out a seat on the end of the bench and there his rested his head in his hands.
A player by the name of Joe Gordon was on that same Cleveland team. Joe was an outstanding second baseman. He batted right after Doby. Gordon had a good record batting against the pitcher who was on the mound that day. But something quite extraordinary was about to happen--the stuff of baseball legend. Joe Gordon went up to the plate and missed three pitches in a row--each of them by at least two feet. Then he walked slowly to the end of the bench and sat down next to Larry Doby. Then Joe Gordon slowly put his head in his hands and became Doby's partner is despair.
Now the question is, "did Joe Gordon deliberately strike out that day?" There's been a lot of speculation but we will never know for sure. However, it is interesting to note that from that day on, every time Larry Doby went out onto the field he first picked up Joe Gordon's glove and tossed it to him.
You see, that's family. That's caring that some one else succeeds. That's caring for someone else's feelings. That's being a servant and being obedient to God's will. Did you know that there are some people in every church who feel threatened if other people do well? They're jealous if any one else receives a little bit of recognition and they don't. That's not the attitude of the church. That's not the attitude of family, except maybe a dysfunctional family. That's the attitude of the world and as the church, we're called to be, as Monty Python puts it, "something completely different." Fortunately for us, there are many more folks in the Church who are like Joe Gordon.
B. As family, we have responsibility for one another. As the Church, we're called to think like family and to encourage and support one another.
That's why we've started a new ministry. It's very simple. It's a way to be more caring and to show concern or love or celebration for others. The Council on Ministries has developed a way to do that. It's called a Barnabas Card. They will be in the pew pads starting next week. On the card it says, "Be A Barnabas." in Acts 4:36 we're introduced to a guy by the name of Joseph, a Levite and native of Cyprus. Joseph, the Levite from Cyprus was the kind of person you want all your friends and relatives to be like. He was a model of caring and compassion. His character was such that the apostles gave him the nickname, Barnabas. Barnabas means "son of encouragement."
Through the Barnabas Ministry, we're all called to be, "sons an daughters of encouragement." And it's simple. All you have to do is to take a Barnabas Card, write a little note to someone: a word of encouragement, a note that you're praying for them if you hear their name mentioned in the concerns or celebrations; a note that simply says, "We missed you in Church today." Any number of things. Then at the end of the Worship Service, you can turn them in and we will deliver them. We'll either mail them or if it happens to be someone in the hospital, I'll take them by personally. All of this is simply a way of reaching out to those within our family of faith and giving that word of encouragement. It's a way of showing that we care.
Whenever we reach out in sharing a word of encouragement; whenever we lash ourselves to others in the midst of the storms in their lives; whenever we act in love in the midst of a difficult situation; whenever we do whatever we can to bolster and strengthen the family of God, we are following the example of Christ. We are being the servants He has called us to be. And we bring glory to God. That's our whole purpose as the Church. Whenever we reach out to help someone who is struggling in the faith, struggling to make it or struggling in whatever situation, we are not only taking up OUR cross but helping to bear the cross of a fellow pilgrim. And in doing so, we are serving Christ. And Jesus said, "Whoever serves me, God will honor."
In the cartoon Dennis the Menace, Dennis is in his mother's lap, enfolded in her arms and he's crying. Mom has this concerned look on her face as Dennis says: "I HAD to come home. I need somebody to be on MY side." (5)
There are times when we all need someone to be on our side. We all have that innate need to know that no matter what happens, no matter what is said or done, there are folks who are still on our side. The Christian family fulfills that need; Christ fulfills that need; and the Church fulfills that need. Christ is on our side, there's no doubt of that. And as his followers, we're called to let others know that Christ is on their side and that as the family of God in Christ, we're on their side too.
The world is hurting. Its in pain partly because its so lonely. The world has lost the sense of belonging to something greater than itself. Its lost that sense of being part of a family. One of the things that we can offer that brings glory to God is that sense of family. The caring and loving relationship of trust and belonging that so many lives are devoid of.
Through Christ we have found the love and forgiveness that others long for. We have found and are finding a safe haven. We're called to glorify God and serve Christ by sharing the treasure we have discovered with others. We're called to be family and to glorify God together.
If your life has lost that sense of belonging then this is where you need to be. If you feel disconnected then this is the place to be connected to the source of power and love, Our Savior. This is also the place to help others find that connection. And we do it all, not for ourselves but for the glory of Christ.
This is the Word of the Lord for this day.
1. "The Ryatts, by Jack Elrod, 4-26-91"
2. COUNTRY WOMAN, Nov/Dec 1990 (Milwaukee, WI).
3. Dick Underdahl-Peirce, Trinity Presbyterian Church, Cottage Grove, Minnesota.
4. From The Master's Plan for Making Disciples, by Win Arn, Charles Arn, page 77
5. Dennis the Menace by Hank Ketchum, 5-5-92