1-18-15 Taboo 3 Peter Panning - thrive UMC Official Blog

1-18-15 Taboo 3 Peter Panning

Taboo 3: Peter Panning

Have any of you had a moment where something happened –and it didn’t really seem like it should have been a really big deal at all, but it just was for you? Like, the moment was awesome, except for this one little detail that ruined everything for you? Maybe you couldn’t have even explained to someone why you felt it was so significant, but yet there was no way you were going to let go of it either –have you ever had an experience like that?

While I was in college, I was hanging out with this particular girl a lot, and we were kind of walking that weird line between being friends and dating. People who saw us together would sometimes ask: ‘Jeremy, are the two of you going out?’ And I was like ‘I don’t know –maybe?’

‘What do you mean you don’t know? What do you do together?’

‘Last week, we went to dinner and a movie together –just the two of us.’

‘So you’re dating?’

‘…yeah, but then yesterday, she calls me up and we went to target, and she tried to get me to help her pick out clothes, and then we came back on campus and she goes, “I had so much fun shopping with you, I guess I’ll see you next week!”…’

‘Oh, that’s not good dude, not good at all.’ And to be honest, I have to admit that it was kind of exciting, because I could never tell where things were going with her. Every day with her was a totally unpredictable adventure –and our time together was either building toward marriage, or I was getting set-up to be her Maid of Honor: it seemed like a 50/50 shot that could have easily gone either way. Well, in any case, I eventually found out about her favorite film. She wasn’t really into movies like I was at the time, but there was this one she had mentioned over and over, and she eventually insisted that we watch it together. So one Thursday night, we sit down together, alone, in my darkened room, and watched Serendipity, staring John Cusack and Kate Beckinsale.

And while it was playing, she’d periodically peak over to see how I was reacting, and she’d kind of scoot closer to me on the couch –like, ‘oooh, Jeremy, can you feel the romance?’ And then finally as the credits roll, she leans in close and goes, ‘So, what did you think?’ And she had this look –now in case you hadn’t picked up on this yet, I wasn’t very good with women in college, but I could tell –her look was saying ‘Jeremy, I will allow you to make out

with me, right now.’ I mean, it was pretty clear. But I was so struck by the moment that I couldn’t even come up with anything to say; however what I was thinking was: ‘this, this is the moment. This is it. And it is over. I don’t know if I can even look at you now. That… THAT was your favorite movie? Your presence here, in my room, is disgusting.’ So I kicked her out… after first failing to convince her how wrong she was for liking that terrible, terrible movie.

And there was a mutual friend of ours who later confronted me, wanting to know what had happened with us –and I told her, it was Serendipity. She didn’t get my joke, so I told her the whole story about how awful and shallow her friend’s favorite movie was; and I explained how it was a symbol of why we’d never work out, because our approaches to, and understandings of, love were absolutely irreconcilable.

To which she retorted something to the effect of, ‘So let me get this straight, you didn’t make out with her because you didn’t like her taste in movies?’

(Well it does sound kind of dumb when you say it that way…)

But have you ever had one of those moments –where it’s like you’re putting this big, elaborate puzzle together, and everything is falling in place, and it’s all awesome, until you discover just this one tiny piece that, no matter how you try to jam it in, won’t fit? And within an instant you realize that the one piece demands that you reevaluate the entire puzzle –and perhaps even be ready to dismantle it, or trade it in But no one around you has gotten it yet? It’s like falling upon the subtle orbit of Mercury in the era of Newtonian physics, or the discovery of that stray strand of hair, or last-minute drop of blood found, in an episode of CSI. One little detail can ruin an entire theory, or completely change the trajectory of your life.

And that’s the taboo we’re going to talk about today for the church. It’s the little detail that will call into question your entire approach to Christianity. It’s the missing puzzle piece that reveals that the picture we’ve been assembling of the church doesn’t match the image we’ve been aspiring too; and it will ultimately set the first block in place which will frame so much of the dysfunction we experience within it. It’s the bit of evidence that sounds so harmless and insignificant at first that we’re immediately tempted to dismiss it; but if we allow ourselves to dwell upon it long enough, it will inevitably lead to a verdict which will condemn us all. The church taboo that I want to lift up before us, and I pray that you’ll spend at least the rest of this week meditating on is this: that in church, so few of our children ever grow up.

‘Oh Jeremy, don’t be silly –of course they do. You can’t stop a kid from growing up! And honey, trust me, I’ve tired! You’d better believe they’ll be out of the next before you know it!’

Take some lessons from church then, because they are AWESOME at stopping an otherwise natural, miraculous process. They are masters at prohibiting kids from becoming spiritually autonomous grown-ups –and we’ll share in a moment just how damning that is for all of us. But first, sure, sure: all the kids in church grow taller. However if you don’t believe me about them growing up, let me ask you all this: how many of our children, or those in other churches you’ve seen, understand and live into their Christian responsibility within our global community? How many of them see, act, and serve like Jesus? How many of them read their Bibles on their own, or give of their time, energy and resources joyfully, and without external prompting? How many have found reliable renewal in prayer and worship, or peace in being themselves before others –particularly sinners? How many are courageous in the face of the future and the mirror? How many of them even know the vows that were made for them at the time of their baptisms? How many of them are even excited about what Christ is doing in our world today, or about being a called to be a part of his Body? How many of them could even say what it means to follow Jesus? In short, how many have become, or are well on their way to becoming, mature, responsible Christians?

