“Giving Thanks for Christ’s All”                                                         July 21, 2013

Amos 8:1-12 & Colossians 1:15-28                                                  Stephens City UMC

 

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

 

I.                   Richard Dawkins is a man with a brilliant mind so I for one would have expected him to have done a little more research for his book The God Delusion.

A.    Dawkins is an atheist and he wanted to convince people that there is no God.

1.     So he wrote a book to express his belief in the non-existence of God and to ridicule people who admitted that they were members of a church.

2.     Church members particularly bother Dawkins because he perceives them to be exclusive.

3.     “Jesus loves us and he hates you because I believe and you don’t.”

4.     “If you knew Jesus you’d live up to our standards.”

5.     “We Christians are the in-crowd and the rest of you are the out-crowd.”

B.     Unfortunately there is an element of truth to Dawkins’ dissatisfaction with how we Christians at times conduct ourselves.

1.     We can be cliquish and inward focused and self-satisfied.

2.     Our behavior can on occasion cause people to wonder what makes us different from any other group of people in our society.

3.     Thus it is that our failures to live out the Gospel and be the body of Christ alive in the world leads people to conclude that they don’t want to join with us because we must be delusional and therefore there is no God.

C.     And that is where I would fault Richard Dawkins.

1.     I understand that he is taking his position based on his reaction to how some Christians live, BUT he needed to do more research by investigating how Jesus himself lived and Jesus was inclusive.

2.     Consistently throughout the Gospels Jesus is ridiculed as one who “welcomes sinners and eats with them.” (Luke 15:2)

3.     Moreover John announces that “God so loved the world that he sent his only begotten son…” (John 3:16)

4.     Being concerned about the sake of the world is not at all exclusive.

5.     God sent His Son for everyone and if there is a word that sums up what I am getting at it is the word “all.”

6.     Jesus came for all.

7.     Not just for some but for all.

D.    Let me run through some scripture passages of which I am aware that support my position and expose the inaccuracy of Richard Dawkins’ position.

1.     In Matthew 15:37 we learn of a crowd out in the wilderness and they were hungry.

2.     Jesus miraculously fed them and he provided bread not just for his followers (that so called in-group) but, “all of them ate and were filled.”

3.     In the first part of Matthew chapter 22 we read a parable about a Great Banquet and after the initial invitation goes out to close friends and supporters, the Lord of the Banquet instructed those to extend the invitation so that they “gathered all whom they found, both good and bad.”

4.     In Matthew 23:12 Jesus announces that “All who exalt themselves will be humbled and all who humble themselves will be exalted.”

5.     Matthew 24:14 is clearly inclusive as Jesus’ message is “a testimony to all the nations.”

6.     And talk about climactic drama – in Mark 11:17 as Jesus provides clarity as to what he believes and truly feels he thunders that the temple is not just for Israel but is “a house of prayer for all nations.”

7.     A statement Jesus made that means so much to me is John 12:32 where he promises that when he is lifted up on the cross, “I…will draw all people to myself.”

8.     We read in John 1:9 that Jesus is the “true light, which enlightens everyone.”

9.     In Matthew 11:28 Jesus calls to himself “all you that are weary and carry heavy burdens.”

10.             And two more just to re-emphasize my point in Psalm 36:6 the psalmist exclaims that God saves not only all people but even all animals and one of the traditional readings for Christmas comes from Titus 2:11 the Apostle Paul says of Jesus, “The grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all.” (Willimon, “All in All, July 21, 2013)

11.             While the followers of Jesus may at times miss the mark of being inclusive, Jesus never does which is why I entitled this sermon “Giving Thanks for Christ’s All.”

12.             Jesus gave his all for all and each of us has to decide to be part of or not be part of his all, but Jesus gave his life and offers his grace to all and he’s not ashamed of that.

II.                 Someone who preached a better sermon than me on this matter of Christ’s all was the great theologian Karl Barth.

A.    Because Karl Barth understood Christ’s “all” he was one of the few Christians in Germany to oppose Adolph Hitler and the Nazi’s exclusivity so Barth had to flee to Switzerland prior to World War II.

