Which Side Are You On? (2008)


Here are my thoughts for this coming Sunday, the 3rd Sunday after Pentecost.  The Scriptures are Genesis 6: 11 – 22, 7: 24, 8: 14 – 19; Romans 1: 16 – 17, 3: 22 – 31; and Matthew 7: 21  -29

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While my two favorite Bible passages are Ecclesiastes 3: 1 – 13 and John 8: 31 – 32; there is a special place in my heart for today’s Old Testament reading (Genesis 6: 11 – 22, 7: 24; 8: 14 – 19) and Gospel reading (Matthew 7: 21 – 29).

Ecclesiastes 3: 1 – 13

There’s an opportune time to do things, a right time for everything on the earth:
A right time for birth and another for death,
A right time to plant and another to reap,
A right time to kill and another to heal,
A right time to destroy and another to construct,
A right time to cry and another to laugh,
A right time to lament and another to cheer,
A right time to make love and another to abstain,
A right time to embrace and another to part,
A right time to search and another to count your losses,
A right time to hold on and another to let go,
A right time to rip out and another to mend,
A right time to shut up and another to speak up,
A right time to love and another to hate,
A right time to wage war and another to make peace.

But in the end, does it really make a difference what anyone does? I’ve had a good look at what God has given us to do—busywork, mostly. True, God made everything beautiful in itself and in its time—but he’s left us in the dark, so we can never know what God is up to, whether he’s coming or going. I’ve decided that there’s nothing better to do than go ahead and have a good time and get the most we can out of life. That is it; eat, drink, and make the most of your job. It’s God’s gift.

John 8: 31 – 32

Then Jesus turned to the Jews who had claimed to believe in him. “If you stick with this, living out what I tell you, you are my disciples for sure. Then you will experience for yourselves the truth, and the truth will free you.”

I used the Old Testament reading from Genesis, or rather Bill Cosby’s interpretation of the Noah story as the basis for my first college reflection (there is a copy of this wonderful piece on YouTube.com but it is soured somewhat by the comments which are more theological and show no appreciation for the humor of the piece). And it was during that same college period that I became aware of that great theological study, The Gospel According to Peanuts by Robert L. Short.

In one passage from the cartoon strip, Linus is outside building a rather ornate sand castle. As he is working on this project, it begins to rain until, in the fourth panel, it is a deluge and all of his work has been washed away. Linus is sitting there saying “There’s a lesson to be learned here somewhere. But I don’t know what it is.” Mr. Short intersperses the panels of the strip with the words from Matthew about the man who built his house upon the sand and when the rains and floods came and the winds blew, the house was washed away.

In telling this story, Jesus was pointing out the difference between those who hear His words and act upon them and those who hear His words but do not act upon them. It is fitting that this passage is paired with the flood story because how many times in the past few years have we heard some pastor proclaim that the flooding of New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina or the flooding of the Mississippi in 1993 was caused because God was angry at this country for a variety of reasons. Perhaps God is angry with us but we are reminded that God made a covenant with Noah that he would never flood the earth again and the sign of that covenant was the rainbow.

The problem is that too many people today want to use the Bible as they see it written rather than seeing the Bible in total. They are quite willing to utilize Biblical passages to justify denying church membership to selected portions of society while at the same time accepting the idea that Jesus dined with sinners and the dredge of society. You cannot have it both ways.

As I read Paul’s comments to the Romans today (Romans 1: 16 – 17; 3: 22b – 31), I hear a man telling a community that all are sinners but that all receive the grace of God. The Good News is the Good News to all, not just a select portion.

And therein lays our own personal dilemma. For what is to be done with the violence of this world; what is to be done with the inequities found in society because of race, creed, economic status, or lifestyle. Will God someday in the future (or any day now, as some would tell it) strike this earth and cause a great cataclysmic event to destroy the world while saving those who profess to believe in Christ?

Why is that Jesus in this passage from Matthew as well as in the passage in Matthew 25: 35 – 45 pointing out the difference between those that do and those that just talk? Is it because that those that do work to bring the Gospel into this world while those who just talk work to keep the Gospel away from the world?

If we know that the world is about to come to an end because of differences between people because of economic status, race, creed, or any other factor and we do nothing, who are we in the story? If we work to end hunger, poverty, racism, sexism, ageism, and oppression, what will happen to us in the end?

Paul wrote to the Romans that he was not ashamed of the Gospel. If we are who we say we are, then we should not be ashamed of the Gospel either. The Gospel is the promise that there is hope, that the hungry shall be fed, the naked shall be clothed, the sick healed, and the prisoners set free. But we must do more than simply say that we are not ashamed of the Gospel; we must also live the Gospel.

I have written two sermons in the past that have the same title as this piece today (see “Which Side Are You On?” (2004) and “Which Side Are You On?” (2005)). I have done so because of how society today views Christianity.

Whether we want to accept the notion or not, there are two sides to Christianity. There is the side that in reality opposes the Gospel and works to make the church today exclusive and closed. This is the side that is all too familiar to society. The other side of Christianity works to put the Gospel into action and opens the doors of the church to the unwanted and undesired; it is a side that does not fit well in today’s society.

When we say that we are a Christian, society today automatically puts us on one side of the Gospel whether that is where we really stand or not. Unless you are willing to stand up and be counted for Christ, by your thoughts, your words, your deeds, and your actions, then you will be on the wrong side. It is time to decide which side you want to be on and what you are going to do. So I ask, “What side are you on?”

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