Sun. Sept 6, 2020

Grace and peace be unto you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. For those of us who like singing, who like the old standards, this could be called "feel good Sunday!" We've got a great selection of some of the most beloved hymns and we're blessed with a talented organist that gives each song, life and breath. Rather than meekly and laboriously played, they are boldly and joyfully proclaimed from her keyboard to our hearts...from our hearts to our voices... and hopefully from our voices to God's ear. MMMM, MMMMM, MMMMM good.

Unfortunately, our assigned readings don't really produce much of a feel good. Jeremiah is recounting how when he began his ministry he was joyful to have God's word to preach but with God's word continually being bitter news for an unrepentant people who begrudge and revile Jeremiah he begins to wonder… is it worth it? Of course, God reassures him it is worth it and those that hear Jeremiah's proclamation and return to God will be blessed. ...it still plays to mixed reviews.

Paul's letter to the Romans has many encouraging words "Let love be genuine, hold fast to what is good, outdo one another in showing honor" but it also has some hard words to swallow "Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them, do not repay anyone evil for evil but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all, if your enemy is hungry feed them if they are thirsty, buy them something to drink." Wow talk about "great expectations" ...those are some high-minded ideals to have to reach.

Finally, we have our Gospel- you've probably heard this text before.

Jesus explains what it means to be the chosen one of God. Jesus gives a definition of the messiah that includes undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes and be killed an on the third day be raised. And Peter doesn't like the definition one bit he says "God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you." And Jesus nice sanitized response is "Get Behind me Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things."

We do that don't we? We like to be Christians with our minds set on human things not divine. We like to say we are followers of Christ and then we wonder why our life isn't comfortable. We wonder I follow a "nice guy" and his message is "be nice" why isn't my life "nice." That is wrong in so many ways let me just respond to it the caring considerate why Jesus taught Peter: “Be gone, Satan!”  Satan wants us to believe that Christianity is supposed to be nicely comfortable, nicely convenient, and nicely popular.

The message of Christ is love… not “be nice”- Jesus’ message is to love God with all your heart and your neighbor as yourself. There is no promise of that being an easy task or even one that the world will admire and reward. The only promise is that God will be with you through that entire task- like he promised he would be with Jeremiah through the extremely uncomfortable and extremely unenviable task of telling a disobedient, rebellious, stubborn people to repent before it was too late.

Let’s get this straight God promises to never leave or abandon his children, Amen?! But God does not a promise to make his children’s lives completely comfortable, absolutely pampered, or a constant collection of niceties. We often forget that and need to be reminded that the Christian Gospel cannot and should not be boiled down to merely a feel good or do good message.  If you are going to boil it down at all, if you’re going to limit the good news of Jesus Christ to a mere sound byte, it should be boiled down to overwhelming love or Amazing grace!! Not be nice.

God's love is so deep, so broad, its willing to be sacrificial love.  God’s love is so overwhelming God is willing to pour himself out on a cross for a world that despises him!  That's why a non-feel good song like "Old Rugged Cross” or “Were you There?" can make it on the favorite hymn parade. These are not “feel good songs” but they are heart healthy gospel songs.

Kenneth Osbeck in his book "Amazing Grace: 366 inspiring hymn

Stories for Daily Devotions" describes “Were you There” this way:

To better understand an African American spiritual, one must feel even as the black singer does, that he or she is actually present and very much involved in the event itself. The event being sung- in this case the story of

Christ's suffering, death, and ultimate resurrection- becomes a very intensely emotional experience...lmagine yourself standing at the foot of the cross when Christ was tortured and crucified. Then place yourself outside the empty tomb when the angelic announcement "He is not here..." was given. Try to relive the emotional feelings that would have been yours. Allow this song to minister to you. [Raquel solo? Let us sing "Were You There" from the red hymnal #239 verses 1 & 4.]

Putting ourselves in that place takes a lot of practice. We have so many distractions in this world pulling us away from focusing on being loving and instead focusing on being successful, being comfortable, or "being nice" which mostly means "being nice" to self.

We're not supposed to love this world, or even this life- Christians are to: "love God and our neighbor as ourselves." That's why a counter cultural song like "Turn Your Eyes upon Jesus" can make the favorites list as well. If you think about it "Turn Your Eyes upon Jesus" is not necessarily a "feel good" song and yet it is a… "does the heart good" song. It says in a less confrontational way "Get Behind me Satan." [Let us sing "Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus" verse 1]

When we realize the sacrificial love of God found in the cross, when we turn our eyes away from our worldly life to focus on our call to divine living that's when we claim the true victory which is our through Christ Jesus. When we let our words and deeds proclaim the sacrificial overwhelming love and amazing grace of Christ shown on the cross things change for the better. 

That cross is a symbol of service and humility, but it is also a symbol of God's power and might. He shows his strength by taking the worst the world could dish out and overturning it, recycling it, reclaiming it and by doing so redeeming the world and us with it. Next week on Rally Day Sunday we’ll turn a lifeless cross into a flower cross as a way of reminding ourselves and celebrating how God through the cross has the power to recycle, reclaim and renew our lives. 

That power of sacrificial love is what the Battle Hymn of the Republic drives at. It expresses encouragement to soldiers, and a nation, to sacrifice themselves for people who others deem unworthy and worthless.  That is not a “be comfortable” message but it is a powerful message that God calls and empowers us to share.  We’re called to share his sacrificial love, to bestow his amazing grace.  It is a call… not to complacency or comfort but to courage, conviction, and change. 

God was willing to do that, to sacrifice himself for us, unworthy sinners, and it changed our world forever. The challenge in this song is for us- in our day and age- to live out Christ’s sacrificial love in order to change our nation and our world for the better. [Let us sing "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" from the 1 & 4.]

May the peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in the cross of Christ Jesus, Our Lord, Our Savior. Amen.