I have a buddy. He’s an old ministry vet with years on the battlefield, having seen the good, the bad and the ugly that being knee deep in church life brings. As a result, he’s learned some key lessons from his time in ministry that has ended up serving him pretty well in life, regardless of the context. One such lesson he shared with me the other night was this idea that people have a pretty limited capacity to take in information and will end up hearing what they need to hear anyway. I thought about that for a sec and realized it’s certainly true in my life. I’ll listen to a 45 minute podcast and will walk away with maaaybe one thing that might stick with me… if I’m lucky. My buddy thinks this isn’t such a bad thing, but it means that as teachers in the church, it’s wise to shape all of our teaching around one message, one sermon – and that we just give it over and over and over again. Week after week after week. Sure, we will come at it from different angles and maybe with different emphasis here or there, but ultimately, we proclaim the same message over and over.
I reflected on this a bit and realized what my one sermon is. Ready for this? Fair warning: if you enjoy coming to Sunday morning services each week and not knowing what you’re about to hear, maybe skip the rest of this week’s blurb here. I’m about to let the cat out of the bag and once it’s out, it’s out. Here’s the sermon:
The character and heart of God is completely represented in the person of Jesus, nothing more and nothing less. And Jesus’s character and heart is reflected 100% on the cross, nothing more and nothing less.
If you think about it, this is the sermon Jesus came to share, too. Over and over again he tells his followers that when they’ve seen him, they’ve seen the Father. We all come at God with some construct, some projection of his character, of his nature in our minds. And so when we pray, we pray with that construct in our heads as the listener of our prayers and when we screw up in life, we do so with that construct in mind watching us, and on and on – no matter what we do in life, we think about God in a certain way. And that’s impossible to avoid but then this Jesus dude comes on the scene and starts proclaiming that our constructs of God, how we understand him, is inaccurate and that He himself represents this God the Father perfectly, 100%, completely.
And suddenly, we no longer have to do (as much) guess work because Jesus shows us who God is.
I think one of the reasons so many people walk away from faith as they grow older is because the constructs of God they held in their youth never matured with them. I’m not sure about you but the God of my youth (and even adulthood, if I’m honest) was always annoyed with me ’cause I kept screwing up. He was typically mad, condemning, frustrated with my constant sinning and, sure, there were times when he was also happy with me because I went to church and gave $5 in the offering plate here or there. By and large, though, he was pretty impatient and fickle and living under the gaze of a temperamental God is not exactly a sustainable model for maintaining a relationship (Life lesson here, parents. Take note!).
Now, I’ve had the fortune in life to be surrounded by a community of friends and literature and influences that have encouraged me toward a more Jesus-y God and this has kept me from walking away from my faith and has thus helped shape my “one sermon.” As I consider all those I’ve known who have walked away from God due to a misguided understanding of God as this shame-inducing, angry monster, who can only be appeased through perfect obedience, I realized there’s a more compelling narrative to be proclaimed and that it’s right there in the pages of the gospel.
The wrong narrative proclaims, “Hey God may be angry with you but THANKFULLY Jesus came and died, turning God’s favour toward you.” This suggests Jesus serves as a divine bulletproof vest. Even if this were true, are you really that much more compelled to love God? Jesus, sure, but not God.
Instead, it’s the narrative that proclaims, “Hey, you can only understand God properly through Jesus. He’s the perfect revelation of God the Father. Start there… in fact, start on the cross to see the full nature of God revealed.” We see Jesus reach out to the broken, the widow, the shame-filled, those on the fringes of society, but then we also see him reach out to the ones who beat him and spit in his face, offering forgiveness, restoring dignity, healing their brokenness and, ultimately, dying for them. I mean a God who’s like that I can get behind, I can love authentically. I’m drawn to that kind of God, aren’t you?
And that’s what my one sermon is. It’s that all of those misguided constructs of God we hold, the constructs that determine how much we actually LOVE this God, they need to be refined in the light of Jesus. How we read and understand scripture needs to be refined in the light of Jesus. How we judge, how we live, how we treat our neighbour – all of it is needing to be refined in the light of Jesus.
Now, this may be my one sermon, but I realize it’s going to take a lifetime to exhaust its implications. I invite you to track with us as we continue to learn together in community what this all means.
(Image by wirestock on Freepik)