Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Never Bored!

This past week was my first week of my sabbatical.
I read this week a book called, “Choosing our Religion: The Spiritual lives of Nones”.
The book was really great.
It had Nones (meaning N-O-N-E-S, people who do not affiliate with any religion) tell in their own words what it meant for them to be spiritual.
The book starts by explaining why so many people are not affiliated with religion.
It comes down to three reasons.
People are angry, bored, or wounded.
I will leave angry and wounded for another sermon.
I want to talk this morning about people being bored of religion, of church.
Noelle Lamb of Eugene Oregon said, “I feel like [going to church] is not something I need as an adult.
You know, it taught me a lot about being a good person, I guess.
But I don’t need to hear that lesson every week.
I got it.”
As I understand what people like Noelle are saying is that church teaches us to be good people, and once we understand that we are all set.
I am going to try to preach this sermon without being defense.
Because I think that Noelle brings up a really important point.
Preaching and teaching the Gospel is not about making us good people.
However, in a lot of mainline protestant churches this is essentially what people learn and hear.
If that is the case, then I agree with people like Noelle church would be boring, because the Gospel of Jesus Christ would be robbed of its power, beauty, and mystery.

And a good example of this is our Gospel for this morning.
All of us here this morning have heard the story of the Good Samaritan.
And I am going to assume that from it we know the moral lesson.
We have heard the sermon that tells us to be more like the Samaritan.
We have heard the sermon, and I have preached the sermon, to go into the world and look for ways to help people even if they are different than you.
It is tempting this morning not to preach a sermon like that, because our country is going crazy right now.
We have police officers abusing their authority by using excessive force, on black people.
As a result we have demonstrations.
And this week we had a crazy person start shooting and killing police officers.
This is madness.
It tempting this morning for me to get up here and tell all of you to be more merciful.
To find mercy whoever your perceived enemy is.
Whatever your political bent is I am begging you to try to find mercy for the other side.
That was the great message that came from House Speaker Paul Ryan after the shooting in Dallas.
"There will be a temptation to let our anger harden our divisions, let's not let that happen.
There's going to be a temptation to let our anger send us further into our corners. Let's not let that happen.”
And the Good Samaritan story would fit perfect with that idea.

But here is the problem I assume you all know that already.
I assume that you know that to be a Jesus person means to act mercifully in your life.
If Noelle was in our Church this morning she would hear that sermon and tune me out, and roll her eyes because she has heard it before.
And I am here to tell you that as good as a message as that is, it is not the Gospel message.

Let us look at the Good Samaritan story again.
A lawyer stands up “to test” Jesus.
Right there we have a clue.
This person is not interested at all in the ethical implications of what he is asking Jesus.
He is not interested in growing spiritually he is wondering if he can trick Jesus into giving the wrong answer.
It goes on even after Jesus has answered his question.
“Wanting to justify himself….”
Here for me is the key to this whole story.
Jesus tells the story of the Good Samaritan to break down this uppity lawyer.
This lawyer wants to look good.
This lawyer wants Jesus to look bad.
This lawyer wants there to be good people and bad people.
The lawyer believes that within the law he knows what it means to be a good person.
And Jesus tells the story of the Good Samaritan to turn this lawyers expectations around.
And to really ultimately teach us something about ourselves and God.
There is no such thing as “justified” people before God.
There are just people who are trying to trick God.
There are just people trying to make themselves out to be better than they are.
No one inherits eternal life by what they do.
They inherit it because God gives it to them.

That is the message of the Gospel.
We are one people.
We are one family.
And we are flawed and imperfect, but we are loved by a God who shows us great mercy.

There are not a lot of answers about what is happening in our country right now.
I don’t even know if we know what we are arguing about anymore.
There are so many angles, and so many people with agendas we don’t even know what to say or do.
And there is no one in any of this that can justify what they do.
What there is a human family that is flawed and we are in need of mercy.
Because mercy means to treat someone kind or forgiving someone even though they don’t deserve it.
And we all are in need of that, because we cannot justify ourselves before God.
We are all in this mess together.
That is the surprising thing about the story of the Good Samaritan is that it cannot be broken down into an easy ethical lesson.
It is not mean to do that.
Even though that is what we do with it.
It is meant to challenge our ideas of who is good and who is bad.
It is meant to challenge us to see ourselves in need of mercy.
It is meant to show us that only when we see that we need mercy can we really show mercy to others.
Only when we stop trying to trick God and stop trying to justify ourselves can we really understand the deep spiritual things of God.
Only then will we understand the Gospel in all of its wonder and beauty.

So coming to church is not about being a “good person”.
It is the opposite of that.
It is about being an imperfect person, a person who doesn’t always show mercy.
That is why we come to church.
Because that message of God’s mercy for us never gets old, or boring.
And it doesn’t because we always forget.
Once we leave here we will go back into the world and once again try to justify ourselves.
We will once again forget what it means to need God’s mercy.
And then we will come to Jesus again, here and hear again that wonderful Gospel message.

I won’t presume to speak for Noelle or anyone else, but I am never bored to hear again about the Gospel.
I am never bored to hear about God’s love taught to us through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
In fact that message energizes, refreshes, and exhilarates me!
I hope that you were not bored either this morning as we are reminded once again of our need for God’s mercy.

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