Tuesday, March 25, 2008

cleaning up sermons

So, a few years ago, my campus pastor was leaving, this was in 2004. We gave him a send-off and I preached. My first attempt. He coached a little, but I don't remember if he helped write anything. I'm posting it here, just 'cause. I would change a few things, but I think that it has potential. Please do tell me what you think. I have some friends who know rhetoric and some who know theology and some who are opinionated, so I'd love all of the comments



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Before walking the hallowed halls of MSU, I walked the not-so-hallowed halls of Normandale Community College. There I studied many things, mostly how to pick my nose, but one of the better classes I took was Intro to World Religions from Professor Stephen Donoho. We studied Judaism, Christianity and Buddhism. Buddhism, I learned is a non-theistic religion, meaning that there is no deity required. Granted some sects do worship Buddha as a god, but as a whole, and in its pure form, Buddhism is non-theistic. There are four main tenets of Buddhism, or the “Four Noble Truths.” These fascinated me and I never forgot them.

1. All life is suffering. Simple enough, straight forward. Every aspect of life is a form of suffering. There are pains in day-to-day life. From the moment you are born, you get closer to death. It’s a little morbid, but I can see some truth to it.
2. Desire is the root of all suffering. Hmm. That one needs a little further explaining. Desire. I guess if I desire to become the best golfer, that’s going to cause some suffering. I can’t golf. But what about everything else. If I desire to be young, I suffer—I can’t be young forever. If I strive for something else, and even if I get it, the striving is suffering—the longing for something else, something different. I can dig it.
3. Eliminate desire and you will eliminate suffering. That’s logical. But if I do nothing but sit at home and play game cube, I am still alive and thus still suffering, right?
4. You eliminate desire by following Buddha’s Eight-fold path.

These “truths” were quite hypnotic; I tried following them for a while. I eliminated desire for a while, but I eventually lost all hope of ever reaching Nirvana. So, if you’ll stay with me, here you are now, I’ll entertain you with my new equation. I call them the Four Noble Ideas.

1. All life is suffering. I know it’s unoriginal, but why wreck a good thing.
2. The cause of suffering is sin. Yes, I said sin. The stuff that we ALL do. The things that we don’t tell Mom and Dad about, but they know, because they sin too. The judging, the arrogance, the hypocrisy—but enough about me, let’s move on. Shall we?
3. Eliminate sin and you eliminate suffering. Do you see a pattern?
4. You eliminate your sin by, wait – Christ eliminated sin. Period.

In Acts, the Jailer asked what kind of precepts had to be followed in order to be saved. Paul replied that the only thing you need to do is know Christ is the Lord. Believe in the Lord and you and your household will be saved. And the jailer and his household were baptized without delay.

Judging from the blank expressions and the fact that I have put more people to sleep than Chris normally does, let me put it this way: We are prisoners. Our life without Christ would be less than satisfactory. We are prisoners by our sin. Let me say what you already know, we are prisoners by our sin.

What are your prisons? Greed? Laziness? Apathy? Judgment? We all have at least one prison. I’d start sharing mine, but there is no couch to lie upon and there isn’t enough time just to talk about today.

Paul and Silas, in the Acts reading, had their prison. Granted theirs was physical. But there was a metaphorical prison too. To tell you the truth, I had never read this story until I was preparing for this message. I had heard it, partially, in a song of course. I always liked the idea of two guys, incarcerated, laughing and singing their praise to God. I didn’t understand it. I kind of pictured a scene from the Life of Brian. “Always look on the bright side of life.” I think that what it is, is that they knew that their bonds in jail were less than their bonds of sin, that and the fact that Paul and Silas knew God would release them from the jail.

What was that? They knew God would release them from their bondage to the jailers. They must have also known that Jesus had already released them from their bondage to sin. “We know that we are in bondage to sin and can not free ourselves.” We say that phrase in the “traditional” confession. We cannot free ourselves. No one can free a slave except the master. They can escape, but they are forever a slave. We were freed by our Master.

One other item: Paul and Silas, knew God. That’s important. They knew God called them. If they know God, then as we learned from the Gospel reading that they were called. They were sent by God. The paraphrase of the last section from the Gospel is that the world does not know God, except for Jesus and the people God sent to Jesus.

Let’s look at that passage: the world does not know God. That is quite obvious, look at what is going on in the world. Prisoner abuse, beheadings, shootings of floral shop owners and even the riots at MSU last November all show the world’s lack of knowledge of God. Humanity continually forgets God, and God’s presence, but God continues to be present. God is present in the world through this ministry, through things like Habitat for Humanity as some of us found out on Thursday. God continually shows us what God is and what God wants from us, but we turn a blind eye. We lose sight of what is important for tomorrow in the busy-ness of today.

The other day, Pastor Chris showed me an email he received. You know those stupid forwards that people send to you? Sometimes one of the extraordinary ones will catch your eye. This one goes like this:

A classroom of children was assigned to come up with their current list of the “Seven Wonders of the World.” When the students had finished, they took a vote of the wonders and came up with a list:
The Grand Canyon, The Taj Mahal, The Great Pyramids, Stonehenge, The Great Wall of China, The Empire State Building, and The Golden Gate Bridge.
Then the teacher noticed that Sally in the back of the room was struggling with her answers and not really contributing. The teacher asked Sally, “Sally, are you all right? I noticed that you were having trouble. Maybe the class can help you with your answers.” Sally replied that she was having trouble. Her answers weren’t like everyone else’s. Then she stood up and read her list, her voice trembling slightly with nervousness, “The Seven Wonders of the World are: to see, to hear, to touch, to taste, to smell, to laugh and to love.”

That is how God is shown daily. That is how we know God. In the things we take for granted. We know God through God’s big things, like the Grand Canyon, the 104,000 homes Habitat International has built since its inception; but more importantly, we know God through the loving embrace of a friend, through the incessant questioning of a young child, and through the ultimate sacrifice of a Son on hill in Jerusalem.

1 comment:

Jason said...

I've been pretty busy for the last week, so I just saw this now. I'm intrigued, and I'll spend a little time getting you some thoughts on the whole sermon (which is a fun read, actually), but I'll leave you with this thought right now:

The version of the Four Noble Truths you cite in the beginning of the sermon may be accurate to your understanding of them at the time, but it isn't a charitable interpretation of them as they actually are taught and discussed among Buddhists.

I'm interested in this, though, and I'll be sure to throw more opinions at you and pump you for further clarification.