Examples for Life

Joseph Winston November 5, 2006

Sermon
Grace and peace are gifts for you from God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.1 Bill woke up with that dull ache in your head, which means too much caffeine and not enough sleep. It had been a hard night for everyone. Bill’s wife Bonny was away on business. This meant that Bill was responsible for the children: Tammy and Tommy. Tammy was in junior high this year and much to her father’s dismay, she had discovered boys. Tammy spent every free minute talking on her cell with her friends about boys. Tommy was two years younger and he was convinced that girls were the reason for all of his problems. The children had been fussy last night. Their bad attitude took Bill away from his work. Maybe it was the change in the seasons. Bill did not know why they
Romans 1:7, 1 Corinthians 1:3, 2 Corinthians 1:2, Galatians 1:3, Ephesians 1:2, Philippians 1:2, 2 Thessalonians 1:2, Philemon 1:3
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liked to fight because he normally left the care and feeding of children to Bonny. Tammy would not hang up the phone and go to bed. Bill caught her talking on the cell after lights out. When he took her phone away, Tammy shouted, “Just get out of my life!” Tommy suppressed a giggle, which only made matters worse and a small squabble broke out. Instead of going to bed, Tommy complained that his legs hurt him. A cup of milk did not solve his problem. Bill heard his son tossing and turning all night long. Bill’s mind wandered for the first time in forty-eight hours. He was tired. He had been working nonstop on a project that might make all of the difference in his world. Maybe after my boss sees the report, I will get some time off. That would be nice. Bill never planned to be in middle management. It just happened. Kind of like the rest of his life. Bill always dreamed of living alone on some deserted island. But he met Bonny on a blind date that was arranged by his friends two decades ago. One thing had turned into another and well, they now had two children, two cars, two careers, and a large mortgage. It seemed like they were living the American dream. Maybe instead of driving by the airport today, I should hope on a plane and just get away from it all. The final report needed to be on his boss’ desk by 10:00 am. Just about everything was in place except for the final summary. One more read through and it would be finally finished. Bill walked over to get a cup of coffee and ran into his boss. She had seen an earlier draft copy and wanted Bill to change a few sentences here and there. These modifications rippled through the entire document and it was not until nine o’clock that Bill was once again ready to write the con2

clusion. The phone rang and it was from a number that Bill did not recognize. It was the school nurse. Tommy was sick and needed to be taken home right now. This left Bill with only two choices: finish the report and leave Tommy at the school or pick up Tommy and not complete the proposal. This story, contains two universal truths. First, humanity has always been forced to make decisions. Adam and Eve listened either to God or to their own desires. Cain could either work out his differences with God or kill Abel. Noah needed to decide if he would work on the ark or find something else to do with his life. The second all-inclusive truth is that none of these conclusions is made in a vacuum. Eve listened to the serpent and then Adam and Eve talked amoung themselves. Cain ignored what God had to say to him. Noah’s inner circle included his three sons, their wives, and his wife. Without fail, we all incorporate information in our decisions. We might ask our friends or family for their input. Perhaps we like to follow the crowd and do what everyone else is doing. People who believe in God will often use the Bible as a way of making decisions. The way that Christians use the Bible to make decisions normally falls between two polar extremes. On the left, we have those individuals who want to discard traditional values. Generally, these people favor personal experience over anything else. The name that these individuals have been given is liberals. For liberals, the Scriptures are nothing more than a book that contains a summary of people’s feelings. On the right, we have people who want to maintain what was given to them by their parents, grandparents, and great grandparents. Society has given this group the name of fundamentalist. For a fundamentalist, nothing in the 3

Bible can ever be changed because any modification establishes a new God. The interaction between Jesus and the scribe lives within this continuum of liberal on the left and fundamentalist on the right. When the scribe came to Jesus and asked Him about the most important commandment, Jesus could have given us a stereotypical liberal answer. Jesus might have said, “Don’t worry about which commandment is the greatest. Do whatever feels right for you. What matters most is your happiness.” And if the scribe was willing to toss out all of the tradition, he could have answered, “Hey that’s great. I’ve always felt that the past has held us back. God didn’t give us a brain not to use it. My personal experience is more important than all of the offerings that I could ever give God.” A fundamentalist would give an answer that would be completely opposite. In this alternate universe, Jesus could have said, “There is no such thing as the most important commandment. God, may His name be forever praised, has given us six hundred and thirteen commandments for every situation in life and these are the ones that we must follow to the letter. We break the Law if we ignore or change even the tiniest part.” The conservative scribe might respond, “You, a follower of tradition, have correctly kept what our forefathers have given us. You have changed nothing. We are made for the Law. Following the Law is the most important act of a loyal Jew. We cannot forget our duty to offer offerings and sacrifices to the Lord our God.” Make no mistake about it; Jesus did not answer the scribe with either a liberal or a conservative answer. When asked for the one most important commandment, Jesus starts out with the command that is prayed three times a day by faithful Jews, “Shema (Hear) Israel!” At this point in time, it appears that Jesus is a true 4

