Sermon by Martin Corie
Text for message: Galatians 1:1-10
Most of you know that Im not much for telling jokes-being such a serious minded sort of fellow. But this morning, I cant resist telling one I heard long ago, but that somehow seems appropriate today. Its about the little girl who went back to school after the holiday break and was asked by her teacher-"What did your family do to celebrate the holidays? And whats your favorite holiday song?" She replied, "Well, were Methodist so on Christmas Eve, we went to church in the afternoon for the childrens service, then again that evening for the candlelight service, and one more time at midnight for communion and at all three services we sang, Silent Night. Then we slept until noon on Christmas day and got up and opened a ton of presents." The teacher then asked the next child the same question. "Were Catholic," came his response, "so we went to mass on Christmas Eve, then we came home and opened all our presents and then we got up the next morning and went to mass again on Christmas Day. We sang O Come, All ye Faithful." When the teacher came to the third child, this was her response: "My family is NOT religious at all, but my folks own a store at the mall, and after we closed on Christmas Eve, we gathered around the cash register as dad counted all the money and we danced and sang "What a Friend we Have in Jesus."
As many of you are aware, I was privileged to travel to Cuba a few weeks ago with the Volunteers in Mission from the Louisiana Conference. I went along with 8 others to a fascinating island less than 100 miles off the coast of the United States. In many ways, that island is much closer than the miles that separate us; in other ways, it is light years removed. But I am not here this morning to report on my trip to Cuba. I only want to relate to you one of the aspects of that country that I found most intriguing-the children. Children of African descent, children of European descent, children of Hispanic descent, children walking arm-in-arm apparently without concern for racial differences, children beautifully displaying a mixture of ancestry-all precious children, nonetheless. Energetic, bright, bashful, assertive, eager, joyful and sad-children. I wanted to embrace and cherish each precious face, to capture the sound of their laughter, the gleam in their eyes. I wanted to bring them all home with me. But I do well to feed and clothe the ones who bear my name-and Cuban-American relations being what they are, I wasnt looking to create an international incident.
Nevertheless, my feelings were genuine. And I reported those feeling at home to my family. I showed them the pictures and recalled the encounters with Cubas younger generation. So you can imagine that my 4-year-old Katies ears perked up when she heard the news reports about little Elian Gonzales, the Cuban boy rescued from the inner-tube off the coast of Miami recently. Katie was in the room with me the other evening as the TV newscast showed the little boy celebrating his 6th birthday. Then, of course, there was the follow up about the protests calling for his return in Havana. There were compelling voices raised on both sides of the issue, on both sides of the water. As the report came to an end, my baby looked up at me and asked:
I suppose in her mind, I must have met ALL the children in the Cuba I visited. But, surely, there must be another Cuba
Well, have you had enough of Christmas yet? Do you wonder sometimes, the way some folks go on, that they must have ANOTHER reason to celebrate the season? The "wretched excess," the rampant materialism, the greed, etc. Makes you wonder if theyre celebrating the One who was born in a stable and as an adult said he had no place to lay his head, or if theyve found ANOTHER Jesus. And for some, Christmas is just ANOTHER day? Not that Im complaining, mind you. While nearly everything else was closed, we enjoyed eating at the Chinese restaurant yesterday when no one at my house felt like cooking.
Oh, the tension that often exists at this time of the year. Possibly because of that tension I, for one, have a history of suffering depression at Christmas. As a matter of fact, my wife commented just the other evening how this was the first Christmas in her memory that I had not been depressed at some time, to some degree or another. I dont know whats different about this year except that maybe Ive been able to focus better on just what, or should I say, WHO the season is really all about-in a fresh way. I wondered if it was better because Sarah didnt make me string lights outside or put up a Christmas tree-whatever! Its come and gone and Im still smiling-because I dont have lights to take down or a tree to put away.
But Im still wondering maybe in Katies mind there is another Cuba. Maybe in the minds of some, there is ANOTHER reason to get excited at Christmas. And Im really wondering whats going on with some other folks Ive heard about recently. Like the Vermont Supreme Court, which ruled last week that same-sex couples must be afforded the same rights and benefits as traditional man-woman married couples. Do you suppose theyve found ANOTHER definition of marriage, one unlike the definition that has served us well for several millennia? I may be unique but I still look to this Book for my understanding of love, and marriage and family. And until someone comes up with ANOTHER Word from God on the matter, the case is closed, as far as Im concerned.
But we can be assured, someone is already working on ANOTHER word from God, no doubt. Makes me wonder if our own United Methodist bishop of the Northern Illinois Conference, Joseph Sprague, hasnt received another word from God. I honestly must say he has me confused. In one recent article for their conference newspaper he compared the Christian faith, any religion, for that matter, to shining shoes. He said he learned one way to shine shoes that he always thought was best until he started noticing that other folks had shiny shoes also, and they didnt use his method. So he concluded, since there must be more than one way to shine shoes, there must be other ways to be saved-only he didnt use that silly "saved" word. He even criticized persons who wanted to evangelize the city of Chicago, in the Name of Jesus, for being so ARROGANT as to think that Jesus was the only way to God.
Then, in another article he wrote these words: "We mainliners - and especially we liberals - need unashamedly to name the name of Jesus the Christ as the decisive revelation of God in our lives, and then to so live and witness that by deed and word we will invite others to share the Feast of Life that we enjoy." Now, Bishop Sprague, are you authorizing us "liberals" to be arrogant? Or just "unashamed?" Or is it just for OUR lives that Jesus is the DECISIVE revelation of God?" One would think that a bishop would get it straight. Bishop Sprague is just one of the symptoms of the dilemma of our denomination, of the church at large, and of the world in general. We have become so enamored with tolerance and pluralism that we have forsaken any interest in the truth. And the truth to which I refer is that same truth spoken of by Paul in todays text. The Gospel of Jesus Christ ALONE, and not ANOTHER, offers us any hope of life and joy and peace, here and now and for eternity. Was the Apostle Paul being arrogant? I think not!
