Sermon for February 4th, 2018
If I proclaim the gospel, this gives me no ground for boasting, for an obligation is laid on me, and woe to me if I do not proclaim the gospel.
So says Paul in his letter to the Corinthians this morning. Paul, was certainly one of the most enthusiastic proclaimers of the gospel of all time. He began by opposing the Christians, and ended by spreading their message all across the known world, and dying for the sake of that message. Paul makes it very clear that he will do whatever it takes so that the message about Jesus Christ will be made known to everyone: Jew, Gentile, Strong or weak…everyone. Paul wants everyone to know that God is alive and active in the world and he wants to draw people to that God. He finds God and the story of Jesus so compelling, so meaningful that it becomes the center of his existence and he cannot imagine suppressing it, or not sharing it. Proclaiming the gospel is in his DNA. It is a part of who he is. And it isn’t because he has something to gain from it. He actually has much to lose in this world. But what makes the gospel so compelling for Paul is what it has already given him: a vision of the glory of God and a glimpse of the personality that is responsible for all existence. That gives Paul’s life more meaning than anything else in this world ever could.
Christians…or perhaps I should say humans in general, but Christians in particular as worshipers of God have a really bad habit of lassoing the spotlight back onto ourselves. We become so concerned with whether or not we are worthy, whether or not we are sinful, whether our church or our preacher makes us feel good about ourselves, that we lose our primary focus which should really be the glory of God. Recognizing the grandeur and the majesty of the force that created the universe and gives meaning to all existence, that should be the first objective of any person of faith, not being obsessed with ourselves. That is the God that Isaiah is proclaiming when he says:
“It is he who sits above the the circle of the earth, and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers; who stretches out the heavens like a curtain, and spreads them like a tent to live in; who brings princes to naught, and makes the rulers of the earth as nothing…to whom will you compare me, or who is my equal says the Holy One?”
Recognizing the supreme power of God, recognizing that there is a force in this world, compared to which we are but grasshoppers…that is the first step for those of us who are people of faith. Not focusing on ourselves, but focusing on God. Realizing how great God is how we receive the gospel, helping others to see how great God is, is how we share the gospel. Paul has seen a vision of the glory of God in the person of Jesus Christ and it is so compelling that he cannot imagine not sharing it with others.
We often have a very lopsided view of what it means to share the gospel. We have images of people standing or sometimes shouting in the subways and public squares, we see televangelists with big hair and even larger bank accounts, we think of the people knocking on our door inquiring about our eternal destiny. Well those may be forms of evangelism and I don’t want to doubt the sincerity of those individuals who practice such things, but I think there are more effective ways of sharing the gospel and they begin by keeping our own hearts and minds focused on the glory of god and not on ourselves.
I just returned from a pilgrimage to the Holy Land and spending time in one of my favorite places in the world: Jerusalem. There is a power and an energy in that city that is almost impossible to describe. The holiest place within the holy city, for me at least is the temple mount and the remains of the temple where Jesus himself worshipped and prayed and taught. I can stand in one place there by that temple, and witness hundreds of Jews dancing and singing and praying with complete strangers all to glorify God. I can hear the Muslim call to prayer, calling the faithful of Islam to stop whatever they are doing and direct their thoughts to glorifying God. And I can hear the bells of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, and numerous other churches, ringing to remind those within earshot that God has triumphed over the powers of this world. There is something very compelling about being surrounded by people that are alive for God, and say what you will about the middle east, there are people there that are alive for God. Their lives are centered on the worship and adoration and glorification of God. Yes, there is conflict. Of course there is conflict, wherever humans gather there will be conflict, but there is also meaning. People make huge sacrifices to live there, because the worship and adoration of God, particularly in that place gives their lives meaning and purpose, and meaning and purpose will always win over material comfort in the end.
We live in a very comfortable world. Now you might be very aware of some pains and struggles in your life, you may not think of yourselves as comfortable, but if we take an honest and close look at how the rest of the world lives, and how people in history have lived, we have it pretty good. Our culture is pretty good about selling us comfort, but what it’s not good at is giving that comfort meaning. We are good at finding and pursuing things, but we aren’t always good and finding and pursuing purpose. Think about this for a minute: we live in a culture, where at the supercenter down the road people will trample another person to death, just to get a few dollars off some cheap electronic appliance. We live in a culture where people will kill another person, will kill many other people, not for their land, or their property or even their religion, but for no reason at all. And I’m not trying to beat up on our country, the same could be said for much of the world we live in. I only say this to point out that our pursuit of material pleasures has not saved us, and more and more people are recognizing that. Don’t get me wrong, I like nice things, and I have no issue with anyone that wants to improve their circumstances, but I think we have to recognize that there is something in the world far more valuable than any of the stuff we collect. There is God. More and more people are discovering that the rat race doesn’t really get them where they want to be. More and more people are longing for their lives to have meaning and purpose…and guess what…that is what our faith should give us: meaning and purpose.
If you want to share your personal testimony of faith with others, by all means do so. If you want to talk about Jesus and how he was crucified, died, and rose again, God bless you. Go out and do it. But far more compelling than any argument you can make is simply living a life that is alive to God. People are watching you. More than anything you say they are looking at your life to see if there is anything to this religion business. Most importantly, I think, people want to know if God and this Jesus person give your life greater meaning and purpose. That is and always has been my vision for this parish; it is my vision for myself, not just as a priest, but as a Christian and a person of faith: to be someone that is alive for God; to find such meaning and purpose in adoring the creator of the universe that others who may have found the promises of this world empty, may wish to know more.