Don’t Be A Decoy - Romans 12:9-21 (Wednesday Night Reflection)
My family and I are always playing games with words, particularly when it comes to the meaning of words. So it should have been no surprise to me, when last week, my niece Erin came up to me after she came back to the Island from Black Friday shopping, seeing all the signs, and said, “so where’s the real festival if that’s the decoy?”
I have to tell you that as I heard about the Decoy Festival before we arrived, I was real perplexed. I was thinking to myself, “what’s the big deal about decoys”? I mean, up to that point, my encounters with decoys were limited to those obviously fake plastic ducks sitting in ponds…to me the only folks that would be celebrating are the hunters who used them to lure in some pretty near-sighted ducks.
However, upon coming to the Island and visiting in your homes and going through the museum, I have been awestruck. The gifted artwork of so many of y’all and others across this Island just amazes me. The detailed work on the wooden decoys I have seen is unbelievable…many decoys looking amazingly lifelike. The real festival is here…and it is not a simply a “decoy” festival, but a festival celebrating the amazing God-given talents of master artists and craftsmen and women.
However, it is in thinking about all of this that God led me to this evening’s message. You see, despite all the amazing work that goes into these lifelike decoys, down to the ruffle of feathers on a birds wings, they are not real…they are pieces of wood painted up to appear lifelike.
Over the last half century, across the nation, there has been a decline in church attendance, particularly a decline of young folks in church. I will have to say that Harkers Island has more young people not only in attendance of Sunday morning but also actively involved in the church than any church I have pastored. However, there are many young folks, many folks of all ages, across this Island and across the nation who are not in church. There have been a lot of surveys of those who are not churched or who have left churches…one of the most common reasons given for their not being in church or their leaving of the church is that the church was filled with decoys.
Well, to be truthful, the word “decoy” is not the word that is often used because they are not talking about beautifully carved wooden birds. The must often use the word “hypocrites” or “fake.” What they claim they encounter in church are those who purport themselves to be strong Christians, readily criticizing the sin of others, who are really no different than the rest of the world, or the sinners they are condemning.
Now don’t get me wrong. They are not talking about encountering folks in church who confess to being sinners on the same journey that they are on, but they are encountering folks that claim to have it altogether and look down upon those who aren’t at the same level as they are. They hear us talk about “loving our neighbor as themselves” at church and then hear jokes or putdowns of others who are of different ethnicities or even localities. They hear us talk about forgiveness but then witness folks that won’t talk to the person sitting on the other side of the sanctuary because of something that happened ten months or ten years ago. They hear us talk about grace but then hear folks passing judgment about how someone looks. They hear us praising God on Sundays and Wednesdays and cursing out the person who has 15 items in the 12 item or less line. They hear us call Jesus Lord of our Lives, but witness that we only bow to Him when there’s not a sporting event, families not in town, there’s not a slick cam, or we’re not tired. What these unchurched and previously churched are claiming to encounter are folks that imply they have it all together, knocking on the door of perfection, when in reality they are just a piece of wood we have painted up to look like the real thing.
My brothers and sisters, we have to ensure that we are not decoys. How do we do that? First, we need to be perfectly transparent about the fact that none of us have it all together. We are all journeyers on the path to perfect Christlikeness—none of us reaching that final transformation that will happen when we see Him face to face.
Secondly, though admitting that we don’t have it altogether, we are to strive to be the “real thing”—like Pinocchio who strove to be a “real boy,” and not just a block of wood carved out by Geppetto, we are called to strive to be “true disciples.” What does that look like? Paul gives us a strong starting point—LET LOVE BE GENUINE (in other words our love need to be true, not a decoy). What does true, authentic, genuine love look like? Paul fleshes out how it should look like in our flesh:
W Hate what is evil and hold fast to what is good. May we never embrace evil for the sake of convenience or profit and may we never avoid good because it may be costly or difficult.
W Love one another with mutual affection.
W Outdo one another in showing honor.
W Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. Our service to Christ in the world should not be sluggish or reluctant, but passionate and excited.
W Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. We have to keep praying and keep hoping. We are not to be people of worst case scenario or doomsday soothsayers. We are not simply optimists, but those who know God will act.
W Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers. We are to be people of generosity—to all.
W Bless those who persecute you—bless and do not curse them…do not repay anyone evil for evil…never avenge yourselves…if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink. We are to trust vengeance and judgment to God, and we are supposed to reflect the same love to our enemies that Christ did for His…He loved them to the point of dying for them…dying for you and for me...
W Rejoice with those who rejoice…celebrating their blessings, not being jealous of them…
W Weep with those who weep…we are sympathetic and empathetic…
W Live in harmony with one another…we see to get along with those around us…we are not to be argumentative for the sake of starting an argument…
W Associate with the lowly…we aren’t to think we are too good to associate with anyone…regardless of which side of the tracks, or Mason-Dixon line they are from…
W So far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. It doesn’t matter if someone else has crossed the line, we are to hold fast to a Christlike response…
Finally, in realizing how hard it is to be a genuine and real disciple on our own, we are to turn ourselves over to the Master Craftsman. There is no fairy that can make us real. Only the master carver, the master potter, the master of all creation can change us from lumps of clay into the breathing faithful…from decoys into authentic disciples. We simply surrender our lives to Him and allow Him to breathe His Spirit into us…and when we are dependent upon the power of the Spirit and not our own, we will find ourselves being transformed from decoys into authentic, Spirit-filled, faithful-living, disciples of Christ.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.