07 August 2005

Sunday Thoughts

1. I just noticed that the instructions under the lid of my washing machine include the following statement, in English:

For instructions in French, see owner’s manual.

So if you speak French, you have to also speak English to find the instructions. And if you speak English, why do you need the French instructions in the first place? Ah, the mysteries of Whirlpool.

2. The sermon in church this morning was very good, given by Michael Precht, who is in only his first year of seminary at Duke. He came to Hyde Park this summer as an intern and is thus far with my erratic attendance the only pastor I’ve heard preach at the church. This was his last Sunday with us; I will greatly miss him. He’s the sort of pastor who, if he came back to the Tampa area after his ordination, even if he joined a church a long distance away, I’d join that church immediately. Today he spoke about living in celebration.

This may turn into a long piece, or it may not; either way, the rest is after the jump.

The Old Testament lesson was a story about David, and how the mighty king danced like a fool upon bringing the Ark of the Covenant into Jerusalem. His wife nagged him for acting like a fool in front of the whole kingdom. David pointed out that the commoners would see how God’s love made David so happy he was willing to dance like a fool, and they will want the same thing for themselves.

How perfect.

I can paraphrase bits of the sermon, but don’t ascribe anything extremely silly I may say to Mr. Precht.

From the inside looking out, it sometimes seems to me like Christians are not often perceived as filled with the ecstasy of God’s love. You see a lot of Christians filled with the letter of the law, but not with much else. We are seen as disciplinarians, as meddlesome moralists who are only interested in forcing others to conform to our views.

I saw a sign on the highway a couple months ago during the Quran flushing controversy that is illustrative here. It said something along the lines of "Flushing the Koran is an act of love."

Aside from the low intelligence level demonstrated by that statement, what about it would bring anyone anywhere to Christ? Anything at all? Is there love in that statement, the kind of love anyone would want?

I'm not saying being a Christian is all milk and honey. Obedience to God's will is hard, turning the other cheek is hard, loving your neighbor is hard. I have plenty of trouble with all of these. Given these facts, is the promise of eternal bliss in heaven enough to bring a worldly person to Christ? I don't think so.

It occurs to me that of course a Christian is charged with bringing others to Christ. If you enjoy being a Christian, and revel in God's love and forgiveness, why not point that out? Why not live in celebration of God's love, instead of in fear of it?

I am always deeply curious about the sales effort for Christianity; our marketing seems pretty bad to me, and yet we've got such a great product. On the one hand you have people shouting about obedience to God's will and giving yourself completely to Christ, and how that's a constant struggle. Hmm. That's a product I'm certainly keen to buy. Aren't you? Would you buy a washing machine that you had to reassemble yourself every time you wanted to use it and might not get your clothes clean anyway? I doubt it.

Then there's the wonderful public face exemplified by many evangelicals, who shout at you about going to hell and tell you everything you're doing wrong. They don't seem to be very happy people, many of them; they look rather like some frigid martinet bent on sapping every ounce of joy from your life. Hey! Let's go and join those guys! That looks cool! Yeah, sure.

Considering the text of the reading this morning, let's also think about those Christians who frown on everything they can possibly think of: drinking, smoking, staying out late, getting tattoos, wearing revealing bathing suits, spending time out doors, playing sports, making friends with non-Christians...dancing. Once again, these seem like such a fun group of people it's hard to see why we haven't all joined up.

These Christians are David's wife (Michal I think was her name; daughter of Saul). The sermon this morning asked us to be more like David. Dance! Sing! Be a little silly, and have a good time. People will see that you are happy--and why are you happy? Because you're saved! You have God's light in your life every day, and you know things are only going to get better in heaven. Why wouldn't you be happy? And why wouldn't other people want to catch what you've got?

I read an interesting tidbit on a tattoo faq website, about whether tattoos were banned by the Bible. The answer (as you'd expect) was no; the tattooing of images of God or the name of God on your body was specifically banned as blasphemous, but in fact tattooing was common practice among all early civilizations (hence the need to tell the Israelites not to tattoo "Yahweh" on their arm, lest they lose sight of the real Yahweh).

The argument put forth was that anything that separates you from God is a sin. Tattooing itself is not inherently bad, but if tattooing (or dancing or anything else) will take your eyes off of God, then in that case of course it's a sin. The Christians who want to ban everything that might be fun seem to think that anything fun will take their eyes off of God and make them worldly sinners. Why? Is their faith so weak? I should hope not; anyone with the faith to put up with being a Primitive Baptist probably won't be swayed from God by much short of Satan offering them the world.

I think if I could boil down today's message, it was this. In everything, glorify God. In glorifying God, have a good time. If your relationship with God makes you happy (and why wouldn't it?), then be happy, and show other people. Mean, bossy, or miserable Christians do not with other souls for Christ. Being the light of the world is less about telling other people what to do than about showing them why they should want to do it.

And Amen to that.

1 comment:

AMS said...

You make an excellent point. I think part of the difficulty lies in the multi-faceted condition of a life in Christ, and the tendency of believers to polarize to extremes. The life of a believer is neither pure drugery nor all fun and games. There is also the misperception that joy equals happiness.

Being a "contagious" Christian (i.e. advertising a life others would want to buy) means different things to different people. Some would say that only by abstaining from "worldly" things...drinking, etc...would anyone perceive the Christian life as different and want to find out why.

>>>It occurs to me that of course a Christian is charged with bringing others to Christ. If you enjoy being a Christian, and revel in God's love and forgiveness, why not point that out? >>> This would be my opinion as well, but I have recently discovered (on my livejournal) that this is a highly offensive and decidedly uncivilized notion to some, esp. people outside the U.S. There is an antagonism to the very idea that a person would hold a faith (any faith) that dictates how one should live. I converse with people who would not only (hypothetically) want me to keep my beliefs to my self, they have a real issue with me even having those beliefs in the first place. (Hmmm..that idea certainly never comes up in Tues. night discipleship training...)

I would have to agree with the gist of your preacher's message. I suppose I'm the exception to the norm as I have had the great fortune to grow up/currently attend !happy! Southern Baptist churches. The celebratory life is extolled in all sorts of old-fashioned hymns.
..I love to tell how He lifted me
..Life now is sweet and my joy is complete
..There’s within my heart a melody
...Keeps me singing as I go.
..Redeemed, and so happy in Jesus,
No language my rapture can tell;
...I sing, for I cannot be silent;
His love is the theme of my song.

And a new favorite of mine, The Untitled Hymn, has the wonderful line..."And when the loves spills over, and music fills the night, and when you can't contain your joy inside, dance to Jesus, dance to Jesus, and live." I think David would approve =)

I didn't mean to hijack your blog.