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Be Ye Doers of the Word and Not Hearers Only

Epiphany 3 – Year A

I am called to be simple today. In the words of Paul – I am called to show the Good News – not with the eloquent wisdom of an educated theologian or a persuasive speaker determined to convince you by verbal pyrotechnics – but rather to speak a message — which on its own — has the power to save you from death.

This message was revealed by Jesus in his life and ministry. This is what he said: “the Kingdom of God – the ultimate truth of things – is near.” “Repent,” he said, “turn around, and go to it.”

Jesus came to heal the sick, to forgive the sinful, and to bring us all who sit in the Region and Shadow of Death into the dawning light of God.

Isn’t this Good News?

Isn’t this Good? This Simple Good News of the poor carpenter from Galilee – who simply lived the way God would have us all live?

Well, apparently it is too simple. And as such it does not appeal to many people.

Even to many of our fellow Post-Modern Western Mainstream Christians, the proclamation of the Cross of Jesus is – not enough.

Since the dawn of civilization, powerful, sophisticated and erudite members of society have looked down on simple things; too common, too simple.

Since his own day, the simple message of Jesus, that poor rube from the country, has held the most widespread appeal for commoners, little people and peasants.

Culturally powerful members of the society have always had a harder time with the Good News. After all, the Gospel doesn’t require much power, knowledge or insight to be understood – and the Gospel actually deprecates people who are powerful, knowledgeable, and wise in the ways of the world.

And while the great minds of Christianity have long sought to understand and explain God, Christ, and the Universe – they have built all of their work on the still simple message of the cross of Christ.

For as much as I love the intellectual wit and fire of a T. S. Eliot or a C.S. Lewis, the power of the cross of Christ can only be known by the touch of basic human experience.

Being forgiven. Getting a second chance when nobody else will give you the time of day. Hearing “I love you,” even when you’ve really hurt someone. Finding your way out of thirty years of alcoholic fog – and realizing that only by Grace have you gotten your life back.

These are the kinds of experiences of the cross of Christ that actually carry the power – and fancy words will never come close to doing as much.

Thus, our primary purpose and calling in the Church is to be witnesses to whatever variety of experience we have of divine rescue – so that others might find the way home too.

This vocation to shine in the world as God’s friends is a simple one. And, thank God, it frees us from the all stupid and confusing arguments religious people have over who is most important, and who is most righteous.

For, if we shine forth in the world – witnessing to the saving, healing power of Jesus Christ – we can trust that we are doing our one and only job.

A literal translation of Paul goes like this: “the word of the cross is moronic to those who are still lost – but to those who have been rescued, it is the power of God.”

How true that is.

How many times I have been made to feel like I must be a moron because I see in the Cross of Jesus Christ the power of God.

How many times I have been embarassed to tell my sophisticated friends and cohorts that I see in the death of Jesus Christ on the Cross the very real and tangible face of God.

How many times I have not said the simple truth about what I have experienced of God in my life?

I’ll tell you of one time.

On December 31st I drove my friend to prison. The night before, some of his family and friends were gathered at a small house in the countryside. I went outside to see the stars in the pitch black night sky, and I saw something … rather strange.

Now this is a true story.

I looked up, and I saw two long white lines in the sky, each stretching across the night time horizon; they intersected into a giant X-Shaped Cross … directly over the house.

It was unsettling, because while my logical brain went into overdrive trying to figure out how these lines came to be in the night sky – my heart of faith told me that this vision meant something.

I decided rather quickly that these long white lines were some sort of sky trails left by airplanes. But the fact that they intersected in such a stark “X” shape was interesting to me. The fact that it was directly over the house where I was sharing in a solemn last farewell dinner with an old friend, whom I had only discovered by apparent chance after nearly two decades of noncommunication in the middle of the night before his sentencing, and whom I would be driving to prison in my car the following morning – all added up in my heart.

I wanted to tell the others about the cross in the sky – but I sensed that they were very sensitive to any “Holy Roller Stuff” – and so I was unsure what to say.

So I went inside, took off my coat, and said: “Uh, there’s a Big X in the sky above the house.”

They said, “what do you mean ‘Big X’?”

I said, well, “a Big X.”

They looked at me like I was crazy.

I said, “Come see.”

They went outside, saying, “what’s he talking about — ‘Big X’???” And they looked up. And said, “Oh! … Big X.”

Now I still do not know what that big Cross was doing there. That big Chi in the Sky.

But to this day, in that sign, I’m convinced that God was saying something. Something about Christ.

That night, as Geoff began to show signs of his anxiety and emotional distress – this being his last night of freedom for two years – he asked me a question about my beliefs as a Christian.

He said something like, “well, Greg, you’re closer to God than I am, what do you think about Such and Such.”

I don’t remember what we talked about.

Looking back, I wished I had said: “Jim, you’re closer to God than I am, because he came here for you. The only difference between you and me is that I know how far I am from God, and you don’t see how close God is to you.”

In the car the next day, when the conversation again turned to things religious, the various people in the car asked me lots of questions. And as we approached the federal prison, I remember feeling like I needed to show the Good News. I realized the time for apologizing about being Christian, or using fancy words, was over. The time to witness was here.

And again, I don’t remember what I said.

I wish I had said something like, “Jesus did not come for the powerful, or the righteous, or the healthy. He did not come to be powerful. He came as a poor boy, for the weak, the sick, and the lonely. He came to set the prisoners free. And he did it. And he does it now. And that’s what I’m hear to show you.”

I don’t remember what I said. But I hope I said something simple, and something true.

I hope I said something about the power of the cross.

For that is a message written in the sky above us in those dark nights of the soul when all we see around us is shadow.

It is a message written in the act of a loving God who suffered through all the pains of our lives so that we might trust in his word of forgiveness and love.

It is a message which has the power of God – and which needs no fancy footwork to understand.

You see Christ died on the cross for you and me, and he came to set us free from our chains of bondage, and to carry us in his arms to the heart and soul of God’s Heavenly Kingdom.


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