The St. John’s Pulpit
St. John’s Baptist Church 300 Hawthorne Lane Charlotte, NC 28204
REPAIRING A BROKEN CONCEPT ABOUT GOD
Gospel of 1 John 4:7-21
First Sunday After the Epiphany, January 12, 2020
by Senior Minister, Rev. Dennis W. Foust, PhD
Living God, You have always loved us first.
Help us to never forget that You ARE love – so this sure conviction might triumph in our hearts
over the seduction of the world’s enticements,
over the restlessness and lack of quietude in our spirits,
over our anxiety about the future,
over our shame related to the past,
over our fear of the present situation and
over the immense distress and grief we are experiencing in this moment of time.
You are love; You have loved us first. You have always loved us first.
Remind us that You have not only loved us first in the past –
like in a once upon a time story kind of way;
You love us first at all times – in each moment.
Your love is without ceasing.
You love us first our whole life through.
Thank You, Living God, for choosing to be love and choosing to love us first – no matter what. AMEN.
A contextual interpretation, by Dennis W. Foust, of a prayer by Soren Kierkegaard (cited in Richard Foster and James Bryan Smith, Devotional Classics, Harper: San Francisco, 1990) p. 107.
Last summer, Paula and I participated in a week at the Chautauqua Institution in western New York. One of the speakers we heard was Judy Shepherd. You may remember that she and her husband became activists against violence after their 21-years young son, Matthew, was brutally murdered in Casper, Wyoming, during October, 1998, because he was gay.
Judy traced the days of that hate crime and told how many people were supportive, including her church. Then, she said, “If only everyone had been so loving.” She spoke of receiving loving letters and letters from people blaming Matthew’s murder on his homosexuality and how this was God’s judgment of anger. She told how Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kansas showed up outside the funeral to protest. This story is not normative; yet, the reality is that these mean-spirited people profane the name of God and desecrate the message of Jesus while damaging the witness of Christ’s Church in the public square.
The purpose of this sermon is to answer one question:
“How can we influence the Church to look more like Jesus?”
Our society is in desperate need of God’s Good News revealed in Jesus Christ (The Gospel). However, the Church, the ONLY movement set apart to proclaim, follow, exemplify and incarnate the teachings and lifestyle practices of Jesus is more often known today as the entertainment church, the exclusive church, the fighting church, the go-through-the-motions church, the indoctrination church, the institutional church, the judgmental church, the politicized church, the power-over-you church, the self-serving church and the surface church. We have devalued the message of God, as revealed in Jesus.
While ministering in Atlanta, I was invited to lunch by a young man during a crisis of faith; he was questioning the existence of God. I asked him to tell me about the God in whom he did not believe; the idea of God he rejected. He was from Alabama and had grown up in a church which taught an ungodly perspective of God; it was as if Jesus never stepped forward from the mist to reveal God as love. His concept of god met every stereotype you have just imagined. After his description, I told him that I didn’t believe in that god either. And we began a conversation about the nature and character of God revealed in Jesus.
Beloved, we need to become more vigilant in RECLAIMING GOD’S GOOD NEWS IN JESUS CHRIST FROM THE TRASH HEAP. We have allowed fundamentalists and theological illiterates to throw away the transformational Good News message of God in Jesus. The Good News of God needs to be reclaimed! We should refute all phony, fake, and shallow interpretations of God’s Good News in Jesus. These bogus concepts and perspectives must be thrown out as blasphemy because they do not bring about substantive spiritual change in individuals, communities or societies. Let us reclaim God’s Good News from the trash heap! And let us begin this reclamation by ‘Repairing a Broken Concept about God.’
Many of the sins prevalent in our world today we call violence, abuse, corruption, prejudice, bias, misogyny, vulgarity, greed, egocentrism, etc. are due to brokenness within persons and families. Much of this brokenness is due to broken notions about God which people find useless, so they throw them out as trash. Every day, people see churches and denominations bickering over sexuality, women’s rights, etc. We have allowed politically extreme fundamentalists, theologically illiterate legalists and mean-spirited institutional religionists to control the microphone and be in the spotlight way too long. It is time for us to reclaim Christian depth in a shallow world. We must walk to center stage and proclaim God’s Good News revealed in Jesus Christ as inclusive grace, compassionate justice and shalom-oriented redemption. We must clearly renounce the disingenuous explanations of unethical pretenders who reinterpret Jesus’ parables of the poor while elevating views that deny scientific research because they do not fit their teentsie-weentsie views of their Lilliputian gods.”
