Bad Chicken...Mess You Up!

April 29, 2018

Series: April 2018

Category: Faith

Speaker: Jeff Shankle

1 John 4:7-21

Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. 10 In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. 11 Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us.

13 By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. 14 And we have seen and do testify that the Father has sent his Son as the Savior of the world. 15 God abides in those who confess that Jesus is the Son of God, and they abide in God. 16 So we have known and believe the love that God has for us.

God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them. 17 Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness on the day of judgment, because as he is, so are we in this world. 18 There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love. 19 We love because he first loved us. 20 Those who say, “I love God,” and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. 21 The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.

 Bad Chicken…Mess You Up!

There seems to be some confusion in the texts we’re reading today. King David writing in the Psalms says we should be afraid of God’s judgments but John tells us that God is love.  So, I suppose that means that God is love and we should fear God fear with boldness kind of thing… hmm.

This sounds pretty confusing but fortunately for you I’ve got a lot of notes and have spent a lot of time thinking about this conundrum.

I’ve noticed that there are people who don’t seem to be afraid anymore. They’re speaking truth to power through movements like #MeToo. They’re seeking justice without any regard for people in power and I’m noticing that we seem to think that’s a good thing.  Well, I do to.

But I’m also noticing that all of us are afraid of people’s opinions about us. What do we call that?  Insecurities.  That’s what we call it.  And we all have them to varying degrees.  Every one of us has something we’re at least a little afraid of how others might judge us.

“They don’t think I’m successful, or smart, or pretty, or funny.” Or for some of us that insecurity has changed because people used to think you were pretty, or smart, or funny.  “They don’t think I’m successful anymore.”  Maybe something happened that caused you to lose some of your fortune.  “They don’t think I’m smart anymore.”  “They used to think I was funny.”

So, we’re living in an age where we’re afraid of nothing and afraid of everything. What’s the motivation here?  Hmm.  Can you see how I got all these notes?

Let me try something here:

I played quarterback in high school and there was one particular play that I’d looked forward to my entire career. “Split Right 28 Sweep Special.”  If you knew the playbook for the J.R. Tucker football team, circa 1996 or so, you’d know what each of those words meant.  “Split Right 28 Sweep Special.”  “Split Right” tells our wide receivers where they should line up.  You see we have two of them.  One is called a flanker and the other is called a split end.  So, when they hear ““Split Right 28 Sweep Special,” they know that means that the split end is going to line up on the right.

“Split Right 28 Sweep Special.” Split Right 28 tells you who’s going to get the ball.  You see I’m number 1… (I like to pause and think about that for a moment, that I’m number 1) and the tailback is number 2 and the fullback is number 3.  So, my being number 1 has nothing to do with talent level or importance.  But when we hear “Split Right 28 Sweep Special,” we know that the tailback is going to get the ball because its 28 sweep special.

The number 8 in that “Split Right 28 Sweep Special” tells you where number 20 is going to take the ball. The odd numbers go to the left progressing outwards, 1, 3, 5, 7, and the even numbers go the right progressing outwards, 2, 4, 6, 8.  We’re going to give the ball to number 20 and he’s going to run to the number 8 hole on the right.

Lastly is the word sweep. “Split Right 28 Sweep Special.”  That word sweep tells our lineman (those guys who are all bigger and stronger than me who are supposed to protect me from all the other guys who are bigger and stronger than me) which way they should run when we start the play.  And since it’s a sweep that means that two of them are going to run to that 8-hole and try to clear a path for number 20.

So, everybody gets lined up properly and the ball gets hiked and we start the play. I toss the ball to number 20 who runs toward the 8-hole on the right with 2 big, strong, guys clearing a path for him… but remember… this play is special.  And what makes it special?  The running back, my friend Belewa Hendy throws the ball the other way down the field to yours truly.

And there I am running down the field with nobody around me. It’s a trick play and we tricked them good.  I’m finally getting my moment.  The Friday night lights are shining down on us.  We’re about to beat our rival, Douglas Southall Freeman.  My friends and family are cheering.  And finally, I get to be the one who gets to run into the end zone for a touchdown.  Until…

I drop the pass.

I immediately dropped to my knees and patted my thighs out of frustration. I’m telling you that I would’ve completely laid face down on the field and wept had there not be a timer that says you need to get off the field for the next play.

My only saving grace was that the play worked so well (up until the part where I was supposed to catch the ball) that I thought, “Surely, Coach Curle will call this play again and give me another chance.”

You know, they never called that play again. Never again.  They had been burned, disappointed, maybe even embarrassed that they’d tried a trick play and it didn’t work out.

You know what I find interesting? We do that all the time.  We get burned by something or disappointed and we start to close ourselves off.

We pray that God would heal someone or do something miraculous, but it doesn’t work or at least not in the timeframe we wanted. So, we stop praying like that.  We keep ourselves from believing that something miraculous could happen and we temper our faith.

We open up at church or with close friends and someone was judgmental or critical. Maybe we even have our heart broken by someone and so we put up walls to protect us from being hurt like that again.  But we also lose the opportunity to have people serve as a source of affirmation and joy in our lives.

We know these people who’ve had these incredible transcendent experiences where they hear God, so we try everything. We pray, read, meditate, fast, go on pilgrimages, do yoga, sit in silence… we try it all, but we never feel like we have the same experience, so we just stop participating in all of it.  Or we do it to simply go through the motions.  We don’t really expect God to speak to us.

