Thursday, December 18, 2008

Loving God: A Sermon

No, Jesus cannot be your boyfriend.

I overheard a couple of young ministers talking once about the singles ministry at their church in podunctville, tx (I should have known the story was going downhill). He said that for Valentine’s day the ministry was throwing a "Jesus Is My Valentine" party.


No. No. No.

You may not throw a party with that title.

Bad theology. Bad gimmick. Bad idea.

What does that tell singles?
"No one wants you but Jesus... lucky you!"
"You're too ugly to get a real boyfriend, so you get Jesus!"
"That bit about a nice personality doesn't date well, but an invisible savior does!"

I can't believe we buy into that. Jesus is not our lover. Gross. He's a god, not a boyfriend. We don't snuggle up with God under a plush blanket and watch chick flicks. We don't get flowers from God. We don't kiss God good night. And we sure as hell don' know….

Yuck. Not to mention that if you call God "Him," you've got a bunch of single men calling God their Valentine. So I guess homosexuality isn’t an issue for conservatives anymore?

Okay, I know. I've crossed the line. It's just that I hate that crap. I hate feel-good, cheesy, substitute-Jesus-for-what-culture-says-I'm-lacking-in crap. It's not right.

Yes, Jesus loves you.
Yes, people love you.
Yes, you are okay single and alone.
Yes, it sucks that your friends are being mushy with their significant others and you're going to watch your 159th rerun of Sex in the City. But it's all good. I love Sex in the City.

So if that’s not what it means to love God, what does it mean? What does it mean to love Jesus?

Jesus tells us during his ministry that the greatest commandment is to love God. He pulls from the ancient Jewish code to Love God as well. You can see those scriptures posted on the wall. So what does loving God look like? What does that mean? Jesus elaborates by saying that the second greatest commandment is to love your neighbor, so perhaps loving our neighbors is a fleshing out of what it means to love God.

But it seems to me that somewhere in between Jesus is my boyfriend and I love God through social justice, there has to be a middle ground.

In the Christmas story, the magi, the astrologers, the three kings, whatever you want to call them showed up at Jesus’ playpen with three fantastic and expensive gifts. They were the intellectuals of their day using reason and science to get to the baby King. The shepherds were there before them though, travelling with their sheep, their livelihood, perhaps in fear from the appearance of the angels, perhaps in awe of something so full of love that even shepherds could get a slice of it. There were also the devout religious people who greeted the baby. And although we don’t include them in our nativity scenes, Simeon and Anna spent hours in prayer, pouring over scripture, waiting for the appearance of the messiah only to have him placed in their arms. All these people, the scholars, the blue-collar workers, the religious fanatics, all journeyed in their own way to see the child-king.

What was their motivation?

What is ours?

Is the answer love?

While I don’t tend to get along well with the types of people who put this on their car and while we all still manage to anger each other in traffic, I can appreciate the bumper sticker: “real men love Jesus.” According to Society in 2008 Men are supposed to be strong, financial providers, hard-hearted. They don’t like chick flicks, they don’t cry at funerals and they sure as hell don’t get all mushy about God. So while I would never date a man with this bumper sticker on his car, I appreciate the counter-cultural nature of it’s text: I can surrender, I can let down my guard, I can admit that I am weak, I can admit I can’t do this on my own, I know I need a Savior… Real Men Love Jesus.

Real men love their wives too. They understand that when Jesus hollers at the Pharisees when they ask him about divorce: “should the woman serve the papers, or can just a man divorce his wife, blah, blah, blah;” what Jesus is really telling the Pharisees is, “it doesn’t matter!” What does matter is that the Pharisees are missing the whole point of love. While the law is concerned with rules, God is concerned with the heart. So who cares who serves who the divorce papers? “Don’t even look at a woman lustfully,” Jesus says. Because at the root of the issue is love, not the law. Before there is divorce there is adultery. Before there is adultery there is lust. Before there is lust, there is a heart and mind that views women as objects. This is an issue of the heart, Jesus says.

So what motivates you?

What’s in your heart?

It’s pretty easy to love a baby boy in a manger, but as Carley Bobby says in Talladega Nights, “Jesus did grow up.” So what does it mean to wrestle with the idea that a God became a man? What does it mean to love a God who asks us to pray for our enemies? What does it mean that God died on a cross and in doing so supposedly wiped away our sin? Does it make you grateful? Teary-eyed? Or just confused?

Sometimes it’s easier to feed a homeless person than it is to accept the idea that God loves you.

Sometimes it’s easier to donate all your giftedness to the church: singing in choirs, going to Sunday school, buying presents for Angel Tree children than it is to explore what it means to live completely surrendered and dependent on God.

Sometimes it’s easier to memorize all the stories and know all the answers and heck maybe even some of the questions too than it is to admit that your life is changed, that your heart is changed because of your relationship with Jesus Christ.

I don’t know where that leaves us except in a place of mystery. And so this holiday season I pray that in the baby you will experience the wonder, mystery and joy of God becoming like us. And as that baby grows into a child, so will your relationship with Him grow as you learn God’s character and begin to model it in your own life. And the child grows into a teen and you begin to take greater steps yourself, steps of spiritual discipline, challenging yourself to grow. And the teen becomes a man and suddenly you realize that man who will die on a cross is as fragile as your own humanity and yet it is infused with God and on God you will both rely, live and eventually die. Greater love has no man than this that he would lay down his life for a friend and so Jesus did as well. For a friend, for a dream, for a kingdom. And now it’s our turn to love so deeply, so intimately that we would die to ourselves to live in Christ.


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