SERMON from 10-14-12: ‘We Must Be The Change We Hope To See In The World’ (from the series ‘Bumper Sticker Theology’)

 

James 1.22-25

 

22 But be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves. 23 For if any are hearers of the word and not doers, they are like those who look at themselves in a mirror; 24 for they look at themselves and, on going away, immediately forget what they were like. 25 But those who look into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and persevere, being not hearers who forget but doers who act—they will be blessed in their doing.

 

Bumper Sticker Theology: We Must Be The Change We Hope To See In The World

 

This bumper sticker brings up an interesting concept we Christians have been dealing with for centuries.  That’s where I’ll be spending most of my time this morning.

 

Grace.  For United Methodists, it is in our DNA.  John Wesley–the founder of United Methodism–believed that the grace of God came in three forms.

 

First, the prevenient grace of God is that which is present with us even before we know who God is or what he’s done for us.  The prefix (pre-) is a good way to help us remember that this grace goes before us.  Secondly, there’s justifying grace.  This is the grace that saves us–Jesus’ work on the cross.  Lastly, there’s sanctifying grace–which is God’s continued work in our lives to make us more of who he desires us to be.

 

Yet, it’s not just an important thing for us as United Methodists, but for all Christians.  So, a very pertinent question is, “How do we attain this grace?”

 

To answer that, let me tell you about the difference between a baby monkey and a kitten.  Stay with me–you won’t be disappointed.

 

Besides being very cute and dangerous to own, baby monkey’s have it hard in the wild.  When they get into trouble, they must hop onto their mother’s back and hold on while the mama scurries them both to safety.  A kitten–besides being the putrid spawn of Satan–has a different go of it when the going gets tough.  The mama cat grabs her kitten by the scruff of the neck and rushes them both away.  The kitten doesn’t flip it’s paw behind it’s head–or anything else–to help save itself.  The mother does all the work, the kitten does nothing to help change its fate.

 

In the seventeenth century–as the Reformation was turning the church from the Catholic church to “Protestants and Catholics”–our animal friends help us to understand a major rift responsible for the church’s schism.  The theological differences between them can be understood by labeling the Catholics as the monkeys, and the Protestants as kittens.  The Catholic church believed that the things we do as Christians–anything from baptism to feeding the poor–was a necessary part of salvation.  In essence, you had to do good works in your life for you to be saved.  So, like the little monkey, your life depended upon your ability to hold on for your life.

 

The Protestants belief was a bit more nuanced.  Martin Luther–the inspirational head of the Reformation (Google it when you get home)–believed that the grace of God was a free gift.  You needn’t perform any works to enter the kingdom.  You needn’t say so many prayers.  You needn’t help so many needy people.  In other words, God’s grace was ours without any need for action from us.

 

It makes sense.  God doesn’t need help from me for anything else–why would he need me to save me?  He’s God, right?

 

It’s about at this point–when we think we begin to have everything figured out–that we run into something like we run into in James.  Martin Luther despised this letter.  Why?  Chapter 2 says, “What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works?  Can faith save you?  If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,” and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that?  So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.”

 

In other words, we are monkeys who should do some holdin’ on.

 

This makes sense to us, because we are all so familiar with the words of Jesus.  In the last week of this life, he spoke to his disciples about how it would be at the day of judgement.  He said that the tribes of the world would be gathered, and each person would be separated one from another–like a farmer separates the sheep from the goats.  The sheep asked why they were selected, to which Jesus said something like, “You saw me in need, and you helped me.”  Jesus turns, then, to the goats and tells them to “depart.”  They had failed to take care of him when he was in need.  Then, the goats asked, “When was it we saw you in need and did nothing.”  Jesus replied, “Whatever you have done to the least of these, you have done to me.”

 

We know the words well.  There are specific ministries called “Matthew 25.”  They help “the least of these.”  So, as far as realizing that we are called to good works–we are well-versed.

 

There is a hiccup in that particular hard-line approach.  Consider grandpa.  We all know grandpa, or a grandpa like this.  He’s gruff.  He’s stubborn.  He’s not good at opening himself up to anyone of anything.  Church, then, never really appealed to him.  Oh, he went every five years at Christmas, but that was just so grandma would stop bugging him about it.

 

As grandpa’s tend to do, grandpa got old–and sick.  It’s at about this time that friends and family begin to talk to grandpa.  Sometimes, they don’t know what to say, so they read.  At some point, they may pick up the Bible to read to him.  Maybe he’s been thinking about this for a while, or maybe he’s now understanding he may want to give his life to Jesus.  He does, then he dies.

 

Did grandpa go to heaven?  Did grandpa make it past the great sorting session of the sheep and goats?  Did grandpa just pull off the perfect life?  Seriously, who wouldn’t want to live their whole life like they chose to, then make a deathbed confession to just slip in under the wire?  That sounds pretty sweet.

 

“Hold on!” says someone who sounds vaguely like Martha complaining to Jesus about Mary, “What about good works?”  Yes, for all the Werther’s Originals(™) he handed out to his grandkids, grandpa didn’t have a chance to show that he could “bear fruit” by performing good works.  Does grandpa get to “enter into the kingdom?”

 

Yes.

 

And thanks be to God for that.

 

Amen.

 

Just kidding–we are almost done, though.

 

John Wesley.  Martin Luther.  Jesus Christ.  These are all people who believed that your faith is the thing that saves you–and only then, it is by the grace of God that you receive it.

 

How is it settled, then?  Do we receive the grace of God freely, or do we have to do a few things to earn it?  Like so many things in our lives, it is not a black or white issue.

 

We do receive the grace of God through no action of our own.  We believe it, and so it is received.  At that point, when we begin to learn more about who Christians are and what it is Christians tend to do, we figure out that Christ set about an example of service.  If it is not too good for Jesus, it’s not too good for us.

 

Remember back to the sanctifying grace I was talking about?  Let’s consider that one more time.  If I decide that I need to become a part this Jesus movement thing, I make the decision to go along on this journey.  Along that journey, you learn about Jesus feeding the 5,000, Paul traveling the Mediterranean for the sake of the gospel and you read James–which tells us that at some point our devotion to God will turn into a devotion to those about which God cares most.  If you’ve spent any time reading or scanning scripture, you know that God cares about the poor and downtrodden.  When it comes to good works, we always know where to start.

 

So, our salvation–our lives lived in faith–isn’t only a decision, and it isn’t only what we think we can do.  It’s about what God does in our lives, and what God does through our lives.

 

We are God’s hands and feet in this world.  So, being the change we hope to see in this world is already a part of who we are.

 

Thanks be to God for his grace that works in and through us.

 

AMEN.

3 comments on “SERMON from 10-14-12: ‘We Must Be The Change We Hope To See In The World’ (from the series ‘Bumper Sticker Theology’)

  1. sacredstruggler
    October 21, 2012 at 7:05 PM #

    Have you ever seen “Lord, Save US From Your Followers”? It about bumper sticker mentality. It good.

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