fundamentalist. However, the version spoken by Jesus is different from the original one found in Deuteronomy. Words are changed and an extra phrase is inserted. And if that was not enough to upset the fundamentalists in the crowd, Jesus then makes two commandments into one. He adds the requirement that we love each other as we love ourselves. Throughout this section, Jesus keeps the liberals at bay because He never allows one’s feelings to enter. Jesus does not say, “Do whatever you feel like doing.” Instead, Jesus combines two Laws into one. The scribe’s summary, while closer to the original texts, follows Jesus’ lead and is neither liberal or fundamental. The scribe combines two commandments into one and he then places a large portion of the Law, which contains the commands to sacrifice, as secondary. Because we do not know what it means to sacrifice, we might not understand the dramatic change in the Law proposed by the scholar. A sacrifice makes you vulnerable. You no longer have the ability to take care of yourself. Someone else must provide for you. When you sacrifice, you must rely on God for your daily needs. Jesus explicitly agrees with the scribe’s dramatic changes to the written Law. These major modifications to God’s Laws by Jesus might have our head reeling. How are we then to read the Bible? What is open to interpretation? How much can be changed? God has provided us with Jesus as the primary example on how we are to understand the entire Bible: both the Old and the New Testament. Jesus has shown us that God’s true nature is one of freedom, forgiveness, and life. Jesus frees all people from every form of slavery. Jesus grants us forgiveness. Jesus came so that 5

we could live forever. Even though Jesus stopped at nothing in giving us these gifts, He never came with force. His plan was one of emptying Himself for us. Therefore, we are not to read the Bible as either a liberal or a fundamentalist. Instead, when we listen to the Bible, we are to hear everything with Christ’s ears. This means that the entire Bible was written for Christ’s benefit. The Law tells us what He observed. The Prophets inform us of who He will be. The Wisdom provides with insights into His way of thinking. The Gospels record what He did for us. Today on All Saint’s Sunday, we remember those individuals who both heard the Bible with Christ’s ears and then lived a Christ like life. Some of these people are well known to us: Stephen, Paul, and the ever popular St. Nicholas or Santa Claus. Others are less known: Perpetua, Susanna, and Christians in your life that you hold dear. We thank God for their witness to us. Even though God has given us a model for life in Jesus, we often listen to His Word with our own agendas. The liberal in us wants to replace God’s Word with one of our own choosing and our internal fundamentalist desires that nothing ever change. Both of these schemes are wrong and we know it. Change has to come from outside of us. That is why Jesus has come to us. This is the Good News. Jesus has come to gently transform us into the people we were always meant to be: free, forgiven, and alive. Just like Bill, we are presented with a series of choices all through our lives. How we as Christians answer these demands placed upon us always falls between two extremes. One choice is to ignore everyone but ourselves. This is the tradi6

tional liberal answer. The other extreme behavior, given to us by the fundamentalists, is being a slave to the past. Christ’s answer of loving God and loving neighbor frees us from both of these dead ends. When we are trying to please ourselves, we are attempting to find some reason for our existence. Jesus comes to us and tells us the reason why we are here is because God loves you. God is in control of history, the present, and the future. God has already changed the past, is in the process of changing the present, and will changed the future for our benefit. God does all of these things because He loves you. Being Christian does not mean that we can fall back to some well-rehearsed answers to all of life’s questions. Life changes too much for that. Instead, it means that we have a God who cares for us completely. He loves us so much that He has sent His own Son to be a perfect model for us. Take this perfect example from God and with the Holy Spirit’s power, adapt it for your life. “The peace of God, which passeth all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.”2

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Philippians 4:7.

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