It’s early Sunday morning. It’s that day about which a little girl at church once asked me, “What do you do the rest of the week?” I’ve got two messages to give today, and they are both finished. I’ve got no Sunday School classes to lead today and no last minute busy-ness to finish up doing. So, as I sit out here in the backyard, and as I play “Here Comes the Sun” in the background to accompany what is happening in the eastern sky in front of me, I have this opportunity to indulge my need to..schmooze.
I fuss every Sunday morning over what I am going to say to a roomful of people. They are not there to hang on my every word, I know that; but if they happen to overhear something that they can take out the door with them after church, I want it to be something real, something that might move them or somebody they come near to, into a calmer, more peaceful, more loving frame of mind. I desperately want others to know Jesus as someone to follow, rather than as a doctrinal statement to be manipulated by.
“It doesn’t matter whether you’re selling Jesus or Buddha or civil rights or ‘How to Make Money in Real Estate With No Money Down.’ That doesn’t make you a human being; it makes you a marketing rep. If you want to talk to somebody honestly, as a human being, ask him about his kids. Find out what his dreams are – just to find out, for no other reason. Because as soon as you lay your hands on a conversation to steer it, it’s not a conversation anymore; it’s a pitch. And you’re not a human being; you’re a marketing rep.”
I don’t want to pitch. I never want to feel as if I am presenting Jesus in the way someone else might be selling used cars or life insurance: “Help the client dig themselves into a hole, then show them that your ladder is the only way out.” That kind of preaching can be heard ad nauseum by turning on the television to virtually any “Christian” station, and in many, many churches this morning. It’s a message that fills collection plates, because it’s based on the fears of missing out, of not being included, or- most despicably- of not having enough faith. Giving, then, is demonstrated as evidence of one’s belonging, and as a measure of one’s faith. (And the more you give, the bigger faith you must have, don’t you know?)
Bullsh*t! (to use a word here I probably won’t be using in church later today)
That formulaic message about Jesus was developed in the mid-1700s and gave birth to the so-called Great American Awakening. It was the message of Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God that filled churches out of fear and has never faded from the American preaching landscape. And it hasn’t faded, because it works; it gets people in the pews for fear of not being in the pews.
“Fear not.” It’s one of the New Testament’s most oft-repeated phrases. The angel says it when Mary is told about her pregnancy with Jesus, and the Magdalene is angelically told that when being informed about the resurrected Jesus. And Jesus himself says it a whole bunch of times in the 33 years between those two days! Later, after experiencing the fact for a number of years, the apostle John wrote, “Perfect love casts out fear.”
So I guess that’s the message I want to get across each time I open my mouth: fear is no fun; following Jesus is. I hope these two messages today say that. I think they do.
Little darling, I feel that ice is slowly melting
Little darling, it seems like years since it’s been clear
Here comes the sun, here comes the sun,
and I say it’s all right
It’s all right