Pastor Steve Molin
Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Everyone has their favorite baseball player, right? Even if it’s not a player for your favorite team, for some reason you like this guy. My favorite player was Yogi Berra of the New York Yankees. Yogi was never the best player, nor was he ever the highest paid player, but I liked him because of his love for the game, and because of the things that he said. Yogi was a master at stating the obvious. “It ain’t over ‘til it’s over.” That’s probably his most famous line. Or “This is like déjà vu all over again.” “50% of baseball is 90% mental.” But my personal favorite is “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.” Sounds silly, I know, but Yogi has a point: when you come to a fork in the road, you can’t just stand there; you might go left, or you might go right, but you’ve got to take the fork. This is a sermon about taking a fork in the road that Jesus has laid before his disciples…and us.
Dear friends in Christ, grace to you and peace, from God our Father, and His Son, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Albert Einstein was 54 years old, and already a Nobel Prize recipient by the time he joined the faculty at Princeton University, but once he arrived he never left. For 22 years, he taught physics in the same classroom, and after he finally retired, the custodian who cleaned that classroom told this story. Every evening when he went in to clean, he noticed that the blackboard was filled with complicated physics equations and theorems, and across the board, Einstein had scrawled ERASE! But in the upper right corner of the board, there was written the simple note “1+1=2.” And Einstein’s scribble beneath it: DO NOT ERASE!
The message is clear to me, and probably clear to you; that Albert Einstein, for all his brilliance and academic research, wanted his students to never lose sight of their foundational truth. That 1+1=2, and it will always equal two, no matter what other discoveries the future holds.
For the past five weeks, we have waded through this 6th chapter of John, where Jesus speaks of bread and wine, of flesh and blood. And not just any flesh, but his flesh. Not just any blood, but his own blood. At first, this grizzly notion just confused the Jews who heard it, then it disturbed them, and finally it offended them. By today, it’s not the Jews who are bothered by this graphic description of Jesus; today, it’s his disciples. They are talking among themselves saying, "This is tough teaching, too tough to swallow."
And the bible says that some of his followers began to leave the organization. Not just a few of them; not just a handful. The text says, “Because of this teaching, many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him.” So it was understandable that Jesus would turn to the twelve disciples – the inner circle of his ministry team – and ask where they stood. “How about you?” Jesus said, “Do you also wish to go away?” And Peter, who was always the first one to speak, though sometimes what he said was remarkable and other times it was ridiculous, Peter answered for the twelve. “Lord, where are we going to go? You have the words of eternal life.69We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.”
This time what Peter said was brilliant because what he stated is a foundational truth of our Christian faith! This is the 1+1=2 for us: that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, the One who holds the mystery of eternal life. He will always be the Son of God. Jesus will always be the source of life, and grace, and salvation. And if we don’t follow Jesus, who else is there to follow? If the Christian life doesn’t bring us prosperity, is there some other life that will? If Jesus disappoints us, is there some other god to worship? Peter says, “Lord, to whom would we go?” After following Jesus through three years of joy and hardship, Peter says, “Lord, if we left you, we’d have no one.”
Yet, in this modern era in which we live, it seems as if we have erased that equation from our list of non-negotiable truths. Like those first century followers of Jesus, we’ve come to a fork in the road. If God doesn’t deliver the goods we want, we’ll just look somewhere else. So we wander into busy malls looking for that next new thing that will make us happy. I do this, you do this, we all do it, right? Look for stuff that’s going to make us happy. We lust after shiny new cars that have better sound systems than we have in our homes, and wireless computer hook-ups, and luxurious heated leather seats, and 14 cup-holders in a vehicle that only carries five people. And now we have the added incentive that buying a new car is patriotic. We no longer seek fellowship in a church basement where they serve bad coffee and tater-tot hot dish. Now we find friends online, people we may never even meet face to face. We wrap our lives up in busy-ness; masking our loneliness with 14-hour days. We have kids we’re too busy to play with in yards we’re too busy to enjoy, and spouses we’re too busy to listen to.
For the longest time I was under the illusion that our culture could do both; we could worship the God of Creation and still chase the attractive things this world has to offer. For half a century, we have been told that in America 40% of our population worships on a regular basis. It’s still working; people are still going to church. But we’re not. Recent studies show that less than 18% find our way to church these days. We’ve become Europe. In this over-stimulated culture, apparently our message has become irrelevant, our music is boring, our architecture is old-school, and our business hours are inconvenient.
So how does the 21st century church respond? We have dumbed-down, watered down, and sped up the way we do worship. We have apologized for the fact that our music is 400 years old, we have neglected calling people to accountability, we have lowered expectations of people contributing time and money, and we have failed to boldly proclaim the equation – that only Jesus Christ is the source of grace and eternal life.
Twenty years ago, a friend of mine – a funeral director, actually – told me that people will always return to church when someone is “Matched, Hatched or Dispatched.” And he’s right; people do return to church to receive our services of marriage, baptism and funerals. What they don’t know, and perhaps what we haven’t shown them, is that there is a comfort in walking through life with Jesus Christ. That is not to say that following Jesus will be easy, or without hardship. C.S. Lewis once wrote, “If you want a religion to make you really comfortable, I certainly don’t recommend Christianity!” What we can tell them is that this life has a destination, and if that destination is secure, we can find comfort in the journey. We can endure the hardship, we can weather the storms because we have a future.
Having said all of this, I am not suggesting we go backwards in our ministry at Our Savior’s Lutheran Church. Contemporary worship, when it’s well done, is inspired by God to reach new generations of believers. There is something incarnational about planning worship services in creative places and at alternative times because it exhibits God going to the people right where they live. And regarding expectations of people if they’re going to follow Christ, as Lutherans, we know that it’s not about rules and regulations, it’s all about grace. It’s always about grace.
I must tell you this; there have times when I’ve been not very hopeful for the church, but this isn’t one of them. Over these past 11 weeks I’ve been meeting with a Long Range Planning Task Force of this church to imagine what Our Savior’s will look like five years from now, Rally Sunday, 2017. We don’t have a crystal ball, but we do have hopes and dreams, and we prayed throughout our time that God would guide our dreaming. Today I am hopeful. Today I am optimistic. The Church is God’s Church. Not just this congregation, but the whole of the Church in the world is God’s Church. God calls us to use every resource, every talent, and every method to share the Good News. But especially to remember that 1+1=2. Together, we will always lift up Jesus Christ as the One who brings life and grace and eternal life to those who believe. DO NOT ERASE! Thanks be to God. Amen.
©2012 Steven Molin