St. John’s, we relate with and bear joyful witness of The Living God of compassion, community, forgiveness, grace, hope, justice, mercy, peacebuilding, reconciliation, redemption and trustworthiness. The Living God with whom we relate and thereby the Living God we relate to others is revealed in Jesus. In the God of Jesus, there is no bias, no exclusivism, no fear, no hubris, no injustice, no legalism, no prejudice and no selfishness.
As we have been reminded from our reading of 1 John 4 this morning, we love because God is LOVE! When people do not love, it is because they do not know God. And, unless people know God as love, they do not know God as revealed in Jesus. They have not understood the message of Christmas which we announce with boldness: the Good News that God sent Jesus into our world to show us The Living God is LOVE. This Jesus is the savior of the world. When we truly abide in his life, we find abundant and eternal life. We do not live in fear of being rejected by The Living God of LOVE. We embrace our sisters and brothers in the family of humanity who are poor, abused, despondent, oppressed, victimized, without purpose and fallen because if we do not love them, we cannot love God.
Because we have committed our lives to follow the God of Jesus, we have committed to a vision that transcends political platforms and party loyalties like the Milky Way galaxy, which contains our Solar System, transcends this milky way candy bar. It is impossible to be humble and obedient disciples of Jesus unless we allow the love of God to be preeminent in our living.
As your pastoral shepherd, I have been so pleased with the ways you are sharing one another’s burdens of grief during the past few weeks. You love one another every day. And, in the past month, you have shown your theologically motivated compassion and hope-giving active faith without wavering. In addition to the five funerals in this sanctuary over the past month, several of you are also grieving the deaths of siblings and close friends and are already grieving the journeys of others who will pass on ahead of us soon. People who are not part of St. John’s or who live in other places have remarked how clear, deep and boundless is the love they experience when they are among us. Even in your grief and burden, you are repairing a broken concept about God in some people.
Here are five initiatives we should take in 2020 to help repair a broken concept about God in our community and world.
- We should let this city know WHY we live as an Actively Faithful servant community.
- We should be sure that every person who enters these buildings feels valued & welcomed.
- We should make sure every Sunday Morning Growth Group is practicing hospitality.
- We should use brochures, digital platforms, banners, publications and personal relationships to tell about our experiential relationship with The Living God of Jesus.
- We should purposefully reach out to others to invite them into our beloved community.
Last year, we decided we would increase our impact and expand our influence in Charlotte and beyond. The Financial Stewardship Emphasis was ‘Reaching Out.’ This past week, we surpassed $900,000 in annual financial commitments for the first time in more than a decade. Our staff, resource teams and Sunday Morning Growth Groups are making decisions and taking actions that move us forward toward this goal in 2020.
What increased impact will we have? That is still to be determined.
Since this is one of the largest banking cities in the western hemisphere, I ask you to make a deposit in our trust account through Christ. If you do so, you will answer the question.
FOR THE CHURCH TO LOOK MORE LIKE JESUS,
WE MUST ALLOW OUR LIVES TO BECOME MORE LIKE JESUS.
AS WE DO SO,
WE WILL RE RECLAIM GOD’S GOOD NEWS IN JESUS CHRIST FROM THE TRASH HEAP.
AND AS WE REPAIR A BROKEN CONCEPT ABOUT GOD,
THE LOVING GOD
WILL TRANSFORM LIVES,
HEAL FAMILIES AND
INCREASE OUR IMPACT IN THE WORLD.
To quote the Missionary Paul in his letter to Christ’s Center City Church in Philippi,
“… let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ…stand firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel…”
To quote the Sunday School teacher and controversial social anthropologist, Margaret Mead,
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful people can change the world.
Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”
Amen and AMEN. May it be so, Lord, beginning with us.