Friends, please hear me when I say, our world is desperate for the truth, but too often its getting something else. I picked up an abandoned magazine in our church mailroom the other day, Science & Spirit. Im still trying to figure it out, but meanwhile, on the back cover was an ad for someone or something that sounded pretty bizarre to me. It mentioned a web site that I looked up on the Internet. There I found more than I wanted to know about someone called "Maitreya." Supposedly, this is a new christ, ANOTHER christ, who is really the same as the old Christ, but also the same spirit as Buddha, and Mohammed, and Vishnu and every other "religious" character from history. Now this new christ has appeared in Africa and other places around the world and he speaks through an author in London named Benjamin Crème. Soon, so they say, hes going to appear on television all over the world but if you dont have a TV youll be able to see him anyway by concentrating on the center of your own head. His message is not one of repentance and righteousness but one of "sharing all things and being environmentally responsible." He will usher in the Age of Aquarius, you know the one we heard about in the sixties from the musical, "HAIR." In that age, all will be peace and bliss and clean air and water.
I could tell you more but I wont waste your time or mine or GODs. Suffice it to say, this New Age nonsense is nothing new at all. Jesus said there would be false christs appearing, claiming to be the One. Paul said, as we just heard, that those who preach another gospel offer no good news at all. But we must be pluralistic, right? We must be tolerant, right? Who knows? These kooks could be right---in ANOTHER world or ANOTHER universe. However, Jesus was pretty explicit when he said, "I am the way, the truth, and the life and NO ONE comes to the father except through me."
Luke, in Acts 4:12, was not quoting nursery rhymes when he declared that there was (and is) NO OTHER name given under heaven by which we must be saved its all about Jesus. Paul, again, in Philippians 2, said that it will be at the name of Jesus Christ, that every knee shall bow and every tongue confess HIS Lordship. That means Buddha and Mohammed and Vishnu and Maitreya and Joseph Smith and Bishop Sprague and Martin Corie will ALL bow and confess that JESUS CHRIST IS LORD!
If there was not room in the inn, there was surely not room in the manger for ANOTHER Jesus. There is not room in your heart and life for ANOTHER Lord, not even yourself, only JESUS. There was only one Jesus who was born of a virgin, who lived a sinless life, who suffered and died a horrible death for you and me, and who rose again from the dead. There was and is not ANOTHER! He, not ANOTHER, will return to judge the living and the dead. Will you be ready?
Dont misunderstand me, please. Bishop Sprague and others seem to fear that to have and express heartfelt convictions about ones faith in Christ Jesus is the same as propagating hate crimes and violence. Make no mistake. The gospel of Jesus Christ does not authorize hatred or violence. Nothing would be less Christ-like than to terrorize or maim or kill, either verbally or physically, in the name of righteousness. But, hear this, churchJesus not only authorizes, He commands us, in the Great Commission, to go into all the world and to preach the gospel, proclaiming forgiveness of sins in the Name of Jesus Christ. He did NOT say, "Go into all the world, but try not to offend anyone who already has shiny shoes and their own religion." Jesus said, in Acts 1:8, that we should go forth on our mission of evangelizing the world with BOLDNESS empowered by the Holy Spirit.
You see, there is no need to RATION the PASSION with which we live and speak in the Name of Jesus. Theres more available from the Holy Spirit. I dont know, but the older I get the more convinced I am that Jesus IS the decisive revelation of God, not only for Christians, but for all the world. Really, couldnt Jesus have just as easily said, "I am ONE of many ways, ONE of many truths, and ONE of many lives-and if you want to go to the Father, take your choice, any choice is fine, so long as youre sincere and keep you shoes shined." Couldnt Luke have written, "Theres any number of names given under heaven by which you can be saved so pick the one with which you are most comfortable, one that demands the least from you?"
I mean, was YOUR God so short-sighted when He gave us His Word, that He couldnt foresee a time when the world would be so small because of satellite communications and jet-propelled transportation, when all the worlds cultures and religions would be living side-by-side instead of continents apart? On the contrary, the Word foretells a time when knowledge would be increased and people would travel all over. This age in which we live should not be seen as an obstacle to preaching the uniqueness of Jesus Christ, rather it should be seen as an OPPORTUNITY. We dont have to go around the world now to reach the heathen, the pagans, those who have followed after a lie. We only have to go down the street or next door or to the next office at work.
The same boldness, the same passion that motivated the disciples on the day of Pentecost, also known as the Holy Spirit, is available today to enable our testimony. And our testimony is more than mere words. No, we must not RATION our COM-PASSION, either. Much needs to be done by way of feeding the hungry and clothing the naked and housing the homeless and visiting the prisoner in the NAME of Jesus, but we cannot express compassion without the message of Christ, for to feed and clothe and nurture the body to the neglect of the soul is the height of ignorance AND arrogance, of which we must be ashamed. For it was that one and only Jesus who said, "What shall it profit anyone to gain the whole world and lose their own soul."
I want no part of a world without JESUS. Dont offer to share your clean air and water with me, if you want me to follow ANOTHER christ. No, I will stand alone if I must. But with the all the passion I can muster I will declare the uniqueness of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, the Only Begotten Son of God, the absolute, once and for all decisive revelation of God in human flesh, whose Incarnation we have just celebrated. Jesus for me, Jesus for you, Jesus for all the world! Will you join me? Or are you waiting for another Jesus?
Martin Corie is Associate Minister
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