“The Power of the Gospel”

Here are the thoughts that I presented for the Sunday Vespers in the Garden series on July 8th.   I based my thoughts on 2 Corinthians 12: 1 – 10 and Mark 6: 1 – 6.  If you are in the area, we hold the Vespers in the Garden on Fridays and Sundays at 7 in the evening.  If you are interested in leading one of the Vespers, let me know and I will tell you who to contact.

There are presently three pieces sitting on my “desk” right now that all, in some manner, shape or form, deal with God. The first, which is to be the 1000th piece posted to my blog and comes almost seven years to the date after I posted my first piece, deals with the Higgs boson and what it means to me. – see “The God Particle and the Search For Truth”

For the uninitiated and uninformed, this interesting little sub-sub-atomic particle was nicknamed the “God particle” by someone in the press because practically every physicist who dabbles in the make-up of the atom believed long before the actual discovery that the particle did exist. It as an act of faith, if you will, that someone would discover it.

The second piece on my desk and which I hope will be published deals with the relationship between God and government. This too comes at an appropriate time, with the celebration of the 4th of July last week and the 2012 Presidential election well in motion. But it is not a description of the role that Jesus offered when he pronounced that we give to Caesar what was Caesar’s and we give to God what was God’s. Nor will it be in the manner of Paul who spoke of the allegiance that we are to give the government while at the same time maintaining our allegiance to Christ. Rather, it is more along the lines that our allegiance to God leads us to disdain and ignore government, almost to the point of anarchy. I have already discovered in the process of thinking about this article that anarchy need not be the violent, revolutionary model that is often associated with it and that there is quite a bit of writing on Christian anarchy. If nothing else, it may shake the dust and cobwebs out of the minds of some people.

The third article that I am contemplating is one that I wrote many years ago but could never get published. The magic of writing a blog is that one becomes one’s own publisher and I thought that I should put this one up before I forget where I stored my notes. It is an article about my brief encounter with George Burns, who as we all know played God. See “George Burns and I”.

But what is important for us is that we see the link that binds them together. For such is the power of the Gospel, to take one beyond the limits of mind and body. This is, in part, what Paul is referring to in the passage from Corinthians that we read this evening. Did Paul, who was of course referring to his transformation from Saul to Paul, actually lifted up to the heavens? What the transformation an actually out-of-body experience? Paul won’t say, in part because the expression of heavenly experiences were often used as a means of claiming divine authentication. In addition, Paul’s opponents would use such an approach in opposition to Paul’s message.

What Paul is trying to do, in what is called his fool’s message, is show the transformation that comes through the Gospel. No longer is the man before you Saul, the persecutor, but Paul the evangelist. What Paul is telling the Corinthians, what he is telling us today is that we can undergo the same transformation, we can have the same life-changing experience. How we see ourselves is really dependent on how we see God in our lives and what we are to do with that transformation.

This can be a frightening thing, for both ourselves and for those around us. We will see the world around us in a new way just as others will see a change in us. For each one of us, this change is also a challenge because we cannot do the same things that we have done; in fact, we are often challenged to do more.

The beauty of the discovery of the Higgs boson is that is shows us what happens when we open our mind. And I have to think that Jesus wanted us to open our minds as well as our hearts. His lessons were not always easy to learn until we stopped and thought about them; his parables were simple stories with a deep meaning that only came when we stopped to think about them. There were those who had ears but could not hear and eyes but could not see. We know that the disciples had trouble with the stories; they feared the challenges that were placed in front of them. But they were also told that they would never do it alone, that the Holy Spirit would fill them and envelope them and empower them.

There are those, of course, who would have us limit what we see, especially when it comes to the Bible and our faith. Now, these individuals need not be fundamentalists who would seek some sort of Old Testament theocracy or even extreme secular humanists who would have us deny the existence of God in all manner, shape, and form. These individuals are more likely to be what I have come to call “Sunday Christians.” They dutifully come to church every Sunday, never missing a service. But they don’t do much when the service is over. And if someone should attempt to fiddle with their Sunday morning service and its accompanying ritual, make no mistake, someone will receive a full measure of wrath and fury.

Don’t even think of altering the music; it has been organ music since time immemorial and it will be organ music until the day that they die. It doesn’t matter that such persons only know one or two songs in the hymnal; that is really all that is needed, now isn’t it?

But don’t get me wrong. There are some in this vein who have adopted the more contemporary music style and it was a hard fought fight to make the change. And since we made that change, it would be best if we kept it for awhile, even if most of the music means or says little in relationship to the Gospel.

And don’t fiddle with the Bible; the King James version has worked for over almost 500 years, why change? Didn’t Jesus speak in Elizabethan prose with thees and thous sprinkled liberally through his parables?

And don’t mess with the starting time. Church was meant to be at 10 am in the morning; who ever heard of having a church service on a Sunday evening at 7 pm in the summer. And church services are supposed to be held inside, not outside with all the traffic noise! Church services are supposed to be quiet and orderly, with everyone nodding in agreement with the lofty and pompous words of the pastor, if they are not nodding off.

Yes, I am being sarcastic (and it’s not the first time either see – “What Are We Supposed To Do?”). But it goes to the mindset of church today, a mindset that encompassed the people of Nazareth who could only see Jesus as Mary’s boy, brother of James, Justus, Jude, and Simon. They could only see Jesus as Joseph’s son, the carpenter.

But they weren’t the only ones. When Nathaniel Bartholomew was first introduced to Jesus by his friend Philip, what did he say, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” We do that today, characterizing someone by where they are from, how they speak, or any other number of social and economic measures. If you are only willing to see Jesus as Mary’s boy, Joseph’s son, a carpenter or someone from Nazareth, then you are unlikely to hear or see his message and the good that comes from it.

And we have to remember the opposition that John Wesley received when he tried to make changes in the Church of England. First he was barred from preaching in the churches, a ban which was applied to Methodists here in what were the colonies. Then when he began preaching in the fields and over the countryside, people were encouraged to disrupt the services and thrown stones at Wesley and the other Methodist preachers. These were not easy changes for Wesley either. Trained and comfortable with the formal sermon approach, to go into the field and preach extemporaneously was definitely outside Wesley’s comfort zone. But he understood that he must make the change if the people were to hear the Gospel and be empowered by the Gospel.

I suppose that it is possible to be transformed by the Gospel, to accept Jesus Christ as one’s personal savior, and to accept the Holy Spirit as the empowerment in your life. But I don’t see how that would work. To say that you have been changed but then do nothing is to forsake all that you have been given. If Paul were here today, he would tell you of the great opportunities that lie before you because of your encounter with Christ. The power of the Gospel is that is gives you a new life, a life to do great things. How can you say no to that?

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