Yes, we’re protecting ourselves from that discomfort we once felt but we’re also closing ourselves off from the joy, wonder, and mystery we could experience if it were to go well.

We fear that our current experience is the only one possible. Even worse we begin to warn others not to get their hopes up.  We warn them by telling them about every piece of bad chicken we’ve ever eaten by telling them, “Hey, bad chicken!  Mess you up!”

So, let me look at these notes again and see if we can find some sort of solution here.

How about this? Since its pretty normal to protect ourselves from discomfort what I should really do is try to please everybody.  Because if I really want to love everybody that means I need to keep them all happy.  Right?

For example, when the National Student Walkouts occurred recently I believed that our church had to do something to support our young people as they advocated for their right to life in response to the gun violence that’s been happening in our schools. So, we drafted a letter on official church letter head, had it approved unanimously by your Session, your governing board, and signed by your senior pastor and clerk of Session.  In that letter we stated that those walkouts would be considered official religious activities by Westminster Presbyterian Church in accordance with these references to Scripture and these references to Christian history and tradition.  Please excuse our students during these walkouts in accordance with state law and they will make up any lost work in a timeframe that is convenient to you.

Now this church here, all of you, were very excited about that. And I was so proud of it that I went and told some other people in ministry about it and they said, “What are you doing?”  “You can’t do that.”  “You’re picking sides in this debate and alienating people.”  “You’re being too political.”

So, you know what I should’ve done? I should’ve just done nothing because you would’ve never noticed, and they would still like me.

Or we’re always doing work for those who are afflicted in our modern times whether its immigration or poverty. But people point out to me that if we keep helping them then they’ll never be incentivized to better their life on their own.  So, I think we should just stop helping them and that way we keep our time and money (it’ll be more convenient) and we won’t offend anybody either.

Sound good? I’ll just try to make sure everybody likes me?

Well if that theory doesn’t work then fortunately I have some more notes! So, let’s try this theory out.

If I shouldn’t be afraid of others judgment, then I should be afraid of God’s judgment! After all, that’s how King David felt.  And it makes sense you know.  I’m a flawed human being.  I can always give more, pray more, serve more.  Sometimes I don’t have a good heart and my intentions aren’t in the right place.  And God being so holy and perfect is going to naturally judge me and probably not very impressed.

So, what I should do is fear God judging me.

How does that sound? Still no good?

Okay then, forget all these notes. Since you seem to know so much why don’t you help me out.  After all, I’m just a lowly youth guy.  What do I know?  I don’t wear those fancy robes or cool collars.  I don’t have a bunch of titles before and after my name.  What do I know?  So why don’t you help me out.

First off, what you’re telling me is, in my pursuit of holiness and loving others, I shouldn’t be afraid of other people judging me. But doesn’t it hurt you when people say mean things about you?  I mean, what about when its your closest friends or family?  Your children or parents or people you admire.  Doesn’t that hurt when you get judged by them?

Ah, I get it. We only accept the kind of love that we think we deserve.  And so, if we can somehow raise the amount that we think we deserve then we can also raise the amount we can be loved.  And really, who could possibly love us more that our Creator God who is love?

But, if God has the capacity to love me beyond comprehension shouldn’t I be afraid that God’s love can be taken from me? Shouldn’t I be afraid of God judging me?  I mean haven’t you ever felt judged by people in the church?

I can remember times where people stood up in the pulpit and said things like, “You need to get right with God” because we’d done or said something. Sometimes you can’t even control that thing that’s being called out.  So, shouldn’t I be afraid that God might take that love away from me?

Ah, I get it. I see where you’re going here.  There’s a difference between the people who say those things and God, even if they’re religious, or Christian, or considered leaders.  These are only people and we mess things up sometimes.  Yes, even those of us in a church.

And that makes sense because it seems to me that our understanding of God’s love progresses and improves over time just as our understanding of lots of things changes with the times. King David wrote that he was afraid of God’s judgment 1000 years before John wrote that God is love.  And John even got to walk and talk with Jesus Christ Himself and see how Jesus served and loved even the most unlikeliest among us.

So, what you’re really telling me is that I should focus on John’s letter that “God is love.” And I shouldn’t be afraid of not living up to other people’s standards and expectations.  And I shouldn’t be afraid of God not loving me for some reason.

Whew, you really know how to make a guy feel better. Thanks for helping me with this sermon!

But I just want to make sure now; because if I go from here and tell other people what you told me, that, “I don’t need to be afraid of living up to other people’s standards.” And, “I don’t need to be afraid of God’s judgment,” then some people aren’t going to like that very much.  They might push harder, or they might say that I better be afraid of God’s wrath or judgment.

So, I just want to make sure that I’ve got this right before I leave here and make a fool of myself. You better not be setting me up!

Okay then. I’m going to do what you said.  I’m going to pursue a life of holiness and service to others and I’m not going to be afraid of their criticisms when I don’t measure up.  And I’m not going to be worried that God won’t like me.  I’m going to believe that God is love and that God will love me no matter what.

 But you…

You also must not be afraid of living up to everybody else’s standards for your life. In your pursuit of holiness, you must not be afraid their judgment.  And you must not be afraid of God’s judgement because God is the judge we should all want!  God is love!  And when you love others God abides in you.  God abides in you!  God’s perfect love lives inside of you and that love casts out all fear.

So, don’t be afraid of your sisters or brothers or God even if you’ve been disappointed or burned. Instead, remember the commandment that Jesus gave us: Go and love your sisters and brothers… all of them… no matter what.