This sermon is going to be primarily for the benefit on nonchristians visiting the archive.
The following is an adaptation of a well-known modern parable.
A bull, while walking along one very dark morning, lost his way in the darkness and fell in a hole. Try as he might, he could not climb out. A Panda came by and saw the bull in the hole. He told him to meditate, to purify his soul, and when he reached Nirvana, all suffering would cease. The bull meditated, but he was still in the hole. Days later, a dragon walked by, and explained that the hole didn't exist, and neither did the man. Both were an illusion. This didn't help the bull, who was still in the hole that wasn't there. A crane came by next. He told the bull to concentrate on doing good deeds and improving his karma. He would still die in the hole, but he might be reincarnated as something with wings. A camel came by next, and taught the bull to pray, facing East, and to follow five tennats. If he was faithful, perhaps Allah would set him free. So the bull prayed as best he could, but his strength was fading. As the bull lay at the bottom of the hole, near death from starvation, a ram came and peered down at him. "Do you want to be free?" asked the ram. "Yes." answered the bull. The ram walked away for a moment, then a knotted rope fell down into the hole. The ram climbed down the rope, strapped the bull to his body and climbed back up. The bull, who could not get himself out of the hole, was saved.
There is a huge and growing movement in our society today of political correctness. We are instructed to strive to give offense to no one, and that's not a terribly bad idea. Meek men like Fred Rogers were able to impact society in humungous ways because of their meek nature. It is a great deal easier to get people to do what you want if they like you. As Elwood P. Dowd reminded us, you have to options for getting along in this world. You can be very smart, or very pleasant, and Solomon reminds us that being smart just multiplies sorrows. But I'm getting into next week's sermon, now. I think most of us agree that political correctness has gotten out of control. It's good to respect the feelings of others, and I for one would rather be referred to as "mobility challenged" than "that lame gimp". We do indeed need to respect people regardless of their age, sex, race, color, size, handicap, number of teeth, etc. etc. etc. And if someone chooses to pierce their jaw or tattoo their eyebrows or dress in satin and burlap, we are to respect that too. But what if their choices put them in danger? How are we to respond to that?
A popular metaphor for religion is roads going up a mountain. It doesn't matter which road you take, as long as you get to the top of the mountain. But what if the paths don't lead up the mountain? Just because a path looks like it might be heading in that direction doesn't mean it will get you there. In my experience, a mountain generally has one path to the summit once you get near the top. I think a better metaphor is a multiple-lane highway headed toward a canyon. Only one lane continues over a bridge. The rest stop abruptly. A driver going at top speed in the wrong lane will soon find himself plumetting over the cliff. All lanes are not equally fine. Only one will save you. The rest will end in death.
At a recent social event, I found myself drawn into a religious discussion with a pagan, much to my chagrin. Her approach to religion was "whatever gets you through the day." At that point, I clammed up, because I felt comments welling up inside that would have really turned her, as well as anyone standing in the hall, off the Christianity. Yes, I strive to be meek, but as many of you know, I'm not there, yet. Our religion is not about what gets us through the day. If that were the case, then we would be the most pitiable people on Earth. In many parts of the world, Christians are imprisoned for their belief without ever coming to trial. In Iran, Christians are beaten and enslaved. Even children. Among palestinians, Christians must hide like fugitives, because that's exactly what they are. If they are discovered, they are put to death. Even in the United States, Christians are still murdered for their faith. It wasn't that long ago that homosexuals stoned a group of Christians in front of their own church while the police sat by and watched. The world hates us, and it will continue to hate us until the very end. Get us through the day? As if!
What makes a Christian a Christian? It's not going to church. It's not being raised Catholic. It's not being baptized. It's salvation. Only those who have accepted Jesus Christ as savior are truly Christians. Paul calls Salvation a helmet. When do you wear a helmet? When you're doing your laundry? Making lunch? Taking a bath? Of course not. You don't wear a helmet to get you through the day. You wear it when you're getting ready to do something dangerous. For example, hurtling down the highway at 75 MPH on a vehicle with no inside. Walking on the moon. Working in a construction site where someone could drop a hammer on you. Getting shot at. Being a Christian is not about getting you through the day. It's about survival.
As I've said before, satan hates you and has a destructive plan for your life. If there is only one way to God, he's going to do everything he can to make you take some other path. If he can make you worship something without the power to save you, say an orange road pylon, bug-eyed aliens, your own ancestors or money, he's going to make any or all of those choices as rewarding as he can. If you're going the right way, he's going to make it as difficult as difficult can be. That's why this (raps on his salvation) is a helmet. You have the protection of the Holy Spirit because you need it. And if you don't have the protection of the Holy Spirit, you don't have a helmet, you have a fake. You have a fiberglass helmet liner that may look like a helmet now because no one has attacked you, but when the time comes that you're zipping down the wrong lane of the highway and you take off over that cliff, it's not going to do you a piddly bit of good!
It's a good thing I preach in text because I might have become shouty right then. I promised myself I wouldn't preach by shouting the way my grandfather did, but it frustrates me to see so many people making foolish choices, putting their faith in stupid things like fortune tellers, blowing up Jews or leaving out rice for their ancestors who have been reincarnated as rats... or just believing that everyone will be saved eventually and they don't have to do anything. What's worse is when they are fully aware that they cannot be saved without God, and yet they would gladly take off their helmet of salvation and sell out God for some cheap thing the way Edmond Pevensie sold out Aslan for some turkish delight.
We need Jesus. Every last one of us. We need Him not to get us through the day, but to save us from Hell, because there is only one thing that is going to keep you out. You must be reconciled to God. You can't live as His enemy and expect Him to save you. You need to have a relationship with God and that is never going to happen unless you allow Him to cleanse your sin. And yes, you have sin. We ALL have sinned. But Jesus paid the price for your sin when He died on the cross, and all you have to do is accept it. You need to come to God on His terms, but He's done all the work. All your part involves is to say "I do!" It's that simple.
For us Christians, we have a mission. ALL of us have a mission. We are all commanded to do the work of an evangelist, that is, to spread the gospel and tell people how to be saved. Now if you have the spiritual gift of evangelism and can walk up to anyone and start sharing the gospel, that's great. My grandmother can do that. That's her gift. Many of us don't have that, and that's okay. Some of us tend to get wound up and say "I have to save all my friends!" But our mission is not to save. that is something the Lord must do and your friends must choose. Our mission is to share the good news. And sometimes, not even that. Don't get me wrong, we should be ready to share the gospel, but sometimes, it's just going to irritate people. Sometimes, it takes a special touch, and God has ordained a specific person to evangelize someone. I recall one special case where only a pastor who had recently lost his son could share the gospel with a grieving father. God sent that man, and he was successful. Anyone else would have aggravated the man's grief and alienated him. So I urge you, be ready to share the gospel, but move carefully, and never without the Holy Spirit's permission. We tend to think of the Spirit as a tool or a weapon, but we must remember that He, too, is our God, with His own plans, His own will and full authority as our Master, not our slave. To move against His wishes is foolish. Respect His authority and witness where He tells you to witness.
So here it is in a nutshell. If you're not a Christian, you need Jesus. If you are, you need to tell others they need Jesus, but carefully, by the Spirit's permission.
Next week: Being pleasant
Today's reading: John 14:5-9
5 Thomas said to him, "Lord, we don't know where you are going, so how can we know the way?"
6 Jesus answered, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.
7 If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him."
8 Philip said, "Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us."
9 Jesus answered: "Don't you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, 'Show us the Father'?