Or better yet, how many of us can say that about ourselves? How many of us can say that, as of right now, our lives are right on track for becoming like that of Jesus?

Don’t answer that right now, because answers in church have too often been stoppers for actual learning and growing. You can’t learn and grow without struggle. So just let the question sink in. Let it settle into your soul this morning as you feel your own weight in the seat and remember that you have a responsibility to do something with it that extends beyond your family. Not just with your thoughts, or with your words, but with absolutely all of you. Feel the air again as it enters your lungs to know, at the depth of your being, that you were not created for yourself, but you were created for something more. How many of us can say, right now, that our lives are on track for becoming like Jesus? Just let the question take root. Live with it, not just for the next 20 minutes, but try to live with it for the rest of the week –because that question has something to say about who you are, and the worth of your life.

And then quickly, I want to tell you about a little organization called Nike –spelled N-I-K-E –maybe a few of you heard about it. And this organization, if you read their website, is committed to making the world better; and it does this by, and I quote, “Making athletes faster stronger better, with less impact.” And this organization was around when I was a kid, and let me tell you, it was something I was more than just a little excited about. This is probably news to most of you, but when I was a kid there was this guy named Michael Jordan who played basketball, and he was pretty good. And I was determined to be just as good at basketball as he was. So when a short interview-type-thing came on during cartoons one afternoon, asking Jordan about the secret to his success, it sounded like the source of his success had to be his shoes. Which happened to be made by Nike. And pretty soon there were t-shirts and billboards that were spilling this secret “-it’s gotta be the shoes” [Nike] so you bet I saved up like I never had before to buy a pair of Nike Air Jordans for $60 –they were last year’s model, but that was okay. I finally had enough to get them after my birthday –I had to put in what I had saved of my allowance up to that point, and they were the only thing I got that year. It was the dawning of my biggest elementary school dream –I was sure I was about to become awesome.

You can imagine my surprise when, in the first game wearing them, I didn’t suddenly become a world-famous athlete. I didn’t even become the best player on the worst 5th grade team in the YMCA league in Council Bluffs Iowa in 1992. Because Nike lies when it says it’s going to make athletes faster stronger and better. In fact, that organization is absolutely terrible at helping people become more athletic in any way whatsoever. And someone would shut them down, if that were actually the business they were in. But Nike is not, and has never been, in the business of making ordinary people into great athletes – but instead, they’re in the business of dressing people up like great athletes, and that was the slight of hand I didn’t pick up on as a kid –because, truth be told, kids are not all that smart. Subtlety is lost on them. It’s why we don’t let them drive real cars, vote, or carry weapons. And to let them do so would be irresponsible.

But friends, the reason I tell you all this story is because too many churches are just like Nike –at first glance they look like they’re all about setting you up to become like their spokesman, but really they’re only in the branding and apparel business.

‘Oh no, no, no, you aren’t ever actually going to be like Christ! –There’s only one begotten Son –and besides, did you see what happened to him? Heavens to Betsy, who would ever want all that? Jesus when through that so you didn’t have to! Uh-uh, honey, you just have to come to church, say some words, get sprinkled and you’re done! From then on, just don’t forget to write the fattest check you can afford, close your eyes really tight when bad things happen, and then wait to die –trust us, it will totally be worth it!’

But the difference between Nike and the church is that Nike knows it’s an apparel company. And while the rest of the world can see right through the Church’s Jesus-branding campaign, we’re confused. I had a friend in grade school who frequently wore a Jordan Bull’s jersey, and no one ever expected him to dunk, but you put a cross around someone’s neck and somehow we’re all satisfied saying to ourselves, ‘gee, that must be a good, compassionate person –here, let me trust you with my money and children!’ But friends, let me tell you, the people out there are catching on. They’ve been watching, and they’ve gone further than we have in interpreting the integrity of our mission statement –because they’ve grown wiser and more discerning than we have. They’re out looking for the connection between preaching and practice; they’re looking for evidence of changed lives; they’re searching for signs that the consumers on the ground have become more like the advertised spokesman before they will ever consider making the investment of their own. And brothers and sisters, let me tell you, they’re looking right at you. And me. So if they’re not seeing at least some semblance of Jesus-qualities in us, then the church isn’t living into its advertising campaign, and it’s a liar.

I don’t know how many conversations I’ve had with other people over the last year or so who are struggling with loneliness, lacking a sense of self-worth, searching for community, desperate for healthy values, and hungry to make a positive impact on the world around them –but they’ve almost unanimously decided that Christian churches are not where any of those things happen. If you ask them, church looks like the place where you go to ‘believe’ so you don’t have to think, and pray so you don’t have to actually help. It’s the organization that sells heaven so you don’t have to be bothered with the very really and urgent troubles of this earth. In short, it’s the place where you’re told ‘God will take care of it’ so you can stick your head in the sand, or worse feel very comfortable and self-righteous in their greedy, apathetic, lustful idolatry.