1.     Many years after the war, a Sunday late in the September of 1957 to be exact, Barth went to preach to the prisoners housed in the Basel jail.

2.     The title of his sermon was one word, “All.”

3.     Barth used as his text for that sermon one verse, Romans 11:32, “For God has imprisoned all in disobedience so that he may be merciful to all.”

4.     The great Christian leader focused on the last part of the verse and proclaimed to the prisoners that God has mercy on us.

5.     God says yes to us because He wills to be on our side and to be our God against seemingly impossible odds.

6.     One of the things that I think is great about Barth’s sermon is that he began with God and what God has done and God is doing. (Willimon, “All in All,” July 21, 2013)

7.     One of the ways we modern people tend to be exclusive is that we leave out God and focus on ourselves.

8.     “I’ve read this, and I’ve done that, and this is what I’m about.”

9.     By the way we act no wonder some people think there is no God because from what they can observe we just rush through life living as if we don’t need God which must mean that we think there is no God.

B.     But I digress from Barth’s sermon for this honest man confessed that sometimes he was guilty of wishing that this “all” did not include “This fellow creature beside me, in front of me or behind, whom I don’t like.”

1.     And after his confession he revealed the real intention of his sermon for he said, “The one great sin from which we shall try to escape this morning is to exclude anyone from the ‘yes’ of God’s mercy.”

2.     You see we are all prisoners, yet we are all shown mercy.

C.     That’s when Barth gave thanks that he was preaching “in a house where there are so many closed doors.”

1.     You see unlike me, for I am preaching to you people who were free to come here and you are free to leave, Karl Barth was preaching to inmates so he didn’t have to explain what it meant to be a prisoner.

2.     They understood what it meant to be imprisoned but I may have to convince you that you are a prisoner possibly by your possessions or your smugness or your fears or your intellect or your politics or your desire to get ahead or your desire to blend in with the crowd.

3.     I don’t have time to go through the entire list of what may imprison you but if nothing else I imagine you are like me in that there are two things that in my opinion definitely imprison people and those two things are sin and death.

4.     If you don’t think that you have at least had an encounter of being imprisoned by sin and your eventual death then you must believe you have no need for God so you’ll have to explain to me the difference between you and Richard Dawkins who believes that there is no God.

5.     I mean what’s the significant difference between believing that there is no God and believing that you have no need for God?

6.     For those looking for a challenge today I think that’s your challenge in that while you may profess that there is a God do you live acknowledging your daily need for God because if not then you are a virtual atheist and you are closer to Richard Dawkins’ belief system then you may realize.

III.              But here’s the good news for today – Christ came for all.

A.    Even you – you are in Christ’s all and I hope you believe that and recognize your need.

1.     And one way you can manifest that is by telling others in word and demonstrating through deed that they are included in Christ’s all.

2.     Now being inclusive does not mean that you necessarily approve of their behavior.

3.     My parents always included me in the family even though on a few occasions I mistreated my sister.

4.     Yes, every time she and I got into it the fact is that it wasn’t her fault.

5.     A couple of times it was mine, but all in the family was vital to my parents so they taught us that and we came to live that way.

6.     And I think that’s the way God our Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ, God’s Son and our brother, would have it and the Holy Spirit is available to all to help us live that way.

B.     This fall we hope to revitalize our children’s and youth ministry using material from GenOn Ministries which emphasizes relationships and intergenerational ministry.

1.     A key belief statement for them is that “We believe that nothing is more important than a saving relationship with God through Jesus Christ. We also believe that everyone is a child of God and should be treated with the love, respect, and dignity that are found in Jesus’ great commandment to us.”

2.     To help make that a reality church’s that use the GenOn material have church members employ a very inclusive statement with one another by saying the person’s name and following that with “You are a child of God and I will treat you that way.”

3.     Richard Dawkins wouldn’t like this but I believe it about him and I would like him to come to believe it, “Richard, you are a child of God and I will treat you that way.”

4.     I think we would all benefit from hearing those inclusive words and that it would good for us as a church family so I invite you now to stand as you are able and turn to your neighbor or even someone across the room and call them by name and say, “John, Sally, you are a child of God and I will treat you that way.”