Email, Text Message, Tweet, You? - 2nd Corinthians 3:1-6
What kind of message are we? What do we communicate to those with whom we come in contact?
We began our journey through Lent five weeks ago choosing the path less traveled, the path that enters through the narrow gate, the path that calls us to follow Jesus. We choose to walk the path of a disciple, seeking to become more Christ-like in our lives. Based on James A Harnish’s book, A Disciple’s Path, we have sought to consider the vows of membership in the United Methodist Church and how they might draw us into a closer following of Jesus.
As we considered the first of the membership vows, prayer, we discussed how all too often we use prayer as a time to air a laundry list of concerns before God without taking the time to listen to how God may be directing us to be involved in His resolution of those concerns. We consider how prayer is not so much about getting God to do what we want, but about allowing our wishes and desires, our very wills, to come in line with God’s Will.
Next we considered the importance of presence. We delved into the fact that God does not intend for us to be alone, how, from the very beginning God said, “It is not good that man should be alone.” We discovered the importance of coming together so that we may, as Christ commanded, “love one another;” how in coming together and sharing we are able to learn together; how we are called to support one another by holding one another accountable; and how in coming together we are able to encourage and lift up one another.
As we discussed gifts, we looked to John Wesley’s directions for the use of money. He called us as Christians to make all we can (without harming ourselves or others physically or spiritually), save all we can (by living simple and modest lives), and give all we can (helping those in need with all we do not need to live on). In living our lives this way, we learn to trust in the providence of God to meet any needs that might arise in our lives.
Finally last week we discussed service. We recognized that God, as the creator of time, was the true owner of the time we have. We also came to see that our talents and abilities come from God, and truly belong to Him. God, in providing us with time and talents, does not require us to be experts in a field, but to be good stewards of what He has blessed us with. We grow to trust in God to equip as we serve Him in the ways He calls us.
Today, on Palm Sunday, as we remember Jesus completing His journey by entering Jerusalem, we complete our Lenten journey and consider the last of the membership vows: witness. I ask the questions once again: What kind of message are we? What do we communicate to those with whom we come in contact?
Do you have a favorite restaurant? If you knew someone was trying to figure out where to go eat, what would you likely tell them? Do you have a dentist or doctor that you feel provides you with excellent care? If you knew someone that was in need of a dentist or a doctor, how many of you would recommend the one you were pleased with? We do the same thing with our hairdressers or barbers, mechanics, vacation spots, and shopping spots. With that being the case, what we have to ask is whether or not we offer that kind of witness or testimony when it comes to our Savior. Most of us here have, at some point or another in our lives, turned our lives over to Christ. We came to the point at which we could no longer claim to be our own saviors, and decided that we had to turn to someone else, and when we did, we found that the only one that could truly be depended on was Christ. We have found the difference that He has made in our lives, being present when no one else was, freeing us from slavery to the sins that would bind us, knowing and meeting our truest needs, and finally offering us the promise of eternal life in the presence of God. The question is, my brothers and sisters, when faced with someone who is searching, who is lost, who is bound by addiction or some other sin, who feels completely alone, or who is completely at the end of their rope, do we tell them about Jesus? Do we witness as effectively about Jesus as we do about our favorite dining spots, our best doctors, or our favorite escape?
Do we tell others about Jesus?
The first means of communication was word of mouth, simply talking with someone else. As people became more educated, and we wanted to let someone know what was going on in your life you might sit down at your desk or table and write them a letter.
Many years later we developed the technology to share what was going on in our lives by way of the telegraph and then telephone, which in many ways was like those face to face talks, but the telephones only carried our voices.
Within the last twenty-five years we have progressed to e-mail and text messages. Then through the advent of the social media I mentioned we have instant messages, status updates, tweets, and a host of other means to instantly let someone know what we are doing and how we are feeling. We share just about everything electronically now: from what we are doing on a Saturday night, to the memories of a loved one who is no longer with us, to how special our family is, to our children’s latest accomplishment, to how long the line is in the checkout counter to what our spouse is doing next to us, to simply how tired we are. It has gotten to where we share just about anything openly and freely (even to dangerous points at time), so the question again is, “how much do we share Jesus”?