And the crazy thing is that probably none of that is news to you –most of us know what people think of us. You know, we did an online survey before Christmas to find out what people thought about church –and do you know what our biggest finding was? Church-folk were not happy with what Christians were doing! These were people who, for the most part, went to church almost every week; but they were not shy about pointing out that Christians were doing a pretty terrible job at being Christians. More specifically, they were bad about addressing ethical issues, being open-minded, and living compassionately. Are any of you surprised? How many of us feel the same way? I certainly do! But what’s happening? Where is all this stuff coming from? Where are we falling short?

While I’ve already pointed it out, I think I can summarize it in one word and that word is: irresponsibility. That is, again, the missing puzzle piece. Everything is always someone else’s job or fault because the church –and that’s on all of us- has failed to empower people to be responsible for the world we live in, and our neighbors with whom we share it. And it’s perfectly okay to be irresponsible if you’re not a Christian, or if you’re a kid –that all comes with the territory; but being a mature Christian means being responsible for everything you have the power to do something about. It means that God called, chose and empowered you to do His good work. From the beginning to the end, the Bible is not fundamentally about God controlling things, but it’s about God trusting us to be responsible for our selves, neighbors and nations –while God works in, and through, and with us so that redemption actually happens. Christianity is about partnering with the living Creator of all things. And church is not just about talk, but it should be, and will be again, fundamentally about being community and doing Christ’s work of salvation. And that means if we see someone stumble, we don’t just wave and say ‘I’ll pray for you!’ or tell them they should watch where they’re going –we go over and help them up. It doesn’t mean we give everybody all of the solutions and answers to life’s problems, but we show them love and courage in the midst of all of this confusion and unknowning. It doesn’t mean we fix people or always just point out the problem, but it means we make our presence available to them.

But to be able to do any of those things, we first need to grow up. We need to be intentional and active about the maturation process as we move from just being loved, into being loving. We must work to be upgraded from being passive recipients of grace and blessings, to being sharers and distributors of lived Good News. It means we take ownership for our own spiritual development, and that of those around us. Because, let’s be honest with ourselves, if we’re not doing any of those things, we’re not really Christians. You can’t call someone a Christian if they’re not even making an attempt to live in the footsteps of Jesus. At that point, they’re not even an imitator, they’re only an imposter –a poser. They’re wearing the cross like a fashionable brand, without ever being willing to give the cross a turn at wearing them. They have all the right clothes and catch-phrases, but they’ve never stepped into the gym, or onto the court at game-time.

And yet, we can’t quite cut the cord that binds us to those who wear the clothes but just to sit passively on the bench. So many of our locker-room speeches and practice-drills have led them precisely there and no further. Because the scary truth of it is that all of our teachers and elders have been pale, diluted imposters of Jesus too. At one time, long ago, they were great and gifted players, but over the centuries we got comfortable just talking about the game, while the labors on the court seemed more and more unbearably anxious. Little by little we gave up ground in the court to settle on our wooden benches. So here we are, showing up on Sunday mornings for practice time with our sneakers laced, to listen to yet one more young, inexperienced, and unqualified coach to ramble on about a game that he himself was never any good at either. To give it one more shot at hopefully, but unrealistically, bringing the right words to spark us to action and make us a successful team. But all I have for you this morning is this: there is no one else but us. And we don’t have to win, but we do have to give it everything we have.

You might not know all there is to know about the Bible, but no one else will teach it to our children. You might not be the most patient, or compassionate, or helpful human being on the planet, but no one can replace the attention you have to give. And you might not have all the time and money and skills needed to make things better or turn everything around, but just your fumbling example could be enough to trigger a powerful precedent. You might not have the right words to encourage that friend, stranger or coworker, but your stuttering might make room for them to be honestly human too.

But more importantly: you are NOT alone. God the Creator has given you all that’s necessary, so just use it. The Holy Spirit is here, even now, moving, encouraging, empowering and sustaining you with each new breath. And Christ our Lord, the redeemer, follows behind making art of the shattered messes we’ve made. The Triune God is always with you –sometimes we just forget to notice, or miss what we’re supposed to be looking for. But the good news, again, is that that God is not done with us. He’s gone before us; He’s with and within us; and he will continue on long after we’ve picked up our shovels. And even Jesus had to grow up. Be encouraged by the example of our savior. This is our reading, from Luke 2: 39-51

Moralizing stories is fine.

Black and white right and wrong is okay.

Singing ‘Jesus Loves Me’ as the only faith song you know is wonderful.

Just going to church is understandable … if you’re a kid or new to the faith. But, we have to grow up. We have to be responsible. For ourselves, our faith, our families, our church, and our community. People don’t grow up on their own, but it happens in community. Over time. It’s a process. It takes effort. And commitment –just like love.

May we be the ones to work for love.