Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Pop Quiz

Here is my sermon from Sunday.  The text was Luke 12:32-48:

I want everyone to put everything away, all you need is a piece of paper and a pen or pencil, everything else should be put away under your chairs, because we’re going to have a pop quiz on what I have preached on so far.  Did that make you nervous? Maybe a little scared?  I’m sure it brought back some unpleasant memories regardless of how long it’s been since we’ve been in school, because I don’t know anyone who likes surprise tests.  And if that didn’t make you scared, try this. When Jesus fed the five thousand, Matthew took five times as many fish as Luke, and Peter had one fish less than Luke.  The total number of fish between them is 20.  How many fish does each disciple have?  (x equals Luke’s fish, 5x equals Matthew’s fish, and x-1 equals Peter’s fish, so X plus 5x plus X-1=20 so x equals 3)  That certainly left some of you with chills, because very few people like word problems, and I’m guessing none of you have every faced a word problem in worship before either.  But none of us really like these situations.

We don’t like being put on the spot, we don’t like being surprised, and we don’t like having to do things we don’t like, like word problems.  And yet this is a reality of life, and there is really only one way to prepare for situations like that, and that is to be prepared for them.  Rather than waiting until the last minute to study for tests, cramming and spending all nighters, if we are working at it every single day, then we don’t have to cram at the end because we are already prepared, and we don’t have to worry about the pop quiz that comes up, that gets thrown at us, we don’t have to worry about the last minute project that the boss puts on our desks, because we are preparing every single day, bit by bit, we are doing what we are called to do so that we are ready for these surprises.  And that’s not just good advice for school or for work; it’s also good advice for living a Christian life.

This passage is about being prepared for the second coming of Christ at a time that is yet unknown.  Normally when we think about the second coming, we also talk about the end of time, and typically this is referred to as the apocalypse, but that is actually incorrect.  Apocalypse means unveiling or revealing, thus the apocalypse of John is called Revelation, because it reveals something to us.  But there were lots of apocalypses that didn’t have anything to do with what Revelations is about.  One of the most popular apocalypses in the early church, and one that was included on many lists of books that might become part of the Bible, is known as the Apocalypse of Peter, although Peter didn’t write it, and it is a guided tour of heaven and hell, sort of like Dante’s Divine Comedy.  So although we think of end of time issues being apocalyptic, that is actually incorrect use of that term.  Instead, stories that deal with the end of time are eschatological, or dealing with eschatology, which means something like study of the last things.  It also deals with the parousia, which is the second coming.  And I know some of you are thinking, “there he goes again with the big words,” but this time it’s about more than justifying my education, because it’s important to understand these issues, especially in consideration of how some portions of the church view and talk about these subjects.  In addition, the church really likes big, technical words, and in fact the longest real word in the English language, antidisestablishmentarianism, is a church word.  Next pop quiz, does anyone know what antidisestablishmentarianism means?

Jesus’ call to be prepared for the second coming is actually a common refrain.  Here we are told to be dressed for action and to have our lamps lit, in preparation for the master to return, and the servants are to be ready regardless of the time of the day, and by being ready they are blessed.  Now when people hear this passage, we often get the idea that, like George Carlin said, Jesus is coming look busy.  That is not what Jesus is claiming.  This is not about doing things simply in order to do it, nor is it about burning ourselves, or our lamps, out waiting in preparation.  It’s impossible to be highly vigilant for all time.  Here’s another pop quiz, and this is a physics question.  What is the difference between energy and work?  Energy is power which may be translated into motion, or the ability to do work.  So work then is the expenditure of energy in motion, with a specific direction, or there is displacement.  So a horse pulling on a wagon that is not moving is expending energy, but they are not doing work, but when the wagon begins to move then work is being done.  In the church we like to expend a lot of energy without actually doing any work, and we can do the same things in our faith lives.  We sit and we spin our wheels, but we are not actually going anywhere, and therefore no work is actually being done.  I do this a lot when writing sermons.  I sit down to write, and then I go off and do something else, and come back, and then start playing solitaire, and then move onto something else.  I’m expending a lot of energy, and a lot of my time, but I’m not actually getting any work done, I have no movement or direction, all I have done is expended energy.

Now sometimes we don’t get the work done because work requires, well work, it requires effort, and we live in a society that pushes the quick fix, the easy answer that requires no effort, energy or work.  Want to lose weight?  Now you can without changing your diet or exercising, just take this pill.  Want to be an instant millionaire?  Just follow this simple program, and you can.  Want to be a business guru, but don’t want to read any of the books, or get a mentor, or put in the time, simply read this once page and you’ll know everything you need to know.  But of course what we ultimately find out is that none of these are actually effective, because to be better at anything, to prepare ourselves, to reach the goals we want to reach, we have to put in the work necessary to reach that goal.

Curtis Strange, was the first professional golfer to earn a million dollars in prize money in a year, and was two time US Open Champion.  Curtis also has a twin brother, who was said to have been just as talented as a golfer, but Allan never played a single tournament on the PGA tour.  Why?  Because he didn’t want to put in the work necessary in order to be as good as he could be.  Whereas Curtis would leave for the golf course at 8 am and come home at 8 pm, in order to put in as much work as he could, and thus he became a hall of fame golfer whereas his brother didn’t.  In proverbs we are told “Anyone who tills the land will have plenty of bread, but one who follows worthless pursuits will have plenty of poverty.  The faithful will abound with blessings, but one who is in a hurry to be rich will not go unpunished.”  That is all to say that in order  to get the results we want, again no matter where, whether in school, in work, or in our faith we have to put in the work, work not just energy.