And, my brothers and sisters, as Paul writes to us this morning, we come to understand that sharing Jesus is much more than simply sharing words from our mouths.
Apparently, the church in Corinth has said, “Hey Paul, we know you’re going on this missionary trip, do you need us to write a letter of recommendation, so that they will listen to you?” Paul quickly told them no. He said, “Just as I didn’t need a letter of recommendation when I came to you, neither do I need a letter of recommendation from you as I prepare for this trip.” Paul continued, “it is not a letter written on paper with ink that I need. What you can do, my brothers and sisters, is serve as a living letter of recommendation. When people see you, they will know that the Holy Spirit is real, and is at work in your congregation, writing every word of God upon your hearts.” Paul said, “you will be our letter of recommendation, you will be our letter from Christ.
Paul knew that a letter written on paper or stone would mean nothing, if it came from a place that argued and bickered all the time. The letter would just be empty words, or even condemning words if it came from somewhere that did not reflect upon and act upon the Word of God. That is why Paul echoed the words of the prophet Jeremiah, when he said, “you are a letter of Christ, prepared by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.” The prophet Jeremiah had been referring to that time when God would establish a new covenant, one in which the law of God would be in the minds of the people and written upon their hearts, signifying that they truly knew God. Paul knows that this new covenant has been established through Christ, and that now God’s law was written upon the hearts of God’s people, because, through Christ, they had come to know who God is.
Paul says that it is in Christ that we have our first living letter of recommendation of God… “Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God.” Jesus Christ did not just talk about God, He revealed God through His very actions…the life of Jesus was a testimony, a witness, a living letter of recommendation of God and how God cared for the world. We look to Jesus and see God…we see God’s compassion for the sick, the possessed, the hungry, the thirsty. We see God’s love for the blind, the lame, and the sinner. We look at Jesus and see the depth of God’s love in His willing to die that we might live.
The question then becomes, once again: What kind of message are we? What do we communicate to those with whom we come in contact?
Paul calls us to be these living letters of God’s word. The church cannot be a place in which the Word of God is only spoken or written, but is not lived. Words spoken without actions to back them up, are simply hollow words with no meaning. Think of how a child learns a language. The child hears a word and then sees an object or an action to go along with it. The young child then draws a connection between the word and the object. For example, a child sees a horse for the first time. Someone tells her, “That is a horse.” Then every time the child sees the horse, someone tells her that it is a horse. She learns that it is a horse because she associates the visual image with the words she hears. If someone had told her it was a cat, and everyone affirmed that statement every time she saw the horse, and if someone took her Life on the Farm book and marked out the word horse and put cat in its place, she would grow up calling the horse, a cat. This just shows the importance of the connection between what is heard and read and what is seen. This is one reason that we have a cycle of violence in abused homes—a child grows up seeing abuse in what is called a family, and then when he grows up, he thinks that the violence is a normal part of “family” life.
That is why it is important that the Church become a living letter from God to the world. The actions and life of a church must reflect the Word that is being read and proclaimed in that Church. If a church proclaims a loving caring God, but continues to practice racism by excluding folks unlike themselves, then the Word of God that it proclaims is nothing more than empty words carved on stone or written on paper. If the church proclaims a forgiving God, yet folks stay angry with one another and argue the same arguments over and over again, then the word of God that it proclaims is nothing more than a hollow echo of something not true. If the church proclaims a helping, saving God, yet does nothing to reach out to those in need, offering a hand in addition to the words, the words mean nothing.
The Church has to be a living letter from God. The Church must proclaim a God who loves all of His creation by reaching out to everyone, regardless of age, income, sex, or race, and say come in and be part of this Church. The Church must proclaim a God who forgives by moving beyond past grievances and working hand in hand with one another. The church must proclaim a caring, saving God, by actively helping those in need—through shelter, food, clothing, and education.
My brothers and sisters, as we complete this Lenten journey, this Disciple’s Path, we have to ask ourselves is our faith evident in our lives? Are we a living letter, a breathing email, a corporeal text message, a flesh and blood tweet for God? What are we telling the world about Him?
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.