A Pastoral Message on The Living God of Active Faith based upon 2 Corinthians 3:17 – 4:5
for St. John’s Baptist Church of Charlotte, NC, by The Rev. Dennis Foust, PhD, on October 24, 2021
This morning, I need your help. If you have ever studied the field of communications, please lift your hand. Ok, good, several of you. We have a new ministry group called, ‘Messaging and Media.’ It focuses on communications; so, please contact Mallory in the church office so she can use your expertise. Thank you.
On a related question, one form of communication is homiletics or the study and practice of preaching. If you have studied homiletics, please lift your hand. Again, a few of you have studied in this area. You know that preaching is a multi-faceted area of study. One of the most helpful courses of study I ever pursued was Pastoral Preaching. Preaching a sermon as a stand-alone presentation is very different from preaching as a pastor because true pastors are seeking to lead the people in a direction and offer themes and threads of thought for people over time.
In this brief message, I ask you to notice one short phrase in the scripture read by Marc and Tallon: “We do not proclaim ourselves; we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord.”
Through the years, it has been my blessing and privilege to preach in eight nations and twenty-three states in hundreds of places. I’ve preached under shade trees in Kenya, under a brush arbor in Mexico, in an ecumenical sanctuary filled with immigrants and refugees from sixteen nations in Morocco, in hospital chapels, on university and seminary campuses, in church camps, on retreats, at conventions and conferences, in small rural churches perched on rocks from surrounding fields and in sanctuaries that seat more than two thousand. In a few pulpits, the same plaque has been embedded into the sacred desk displaying these words: “We would see Jesus.”
Having preached my first sermon at the wise old age of 18, one of the things I have learned about preaching is this: ‘most people see the Jesus they want to see.’ Many people want to see the kind Jesus, the forgiving Jesus, the healing Jesus, the merciful Jesus, the suffering servant Jesus, the rabbi Jesus, the dinner party Jesus, the inclusive Jesus, and the hope-giving Jesus. Yet, few people want to see the Jesus who says, “Come and die to your selfish ambitions and take up your cross of discipleship.”
Millions of people throughout the ages have pretended to follow Jesus. However, few have understood him and fewer still have tried to put into practice what Jesus practiced. Many people do not proclaim Jesus; they proclaim themselves by proclaiming the Jesus they want to see.
Too often, what Jesus did and what Jesus wanted to see done by his followers has been manipulated and contorted to the extent that his message comes to mean anything that is popular and can often mean nothing at all. The name of Jesus has been corrupted to justify violence, frighten children, murder innocents, and inspire people to ungodly crimes of injustice. The saddest part of all is that some of the things Jesus opposed most strongly in the world of his time have been emphasized and proclaimed throughout the world by invoking his name.
Some of you will remember me telling you about the conversation I explored with a fellow who said, “I no longer believe in God.” I asked him to tell me about the God in whom he did not believe. After a few minutes of listening to him tell me about a God who is anything but love, I asked him, “Am I surprising you by saying that I do not believe in that God either?”
Beloved, as we turn our faces toward our second century, let’s renew our commitment to proclaim Jesus as Lord of our faith. But, let’s also be honest with God about our first century. At times, we have proclaimed Jesus very well. At other times, we have fallen short or missed the mark. We have sometimes proclaimed ourselves and the Jesus we wanted to see rather than the fulness of Christ.
We proclaim Jesus by investing in God’s economy of compassionate justice. We proclaim Jesus as we value each person. We proclaim Jesus when we partner with others to address poverty, heal disease, improve education, welcome strangers, give opportunities to children, feed the hungry, diminish hopelessness, shelter the homeless, erase ignorance, confront selfishness, hate evil, comfort suffering, and bring new life where the shadow of death is lurking.
When Paul stood atop Mars Hill, some Athenian philosophers asked what many of you ask when I step to this sacred desk: “What will this babbler say?” By the end of his sermon on Mars Hill, they realized Paul had not proclaimed himself; he had proclaimed Jesus as Lord of his faith. We do not proclaim Christianity. For Jesus did not come to be begin a new religion. Jesus stepped forward to reveal the character and nature of God to humanity. Jesus shows us how to relate with and walk with God. Jesus shows us what is important to God. And Jesus shows us how God wants us to live in relationship with our human family. Do you want to know what God is like? STUDY JESUS EVERY DAY. LEARN ALL YOU CAN LEARN ABOUT THE FAITH OF JESUS, THE PERSPECTIVE OF JESUS, THE LIFE AND MINISTRY OF JESUS. There’s a whole world out there saying, ‘We would see Jesus.’
In our best moments, we do not proclaim ourselves; we proclaim Jesus. Yes, our history is important – we should embrace and celebrate our first century of history – but it is not essential for us to proclaim our history. We have a wonderful church covenant which we value. However, it is not essential that we proclaim our covenant. The Bible is important; it’s even pivotal in our walk of faith. However, it is not essential that we proclaim the Bible. IT IS ESSENTIAL THAT WE PROCLAIM JESUS CHRIST AS LORD OF OUR FAITH. As we proclaim Jesus, we help people understand why the Bible, our covenant and our church’s history are important to us. We proclaim Jesus; not ourselves.
It is important to notice that Paul said, “We.” Yes, “we proclaim”. We preach. You are the only sermon some people will ever receive. You don’t have to be a good preacher. You don’t have to be smart or well read. All you have to be to proclaim Jesus Christ – is dead – dead to proclaiming yourself so you can proclaim that Jesus is Lord of your faith. Amen and AMEN!