Sermon for the Second Sunday in Lent
Sunday, February 24, 2013
Like many young boys…I was dumb. In elementary school, I thought I had devised a scheme to get girls to notice me, and to like me. So here was my scheme: I would be obnoxious. Not a bully, but obnoxious. I did that to my older sister’s friends all the time. I remember once hiding for what seemed like hours when my sister and her friends were watching a scary movie. Then, at just the right moment, when the movie was at its scariest, I jumped out of my hiding spot and scared the bejesus out of that them.
And you know what happened? It didn’t work. In my mind, this was the perfect ploy to get a girlfriend, and when it didn’t work…well, there must be something wrong with the girl. Not my methods.
Upon reflection of my boyhood shenanigans, I realized something. I did a really great job of getting girls to notice me. But for all the wrong reasons.
I trust that there are still young boys doing the essentially the same thing today. Doing something you think is good for you, but actually has quite the opposite reaction. We see politicians doing this all the time. Celebrities are probably the best at it. And of course, it happens in Christianity all the time.
Saint Paul writes that “many live as enemies of the cross of Christ.” “Their is end is destruction, their god is the belly, their glory is in their shame, their minds are set on earthly things.” Wow Paul. Those are fighting words.
In America today, we think we know who the “enemies of the cross” are. The atheists, right? The politicians and the activists persecuting Christians. As the Church, we are quick to point to others, and blame them for Christianity’s decline in America. They’ve taken away the Ten Commandments! They’ve taken away prayer at schools! They’ve done this, they’ve done that! It sure is easy to point the finger at persecution.
But I tell you, the Church of Jesus Christ will not disappear from this earth because of persecution, whether intellectual or violent. The Church flourished, even when the Roman Empire was throwing Christians to the lions. The Church flourished, even when our Anglican forebears were burned at the stake. The Church is flourishing, even in places where religion has been banned outright. I tell you, the Church of Jesus Christ thrives under persecution.
So what is happening in America? Why is the Church in decline? I tell you it is not because of persecution. The enemies of the cross of Christ are not atheists or other religions, threatening us from the outside. No, the enemies of the cross of Christ are people like us. We are like little boys and their obnoxious hijinks. Many Christians are doing things that they think proclaims the faith, but which are actually tearing the Church apart…from the inside.
The enemies of the cross of Christ are among us today and fill the ranks of the Church. Allow me to offer an example:
A pastor took a group of parishioners out for a meal. When the time for the checks came, the pastor requested that the automatic gratuity would be removed. So this pastor signed his check, and purposefully put a big, fat “zero” for a tip. Then, to make it worse, this pastor wrote on the check, “I give God 10%, why do you deserve 18%?” Then, to really top it off, this individual signed his check as “Pastor.” What do you think that waitress now thinks of Christians and the Church? She’s making just over two dollars an hour to feed her family and educate her children, and here are Christians making a show of not paying her. Chances of her wanting to be one of us is pretty slim.
Sadly, this incident isn’t isolated. In speaking with waiters and waitresses, their least favorite shift is the Sunday lunch crowd because church-goers are the worst tippers. We make a show of thanking God for our meal, and then stiff our servers. I’ve even heard of Christians leaving tracts instead of tips, saying, “You don’t need money. You need eternal life.” Eternal life is nice and all, but feeding my children would be great too.
Enemies of the cross of Christ – just like how I was my own worst enemy as a kid. I thought I would get a girlfriend, but all it did was mark me as a jerk. They think they are saving a soul, but they are destroying the potential of faith.
Enemies of the cross of Christ. The threat to Christianity today is not persecution from the outside, but unabashed hypocrisy from the inside. The Church is not threatened when it is persecuted. No, we thrive under persecution. The Church is threatened when we lose our identity become indistinguishable from the world. The enemies of the cross of Christ are disturbingly close to home. We have seen the enemy – and they are us.
And this is where we pick up on Paul’s letter to the Philippians again. The enemies of the cross of Christ, the ones who end is destruction and whose god is the belly, well, they are citizens of this world. And their gods – say, the god of keeping more money for themselves – are of this world. But we, we are citizens of heaven. And it is from there that we are expecting a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.
As members of the Church of Jesus Christ, we are not citizens of this world. We are but sojourners on this earth, pilgrims making our way through. Our true place, our home, is a heavenly one. And it is time that we start acting like it. Living with prodigious generosity. Loving with unabashed joy.
Now, I want to make one thing very clear. I am not assuming that any of you are lousy tippers. I am not assuming that any of you make it a habit of stiffing your waiters. I know your generosity, and I would be astounded if I heard such a story about any of you.
But I use that story as an illustration. It’s a small story that points to a bigger problem. We worry about why Church membership in the United States is dropping. So we blame the outsiders. The persecutors. Because that’s easier than looking inside. Looking at our own sin. Our own pride. Our own hypocrisy. It’s terrifying to think of the ways we have acted like enemies of the cross of Christ. So we point the finger elsewhere. Acting only like citizens of this world. When really, our citizenship is from heaven, and our passports show that we are just passing through.
We have to look inside, look deep within. We have to think on the ways we have become enemies of the cross of Christ. That is why during the season of Lent we are hearing the Ten Commandments at the beginning of every service. We are using those ancient laws as a mirror. We come up against these laws, and see the ways that we think we are proclaiming the gospel, but in the end we are destroying the church, and ourselves.
Stop pointing the finger. Stop accusing someone or something else as an enemy of the cross of Christ. Because it might be that we are the ones pulling on the pigtails. It might be that we are the obnoxious ones. We need to stop pulling the pigtails. Sure, we are doing a great job of getting the world to notice us, but for all the wrong reasons. They see our hatred, our stinginess, our arrogance.
I eventually figured out when I grew up, that if I want a girl to notice me and like me, then I had to be nice. I had to buy her flowers. I had to compliment her on her outfit.
We need to prove the world wrong, and show them our love, our generosity, our humility. We need to grow up, and start acting like Jesus.