What we also hear in today’s passage is that “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”  Normally when we hear this, we tend to take treasure a little more literally and so we only think about money or possessions, and we know that wherever we focus, is where we will give our love and attention.  Or as Jesus says you cannot serve both God and Mammon, or money/possessions, for you will love one and hate the other.  But is it just about literal treasure?  Or are there other treasurers in our lives, like our time?  Where we dedicate our time says just as much, or maybe even more, about our priorities.

Jesus says “where your treasure is, there your heart will be”, and then he says “be dressed for action and have your lamps lit.”  It’s not that these two statements are together by some editorial mistake, they are together because they are intimately connected.  Another pop quiz, in order to be ready, and to pick up our cross how often?  Daily, then we have to be focusing on our faith, on our relationship with God, and deepening our knowledge and understanding of our faith, every single day.  Just like in school in order to understand what’s in the books, then you have to hit the books.  Sometimes we forget this as adults. We want our kids to go to Sunday School and learn about the faith, and then somewhere around middle school, or maybe the first years of high school, they go through confirmation, and then we’re sort of done with our Christian Education.  That’s all we need.  That’s one of the reasons why I don’t like the term Christian Education, instead it should be called Christian formation, because in education we graduate at some point, and it’s all behind us, but we are never really done being formed.

Now since the PGA Championship is taking place this weekend I felt the need to use an illustration from golf, but as many of you know I’m really a baseball fan, and there is something we can learn from that as well to help us.  If you go to a little league game, before the game begins, what are you going to see the players doing to get ready?  They’re throwing, and catching and hitting and running.  If you go to a high school baseball game, what do you see the players doing before the game?  Throwing, hitting and catching.  If you go to see UNM’s baseball team play, what are they doing before the game?  Throwing, hitting and catching.  And if you go to see the Isotopes play, or to a major league game, what are the players doing before the game begins?  They are throwing, catching and hitting.  Obviously the level of play is radically different, but it’s the same fundamentals that drive everything.  It’s not that the players when get to college or the pros, can say I’m too old to throw, hit and catch in practice any more.  Nor do they say, I know how to do that because I’ve been doing it forever, and so I’m not going to do it anymore.  They don’t say any of those things because these things are fundamental to playing the game of baseball, and so you can’t move on from them.  You have to keep doing them no matter how long you’ve been playing and the same is true about Christian practices.

What are some of the fundamental things that we are called to do as Christians?  Pray (but only 47% report praying every day or nearly every day, although those are not the same thing)  Reading the Bible (according to the Barna Group, only 10% report reading the Bible daily, and 37% read it weekly, although I don’t know if that includes reading it here at church).  Attending worship, participating in small groups, attending Christian formation classes, volunteering, bearing witness.  All these things are important, and we all have reasons why we don’t do them.  Some is because they aren’t offered, and we’ll work on that, some is because we don’t know how to do it, I hear this a lot about prayer, and we’ll work on that, or people say they don’t read the Bible because it’s confusing, and they don’t know what to do with it, which is why we need to be in small groups and classes so we can talk about it, but really more telling is the 64% who report that they don’t read the Bible simply because they don’t have the time, and this is where we begin to think about where our treasure is.  If we are unwilling to make time for our faith life, what are we saying about its importance, and this is too important to be left for others.  And I’ll be honest that I struggle with time and these issues just as much as everyone else.  I get distracted and pulled in a thousand different directions, and don’t always do the things that I know I should be doing  But here is the real problem with ignoring these things as part of our faith life.

Final pop quiz.  According to the national Study of Youth and Religion, which is the largest study of religion and religious practices of youth and young adults every conducted, what was the number one indicator of whether a young adult would be involved in church?  It was not involvement in a youth group, it was not a great mission trip, it was not whether they attended worship, and it was not whether they prayed or read the Bible every day, as important as those are.  Instead, the number one indicator of whether young adults would be involved in church was their parents’ religiosity.  If they saw their parents praying every day, reading the Bible every day, attending church, of taking their faith seriously and making time for it in their lives, then their children did as well.  The church should not be a place where adults bring their children so they can be made Christians.  The church should be a place where adults come to be made Christians, and they bring their children with them because that’s where they will be.  “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.  So be dressed and have your lamps lit.”

Now I don’t know when Jesus might come back, and we can have much further conversations about what these eschatological passages in scripture actually mean, but here is one thing I do know and that is that at some point we will come face to face with Christ.  It could be ten minutes from now, or ten days or ten years or 80 years, but some day we will all die, and we have to ask if we will be ready?  Are we prepared?  And this is about more than just looking busy, its more than just about expending energy, it’s about more than just praying a particular prayer, it’s about doing the actual work, which is energy with motion and direction, and deepening our relationship with Christ and with each other in deliberate ways.  But here is the good news.

This is not about being ready in order to avoid punishment.  Jesus does not say “have your lamps lit, or else” nor does he say “be ready, or else.” Instead he says “do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”  And he says “blessed are those slaves whom the master finds alert when he comes; truly I tell you, he will fasten his belt and have them sit down to eat, and he will come and serve them.”  The slaves don’t serve the master, the master serves the servants.  This is a passage about blessing, not a passage of fear and warning.  The coming is a gracious event, rather than a cause for panic.

We are called to be ready, not because the teacher is out to punish us, or seeking to catch us off guard, we are called to be ready, to work on our relationship with Christ, because Christ wants to be in relationship with us, and because when we are dedicated and passionate about something then that is where we want to be, and what we want to be doing, and what we want to be learning about, and where we want to spend our time.  When we are focused on God and our relationship, then everything else will take care of itself, and if we’re not then here is the opportunity to begin to change, to begin taking those small steps maybe beginning with praying every day, or reading scripture, or doing something else to work on our faith life, and it is a time to remember not to “be afraid, for it is your father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom,” so “be dressed for action and have your lamps lit.”  May it be so my brothers and sisters.  Amen.

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