A sermon I delivered to the OU Wesley Foundation Vespers service this week.
A lot of things change in college, and people who try to live out their faith on campus face some challenges they may not have faced before. Among them is the idea that it’s OK if they want to have their religion and beliefs and whatnot, but they need to keep it to themselves.
Because most people are trying to deal with the real world, you see, and if some people want to pretend there’s a God and believe people walked on water and rose from the dead and were healed and such that’s OK, but they need to keep it from getting in the way of the people who want to deal with the world the way it is. This ol’ world’s got some real issues and it needs real solutions, not fairy tales.
Passages like this would seem to support that. Faith is a conviction of things hoped for, evidence of things unseen. Not of things that are visible or measurable in this world. But let’s reflect some.
Now I’m a person who believes everyone has a right to believe what they want to believe about God, up to and including believing there’s no God at all. God gave them that right and no person or group of people has the authority to take it away.
But I will disagree with the idea that my faith doesn’t deal with the world the way it is. In fact, my faith claims that Christ is God’s way of dealing with this world so intimately that he actually becomes part of it. In Christ, we say God entered the world as a part of the world, a human being known by his contemporaries as Yeshua bar Yusuf, ha-Natzaret, or Jesus son of Joseph, of Nazareth.
Jesus grew in his mother’s womb. He was born, he was a baby and a boy and a young man and an adult. He got hungry and thirsty and hot and cold and tired and judging by what we read of the disciples, he probably got irritated now and again. The story of driving the moneychangers from the temple shows he could get angry. He became fully human – my faith holds up a salvation figure that needed to be potty trained when he was a toddler and I’m pretty sure most parents would tell you it don’t get much more real world than that.
What’s so different about us then, if both my faith and the folks who disagree with it deal with the real world?
Well, like people of most faiths or beliefs, we suggest that the world may be what it is, but it’s not what it should be. Whatever the way things are these days, they’re not really supposed to be like this. Our vision of the world tells us that God made it – we may differ as to how he went about it, but we believe God was involved in the creation of our universe, and he called the universe he created good. When he made human beings – again, we differ on the method but we agree on the maker – he called us not just good, but very good.
And obviously this world as it exists may have good and great things in it, and it features a large number of wonderful people whose love of their fellow human beings and compassionate lifestyle leads us to call them “good.” But the world features a number of things and a number of people that are in no way good.
It has people who say God’s killing American soldiers because America hasn’t been mean enough to Neil Patrick Harris. It has others who say they’re justified in beating a woman half to death because when her left pinky toe accidentally slipped out of the yards of cloth they demanded cover her, it inflamed their lustful thoughts. It has people who buy and sell other people, and nations that count on tourism drawn to the presence of large numbers of women and children trafficked for sexual slavery. It’s a world where film of an actual execution can get you banned from the internet but where film of a pretend execution, given a name like Saw, Hostel or Halloween, will get you rich, provide for lots of sequels and make you bunches of fans.
Pick your own injustice if you don’t like these, but it’s not hard to see that the world is not what it should be by most measures.
As Christians, we may have a lot of variations about some aspects of what we believe the world should be, but we’re told pretty clearly what ought to be at the center: Loving God with all our hearts, souls, minds and strength, and loving our neighbors as ourselves. Yeah, dangerous vision. Better keep that to yourself – it’d be awful if people started loving each other like Jesus did.
But why bother speaking out about this stuff? After all, these problems all make up the world the way it is, and even though we’ve missed the mark a lot of times, we Christians have been trying to talk about that for two thousand years without a lot of results in terms of changing the way things are.
Heck, Good Friday even proves that Jesus himself fell victim to the world the way it really is instead of the way it should be. He was an innocent man executed on false charges.
Why? Well, that’s when I bend all of this difference between the world the way it is and the world the way it should be back in towards myself. When I begin to understand that I too was created in the image of God and there is a “me” I should have been but have failed to be because of my own mistakes and my own sin. I’m a part of this fallen world and no less fallen than the rest of it.
And then I hear the gospel message. Yes, God says, I know what you should have been, and I know what you really are. Now let me tell you something else. I also know what you could be. I see that image of me still inside you. Maybe it’s been marred and disfigured by your sin, but it is still there and I am the great Healer and Restorer who can bring that image out even more clearly than it might have been to start with. Allow me to work within you and I will show you what you could be.
Ukrainian Kseniya Simonova recently won her country’s nationwide show Ukraine’s Got Talent. She paints and draws with sand – I see the stuff I pour out of my shoes when I get home from the beach and she sees fantastic and moving images of her nation’s history in WWII. Sculptors see what could be inside a block of stone, painters see what could be on a blank canvas and God sees what could be inside this sinner.
How then could I be silent? Penn Jillette, the vocal half of the magician duo Penn and Teller, posted a video diary after talking with a Christian man after one of their shows. He was impressed with the man’s sincerity and compassion, but not convinced to change his mind. That’s not what stuck out for me, though. It was what Jillette said about people who share their faith – he expects them to do that.
“How much would you have to hate someone to believe eternal life is possible and then not tell them about it?” he asked. He’d probably hate having his words used in a sermon like this, but I doubt he’ll ever know about it. That statement reminds me that if I’ve been told by God what I could be if I open to his love and grace, I might be inclined to spread that word around.
So, keep my faith to myself? Sorry, friend, no can do.
I just don’t hate you that much.